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  • September 4, 2010
  • 09:11 AM
  • 581 views

Normal? You're Weird - Psychiatrists

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Almost everyone is pretty screwed up. That's not my opinion, that's official - according to a new paper in the latest British Journal of Psychiatry.Make sure you're sitting down for this. No less than 48% of the population have "personality difficulties", 21% have a full blown "personality disorder", and 7% have it even worse with "complex" or "severe" personality disorders.That's quite a lot of people. Indeed it only leaves an elite 22.5% with no personality disturbances whatsoever. You're as likely to have a "simple PD" as you are to have a normal personality, and fully half the population fall into the "difficulties" category.I have difficulties with this.Where do these results come from? The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, which is a government study of the British population. They phoned up a random sample of several thousand people, and gave them the SCID interview, in other words they asked them questions. 116 questions in fact.48% of people answered "yes" to enough questions such that, according to their criteria, they had "personality difficulties". They defined "personality difficulties", which is not a term in common use, as being "one criterion less than the threshold for personality disorder (PD)" according to DSM-IV criteria.So what? Well, as far as I'm concerned, that means simply that "personality difficulties" is a crap category, which labels normality as pathological. I can tell that most of people with "difficulties" are in fact normal because they are the literally the norm. It's not rocket science.So we can conclude that "personality difficulties" should either be scrapped or renamed "normal". In which case the weird minority of people without any such features should be relabelled. Maybe they are best known as "saints", or "Übermenschen", or perhaps "people who lie on questionnaires".This, however, is not what the authors say. They defend their category of Personality Difficulties on the grounds that this group are slightly more likely to have a history of "issues" than the elite 22.5 percent, e.g. homelessness (3.0% vs. 1.6%), 'financial crisis' (10.1% vs. 6.8%), or having had treatment for mental illness (11% vs 6%).They say:The finding that 72% of the population has at least some degree of personality disturbance is counterintuitive, but the evidence that those with ‘personality difficulty’ covering two out of five of the population [it's actually closer to half], differs significantly from those with no personality disturbance in the prevalence of a history of running away from home, police contacts, homelessness... shows that this separation is useful from both clinical and societal viewpoints.Well, yeah...but no. The vast majority (90+%) of people with Personality Difficulty had no history of these things. It's true that, as a group, they have higher average rates, but all this tells you is that some of them have problems. I suspect they're the ones right at the "top end" of this category, the people who are almost into the next category up.Here's what I think is going on:The "difficulties" group and the "none" group are essentially the same in terms of the levels of crap stuff happening to them - because they are the same, normal, everyday people - except that a small % of the "difficulties" group do have some moderate degree of problems, because they are close to being "PD".This does not mean that the "difficulties" category is good. Quite the reverse, it means it's rubbish, because it spans so many diverse people and lumps them all together. What you should do, if you insist on drawing lines in the sand, would be this:Now I don't know that that's how things work, but it seems plausible. Bearing in mind that the categories they used are entirely arbitrary, it would be very odd if they did correspond to reality.To be fair to the authors, this is not the only argument in their paper. Their basic point is that personality disturbance is a spectrum: rather than it being a black-and-white question of "normal" vs."PD", there are degrees, ranging from "simple PD" which is associated with a moderate degree of life crap, up to "complex PD" which has much more and "severe PD" which is worst of all.They suggest that in the upcoming DSM-V revision of psychiatric diagnosis, it would be useful to formally incorporate the severity spectrum in some way - unlike the current DSM-IV, there everything is either/or. They also argue that with more severe cases of PD, it is not very useful to assign individual PD diagnoses (DSM-IV has no less than 10 different PDs) - severe PD is just severe PD.That's all fine, as long as it doesn't lead to pathologizing 78% of the population - but this is exactly what it might do. The authors do admit that "the SCID screen for personality disorder, like almost all screening instruments, overdiagnoses personality pathology", but provide little assurance that a "spectrum" approach won't do the same thing.Yang M, Coid J, & Tyrer P (2010). Personality pathology recorded by severity: national survey. The British Journal of Psychiatry 197, 193-9 PMID: 20807963... Read more »

Yang M, Coid J, & Tyrer P. (2010) Personality pathology recorded by severity: national survey. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science, 193-9. PMID: 20807963  

