Know the lifesaving facts about stroke detection

To coincide with stroke awareness month, a new report from the US Government’s Center for Disease and Control and Prevention has highlighted that less than half of people surveyed could identify the potentially life-saving early warning signs of stroke.

A stroke, known medically as a cerebrovascular accident, is where the blood supply to the brain is interrupted because of blockage or damage to an essential blood vessel.

It can be fatal, and more often leads to significant brain damage, but this can be limited or a life potentially saved if it is detected and treated as soon as possible.

The following are warning signs of stroke. If someone you know experiences any of these, call an ambulance or get them medical care as soon as possible.

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

To reduce your chances of having a stroke, you need to look after your cardiovascular health.

Essentially, healthy body, healthy brain – so alcohol, smoking, excess fatty food, little exercise and head injury will increase the chances of blood supply problems in the brain.

Link to CDC report on stroke awareness.
Link to write-up from Yahoo! News.

2008-05-09 Spike activity

Fascinating article in the New York Times on lying, deception and why exaggeration seems the same but is psychologically quite different.

UK government returns to pissing in the wind over drug classification. Prime Minister feels that having wet trousers will “send a message”.

New Scientist covers a new study on old news that hallucinations and delusions during intensive care can lead to trauma in children.

Fake tits and heroin, brought to you by HotForWords.

Scientific American Mind has an excellent article on unconscious bias and prejudice and how it affects how we behave.

How LSD rocked the world. The Independent discusses the cultural impact of LSD in light of the recent passing of its creator.

AlterNet discusses the implications of having America’s chemically modified 21st century soldiers in the heat of battle.

To the bunkers! Intelligent robot exoskeleton created by a company called Cyberdyne Systems. Cue nervous laughter.

Developing Intelligence has an article on modelling the diffusion of information in the brain.

Where do all the neurotics live? New York apparently. An article in the Boston Globe covers ‘Big Five’ <a href="
“>personality maps created for a new book. The full map is here.

Treatment Online discusses new research showing post-birth depression affects male partners as well.

Interesting New York Times article on why intelligence in animals isn’t always an evolutionary advantage.

Neuroanthropology has had a series of great essays recently, on everything from brain imaging to addiction.

Rather breathless article from The Times on possible use of ecstasy for treating PTSD that’s more anecdote than hard data but has some interesting personal accounts.

Channel N finds an award winning video report on the neuroscience of the teen brain.

The LA Times has a brief but interesting article on the advantages of ‘good enough’ evolutionary mind adaptations from the author of ‘Kludge‘.

In autistic boy’s hands, paper and scissors express an amazing spectrum. An article on an remarkably talented boy from The Seattle Times.

PsychCentral discusses the benefits of the usually unintentionally planned ‘single session psychotherapy‘.

This week’s Nature reviews a couple of books on children and neurodevelopment.

Science Daily looks at some interesting findings on the influence of epigenetics on suicide. If you’re not familiar with epigenetics, it’s well worth checking out. It’s the future.

Antipsychotic drug use soars among U.S. and U.K. kids despite an almost complete lack of evidence for its effectiveness or long-term safety.

The New York Times have an article on breaking habits and boosting creativity.

3D brain images! Get those red and green glasses out.

Scientific American’s blog Mind Matters looks at evidence on how mobile phones can affect brain function.

Musical hallucinations are covered in a cool article from the BPS Research Digest.

Warping court memories with subtle suggestions

The legal system works on a principal of innocent until proven guilty by the evidence presented in court, but Cognitive Daily covers several studies that shown our memory of the evidence is affected by moral judgements of the person in question.

With their trademark clarity, CogDaily discuss a study [pdf] by psychologist David Pizarro that found if participants were told about man leaving a restaurant without paying, they remembered the unpaid bill being more expensive if they were told he treated the waiters rudely, than if they were told he was generally a responsible person.

The study is reminiscent of a famous experiment by a young Elizabeth Loftus called Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction.

It was simple but elegantly designed. Groups of people were shown clips of cars crashing and then asked how fast the cars were travelling, but with different verbs in the question.

For example, some people were asked how fast the cars were travelling when they “smashed” into each other, others how fast when they “bumped” into each other, others how fast when they “contacted” with each other, and so on.

Loftus found that simply asking the questions with a different verb altered people’s memories of the speed of the crash – like so:

“smashed” : 40.8 miles per hour
“collided” : 39.3 miles per hour
“bumped”: 38.1 miles per hour
“hit” : 34 miles per hour
“contacted” : 31.8 miles per hour

Needless to say, these sorts of tricks have been used by lawyers ever since.

