Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Agony of Not Knowing Why

I thought I would take a break from politics and healthcare to discuss this 29 minute documentary about these two parents with two special needs kids for whom doctors can find no definitive cause for their disability.  The documentary was moving to watch.  

While I was watching I was wishing that I had some special insight that the doctors might have missed.  The parents said that its hard hearing other people say "you were given this because you can handle it."  I was wondering how they respond to parents of other special needs kids who have similar struggles but they know more about their children's conditions because they have a diagnosis.  They know what to expect and they may know what caused their condition.  

I don't have any answers for them and it's best not to judge when you don't know.

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Friday, December 7, 2018

ADHD an Invention of Big Pharma?

Looking through my Facebook feed I came across a post of an article from Health Magazine that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a made up disorder by big pharma to push drugs to children.  The article cites another article by a Joe Jarvis in The Daily Bell that claims to prove that ADHD is fake.  

The Jarvis article cites government statistics stating that Arkansas and Kentucky are the states with the highest rates of ADHD diagnosis.  In these states a high percentage of kids age 6-15 (over 85%) fish and hunt (over 30%).  He compares these numbers to those in New Jersey and Nevada which have the lowest ADHD rates in the US.  In these states only 44% of kids these ages fish (it does not state how many children hunt there).  Jarvis holds this up as proof that ADHD does not exist as fishing and hunting require a high degree of focus to be successful.  

This blog uses correlational data at the state level all the time to show relationships between variables that show meaningful patterns.  I am very careful not to state that it conclusively proves or disproves anything the existence of a disease.  Even further I would not limit my analysis to four states to make such a claim.  

There is centuries worth of research backing up the existence of ADHD.  The diagnosis of it is still not an exact science with it being based on behavioral observation and neuropsychological test data.  Genetic abnormalities have been found which are associated with the presence of the disease.  Someday genetic testing and brain scans will be able to provide a more definitive diagnosis but we're not there yet.  ADHD children and adults can exhibit a trait called overfocusing and not all are hyperactive.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ambiguous Symbols in 2001:A Space Odyssey

When asked by the Mason’s to write about a symbol and it’s meaning, I chose one of the most enigmatic in cinematic history.  The film 2001: A Space Odyssey begins with a group of australopithecines in an African desert struggling to survive in finding food and battling with rival clans of their species.  Seemingly from out of nowhere a rectangular black monolith appears.  The australopithecines are confused by what they see.  Regardless of what they did see, after encountering the monolith they gained the capacity to use tools.  This made them better hunters and better able to fight off rivals.  This first part of the film is called The Dawn of Man as the australopithecines were the first primates to walk upright and are thought to be a link between chimpanzees and humans.

The film then leaves the earth as a US spaceship is flying towards the moon to investigate a strange sighting there at the US moon colony.  A cover story about an epidemic in the colony was created to keep the Soviets away.  When the people on the spaceship arrive at the strange sight we see that it is the same monolith that the australopithecines saw.  They discover that the monolith is sending radio signals to Jupiter.  In this segment, human’s use of tools has advanced greatly but groups of humans (represented by the US and the Soviets) are still in conflict with each other. 

After encountering the monolith on the moon, the US sends a top secret mission to Jupiter to investigate what it is sending radio signals to.  The spaceship is controlled by the ultimate human tool, the supercomputer HAL.  As the ship nears Jupiter, HAL malfunctions and kills all but one of the astronauts on board and lets the air out of the ship.  The lone survivor on the ship, played by Kier Dullea, has no choice but to investigate the monolith alone after disconnecting HAL. 

As Dullea approaches another monolith in orbit around Jupiter he has a psychedelic experience while being transported to a strange room where he ages rapidly.  As he approaches the end of his life he encounters the monolith and is then transformed into the star child floating above the Earth.  The ending is ambiguous and has had people debating it ever since.  When asked about the ending, the director Stanley Kubrick said “If you understood the ending, I failed.”

At every moment in the film where the monolith appears, the next step in human evolution is complete.  This seemingly inanimate object has the power to direct evolution.  The film 2010: The Year We Made Contact (without Kubrick as the director) addresses some of the ambiguities about what happened to Dullea’s character and why the computer HAL turned homicidal.  This time a joint US-Soviet mission returns to Jupiter and encounters HAL, Dullea and the monolith.  Exactly what the monolith is is not addressed to leave something to the imagination, and a possible sequel.  It could represent a supreme being, it could simply be a tool of a more advanced alien society to achieve some positive aim, or it could mean nothing at all.  This ambiguity is what makes the monolith so fascinating.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Measuring Love Chemistry

