Friday, January 01, 2016

The scope and interests of our CulturePlaces Salon

Rather than try to tackle national and international topics that affect the larger civil society, we explore place-based trends that more directly affect our everyday experiences in our neighborhoods, workplaces and other closer connections. Though these will overlap with certain global phenomena, we seek to grapple with ideas that have immediate implications for understanding our own personal experience. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

A new milestone in non-pharmaceutical treatments for depression

woman brain scan
...TMS works by sending pulses of magnetic energy across the skull. These magnetic fields induce electric currents to flow in small patches of the brain of around one square centimetre, which in turn causes the neurons in that area to activate - these events take place over fractions of a second. For reasons that are not well understood, spacing out trains of these magnetic pulses leads to more durable effects, lasting for an hour or more after the stimulation - this is known as repetitive TMS, or rTMS. Repeated sessions of rTMS, given every day for several days, exploit the brain’s plasticity to change brain activity for many months. This gives neuroscientists a way to reorganise (never ‘rewire’) small brain circuits.
rTMS treatment for MDD targets the prefrontal cortex, usually in a spot a few centimetres above the corner of the left eye, called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (or DLPFC). The cells in this area connect to networks that project throughout the brain, and rTMS has both enhancing and inhibiting effects on distant brain regions. The full extent of these hubs and networks are poorly understood, but it seems clear that modulating the activity of the prefrontal cortex releases neurotransmitters deep in the ancient structures of the midbrain, in particular the caudate nucleus. In turn, these structures regulate our basic motivations and emotions. So by indirectly stimulating these regions, rTMS seems to correct the low mood and listlessness of MDD in some people....

For a fuller description go to this Guardian article .

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Neuroscience and criminal culpability

"If brain scans are to play a scientifically legitimate role in determining criminal responsibility of a defendant or in reducing a defendant’s sentence, they need to be able to assist us in answering legal questions. That means, at bottom, that these scans must be amenable to being deciphered in such a way that they bear narrowly on potentially excusing or mitigating mental states, such as damaged capacity for reason or an impaired ability to form intent or exert self-control."
Dr. Sally Satel and Prof. Scott O. Lilienfeld (guest-blogging)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why the SAT Isn’t a ‘Student Affluence Test’

 A lot of the apparent income effect on standardized tests is owed to parental IQ—a fact that needs addressing.
Spring is here, which means it’s time for elite colleges to send out acceptance letters. Some will go to athletes, the children of influential alumni and those who round out the school’s diversity profile. But most will go to the offspring of the upper middle class. We all know why, right? Affluent parents get their kids into the best colleges by sending them to private schools or spending lots of money on test preparation courses. Either way, it perpetuates privilege from generation to generation.
The College Board provides ammunition for this accusation every year when it shows average SAT scores by family income. The results are always the same: The richer the parents, the higher the children’s SAT scores. This has led some to view the SAT as merely another weapon in the inequality wars, and to suggest that SAT should actually stand for “Student Affluence Test.”
It’s a bum rap. All high-quality academic tests look as if they’re affluence tests. It’s inevitable. Parental IQ is correlated with children’s IQ everywhere. In all advanced societies, income is correlated with IQ. Scores on academic achievement tests are always correlated with the test-takers’ IQ. Those three correlations guarantee that every standardized academic-achievement test shows higher average test scores as parental income increases.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

'Female intuition comes from lower testosterone exposure in womb'

Intuitive thought is characterized by processing information automatically and unconsciously, requiring little cognitive effort. This way of thinking is frequently ascribed to women under the title of so-called "female intuition," and now, researchers suggest this could have a biological influence, rooted in lower prenatal exposure to testosterone in the womb.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Stress from racism passes from mother to child

by Chris Weller
Medical Daily
A little bit of stress is normal. But too much, and at a vulnerable time, can lead to long-lasting problems that cut across generations. A new study from the University of Colorado Denver has found the stress that comes with racial discrimination during a woman’s pregnancy may get passed on to her newborn child.  A solid amount of evidence already exists to support stress as not just a temporary frustration, but as a force capable of changing our genes — particularly if the stress is chronic. Severely stressed-out teenagers, for example, face a greater risk of mental illness in adulthood because of how the stress affects their genes. The effect comes from the hormone cortisol. The longer it stays in your body, the more your body begins to adjust to the new normal of constant stress, and it breaks down.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

THE GHOST IN YOUR GENES: HORIZON - Discovery/Science/Biology (documentary)

How the trauma of life is passed down in sperm, affecting the mental health of future generations

The children of people who have experienced extremely traumatic events are more likely to develop mental health problems.

And new research shows this is because experiencing trauma leads to changes in the sperm.

These changes can cause a man’s children to develop bipolar disorder and are so strong they can even influence the man’s grandchildren.

Psychologists have long known that traumatic experiences can induce behavioural disorders that are passed down from one generation to the next.

However, they are only just beginning to understand how this happens.

Researchers at the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich now think they have come one step closer to understanding how the effects of traumas can be passed down the generations.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Genetic susceptibility to anti-social behavior

Both positive and negative experiences influence how genetic variants affect the brain and thereby behaviour, according to a new study. "Evidence is accumulating to show that the effects of variants of many genes that are common in the population depend on environmental factors. Further, these genetic variants affect each other," explained Sheilagh Hodgins of the University of Montreal and its affiliated Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Montréal. "We conducted a study to determine whether juvenile offending was associated with interactions between three common genetic variants and positive and negative experiences." Hodgins and her colleagues published the study on December 11, 2014 in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Pharrell's observation on Ferguson

As this article argues, at the very minimum body cameras should be worn by the police. They will definitely help to dilute the cops' confrontational mode which is highly toxic to aggressive young black males.

More important I think is to follow up on Pharrell's astute comment in Ebony. This means getting a better understanding of the biosocial variables in the inner city.

Michael Brown was at a convenience store stealing cigarillos before he was killed. But Pharrell says he was upset when he saw the way Brown was acting towards the owner.

“It looked very bully-ish,” he said. “That in itself I had a problem with. Not with the kid, but with whatever happened in his life for him to arrive at a place where that behavior is OK. Why aren’t we talking about that?” 

People quckly misread this to mean a criticism of Michael Brown when it is just the reverse. The fault lies with the community and family-- a particular kind of 
"cultureplace"  where nature and nurture intersect and produce probable outcomes. How do we mitigate certain dangerous situations?

Friday, November 14, 2014

More on national cultural differences affecting behavior

The case against labeling and medicating children, and effective alternatives for treating them

Why French Kids Don't Have ADHD

French children don't need medications to control their behavior.
In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?

Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder? Surprisingly, the answer to this question depends on whether you live in France or in the United States. In the United States, child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. The preferred treatment is also biological--psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children's focusing and behavioral problems withdrugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child's brain but in the child's social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child's brain.