Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Part 3 of a 4-part story of a psychiatric residency

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Scott Alexander has an interesting essay posted on July 12, 2016:

I’m back at Our Lady Of An Undisclosed Location hospital now as a final-year resident. You wouldn’t think a year would make so much difference, but it does.

Identifying residents by their year is easy. The first-years walk around, deer-in-the-headlights look to them, impossible to confuse with anybody except maybe a patient having a panic attack. The middle-year residents are a little more confident. And then the final year residents, leading teams, putting out fires, taking attendings’ abuse in stride.

(True story – last week an attending yelled at me for not knowing some minor detail about uraemic encephalopathy. Later I couldn’t find the detail he’d mentioned, so I asked for a reference, and he said it had been discovered by one of his friends at the big university hospital where he used to work, but the friend had died before he could publish his findings. I think the attending realized as he was talking that it might have been unreasonable to expect me to know a fact whose discoverer took it to the grave with him, but he didn’t apologize.)

It’s only sort of a facade. 99% of things that happen in a hospital are the same things that happened yesterday and the day before, so if you hang around long enough you can learn what to do, or at least which consultant you can call to make it not your problem anymore. On the other hand, Actual Pathology is still a gigantic mystery. I’m not sure this ever changes. One in every X patients with symptoms won’t have any of the things that could possibly be causing those symptoms, won’t respond to any of the treatments that are supposed to cure those symptoms, and you’ll still have family members and hospital administrators demanding that you fix it right now (and in psychiatry, X is probably a single digit number). All you can do is keep up the facade, put your skill at taking attendings’ abuse in stride to good use, and start learning necromancy so you can summon the one big university hospital researcher who studied it but never got a chance to publish their findings.

II.

Two of the most important things I learned during my third year were “Tell me more” and “[awkward silence]”.

“Tell me more,” works for every situation. Part of the problem with psychotherapy is that you’re always expected to have something to say. As a last resort, that thing is “Tell me more”. It sounds like you’re interested. It sounds like you care. And if you’re very lucky, maybe the patient will actually tell you something more, as opposed to their usual plan to stonewall you and hide all possibly useful information.

I saw something on Tumblr the other day which, despite being about a 9-1-1 operator, perfectly sums up being a doctor too: . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the essay:

And then there’s [awkward silence]. I learned this one from the psychoanalysts. Nobody likes an awkward silence. If a patient tells you something, and you are awkwardly silent, then the patient will rush to fill the awkward silence with whatever they can think of, which will probably be whatever they were holding back the first time they started talking. You won’t believe how well this one works until you try it. Just stay silent long enough, and the other person will tell you everything. It’s better than waterboarding.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 12:26 pm

The Psychology of Killing

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Perhaps it’s an artefact of the algorithms of the streaming services I watch, but TV series involving murder seem to be amazingly easy to fine — not perhaps so common as grass, but maybe as common as roses. In fact, just last night I watched a movie based on a George V. Higgins novel, Cogan’s Trade (which was a sequel to his first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, both eminently worth reading). The 2012 movie, Killing Them Softly, starred Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and James Gandolfini, and it was a good watch. (It’s on Primevideo.com up here; apparently not available right now in the US.)

So what causes killing to be so common? FiveBooks.com has an interesting interview with Gwen Adshead, a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist who works in prisons and secure psychiatric hospital providing therapy to violence perpetrators who have mental health problems. In the course of the interview Dr. Adshead recommends five books, as the site name suggests. The interview begins:

Let’s start by looking at the topic you’ve chosen: the psychology of killing. How did you become interested in this area?

I’m a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist. A forensic psychiatrist is someone who specialises in the assessment and treatment of people who have offended while they were in some kind of abnormal mental state. There are two questions there: first, the legal question—does this abnormal state affect their legal responsibility?—and secondly, if the offender is mentally ill, do they need to be treated in secure hospital rather than go to prison?. That treatment will be designed to look not only at their mental health, but also their risk to the public.

Mental health problems are rarely a risk factor for crime generally, so a forensic psychiatrist won’t be dealing with people who are committing minor crimes, like shoplifting . We tend only to get involved in crimes of violence, and usually where that violence has been fatal. So most of my working life has involved assessing people who have committed serious acts of violence, or who are threatening to do so. For a long time I ran a therapy group for people who had killed a family member while they were mentally ill. I’ve also been involved in assessing mothers who have been abusive, or are considered at risk of abusing their children.

So this has been my bread and butter for about thirty years—an interest in the mental states that give rise to killing.

The obvious question, to me, is: if one commits murder, does that not indicate that, almost by definition, that the assailant is undergoing an abnormal mental state?

That question has always been of great significance, and one that humans have asked themselves for thousands of years. What is fascinating about humans is the many ways in which we do kill each other. We are one of the few animals that kill each other in different ways. Chimpanzees, for example, do have very serious fights, competitions over power, which can be fatal. And chimpanzee tribes can wage war on other chimpanzee tribes, killing in the process. But killing in the way that we kill appears to be pretty unique. Killing over territory is one thing, but we also kill over money, over politics and in the context of relationship disturbance; and that last context is quite unusual.

For as long as we have had recorded data about humans, we’ve written about the impact of murder. I don’t think there’s legislation in any culture in any age which hasn’t set aside some kind of law or ruling about how and when you can kill somebody, and what should happen to people who kill.

Take the Old Testament. There are rules in there about killing that are very specific. The Ten Commandments separate killing from murder, for example. Traditionally, in many cultures, if you killed somebody, you had to make restitution to their family. That didn’t always mean being killed yourself. Different countries and ethnic groups have had different rules, but all human societies have developed rules about killing, in what circumstances it might be legitimate to kill, and what punishments and sanctions there should be for the different kinds of killing.

The first thing to say about homicide is that it is not all the same. I think that’s one of the things I didn’t understand when I started out. Like anybody else, I thought that all killers must be really odd or mad. That if you killed once, you must be permanently in a homicidal state of mind. But once I began to spend time with people who had killed, I learned that killing is often highly contextual and arises from a specific set factors that are present at that time; which may never occur again. Someone who’s killed their wife in a jealous rage is not likely to be a threat to the general public; although they might be dangerous to future wives, of course.

So does that mean that everyone has the capacity for murder? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 3:10 pm

Why Power Brings Out Your True Self

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Lord Acton took the view that power corrupts, but it seems rather to reveal the corruption already present in the person. Matthew Hutson wrote in Nautilus back in 2017:

At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama told the crowd, “Being president doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.”

Growing up, Michelle said, she and Barack learned important lessons from their families about “dignity and decency” and “gratitude and humility.” “At the end of the day,” she said, “when it comes time to make that decision, as president, all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision, and the life experiences that make you who you are.”

Research in cognitive science reveals the former First Lady is right: Power exposes your true character. It releases inhibitions and sets your inner self free. If you’re a jerk when you gain power, you’ll become more of one. If you’re a mensch, you’ll get nicer. So if you happen to all of a sudden become president, or at least president of your lab or book club, what inner self will come out?

Psychologists generally define power as control over others, by providing or withholding resources, without social interference. Tapping your true nature, though, begins with feeling powerful. Getting the corner office boosts creativity and reduces conformity.

In a 2008 experiment, undergraduates were asked either to recall a time they had power over someone or to recall a time someone had power over them.1 Then they were asked to draw an alien creature. Some were shown an example creature that had wings. When feeling powerless, seeing a creature with wings increased the chance a student would add wings to his own creature, a demonstration of conformity. Those made to feel powerful, however, remained unaffected by the example, following their own creative urges.

Power also makes people more likely to act on their desires. In one experiment, those made to feel powerful were more likely to move or unplug an annoying fan blowing on them.2 When working with others, the powerful are also more likely to voice their opinions. In another experiment, students were paired for a joint task.3 The one assigned to be the leader of the pair typically expressed her true feelings and attitudes more than her subordinate did.

