Thursday, June 19, 2008

Psychology in the News: Empathy, Children, Neuromarketing, Shyness, and Much More

Here's another link dump for you, of all the psychology articles I have open at the moment (and thanks to the new version of Firefox, I can have 20 or more tabs open without it crashing my system). As always, follow the links to see the whole article.

First up (in no particular order), from CNN via
Empathy deficit disorder -- do you suffer from it?

I swear on the "Thelma & Louise" video we watched into a scratchy oblivion: I didn't mean to be the worst friend ever. When Lisa -- my roommate and boon companion of three years --stepped into our apartment, sank to the floor, and clutched our cocker spaniel, I asked, "What's wrong?" with sympathy.

"I got fired," Lisa told me.

"Wow." I pulled her to her feet. "You'll have an amazing story for Jim's party tonight!"

Lisa's eyes went round and wet as the dog's when we left her at the vet. She said, "Come on, Maya" (who gave me a reproachful glance before obeying), disappeared into her bedroom (for three days), and never discussed career matters with me again.

Boy, was I annoyed. At age 26, I was a sublime friend. Lisa, also 26, was blessed to have an ally so honest about dates and hairstyles, so fiercely supportive of her dreams, and willing to defend her choices (the dates, hairstyles, and dreams) to her habitually nettling mom and dad. Never once in our relationship, I was proud to think, had I ever even been tempted to commit a single mortal friendship sin: being competitive, gossiping, or backstabbing.

To me, Lisa's job loss was no big deal. She had complained about the position. Her parents were rich and gave her money. She had nothing to worry about. I thought that reminding her we had something fun to do that night was an appropriate and kind response.

Psychologist Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., director and founder of the Center for Adult Development in Washington, D.C., disagrees. He explained to me that my dearest friend was humiliated by receiving a pink slip, feared she might be incompetent at everything she tried, and, because of me, felt utterly alone. I was, LaBier tells me, "catastrophically unempathetic" to Lisa.

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PsyBlog has an interesting look at the emergence of the ability in children to simulate other minds.
When Children Begin to Simulate Other Minds

Top 10 child psychology study: One superpower all psychologists would kill for is the ability to read minds. Not only would it make psychology research a lot easier, we would be able to experience what it is like to be someone else - a fascinating prospect.

Although telepathy is still science fiction most of us can do something clever that, while only a pale imitation, does allow us to step inside other people's minds in a limited way.

We can do this because our brains are fantastic simulators - we can, for example, predict the paths objects will take through space and the decisions we should make now to cause a future event. Similarly, we can put ourselves in other people's shoes to try and imagine their thoughts, intentions and possible actions. In fact without the ability to simulate what other people are thinking we would be lost in the social world.
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The Atlantic posted an article this week by Jeffrey Goldberg, who was interested in the emerging field of Neuromarketing. So he had his brain scanned to see how felt about a few things, including Jimmy Carter, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bruce Springsteen, and Edie Falco.
My Amygdala, My Self

Last year, at my family’s Passover seder, I heard myself issuing a series of ideologically contradictory, Manischewitz-fueled political pronouncements. If I remember correctly, I called for the immediate invasion of Yemen (or possibly Oman); the outlawing of Wal-Mart; and the mandatory arming of college professors. I believe I may also have endorsed Russ Feingold for president.

My friend Bill Knapp, who is a Democratic political consultant and, as such, a man whose devotion to a coherent set of liberal-centrist policy ideas does not waver, at least in public, suggested that I have my head examined, in order to determine whether I was neurologically wired for liberalism or conservatism. My wife asked, with a disconcerting level of enthusiasm, whether this was actually possible.

“Not only is it possible, but I have the perfect person to do it,” Bill said (I’m permitted to quote him because the Goldberg seder is on the record). He told us that a neuroscientist named Marco Iacoboni, who directs UCLA’s Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Laboratory (it sounds even better in the original German), could scan my brain while showing me images of famous politicians. My brain’s response to these pictures, as recorded by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, would uncover my actual inclinations and predispositions by sidestepping the usual inhibition controls that can make focus-group testing unreliable.

I was hesitant, for two reasons. First, I believed that I already possessed a superior grasp of my brain’s division of labor: 30 percent of my brain is obsessed with the Holocaust; an additional 30 percent worries about my children; 10 percent is reserved for status anxiety; 7 percent, The Sopranos; 4 percent, Kurds; 2 percent, Chinese food; and so on. I reserve approximately 6 percent, on good days, for The Atlantic.

In addition, I think about sex, and the New York Yankees.

