3×5: Culture, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry Schizophrenia Roundup

Many thanks (seriously) to Nev Jones for sending so many great suggestions my way.

Culture/Environment
1. Variation – among individuals, geographically,  and across cultures – in the incidence, precedence, and course of schizophrenia is more complex than previously suggested by three WHO studies (on a putatively better outcome in “developing” vs. “developed” countries). For example, regional data from the Worldwide-Schizophrenia Outpatient Health Outcomes or W-SOHO study suggest a better clinical outcome but a worse functional outcome in regions other than “North Europe” (See, e.g., Haro et al’s “Cross-national clinical and functional remission rates.”)

Studies also continue to support variation within geographical region, e.g., Kirkbride et al’s PLOS One systematic review, “Incidence of schizophrenia and other psychoses in England, 1950–2009,” which describes, in particular, higher rates among “migrants and their descendants of black Caribbean and black African origin” and among those of “mixed ethnicity,” which the authors suggest may be a possible marker of “third-generation descendants.” Urban birth/upbringing also remains a significant risk factor, “independent of differences in the age, sex and ethnic population structure of different geographical areas, and correlated to a number of socio-environmental factors including ethnic density, social cohesion, social fragmentation, deprivation, and inequality.”

2. Early Adversity: A 3/29/12 meta-analysis published online by Jim van Os et al. supports the link between childhood adversity and risk of psychosis.  “Childhood adversities increase the risk of psychosis: A meta-analysis of patient-control, prospective- and cross-sectional cohort studies.” The addition of cannabis use appears to increase risk even further (Konings et al., 2012). But see also Susser and Widom’s July 2012 critique of such studies, “Still searching for lost truths about the bitter sorrows of childhood.

3. Diagnosis and Social Abandonment: In “Psychosis and the fog of reality,” Vaughan Bell of Mind Hacks has provided pdfs of two articles by journalist Rachel Aviv: “God knows where I am: What should happen when patients reject their diagnosis?” in the 5/30/11 New Yorker and “Which way madness lies: Can psychosis be prevented?” in the 12/10 issue of Harper’s. See also David Dobbs’s post, “What’s it like to be schizophrenic” and Jocelyn Marrow and Tanya Luhrmann’s recent paper for Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry (CMP) on social abandonment in India and the US. And finally, Schomerus et al’s (2012) bleak conclusion of their meta-analysis that “Increasing public understanding of the biological correlates of mental illness seems not to result in better social acceptance of persons with mental illness.”

4. Cognition/Anthropology of Neuroscience: Elizabeth Bromley, Gail Fox Adams, and John Brekke’s “A video ethnography approach for linking naturalistic behaviors to research constructs of neurocognition in schizophrenia” in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience (3/1/12). See also Bromley’s exploration of researchers’ understanding of the concept of “cognition” as it applies to schizophrenia in “The Texture of the Real” (CMP, 2012).

5. First-person Experience: The blog Ruminations on Madness, provides, as always, some much-need insight on philosophy, psychiatry, and first-person experience. In “Excerpts from the journals of E” the author provides us with the fragments of a brilliant philosophy student’s trajectory following his first episode of  psychosis.

The blog itself testifies to the more complex view that “schizophrenia” covers a range of conditions, capacities, and behaviors, that outcomes are as diverse as the people to whom the label is attached, and that living with the disorder offers in itself an important research perspective. The blog is an opportunity for significant advocacy, in regard to which, addressing anthropologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and others in the mental health field in Berlin last year, Arthur Kleinman said,

We have all failed in a way that our brothers and sisters and cousins in the AIDS community have not failed. If you went back twenty years, you would see that everything I’ve said about the chronically mentally ill you could say about AIDS patients. And in twenty years the situation for AIDS patients has radically changed. There has been enormous efficacy from advocacy in the AIDS field. We have failed in the area of advocacy. And what I want to suggest is that in the future those of who who build your careers here: Advocacy will be part of your careers. Rather than seeing advocacy as a threat to academic life, you’re going to come to see advocacy as central to the new academy in the future.”

Neuroscience

See also Ford & Mathalon’s (2012) review, “Neurobiology of schizophrenia: Search for the elusive correlation with symptoms” in Frontiers.

1. Epigenetics: Steven Hyman, “Target practice: HDAC inhibitors for schizophrenia,” in News and Views / Nature Neuroscience published online 8/28/12 re Kurita et al. on targeting epigenetic changes that occur with the use of antipsychotics.

2. Vulnerability: Jim van Os and Richard Linscott’s introduction to a special issue of Schizophrenia Bulletin,The extended psychosis phenotype – Relationship with schizophrenia and with ultrahigh risk status for psychosis.

3. More Gene x Environment: Book review of The Origins of Schizophrenia, edited by Alan Brown and Paul Patterson. (Reviewed by Michael Owen, MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, and Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute, Cardiff University.)