Link to CogDaily on moral blame can change the memory of a crime.
pdf of full-text paper.
Link to Wikipedia page Loftus’s car crash study.

Male body symmmetry, more female orgasms

The link between attractiveness and facial symmetry seems to hold across both black and white faces, but also in non-human primates, according to a study just published in the open-access science journal PLoS One.

One of the most striking studies in sex and symmetry research isn’t mentioned, however. A 1995 study found that the likelihood of female orgasm during sex was related to the extent of bodily symmetry in the male partner.

The study was led by biologist Randy Thornhill and recruited 86 young couples who completed a number of relationship questionnaires, including one on how often the female partner orgasmed during sex. The males then had their bodies measured and assessed for how much one side differed compared to the other – a measure of bodily asymmetry.

In the final analysis neither the male’s age, wealth, social skills, physical attractiveness or relationship style predicted the frequency of female orgasm. Only male bodily symmetry was statistically associated with the chance of the women climaxing during sex.

The researchers thought that maybe women who have more orgasms, or who are just more sexual, simply get the more symmetrical (maybe hotter) guys. But when they looked at frequency of orgasm outside copulation (such as during oral sex or masturbation), the relationship to male symmetry disappeared, suggesting that this wasn’t the case.

This study, and the new study published in PLoS One, also suggested that symmetry was associated with more masculine features generally – a bigger body in the orgasm study, and a more typically male face in the PLoS research.

The evolutionary explanation suggested by the authors is that female orgasm during copulation may make pregnancy more likely, so it’s an adaptive strategy to increase fertility when making love to males with genes more likely to lead to healthy children.

How orgasm increases with body symmetry is not clearly understood, though. The authors speculate that female perception of a highly symmetrical male might psychologically prime sexual arousal, but the mechanism is left largely to guesswork.

Link to PLoS One study on attractiveness and symmetry (via Anthro).
Link to abstract of orgasm and symmetry study.

The history of the brain

BBC Radio 4’s legendary history of ideas programme In Our Time takes an in-depth and fascinating look at the history of the brain.

The programme tracks the earliest Western ideas on the function and purpose of the brain from the times of the ancient Greeks.

What’s most fascinating is how some completely false ideas about the brain survived centuries, despite the fact that it would have been easy to see how they were incorrect, if it weren’t for the reluctance to actually do dissection studies on humans.

However, there were rare exceptions in the ancient world. For example, Herophilos and Erasistratus dissected the brains of live criminals!

It’s a wonderfully erudite and in-depth discussion, and thoroughly delightful if you’re interested in the history of the seat of human thought.

Link to webpage with permanent streamed audio (thanks Ben!).
mp3 of programme (disappears after a week).

In full flow

“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not passive, receptive, relaxing times – although such experiences can be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Like pronouncing the name of psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi whose book Flow this quote is taken from.

UPDATE: Thanks to the ‘in-the-zone’ Chris Green from AHP for emailing to say it’s pronounced “chick-sent-me-high”. Great name for an indie band that.

The man who defied Milgram’s conformity experiment

Jewish Currents has an interesting first person account from one of the people who took part in Stanley Milgram’s famous conformity experiment where 65% of participants were ordered to fatally shock another participant. This article is written by one of the minority who refused to continue.

The learner, said the professor, would be in an adjoining room, out of my sight, and strapped to a chair so that his arms could not move ‚Äî this so that the learner could not jump around and damage the equipment or do harm to himself. I was to be seated in front of a console marked with lettering colored yellow for “Slight Shock” (15 volts) up to purple for “Danger: Severe Shock” (450 volts). The shocks would increase by 15-volt increments with each incorrect answer.

I was very suspicious and asked a number of questions: Isn’t it dangerous? How do you know the learner doesn’t have a bad heart and can’t take the shocks? What if he wants to stop, can he get out of the chair? The professor assured me that the shocks were not painful or harmful since the amperage was lowered as the voltage increased. He let me feel what a 45-volt shock would be like: a slight tickle. I asked the learner if he was willing to do this and why he didn’t have any questions. He said, “Let’s try it.” With some trepidation on my part, we began the experiment.

Link to ‘Resisting Authority’ (via MeFi).

