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  • October 7, 2010
  • 08:31 AM
  • 456 views

Israel and Palestine are Both Fighting Back...?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There are three basic schools of thought on the Israel / Palestine thing.Those evil Israelis are out to destroy Palestine, and the Palestinians are just fighting back.Those evil Palestinians are out to destroy Israel, and the Israelis are just fighting back.It's a cycle of violence, where both sides are fighting back against the other.Which one you subscribe to depends mostly on where you were born. I'm not aware of many people who've changed their minds on this issue, perhaps because doing so would require a study of the last 2,500 years of history, religion and politics.Wouldn't it be handy if science could provide an answer? According to the authors of a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the "cycle" school is right: both sides are fighting back against the other: Both sides retaliate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.The authors (from Switzerland, Israel and the USA) took data on daily fatalities on both sides, and also of daily launches of Palestinian "Qassam" rockets at Israel. The data run from 2001, the start of the current round of unpleasantness, to late 2008, the Gaza War.They looked to see whether the number of events that happened on a certain day predicted the number of events caused by the other side on the following days, i.e. whether a Palestinian death caused the Palestinians to retaliate by firing more rockets and killing more Israelis, and vice versa.What happened? They found that both sides were more likely to launch attacks on the days following a death on their own side. The exception to this rule was that Israel did not noticeably retaliate against Qassam launches. This is perhaps because Qassams are so ineffective: out of 3,645 recorded launches, they killed 15 people.These graphs show the number of "extra" actions on the days following a event, averaged over the whole 8 years, according to a statistical method called the Impulse Response Function. Note that the absolute size of the effects is larger for the Israeli retaliations (the Y axis is bigger); there were a total of 4,874 Palestinian fatalities and 1,062 Israeli fatalitiesThe authors then used another method called Vector Autoregression to discover more about the relationship. In theory, this method controls for the past history of actions by a given side, so that it reveals the number of actions independently caused by the opposing side.the number of Qassams fired increases by 6% on the first day after a single killing of a Palestinian by Israel; the probability of any Qassams being fired increases by 11%; and the probability of any Israelis being killed by Palestinians increases by 10%. Conversely, 1 day after the killing of a single Israeli by Palestinians, the number of Palestinians killed by Israel increases by 9%, and the probability of any Palestinians being killed increases by 20%....retaliation accounts for a larger fraction of Palestinian compared with Israeli aggression: in the levels specification, 10% of all Qassam rockets can be attributed to prior Israeli attacks on Palestinians, but only 4% of killings of Palestinians by Israel can be attributed to prior Palestinian attacks on Israel.... 6% of all days on which Palestinians attack Israel with rockets, and 5% of all days on which they attack by killing Israelis, can be attributed to retaliation; in contrast, this is true for only 2% of all days on which Israel kills Palestinians.What are we to make of this? This is a good paper as far as it goes, and it casts doubt on earlier analyses finding that Israel is retaliating against Palestinians but not vice versa. However, the inherent problem with all of this research (beyond the fact that it's all based on correlations and can only indirectly imply causation), is that it focuses on individual acts of violence. The authors say, citing surveys, thatOver one half of Israelis and three quarters of Palestinians think the other side seeks to take over their land. When accounting for their own acts of aggression, Israelis often claim to be merely responding to Palestinian violence, and Palestinians often see themselves as simply reacting to Israeli violence.But I don't think many Israelis would argue that the IDF only kills individual Palestinians as a reflex reaction to a particular attack. They're claiming that the whole conflict is a defensive one, that the Palestinians are the aggressors, but that doesn't rule out their taking the initiative on a tactical level e.g. in destroying Palestinian military capabilities before they have a chance to attack. And vice versa on the other side.WW2 was a war of aggression by the Axis powers, but that doesn't mean that the Allies only killed Axis soldiers after they'd attacked a certain place. The Allies were on the offensive for the second half of the war, and eventually invaded the Axis's own homelands, but it was still a defensive war, because the Axis were responsible for it.For Israel and for Palestine, the other guys are to blame for the whole thing. Who's right, if anyone, is fundamentally a historical, political and ethical question, that can't be answered by looking at day-to-day variations in who's shooting when.Comment Policy: Please only comment if you've got something to say about this paper, or related research. Comments that are just making the case for or against Israel will get deleted.Haushofer J, Biletzki A, & Kanwisher N (2010). Both sides retaliate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PMID: 20921415... Read more »

Haushofer J, Biletzki A, & Kanwisher N. (2010) Both sides retaliate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 20921415  

