Action and Reaction: The Effects of Abuse on a Child’s Brain

Tuesday, 6. December 2011 11:33 | Author:

Brandon Keim of Wired Science brings to our attention the long term effects that childhood abuse has on the brain, both as a child, and later as an adult.  What are essentially neurological survival techniques in the brain of a child, become hindering behavioural and emotional problems in adulthood. Using fMRI techonology,  blood flow to the brain was measured in both the brains of abused and non-abused children of a similar demographic. According to Eamon McCrory of University College London: “ In the abused children, angry faces provoked distinct activation patterns in their anterior insula and right amygdala, parts of the brain involved in processing threat and pain. Similar patterns have been measured in soldiers who’ve seen combat.”

Lastly in the article, this stood out as being of particular importance:  ”Can children change in response to an act of intervention? To a better home environment? We’re quite optimistic that’s the case, that this is reversible. But that’s something we need to test.” (McCrory)

In my own studies, this always seemed to me to be a path worth pursuing. When our neurological wiring has been set, or highly influenced by our environment and personal experience, is it possible to reset that same wiring by altering the external factors? And if it is, to what extent? At what age would this approach begin to lose its effectiveness?



Category:General Interest | Comment (0)

How Lack of Politeness Has Become the Unfortunate Norm.

Friday, 11. November 2011 12:29 | Author:

Rudeness. It has become a disease. It has the pervasive nature of the common cold in winter. This illness appears to have no exceptions. It infects both young and old, driver and pedestrian, rich and poor, male and female, is cross cultural and multi-national. There are so many types of rudeness and impoliteness out there, that it would be impossible to address them all, but let’s have a look at some of the things that now occur as part of our every day life.

Drivers and pedestrians. In my top bugbears of the rudeness pot. The bigger and more expensive the car, the less the driver has to abide by general driving rules. Did you know that? Truth. If you happen to be already breaking the law and talking on your mobile phone, there are no rules whatsoever. You may: bully people out of the way, not bother to use your indicator, drive really really slowly and pay no attention to what’s going on around you, ignore yield (right of way) signs, and so on…  For pedestrians, these drivers can ignore amber lights (hello? still crossing the road..!) and sometimes even green pedestrian lights. You can park your car wherever you wish, although mostly outside the off-licence or the Quik-E-Mart. If you happen to be a Taxi, you get extra special points and can park your vehicle up a tree without worrying about it.  Is it only drivers? Absolutely not. Those of us going by shanks’ pony are just as susceptible to bad behaviour. We can cross the road wherever we like, and actually use hand gestures to hold traffic for ourselves. We also love to run to the middle of the road, and then drop to a leisurely amble to reach the other side. When walking on the footpath down a road, we have the right to step off into the road at any time, no matter how close you are to us. We can also, as we see you approaching, choose to cross the road at that precise moment. This right is augmented when in a group (especially if you are in uniform and in your teen years.)

Lack of Etiquette. Within our own social circles, we expect a level of politeness. I invite you to dinner, you’ll invite me back in a few weeks. If I’m having a party, it’s your responsibility to let me know whether or not you’ll be attending. Basically, it’s biblical. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Unfortunately, they won’t. Being impolite in polite society is not good. And it’s a terrible commentary on our race. When I was little (younger), I used to be “threatened” with finishing school when my manners slipped just too much. So now, forgive me, but I know how to set the table and make it look nice, and I like to put the milk in a small jug when serving coffee to guests. For my troubles, I’ve been labelled “posh”. Pshaw, is what I have to say. I’m about as posh as a hotdog, but I can appreciate what’s easy to do the right way. And it rubs off, I can tell you. After being in my house for awhile, you won’t want your coffee in anything less than the little green cups with their saucers and spoons.  But I digress. When did it become a matter of course to call on the night of a dinner when already quite late and say you’re sorry but you’ll be another half hour because you stopped at your other friend’s house? It never did. Thank. Reciprocate. Revisit.