We are less deliberative and more persistent in pursuing our goals when we gain power. In one of a series of experiments, researchers asked students to recall having or lacking power, then asked how much time and information they would need to make various decisions, including which roommate to live with or which car to buy.4 Those who felt powerful said they’d need less time and information. In a second experiment, participants made to feel powerful spent more time trying to solve an impossible geometric puzzle. In a third, they were quicker to interrupt someone who disagreed with them.

Overall, power makes us feel authentic. In one study, participants recalled a time they had power or a time they lacked it.5 Then they rated their personality traits in three contexts:  . . .

Continue reading.

See previous post that lets us see the authentic nature of US Border Patrol agents.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2022 at 12:51 pm

The lasting anguish of moral injury

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Constance Summer writes in Knowledge magazine:

On a Sunday evening in September 1994, David Peters drove to a church service in Beckley, West Virginia, as the sun set over the horizon. He was 19 years old, just back from Marine Corps boot camp. He hadn’t been behind the wheel of a car all summer.

The road curved, and Peters misjudged the turn. Rays from the dipping sun blinded him. The car hit the median and headed straight at an oncoming motorcycle. And then, Peters says, “Everything went crash.”

His friend, sitting in the passenger seat, seemed fine. Peters got out of the car. The driver of the motorcycle was alive, but the woman who’d been riding behind him was now laid out on the pavement. Peters quickly realized she was dead.

Now an Episcopal priest in Pflugerville, Texas, outside Austin, Peters says there have been periods during the last 28 years when he’s found the knowledge that he killed someone almost unbearable. “I felt like I wasn’t good anymore,” he says. At times, he even wished he were dead. Years after the accident, he purchased a motorcycle, thinking “that’d be sort of justice if I died on a motorcycle.”

Moral injury results from “the way that humans make meaning out of the violence that they have either experienced or that they have inflicted,” says Janet McIntosh, an anthropologist at Brandeis University who wrote about the psychic wounds resulting from how we use language when talking about war in the 2021 Annual Review of Anthropology.

Although research on moral injury began with the experiences of veterans and active-duty military, it has expanded in recent years to include civilians. The pandemic — with its heavy moral burdens on health care workers and its fraught decisions over gathering in groups, masking and vaccinating — intensified scientific interest in how widespread moral injury might be. “What’s innovative about moral injury is its recognition that our ethical foundations are essential to our sense of self, to our society, to others, to our professions,” says Daniel Rothenberg, who codirects the Center on the Future of War at Arizona State University.

Yet moral injury remains a concept under construction. It is not an official diagnosis in psychiatry’s authoritative guide, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). And until the recent publication of a major study on the subject, researchers and clinicians lacked well-defined criteria they could use to determine if someone has moral injury, says Brett Litz, a clinical psychologist at VA Boston Health Care System and Boston University. “The prevalence of moral injury is utterly unknown, because we haven’t had a gold standard measure of it,” he says.

‘It starts working on your head’

Moral injury was first described by Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist in Boston, who defined it as  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2022 at 7:56 am

Inside an international network of teenage neo-Nazi extremists

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Nick Robins Early, Alexander Nabert, and Christina Brause report in Insider:

Last year, a 20-year-old named Christian Michael Mackey arrived at the Phillips 66 gas station in Grand Prairie, Texas, hoping to sell his AM-15 rifle to make some quick cash. He’d said he wanted to buy a more powerful gun, something that could stop what he called a “hoard of you know what.”

Mackey told an online group chat he’d started looking at Nazi websites at around 15-years-old, when he began spending hours on white nationalist message boards and talking to other extremists on Instagram and encrypted messaging apps like Telegram. Five years later, he was active in a network of violent neo-Nazi groups that organized and communicated through online group chats. He described himself as a “radical Jew slayer.”

When Mackey met his buyer in the gas-station parking lot in January 2021, he didn’t know he had walked into a sting. The woman purchasing his rifle was a paid FBI source with numerous felonies, and Mackey was arrested as soon as the gun changed hands. At his detention hearing a month later, an FBI agent said authorities had found a pipe bomb in Mackey’s parents’ house, where he lived.

Mackey’s stepfather told local news soon after the arrest that his stepson had been radicalized online, and footage showed him ripping up a copy of “Mein Kampf” in Mackey’s bedroom. FBI records and court documents indicated that Mackey had posted more than 2,400 messages in one neo-Nazi Instagram group chat alone, and had told another user “I’m just trying to live long enough to die attacking.”

Stories like this have increasingly played out across the US and around the world in recent years — young people, overwhelmingly white and male, who have become involved in a global network of neo-Nazi extremist groups that plot mass violence online.

Canadian authorities earlier this year arrested a 19-year-old on terrorism charges after they say he tried to join a neo-Nazi group similar to the ones Mackey was involved in. In April, a 15-year-old in Denmark was charged with recruiting for a neo-Nazi organization banned in the country. A 16-year-old became the UK’s youngest terrorism offender after joining that same group, where he researched terror manuals and discussed how to make explosives. Others made it further along in their plots, like a 21-year-old who planted a bomb outside the Western Union office in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius.

As far-right extremism has grown over the past decade, so too has the notoriety of various groups and their leaders. Far-right gangs such as the Proud Boys as well as suit-and-tie-wearing white nationalists like Richard Spencer regularly make headlines. But there are also lesser-known groups with more directly violent aims that follow an ideology called accelerationism — the belief that carrying out bombings, mass shootings, and other attacks is necessary to hasten the collapse of society and allow a white ethnostate to rise in its place.

Countries including the United Kingdom and Canada have designated accelerationist groups such as Atomwaffen Division, Feuerkrieg Division and The Base as terrorist organizations. Atomwaffen, which is now largely defunct, was linked to at least five murders in the US alone. The Base’s leader was sentenced in May to four years in prison after plotting to kill minorities and instigate a race war.

Experts trace the origins of groups like these to a neo-Nazi website called Iron March that went offline in 2017, and which notoriously helped extremists from many countries forge international connections and spread accelerationist propaganda.

The ideology has been linked to the 2019 Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, where a white nationalist killed 51 people at two mosques while livestreaming the attack online, and a shooting earlier this year at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY where 10 people were killed.

As part of a joint investigation that Insider undertook with Welt Am Sonntag and Politico, reporters gained access to two dozen internal chat groups linked to a broader network of neo-Nazi accelerationists. Comprising 98,000 messages from about 900 users, the data includes photos, videos, text, and voice messages.

Various participants in the groups have been charged with a range of crimes related to plots to bomb or burn down synagogues and gay bars, attack anti-fascist activists, and illegally traffic firearms. In chat logs that reporters reviewed, members showed off homemade explosives, encouraged one another to kill minorities, and discussed how to get access to weapons.

The scores of messages and propaganda in these chats provide a glimpse into one of the most dangerous corners of modern far-right extremism. It is increasingly international, intent on radicalizing young people, and committed to using violence to further its fascist ideology.

Rather than a centralized group, it is a loosely connected network that rises and falls as its members are killed or arrested — but never seems to entirely go away. And unlike extremist groups that want to integrate their beliefs into political parties or run for local office, the aim of accelerationist groups like these is primarily to create violent chaos. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2022 at 4:57 pm

A Popular Theory About Depression Wasn’t “Debunked” by a New Review

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Ruairi J Mackenzie writes in Technology Networks in the Neuroscience News and Research section:

A new paper that reviews the evidence around the serotonin “chemical imbalance” theory of depression has caused an online storm, with figures from across psychiatry commenting on the study’s merits and limitations. In this article, we cut through the hype and take a look at what the paper has changed about our understanding of depression.

Psychiatry gave up on the “chemical imbalance” theory long ago

The review article, published by an international research team including first author Prof. Joanna Moncrieff, aimed to assess the available evidence for and against the serotonin theory of depression systematically. The team explain this theory near the start of their paper: “[The theory is] the idea that depression is the result of abnormalities in brain chemicals, particularly serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT).” The theory has been around for decades, but their overarching conclusion is that it is not correct, given that there appears to be no link between measurable serotonin concentration and depression.

