Post List

  • August 20, 2014
  • 08:00 AM

Because He Is The One

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Swatting a fly is hard. They always seem to know you’re coming, and even if you do surprise them, they often avoid your assassination attempts. New research is showing how they do it. A 2014 paper indicates that animals with faster metabolic rates actually process information and react quicker than larger animals. This, along with recent data showing how flies can jump away from a visual stimulus before taking flight and how they can coordinate a 0.03 second banking turn with incoming visual information, makes me feel less inadequate when I can’t grab them with my chopsticks.... Read more »

Muijres FT, Elzinga MJ, Melis JM, & Dickinson MH. (2014) Flies evade looming targets by executing rapid visually directed banked turns. Science (New York, N.Y.), 344(6180), 172-7. PMID: 24723606  

Jumpertz R, Hanson RL, Sievers ML, Bennett PH, Nelson RG, & Krakoff J. (2011) Higher energy expenditure in humans predicts natural mortality. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 96(6). PMID: 21450984  

  • August 20, 2014
  • 06:18 AM

Topological Insulators Could Power Memory Devices

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

A new phase of matter known as topological insulators, until recently known only for esoteric quantum-mechanical properties, might have a practical use in controlling magnetic memory and logic devices. ... Read more »

Mellnik, A., Lee, J., Richardella, A., Grab, J., Mintun, P., Fischer, M., Vaezi, A., Manchon, A., Kim, E., Samarth, N.... (2014) Spin-transfer torque generated by a topological insulator. Nature, 511(7510), 449-451. DOI: 10.1038/nature13534  

  • August 20, 2014
  • 06:06 AM

How Stress Promotes Atherosclerosis

by Agnese Mariotti in United Academics

There is evidence that chronic stress increases the risk of atherosclerosis, but no mechanism linking the two phenomena has been demonstrated so far. Since stressful emotional states can affect the function of the immune system, Heidt and colleagues of the Massachusetts General Hospital hypothesized that stress increases the activity of inflammatory cells in the plaques facilitating their rupture, as you can read in their recently published article.... Read more »

Heidt T, Sager HB, Courties G, Dutta P, Iwamoto Y, Zaltsman A, von Zur Muhlen C, Bode C, Fricchione GL, Denninger J.... (2014) Chronic variable stress activates hematopoietic stem cells. Nature medicine, 20(7), 754-8. PMID: 24952646  

  • August 20, 2014
  • 04:35 AM

ADHD in DSM-5: what did you think would happen?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Our results, combined with previous findings, suggest a 27% increase in the expected prevalence of ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder] among young adults, comparing DSM-IV to DSM-5 criteria". So said the paper by Matte and colleagues [1] who as part of their study looked at "the prevalence of ADHD according to DSM-5 criteria".Europa @ Wikipedia The changes to the diagnosis of ADHD in DSM-5 can be seen here. The main difference between DSM-IV and DSM-5 diagnosis seems to be a change in the maximum age of symptom onset; previously set at 7 years in DSM-IV, now 12 years in DSM-5. This change has been the topic of quite a bit of discussion [2].I'm going no further in this discussion aside from bringing to your attention an article by Dr Allen Frances who has been more than a little critical of the changes made to DSM in this latest version. To quote: "DSM 5 will likely trigger a fad of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder leading to widespread misuse of stimulant drugs for performance enhancement and recreation and contributing to the already large illegal secondary market in diverted prescription drugs". Accepting that any rise in the use of nootropics is beyond the scope of this post, the increase in expected prevalence reported by Matte and colleagues is not a million miles away from Dr Frances' 2012 prediction...Music then. Perfect Day by Lou Reed (the BBC version).----------[1] Matte B. et al. ADHD in DSM-5: a field trial in a large, representative sample of 18- to 19-year-old adults. Psychol Med. 2014 Jun 23:1-13.[2] Cortese S. Are concerns about DSM-5 ADHD criteria supported by empirical evidence? BMJ. 2013 Nov 27;347:f7072.----------Matte, B., Anselmi, L., Salum, G., Kieling, C., Gonçalves, H., Menezes, A., Grevet, E., & Rohde, L. (2014). ADHD in DSM-5: a field trial in a large, representative sample of 18- to 19-year-old adults Psychological Medicine, 1-13 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291714001470... Read more »

