Saturday, March 31, 2007

Feeling immoral? Ask your doctor about a new medication...

Why do I even bother blogging on this stuff, when others can say what I want to say so much better than I can:

Brain damage, evolution, and the future of morality.

I started on the topic last week. I planned to get to it. As is often the case, I was beaten to the punch.

Imagine that killers have invaded your neighborhood. They're in your house, and you and your neighbors are hiding in the cellar. Your baby starts to cry. If you had to press your hand over the baby's face till it stopped fighting—if you had to smother it to save everyone else—would you do it? If you're normal, you wouldn't...But if part of your brain were damaged—the ventromedial prefrontal cortex—you would.

Well, damn it all. Guess that's why I'm starting a new graduate program in philosophy this month. Maybe I can be the first on my block to write about this stuff.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Please don't wake me, no don't shake me, leave me where I am...

There's an interesting series over at this week on sleep. Sleep and dreams have been of interest to psychologists throughout the discipline's history. Freud was most interested in dreams and their meaning (the meaning of dreams summarized briefly: You're a pervert). Nowadays it's the topic of REM sleep that leaves all the researchers bewildered. The series (Why do we sleep?) covers a lot of recent research into the topic. Of note is the insightful critique of researchers who focus too much on one theoretical orientation:

(Marcos) Frank is an important mediator—and incisive critic—in the debate about sleep and memory. He argues that behavioral researchers are in danger of hitting a "dead end" with contradictory findings on which parts of sleep enhance what kinds of memories. But he also finds fault with cell-level work that associates sleep with a particular molecular or genetic effect but doesn't show how that matters for the animal.

And, by the way, Yes, the series does address why guys usually wake with morning wood.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

And the next Darwin Award finalist is...

I don't mean to sound too insensitive, but this stuff has been going on, and recognized, for some time.

(The teenager) was found by his mother last Oct. 28, clinically dead, suspended on a rope he had slung across a bunk-bed frame. He had pushed his neck onto the rope...aiming to achieve a surging rush as his brain was starved and then replenished with blood just before the point of unconsciousness.

Yeah, somehow the kid came back to life. Science and medicine are great and all. But teenagers are going to do stupid things. Anyone who doubts that genes detrimental to survival are less likely to pass from one generation to the next is going to have trouble explaining this one.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dad was a drinker...

This article, Genetic Link To Heavy Substance Abuse In Teenagers, suggests:

Family and community experiences play an important role in whether teenagers experiment with alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana, but genetic influences become more important for progression to heavy substance use

The article doesn't provide much data. The researchers studied 1200 pairs of twins, totaling 2400 total subjects. The results seem to be as follows:
86% tried alcohol = 2064 33% had alcohol "problems" = 800
58% tried cigarettes = 1392 24% were "heavy smokers" = 576
22% tried marijuana = 528 38% of those used it more than 6 times = 200
I've little doubt the statistics demonstrate that more variability in "heavy substance abuse" is accounted for by genetic factors than environmental factors, although it's impossible to tell with the data provided in the brief article. But what interests me is this quote by the lead researcher:

"The strong link between starting smoking and going on to heavier use suggests that public health strategies should concentrate on stopping teenagers from experimenting with cigarettes in the first place. By contrast, given the large numbers who try alcohol without developing a problem habit, it may be that drink strategies should focus on those at risk of heavy use. However, young people should still be warned against drinking too much, because of the risk of accidents and fights."

I understand that there was a higher percentage of smokers with smoking "issues" than drinkers with drinking "issues." But the data provided seem to indicate there are more young people (as a whole) with alcohol "issues" than smoking "issues" (800 to 576). If the goal is to help the greatest number of people, it seems odd to try to prevent smoking altogether while simply trying to prevent "heavy" alcohol use. I guess it probably doesn't help the alcohol cause with this article coming out a week later, Alcohol Worse Than Ecstacy, According To Proposed 'Matrix Of Harm' For Drugs, which states:

A new study...proposes that drugs should be classified by the amount of harm that they do...The new ranking places alcohol and tobacco in the upper half of the league table. These socially accepted drugs were judged more harmful than cannabis, and substantially more dangerous than...LSD, 4-methylthioamphetamine and ecstasy.

For the life of me, I can't figure out how to read the table. But the article makes you wonder whether, as the first article suggests, "it may be that drink strategies should focus on those at risk of heavy use."

Disclaimer: I found my drug of choice early on in life. Fortunately, it was alcohol, which is arbitrarily legal (or arbitrarily not illegal, depending on how you look at it).

Monday, March 26, 2007

Gimme drugs, gimme drugs, gimme drugs

Here's a sort of follow-up to a previous post: Girl's overdose death raises questions.

Rebecca — who had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity and bipolar disorder, or what used to be called manic depression — died Dec. 13 of an overdose of prescribed drugs, and her parents have been arrested on murder charges, accused of intentionally overmedicating their daughter to keep her quiet and out of their hair.