The reaction of many academics to this finding can be summed up, briefly, as “Obviously!” In comments to the UK-based Science Media Centre, Dr. Michael Bloomfield, consultant psychiatrist and head of the translational psychiatry research group at University College London (UCL), said, “The findings from this umbrella review are really unsurprising. Depression has lots of different symptoms and I don’t think I’ve met any serious scientists or psychiatrists who think that all causes of depression are caused by a simple chemical imbalance in serotonin.”

Prof. Phil Cowen, a professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Oxford, said, “No mental health professional would currently endorse the view that a complex heterogenous condition like depression stems from a deficiency in a single neurotransmitter.”

Prof. Allan Young, director of the Centre for Affective Disorders at King’s College London, said, “Most psychiatrists adhere to the biopsychosocial model with very few people subscribing to a simple “chemical imbalance” theory.”

While the review has made headlines for “debunking” the serotonin imbalance theory, the reaction from many researchers suggests that this idea, in fact, has not been treated seriously within the field itself for years.

Psychiatry forgot to tell the public that it gave up on the “chemical imbalance” theory long ago

If you read the above point and felt rather perplexed to discover that the chemical imbalance theory has actually been in the academic wastebin for some years, you are not alone. The review authors highlighted a study (n = 893) that found that 88.1% of respondents believed a “chemical imbalance” to be a cause of depression. This idea, the authors point out, was heavily pushed by drug companies aiming to sell serotonin-selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) compounds. Eli Lilly, for example, promoted their compound Prozac in 2008 with the following: “Many scientists believe that an imbalance in serotonin, one of these neurotransmitters, may be an important factor in the development and severity of depression. PROZAC may help to correct this imbalance by increasing the brain’s own supply of serotonin.”

This attitude wasn’t just a marketing ploy embraced by an unwitting public – Northwestern University’s Dr. Christopher Lane highlighted in a commentary in Psychology Today a 2005 study that explored the disconnect between advertisements of SSRIs and the scientific evidence to support their use. Lane quotes Daniel Carlat, the editor of The Carlat Psychiatry Report, “I’ll often say something like the way Zoloft works, is, it increases the level of serotonin in your brain (or synapses, neurons) and, presumably, the reason you’re depressed or anxious is that you have some sort of a deficiency. And I say that [chuckles] not because I really believe it, because I know the evidence really isn’t there for us to understand the mechanism.”

Lane further highlights that another study, this time a survey of 237 psychology students, which found that 46% had heard a physician explain the chemical imbalance theory to them. While academia long ago dismissed the imbalance theory, that message appears not to have reached the public.

Whether SSRIs are effective or not isn’t in question

While the original review paper focuses mainly on the serotonin theory, an accompanying article by Moncrieff and her coauthor Mark Horowitz in The Conversation took a different tack, arguing that the evidence against the serotonin hypothesis also disproves the need for SSRIs full stop. “We conclude that it is impossible to say that taking SSRI antidepressants is worthwhile, or even completely safe,” they write. This conflation has been a particular source of frustration among commenting psychiatrists. “Many of us know that taking paracetamol can be helpful for headaches and I don’t think anyone believes that headaches are caused by not enough paracetamol in the brain,” writes Young. “There is consistent evidence that antidepressant medicines can be helpful in the treatment of depression and can be life-saving.”

Young’s statement is backed up by a significant body of research. While a debate separately exists around the critical element of whether antidepressants are more helpful than placebo, Moncrieff and Horowitz’s review can’t add any evidence to the pile either way, although Moncrieff has previously authored peer-reviewed articles highly critical of a drug-based approach to treating mental health. “It is important to point out that this study did not in fact look into the effectiveness of antidepressants directly. Antidepressants with serotonergic activity were already being used effectively for patients with depression prior to the theory of serotonin changes of depression,” commented Dr. Livia de Picker, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp.

Is depression even a single disease?

While Moncrieff’s review is focused on disproving the idea of a particular cause of depression, perhaps the focus of debate should instead be on the idea that depression is a single disease. “Today, it is largely accepted that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 3:12 pm

The audacious PR plot that seeded doubt about climate change

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Dishonesty and bad faith are endemic in business and politics — and doubtless in all large swaths of human relations — and those will be what will destroy us. Ignoring reality is a strategy for failure because reality endures.

Jane McMullen reports for BBC News:

Thirty years ago, a bold plan was cooked up to spread doubt and persuade the public that climate change was not a problem. The little-known meeting – between some of America’s biggest industrial players and a PR genius – forged a devastatingly successful strategy that endured for years, and the consequences of which are all around us.

On an early autumn day in 1992, E Bruce Harrison, a man widely acknowledged as the father of environmental PR, stood up in a room full of business leaders and delivered a pitch like no other.

At stake was a contract worth half a million dollars a year – about £850,000 in today’s money. The prospective client, the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) – which represented the oil, coal, auto, utilities, steel, and rail industries – was looking for a communications partner to change the narrative on climate change.

Don Rheem and Terry Yosie, two of Harrison’s team present that day, are sharing their stories for the first time.

“Everybody wanted to get the Global Climate Coalition account,” says Rheem, “and there I was, smack in the middle of it.”

The GCC had been conceived only three years earlier, as a forum for members to exchange information and lobby policy makers against action to limit fossil fuel emissions.

Though scientists were making rapid progress in understanding climate change, and it was growing in salience as a political issue, in its first years the Coalition saw little cause for alarm. President George HW Bush was a former oilman, and as a senior lobbyist told the BBC in 1990, his message on climate was the GCC’s message.

There would be no mandatory fossil fuel reductions.

But all that changed in 1992. In June, the international community created a framework for climate action, and November’s presidential election brought committed environmentalist Al Gore into the White House as vice-president. It was clear the new administration would try to regulate fossil fuels.

The Coalition recognised that it needed strategic communications help and put out a bid for a public relations contractor.

Though few outside the PR industry might have heard of E Bruce Harrison or the eponymous company he had run since 1973, he had a string of campaigns for some of the US’s biggest polluters under his belt.

He had worked for the chemical industry discrediting research on the toxicity of pesticides; for the tobacco industry, and had recently run a campaign against tougher emissions standards for the big car makers. Harrison had built a firm that was considered one of the very best.

Media historian Melissa Aronczyk, who interviewed Harrison before he died in 2021, says he was a strategic linchpin for his clients, ensuring everyone was on the same page.

“He was a master at what he did,” she says.

Before the pitch, Harrison had assembled a team of both seasoned PR professionals and almost total novices. Among them was Don Rheem, who had no industry credentials. He had studied ecology before becoming an environmental journalist. A chance meeting with Harrison, who must have seen the strategic value of adding Rheem’s environmental and media connections to the team, led to a job offer on the GCC pitch.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity to get a front row seat at probably one of the most pressing science policy and public policy issues that we were facing.’

“It just felt enormously important,” Rheem says.

Terry Yosie – who had recently been recruited from the American Petroleum Institute, becoming a senior vice-president at the firm – remembers that Harrison began the pitch by reminding his audience that he was instrumental in fighting the auto reforms. He had done so, in part, by reframing the issue.

The same tactics would now help beat climate regulation. They would persuade people that the scientific facts weren’t settled, and that alongside the environment, policy makers needed to consider how action on climate change would – in the GCC’s view – negatively affect American jobs, trade and prices.

The strategy would be implemented through an extensive media campaign, everything from placing quotes and pitching opinion pieces (so-called op-eds), to direct contacts with journalists. . .

Continue reading. The report includes a link to a video, which can be viewed only in the UK, that provides more information:

Big Oil v the World

Drawing on thousands of newly discovered documents, this three-part film charts how the oil industry mounted a campaign to sow doubt about the science of climate change, the consequences of which we are living through today.

Watch now on BBC iPlayer (UK Only)

It is thanks to the efforts of such PR professionals and the industries that funded them that we face the climate catastrophe that is our future.