Matte, B., Anselmi, L., Salum, G., Kieling, C., Gonçalves, H., Menezes, A., Grevet, E., & Rohde, L. (2014) ADHD in DSM-5: a field trial in a large, representative sample of 18- to 19-year-old adults. Psychological Medicine, 1-13. DOI: 10.1017/S0033291714001470  

  • August 19, 2014
  • 10:15 PM

Dextrose 10% in the Treatment of Out-of-Hospital Hypoglycemia

by Rogue Medic in Rogue Medic

Is 50% dextrose as good as 10% dextrose for treating symptomatic hypoglycemia?

If the patient is disoriented, but becomes oriented before the full dose of dextrose is given, is it appropriate to continue to treat the patient as if the patient were still disoriented? If your protocols require you to keep giving dextrose, do the same protocols require you to keep giving opioids after the pain is relieved? Is there really any difference?

50% dextrose has problems.... Read more »

Kiefer MV, Gene Hern H, Alter HJ, & Barger JB. (2014) Dextrose 10% in the treatment of out-of-hospital hypoglycemia. Prehospital and disaster medicine, 29(2), 190-4. PMID: 24735872  

  • August 19, 2014
  • 02:17 PM

Hobby Lobby and the War on Race and Women

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

There is a war going on and it's not on foreign soil. This war is the fight for the status quo, a war where you are only worth your skin color, a war where you are only worth as much as your gender. This war is all around us, we see it everyday, yet we let it quietly pass us by. We do this because, in all actuality, we are losing this war. I don't blame you if you don't believe me, you shouldn't.[…]... Read more »

  • August 19, 2014
  • 12:18 PM

August 19, 2014

by Erin Campbell in HighMag Blog

Think of life without tubes for a moment. Not only would our huge bodies cease to exist, but our homes’ plumbing would be a mess and my 5-year old’s marble run would be pretty boring. The formation of tubes during development is a fascinating topic. Today’s image is from a paper describing the role of endocytosis in seamless tube formation. The trachea of the fruit fly is a simple tubular system that functions as the respiratory system of the fly. The star-shaped tracheal terminal cells form seamless tubes that extend the length of long cellular extensions. Schottenfeld-Roames and colleagues recently published a study investigating the mutations in the braided gene. Tracheal terminal cells in braided mutants have tubular cysts and fewer branches, as seen in the images above (top is wild-type; bottom is mutant). braided encodes Syntaxin7, a endocytosis protein that promotes fusion of vesicles to early endosomes. Schottenfeld-Roames and colleagues found that mutations in other early endosome proteins cause similar terminal cell tube defects. Additional data showing increased levels of the apical protein Crumbs in braided terminal cells suggests that early endocytosis regulates levels of Crumbs, which in turn affects tube formation through actin cytoskeleton modulation. The images above show the luminal membrane (green) and an apical protein (magenta) in tracheal tubes. The tubes in braided mutants are cystic and abnormal, and the tube tips are disorganized (higher magnified views of the boxed regions are on the left).Schottenfeld-Roames, J., Rosa, J., & Ghabrial, A. (2014). Seamless Tube Shape Is Constrained by Endocytosis-Dependent Regulation of Active Moesin Current Biology, 24 (15), 1756-1764 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.06.029Copyright ©2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.All the images were acquired by Dr. Jodi Schottenfeld-Roames. ... Read more »

  • August 19, 2014
  • 07:14 AM

Cats Won’t Answer Your Call Or Ring You Back

by Chiara Civardi in United Academics

In a recent article, scientists proof that cats do not evidently set aside special attentions to their owners when called, even though they were able to recognize a familiar voice. Twenty domestic cats simply moved their head or their ears when called by whomever, owners or strangers, but almost no cat replied, “saying something”. They tried with everything: official names, nicknames, etc. but cats never said a word. In addition, hearing the owners’ voice did not result in a marked behavior: the cat response was equal.... Read more »

