2010-07-30 Spike activity

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

Popular Science reports on proposals to study the obscure hallucinogen ibogain as a treatment for opiate addiction.

A study on how money restricts life’s pleasures is covered by PsyBlog.

Yale Alumni Magazine looks at research “which seeks to use robots not to perform tasks for humans but as a means of investigating the inner workings of human behavior and psychology”.

The chance of getting executed for killing a white person is about three times higher than for killing an African American, regardless of the offender’s race, according to research covered by In the News.

The New York Times piece on free will by philosopher Galen Strawson has some insightful commentaries here at The Frontal Cortex and here at Oscillatory Thoughts.

Stereotypes of mental illness in cinema – a brief diagnostic guide – over at Frontier Psychiatrist.

Wired Science reports on a study finding synchronised brain activity between people in a conversation.

The first and preliminary controlled trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD is covered by Drug Monkey.

New Scientist analyse the shaky idea that bigger brains means more intelligence.

A video introduces IBM cognitive computing’s SyNAPSE project – which stands for ‘Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics’ since you asked – is over at Developing Intelligence.

The Today Programme from BBC Radio 4 interviews psychologist Til Wykes on changes to psychiatric diagnosis and the shrinking definition of normality.

What proportion of chemical leaks provoke mass hysteria? asks the BPS Research Digest.

Seed Magazine has an interesting review of ‘Sex at Dawn’ – a new book looking at the history of sexuality in pre-history.

Brain scan based career advice? The Neurocritic covers a curious study on using brain structure and cognitive performance for ‘vocational guidance’.

Life Matters from ABC Radio National discusses whether ‘bad kids’ become more popular as rule-breaking becomes attractive as kids age.

There’s a great piece on how a study of heroin addiction in ex-Vietnam soldiers gave birth to the ‘disease model’ of addiction over at Addiction Inbox.

The New York Times has an in-depth article discussing whether the seemingly permanent record of the internet means an ‘end to forgetting’.

The Research Blogging editor’s selections of psychology and neuroscience articles posted regularly at The Thoughtful Animal are excellent.

Wired has an in-depth article on the possibilities of a ‘stress vaccine‘ that protects against the damage associated with chronic stress.

Can music negatively affect your memory? asks Barking Up The Wrong Tree.

New Scientist reports on how a doctor has been reprimanded apparently for asking valid questions about the validity of ‘shaken baby syndrome’.

There is some intelligent commentary concerning the recent Edge online seminar on the psychology of morality over at Neuroanthropology.

Scientific American Mind has excellent coverage of the recent ‘self-fulfilling feigning of mental illness’ study.

BBC Radio 4’s Inside the Ethics Committee programme had an interesting discussion on when it is ethical to accept a mentally ill patient’s decision to refuse a life-saving operation if their objections are based on delusional ideas.

Not Exactly Rocket Science discusses an awesome ‘sniff-detector‘ that allows paralysed people to write messages, surf the net and drive a wheelchair.

What if there had never been a Cognitive Revolution? asks Cognition and Culture.

Booty calling

Someone, somewhere, can look you straight in the eye and say “I’ve got a PhD in booty call research”.

A new study just published online in the Journal of Sex Research investigates where the booty call falls on the spectrum of relationships.

Positioning the Booty-Call Relationship on the Spectrum of Relationships: Sexual but More Emotional Than One-Night Stands

Peter K. Jonason; Norman P. Li; Jessica Richardson

Journal of Sex Research

Most research on human sexuality has focused on long-term pairbonds and one-night stands. However, growing evidence suggests there are relationships that do not fit cleanly into either of those categories. One of these relationships is a “booty-call relationship.”

The purpose of this study was to describe the sexual and emotional nature of booty-call relationships by (a) examining the types of emotional and sexual acts involved in booty-call relationships and (b) comparing the frequency of those acts in booty-call relationships to one-night stands and serious long-term relationships.

In addition, the manner in which sociosexuality is associated with the commission of these acts was also examined. Demonstrative of booty-call relationships’ sexual nature was individuals’ tendency to leave after sex and infrequent handholding.

