Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Another thing that helps one psychological state: A walk in the park

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Tom Jacobs reports at Pacific Standard:

Plenty of research has suggested immersing yourself in nature has significant mental and physical health benefits. But can it also make you a better person? New research from France suggests it just might.

In two experiments, pedestrians who had just strolled through a beautiful park were more likely to come to the aid or a stranger who had just dropped a glove. Writing in the journal Environment and Behavior, Nicolas Guéguen and Jordy Stefan of the University of Bretagne-Sud refer to this as “green altruism.”

Their first experiment featured

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 11:30 am

Another reason for traditional wet-shaving’s appeal: By requiring more effort it provides a sense of control

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And a sense of control is exactly what people crave when the general situation, globally, nationally, and locally, feels out of control (cf. the three earlier posts on law enforcement, which was once a source of a sense of control). Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard:

As a proposed advertising slogan, “Requires Effort” wouldn’t pass muster with Don Draper. But surprising new research finds that, under certain circumstances, people are in fact drawn to products that demand some work.

Such items become more desirable when people feel a lack of control over their lives, according to Keisha Cutright of the University of Pennsylvania and Adriana Samper of Arizona State University. These “high-effort products,” they write, enable frustrated individuals to recapture a sense of personal power.

“Beyond seeking products that merely symbolize a given trait,” Cutright and Samper write in the Journal of Consumer Research, “consumers sometimes prefer products that give them an opportunity to actually demonstrate that they possess a trait.”

The researchers describe five studies that provide evidence for their thesis. In the first, . . .

Continue reading.

Feeling that one lacks control in his or her life puts one at serious risk for depression—or, as Martin Seligman termed it in his studies, “learned helplessness.” (His book Learned Optimism is quite interesting—inexpensive secondhand copies at the link.)

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 9:24 am

Happiness and unhappiness are not opposites

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Arthur C. Brooks writes in the NY Times:

ABD AL-RAHMAN III was an emir and caliph of Córdoba in 10th-century Spain. He was an absolute ruler who lived in complete luxury. Here’s how he assessed his life:

“I have now reigned above 50 years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity.”

Fame, riches and pleasure beyond imagination. Sound great? He went on to write:

“I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: They amount to 14.”

Abd al-Rahman’s problem wasn’t happiness, as he believed — it was unhappiness. If that sounds like a distinction without a difference, you probably have the same problem as the great emir. But with a little knowledge, you can avoid the misery that befell him.

What is unhappiness? Your intuition might be that it is simply the opposite of happiness, just as darkness is the absence of light. That is not correct. Happiness and unhappiness are certainly related, but they are not actually opposites. Images of the brain show that parts of the left cerebral cortex are more active than the right when we are experiencing happiness, while the right side becomes more active when we are unhappy.

As strange as it seems, being happier than average does not mean that one can’t also be unhappier than average. One test for both happiness and unhappiness is the Positive Affectivity and Negative Affectivity Schedule test. I took the test myself. I found that, for happiness, I am at the top for people my age, sex, occupation and education group. But I get a pretty high score for unhappiness as well. I am a cheerful melancholic.

So when people say, “I am an unhappy person,” they are really doing sums, whether they realize it or not. They are saying, “My unhappiness is x, my happiness is y, and x > y.” The real questions are why, and what you can do to make y > x. . . .

Continue reading. It’s good.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 6:52 am

Surgeons: Does the nature of the work require a certainly personality type?

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Very intriguing article by Wen Chen in Pacific Standard:

My profession is filled with exceptional individuals who do amazing, lifesaving work. Many of us are jerks.

This is the trouble with surgeons. We are a sub-tribe of doctors who have long been celebrated for our abilities yet reviled for our personalities. In movies and TV shows, we are egomaniacal, hostile, and even mentally unstable. A low point came in 1993 with the film Malice, which featured a scenery-chewing turn by Alec Baldwin as a gifted but evil cardiac surgeon who denied having a God complex. “I am God,” he clarified.

Behind the caricatures lies some truth. Many surgeons are abrasive, abusive, and wildly self-centered—so much so that observers have speculated that they suffer from psychiatric disorders. In 2012, British psychologist Kevin Dutton published The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, a controversial book arguing there are certain benefits to being ruthless, cunning, and indifferent to the feelings of others. Dutton included a list (based on an Internet survey) of professions with the highest proportion of psychopaths. Surgeons landed at number five, barely trailing CEOs and lawyers.

Within the past two decades, though, the surgical profession has attempted a wholesale revamping of its image and ideals. Compassion, communication, and collaboration are now strongly emphasized during training. It’s been a rapid and turbulent metamorphosis that has undoubtedly led to improvements for patients, hospital co-workers, and even surgeons themselves. Nonetheless, in the process, surgery may have created its own identity crisis. We want to believe we’re better off with nicer surgeons. But what do we lose?

SURGERY HAS ALWAYS BEEN, at its core, a brutal undertaking. Prior to the introduction of anesthesia in the mid-19th century, surgeons often worked to a sound track of screams. Writing in 1812, British novelist and playwright Frances “Fanny” Burney provided a rare patient-centered account of the horrors of a mastectomy without anesthesia. “When the dreadful steel was plunged into the breast,” she wrote, “I began a scream that lasted unintermittingly during the whole time of the incision—& I almost marvel that it rings not in my Ears still! so excruciating was the agony.”

