Depression or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) has multiple genetic and environmental causes. Genetic factors are hard to find and the discovered factors usually are also associated with other mood disorders. Furthermore, twin studies reveal that genetics can predict 37% of the depressions, which is a much lower heritability than in bipolar disorder, a comparable mood disorder (reviewed in Belmaker et al., 2008). ... Read more »
Papakostas, G., Shelton, R., Kinrys, G., Henry, M., Bakow, B., Lipkin, S., Pi, B., Thurmond, L., & Bilello, J. (2011) Assessment of a multi-assay, serum-based biological diagnostic test for major depressive disorder: a Pilot and Replication Study. Molecular Psychiatry, 18(3), 332-339. DOI: 10.1038/mp.2011.166
Pariante, C., & Lightman, S. (2008) The HPA axis in major depression: classical theories and new developments. Trends in Neurosciences, 31(9), 464-468. DOI: 10.1016/j.tins.2008.06.006
Raison, C. (2012) A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Tumor Necrosis Factor Antagonist Infliximab for Treatment-Resistant DepressionThe Role of Baseline Inflammatory BiomarkersInfliximab for Treatment-Resistant Depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 1. DOI: 10.1001/2013.jamapsychiatry.4
Nibuya M, Morinobu S, & Duman RS. (1995) Regulation of BDNF and trkB mRNA in rat brain by chronic electroconvulsive seizure and antidepressant drug treatments. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 15(11), 7539-47. PMID: 7472505
I recently volunteered to help organise an event run by the Canadian Science Policy Centre that looked at the status of women in science and technology. To be frank, I was mightily fearful about participating in such an event. I … Continue reading →... Read more »
Imagine you are the driver & your chocolate cravings are unruly passengers
If someone gave you a bag of 14 chocolates to carry around for five days, would you be able to resist eating them and any other chocolate? That was challenge faced by 135 undergrads in a new study that compared the effectiveness of two different "mindfulness" resistance techniques.
To help them, Kim Jenkins and Katy Tapper taught 45 of their participants "cognitive diffusion", the essence being that "you are not your thoughts". The students were told to imagine that they are the driver of a mindbus and any difficult thoughts about chocolate are to be seen as awkward passengers. The students chose a specific method for dealing with these difficult thoughts/passengers and practised it for five minutes - either describing them, letting them know who is in charge, making them talk with a different accent, or singing what they are saying.
Another group of students were taught an acceptance technique known as "urge surfing". They were instructed to ride the wave of their chocolate cravings, rather than to sink them or give in to them. A final group of students acted as controls and were taught a relaxation technique.
As well as trying to resist the bag of chocolates, the students in all conditions were asked to avoid eating any other chocolate as far as possible, and to keep a diary of any chocolate they did eat over the five days.
The key finding is that the mindbus group ate fewer chocolates from their bag as compared with students in the control group. By contrast, the urge surfing group ate just as many of their chocolates as the controls. Diary records showed the differences between groups in their other chocolate consumption was not statistically significant, although there was a trend for the mindbus group to eat less (13g vs. 52g in the urge surfing group and 44g in the control condition). Another way of describing the results is to say that 27 per cent of the mindbus group ate some chocolate over the five-day period, compared with 45 per cent of the urge surfers and 45 per cent of controls.
A habits questionnaire suggested the mindbus technique was more effective because it reduced the students' mindless, automatic consumption of chocolate more than the other interventions. Jenkins and Tapper said their results show the mindbus "cognitive diffusion" technique is a "promising brief intervention strategy" for boosting self-control over an extended time period.
The serious chocaholics among you may not be so convinced. Although the students were recruited on the basis that they wanted to reduce their chocolate consumption, they appeared to show saintly levels of abstinence. On average, even the control group participants ate just 0.69 chocolates from their bag over the five day period (compared with an average of 0.02 chocolates in the mindbus condition; 0.27 in the urge surfing condition). The controls other chocolate consumption amounted to the equivalent of little more than four individual chocolates over five days. You've got to wonder - how serious were these participants about chocolate and just how tasty were the chocolates in that bag?
Another thing - the researchers included a measure of "behavioural rebound". After the students returned to the lab on day five, they were presented with a bowl of chocolates and invited to eat as many as they liked. The groups didn't differ in the amount of chocolates they consumed, which the researchers interpreted as a good sign - after all, the mindbus group hadn't compensated for their restricted intake during the week. But hang on, they also showed no evidence of greater resistance to the chocolate. Sounds to me like the passengers had taken over the bus.