  • August 19, 2014
  • 04:58 AM

How to help an anxious interviewee - be mean to them

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

They've barely taken their seat, but it's obvious that your interviewee is nervous. You give her a reassuring smile and nod affirmatively at each of her answers, hoping to put her at ease. Unfortunately, it turns out that positive feedback does a socially anxious interviewee no favours. In fact, it would be better to turn that smile upside-down.We know this from a new study from North Illinois University where a "careers counsellor" (actually a research assistant) conducted practice interviews while moderating his or her tone of voice, posture and facial expression to provide either positive, negative, or no feedback to the interviewee. The sessions were recorded to allow later evaluation of interview performance and behaviours, and each of the 85 student participants initially completed a questionnaire to rate their social anxiety.Under positive and neutral feedback, the more relaxed participants gave better interviews than their anxious counterparts, making more impact and looking more hireable. But under negative feedback this pattern reversed, and the anxious were the stronger performers. This wasn't simply due to the relaxed participants collapsing under the baleful eye of the negative interviewer; the socially anxious actually benefited from the negative feedback, giving better interviews under that condition than any other.Drilling into the specific behaviours shown by the socially anxious participants, Christopher Budnick's team observed that positive and neutral feedback was associated with an upswing in anxiety displays - fidgeting, low eye-contact, sparse responses - and fewer assertive tactics such as positioning themselves as being like the interviewer. The anxious individuals actually made a better impression when facing off against an interviewer who seemed to have a low opinion of them.This paradoxical effect can be explained by our need to have a consistent self-image. Consider a relaxed person given reassuring cues: their self-image is unchallenged, so they can place their attention on external concerns, including making a good impression. By contrast, a socially anxious person typically has a negative self-image, meaning positive feedback is jarring and invites self-consciousness, distracting them from effective interpersonal engagement and social behaviours.Budnick's team tested this explanation by presenting participants with open-ended questions and counting their use of first-person pronouns (I, me, my, myself, and mine) in response, which was taken as a sign of increased self-focus. The anxious interviewees relied on more of these under positive (vs. negative) feedback, with a reversed pattern in relaxed participants. A subsequent analysis confirmed that this higher self-focus was part of the route by which incongruent feedback led to worse performance.The researchers conclude with a recommendation: "high anxiety interviewees might not benefit fully from traditional interview training"; instead they could try learning techniques that "reduce the perceived disconnect between positive feedback and self-views." If you have a tendency to be anxious, you could prepare by thinking through all the reasons why someone might express an emotion without it necessarily being about you, and even put this into practice by asking a cheery friend to put you through a mock interview._________________________________  Budnick CJ, Kowal M, & Santuzzi AM (2014). Social anxiety and the ironic effects of positive interviewer feedback. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 1-17 PMID: 24773204 Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

... Read more »

  • August 19, 2014
  • 04:23 AM

Family processes and trajectory in autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper by Woodman and colleagues [1] looking at trajectory and autism in adolescents and adults is the source material for today's post (another micropost). Concluding that: "Overall, autism symptoms and maladaptive behaviors were observed to improve over the study period" of about 8 years, the authors also reported that "greater improvements were associated with higher levels of maternal praise (based on maternal speech samples) and higher quality mother-child relationships". If I remember correctly, that last sentence on maternal praise being linked to outcome was the topic of some discussion at IMFAR (2014) this year (see here). That alongside some concerns about healthcare provision for adults with autism (see here) which ties in well with the recent revision to the Treating Autism document on health comorbidity in autism (see here).A word of warning from Alnwick CastleWhilst treading a little bit carefully in this area, I find the Woodman paper to be intriguing. Not only because their findings provide further support for the fluidity of presentation in autism tied into the concept of stability (see here), but also because of that association between presentation and environment [2].A quick trawl through the peer-reviewed literature on this topic reveals that family context is something previously covered by this authorship group as per other papers [3]. Some of their other discussions [4] looking at the role of families on autism carry some pearls of wisdom, as for example: "It is important to note that within any family system, transactions among family members are bidirectional. As such, in addition to risks for parental health due to stressful caregiving, high levels of family distress also can create difficulties for the individual with autism". That last paper also talked about the use of a "multi-family group psychoeducation" intervention model (see here) as a means to improve the family dynamic which is something I'd like to see quite a bit more research into.Music to close, and what else but Praise You by Fatboy Slim...----------[1] Woodman AC. et al. Change in Autism Symptoms and Maladaptive Behaviors in Adolescence and Adulthood: The Role of Positive Family Processes. J Autism Dev Disord. 2014 Jul 29.[2] Smith LE. et al. Symptoms and behavior problems of adolescents and adults with autism: effects of mother-child relationship quality, warmth, and praise. Am J Ment Retard. 2008 Sep;113(5):387-402.[3] Smith LE. et al. The family context of autism spectrum disorders: influence on the behavioral phenotype and quality of life. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2014 Jan;23(1):143-55.[4] Smith LE. et al. Adults with autism: outcomes, family effects, and the multi-family group psychoeducation model. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2012 Dec;14(6):732-8.----------Woodman AC, Smith LE, Greenberg JS, & Mailick MR (2014). Change in Autism Symptoms and Maladaptive Behaviors in Adolescence and Adulthood: The Role of Positive Family Processes. Journal of autism and developmental disorders PMID: 25070471... Read more »