No surgeon could inflict such anguish for long without developing a tough shell. Thirteenth-century French surgeon Henri de Mondeville wrote that two of the most important requirements for a surgeon were a strong stomach and the ability to “cut like an executioner.” Samuel Cooper, a British surgeon of the early 19th century, identified the surgeon’s most valuable quality as “undisturbed coolness, which is still more rare than skill.”

Because of their grisly work and perceived lack of refinement, surgeons lagged far behind their medical counterparts in social status, on a par with blacksmiths or barbers. Then, with the invention of anesthesia in the 1840s, followed a few decades later by the introduction of antiseptic techniques, surgeons began to achieve success upon success in invading the body and curing disease. Their profession skyrocketed in prestige. In 1904, New York surgeon Frederic Dennis delivered an exuberant keynote address at the Universal Exposition in St. Louis and lauded the “conspicuous grandeur” of surgery’s ascendance and the “self-reliance, principle, independence, and determination” of those who could perform it.

While surgery grew somewhat less gruesome, surgeons of the 20th century retained many of the personality traits of their pre-anesthetic forebears: detachment, resolve, and a thirst for action.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Medical, Mental Health

Fascinating fitness experiment

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In Brazil: the payoff from the experiment will, I bet, greatly exceed its cost. I hope they’re tracking things like sick days, public health expense, average hospital duration, etc. The outcomes will be interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 July 2014 at 7:50 pm

Planning for your future: Take up art

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Tom Jacobs has an interesting article in Pacific Standard:

If you’re approaching retirement, you’ll be facing some difficult issues, even if your finances are in order. Fundamental concerns inevitably arise, including “What shall I do with my time?” and “How can I continue to feel strong and capable?”

New research from Germany suggests an advantageous answer to both of those questions could be to start making art.

A research team led by neurologist Anne Bolwerk reports “the production of visual art improves effective interaction” between certain regions of the brain.

What’s more, this improvement in brain function—found in a small group of new retirees who took a class in which they created paintings and drawings—was matched by self-reports of strengthened psychological resilience. . .

“Our results have important implications for preventative and therapeutic interventions,” the researchers write in the online journal PLoS One. . .

Continue reading.

It sounds as though the benefits would be valuable even before retirement.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 10:34 am

Posted in Art, Mental Health, Science

Silence while shaving

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I am a big advocate of shaving in a silent bathroom: no fan, no running water, no music, and no radio news. One reason is purely functional: the quiet sound of the cutting blade helps me optimize head angle. But another reason is the meditative aspect of shaving: a time in the day when you closely focus on one task only (with the focus probably even closer for men who shave with a straight razor) with full awareness of what you’re directly experiencing at the moment. Adding a distraction seems purely gratuitous.

And yet some seem curiously attached to distraction. I think some of that is because focusing on a task without distractions is a skill and thus has to be acquired through practice. A person who has little experience of distraction-free close focus on what he is experiencing in the moment suffers the usual negative feelings of any beginner: feeling awkward, not knowing how to do it, not liking how it feels so unfamiliar, feeling very conscious of mistakes, and so on. I understand how that would make one practically leap onto any distraction. But with practice it becomes easier and even, once you’ve learned how to achieve it, something worth seeking.

I just saw an article by Tom Jacobs in Pacific Standard on another factor that may be in play.

Which pastime would you prefer: Sitting alone quietly with your thoughts, or experiencing an electric shock?

The answer may seem obvious. But consider for a moment what it’s like to have no distractions from your ongoing mental chatter, which Buddhists refer to as “monkey mind.”

Thoughts pop up rapidly and randomly, like a sour, surrealistic movie we can’t turn off. Fears and regrets we’ve pushed aside reappear front and center, resulting in increased agitation and the desire for some form of escape—even, perhaps, a jolt of current.

That scenario may or may not sound familiar, but it clearly applies to a lot of people. A research team led by University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson reports that, in a series of studies, “participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think.”

What’s more, in the researchers’ most remarkable result, “many preferred to administer electronic shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts.”

“The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself,” Wilson and his colleagues conclude in the journal Science.

The researchers demonstrated our aversion to rumination in 11 similarly structured studies.

Continue reading.

Timothy Wilson wrote Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, a book I highly recommend.

I included this post in the “mental health” category, but really it’s more “mental fittness”: being able to have your mind easily switch from one mode to another. Perhaps “mental agility,” but with regard to state instead of ideas: the mind as environment rather than machine.

UPDATE: Washington Post report on the study with more details.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2014 at 2:09 pm

How politics derailed EPA science on arsenic, endangering public health

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David Heath reports at The Center for Public Integrity:

Living in the lush, wooded countryside with fresh New England air, Wendy Brennan never imagined her family might be consuming poison every day.

But when she signed up for a research study offering a free T-shirt and a water-quality test, she was stunned to discover that her private well contained arsenic.

“My eldest daughter said … ‘You’re feeding us rat poison.’ I said, ‘Not really,’ but I guess essentially … that is what you’re doing. You’re poisoning your kids,” Brennan lamented in her thick Maine accent. “I felt bad for not knowing it.”