Jenkins, K., and Tapper, K. (2013). Resisting chocolate temptation using a brief mindfulness strategy. British Journal of Health Psychology DOI: 10.1111/bjhp.12050
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.
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Jenkins, K., & Tapper, K. (2013) Resisting chocolate temptation using a brief mindfulness strategy. British Journal of Health Psychology. DOI: 10.1111/bjhp.12050
An episode of the BBC program Horizon on 'Big Data' recently caught my attention. The content was a fascinating insight into how we are living in a data-rich age and how trawling/mining/dredging such data has the ability to advance medicine, predict crime and even make someone a few quid/dollars/euros on the stock market.Gone (data) fishing @ Wikipedia I'm a big believer in big data. In particular how, with the right sources, technology, techniques and people, big data might be able to open up some real insights into many important areas including mental health research* and very possibly autism research with a specific focus on the science of biomarkers to aid things like early diagnosis. Indeed, I'm not the only one talking about this (see here).I've spoken before on this blog about biomarkers for autism and other conditions - the promises, the problems, the future - and how alongside the various autism research banks (genes, brains, etc.) and systems biology chatter, we are just starting to understand the value of those big data resources such as the archived bloodspot samples which so many neonates provide these days.Indeed with the greatest appreciation for pioneers like Robert Guthrie, I offer a post on an interesting paper by Gerald Mizejewski and colleagues** discussing results suggestive of potential candidate biomarkers for autism based on archived bloodspot samples. I should point out that this is not the first time that Dr Mizejewski has talked about the feasability of biomarkers for autism as per this article*** (open-access) as part of quite a distinguished research career it has to be said (see here) with a specific focus on an interesting molecule called alpha-fetoprotein****.The most recent paper is unfortunately not at the time of writing open-access, so I'll just go through a few summary points about the work:This was a retrospective study based on that tantalising resource of archived bloodspot cards which sit in many a hospital basement. Out of a total case group of 200 families with a child with autism, 40 families with children aged between 3-5 years old were initially contacted for participation. This was eventually whittled down to 16 participants (all diagnosed with autism by the same clinician with the same diagnostic manual) for whom archived neonatal bloodspot cards were available. Two age-matched control specimens located immediately before and after the dried bloodspot card in question in the filing system were also chosen.A small 3mm punch of the Guthrie cards was analysed by immunoassay which in this case, probed for 90 potential biomarkers covering everything from neurotrophins to cytokines, immunoglobulins to more direct inflammatory markers (including C-reactive protein).Some fancy statistical modelling was applied to the obtained results - including Bayesian information criterion (BIC) - which eventually resulted in three models of best-fit based on findings from the bloodspots of those who went to be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The 'best model' of five compounds included some familiar names to this blog: glutathione-S-transferase (GST), IL-7, IL-5, TNF-beta and something called Lp(a) (lipoprotein a). Most were increased in quantity in the autism samples aside from GST which was decreased.There is a very nice illustration in the paper (Figure 3) showing how the potential connections between the biomarkers identified and some of the more biomedical themes of autism research might fit. So we have methionine metabolism mentioned (see here and here), oxidative stress (see here), gastrointestinal comorbidity (see here) and immune activation (see here) to name a few. It's all very systems biology.The authors caution that their results are preliminary and that although said biomarkers were modelled as being related to autism they "have not been confirmed to be causative with autism".Before I get too carried away with this research, there are a few issues worth mentioning. Yes, the sample size was small in this preliminary communication and indeed very little information is provided about participants outside of just them fulfilling the DSM-IV criteria for autism in terms of things like comorbidity. Also why out of 200 families such a small number of participants were eventually included for study.Indeed there is also an assumption from this study that a biomarker for autism is present in the neonatal phase which for example, might not take into account the issue of behavioural regression that seems to cover quite a percentage of cases.Whilst the identified best-fit biomarkers are of potentially real interest to autism research as per other similar studies (see here), it is the method and resources used in this paper which is the real 'big data' story allied to all those lovely -omics which reign supreme these days. Parents in many countries will be acquainted with that bloodspot taken during the earliest days of infancy to test for various inborn errors of metabolism such as phenylketonuria (PKU). Many people don't however give a second thought to what happens to those bloodspot cards, and how valuable a resource they might constitute. Although not usually in the business of crystal-ball gazing, I would hazard a guess that we are one day going to hear big news about the big data from those archived bloodspot cards; if not with autism in mind, then something else. ----------* Ayers JW. et al. Seasonality in seeking mental health information on Google. Am JPrev Med. April 2013.** Mizejewski GJ. et al. Newborn screening for autism: in search of candidate biomarkers. Biomark Med. 2013; 7: 247-260.*** Mizejewski GJ. Biomarker testing for suspected autism spectrum disorder in early childhood: is such testing now feasible? Biomark Med. 2012; 6: 503-506.**** Mizejewski GJ. Biological roles of alpha-fetoprotein during pregnancy and perinatal development. Exp Biol... Read more »
