Friday, July 31, 2009

WTF of the day

Apparently sandwich preference says something about your personality. Like tuna like I do? Then you're aggressive and intolerant of failure. What strikes me is that the makers of this "study" don't even bother to try to make themselves clear, they simply throw out words like "Rorschach" and "MMPI" hoping that they sound more scientific.

Listen to this:

"We looked at sandwiches much like you look at the Rorschach tests … the ink blots that look like a butterfly or a bat depending on how you interpret it," said the study's author, Dr. Alan Hirsch. "We basically did the same thing with sandwiches."

Umm, wtf?

This is nothing like the Rorschach (which has its own set of problems), and I'm still confused; they gave participants a battery of personality assessments and then saw what sandwiches they liked, and later went back and hypothesized that liking tuna meant x and liking turkey meant y? or was it the other way around? The author states, quite amusingly, that the study has flaws, including that they only included sandwiches full of mayonnaise and not old standby's like pb&j, because of course, their popularity would skew results. The study was commissioned by Hellman's and Best Foods Mayonnaise. Right.... I'd really like to see this study in full. Check it out, and see what your sandwich preference says about you.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guilty Pleasure

I'm not going to lie, I kind of want to watch this.

I know, I know. Pop-psychology, giving in to the therapy cliches. But it also looks amusing, and the fact that they added some Sufjan Stevens in there is a bonus.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Lives They Left Behind

I just found a fascinating exhibit that looks into the lives of those who were housed in Willard Asylum in New York from 1869-1995. Many of these psychiatric patients never left and their belongings were found untouched in suitcases in the hospital attic. What we get is a glimpse of what life was like for these people and an eerie look into the history of mental illness treatment. The site also includes fascinating history of the hospital itself as well as audio recordings and information on the book that goes along with this exhibit, also titled "The Lives they Left Behind." It's good to know the common treatment for mental illness today isn't ECT or water submersion.

Monday, July 27, 2009

If the Quarter-life Crisis really exists, I'm making a bouquet

I woke up this morning ready to stop procrastinating and open that "loan payment" folder I made months ago, while still in college. A sense of dread came over me and in the back of my head, like a faint whisper, I heard the words: quarter-life crisis. A couple of months ago at the WPA conference I met Aby Wilner, who coined the term "quarter-life crisis" to describe this period in my life in which I am presumably at a crossroads and experiencing much anxiety in regards to making the transition into adulthood and deciding what I want out of life. She wrote a book, which she pitched to us at the conference, and presented us with many facts, including that depression and anxiety disorders are at their highest in one's 20's. At the time I didn't know what to think. On the one hand, I was experiencing much anxiety and liked that somebody out there was paying attention to that. On the other hand, the scientific part of me thought it a bit dangerous to put labels on something that is a natural part of life. Everyone becomes an adult at some point; do we all experience a "crisis"? Can this quarter-life crisis be quantified, tested, examined? Can somebody please help me?
I found the Wikipedia entrance for the quarter life crisis rather amusing. The emotional aspects include:
* feeling "not good enough" because one can't find a job that is at one's academic/intellectual level
* frustration with relationships, the working world, and finding a suitable job or career
* confusion of identity
* insecurity regarding the near future
* insecurity concerning long-term plans, life goals
* insecurity regarding present accomplishments
* re-evaluation of close interpersonal relationships
* disappointment with one's job
* nostalgia for university, college, high school or elementary school life
* tendency to hold stronger opinions
* boredom with social interactions
* loss of closeness to high school and college friends
* financially-rooted stress (overwhelming college loans, unanticipatedly high cost of living, etc.)
* loneliness
* desire to have children
* a sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than you
* frustration with societal ills
I, especially, like the second to last bullet.
These "criteria" if you will leave me constantly checking. Do I have stronger opinions? Do I want kids? Is this going to be added to the DSM? Oh god, is there a medication for this?
I guess at the end of the day, if this quarter life crisis is true, there's nothing I gain from worrying about it. Sure, I'm up to my elbows in loans I need to pay back, sure I'm sitting around the house, wondering how to intellectually challenge myself, sure I don't know what the hell I'm doing. But at the end of the day, I realize how freeing it is. I can do whatever I want, and today, with my anxiety, I decided to make a bouquet with the flowers in my backyard.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

When Music Comes out of your vegetables

What's synesthesia?
Most artistic renditions I've seen involve color- graphemic synesthesia, in which letters or numbers have a specific color ascribed to them. Terri Timely takes it one step further. Sadly, I don't think synesthesia is this beautiful. Wouldn't we all love to make music out of vegetables.