It's so depressing I'm not going to get into it again. One thing I can tell is this: The state believes it is the parents' fault. The parents, and their lawyer, seem to think it's anyone's fault but theirs. It seems a bit late to ask these questions (though I'm obviously not faulting the journalist for asking them):

Can children as young as Rebecca be accurately diagnosed with mental illnesses? Are rambunctious youngsters being medicated for their parents' convenience? And should children so young be prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs meant for adults?

All I can say is, it's a good thing the kid was only drugged into a zombie-like stupor. If the kid was fat, the state obviously would've intervened.

Title reference here.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Speak the Truth, James!

Here's a fascinating story about how modern science helped a soldier father a child two years after dying in Iraq. The article's author reflects:

I realized K.C. (the mother) and Benton (the child) will always have to cope with Brian's death (the father). But I also saw that this boy who K.C calls a "miracle" is, in the end, a happy kid with a dedicated mom. And for Benton, it seemed, even though his dad died two years before he was born, his father was, in a sense, present in his life.

I think it's a touching story. I'm waiting patiently for James Dobson to express outrage and scorn. I'm sure he'll agree this is bad for the "nation at large." Heck, it was only a few months back he said:

A father, as a male parent, makes unique contributions to the task of parenting that a mother cannot emulate...Isn't there something in our hearts that tells us, intuitively, that children need a mother and a father?...In raising these issues, Focus on the Family does not desire to harm or insult (people). Rather, our conviction is that birth and adoption are the purview of married heterosexual couples...We should not enter into yet another untested and far-reaching social experiment...The traditional family, supported by more than 5,000 years of human experience, is still the foundation on which the well-being of future generations depends.

I suspect James won't "raise these issues" in this particular case. For some reason, I'm guessing he won't feel this example is as worthy of his criticism, although his argument obviously applies.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My brain made me do it!

Fascinating recent articles on the brain and morality. Although not technically "related" to each other, this one, The Brain on the Stand, could be considered the umbrella article. It deals with issues facing the judicial system resulting from information gathered from recent neuroscience. One important question brought up is the relationship between the brain, responsibility, and criminal behavior.

“Some sort of organic brain defense has become de rigueur in any sort of capital defense,” (forensic psychologist Daniel Martell) said. Lawyers routinely order scans of convicted defendants’ brains and argue that a neurological impairment prevented them from controlling themselves.

If someone's brain made them do it, is it appropriate to punish them? This question, as it relates to free will, is addressed by Joshua D. Greene, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard:

“To a neuroscientist, you are your brain; nothing causes your behavior other than the operations of your brain...If that’s right, it radically changes the way we think about the law. The official line in the law is all that matters is whether you’re rational, but you can have someone who is totally rational but whose strings are being pulled by something beyond his control.”

That "something beyond (your) control" is your brain. If it causes your behavior, free will does not. Of course, if there's no free will, there's no responsibility. I like responsibility. Thus, here's my hero from the article, Stephen J. Morse, professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania:

“There’s nothing new about the neuroscience ideas of responsibility; it’s just another material, causal explanation of human behavior...I’m a thoroughgoing materialist, who believes that all mental and behavioral activity is the causal product of physical events in the brain...(but)...So what if there’s biological causation? Causation can’t be an excuse for someone who believes that responsibility is possible (emphasis mine). Since all behavior is caused, this would mean all behavior has to be excused...Even if (someone's) amygdala made him more angry and volatile, since when are anger and volatility excusing conditions? Some people are angry because they had bad mommies and daddies and others because their amygdalas are mucked up. The question is: When should anger be an excusing condition?”

This all leads to the next article, Study Finds Brain Injury Changes Moral Judgment. Which leads to this article highlighting the debate between thinking of morality as a result of biological factors (the brain and evolution) and thinking of morality as a result of the distinctly human characteristic of reasoning: Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior. I'll try to get to those issues later.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Don't worry, be ha....SLAP! Don't say it. Don't you dare say it!

Wow, I really like this Sonja Lyubomirsky woman discussed in an article in the April 2007 issue of Scientific American.

An experimental psychologist investigating the possibility of lasting happiness...she believes that when you take away genes and circumstances, what is left besides error must be "intentional activity," mental and behavioral strategies to counteract adaptation's downward pull.

Interpretation: After nature (genes) and nurture (circumstances), you still got free will ("intentional activity"). Couldn't have said it better myself. Some intriguing points from the article: Note that she worked with the original Learned Helplessness guy: "Martin E. P. Seligman, the father of positive psychology"

On doing empirical research that basically investigates Albert Ellis's REBT claims:

Psychologists have long known that different people can see and think about the same events in different ways, but they had done little research on how these interpretations affect well-being.

Dr. Lyubomirsky's conclusion:

The biggest factor may be...realizing that sustained effort can boost (happiness). "A lot of people don't apply the notion of effort to their emotional lives...but the effort it takes is enormous." (emphasis mine)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I don't like it. So I'm taking my ball and going home!