Mizejewski GJ, Lindau-Shepard B, & Pass KA. (2013) Newborn screening for autism: in search of candidate biomarkers. Biomarkers in medicine, 7(2), 247-60. PMID: 23547820
Patient M: It’s impossible —- no one could urinate into that bottle -— at least no woman could. I’m furious with her [these are the patient's emphases] and I’m damned if I am going to do it unless she gives me another kind of bottle. It’s just impossible to use that little thing. Analyst: It […]... Read more »
Fehr, E., & Schmidt, K. (1999) A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114(3), 817-868. DOI: 10.1162/003355399556151
The IRS kerfuffle has increased interest in the tax code by about 5700%, and one outcome is that people are starting to put the various exemption groups under a microscope. Dylan Matthews has thoughtful piece on 501(c)4 organizations, the groups at the center of the scandal. Matthews thinks the real issue is disclosure, and it’s [...]... Read more »
Dowling, C., & Wichowsky, A. (2013) Does It Matter Who's Behind the Curtain? Anonymity in Political Advertising and the Effects of Campaign Finance Disclosure. American Politics Research. DOI: 10.1177/1532673X13480828
Everybody’s an expert these days. Pest Control Expert, Plumbing Expert, Weather Expert, and so on. What does it really mean to have expertise? Take a minute to think about what expertise means to you. If ideas like superior intelligence, heightened perceptual skills, and photographic memory come to mind, you may be thinking of superheroes, or [...]... Read more »
Ericsson, K., & Ward, P. (2007) Capturing the Naturally Occurring Superior Performance of Experts in the Laboratory: Toward a Science of Expert and Exceptional Performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(6), 346-350. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2007.00533.x
Hatano, G., & Inagaki, K. (1984) Two courses of expertise. Research and Clinical Center for Child Development Annual Report, 27-36. info:/
A few of us have started a Decision Theory journal club where we plan on reading papers from a variety of fields that examine how decisions are made. We have people from neuroscience, economics, and cognitive science participating (so far), including people participating through Google+ hangouts!, which will hopefully make lead to some productive discussions. […]... Read more »
Brunton, B., Botvinick, M., & Brody, C. (2013) Rats and Humans Can Optimally Accumulate Evidence for Decision-Making. Science, 340(6128), 95-98. DOI: 10.1126/science.1233912
Znamenskiy, P., & Zador, A. (2013) Corticostriatal neurons in auditory cortex drive decisions during auditory discrimination. Nature, 497(7450), 482-485. DOI: 10.1038/nature12077
Canine cognition is a hot topic these days, using experiments and brain imaging as research tools. The trouble with brain imaging work is that it is invasive, to the extent that animals may have to be sedated or anaesthetized for the study. All that changed with the amazing work of Gregory Berns et al and the first-ever fMRI study on awake, unrestrained dogs last year. Now Miiamaaria Kujala et al in Finland have shown that it is also possible to do a non-invasive EEG with dogs.An EEG measures brain activity by placing electrodes across the scalp. These pick up oscillations in electrical activity, which can be measured for changes. One common use of EEG is in assessing epilepsy in dogs (and people). We aren’t talking about veterinary EEGs here, however, but those designed to learn something about how a healthy brain works.If animals have to be anaesthetized for an EEG to occur, it’s a problem because a drowsy brain does not function in the same way as an alert brain. Awake animals are typically restrained. For example, Hanlu Ma et al (2013) anaesthetized cats and surgically implanted metal tubes through which electrodes could be inserted. After the cats were given a couple of weeks to recover from surgery, the electrodes were used to test the cats’ responses to meows and to human voices making vowel sounds. The cat’s body was wrapped in a cotton bag and its head was immobilized while the sounds were played. The cats were trained for this (though the paper doesn't say how) and monitored for signs of distress. The results showed which parts of the brain were activated, and found no significant difference in response to meows and vowels. In this study, the cats were awake. But it is still invasive, since they had to be operated on and were restrained for several hours at a time. Could there be another way?Since dogs are easily trainable using operant conditioning, Kujala et al in Finland thought it might be possible to train dogs for EEG. Using positive reinforcement, they trained eight beagles to take part in their study. The beagles were purpose-bred for laboratory work and live in a group kennel environment. First of all they took part in training. For the study, their heads had to be shaved, cleaned and prepped so that electrodes could be applied. They wore seven electrodes on the head, one