This week a couple of my Sciblings have been abuzz about an article published in some journal I'd never heard of... a minor impact journal...the Journal of Who Gives a Fuck Science Communication. Bora has a great break down of some of the major criticisms. Drugmonkey, one of the subjects of the "analysis" in this article, is also displeased and critical of the author's conclusions.I've
since read the offending article and can only tell you this - I have no
idea what the balls the author is talking about. Seriously, this
article is about as informative as this: Video 1: A current favorite at the Isis house. When emailed this video, PhysioProf
replied, " Couldn't they afford to animate some fucking legs on those
fuckers?" I have always wondered why Mr. Lunt has no eyes.But, for those of you who are still interested, here's the run down...Inna Kouper,
a graduate student in Library and Information Science at Indiana
University, somehow magically chose 11 blogs to study, one of which was
Pharyngula. Now, I'm not hating on Pharyngula. PZ plays an important role in the blogosphere and, while I think that sometimes his commenters get out of control,
he's got a unique voice and an uncanny ability to rally the troops. No
one can deny that the climate at Pharyngula is not necessarily
reflective of the entire blogosphere. Still, the fact is that Inna
Krouper sampled 11 blogs. There are 80 blogs currently at
ScienceBlogs, 8 more at Discover Blogs, and a bazillion independent and
network blogs indexed by the Nature Network. Yet, somehow Inna chose
these 11 blogs as representative of the genre and one of them was
motherfucking Pharyngula. Then, she did this:A
combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques of content
analysis has been used in this study. The qualitative analysis
involved iterative close reading of posts and comments with the purpose
of identifying common types of statements and activities
conceptualized as modes of participation. This conceptualization was
informed by the speech act theory and the pragmatics perspective yet it
was purposefully left rather loose and open to allow for the categories
to emerge from the data. Each time a mode of participation was
identified, it was entered into a catalog, and then a post or a comment
was assigned a corresponding code. Along with the modes of
participation, the posts were coded for topics and sources of the post;
the comments were coded for the reader's identification elements (e.g.,
a nickname, first name, full name, link to blog, or blog author).
Subsequently all codes were counted and the analysis proceeded with the
examination of the most frequent and rare patterns and their groupings.Translation?Figure 1: Inna sat down one night, read some blogs, and then wrote some shit. She must really be itching to finish the ole thesis.I
mean, I truly am baffled by these methods, especially when the author
brags that "it is necessary to analyze current practices of science
blogging. To date no attempts have been made to do that. The present
study is the first step in this direction." This article is a step
alright...Figure 2: Problem is, none of realize where that step is taking us until it is too late to unlearn the stupid.I'm
just plain ole disappointed by the "methodology." This author could
have taken the opportunity to perform a carefully controlled study with
randomly-selected non-scientists. She could have shown them blinded
content and administered questionnaires. Instead she wrote 10 pages of
opinion and passed it off as science.After pages upon pages of presenting cherry-picked content, Inna concludes this:Science
blogs examined in this study are very heterogeneous. They provide
information and explain complicated matters, but their evaluations are
often trivial and they rarely provide extensive critique or articulate
positions on controversial issues... It appears that science blogging
can also be characterized as relying on reductive analysis and
dependent reporting and drawing caustic and petty commentary. These
characteristics may as well be applied to the newspaper and magazine
science communication, but with the newer science communication outlet
such as blogging they indicate that the potential of blogging to do
something differently, e.g., to provide informed expert and citizen
commentary, is not realized. In their current multiplicity of forms and
contents science blogs present a challenge rather than an opportunity
for public engagement with science. Lack of genre conventions, which
for the audience translates into broken expectations and uncertainty,
impedes the development of stable readership and participation from the
larger public, which may also be very heterogeneous. The "neighborhood
bar" or "water cooler" commentary creates a sense of community with
shared context and culture, but at the same time it creates a barrier
that prevents strangers and outsiders from joining the conversation. As
a community of scientists or individuals close to science, the
existing readers may enjoy the entertaining nature of science blogs and
not need science blogs to serve as a place for discussion and rational
debate. Relying on such community of readers, bloggers may reduce their
interpretive activities and resort to copying, re-distributing, and
re-packaging of the existing information, which is still quite
rewarding given the background of the majority of current readers and
yet requires much less time and effort. This study provides further
evidence that blogging as a web tool has no magic properties on its
own. Without a concerted effort of different social actors involved it
will not solve any problems...Reading this, I
realize that I did my PhD in the wrong damned field. I would be a much
more prolific publisher if I had entered a field where I could have
written whatever bullshit moved me on any given day and called it
"research." I also wonder how many of you feel like you
simply add "caustic and petty commentary"? I question how Inna can
conclude that blogs pose a barrier to the conversation. That's a
difficult statement to take seriously, knowing that Inna had no access
to traffic data for any of the blogs she read. For me, I know that a
single blog will be read by 1000s more non-scientists than any original
scientific article I publish in a peer-reviewed journal. And, she
certainly wouldn't have found the analysis trivial if she had read some
of Ed Yong or Carl Zimmer's work, not that I find any of the blogs she included trivial. Then again, I think it is the diversity of voice is what makes the blogosphere so beautiful. My
sample size = 1 is probably no better than Inna's sample size = 11, but
I can at least offer my experience to the data set. I get many letters
a week from young people interested in science careers and soliciting
advice on graduate school, fields of study, and professional
development. The number of people who have come to my office in person
to have these conversations is trivial in comparison. Thus, these data
would lead me to conclude that my blog presence has lowered the barrier
to engagement with this audience.I'll also never forget one of the occasions,
quite a while ago, that I wrote about some novel research. It was a
topic semi-related to my expertise.&nb... Read more »
Inna Kouper. (2010) Science blogs and public engagement with science: practices, challenges, and opportunities. Journal of Science Communication, 9(1). info:/
It is a common argument by those who are opposed to evolution's implication for religious belief to label Darwin as a social Darwinist and a racist. Adrian Desmond and James Moore's book Darwin's Sacred Cause has gone a long way towards dispelling any claims that Darwin sought to justify black inferiority (in fact, as they show, it was just the opposite). However, the claim that Darwin inspired social Darwinism is a persistent argument and those that proffer it will stoop to any level in order to discredit him. As I pointed out in my series Deconstructing Social Darwinism, the political theory is incredibly inconsistent but the central tenets were formed by Herbert Spencer, not Darwin. Darwin himself largely eschewed politics and economics and felt that Spencer had misconstrued his ideas for his own political ends. However, despite how frequently this fact has been presented the erroneous argument continues to appear over and over again.