In contrast, the romantic nature of booty-call relationships was demonstrated through the frequency of acts like kissing. The results suggest the booty-call relationship is a distinct type of relationship situated between one-night stands and serious romantic relationships.

Guys, if you need a post-doc… just call.

Link to booty call study in the Journal of Sex Research (via @NoahWG).

The experiment requires that you continue

Spanish daily El País recently published an article on psychologist Stanley Milgram which had this amazing photo of the young conformity researcher where he looks surprisingly beatnick.

Sadly the photo isn’t dated but it makes quite a contrast to the better known photos where he looks much more like the typical professor of the age.

He looks both wonderfully creative and slightly haunted, which seems to capture his contribution to psychology perfectly.

The article is also worth checking out but is only available in Spanish, so you may have to deploy a utilisation of the page of Google’s Translate which can make a translate of the text if you desire to read it in the English.

Link to El Pa√≠s article ‘El psic√≥logo’.
Link to big version of photo.

Poker face science

The best ‘poker face’ is probably not a neutral expression, but a happy one, as it led to a greater number of opponent mistakes in a study just published in PLoS One.

The research looked at how poker playing was influenced by the emotional expression of opponents and discovered that blank and threatening expressions had little effect, but a positive expression tends to lull people into a false sense of trust and puts them off their game.

Taken from the study abstract:

This study investigates whether an opponent’s face influences players’ wagering decisions in a zero-sum game with hidden information. Participants made risky choices in a simplified poker task while being presented opponents whose faces differentially correlated with subjective impressions of trust. Surprisingly, we find that threatening face information has little influence on wagering behavior, but faces relaying positive emotional characteristics impact peoples’ decisions.

Thus, people took significantly longer and made more mistakes against emotionally positive opponents. Differences in reaction times and percent correct were greatest around the optimal decision boundary, indicating that face information is predominantly used when making decisions during medium-value gambles. Mistakes against emotionally positive opponents resulted from increased folding rates, suggesting that participants may have believed that these opponents were betting with hands of greater value than other opponents.

According to these results, the best “poker face” for bluffing may not be a neutral face, but rather a face that contains emotional correlates of trustworthiness. Moreover, it suggests that rapid impressions of an opponent play an important role in competitive games, especially when people have little or no experience with an opponent.

Link to Pubmed entry for study.
Link to full-text of study at PLoS One.

Plastic punk

Some awesome geek moves from the science of phonetics, as applied to the new wave punk classic ‘√áa Plane Pour Moi’ previously and falsely believed to have been sung by Plastic Bertrand.

From the AV Club report:

A staple of any new-wave dance night (ask a white person), “Ca Plane Pour Moi” made a chart-stopping star out of Belgian singer Plastic Bertrand (né Roger Jouret) and provided him with his most lasting legacy—except an expert linguist has just proved that Bertrand didn’t actually sing on his most famous record. The battle over “Ca Plane Pour Moi” has been brewing for four years now, stemming from a 2006 lawsuit involving original producer Lou Deprijck, who released his own version of the single under the marketing claim that he was the “original voice.” At the time, Deprijck found himself sued by record label AMC.

As a result, a panel of experts was appointed to study the track, and today a linguist announced that, after three months of study, during which he compared the original to Deprijck’s 2006 version, he had determined that ‚Äúthe way the phrases end on each record show that the song could only have been sung by a Ch’ti‚Äîotherwise known as someone from the Picard region of France. It could therefore not have been Plastic Bertrand‚Äîwho was born in Brussels‚Äîand was surely Monsieur Deprijck.‚Äù So it’s been settled: Plastic Bertrand was the Milli Vanilli of the punk era.

Link to AV Club on the fake Plastic Bertrand (via @sophiescott).

From on hayo

An amazing passage about the use of coca among of the indigenous Kogi and Ika people of Colombia, taken from p24 of anthropologist Wade Davis’ magical book on the ethnobotany of ceremonial chemicals, One River.

In a sacred landscape in which every plant is a manifestation of the divine, the chewing of hayo, a variety of coca only found in the mountains of Colombia, represents the most profound expression of culture. Distance in the mountains is not measured in miles but coca chews. When two men meet, they do not shake hands, they exchange leaves. Their societal ideal is to abstain from sex, eating and sleeping while staying up all night, chewing hayo and chanting the names of ancestors. Each week the men chew about a pound of dry leaves, thus absorbing as much as a third of a gram of cocaine each day of their adults lives.