  • September 4, 2010
  • 08:33 AM
  • 916 views

the original Whorf

by Chris in The Lousy Linguist

Guy Deutcher's NYT's article on how language affects thought continues to get buzz, as surely his book Through The Language Glass will when people read it (it was just released 3 days ago and is currently #234 on Amazon's book rank). One common reaction amongst bloggers is that Deutscher gives Whorf himself unfairly harsh treatment, and ultimately mis-represents Whorf's own opinions.For example, Kathryn Woolard, SLA President, says "Whorf’s own statements of his theory look little like the caricature that opens the NYT article and much more like the position that Deutscher himself offers as reasonable and compelling. Far from holding that “the inventory of ready-made words” in a language “forbids” speakers to think specific thoughts, Whorf argued that patterns of grammatical structures, often the most covert ones at that, give rise not to a language prison but to a “provisional analysis of reality” and habits of mind, very much as Deutscher concludes."Mark Liberman says "And in fairness to Whorf, he mostly ... suggested that linguistic differences would have exactly the sorts of minor biasing effects on perception and memory that Boroditsky and others have found."Greg Downey says "The one thing that turns me off to Duetscher’s writings is his pretty harsh bashing of Benjamin Whorf, who, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting anthropological linguists."However, we don't need to rely on these secondary sources to stand up for Whorf, we can read one of Whorf's original papers that started this kerfluffel (60 years ago): Science and Linguistics (pdf). Happily for the lay reader, that paper is neither very science-ee nor linguistic-ee, nor is it very long. It's actually quite readable. It's basically a series of thought experiments and casual language facts. If you can read Deutescher's article, you can read Whorf's.So let's take a look at what Whorf said in his own words.Whorf begins the article by describing what he calls "natural logic": Every normal person in the world, past infancy in years, can and does talk. By virtue of that fact, every person — civilized or uncivilized — carries through life certain naive but deeply rooted ideas about talking and its relation to thinking. Because of their firm connection with speech habits that have become unconscious and automatic, these notions tend to be rather intolerant of opposition. They are by no means entirely personal and haphazard; their basis is definitely systematic, so that we are justified in calling them a system of natural logic (emphasis added).He then goes on to describe what natural logic says about the difference between language and thought. Namely that "Natural logic says that talking is merely an incidental process concerned strictly with communication, not with formulation of ideas. Talking, or the use of language, is supposed only to “express” what is essentially already formulated nonlinguistically. Formulation is an independent process, called thought or thinking, and is supposed to be largely indifferent to the nature of particular languages.[...] Natural logic holds that different languages are essentially parallel methods for expressing this one-and-the-same rationale of thought and, hence, differ really in but minor ways..."So Whorf claims that the average person is walking around (in 1940, mind you) believing that language and thought are independent processes and that thought is the same across all people, it's only languages that differ, and only slightly. Personally I find this a simplistic straw man argument. I'm not convinced all that many people held this view. Nonetheless, Whorf spends the rest of the article attacking his own straw man. A little too easy. But let's see what he actually says.Whorf then says that because people hold this view of natural logic, we are unable to see its flaws, that it is a part of our background assumptions and hence invisible to our thinking. This becomes a crucial part of his argument. We are unable to to imagine possibilities outside of natural logic: What it might well suggest to us today is that, if a rule has absolutely no exceptions, it is not recognized as a rule or as anything else; it is then part of the background of experience of which we tend to remain unconscious. Never having experienced anything in contrast to it, we cannot isolate it and formulate it as a rule until we so enlarge our experience and expand our base of reference that we encounter an interruption of its regularity (emphasis added). This rung quite hollow with me. He uses a couple of examples that undermine his very point. He asks us to imagine a person who could only see blue. That person would be unable to discover that they could only see blue because they wouldn't know what it was not see something else. Then he writes about gravity: The phenomenon of gravitation forms a rule without exceptions; needless to say, the untutored person is utterly unaware of any law of gravitation, for it would never enter his head to conceive of a universe in which bodies behaved otherwise than they do at the earth’s surface (emphasis added).Huh? Neither the blue-only example nor the gravity-ignorant example are convincing precisely because we stand (as they did in 1940) as examples of the opposite. Humans only perceive a limited range of the electromagnetic spectrum (not as limited as blue only, but limited nonetheless). Yet we managed to discover our limitations! Same with gravity. Note the qualifier Whorf added "untutored person." How did the tutored person get that way? At some point, she was tutored by someone else, but there was someone who first grasped that gravity must be a force. More to the point, Whorf assumes a model of the average person wherein imagination does not exist. I agree that people can be biased by their beliefs about the world, but we are not as trapped by them as Whorf seems to believe.Next, Whorf lists two fallacies of natural logic:It does not see that the phenomena of a language are to its own speakers largely of a background character and so are outside the critical consciousness and control of the speaker.It confuses agreement about subject matter, attained through use of language, with knowledge of the linguistic process by which agreement is attained.The first one I've already addressed, but the second one is interesting. Basically, it says that we mistake what it means when we agree through language. If we agree on directions to the movies, then we assume there is some objective fact we've discovered about the world, otherwise we would not have come to agree. I think there is something to this. And this is why it's difficult to break past our biases (essentially, agreement masquerades as objectivity). But again, Whorf takes it too far and writes, in all caps to be sure we all understand that this is an important point: THIS AGREEMENT IS REACHED BY LINGUISTIC PROCESSES, OR ELSE IT IS NOT REACHED.But surely there are examples of non-linguistic agreement in the world? Imagine two strangers are passing each other in a tight hallway, and they both move a bit to make way. Have they not agreed to not collide? Yes there are cultural attitudes bound to this situation, but they need not be linguistic. I think evolutionary biologists could list cooperative strategies that non-humans engage in to survive and because they are non-humans, they cannot be linguistic strategies, right? Do we need to claim that agreement and cooperation are different to save Whorf's point?Whorf continues by claiming it was the expansion of comparative linguistics that really led to the ability to think outside the box and that led to recognition that our perception of the world is not the same  thing as the world itself. This really is the crucial paragraph in the paper:When linguists became able to examine critically and scientifically a large number of languages of widely different patterns, their base of reference was expanded; they experienced an interruption of phenomena hitherto held universal, and a whole new order of significances came into their ken. It was found that the background linguistic system (in other words, the grammar) of each language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas, the program and guide for the individual’s mental activity, for his analysis of impressions, for his synthesis of his mental stock in trade. Formulation of ideas is not an independent process, strictly rational in the old sense, but is part of a particular grammar, and differs, from sligh... Read more »