in each ear, and a ground electrode on the back. Then they had to lie still and look at a TV screen while measurements were taken. At the same time, they also wore eye-tracking equipment. A beagle in the study. Source: PLoS OneThe experiment itself took place in twenty-minute sessions over four days for each dog, so that they did not get too tired. Of course, it took much longer to train the dogs to get used to the laboratory and the equipment in the first place, with twice-weekly training sessions over one and a half years.The dogs were shown photographs of human and dog faces, mostly the right way up but with some upside-down. They were shown a batch of photos, then had a short break in which they were rewarded with some food, then led to settle down and watch another batch. The authors point out that the experimental set-up is very similar to that used in human studies. The results showed a change in a type of electrical activity called the beta range (15-30Hz); oscillations in this band were suppressed when the dog was looking at a face, compared to the rest period. This probably reflects the activity of a part of the brain called the occipital cortex. In addition, the researchers found a suppression of activity at the 2-6Hz range. This coincided with the beginning of looking at an image, and was noticed most in the sensors at the front of the head. The authors say this may relate to eye movements as the dog looks at an image that has just appeared on the TV.There were individual differences between the dogs which is not surprising, as this is also the case for humans. The authors conclude that “the study opens the possibility to implement cognitive neuroscience studies with dogs and to examine the evolutionary background and divergence of brain function associated with cognition.”This is similar to the study by Gregory Berns et al that was published last year. They trained two dogs – Callie the rescue feist and McKenzie the agility-loving border collie – to take part in an fMRI. They began training the dogs using a mock-up of the equipment before moving on to the real version. After two months, they were able to take part in the fMRI study. Each dog had to keep absolutely still; if they moved by as little as 3mm, it would make the data useless. Source: PLoS OneThe picture shows Callie during a training session (A) and McKenzie during the study itself (B). The study found that the reward centre of the brain lit up when the dog saw a hand signal that meant a treat would soon be forthcoming. These EEG and fMRI studies are a tremendous achievement on the part of both the humans and dogs that took part. So how were the dogs trained? They did not use electric shocks or ‘corrections’ or punishment. Instead they relied on positive reinforcement. (You will have noticed ongoing positive reinforcement in the EEG study, with pauses in which the dog was given a treat before returning to the experiment).These two studies were designed to find out about the canine brain, but they also show the effectiveness of training using positive reinforcement.Some people (even some dog trainers) try to argue that positive reinforcement is not the right way to train a dog. And yet, it has been used to train dogs to take part in an EEG study and in fMRI without the need for sedation or restraint. Isn’t that amazing?! ReferencesBerns, G., Brooks, A., & Spivak, M. (2012). Functional MRI in Awake Unrestrained Dogs ... Read more »
Kujala, M., Törnqvist, H., Somppi, S., Hänninen, L., Krause, C., Vainio, O., & Kujala, J. (2013) Reactivity of Dogs' Brain Oscillations to Visual Stimuli Measured with Non-Invasive Electroencephalography. PLoS ONE, 8(5). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061818
Ma, H., Qin, L., Dong, C., Zhong, R., & Sato, Y. (2013) Comparison of Neural Responses to Cat Meows and Human Vowels in the Anterior and Posterior Auditory Field of Awake Cats. PLoS ONE, 8(1). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052942
A great deal of Twitter content has been described as "pointless babble." However, an experimental study found that Twitter usage can ward off existential anxiety, at least in extraverts. Even banal tweets might serve a deeper psychological purpose.... Read more »
Qiu L, Leung AK, Ho JH, Yeung QM, Francis KJ, & Chua PF. (2010) Understanding the psychological motives behind microblogging. Studies in health technology and informatics, 140-4. PMID: 20543286
Individuals who learn two languages at an early age seem to switch back and forth between separate “sound systems” for each language, according to new research conducted at the University of Arizona.... Read more »
Anna Mikulak. (2013) Study Shows How Bilinguals Switch Between Languages. Association for Psychological Science. info:/
Tick – tock. The “billable hour” determines so much in the lives of many professionals, including lawyers. Many have to “keep time”. Time keeping accounts for how many lawyers spend their time doing their work, factors into how much their clients get charged, directly impacts how most large law firms generate income, and plays [...]The post The [Lawyer’s] Billable Hour: How Much Does 360 Seconds Cost? Who Pays? appeared first on Psycholawlogy.... Read more »
DeVoe SE, & Pfeffer J. (2010) The stingy hour: how accounting for time affects volunteering. Personality , 36(4), 470-83. PMID: 20363903
Shuki. Soukias. Raheem. Samir. Jamal. Lakisha. Atholl. Tyronne. Magestic. Did you know that something as simple as a first name makes the difference between whether you even get the interview? Last weekend we were doing a focus group and one of the mock jurors had a very unique first name. One of a kind. She [...]