A quotation commonly attributed to Vladimir Lenin (though not found in any of his works): “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.” Though Lenin may not have written or said those words, it certainly seems true that capitalists will embrace their own destruction so long as they make money from it. In this, they resemble alcoholics who embraces illness and death so long as they can drink, cigarette smokers who continue smoking even while fighting lung cancer, and gambling addicts who will continue to play until all their money is gone and their credit is exhausted and their lives are ruined. In other words, capitalists are addicts who are willing to destroy anything for their fix, and now they are well on their way to destroying our livable world.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 10:04 am

Our Obsession With Growth Must End

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In the NY Times David Marchese interviews the economist Herman Daly on why never-ending growth is absurd and a harmful idea (gift link, no paywall):

Growth is the be-all and end-all of mainstream economic and political thinking. Without a continually rising G.D.P., we’re told, we risk social instability, declining standards of living and pretty much any hope of progress. But what about the counterintuitive possibility that our current pursuit of growth, rabid as it is and causing such great ecological harm, might be incurring more costs than gains? That possibility — that prioritizing growth is ultimately a losing game — is one that the lauded economist Herman Daly has been exploring for more than 50 years. In so doing, he has developed arguments in favor of a steady-state economy, one that forgoes the insatiable and environmentally destructive hunger for growth, recognizes the physical limitations of our planet and instead seeks a sustainable economic and ecological equilibrium. “Growth is an idol of our present system,” says Daly, emeritus professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, a former senior economist for the World Bank and, along with the likes of Greta Thunberg and Edward Snowden, a recipient of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award (often called the “alternative Nobel”). “Every politician is in favor of growth,” Daly, who is 84, continues, “and no one speaks against growth or in favor of steady state or leveling off. But I think it’s an elementary question to ask: Does growth ever become uneconomic?”

There’s an obvious logic to your fundamental argument in favor of a steady-state economy,1

1 One in which the population and the stock of capital no longer grow but, as John Stuart Mill has put it, “the art of living would continue to improve.”

 which is that the economy, like everything else on the planet, is subject to physical limitations and the laws of thermodynamics and as such can’t be expected to grow forever. What’s less obvious is how our society would function in a world where the economic pie stops growing. I’ve seen people like Peter Thiel, for example, say that without growth we would ultimately descend into violence.2

2 Speaking on the Portal podcast in 2019, the billionaire tech investor and libertarian-leaning conservative power broker said, “But I think a world without growth is either going to be a much more violent or a much more deformed world. . . . Without growth, I think it’s very hard to see how you have a good future.”

 To me that suggests a fairly limited and grim view of human possibility. Is your view of human nature and our willingness to peacefully share the pie just more hopeful than his? First, I’m not against growth of wealth. I think it’s better to be richer than to be poorer. The question is, Does growth, as currently practiced and measured, really increase wealth? Is it making us richer in any aggregate sense, or might it be increasing costs faster than benefits and making us poorer? Mainstream economists don’t have any answer to that. The reason they don’t have any answer to that is that they don’t measure costs. They only measure benefits. That’s what G.D.P. is.3

3 More specifically, it’s the monetary value of the final goods and services produced by a nation.

 There’s nothing subtracted from G.D.P. But the libertarian notion is logical. If you’re going to be a libertarian, then you can’t accept limits to growth. But limits to growth are there. I recall that Kenneth Boulding4

4 An economist, longtime professor at the University of Colorado and former president of the American Economic Association. He died in 1993 at age 83.

 said there are two kinds of ethics. There’s a heroic ethic and then there’s an economic ethic. The economic ethic says: Wait a minute, there’s benefits and costs. Let’s weigh the two. We don’t want to charge right over the cliff. Let’s look at the margin. Are we getting better off or worse? The heroic ethic says: Hang the cost! Full speed ahead! Death or victory right now! Forward into growth! I guess that shows a faith that if we create too many problems in the present, the future will learn how to deal with it.

Do you have that faith? [Laughs.] No, I don’t.

Historically we think that economic growth leads to higher standards of living, lower death rates and so on. So don’t we have a moral obligation to pursue it?  . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 3:42 pm

A Domestic-Violence Helpline for Abusers

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In The Cut Andrea González-Ramírez describes an interesting and effective program to reduce domestic violence:

On a recent spring afternoon, Michelle Harris was sitting in her home office in Western Massachusetts when the phone rang. She took a deep breath and looked at the Post-it notes stuck to her work computer, little reminders to stay calm during difficult conversations. The anonymous man on the other side of the line said he was struggling in his marriage.

It’s an euphemism that Harris has come to know well over the past year as a responder for the 10 to 10 Helpline, the nation’s first helpline for people who harm their intimate partners. Like other callers before him, the man proceeded to describe a struggle that sounded a lot like abuse. He told Harris he routinely gets upset if his wife, with whom he shares small children, doesn’t prepare him a meal. And when he is angry, he sometimes uses physical violence and verbally berates her. Harris is the type of person who speaks deliberately, never blurting out a thought without weighing it first. She thanked the man for contacting the helpline and sharing his story. She then asked him what he wanted to get out of the call.

The helpline launched in April 2021. “My first call was, ‘I’m abusing my wife.’ It wasn’t a question. It was a statement,” said Harris, who is a survivor of domestic violence herself. “It was really validating to hear that somebody would willingly call, knowing that they were going to tell something really hard that they might have never talked to anybody about before.” Helpline staffers aim to respond with compassion, she said, but also to get callers to recognize and begin to change abusive behaviors.

About one in four women and one in ten men in the United States experience domestic violence, and 55 percent of female homicide victims are killed by their current or former intimate partner. And yet for decades, the bulk of efforts to end intimate-partner violence have focused on criminalization rather than prevention. This is due in part to widespread beliefs that perpetrators will not seek help and that victims’ only option is to walk away, even when doing so puts their safety gravely at risk. This approach also largely ignores how many survivors want the abuse to end and to remain with their partner, for reasons including children, finances, cultural values, and, yes, even love. As a result, there has historically been a lack of resources for people who want to stop hurting their loved ones. Those that do exist are difficult for an abusive person to access unless they are convicted of a crime or pay to get help.

Experts agree there’s no perfect formula for preventing intimate partner violence, but some initiatives focused on getting perpetrators to confront their behavior have had positive outcomes. A six-year-long study of 11 intervention programs in the U.K. found significant decreases in physical violence (from 61 percent to 2 percent) and some controlling behaviors (from 65 percent to 15 percent) among participants. In Iowa, perpetrators who went through a pilot, 24-week behavioral program were up to 50 percent less likely to be re-charged for domestic violence.

The 10 to 10 Helpline itself follows a model already established in other countries, including AustraliaColombiaNova ScotiaSweden, and the U.K. Respect Phoneline has been operating in the U.K. since 2004, and each month, it refers between 300 and 400 callers seeking help to stop abusing their partners to local support resources. “We work in a way that separates the person from the behaviors and highlights the choice element: You can choose to behave abusively, therefore, you can choose to behave in a non-abusive way,” Ippo Panteloudakis, Respect’s head of services, explained.

The helpline is one attempt to respond holistically to intimate partner violence in the U.S., built on the assumption that perpetrators will reach out for help if the resources are there. But what happens after an abuser hangs up the phone? Can they really change?

Experts believe that intimate-partner violence surged during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. According to JAC Patrissi, the 10 to 10 Helpline’s co-founder, removing victims from an unsafe situation had already been a challenge in the rural areas the helpline serves. “This whole idea of moving the survivor as the main intervention was never going to work before the pandemic, and especially not during,” she said. A group of local domestic-violence experts and community organizers got to discussing the lack of resources in Western Massachusetts: Why not offer de-escalation assistance and referral services to perpetrators instead of putting the onus on victims?

The helpline, manned by a team of six responders, operates daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Calls are free, confidential, and anonymous. The helpline doesn’t track all callers’ demographic information, but anecdotally, the majority of those who say they’ve used violence in their relationships are men. While perpetrators make up about 51 percent of callers, the helpline also offers support to survivors, family and friends, and professionals who work with abusive partners.