Benjamin Lee Whorf. (1940) Science and Linguistics. MIT Technology Review, 42(6). info:other/

  • September 3, 2010
  • 10:44 AM
  • 1,484 views

Human, quadruped: Uner Tan Syndrome, part 1

by gregdowney in Neuroanthropology


The photos that accompanied news releases about quadrupedal people living in Turkey, members of a family that allegedly could not walk except on hands and feet, looked staged when I first saw them. Three women and one man scrambling across rocky ground, the women in brightly coloured clothing, the sky radiant blue behind them, their eyes forward and backsides high in the air – like children engaged in some sort of awkward race at a field day or sporting carnival.
Members of a Turkish family with Uner Tan SyndromeFor an anthropologist interested in human motor variation and adaptation, the family looked too good to be true. Subsequent reports and a string of papers confirmed that the families did exist, and they suffered from a condition that came to be called ‘Uner Tan Syndrome’ (sometimes ‘Unertan Syndrome’ or UTS). This story is not new, having already broken and exhausted itself on the waves of internet enthusiasm, but I’ve been wanting to write a sober reflection on the lessons I take from UTS for a while now, and my first major post on our new site seems like a good place.
—-
Walking on all fours – we’ve all (or virtually all) done it – but most of us eventually become bipedal, even though the developmental pathways to striding around on two feet vary (see Adolph et al. 2010). The motor pattern is so dominant that bipedalism is considered a defining trait of our species, arising earlier in the paleoarchaeological record than many other distinctive hallmarks of humanity. When I teach my introductory human evolution course, students, like generations of evolutionary theorists, are always surprised by the skeletons of ‘Lucy,’ and now ‘Ardi,’ with ape-like brains and increasingly human-like lower bodies (if they’re not surprised, they pretend to be, probably to humour me).
I’ve previously written about my fascination with human flexibility in movement, including extraordinary forms of mobility (in a piece on the ‘Monkey King,’ an amazing Indian building climber), so Üner Tan, Emeritus Professor from Cukurova University in Turkey and member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences, has been generously sending me pre-print articles and other materials on Uner Tan Syndrome. This piece is made possible by his openness and dogged persistence in spreading the word about this remarkable condition.
Tan first described the syndrome in 2005, based initially on five members of the Ulas family from a small village near Iskenderun, Turkey (seen in those initial photos). He later found families in Adana and small villages near Gaziantep and Canakkale for a total of 14 cases (18 cases in total, but four of which may not have the fully fledged condition from other families) (see Tan 2005; 2006a, b, c; 2010).
From the initial reports, when the number of cases was quite small, Nicholas Humphrey and John R. Skoyles from the London School of Economics and Roger Keynes University of Cambridge, in an LSE discussion paper, opined, ‘even if it is indeed a one-off pathological condition, we think there may be anthropological lessons to be learned from it’ (2005: 11). I couldn’t agree more: although rare (though not ‘one-off’), cases of human quadrupedalism are a fascinating window in on the dynamic developmental processes that so reliably – but not inevitably – produce bipedalism in humans.

