Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mind & Brain Link Dump - Buried Prejudice, Impulse Control, Self Harm, and More

I've been adding new blogs to my psychology feeds, which has left me with so much to post on that I don't have time, so I give you this link dump. I'm only posting sections from each article, so follow the links to read the whole thing.

Buried Prejudice: The Bigot in Your Brain
, from Scientific American.

Using a variety of sophisticated methods, psychologists have established that people unwittingly hold an astounding assortment of stereotypical beliefs and attitudes about social groups: black and white, female and male, elderly and young, gay and straight, fat and thin. Although these implicit biases inhabit us all, we vary in the particulars, depending on our own group membership, our conscious desire to avoid bias and the contours of our everyday environments. For instance, about two thirds of whites have an implicit preference for whites over blacks, whereas blacks show no average preference for one race over the other.

Such bias is far more prevalent than the more overt, or explicit, prejudice that we associate with, say, the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazis. That is emphatically not to say that explicit prejudice and discrimination have evaporated nor that they are of lesser importance than implicit bias. According to a 2005 federal report, almost 200,000 hate crimes—84 percent of them violent—occur in the U.S. every year.

The persistence of explicit bias in contemporary culture has led some critics to maintain that implicit bias is of secondary concern. But hundreds of studies of implicit bias show that its effects can be equally insidious. Most social psychologists believe that certain scenarios can automatically activate implicit stereotypes and attitudes, which then can affect our perceptions, judgments and behavior. “The data on that are incontrovertible,” concludes psychologist Russell H. Fazio of Ohio State University.

Now researchers are probing deeper. They want to know: Where exactly do such biases come from? How much do they influence our outward behavior? And if stereotypes and prejudiced attitudes are burned into our psyches, can learning more about them help to tell each of us how to override them?

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This one is particular interest to me since my father died suddenly when I was still am adolescent. And I have had both the depression and the anxiety.

Sudden Death Of A Parent May Pose Mental Health Risks For Children, Surviving Caregivers, in Science Daily.
Children who had a parent who died suddenly have three times the risk of depression than those with two living parents, along with an increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) according to a new article.

About 4 percent of children in Western countries experience the death of a parent, according to background information in the article. Parents who have psychiatric disorders, including mood disorders and substance abuse, are more likely to die from suicide, accidents and heart disease. The same psychiatric factors that increase parents' risk of sudden death also predispose their children to similar mental health problems.

Nadine M. Melhem, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and colleagues identified 140 families in which one parent died of suicide, accident or sudden natural death. They were compared with 99 control families in which two parents were living and no first-degree relatives had died within the past two years. The offspring, ages 7 to 25, underwent interviews and assessments for psychiatric disorders, as well as a review of their parents' psychiatric history.

Children whose parents had died, along with their surviving caregivers, were at higher risk for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than those in control families. This association remained after controlling for psychiatric disorders in the deceased parent. Children and caregivers in families where a parent had died of suicide were no more likely than those in families where a parent died of other causes to develop PTSD or other psychiatric disorders. Children's symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal behavior and complicated grief (severe, lasting unhappiness) were associated with similar symptoms in surviving caregivers.

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Gary Marcus, author of the new book, Kluge, had an article in the LA Times.

Does your brain have a mind of its own?
How many times has this happened to you? You leave work, decide that you need to get groceries on the way home, take a cellphone call and forget all about your plan. Next thing you know, you've driven home and forgotten all about the groceries.

Or this. You decide, perhaps circa Jan. 1, that it's time to lose weight; you need to eat less, eat better and exercise more. But by the first of May, your New Year's resolutions are a distant memory.

Human beings are, to put it gently, in a unique position in the animal world. We're the only species smart enough to plan systematically for the future -- yet we remain dumb enough to ditch even our most carefully made plans in favor of short-term gratification. ("Did I say I was on a diet? Mmm, but three-layer chocolate mousse is my favorite. Maybe I'll start my diet tomorrow.")

In a wonderful study conducted at Stanford University in the late 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel offered preschoolers a choice: a marshmallow now, or two marshmallows if they could wait until he returned. And then, cruelly, he left them alone with nothing more than themselves, the single marshmallow, a hidden camera and no indication of when he would return.

A few of the kids ate the oh-so-tempting marshmallow the minute he left the room. But most kids wanted the bigger bonus and endeavored to wait. So they tried. Hard. But with nothing else to do in the room, the torture was visible. The kids did just about anything they could to distract themselves from the tempting marshmallow that stood before them. They talked to themselves, bounced up and down, covered their eyes, sat on their hands -- strategies that more than a few adults might on occasion profitably adopt. Even so, for about half the kids, the 15 to 20 minutes until Mischel returned was just too long to wait.