I know it's a month before Valentines day buy the stores are already full of heart shaped candy. OkCupid is one of the largest dating sites.  The video above from TED talks explains their method for coming up with a % match.  The logic is pretty simple.  It's based on how well the questions that both you and your potential match answer.  The more questions you both answer, the more information you both have about each other. The site is free for a basic membership.  I have used it and so far haven't had any luck but others have.

eHarmony is another enormously popular site.  This site used to be pay only but, perhaps in response to new sites like OkCupid, allows limited access for free but those who pay have better access.  Above their CEO Greg Waldorf (not Neil Clark Warren who is in their commercials) discusses their formula for matching individuals.  They use a personality inventory along with the stated criteria given by individuals to match.  Also in response to OkCupid they have added questions on various topics which may or may not improve their matching process.  Waldorf makes a bold claim that 2% of all marriages are due to their site.  I don't know how they know this except they might track their matches and look for self report or newspaper notices of their marriages. 

There are of course plenty of other dating sites now. was the original  site and has been around for almost 20 years.  Christian Mingle, a dating site for farmers, one for singles over 50, one for black singles and Plenty of Fish also come to mind.  The bottom line is that online dating is now big business and consumers expect results.  The boom can be partly due to the harsh economic times as Waldorf states.  Being married does provide some measure of economic security that being single often does not and people are still looking.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

An In Depth Look at a Mindfulness and Stress Study

My former classmate at the University of Hartford, Tonya Jacobs, had an article described in the Huffington Post titled Mindfulness Meditation Could Lower Levels Of Cortisol, The Stress Hormone.  It described her study which originally appeared in the Journal of Health Psychology.  It talks about how a study was conducted of those who participated in a three month meditation retreat where it says mindfulness was measured along with cortisol levels in saliva as a measure of stress.  If found that cortisol (a hormone that strongly indicates stress) levels were decreased from the beginning of the retreat to the end as mindfulness increased.  They warned that there was no control group.

From past experience I know that the news media often leaves out important details of a study and can be bad at interpreting the results of the studies.  I thought I would take a look Jacobs et al. (2013) original article which has a lot more detail to allow one to replicate the study.  In the methods sections they state that there was a treatment group of 30 for those who participated in the retreat and a control group of 30 who were wait listed for the retreat using stratified random sampling to control for any potential confounding variables such as BMI (Body Mass Index which is weight divided by height squared and is a crude measure of obesity), handedness and IQ.  The wait listed group did receive the mindfulness intervention after the treatment group.  

The authors do not discuss if there is a difference between the wait list and non waitlist groups in cortisol or mindfulness levels especially during the time where the wait list group was not receiving the intervention.  This may not have been feasible during the study as the individuals were probably scattered all over the US and measurements of cortisol and mindfulness could not be taken without great cost.  Participants were paid during the retreat.  Three participants had incomplete data and were excluded from the data analysis.  

The results showed no overall effect of cortisol decrease from pre to post measurements but did significantly decrease for BMI.  Mindfulness significantly increased between the pre and post.  The pre and post cortisol levels were significantly negatively correlated with mindfulness as measured by a 37 item questionnaire which was previously validated.  Negatively correlated means that as mindfulness increases cortisol levels decrease.  This effect was still significant after adjusting for age and BMI.

The authors acknowledge that this study is correlational and does not establish a cause and effect relationship between meditation, mindfulness, and stress.  The article in the Huffington Post seems to suggest the same thing by stating that there is no control group.  Because of the difficulty in doing this type of research, the need for more of theses types of studies is established.  Experimental studies with a well defined control and treatment group with all other confounding variables are adjusted for are ideal for establishing cause and effect relationships.  The ideal of research is seldom met.  When the situation is less than ideal, converging validation with many different methods is needed to accomplish the same cause-effect relationship.  

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Controversy over the New Psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual

Since 1952, the American Psychiatric Association has published the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short) which has spelled out the criteria for diagnosing all of the known psychiatric disorders.  It has undergone four editions and two revisions with the fifth one due out this year.  In the past there were controversies such as whether or not homosexuality should be included in the manual and it was dropped from the DSM in the 1970s.  New changes are made to the manual as new information is brought to light and cultural views of what is and what is not a disorder change.

This year the fifth edition of the DSM proposes changes to 13 current diagnoses.  The most controversial of these is Asperger's Syndrome which is being eliminated as a separate diagnosis and is being placed under the  Autism spectrum of disorders.  Unlike the gay community in the 1970s, has deletion been met with resistance by those who have been previously diagnosed with Aspergers.  Other changes have been made to dyslexia, ADHD and other diagnoses.  At least 10 new diagnoses are included in the DSM such as post-traumatic embitterment disorder, skin picking disorder, and compulsive hoarding (maybe the American Psychiatric Association all watches TLC). 