Symptoms of Uner Tan Syndrome
In the initial cases of Uner Tan Syndrome, the distinctive and defining symptom of quadrupedalism was accompanied by a number of other cognitive and neurological problems, including especially cerebellar irregularities such as ataxia in the trunk, or the inability to coordinate muscle movement, and intellectual deficits such as delayed or absent speech and ‘conscious experience’ problems.
Humphrey, Skoyles and Keynes (2005: 8 ) reported on a number of the cases and found:
signs of cerebellar dysfunction including: intention tremor, dysdiadochokinesis (inability to execute rapidly alternating movements particularly of the limbs), dysmetria (lack of coordination of movement typified by under- or over-shooting the intended position), and nystagmus (involuntary rhythmic eye movement, with the eyes moving quickly in one direction, and then slowly in the other). However, the cerebellar signs are relatively mild, and they are no more pronounced in the quadrupeds than in the one affected brother who walks bipedally.
MRI and PET scans of a number of the families found inferior cerebellar hypoplasia, an underdevelopment in the cerebellum, particularly the vermis, the narrow area between the two brain hemispheres; mild atrophy in the cerebellar cortex and slightly simplified cerebral gyri, or an overly smooth surface; and a reduced corpus callosum, the white matter structure that connects the hemispheres, in three of the families, but not in the fourth (see Tan et al. 2008). Different subjects seemed to have slightly different anatomical abnormalities, but the consistent neurological abnormalities afflicted primarily the cerebrum and overall gyrification, the parallel ridges, of the cerebellar cortex (see, for example, Ozcelik et al. 2008: 4234).
In spite of their other motor deficits, however, their balance (while quadrupedal, that is) was quite stable and the individuals involved were also capable of fine motor coordination. Some of the women affected, for example, did fine needlework. The fact that they were not more severely affected is important because, as Humphrey, Skoyles and Keynes (2005: 9) point out:
The capacity for walking upright is highly resilient in human beings. In fact humans typically remain bipedal in the face of much greater obstacles to balance and coordination than those experienced by the subjects we have described here. Individuals with bilateral labyrinthine dysfunction, and loss of lower limb proprioceptive sensation are nonetheless typically bipedal. Bipedality can even occur in the complete absence of the cerebellum. There is a recent report of a young man with congenital agenesis of the cerebellum who nevertheless learned to walk and ride a bicycle.
Why can’t they walk?
Because of the pattern of Uner Tan Syndrome within families and its association with consanguineous marriage, or marriage between cousins, most researchers initially suspected that an autosomal recessive gene mutation might be involved.
Sure enough, in 2008 in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Tayfun Ozcelik and colleagues (2008a) reported that the quadrupedal families had a cluster of related genetic abnormalities, mostly to chromosomes 9p24 and 17p, although one affected family did not have abnormalities to either of these chromosomes (for a review, see Tan 2010). In two of the four Turkish families, the abnormality occurred with the VLDLR gene on 9p24, which encodes the very low-density lipoprotein receptor, also implicated in another genetic disorder, Disequilibrium Syndrome (DES-H), where balance and movement problems are also compromised. Although DES-H sufferers have severe walking difficulties, however, no reported cases walk quadrupedally.
Cross-checking against unaffected family members and other members of the community confirmed the likelihood that a mutation to VLDLR might be the culprit, although a cautionary note is that one family member who had the genetic abnormality could walk normally.
VLDLR is involved in the reelin pathway, a glycoprotein regulated mechanisms that moderates neuronal positioning, alignment and migration in the cerebellum; reelin binds to the VLDLR gene and helps get neuroblasts in the right place and configuration for the cerebellum (for a more detailed discussion, see Türkmen et al. 2008). Mice with impaired reelin genes (RELN) or VLDLR abnormalities wind up with abnormal cerebellae, although VLDLR abnormalities can be asymptomatic in mice, only revealed on autopsy (or presumably, if they stuck the little mice in little mice-sized MRIs and got them to sit still) (see Trommsdorff et al. 1999).
However, Ozcelik and colleagues suggested after a thorough gene mapping study that Uner Tan Syndrome was genetically heterogeneous, even in the limited sample of the four Turkish families (2008a: 4234). I’ll come back to that at length in the next post because I think calling every example of habitual and facultative quadrupedalism an example of a single ‘Uner Tan Syndrome’ is misleading, but misleading in a direction that forces us to question whether Uner Tan and others cases of quadrupedalism are actually demonstrating something much broader than a gene causing a disorder, the extreme cases of VLDLR genetic abnormality being only part of the picture.
Tan and colleagues’ (2008) earlier PET and MRI-based study of the original two families likewise showed divergent results: the UTS sufferers in one family had central vestibular deficits, l... Read more »

Herz J, Boycott KM, & Parboosingh JS. (2008) "Devolution" of bipedality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(21). PMID: 18487453  

Humphrey, Nicholas, Stefan Mundlos, & Seval Türkmen. (2008) Genes and quadrupedal locomotion in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science , 105(21). DOI: 10.1073 pnas.0802839105  

Susanne M. Morton,, & Amy J. Bastian. (2007) Mechanisms of cerebellar gait ataxia. The Cerebellum, 6(1), 79-86. DOI: 10.1080/14734220601187741  

Tayfun Ozcelik, Nurten Akarsu, Elif Uz, Safak Caglayan, Suleyman Gulsuner, Onur Emre Onat, Meliha Tan, & Uner Tan. (2008) Mutations in the very low-density lipoprotein receptor VLDLR cause cerebellar hypoplasia and quadrupedal locomotion in humans. . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(11), 4232-4236. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0710010105  

Ozcelik, Tayfun,, Nurten Akarsu,, Elif Uz,, Safak Caglayan,, Suleyman Gulsuner,, Onur Emre Onat,, Meliha Tan,, & Uner Tan. (2008) Reply to Herz et al. and Humphrey et al.: Genetic heterogeneity of cerebellar hypoplasia with quadrupedal locomotion. . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(23). DOI: 10.1073 pnas.0804078105  

Thelen, E.,, & Ulrich, B. D. (1991) Hidden skills: A dynamic systems analysis of treadmill stepping during the first year. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 56(1), 1-98. DOI: 10.2307/1166099  

  • September 2, 2010
  • 04:23 PM
  • 1,668 views

Baseball Fans Behaving Badly

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

So it's done. I've accepted it. There will be no playoff entry for the Mets this year—something that was evident earlier in the year, but the motto of this team is "Ya gotta believe." So you know, I had to believe. Am I disappointed? Yes. What fan wouldn't be? Am I surprised? No. What Mets fan would be? Does it mean that I won't be there come spring anxiously awaiting the crack of the bat?