The book traces Davis’ own travels, and those of his mentor Richard Evans Schultes, to understand the culture and chemistry of psychoactive plants among the native peoples of America, both North and South.

It’s an amazingly evocative book and is full of engrossing cultural insights into how plants like coca, the peyote cactus and psilocybin mushrooms have been used traditionally and how they were discovered by Western science.

As we’ve mentioned before, Davis has also given a couple of amazing TED talks that focus on traditional uses of mind altering plants.

Link to more info on One River (Thanks @David_Dobbs!)
Link to previous discussion and links to TED talks.

SciFoo bound

Mind Hacks updates may be a little hit and miss over the next week as I’m off to San Francisco for SciFoo – the Nature / Google / O’Reilly science anti-conference.

Apart from conferencing I’ll be sleeping on floors and wandering the streets but normal service should be resumed in a week.

Rebranding Freud

McSweeney’s has a funny piece where Freud visits the ad agency Sterling Cooper from the Mad Men television series:

FREUD: Well, as you know, we’ve dominated psychology for decades. But lately we’ve begun losing our share of the market to Behaviorism. People want a more comforting interpretation of their lives. They don’t want to be told that they’re suppressing base urges, or that their problems can be traced back to how they learned to use the toilet.

DRAPER: But that’s always been your identity. People think of Freudian insights as rising above the crowd. It’s an attitude that says, “I’m educated. I’m not a mechanic.” I don’t think you toy with that.

FREUD: Society is changing. At our last board meeting, we decided we have to reposition ourselves. We want to promote our expertise in dreams. We want people to see them as the means to discover themselves, and that Freud will show them how.

PEGGY OLSON: When I was a girl, I always lay in bed in the morning thinking over the dream I just had. It was the happiest part of my day.

FREUD: (Brightening) That’s the feel that we’re looking for. People want a lift, and we give it to them.

OLSON: You could have a slogan like, “Dare to Dream.” Or “Full Dream Ahead.”

Although intended to be satirical, Freud’s family has a long association with advertising. His nephew, Edward Bernays, essentially invented the field of PR, and his great grandson, Matthew Freud, is the founder of Freud Communications, one of the biggest PR companies in the UK.

Link to ‘Freud: The Rebranding’ (via @mrianleslie).

Through a monitor darkly

An online meth house, created in virtual world Second Life, has been created, tested and found to reliably induce drug cravings in methamphetamine users – in an experimental study just published in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior.

A ‘meth house’ is where methamphetamine users go to buy, take or make speed and regular users may spend long periods of time there. Being able to reliably induce drug cravings in the research lab is useful as it allows controlled studies to be more easily conducted.

The researchers in this study, led by psychiatrist Christopher Culbertson, compared the reactions of 17 speed users to four situations: a video of a meth house, a neutral video, a Second Life simulation of a meth house and an average looking flat recreated in the online world.

Below are some of the images of the meth house used in the study and you can see more in a description on the project’s web pages.

It turns out that the interactive Second Life meth house reliably induced the strongest cravings.

The study bears a sideways resemblance to Philip K. Dick’s novel A Scanner Darkly which plays with themes of shifting realities and surveillance in a community of stimulant drug users.

Link to PubMed entry for study.
Link to research team’s web page on the project.

The case of the unknown father

Arthur Conan Doyle is famous for the creation of Sherlock Holmes but a lot less is known about his father. Practical Neurology has an interesting article about art and epilepsy which discusses Doyle senior’s artistic talents and how he was eventually committed to an asylum.

Probably more famous as the father of Arthur Conan, Charles Altamont Doyle (1832–1893) was said to have epilepsy for the last 10–15 years of his life. The cause on his death certificate was epilepsy of ‘many years’ standing. He was not a particularly successful artist and perhaps is best remembered for his illustrations that accompanied the Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet 1888. Charles was another depressive, but he chose to self-medicate heavily with alcohol. It is possible that his seizures, occurring late in life, were related to his consumption of alcohol and rapid withdrawal.

