Liberation psychology graffiti

I’ve just seen my first genuine piece of psychology graffiti. The picture is from a wall in Universidad de Antioquia and the graffiti is promoting a conference on the application of ‘liberation psychology’ to preventing violence and helping the victims of violence in Colombia.

The text in Spanish is roughly translated as “We propose a scientific endeavour committed to historical reality and the problems and aspirations of the people” and is a quote from social psychologist and Catholic priest Ignacio Martín-Baró.

Martín-Baró was working in El Salvador during its bloody civil war and was using social psychology to research the opinions and views of the people and was producing results contrary to the propaganda of the army and government.

He was murdered by the El Salvadorian army in 1989 but he has had a massive influence on psychology and public policy in Latin America.

This in part was due to his strong belief in social psychology as an applied discipline to improve the society and the conditions of the poorest and most deprived.

While liberation psychology itself is typically associated with the left, one of Martín-Baró’s legacies is the practice of using social psychology for social improvement, something which is widely accepted in Latin America, regardless of political orientation.

It may seem strange that a conference is being advertised through graffiti, but political graffiti is common on the university campus and ranges from spray painted slogans to huge colourful murals.

If you’re interested in learning more about liberation psychology, The Psychologist had a 2004 article discussing both the discipline and Martín-Baró.

Link to The Psychologist article on liberation psychology.

2009-10-30 Spike activity

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

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ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind has an interesting discussion on addiction and free will. I recommend the extended version here.

The New York Times has an excellent personal account of psychosis.

There’s an awesome post on a new study about how phantom limbs can contort into impossible configurations at Neurophilosophy.

New York Magazine covers songs used in ‘war on terror’ torture and musicians’ protests over the use of their material.

How do we perceive speech after 150 kisses? Talking Brains covers an interesting conference poster.

BoingBoing reviews a new book on the use of psychedelic drugs throughout history.

There’s an in-depth review of ‘The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better’ in the London Review of Books.

Furious Seasons covers a new study [pdf] in JAMA on how atypical antipsychotics cause massive weight gain in children.

A slide show from Discover Magazine outlines the social factors in obesity or ‘how to make your friends fat’.

Scientific American Mind has a short report on a randomised controlled trial on how empathy in doctors reduces the duration of the common cold.

The excellent Neuroskeptic has a careful analysis of recent studies and discussion on the best antidepressant.

NeuroPod has just released it’s latest podcast. Direct mp3 link here.

Philosopher Gordon Marino writes an excellent piece on melancholy thinker S√∏ren Kierkegaard and issues of despair, depression and meaning in The New York Times.

Dr Petra has a fantastic sex research Q&A that covers a range of unquestioned or misreported pieces of ‘common knowledge’ and the evidence from the scientific literature.

The mighty BPS Research Digest discusses a fascinating study where a patient had an unexpected panic attack while being brain scanned, allowing an insight into the neural processes of panic.

Scientific American discusses asexuality, people who simply aren’t interested in sex. Another great piece from Jess Berring’s regular column.

An intriguing study on whether self-deception is genuinely possible is discussed by PsyBlog.

Language Log discusses the hypothesis that words for mother and father (e.g. mama and papa) are so similar across languages because it’s the first sounds children make and parents just assume their children are referring to them. As always, read the comments.

There’s a good piece on the neuroscience of obesity over at Dana’s excellent online magazine Cerebrum.

The New York Times has a good piece on the role of dopamine in motivation and wanting, dismissing the ‘reward system’ clich√© as old hat. Although it is seemingly unaware that this theory is not new and that the media have been mainly responsible for the gross dopamine = pleasure oversimplification.

Recent studies on the inaccurately named ‘brain scan mind reading’ approach are discussed by New Scientist.

Monkey brain surgeon

Online t-shirt company Psycho Reindeer have this fantastic monkey brain surgeon t-shirt with which you can proudly display your brain tinkering tendencies.

It’s only $14 and looks kinda funky.

If you do have a monkey by the way, it’s best not to let them do neurosurgery with a screwdriver as the t-shirt suggests.

I always make sure that they’re involved purely in an advisory capacity.

Link to monkey brain surgeon t-shirt.

Apply a female pigeon

The first neurology book printed in English was called ‘De Morbis Capitis’ and appeared in 1650. An old article from the Archives of Neurology discusses the book and has a lovely excerpt where it discusses numerous bizarre-sounding cures for brain diseases.

The full title of the book is the wonderful “DE MORBIS CAPITIS; Or, Of the chief internal Diseases of the HEAD. With Their Causes, Signes, Prognosticks, and Cures, for the benefit of those that understand not the Latine tongue”.

