Monday, August 31, 2009

Zombie says "Brains, Brains..."

It's been some time since I've done as I said I would and really paid attention to the seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. It turns out people get really hot and bothered when neuroscience information is used to explain human behavioral characteristics, even when the neuroscience information is irrelevant. But this article bring it back to mind, in the simplest way. It is titled "Multitasking Muddles Brains, Even When the Computer Is Off" and reports:
In several benchmark tests of focus, college students who routinely juggle many flows of information, bouncing from e-mail to web text to video to chat to phone calls, fared significantly worse than their low-multitasking peers." (According to the researcher, the tests...) are all very standard tasks in psychology...In the first, there’s lots of evidence that if people do poorly, they have trouble ignoring irrelevant information. For the second task, there are many demonstrations that this is a good reflection of people’s ability to organize things in their working memory. The third task shows how fast and readily people switch from doing one thing to another.”
Interesting research. Worth noting, they didn't measure brain activity at all. Matter of fact,
(One researcher) next plans to use brain imaging to study the neurology of multitasking...
So why title the article "Multitasking Muddles Brains"? Why not "Multitasking Muddles Attentional Focus" or something more accurate? Probably because, as noted, people get all wet and moist about brain information, even when it is unimportant.

Listen, I understand that attentional focus is functional on brain activity. So is vision (so is everything we do). You'd never hear, though, anyone say eating carrots improves brain activity due to alleged carrot effects on vision. Someone'd say eating carrots improves vision.

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reality TV...sure it is...

Back in the late '80s when I was an undergrad at University of Illinois (or, THE University of Illinois, for any of you Ohio State dorks), I had a close friend keen on going to law school who once stated proudly at a party, "L.A. Law isn't anything like real law." I called him a pompous ass; pompous because, for example, you'd never find a bartender (which I was at the time) trying to claim special knowledge by noting Cheers wasn't really what bars were like; and an ass because anyone thinking TV shows offer an accurate depiction of reality probably aren't law school material. I haven't thought about this for some time, until yesterday I came across this article, interviewing community college folk who'd screened a new sitcom called Community, about community colleges. Comments:
Howard Tineberg, English professor at Bristol Community College, in Massachusetts...(said) "Much of the cynical representation of the community college is offered through (blah, blah, blah)...I see much to be offended by in this premier episode."
“Unfortunately, the pilot of ‘Community’ perpetuates stereotypes of two-year colleges (blah, blah, blah)” writes Sandie McGill Barnhouse, chair of the Two-Year College English Association (TYCA) and English professor at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College,
Wow! Does that mean Homer Simpson's job isn't an accurate depiction of work at a nuclear power plant? That hospitals aren't really like that portrayed on Scrubs? That The Office isn't much like an office? That this isn't representative of fourth grade education:

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Monday, August 24, 2009

Get These Kids Some Doctor Approved Drugs!

I find it somewhat disturbing that 10% of Americans are on antidepressants:
About 10% of Americans — or 27 million people — were taking antidepressants in 2005, the last year for which data were available at the time the study was written. That's about twice the number in 1996...

Certainly, it isn't that surprising given:
During the study, spending on direct-to-consumer antidepressant ads increased from $32 million to $122 million.

Still, this other study seems off-base:
Depression in children as young as 3 is real and not just a passing grumpy mood, according to provocative new research.

Provocative indeed. What the researchers did was find a bunch of kids diagnosed as depressed, followed them longitudinally for a couple years, and found that many were still depressed. How do we know this is diagnosable depression, though, and not simply standard variance in personality? For a diagnosis of depression, one of the very most important components is that the depressive symptoms "represent a change from previous functioning." If the kids were depressed all along, how can we conclude that there was any change from previous functioning? We all know people who are significantly happier than the rest of us. Sure, they annoy the hell out of us, but we recognize that as standard human variance. How come we can accept that some people have standard moods that fall above the norm, but not that some might fall below the norm? I'm not arguing that these people shouldn't be allowed to seek assistance if they want it, but should we be making inaccurate diagnoses for that purpose?

Posted at Reverse Sickology

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Study: Drug Users Like Drugs

If I didn't consider Benedict Carey an excellent science writer, I'd be sure this New York Times article was an Onion parody:
The safest and most effective treatment for hard-core heroin addicts who fail to control their habit using methadone or other treatments may be (heroin), in prescription form...Canadian researchers randomly assigned about half of (226) addicts to receive methadone and the other half to receive daily injections of diacetylmorphine, the active ingredient in heroin...(the study) showed that heroin works better than methadone in this population of users, and patients will be more willing to take it...
Wow, heroin users prefer heroin. And, interestingly, heroin is "effective treatment" when prescribed by a doctor but an illicit drug when taken simply as a choice. Fascinating. That may explain this:
In an editorial with the article, Virginia Berridge of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine concluded, "The rise and fall of methods of treatment in this controversial area owe their rationale to evidence, but they also often owe more to the politics of the situation."

Posted at Reverse Sickology