  • October 6, 2010
  • 05:04 PM
  • 713 views

My IVF story: after conception, being preggers

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

This is the second post of four on my experience with IVF and pregnancy, and my thinking on its broader meaning to the public and to anthropology. Find the first post here.PreggersA few weeks after the positive blood test, I had my ultrasound where we saw a tiny little bean and a beating heart. During this time I was having what felt like bad menstrual cramps. The nurse told me this was quite normal, but I still spent a lot of mental energy fretting over it. The rest of the first trimester was pretty uncomfortable. In addition to being exhausted, I was nauseous. I didn’t want to eat vegetables. In fact, all I really wanted was toast (gluten free, of course). I concocted a pretty awesome smoothie that I would drink once or twice a day, made of chocolate almond milk, peanut butter and ice cubes. It settled my stomach, and it’s probably because of those smoothies that I only lost four pounds.At this point we also transitioned from medical doctor care to a midwife. At first we were just given to the next available midwife in our practice. But when it became clear that in order to stay in that practice we’d have to have a hospital birth, we transferred to the Cambridge Birth Center in Cambridge, MA and the midwives there.Where to give birth and whyThe Cambridge Birth Center is a stand-alone birth center associated with (and across the street from) the Cambridge Hospital. There are no doctors, but you can get into the OR in four minutes for an emergency C-section if you need to (yes, they practice and time these things). So I was completely confident that, if I had a straightforward, low-risk pregnancy and labor, I would be best suited to the birth center, and if anything went wrong I was minutes from a doctor.We were a bit nervous about this decision, because of the stigma attached to IVF children. Do IVF pregnancies lead to more difficult pregnancies or labors? Are we going to have a child with greater or fewer limbs than the average? The reality is that, while the egg was fertilized in a rather special manner, a fertilized egg, then blastocyst, trophoblast, and so on that makes it to become a fetus, and then makes it trouble-free through the first trimester? That fetus is very, very likely to be healthy and normal.The other reason we were firm in our decision is that a number of interventions that are automatic upon entering a hospital are not physiologically necessary, and even increase the risk of later interventions. Pubic hair shaving is still a common practice in some hospitals, which is just plain dehumanizing. More common are continuous fetal monitoring and putting in an IV immediately. Continuous fetal monitoring is more likely to find false positives, which means it’s more likely to find pathology in a fetal heartbeat that goes up or down but resolves on its own naturally. IVs restrict movement and lower the barrier for a doctor to suggest, and a woman to agree to, pharmaceutical interventions. This is in addition to the many other criticisms I could launch but won’t because I find it all so exhausting.The biggest issue, for me, is that if you walk into a hospital you have at least a 33% chance of having a Cesarean section, and the reasons behind that are largely related to the ratcheting up of interventions as one intervention necessitates the next one. A C-section is major abdominal surgery. It takes a long time to recover. It is hard to breastfeed, it is hard to pick up your child, and you spend more days in the hospital. These are days when your sleep is more disrupted than when you’re home, and you increase your and your child’s chances of infection by being in a hospital, and extra days when you as a family could be figuring out a routine at home to make sure the mother isn’t the only one bonding to the new baby.Then there are indications that C-sections create health concerns for the baby as she gets older. Babies of C-sections have higher rates of allergy (i.e., Roduit et al 2009), asthma (i.e., Davidson et al 2010) and Celiac (gluten intolerance) (Decker et al 2010). I am a C-section baby myself and I have severe allergies, allergy-induced asthma, and gluten intolerance (a trifecta of awesomeness!). Given that I’ll be passing on some of the genetic proclivities for these things, I wasn’t too keen on giving my child the environmental components that would also increase her risk if I could avoid it.So we started seeing a midwife, and I got to know a different part of Cambridge better than I’d known before. I really fell in love with Inman Square.Going metaThroughout my pregnancy, I devoured popular books on pregnancy (good: anything by Sheila Kitzinger, bad: What to Expect When You’re Expecting) but also searched for a lot of information on PubMed and kept an Endnote library devoted to my results. I read about the craptastic relationship between symphysis-fundal height measurements (this is when they use measuring tape to measure the size of your belly) and birth weight (i.e., Johnstone et al 1996) – even in those studies that found a statistical correlation, SFH often explained very little of the variance in birth weight. I read about exercise during pregnancy (de Groot et al 1994) – and I played soccer through my first trimester, jogged through my second, and worked out five days a week through the whole pregnancy, up to the day before my due date. I read about meconium, I read about fetal monitoring, I read about maternal stress. When I wasn’t working I was reading, and when I wasn’t reading I was exercising. All the other time I was in prenatal appointments or sleeping.Of course, as excruciatingly long as the pregnancy felt, as boring and normal and yet delightful as it was, it did eventually come to a close. Family flew in from out of town to be around for my due date, and there was a lot of pressure – joking, but pressure nonetheless – to produce offspring before everyone left. When my due date brought with it the occasional half-hearted contraction, nothing I hadn’t felt before, I went to bed disappointed.The next morning I woke up, got out of bed, and my water broke all over the bedroom floor.* * *Next time, I’ll talk about the joys of drug-free labor.ReferencesDavidson, R., Roberts, S., Wotton, C., & Goldacre, M. (2010). Influence of maternal and perinatal factors on subsequent hospitalisation for asthma in children: evidence from the Oxford record linkage study BMC Pulmonary Medicine, 10 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2466-10-14Decker, E., Engelmann, G., Findeisen, A., Gerner, P., Laass, M., Ney, D., Posovszky, C., Hoy, L., & Hornef, M. (2010). Cesarean Delivery Is Associated With Celiac Disease but Not Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Children PEDIATRICS, 125 (6) DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-2260de Groot LC, Boekholt HA, Spaaij CK, van Raaij JM, Drijvers JJ, van der Heijden LJ, van der Heide D, & Hautvast JG (1994). Energy balances of healthy Dutch women before and during pregnancy: limited scope for metabolic adaptations in pregnancy. ... Read more »

Decker, E., Engelmann, G., Findeisen, A., Gerner, P., Laass, M., Ney, D., Posovszky, C., Hoy, L., & Hornef, M. (2010) Cesarean Delivery Is Associated With Celiac Disease but Not Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Children. PEDIATRICS, 125(6). DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-2260  

de Groot LC, Boekholt HA, Spaaij CK, van Raaij JM, Drijvers JJ, van der Heijden LJ, van der Heide D, & Hautvast JG. (1994) Energy balances of healthy Dutch women before and during pregnancy: limited scope for metabolic adaptations in pregnancy. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 59(4), 827-32. PMID: 8147326  

Johnstone, F., Prescott, R., Steel, J., Mao, J., Chambers, S., & Muir, N. (1996) Clinical and ultrasound prediction of macrosomia in diabetic pregnancy. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 103(8), 747-754. DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.1996.tb09868.x  

Roduit, C., Scholtens, S., de Jongste, J., Wijga, A., Gerritsen, J., Postma, D., Brunekreef, B., Hoekstra, M., Aalberse, R., & Smit, H. (2009) Asthma at 8 years of age in children born by caesarean section. Thorax, 64(2), 107-113. DOI: 10.1136/thx.2008.100875  

  • October 6, 2010
  • 04:10 PM
  • 746 views

My IVF story: after conception, being preggers

by Kate Clancy in Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology

This is the second of a four part series on IVF, pregnancy and labor.... Read more »

Decker, E., Engelmann, G., Findeisen, A., Gerner, P., Laass, M., Ney, D., Posovszky, C., Hoy, L., & Hornef, M. (2010) Cesarean Delivery Is Associated With Celiac Disease but Not Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Children. PEDIATRICS, 125(6). DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-2260  

de Groot LC, Boekholt HA, Spaaij CK, van Raaij JM, Drijvers JJ, van der Heijden LJ, van der Heide D, & Hautvast JG. (1994) Energy balances of healthy Dutch women before and during pregnancy: limited scope for metabolic adaptations in pregnancy. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 59(4), 827-32. PMID: 8147326  

Johnstone, F., Prescott, R., Steel, J., Mao, J., Chambers, S., & Muir, N. (1996) Clinical and ultrasound prediction of macrosomia in diabetic pregnancy. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 103(8), 747-754. DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.1996.tb09868.x  

Roduit, C., Scholtens, S., de Jongste, J., Wijga, A., Gerritsen, J., Postma, D., Brunekreef, B., Hoekstra, M., Aalberse, R., & Smit, H. (2009) Asthma at 8 years of age in children born by caesarean section. Thorax, 64(2), 107-113. DOI: 10.1136/thx.2008.100875  

  • October 6, 2010
  • 11:27 AM
  • 1,388 views

Digital Literacy at What Price?

