It’s just something inside my head

A remarkably accurate account of the learned helplessness theory of depression as recounted in the lyrics of downbeat hip-hop track ‘Something Inside My Head’ by London based rapper Akala.

I wasn’t born this way
My condition was learned
Once bitten twice shy I don’t wanna be burned
When you travel a passage
That leaves your heart ravaged
Your mind waxes placid to limit the damage
Your reaction is passive
Whether you like it or not
You cannot win whether you fight it or not
Your brain swallows the pain and buries it instead
Now.. It’s just something inside my head

Link to audio on YouTube.
Link to lyrics.

2011-02-11 Spike activity

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

Discover Magazine interviews the neuroscientist of love – who seems to have three hands in the photo. Imagine.

Is anorexia more strongly influenced by size zero models in the mass media or use of online social networking? Neuroskeptic covers a fascinating new study.

New Scientist has a Valentine’s day optical illusion for you. Insert small penis joke here.

Footage of one of the last few groups of supposedly ‘uncontacted people’ on the planet is given a brilliant write-up by Neuroanthropology.

Slate has a short but incisive critique of behavioural economics.

Let’s say good-bye to the straw-feminist, says an excellent piece by Cordelia Fine on the science of sex differences on PLoS Blogs. If, of course, we can also agree to say goodbye to the straw sexist.

BBC News has a fascinating piece on the stigma of Japan’s ‘suicide apartments‘.

There’s a fantastic write-up of the recent Maudsley debate on whether Female Sexual Arousal Disorder is a fabrication on the BMJ Blog.

Discover Magazine has a piece on how depression dulls the senses.

A funny and charming newspaper correction is picked up by the ever intriguing Language Log.

Nature News reports on a new study finding that antipsychotics cause small but reliable brain shrinkage. Also Reuters reports on a study finding a risk to heart function even early in treatment.

White matter differences in pre-op transsexuals should NOT be the basis for childhood Interventions. The Neurocritic catches some potentially dangerous woolly thinking on gender and brain scans.

Science News has an in-depth article that looks at the role of the amygdala in picking out rewards in a piece that helps dispel the persistent ‘fear centre’ stereotype.

Along similar lines, the Eide Neurolearning Blog has a short but interesting piece on a study on amygdala size and the size of our social network.

Science reports that happy people live longer. Typical.

Tim Salmon wrote a book about his personal experience of schizophrenia and he takes part in a thoughtful interview over at Frontier Psychiatrist.

Discover Magazine has an excellent article on prosopagnosia – the condition sometimes inaccurately called ‘face blindness’.

Bluma Zeigarnik was a hauntingly beautiful Russian psychologist after whom the Zeigarnik Effect is named. PsyBlog look at what it tells us about beating procrastination in a brilliantly written post.

The Fortean Times covers a London art exhibition inspired by CIA mind-control experiments.

fMRI Beatbox. New Scientist short article with embedded video. Finishes with the wonderful line “If you enjoyed this video, you might also like to watch a couple having sex in an MRI scanner.” Uncanny.

Miller-McCune reports on a study finding that sexy female presenters distract male viewers from absorbing the news. Or, the news distracts… oh forget it.

Let’s hear it for the boy

A fascinating study just published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour looked at the link between women’s vocalisations during sex and the timing of orgasm during heterosexual encounters, finding that there was little connection with female climax but a strong link with male ejaculation.

The researchers draw the ego-denting conclusion that women’s moans and sighs are not an involuntary reaction to male sexual prowess, but a way of exerting influence over their partner’s sexual response.

In the study, many of the women also explicitly reported what the researchers coyly labelled a ‘tactical use of copulatory vocalizations’ as a specific sexual strategy.

This manoeuvring of male behavior not only ensures the delivery of his ejaculate [be still my beating heart!], but may also serve to end male copulatory effort under circumstances when the female is, for example, suffering discomfort or pain, boredom, fatigue, or simply does not have enough time for the encounter to last longer. Females appear to be fully conscious of the positive effects that their copulatory vocalizations have on male self-esteem and a very high percentage reported using them for this purpose.

