The science of urban paranoia

CC Licensed Image by Flickr user 01steven. Click for source.I’ve got an article in The Atlantic on how paranoia and psychosis are more common in cities and why the quest to explain the ‘urban psychosis effect’ is reshaping psychiatry.

The more urban your neighbourhood, the higher the rate of diagnosed schizophrenia and you are more likely to experience what are broadly known as ‘non-affective psychosis-psychoses’ – that is, delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia not primarily caused by mood problems.

This has led to a long and ongoing debate about why this is, with some arguing that it is an effect of city-living on the mind, while others arguing the association is better explained by a complex interaction between genetic risk factors and limited life chances.

The article discusses the science behind exactly this debate, partly a judgement on the value of the city itself, and notes how it’s pushing psychiatry to re-examine how it deals with what is often euphemistically called ‘the environment’.
 

Link to ‘The Mystery of Urban Psychosis’ in The Atlantic.

A podcast on drugs

If you’re a podcast addict, you could no worse than checking out Say Why to Drugs an excellent new show that covers the science behind a different recreational drug each week.

The podcast is with psychologist and drugs researcher Suzi Gage and rhyme-smith Scroobius Pip, better known for his banging tunes.

They make for a great partnership and they breakdown everything from the psychopharmacology of MDMA to the social impact of ketamine and do plenty of myth-busting along the way.

Thoroughly listenable, good fun and great on the science, you can find it on acast and iTunes.
 

Link to podcast on ITunes
Link to podcast on acast

Spike activity 24-06-2016

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

Why do some children thrive in adult life despite a background of violence and neglect? Fascinating piece from Mosaic.

Scientific American asks with the flood of neuroscience PhDs, where will all the neuroscientists go? Ask British neuroscientists, they’re probably weighing up their options right now.

Blobs and Pitfalls: Challenges for fMRI Research. Neuroskeptic covers one of a number of ‘rethinking fMRI research pieces’ that has recently come out.

Neurocritic casts a skeptical over several new oxytocin papers that have appeared.

Was Dr. Asperger A Nazi? The Question Still Haunts Autism. A complex question tackled over at NPR.

Psychodiagnosticator asks What do we talk about when we talk about schizophrenia?

There’s a fascinating discussion on language and the culture of internal meaning over at The Psychologist.

Invisibilia, NPR’s people and cognitive science show, has just kicked off a new series.

Sleight of mind in fMRI

I’ve written a piece for the BPS Research Digest about a fascinating study that caused people to feel their thoughts were being controlled by outside forces.

It’s a psychologically intriguing study because it used the psychology lab to conduct the study but it also used the psychology lab as a form of misdirection, so participants wouldn’t realise that the effect of having their ‘thoughts read’ and ‘thoughts inserted into their mind’ was in fact a common trick used in stage mentalism.

The interesting bit came where the researchers recorded whether participants reacted differently when they thought their thoughts were being read (they did) and asked about their experience of it happening (when it never actually did).

They reported a range of anomalous effects when they thought numbers were being “inserted” into their minds: A number “popped in” my head, reported one participant. Others described “a voice … dragging me from the number that already exists in my mind”, feeling “some kind of force”, feeling “drawn” to a number, or the sensation of their brain getting “stuck” on one number. All a striking testament to the power of suggestion.

A really wonderfully conceived study that may provide a useful tool for temporarily inducing the feeling of not controlling your own thoughts – something that occurs in a range of psychological difficulties and disorders.
 

Link to piece on BPS Research Digest.

Cultures of mental distress

BBC Radio 4 is currently running a fascinating four-part series called The Borders of Sanity on the interaction between culture and mental illness.

It’s been put together by cultural historian Christopher Harding and takes an in-depth look at four particular instances where culture and mental health interact, perhaps in seemingly curious ways if you weren’t familiar with the culture.

It includes episodes on Depression in Japan, Sweden’s Adolescents, Hearing Voices in the UK, and the one to be broadcast next week Healing in Ghana.

The only downside is it’s one of BBC Radio’s occasional programmes that they only make available as streamed audio from their website – presumably to give it an early 2000s internet feel.

However, well-worth a listen. Genuinely fascinating stuff so far.
 

Link to BBC Radio 4’s The Borders of Sanity.

Spike activity 10-06-2016

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

The New York Times has a fascinating piece on the online community of people who believe they are being ‘gang stalked’.

Completely destroy the immune system with chemotherapy and rebuild it with stem cells. A radical experimental treatment that seemed to halt multiple sclerosis with 1 death in 23 out of 24 patients people. One died. Reported by BBC News.

Aeon has a piece on the social function of human sacrifice.

Using image processing to improve reconstruction of movies from brain activity. Remarkable but trippy extraction of video from brain activity from Jack Gallant’s lab. Deep dream esque.

The Washington Post has an interesting piece on the history of seeing racism as a mental illness and its problems.

A New Theory Explains How Consciousness Evolved. The Atlantic has a good piece on Attention Schema Theory.

Mosaic has an excellent balanced piece on the effect of screens, smartphones and devices on young people.

There’s a good obituary for recently deceased legendary psychologist Jerome Bruner in The Washington Post.

Time reports that most violent crimes are wrongly linked to mental illness.

The widely-reported link between older fathers, spontaneous DNA mutations in sperm, and chance of offspring with autism may be due to a confound: men who carry risk factors tend to have children late in life. Good reporting from Spectrum.

The cognitive science of how to study

CC Licensed image from Flickr user Moyan Brenn. Click for source.Researchers from the Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab at UCLA have created a fantastic video on the cognitive science of how to study.

Despite the fact that we now know loads about what makes for optimal learning, it’s rarely applied by students who are trying to learn a subject or ace a test.

This is a short, clear, helpful video on exactly that.

It looks like the video is set so it can’t be embedded but you can watch it at the link below.

Happy studying.
 

Link to Pro Tips: How to Study on vimeo