The responders’ goal is to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 2:42 pm

Psychological traits of violent extremism investigated using new research tool

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The Eldest pointed out a research study in Science Daily:

Researchers have developed and validated a new tool known as the Extremist Archetypes Scale to help distinguish different psychological traits found among people engaged in violent extremism. Milan Obaidi and Sara Skaar of the University of Oslo, Norway, and colleagues present the tool and validation results in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on July 20.

People who join violent extremist groups may differ widely in their motivations, knowledge, personalities, and other factors. However, research into violent extremism has often neglected this variation, limiting the scope and usefulness of such research. To help address this issue, Obaidi and colleagues built on earlier research to develop a new scale that captures heterogeneity among extremists.

Their new Extremist Archetypes Scale includes five dimensions of extremist archetypes: “adventurer,” “fellow traveler,” “leader,” “drifter” and “misfit.” An “adventurer,” for instance, may be drawn to extremism out of excitement and the prospect of being a hero, while a “drifter” may seek group belonging. The researchers chose to treat archetypes as dimensions in order to allow for instances in which an extremist does not fall perfectly within a single archetype and to be able to capture a person’s transition into an extremist archetype.

Next, the researchers conducted several analyses to help validate the Extremist Archetypes Scale. They tested associations between people’s scores on the scale and their scores on several well-established scales that evaluate personality traits, sociopolitical attitudes, ideologies, prejudice, and ethnic identification. In addition, they validated the scale’s applicability across diverse instances related to gender, political orientation, age, and ethnicity.

The validation analyses supported the predictive validity of the scale — including across political orientation and ethnicity — as well as the idea that . . .

Continue reading.

Journal Reference:  Milan Obaidi, Sara W. Skaar, Simon Ozer, Jonas R. Kunst. Measuring extremist archetypes: Scale development and validationPLOS ONE, 2022; 17 (7): e0270225 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0270225

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 9:03 am

American gun violence has immense costs beyond the death toll, new studies find

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For decades Republican blocked any government-funded study of the social effects of firearms in the US, presumably because they strongly suspected what such studies would reveal and, in their typical bad-faith attitude, they were determined to prevent the public from knowing what was happening.[

The ukase against studies was recently lifted, and we are now getting an idea of the true toll exacted by widely available firearms. Eric Westervelt reports for NPR:

On one level, it’s almost impossible to put a dollar figure on lives shattered by gun violence or to try to measure the pain of having a loved one killed or seriously injured.

But researchers of two new studies using federal health care and hospital data underscore that the repercussions from firearm deaths and injuries are deeper, wider and far costlier than previously known.

In a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Dr. Zirui Song and colleagues found a four-fold increase in health care spending as a direct result of a non-fatal firearm injury.

Dr. Song, an Associate Professor of Health Care Policy and Medicine at Harvard Medical School, also charts a substantial increase in other health disorders that undermine a person’s health and well-being.

“In the first year after a non-fatal firearm injury, survivors experienced a 40% increase in physical pain or other forms of pain syndromes; a 50% increase in psychiatric disorders; and an 85% increase in substance use disorders,” Dr. Song says, while on break from his rounds at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he practices internal medicine. He adds more research is needed as to exactly why those addiction numbers and other disorders go up so dramatically.

“These results are disturbing and we, as a research team, found them quite striking, as well,” he says. “The ripple effects are quite profound and meaningful for both survivors and family members and, I would argue, clinically and economically substantial.”

And those effects aren’t just on those injured by bullets. The study shows family members of survivors, too, can carry massive physical and mental burdens.

“Family members on average, including parents, siblings and children, experienced a 12% increase in psychiatric disorders,” he says.

The study is based largely on healthcare claims data, not hospital survey or discharge data. Dr. Song says that allows for a more detailed look at spending than previous studies based on other types of data.

“There is really an undercurrent of forgotten survivors whose own health and economic conditions are affected quite profoundly, even though they were lucky enough to survive,” he tells NPR.

And the financial burden for this fallout is mostly landing on the shoulders of taxpayers and employees: Dr. Song’s study shows 96% of the increase in health care spending on firearm injuries is shouldered by Medicare and U.S. employers.

“In direct costs alone, it’s $2.5 billion in healthcare spending in the first year after non-fatal firearm injuries,” he says. “This number is much larger if you include indirect costs of lost wages or productivity.”

A study out this week by Everytown for Gun Safety delves into that larger picture and looks at a wide range of direct and indirect costs from all gun violence in America, fatal as well as gun injuries.

“This epidemic is costing our nation $557 billion annually,” says Sarah Burd-Sharps, research director at the gun control advocacy group. “Looking at . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 July 2022 at 10:59 am

12 Thought-Terminating Clichés That Aren’t Doing Your Mental Health Any Favors

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Kells McPhillips writes in Well + Good:

When you’re ready for a conversation to come to an end, it’s natural to reach for an easy phrase that signals that you want to change the subject. Maybe you say something like, “well, it is what it is” or “just forget it.” While this places an insistent period on the end of a stale exchange, it may also be compromising your health. Psychologists refer to such phrases as thought-terminating clichés. And while they’re necessary on occasion, they can take a mental toll if employed too often.

What are thought-terminating clichés?

The term “thought-terminating cliché” was coined by Robert Jay Lifton in his 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, which outlined his theories about the ego formation. “The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché,” writes Lifton. “The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.”

In less academic language, Lifton is pointing out the human tendency to take complex feelings, concepts, and politics, and shrink them into short, clever phrases that aren’t necessarily untruthful, but don’t tell the full story. A great example is when political parties say something like, “this is all part of the liberal agenda…” or “this is all part of the Republican strategy to…” While these dismissals aren’t totally false, they bring conversation to a grinding halt and keep people from thinking more deeply about important issues.

12 Common Though-Terminating Clichés

Below, find a few thought-terminating clichés specifically targeted at mental health. And remember, if you’re struggling to care for the well-being of your brain or finding yourself relying on these clichés often, it’s worth talking to a professional who can help you develop more sustainable self-talk skills.

  1. “It is what it is.”
  2. “So it goes.”
  3. “It could be worse.”
  4. “Time heals all.”
  5. “Someone out there has it worse than you.”
  6. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
  7. “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
  8. “This too shall pass.”
  9. “It’s all about balance.”
  10. “Try to look on the bright side.”
  11. “The sun will come out tomorrow.”
  12. “The only way out is through.”

How To Avoid Thought-Terminating Clichés

Once you start listening in for thought-terminating clichés, you will hear them everywhere (often disguised as toxic positivity). Even commonly held pieces of folk wisdom, like “everything happens for a reason” technically fall prey to this human need to simplify, simplify, simplify. Some of the most harmful, reductive ones can be found in the realm of mental health. For example, if you’re feeling depressed or anxious, and someone says something like, “just hang in there,” you’ll probably feel worse, not better.

That said, now that you know the terminology, you can . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2022 at 6:28 pm

Strength in numbers: Group therapy can quell phobias in one day

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It’s been known for decades how to cure phobias (though, oddly, many with phobias do not seek treatment or seem to want them cured, possibly because they view their phobias as part of their identity: “I’m a person who fears flying,” for example). 

Advances in treatment of phobias continue, and André Wannemüller, a licensed psychotherapist and postdoctoral research fellow at the Mental Health Treatment and Research Centre at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, writes in Psyche of a one-day treatment:

The treatment was supposed to start at 8am, but many of the participants arrived at the airport much earlier. They didn’t want to miss anything, and some say they were too excited to sleep in anyway. After hearing of the programme through local media reports, they are the first 138 people of more than 700 who have signed up for a one-session, group treatment programme to combat their flying phobia. Because of their fear, most of them have not flown for years; some have avoided air travel all their lives.

Now they are gathered here in a congress hall at the airport where I provide them with information about the meaning of anxiety and fear, as well as the typical cognitive and bodily symptoms associated with a fear of flying. I also talk about fear-maintaining processes and dysfunctional ‘safety behaviours’ (strategies that might bring relief in the short term, but ultimately prolong the problem), such as taking tranquillisers or drinking alcohol.