Big week in morality. Sadly, reasoning never fits in to the discussion. The sequence is always pretty much the same. It starts with someone (Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) saying a behavior is immoral:

“My upbringing is such that I believe that there are certain things, certain types of conduct that are immoral…I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral, and that we should not condone immoral acts.”

Next, someone (Senator John Warner [Rep. VA]) disagrees:

“I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the chairman's views that homosexuality is immoral.”

Finally, someone (the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) demands an apology:

General Pace must offer an immediate and unqualified apology for his remarks

Just once, only once, I'm begging, please, ONE TIME, won't someone ask the simple question: Why is the behavior in question immoral? Why is it that when it comes to morality, people don't seem to think they need a "reason" for their beliefs? Is morality simply a matter of opinion? That's what the general now says:

In expressing my support for the current (don't ask, don't tell) policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct

I find the people who are most likely to call others "immoral" are the same to use the phrase "moral relativism" as an insult. But if people don't feel the need to provide a reason for their position on morality, and fall back on the "it's my opinion" stance, doesn't that simply mean morality is relative to whatever your opinion is? Hey, everyone has a right to an opinion. But some opinions suck.
Come on, general, what's your criteria for judging a behavior immoral? Hey, Senator Warner, you got some criteria for judging a behavior immoral, and have you found that homosexuality doesn't fit that criteria? And hey, SLDN, do you really need an apology from everyone who offends you?

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Tale of Two Problems (one revisited)

Problem #1. The problem is this: College students drinking alcohol, which is "going to destroy our best and brightest" The remedy is this: "(S)top allowing alcohol advertising during high-profile events like the NCAA men's basketball tournament." Problem #2. The problem is this: "(A) terminally ill woman...(who)...uses marijuana on doctors’ recommendation to treat an inoperable brain tumor and a battery of other serious ailments" - and the court agrees that there is "'uncontroverted evidence' that she needed marijuana to survive" The remedy is this: "(T)he federal government had the authority to prohibit and prosecute the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes" and "she lacked the legal grounds to exempt herself from federal law." Go team!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Poor, poor pitiful me.

All those college students with brain diseases need our help!

The report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University...calls on educators to take bolder stands against students and alumni to combat (substance abuse on college campuses)...(says Roger Vaughan, a Columbia biostatistician involved in the report:) "People need to step up and realize this is not a rite of passage, this is not something we should tolerate. If it keeps going, we're going to destroy our best and brightest."

Who on earth is "we"? So, if my students go out on Saturday night and get sh*tfaced, I'm destroying 'em? Okay. I don't think anyone can deny there's a "culture of drunkeness" on college and university campuses across the country. But we're talking about people considered to be adults - people who've been raised by parents for 18+ years, can join the military and defend the country, and can vote for president. But it's somebody else's responsibility which liquids they ingest? Perhaps America's Finest News Source has something to say about this?

I Wish Someone Would Do Something About How Fat I Am: Let me level with you. I'm fat. Not heavyset, but F-A-T, fat. I'm not saying this because I'm proud. It takes a lot of courage to admit it, but I have a problem. Strangers gape in amazement. Children taunt me behind my back. People have trouble looking at me when I eat, and for good reason: I'm huge. But gosh, I don't like being this way. I hate it as much as you do—maybe more. What I want to know is, how come no one is doing anything about it?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I humbly ask Him to remove all of my shortcomings. Well! What's taking so damn long?

I've been hearing about this for weeks now. Big advertising campaign. Politics. Money. All the glamour: Governor Kaine Announces Virginia Premiere of HBO Multi-Media Campaign. The show? HBO's "Addiction" series. The press release reads:

“Addiction” (is) a 90-minute documentary that is the centerpiece of HBO’s national “Addiction Project” campaign that will teach people about advancements in the understanding of drug and alcohol addiction and its treatment as a brain disease.

I'll admit, I'm a free-will snob. I have issues with the "maladaptive behavior as brain disease" argument. Thus, what concerns me most (from what I can tell about the series) is that it appears very one-sided. This article does a decent job with highlighting my concern:

To that end, its message is this: Drug and alcohol addiction are diseases of the brain...This straightforward message is remarkable for at least two reasons. First, it’s intrinsically controversial...The model of addiction presented here — addiction as a brain disease — is somewhat at odds with the cognitive model used in classic 12-step programs. Second, it’s remarkable that so many top-notch filmmakers have consented to push someone else’s point so hard. It’s almost ominous. The sameness of the films in “Addiction” might aid its effectiveness as propaganda, but as art it’s monotone. (emphasis mine)

I don't think it's quite accurate to say that the "addiction as brain disease" model is only controversial as it relates to "classic 12-step programs." Nor is it necessarily appropriate to label such 12-step programs (which AA was the original) as "cognitive model(s)" - it could easily be argued that the 12-step approach is a spiritual model. Step #1 & #2 of the original twelve-step programs are, after all: (1) We admitted we were powerless and that our lives had become unmanageable; and (2) We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (Several of the others "steps" are also more spiritual than cognitive). Few traditional cognitive models would suggest we're powerless over our lives; fewer still would then say that a "greater power" holds the power we don't. In some ways, AA has more in common with the "addiction as brain disease" approach than most cognitive models, in that both AA and the "brain disease" argument hold that the person has little (if any) responsibility for his or her behavior.