  • August 18, 2014
  • 05:14 PM

The 10,000-Hour rule is nonsense

by Richard Kunert in Brain's Idea

Have you heard of Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule? The key to success in any field is practice, and not just a little. A new publication in the journal Psychological Science had a good look at all the evidence and concludes that this rule is nonsense. No Einstein in you, I am afraid. The authors of […]... Read more »

  • August 18, 2014
  • 02:55 PM

Researchers Efficiently Convert Ethane to Ethanol

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

A new material, designed and patented by researchers at Berkeley Lab, converts ethane to ethanol with an efficiency that could cut natural-gas refining costs.... Read more »

Xiao, D., Bloch, E., Mason, J., Queen, W., Hudson, M., Planas, N., Borycz, J., Dzubak, A., Verma, P., Lee, K.... (2014) Oxidation of ethane to ethanol by N2O in a metal–organic framework with coordinatively unsaturated iron(II) sites. Nature Chemistry, 6(7), 590-595. DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1956  

  • August 18, 2014
  • 01:21 PM

We can Build it Better: The First Artificial Cell Network

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

How does the old saying go? Imitation, is the sincerest form of flattery? Well that is what we’ve been trying to do for a very long time, but mimicking the intricate networks and dynamic interactions that are inherent to living cells is difficult to achieve outside the cell. Unfortunately despite all our intelligence nature has had the upper hand on us for a long time. That has not changed… until now that is.[…]... Read more »

Karzbrun E, Tayar AM, Noireaux V, & Bar-Ziv RH. (2014) Programmable on-chip DNA compartments as artificial cells. Science (New York, N.Y.), 345(6198), 829-32. PMID: 25124443  

  • August 18, 2014
  • 01:00 PM

Five Facts You Did Not Know About Eggshells

by Shefali Sabharanjak in United Academics

Don't just throw away your Sunday morning egg shell. The humble eggshell and the shell membrane – the thin paperish sheet on the inner part of the eggshell- has a large number of surprising uses. Here’s a short list of five:... Read more »

