Mental Illness Wars.

May 22, 2013 at 9:46 am (psychology, research, science)

So here’s the news you might have seen with some flagrantly bizarre and inaccurate headline on HuffPo: the National Institute of Mental Health has withdrawn support from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), the manual used to diagnose mental illness, just before it was to come out with its fifth edition. (It came out Monday of this week.) NIMH withdrew support because they consider the DSM to not be valid. What does all this mean?

Let’s first talk about this DSM. Here’s how it got started, way back in 1952: a group of psychiatrists got together and talked about the things they saw in the patients they were treating. They noticed similarities, so they hashed it out and came up with diagnoses (and really, disorders), based on the symptoms they saw in their clients. Then they put them in a book. That book has changed significantly over time, but the criteria for mental illness continues to be based on the behaviors you see a person doing, and what they report to you.

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Conformity: It goes deep.

March 14, 2013 at 5:29 pm (psychology, science)

In college, I was kinda obsessed with the Asch line experiments. These experiments, done in the 1950s by Dr. Solomon Asch, sought to test the boundaries of social conformity. In the experiment, Asch would show a group of people the following pictures:



He would ask the group to pick which line, A, B, or C, matched the line on the left. This is a task that most children could do. But in the groups Asch tested, only one person was the actual subject- everyone else was in on the experiment, and their job was to consistently pick the wrong answer. After hearing everyone else answer, the one subject was asked what he/she thought.

So what happens when a person sees that something is incorrect, but sees everyone seemingly satisfied with being incorrect?

Asch was shocked. Three out of four subjects, or 75% of those asked, agreed with the incorrect answers.

This study has been cited countless times, and is quite famous, but I didn’t realize that it had recently been redone- in 2005 by a Dr Gregory Berns. The twist this time? Hooking subjects up to an MRI so that we can see what’s happening in the brain of a person who is answering incorrectly in order to conform.

In this study, a subject was put in a waiting room with a group of other subjects who were actually actors. They got to know each other, did practice trials, and chatted before being put into individual MRI machines.

The subject was shown two 3D figures that they could rotate and asked if those two figures were the same. Before answering, they heard the answers from the other “subjects”.

41% of the time, the subject agreed with the incorrect answers, but what was going on in their brains while they did?

Were they:

…consciously deciding to go along with the group even though they knew the right answer, activating the parts of the brain that deal with conflict?

….actually perceiving the two shapes as being the same based on the other subjects’ responses, activating the spatial perception parts of the brain?

Amazingly, when people answered incorrectly to match the other subjects, it was the spatial perception parts of the brain that were activated, meaning that we actually convince ourselves that we’re seeing things the same way as everyone else, because standing alone would be too uncomfortable.

Read more about this amazing study here.


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A List of Things Everyone Should Know How To Do

July 6, 2012 at 7:09 am (science)

  • Cook a nice meal, including dessert
  • Pay a compliment
  • Change a tire
  • Apologize
  • Pick ripe fruits and vegetables
  • One dance move
  • Politely but firmly refuse a sexual advance
  • Throw a party
  • Sneeze quietly
  • Ride a bike
  • Identify countries other than America, Mexico, and Canada on a map
  • Talk to a child without sounding like an idiot
  • Flirt
  • Give a massage on some part of the body
  • Leave quietly

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Ghosts Explained

July 3, 2011 at 10:28 am (research, science) ()

I just finished reading Mary Roach’s book Spook, where she investigates the holy shit out of everything related to ghost phenomena, and I’d like to introduce you to my favorite part of the book: infrasound. What is infrasound? Take it away, Wikipedia!

Infrasound is sound that is lower in frequency than 20 Hz (Hertz) or cycles per second, the “normal” limit of human hearing. Hearing becomes gradually less sensitive as frequency decreases, so for humans to perceive infrasound, the sound pressure must be sufficiently high. The ear is the primary organ for sensing infrasound, but at higher levels it is possible to feel infrasound vibrations in various parts of the body. Infrasound is characterized by an ability to cover long distances and get around obstacles with little dissapation.

Animals like whales, birds, alligators, and tigers are known to use infrasonic communication to warn each other of danger or alert each other to food, and for a time, our military was researching using infrasonic waves as a weapon. We only got as far as the Allies using infrasonic waves to locate weapon stashes during WWI.

So what does infrasound have to do with ghosts?

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Neuroscience and He Said/She Said

February 13, 2011 at 2:09 pm (relationships, science)

An old friend of mine, Kevin Slaughter, has started contributing to a blog called Secular Perspectives. Kevin is an extremely opinionated and strong-willed dude, and his first post is about how he and his wife resolve arguments using applied neuroscience research.

Go check his stuff out and keep checking back- he’s definitely going to say something you disagree with at some point, but he’s a brilliant guy and a great writer, so it makes it harder to argue with him, and I don’t know if there’s any research to back that up.

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This is the sun.

November 28, 2010 at 11:20 am (science) ()

That dark spot in the lower right corner is the size of Earth, BTW.  From Dvice!

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A picture is worth a thousand words.

November 10, 2010 at 8:56 am (science) ()

This news story is about the creature with the largest testicles on earth (it’s the Bushcricket, whose gonads make up 14% of it’s bone mass!), but that’s not important.

The look on Dr. Karim Vahed’s face, however, is incredibly important, for it is the definition of a shit-eating grin.

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In the future, will the robot dance just look like this?

October 18, 2010 at 10:20 am (science) (, )

I hope not.

From The Daily What.

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Aspergers and Girls

October 8, 2010 at 6:12 pm (psychology, science) (, , )

Rudy Simone, a woman with Aspergers, writes books about coping with Asperger Syndrome, and about why we need to focus more on screening for Aspergers in girls.

Often females are underdiagnosed because their behaviors are seen as odd but within the realm of acceptable behavior for girls, or because they’re so good at mimicking what other girls are doing that people don’t realize there’s a problem.
Listen, she’ll tell you more:

Our stims (soothing behaviors) are often considered normal for girls, rocking, twirling until the world is spinning, singing, playing alone, tidying, straightening and arranging, watching our favorite programs over and over…it’s just a little girl being a little girl, albeit a slightly unusual one. Our early savant skills and special interests also fall under the heading of normal for girls: reading, music, art, culture and animals. What parents don’t realize is that when little Hannah is in her bedroom she’s not reading 30 books a week, she’s reading the same book 30 times.

Go read the whole column and look for her future columns at Psychology Today.



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Party Laws!

October 2, 2010 at 5:30 pm (Los Angeles, politics, science) (, )

In the past few days, two major pieces of legislation have passed (one federal, one in California) that you should be aware of.  Let’s dig in.

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