Being old doesn’t mean being horrible. By old I mean elderly: 70+. There’s a big anti-ageism movement where I live. It”s all about looking out for the elderly, and giving them the respect and kindness they deserve. I’d like to think I treat this age group as I did my grandparents. Happy to help, to chat etc… However, I often feel as though there needs to be another movement, that counters those of that group that blatantly use their age to be rude, hostile, and sometimes, just downright nasty. Please don’t push me aside in the queue, or make me trip backwards as you reach to get the item you want, which happens to be in front of where I’m standing. Don’t skip the queue either! And please, don’t ever tell me to “Get of of my way!”. It’s not nice. And it makes me not like you. Don’t point at me with your stick/cane because I happened to be driving in the road when you decided to cross illegally. And don’t ever poke me with said stick/cane. It’s really not nice. It’s these experiences that made me begin a “just because…” type of joke. “Just because I’m old means I can treat you badly.” Wrong.

General public rudeness. This covers pretty much everything else. It seems to be particularly prevalent in the supermarket. I have good days and bad days when it comes to handling supermarket “attitude”. The  fruit and vegetable section is by far the worst. If I want to look at the butternut squash, five other people will suddenly develop an interest also. I’ve started concentrating first on something I don’t want, say turnips, waiting for the hordes to arrive, and then racing over to the spring onions in peace. Queueing in general is also a dangerous area. Some people just really want to be in front of the person in front of them. They breathe down your neck and make small huffing noises to convey their displeasure. Once, because I didn’t close the gap between myself and the person in front of me enough, I was asked to “move up please”. But the best so far took place in the post office. There I was, holding a small parcel. Not a letter, that might not have been seen. A parcel, as in, a BOX. I’m standing there patiently in the queue talking to the person in front of me whom I happen to know when a woman comes in and does the whole violation of my personal space. “Are you in the queue?” she asks the friend I’m talking to. I look at her. I look down at my parcel. He looks at her, then at me. “Yes,” he says, “And so is she”, gesturing at me.  Was I invisible for a moment?

Then there’s the whole mobile phone lark. Some people clearly think that when using a mobile phone, they need to pretend that their phone doubles as a megaphone. The quieter the place, the worse they are. “Hi Lorcan! Yeah, I’m just in the middle of a minute’s silence for something or other! We’ll go for a few scoops later, alright dude!?”           Or when you open the door to leave a shop, and someone walks through without thanking you, or looking at you. When you say: “You’re welcome!”,  you just get a nasty look. I’d love to say that this is all water of a duck’s back, but it wouldn’t be true. It irks something awful. There are pram bullies, mummy monsters, laddish louts, drug addled idiots, yuppie yobs and so on and so forth, et cetera, et cetera.

I find solace in the fact that I am not alone in being affected by this plague. the delightful Amy Aikon also feels strongly enough about Rudititis to take action, as outlined in “I See Rude People”.  So to those of us who still have the ability to be shocked by bad manners, I ask you this: Why has society become like this?  I’ve struggled with the answer. The more instantly gratifying the first world has become, the more of a negative effect it has had on us. Gone are the days when we could plan lunch with a friend a WEEK in advance and have both people turn up, as arranged. Now we cancel on the day, citing some feeble excuse. I think we have forgotten how to truly care. There’s so much pressure on us, where everything is time, or money, or both, that the simpler things in life have all but escaped us. We live in a world of yesterday’s tomorrows, sacrificing the present. We have become self-alienating, but continually shift the blame elsewhere. I suppose I can always hope that Karma will get the rudees at some point, but to be honest that hope is feeble.



Category:Philosophical Meanderings, Psychological Ramblings | Comment (0)

The Delusion of Illusion

Tuesday, 25. October 2011 11:25 | Author:

Why do we believe what we believe? Is the way in which one person believes somehow better than another? Why do we believe things despite evidence to contradict that belief? I’ve always been a fan of the psychology and neuroscience behind the delusion, big or small. So I was intrigued to see a few articles crop up that presented new evidence as to what goes on in the brain when we believe things that aren’t quite the way things really are.

Firstly, the BBC synopsised a report first published in Nature Neuroscience, outlining how the brain loves good news about the future, and for some people, resists altering their optimism when presented with negative news. Apparently a whopping 80% of us are optimists, even if we don’t think we are. Basically, the optimists choose to believe that statistics don’t apply to them as they do to “others”. So, for example, if an optimist says their chance of getting cancer is 10%, they won’t hugely increase that percentage even when presented with the correct statistic of 30%.  The upside of the risk underestimation is that optimism is good for your health.

