News Round-Up: March 2010 2nd Edition

Psychiatry 2.0

Wray Herbert looks at a new paper in which psychologist Ibrahim Senay investigated wilfulness and willingness. He used an anagram paradigm:-

But before starting this task, half the volunteers were told to contemplate whether they would work on anagrams, while the others thought about the fact that they would be doing anagrams

The subjects who considered whether they would work on the anagrams completed more anagrams than the other group. The experiment was altered slightly and subjects wrote one of two phrases

Some wrote the words I Will over and over, while others wrote Will I

Again, the group that wrote ‘Will I’ completed more anagrams. The same results occurred when applied to exercise. The subjects were more likely to experience guilt if they willed themselves to complete the anagrams in contrast with those who questioned whether they would. Senay interpreted the latter group as being intrinsically motivated. So if these results generalise, this would suggest that questioning whether to engage in a task will be more effective than goal setting although it would be interesting to see further results in this important area.

Aaron Saenz covers a recent study on facial recognition in twins utilising a number of relevant tasks one of which is demonstrated in the article. The findings showed a 0.7 correlation of scores in identical twins compared to a 0.29 correlation in non-identical twins and thus support a strong genetic component for facial recognition. Dr Grohol tackles the recent New York Times article on psychiatry and draws his own conclusions. The Neurocritic refers to a paper by Carl Friston relating his concept of free energy to a number of Freud’s concepts in a recent paper he has published. Pierre Minn writes about the logistical aspects of delivery of medical aid to Haiti in this post. Sandy Gautam looks at a remarkable paper on the C.Elegans nematode in which the researchers are able to predict 95% of the variance in the shape of the worm using a simple model. While people are many orders of magnitude more complex than C.Elegans it is a useful proof of principle and suggests that perhaps much further down the road a predictive model of human movement based on neural pathways and physiology may be feasible (there are many developments in this area already particulary in the area of neural prosthetics) which would have applications in a number of conditions. Karen Sternheimer analyses a recent meta-analysis that examines the relationship between violence in video games and aggression in children and gives her justifications for rejecting the author’s conclusions.

Evolutionary Psychiatry

Johan Lehrer has written a piece on evolutionary psychiatry – ‘The Upside of Depression‘ (the full article is in the New York Times here) and which has produced a lot of debate. In the article, Lehrer explains the analytic-rumination theory which suggests that depression may have an adaptive advantage associated with improved performance on ‘intelligence tests’. However there are a number of difficulties with this. For instance with depression, clinicians can see a deterioration in cognitive performance and problems with memory and concentration are two of the diagnostic criteria for depression. Here is one study for instance that shows significant impairment on cognitive tasks in people with depression compared to a control group.  There are other complications however. For instance depression can manifest differently and has multiple aetiologies meaning that it is a heterogenous disorder. As such, any successful theory is likely to explain only a proportion of cases. Clinical depression as distinct from normal sadness is associated with impairment in a number of domains and can be associated with considerable distress. On the one hand, it is encouraging that a model for depression is being discussed in a wider forum as models of illness are extremely important in generating an understanding and moving towards improved treatments. Indeed the interest raised has moved the discussion of this model forwards very quickly. On the other hand any discussion should be tackled sensitively as there are many people with depression (and their families) who have experienced significant suffering as a result of their illness. The key to this debate is in understanding that it is several steps removed from decisions about treatment. If there are any conclusions that would influence treatment then the relevant studies would need to be undertaken in order to move from speculation to evidence-based decision making. The debate has moved forwards with several people responding. For instance Dr Ronald Pies responds here and here, with Lehrer responding here. There is also another perspective over at neuron culture here.

One of the factors that influences evolution is culture. There is a subtle but intriguing insight into a phenomenon which influences environmental pressures. In this article on Primatology.Net, there is a look at how cultural practices influence the interactions between humans and local macaques in Sulawi Sulawesi.


You can find an index of the site here. The page contains links to all of the articles in the blog in chronological order.


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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).

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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.

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