Religious fundamentalists such as Jonathan Wells or Harun Yahya (whose book blaming Darwin for Hitler, Stalin, Mao, hemorrhoids, long lines at Starbucks and other terrible evils can be seen in the image above) are well known for this line of thought. However, the latest attempt to label Darwin with this brush is Richard Weikart, an historian at California State University, Stanislaus in his article Was Darwin or Spencer the father of laissez-faire social Darwinism? in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.
Weikart's argument is very poorly constructed, as you would expect of someone who works for the Intelligent Design think tank The Discovery Institute and who wrote a book blaming Darwin for Hitler's ideas on eugenics and genocide (a book so powerfully argued that it took a single blog post to refute it). Rather than point out the poor scholarship in his own article I thought it would be more illuminating to look at a case study that offers a novel way of determining whose ideas were interpreted as social Darwinian and whose were viewed as neutral science. I recently discovered such a case study in the form of a PhD dissertation by an historian of Middle Eastern science Marwa Elshakry. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Elshakry, Marwa. (2003) Darwin's Legacy in the Arab East: Science, Religion and Politics, 1870-1914. Princeton University D.Phil. Thesis. info:/
“Teen Pot Use Linked To Psychoses“, “Teen pot smokers at high risk of mental illness“,”Study finds cannabis use is ‘crazy-making’” are the headlines being produced about some new research that finds a link between cannabis use and psychosis
But are the headlines justified? Well, headlines like this are rarely justified. A more interesting question worth asking [...]... Read more »
Frisher, M., Crome, I., Martino, O., & Croft, P. (2009) Assessing the impact of cannabis use on trends in diagnosed schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005. Schizophrenia Research, 113(2-3), 123-128. DOI: 10.1016/j.schres.2009.05.031
McGrath, J., Welham, J., Scott, J., Varghese, D., Degenhardt, L., Hayatbakhsh, M., Alati, R., Williams, G., Bor, W., & Najman, J. (2010) Association Between Cannabis Use and Psychosis-Related Outcomes Using Sibling Pair Analysis in a Cohort of Young Adults. Archives of General Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.6
Over the past few years, deep brain stimulation (DBS) has emerged as a promising treatment for severe psychiatric disorders that haven't responded to conventional approaches. A new paper from the University of Florida reports on a trial of DBS in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and unlike most DBS studies, it was placebo-controlled: Deep Brain Stimulation for Intractable Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.Six patients were implanted with electrodes in the "ventral capsule/ventral striatum" (VC/VS). This area has previously been used as a DBS target for OCD. The original reason for choosing to implant electrodes in this region was that it's long been known that destroying the anterior limb of the internal capsule (capsulotomy) alleviates OCD symptoms in many cases, especially if the ventral (lower) part is removed.Did it work? Yes, but not for everyone. Out of the 6 patients who entered the trial, all of whom were extremely ill despite having tried multiple medications and psychotherapy, 4 (66%) eventually responded well. The other 2 unfortunately got little or no benefit over the 12 month trial period.The study had a double-blind, placebo-controlled phase: the patients weren't told when the DBS electrodes were going to be switched on. As the graphs show, in the 3 patients who were randomly selected to have them switched on early, 2 responded pretty much immediately, while in the 3 patients whose electrodes were left off, none responded until they were turned on 30 days later, although the response at this point was fairly gradual.One person (S1), who responded very well initially, suddenly relapsed about a year later. Upon investigation, it turned out that the battery powering their electrodes had worn out, although no-one knew this until the OCD symptoms returned, so this can't have been a placebo effect. They recovered after getting a new battery.Overall there are few surprises here. These results confirm what we already knew about DBS: it works in many people, but not all, with response rates of around 60%; When it works, it works very well; but sometimes the effects take weeks or months to become fully apparent. This could be either because DBS starts some gradual process of change in the brain which takes time to work; or it could be that it often takes a long time to find the right stimulation parameters (voltage, frequency, etc.) which provide a good response, since this has to be done by trial-and-error. Most likely, it's a bit of both.What I found most interesting was that the VC/VS stimulation didn't just treat people's obsessions and compulsions. It also had a mood-improving effect, and crucially, it sounds as though mood was the first thing to improve, with OCD symptoms following days or weeks later:Finding the optimal settings for an individual subject proved challenging...unlike other experiences with DBS, there is not a clear positive symptom (e.g., tremor improvement) to gauge settings. In this study... the goal was to select parameters that produced some benefit in mood or anxiety symptoms acutely, with minimal side effects.and mood was the first thing that got worse when the DBS was accidentally turned off for whatever reason:Worsening in mood or increased anxiety were typically the first symptoms reported following battery depletion or inadvertent inactivation by metal detectors. Other signs of depression, such as diminished energy or interest, also emerged within days of device interruption... Exacerbation of OCD symptoms generally lagged the emergence of affective or anxiety symptoms.And in fact, four people experienced temporary hypomania, i.e. abnormally elevated mood, which is usually seen in bipolar disorder, although none of the patients in this study had a history of bipolar. People also commonly reported increased alertness, motivation, and difficulty falling asleep.This all fits with the fact that VC/VS stimulation has been used as a DBS target for clinical depression, as well as for OCD. Indeed, this suggests that DBS probably works in essentially the same way in both conditions. The drugs that are used to treat OCD are all antidepressants - specifically serotonin-based ones - so this makes sense too.With luck, research on DBS in animals and humans will finally allow us to understand the neural basis of mood states like depression, and mania - something which, despite decades of research on drugs like antidepressants and mood stabilizers, is still deeply mysterious...Goodman, W., Foote, K., Greenberg, B., Ricciuti, N., Bauer, R., Ward, H., Shapira, N., Wu, S., Hill, C., & Rasmussen, S. (2010). Deep Brain Stimulation for Intractable Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Pilot Study Using a Blinded, Staggered-Onset Design Biological Psychiatry, 67 (6), 535-542 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.11.028... Read more »
Goodman, W., Foote, K., Greenberg, B., Ricciuti, N., Bauer, R., Ward, H., Shapira, N., Wu, S., Hill, C., & Rasmussen, S. (2010) Deep Brain Stimulation for Intractable Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Pilot Study Using a Blinded, Staggered-Onset Design. Biological Psychiatry, 67(6), 535-542. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.11.028
by Drew Rosielle MD in Pallimed: a Hospice & Palliative Medicine Blog
A few analyses from the Coping With Cancer Study have been published recently, all in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. We've published extensively about the CWCS (see here for more). Briefly, it was a prospective, US multi-institutional study of several hundred advanced cancer patients (& their family caregivers) which measured at baseline, among many things, characteristics of patient coping, communication with clinicians, and care preferences. Patients were followed through death, and caregivers were followed into bereavement.