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

A cultural and cognitive shift is well underway in terms of how we access and process information via digital media. And a recent study confirms our suspicions: though we are becoming more tech savvy, it may be at the expense of creative and critical thinking. Researchers from the University of Israel (2009), tested digital literacy with a group in 2002. In 2007, they tested this same group again and found statistically significant changes on the test scores.  Is this further proof of the widening double digital divide?

Digital literacy is defined in this study as the "ability to employ a wide range of cognitive and emotional skills in using digital technology" (713). This range covers six skills:Photovisual literacy: ability to work with digital environments that employ graphical communication, such as user interfaces.
Reproduction literacy: ability to create authentic, meaningful  written and artwork by reproducing and manipulating digital media.
Branding literacy: ability to construct knowledge by nonlinear navigation through knowledge domains (i.e., hyperlinks).
Information literacy: ability to consume information critically and sort out false and biased views.
Socioemotional literacy: ability to communicate in online communication platforms (e.g., chat, bulletin boards).
Real Time Thinking: ability to process and evaluate large amounts of information in real time, such as in computer games and chatrooms.
Participants were given tasks in four of these areas (photovisual, reproduction, branching, and information). When tested five years later, and compared to a control group, there was a significant change in digital skills.


From Changes Over Time in Digital Literacy, 2009.
© CyberPsychology and Behavior.
The results demonstrate that all age groups in the study responded similarly: all were able to demonstrate an increased grasp of technology. However, on tasks that creativity and critical thinking (reproduction and information), the scores for younger participants dipped slightly in comparison to adults, whose scores increased.
With the ever increasing amount of information readily available via hyperlinks, and a growing willingness to use digital media to access that information, how can we encourage digital literacy and maintain critical thinking skills? How can we change students' relationships with information? And how can we ensure that everyone has access to the tools necessary to build a solid foundation of digital media?
Does the diminished critical thinking skill will add another level to the digital divide: those without access, those with access but with poor understanding of the tools, and those with access and understanding. What kinds of issues do you foresee these groups facing?
Cited:Eshet-Alkalai, Y., & Chajut, E. (2009). Changes Over Time in Digital Literacy CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12 (6), 713-715 DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2008.0264

... Read more »

Eshet-Alkalai, Y., & Chajut, E. (2009) Changes Over Time in Digital Literacy. CyberPsychology , 12(6), 713-715. DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2008.0264  

  • October 5, 2010
  • 08:50 PM
  • 631 views

A Lack of Energy May Increase the Size of Human Civilization

by Michael Long in Phased

John DeLong (Yale University, United States) and coworkers present a paradoxical finding, namely that a lack of available energy supplies will enable the human population to keep on growing, rather than stabilize, in the coming decades. This news feature was written on October 5, 2010.... Read more »

  • October 5, 2010
  • 09:51 AM
  • 539 views

Family and Culture Affect Whether Intelligence Leads to Education

by APS Daily Observations in Daily Observations

Intelligence isn’t the only thing that affects your education: family, culture, and other factors are important, too. A new study published in Psychological Science, compared identical and fraternal twins in ... Read more »

Johnson, W., Deary, I.J., Silventoinen, K., Tynelius, P., & Rasmussen, F. (2010) Family background buys an education in Minnesota but not in Sweden. Psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science / APS. PMID: 20679521  

  • October 4, 2010
  • 11:37 PM
  • 1,015 views

The Ignobel Prizes – A computational study of the Peter Principle

by Croor Singh in Learning to be Terse

This year’s Ignobel Prizes have been announced. Among the winners are an engineering solution to the problem of collecting whale snot, a prize in Medicine for the people who discovered that asthma can be treated by putting the patient on a roller coaster (I’m having a hard time imagining clinical trials for this!), a Peace [...]... Read more »

Pluchino, A., Rapisarda, A., & Garofalo, C. (2010) The Peter principle revisited: A computational study. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, 389(3), 467-472. DOI: 10.1016/j.physa.2009.09.045  

  • October 4, 2010
  • 12:35 AM
  • 516 views

ET Impact Probably Didn’t Wipe Out Clovis

by cfeagans in A Hot Cup of Joe



In a paper published in PNAS in 2007[1], Firestone and others suggested that there was evidence that shows that the Younger Dryas period in the Northern Hemisphere was interrupted by a barrage of extraterrestrial comets at about 12.9 ka. This … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • October 1, 2010
  • 12:26 PM
  • 640 views

Sex, Evolution, and the Case of the Missing Polygamists

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries in Exile

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted at Psychology Today by Sex at Dawn:There is no greater mystery in human evolution than the origins of our sexuality. Following the trail of clues available researchers have independently concluded that humans evolved through systems of monogamy, polygyny, as well as polyamory. However only one can be the culprit and, like a detective interrogating multiple suspects, the solution ultimately depends on which account you're willing to believe. Last year Owen Lovejoy made the case for monogamy based on the fossil remains of the early human ancestor Ardipithecus ramidus. Meanwhile, Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá have argued that polyamory (or, more precisely, a multimale-multifemale mating system) is the most likely scenario from an analysis that emphasized anthropology, behavioral biology, and physiology. To further complicate matters the third suspect in this mystery, polygyny, has been the conclusion from scientists conducting DNA analyses. These conflicting accounts therefore require careful detective work in order to determine which story is the most convincing.Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in The Primate Diaries in Exile tour.Hammer, M., Mendez, F., Cox, M., Woerner, A., & Wall, J. (2008). Sex-Biased Evolutionary Forces Shape Genomic Patterns of Human Diversity PLoS Genetics, 4 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000202... Read more »