Then the flight captain and crew enter the scene, ready to respond to participants’ questions: What actually happens in the event of a medical emergency on board, or if an engine fails? Can an aircraft be struck by lightning? Is that dangerous? What happens in a severe storm?

People have a lot of questions and, for most of them, the staff can give the ‘all-clear’: flying is extremely safe (measured per billion passenger kilometres), and the aircraft and crew are well prepared for virtually any eventuality. After that, it gets serious.

Now, I say, it’s time to board the ‘exposure’ flight, to gain a new and anxiety-relieving experience in dealing with your fear of flying. A specially chartered plane and a team of 20 therapists are already waiting at the gate. The vast majority of this first batch of participants, more than 120 in all, dared to take part. Security check, boarding – everything is as it would be on a normal flight. When the doors of the plane are closed, however, tension is palpable. Some stare ahead, some cry, and others concentrate on the talks offered by me and the other psychotherapists.

As the plane accelerates for take-off, it suddenly . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Later in the article:

Since then, the positive effects of one-session treatments have been demonstrated not only for phobias, but also for other forms of excessive anxiety, for example panic attacks resulting from traumatic experiences.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2022 at 11:03 am

Fascinating connections vis-à-vis the Shinzo Abe assassination

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Read this thread and the comments on it.

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 4:47 pm

The New Gun Reform Law Is the Biggest Expansion of Medicaid Since Obamacare

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Abdul El-Sayed reports in The New Republic:

. . .  Though the new law has been touted as the most expansive gun law passed in 30 years, the bar for gun reform is admittedly low. And while any progress on gun reform is laudable—and the law is likely to have some impact on gun access—the most important effects of the law will be felt elsewhere.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act has been framed as a gun reform, but perhaps a more fitting frame for the law is as the biggest single expansion of mental health care in American history—and the biggest expansion of Medicaid—with a few gun provisions.

To be sure, packaging the two together makes both gun reform and mental health advocates uncomfortable. The overwhelming majority of people with mental illness will never commit a violent act, though statistics show that they’re more likely to be victims. Tying mental illness with gun violence only stigmatizes it, reducing the likelihood that people who need care will get it. But gun rights activists see mental illness as a convenient distraction from the fundamental issue driving gun violence—the guns themselves.

Getting Republican participation on any gun reform, though, required that the two be linked. And any investment in our anemic mental health care system—whatever the pretext—should be welcomed. So the new law leverages Medicaid to vastly expand America’s mental health infrastructure through a system of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, or CCBHCs, and school mental health investments.

I spoke with Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, the program’s architect, about how it happened. “The Republicans wanted to do something big on mental health. At the beginning, they wanted to do it at the exclusion of gun safety. We all said no. I mean, this is the issue of guns. But yes, of course, if you want to do something along with it on mental health,” Stabenow told me.

The law’s massive investment in mental health care didn’t just happen over the course of a few weeks. It was the product of nearly a decade of slow, methodical planning. Stabenow and GOP Missouri Senator Roy Blunt had been co-sponsors of the bill reauthorizing community health center funding—consistent federal dollars to support community clinics—when Stabenow proposed a similar approach to funding mental health care. Until that point, mental health clinics were forced to operate on grants that they simply couldn’t rely on. “On the behavioral health side of things, it [was] all stop and start. It [was] all grants that go away,” Stabenow told me.

She approached the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, to design quality standards for the proposed mental health centers that would eventually become CCBHCs. These included 24-hour psychiatric crisis services and integration with physical health services. Stabenow and Blunt eventually co-sponsored a 2013 bill that was signed into law the next year by President Obama. The Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act initially allocated $1 billion to fund a demonstration project across 10 states. The program offers enhanced Medicaid reimbursements to cover 80 to 90 percent of the start-up and operating costs for CCBHCs meeting SAMHSA standards.

The results were impressive. According to Stabenow, there was a 60 percent reduction in jail bookings stemming from mental health crises, a 63 percent reduction in mental health emergency room visits, and a 41 percent decline in homelessness.

The act was reauthorized in 2021 as the need for community mental health service boomed with the Covid-19 pandemic. The program grew to have a footprint across 41 states with additional support in each of the Covid funding packages. And that was when the shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, created the space for a full national expansion through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

When I asked Stabenow if this was the biggest expansion of Medicaid since the Affordable Care Act, she said, “Yes, no question, and … it’s the biggest investment in mental health and addiction services ever.”

The irony of this moment is that Republicans have been working at the state and federal levels to restrict Medicaid, if not gut it entirely, since it was created as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. And yet mental illness and substance use have devastated low-income white communities, Republican strongholds, over the past several decades. The need to actually invest in solutions in these communities coupled with the need to be seen to be responding to America’s growing gun violence epidemic is what ultimately spurred Republicans to invest in and expand a program they claim to hate.

But it’s also the fact that Democrats like Stabenow made it easier. “I didn’t lean in the beginning on emphasizing Medicaid,” she said. “I know it’s Medicaid. He knew it was Medicaid. But we just talked about what should be funding this.… I was trying to get them to see, look, we have this system that works, and everybody loves community health centers.”

The victory for mental health care, on its own, is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2022 at 11:14 am

Habitually using GPS weakens your spatial memory, reducing your ability to navigate on your own

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No great surprise. “Use it or lose it” seems to be a universal rule for any lifeform (cf. eyeless animals that live in caves). Louisa Dahmani and Véronique D. Bohbot’s published study can be found online at the website of National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information. It begins:

Abstract

Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation devices and applications have become ubiquitous over the last decade. However, it is unclear whether using GPS affects our own internal navigation system, or spatial memory, which critically relies on the hippocampus. We assessed the lifetime GPS experience of 50 regular drivers as well as various facets of spatial memory, including spatial memory strategy use, cognitive mapping, and landmark encoding using virtual navigation tasks. We first present cross-sectional results that show that people with greater lifetime GPS experience have worse spatial memory during self-guided navigation, i.e. when they are required to navigate without GPS. In a follow-up session, 13 participants were retested three years after initial testing. Although the longitudinal sample was small, we observed an important effect of GPS use over time, whereby greater GPS use since initial testing was associated with a steeper decline in hippocampal-dependent spatial memory. Importantly, we found that those who used GPS more did not do so because they felt they had a poor sense of direction, suggesting that extensive GPS use led to a decline in spatial memory rather than the other way around. These findings are significant in the context of society’s increasing reliance on GPS.

Introduction

When we navigate in a new environment, we are required to pay attention to our surroundings and to update our position using our own internal navigation system in order to reach our destination. Using GPS removes these requirements and renders navigation less cognitively demanding. In fact, people who travel along given routes using GPS gain less knowledge about those routes compared to people who travel the same routes without an aid, using a map, or after being guided by an experimenter. However, no studies have looked at whether GPS use has long-term effects on our internal navigation system, when we are required to find our way without a navigation aid.

When we navigate without GPS in a new environment, there are two navigation strategies that we can use that depend on separate brain systems. One is the spatial memory strategy and involves learning the relative positions of landmarks and serves to form a cognitive map of the environment,. This strategy critically relies on the hippocampus,, a brain region heavily involved in episodic memory and relational memory. The other strategy is the stimulus-response strategy and involves learning a sequence of motor responses (e.g., turn left) from specific positions (e.g., next corner). Stimulus-response learning critically relies on the caudate nucleus,, a brain region also responsible for habit learning (e.g., learning how to ride a bicycle),. This strategy leads to more rigid behavior and allows us to navigate on ‘auto-pilot’ on routes that we travel frequently. Our tasks allow us to measure several facets of navigation, including the extent of navigation strategy use (people can use the same strategy but rely on it to different extents), learning (how quickly people learn about a new environment), cognitive mapping, landmark encoding and reliance, and flexibility/rigidity. The spatial memory and stimulus-response strategies are distinct as they rely on separate neural networks and demonstrate a double dissociation, in that lesioning the spatial memory neural circuit impairs spatial memory but spares stimulus-response learning, while lesioning the stimulus-response neural circuit impairs stimulus-response learning but spares spatial memory,,. Thus, navigation is a broad process that includes two distinct methods: spatial learning and memory and stimulus-response learning and memory.