First is a look at race and predictors of 'intensity' of care at the end of life. This analysis looks at ~70 African American patients and ~230 white patients (essentially all the patients who had died by the time of the analysis who self-reported those racial categories). AA patients were more likely to report wanting (37% vs 22%), and to actually receiving (13% vs 3%) 'intensive' EOL care (receiving intensive EOL care was defined in the study as dying in an ICU after either CPR or mechanical ventilation). Rates of reporting having an EOL discussion with a physician, as well as trust in their physician, were similar between white and AA patients, wheras positive religious coping was more common in AA patients than whites.
In multivariate analysis, religious coping was strongly associated with receiving intensive EOL care in white patients (see also here for another CWC paper on religious coping), but not for AA patients (this is probably because the AA patients were more uniformly positive religious copers than white patients that there just weren't enough to capture measurable differences). In addition, having a preference for intensive EOL care was strongly associated in white patients with actually receiving it; for AA patients there was a not-statistically-significant trend towards this (adjusted OR 4.5, p=.058 compared to an aOR of13 for white patients). That is - white patients were more likely to get what they wanted (at least as measured by self-reported preferences at baseline) than AA patients.
A few thoughts about this. Overall this is very consistent with prior research about racial and cultural differences in EOL care. It's always important to keep in mind however that while these differences are there, and measurable, and reproducible, the groups are more similar than they are different (e.g. vast majority of patients did not receive intensive care at EOL, majorities in both groups reported quality of life/symptoms were more important overall than absolute length of life, etc.). This reality, and the fact that you can never assume what the patient in front of you wants until you ask, should always be kept in the forefront clinically.
What's most interesting about these findings is the disconnect between baseline preferences and actual EOL care in AA patients (at least relative to the white patients). The authors hypothesize that, at least regarding those patients who report at baseline wanting intensive EOL care, AA patients' preferences are more fluid and situation-contingent (e.g. change more readily as death approaches) than white patients who endorse similar goals at baseline. Of course another explanation (which is also discussed) is that AA patients' wishes are not respected to the extent of white patients' at life's end (and in fact having a DNR order at baseline did not seem to be 'protective' from intensive EOL care for AA, as it did with whites). For both groups (the DNR-at-baseline and the preference-for-intensive-EOL-care-at-baseline) the disconnect between patients' wishes and what actually happens is more pronounced in AA patients than white patients. That's disturbing, and worth more investigation.
Second is a look at which patients receive care at the end of life which is consistent with their stated preferences. This analysis looked at baseline patient preferences (for symptom-directed care preferentially over life-extending care or vice versa), actual care received in the last week of life, whether patients reported an EOL conversation with their physicians, and how bereaved family caregivers rated physical and psychological distress in the last week of life.
There are a lot of findings here, and I'll only mention a couple. First is that they note that baseline preferences for life-prolonging care or actual receipt of life-prolonging care in the last week of life were not associated with actually living longer (survival was ~200 days from enrollment in patients preferring symptom relief, and ~160 days for those preferring life prolongation; there were similar findings in patients who actually received life-prolonging care in the last week of life - none of the differences were statistically significant). They defined life-prolonging care in the last week as chemotherapy, tube feeding, or any 'ICU-level' of care. This is reminiscent of the SUPPORT study sub-analysis of cancer patients - preference or receipt of more 'intensive' care at the EOL was not actually associated with living longer.
As far as patients receiving care that was consistent with their baseline wishes, reporting having an EOL conversation with their physician was the only factor consistently associated with this congruence. Regardless of baseline preferences, those patients who received life prolonging care in their last week of life (as defined above) had more physicial and psychological distress in the last week (as reported by family caregivers). So, even for patients who said (at baseline) they preferred life prolonging treatment, receipt of such treatment was associated with more suffering, and lower rated quality of life (compared to patients who didn't receive those treatments, regardless of preference).
I've ruminated at length before about prior CWC findings (showing that having an EOL discussion was associated with improved EOL care/outcomes) - about whether it was the impact of the discussion itself vs. 'there's something different about patients who have these discussions' which leads to the differences in EOL care/outcomes. While this study can't answer that question, to an extent these findings suggest that 'patient protoplasm' is not the major determinant, as even those patients who preferred symptom-control over life-prolongation but received life-prolongation, did poorly. Ie - it's more than a simple phenenomon of those patients who are more comfortable with death/dying/& talking about it 'doing well' through the end. If you ascribe causality to these findings (which should be done cautiously of course) then it seems like we can actively hurt our patients (increase suffering) by the treatments we give them as they die. This is not news of course.....
The final one looks at the impact of spiritual care by medical teams on patient's end of life care. In some ways it is a follow-up to this CWC analysis Tom reported on a year ago. This study looks at patient reports of spiritual support from their medical team, and pastoral care utilization, and finds that those are associated with more hospice utilization, and less aggressive EOL care, even among religious copers.
