Category Archives: evolutionary psychiatry

A Talk About The Evolution of Mind

Psychologist Professor Thomas Suddendorf gives a fascinating talk on the evolution of mind  with reference to comparative primatology. Understanding other primates gives us profound insights into the human mind and brain. Professor Suddendorf also gives us a warning about how our own activities are endangering the lives of our nearest living relatives.

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.

Does This Bonobo Have A Theory of Mind?

He who understands baboons would do more towards metaphysics than Locke” – Charles Darwin

The theory of mind is the ability to understand that you have a mental state as do others and that the mental state of others may differ from yours.  The mental state may include beliefs, feelings and other attributes of our inner world. The theory of mind has been described as a special feature of humans but there is a lot of debate about other species. For instance Dolphins and Chimpanzees are notable examples of species that are suggested to have a theory of mind although the arguments are extended to many other species.

I took the video above at Twycross Zoo and thought it rather interesting for a particular segment at 0.16-0.31. During this sequence the senior maternal Bonobo makes a number of rapid non-verbal gestures towards the infant Bonobo. These consist of gazing upwards, accentuated blinking, indicating with the head and holding and pushing with the right arm. The maternal Bonobo seems to be indicating to the infant to turn around and look in a certain direction. The direction is indicated by the maternal Bonobos gaze and when the infant Bonobo does not look in this direction, the firm holding arm of the maternal Bonobo pushes the infant to face in that direction.

This at least is my interpretation. If it is correct then it implies that the maternal Bonobo recognises the infant is not looking in the right direction. This in turn implies an inference about the visual perception of the infant. The sceptic may disagree with my interpretation and I accept that it is limited to a behavioural observation.

However if it were correct there would be two interesting points about this

1. This demonstrates the use of several non-verbal means of communication in an apparently goal directed behaviour. These gestures may have been important for the development of a theory of mind which has been so central to the success of the human race.

2. Bonobos are our second closest relatives. They are also referred to as Pygmy Chimpanzees and have branched off from the lineage of Chimpanzees. Furthermore our lineage diverged from Chimpanzees around 6 million years ago. There are vastly different estimates for this figure which tend to be modified by new estimates of genetic mutation rates and genome sequencing data. What is rather unfortunate however is that every other species that has branched off from our lineage after Chimpanzees (i.e in the past roughly 6 million years) is now extinct. This means that from an evolutionary perspective Bonobos and Chimpanzees are our nearest surviving relatives and provide us with valuable insights into our history.

In the above quote from Darwin, i’m sure he might have been equally fascinated by Bonobos which were first described in 1928 and are classed as Greater Apes.

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here 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.

The Ancient Human-Like Species with Frontal Brain Enlargement (AKA Brodmann Area 10)

Round Moni, lake in the volcanic craters of Kelimutu, Author: SerenadeGNU Free Documentation License

Modern humans (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) are not the only intelligent hominids to have existed in recent history. If we go back 30,000 years ago there were several other intelligent hominids that dominated their territories. Our ancestors had to work out how to coexist with these species. In the long run only our species survived. Thinking of these other hominids as distinct species is controversial in one special case – the so called ‘Hobbit Man’ of the Indonesian island of Flores also known as Homo Floresiensis.

The controversy centres on whether Homo Floresiensis were indeed a separate species or instead were humans with dwarfism. The debate was intense after their initial discovery although it has declined somewhat and the evidence is more in favour of them being a distinct species. The recovered specimens date back 18,000 years ago. Unfortunately early attempts at recovering DNA from the specimens were unsuccessful and the de facto gold standard of species identification through genome analysis is awaited.

Homo floresiensis, Ryan Somma , Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License (CC BY-SA 2.0)

However comparative anatomy helps to settle some of the questions. The authors of this Science paper produced a virtual endocast. In other words they used markings on the skull and other measurements to estimate the shape of the brain. They compared this brain to that of other species including modern humans with and without dwarfism. The researchers found that the brain shape was very different to that of modern humans. However it did fit relatively closely with that of a very distant ancestor of humans – Homo Erectus. The researchers went as far as to suggest that Homo Floresiensis and Homo Erectus shared a not too distant ancestor.

H.Floresiensis would have faced Giant Storks which towered at just under six feet compared to the 3 foot 6 height estimate for one of the recovered specimens (of a similar height to the other specimen). H.Floresiensis faced other challenges. To get to the Island of Flores it has been suggested that H.Flores was seafaring and the journey must have taken place during the initial migration. Other species in the region include Java Man (Homo Erectus) which lived around 1.8 million years ago.

The most interesting aspect of the above paper is that the researchers in this paper suggest that Brodmann Area 10 was relatively large when compared to scaled versions of the brains of other species.