Soft money in psychiatry muddies manuals, airwaves

Mental health blog Furious Seasons has just alerted me to some recent revelations about conflicts of interest in psychiatry. More than half of the new committee members in charge of the next edition of the psychiatrists’ diagnostic ‘bible’, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), have ties to the drug industry.

Furthermore, an article for Slate reveals that a supposedly ‘independent’ NPR national radio show on the safety of antidepressants had three guests, a host and the production company, all of whom received money from drug companies.

While the financial interests of the DSM committee must be declared, drug company links were not revealed in relation to the radio programme and the production company seem to be being evasive about discussing the situation.

Apparently, the committee for the new DSM (the DSM-V) largely parallels the situation with the previous version, where over half of the members had drug company ties.

Because of the way the US health system woks, US health insurers tend only to pay for treatments when a specific diagnosis has been made, so it is in the drug companies’ interest to influence the classification of mental illnesses to make prescribing more likely.

However, there are rumours that the insurance industry and getting rather fed up of having to pay out on potentially drug company influenced diagnoses, and are considering funding research of their own into the validity of diagnoses to counter this trend.

The two news items mentioned above seem to be the work of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest that campaigns for transparency in science education and policy.

At the end of the Slate article, the organisation note that they have a list of leading scientists who do not have links to industry. Journalists are welcome to contact them if they want a source free of potential biases.

Link to Slate article ‘Stealth Marketers’.
Link to CSPI news item on DSM-V committee.

On the benefits of thinking about the apocalypse

A wonderful poem called ‘Survivor’ from the playful English poet, Roger McGough:

by Roger McGough

I think about dying.
About disease, starvation,
violence, terrorism, war,
the end of the world.

It helps
keep my mind off things.

McGough has a talent for blending the fanciful with the poignant, as demonstrated in a poem we featured previously.

A rough guide to self-harm

The New York Times has a concise article that discusses adolescents who self-harm through cutting, burning or deliberately damaging themselves. Self-harm is curious because it is one the most psychologically complex of behaviours and yet we have a simple but largely inaccurate cultural stereotype – attention seeking teenagers.

There are many, many types of self-harm, some more culturally acceptable than others. Self harm is often accepted as part of fashion or ritual (piercings, scarring), or can be due to genetic abnormalities (e.g. Lesch-Nyan syndrome), or as a result of learning disabilities or brain injury.

It can be because of delusional or psychotic ideas; OCD type urges, like hair pulling or skin picking, which people often want to resist but can’t; or can be an indirect result of other difficulties, such as damaging the body through drugs, alcohol, or an eating disorder.

The type discussed in the article, and what we normally think of in our cultural stereotype, is often an adolescent or young adult who cuts or burns themselves.

The motivations vary, and yes, a minority do give ‘wanting attention’ as a reason. Sometimes this is a learnt response when they’ve been in an environment where the only time they have been given any care or attention is when they’ve damaged themselves.

However, the vast majority try their best to hide what they do and it can be a source of significant shame.

As noted in a recent review on the area, this group tends to use self-harm as a way of managing strong emotions and cutting is associated with a build-up of tension and the feeling of relief at the time of committing the act.

People who self-harm are more likely to be depressed, impulsive and poor at problem-solving and self-harm is often a way they’ve found, at least temporarily, to control otherwise overwhelming emotions.

Although the risk of suicide is increased in adolescents who self-harm, only a minority will go on to kill themselves. Just over 1% in a recent study with a 26 year follow-up.

There’s still not a great deal of research on which are the best treatments with the biggest reviews being inconclusive, but recent findings suggest that self-harming problems can be treated with psychological therapy.

Link to NYT article on self-harm.

CIA guide to optimised thinking

The CIA have released the full text of a book on the psychology of analysing surveillance data. While aimed at the CIA’s analysts, it’s also a great general guide on how to understand complex situations and avoid our natural cognitive biases in reasoning.

I’ve not read it all, but it aims not only to give the reader an understanding of the limitations of our reasoning, but also how to overcome them when trying to think about tricky problems.

A central focus of this book is to illuminate the role of the observer in determining what is observed and how it is interpreted. People construct their own version of “reality” on the basis of information provided by the senses, but this sensory input is mediated by complex mental processes that determine which information is attended to, how it is organized, and the meaning attributed to it. What people perceive, how readily they perceive it, and how they process this information after receiving it are all strongly influenced by past experience, education, cultural values, role requirements, and organizational norms, as well as by the specifics of the information received.

The chapters on cognitive biases seem particularly good, and the book consistently grounds the abstract concepts in accessible examples.