Loggers, E., Maciejewski, P., Paulk, E., DeSanto-Madeya, S., Nilsson, M., Viswanath, K., Wright, A., Balboni, T., Temel, J., Stieglitz, H.... Read more »
Loggers, E., Maciejewski, P., Paulk, E., DeSanto-Madeya, S., Nilsson, M., Viswanath, K., Wright, A., Balboni, T., Temel, J., Stieglitz, H.... (2009) Racial Differences in Predictors of Intensive End-of-Life Care in Patients With Advanced Cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 27(33), 5559-5564. DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2009.22.4733
Mack, J., Weeks, J., Wright, A., Block, S., & Prigerson, H. (2010) End-of-Life Discussions, Goal Attainment, and Distress at the End of Life: Predictors and Outcomes of Receipt of Care Consistent With Preferences. Journal of Clinical Oncology. DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2009.25.4672
Balboni, T., Paulk, M., Balboni, M., Phelps, A., Loggers, E., Wright, A., Block, S., Lewis, E., Peteet, J., & Prigerson, H. (2009) Provision of Spiritual Care to Patients With Advanced Cancer: Associations With Medical Care and Quality of Life Near Death. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 28(3), 445-452. DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2009.24.8005
“Ok brain. I don’t like you and you don’t like me. Let’s just do this and I can go back to killing you with beer.” - Homer Simpson
A new piece of research has elicited headlines around the world in today’s newspapers such as “Coma patient ‘talks’ with his thoughts” and “Coma victim talks via brain [...]... Read more »
Monti MM, Vanhaudenhuyse A, Coleman MR, Boly M, Pickard JD, Tshibanda L, Owen AM, & Laureys S. (2010) Willful Modulation of Brain Activity in Disorders of Consciousness. The New England journal of medicine. PMID: 20130250
Martin M. Monti, & Audrey Vanhaudenhuyse. (2010) Willful Modulation of Brain Activity in Disorders of Consciousness. The New England Journal of Medicine. info:/10.1056/NEJMoa0905370
Stanfordian scientists have attributed age-related financial risks with differential accumbal activity. Honestly, this begs a philosophical conversation of how we can control financial risks of the elderly without jeopardizing their basic human rights.... Read more »
Samanez-Larkin, G., Kuhnen, C., Yoo, D., & Knutson, B. (2010) Variability in Nucleus Accumbens Activity Mediates Age-Related Suboptimal Financial Risk Taking. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(4), 1426-1434. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4902-09.2010
A little while ago, I wrote a post about an article in Science about the relationship between “objective” measurements of “quality of life” and subjective measurements of “life-satisfaction”. The article found a very high correlation between these measurements leading the authors to claim that there was now “objective verification” of the subjective measurements often used [...]... Read more »
Oswald, A., & Wu, S. (2009) Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-Being: Evidence from the U.S.A. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1180606
Schwarz, N., Strack, F., & Mai, H. (1991) Assimilation and Contrast Effects in Part-Whole Question Sequences: A Conversational Logic Analysis. Public Opinion Quarterly, 55(1), 3. DOI: 10.1086/269239
Norbert Schwarz, & Fritz Strack. (1991) Context Effects in Attitude Surveys: Applying Cognitive Theory to Social Research. European Review of Social Psychology. info:/
Oishi, S. (2003) The contextual and systematic nature of life satisfaction judgments. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39(3), 232-247. DOI: 10.1016/S0022-1031(03)00016-7
Schkade, D., & Kahneman, D. (1998) Does Living in California Make People Happy? A Focusing Illusion in Judgments of Life Satisfaction. Psychological Science, 9(5), 340-346. DOI: 10.1111/1467-9280.00066
Back in the time of the “black and white” motion picture days, when “talkies” weren’t even born, we still could make out the essence of what Charlie Chaplin had to “say”. We understood his unspoken words, courtesy a system of neuronal networking, called the mirror neuron system. Another example: you observe a man kissing ‘his’ girlfriend, ‘your’ neuronal network that would otherwise activate when you ‘actually’ kissed her, would fire! Mirror neurons are at work. Seems to me a bit like ‘mechanical resonance’, where the string of a guitar resonates (vibrates at the fundamental or overtone frequency of its chord's natural frequency of vibration) when a second guitar/chord is strummed nearby.It all began with the experiment led by Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist at the University of Parma. His team wanted to locate regions in the brain which controlled hand and mouth actions in monkeys, such as grasping or licking of an object. So, they had placed electrodes in the ventral premotor cortex, a part of the brain, [see fig] of a macaque monkey with the hope that whenever ‘that part’ of the brain were activated, the electrode would activate an electronic circuitry and give an audible beep. But all hell broke loose when a student entered the lab with an ice cream in his hand. Every time he was raising the ice cream to his lips, the system responded with a beep! Thus, although the monkey wasn’t having the ice-cream himself (and not moving his limbs), the mere observation of ‘the act’ fired the neurons that would otherwise be stimulated if the monkey ‘actually’ indulged in ‘the act’. The mirror neuron area, ventral premotor cortex, is also known as ventral premotor area F5.Mirror neurons are defined as ‘those’ neurons that fire when an animal performs some work and also when the animal observes the ‘same work’ being performed by others. In humans, the activity has been traced down to the ‘premotor cortex’ and ‘inferior parietal cortex’ regions of the brain. When a part of the brain ‘fires’ (discharges), it becomes metabolically active and the areas of this enhanced activity may be mapped by a procedure called fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). In a study by Iacoboni et al, 23 right-handed participants were shown different types of image clips (figure on the left). The pictures consisted of a teapot, a mug, cookie jar and related objects in different contexts, action and intention. At the same time the subjects were shown the pictures, the participants’ brains were also being mapped by fMRI to assess the regions of the brain that lit up during the procedure. The premotor cortex and some other parts of the brain showed a significant signal increase on fMRI scans in the action and intention clips. But the signal increase in the Intention condition was much higher compared to the Action condition, with high activity recorded in visual areas and in the right inferior frontal cortex, they noted. Thus the mirror neuron areas of right inferior frontal cortex were involved in understanding the intentions of others, in addition to action recognition.This ‘sniffing’ of intention behind action is essential to social animals like humans and a deficit in understanding this is seen in autism, a developmental disorder where there is lack of social smile, aloofness, absent eye to eye contact and marked impairment in interpersonal interaction. Autistic children can see sad or happy faces but they fail to ‘read’ the underlying emotions (sadness or happiness). Normally, children acquire mirror neuron activity by the time they are 1 year old. Exactly how they ‘program’ their neurons into being mirror neurons is not known. Learning by Hebbian association has been proposed. Mirror neurons are also involved in