Toddlers, of course, aren't the only humans who melt in the face of temptation. Teenagers often drive at speeds that would be unsafe even on an autobahn, and people of all ages have been known to engage in unprotected sex with strangers, even when they are perfectly aware of the risks. (To say nothing of the daily uncontrollable choices of alcoholics, drug addicts and compulsive gamblers.)

What gives?
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This could be a huge breakthrough in treating chronic depression.

How 'Horse Tranquiliser' Stops Depression, According To New Study, from Science Daily,
Researchers have shown exactly how the anaesthetic ketamine helps depression with images that show the orbitofrontal cortex – the part of the brain that is overactive in depression – being ‘switched off’.

Ketamine, an anaesthetic that is popular with doctors on the battlefield and also with vets because it allows a degree of awareness without pain, is a new hope for the treatment of depression – but the minute-by-minute images produced by Professor Bill Deakin and his team show how the drug achieves this in an unexpected way.

The drug deactivates the orbitofrontal cortex – located above the eyes, in the centre – which is thought to give rise to highly emotional thoughts such as guilt and feelings of worthlessness and causes reactions in visceral body parts such as a churning stomach and a racing heart.

Professor Deakin, of the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, said: “We were surprised to see it working on that part of the brain. We expected to see it work on the parts that control psychosis, at the sides of the brain. There was some activity there but more striking was the switching off of the depression centre.”

The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, sought to identify the sites of action of ketamine but also the release of glutamate turned out to be important in ketamine’s effects and this could point to new quick treatments to get people out of severe or long-standing depression.

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A rough guide to self-harm
, from Mind Hacks.
The New York Times has a concise article that discusses adolescents who self-harm through cutting, burning or deliberately damaging themselves. Self-harm is curious because it is one the most psychologically complex of behaviours and yet we have a simple but largely inaccurate cultural stereotype - attention seeking teenagers.

There are many, many types of self-harm, some more culturally acceptable than others. Self harm is often accepted as part of fashion or ritual (piercings, scarring), or can be due to genetic abnormalities (e.g. Lesch-Nyan syndrome), or as a result of learning disabilities or brain injury.

It can be because of delusional or psychotic ideas; OCD type urges, like hair pulling or skin picking, which people often want to resist but can't; or can be an indirect result of other difficulties, such as damaging the body through drugs, alcohol, or an eating disorder.

The type discussed in the article, and what we normally think of in our cultural stereotype, is often an adolescent or young adult who cuts or burns themselves.

While I think this is most common in teens, and especially girls, it also happens in adults (and again, more often with women). If you know someone who engages in this type of behavior -- or even suspect it -- chances are good that the person is carrying around some heavy trauma and needs help -- please help them find the assistance they need.

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Let's conclude with something a little more positive.

The Art of Metaphysical Listening, from The Science of Energy Healing.

The client I was listening to was audibly upset. She went through anger and rage, then came to tears and grief. She felt betrayed once again by the actions of a loved one. For some healing arts practitioners, getting a client to work through her emotions is enough. For me, it’s just the starting place, the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. In my sessions, whatever is happening emotionally or mentally is a doorway into the energetic realms, where the cause of what is going on can be found. To do this I use what I call metaphysical listening to read vibration. What’s going on in this realm are clues for me to track the “distortion” to the source. To facilitate this I ask, “What’s really going on here?”

Before speaking more about metaphysical listening, please understand there is some discernment applied here. The emotional response must be allowed to calibrate or move through the body and conscious awareness. To jump to the “cause” before this, will not be beneficial. Certain levels of grief, such as the recent passing of a loved one, or of outrage need to be honored for just what they are. For understanding more about emotions please read Emotions as Energetic Messengers.

Throughout my years as an energy healer and soul intuitive, I’ve used my listening skills in a unique way. I listen to the energy vibration behind the form. I do this by asking the question, “What’s really going on here?”

Listening is different from hearing. Hearing involves the inner ear, the chochlea, tympanic membrane and other hearing anatomical parts. Listening involves the middle ear which creates the container for the auditory canal. There are little tiny muscles in the middle ear which work constantly to open and close the ear, effectively choosing what it wants to listen to. As such, listening is governed by the brain which includes memories, belief systems, values and other deciding elements of what to listen to.

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