Brennan is not alone. Urine samples collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from volunteers reveal that most Americans regularly consume small amounts of arsenic. It’s not just in water; it’s also in some of the foods we eat and beverages we drink, such as rice, fruit juice, beer and wine.

Under orders from a Republican-controlled Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 established a new drinking-water standard to try to limit people’s exposure to arsenic. But a growing body of research since then has raised questions about whether the standard is adequate.

The EPA has been prepared to say since 2008, based on its review of independent science, that arsenic is 17 times more potent as a carcinogen than the agency now reports. Women are especially vulnerable. Agency scientists calculated that if 100,000 women consumed the legal limit of arsenic every day, 730 of them would eventually get bladder or lung cancer from it.

After years of research and delays, the EPA was on the verge of making its findings official by 2012. Once the science was complete, the agency could review the drinking water standard.

But an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that one member of Congress effectively blocked the release of the EPA findings and any new regulations for years. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. For example:

Researchers from Columbia University gave IQ tests to about 270 grade-school children in Maine. They also checked to see if there was arsenic in their tap water at home. Maine is known as a hot spot for arsenic in groundwater.

The researchers found that children who drank water with arsenic — even at levels below the current EPA drinking water standard — had an average IQ deficit of six points compared to children who drank water with virtually no arsenic.

The findings are eerily similar to studies of lead, a toxin considered so dangerous to children that it was removed from paint and gasoline decades ago. Other studies have linked arsenic to a wide variety of other ailments, including cancer, heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

“I jokingly say that arsenic makes lead look like a vitamin,” said Joseph Graziano, a Columbia professor who headed the Maine research. “Because the lead effects are limited to just a couple of organ systems — brain, blood, kidney. The arsenic effects just sweep across the body and impact everything that’s going on, every organ system.”

And the Congressman who fought to keep arsenic in US drinking water?

. . . So, who did it? All the evidence from the Center’s investigation pointed to one congressman: Mike Simpson of Idaho.

Simpson was one of the Republicans who signed the letter to the EPA administrator complaining about the missing 300 studies. He was the chairman of the subcommittee that controlled funding for the EPA, where the language first appeared. He was also a member of another committee where the language surfaced again in a different report. He even asked the EPA administrator about arsenic at a subcommittee hearing.

Simpson, who worked as a dentist and state legislator before entering Congress, is a frequent critic of the EPA. But in the 2012 and 2014 election campaigns, he has been portrayed as too liberal by Tea Party candidates funded by the right-wing Club for Growth.

In a brief interview outside his Capitol Hill office, Simpson accepted credit for instructing the EPA to stop work on its arsenic assessment.

“I’m worried about drinking water and small communities trying to meet standards that they can’t meet,” he said. “So we want the Academy of Science to look at how they come up with their science.”

Simpson said he didn’t know that his actions kept a weed killer containing arsenic on the market. He denied that the pesticide companies lobbied him for the delay.

But lobbyist Grizzle offered a different account.

“I was part of a group that met with the congressman and his staff a number of years ago on our concerns,” Grizzle said, adding that there were four or five other lobbyists in that meeting but he couldn’t remember who they were.

Other organizations that disclosed lobbying the EPA and Congress on the agency’s arsenic evaluation were the U.S. Rice Federation; the Mulch and Soil Council; the Association of California Water Agencies; and the National Mining Association, including the mining companies Arch Coal and Rio Tinto.

Grizzle began making donations to Simpson’s re-election campaign in January 2011, a few months before Simpson took action to delay the arsenic assessment. Since then, Grizzle has given a total of $7,500. That’s more than he’s given in that time to any other candidate.

Asked if the contributions were made in exchange for the delay, Grizzle said, “I don’t see a connection. I’ve been a friend and supporter of Congressman Simpson for a long time.”

When Simpson was asked if he was aware of the donations, he terminated the interview, saying, “I have no idea. But I’ve got a hearing.” . . .


Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2014 at 12:44 pm

The Best Reporting on Children With Post-Traumatic Stress

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As pointed out in the article of the previous post, stress is particularly damaging to young children, whose neurological systems are still developing.In Pacific Standard Lois Beckett has an annotated reading list of articles on this scourge:

When people think of post-traumatic stress disorder, they often focus on military veterans. But there’s growing evidence that PTSD is also a serious problem for American civilians, especially those exposed to violence in their own neighborhoods. Researchers in Atlanta found that one out of three inner-city residents they interviewed had experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives.

We’ve put together a collection of some of the best reporting on PTSD in children and teenagers exposed to community violence. The stories here take a nuanced look at the intersection of trauma, poverty, and racism. Not all stories about PTSD in high-violence neighborhoods meet that standard. This May, a local CBS affiliate released a segment on trauma in Oakland youth that referred to PTSD as “hood disease.” The anchor who used that term on air later apologized.

Among our recommendations here are magazine stories, radio segments, a book based on a doctor’s interviews with shooting victims, and a documentary film. You can also see our selection of the best reporting on PTSD and the U.S. military.

Brain Development Altered by Violence, Washington Post, May 1999
After the Columbine shootings, this article looked broadly at post-traumatic stress among American children. “The Columbine students are the lucky ones,” the story concluded. “Most child witnesses to violence in America live in inner cities, where shootings occur repeatedly, and where parents often are as traumatized by them as children. And counselors rarely come calling on them in the aftermath of horrors, as they have in Littleton.”