Further advantages of the female being able to manipulate the presence/absence/timing of the male orgasm may include the reduction of her risk of incurring physical damage from roughness, abrasion, and ensuing infection. One of the effects of female copulatory vocalizations may be to promote male self-esteem, which may strengthen the pair bond, decreases the risk of emotional infidelity and abandonment, resulting in continued access to resources and protection.

These data were remarkably consistent with findings reported in non-human primates, where, for example, in Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) the likelihood of male ejaculation is related to the intensity and speed of female vocalizations during copulation…

These data were consistent with the proposal that male ejaculation is influenced by female copulatory vocalizations rather than vice versa and points towards the evolutionary origin of human female vocalizations in the context in our polygynandrous “past” rather than our pseudo-monogamous present.

Thankfully the researchers ended the paper with that throwaway evolutionary explanation which gives me a good excuse the ignore the hard data and pretend it never happened.

Link to study summary and DOI entry. Sadly locked.
Link to PubMed entry for study.

Getting high from snakebites

The addiction journal Substance Abuse has two cases of people using snakebites to get high.

To be clear, this isn’t the mix of beer and cider, a drink also known as snakebite, but an actual venomous bite from a serpent.

Here’s the first case – and yes, alternative reality fans – he really is named ‘Mr PKD‘ in the report:

Mr. PKD, a 52-year-old married male with a history of substance use for past 34 years started taking alcohol at the age of 18 and over the years he added cannabis, benzodiazepines, and opioids over different periods of time and in varying combinations to produce the desired effects…

Two months before contacting our center, the patient learned of the intoxicating effects of snake venom through some of his friends and, as reasoned by the patient, he decided to try it in order “to experience the kick the other substances now lacked.”

With the help of the nomadic snake charmers common in India, the patient subjected himself twice to the snake bite over his left forearm over a period of 15 days. There was no local tissue injury at the site of the bite apart from the bite marks.

The patient described a feeling of dizziness and blurred vision followed by a heightened arousal and sense of well-being lasting a few hours; a more intense state of arousal than he would experience with pentazocine injections. The patient was not able to identify the snakes used but was apprehensive about the risks involved in the process.

The other case involves a man who “subjected himself to being bitten once on his left foot by a small Indian cobra (Naja naja). The patient described the experience as a blackout associated with a sense of well-being, lethargy, and sleepiness”.

Anyone even slightly tempted by this description should check out the off-putting illustrations on the Wikipedia page on snakebites. Slightly less trippy I’m sure you’ll agree.

Link to DOI entry for case reports.
Link to PubMed entry for case reports.

I’m Gladwell to hear it

The Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator is simultaneously a very silly and a very funny website that generates Malcolm Gladwell books from a parallel universe.

If you never knew you wanted to read:

“The Tripping Point: How Psychoactive Substances Created a… Wait, I Can’t Feel My Face Bro”


“The Paradox Paradox: Why Nobody Gives a Shit About Great Mysteries”

…you might discover your inner talent for not being interested in a whole new range of topics.

Link to The Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator (via @AndreaKuszewski)

A liberal dose of controversy

The New York Times covers an important and provocative speech made at a recent big name social psychology conference where the keynote speaker Jonathan Haidt questioned whether social psychologists are blind ‘to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals’.

It’s a brave move and he brings up some important points about the narrow perspective the field has cultivated and its impact on our ways of understanding the world.

“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.”…

Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) told the audience that he had been corresponding with a couple of non-liberal graduate students in social psychology whose experiences reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s. He quoted — anonymously — from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal.

Haidt highlights an interesting taboo about criticising the victims of discrimination, where even voicing these ideas – regardless of their accuracy – are enough to have someone cast out from the ‘tribal moral community’.

Even if you don’t agree with all his points, the lack of political diversity in social psychology is an important issue that has been glossed (glazed?) over for too long.