Is there a relationship between age and ethnic prejudice?
Attractiveness and being fired for poor performance
Everyday racism: A comparison of African American and Asian American Women
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Cotton, J., O'Neill, B., & Griffin, A. (2008) The “name game”: affective and hiring reactions to first names. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23(1), 18-39. DOI: 10.1108/02683940810849648
Mr. Lonely 1Does Smoking Pot Offer Relief to the Lonely? A new paper by the original Tylenol and social pain researchers claims that it does (Deckman et al., 2013). Let's take a closer look.Comfortably Numb: Marijuana Use Reduces Social Pain, Research FindsMarijuana use buffers people from experiencing social pain, according to research published online on May 14 in Social Psychological and Personality Science."Prior work has shown that the analgesic acetaminophen, which acts indirectly through CB1 receptors, reduces the pain of social exclusion," Timothy Deckman of the University of Kentucky and his colleagues wrote in the study. "The current research provides the first evidence that marijuana also dampens the negative emotional consequences of social exclusion on negative emotional outcomes."You could be forgiven if you thought, as I initially did, that the University of Kentucky IRB must hold a liberal view on the administration of controlled substances to undergrads participating in psychology experiments. But that's not what happened here... the data are entirely correlational, based on self-report, and largely problematic (in my view).Marijuana Lowers Self-Worth and Worsens Mental Health in Those Who Are Not LonelyThat's my interpretation of the article, which is SO clunky compared to the fun and breezy query, Can Marijuana Reduce Social Pain? 2The paper begins with the premise that "Social and physical pain share common overlap at linguistic, behavioral, and neural levels" (Deckman et al., 2013). So let's give a pain reliever to reduce the sting of rejection! A critique of the original work asked why the authors chose Tylenol, as opposed to an NSAID like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. In the current study they tried to develop a mechanistic account of why acetaminophen might reduce social pain:Prior research has shown that acetaminophen—an analgesic medication that acts indirectly through cannabinoid 1 receptors—reduces the social pain associated with exclusion. Yet, no work has examined if other drugs that act on similar receptors, such as marijuana, also reduce social pain.The problem is that acetaminophen's mechanism of action is surprisingly unclear (Toussaint et al., 2010). One prominent hypothesis claims that Tylenol might exert its analgesic effects through descending serotonergic pathways at the level of the spinal cord. In fact, the paper that Deckman et al. cited in favor of cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors describes a very complex pathway that includes indirect involvement of CB1, with actual pain suppression occurring in the spinal cord. 3An even more basic question: if acetaminophen acts through CB1 receptors, then why isn't it a potential drug of abuse, or known by experienced pharmanauts for its psychoactive properties? The drug experience vault Erowid says:Acetaminophen is a non-salicylate analgesic and antipyretic (pain killer and fever reducer). It is a common over-the-counter pain medication found in hundreds of products around the world. At higher doses it is known to cause liver-damage and has a low therapeutic index (ratio of effective dose to toxic dose), making it dangerous when included in recreationally used pharmaceuticals [e.g., Tylenol with codeine]. It is not known to be psychoactive.On the other hand, we all know that cannabis is psychoactive. The design of the cannabis study included cross-sectional national survey data, a two year longitudinal survey of 400 high school students, and a Mechanical Turk-implemented version of cyberball, an online game to simulate social exclusion. In all cases, participants reported their marijuana use, and this was related to the variables of interest.I'll focus on the national survey data in this post, which comprised Study 1 (Marijuana Use Buffers Lonely People From Lower Self-Worth and Self-Rated Mental Health) and Study 2 (Marijuana Use Predicts Fewer Major Depressive Episodes Among the Lonely).Study 1 used data from the National Comorbidity Survey: Baseline (NCS-1), 1990-1992 (ICPSR 6693), which you can download for yourself. The survey recruited 8,098 individuals from the ages of 15 to 54 living in the U.S., and included over 4,000 variables. Only four variables were chosen for the present study: self-reported loneliness (1= often, 4 = never), marijuana use (0 = none, 1 = daily, 8 = once or twice a year), self-worth (1 = high, 4 = low), and overall mental health (1 = excellent, 5 = poor).Loneliness was used as a proxy for social pain. Contrary to what the headlines suggested, the impact of pot smoking on social