A sagacious old dame and some wonderful archives

The placebo effect is usually thought to involve the patient’s belief in a treatment, but as Tom pointed out in an earlier post, the doctor’s belief in a treatment seems also to play a part.

I just found this fantastic footnote on a page from the 1849 edition of The Journal of Psychological Medicine and Mental Pathology, where an elderly lady patient decides to select her doctors based on their faith in her treatment.

An old lady, who was attended by her physician and apothecary, seriously requested them to inform her whether she was likely to die. After a deliberate consultation, they resolved to comply with her request, and they told her they she was near the end. “Very well”, replied the sagacious old dame, “then I must dismiss you, because, if you think so, it is evident that you are not the persons to get me well again!” and she accordingly discharged them both.

There are now several historical texts and journals from the 1800s available online, in full, without restrictions via Google Books.

In fact, May’s edition of The Psychologist (full disclosure: I’m an unpaid associate editor) had an <a href="http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm?volumeID=21&editionID=160&ArticleID=1351
“>article on John Perceval, famous for his influence on 19th century mental health reform after being admitted to several institutions and writing very eloquently about his experiences.

A scanned copy of an original of Perceval’s book is available online. It has the truly wonderful title of:

A Narrative of the Treatment Experienced by a Gentleman During a State of Mental Derangement Designed to Explain the Causes and the Nature of Insanity and to Expose the Injudicious Conduct Pursued Towards Many Unfortunate Sufferers Under That Calamity.

35, single and psychoneurotic

The Bonkers Institute for Nearly Genuine Research has added a gallery of vintage drug adverts to its site, showcasing some of the more outlandish psychiatric advertising from the 20th century.

One of the most striking things is the Thorazine gallery, that highlights how the drug, also known under its generic name chlorpromazine, was advertised for pretty much everything.

This included alcoholism, hostility, menopause, senility, arthritis and cancer to name but a few.

While we now think of chlorpromizine and other selective D2 dopamine antagonists (blockers) as ‘antipsychotics’, it’s important to remember that the fact we now describe these compounds in terms of their effect on psychosis was a marketing coup in itself.

For example, Thorazine was also sold under the name ‘Largactil’, to give the impression it was ‘large acting’ and could be used in a number of different conditions.

In fact, these drugs were originally marketed as major tranquillisers, then neuroleptics, then antipsychotics, and now, history has come full circle, as drug companies are now trying to reposition ‘atypical antipsychotics’ as general psychiatric medicines by getting them licensed as treatments for more general conditions such as depression and anxiety.

It’s a classic marketing technique to sell products as solutions to problems, but we simply don’t understand enough about the neurobiology of mental illness to design medication to selectively treat a specific diagnosis.

In other words, labels like ‘antidepressant’, ‘antipsychotic’ or ‘mood stabiliser’ tell us next to nothing about the action of the drug and only inform us how they are used.

It’s like the word ‘shampoo’. While the product may have a few tweaks that make it better for washing hair, it doesn’t mean it cleans your hair and nothing else. That’s just how this particular soap product is used and sold.

So if someone decides to promote antipsychotics to treat anxiety, or shampoo to wash your car, the same principle applies as if they’re being marketed to treat psychosis or clean your hair.

Don’t take the labels as evidence, and look for the scientific data for their effectiveness.

Link to Bonkers Institute Gallery.

The perils of power tool amputation

Newsweek has a fascinating article on ‘body integrity identity disorder’, a condition where people feel they need to have a limb amputated to become normal and often go to extreme lengths to have their arm or leg removed.

BIID, otherwise known as apotemnophilia, is often confused with amputee fetishism, where sexual gratification is linked to ideas of amputation. However, they seem quite distinct in most cases.

Although its not widely studied, the desire seems to be much more about the feeling of being comfortable in one’s body rather than anything explicitly sexual.