Previously the DSM has been accepted as the Bible of psychiatric diagnosis but, right before the DSM-V comes out the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) has announced that it will not use it as a standard for diagnosis in their research.  This means that they will not be funding studies that use the DSM-V as a diagnostic criteria.   The reason given by the NIMH is that Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure."  This suggests a desire for exactness which the behavioral sciences have lacked relative to the physical sciences sometime termed physics envy.

There have been advances in neuroscience and genetics which shed light on many of these disorders and made many pharmacological treatments possible but the main reliance for diagnosis is still on behavioral symptoms.  The NIMH is creating a Research Domain Criteria for Diagnoses (RDoC) based on biological criteria which it believes are more objective.  The behavioral symptoms are often subject to interpretation and often still not enough is known about the brain and genetics to differentiate between pathologies.  Consider the figure at left.  Is this a rabbit with its head held high or a duck?  This image is subject to interpretation just as all behaviors and incomplete scientific data are.  Science is fundamentally a human endeavor where politics often plays a role.  

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Get the Lead Out

A new survey by the Centers for disease control or CDC suggests that about 500,000 children in the US have low blood lead levels (defined as 5 micrograms per deciliter) from 2007-2010.  This shows an 8.6% decrease compared to the last survey period in 1999-2002.  The graph at the left shows that there are higher percentages among african americans, the poor, and those who live in housing built before 1950.  

Many buildings built before 1950 still have paint that is lead based and have plumbing with lead pipes.  These paints were phased out but it is very expensive to replace and it is better in the long run just to build new housing to replace the paint.  The paint can flake off and when ingested by children can cause intellectual or developmental disabilities (the now politically correct term for mental retardation) and or learning disabilities.  

In the lab (on animal studies) and in correlational studies no dosage level of lead has been found that is completely benign on the brain.  It has a negative effect on the blood brain barrier which protects it from other toxins and has many other negative effects on intelligence test scores and brain function.  

The negative effects of lead exposure were recognized by Greek physicians as early as the 2nd century BC.  There is a theory that it contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire though that is controversial.   It was used heavily in the industrial revolution and in gasoline in the 1920s.  A way to test the theory would be to measure residual lead levels in the remains (teeth, bones, and if lucky hair) of the Roman citizens relative to those in the surrounding Barbarian tribes which sacked the empire from AD 410-476.  If the levels were higher in the Roman citizens it would support the theory.

It was phased out starting in 1978 in the US but the effects are still felt with leaded gasoline getting into the atmosphere through auto emissions, then into rain water, and finally the soil where it can remain for many years.  Other countries do not have as strict regulation on lead as the US does now.  


Episode 7 of Cosmos is devoted to lead poisoning and it's history with scientist Clair Patterson being voiced by Richard Gere. I can only embed the whole episode here while Hulu makes it available.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

A Morsel of Mensa Measurement

For those of you who don't know, Mensa is an organization of individuals who score in the top 2% or 98th percentile of intelligence tests. Founded in 1946 in Great Britain in has 100,000 members worldwide and 57,000 members in the US.  If the IQ tests normative data were correct, there would be 6 million of the over 300 million people in the US eligible for membership in the US.  Their site says their membership ranges in age from 2 to 102 and includes actress Geena Davis, Dilbert creator Scott Adams, and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.

This month (January 2013) the US organization is letting individuals take the short form of their admission test online for free.  Out of curiosity I took the test.  They asked me for personal information like where I lived, my age, gender, and other demographic info.  Items include object rotation, word association, and math reasoning to make them as culturally and age unbiased as possible.  It has four sections and you're given 8 minutes for each section.  Another reason that they are doing this is to test out items for their comprehensive entrance examination  that people who want to join would have to pay to take.  

I scored 56 out of a possible 80 in the raw score which they estimate (I assume is a 95% confidence interval) would put me between the 62nd and 88th percentiles on their comprehensive exam which at best is 10% below Mensa's cutoff.  Of course I had the TV on in the background but I have no intention of taking the big Mensa test.  

With the right practice and coaching, I could conceivably beat the Mensa test just as Kaplan makes a lot of money off of SAT test takers trying to get into the Ivy League but why?  In my post My N Word I argued that those who are studious and intelligent who have been shunned sometimes create their own elite group in response to that shunning.  While it may be fine for Geena Davis, Scott Adams, and Isaac Asimov (I wonder how many times they took the test before they got in?) I believe that this is the wrong response.  I believe it is better to share it with the masses.  Former Dallas Coach Jimmy Johnson is said to have an IQ in the Mensa range but is not listed as a member.

This January's opportunity to take their test is a chance to see behind the curtain. You can see how you measure up to the Mensans for free until January 31 here after that you will have to pay.  After you give them your information they will send you a key to login to the test and it may take a few hours before you receive the email with the key.

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