... Read more »

Brearley M. (2000) Teams: lessons from the world of sport. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 321(7269), 1141-3. PMID: 11061741  

  • September 2, 2010
  • 12:55 PM
  • 727 views

The Science of Sexism: Primate Behavior and the Culture of Sexual Coercion

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries in Exile

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by The Intersection at Discover magazine.Despite the advances our society has made for women’s rights and sexual equality during the last century this example is just one more sign of how far we still have to go. It’s not an isolated incident. According to statistics compiled by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission there were 12,696 workplace sexual harassment cases filed in 2009 (which would be a fraction of the number that actually occurred) and 84% of these cases were brought by women. Businesses have gotten increasingly serious about cracking down on such abuses but last year they were still held liable to the tune of $51.5 million, the largest figure since 2001. What is going on here? Could this kind of gender inequality be an intrinsic feature of human nature that we’re stuck with or is it simply a failure to create an environment that prevents such behaviors from reoccurring?Primatologists and evolutionary biologists have taken this question seriously and have developed some surprising conclusions that could inform our approach to this issue. Unlike Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer’s book A Natural History of Rape, a thesis that was criticized by scholars both in biology and gender studies, other evolutionary researchers have developed a much more balanced analysis. One example is from the recent edited volume Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans by Martin Muller and Richard Wrangham. As they wrote in their introduction:[M]ales in a number of primate species appear to use force, or the threat of force, to coerce unwilling females to mate with them. . . Although the utility of this distinction has been disputed, there is no doubt that sexual coercion is a potentially important mechanism of mating bias within the broad framework of sexual conflict theory.Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for next week's post hosted by Sex at Dawn at Psychology Today magazine.Reference:Martin N. Muller and Richard W. Wrangham (2009). Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans: An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females Harvard University Press... Read more »

Martin N. Muller and Richard W. Wrangham. (2009) Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans: An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females. Harvard University Press. info:/

  • September 2, 2010
  • 12:55 PM
  • 879 views

The Science of Sexism: Primate Behavior and the Culture of Sexual Coercion

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by The Intersection at Discover magazine.Despite the advances our society has made for women’s rights and sexual equality during the last century this example is just one more sign of how far we still have to go. It’s not an isolated incident. According to statistics compiled by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission there were 12,696 workplace sexual harassment cases filed in 2009 (which would be a fraction of the number that actually occurred) and 84% of these cases were brought by women. Businesses have gotten increasingly serious about cracking down on such abuses but last year they were still held liable to the tune of $51.5 million, the largest figure since 2001. What is going on here? Could this kind of gender inequality be an intrinsic feature of human nature that we’re stuck with or is it simply a failure to create an environment that prevents such behaviors from reoccurring?Primatologists and evolutionary biologists have taken this question seriously and have developed some surprising conclusions that could inform our approach to this issue. Unlike Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer’s book A Natural History of Rape, a thesis that was criticized by scholars both in biology and gender studies, other evolutionary researchers have developed a much more balanced analysis. One example is from the recent edited volume Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans by Martin Muller and Richard Wrangham. As they wrote in their introduction:[M]ales in a number of primate species appear to use force, or the threat of force, to coerce unwilling females to mate with them. . . Although the utility of this distinction has been disputed, there is no doubt that sexual coercion is a potentially important mechanism of mating bias within the broad framework of sexual conflict theory.Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for next week's post hosted by Sex at Dawn at Psychology Today magazine.Reference:Martin N. Muller and Richard W. Wrangham (2009). Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans: An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females Harvard University Press... Read more »

Martin N. Muller and Richard W. Wrangham. (2009) Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans: An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females. Harvard University Press. info:/

  • August 31, 2010
  • 01:47 PM
  • 966 views

Adolescent Menstrual Variation and Oral Contraceptives

by Kate Clancy in Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology

This post reviews current knowledge about adolescent menstrual cycling and oral contraceptive use, making recommendations for future research.... Read more »

American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adolescence, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Adolescent Health Care, Diaz A, Laufer MR, & Breech LL. (2006) Menstruation in girls and adolescents: using the menstrual cycle as a vital sign. Pediatrics, 118(5), 2245-50. PMID: 17079600  

Andrist LC, Arias RD, Nucatola D, Kaunitz AM, Musselman BL, Reiter S, Boulanger J, Dominguez L, & Emmert S. (2004) Women's and providers' attitudes toward menstrual suppression with extended use of oral contraceptives. Contraception, 70(5), 359-63. PMID: 15504373  

APTER, D. (1997) Development of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian Axis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 816(1 Adolescent Gy), 9-21. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1997.tb52125.x  

Morimatsu, Y., Matsubara, S., Watanabe, T., Hashimoto, Y., Matsui, T., Asada, K., & Suzuki, M. (2009) Future recovery of the normal menstrual cycle in adolescent patients with secondary amenorrhea. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research, 35(3), 545-550. DOI: 10.1111/j.1447-0756.2009.01014.x  

  • August 31, 2010
  • 01:16 AM
  • 980 views

The new linguistic relativism: Guy Deutscher in the NYTimes

by gregdowney in Neuroanthropology

How does language affect thought and perception? It’s a question we’ve looked at here at Neuroanthropology.net on a number of occasions, but Prof. Guy Deutscher, offers a nice general survey of the current state of play in the research over at The New York Times in ‘Does Your Language Shape How You Think?’ Posts on [...]... Read more »

  • August 30, 2010
  • 07:03 PM
  • 515 views

Human Effigy Vases

by teofilo in Gambler's House

George Pepper’s article on the excavation of Room 33 at Pueblo Bonito is fairly well-known and frequently cited, but he also published a few other articles on specific finds by the Hyde Exploring Expedition that have remained more obscure.  Among these is a chapter in a Festschrift for Franz Boas, similar to the Festschrift for [...]... Read more »