Clearly, I am not an optimist. I don’t absolutely believe that everything will be ok. I hope it will, and fervently so, but if I was pushed to put a number on it, it wouldn’t be an optimistic figure. My attitude comes from my own personal experience, and an observation of what has gone on in and around my life, either to myself or others. Funnily enough, I say the glass is half full, but I justify that because I believe that the original form of a glass is to be empty. Healthwise, it might be good to be an optimist, but it also means that when something does go very wrong, the blow is extremely painful. Surely there’s a middle ground between optimism and pessimism,  called realism.  We all say from time to time that “everything will be ok”, but I would argue that we say such things to urge ourselves and others onwards, to muster willpower to continue swimming against the tide, in the hopes that we will somehow break through to the other side.

Secondly, Mark L. Howe of Lancaster University, England, presents: “Illusory Memories Can Have Salutary Effects”. To start with,  everything we believe isn’t correct. We make up a lot, fill in the gaps, embellish, and so on. We assume a finish when we don’t actually know what it is. Howe says that:  ” Not only do we regularly generate false memories but, perhaps because we create them ourselves, those illusions are more tenacious than facts.”  He goes on to say that memory illusions can be beneficial, such as when “… an inflated self-concept may result in greater confidence, which fuels success.” (hats off to Dunning -Kruger, again.) I have no argument in particular with these, as I have seen them in action myself, but I did pause at the following example, whereby false memories can also have a related effect: “ children who came to remember a lumbar puncture as less painful than it was were able to tolerate the procedure with more ease the next time.” I had to ask myself how many lumbar punctures a regular child undergoes? However, this aside,  the point of the study is to show that false memories aren’t necessarily bad.

It seems to be that this study deals with too many different kind of memories to be conclusive. Surely there’s a difference between having an inflated self opinion as described above and believing that (as in the evolutionary psychology example) you saw a predator (rather than merely signs of same predator)  in your favourite foraging spot by the waterhole yesterday. The latter would lead you to be super cautious the next time you went a-foraging, and might possibly save your skin.  The former false belief can lead to success in life, but it can also lead to ridicule and dislike. It’s not a clear line.

I tried very hard to think if I had any false memories, when I came across the final article in Wired: “How Friends Ruin Memory: The Social Conformity Effect”.  In short, we tell stories and we like to embellish those stories. If we are asked questions of a particular witnessed event, such as a robbery, we will follow the crowd if unsure of ourselves. So if Joe and I are asked how many people came out of the building after the clown, and Joe says three and I am uncertain, I will say three as well. I would encourage you all to read the articles, and see what you think. By the time I had finished the third above mentioned article, I was concerned about myself.

I’ve already mentioned that I’m definitely not an optimist, but a realist. I can’t find any false memories in the recesses of my mind, nor do I feel that I bend to social influence or pressure. Perhaps, when I was younger, I may have opted for the majority choice, but I can’t say that that stands any longer. With the above example, I’m happy to use the terrible words of: “I don’t know”. There’s no shame in it, and humility can often beget information and greater knowledge.

The above articles outline things we already know, and have known, for quite some time. We are susceptible to our environment, we are gullible, we lie (for many reasons), and we put up barriers that skew our own knowledge. I find it to be a sad commentary. I made up a story once. I made it up purely because my reality just wasn’t interesting enough, and I had become tired and frustrated of hearing of  good fortunes and happy days belonging to other people.  It was my own story, and it suited me. I made it up and used it for years. But I always knew it was poppycock. I never started to believe it. It was a utilitarian type story, and in time, I outgrew it, and discarded it. I hope I’m not alone in my thought processes, and I hope the slide of the mental grip we have on ourselves isn’t as gloomy as presented.


Category:Philosophical Meanderings | Comment (0)

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Friday, 7. October 2011 14:30 | Author:

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What type of Facebook User are you?