He was committed to the Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum in 1881, where finding peace at last, he created some of his best work. It is said that he persevered with his art in an attempt to show that he had been wrongfully imprisoned in the institution; ironically, the recurring themes that he used to plead for his sanity were elves, fairies and other fantastical characters. It is said that he died during a prolonged seizure.

Link to PubMed entry for article.

How murder fell out of fashion with the rich

Photo by Flickr user AJC1. Click for sourceMurder has become largely confined to the poor and disadvantaged whereas historical records show that in times gone past it was used equally by all levels of society.

This is taken from a 1997 study called ‘The Decline of Elite Homocide’, published in the journal Criminology, which attempts to explain how homicide has become less democratic over time.

The criminological literature consistently reports a negative relationship between social status and interpersonal homicide. Regardless of the setting studied, homicide tends, with just a few exceptions, to be concentrated among low-status groups, such as the poor, the unemployed, the young, and cultural minorities. Yet robust as it is, this relationship is confined to modern societies. In the premodern era, homicide was found at all levels of the social hierarchy, including its higher echelons.

What explains these facts? Why is homicide largely confined to low status people today but was not in the societies studied by anthropologists and historians? Why has elite homicide declined? The answer developed here builds on a theory advanced by Donald Black (1983), which argues that violent conflict is a function of the unavailability of law. In modern societies, low social status and law are antagonistic, and the result is that legal means of resolving conflict are effectively unavailable to those at the bottom of the social pyramid. In earlier societies, law tended to be unavailable to everybody, irrespective of their social standing.

Link to DOI entry and summary for study.

A bit of all right

An interesting point made in a new book about the psychology of being wrong, appropriately called Being Wrong by author Kathryn Schulz.

Taken from The New York Times book review:

Schulz begins with a question that should puzzle us more than it does: Why do we love being right? After all, she writes, “unlike many of life’s other delights — chocolate, surfing, kissing — it does not enjoy any mainline access to our biochemistry: to our appetites, our adrenal glands, our limbic systems, our swoony hearts.” Indeed, as she notes, “we can’t enjoy kissing just anyone, but we can relish being right about almost anything,” including that which we’d rather be wrong about, like “the downturn in the stock market, say, or the demise of a friend’s relationship or the fact that at our spouse’s insistence, we just spent 15 minutes schlepping our suitcase in exactly the opposite direction from our hotel.”

The NYT also has an excerpt of the book available online.

Link to New York Times book review (via 3QuarksDaily).
Link to book’s website.

Stanley Milgram, the 70s TV drama

The website for ‘The Man Who Shocked the World’, a biography of Stanley Milgram, is a goldmine of information about the psychologist who became famous for his obedience experiments. The little known facts section has an interesting snippet about a 70s TV drama based on the experiments which starred William Shatner as the Milgram character.

In August, 1976, CBS presented a prime-time dramatization of the obedience experiments and the events surrounding them, titled “The Tenth Level.” William Shatner had the starring role as Stephen Hunter, the Milgram-like scientist. Milgram served as a consultant for the film. While it contains a lot of fictional elements, it powerfully conveyed enough of the essence of the true story for its writer, George Bellak, to receive Honorable Mention in the American Psychological Association’s media awards for 1977.

It turns out that The Tenth Level is available in full on YouTube. The first part is here and you can click through to the other parts.

The combination of some of the most notorious experiments in the history of psychology, Big Bill Shatner, cheap production and hammy acting make for a heady mix, although it doesn’t particularly overdo the psychology.

I’ve not read ‘The Man Who Shocked the World’ although it is, by all accounts, excellent. The website, at least, is a fantastic resource in itself and well worth a visit.

Link to ‘The Man Who Shocked the World’ website.
Link to first part of ‘The Tenth Level’.

2010-07-23 Spike activity

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

Newsweek has an excellent series on the psychology and culture of beauty.

‘A single brief electrical pulse to the hippocampus caused momentary amnesia’. Neuroskeptic covers a fascinating human study.

AP News has an interesting piece on whether mind-bending movies set in mental space are the new Westerns.

You all know the top drawer neuroscience blog The Frontal Cortex has just moved to Wired? A great piece on why money doesn’t make us happy breaks in the new digs.