But the author is certainly correct that the "addiction as brain disease" model is controversial, and that the documentary's not mentioning that in any way (if indeed it isn't mentioned; it looks as though it is not) could justify labeling the film propaganda.

Here's a post critical of inconsistent reasoning often used by the "addiction as brain disease" crowd:

(O)ne hallmark of a true disease is that people are not constantly insisting it's a disease. Even the prohibitionists who say addiction should be treated like an illness do not seem entirely convinced. After all, police do not arrest people for having brain tumors, cancer, AIDS, or heart disease. Doctors do not treat people against their will for brain tumors, cancer, AIDS, or heart disease. People with brain tumors, cancer, AIDS, or heart disease are not disqualified from various professions because the government refuses to license them.

On a related note, check out all the college students with brain diseases.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Paris Hilton would be proud...of having a rich dad

The New Science of Happiness needs some historical perspective? This is what's supposed to make people happy:

"(S)atisfaction can arise only by the conscious decision to do something. And this makes all the difference in the world, because it is only your own actions for which you may take responsibility and credit."

Obviously, this guy hasn't seen all the Identity-Pride bumper-stickers I've seen. I live in Virginia. I see a lot like this one. Maybe it's people who need personal perspective on their own historical pride, instead. You know, like taking pride in the things *you've* done; feeling guilty for the things *you've* done. Should Virginians be proud of things other people from Virginia did 150 years ago? Should the Dixie Chicks feel guilty for things George Bush did? "It is only your own actions for which you may take responsibility and credit." Is that difficult?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?*

Some interesting research done at (one of) my alma mater(s). This article discusses research into why people laugh.

(Researchers have) discovered something that eluded Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Schopenhauer, Freud and the many theorists who have tried to explain laughter based on the mistaken premise that they’re explaining humor.

Why do people laugh, you ask. The researchers' conclusion? As with almost all psychology today: Nature & Nurture. First the nature:

(Laughter is) an instinctual survival tool for social animals, not an intellectual response to wit. It’s not about getting the joke. It’s about getting along...It’s a kind of behavioral fossil showing the roots that all human beings, maybe all mammals, have in common...Primal laughter evolved as a signaling device to highlight readiness for friendly interaction

Of course. Evolutionary Psychology. What about nurture? Well, laughter is a way of climbing the social ladder. If we want to be accepted by people in our environment, we laugh at their jokes (Note: It's not a good idea to laugh at people we want to like us. Just their jokes.):

When you’re low in the status hierarchy, you need all the allies you can find, so apparently you’re primed to chuckle at anything even if it doesn’t do you any immediate good.

By the way, the research, you can note, is standard experimentation. Experimental and control groups. Lying to the subjects (Oh, wait, I'm sorry. It's not lying. It's using a cover story to ensure participant blindness [doesn't that sound much nicer than lying?]).

So that all explains why, at the beginning of the semester, students laugh at my stupid jokes. By the end, when they realize it has no impact on their grades, they've stopped. I need funnier jokes.

*Answer: One. But the light bulb has to really want to change.

Monday, March 12, 2007

South Park is good for you!

Not only is South Park good intellectual fodder:

South Park is at one and the same time the most vulgar and the most philosophical show ever to appear on television...(If) one is patient with South Park, and gives the show the benefit of the doubt, it turns out to be genuinely thought provoking

But humor might also make you live longer:

Adults who have a sense of humor outlive those who don't find life funny, and the survival edge is particularly large for people with cancer, says Sven Svebak of the medical school at Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Of course, you'll always get those people, even medical doctors sometimes, who simply don't understand the purpose of the research:

"I'm very skeptical," says William Breitbart, psychiatry chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City..."I've met a lot of funny people who died of cancer pretty quickly." He says stage of disease and aggressiveness of tumors matter far more than a person's sense of humor.

I can't believe the researcher is saying that humor is the ONLY thing that affects cancer. As frequently noted, smoking causes cancer. Smoking is not the only thing that causes cancer. Smoking doesn't cause cancer in everyone. Still, smoking causes cancer. Now, apply that to humor and its effect on cancer. Not that there's anything wrong with being skeptical about the results of one research study. But be skeptical for the right reasons!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Welcome to Reverse Sickology

The new home for the former Psyche Killer qu'est que'cest

I'm five foot, thirteen inches and I can go potty all by myself!

This article says more men aged 18-34 watched a recent Ultimate Fighting Championship bout than the first game of the 2006 World Series. This article says:

Nearly 40 percent of high school seniors scored below the basic level on the math test.