language acquisition, empathy and even possibly mind reading, giving credence to the ‘theory of mind’. Telepathy and clairvoyance now seems plausible (psychologists frequently employ transference and counter-transference, kind of ‘feeling’ a patient by their ‘mirror neuron systems’ and consequently ‘filling’ the patient with his own thoughts to remedy patients, in clinical practice.)Considering their importance in social communication, our brain would have sufficient number of them. Here, I would like to wonder if pedestrian neurons could spontaneously organize into ‘mirror neuron system’ as a person watched say, an action film. Certainly, this can not happen in real-time, as there will be a delay due to visual processing and synaptic passage within the brain. But, given the plasticity of the brain and the dynamicity of dendritic spines, the idea seems conceivable. Mirror neurons also respond to sound. Breast milk ejection of a mother in response to her baby crying is an example. In cases of postoperative urinary retention, sound of running water has helped the patient to pass urine (1). This may be another example in point. It may also shed light about how ‘suggestion’ works in Hypnosis.Given the diverse range of inputs, the brain must manage (compress) its database as space within the skull is limited. It certainly can not afford to have different sets of mirror neurons for red oval tea cups or green cylindrical ones and so on. So, what the brain does is pattern matching by some ‘fuzzy logic’ or it may simply analyze the scene; break down the signal by some kind of Fourier analysis into simpler functions and then compare resulting signal with its prior database.Mirror neurons may explain the elusive LSD Flashback phenomenon. It occurs in LSD abusers who are NOT currently taking the drug, but find themselves in a situation reminiscent of a previous drug spree. The person gets a ‘kick’ even though he may have taken it days ago. Clearly, psychedelic lights may trigger a flashback (and watching violent TV programs has been found to activate mirror neurons in children). We should also ask ourselves if dreams, at least some of them, were the handiwork of some of these neurons.In her fantastic article ‘Cells That Read Minds’, Sandra Blakeslee ponders and exculpates all men from voyeurism:“In yet another realm, mirror neurons are powerfully activated by pornography, several scientists said. For example, when a man watches another man have sexual intercourse with a woman, the observer's mirror neurons spring into action. The vicarious thrill of watching sex, it turns out, is not so vicarious after all.”In a lighter vein it may be said that the search engine Google has developed 'mirror neuron like' properties. Just type, “how can i get my girl” in Google search box and watch: Google would ‘ping’ your intention and come up with some real smart choices.Last modified: neverReference: (1) Bailey & Love; A Short Practise of Surgery,18e, page 1230Mirror neurons and the simulation theory of mind-reading Cells That Read Minds THE MOTOR CORTEX... Read more »
Iacoboni M, Molnar-Szakacs I, Gallese V, Buccino G, Mazziotta JC, & Rizzolatti G. (2005) Grasping the intentions of others with one's own mirror neuron system. PLoS biology, 3(3). PMID: 15736981
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4
Richard Hofstadter wrote in Social Darwinism in American Thought that this political theory was "one of the leading strains in American conservative thought for more than a generation." In this series I have shown many of the inconsistencies that exist in the literature on social Darwinism and have emphasized the main objections that scholars have raised about the utility of the term.
In Part 1 I presented the standard definition of social Darwinism as defined by Richard Hofstadter and R.J. Halliday. In Part 2 I highlighted the common objection that there was very little connection with Darwin or his work in these ideas and that, rather, the key tenets were already in place before Darwin published On the Origin of Species. In Part 3 I pointed out how social Darwinism is not a coherent political theory that offers useful predictions about political behavior but is rather an amalgamation of tenuously related ideas. Now, the third category of objection I will discuss is that there is little documentation that exists from proponents of social Darwinism to claim the influence that some scholars assert. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Hodgson, G. (2004) Social Darwinism in Anglophone Academic Journals: A Contribution to the History of the Term. Journal of Historical Sociology, 17(4), 428-463. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6443.2004.00239.x
Many non-Australians might not know it, but Australia is overrun with feral vertebrates (not to mention weeds and invertebrates). We have millions of pigs, dogs, camels, goats, buffalo, deer, rabbits, cats, foxes and toads (to name a few). In a continent that separated from Gondwana about 80 million years ago, this allowed a fairly unique [...]... Read more »
C.R. McMahon, B.W. Brook,, N. Collier, & C.J.A. Bradshaw. (2010) Spatially explicit spreadsheet modelling for optimising the efficiency of reducing invasive animal density. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. info:/10.1111/j.2041-210X.2009.00002.x
Albrecht, G., McMahon, C., Bowman, D., & Bradshaw, C. (2009) Convergence of Culture, Ecology, and Ethics: Management of Feral Swamp Buffalo in Northern Australia. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 22(4), 361-378. DOI: 10.1007/s10806-009-9158-5
Bradshaw, C., Field, I., Bowman, D., Haynes, C., & Brook, B. (2007) Current and future threats from non-indigenous animal species in northern Australia: a spotlight on World Heritage Area Kakadu National Park. Wildlife Research, 34(6), 419. DOI: 10.1071/WR06056
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3
In Quentin Skinner's celebrated history The Foundations of Modern Political Thought he writes that:
If the history of political theory were to be written essentially as a history of ideologies, one outcome might be a clearer understanding of the links between political theory and practice.
In Part II of this series I highlighted how a common objection to the political theory of social Darwinism is that it was a misapplication of Darwin's science to already existing ideas. A second objection is that there is no core theoretical framework that would make the theory a coherent set of principles. A political theory only possesses utility if its general principles exist independent of the thing to be explained. Without this the theory is a mere amalgamation of tenuously related ideas that do not form a unified structure.
If social Darwinism is a valid political theory, it would stand to reason that some basic predictions could be made about someone's political practice given the theory they follow. For example, as the cognitive scientist George Lakoff has so brilliantly described in his book Moral Politics, liberals and conservatives follow recognizable patterns in their support for social policies based on the political theories they adopt (see my post The Nature of Partisan Politics for a full discussion). However, as I mentioned in Part I, the "social Darwinism" of Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Spencer contradicted each other on two of the fundamental tenets of the theory. An important guideline for political history (and one that is required in science) is that if a theory doesn't explain a given phenomenon it is effectively useless.