  • October 1, 2010
  • 05:17 AM
  • 618 views

Genes for ADHD, eh?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The first direct evidence of a genetic link to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder has been found, a study says.Wow! That's the headline. What's the real story?The research was published in The Lancet, and it's brought to you by Wilson et al from Cardiff University: Rare chromosomal deletions and duplications in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.The authors looked at copy-number variations (CNVs) in 410 children with ADHD, compared to 1156 healthy controls. A CNV is simply a catch-all term for when a large chunk of DNA is either missing ("deletions") or repeated ("duplications"), compared to normal human DNA. CNVs are extremely common - we all have a handful - and recently there's been loads of interest in them as possible causes for psychiatric disorders.What happened? Out of everyone with high quality data available, 15.6% of the ADHD kids had at least one large, rare CNV, compared to 7.5% of the controls. CNVs were especially common in children with ADHD who also suffered mental retardation (defined as having an IQ less than 70) - 36% of this group carried at least one CNV. However, the rate was still elevated in those with normal IQs (11%).A CNV could occur anywhere in the genome, and obviously what it does depends on where it is - which genes are deleted, or duplicated. Some CNVs don't cause any problems, presumably because they don't disrupt any important stuff.The ADHD variants were very likely to affect genes which had been previously linked to either autism, or schizophrenia. In fact, no less than 6 of the ADHD kids carried the same 16p13.11 duplication, which has been found in schizophrenic patients too.So...what does this mean? Well, the news has been full of talking heads only too willing to tell us. Pop-psychologist Oliver James was on top form - by his standards - making a comment which was reasonably sensible, and only involved one error:Only 57 out of the 366 children with ADHD had the genetic variant supposed to be a cause of the illness. That would suggest that other factors are the main cause in the vast majority of cases. Genes hardly explain at all why some kids have ADHD and not others.Well, there was no single genetic variant, there were lots. Plus, unusual CNVs were also carried by 7% of controls, so the "extra" mutations presumably only account for 7-8%. James also accused The Lancet of "massive spin" in describing the findings. While you can see his point, given that James's own output nowadays consists mostly of a Guardian column in which he routinely over/misinterprets papers, this is a bit rich.The authors say thatthe findings allow us to refute the hypothesis that ADHD is purely a social construct, which has important clinical and social implications for affected children and their families.But they've actually proven that "ADHD" is a social construct. Yes, they've found that certain genetic variants are correlated with certain symptoms. Now we know that, say, 16p13.11-duplication-syndrome is a disease, and that its symptoms include (but aren't limited to) attention deficit and hyperactivity. But that doesn't tell us anything about all the other kids who are currently diagnosed with "ADHD", the ones who don't have that mutation."ADHD" is evidently an umbrella term for many different diseases, of which 16p13.11-duplication-syndrome is one. One day, when we know the causes of all cases of attention deficit and hyperactivity symptoms, the term "ADHD" will become extinct. There'll just be "X-duplication-syndrome", "Y-deletion-syndrome" and (because it's not all about genes) "Z-exposure-syndrome".When I say that "ADHD" is a social construct, I don't mean that people with ADHD aren't ill. "Cancer" is also a social construct, a catch-all term for hundreds of diseases. The diseases are all too real, but the concept "cancer" is not necessarily a helpful one. It leads people to talk about Finding The Cure for Cancer, for example, which will never happen. A lot of cancers are already curable. One day, they might all be curable. But they'll be different cures.So the fact that some cases of "ADHD" are caused by large rare genetic mutations, doesn't prove that the other cases are genetic. They might or might not be - for one thing, this study only looked at large mutations, affecting at least 500,000 bases. Given that even a deletion or insertion of just one base in the wrong place could completely screw up a gene, these could be just the tip of the iceberg.But the other problem with claiming that this study shows "a genetic basis for ADHD" is that the variants overlapped with the ones that have recently been linked to autism, and schizophrenia. In other words, these genes don't so much cause ADHD, as protect against all kinds of problems, if you have the right variants.If you don't, you might get ADHD, but you might get something else, or nothing, depending on... we don't know. Other genes and the environment, presumably. But "7% of cases of ADHD associated with mutations that also cause other stuff" wouldn't be a very good headline...N. M. Williams et al (2010). Rare chromosomal deletions and duplications in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a genome-wide analysis The Lancet... Read more »

N. M. Williams et al. (2010) Rare chromosomal deletions and duplications in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a genome-wide analysis. The Lancet. info:/