It was written by the country physician Robert Pemell who outlines the best rural neurological knowledge of the time.

This part from the Archives of Neurology article that discusses some of the ‘cures’ is both delightful and frightening in equal measure:

Ingredients in other remedies are marjoram, hyssop, lavender (a stimulant), rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Animal extracts included the brain of a hare, “much commended as having a peculiar property for the Paralyticall.” Diet is an important component in both the treatment and prevention of disease. Patients with paralysis, a disorder caused by an overabundance of thick humors, are counselled to “abstain from all gross and flegmatic meat…”

Physical remedies are also described by Pemell. Some are simple. “Make a noise in the ears of the (epileptic) party; for hereby the faculties are more stired up.” “Let the soles of the feet be well rub’d, and bathed with salt and vinegar.” Some are more elaborate. Apply “a female pigeon (the fethers being first leptick; for hereby the fit is abated, and the venomous vapours are drawn away.”

Link to PubMed entry for Archives of Neurology article.

Five minutes with Meg Barker

Meg Barker is a psychologist who specialises in understanding non-conventional sexuality and relationships. As well as being a researcher, Meg is also a psychotherapist where she puts her research into practice to help people overcome sex and relationship difficulties.

Having completed a great deal of research on bisexuality and ‘BDSM’ culture, Meg also has a particular interest in ‘polyamory‘ and non-monogamous relationships and has recently co-edited a forthcoming book on the topic with psychologist Darren Langdridge which attempts to understand the diverse experiences of non-monogamous relationships.

She’s also been kind enough to talk to Mind Hacks about her work and interests.

Continue reading “Five minutes with Meg Barker”

Social networks of murder

Photo by Flickr user dhall. Click for sourceI’m just reading a long but gripping study that used social network analysis to look at murder as a social interaction between gangs in Chicago to understand how stable networks of retaliation are sustained over time.

However, I was struck by this bit in the introduction, which really highlights the social nature of murder:

But we know that murder is not in fact such a random matter. It is first and foremost an interaction between two people who more often than not know each other: approximately 75% of all homicides in the United States from 1995 to 2002 occurred between people who knew each other prior to the murder (Federal Bureau of Investigation, selected years).

We also know that the victim and offender tend to resemble each other socially and demographically (e.g., Wolfgang 1958; Luckenbill 1977). Young people kill other young people, poor people kill other poor people, gang members kill other gang members, and so on. Thus, contrary to stratification theories, a particular murder is not so much the outcome of the differential distribution of attributes as it is an interaction governed by patterns of social relations between people similar in stature and status.

It’s an amazing paper which combines a social network analysis drawn from police murder records with field work that involved talking to gang members to understand their perception and use of violence.

Link to PubMed entry for ‘Murder by structure’.
Link to DOI entry for same.

An illusory interlude

I just found a some curious case reports on two people who had hallucinations in everyday life owing to unrecognised narcolepsy, but not realising it, they assumed their hallucinated episodes had genuinely occurred.

Unlike in psychosis, where affected people often believe that their hallucinations are real, people who have narcolepsy and have hallucinations are usually able to realise they were triggered by the condition.

In this case, the people were unaware that they had a tendency to hallucinate and so the boundaries between hallucination and reality began to blur.

The 45-year-old technical manager had a multi-year history of daytime sleepiness… He frequently had curious experiences during the day ‚Äì the neighbour throwing litter into the patient’s bin; his wife throwing precious objects away. Sometimes he saw himself trying to clean dirt on the side of a ditch. These memories and experiences were confusing. They gave rise to a surprised and suspicious state of mind.

Improbable and incomprehensible things happened, leaving him in doubt. Sometimes he gave sensitive-paranoid interpretations to the events, he also denounced the neighbour for filling his bin. His paranoidity drove his psychiatrist to the diagnostic conclusion of a delusional psychosis.

Recently he had a severe conflict with his chief on account of a vivid experience of having had sexual intercourse with the chief’s wife, which he mentioned to colleagues. Remembering every detail, he was convinced that his story was true, but the reactions of those around him gradually convinced him that this experience could be a hallucination.

The man was eventually referred to a sleep clinic, diagnosed with narcolepsy and successfully treated.

The other case is of a young woman who hallucinated that she had been sexually assaulted on a bus – an experience so vivid that she reported it to the police with numerous details of the offender.

She later realised that that she could have been wrong and as part of the court case for making a false police report she was medically assessed and also diagnosed with narcolepsy after a sleep lab assessment.

Link to PubMed entry for case reports.