4. Schizophrenia and Autism: Kong et al’s 8/23/11 Nature paper, “Rate of de novo mutations and the importance of father’s age to disease risk.

5. Auditory Hallucinations: A series of related papers featured in July 2012 Schizophrenia Bulletin prepared by members of the International Consortium on Hallucination Research [InCoHR] working groups.

Psychiatry/DSM-5

1. DSM-5: Randy Tanon and William Carpenter’s, DSM-5 Status of Psychotic Disorders: 1 Year Prepublication” dd. 4/13/12 in Schizophrenia Bulletin provides a “snapshot of current status of potential changes” in DSM-5 regarding psychotic disorders. The proposed revisions include a “schizophrenia spectrum concept (which would include the attenuated psychosis syndrome listed in Section III – see [4] below). Also, the subtypes of SZ will be dropped in favor of eight or nine possible “dimensional ratings of different psychopathology domains,” including hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, abnormal psychomotor behavior, negative symptoms, impaired cognition, depression, and mana. (NB: “Catatonia, formerly a subtype, will now be listed as a “specifier for psychotic disorders, mood disorders, and general medical disorders.”) The authors note that “the issue of how many dimensions are useful, reliably assessed, necessary, and practical remains an open question.”

2. Diagnostic labels: Ruminations on Madness (“In defense of the schizophrenia construct (?)” ) argues that labels can obscure differences between persons and kinds of experiences, but is

less sure … that the advantages of more dimensional or non-label-based approaches outweigh the potential benefits—benefits, specifically, in the domain of identity. Like most sociopolitical minority group labels (Latino or Autistic, for example), “schizophrenic” cuts an arguably over-wide swathe and yet clearly marks something that, for cultural, historical and individual reasons, is shared between individuals and provides a (potentially vital) sense of collective ‘being’ and cohesion. [To make this a little more personal, and to repeat something that I believe I’ve said many times in earlier posts,  I do not think I would be alive today were it not for the deep and sustaining sense of recognition and belonging I found early on in Louis Sass’ brilliant work on schizophrenia.]

3.  Attenuated Psychosis Syndrome (Proposed for Section III of the DSM-5) (Revised April 27, 2012): Because of reliability issues (according to Tanon and Carpenter validity is “fairly established), “this condition is being recommended for further study in Section III, which is the section of the DSM-5 text in which conditions that require further research will be included.”

4. A good prior discussion/debate by Carpenter and Jim van Os, “Should attenuated psychosis syndrome be a DSM-5 diagnosis?” in  Am J Psychiatry 2011, and also a recent review, “A Rose is a Rose is a Rose,” But At-Risk Criteria Differ” by Schultze-Lutter et al. of University Hospital of Child and Adolescence Psychiatry (Bern) and Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (Cologne).

5. William Carpenter’s “The future of schizophrenia pharmacotherapeutics: Not so bleak” in response to Chattaranjan Andrade, Rajiv Radhakrishnan, and Praveen Fernandes, “Psychopharmacology of schizophrenia: The future looks bleak,” in Mens Sana (2012). One question he raises is how reconceptualization of schizophrenia as a multi-dimensional construct will affect drug development?

See also the following (non-psychosis specific):

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3×5: Culture, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry Weekly Roundup: Empathy (August 6)

UPDATE: New links from Lori Hogenkamp via Facebook at end of post.

Brief note: I’ve come to realize that empathy (and its putative component processes – mirror neuron networks, affect sharing, mentalizing) brings out almost everything that’s problematic in social neuroscience research: problems of a conceptually vague cover term, problems with extrapolating from animal models (e.g., monkeys don’t imitate); problems with fMRI/ROI, problems with science writing for the public (e.g., this publisher blurb for Marco Iacoboni’s Mirroring People: “From imitation to morality, from learning to addiction, from political affiliations to consumer choices, mirror neurons seem to have properties that are relevant to all these aspects of social cognition”), problems with a too-powerful metaphor (err, the mirror) that’s hard to repack in the box after that last quote :( problems with extrapolating in other ways (see Emily Willingham’s post on what she describes as the “no empathy in autism meme” – as Ian Hacking said, “The history of late 20th century medicine will … also [be] a history of advocacy groups”), etc., etc.

On second thought, there are many positive implications that hover over all this work – for theory of mind, radical embodied cognition, network science approaches to the brain’s structural and functional connectivity  . . .

Many thanks to the Neuroanthropology Interest Group on Facebook for suggestions and Center for Building a Culture of Empathy and Compassion for inspiration! 

Culture

1. “Empathy as cultural process: Insights from the cultural neuroscience of empathy” by Bobby Cheon, Vani Mathur, and Joan Chiao (WCPRR, 2010).

2. Via Eugene Raikhel (Neuroanthropology Interest Group): See the just-published special issue of “Science in Context” on “The Varieties of Empathy in Science, Art, and History.” It includes an article by Shaun Gallagher (“Empathy, Simulation, and Narrative“), one by Allan Young (“The Social Brain and the Myth of Empathy“) and a number of others.