It’s interesting that patients who undertake cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help with emotional or psychiatric difficulties will learn how to identify and avoid many of these exact same biases.

However, in the clinical situation the idea is that mood or emotion is in a pathological feedback loop which makes biases more likely (e.g. anxious people will tend to focus on threatening things), which in turn reinforces the emotional state.

The CIA book doesn’t seem to mention emotion or mood at all, despite the fact that the same effects are known to occur in all of us, even if they don’t get to the level of illness or impairment.

Secret service analysts must surely work in high-emotion environments (and the fact that the UK’s secret services regularly advertise for clinical psychologists seems to bear this out), so this would seem to be a crucial aspect not covered by this otherwise very comprehensive guide.

Link to full text of CIA book ‘Psychology of Intelligence Analysis’.

Brain trends exposed in ‘state of the neuron’ study

A fascinating study on the social trends in neuroscience research has found that New York is happening but Boston is hot, dementia researchers are the most influential, high-level processes are hip and that neuroscientists need to practice professional ‘birth control’ to avoid mass starvation.

The results come from a paper just published in PLoS One that used the abstracts from five years’ worth of Society for Neuroscience annual conference presentations to map out emerging trends in brain research.

The study did a series of ‘bibliometric‘ analyses. That is, it used software that looked for links between people, topics, geographical location and other points of interest over time by analysing the text of presentation summaries.

The SfN conferences always happen in the States, so there’s certainly a bias, but they’re generally considered the most important international meeting of the year, so the paper is full of gems about neuroscience now and in the future. I’ve pulled out a few below.

The global “hubs” for neuroscience research seem to be concentrated in the northeast region of the United States (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore/DC vicinity), Southern California, Tokyo, Montreal, and London.

New York City consistently ranks as the top producer of neuroscience research, but when population size is included, Boston and Baltimore come out particularly well, as they rank high in both the raw number of authors and per population participation in SfN meetings.

There has been a shift in general scientific interest from ‘low-level’ research on cellular processes such as ion channels, synapses, and cell membranes, towards more ‘high-level’ research on things like vision, movement, and neuroimaging.

A useful graph shows words which have decreased in frequency in the research summaries over the years on the left, and words increasing in frequency on the right.

In a social network analysis, the neuroscientists with the largest betweenness centrality, a measure of influence over the network, were not necessarily those with their name on the largest number of research presentations.

Interestingly, most of these scientists conduct research in the field of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and the authors of the study speculate that this may be because the area is well funded and that it involves a diverse range of research techniques. Therefore, the researchers are likely to be connected with many others in the field.

A cluster analysis of themes looked at which research areas formed coherent groups. It’s interesting to compare SfN’s traditional classification of topics with the results of the analysis which found spontaneous groupings.

While there is some overlap, areas like ‘pain and trauma’, the ‘behaviour of song birds’ and ‘sleep’ seem to have formed strong groupings by themselves.

In terms of the population shift in neuroscience, about 60% of researchers seem to be ‘transitory’, probably students or outside collaborators who don’t remain in the field for long.

However, the growth of the neuroscience community has been massive, while the total funding has remained steady.

The authors suggest that like in any population boom, research institutions should use the equivalent of ‘birth control’ to keep numbers down, otherwise they’ll be more people than jobs, and lots of people will be work-starved.

Starvation, of course, regulates a population, although is a rather painful process for those who expire due to lack of resources.

Link to full text of PLoS One paper on neuroscience trends.

A pessimist is never disappointed

Purveyors of the delightfully cynical, Despair Inc, have created a wonderful drinking vessel that makes it absolutely clear when your glass is half empty.

If you feel The Pessimist’s Mug doesn’t quite get the message across, you can always try this Threadless t-shirt which illustrates the basic psychology behind the metaphor.

Personally, I’ve always preferred the approach from the anonymous quote “An optimist will tell you the glass is half-full; the pessimist, half-empty; and the engineer will tell you the glass is twice the size it needs to be”.

Link to Despair Inc Pessimist’s Mug (via Deric Bownds).
Link to Threadless Pessimist or Optimist t-shirt.

Vengeance and the recycle of violence

Two recently published articles on inter-group violence highlight the how the cycle of vengeance is remarkably similar across two different cultures: one in tribal peoples from New Guinea, the other in street gangs from Chicago.