New Scientist says “If you thought depression was caused by low serotonin levels, think again”. Nope, can’t say I did. If you ignore the premise taken from drug company adverts, its a good article on serotonin and depression.

The study, and indeed, the concept, of prejudice and its psychological basis is traced back by an excellent piece from the BPS Research Digest.

Wired Science covers a study finding a gene associated with drinking more booze when with friends. Now you get to blame it on your genes and your mates. Evidence based excuses are the future.

A series of posts on the psychology and neuroscience of eroticism and disgust makes for fascinating reading over at The Neurocritic.

New Scientist has an excellent special feature on the social dynamics of laughter. ‘Contagious chortling’ is a lovely phrase.

There’s a fantastic piece on how people without language think and reason over at Neuroanthropology.

Science News covers the recent study finding a link between body shape and mental performance in older women.

Like cranking up the volume in an irony chamber. In the News covers a new study that found that watching Fox’s TV fictional series on the science of lying makes people worse at detecting lies. Genius.

Nature News discusses why music is good for you. Doesn’t mention air guitar. Otherwise a good piece.

Depressed people see less colour contrast in the world, according to a fascinating study covered by Neurophilosophy.

The LA Times has a piece by a medical anthropologist discussing the stark reality behind the reality TV show where families hold an ‘intervention‘ for their drug addicted relatives. No, I’m not making this up. More background on Somatosphere.

You guys know that the no-holds-barred neuroscience blog Developing Intelligence has sprung back into life?

Newsweek covers the trouble with using undergraduates for research and the W.E.I.R.D. problem.

There’s a great review of ‘Methland’, a book on the speed industry in rural America, over at Addiction Inbox.

The Guardian asks ‘Why is the Hollywood portrayal of mental illness stuck in the dark ages?’

The behavioural psychology of drowning and why its not like the on-screen depiction is discussed in a fascinating Boing Boing post.

The New York Times covers an interesting finding that even without swallowing, a simple mouth rinse with carbohydrate solution tricks the brain into physical stamina mode.

There are ten freaky, funny, and fantastical dream sequences from the movies over at FlavorWire.

TED has a demo of the Emotiv consumer EEG headset. Mainly a sales pitch but a good preview.

Why do we cry? Eight half-baked ideas are discussed over at Mark Changizi’s blog. No one really knows.

Time magazine has a great piece on the complex link between marijuana and schizophrenia.

Do women who remove their pubic hair have better sexual function? Some evidence-based minky trimming from Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

New Scientist has an excellent piece by straight thinking neuroscientist Lise Elliot on science, sexism and gender myths.

“Sarcasm is a way of being nasty without leaving a paper trail” according to a good piece on the invention of sarcasm on the Cheap Talk blog.

The Fortean Times has an excellent piece on the history of physiognomy and ‘why ugly people are more likely to break the law’.

Neuromarketing company NeuroFocus are just trolling us now: have ‘launched a 3D virtual reality tool, N-Matrix 3D, that it claims will bring digital technology ‚Äúon a par with Avatar‚Äù’

The Psychologist are looking for new voices to bloom as writers in their pages. Want to develop your writing and get published? See here.

There is continuing coverage of the ongoing debate about the UK regulation of psychotherapists over at the Mental Nurse blog. The best coverage I’ve seen anywhere so far.

Attraction runs in the family

The ‘incest taboo‘ is the aversion to being sexually attracted to our own family and evolutionary psychology has suggested it is an inherited adaptation to promote genetic diversity. A brilliant study just published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin provides evidence that this is actually a cultural phenomenon, received wisdom if you like, because when awareness of the relationship is hidden, people find individuals who resemble their family more sexually attractive.

The debate about whether the incest taboo is an evolutionary adaptation or a cultural practice has quite a vintage as it became a point of contention between the followers of Edvard Westermarck, the Finnish anthropologist, and Sigmund Freud, the Austrian sex obsessive.

Westermarck believed the practice was an adaptation, based on the fact that it seems to occur universally, whereas Freud believed it was a cultural practice and that, actually, we all have incestuous desires that we typically repress – something now famous as the Oedipus complex.