Is there a connection? Double-click the picture to enlarge.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/28/07

Video Games: An Opera in 3 Act

Act I. First, they'll make you try to kill someone:

Playing violent video games like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D or Mortal Kombat can increase a person's aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior both in laboratory settings and in actual life

Act II. But then you'll be able to perform life-saving surgery to save the person you almost killed (THIS IS THE RECENT RESEARCH):

Doctors who reported having played video games at least three hours a week sometime in their past worked 27% faster and made 37% fewer errors on the surgical tasks compared with those who had never picked up a game controller, according to the study in the Archives of Surgery.

Act III. Then, and only then, can you sue the video game manufacturer for warping your little mind.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/28/07

I think, therefore electricity is working in my brain

This article discusses two recent books on the science of the mind, and the relationship between brain and consciousness.

"What is the nature of mind, a.k.a. consciousness? Is it material or immaterial? Is it something separate from the brain, or does the brain give rise to it, and if so, how? Details, please."

One book's on Buddhism. The other's on Artificial Intelligence. You wouldn't connect those, would you?

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/27/07

College kids today! What'll we do with 'em?

Relating to recent discussions about "self esteem" and the current state of the world, this article discusses a study suggesting:

Today's college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society. ''We need to stop endlessly repeating 'You're special' and having children repeat that back,'' said the study's lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. ''Kids are self-centered enough already.''

Those darn Humanists, messing up everything! I'll admit, I never sung this one in preschool:

(T)o the tune of ''Frere Jacques'': ''I am special, I am special. Look at me.''

You're a little stuck up, you're a stuck up, yes you are, yes you are. Here's a less Humanist alternative:

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile. (Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, Chapter 17)

Another current article also addresses the self esteem question. One interesting point is the history:

Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/27/07

Stupid, irresponsible women (but not men; never men)

I'm not quite sure how to describe this study. People who had gone to an emergency room claiming their drinks were spiked by a stranger were tested to determine if any such drug was in their system. Generally, NOPE. But a whole hell of a lot of alcohol was in their system. Their conclusion:

Most patients allegedly having had a spiked drink test negative for drugs of misuse. The symptoms are more likely to be a result of excess alcohol.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. This description of the study reads:

...not one of 75 women who thought their drinks were spiked with date-rape drugs like GHB, ketamine or Rohypnol tested positive for the drugs

But if you look at the original study, only 51 of 75 subjects (68%) were actually women. Perhaps a bit of sexism, there, thinking it's only women that don't take responsibility for their drinking errors? Drunk women are irresponsible. Drunk men? Nah!

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/26/07

Please, stop. I'm begging you.

I've had a long weekend, involving a stray dog with a broken back, a veterinarian, and in vain attempts to get a strange dog to swallow pain medication. So, in response to this:

The New Kitchen Is Done. So Why Can’t I Be Happy? AFTER finishing a renovation that nearly doubled the size of her house in Mountain View, Calif., Anne Toth...said, “there was a huge hole in my life”...Ms. Toth calls her condition “post-renovation depression.”

...all I've got is: Please, quit your frickin' whining. Please, for the love of dog, stop. Whiny-weeny. Please. Stop.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/25/07

Uri Geller's rolling' in it!

We're not the only ones whose tax dollars are spent on ESP research. Remember, though, don't criticize:

"I don't think this was a waste of public money. Many people will say so, but I think it is marvellous that the Government is prepared to think outside the box. And this is as outside the box as it gets."

Who is Uri Geller, you ask?

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/23/07

Sorry Honey. I can't help that I'm a dick.

Ah, consciousness at work...and it explains why husbands suck.

Men can't help but ignore their wives: Psychologists offer insights into why husbands refuse to take out the trash

Yeah, men just can help it. Whatever psychologists tell us, it's always important to make sure that we understand we are not responsible for our behaviors. We just can't help it.

(It) might be related to a subconscious tendency...(called) "reactance"

Anyway, Freud called it the unconscious rather than the subconscious. Freud called it reaction formation rather than reactance. Whatever you do, don't mention Freud. He was just come crazy, perverted coke-head.

(T)he results "suggest that reactance to significant others is so automatic that I can't possibly be expected to control it if I don't even know it's happening."

You don't know it's happening? You mean you're not aware of it? So you're unconscious of it? Don't you hate it when Freud's right?

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/22/07

Where's *my* Jenna Jameson doll?

Big lead story in Newsweek on men and depression. Lots of related stories. From one:

"Men's irritability is usually seen as a character flaw, not as a sign of depression"

Wow, it used to be considered sexism when women were said to have a mental disorder rather than a character flaw. Now it seems it is sexism when men are said to have a character flaw rather than a mental disorder. How times change. Title reference here. And here.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/21/07

Just say No to drugs, Yes to high quality tobacco products

So, it's not a drug if it's legal?

Smoking changes brain the same way as drugs: study - Smoking causes long-lasting changes in the brain similar to changes seen in animals when they are given cocaine, heroin and other addictive drugs

"The same way as drugs"??? I guess Phillip-Morris will be upset if you call nicotine a drug? They don't market drugs, they market "high quality tobacco products."