The Newsweek article discusses the condition and looks at some of the latest scientific research on this seemingly strange desire, but suffers from some rather sloppy thinking about the mind and brain. For example:

BIID is attracting the attention of researchers who suspect that the condition may be related to other body image disorders—including anorexia, body dysmorphic disorder, and gender identity disorder—that at first glance may seem entirely psychological, but may be linked to physical differences in the brain.

All psychological changes are related to physical differences in the brain, so this is a completely bogus distinction.

Whenever you read a sentence like this translate it into the language of theories and evidence.

In other words, ‘[conditions] that might seem better explained by solely psychological theories now need to be updated as evidence on biological brain changes becomes available’.

The piece then goes on to repeat a common but trashy fallacy that you can describe any brain difference as something that is ‘hard wired’.

Despite these disastrous misunderstandings of the fundamentals of neuroscience, the piece is actually quite good.

It’s interesting that while the medical viewpoint is that BIID is linked to other body image disorders, the people who have these desires do not feel it is a disorder at all.

I was struck by the fact that a couple of people who have acquired amputations anecdotally report that they feel much better afterwards.

This is in marked contrast to people with body dysmorphic disorder who after plastic surgery to ‘fix’ their self-perceived distorted body part typically do not feel ‘cured’. Or those with anorexia who do not feel satisfied even when they are at a near-fatal point of emaciation.

It would be fascinating to follow-up people who have BIID after they’ve acquired a successful amputation to see how they fare.

If their desires disappear, they do not become newly fixated on amputating another limb, or experience improved mental health and life-satisfaction as a result, how far can we go in saying its a mental illness?

I’ve had a search and, sadly, found no such studies.

Link to Newsweek article ‘Cutting Desire’.

BBC All in the Mind kicks off its summer season

BBC Radio 4’s seasonal mind and brain programme All in the Mind has just started its summer run, and the first programme discusses virtual paranoia, heroics and the politics of detaining people with mental health problems.

Rather than the usual host of psychiatrist Raj Persuave (I realise it’s not spelt like that but it seems to fit better), this season is fronted by the excellent Claudia Hammond – a rare breed of journalist who obviously knows her stuff about psychology and neuroscience.

The first programme looks at the use of virtual reality to study paranoia, talks to Philip Zimbardo about the psychology of heroism in the face of systemic abuse, and discusses whether changes in UK mental health law will mean abuses are less likely to be detected.

It’ll be broadcast weekly for the next 5 week, so catch the archive which appears online every Wednesday.

Link to BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind.

2008-06-06 Spike activity

Who says Americans don’t do irony? The Neurocritic reports that the next NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction will be held in Las Vegas!

The latest edition of the Santa Fe Institute magazine has some fascinating articles on social networks and terrorism, but is only available as a 6.1 Mb whole-magazine pdf download.

The Economist has a double bill on ‘smart drugs’ – potential new compounds to improve memory, concentration and learning.

The science of mindfulness meditation is discussed by The New York Times.

The Boston Globe highlights the work of a psychiatric epidemiologist. One of the least glamorous but most important forms of mental health research.

To the bunkers! Skynet sentience and subsequent robot war temporarily postponed owing to faulty software.

Neuropsychologist Martha Farah discusses the future of free will with Wired.

The New York Review of Books has an extensive review of ‘Nudge’, a new behavioural economics book, and discusses how Obama plans to use the new theories in his policy making.

Optical illusions! Scientific American has a whole series with explanations.

Yahoo! News reports that earlier diagnosis means that people with Alzheimer’s are increasingly able and willing to discuss their experience and lobby for research.

The famous University College London ‘lunch hour lectures’ are now available online as video archives. iTunes users can also download UCL lectures.

The Independent catalogues the weird and the wonderful behavioural disorders / difficulties / fallacies that have been medicated.

Initial study finds that heavy, long-term cannabis use may shrink certain brain structures, according to Science Daily.

Deric Bownds looks at sex differences in judging attractiveness.