More modern theories of incest avoidance have suggested that they rely on cognitive processes that judge how related someone might be based on our knowledge and our perception of similarity that may signify a genetic relationship.

However, the picture is a little muddied by the fact that recent psychology studies have shown that we are more likely to be attracted to people we are familiar with and that, to some extent, we are more attracted to people who are physically similar to us.

This new study, by psychologists Chris Fraley and Michael Marks, set out to tackle the issue by seeing how subliminal exposure to closely related people would affect sexual attraction.

In an initial experiment, participants were asked to provide a photo of their parent to the researchers. During the study, they were asked to simply rate the attractiveness of strangers’ faces presented to them on a computer.

What they didn’t know was that just before they saw each face, half of the participants had the photo of their opposite-sex parent quickly flashed up on-screen – so quickly, in fact, that it was too fast to take in consciously. The other half, were given a subliminal image of someone else’s parent.

Those who were subliminally shown their opposite-sex parent rated the subsequent face as significantly more attractive, suggesting that their sexual interest had been slightly raised by subliminal exposure to their mother or father.

The researchers decided to go further by seeing how attraction would be affected if the person was exposed to images of themselves – after all, someone who shares 100% of their genetic material.

For this study this they used a technique called morphing to make images that had been digitally manipulated to be composites of two distinct faces – the person’s own and a stranger’s – to varying amounts. The participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of the faces, each of which ranged from being 0% their own face to a blend of 45% their face and 55% stranger.

The mix was never enough so the participants could tell that the faces were blended with their own, but they consistently rated faces that had more of themselves as more attractive.

A final experiment did exactly the same, but with an additional group who were told their own faces had been blended into the photos and that the study was investigating incest and attraction to faces that are designed to resemble genetic relatives.

The group who were aware what was happening showed exactly the opposite behaviour, they were less sexually attracted to faces that they more closely resembled.

In other words, the aversion to people we have a relation to may be based in conscious awareness, not an unconscious evolutionary adaptation.

This suggests is that Freud may have been right when he suggested that there may be an element of attraction to people in our own family.

The researchers doubt that we need to accept the full ‘Oedipus complex’ theory to make sense of this, but simply that the psychology of familiarity, bonding and attraction begins to develop in the family environment and so we retain an element of attraction to people we learnt about love with.

However, for sensible reasons, as a society we need to make sure we form new romantic relationships with people outside our immediate families, and so have instilled this knowledge in our culture.

Link to PubMed entry for study.

There’s a party in my dream and everyone’s invited

The consistently amusing NCBI ROFL blog has found a fantastic case study, originally published in Sleep Medicine, of a woman who started sending emails during sleeping-walking episodes when her dose of sleeping pill zolpidem was increased.

As we’ve discussed previously, zolpidem has an association with unusual sleepwalking behaviours, but sending email invitations to dream parties is apparently a first.

Brilliantly, the case report contains copies of the emails (a bit strangely, both are printed out and scanned in). The party invite is just wonderful.

The case description is as follows:

We describe a case of a 44-year-old woman with idiopathic insomnia almost all her life. She tried various medications, psychotherapy and behavioral techniques for the treatment of her insomnia without any significant effects. She was started on Zolpidem 10 mg 4 years ago. She was able to sleep 4–5 h each night, but then the effects started wearing off. She increased the dose of Zolpidem by herself to 15 mg every night; she would take 10 mg tablet around 10 p.m. and 5 mg around 3 a.m.

With this regimen she started sleeping for 5 h every night and felt alert during the daytime. After increasing the dose, she began to have episodes of sleepwalking. During one such episode, she went to bed around 10 p.m., she woke up 2 h later, and walked to the next room on the same floor. She turned on the computer and connected to the internet. She logged in by typing her user ID and password to her email account. She sent three emails to her friend inviting her to come over for dinner and drinks. Her friend called her the next day to accept the invitation. She said that the emails had strange language. The patient was not aware of these emails. She checked her sent folder and found three emails sent at 11:47 p.m., 11:50 p.m. and 11:53 p.m. They were in upper and lower cases, not well formatted and had strange language. She was shocked when she saw these emails, as she did not recall writing them.

Link to NCBI ROFL post and copy of other sleep email.