  • August 18, 2014
  • 10:16 AM

Guidelines for Treatment of Problem Gambling

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

Despite the prevalence and impact of problem gambling, few summaries or guidelines address treatment.Searching the website shows no recent additions to the guideline literature.A guideline was published by the Singapore Ministry of Health in 2011. This guideline is still relevant and highlights some of the key elements of a problem gambling treatment program.I will summarize some of these key elements from this source titled: "Management of gambling disorders".  In their summary they highlight the level of evidence and research for each element. I will focus on those with the highest level of research support.Screening: Screening for problem gambling is not recommended for all the general primary care population.  However, screening for problem gambling is recommended for patients at high risk including those with "frequent physical or psychological complaints, or who have a history of substance/alcohol use problems". Additionally screening for problem gambling is recommended as part of psychiatric assessments for mental health evaluation.Assessing elements of gambling history:Initiation, progression and frequency information (days per week, hours per day)Severity in money lost compared to income Factors promoting maintenance of gambling behaviorFeatures of dependence similar to other addictive disordersGambling consequences: Review of list of potential gambling-related behaviors: Financial (credit card debt, neglect of payment of essential items such as utilities, rent, car payments)Social/interpersonal: marital conflict, neglect of usual social support activities, conflict with family members or friendsVocational: absence from work, neglect of work activities due to time spent gamblingLegal: Legal consequence of being in debt, stealing from family or work to finance gamblingPsychological Treatments:Cognitive behavioral therapy is the primary recommended psychological interventionMotivational enhancement therapy may be helpful for some individualsAdditionally, mindfulness therapy may be used as an adjunct therapySelf-help support groups are not recommended as a primary source of treatment and should only be used in conjunction with individual professional treatmentFinancial counseling may be needed to address gambling-related debt issuesPsychopharmacological Interventions: The Singapore guidelines do note some evidence-based support for opioid antagonists drugs naltrexone and nalmefene. Unfortunately, since 2011 additional evidence-based support for the opioid antagonists is sparse. Use of selective serotonin receptor inhibitor drugs such as fluvoxamine and paroxetine are also noted in the guideline. These may be helpful in problem gamblers with a comorbid depression or anxiety disorder.The Singapore guidelines do note the need for comprehensive assessment of axis I and II (personality disorder) issues in problem gamblers. I will take a look at the comorbidity topic in more depth in a future post.Readers with more interest in the Singapore Ministry of Health problem gambling treatment guidelines can access the summary here.Photo of green heron is from the author's files.Follow the author on Twitter at WRY999.Lee KM, Chan HN, Cheah B, Gentica GF, Guo S, Lim HK, Lim YC, Noorul F, Tan HS, Teo P, & Yeo HN (2011). Ministry of Health clinical practice guidelines: management of gambling disorders. Singapore medical journal, 52 (6) PMID: 21732000... Read more »

Lee KM, Chan HN, Cheah B, Gentica GF, Guo S, Lim HK, Lim YC, Noorul F, Tan HS, Teo P.... (2011) Ministry of Health clinical practice guidelines: management of gambling disorders. Singapore medical journal, 52(6), 456. PMID: 21732000  

  • August 18, 2014
  • 04:59 AM

The simple piece of information that could dramatically increase your muscular endurance

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

How most of us choose to behave is shaped powerfully by the behaviour of others (or, more specifically, our perception of their behaviour). Psychologists call this the influence of "social norms", and its potency has been investigated extensively in the context of environmentally friendly behaviours like recycling, and health behaviours, such as binge drinking and frequency of exercise.What if this same psychological lever could be exploited, not to encourage people to take up more physical activity, but to boost their athletic performance? A pair of researchers, Carly Priebe and Kevin Spink, have tested this idea for the first time.Sixty-eight regulars (nine men) at a pilates studio were asked to perform two plank exercises, and to hold each for as long as they possibly could. As a cover story, they were told that the purpose of the challenge was to help find out the average performance level for this exercise.The plank is a physically demanding exercise that involves adopting a face-down prone position, then raising the body on forearms and toes, and holding this position rigid, parallel to the ground. It was emphasised to participants that they should hold the the position for as long as possible on both attempts, and that their times would be averaged for the research.The participants were given a three-minute rest between each attempt. The key intervention is that between planks, half the participants were given the "social norms" message that 80 per cent of people similar to them (in terms of age, gender and pilates level) had achieved a 20 per cent longer time on their second effort. The other participants were told nothing of this kind, or anything else (this is a potential weakness of the study, which I'll return to).The researchers had hoped their intervention, if successful, would lead merely to sustained performance on the second attempt. The rather dramatic result is that participants given the social norms message achieved a five per cent increase on their second attempt (first attempt average time was 95.82 seconds; second attempt average was 99.79 seconds). This is dramatic because after performing a first plank to exhaustion, one would typically expect participants' second attempt to be shorter. The control participants, as expected, achieved a significantly shorter time on their second plank attempt (76.38 seconds vs. 90.09 seconds on their first attempt - a drop of 18 per cent).Priebe and Spink said their findings "hint at the potency of the descriptive norm information and the potential effects of social influence on physical activity tasks." Participants in the social norms condition reported higher "self-efficacy" (belief in their own ability) than control participants, so this hints at a possible mechanism for the effect of the intervention. A strength of this research is that the researchers gauged participants' beliefs about other people's performance before presenting them with the social norms message. The majority of participants assumed that most others would decline in performance on their second attempt. This was important to check because past research has shown that social norms interventions can backfire if people hold initial beliefs that exceed the reality of the normative message.As hinted at earlier, a weakness of the study is the lack of a control condition that communicated a different message to the participants. This means we can't tell how much of the apparent effect of the current intervention was specific to its social norms content. It's possible receiving any kind of motivational message between exercises would have had a galvanising effect. Another problem, of course, is that the social norms message was a fabrication - the participants were effectively fed a lie. It's also not clear how long this kind of intervention could sustain its effects. News of other people's performance might be motivating at first, but could quickly lose its potency, or even become counter-productive._________________________________ Priebe, C., & Spink, K. (2014). Blood, sweat, and the influence of others: The effect of descriptive norms on muscular endurance and task self-efficacy Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15 (5), 491-497 DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2014.04.012 Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