Children Who Survive Urban Warfare Suffer From PTSD, Too, San Francisco Chronicle, August 2007

Eleven-year-old Tierra’s brother was murdered two weeks before she began sixth grade. She wrote her brother’s name on the cover of her notebooks. Her grades dropped. She started getting into fights. And she wasn’t the only one: At her San Francisco middle school, a third of students said they had seen or knew someone killed with a gun. A look at how post-traumatic stress affects children’s school performance—and at the difficulties of getting treatment.

The Poverty Clinic, the New Yorker, March 2011

Experiencing traumatic events at a young age doesn’t simply affect a child’s emotional health. There’s increasing evidence that childhood trauma is linked to serious medical problems in adulthood. A look at how a clinic

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 11:05 am

America’s child poverty rate better than Romania’s!

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The US is making progress. Our child poverty rate (23%) is not so good as that of the UK (10%) or the Nordic countries (7%-8%), but is better than Romania. Those figures are from Jeff Madrick’s article “Inequality Begins at Birth” in the NY Review of Books:

Over the past year, the lack of universal pre-kindergarten for American four-year-olds has become a national issue. In 2013, President Obama proposed to fund an ambitious new nationwide pre-kindergarten program through a new cigarette tax. That plan failed to gain support, but Bill de Blasio gave new urgency to the issue when he swept into the New York mayor’s office promising universal pre-K for all city children—which will begin in the fall. Even as these efforts are being made, however, new research is making it increasingly clear that educational disparities start much earlier.

The value of universal access to early education has long been recognized: it improves the life chances of disadvantaged children and is crucial to keeping a level playing field for all. The United States has fallen well short of this goal. In most of Europe there is universal, good-quality preschool for three- and four-year-olds. In America, recent data show that fewer than half of all three- and four-year olds are enrolled in some form of preschool. Head Start, the main federal program, provides preschool funding for only about two fifths of poor children in this group.

Moreover, America has the second highest child poverty rate out of the thirty-five nations measured by the United Nation Children’s Fund (only Romania is worse). Twenty-three percent of American kids are poor by international standards, compared to 10 percent in the UK and 7 or 8 percent in the Nordic countries. According to studies on the US population, the poorest children are those five and under—indeed, they are the poorest demographic group in the nation. Many of these kids live in deep poverty, with family income less than half of the poverty line. Poverty rates for black and Latino children are especially high.

Scholars have long documented that children who grow up poor face greater obstacles to social development and good health, obstacles that often remain with them the rest of their lives. They are more likely to have chronic diseases like asthma or attention deficit disorder, few of them graduate from high school, their wages are lower, and they often end up on welfare. Poor teenage women have more unwanted births.

But neurological evidence from recent years strongly suggests that the causes of these poor outcomes are neither solely cultural nor a function of a weak gene pool, as commentators like Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, once claimed. As Dr. David Keller made clear at a recent conference on child poverty in Washington, D.C. called “Inequality Begins at Birth” (primarily sponsored by the think tank I direct, The Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative at the Century Foundation), there is new biological evidence that a high-stress environment for very young children does not simply affect cultural and psychological conditions that predispose the poor to failure; it can also affect the architecture of the brain, changing the actual neurological functioning and quantity of brain matter.

In other words, pre-K is not enough. What is concerning, moreover, is that these findings have been known for some time but are not getting adequate attention. In fact, the original documentation was published back in 2000 in a vanguard article by Harvard’s Center on the Development of the Child, and corroborating studies have multiplied since then.

Indeed, two studies completed in 2013 relate neural deterioration directly to poverty. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 10:17 am

Interesting article on “addiction” as a concept

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Stanton Peele has a very interesting article in Pacific Standard:

In 1975, I published Love and Addiction with Archie Brodsky. Now available as an ebook, a format unimagined back then, L&A anticipated every major development in the field since. To pass the time as I await delivery of my Nobel Prize, I’ll turn my attention to making a set of predictions for the next 40 years.

But first, let’s recap what I wrote in Love and Addiction and consider how that context frames our expectations.

The primary development since 1975 is the realization that addiction is not a byproduct of drugs, but applies equally to every powerful involvement. No drug is inherently addictive; nothing in which people become enmeshed is guaranteed not to be addictive. When Love and Addiction was written, one thing—one drug—was considered to cause addiction. Everybody, including pharmacologists, imagined that some peculiarity in heroin’s chemical structure made people become addicted to it, and it alone. How quaint! Alcohol was arbitrarily placed in a different category, as being addictive for only a special population of alcoholics.

Love and Addiction instead addressed addiction as a life issue. That a love relationship could be exactly as addictive as heroin meant that addiction didn’t spring from a drug’s chemistry. Rather, an addiction is an overwhelming destructive involvement with a powerful experience that provides essential emotional rewards for the addicted person.

We know—at least we did—that destructive love can’t be a disease. Now, however, one wing of the recovery movement has decided that addictive love and sex are real—and that they’re diseases. Recognition of love and sex addiction should have transformed the way we think about addiction. But it was used instead to reinforce existing misconceptions.