Using GPS involves following step-by-step sensorimotor instructions, which is similar to learning stimulus-response associations (e.g., turn right at the next intersection, turn left in 500 m). In a cross-sectional study, we sought to determine whether individuals with greater GPS habits rely more on stimulus-response strategies and less on spatial memory strategies when they are required to navigate without GPS, and whether they have poorer cognitive mapping abilities and landmark encoding. We then performed a three-year follow-up in which we retested a small subset of participants. This longitudinal session served to investigate whether GPS use has a negative impact on the various spatial memory facets over time.

Methods

Participants

Sixty healthy young adults between the ages of 19 and 35 participated in the cross-sectional study. Participants were required to be . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2022 at 10:16 am

Covey’s method in practice

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I came across a post on Facebook, and it struck me as an excellent illustration of Covey’s first 3 habits:

1. Be proactive
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. First things first

And I see a bit of habit 4 (“Think win/win”) in addition. (You can read more about the habits in this post.) Specifically, the driver focused on his circle of influence and did not spend time on his circle of concern — that is, he focused on things he could control directly or through direct influence.

Here’s the post:

I was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a cab pulled up, the first thing I noticed was the taxi was polished to a bright shine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for me.
He handed me a laminated card and said, “I’m Wasu, your driver. While I’m loading your bags in the trunk, I’d like you to read my mission statement.”

Taken aback, I read the card. It said, “Wasu’s Mission Statement: To get my customers to their destination in the quickest, safest, and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment.”

This blew me away. Especially when I noticed the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean!

As he slid behind the wheel, Wasu said, :Would you like a cup of coffee? I have a thermos of regular and one of decaf.”

I said jokingly, “No, I’d prefer a soft drink.”

Wasu smiled and said, “No problem. I have a cooler up front with regular and Diet Coke, lassi, water, and orange juice.”

Almost stuttering, I said, “I’ll take a lassi since I’ve never had one before.”

Handing me my drink, Wasu said, “If you’d like something to read, I have Good Housekeeping magazine, Reader’s Digest, The Bible, and a Travel + Leisure magazine.”

As we were pulling away, Wasu handed me another laminated card, “These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you’d like to listen to the radio.

And as if that weren’t enough, Wasu told me he had the heater on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for me.

Then he advised me of the best route to my destination for that time of day. He also let me know he’d be happy to chat and tell me about some of the sights or, if I preferred, to leave me with my own thoughts.

“Tell me, Wasu,” I was amazed and asked him, “have you always served customers like this?”

Wasu smiled into the rear view mirror. “No, not always. In fact, it’s only been in the last two years. My first five years driving, I spent most of my time complaining like all the rest of the cabbies do. Then I heard about power of choice one day.”

“Power of choice is that you can be a duck or an eagle. If you get up in the morning expecting to have a bad day, you’ll rarely disappoint yourself. Stop complaining! Don’t be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd.”

“That hit me right,” said Wasu. He continued and said, “It is about me. I was always quacking and complaining, so I decided to change my attitude and become an eagle. I looked around at the other cabs and their drivers. The cabs were dirty, the drivers were unfriendly, and the customers were unhappy. So I decided to make some changes. I put in a few at a time. When my customers responded well, I did more.”

“I take it that has paid off for you,” I said.

‘It sure has,” Wasu replied. “My first year as an eagle, I doubled my income from the previous year. This year, I’ll probably quadruple it. My customers call me for appointments on my cell phone or leave a message on it.”

Wasu made a different choice. He decided to stop quacking like ducks and start soaring like eagles. I hope we all decide to soar like an eagle and not quack like a duck.

I could not find a link to the specific post, but that’s the text. And the mission statement idea is directly from Covey’s Habit 2.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2022 at 12:15 pm

The craftsmanship route to recovery and rehabilitation

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In an earlier post I discussed how art therapy and music therapy can help with reconstruction and realignment of identity to facilitate recovery not only from addiction but also from thought and behavior patterns that affect one negatively. However, there are many paths one can take, just as there are many ways to achieve flow — and in fact, the path described in Laura Fisher’s article in Craftsmanship strikes me as using flow as a way to satisfy constructively needs previously addressed by using drugs. She writes:

Unlike most rehab methods, SanPa doesn’t rely on therapists, substitute drug treatment, 12-step programs, or religion. Instead, it treats addiction as a community problem, where an individual’s destructive tendencies can be changed by becoming a member of a big family, Italian-style, participating in work and education for the common good.

In the hills above Rimini, Italy, is a restaurant renowned across the region for its pizza. The terrace, surrounded by flowering trees, overlooks vineyards that roll down to the distant Adriatic Sea. In the center of the restaurant, called SP.accio, tattooed men knead, shape, and twirl dough in a gleaming, open kitchen. The cooks follow the standard routine of any good pizzaiolo—they sprinkle on herbs and cheese, and slip the pies into a fiercely hot, wood-burning oven—but they cook with unusual focus and passion, as if their very lives depended on the perfection of these pizzas.

“The dough teaches you,” says Massimo Bertoglia, the head chef, as he shapes a piece into a round. “You have to have constancy, and you have to have care.” He pauses to survey his results and seems pleased. “If you don’t care for it, it will die.”

Bertoglia’s pizza philosophy is far more than a metaphor. Learning to become a pizzaiolo actually did help to save his life. A former drug addict, Bertoglia is one of some 26,000 people since 1978 who have come to San Patrignano, the addiction recovery community that runs this restaurant, as a last-ditch effort to pull himself out of a life centered on doing anything necessary to get his next fix. Everyone who works at SP.accio, from Chef Bertoglia to the waiters, busboys, and the woman who sells gifts in the boutique (spaccio means “store” in Italian) is either a current resident or a graduate of the rehab program. Some of the best chefs in Italy come here to train the pizzaioli, who are highly sought-after in Italy after graduation.

It’s easy to see why. All the ingredients at the restaurant, Bertoglia explains, are kilometro zero—produced within view of the terrace tables, from the tomatoes and basil to the wine, mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, and delicate date cookies served with espresso at the end of their meals. The pizza crust—a crucial and elusive art in the pizza world—achieves an unusual quality here because it’s part whole-wheat, and it’s made with natural yeast, with a “mother” dough that has to be refreshed three times a day. The resulting pizza, Bertoglia says as he thumps the dough, is more easily digestible than a pizza made with commercial yeasts. It’s a bit like a Napoletana pizza—large, chewy, with a big border—but not quite as soft.

On my way out of the restaurant, I pass a sumptuous deli and gift boutique that tells the story of a community that makes much more than pizza. Cheeses, cured meats, wine, pastries, olive oil, and other quality foods are all made at San Patrignano (SanPa), a campus covering 642 acres that includes farms and vineyards, and where some 1500 residents and 300 staff currently reside. Another room in the boutique features high-quality leather goods and finely spun shawls and scarves, all with the SanPa logo: a tree of life. SanPa is also renowned for breeding horses and dogs, as well as fine woodwork, graphic arts, and other sophisticated crafts. The income from the residents’ efforts covers about 60 percent of the community’s operating budget of 27 million euros (roughly $30 million dollars U.S., at the time of this writing). The rest is made up by donations to the private nonprofit organization, some of which come from billionaire Italian patrons.

SanPa is unlike other rehab centers in the world for a variety of reasons. First is the length of stay, which is three-and-a-half years. By contrast, the average stay in a rehb center in the United States, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, is 28 days. Second, unlike most rehab methods, SanPa doesn’t rely on therapists, substitute drug treatments, 12-step programs, or religion. Instead, it treats addiction less as a medical problem than a community problem, where an individual’s lack of self-esteem and destructive tendencies can be changed by becoming a members of a big family, Italian-style, and by participating in work and education for the common good. [For a more intimate sense of this culture, see our documentary short film, “The Philosophy of Bello,” found in the sidebar of this story.] . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2022 at 4:02 pm

How Parents’ Trauma Leaves Biological Traces in Children

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Rachel Yehuda, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and director of the Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, writes in Scientific American:

After the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, in a haze of horror and smoke, clinicians at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Manhattan offered to check anyone who’d been in the area for exposure to toxins. Among those who came in for evaluation were 187 pregnant women. Many were in shock, and a colleague asked if I could help diagnose and monitor them. They were at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD—experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbness or other psychiatric symptoms for years afterward. And were the fetuses at risk?