  • August 26, 2010
  • 11:22 PM
  • 1,298 views

Bad faith migration programs

by Ingrid Piller in Language on the Move

In the past couple of years, I have been a passenger in Sydney taxis driven, inter alia, by an agricultural engineer from India, a civil engineer from Somalia, a surgeon from Vietnam, an MBA graduate from Pakistan, an architect from … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • August 26, 2010
  • 05:54 PM
  • 827 views

Spices as antiseptics… maybe

by Thomas Kluyver in Thomas' Plant-Related Blog

For today, I’ve dug up a paper (I forget how) from 1998, when I was still in primary school, about why people like spicy foods, and why some cultures use more spice than others. The idea that we acquired a taste for spices to keep harmful bacteria in check isn’t implausible, but the evidence in [...]... Read more »

Billing, J., & Sherman, P. (1998) Antimicrobial Functions of Spices: Why Some Like it Hot. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 73(1), 3-49. DOI: 10.1086/420058  

  • August 26, 2010
  • 01:22 PM
  • 873 views

Why flour matters

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

A couple of days ago, I mentioned how excavations at a Paleoindian site in Utah has revealed that the site's occupants had been milling various seeds to produce different kinds of flours. In that post, I mentioned how this discovery re-emphasized the fact that hunter-gatherers in general hunt as well as gather. In fact, outside of the highest latitudes, plant foods often account for a majority of... Read more »

Aranguren,Biancamaria, Becattini, Roberto, Mariotti Lippi, Marta, & Revedin, Anna. (2007) Grinding flour in Upper Palaeolithic Europe (25000 years bp). Antiquity, 81(314), 845-855. info:/

  • August 25, 2010
  • 01:49 PM
  • 1,097 views

Neuroscience of Murder and Aggression: Genetics

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

This is the third in a five-part series examining neuroscience aspects of homicide and aggressive behavior.  The first post examined some of the general issues in this topic and the second focused on epidemiology.  In this post I will summarize some of the genetic research.  Part four will look at neuroimaging research and part five will summarize psychopharmacologic strategies.A series of twin and adoption studies support the role for significant genetic contributions to antisocial personality and aggressive behavior.   A recent meta-analytic review estimated that 56% of the variance in antisocial personality and behavior is explained by genetic factors with 31% due to unique environmental and 11% due to shared environmental effects.  However, some studies estimate the genetic contribution to variance in antisocial behavior as high as 80%.There is some support for overlap between the clinical diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder and the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.  Antisocial personality disorder is a male predominant disorder while borderline personality disorder is more commonly found in women.  Kendler et al in a study of the genetics and environmental contributions to personality disorder, found a genetic factor that loads on both antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. There has been much less specific attention to the genetics of murder than of the broader antisocial personality disorder phenotype.There has been a significant amount of interest in identifying biomarkers and specific genes that might account for the genetic contribution to antisocial behavior.  Gunter et al recently review the molecular biologyCandidate biomarkers and genes include:Event-related P3 electrophysiologic markersResting state EEG brain activity-beta frequency bandReduced skin conductance to stressLow childhood resting heart rateMonoamine oxidase A genotypeCatechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) polymorphismSerotonin transporter genesAnkyrin repeat and protein kinase domain-containing protein (ANKK1)Dopamine transporter (DAT)Dopamine receptors (DRD2)Serotonin receptors 1B, 2A and 3BTryptophan hydoxylase 1 and 2Androgen receptors (AR)The issue of genetic influence in risk for violent behavior has more than a scientific perspective.  Legal scholars and practicing attorneys have been interested in this issue as a method of reducing culpability in violent offenders.  A Italian judge recently reduced the jail time for a man convicted of murder based on evidence of a genetic risk for violent behavior.Epigenetic factors are also receiving increasing attention in antisocial personality disorder.  Smoking appears to modify  the expression of gene proteins for many genes.  Methylation of MAOA is associated with nicotine and alcohol use in women.  Alcohol use also appears to influence the methylation of the dopamine transporter gene.  Prenatal, perinatal and childhood stress and abuse also may increase risk for adult antisocial behavior through and epigenetic mechanism.Gunter et al summarize the future directions of the study of the genetics of antisocial personality disorder:“Undertaking a systems approach to the biology of complex illnesses such as antisocial spectrum disorders and psychopathy, using an interdisciplinary research team, is most likely to be useful in determining how individual genetic factors impact neural networks and ultimately behavior. Various laboratory tests and imaging technologies have been employed to identify intermediate phenotypes to better understand the downstream differences that might be attributable to specific polymorphisms.”In my next post, I will explore some of the potential imaging approaches to understanding murder, aggression and antisocial personality disorder.  Advances in imaging research paired with genetic findings may provide a powerful strategy for advancing the neuroscience understanding of violent behavior.Translation Genetic Image Courtesy of the NIH and is in the Public Domain.Gunter TD, Vaughn MG, & Philibert RA (2010). Behavioral genetics in antisocial spectrum disorders and psychopathy: a review of the recent literature. Behavioral sciences & the law, 28 (2), 148-73 PMID: 20422643Kendler KS, Aggen SH, Czajkowski N, Røysamb E, Tambs K, Torgersen S, Neale MC, & Reichborn-Kjennerud T (2008). The structure of genetic and environmental risk factors for DSM-IV personality disorders: a multivariate twin study. Archives of general psychiatry, 65 (12), 1438-46 PMID: 19047531Ferguson CJ (2010). Genetic contributions to antisocial personality and behavior: a meta-analytic review from an evolutionary perspective. The Journal of social psychology, 150 (2), 160-80 PMID: 20397592Forzano F, Borry P, Cambon-Thomsen A, Hodgson SV, Tibben A, de Vries P, van El C, & Cornel M (2010). Italian appeal court: a genetic predisposition to commit murder? European journal of human genetics : EJHG, 18 (5), 519-21 PMID: 20216573... Read more »