Brodmann Area 10

In a previous post, I have argued that strictly speaking it is incorrect to label the Brodmann Areas on the basis of surface markings and instead Brodmann meant for them to be understood on the basis of the microscopic properties of the brain (cytoarchitecture). There is a more significant case for this in archaic species where we have little understanding of their neuroanatomy. Still we have to start somewhere. In another post I have written about the research findings in Brodmann Area 10 in humans. Thus research suggests a role for Brodmann Area 10 in memory (episodic memory and the recognition stage in spatial memory tasks) in humans as well as more complex motor activities and goal formation. There are alterations in the neurochemistry of BA10 in Schizophrenia whilst other research shows an increase in the cortical thickness in BA10 in people with Down Syndrome. Yet other studies show an increased activity in BA10 in risk-taking activities.

Clearly BA10 is a complex area with many possible functions including higher cognitive processes. Maybe H.Flores can tell us something about the brain changes that our distant intelligent ancestor H.Erectus evolved to make our species so successful in adapting to the environment.

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here 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.

#10 Problem Areas in Evolutionary Psychiatry and a Suggestion of Some Principles for Their Resolution

As readers of this blog will know, i’ve been very interested in Evolutionary Psychiatry as a subject which is potentially helpful in answering difficult questions about mental illness. In terms of trying to explain mental illnesses there is a circularity which is best summed up with nature versus nurture arguments. One person will suggest that an illness results from genetics whilst another will say that it results from the effects of the environment. Another group will opt for a bit of both. Some scientists get excited when new ideas such as epigenetics promise a neatly packaged answer to these complex issues. The field of Evolutionary Psychiatry is relatively new and follows on from Evolutionary Psychology. Psychiatrists such as Professor Tim Crowe have however suggested evolutionary explanations of Schizophrenia many decades ago. Such explanations have nevertheless remained relatively isolated in the context of the extensive number of mental illnesses described in the Diagnostic Manuals. In this sense it is still possible to say that Evolutionary Psychiatry is a relatively recent development.

The Psychiatrist Professor Martin Brüne has written an interesting book on the subject (see Appendix) although there still remains a lot of work to do in making this subject relevant to Clinical Psychiatry. I would anticipate that probably the best way that Evolutionary Psychiatry could inform clinical practice is through the development of models which can be tested. Such models backed up with supporting evidence at the population or sample population level I think would provide the starting point for further discussion. There are a number of Psychiatrists publishing in this area and Evolutionary Psychiatry is therefore beginning to develop a firmer foundation.

In this broader context I have detailed several problem areas in Evolutionary Psychiatry which will need to be considered in the development of a theoretical framework and unfortunately some of the circular arguments above still apply but at least there is one more theoretical tool to be applied.

#1 The Development of a Suitable Language. Psychiatry traverses many domains ranging from the functions of genes through to the effects of an illness on social functioning. Each of these areas requires a different level of explanation and even a different research paradigm. The language of Evolutionary Psychiatry has to have validity at each of these levels and be able to meaningfully navigate between each of these explanatory levels.

#2 The Problem of Neuroanatomy. Neuroanatomical problems of localisation are well recognised. Is there a part of the brain where a particular function is located? In parallel with nature versus nurture arguments, arguments in the field of neurophysiology/neuroanatomy centre around serial versus parallel processing. In other words a function in the brain can either result from a localisation of that function within one area in a hierarchical fashion or in several areas operating in parallel. Regardless of the source of evidence, disentangling these possibilities has been extremely difficult. With the most complex functions this becomes extremely difficult.

#3 The Sensitivity of the Material. One of the difficulties with discussion of illnesses in an evolutionary context is the sensitivity around whether such illnesses have adaptive value. For people suffering with such illnesses and those caring for or involved with the treatment of people with these illnesses the very nature of the discussion can be very controversial. A case in point is a discussion about the adaptive value of Depression (see here also).

#4 The Genetic Explanation. In a similar vein to some of the previous point, to talk about adaptation you have to talk about genes. If you don’t have the gene(s) correlate(s) of an illness then you don’t have the basis for the evolutionary discussion about the illness.

#5 The Definition of Illness. How an illness is defined is a complex subject area that reflects a consideration of the available evidence by experts. Such definitions represent judgements of the evidence in the context of extreme complexity as the above discussion illustrates.

#6 The Limits of Biological Explanation. In order to discuss what effect the gene or genes are having there has to be clarity on the constraints of the biological explanation. This assumes that the gene associations have been identified. The following debate at Yale illustrates many of the difficult issues around evolutionary explanations of behaviour (although we need to also explain inner experiences).

In particular, the question at 55.08 and the responses are well worth listening to.