Thoughts of death make us eat more cookies. Enough said, although New Scientist has <a href="http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19826583.900-thoughts-of-death-make-us-eat-more-cookies.html

PhysOrg on a paralysed man who takes a walk in Second Life owing to a brain-computer interface.

The newly minted Neuroanthropology.net has a very funny post on an allegory for modern cognitive science.

Dennett vs Fodor. Handbags at 40 paces. “As often before, Jerry Fodor makes my life easier, this time by… providing along the way some vivid lessons in How Not to Do Philosophy.” 3 Quarks Daily links to the latest philosophical ruckus.

Jonah Lehrer discusses theories of memory in a short but sweet segment for NPR Radio.

Fox News reports that an Arizona teen becomes sixth victim this year of brain-eating amoeba. Sadly true, it seems.

Yes, we have no bananas! Sorry, I meant no disease in the brain of a 115-year-old woman. Pure Pedantry looks at the eye-opening implications.

SciAm on why unscientific assumptions in economic theory are undermining efforts to solve environmental problems. If only those humans weren’t so irrational.

You are what you buy, and definitely what you don’t

During the 1960s, a sudden upsurge in anti-consumerist rebellion threatened the profits of the world’s big corporations. The solution to the problem turned out to be packaging the counter-culture and selling the concept of rebellion back to a receptive youth audience.

How has this become possible? Salon has an excellent book review that discusses how brands are no longer simple trade marks but have become socially meaningful to the point where consumers know enough about the symbolism to be able to communicate complex messages through what we buy.

The book under review is Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are by Rob Walker which aims to uncover the psychology and anthropology of social consumerism.

This only makes sense if you argue, as Walker does, that commodities can have real significance. Some objects — trophies, wedding rings, souvenirs from trips — patently do stand for important aspects of our lives. (They have what Walker calls “authentic” meaning.) Most people, however, don’t want to admit that they believe meaning can also be bought, that Converse sneakers make you a cool outsider or that a MacBook demonstrates one’s creativity and unconventionality. Walker thinks we should acknowledge that the things we buy do carry meaning, as long as we also recognize that we’re the ones who gave it to them. A wedding ring, for example, only represents the relationship between two people because those two people (along with the society around them) agree that it does. We are the ones who invest these objects with symbolic power, and, furthermore, to do so is a universal human activity. Kidding ourselves that we relate to the objects and products in our lives in a purely rational way (something scientists have disproved over and over again) leaves us open to unconscious manipulation by advertisers.

In other words, advertising is not solely about selling products but is concerned with constructing meaning around a product so it can be used in the language of social communication.

I was fascinated by a recent psychology study that found that one crucial aspect of ‘communication’ in the language of social consumerism is to avoid symbolism associated with social groups that are perceived as particularly contrary to a person’s self-image.

This is from the Science Blog write-up:

“Although past research has confirmed that consumers often choose products and brands that represent who they are, the current research suggests that consumers also choose products in ways that demonstrate who they are not,” explain Katherine White (University of Calgary) and Darren W. Dahl (University of British Columbia).

Through a series of studies, the researchers found that people are only motivated to avoid products related to “disassociative reference groups” – that is, groups with which the consumer seeks to avoid association. However, this avoidance tendency did not occur in response to products associated with an “outgroup,” or, a group in which the consumer does not belong, but is also not particularly motivated to avoid. For example, the baby boomer who avoids geriatric shoes might not be a basketball fan, but may be neutral about basketball in general and gladly wear basketball shoes.

The Salon book review is well-worth reading on its own and contains many fascinating points, but I’ll be interesting to track down a copy of the book myself as if it’s supported by good research it could be a fascinating look into one of our most implicit but pressurised methods of social communication.

Link to Salon book review.
Link to abstract of study on avoiding negative brand associations.
Link to ScienceBlog write-up.