pain was not directly examined. Instead, the study assessed the effects of loneliness (high, low), marijuana use (high, low) and their interaction on self-worth and mental health.Loneliness and pot smoking interacted to predict feelings of self-worth [B = 0.03, t(5609) = 2.20, p = .03]. Given the huge number of participants, this level of statistical significance is not very impressive.Fig. 1 (modified from Deckman et al., 2013). Study 1: Marijuana use moderates the relationship between loneliness and self-reported feelings of self-worth. [NOTE: items were reverse-scored for display purposes.]For lonely people, the amount of pot smoked didn't make too much of a difference in their self-worth (see red arrow above). For socially connected people, greater marijuana use resulted in lower self-worth, although it's not clear this was significant (pairwise statistical tests were not reported).I also question how the High Marijuana Use and Low Marijuana Use groups were determined, because over 5,000 participants did not smoke pot at all in the last 12 months. Does the heavy use group combine those who smoke 6 joints a year with those who smoke daily?... Read more »
In a recent research conducted by two scientists from Brock University in Canada, the authors have proposed and tested several mediation models. With such models they have proven that lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies (social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism) and low levels of contact with out-groups.... Read more »
Hodson, G., & Busseri, M. (2012) Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact. Psychological Science, 23(2), 187-195. DOI: 10.1177/0956797611421206
It’s time to stop scoffing at the synesthetes: linking music to colors is totally normal. It’s not really about the notes, though. Researchers say the colors we find in music are actually the colors of the emotions the music makes us feel.
Synesthetes are people whose sensory experiences overlap; they most often link letters or numbers to certain colors. Music-color synesthesia, in which hearing music triggers the colors, is rarer. In fact, when Stephen Palmer and Karen Schloss at the University of California, Berkeley, set out to do a pilot study of music-color synesthetes, they couldn’t find any. So instead they began looking at the connections between music and colors in everybody else.
As part of a larger study called the Berkeley Color Project, Palmer and Schloss included questions about music. Participants saw a grid of colors while listening to 18 brief clips of classical pieces, and chose the colors that were “most consistent” and "least consistent" with each selection.
The researchers suspected that a connection between music and color, if there was one, might be emotional. So they separately asked their 48 subjects how happy, sad, angry, calm, strong, weak, lively and dreary each piece of music was. Subjects answered the same emotional questions about each color. (If you’re the kind of person who hates attributing personality traits to color swatches, you would not have enjoyed this study.)
There were 18 music samples, representing every possible combination of 3 composers (Bach, Mozart, Brahms), 3 tempi (fast, medium, slow), and 2 modes (major or minor). The Andante movement of Bach's Brandenburg concerto in F major, for example, was Bach/major/slow.
What emerged from this sea of lively Mozart and sad burnt-orange was a clear pattern. People linked uptempo and major-key music to colors that were warmer (yellower), lighter, and more vivid. Pieces with a slower tempo or in a minor key provoked the opposite colors: cooler (bluer), darker, and less saturated.
Additionally, music that was both slow and in a major key tended to be greener. And although there wasn’t a difference between Mozart and Bach, Brahms—a Romantic composer who wrote the most recently of the three—leaned more to the slow and minor colors.
To learn whether this consistency was strictly cultural, Palmer and Schloss found a collaborator at the University of Guadalajara who wanted to repeat the experiments with Mexican subjects.
The researcher, Lilia Prada-León, “initially complained that she didn’t want to study classical music because her Mexican participants don’t listen to that music much,” Parker recalls. “She wanted to do it with mariachi bands, which we may still do sometime later.”
Despite Prada-León's hesitation, the results from her Mexican subjects fit snugly with the results from Americans. “The pattern of results for tempo, mode, and composer were remarkably similar,” the authors write.
Also similar were the emotional ratings that Mexican and American subjects gave the musical selections, as well as the colors themselves. The emotions linked to each piece of music matched the emotions linked to that music's colors. This suggests that music itself doesn't make most people think of color. Instead, music triggers emotion—and that emotion is linked to a certain set of colors in the mind. The results are published in PNAS.