My trauma research team quickly trained health professionals to evaluate and, if needed, treat the women. We monitored them through their pregnancies and beyond. When the babies were born, they were smaller than usual—the first sign that the trauma of the World Trade Center attack had reached the womb. Nine months later we examined 38 women and their infants when they came in for a wellness visit. Psychological evaluations revealed that many of the mothers had developed PTSD. And those with PTSD had unusually low levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, a feature that researchers were coming to associate with the disorder.

Surprisingly and disturbingly, the saliva of the nine-month-old babies of the women with PTSD also showed low cortisol. The effect was most prominent in babies whose mothers had been in their third trimester on that fateful day. Just a year earlier a team I led had reported low cortisol levels in adult children of Holocaust survivors, but we’d assumed that it had something to do with being raised by parents who were suffering from the long-term emotional consequences of severe trauma. Now it looked like trauma leaves a trace in offspring even before they are born.

In the decades since, research by my group and others has confirmed that adverse experiences may influence the next generation through multiple pathways. The most apparent route runs through parental behavior, but influences during gestation and even changes in eggs and sperm may also play a role. And all these channels seem to involve epigenetics: alterations in the way that genes function. Epigenetics potentially explains why effects of trauma may endure long after the immediate threat is gone, and it is also implicated in the diverse pathways by which trauma is transmitted to future generations.

The implications of these findings may seem dire, suggesting that parental trauma predisposes offspring to be vulnerable to mental health conditions. But there is some evidence that the epigenetic response may serve as an adaptation that might help the children of traumatized parents cope with similar adversities. Or could both possible outcomes be true?

IN THE AFTERMATH

My first encounter with intergenerational transmission of trauma was in the 1990s, soon after my team documented high rates of PTSD among Holocaust survivors in my childhood community in Cleveland. The first study of its kind, it garnered a lot of publicity; within weeks I found myself heading a newly created Holocaust research center at Mount Sinai staffed largely by professional volunteers. The phone was ringing off the hook. The callers weren’t all Holocaust survivors, though; most were the adult children of Holocaust survivors. One particularly persistent caller—I’ll call him Joseph—insisted that I study people like him. “I’m a casualty of the Holocaust,” he claimed.

When he came in for an interview, Joseph didn’t look like a casualty of anything. A handsome and wealthy investment banker in an Armani suit, he could’ve stepped off the pages of a magazine. But Joseph lived each day with a vague sense that something terrible was going to happen and that he might need to flee or fight for his life. He’d been preparing for the worst since his early 20s, keeping cash and jewelry at hand and becoming proficient in boxing and martial arts. Lately he was tormented by panic attacks and nightmares of persecution, possibly triggered by reports of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

Joseph’s parents had met in a displaced-persons camp after surviving several years at Auschwitz, then arrived penniless in the U.S. His father worked 14 hours a day and said very little, never mentioning the war. But almost every night he woke the family with shrieks of terror from his nightmares. His mother spoke endlessly about the war, telling vivid bedtime stories about how relatives had been murdered before her eyes. She was determined that her son succeed, and his decision to remain unattached and childless infuriated her. “I didn’t survive Auschwitz so that my own child would end the family line,” she’d say. “You have an obligation to me and to history.”

We ended up talking to many people like Joseph: adult children of Holocaust survivors who suffered from anxiety, grief, guilt, dysfunctional relationships and intrusions of Holocaust-related imagery. Joseph was right—I needed to study people like him. Because those who were calling us were (in research-speak) self-selecting, we decided to evaluate the offspring of the Holocaust survivors we had just studied in Cleveland. The results were clear. Survivors’ adult children were more likely than others to have mood and anxiety disorders, as well as PTSD. Further, many Holocaust offspring also had low cortisol levels—something that we had observed in their parents with PTSD.

FIGHT, FLIGHT—OR FREEZE

What did it all mean? Unraveling the tangle of trauma, cortisol and PTSD has occupied me and many other researchers for the decades since. In the classic fight-or-flight response, identified in the 1920s, a threatening encounter triggers the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. The hormones prompt a cascade of changes, such as quickening the pulse and sharpening the senses to enable the threatened person or animal to focus on and react to the immediate danger. These acute effects were believed to dissipate once the danger receded.

In 1980, however, psychiatrists and other advocates for Vietnam War veterans won a prolonged struggle to get post-traumatic stress included in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III). It was the first official recognition that trauma could have long-lasting effects. But the diagnosis was controversial. Many psychologists believed that its inclusion in the DSM-III had been politically, rather than scientifically, driven—in part because there were no scientific explanations for how a threat could continue to influence the body long after it was removed.

Complicating matters, studies of Vietnam veterans were generating perplexing results. In the mid-1980s  . . .

Continue reading.

And see also this later post.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2022 at 11:43 am

Make Your Body Produce More ‘Happy’ Hormones: Naturally Boost Dopamine and Serotonin

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Interesting idea and worth a try (because 1) free and 2) easy). Mercey Livingston writes at CNET:

From rising gas prices and surging inflation to the general day-to-day worries of balancing work and life, there’s a lot going on in the world that can contribute to high levels of stress and anxiety. But there are also many rituals that bring me happiness: that first sip of coffee in the morning, cuddles with my kitten, journaling each day on my patio and getting some exercise. Now more than ever, I’m leaning into these small practices that make a difference in my day.

While a cup of coffee won’t change whether you feel truly fulfilled, in uncertain times, there’s value in boosting your mood when you can.

There are four main hormones (a type of chemical your body makes) that trigger feelings of happiness, and each chemical is connected to specific events or rewards. Understanding these chemicals and how they work can help you figure out even small ways to feel better amid such a stressful time.

To explain exactly how these “happiness” chemicals work, I spoke to Loretta Breuning, founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and author of Habits of a Happy Brain.

Happy chemicals: The secret to a happy brain

Almost everything that makes you feel “happy” is linked to one of the four happiness hormones: dopamine, serotonin, endorphin and oxytocin. Here are some ways you can boost them naturally.

Dopamine

The hormone dopamine is associated with motivation and reward. It’s why you feel gumption when you set an exciting or important goal, and why it feels good to reach that goal. On the flip side, if you have low dopamine (which experts say can occur with depression), it can explain feelings of low motivation or loss of interest in something you used to enjoy.

“Approaching a reward triggers dopamine. When a lion approaches a gazelle, her dopamine surges and the energy she needs for the hunt is released. Your ancestors released dopamine when they found a water hole,” Breuning says. “The expectation of a reward triggers a good feeling in the mammal brain, and releases the energy you need to reach the reward.”

How to boost dopamine:

There are some not-so-healthy habits that increase dopamine like drinking caffeine, eating sugar or taking certain recreational drugs. But you can find ways to kick this hormone up without turning to potentially unhealthy or addictive substances.

“Embrace a new goal and take small steps toward it every day. Your brain will reward you with dopamine each time you take a step. The repetition will build a new dopamine pathway until it’s big enough to compete with the dopamine habit that you’re better off without,” Breuning says.

You may already have goals set around your career, work or how much money you’d like to make. But don’t forget personal goals. Committing to a rewarding hobby or sport can be just as gratifying as professional goals. Don’t just set a few big goals that will take longer to complete — also adopt shorter-term goals so you stay motivated.

“Set a short-run, long-run, and middle-term goal so you will always be approaching one when another is blocked. Focus on things you have control over and don’t wait for others to set your goals for you,” Breuning says.

Serotonin

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2022 at 1:36 pm

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