  • September 30, 2010
  • 11:29 AM
  • 493 views

Around the web: sexuality

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

The "Around the Web" series highlights informative websites, and also targeted blog posts and news articles, relevant to the courses I teach. This semester I teach Anth 143: Biology of Human Behavior, an introductory-level course that covers the basics of evolution, behavioral biology, and the interaction of biology and culture. My hope is that these posts are useful not only for my current students, but other reasons hoping to gain background or insight into these topics.This week I have been trying to finish up two large writing projects: a new IRB and a manuscript draft. So posting has been light. I also admit to having a little trouble figuring out whether to foreground this particular Around the Web post with some of my own thoughts about this topic. I've decided to risk it.I have two main thoughts I want to offer, one on each half of the lecture I gave Tuesday; these comments will ground the links I'm sharing.Honest signaling and mate preferencesDue to time constraints, I didn't feel I could go into much detail about my unease about this particular field of research. Much of the work done on human mate preferences is quite good, especially the work that either links the preferences to fecundity/fertility (i.e., Jasienska et al 2004), or to actual reproductive success (i.e., Apicella et al 2007). What worries me when I teach this material in a large, introductory setting is that, despite any caveats I may offer about the research, students often walk away from lecture thinking that all women like strong, masculine men who are good hunters, and all men like young, feminine women with big birthing hips. This is simply not true. You can look at the assortment of who marries who and find a lot more variation, and that's because there is so much variation in mating strategy. Perhaps if someone gives you a range of faces and asks you which you prefer you choose one in line with honest signals for immune health or fertility. But do you have sex with this person or enter into a long-term relationship with this person? Not necessarily, because honest signals of health are only ONE of many factors you consider when choosing a mate. Cultural conditioning, humor, kindness, proximity, religion, political leanings... these are all issues that confound choice purely for good genes. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.In fact, an interesting article just came out that shows how some traits in preferred versus actual mates are similar, and how some are different. Definitely worth a read!Dr. Petra Boynton, sexpert, therapist, blogger, and all-around cool person, has a wonderful blog relevant to this week's topic. I'll send you over with one of my favorite posts, but check out the whole site: ten tips for successful dating.I also have to pass on an article sent to me by a student (hooray, I love when students send me stuff!). I'm very glad Davis Shannon sent me this article about body versus face preferences in men looking for one night stands. Of course, the style of the story is pretty offensive. I was also pretty appalled at the quote from the lead author. But in addition to exposing you all to a new study on this topic, it exposes you to an example of very bad science reporting. I think this is very useful to students learning to filter good information from bad.Finally, in an example of GOOD science journalism, I give you several selections from Not Exactly Rocket Science: one on male bowerbirds influencing mate choice in nestmaking, and one that is only barely related to this week's topic, on masturbating squirrels. You heard me right. Go read it, it's great.SexualityI had a rather devastating interaction with a student after class this week. This student approached me and asked me why I thought there was such a thing as homophobia. The student explained that a group of male students behind him/her were making offensive jokes during my portion of the lecture on homosexuality and were dismissive of the idea that there is a spectrum of human sexual preference that is quite normal and reflected in behaviors we see in the animal kingdom. Both the student, and I, were very upset by this, and I didn't have a particularly good answer.Oppressive behaviors of one group of people towards another are not new. But I find it especially disappointing when I hear of my own students behaving in this way, especially when I have invested so much in creating lectures with active learning components that give them space to think critically. Like I said, I have no good answers, except to have zero tolerance for such behavior if I am ever in earshot. Perhaps if more people understood that, for some people in our society, it is a huge personal risk to simply express who you love, and those of us who have a more socially-condoned sexual preference can never quite understand the toll this can take on a human being.Of course, it may be an additional condolence to find out that those individuals who are most homophobic are most likely to have hidden gay urges. No, I didn't make that up. It's SCIENCE!And for every story of teachers suspended for assigning articles on gay animals or assistant attorney generals using internet bullying tactics on gay students, there are stories of LGBT-inclusive immigration legislation or UN efforts to end laws that discriminate against homosexuals.ReferencesApicella, C., Feinberg, D., & Marlowe, F. (2007). Voice pitch predicts reproductive success in male hunter-gatherers Biology Letters, 3 (6), 682-684 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0410Jasienska, G., Ziomkiewicz, A., Ellison, P., Lipson, S., & Thune, I. (2004). Large breasts and narrow waists indicate high reproductive potential in women Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 271 (1545), 1213-1217 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2712... Read more »

Jasienska, G., Ziomkiewicz, A., Ellison, P., Lipson, S., & Thune, I. (2004) Large breasts and narrow waists indicate high reproductive potential in women. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 271(1545), 1213-1217. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2712  

  • September 28, 2010
  • 06:01 AM
  • 1,137 views

Independent Neanderthal Innovation - Some Additional Considerations

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

One of my upcoming papers (Riel-Salvatore 2010) was written-up in a series of mainstream news outlets, including the New York Times, the BBC, Discovery News, AOLNews, MSNBC and sundry others. The original, reproduced in Science Daily, was published under the headline "Neanderthals More Advanced Than Previously Thought: They Innovated, Adapted Like Modern Humans, Research Shows." In the original ... Read more »

Churchill SE, & Smith FH. (2000) Makers of the early Aurignacian of Europe. American journal of physical anthropology, 61-115. PMID: 11123838  

Green, R., Krause, J., Briggs, A., Maricic, T., Stenzel, U., Kircher, M., Patterson, N., Li, H., Zhai, W., Fritz, M.... (2010) A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome. Science, 328(5979), 710-722. DOI: 10.1126/science.1188021  

Higham, T., Brock, F., Peresani, M., Broglio, A., Wood, R., & Douka, K. (2009) Problems with radiocarbon dating the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in Italy. Quaternary Science Reviews, 28(13-14), 1257-1267. DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2008.12.018  

Trinkaus, E. (2003) An early modern human from the Pestera cu Oase, Romania. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(20), 11231-11236. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2035108100  

Zilhão, J. (2006) Neandertals and moderns mixed, and it matters. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 15(5), 183-195. DOI: 10.1002/evan.20110  

  • September 27, 2010
  • 11:30 AM
  • 1,484 views

Children and Their Pets

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Your humble narrator finds himself sick with a cold, so here's a post from the archives.



There is considerable research on how children interact with other children and with adults, and how child development can be influenced by those interactions. But research on children's interactions with non-human animals seem to be limited. Given how ubiquitous pets are in the homes of children (at least, in WEIRD cultures), it is somewhat surprising that there hasn't been more work on the way pet ownership might affect child development.

According to the US Humane Society:

There are approximately 77.5 million owned dogs in the United States
Thirty-nine percent of U.S. households own at least one dog
Most owners (67 percent) own one dog
Twenty-four percent of owners own two dogs
Nine percent of owners own three or more dogs
On average, dog owners spent $225 on veterinary visits (vaccine, well visits) annually

There are approximately 93.6 million owned cats in the United States
Thirty-three percent of U.S. households (or 38.2 million) own at least one cat
Fifty-six percent of owners own more than one cat
On average, owners have two cats (2.45)
Cat owners spent an average of $203 on routine veterinary visits


Developmental scientist Gail F. Melson noted this paucity in research in a 2003 review paper in The American Behavioral Scientist. Melson points out that most parents report that they acquired their family pets "for the children," and given the ubiquity of child-pet bonding and interaction, she suggests that it is an important area for child development research to investigate. She goes through several topic areas in child development and examines what has been learned, or could be learned, by investigating human-animal bonding.
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • September 27, 2010
  • 07:33 AM
  • 760 views

can language affect blood flow?