#7 The Adaptive Value of a Single Gene. In the mathematical analysis of evolutionary concepts there are simple systems with well understood traits that have single gene mechanisms. Take Mendel’s analysis of plant hybridisation as an example. However if there is an argument about the adaptive value of a single gene in humans how can we be sure that the advantages or disadvantages of a single gene are not being masked by all of the other genes in the genome? In other words before we start analysing the effects of gene transmission can we be certain that the single gene contributes to adaptation to the environment? So long as the gene can be transmitted to the next generation it has demonstrated fitness in that generation. Nevertheless so have a large number of other genes. Indeed there are several mental illnesses where we can be confident that genes have a small effect size and that more than one is involved.

#8 The Changing Environment. Since our evolution from the earliest life forms has taken over 2 billion years the environment has undergone remarkable changes. Without question we have lost the opportunity to ask what the environment was which prompted the success of a certain trait and the associated gene or genes in a great many cases. In practical terms this perhaps limits the more certain discussions to cases which are well documented.

#9 The Level of Explanation at Which We are Satisfied. How sophisticated do we want our explanations? Take Circadian Rhythms for instance and their relation to the importance of the sleep-wake cycle and sleep disorders. There is already a large body of research into Circadian Rhythms from the simplest to the most complex organisms with well characterised cellular pathways. Will explanations of the adaptive advantage of certain genes early in the evolutionary timeline suffice as explanations for why certain sleep disorders persist?

#10 The Persistence of Adaptation. Also relevant to #9 all organisms continue to adapt to their environment. Therefore it is not only the environment but our own genomes that have changed significantly over time. Since we cannot go back in time and observe these adaptations we are dependent on the available historical data as well as indirect evidence from experimental evidence in organisms that resemble those in our early timeline.

As a result of these #10 problems, there are some principles which are worth considering in an Evolutionary Psychiatry framework.

#1 The Development of a Vocabulary for Evolutionary Psychiatry. The field will require a vocabulary of terms which are relevant to the different levels of analysis. This should be relatively easy to begin with because such vocabularies have already been developed within the different research paradigms. However members of those research communities should be involved in validating the terms with appropriate mechanisms for review.

#2 The Development of a Grammar Suitable for Traversing Explanatory frameworks. The grammar referred to here is not the basic grammar of the English Language but the rules governing the use of terms from different paradimgs. In order to construct explanations that begin with genetics and end with social functioning we have to be very clear that in moving from one to the other we have the appropriate evidence base to support such transitions. This will necessitate a consideration of many examples of such transition including representatives from different research paradigms.

#3 The Establishment of a Hierarchy of Explanations. In just the same way as the Cochrane Foundation has established a hierarchy of evidence to support the use of different forms of clinical treatment, we should be no less rigorous in our description of the explanatory models we are using. By using very limited explanations of the success of certain genes which are well characterised and supported we can assign them a high degree of confidence. By considering factors such as the effect size of genes, the effect of learning and response to treatment, the confidence we have of the biological contribution to the illness we can begin to build an estimate of the confidence we can have in a limited but predictive model. These models can inform experiments.

#4 The Establishment of a Biological Index for an Illness. We can use some of the factors mentioned in principle #3 to establish a biological index for an illness. This is the likely contribution that biology has to the illness. The index can be as simple as a range from 0 to 100. There is already a great deal of data on the heritability of certain illness particularly from twin studies. However this is not exactly the same as the biological contribution to an illness since non-heritable biological contributions are also possible. For example spontaneous mutations or acquired brain injury.

#5 The Establishment of a Reliability Index for Illnesses. Operational definitions are field tested to ascertain reliability data. In addition further work is carried out to characterise this reliability data in clinical rather than research settings. An accessible reliability index will inform the most productive areas of research.

No doubt there are other principles which may better serve the goal of addressing these problems but with time such an approach would help to bridge the gap between theoretical discussions of Evolutionary Psychiatry and the clinical applications which may accelerate progress within this field.

Appendix

Evolutionary Psychiatry Resources on this Site

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here 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.

How Was The Universe Created?

Astronomer Dr Jeremy Harwood has produced a very interesting video on how our Universe began. He explains details of the Big Bang and has very graciously used a Creative Commons License for his video so that others may reuse.

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here 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.