... Read more »

  • August 18, 2014
  • 04:10 AM

ADHD in the prison population: a micropost

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Compared with published general population prevalence, there is a fivefold increase in prevalence of ADHD in youth prison populations (30.1%) and a 10-fold increase in adult prison populations (26.2%)"."Mianly dry" apparently @ Paul WhiteleyThat was the primary conclusion reached in the meta-analysis by Young and colleagues [1] looking at the collected peer-reviewed literature on "the variable prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in incarcerated populations".There is little more for me to say on this topic aside from the fact that as per the paper by Usher and colleagues [2], the presence of ADHD (including sub-threshold signs and symptoms) might have quite a few implications for things like comorbid mental health features [3] and issues like substance abuse [4]. That also: "ADHD symptoms were also found to predict institutional misconduct" is an important point to make without trying to make any sweeping generalisations.Screening of the prison population for ADHD sounds like it might be a good idea on the basis of the collected data in this area, leading on to further discussions about possible management options. That being said, intervention might not necessarily just include the more traditional pharmacotherapy but as per the important work by Bernard Gesch and colleagues [5] overlapping with the studies from Julia Rucklidge and colleagues (see here), on how good nutrition might also be on the menu. In fact...To close, the Foo Fighters and Learn to Fly.----------[1] Young S. et al. A meta-analysis of the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in incarcerated populations. Psychol Med. 2014 Apr 7:1-12.[2] Usher AM. et al. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in a Canadian prison population. Int J Law Psychiatry. 2013 May-Aug;36(3-4):311-5.[3] Kessler RC. et al. The prevalence and correlates of adult ADHD in the United States: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Am J Psychiatry. 2006 Apr;163(4):716-23.[4] Harstad E. et al. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and substance abuse. Pediatrics. 2014 Jul;134(1):e293-301.[5] Gesch CB. et al. Influence of supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behaviour of young adult prisoners. Randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Br J Psychiatry. 2002 Jul;181:22-8.----------Young S, Moss D, Sedgwick O, Fridman M, & Hodgkins P (2014). A meta-analysis of the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in incarcerated populations. Psychological medicine, 1-12 PMID: 25066071... Read more »

  • August 17, 2014
  • 09:00 PM

Can psychopathy be treated?