For example, Love and Addiction should have forced the recognition of natural recovery: Most people outgrow immature, addictive love relationships, and don’t need to join a 12-step or other program to do so. As for harm reduction, it seems self-evident that if people become addicted to sex and love, most aren’t going to have to quit these activities altogether to get better. Instead, they need to achieve more mature relationships by focusing on their own development.

Love and Addiction changed the addiction landscape, but not the way I intended—Codependent No More was but one example of how the revolutionary thinking in L&A was funneled back through the disease/12-step meat grinder, so that the product was unrecognizable. It is thus still necessary to return to the book to describe where future developments about addiction need to go.

Love and Addiction was also a cultural commentary about how we had lost our sense of efficacy in a world grown increasingly beyond our control. No label both represented and contributed to this sense of powerlessness more than “addictive disease”—the idea that we are incapable of controlling our basic appetites and needs. Unfortunately, both this loss of personal efficacy and the power of the disease meme have grown exponentially since 1975.

KEY QUESTION: Will we successfully challenge the disease meme—while reversing the constant increase in addiction?

Although it is true we are looking in more places for addiction, it is nonetheless also true that addiction is genuinely increasing. Aside from the ever-roiling heroin, painkiller, pick-your-new-drug scares, just look at people staring at their iPhones who are gaming, texting, and otherwise compulsively absorbing their attention all around you.

The American Psychiatric Association publishes its bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), every decade or two to tell us what’s wrong with us. The fifth edition was released in 2013. For the first time it recognized non-substance addictions—a mere 40 years after Archie and I detailed this phenomenon in Love and Addiction.

First (are you ready?)—DSM-5 doesn’t label substances as addictive or dependence-producing. There are simply mild, moderate, and severe Substance Use Disorders (SUDs). Only activities are “addictive” in DSM-5. Actually, only a single activity, gambling, is called addictive—sex and love were notably denied this status. Still, who would have guessed in 1975 that in 2013 psychiatry would eliminate addiction regarding drug effects, but decide that there were “behavioral addictions”?

Meditate on our confusion: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2014 at 11:09 am

Another article on pesticides as a cause of autism

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John Upton writes at Pacific Standard:

Many of today’s insecticides work by scrambling insects’ brains. And new research suggests they are having a similar effect on the brains of unborn humans, contributing to autism and development disorders—right up until the final trimester.

A team of researchers combined data from the Childhood Autism Risks From Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study with data from the California Pesticide Use Report, which is produced through one of the world’s most comprehensive pesticide application reporting programs. They wanted to assess how exposure to pesticides drifting over sprayed nearby fields could contribute to autism spectral disorders and developmental difficulties among mothers’ soon-to-be-born children.

The results of the analysis—which compared insecticide exposure from 1997 to 2008 with mental health metrics of the children of nearly 1,000 mothers in a state where 200 million pounds of insecticides are sprayed every year—were mind-boggling.

“We were expecting to see some association, only because it’s previously been reported,” says Janie Shelton, an epidemiologist working as a United Nations consultant and an author of the study. “But we didn’t expect to see it in the second and third trimesters.”

About a third of the mothers who took part in the study lived, during their pregnancy, within 5,000 feet of a farm where one of the four pesticide lasses being studied were sprayed. These mothers were more likely to have kids with autism, or kids who suffer difficulties developing communication, social, and motor skills (problems that affect one out of every 25 American children).

Children with autism spectral disorders were found to have had a 60 percent greater chance of having had organophosphates sprayed near their mothers’ homes while they were still in the womb. Children with development disorders were nearly 150 percent more likely to have had carbamate pesticides applied near the home during their mothers’ pregnancy. Both of the associations grew stronger as the pesticide applications encroached more closely upon their mothers’ homes.

“Applications of two of the most common agricultural pesticides (organophosphates and pyrethroids) nearby the home may increase the prevalence of [autism spectrum disorders],” the researchers write in their paper, published Monday in Environmental Health Perspectives. “Our findings relating agricultural pesticides to [development disorders] were less robust, but were suggestive of an [association] with applications of carbamates during pregnancy nearby the home.”

A large part of the problem is believed to be that the pesticides are neurotoxic—and tender neuron networks are particularly vulnerable to disruption. . .

Continue reading.

If you think that Monsanto and other such companies will voluntarily curtail their use of chemicals that are implicated in causing autism, then you have another think coming. The businesses that profit from those chemicals will fight to the bitter end to keep selling the, autistic children or not. Their only interest is increasing their profits. Cf. the cigarette industry, the asbestos industry, the automobile industry (which resisted every single safety enhancement until it was required by law and have continued to seek for ways to profit at the expense of safety—e.g., the Ford Pinto, the GM Cobalt). Corporations are sociopaths and the ONLY measure they look at now is profit. Nothing else.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2014 at 1:54 pm

Autism Risk Higher Near Pesticide-Related Fields

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As readers know, I have long believed that the upsurge in autism-spectrum disorders was in part due to our practice of spreading millions of tons of toxins, including neurotoxins, on our fields and food. Now we see evidence supporting that supposition. Lindsey Konkel writes in Scientific American:

The study of 970 children, born in farm-rich areas of Northern California, is part of the largest project to date that is exploring links between autism and environmental exposures.

The University of California, Davis research – which used women’s addresses to determine their proximity to insecticide-treated fields – is the third project to link prenatal pesticide exposures to autism and related disorders.