  • August 24, 2010
  • 12:36 PM
  • 1,136 views

Harvard Confirms Scientific Micsonduct by Marc Hauser

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

I am sad to report that it is indeed confirmed by official sources that primatologist Marc Hauser engaged in several instances of what is being termed misconduct while carrying out experiments in his lab.

Dean Michael Smith issued the following letter to members of the Harvard community today: Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • August 24, 2010
  • 01:21 AM
  • 1,482 views

Portrait of the artist as a Neanderthal

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

In a recent paper, O. Moro Abadia and M.R. Gonzales Morales (2010) argue that an important component of the 'multiple species model' (MSM) that sees Neanderthals as having essentially 'modern' behavioral capacities and that originated in the late 90's is based not so much on new discoveries as it is on new ways of looking at the archaeological record. Specifically, they make the case that part of... Read more »

  • August 23, 2010
  • 10:12 AM
  • 1,090 views

The dog-human connection in evolution

by gregdowney in Neuroanthropology

Evolutionary theorists have long recognized that the domestication of animals represented a major change in human life, providing not just a close-at-hand food source, but also non-human muscle power and a host of other advantages. Penn State anthropologist Prof. Pat Shipman argues that animal domestication is one manifestation of a larger distinctive trait of our [...]... Read more »

Bleed, Peter. (2006) Living in the human niche. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 15(1), 8-10. DOI: 10.1002/evan.20084  

Miklósi A, Kubinyi E, Topál J, Gácsi M, Virányi Z, & Csányi V. (2003) A simple reason for a big difference: wolves do not look back at humans, but dogs do. Current biology : CB, 13(9), 763-6. PMID: 12725735  

Paxton, D. (2000) A Case for a Naturalistic Perspective. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People , 13(1), 5-8. DOI: 10.2752/089279300786999996  

Schleidt, Wolfgang M., & Shalter, Michael D. (2003) Co-evolution of Humans and Canids: An Alternative View of Dog Domestication: Homo Homini Lupus?. Evolution and Cognition, 9(1), 57-72. info:/

Shipman, Pat. (2010) The Animal Connection and Human Evolution. Current Anthropology, 51(4), 519-538. DOI: 10.1086/653816  

  • August 20, 2010
  • 11:25 PM
  • 1,376 views

Paleolithic whodunnit: Who made the Chatelperronian?

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

The Chatelperronian is a lithic industry that springs up for several thousand years during the transition from Middle to Upper Paleolithic industries. Its precise age is debated, but it clearly is associated with this interval. One of the reasons the Chatelperronian is the subject of so much debate is because, since the discovery of a Neanderthal in a Chatelperronian level at the site of
St. ... Read more »

  • August 20, 2010
  • 02:38 PM
  • 793 views

The Scientist and the Anarchist - Part III

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by Deborah Blum at her website Speakeasy Science.When an estimated 1,400 match-girls went on strike in July, 1888 to protest for better working conditions, it started a fire that became known as New Unionism. Soon after came the London dock workers’ strike, and within twelve months the UK’s Trade Union Congress had increased its membership from 670,000 to 1,593,000. [1]For Thomas Henry Huxley and Peter Kropotkin these labor developments were interpreted very differently, and yet both saw in them important connections with their work in evolutionary biology. Huxley, who had pulled himself out of East London poverty through a combination of sheer brilliance and stubborn determination, was greatly concerned about what the workers democracy movement meant for social stability. Now the President of the Royal Academy of Sciences and a living legend in the recently established field of evolutionary biology, Huxley had come to identify with the aristocracy he’d worked so hard to be accepted by. Kropotkin, however, had rejected the silver spoon he had once been fed with as a Russian prince after coming face to face with the exploitation that made such ostentatious luxury possible. For him, the growing workers movement was the only path by which the poor could achieve any justice in a world that was undergoing radical change. Both saw in these developments a force of nature — one ominous, the other hopeful — and these conflicting visions would ultimately collide on the pages of the Nineteenth Century.Read the rest of the post here (also Part I and Part II) and stay tuned for next week's post at Anthropology in Practice.Peter Kropotkin (1902). Mutual Aide: A Factor of Evolution New York: McClure, Philips & Co.... Read more »

Peter Kropotkin. (1902) Mutual Aide: A Factor of Evolution. New York: McClure, Philips . info:/