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/21/07

It'll grow hair on your palms, but you won't be able to see the hair because you'll be blind!

An interesting take on a recent book that relates to college-life, teenagers and young adulthood. The issue at hand is the "hook-up culture." I simply point your attention to the article author's insightful comments differentiating "case studies" and other types of research, and the lack of generalizability for the case studies:

Some of (the author's) analysis is supported by students' testimonies, but, as with all anecdotal journalism, one detects self-selection and data contamination at work. One problem is that (the author) cites no longitudinal work on the subject—these girls are still in college—which means a lot of predictive doom and gloom with little to buttress it.

A student interviewed makes an interesting point:

"If there's one thing that I know about adults, it's that they pounce on adolescent sexuality with zeal"

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/20/07

Maybe I should view Bill O'Reilly as my intellectual model - Fair & Balanced!

Last week during a nature/nurture discussion, I was asked in class about my take on the nature/nurture question surrounding homosexuality. Turns out that if I'd answered the question next year while still living in Arizona, I might face some trouble. Yowza!

The bill...would ban professors at public colleges and universities, while working, from...Advocating 'one side of a social, political, or cultural issue that is a matter of partisan controversy.'"

I can only imagine the trouble I'd get in advocating evolutionary psychology, given that evolution could easily be considered "a matter of partisan controversy." Oh, to teach biology in Arizona.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/19/07

I forgot what I wanted to title this one

Memory is one of those things that is really confusing to psychologists. While there is ample research on and understanding of basic memory processes, childhood memory is extremely controversial (ever since Freud). Recent research sheds just a little light:

Infants Form Memories Early in Life, but Also Forget

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/18/07

Plagued with Misinformation? Blame The Media

The lead author of the study says this:

“One encouraging finding, however, is that the study does not suggest that an individual’s past unalterably determines the future course of his/her relationships.” (emphasis mine)

The mainstream media describes it this way:

Plagued With Relationship Troubles? Blame Your Parents.

Original research study here.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/17/07

Everyone has a right to one...but some suck

That's 'your' opinion. Problems with going on "opinion" alone.

(N)owadays an opinion will trump a fact, a reasoned argument, an empirically verified observation...An opinion is the great equalizer, and everyone has one. It silences all arguments, squelches all dialogue: That's your opinion. End of discussion....I am not suggesting that the world is black and white and that we should always expect to arrive at certainty in any given dispute, or that there will always be one individual who possesses the truth or who has some privileged access to "reality." Rather, I am suggesting that in academic settings (if not everywhere else) truth claims should be expected to be supported by something stronger than a "feeling" or intuition.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/16/07

Honey, our 20-month old was, like, a total b*tch today!

Parenting, therapy, and ethics.

(T)he girl had been taking a potent cocktail of psychiatric drugs since age 2, when she was given a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder

A very tough issue, and tragic case. But really, a bipolar diagnosis at 2 years old? And AD(H)D at two? How would one determine that a two-year-old's avoidance, dislike, or reluctance to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort is "inconsistent with (her) developmental level"?

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/15/07

My darling Valentine...

When light enters my eyes and is refracted as it passes through the cornea, following through the pupil (controlled by the iris) and is further refracted by the lens, inverting the light and projecting your image onto my retina, which transduces the information for neural communication, passing impulses through the optic nerves (which of course, meet and cross as the optic chiasm), combining and splitting the information according to the visual field, thus sending information to the left and right halves of my brain... Oh baby, when that happens, my ventral tegmental clump of cells makes so much dopamine I can't control myself. Oh, and the caudate area of my brain also just becomes sooooooo active. It's hot.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/14/07

I love you Razor Valentine

In honor of Valentine's Day, my beautiful wife offers the following observation: Over at wikihow, the article titled How to know the difference between love, infatuation and lust includes a list of "Related wikiHows" including How to Remove a Hickey and How to Make a Decision Using a Quantitative Scoring System.

Obsure title reference here.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/13/07

Doctor knows to save your soul from eternal damnation!

This article reports the result of an interesting survey finding, "Many doctors believe they have the right not to tell patients about treatments that they object to on moral or religious grounds and to refuse to refer patients elsewhere for the care." Original research article here. Could be a new Hippocratic Oath: I'll do no harm to the patient's soul (based, of course, on my conception of the soul). In terms of some numbers:

(M)ore than 40 million Americans may be seeing physicians who do not believe that they are obligated to disclose information about legal treatments the doctor objects to, and 100 million have doctors who do not feel the need to refer patients to another provider.