Out of the eight emotions in the original list, only four were needed to explain the results: happy, sad, strong and weak. Happier and stronger colors were associated with upbeat, major-key tunes, while weaker and sadder colors were tied to slower, minor-key pieces.
So what does all this tell us about actual synesthesia?
Palmer says his group has now repeated a version of their experiments with real music-color synesthetes (after finally rounding some up). The results looked different. While non-synesthetes chose different colors depending on the tempo of a piece of music—even if it was the same musical line artificially sped up or slowed down—synesthetes didn't.
"My current opinion is that synesthetes’ color experiences arise from direct mappings from sound to color," Palmer says. In their minds, emotions don't act as the middleman. However, "non-synesthetes’ color associations are indirect and do involve emotional mediation."
But when researchers asked synesthetes to choose the colors that were most "emotionally consistent" with the music, rather than the colors they experienced in their minds, the synesthetes picked out the same colors as everyone else. Additionally, when researchers altered melodies just enough to change them from minor to major, synesthetes—like everyone else—"chose happier colors," Palmer says.
There may be some common ground after all between synesthetes and others. The two groups probably won't agree, though, on the color of the mariachi music playing there.
Images: top by tanakawho (via Flickr); bottom Palmer et al.
Palmer, S., Schloss, K., Xu, Z., & Prado-Leon, L. (2013). Music-color associations are mediated by emotion Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1212562110
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Negotiation training has been shown to lead to positive outcomes for parties on both sides of the table, identifying 'win-win' solutions and helping the wheels of the world turn more amicably. But many studies focus on consequences when both negotiators are trained using the same methodology, when the reality is that a counterpart from another organisation may be trained differently or not at all. What happens then? A study by Alfred Zerres and colleagues finds out.The study recruited 360 business administration students as either a 'buyer' or 'seller' and gave each some information on the context to study. Participants then conducted an initial negotiation over computer chat with a counterpart (a buyer to their seller), each trying to achieve their assigned objectives. Pair performance was measured by combining the success of buyer and seller: the negotiation was designed to be non-zero-sum as some factors were framed as more valuable to the buyer than seller, and vice versa, making some settlements more 'efficient' or mutually attractive than others. For this first negotiation, pair performance was fairly inefficient, on average reaching just 61% of the best outcome for both parties. After this, some participants were kept busy with a filler task, whilst others received negotiation training. The training introduced the idea of 'logrolling', trading factors that mean more to the person receiving than the one giving, epitomised by two children fighting over an orange when one is most interested in the juice and the other the peel. Trainees then had opportunities to work through an example and then try and extend the concept to some other cases. After this session, all pairs reconvened for a second negotiation on a separate issue. In some cases both parties had received training, and their pair performance was significantly better. What about when just one party had been trained? They did just as well – but only if it was the seller who had gotten training. Seeking a causal mechanism behind this, the researchers had recorded the computer-chat negotiation interactions, and looked at the amount of active information exchange in each pair, specifically sharing their own priorities or asking the counterpart about theirs. This kind of information sharing is crucial for logrolling, and analysis confirmed that this was behind the better performance by pairs with a trained seller. In a third negotiation one month later, groups with a trained seller both were better at spotting logrolling opportunities but also at recognising entirely compatible factors such as a buyer wanting quick delivery and a seller wanting to clear their warehouse rapidly.The buyer role in a negotiation is about loss-aversion (not being suckered into a bad purchase) which encourages a vigilant but passive stance - 'convince me!' - putting the onus on the seller to push and shape the conversation. If the seller is focused on log-rolling, then that conversation will be more transparent and lead to better outcomes. In some cases, a purchasing organisation might benefit more by identifying vendors that are trained in (virtuous, win-win) negotiation techniques than to invest in training their own buyers. Alternatively, organisations who do train sellers might want to go beyond providing new concepts and investigate whether altering their motivational mindset could lead to better outcomes in negotiations that matter.Zerres, A., Hüffmeier, J., Freund, P., Backhaus, K., & Hertel, G. (2013). Does it take two to tango? Longitudinal effects of unilateral and bilateral integrative negotiation training. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98 (3), 478-491 DOI: 10.1037/a0032255 Further reading: Nadler, J., Thompson, L., & Van Boven, L. (2003). Learning negotiationskills: Four models of knowledge creation and transfer. ManagementScience, 49, 529 –540. doi:10.1287/mnsc.49.4.529.14431... Read more »
Zerres, A., Hüffmeier, J., Freund, P., Backhaus, K., & Hertel, G. (2013) Does it take two to tango? Longitudinal effects of unilateral and bilateral integrative negotiation training. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(3), 478-491. DOI: 10.1037/a0032255
What is going on in the brain of someone who has the deluded belief that they are brain dead? A team of researchers led by neuropsychologist Vanessa Charland-Varville at CHU Sart-Tilman Hospital and the University of Liege has attempted to find out by scanning the brain of a depressed patient who held this very belief.