Link to NYT piece ‘Social Scientist Sees Bias Within’ (via @jonmsutton)

Over-precautionary measures

I’ve just read a wonderfully revealing article from the Journal of Risk Research that compares the assumptions behind planning for modern-day terrorist attacks and the actual reactions of civilians from the intense bombing raids during World War II.

It notes, contrary to popular belief, that both bombing raids and contemporary terrorist attacks rarely cause panic and most situations are dealt with calm amid the chaos. Furthermore, populations generally hold up well even with sustained attacks.

In one section, the article discusses the risks and benefits of how danger is communicated to the people, and how precautionary measures don’t always work as well as they are intended – with this cautionary tale from the Gulf War:

An inherent problem of the precautionary approach is the difficulty of matching the protective measure with the threat. During the 1991 Gulf War, Israeli households were ordered to prepare a room that could be sealed and serve as protection against chemical or biological weapons. Many used these rooms when Tel Aviv and Haifa were targeted by Iraqi Scud missiles.

The dire message that this policy conveyed discouraged some health professionals from leaving their homes during alerts, while some families suffered from burns and carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of poorly designed heat sources.

Of the eight deaths associated with rocket attacks, six resulted from misuse of gas masks. By failing to remove the plug from the filter, individuals were asphyxiated, misattributing anoxia to the effects of poisonous gas. Thus, precautionary measures inadvertently led to greater mortality than Iraqi missiles.

Rather ironically, the journal has locked the article, but some kind soul has made it available online as a pdf if you want to read it in full.

Link to DOI entry and summary.
pdf of article.

No grief for clichés

Time magazine has a fantastic article that tackles common myths about the psychology of grief and the experience of losing a loved one.

We’ve discussed previously how many of the grief clichés (there are specific stages, you have to ‘let it out’ etc) have already been shown to be false but this Time piece goes in greater detail and traces the origin of these myths in the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

Kübler-Ross was an important pioneer in understanding grief, but she was basing her theories on very little evidence and we now know from more rigorous studies that many of her conclusions were wrong.

Although Kübler-Ross modified her position with regard to the famous ‘stage model’ of grief, where we supposedly pass through distinct stages – saying that they were never intended to be one after the other, later empirical studies have found little evidence for any consistent stages.

One of the reasons that the five stages became so popular is that they make intuitive sense. “Any natural, normal human being, when faced with any kind of loss, will go from shock all the way through acceptance,” Kübler-Ross said in an interview published in 1981.

Two decades later, a group of researchers at Yale decided to test whether the stages do, in fact, reflect the experience of grief. The researchers used newspaper ads and referrals to recruit 233 recently bereaved people, who were assessed for “grief indicators” in an initial interview and then in a follow-up some months later. In the Kübler-Ross model, acceptance, which she defined as recognizing that your loved one is permanently gone, is the final stage.

But the resulting study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007, found that most respondents accepted the death of a loved one from the very beginning. On top of that, participants reported feeling more yearning for their loved one than either anger or depression, perhaps the two cornerstone stages in the Kübler-Ross model.

The article tackles many more common beliefs about suffering loss and is a highly recommended look into what is often thought to be ‘common knowledge’.

Link to Time on ‘New Ways to Think About Grief’.
Link to previous Mind Hacks post on grief myths.

Suck two of these and call me in the morning

While in Barcelona I discovered a fantastic psychiatry-themed sweet shop called Happy Pills which sells every possible candy you could imagine packaged into mood-lifting pill bottles.

You can also browse their website although if you’re not a Spanish speaker wait for the ‘ingredients’ intro to pass before you can click to see the rest of the website in English if you so wish.

You can order online or track down one of their shops if you’re in Barcelona.

Link to Happy Pills website.

The early years of the frontal lobotomy

Neurosurgical Focus has an excellent open-access article that takes a critical look at the work of the Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz – who controversially won the 1949 Nobel prize for inventing the frontal lobotomy.