The meaning response

I am currently reading Daniel Moerman’s “Meaning, medicine and the ‘placebo effect'”. As well as containing many interesting asides, the book discusses what is at the heart of the so-called placebo effect: patients’ response to the meaning of their treatment. Moerman calls this the ‘meaning response’. This response to meaning explains why two inert pills produce more cures than one inert pill, and why inert injections are even more effective (because “everybody knows” that injections are more powerful than pills). But importantly, it is possible to show that doctors are as important in producing the meaning response as patients. Gracely et al (1985) looked at the effect of placebo on pain in patients having their wisdom teeth extracted. The study was set up as a standard double-blind (neither the doctor nor the patient knows if the patient is getting a real medicine or an inert placebo), with the possibilities being a placebo, fentanyl (which usually reduces pain) and naloxone (which usually blocks reduction in pain, so could be expected to increase the pain of the procedure). The twist was that for the first half of the experiment the doctors, but not the patients, were told that a supply problem meant that no patient would be getting the pain-relieving fentanyl. In the second half the doctors were told that the problem had been resolved, so that now the patients might receive fentanyl. By comparing levels of patient pain in the placebo condition is possible to gauge the effect of doctor expectations on the meaning response of the patients. In this condition patients are all receiving inert substances, and they all ‘know’ the same thing: they might receive a placebo, pain-relief or ‘pain-enhancement’. The doctors don’t tell them about the supply problem and, for that matter, they don’t know themselves for definite what the patient is given. The only difference is that for the patients in the first half, the doctors think they know that pain-relief is not a possibility, whereas in the second half it is. The graph of the results, copied from Moerman’s book is below:


As you can see, patients in the PNF group — those whose doctors thought they might receive pain-relief had a large pain-relieving placebo effect compared to those in the PN group — those whose doctors thought they couldn’t receive pain-relief (update in the original edit of this post I had these labels the other way around, incorrectly)

What I think is interesting about this study is, firstly, it confirms the need for rigorous double-blind controls in studies of medicine and, secondly, just how significant an effect this subtle manipulation has. The doctors don’t know anything definite, and they certainly aren’t telling the patients what they suspect or guess, but somehow — a look? a slightly brighter smile? a slightly lowered tone? — they communicate their knowledge of the probabilities to the patients who then experience a real change in their levels of pain because of it.

A striking aspect of the meaning response is that one could suppose that patients have control over their experience of different levels of pain. After all, we know that the pills are inert. Could we just imagine ourselves a ‘placebo effect’ in all situations where we have unnecessary pain? Sadly, normally we can’t do this — the meaning response doesn’t work like that. Doctors are required to give patients permission to feel less pain. Perhaps a fundamental part of the creation of meaning is that it requires other people.

Update: A great recent post by Vaughan ‘placebo is not what you think’, which deserves to be linked up with this post


Gracely, R. H., Dubner, R., Deeter, W. R., & Wolskee, P. J. (1985). Clinicians’ expectations influence placebo analgesia. Lancet, 1(8419), 43.

Moerman, D. E. (2002). Meaning, medicine, and the “placebo effect”. Cambridge University Press: New York.

Mad for it

The University of Utah have created a web game where you can train as a mad scientist by demonstrating you can label and construct what looks like an alien from a 60s B-movie but is apparently a giant neuron.

For those wanting their mad neuroscientist stereotypes a little stronger, I suggest that the 1985 zombie movie Day of the Dead, where neuroscientists attempt to tame some captured zombies by meddling with their brains in an attempt to work out how to stop the hordes of the undead that are overrunning the earth.

As if you couldn’t guess, the neuroscientists turn out to be sadly deluded and become victims of both the zombies and their fellow humans.

There’s a moral in there somewhere, but I’m too tired to work it out, so stereotype away.

Link to ‘Make a Mad, Mad, Mad Neuron’ game.

NeuroPod on music and free will

I’ve just noticed that the month slipped past without me realising that the May edition of Nature’s NeuroPod show hit the net, covering musical neuroscience, the vagaries of free will and Huntingdon’s disease.

One highlight is neuroscientist John Dylan Haynes arguing that free will is dead, and while we’re still waiting for the conclusive scientific data, we can probably bank on it being an illusion.