Books Reviewed to Date (Last Updated 7.4.12)

 

Clinical Psychiatry (Excluding Neuropsychiatry)/Psychotherapy

The Old Age Psychiatry Handbook

Oxford Textbook of Old Age Psychiatry

Clinical Effectiveness and Clinical Governance Made Easy

Handbook of Psychopharmacotherapy- A Lifespan Approach

The Dementias Crossroads  Between Neurology and Psychiatry

Dynamic Psychotherapy Explained

The Maudsley Prescribing Guidelines – 9th Edition

EMDR -Casebook 2nd Edition

Jung – A Very Short Introduction

Introducing Freud

Perspectives on the Henderson Hospital

Overcoming Anxiety- A Five Areas Approach

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing

Hyper-chondriac

Online-Therapy – A Therapists Guide To Expanding Your Practice

Fundamentals of Adlerian Psychology

Albert Ellis

The Art of Being

The Future of an Illusion

The Interpretation of dreams

An Introduction to Dream Interpretation

On Death and Dying

Alfred Adler on the Education of Children

The Divided Mind

One Nation Under Therapy

Modern Psychoanalysis

 

Neuropsychiatry

 

The Man Who Forgot How To Read

Brain Architecture

The Biology of Belief

Pocket Atlas of Normal CT Anatomy of the Head and Brain

Pocket Atlas of Cranial Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Subcortical Vascular Dementia

Molecules of Emotion Book Review

Vintage Sacks

Descartes Error Emotion Reason and the Human Brain

Stroke Epidemiology – Evidence and Clinical Practice

Huntingtons Disease- Second Edition

An Introduction to Neuropathology

Seeing Voices

Mcalpines Multiple Sclerosis – Third edition

Waking-Dreams

Understanding-MRI

The Essentials of Neuroanatomy

The Brain – A Very Short Introduction-Unabridged

Psychology

Qualitative Psychology – A Practical Guide to Research Methods

The Woman Who Couldnt Forget

Positive Psychology in a Nutshell

Phantoms in the Brain

The Executive Brain

50 Psychology Classics

The Moral Sense

Mental Health and Religion

Stigma – Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity

 

Evolution

Introducing Evolutionary Psychology

The Humans Who Went Extinct

Dunbars Theory on Grooming – Language, Laughter and Music in Human Evolution

Natural Selections

An Introduction to Human Evolution

Darwin and Evolution Unabridged

Language, Music and Laughter in Evolutionary Perspective

The Voyage of the Beagle

The Ancestors Tale

The Greatest Show on Earth

Your Inner Fish

Mean Genes

Textbook of Evolutionary Psychiatry -The Origins of Psychopathology

The Talking Ape- How Language Evolved

 

Philosophy

A Review of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Also An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 1)

Humanizing Madness

Plato – The Giants Of Philosophy

The Philosophy Of Science A Very Short Introduction

20th Century European Philosophy

In Support of Method

The Meaning of Life – A Very Short Introduction – Unabridged

50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Need to Know

What is This Thing Called Science

General

Infotopia – How Many Minds Produce Knowledge

Delete

Our Time

The Borderlands of Science

Socialnomics

Generation Text

Linked

Outliers

Spark

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.

Chimpanzees ‘Kissing’

I found this video on YouTube. The title is self-explanatory but I found it of interest because I’ve been working on a hypothesis on the origins of kissing in humans (see here). That hypothesis was inspired by the clip below.

So just a few observations on a comparison of the Chimpanzee and Bonobo videos. Firstly Bonobos are more distant to us than Chimpanzees. Basically we and Chimpanzees had a common ancestor (concestor) and we diverged about 6 million years ago give or take a few million years. Then a few million years later Bonobos and Chimpanzees diverged. What we and Bonobos have in common is that we have less facial hair than Chimpanzees although obviously in the case of humans it is a lot less (although the hair distribution  surrounds the central part of the face in Chimpanzees and Bonobos). The hypothesis states that kissing is an extension of grooming behaviour in other primates and develops from the loss of hair in humans. In the clip of the Chimpanzees, the behaviour is not as convincing as in the Bonobo clip and consists of the Chimpanzees ‘touching’ lips. Perhaps this is associated with a feeling of security as it appears to be a parent and child. The activity is qualitatively different to that of the Bonobos where it has clear characteristics of grooming. This is exemplified by the clip below

Although Bonobos have less facial hair than Chimpanzees, the occurrence of hairless facial skin in both cases presents an opportunity for this transformative grooming behaviour. Nevertheless in this Chimpanzee video at least it does not offer any convincing evidence either way on the grooming hypothesis.

However there is one interesting question it raises. Why do the Chimpanzees keep their lips in contact? The answer I suspect relates to receptors in the skin. Part of the explanation may lie in Mechanoreceptors although the main explanation might be expected from touch light touch sensation. I’ve made some videos on Mechanoreceptors which come in handy in explaining some of the concepts but will eventually get round to the other types of receptors.

In any case if it is common to Chimpanzees and Bonobos then it might mean that the Bonobos behaviour followed a change in receptor structure and function in the hairless skin areas. Although classically associated with hairless areas however, Mechanoreceptors are also found in hairy skin.

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.