The researchers used a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner, which is the first time this scanning technology has been used on a patient with this kind of delusion - known as Cotard's syndrome after the French neurologist Jules Cotard. The 48-year-old patient had developed Cotard's after attempting to take his own life by electrocution. Eight months later he arrived at his general practitioner complaining that his brain was dead, and that he therefore no longer needed to eat or sleep. He acknowledged that he still had a mind, but (in the words of the researchers) he said he was "condemned to a kind of half-life, with a dead brain in a living body."
The researchers used the PET scanner to monitor levels of metabolic activity across the patient's brain as he rested. Compared with 39 healthy, age-matched controls, he showed substantially reduced activity across a swathe of frontal and temporal brain regions incorporating many key parts of what's known as the "default mode network". This is a hub of brain regions that shows increased activity when people's brains are at rest, disengaged from the outside world. It's been proposed that activity in this network is crucial for our sense of self.
"Our data suggest that the profound disturbance of thought and experience, revealed by Cotard's delusion, reflects a profound disturbance in the brain regions responsible for 'core consciousness' and our abiding sense of self," the researchers concluded.
Unfortunately the study has a number of serious limitations beyond the fact that it is of course a single case study. As well as having a diagnosis of Cotard's Delusion, the patient was also depressed and on an intense drug regimen, including sedative, antidepressant and antipsychotic medication. It's unclear therefore whether his distinctive brain activity was due to Cotard's, depression or his drugs, although the researchers counter that such an extreme reduction in brain metabolism is not normally seen in patients with depression or on those drugs.
Another issue is with the lack of detail on the scanning procedure. Perhaps this is due to the short article format (a "Letter to the Editor"), but it's not clear for how long the patient and controls were scanned, nor what they were instructed to do in the scanner. For example, did they have their eyes open or closed? What did they think about?
But perhaps most problematic is the issue of how to interpret the findings. Does the patient have Cotard's Delusion because of his abnormal brain activity, or does he have that unusual pattern of brain activity because of his deluded beliefs? Relevant here, but not mentioned by the researchers, are studies showing that trained meditators also show reduced activity in the default mode network. This provides a graphic illustration of the limits to a purely biological approach to mental disorder. It seems diminished activity in the default mode network can be associated both with feelings of being brain dead or feelings of tranquil oneness with the world, it depends on who is doing the feeling. Understanding how this can be will likely require researchers to think outside of the brain.
Charland-Verville, V., Bruno, M., Bahri, M., Demertzi, A., Desseilles, M., Chatelle, C., Vanhaudenhuyse, A., Hustinx, R., Bernard, C., Tshibanda, L., Laureys, S., and Zeman, A. (2013). Brain dead yet mind alive: A positron emission tomography case study of brain metabolism in Cotard's syndrome. Cortex DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2013.03.003
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.
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Charland-Verville, V., Bruno, M., Bahri, M., Demertzi, A., Desseilles, M., Chatelle, C., Vanhaudenhuyse, A., Hustinx, R., Bernard, C., Tshibanda, L.... (2013) Brain dead yet mind alive: A positron emission tomography case study of brain metabolism in Cotard's syndrome. Cortex. DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2013.03.003
One of the palpable weaknesses in the American justice system is the tendency for it to produce different outcomes for people from different social classes. Part of this is a result of discrepancies in the quality of legal representation people can afford, but part of it is also due to inconsistencies in the way morally questionable activities [...]... Read more »
by Persuasion Strategies in Persuasive Litigator
By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm: Think of the situations where self-diagnosis wouldn't work very well: A police officer asking, "Do you think you were speeding?" or a doctor inquiring, "Do you believe your cancer is in remission?" Yet we still rely on self-diagnosis when trying to discover and eliminate bias in civil and criminal cases by essentially asking prospective jurors, "Are you biased?" A new study (Robertson, Yokum & Palmer, 2013) takes a look at whether we can rely on jurors to identify their own attitudes and know the sources of their own judgments well enough to say whether they would...... Read more »
Robertson, C., Yokum, D., . (2013) The Inability of Jurors to Self-Diagnose Bias. 7th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, 12-35. info:/
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