Monthly Archives: May 2011

News Round-Up: May 2011 2nd Edition

  • Have they found a happiness gene? A headline in the media suggests that a happiness gene has been discovered. However I think this is an oversimplification of a complex phenomenon. First of all the researchers have surveyed 2500 adolescents in the USA and assessed their satisfaction with life. They then sampled their serotonin genes (5HTT) and divided these into the long and short forms of the genes. The longer allele of the gene results in more receptors in the neurons and is described as being more ‘efficient’. They found a large increase in satisfaction with life in those with the long form of the gene compared to those with the shortened form. Since serotonin is associated with mood, there is a justification for looking at the relationship between satisfaction and serotonin genes. However there are at least two caveats to these conclusions. The first is that this study has been undertaken in adolescents in the Unite d States and it would be interesting to see if these results vary across age groups.  The second point is to look at what role the environment is playing in this. For instance there is a relationship between economic factors and ‘happiness’ in previous studies (although slightly more complex than would be expected) and so it would be interesting to see how economic variations in the environment influence these results as well as other factors which influence the social milieu.
  • ‘Zero Degrees of Empathy’ is a new book by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen (see reviews here, here, here, here, here and here). Baron-Cohen presents an important hypothesis in which he reframes several personality disorders as  being primarily disorders of empathy. This hypothesis has a number of important implications particularly in terms of how services might relate to people with these personality disorder labels. Given the implications for society this book offers an important step forward in opening up a wider debate on how society might reframe this relationship.  However Baron-Cohen also looks at the concept of evil and gives examples whilst suggesting that this concept can also be understood in terms of empathy. However this is slightly more complicated and several of the reviewers above have focused on these arguments rather than the personality disorder issues. With the preparation for DSM-V there may be a case for a more pressing discussion of the reinterpretation of personality disorders such as narcissistic, borderline and antisocial personality disorder in the relevant forums.
  • The authors of a recent meta-analysis concluded that there was no significant relationship between common alleles of the DISC1 (Disrupted in Schizophrenia 1) gene and Schizophrenia.
  • Decreased physical activity was significantly correlated with physical health quality of life in one small study comparing people with Schizophrenia with a control group.
  • The author of a review of evidence of ECT in Schizophrenia concluded that catatonic symptoms were the most responsive. While the response of catatonic symptoms to ECT is well established the author also identified a hierarchy of symptom responsiveness on the basis of the review.

Evolutionary Psychiatry

  • Right-handedness is likely to be at least 400,000 years old. An analysis of fossil teeth from 400,000 year old hominid specimens in Spain suggests that they were most likely predominantly right-handed. The pattern of wear on the teeth indicated the most likely direction in which the tooth moved against the food and in turn the hand that was likely used for feeding. These hominids are thought to represent Homo Heidelbergensis. Recent evidence suggests that they are the common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals. The researchers also looked at European Neanderthal specimens and found similar evidence for right-handedness. While the researchers focused on the evidence for handedness, the significance of this is two-fold. Firstly there is an argument that asymmetry within the brain is necessary for language. The second is that Schizophrenia may arise as a result of inteference with the development patterns of asymmetry in the brain which is a theory developed by Professor Tim Crow (see review here).  These findings could provide the first evidence that another species Homo Heidelbergensis had developed language as well as the possibility that some members may have been affected by Schizophrenia (assuming aberrant neurodevelopmental processes) in Europe as far back as 400,000 years ago.
  • A research group from St Andrews in Scotland observed Chimpanzees in Uganda and concluded that Chimpanzees were using at least 66 gestures to communicate with each other. The use of gestures is thought to be an important step in the development of spoken language.

Index: An index of the site can be found here. The page contains links to all of the articles in the blog in chronological order. Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

Review of Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ Chapter 5

Chapter 5 in Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ is titled ‘The Priority of Paradigms’. In this essay as he refers to it, Kuhn elaborates on the relationship between rules paradigms and ‘normal science’. I thought this essay was less articulate than the previous essays although he introduces some important concepts which he develops in later chapters. Kuhn suggests that rules govern a research tradition and that there is a common understanding within the research community that forms the research paradigm. However he thinks that scientists are often unaware of the specifics of the research paradigm and instead rely on an intuitive understanding much akin to that proposed by Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein proposed that we know a game by its family of properties. Even if a game doesn’t have all of the properties we identify with a game, we will still be able to recognise it as such through these flexible recognition mechanisms. He goes on to describe science as a ‘ramshackle structure’ with little coherence arguing that if we consider the physical sciences we will see a big difference between related sciences. He gives the example of a chemist and a physicist being asked whether helium is a molecule and giving two entirely different answers. The explanation for this is that the scientists were using different paradigms even though both branches were derived using quantum mechanics.

I found many of Kuhn’s suggestions profound. He suggests for instance that the scientist may undertake research quite separately from any explicit consideration of the underlying paradigm. This thought is quite remarkable as it suggests that a scientist may dissociate a rational approach used in their experimental study from an irrational approach to the wider context of the research paradigm in which their study is operating. In other words if there is an obvious flaw in the underlying assumptions of a research paradigm then it doesn’t matter how many well designed studies are undertaken within that paradigm, the conclusions will still be erroneous because of the mistaken assumptions several layers down. Kuhn would presumably have recommended a healthy scepticism towards the research paradigm although this is not explicitly mentioned within the essay. I can’t help but think that in describing the research paradigm, Kuhn is actually describing in a roundabout way, the characteristics of a social group. These characteristics remain invariant regardless of whether it is science we are talking about or any group activity. The group will form an identity and this identity is developed through a shared language and culture.  The culture itself may develop from a decision to solve specific problems whereupon there is a ccncerted drive to use a systematic approach to achieve this end. In science this results in the research paradigm. However this will also be repeated in other parts of society froming the impetus for social change across a wide variety of fields.

References

Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Narrated by Dennis Holland. (Paperback originally published in 1962). Audible. 2009.

Appendix

For a review of the Introduction see here.

For a review of Chapter 1 see here.

For a review of Chapter 2 see here.

For a review of Chapter 3 see here.

For a review of Chapter 4 see here.

Aknowledgements

Picture is derivate of the following work – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Thinker,_Rodin.jpg

Index: An index of the site can be found here. The page contains links to all of the articles in the blog in chronological order. Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.