“The weight of evidence is beginning to suggest that mothers’ exposures during pregnancy may play a role in the development of autism spectrum disorders,” said Kim Harley, an environmental health researcher at the University of California, Berkeley who was not involved in the new study.

One in every 68 U.S. children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder—a group of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by difficulties with social interactions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This study does not show that pesticides are likely to cause autism, though it suggests that exposure to farming chemicals during pregnancy is probably not a good thing,” said Dr. Bennett Leventhal, a child psychiatrist at University of California, San Francisco who studies autistic children. He did not participate in the new study.

The biggest known contributor to autism risk is having a family member with it. Siblings of a child with autism are 35 times more likely to develop it than those without an autistic brother or sister, according to the National Institutes of Health.

By comparison, in the new study, children with mothers who lived less than one mile from fields treated with organophosphate pesticides during pregnancy were about 60 percent more likely to have autism than children whose mothers did not live close to treated fields. Most of the women lived in the Sacramento Valley.

When women in the second trimester lived near fields treated with chlorpyrifos – the most commonly applied organophosphate pesticide – their children were 3.3 times more likely to have autism, according to the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Chlorpyrifos, once widely used to kill insects in homes and gardens, was banned for residential use in 2001 after it was linked to neurological effects in children. It is still widely used on crops, including nut trees, alfalfa, vegetables and fruits.

The study also is the first to report a link between pyrethroids and autism. Application of pyrethroids just prior to conception meant an increased risk of 82 percent, and during the third trimester, the risk was 87 percent higher.

That finding is particularly concerning because . . .

Continue reading.

If you think Big Agriculture cares a whit about these findings, think again: I predict that they will use all their lobbying muscle and millions in “campaign contributions” to ensure that they can continue to use the toxic substances.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2014 at 1:39 pm

The End of Solitary Confinement?

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Solitary confinement is torture. We are social animals, and we require social contact. The US continues widespread use of solitary confinement, even for decades. That must be stopped. Jessica Pishko writes in Pacific Standard:

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Oakland held that five inmates currently locked up in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison are permitted to move forward with their class action, Ashker v. Brown, on behalf of over 500 other inmates, all of whom have been held in Segregated Housing Units (SHU), the administrative term for solitary confinement, for over a decade. Some of those inmates have been in solitary for over 20 years now, and many are there on the basis of alleged gang affiliation only. One of the plaintiffs, Todd Ashker, has been in solitary for over 25 years, and he’s only 50. This means that he has spent over half of his life in solitary lockdown.

This lawsuit seriously challenges the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) widespread use of solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time, arguing that the use of solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Inmates housed in SHU are denied access to edible food, medical care, stamps, writing materials, and visitors. Generally, SHU inmates are housed in concrete, windowless cells for 22 to 24 hours a day; their exercise period is held in a small concrete “dog run” where sunlight and air are obscured by Plexiglas and mesh. The named plaintiffs are the leaders of last summer’s hunger strikes, where over 30,000 prisoners across California refused to eat in order to protest the inhumane conditions at Pelican Bay and the CDCR’s draconian methods to curb gang activity by sending alleged members to the SHU.

This isn’t the first time that a federal judge has intimated that matters of California prison policy will be decided in court. The CDCR is still struggling to comply with a federal order, upheld by the Supreme Court, to reduce prison overcrowding (Plata v. Brown) as well as another order to improve the treatment and services available to mentally ill inmates (Coleman v. Brown). The implementation of both Plata and Coleman has been going on for over a decade. From all appearances, the CDCR seems to view these court-ordered mandates as burdens imposed by an outside authority, resulting in what appears to be petulance at being the loser. Dr. Raymond F. Patterson, a suicide expert and one of special masters assigned to Coleman, stated in his 14th and final report that he would no longer participate in the process because the CDCR showed no signs of improvement: “It has become apparent that continued repetition of these recommendations would be a further waste of time and effort.”

Solitary confinement has been the subject of a previous lawsuit in California, Madrid v. Gomez, where a judge held that confining inmates with mental illnesses in SHU conditions at Pelican Bay violated the Eighth Amendment. The case left open the question as to whether or not the use of solitary confinement was similarly illegal for all inmates, a question that Ashker seeks to answer.

The tide of public opinion has gradually been turning against the use of solitary confinement, and it’s hard to find any evidence in support of the practice. International groups, like Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, have determined that solitary confinement amounts to inhumane punishment, causing hosts of mental and physical problems; it’s widely considered torture under most international conventions. Little dissent exists in the medical community that solitary confinement for even short periods of time can cause long-term effects like psychotic disturbances, depression, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, and a severe incapacity to re-integrate into society. Solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time may have untold additional consequences.

This lawsuit may definitively determine the future of solitary confinement and force

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2014 at 11:18 am

Is Air Pollution Linked to Autism and Schizophrenia?

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If air pollution is the culprit, that would explain the steady rise in autism rates. Cliff Weathers reports at AlterNet:

A study recently released by University of Rochester researchers [3] indicates that air pollution exposure may have a negative impact on mental health and could possibly play a role in schizophrenia and autism. The university’s study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The researchers found that air pollution causes inflammation in the brains of newly born mice, which damages the development of “white matter.” The same parts of the brain are known to be affected in humans exhibiting autism and schizophrenia traits.