There’s also a fascinating piece on the psychology and neuroscience of music and its value as a social force.

As a musical aside, you may be interested to know the the BBC broadcast a documentary last night based on the Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophilia. If you live in the UK, you can watch it online via the BBC, although sadly only for the next 6 says.

Link to Nature NeuroPod archive.
Link to BBC documentary on Musicophilia (UK only).

Those who forget history, follow a curve

Cognitive Daily have just concluded a series on three classic studies in early psychology: one on Ebbinghaus who experimented on his own memory, one on Millicent Washburn Shinn who experimented on her own child niece, and another on the Gestalt psychologists whose elegant visual demonstrations have been used to experiment on the rest of us ever since.

Hermann Ebbinghaus achieved a remarkable feat. He published a series of experimental studies on memory, conducted on himself, in 1885, which are still taught today.

As described by the CogDaily article, he created nonsense words and learnt them, again and again, and then tested himself at later times and recorded how quickly he learnt and forgot.

Whenever we use the term ‘learning curve’ in everyday language we’re using a phrase created by Ebbinghaus to describe the rate of learning in his studies. He also mapped out the ‘forgetting curve’ and these two results largely hold true to this day.

Millicent Washburn Shinn was the first woman to gain a PhD at Berkley for which she studied the psychological development of her niece.

As CogDaily note, this involved a painstaking recording of her niece’s early experiences and new abilities and was a forerunner of more recent studies like the ‘human speechome‘ project and Fernyhough’s book on his daughter.

Finally, and with some wonderful visual demonstrations, CogDaily cover the work of the early Gestalt psychologists who fired one of the first broadsides in a key psychological debate over whether it is possible to understand the mind better by breaking it down into smaller and smaller functions.

Using a number of now famous visual examples they demonstrated that there must be some high level grouping processes that capture the ‘whole’ and process concepts on a more global level rather than purely drilling down through the detail.

Link to CogDaily on Ebbinghaus’s memory studies.
Link to CogDaily on Millicent Washburn Shinn’s baby study.
Link to CogDaily on Gestalt psychology.

Wake up and smell the caffeine

New York Magazine has a wonderful article on the culture, controversies and pharmacology of caffeine – the world’s most popular psychoactive drug.

Ranging from the recent upturn in coffee’s popularity and its inevitable effect on our caffeine consumption to the science of its neurological effects, the article manages to capture some of the key debates about the tremor inducing buzz substance.

One particularly interesting part touches on research that suggests that, like the effect of nicotine, the lift for regular users may be nothing more than withdrawal symptoms being soothed to bring us back to baseline.

That all said, what if the uptick in energy, alertness, and smarts we feel after drinking a cup of coffee isn‚Äôt a real uptick at all? What if it‚Äôs an illusion? A group of cutting-edge caffeine researchers believes that might be the case…

When Griffiths and Juliano teamed up to review 170 years of caffeine research, much of which confirmed the drug’s reputation as a brain booster, they noticed a pattern: Most studies had been done on caffeine users who, in the interest of scientific rigor, were deprived of the stimulant overnight. Because caffeine withdrawal can commence in just twelve hours, by the time each study’s jonesing test subjects were given either caffeine or a placebo, they had begun to suffer headaches and fatigue.

For the half that received the stimulant—poof!—their withdrawal symptoms vanished. The other half remained uncaffeinated, crabby, and logy, and guess which group scored higher on cognitive tests time after time? The boost the test subjects who got the caffeine felt may have simply been a function of having been deprived of the drug.

Link to ‘The Coffee Junkie‚Äôs Guide to Caffeine Addiction’.

Multiple sarcasm

If you’re going to be sarcastic, make sure you do it with the full force of knowledge behind you, because there’s nothing that’ll make you look more ridiculous than being sarcastic and wrong.

Unfortunately, an otherwise interesting article from The New York Times manages to tick both boxes. The fact that the article is on the neuroscience of sarcasm makes it all the more ironic, but we all know that irony is an entirely different ball game.