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Crook, P. (1998) Social Darwinism and British “new imperialism”: Second thoughts. The European Legacy, 3(1), 1-16. DOI: 10.1080/10848779808579860
Psychiatrists give their patients all kinds of drugs, but in most cases, they do so without ever taking any themselves. Some French psychiatrists found an excuse to try out some drugs in the name of science, and the results are published in a paper just out - Besnier et al's Effects of paroxetine on emotional functioning and treatment awareness.Thirty healthy psychiatrists and clinical psychologists took paroxetine 20mg per day, or placebo pills, for 4 weeks. Paroxetine (Paxil, Seroxat) is a popular SSRI antidepressant - popular with doctors, at least. It has a bad reputation amongst users as causing serious withdrawl symptoms, even compared to other SSRIs. These psychiatrists decided to wean themselves off with a week at a reduced dose of 10mg before stopping completely - after just one month on it! Make of that what you will.Anyway, what happened? The participants experienced no changes in mood or anxiety, although since they weren't depressed or anxious to begin with, this is not surprising. However, the people taking paroxetine did report reduced "Internal Emotional Experience" as measured with the Emotional State Questionnaire (designed by the same people who ran this study.) That means they were less likely to answer yes to questions like “Do you feel anger when faced with a familiar face with expressed anger?”This sounds as though they experienced the "emotional blunting" reported by some people who take SSRIs, although it's not clear what exactly this questionnaire is measuring, or how powerful the effect was. The paroxetine group also reported feeling sedated and suffered many more side effects - 70% of participants presented with an adverse event for more than 3 weeks, vs 20% of placebo.Most described adverse events were psychiatric (sleepiness disorders, libido decreased), gastrointestinal (nausea, diarrhea), or neurological signs (headache).There's a twist, though, in that while 20 of the subjects got placebo or paroxetine in a double-blind manner (10 each), the other 10 got paroxetine unblinded, i.e. they knew they were not going to get placebo. Strangely, the unblinded group experienced much weaker effects than the double-blind paroxetine group, including many fewer side effects. What's up with that? It's hard to say. It doesn't make much sense. To be honest, with just 10 people in each group, any or all of these results could be random chance anyway.Still, I do like the idea of psychiatrists self-experimenting. Sadly we're not told whether they were more or less likely to prescribe paroxetine after taking it themselves! Still, I have a bit of anecdotal evidence here. I was talking to a French psychiatrist a while ago who said he'd self-prescribed the SSRI antidepressant citalopram and thought it was brilliant. But one day he accidentally picked up a box of chlorpromazine instead (they were next to each other on the shelf) and that wasn't much fun at all...Freudian psychoanalysis requires trainee therapists to undergo a full course of therapy themselves before they get to inflict it on their patients. Maybe psychiatrists should have to take courses of antidepressants and antipsychotics as part of their training? Or as the psychopathic bounty hunter said to the doctor in Joss Whedon's Firefly -Jubal Early: You ever been shot?Dr Simon Tam: No.Jubal Early: You oughta be shot. Or stabbed. Lose a leg. To be a surgeon, you know? Know what kind of pain you're dealing with. They make psychiatrists get psychoanalyzed before they can get certified, but they don't make a surgeon get cut on. That seem right to you?- FireflyBesnier N, Cassé-Perrot C, Jouve E, Nguyen N, Lançon C, Falissard B, & Blin O (2009). Effects of paroxetine on emotional functioning and treatment awareness: a 4-week randomized placebo-controlled study in healthy clinicians. Psychopharmacology PMID: 19826792... Read more »
Besnier N, Cassé-Perrot C, Jouve E, Nguyen N, Lançon C, Falissard B, & Blin O. (2009) Effects of paroxetine on emotional functioning and treatment awareness: a 4-week randomized placebo-controlled study in healthy clinicians. Psychopharmacology. PMID: 19826792
An intriguing and tragic story of brain damage is reported in the latest issue of Neurocase: Klüver-Bucy syndrome, hypersexuality, and the law.The authors are Devinsky, Sacks, and Devinsky - Sacks being neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks. Their anonymous patient, a 51 year old married American man, is currently serving a jail sentence for downloading child pornography. But he's not your average pedophile.The man's problems began at the age of 19 when he -first suffered attacks of déjà vu ... They became much more frequent – as many as 20 attacks a day – and much more complex, the déjà vu now being followed by a cascade of other symptoms: sharp pains in the chest and sensations of breathlessness; alterations of hearing; occasional musical hallucinations – he would always hear a particular song ‘as clearly as if it were being played in the next room’...Tests showed that he was suffering from epilepsy, and that the seizures originated in the right mesial temporal lobe, an area of the brain involved in memory and emotion. Temporal lobe epilepsy is relatively common, and it's a fascinating topic in itself, as the symptoms often include hallucinations and other strange experiences such as a powerful sense of déjà vu.Anticonvulsant drugs didn't help, so at age 33, the patient had surgery to remove the region where the seizures began. However, a few months later, the seizures returned, worse than before. So, at age 39, he had a second operation to remove even more of his right temporal lobe. That's when his real trouble started -Approximately a month after surgery, behavioral changes of irritability, hyperphagia [increased eating] and hypersexuality (including coprophilia) developed. He became more sexually active with his wife and masturbated more often. Compulsively, he began to watch adult pornographic images and videos on the internet when his wife slept.The unfortunate patient's symptoms are a rare example of Klüver-Bucy Syndrome (KBS) in man. Here's the very first account of it -He no longer clearly understands the meaning of the sounds, sights, and other impressions that reach him. His food is devoured greedily, the head being dipped into the dish, instead of the food being conveyed to the mouth by the hands. He reacts to all kinds of noises, even slight ones – such as the rustling of a piece of paper – but shows no consequent evidence of alarm or agitation and displays tyrannizing proclivities towards his mate.That's a description of a lab monkey, written in 1888 by British neuroscientists Sanger Brown and E. A. Schaefer. Compare it to the patient's own words about what happened to him -My appetite for food and sex increased dramatically. I had greater mood swings. I wanted sex constantly. Every day. I was very easily stimulated and began to touch myself regularly. I began to request sex daily from my wife. If I wasn’t having sex with my wife, I masturbated. This behavior increased over time. I became more emotionally labile, obsessive–compulsive... I become distracted so easily that I can’t get anything started or done.It's a classic example of KBS, although the patient only had his right temporal lobe damaged, whereas in monkeys KBS usually follows removal of both the left and the right temporal lobes. Also, it's interesting that the symptoms only started a month after the surgery.The patient's appetite for sex (and food) was insatiable, and this became his downfall -Some websites solicited him to view and purchase child pornography. He became obsessed with this and eventually purchased and downloaded pornographic images of prepubescent females engaged in sexual activities from the internet. He was ashamed and secretive about these activities, not discussing the pornography or masturbation with his wife or with anyone else.In 2006, he was arrested. A psychiatrist prescribed an antipsychotic, quetiapine, and an antidepressant, sertraline. His sexual obsessions disappeared, and according to his wife, "he became much warmer and loving but the medications shut off his libido... sex became non-existent."The patient was subsequently charged with 'knowingly and wilfully possessing material which contained at least three images of child pornography'. He plead guilty. Dr Devinsky told the court that the right temporal lobe damage was the "major contributing factor to the patient’s hypersexuality and viewing of child pornography" and that he was, therefore, not responsible for his actions. Oliver Sacks agreed, saying a letter that he