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.

A Mental Health Strategy Webchat

The Department of Health features an interesting document – a summary of a webchat involving David Behan the Department of Health’s Director General of Social Care. This contrasts with some of the more detailed and formal documents as it’s very informal consisting of a dialogue between Behan and several people with questions about health and social services.  The document though is slightly tricky to get to grips with until you realise that Behan’s response to an earlier question often comes several paragraphs down from the original question and can be worked out by referring to the name of the person asking the question. Thus the document consists of a series of threads – questions and answers. There are variations on how this information can be presented but the main point for me was how accessible this information was as the dialogue generated here is easy-to-read and enables Behan to explain policies in response to people’s concerns. The rolling out of IAPT to older adult services as well as the telecare and telehealth options for people in older adult’s services were two of the many interesting points in the discussion. This seems to be a very simple approach to improving the accessiblity of complex DOH policies.

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.

News Round-Up: May 2011 1st Edition

  • A short small-sized trial looking at the use of Donepezil in females with Down Syndrome has shown promise in a number of outcomes although it will be interesting to see the results of larger longer-term replication studies.
  • An interesting moderately sized 5-year longitudinal study in China provides evidence that vascular risk factors increase risk of conversion from Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer’s Disease but also that treatment of these vascular risk factors decreases the risk of conversion.
  • A small study showed a significant inverse correlation between hippocampal volume and CSF p-tau levels in people with Alzheimer’s Disease

Evolutionary Psychiatry

  • An Origin for Language?: Some remarkable research hinting at the origins of language has been carried out by a UK group with the Bonobos at Twycross Zoo and has been published in PLOS One (see also a write-up of the study here).  At the time of testing the Bonobos form two groups each with their own enclosure. The 2 groups are released from their enclosures separately to forage for food.  Kiwi is favoured by the Bonobos but they also receive apples and these fruits were stored at specific locations. Bonobos communicate with a series of calls – barks, yelps, peep-yelps and peeps. The researchers recorded the calls that were made when Kiwis or Apples were found. The researchers then varied the food that was presented as well as the recorded calls that were played prior to the groups being released from the enclosures. They found that calls that were associated with Kiwis were more likely to result in Bonobos searching at the Kiwi sites. However there was a small catch in that the Bonobos were more likely to search at the Kiwi sites even without prompting. However after hearing the apple associated calls the Bonobos were more likely to visit the apple sites and so this provided evidence that the calls were likely to represent foraging signals to other group members. There was also a similar result in terms of the time spent foraging at the respective sites when the kiwi or apple associated calls were played back. The researchers suggested that in Bonobos rather than Chimpanzees the combination of different calls is turned into a sequence which has meaning. This ability to combine calls which then have new meaning expands the possibilities for communication and is a significant finding if confirmed. Our ancestors diverged from the Chimpanzee lineage some 6 to 8 million years ago. Since the Bonobo lineage diverged from the Chimpanzee lineage after this, we are related more closely to Chimpanzees than Bonobos in the evolutionary timeline. However if this ability is not present in Chimpanzees then it suggests that this ability to combine calls in humans and Bonobos would be an example of convergent evolution *(1). There was also another interesting finding. One call sequence associated with the Kiwi fruits seemed to be a very strong signal which was associated with the Bonobos searching the apple site twice as often as usual instead *(2). If the Bonobos are distinguished from Chimpanzees through the use of combination calls then this might explain other differences between Bonobos and Chimpanzees *(3) and would contribute to our understanding of the origins of language *(3)

*(1) There is an exception to this. This would not be the case if the Chimpanzee-human concestor was able to combine calls but the Chimpanzee lost this ability after their divergence from Bonobos

*(2) This seemed to me to raise the possibility of deception. There are cases of New World Monkeys specialising so that one member watches for predators while the others eat food. Sometimes this group member will raise a false alarm. When the others move away from the area, this member will then take the food. In the example above it might be possible that the Bonobo on finding the Kiwi fruit attempts to send the other Bonobos to the Apple site so it can secure more Kiwi fruits. What is even more interesting is the strength of this signal as it suggests that the motivation of the signaller before generating the signal might produce a more significant change in group behaviour (i.e it would not just be a function of the motivation of the responding group). If this were the case there may be an interesting correlation between the motivation of the signallers and the effect of the signal.

*(3)As speculation if the line of reasoning given here holds then the combination calls could be as a result of increases in working memory. However working memory capacities of Chimpanzees and Bonobos should be tested directly.

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.