Despite what the opening paragraph of the article tells you, neuropsychologist Katherine Rankin’s study did not find that sarcasm “resides” in the right parahippocampal gyrus – a part of the temporal lobe that lies just below the hippocampus.

Her study, which was presented to a recent neurology conference, tested a series of 78 patients with various forms of dementia and 13 healthy older adults, with the TASIT – a test that measures the ability to discriminate between sarcastic and sincere statements.

The research team then used MRI scans to take structural images of each of the participants’ brains and looked to see whether atrophy (brain area shrinkage caused by cell death) was linked to poorer sarcasm detection.

As they mention in their presentation abstract: “Poorer sarcasm recognition correlated with right temporal lobe atrophy (anterior fusiform and parahippocampal gyrii, superior temporal sulcus), and atrophy to the right superior frontal gyrus and striatal structures (right caudate and left globus pallidus)”.

For those not familiar with the geography of the brain, this is a fairly distributed area, affecting the frontal lobe, temporal lobe and basal ganglia, largely on the right side.

Contrary to what the article tells you, it’s very unlikely that Dr Rankin was surprised by the fact that the brain areas linked to sarcasm were on the right, rather than the left dominant hemisphere for language.

In fact, not only has right hemisphere damage been known to impair the recognition of emotion in speech for almost 30 years, but in her own abstract Rankin mentions that the finding is consistent with existing research on voice prosody, facial emotion recognition and perspective taking.

Finally, to say that sarcasm “resides” in one particular place in the brain from a study like this is just daft. It’s like concluding fun “resides” in a particular area of the city because you’ve noticed that the population enjoyed themselves less after the cinema burnt down.

Dr Rankin’s study has not yet been published, so the full details aren’t available. However, from the abstract it looks like an excellent study on the cognitive neuroscience of sarcasm which will make a great contribution to the growing literature (including another study presented at the same conference).

I just wouldn’t go by the NYT piece to pick up on the details, although it does have a good demonstration clip from the TASIT.

Link to NYT on sarcasm.
Link to abstract of scientific study.

Back to the future, but this time with data

IEEE Spectrum Online magazine has a special and rather splendid feature on the ‘singularity‘ – the supposed point when technology will outpace the human brain and we’ll be catapulted into a time of intelligent machines, neurologically enhanced humans and never ending life.

If you think this sounds like science fiction, then you’re probably right. Loathe as they are to admit it, transhumanists are essentially pining for the future as depicted in late 20th / early 21st century speculative fiction.

This is not necessarily such a bad thing. Like science fiction itself, some of it obviously stretches credibility to the point of self-parody, while some tackles the limits of technology and human experience in a profound and sophisticated way.

One notable difference is that some of the biggest names in science are involved in the transhumanist movement, and so despite their somewhat, let’s say, ‘ambitious’ aims, the discussions tend to start from what is already possible.

IEEE Spectrum calls the singularity the technological rapture and it’s hard to escape the quasi-mystical aspect of some transhumanism, although perhaps more akin to 21st century alchemy than any explicit belief in the tenants of mainstream religion.

Nevertheless, this new feature sticks largely to the science and contains a wealth of articles, interactive features and video interviews that focus mainly on neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Consequently, there are many highlights to absorb and enjoy.

There’s even a wall chart which tells you “who’s who” in the movement, which is handily illustrated by the disembodied (presumably cryogenically frozen) heads of some of the key thinkers in the field.

UPDATE: It wouldn’t be transhumanism without a mention of Ray Kurzweil! Never fear, for today’s New York Times fills the gap with a piece noting that, like Christmas, the singularity will be here sooner than you think.

Link to ‘The Singularity: A Special Report’.

What the tip of the tongue tells us about the brain

The tip-of-the-tongue state is a common experience where you know you know something but can’t quite bring it to mind. This everyday experience has told us a great deal about how the mind and brain work, as explored in an article for the Boston Globe.