Although the over-enthusiasm for cutting patients’ frontal lobes to try and ‘cure’ them of mental illness is now looked upon as rather an embarrassing phase in the history of medicine, the article makes clear that criticism of the technique – including Moniz’s sloppy research – has been around for as long as the operation itself.

The article is a comprehensive look at the early history of frontal lobotomy and psychosurgery in general and is a wonderful guide to the long-standing controversies surrounding the procedure.

Link to Neurosurgical Focus on the early history of psychosurgery.

The psychology of the 7 deadly sins

The Psychologist has an engrossing article on the psychology behind the ‘7 Deadly Sins’ and how they relate to modern life.

The piece is full of fascinating and counter-intuitive snapshots from the science of social emotions. For example:

Whereas the success and status of others can provoke envy, pride is what we feel when the success and status are our own. Pride, like envy is a human universal, and is another of the sins considered by psychology to be an emotion. Darwin categorised it alongside states such as vanity and suspicion as a ‘complex emotion’. He also anticipated contemporary research showing that the expression of pride – head held high, arms raised – is recognised universally across cultures and by children as young as four.

In 2008 Jessica Tracy at the University of British Columbia and David Matsumoto at San Francisco State University studied congenitally blind Olympic judo competitors and found that they too showed pride in this way, even though they can’t ever have seen a pride display by anyone else.

The BPS Research Digest blog will also be running a ‘sin week’ in the coming week so keep your eye’s peeled for more bad behaviour.

Link to The Psychologist on the deadly sins.

Full disclosure: I am an unpaid associate editor and columnist for The Psychologist although apart from the occasional lie I live entirely free of sin.

2011-02-04 Spike activity

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

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating piece on child intelligence, genetics and household environment despite the misleading “Why rich parents don’t matter” headline.

Can magnetically stimulating the brain produce Eureka moments? Not Exactly Rocket Science covers an intriguing new study.

The Boston Globe asks what happens when an entire country decriminalises drug use? Portugal did a decade ago, and it seems to have been a success for public health.

‘Packing’ autistic kids. Neuroskeptic covers the latest brand of autism quackery to gain popularity.

Discover Magazine investigates people who cannot recognise faces – a condition called prosopagnosia.

When death is an aphrodisiac. The BPS Research Digest on research finding that thoughts of death lead to greater enthusiasm for one-night-stands. Thank you, science.

Science News covers an awesome study that transferred conscious touch sensations into people’s prosthetic limbs.

I’m sure there’s a small group of level-headed neuromarketing researchers who get as pissed off as the rest of us. The Neurocritic covers another bullshit brain scan marketing scheme.

Nature on a new list of the ten biggest questions in social science research.

Should a legal court pay for a make-up artist to cover up a defendants neo-nazi tattoos to avoid jury bias? In the News covers a fascinating case.

New Scientist covers what we know about the benefits and stresses of long-term relationships.

Arrogant employees are judged poorer at their jobs, even by themselves. The BPS Occupational Digest gets off to a flying start.

Slate discusses whether our ability to read intentions into the behaviour of other people, or, indeed, non-living systems, may have encouraged a belief in God.

Does being social improve your immune system? asks Barking Up The Wrong Tree.

The Guardian explores the effect of the internet on celebrity. You’re keeping tabs on psychologist Aleks Krotoski’s excellent ‘untangling the web’ series right?

The Myth of Joyful Parenthood. The excellent We’re Only Human Blog looks at research on why raising children is hard.

Discover Magazine has an interview with a level-headed fMRI ‘mind reader’ researcher who has no illusions about the challenges and drawbacks of the technique.

Where in the world around you is your mental imagery located? A curious but seemingly common experience explored by The Splintered Mind.

The New York Times has an obituary for psychoanalyst and expert on children’s sexual identity, Eleanor Galenson.

How common are bizarre delusions? Epiphenom covers a new study that looked at the prevalence of unusual beliefs across the population.