The three medical practices in question were: "sedating dying patients to the point of unconsciousness; prescribing birth control to teenagers without parental consent; and performing abortions after failed contraception." So let me see if I understand. Hypothetically, I'm a dying patient with the legal right to be sedated to the point of unconsciousness. But if that goes against my doctor's moral beliefs, he feels he has the right to not make that information available to me, and he feels okay refusing to refer me to a doctor who would be willing to perform the procedure. In truth, the survey results are not that surprising. I frequently come across people very willing to argue, basically , "If it's against my religious beliefs, it should be against the law." So I can easily imagine a doctor who feels that certain perfectly legal medical procedures, if they went against his religious beliefs, *should be* against the law. And I can imagine him continue to reason that because the practices *should be* against the law, he has every right to deny me information about the procedures. Here's one take:

But Al Weir, director of Campus and Community Ministries for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, defended doctors' rights to adhere to their personal beliefs. "The doctor has the right to follow their own moral compass and their own moral integrity," Weir said.

I wonder whether Al would agree that a female Muslim radiologist has a right to deny treatment to a male patient , even if it means the male patient ends up not being treated at all.

Given that so many putting forth such arguments seem to reference Jesus, I always wonder what Jesus might think of such reasoning. I'm no Christian theologian by any stretch of the imagination, but from what I can tell, Jesus seemed to be of the Golden Rule mentality. Some sort of, "Would I want someone to withhold information that I could use to make a personal medical decision solely because it goes against that person's religious beliefs?" If not, should I do that unto others? What, indeed, *would* Jesus do? Anyway, the whole situation seems to get worse when politicians get involved. If I were a SD resident, I'd be disappointed with this use of my tax dollars:

A Senate committee on Friday passed a measure requiring hospitals to give information about emergency contraception to rape survivors, (but the bill) would not require medical professionals with opposing religious, moral or ethical beliefs to give the information.

So you're required to give the information, except when you don't want to. Thanks for clearing that up for us, senators! Great use of tax dollars developing and enforcing that law.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/13/07

Pregnancy & drug use

My beautiful wife alerts me to this article from Wyoming: House eases meth mom penalties

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/13/07

Maybe if the researchers faked a Jamaican accent

The study of ESP (or other forms of parapsychology) has a fascinating history. I'm a bit sad to see the lab close. I have no belief in paraPSY, but I appreciate the approach to science outlined here:

The culture of science, at its purest, is one of freedom in which any idea can be tested regardless of how far-fetched it might seem. “I don’t believe in anything Bob is doing, but I support his right to do it,” said Will Happer, a professor of physics at Princeton.

But as someone pretty well-versed in statistics, I'm not aware of any statistical procedure that could separate randomness or simple error probability from the following claim:

Analyzing data from such trials, the PEAR team concluded that people could alter the behavior of these machines very slightly, changing about 2 or 3 flips out of 10,000.

Though it's a bit more complicated than this from a statistical perspective, and you have to differentiate "statistical significance" and "practical significance": If you flipped a coin 10,000 times, how shocked would you be to get 5002 heads and 4998 tails?

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/13/07

...and you also don't have to accept that what Freud said is "true"

As a discussion of biological (and thus, evolutionary) factors relating to human characteristics sits on my horizon, I draw attention to this article: Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules. A thorny issue, but two points: (1) Science is a method. It has rules to be followed; (2) One can *understand* something scientifically even if it doesn't fit into one's belief systems.

Dr. (Marcus) Ross is a “young earth creationist” — he believes that the Bible is a literally true account of the creation of the universe, and that the earth is at most 10,000 years old. (Dr. Ross says) the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another.

It fascinates me how confusing that simple concept is for some people.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/12/07

Little fish, big fish, swimming in the water

I was recently involved in a discussion surrounding whether pregnant women who use illicit drugs should be prosecuted. This article adds some intrigue:

Nearly two-thirds of women who gave birth from 1996-2000 took a medication during pregnancy, a large federally funded study found. Of those, nearly 40 percent took a drug whose safety in pregnancy is not established, and nearly 5 percent took a drug potentially risky to the fetus.

As an aside, note the comment by one doctor (Dr. Mary D'Alton) interviewed: "'I just feel that these are very personal choices,' she said. D'Alton sees her job as giving good care and supporting those choices 'as much as possible.'" A doctor who feels her patients have a right to make their own, personal choices. Good for her. Not all doctors feel that way (I'm working on another posting that'll relate).

Mandatory obscure title reference here.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/11/07

Dear Diary

I'll be interested to learn more about this study: Teen Girls Have Tougher Time Than Boys.

Teenage girls encounter more "stressors" in life, especially in their interpersonal relationships, than boys -- and they react more strongly to those pressures, accounting in part for their higher levels of depression.

The researchers measured stressors and reaction to stressors of teenagers based on diary entries (which is, indeed, a well-respected research strategy).

(S)tudents said what made (the stressful event) so bad, and what they did in response.