by neurosci in Neuroscientifically Challenged

Some psychological conditions receive a disproportionate amount of attention in popular media relative to how frequently they actually occur in the population. One of those is psychopathy, a personality disorder that is characterized by antisocial behavior, impulsivity, and a lack of empathy. Psychopaths may be charming on the surface but tend towards pathological deception and indifferent manipulation of other people. And they are more likely to have behavioral problems or be involved in criminal behavior.This description portrays the psychopath as a societal parasite, leaving little role in a community for such an individual other than as part of the criminal justice system. This turns out to be the reality for many psychopaths, who are estimated to make up only 1% of the general population but between 15-25% of the incarcerated population. But, as our criminal justice system is supposed to be designed to rehabilitate criminals, there is an important question regarding psychopaths that has yet to be answered: can psychopathy be treated? There is not a clear-cut answer to this question, and you might find a differing of opinion even among experts.Neuroscience of psychopathyOne argument sometimes used in support of the idea that psychopaths are not truly capable of being treated is that studies have found brain abnormalities in psychopaths that might be associated with their deviant behavior. This argument becomes less valid, however, when we consider that there are neurobiological aberrations that can be detected in the brains of sufferers of any disorder. Just because there are predisposing neurobiological aspects of a disorder does not mean the disorder is untreatable; if this were the case, the list of psychological disorders we could treat would arguably be empty.Studies with psychopaths have identified a number of neurobiological features that might be linked to the disorder. For example, abnormalities in limbic system function have been observed in psychopaths. The anterior cingulate cortex, part of a network that is activated when we observe other people experiencing pain, is one limbic area that has been implicated. In psychopaths, activation of the anterior cingulate when seeing others in pain is muffled. This has been interpreted as being partly responsible for the psychopath's reduced capacity for empathy. Other limbic structures hypothesized to play a role in psychopathy include the amygdala, hippocampus, and striatum.There are also structural abnormalities in the brains of psychopaths. For example, studies have found psychopaths to have a larger corpus callosum, asymmetrical hippocampi, and deformed amygdalae. The significance of these structural differences, however, is not yet very clear.Effectiveness of rehabilitation in psychopathsAs indicated, however, just because behavior is based in neurobiology doesn't mean it is immutable. If that were the case, we might as well give up on trying to change anything about ourselves. A more important question is if the research suggests that psychopathic behavior becomes less so with rehabilitation.Unfortunately, there is not a straightforward answer to that question. Some do report that treatment may be beneficial. For example, studies by Caldwell et al. (2006) and Skeem et al. (2002) both found improvements in psychopaths with treatment (measured by likelihood of recidivism). However, other studies have obtained less optimistic results, ranging from little improvement in psychopathy with treatment to treatment seeming to exacerbate psychopathic behavior. All of the studies on psychopathy treatment have limitations, however, and there is not a well-controlled experiment that we can point to and feel confident that it tells us if psychopathy is treatable.Influence on sentencingOne of the reasons it is important to know if psychopaths can be rehabilitated is that this information would likely have a significant influence on sentencing, parole hearings, etc. A study published a few years ago found that simply giving a judge information about the biology of psychopathy could lead to a reduction in the sentencing of a diagnosed psychopath (compared to a judge not receiving that information), even though the information didn't indicate psychopathy was treatable (in fact it implied the opposite). However, with or without information about the associated biology, a diagnosis of psychopathy may still add years to a sentence, as judges are more likely to consider the convict a continued danger to society.With some reliable data about treatment to point to, we might be able to either provide evidential support for those extended sentences or justification for reducing them if proper treatment were provided (depending on what the data indicated). Right now, however, the data we have on rehabilitation of psychopathy is somewhat muddled, with some studies indicating it is possible and other studies suggesting treatment could actually make things worse. Until we have a more definitive answer, we should be hesitant about assuming psychopathy is untreatable; at the same time we should be exploring controlled experiments that allow us to obtain a better understanding of the response of the psychopath to rehabilitation.Polaschek, D. (2014). Adult Criminals With Psychopathy: Common Beliefs About Treatability and Change Have Little Empirical Support Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23 (4), 296-301 DOI: 10.1177/0963721414535211... Read more »

  • August 17, 2014
  • 07:01 PM

Young people and 12-step – what’s not to like?

by DJMac in Recovery Review

Recent research suggests AA works as well for young people as it does for older adults, although maybe in different ways. Referring to 12-step mutual aid is embodied in our National Clinical Guidelines, National Drugs Policies and by NICE. Getting people to go is a different story as a leaflet and a recommendation has a [...]
The post Young people and 12-step – what’s not to like? appeared first on Recovery Review.
... Read more »

  • August 17, 2014
  • 06:18 PM

Where did Ebola come from? Rooting the un-rootable

by Andrew Shaw in Virus Musings

Using molecular clocks to determine the root of the Ebola Zaire tree... Read more »

join us!

Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

If you don't have a blog, you can still use our site to learn about fascinating developments in cutting-edge research from around the world.

Register Now

Research Blogging is powered by SMG Technology.

To learn more, visit