In an article for The New Yorker Jared Diamond writes about the cycles and social customs surrounding vengeance in New Guinea by examining how one Handa tribesmen sought to exact revenge on another tribe for the death of his uncle.

The social customs about what counts as vengeance, how and whom it may be exacted upon are complex, but it’s interesting that Diamond concludes that the desire for vengeance is a powerful motivation (ranking alongside love, anger, grief, and fear) which feeds the cycle of retribution even past the point where the original cause of the conflict has been lost in the sands of time.

A similar theme is echoed in an article published in today’s New York Times on gang violence in Chicago. It focuses on a project called CeaseFire started by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin.

The project uses an interesting method which thinks of violence like a disease which can be transmitted through vengeance, and so applies an approach taken from disease prevention models to try and stop the spread of shootings.

Slutkin employs mostly ex-members of the Chicago underground who know both the streets and the players to intervene and mediate disputes when violence has flared on when the situation seems ready to explode.

The idea, just like in clinical epidemiology, is to target the most ‘infected’ members to reduce transmission – in this case, by engaging those causing the most violence and cooling the need for vengeance.

After a quick search, there seems to be remarkably little research on the role of vengeance in violence (although almost all supports its role).

This tends to parallel the research into violence in general. As one of the biggest killers in the world, I’m always struck by how little attention it gets.

Link to Jared Diamond article ‘Vengeance is Ours’.
Link to NYT article ‘Blocking the Transmission of Violence’.

Sexual PsyOps

We’ve covered some of the historical archives of propaganda material before on Mind Hacks, but ex-US PsyOps Sergeant Major Herbert Friedman has created an archive of historical propaganda that was specifically themed to target sexual insecurities.

The page is not the easiest to read owing to the rather rough and ready formatting, but it has a fascinating archive of 20th century wartime propaganda that used sexual images to rally the civilian population or lower moral in enemy troops.

The images are NSFW but are most are not particularly pornographic by today’s standards, although a few are obviously designed to be particularly offensive.

Most images aimed at civilians use the theme that the enemy are sexual deviants who will defile the country’s women if they’re not defeated, while most aimed at enemy soldiers suggest that their girlfriends and wives will be unfaithful while they’re away – or simply highlight the contrast between staying and fighting or, for example, returning home to drink cocktails with topless women.

Some of the leaflets are quite complex for the time, using see-through covers to make them visually more appealing, while they were often specifically designed to take advantage of the specific insecurities of allied forces.

For example, this section discusses German sexual propaganda leaflets dropped to allied soldiers in World War II:

There are two major differences between the leaflets aimed at the Americans and those aimed at the French. The American leaflets are much cruder and the pictures not nearly as well drawn. The second difference is that while the leaflet to the French showed British soldiers with the women, thus attacking an ally, the leaflet aimed at the GIs showed American civilians with the wives and girlfriends, so the propaganda theme might be considered more “anti-slacker” or “anti-draft-dodger”.

A fascinating collection, and if you’re interested in a browsing through probably the most comprehensive archive of propaganda leaflets on the net (including examples from as recent as last year), I notice the PsyWar website is back online.

UPDATE: The original page seems to be a bit unreliable, but thanks to Will for posting a link to a mirror of the page which you can read here.

Link to NSFW Sex and Psychological Operations archive.
Link to PsyWar archive.

Uncanny valley of the dolls

Human-computer interaction scientist Karl MacDorman has produced a fantastically illustrated video lecture on the psychology of the ‘uncanny valley‘ – the effect where androids become creepy when they’re almost human.

It comes in seven 3-4 minute sections, each of which is packed with some completely fascinating science and some wonderful examples of humanoid androids in action and how people react to them.

It’s a bit hard to navigate the YouTube links between sections, so I’ve collected the links to all the parts of the talk, entitled ‘Charting the Uncanny Valley’, below:

1. Introduction
2. Form Dynamics Contingency
3. Human Perception
4. Do Looks Matter?
5. Android Science
6. Explanations
7. What makes a robot uncanny?

While reviewing the whole area of android – human interaction, MacDorman seems to have done some fascinating research himself, often taking paradigms from existing psychology studies and seeing how androids alter the experience.

For example, in one study [pdf] he morphed android faces with human ones (using Philip K Dick as the human face!) and measured how the images trigger differing feelings of familiarity, eeriness and the like.

A very well spent 20 minutes and a great introduction to a fascinating area.

pdf of MacDorman’s paper on the Uncanny Valley.
Link to MeFi post which alerted me to the lecture.