The university researchers say that when mice are exposed to extra fine particle air pollution in the first few weeks of life, they developed neurological abnormalities similar to those seen in humans with the two health disorders. The abnormalities were mostly found in male mice, which also corresponds to the high numbers of men and boys diagnosed with both schizophrenia and autism.

The research concurs with a 2013 study published in JAMA Psychiatry [4] that also drew a link between air pollution and autism. That study, by researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of California, found that children who lived in areas with high levels of traffic pollution were three times more likely to be diagnosed with the neurodevelopmental disorder.

But the University of Rochester research is the first to link more mental-health disorders to air pollution.

“Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that air pollution may play a role in autism, as well as in other neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Deborah Cory-Slechta, professor of Environmental Medicine at the university.

The Rochester study found that the brain’s lateral ventricles, which are cavities filled with fluid to protect it from trauma, were three times their normal size. Similar dilation of the lateral ventricles has also been found in humans with autism and schizophrenia. The study also found that mice breathing polluted air also had high levels of glutamate, a neurotransmitter, in the brain.

Glutamate, is one of the most abundant chemical messengers in the brain. It plays a key role in learning and memory [5]. Moreover, serves as a source of energy for the brain cells when their regular energy supplier, glucose, is lacking. But excess glutamate can damage and even kill neurons by generating free radicals in the cells that it over-excites. High levels of glutamate are also found in individuals suffering from these same two disorders.

The atmospheric contamination created by the researchers mimics what might typically be present at peak rush-hour traffic in a moderately-sized U.S. metropolitan area. The mice were exposed to air polluted with extremely fine particles for four hours for eight days during the first two weeks after birth. The finest air-pollution particles are believed to have the greatest health impact, according to the researchers. . .

Continue reading.

And I continue to suspect that the widespread use of toxic chemicals in agriculture also is a contributing factor.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2014 at 9:22 am

Mindfulness Can Avert Bodily Responses to Emotional Stress

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Probably why traditional wetshaving works so well for many. Tom Jacobs writes in Pacific Standard:

Emotional stress is undeniably uncomfortable. But the real danger it poses is the damage it can do to our bodies, causing or exacerbating health problems ranging from headaches to high blood pressure.

If we could experience emotional pressure strictly on an intellectual and emotional level, rather than a physical one, we’d certainly be better off. Newly published research suggests there’s a secret to doing just that: Mindfulness.

Confirming previous research, a study finds that “strong identification with, or judgment of, negative thoughts and emotions” can trigger a hormonal stress response that increases production of cortisol. Too many such releases have been linked to an array of health issues, ranging from memory loss to vulnerability to infections.

However, according to a research team led by Jennifer Daubenmier of the University of San Francisco’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, this unwelcome dynamic gets short-circuited “if those thoughts and emotions are experienced with mindful awareness.”

“These findings support the idea that the tendency to describe and accept distressing experiences may buffer the impact of psychological distress on physiological arousal,” the researchers write in the journal Psychoneuroendochronology.

Their study featured 24 overweight or obese women who enrolled in an intervention program at USF. The extent to which they practiced mindfulness—which involves being fully aware of what is happening in the present moment, and accepting it in a non-judgmental way—was determined by their answers to a series of statements. Similar tests measured their anxiety level and inclination to ruminate. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 June 2014 at 8:49 am

Environmental lead from leaded gasoline and violence in our schools

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The evidence quite solidly supports that leaded gasoline caused an  era of violence: lead is a neurotoxin that affects impulse control, among other things.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2014 at 8:59 pm

the Connections Between Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and Gun Violence

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Lois Beckett writes at Pacific Standard:

After mass shootings, like the ones these past weeks in Las Vegas, Seattle, and Santa Barbara, the national conversation often focuses on mental illness. So what do we actually know about the connections between mental illness, mass shootings, and gun violence overall?

To separate the facts from the media hype, we talked to Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine, and one of the leading researchers on mental health and violence. Swanson talked about the dangers of passing laws in the wake of tragedy—and which new violence-prevention strategies might actually work.

Here is a condensed version of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Mass shootings are relatively rare events that account for only a tiny fraction of American gun deaths each year. But when you look specifically at mass shootings―how big a factor is mental illness?

On the face of it, a mass shooting is the product of a disordered mental process. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist: What normal person would go out and shoot a bunch of strangers?

But the risk factors for a mass shooting are shared by a lot of people who aren’t going to do it. If you paint the picture of a young, isolated, delusional young man—that probably describes thousands of other young men.

A 2001 study looked specifically at 34 adolescent mass murderers, all male. 70 percent were described as a loner. 61.5 percent had problems with substance abuse. 48 percent had preoccupations with weapons; 43.5 percent had been victims of bullying. Only 23 percent had a documented psychiatric history of any kind―which means three out of four did not.

People with serious mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, do have a slightly higher risk of committing violence than members of the general population. Yet most violence is not attributable to mental illness. Can you walk us through the numbers?

People with serious mental illness are three to four times more likely to be violent than those who aren’t. But the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent and never will be.

Most violence in society is caused by other things.

Even if we had a perfect mental health care system, that is not going to solve our gun violence problem. If we were able to magically cure schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression, that would be wonderful, but overall violence would go down by only about four percent.