Check it out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I knew there was a reason I love sushi

I just read an interesting article in the New York Times reporting that older adults in Asia and Latin America are less likely to develop dementia if they regularly consumed fish. What is perhaps even more surprising is that the opposite effect was found for meat- the more you eat it, the more likely you are to develop dementia. Now, before you throw out all your meat and worry about the irreparable damage you've done to your brain, keep in mind that the results should be taken with a grain of salt. All the data was gathered from observational studies, inviting many confounding variables which could just as well account for the results. The New York Times is once again very vague on how the studies were conducted (sadly, it is not an academic journal and not many people want to hear about sample size, research protocol, and statistical tests used). Nonetheless, it's interesting stuff, and I invite anything that encourages my scary obsession with sushi.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer means...

I get to spend a Saturday going to the Arclight in Hollywood and seeing both

500 Days of Summer

Away we go

And eating world famous Pink's hotdogs.

Who doesn't love summer?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Our world, made unreal, and then real again

I just finished reading Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser, and I must say I'm impressed. Millhauser received the Pulitzer for Martin Dressler but I hadn't heard much else about him. When I ran into this collection of short stories joined by a common theme of obsession, I'd figure I'd give it a shot. Millhauser opens with a cartoon of a cat and mouse chase, a story we are all familiar with. He is able, however, to take the familiar and turn it on his head, using something we know to illuminate something we hadn't thought of before. The book is divided into three parts: Vanishing Acts (tales of our obsession with lost things and people), Impossible Architectures (which is about our obsession with the fantastic and unreachable), and Heretical histories (which presents our obsession with forms of the past). His stories seamlessly weave together elements of magical realism, in which worlds can exist where people literally die from laughter and build towers to heaven, with the truth that lies in our world, which can only be presented through the use of impossible images. While Millhauser sometimes suffers from telling too much and not showing enough, he makes up for it through his control of language, in which he is able to pull us back and drive us in again. In the end I was left wondering which world was more true, the one Millhauser created for us, or the one we blindly walk through everyday. It's a great read, and I recommend it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Poetry in My head

For some reason I woke up today with Allen Ginsberg's A Supermarket in California in my head. For some reason, for me, this poem reminds me of summer nights. Poetryarchive. org is a great site if you haven't heard of it. It has some pretty famous poets reading their own works.

Give it a listen.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Zimbardo on Time

I had the honor of meeting Philip Zimbardo this past April at the Western Psychological Association Conference and I must say, between his jokes in the mirrored elevator of how "this would make a good set for a porn", and his pictures of a nude Zimbardo running around Stanford, I came to the conclusion that he is a very peculiar man. Zimbardo, most famous (or infamous)for the stanford prison study, shares in this clip fascinating research he has done that looks at how we perceive time and how our perceptions of time are correlated with our happiness.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Battle over the DSM V

As some of you may know, the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM) is up for some big revisions, and the DSM-V is set to come out in 2012. This seems like a ways away but committees are already well underway deciding what should be included in the new version, what should be taken out, and what should be transformed. A little background: DSM changes are decided by the creation of what the APA calls "committees", which are basically groups of researchers and leading experts in their fields (such as experts in depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, etc). These committees meet regurlary to decide upon changes to diagnostic criteria after careful review of the literature and much debate with each other. That being said, there is more battle and public denouncement of the new methods being used in the consideration of changes to the DSM than ever before. One of the problems seems to be the APA's complete secrecy as to what is being considered for the DSM-V. The DSM is created by the American Psychiatric Association and not the American Psychological Association, so keep this in mind. Recently Allen Frances, head of the DSM-IV task force has published what he titles : A Warning Sign on the Road to the DSM, a very poignant look at what the APA is doing wrong. His main argument is that the DSM V is being rushed to completion without adequate scientific basis and the APA's need to completely revolutionize the DSM by adding dimmensions of mental illness rather than categories is premature at best (since we don't yet have enough research or evidence to go about this in an organized fashion). Of the changes, Frances says:

The result would be a wholesale imperial medicalization of normality that will trivialize mental disorder and lead to a deluge of unneeded medication treatments‐‐a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry but at a huge cost to the new false positive "patients" caught in the excessively wide DSM‐V net. They will pay a high price in side effects, dollars, and stigma, not to

mentions the unpredictable impact on insurability, disability, and forensics.

Another proposed change to the DSM is the formation of what I call pre-mental illness diagnoses, that is to say. a DSM that could catch someone who is likely to develop, say schizophrenia, and treat them early. Of this, Frances states:

This again has the obvious appeal of promoting early case finding and preventive treatment, but it also has all the same devastating problems we have just discussed. For example, adding a new "pre‐psychotic" category for individuals supposedly at high risk for later developing a psychotic disorder would inevitably also capture an overwhelmingly large group of false positives who would never go on to have a psychotic illness. They would nonetheless be exposed to the stigma of having a pre‐psychotic diagnosis and would be overmedicated. Similarly, wouldn't it be nice to diagnose and treat early cognitive failure before it becomes dementia? But then almost everyone over sixty might qualify to receive a

probably useless, but highly promoted treatment.

The problem, I think, is that in theory these changes sound good. Dimmensional categories of mental illness, rather than straight checkboxes take into account that mental illness is by its nature multidimmensional and that way may work for one person as a method of treatment might not work for another. However, we are not there yet in terms of research to reconfigure the DSM in this way. I do think we would end up with a lot more people meeting the diagnosis of say depression. And here is where the corruption comes in. The DSM, funded by the American Psychiatric Association, has always used the medical model, which treats mental illness as a disease that can be treated, for the most part, with drugs. It is no unkown secret that many members of the APA, as well as members of the DSM task force (who need money to conduct their research), receive their funding from large pharmaceutical industries. It doesn't take a genius to see why the APA is so readily accepting this new multidimmensional model and these "pre-mental illness's" into the DSM, as they would include a much larger demographic of people, all of whom would need drugs.

Recently Dr. Jane Costello, an expert in the development of mental illness, has also quit her post on the DSM V task force, citing again a rush to completion and a dismissal of scientific evidence. The Carlat Psychiatry Blog covers this story well.

It makes me very outraged, and also very sad, that a system that is so widely used in the United States, and is also the base of deciding mental illness in many other countries, is open to such corruption.

I will keep you updated as the battle, I'm sure, continues.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Music and the Mind

I've recently been thinking a lot about the effects of music on the brain. Last week noted neurologist Oliver Sacks gave a fascinating interview on the daily show in which he discussed his new book, Musicophilia, as well as what his own brain looks like on music. Oliver Sacks, as some of you may know, is the author of numerous other books, including his most famous, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, a novel that explores a variety of neurological disorders. I've just started his new book, so I'll let you know how that goes. There's been more brain-music news this week; in All in the Mind, a highly recommended podcast that I listen to religiously, host Natasha Mitchell discusses the mind of nineteenth century composer Robert Schummann. Natasha explores his life, his relationship to music, and his abrupt death at 46 in a mental asylum. Is there a connection, she asks, between mental illness and musical genius? This is a question that is not unknown to me, as I have been involved in formal debates and have written papers, in fact about Schumann himself, on this very topic. I as of yet have no answers, and neither, as I expected, does Natasha. It certainly is fascinating to think about and I highly recommend giving it a listen. Have a good day folks, and don't forget to listen to some music :)

Update: the folks at scientific american mind also seem to have their brains on music

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Who doesn't love some good brain pictures on a Thursday afternoon?

I found these stunning neurological images that are just amazing. It's regularly updated, so keep checking it out.

What I love about Summer

Time to read.

Walks in the park.

Getting my shoes dirty.

My mother's flowers.

What I don't love: having to study for the GRE.

What do you love/don't love about summer?