was. . . a man of superior intelligence and of real moral delicacy and sensibility, who at one point was driven to act out of character under the spur of an irresistible physiological compulsion resulting from his brain injury. A recurrence of such behavior is extremely unlikely given his character and insight... He is strictly monogamous.The prosecution, however, argued that he was in control of actions, because he was able to avoid acting inappropriately in public, and they sought the maximum sentence possible - 20 years. They said thatthe patient’s hypersexual behavior in some situations but not others was evidence for volitionally controlled criminal behavior; that it was incompatible with a neurological cause. For example, he downloaded and viewed child pornography at home but not at work.The judge, however, accepted that the patient's medical condition was a mitigating factor in the case. He sentenced him to 26 months imprisonment, 25 months home confinement, and 5 years under supervision - the minimum punishment allowable by law.Should he have been punished at all? Devinsky, Sacks, and Devinsky don't think so: "Was he criminally responsible? Did his behavioral actions warrant imprisonment? We believe the answer is no to both questions."But the case raises difficult questions about free will and responsibility. At first glance, it seems as though the man's brain damage didn't directly make him download the child porn, but merely gave him an "urge" to do so. Don't we have the ability to choose whether or not to follow our urges? Isn't that what "free will" is?On the other hand, damage to the same parts of the brain causes strikingly similar symptoms in monkeys. An alien scientist observing life on earth might well conclude, from cases like this, that all the species of monkeys on this planet are very similar - including humans. You damage a certain part of their brains, and their behaviour changes in a predictable way. Most of us humans would say that other monkeys don't have "free will" - but then how are we so sure that we do?Links: I've previously blogged about drugs to increase libido and the question of free will. The Neurocritic has a great post on neurology and sex from a few weeks back. Finally, perhaps the most important question raised by this case is what would the Paedofinder General say?... Read more »
Devinsky J, Sacks O, & Devinsky O. (2009) Kluver-Bucy syndrome, hypersexuality, and the law. Neurocase : case studies in neuropsychology, neuropsychiatry, and behavioural neurology, 1-6. PMID: 19927260
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Flanders WD. (2006) On the relationship of sufficient component cause models with potential outcome (counterfactual) models. European journal of epidemiology, 21(12), 847-53. PMID: 17048084
Last month Wired, announced that Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why.The article's a good read, and the basic story is true, at least in the case of psychiatric drugs. In clinical trials, people taking placebos do seem to get better more often now than in the past (paper). This is a big problem for Big Pharma, because it means that experimental new drugs often fail to perform better than placebo, i.e. they don't work. Wired have just noticed this, but it's been being discussed in the academic literature for several years.Why is this? No-one knows. There have been many suggestions - maybe people "believe in" the benefits of drugs more nowadays, so the placebo effect is greater; maybe clinical trials are recruiting people with milder illnesses that respond better to placebo, or just get better on their own. But we really don't have any clear idea.What if the confusion is because of the very concept of the "placebo"? Earlier this year, the BMJ ran a short opinion piece called It’s time to put the placebo out of our misery. Robin Nunn wants us to "stop thinking in terms of placebo...The placebo construct conceals more than it clarifies."His central argument is an analogy. If we knew nothing about humour and observed a comedian telling jokes to an audience, we might decide there was a mysterious "audience effect" at work, and busy ourselves studying it...Imagine that you are a visitor from another world. You observe a human audience for the first time. You notice a man making vocal sounds. He is watched by an audience. Suddenly they burst into smiles and laughter. Then they’re quiet. This cycle of quietness then laughter then quietness happens several times.What is this strange audience effect? Not all of the man’s sounds generate an audience effect, and not every audience member reacts. You deem some members of the audience to be “audience responders,” those who are particularly influenced by the audience effect. What makes them react? A theory of the audience effect could be spun into an entire literature analogous to the literature on the placebo effect.But what we should be doing is examining the details of jokes and of laughter -We could learn more about what makes audiences laugh by returning to fundamentals. What is laughter? Why is “fart” funnier than “flatulence”? Why are some people just not funny no matter how many jokes they try?And this is what we should be doing with the "placebo effect" as well -Suppose there is no such unicorn as a placebo. Then what? Just replace the thought of placebo with something more fundamental. For those who use placebo as treatment, ask what is going on. Are you using the trappings of expertise, the white coat and diploma? Are you making your patients believe because they believe in you?Nunn's piece is a polemic and he seems to be conclude by calling for a "post-placebo era" in which there will be no more placebo-controlled trials (although it's not clear what he means by this). This is going too far. But his analogy with humour is an important one because it forces us to analyse the placebo in detail."The placebo effect" has become a vague catch-all term for anything that seems to happen to people when you give them a sugar pill. Of course, lots of things could happen. They could feel better just because of the passage of time. Or they could realize that they're supposed to feel better and say they feel better, even if they don't.The "true" placebo effect refers to improvement (or worsening) of symptoms driven purely by the psychological expectation of such. But even this is something of a catch-all term. Many things could drive this improvement. Suppose you give someone a placebo pill that you claim will make them more intelligent, and they believe it.Believing themselves to be smarter, they start doing smart things like crosswords, math puzzles, reading hard books (or even reading Neuroskeptic), etc. But the placebo itself was just a nudge in the right direction. Anything which provided that nudge would also have worked - and the nudge itself can't take all the credit.The strongest meaning of the "placebo effect" is a direct effect of belief upon symptoms. You give someone a sugar pill or injection, and they immediately feel less pain, or whatever. But even this effect encompasses two kinds of things. It's one thing if the original symptoms have a "real" medical cause, like a broken leg. But it's another thing if the original symptoms are themselves partially or wholly driven by psychological factors, i.e. if they are "psychosomatic".If a placebo treats a "psychosomatic" disease, then that's not because the placebo has some mysterious, mind-over-matter "placebo effect". All the mystery, rather, lies with the psychosomatic disease. But this is a crucial distinction.People seem more willing to accept the mind-over-matter powers of "the placebo" than they are to accept the existence of psychosomatic illness. As if only doctors with sugar pills possess the power of suggestion. If a simple pill can convince someone that they are cured, surely the modern world in all its complexity could convince people that they're ill.Nunn, R. (2009). It's time to put the placebo out of our misery BMJ, 338 (apr20 2) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.b1568... Read more »
Slogger Charles Mudede points to a new epidemiological study on the effectiveness of carrying a gun for self defense [$-a]. Not only does packing heat fail to help in the event of an armed robbery,... individuals in possession of a gun were 4.46 (P That's right, carrying a gun increases the odds that you'll be shot by an armed assailant. It also increases the odds that you'll be shot fatally, by about 4.23 times. The authors interviewed 677 gun assault victims in Philadelphia, from between 2003 and 2006, with 648 interviews drawn from the general population in the same period as a control. (If you can't get to the paper on the journal website, Mudede links to a ScienceDaily article about the result that gives more detail.)