Federal law prohibits people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution from owning guns. Is that targeting the right people? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2014 at 11:28 am

Posted in Guns, Mental Health, Science

Why are some depressed, others resilient?

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And can you make someone who’s been depressed become resilient? (That’s the goal of anti-depressants and some therapies, notably Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.) Meeri Kim has an interesting article in the Washington Post on deep brain stimulation, stimulating parts of the brain directly to switch the individual (mouse in this case) from depressed to resilient or the reverse.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2014 at 9:53 am

Thought about Mindset

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[I used the names "effort mindset" and "talent mindset" for what Dweck calls "growth mindset" and "fixed mindset" respectively. Either name works. For more on this, search the blog on "Dweck" or "mindset" (the latter will return a few irrelevant posts, but you can quickly determine which you want by browsing). - LG]

I was thinking about Dweck’s work showing that having a mindset that focuses on effort (excellent achievement shows a lot of work) rather than one that focuses on talent (excellent achievement means you have talent) leads to failure in learning how to learn. The talent mindset views failure as a sign that s/he lacks talent in that skill and thus there’s no point in pursuing it. The effort mindset views those initial steps in learning—making mistakes, doing it all wrong, being able to hear/see/read how you’re doing it wrong because your intellectual/analytic knowledge has outpaced the empirical/practical knowledge that, as the name implies, comes from experience and practice—as simply the normal first steps. Indeed, the effort mindset relishes mistakes because they are in effect “free” when you start learning something—that is, they are expected and thus are not viewed as a surprise or a setback—and quite often a mistake provides good information about how to do something better.

The result: the effort mindset is always interested in finding new things to learn, and I just figured out why. The reason is obvious: they like those initial flounderinng, awkward, what-the-hell-am-I-doing? feelings. They are not persevering in spite of such feelings, but because of them. Like anyone would expect, they go for more of what they like.

So what on earth could be so appealing about feeling like a clueless stupid lug? Well, nothing in the feeling itself, obviously. But that’s not what they’re seeing: the effort mindset is focused on progress, not result, and in those very early stages, you get to see enormous progress in a relatively short time—a year, say. In those early stages, you actually can see/hear/read yourself improving. That’s a great feeling, and very empowering. So they want to feel that feeling some more. Some, of course, turn to art, in which the artist more or less lives in that situation constantly. I knew a draughtsman who was pretty good (U of I workshop), and I asked him what it was like to face a white sheet of paper and making the first line. “Panic,” he said. “Unadultered panic. And it stays that way—it’s like ice-skating, on panic instead of ice.” Always in the awkward stage, but man! the progress! and watching it happen!

And that’s what I mean by learning how to learn: you learn how to pay attention to that aspect of what you’re doing, and more or less ignore the results. If the progress is good, the results will get better fast, so let’s get the bad ones out of the way, more or less—that is, the artist, because s/he is directly experiencing the rapid progress knows that the old pieces aren’t nearly so good or interesting as what s/he’ll do next. Once you approach things from that angle, learning is fun, though you have to tilt your head just right to maintain the focus on progress and not result. “This one is crap, but better crap than the one before. I’m gettin’ there.”

In fact, the work is not even examined in crap/not-crap terms: it is examined only in progress terms. Literally, that is what the that particular effort was: just something to check progress. No interest in it for itself. (I imagine this is an extreme.) But in a way the effort mindset really does not actually see the result: the only thing it sees is the progress—and if no progress, that mindset searches for the mistakes made and thus learns from experience (instead of throwing up its hands, saying, “I just don’t have the talent for this,” and quitting).

All this is denied the talent mindset. It checked out at the first sign of difficulty: “No talent there.”

I think I recall reading that some golfer–Ben Hogan—would always concede putts up to 15 feet or so, and his delighted opponents accepted until on moderate putt the concession was not offered, and the golfer had to take the putt—the first of the game, perhaps—and probably felt some qualms or other emotions that would not help the putt. The talent mindset, by focusing on what comes easy, is like that golfer: when required to perform (make the putt, learn something new), being out of practice makes it harder.

So things actually move just as you expect. Now the question is (and Dweck discusses this) whence cometh this mindset? Does it come through nature? or is it taught? or do people get it in some other way?

I think it’s pretty obvious that environment and genetics work as a system in determining what happens, and obviously the environment can help or hinder such a mindset. And, I maintain, that environment is totally cultural: the memes the growing child is given shape the mindset s/he will have.

BUT: it does seem that the effort mindset can be taught, through creating cultural memetic antibodies that (in effect) attack the target memes. The effort mindset is a meme and propagated in the usual meme-ish way, by imitation, and it seems clear that the effort mindset should prevail (be more successful). But: our culture comprises any number of forces at play, and those may or may not also affect mindset, and if so, to hinder to to help. So, who knows?

Still: the mindsets are pretty well known and can now be taught explicitly (see link above), and as more kids learn the trick, things should get interesting.

Cf. the standard mathematical approach of generalizing a result—take it to the next level. Yes, we’re talking about a space, but each point now is a function. Same generalization above: those on the first rung look at the result; those on the second rung use the result merely to measure at the progress; those on the third run, … hmm.

UPDATE: I wonder whether it’s like in music, where one listens to the intervals more than to the notes…

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2014 at 2:41 pm


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