It’s a paradoxical experience if you think about it. You know something, but you can’t remember it.

Just this tells us that the storage of information and the ability to access it are distinct in the brain.

It also tells us that the brain must have ways of monitoring itself and communicating how successfully it carries out its operations to the conscious and unconscious mind.

This is known as ‘metacognition‘ and is one of the most important concepts in modern psychology.

The Boston Globe article (by Jonah Lehrer of the Frontal Cortex blog) is a remarkably lucid exploration of exactly this topic, looking at how it has been studied in everything from lab studies to people with brain injury who suffer near permanent tip-of-the-tongue states.

Link to Boston Globe article ‘What’s that name?’.

Battering Bobo

Albert Bandura’s 1961 ‘Bobo doll experiment‘ examined whether watching aggressive behaviour could trigger violence in children and is one of the most famous studies in in psychology. The video from the experiment is now available online so you can hear Bandura narrating the study as various children knock ten bells out of a plastic doll.

The study has been widely cited in debates about whether TV violence makes children more aggressive, but Bandura never referred to television at all in the article that described the study.

Undoubtedly, the study came at a time of peak concern about the effect of TV on children and so was highly topical, but it also caught the changing mood in psychology as a science.

In 1961 psychology was moving away from behaviourism toward a cognitive approach. Behaviourism suggested that all thought and behaviour arose from stimulus-response or paired-stimulus learning.

In contrast, cognitive psychology argues that the mind is more like a computer, and so processes information and builds internal models of the world.

The Bobo doll experiment was designed as a study of social learning theory, an approach Bandura innovated which attempts to explain how we can learn from others simply by observing them.

While individuals might get rewarded for successfully learning by observation, there are many other instances when this doesn’t happen even though learning still successfully occurs.

Therefore, social learning theory implies that we have internal models, internal motivations and non-conditioned learning – all of which are incompatible with a purely behaviourist approach.

The study could be applied to social concerns about TV and caught the spirit of the new psychology, making it popular with the public and psychologists alike.

Link to video of Bandura’s ‘Bobo doll experiment’ (via MeFi).
Link to full text of the original paper.

To the Madhouse

This month’s British Journal of Psychiatry reprints a poignant poem from the late English physician and poet Edward Lowbury:

To the Madhouse

What she has told us all a hundred times –
That old, unwanted women can again
Be hunted down, accused of pointless crimes
And burned in the public square; that it is vain
To plead ‚Äì or prove ‚Äì one’s innocence; that men
With solemn looks will come into the house,
And say, fearing a scene, `You’ll feel no pain;’
`It’s for your good;’ `We’re not ungenerous;’
What she foretold, when we dismissed her fear
Saying `You dreamed such things’ ‚Äì it now comes true:
The door is open, and the men are here.
Calmly they question her, and with a new
Smiling indifference drag her from the room
And through the streets to the expected doom.

The poem is apparently from one of his collections, entitled New Poems 1935–1989.

The image of the ‘mad woman’ is a recurrent theme in poetry and literature, particularly of times past, and was famously discussed in the 1979 book The Madwoman in the Attic.

One of the Wordworth’s most famous poems, The Mad Mother, is, perhaps, the best known example and recounts the words of a young lady who is experiencing what we would now call postpartum psychosis.

On the surface, it has a more cheerful outlook than Lowbury’s poem, although the content of the mother’s words belie the situation of the subject, rending the piece considerably more disturbing in many ways.

The picture on the right is by the 18th century French painter Th√©odore G√©ricault and is entitled Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy and is from his series of ten ‘portraits of the insane’.

At the time it was believed that madness could be seen in the face, and Géricault wanted to capture how different forms of insanity expressed themselves Рa project that preceded later attempts to do the same with photography.

Sadly, only five of the portraits survive, but they remain some of the most important works in the history of portraiture.

Link to short BJP article on the poem.
Link to Wordworth’s poem The Mad Mother.
Link to piece on G√©ricault’s ‘portraits of the insane’.