  • August 20, 2010
  • 02:38 PM
  • 656 views

The Scientist and the Anarchist - Part III

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries in Exile

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by Deborah Blum at her website Speakeasy Science.When an estimated 1,400 match-girls went on strike in July, 1888 to protest for better working conditions, it started a fire that became known as New Unionism. Soon after came the London dock workers’ strike, and within twelve months the UK’s Trade Union Congress had increased its membership from 670,000 to 1,593,000. [1]For Thomas Henry Huxley and Peter Kropotkin these labor developments were interpreted very differently, and yet both saw in them important connections with their work in evolutionary biology. Huxley, who had pulled himself out of East London poverty through a combination of sheer brilliance and stubborn determination, was greatly concerned about what the workers democracy movement meant for social stability. Now the President of the Royal Academy of Sciences and a living legend in the recently established field of evolutionary biology, Huxley had come to identify with the aristocracy he’d worked so hard to be accepted by. Kropotkin, however, had rejected the silver spoon he had once been fed with as a Russian prince after coming face to face with the exploitation that made such ostentatious luxury possible. For him, the growing workers movement was the only path by which the poor could achieve any justice in a world that was undergoing radical change. Both saw in these developments a force of nature — one ominous, the other hopeful — and these conflicting visions would ultimately collide on the pages of the Nineteenth Century.Read the rest of the post here (also Part I and Part II) and stay tuned for next week's post at Anthropology in Practice.Peter Kropotkin (1902). Mutual Aide: A Factor of Evolution New York: McClure, Philips & Co.... Read more »

Peter Kropotkin. (1902) Mutual Aide: A Factor of Evolution. New York: McClure, Philips . info:/

  • August 20, 2010
  • 10:02 AM
  • 854 views

Schizophrenia, Genes and Environment

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Schizophrenia is generally thought of as the "most genetic" of all psychiatric disorders and in the past 10 years there have been heroic efforts to find the genes responsible for it, with not much success so far.A new study reminds us that there's more to it than genes alone: Social Risk or Genetic Liability for Psychosis? The authors decided to look at adopted children, because this is one of the best ways of disentangling genes and environment.If you find that the children of people with schizophrenia are at an increased risk of schizophrenia (they are), that doesn't tell you whether the risk is due to genetics, or environment, because we share both with our parents. Only in adoption is the link between genes and environment broken.Wicks et al looked at all of the kids born in Sweden and then adopted by another Swedish family, over several decades (births 1955-1984). To make sure genes and environment were independent, they excluded those who were adopted by their own relatives (i.e. grandparents), and those lived with their biological parents between the ages of 1 and 15. This is the kind of study you can only do in Scandinavia, because only those countries have accessible national records of adoptions and mental illness...What happened? Here's a little graph I whipped up:Brighter colors are adoptees at "genetic risk", defined as those with at least one biological parent who was hospitalized for a psychotic illness (including schizophrenia but also bipolar disorder.) The outcome measure was being hospitalized for a non-affective psychosis, meaning schizophrenia or similar conditions but not bipolar.As you can see, rates are much higher in those with a genetic risk, but were also higher in those adopted into a less favorable environment. Parental unemployment was worst, followed by single parenthood, which was also quite bad. Living in an apartment as opposed to a house, however, had only a tiny effect.Genetic and environmental risk also interacted. If a biological parent was mentally ill and your adopted parents were unemployed, that was really bad news.But hang on. Adoption studies have been criticized because children don't get adopted at random (there's a story behind every adoption, and it's rarely a happy one), and also adopting families are not picked at random - you're only allowed to adopt if you can convince the authorities that you're going to be good parents.So they also looked at the non-adopted population, i.e. everyone else in Sweden, over the same time period. The results were surprisingly similar. The hazard ratio (increased risk) in those with parental mental illness, but no adverse circumstances, was 4.5, the same as in the adoption study, 4.7.For environment, the ratio was 1.5 for unemployment, and slightly lower for the other two. This is a bit less than in the adoption study (2.0 for unemployment). And the two risks interacted, but much less than they did in the adoption sample.However, one big difference was that the total lifetime rate of illness was 1.8% in the adoptees and just 0.8% in the nonadoptees, despite much higher rates of unemployment etc. in the latter. Unfortunately, the authors don't discuss this odd result. It could be that adopted children have a higher risk of psychosis for whatever reason. But it could also be an artefact: rates of adoption massively declined between 1955 and 1984, so most of the adoptees were born earlier, i.e. they're older on average. That gives them more time in which to become ill.A few more random thoughts:This was Sweden. Sweden is very rich and compared to most other rich countries also very egalitarian with extremely high taxes and welfare spending. In other words, no-one in Sweden is really poor. So the effects of environment might be bigger in other countries.On the other hand this study may overestimate the risk due to environment, because it looked at hospitalizations, not illness per se. Supposing that poorer people are more likely to get hospitalized, this could mean that the true effect of environment on illness is lower than it appears.The outcome measure was hospitalization for "non-affective psychosis". Only 40% of this was diagnosed as "schizophrenia". The rest will have been some kind of similar illness which didn't meet the full criteria for schizophrenia (which are quite narrow, in particular, they require 6 months of symptoms).Parental bipolar disorder was counted as a family history. This does make sense because we know that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia often occur in the same families (and indeed they can be hard to tell apart, many people are diagnosed with both at different times.)Overall, though, this is a solid study and confirms that genes and environment are both relevant to psychosis. Unfortunately, almost all of the research money at the moment goes on genes, with studying environmental factors being unfashionable.Wicks S, Hjern A, & Dalman C (2010). Social Risk or Genetic Liability for Psychosis? A Study of Children Born in Sweden and Reared by Adoptive Parents. The American journal of psychiatry PMID: 20686186... Read more »

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