Guide to Psychology Blogs

PsyBlog has just published the first part of a guide to online psychology and neuroscience blogs, and says some jolly nice things about Mind Hacks in the process.

PsyBlog author Jeremy also highlights a few more of the many good online reads, but is too modest to mention himself, so I thought I’d pitch in an redress the balance.

Go see PsyBlog, it certainly deserves to be on the list.

Link to PsyBlog Guide to Psychology Blogs – Part 1.

Inkling on Human Nature

I’ve just discovered online science mag Inkling Magazine and noticed that their Human Nature section is full of great mind and brain articles.

Recent articles cover the safety of antidepressants for teenagers, the health risks of love and a brief interview with neuroscientist, author and stroke survivor Jill Bolte Taylor.

There’s a whole stack more, so have a browse and see what lights your candle.

Link to Inkling’s ‘Human Nature’ articles.

Down the barrel of a nail gun

The ANZ Journal of Surgery just published the summary of a conference paper describing 12 patients with head injuries caused by nail guns. It makes for some surprising reading.

You might think brain injuries from nail guns would be rare, but there are a startling number of case studies in the medical literature.

A recent review of suicide attempts by nail gun noted it was unusual, but this new case series suggests that many of this type of brain injury are caused in this way.

In fact, out of the 12 cases, three quarters were attempting to kill themselves.

Mostly, the cases concern a single nail, but one case was particularly extreme:

The other case involved a staggering 24 nails of 5cm length and represents the largest number of intra-cranial nails in a surviving patient.

This beats the previous record of 12 nails, held by a man reported in a case study from a neurosurgery team in Portland, Oregon.

The picture is the X-ray of Isidro Mejia, who survived a nail gun accident in 2004, where he was unfortunate enough to have four nails embedded in his skull and two in his neck.

Removal of a nail often involves a craniotomy, where the surgeons have to cut around the bit of skull where the nail is embedded, and remove it in one piece.

There are some images of this operation in an article from the Spanish language neurosurgery journal Neurocirugía which is available online as a pdf.

Link to abstract of nail gun head injury case series.
pdf of Spanish language case report of neurosurgical nail removal.

Skywalker: personality disordered or misunderstood?

Wired has picked up on the annual ‘psychiatrists diagnose fictional character’ story by noting that researchers have diagnosed Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader, with borderline personality disorder. But is he genuinely disordered or just misunderstood?

The diagnosis of personality disorder describes someone who is consistently emotionally unstable, impulsive and has difficulty forming stable relationships, often seeming aggressive and lacking in self-control.

Borderline personality disorder or BPD is a subtype, particularly characterised by feelings of emptiness and unstable identity, suicide and self-harm, extreme and fluctuating views of others, and occasional paranoid thinking.

In 1988 two psychiatrists published an influential study that questioned the diagnosis of personality disorder, suggesting it was just a label for patients that psychiatrists didn’t like.

Lewis and Appleby gave a group of psychiatrists a number of clinical case studies, and asked them to rate their attitudes towards the patients, and say how they would treat them.

All the psychiatrists were given the same descriptions, except that some included an additional piece of information: that the patient had been given an earlier diagnosis of personality disorder.

This simple piece of information led the patients to be rated as less deserving of care, more difficult, manipulative, attention-seeking, annoying, and more in control of their suicidal urges and debts.

The authors of the study concluded that personality disorder “appears to be an enduring pejorative judgement rather than a clinical diagnosis. It is proposed that the concept be abandoned”.

Although widely used, the diagnosis is still controversial, with some researchers arguing it is a useful and important classification, although admitting there’s still plenty of work to be done.

So does Anakin Skywalker have borderline personality disorder? He probably fulfils the diagnostic criteria.

But the questions should really be ‘does the diagnosis do anything except express our dislike for him?’ and ‘will medicalising his problems help him to improve his life?’.

Link to Wired article on diagnosing Anakin Skywalker (via OmniBrain).

2007-05-25 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

The BPS Research Digest reports on yet another study on the cognitive benefits of meditation.

CrimePsychBlog picks up on an interesting study on the etiology of the psychopathic serial killer.

Core cognitive ability is mostly developed before adolescence, reports SciAm.

Accidental Mind has some illustrated brain notecards to download.

ABC Radio National’s Health Report has a special on Alzheimer’s disease, testosterone and the ageing brain.

Developing Intelligence investigates the neural basis of planning abilities.

The use of oxygen just after a stroke may actually harm the brain rather than help it, suggests a new study reported in SciAm.

Companies tune in to the potential of sound for marketing, reports The Economist.

A couple of interesting news stories on the treatment of mental illness in the US military are picked up by Corpus Callosum.

Wired report on new commercial prototypes for ‘home use’ magnetic brain stimulators.

A perceptual deficiency may make us better foragers, suggests research expertly covered by Cognitive Daily.

SciAm investigates the effects of having half the brain surgically removed.

Narrative self, split brain

If you liked our recent post on what the stories of our lives say about us, Philosophy Now has an article on how the self might be based on our ability to create narratives.

The article looks at how the self has been related to our ability to make narratives out of the disconnected events in our lives, and particularly focuses on the theories of philosophers Alasdair MacIntyre and Paul Ricoeur.

MacIntyre emphasises that the concept of personal identity is not only logically dependent upon the concept of a narrative, but it’s also the other way round. In other words it is meaningless to talk about a character biography unless one presupposes that its subject has a personal identity. The biography must be about a continually-existing thing. Conversely, it is pointless, meaningless, to state that some being has a personal identity through time, and at the same time deny that this being has a possible biography.

[In Ricoeur’s theory] narratives, or more precisely plots, synthesise reality. A plot fuses together intentions, causal relations, and chance occurrences in a unified sequence of actions and events. Ricoeur seems to think that the plot creates a unified pattern in a chaotic series of events, ties them together, making them meaningful wholes.

This idea has also been taken up by more cognitive science-oriented philosophers, most notably, Daniel Dennett.

In his paper ‘The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity’, Dennett argues that the main function of consciousness is to generate a sense of narrative for our experiences.

He references experiments on ‘split-brain‘ patients, whose cortical hemisphere’s cannot directly communicate because their main link, the corpus callosum, has been severed.

In some situations, these patients seem to show a self which isn’t a unified whole, where some knowledge and experience is accessible to some parts (like perception) but not others (like speech).

Despite these obvious divisions, the patients report that they still feel like an apparently unified “sole inhabitant” of the body, as if their narrative is maintained.

Link to Philosophy Now article ‘Don Quixote and The Narrative Self’.
Link to Dennett’s article ‘The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity’.