The featured blog is ‘Mind Hacks’. This blog is authored by a group of people who are interested in how the mind/brain works and includes a medic, psychologist and neuroscientist amongst others. The group have also authored a book – ‘Mind Hacks’ again about the intricacies of the mind/brain. The authors have a knack of finding interesting topics which also have a wide appeal. The blog has been predominantly authored by Vaughan who has been producing high quality articles at a tremendous rate and over a relatively long period of time. An article on the neuropsychology of religion by Vaughan examines an essay by Boyer on the neuropsychology of religion looking at how evolutionary cognitive mechanisms could have given rise to ritual and so on. An interesting thought here is whether the reverse is true (although 30,000 years (‘Lion Man’) is a relatively short period for evolutionary mechanisms to act) which is subtly hinted at in this article. Continuing on the same theme Vaughan also examines a question by George Beard and Silas Mitchell – ‘Is the cinematograph making us stupid?’ and looks at the parallels with the modern spin on this question. Indeed in an earlier review of a podcast on this blog – the question being asked was whether ‘Google was rewiring our brains’. What’s interesting is that George Beard using that same question developed the concept of neurasthenia which in turn has influenced the course of psychiatry in china with its vast population as covered in an excellent article in the American Journal of Psychiatry covered here. Perhaps questions about the relationship between evolution and culture are profoundly important.
Here Vaughan looks at Freud’s concept of symptom substitution, the idea that if the underlying cause is not addressed symptoms might disappear only to be replaced by other symptoms. Psychologist Warren Tyron has proposed a methodology for testing this theory. Perhaps a revival of this theory could be helpful with medically unexplained symptoms in which case it would be useful to draw analogies with CBT approaches for a deeper theoretical understanding of the phenomenon. In the ‘Arch of Hysteria’, Vaughan reviews a book about Charcot and in the process highlights some fascinating insights into this polymath who as well as being the ‘founder of modern neurology’, refined hypnosis and used photography to disseminate the concept of hysteria more effectively. Indeed this also appeared to have inspired sculpture thereby crossing many disciplines.
In ‘mental illness following the exorcist’ Vaughan delves all the way back to an article in a 1975 edition of the ‘Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases’ when a series of people developed mental illnesses after watching the film ‘The Exorcist’ at the cinema. One of the people ‘felt that certain people “looked strange”‘ an intriguing complaint that is found in the delusional misidentification syndromes (amongst others) and more of a tantalising possibility when it is mentioned that ‘he could not look people directly in the eye for fear he might imagine them to be devils’. There are various interpretations here – for instance the delusion of intermetamorphosis or fregoli syndrome which are dependent upon the semantics of what is meant by ‘he might imagine them to be devils’. Of course, we have no grounds for such diagnoses on the basis of such sparse information and a more rigorous formal process of analysis is required. Nevertheless such differentials offer new perspectives on the presentation. Such case series also allow for some insights into the effects of cinema on behaviours which comes up in the media from time to time although such relationships are far from simple.
In the ‘social yawn‘, Tom looks at the characteristics of the yawn in different species and particularly at the contagion of yawning. Chimpanzees will yawn when they see videos of other chimpanzees yawning. [On reading this I had a thought – can we really tell about our evolution by looking at Chimpanzees and other primates? What if they have evolved since our divergence through for example the mechanism of genetic drift which could manifest in changes in cognition]. Tom then goes on to show how we are influenced by others when yawning and by the end of the article are persuaded to look at yawning altogether differently.
Christian picks up on the a special theme edition of Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica in ‘Childhood trauma and schizophrenia‘. There is more research emerging in this area and Christian writes ‘The new findings support the argument for a bio-psycho-social approach to psychosis’ which I would tend to agree with although the exact meaning of ‘bio-psycho-social’ is up for debate. Vaughan covers the advent of a child brain image database derived from various types of brain images in ‘revolutionary child brain database launches’. Vaughan points out that this might be helpful in defining normal development. This should therefore be of interest in psychiatry when trying to delineate the aetiology of illnesses although the debate of genes v environment will doubtless continue but in a slightly different format with the anticipated findings.
If having fun at the same time as learning neuroscience is your aim then the Mind Hacks is definitely worth a look.
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