Road kill for hot lady drivers

In 1960, the American Journal of Psychiatry reported on “an unusual perversion”, in a case of a man with “the desire to be injured by an automobile operated by a woman.”

The patient, a man in his late twenties, reported a periodic desire to be injured by a woman operating an automobile. This wish, present since adolescence, he had by dint of great ingenuity and effort, gratified hundreds of times without serious injury or detection. Satisfaction could be obtained by inhaling exhaust fumes, having a limb run over on a yielding surface to avoid appreciable damage or by being pressed against a wall by the vehicle.

Gratification was enhanced if the woman were attractive by conventional standards. Injuries inflicted by men operating automobiles or other types of injury inflicted by women had no meaning. He experienced pleasure from the experience, thus establishing the symptom as a perversion rather than a compulsion.

Although psychiatry no longer uses the word perversion (problematic sexual compulsions are now called ‘paraphilias‘) the introduction to the case study says, in a rather understated way, that “some perversions, while representing formidable psychopathology, are also tributes to the complexity of the human mind.”

The article additionally notes that the patient “was ashamed of his symptom but somewhat proud of its unusual nature.”

Link to PubMed entry for case study.

Poetic sensitivities

Perceptual psychologists have long been interested in limen – the threshold at which a stimulus becomes detectable. The following limen for the different senses, expressed in everyday terms rather than in terms of physical quantities, have a certain poetry to them. I got this information via email as a scan of an (unknown to me) textbook. I reproduce them here for your enjoyment:

Approximate absolute sensitivities, expressed in everyday terms:

Vision – A candle flame seen at 30 miles on a dark, clear night
Hearing – The tick of a watch under quiet conditions at 20 feet
Taste – One teaspoon of sugar in two gallons of water
Smell – One drop of perfume diffused into the entire volume of a three-room apartment
Touch – The wing of a bee falling on your cheek from a distance of one centimeter

Exact values vary between individuals and even from moment to moment with the same individual. Source: Galanter, E. (1962). Contemporary psychophysics. Holt, Rinehart, Winston.

The dynamic embrace

I’ve just found an enjoyable BBC World Service radio documentary on the relationship between tango and psychoanalysis in the Argentinian city of Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires is the birthplace of tango and, as we’ve discussed before, has the highest ratio of psychologists to population of any place on earth.

The city has traditionally been one of the world centres for psychoanalysis and it remains a hub for theory and treatment drawn from the work of Sigmund Freud.

The BBC documentary looks at the relationship between the city’s love of therapy and one of the most psychological of dances, talking to both enthusiasts and conscientious objectors.

Link to documentary with mp3 and streaming.

The psychology of shoulder-to-shoulder

The consistently sublime RadioLab has a wonderful programme on the psychology of altruism which manages to capture the psychology of supporting others in gripping stories of human interaction.

The standard view of evolution is that living things are shaped by cold-hearted competition. And there is no doubt that today’s plants and animals carry the genetic legacy of ancestors who fought fiercely to survive and reproduce. But in this hour, we wonder whether there might also be a logic behind sharing, niceness, kindness … or even, self-sacrifice.

Is altruism an aberration, or just an elaborate guise for sneaky self-interest? Do we really live in a selfish, dog-eat-dog world? Or has evolution carved out a hidden code that rewards genuine cooperation?

The programme touches on everything from the mathematics of nuclear war to the motivation for heroism and, as always, is really better experienced than described.

But even given the usual exceptional quality of RadioLab, this episode is definitely not one to miss. Fantastic stuff.

Link to RadioLab on altruism.

2010-12-24 Spike activity

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

Brain scans as art. The Neurocritic covers a charming paper where a bunch of Serbian radiologists review the history of neuroradiology in famous artworks and then contribute some of their own creative efforts!

Scientific American looks at the evolutionary pressures on religious belief in light of the fact that religious people vastly out-reproduce secular folks.

The first recorded human snog is uncovered by The Intersection. No mention of ancient bike sheds being involved.

The RSA Journal has a thoroughly fascinating interview with behavioural economist Dan Ariely on many curious biases in how we reason about money and finances.

Don’t miss Neuroskeptic on the subtleties of the new studies that seemed to have all but dismissed the link between the XMRV virus and chronic fatigue syndrome. The devil being in the detail.

New Scientist has a positive review of Oliver Sacks’ new book ‘The Mind’s Eye’.

Meet the Denisovans, a potentially new branch on the human tree of life, over at The Loom.

The British Medical Journal has a seasonal paper on phantom vibration syndrome – on the hallucination of an incoming call.

Brain-damaged patients who are paralysed but are unaware of it show unconscious recognition of their difficulties, according to a fascinating new study covered by the BPS Research Digest.

Cerebrum from the Dana Brain Alliance has an excellent piece on ‘the promise and the reality of stem-cell therapies for neurodegenerative diseases.’