by Chris in The Lousy Linguist

Do languages affect blood flow in the brain differently? Apparently, yes! In a recent fMRI study, researchers showed that Cantonese verbs and nouns are processed in (slightly) different parts of the brain than English nouns and verbs in bilinguals. The researchers used a lexical decision task to contrast the processing of English and Cantonese verbs and nouns in the brains of bilingual speakers.Chinese nouns and verbs showed a largely overlapping pattern of cortical activity. In contrast, English verbs activated more brain regions compared to English nouns. Specifically, the processing of English verbs evoked stronger activities of left putamen, left fusiform gyrus, cerebellum, right cuneus, right middle occipital areas, and supplementary motor area. The cognition of English nouns did not evoke stronger activities in any cortical regions.This is truly language affecting thought, no? The point of general interest to linguist is that bilingual speakers seem to process words in their two languages differently. Cantonese words are processed using diffuse brain regions and English words are processed using localized regions (this is a simplified explanation of course).Now, I have to admit that this is not my specialty so I am not familiar with the background literature. However, as interesting as this is, I must say I have some serious questions about their methodology and underlying assumptions. IFirst, they use orthography as their base for determining the "similarity" and "complexity" of languages. That is, if two languages use an alphabet, they are considered similar. While they give some passing references to other linguist measures, ultimately it is orthography that they use to compare "complexity" of stimuli (their word, not mine). So, they compared the mean number of strokes in a Chinese character with the number of letters in an English word to determine which was "more complex" than the other. I found this weird.Then they made an assumption that Cantonese words are more ambiguous with respect to parts of speech. I do not klnow if this is true, but it certainly is true that English has plenty of POS ambiguity (just ask Eric Brill), so it's not obvious to me that this is a fair assumption. Furthermore, they provider no evidence for this. Unfortunately, they do not publish their actual sets of stimuli, so it's not possible (this morning while googling around) to look at which words they actually use, but I suspect there's plenty of ambiguity to be found in the English words.Based on earlier work, they conjecture that morphological simplicity leads the brain to distribute where words are processed in the brain:...a recent fMRI study examining monolingual Chinese adults in our own laboratory indicated that Chinese nouns and verbs activate a wide range of overlapping brain areas (without a significantly different network) than those reported in the English studies cited above (Li et al., 2004). Relatively fewer distinctive  grammatical features of nouns and verbs at the lexical level are likely to be responsible for this finding, but the question may be addressed more directly by employing bilingual individuals.And the corollary should be true: the fact that English has tense and number markings means English verbs and nouns are processed ion more isolated parts of the brain. This is my wording of their conjecture. I may be oversimplifying just a bit, but I'm trying to wrap my head around the underlying claim. It's not clear to me why this would be true.Next (and this may be a bit nit-picky), they judged the level of bilingual proficiency using a self-assessment questionnaire. Call me a cynic, but I just don't trust people's perceptions of their own language skills. Then, the researches used frequency data from really dated sources including Francis and Kuceras 1982. I love F&K as much as the next guy, but in the age of the BNC, Davies's freely available 400 million word COCA, and the redonkulous Web 1T corpus of 1 trillion words (yes, 1 Trillion!), I see no reason to use resources so old.Their basic conclusions are a tad confusing too. They never clearly explained the connection between bilingualism and morphological complexity, imho. The interplay is complicated and requires thorough discussion, which they simply did not provide. When I used to teach writing to college freshmen, I always told them that their job when writing a paper was to make my job as a reader easy. Explain things clearly so I don't have to work too hard to figure out what you mean. These authors failed to make my job easy. I had to figure things out too much for myself.Ultimately, they found something interesting, I'm just not sure what it means and without more thorough linguistic vetting of their underlying assumptions, their results remain a head scratcher.Chan, A., Luke, K.K., Li, G., Li, P., Weekes, B., Yip, V., & Tan, L.H. (2008). Neural correlates of nouns and verbs in early bilinguals. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1145, 30–40. (pdf)Chan, A., Luke, K., Li, P., Yip, V., Li, G., Weekes, B., & Tan, L. (2008). Neural Correlates of Nouns and Verbs in Early Bilinguals Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1145 (1), 30-40 DOI: 10.1196/annals.1416.000... Read more »

Chan, A., Luke, K., Li, P., Yip, V., Li, G., Weekes, B., & Tan, L. (2008) Neural Correlates of Nouns and Verbs in Early Bilinguals. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1145(1), 30-40. DOI: 10.1196/annals.1416.000  

  • September 25, 2010
  • 07:40 PM
  • 495 views

Another Possible Chacoan Effigy Vessel

by teofilo in Gambler's House

Effigy vessels are very rare in the prehistoric Southwest, and human effigy vessels even more so.  Most known examples, especially in the Anasazi area, are of animals, and by far the most common of these are the so-called “duck pots,” a distinctive type of vessel shape that is often considered to be a representation of [...]... Read more »

  • September 24, 2010
  • 08:22 AM
  • 3,915 views

Language, Thought, and Space (V): Comparing Different Species

by Michael in A Replicated Typo 2.0

As I’ve talked about in my last posts (see I, II, III, and IV) different cultures employ different coordinate systems or Frames of References (FoR) when talking about space.  FoRs
“serve to specify the directional relationships between objects in space, in reference to a shared referential anchor” (Haun et al. 2006: 17568)
As shown in my last post . . . → Read More: Language, Thought, and Space (V): Comparing Different Species... Read more »

Haun DB, Rapold CJ, Call J, Janzen G, & Levinson SC. (2006) Cognitive cladistics and cultural override in Hominid spatial cognition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103(46), 17568-73. PMID: 17079489  

  • September 23, 2010
  • 01:56 PM
  • 873 views

Reflections on the WEIRD Evolution of Human Psychology

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by PLoS Blogs:What happens if researchers inadvertently fall prey to confirmation bias at a societal level?Addressing this question Canadian psychologists Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan at the University of British Columbia (where I am also located) recently published a paper in the journal Behavioral Brain Sciences. Their research documents how most of the studies that psychologists claim show human universals are really just extrapolations from a single social group, the cultural equivalent of the psychopaths in my example. As The New York Times wrote in their review:According to the study, 68 percent of research subjects in a sample of hundreds of studies in leading psychology journals came from the United States, and 96 percent from Western industrialized nations. Of the American subjects, 67 percent were undergraduates studying psychology — making a randomly selected American undergraduate 4,000 times likelier to be a subject than a random non-Westerner.The subpopulation that Henrich and colleagues found to be overrepresented are entirely WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) societies. While it’s bad enough that WEIRD American undergraduates are serving as our model for human behavior, what their paper goes on to document should be of concern to all behavioral and cognitive researchers (particularly those whose work focuses on human evolutionary explanations). Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33 (2-3), 61-83 DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X0999152XRead the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in The Primate Diaries in Exile tour.... Read more »

Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010) The weirdest people in the world?. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83. DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X0999152X  

  • September 23, 2010
  • 01:56 PM
  • 700 views

Reflections on the WEIRD Evolution of Human Psychology

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries in Exile

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by PLoS Blogs:What happens if researchers inadvertently fall prey to confirmation bias at a societal level?Addressing this question Canadian psychologists Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan at the University of British Columbia (where I am also located) recently published a paper in the journal Behavioral Brain Sciences. Their research documents how most of the studies that psychologists claim show human universals are really just extrapolations from a single social group, the cultural equivalent of the psychopaths in my example. As The New York Times wrote in their review:According to the study, 68 percent of research subjects in a sample of hundreds of studies in leading psychology journals came from the United States, and 96 percent from Western industrialized nations. Of the American subjects, 67 percent were undergraduates studying psychology — making a randomly selected American undergraduate 4,000 times likelier to be a subject than a random non-Westerner.The subpopulation that Henrich and colleagues found to be overrepresented are entirely WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) societies. While it’s bad enough that WEIRD American undergraduates are serving as our model for human behavior, what their paper goes on to document should be of concern to all behavioral and cognitive researchers (particularly those whose work focuses on human evolutionary explanations). Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33 (2-3), 61-83 DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X0999152XRead the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in The Primate Diaries in Exile tour.... Read more »

Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010) The weirdest people in the world?. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83. DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X0999152X  

  • September 22, 2010
  • 07:33 AM
  • 747 views

Through the Language Glass (Part 2)

by Chris in The Lousy Linguist

This is part 2 of my review of Guy Deutscher's new book Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages. This covers The Language Lens (129-249). Part 1 is here. This review will cover the scientific evidence that Deutscher reviews suggesting that language affects thought, and will end with a shocking proposal.To sum up my review of part one: meh. Okay, we've established that culture can influence language. This is a lot less controversial than Deutscher makes it seem and he spent a large amount of text defending that position. Okay, whatever, time to move on. In part 2 he again begins with historical review explaining why he thinks Whorf was a con man, but also why he thinks the core insights of early linguist relativity deserve closer, honest investigation. He complains that based his Hopi claims on just one lonely informant (p142). We'll see later that Deutscher himself falls for the same trap. He replaces Whorf with the Boas-Jakobson principle that languages differ in what they must convey, not what they may convey” (151). I respect Deutscher for making this a central theme in his book because I think he's right. To parrot his own recitation of Humbolt: any thought can be expressed in any language. It is what our native language forces us to foreground that makes linguistic relativity an interesting topic.Deutscher spends most of the second part of the book reviewing three areas of language that have provided evidence that language affects thought: spatial coordinates, grammatical gender, and color terms (familiar from part 1). The general point I want to make about his evidence is that it is far weaker than he maintains. But is is interesting. A brief set of reactions:Spatial Coordinates -- everything is embodiedMost of his argumentation about the affect of spacial coordinate terms on thought stems from Levinson's evidence from speakers of the Australian language Guugu Yimithirr which is famous for giving us the word “kangaroo.” Speakers of GY do not generally use ego-centric terms like "right" and "left" but rather use cardinal direction terms like "east" and "west." As a result, Deutscher claims, they remember information about situations differently than speakers of English. They have, so the argument goes, a perfect pitch for direction and they are always attuned to where north is. Deutscher's claim is that only the linguistic repetition of such terms can possibly account for this. Hence, their language affects what they pay attention to and what they remember, hence language affects thought.I've never found this line of research all that convincing regarding linguistic relativity and Deutscher does not really add much to the debate. Like Deutscher's complaint above regarding Whorf's one lonely Hopi speaker, it turns out there are not many native speakers of Guugu Yimithirr left and haven't been for a while. These experiments on directional language involve very few speakers, and most of them have both cardinal direction and ego-centric direction in their dialect. If we're going to complain about Whorf's restricted subject pool, we must complain about Levinson's too.But more to the point, I believe all direction terms are ultimately ego-centric insofar as they are embodied. The terms "north" and "south" are not magically universal. They are based on a human being's body and orientation (i.e., ego-centric). Don't believe me, ask yourself, what does "north" mean in space? What does "north" mean to an amoeba? Mostly what Deutscher does in his discussions of direction terms is reiterate the point he belabored in Part 1: culture affects language. Yeah, we got that already.The rise of similarity judgmentsThat is until he discusses the table experiments. These experiments show subjects tables with objects on them and ask them to arrange them in accordance with a target. Basically, they ask for similarity judgement. How can you make this table arrangement similar to the previous table. This methodological paradigm has become prominent in psycholinguistics and cognitive linguistics, especially studies testing linguistic relativity. In fact, all of the studies Deutscher discusses are similarity judgment studies of one sort or another. The point is that I show you one target thing, then two test things and ask, which test is MORE SIMILAR to the target than the other? Ultimately Deutscher himself problematizes spatial coordinate terms so much, they fall flat and remain unconvincing as a base of evidence for linguistic relativity.Grammatical GenderMost languages have terms for classifying things. Some languages have more elaborate classifier systems than others. In German, the term for the fork is die Gabel, marked by feminine die. Ultimately, most languages with elaborate classifiers have systems that can be described as incoherent in so far as most things given one classification have no inherent properties that signify that classification (there is nothing inherently feminine about a fork). However, Deutscher provides evidence that speakers of languages with grammatical gender will evoke properties of things in keeping with their gender classifier, suggesting that the classifier is causing them to imagine a fork would speak with a female voice, for example. But these experiments mainly test vague associations of imagination, not linguistic causality, as Deutscher admits.Color TermsIt is not until chapter 9 Russian Blues that Deutscher really delivers the goods. It is this chapter which provides the most interesting evidence for the effect of language on thought. Pity it is only about 15 pages of the book. The whole book should have been more like this. The facts he discusses involve the basic point that the brain sees what it wants to see. It turns out our perception of color has little to do with any objective feature of the thing we're looking at (he explains this fact brilliantly in the Appendix which I highly recommend, and frankly, should have been the first chapter, not relegated to the attic of an appendix). The point is that our brains change the input. As our eyes take in objective photons, our brain photoshops the input (a great analogy from Deutscher which really brings the point home).The experimental results Deutscher discusses involve more similarity judgements, albeit with a twist. Instead of relying solely on the similarity judgments, researchers studied the more objective reaction time. They showed people different color patches and asked them to judge the sameness. Despite the various and clever variations on this theme, they all relied on subjective judgements of similarity. And this is where they fail to extricate themselves from the problem of strategizing.Unfortunately they all share the critical flaw that making a similarity judgment is a logical reason act and may be mitigated by strategizing. Deutscher discusses this fact, but doesn't realize that none of the fixes work. A similarity judgment is always a logical process susceptible to the effects of strategizing. This will be a major issue in my Shocking Proposal at the end. You see, regardless of how clever the test, as long as you are basically asking a subject to make a similarity judgment, you are asking them to reason about the task. So your results will be tinged by the strategizing of human subjects as they logically try to game the system. This is well known in psycholinguistics and difficult to avoid. So how do you objectively test what colors a person considers blue?A Shocking ProposalThe paradigm already exists. How can you objectively prove that English speakers really do consider aspirated /kh/ and unaspirated /k/ both the same phoneme? You condition them to fear aspirated /kh/ by shocking them every time they hear it (measuring their galvanic skin response). Once they are conditioned, you then play them unaspirated /k/ (with no shock) and check to see if you get the same GSR spike (in anticipation).Okay, now apply this to color terms. Condition subjects to fear center of the category blue, then show them gradations. What causes the GSR spike? That's what they consider blue. now do that with speakers of 40 different languages.If the hippies on the human subjects review board let you do it, there's your dissertation.... Read more »