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AlterNet ran an expose on Joseph Biederman, the man behind the explosion of bipolar diagnoses in children, among other things. There are still many people who don't think children can be diagnosed as bipolar, so this man is a lightning rod for controversy.
Exposed: Harvard Shrink Gets Rich Labeling Kids Bipolar

What Dick Cheney is to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, psychiatrist Joseph Biederman is to the explosion of psychiatric medications in American children. Recently, Biederman was nailed by congressional investigators and the New York Times for overestimating just how greedy an elite shrink is entitled to be. Beyond a peek into the corruption of psychiatry at its highest levels, the scandal is an opportunity to reconsider the Big Pharma financed view of why kids become disruptive and destructive.

On June 8, 2008, the New York Times reported the following about Joseph Biederman: "A world-renowned Harvard child psychiatrist whose work has helped fuel an explosion in the use of powerful anti-psychotic medicines in children earned at least $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007 but for years did not report much of this income to university officials, according to information given congressional investigators."

Due in part to Biederman's influence, the number of American children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder increased 40-fold from 1994 to 2003, and as Bloomberg News reported (September 2007), "The expanded use of bipolar as a pediatric diagnosis has made children the fastest-growing part of the $11.5 billion U.S. market for anti-psychotic drugs."

Pediatrician and author Lawrence Diller notes about Biederman, "He single-handedly put pediatric bipolar disorder on the map." Biederman has been in a position to convince many doctors to diagnose bipolar disorder in children and to medicate them with anti-psychotic drugs. In addition to being a professor at Harvard, Biederman is also chief of research in pediatric psychopharmacology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, which publishes more than 30 papers yearly on psychiatric disorders. And Biederman himself has authored and co-authored approximately 500 articles, 70 book chapters, and more than 450 scientific abstracts, as well as being on the editorial board of many professional journals.

Biederman (and two of his colleagues in the psychiatry department at Harvard Medical School who received an additional $2.6 million from drug companies from 2000 to 2007), by failing to report income from drug companies while at the same time receiving federal funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), violated rules designed to police conflicts of interest, according to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. Grassley concluded, "Obviously, if a researcher is taking money from a drug company while also receiving federal dollars to research that company's product, then there is a conflict of interest." In one example, Biederman neglected to report his 2001 income from Johnson & Johnson (makers of the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal); Johnson & Johnson reported to Grassley that it had paid Biederman $58,169 in 2001.

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Three quick hits from Psychology Today:
Second Nature -- "Your personality isn't necessarily set in stone. With a little experimentation, the ornery and bleak can reshape their temperaments and inject pluck and passion into their lives."

Are We Born Shy? -- "Whether it's at a party or on a plane, when people find out that I know something about shyness, invariably, the first question they ask me is "Are we born shy?" The answer to that question is absolutely not! There is no way that we can be born shy."

Magical Thinking -- " Even hard-core skeptics can't help but find sympathy in the fabric of the universe—and occasionally try to pull its strings."
That last one has been posted before, so they must be recycling articles. Still, it's quite good.

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Finally, two reviews from Metapsychology Online Reviews.

Review -Mysticism & Space: Space and Spatiality in the Works of Richard Rolle, the Cloud of Unknowing Author, and Julian of Norwich by Carmel Bendon Davis.
Catholic University of America Press, 2008.
Review by Robert Cheeks.
"The concept of mysticism," the author of Mysticism and Space, Carmel Bendon Davis, warns us "is not straightforward." Consequently, Davis provides the essential meaning of the word in her seminal study: Christian mysticism is the product of pseudo-Denis whose work, Theologia Mystica, perceives mysticism as the secret knowledge of God, a definition pregnant with the possibility of Gnostic distortions. That the author is not derailed because of the Gnostic possibilities indicates that her work is neither eristic nor philodoxical, but rather an example of existential consciousness analyzing the revelatory process.

Further, Davis, in quoting the scholar David Knowles, does the great service of noting that "(M)ystical theology is thus distinguished from what is called natural theology and from dogmatic and speculative theology."

Review - Impulse Control Disorders: A Clinician's Guide to Understanding and Treating Behavioral Addictions, by Jon E. Grant.
W. W. Norton, 2008.
Review by James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA.
Impulse control disorders include pathological gambling, repetitive hair pulling, kleptomania, pyromania, and intermittent explosive disorder. Compulsive skin picking, buying, Internet use, and sexual behavior also can be considered a problem of poor impulse control. Until recently little was known about the phenomenology, incidence, etiology, and treatment of impulse control disorders, Thankfully, that situation has changed with publication of this informative book by psychiatrist, Dr. Jon E. Grant.
That's a wrap.

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