Could the observed gender differences be, at least in part, a result of girls being more "open" in their diaries than boys? Intuitively, it seems that a teenage girl and teenage boy writing in their diaries about the same event may very well describe it differently. Heck, it even seems (intuitively, again) that one thing girls are likely to do in response to a stressor more than boys is...writing in a diary. For now, the original article isn't yet available online through the web site of Child Development, the journal in which it's published.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/11/07

When Ted Haggard's evangelicalism and "San Francisco values" collide

"I screwed my friend's wife while I was still married. It's fully my responsibility. But, please, a little sympathy. I'm the victim of alcohol addiction." Sure didn't see that one coming.

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/10/07

B-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-bad to the bone

Them pesky UVA psychologists fall on the side of nature when it comes to "bad kids." The original article isn't yet available online through the journal's website, but it's a basic twin-study design.

Harden and her colleagues arrived at their conclusions by studying 1,045 adult twins and their children. Some of the twin pairs were identical, which means they shared all of their genes; the rest were fraternal, meaning they shared only some of their genes. Such studies allow researchers to tease out the effects of genes and environment on a given behavior.

I'm impressed with the journalist's explicit avoidance of "naming" a gene:

There may be no "argument" gene, but genes do influence personality traits, including those that make people more or less prone to confrontation.

But in the end, that may harm the UVA researchers financially. No way they'll get a book deal without a catchy gene name

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/9/07

I'll trade you one leg for two fingers and a Peyton Manning rookie card

I won't be happy until I lose my legs. I'd just be happy if I quit losing my damn keys! I don't mean to sound unsympathetic, but you can see the "medical model" of psychological disorders (as opposed to the bio-psycho-social model) at work whenever someone explains his or her behaviors with, "I have something called..."

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/8/07

Ted's on the "down low"

I'll admit, socio-cultural responses to homosexuality fascinate me. In large part because the area of psychology that most interested me when I began was prejudice, and it seems that prejudice towards homosexuality is one of the few remaining explicitly condoned (by some people, at least) prejudices. So the Ted Haggard story has been interesting to me (as well as the whole general Denver religious leader theme). Ted says he's exclusively heterosexual. Good for him. I could go into the topic of repressed homosexuality as a theoretical explanation for homophobia, but that's not what most interests me about Ted's journey. It's more his counseling for "sex addiction" (I can't see that site without thinking of the Demetri Martin line: "I've met many chocoholics but I ain't never seen no chocohol. We've got an epidemic of people who love chocolate and don't understand the rules of word endings") - why do so many people claim "addiction" after they've f*c*ed up? Just once I want to hear: "Doc, ya gotta fix me! I'm a compulsive gambler. I've been going to Vegas every weekend and coming home with TONS of money! Make it stop!"

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/8/07

I'm just not a math person

This study indicates why the "nature/nurture" question is important on a personal level. What we think about *our* behavior influences the way we behave. From a "DevoPSY" textbook (PSY230, p.251): "Developmentalists have found that North American parents and teachers emphasize innate ability, which they assume to be unchangeable, more than effort. For Asians, the emphasis is just the opposite: They believe that people can become more capable by working harder (Serpell & Hatano, 1997).

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/8/07

...but not as much as it helps

Check out the news coverage of this study, with the headline: Study: Sex of any kind can harm teens emotionally. Notice the beginning, which (along with the title) issues a strong warning of the harms associated with teen sex:

Teenagers often suffer emotional consequences from having sex, even when it's "only" oral sex...up to one-half of the sexually active teenagers in their study said they'd ever felt "used," guilty or regretful after having sex...The study...suggests that parents should be sure to talk with their kids about the potential negative effects of having oral sex, not only intercourse.

The article describes the study methodology pretty well. But there's this part, here, that doesn't seem to get a lot of attention:

In fact, the teens more often reported positive effects than negative ones.

So, more positive than negative effects. Is one "suffering" an emotional consequence if it's positive?

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/7/07

"…to turn neurotic misery into common unhappiness."

A current article in the NYT covers a published study putting Freud's therapy to the test (Abstract here - note the title characterizing the study, "randomized, controlled" - I've no clue on "blindness"). The NYT article opens with a good discussion surrounding the interplay of "theory" (Freud's in this case) and research:

The field of psychoanalysis has struggled (questioning) whether to subject the therapy to rigorous testing...This...debate has raged even as analysis, Freud’s open-ended talking cure, has become increasingly marginalized as a practice...Last week, a team of New York analysts published the first scientifically rigorous study of a short-term variation of the therapy for panic disorder, a very common form of anxiety. The study was small, but the therapy proved to be surprisingly effective in a group of severely disabled people.

If the theory can't pass a test, eventually nobody cares. So they're putting it to the test. Freudian therapy hopefully results in "insight" - (becoming) "aware of the source of the emotion, of the original traumatic event" - here's what (theoretically) happens:

One former patient treated with this therapy began to have panic attacks after witnessing a young woman die of an illness...The patient...described the death as deeply unfair, and in (therapy) sessions explored perceptions of unfairness in her work and her life, including her childhood. "Once she was able to understand this pattern, the panic became less frightening, she felt safer and was eventually able to get rid of the symptoms"

First posted at Psyche Killer qu'est que c'est on 2/7/07