20 simple steps to the perfect persuasive message. PsyBlog rounds up its recent series on persuasion and influence.

Discover Magazine asks whether music is for wooing, mothering, bonding, or is it just “auditory cheesecake”? Mmmmm…. cheesecake.

The Man with the Electronic Brain. Great comics find from Boing Boing.

Scientific American has put the stand-out chapter from Carl Zimmer’s Brain Cuttings book online – taking a critical look at the ‘singularity’ and the neuro-immortalists.

Some great coverage of the new study finding that placebos seems to work even when we know they’re placebos from Neurotribes and Not Exactly Rocket Science. Also a more critical take from Respectful Insolence.

Time Magazine asks what methamphetamine has to do with addiction and autism treatments? Turns out, they’re all interesting new findings on the hormone oxytocin.

There’s a lovely look at self-organising principles in the nervous system over at Wiring the Brain.

The Washington Post has a case of very applied ethics. A philosopher calls a vote on whether he should donate a kidney.

Great coverage of a study that used brain activation to try and predict the improvement of teenagers with dyslexia over at BishopBlog.

The Wellcome Collection has the audio of its ‘Describing the Drug Experience’ event online.

The battleground of remembering

I’ve just discovered a engrossing two-part BBC World Service documentary on ‘oral history’ and how the process of getting everyday folk to relay their memories of important event often challenges the authorised memories of official history.

The programme makes an interesting distinction between public memory, the authorised version of events; individual memory, that we each hold inside us; and collective memory, the process by which we collectively negotiate what we believed happened.

Oral history gets individuals to recount their memories of events, but focuses much more on lived experiences and opinions than names and dates, although can be unsettling to official histories when they contradict politically convenient narratives.

Link to two-part Memory Wars documentary.

Treating the madness of the hippies

In 1972, Colombian psychiatrist Miguel Echeverry published a book arguing that hippies were not a youth subculture but the expression of a distinct mental illness that should be treated aggressively lest it spread through the population like a contagion.

I found the book, called Psicopatologia y Existencia del Hippie (Psychopathology and Existence of the Hippy), in my local library and it turns out to be one of the most surprising psychiatry books I have ever read.

At some point, I suspect the good Dr Echeverry must have been driven to breaking point by a bunch of long-haired youths strumming poorly tuned guitars outside his window, because he is clearly furious.

This is his definition of a hippy, translated from p83, where he is so angry he forgets to use a full stop.

The true hippy is an individual with a frank disposition to hereditary psychopathology, who has abandoned himself, has totally neglected his hygiene and self-presentation, has let his hair and beard grow, is dressed bizarrely, eccentrically and ridiculously, wears a multitude of rings, necklaces, beads and other extravagances, is opposed to all defined and purposeful social and family structures now and in the future, rejects productive and redeeming work, irresponsibly and cynically promotes the cult of free love, aggressively promotes contempt for moral, social and religious conventions, preaches paradoxically about the abolition of private property, harmfully drugs them self with marijuana, LSD, amphetamines, hypnotics, mescaline, psylocybin, sedatives and heroin etc to rebelliously and insanely avoid the sad realities of life.

The author notes with disdain that the ‘hippy threat’ seems to be a particular problem in Bogotá, probably reflecting more than a little regional distrust of the free-wheeling capital.

The book contains not a single reference to any scientific or clinical study, although is happy to wax lyrical about the subgroups of the hippy mental illness. Apparently, there are five: hippies with defective personal relationships and autistic-like problems, aggressive hippies, hippies with defective behaviour and poor family adjustment, emotionally impaired hippies, and those with abnormal, perverted or inverted instincts.

For those worried that he may be getting a little too psychoanalytic, Dr Echeverry makes it clear that there is both a strong environmental and genetic component to hippy psychopathology. Yes, apparently, you can inherit hippidom.

The image on the right is from one of the adverts in the book, all of which advertise the drug Lucidril as a ‘treatment’ for hippies, and it’s no surprise that the book was sponsored by the makers of the medication.

Considering the tone of the book, and the fact that the author concludes that being a hippy as akin to having schizophrenia, it’s interesting that Lucidril is not an antipsychotic, but the trade name for a little known compound called meclofenoxate.

There is weak evidence that the drug boosts memory and is notable largely for its enthusiastic uptake by some sections of the ‘nootropics’ brain hacking crowd.

I suspect the enthusiastic adverts for this oddball drug are largely because the book happened to be sponsored by pharmaceutical company Instituto Bio-Quimico Ltd who were clearly trying to sell the drug as a ‘mental detoxification’ compound for the great unwashed.

But not every bearded girl or guy is a real hippy, says Dr Echeverry, who notes that there are also cases of pseudo-hippies, who are really just weak-minded youths who get swept along with the genuine ‘clinical cases’.

How can you tell the difference you ask? Well, pseudo-hippies are the ones who revert to normality once a psychiatrist pumps them full of approved medication. Simple.