Wednesday, 28. September 2011 9:23 | Author:

With the current kerfuffle about Facebook making us all huff and sigh, it seemed appropriate to delve a little deeper into who, as Facebook users, we are.  I see Facebook users and their friends to be not unlike Venn diagrams where, although I only have 161 friends, it’s quite amazing how many subset worlds I can peek into.  I’m well aware of how I use Facebook, and what I use it for, but I actively started paying attention to how other people put it to use. As such, I have come up with a typology for Facebook users, and typologies are just so much fun, I’m sure you’ll agree.

1. The Information Vomiter.

There appears to be nothing sacred in this user’s life that they do not apparently feel compelled to post on Facebook. No topic is safe, not day to day existence, nor relationships, nor children, nor death, nor illness etc… Sometimes it’s quite the shocking status to me. I can’t imagine blurting my every feeling, woe or joy into the world’s forum. So what do they seek from such intimate sharing? Are they bored, or lonely? Psychically stagnating? Perhaps it’s that sharing so deeply somehow validates their day.

2. The Fweeter.

Some of the users out there use Facebook as a more personal Twitter. They Fweet. “Brad is at Five Stone Statues Club with Hermann Dunkelmeier.” Yes, the Fweeter is a heavy Check-In user. It’s all about where, who and what doing. “Tinkerbell is eating Ahi Tuna at Slim’s Cosmopolitan Cabana with Captain Hook and Anthony Svenson.” or even more common: “Telemachus Odysseusson is at [insert international airport].” Fweeeet. We get it. Your lives are way cool, doodes.

3. The Enigmatic Observer.

Here we have someone who’s use of Facebook is essentially to entertain oneself. Their status updates are song lyrics, poetry or prose, quotations, or some other obscure reference which, although it may actually communicate something about how they are feeling, good luck to the rest to figure it out. They watch more than anything else, occasionally comment, occasionally post something of interest. They desperately wish they could shut Facebook down forever, but their Venn diagram voyeuristic tendencies prove too much of a hurdle.

4. The Vicarious Liver.

These FB users live vicariously through their Facebook lives. They post constantly; music videos, YouTube videos, cute pictures of kittens playing violin,  health articles, science articles, political articles or something that catches the attention of their friends, intentionally so. So, for example, Angelica Seraphiminos, a well known teetotaller (yes, she indulges in the half glass of wine, but no more) might post that: “Just had a tumbler of Tequila laced with mescal. Sooo going to feel the effects of that tomorrow! @Cupidina don’t you EVER let me do that again!” Duh. These users are usually also hobby or interest hoppers, jumping from one bandwagon to the next, and making sure everyone knows.

5. Hardly Ever

They’re hardly ever there. they don’t use Facebook to glean information about other people’s lives, nor do they post, or do anything interesting at all. They are such a let down. They use it to stay in contact with people, probably send a few private messages now and then, wish their sister a happy birthday, etc… They have lives. And they live them.

6.  The Incognitos.

The Incogs are on Facebook, but you wouldn’t know it. This is because they don’t use their real name, for a start. Instead, you will find them under “Pinecone Elephant”, with a picture of a lamp-post as their profile photo. They have at most five friends, because no-one else has a clue they’re there. And they’re really not, because their hearts aren’t in it, so they really may as well drop into the last category.

7. The Shadow

This category is actually the one category that is NOT on Facebook.Gasp. That’s right. They do not have a profile. They have abstained. However, (finger wagging) by the very fact that they are not on Facebook, they somehow impinge on the rest of us. Think about it. Facebook is part of our daily existence. Therefore they cannot engage with part of our lives, and that makes them anomalous, and interesting. You might call them archaic, eccentric, or just weird. But they do exist.

So there you go, a nice, solid typology of 7. Of course, as with any typology, you might exhibit traits of two types, or you might have changed type over time. Also, there are many other little FB tendencies that are scattered all over the place. For example, why do some users frequently use a photo not of themselves as their profile pic? This is not restricted to the Incognitos. Pictures of animals, movie characters, avatars, cartoons, cars, toys, symbols, etc… are all used as a replacement for the person’s face. Feeling low? Lacking confidence?  Or the way a wall post can spark a comment war, 128 comments later. The comments are usually infinitely more entertaining than the original post. People just get so het up.

Who knows how and if the new Facebook changes will alter the way we interact. I hear we’re meant to become more emotionally involved with each other. Mercy.



Category:Social Media | Comment (0)