Here's empirical evidence that returning violence with violence (or having the ability to do so) doesn't lead to better outcomes -- unless, of course, you're of the school of thought that it's better to be shot than to lose your wallet or your pride. I doubt this will have much impact on the U.S. political conversation about guns and gun control, because as I've noted before, this is not a subject about which people think rationally. Nevertheless, it's a statistic I intend to remember for the next time I'm asked to defend the ethics of nonresistance.
Branas, C., Richmond, T., Culhane, D., Ten Have, T., & Wiebe, D. (2009). Investigating the link between gun possession and gun assault American Journal of Public Health DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2008.143099
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Branas, C., Richmond, T., Culhane, D., Ten Have, T., & Wiebe, D. (2009) Investigating the link between gun possession and gun assault. American Journal of Public Health. DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2008.143099
What is a cognit you ask? It's a basic unit of memory or knowledge defined by pattern of connections between a network of neurons associated by experience.Termed by Fuster in 2006, the construct was created to solve the problematic yet popular view that the human brain is made up of discrete cortical domains dedicated exclusively to visual discrimination, language, spatial attention, face recognition, motor programming, memory retrieval, and working memory.Although the modular modeling of the brain has utterly failed due to a lack of conclusive evidence, many neuroscientists continue to maintain this antiquated view... but why? Put quite simply, there was nothing better. However, thanks to Fuster, a new paradigm is emerging...Introducing the cognit network model. It postulates that memory and knowledge are represented by interactive, distributed, and overlapping networks of neurons in association cortices.The posterior-post-rolandic association cortex contains perceptual cognits and the frontal association cortex contains executive cognits. The prefrontal and posterior association cortices are linked by complex cognits in a hierarchical order. The parasensory and premotor cortex, found at the bottom of the hierarchy, contain relatively simple and small cognits which represent motor acts or simple percepts. At the top of the hierarchy is the temporo–parietal and prefrontal cortex containing larger cognits representing complex and abstract information of perception and executive control. The long reciprocal cortico–cortical connections between the posterior and frontal networks support sequential behavior, speech, and reasoning.What I found most fascinating was that a single neuron can be part of many memory networks and therefore many memories and units of knowledge.Fuster JM (2009). Cortex and memory: emergence of a new paradigm. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 21 (11), 2047-72 PMID: 19485699FUSTER, J. (2006). The cognit: A network model of cortical representation International Journal of Psychophysiology, 60 (2), 125-132 DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2005.12.015... Read more »
FUSTER, J. (2006) The cognit: A network model of cortical representation. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 60(2), 125-132. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2005.12.015
In this post I discuss the question whether we are our brains. In doing so I introduce the principle of the identity of indiscernibles, brainhood and the cerebral subject, neuro-realism and neuro-essentialism, and the mereological fallacy. ... Read more »
Fusar-Poli P, & Broome MR. (2007) Love and brain: from mereological fallacy to "folk" neuroimaging. Psychiatry research, 154(3), 285-6. PMID: 17350234
As an undergraduate, at my school it was practically a requirement to steal silverware from the campus cafeteria. There were students who'd commandeered full sets of china. The desk clerk at my dorm used to say that the only thing we were learning from our college education was "how to steal."
Somehow it didn't seem wrong to us to steal from the cafeteria (though I drew the line at a single setting of silverware). Plus, we'd heard that at other schools, students used the cafeteria trays as sleds after the first winter snow. At least we weren't doing that (though arguably this was only because there are no hills in Chicago).
Clearly this "tradition" of petty theft was something we learned from our classmates -- but what exactly led us to believe that our unethical behavior was "okay"? It could be that since we saw no one getting caught or punished, we decided we wouldn't either. Or perhaps because the behavior was so widespread we never considered that it might be wrong. Or maybe our own sense of morality was modified by what we saw our friends doing.
A team led by Francesca Gino devised a clever study to test some of these explanations for unethical behavior by groups. They recruited 141 undergraduates from Carnegie Mellon University to participate in a study ostensibly about math skills. The students entered a testing room in groups of 8 to 14. They were given a set of 20 problems and told they had just five minutes to complete them -- an impossibly short period given the time constraints. They were also given an envelope with $10 inside. After the five minutes were over, the students were told to self-grade the test and pay themselves 50 cents for each correct response, depositing the change in a cardboard box for the purpose. All except one group of students put their answers in a paper shredder, so the experimenters would never know if they had cheated. The other group served as a control, and their questions were carefully graded by the experimenter.
Here's the key to the study: In some groups of students, a hired actor took the test along with them, pretending to be finished after just one minute and loudly proclaiming he'd answered all the questions correctly and conspicuously keeping all his money. It would have been obvious to the other students that he cheated. Half the time, he wore a plain white T-shirt, and half the time he wore the shirt of Carnegie Mellon's arch-rival, the University of Pittsburgh. The experimenters didn't track the individual answers to the tests, but they were still able to measure how much cheating occurred by seeing how much money the students kept. Here are the results: Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Gino, F., Ayal, S., & Ariely, D. (2009) Contagion and Differentiation in Unethical Behavior: The Effect of One Bad Apple on the Barrel. Psychological Science, 20(3), 393-398. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02306.x
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