Guy deutscher. (2010) Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages. Metropolitan Books. info:/

  • September 22, 2010
  • 07:11 AM
  • 577 views

Sociopathic Dementia

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a tragic, but scientifically fascinating, disease.FTD only accounts for a small fraction of dementias in total (estimates range from 2% to 10%), but it typically strikes people aged in their 50s or 60s, i.e. much earlier than the average for Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia. As a result, FTD accounts for a large proportion of early-onset cases.The symptoms are different to those of Alzheimer's, at least in the early stages. Memory problems and confusion are not prominent. Nor are hallucinations and delusions, which are seen in 20% of Alzheimer's, but only 2% of FTD.Instead, patients often present with language problems - either forgetting what words mean, starting with uncommon words and progressing to easy ones ("semantic dementia"), or losing the ability to articulate speech ("nonfluent aphasia").But the most disturbing effects are behavioural and personality changes. These are not seen in all cases, but in some people (the "behavioural variant"), they are the main symptom. Patients may begin to act entirely out of character, including criminal acts.Aggressive behaviour is also sometimes seen in Alzheimer's, but it's usually associated with confusion or hallucinations: people "don't know what they're doing". In FTD, patients can commit serious crimes even though their cognitive function is pretty much intact: they do know what they're doing.Mario F. Mendez discusses this in a new paper, The Unique Predisposition to Criminal Violations in Frontotemporal Dementia, and asks whether people who commit crimes while suffering from FTD should be considered legally responsible for their apparantly "sociopathic" actions. He presents 4 case histories.Patient 1: A left-handed male in his sixties began stalking and attempting to molest children for the first time in his life. He followed children home from school and tried to touch them... On another occasion, he stood at the foot of a pool and stared at the children for a prolonged time.When he exposed himself to his neighbor’s children, he was arrested. The patient did not deny his actions, could describe them in detail, and endorsed them as wrong and harmful. Despite this, he stated that he did not feel that he was causing harm at the time of his acts.The patient’s personality had deteriorated over the prior four years, with decreased concern for others, disinhibition, and compulsive hoarding. He had caused disturbances at work, such as intruding into others’ conversations and walking into others’ offices... constantly pilfering... hiding money.... In addition, he ate indiscriminately, even going through waste containers and eating garbage. He stopped showering and wore the same clothes every day.Neuropsychological testing and brain scans suggested early FTD, and his mother had reportedly suffered unspecified dementia; FTD is often genetic. He was not prosecuted. This case has a lot in common with the man who became a pedophile after surgery for a brain tumour: not just the pedophilia, but other symptoms like compulsive hoarding, over-eating, etc.Patient 4: A right-handed man in his early fifties had a hit-and-run accident and left the scene without concern. He had struck a van with passengers but kept driving. The police stopped him a short distance away from the scene, and he did not deny his action.Leaving the scene of an accident was not characteristic of his premorbid personality, yet he had had several recent traffic violations... He could recall and describe the accident, knew that it was wrong to leave the scene, but did not feel the need to stop at the time.Over the prior two years, the patient’s pervasive behavior had significantly changed. He had become disengaged and emotionally detached; for example, he did not react to the death of his mother...He was no longer embarrassed over passing gas or belching in public or appearing partially clothed in front of others. The patient had a tendency toward hyperorality, especially for peanuts, and had a decline in personal hygiene. Other aspects of the history included dysarthria and a recent tendency to choke on liquids.This patient showed clear signs of motor neuron disease, which occurs in up to 15% of FTD cases. He died, as a result of the progression of the motor neuron disease, one year later, after developing other symptoms of FTD. His death meant he could not be tried for the hit-and-run.Mendez notes that legally, these patients would probably not qualify for the "insanity defence". Under the British M'Naghten Rules, also adopted by the USA, the defendant is only eligible if they werelabouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.These patients do not fit that bill.Finally, why does FTD cause sociopathic behaviour? Mendez says that it is because it involves degeneration of the vmPFC, linking FTD patients to the classic case of Phineas Gage whose vmPFC was destroyed by a flying iron rod. But Gage, while he did show personality changes, actually managed to function fairly well in society.So temporal lobe degeneration probably also contributes to the FTD behavioural syndrome, especially since many of the symptoms (like compulsive eating) are seen in monkeys with temporal lobe lesions.Mendez MF (2010). The unique predisposition to criminal violations in frontotemporal dementia. The journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 38 (3), 318-23 PMID: 20852216... Read more »

Mendez MF. (2010) The unique predisposition to criminal violations in frontotemporal dementia. The journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 38(3), 318-23. PMID: 20852216  

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