3. Roundup on “Anthropology, Teaching, and Empathy” in early 2012 by Jason Antrosio of Anthropology Report and a related post by Rex on Savage Minds, “Empathy, or, seeing from within.”

4. Hollan, D. C., & Throop, C. J. (2011). The anthropology of empathy: Experiencing the lives of others in Pacific societies. New York: Berghahn.

5. Blog post by Emily Willingham (Dec 2011): “Autistic people: Insensitive to social reputation, sure, but what about empathy?” on the website Autism and Empathy.

Neuroscience

1. Bernhardt, B. C., & Singer, T. (2012). The neural basis of empathy. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 35, 1–23.

2. Decety, J. Norman, G. J., Berntson, G. G., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2012). A neurobehavioral evolutionary perspective on the mechanisms underlying empathy. Progress in Neurobiology, 98(1), 38–48. See also, Decety, J. (2011b). The neuroevolution of empathyAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1231, 35–45.

3. Zaki, J., & Ochsner, K. N. (2012). The neuroscience of empathy: Progress, pitfalls and promiseNature Neuroscience: Focus on Social Neuroscience [Perspective], 15(5), 675–680.

4. Decety, J. (2011a). Dissecting the neural mechanisms mediating empathy. Emotion Review, 3,92–108. See also, Decety, J. (2010). To what extent is the experience of empathy mediated by shared neural circuits? Emotion Review, 2(3), 204–207.

5. “Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats” Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Jean Decety, and Peggy Mason. See also 2011 Science paper by same group.

 

Psychiatry

1. Cheng, Y., Hung, A., & Decety, J. (2012). Dissociation between affective sharing and emotion understanding in juvenile psychopathsDevelopment and Psychopathology, 24, 623–636.

[From Abstract]. . . youth with HCU [high callous-unemotional traits] exhibit atypical neural dynamics of pain empathy processing in the early stage of affective arousal, which is coupled with their relative insensitivity to actual pain. Their capacity to understand intentionality, however, was not affected. Such uncoupling between affective arousal and emotion understanding may contribute to instigating aggressive behaviors in juvenile psychopaths.

[From the paper] It is  important that the affective arousal deficit . . . cannot be explained by a lack of sensorimotor resonance [i.e., mirror neurons], as measured by mu wave suppression [this was an ERP study], which was present in a ll participants. This finding indicates that affective arousal is not mediated by the mirror neuron system.

2. “Empathy and alterity in cultural psychiatry” by Laurence Kirmayer (Ethos, 2008).

3. “Empathy and otherness: Humanistic and phenomenological approaches to psychotherapy of severe mental illness” by Elizabeth Pienkos and Louis Sass (Pragmatic Case Studies in Psychotherapy, 2012).

4. Empathy in mental illness edited by Tom Farrow and Peter Woodruff (CUP, 2007).

5. “Zero degrees of empathy” by Simon Baron-Cohen, covering disorders of empathy (borderline personality disorder, psychopathy, narcissism) and genetic, endocrine, and social influences.

UPDATE:

3×5: Culture, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry Weekly Roundup (July 30)

Culture

1. Ginger Campbell (Brain Science Podcast) interviews UC Berkeley biological anthropologist Terrence Deacon about his book Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matterwhich was reviewed by Raymond Tallis is WSJ last November. But see also “Stolen Ideas? Or Great Minds Thinking Alike?” by Tom Bartlett in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which discusses the book’s overlap with works by Alicia Juarrero (Dynamics in Action) and (our favorite) Evan Thompson (Mind in Life). (The FPR interviewed Evan Thompson last year.)

2. Neuroanthropology’s Daniel Lende’s post “Inside the Minds of Mass Killers” is a must-read.

3. Another terrific post on Aurora, which Daniel’s links to, is philosopher Evan Selinger’s “The Philosophy of the Technology of the Gun,” which appeared in the Atlantic.

I think Daniel and Evan throw some much-need light on the social, political, and material environment (including cultural scripts and how technology, to use a thread-bare metaphor, “gets under the skin”) from which acts of violence emerge and, in addition,  the importance of not “lightly equat[ing] mental illness and violence.”

But a commentator (“N” – and I’m assuming “N” is the same author whose brilliant work is featured in a post by David Dobbs) questioned “the divide” Daniel seemed to be drawing “between the cultural & sociopolitical and ‘mental illness,'” as well as that between violence and certain forms of psychosis. A thoughtful back-and-forth with “N” and other commentators followed. I highly recommend reading the whole thing!

4. Speaking of Daniel, Neuroanthropology’s Facebook page is a lot of fun!

5. Somatosphere has a great summary by Dörte Bemme and Nicole D’Souza of a recent global mental health workshop and conference hosted by Laurence Kirmayer and McGill’s Division of Transcultural Psychiatry.

There seems to be a shift among this new generation of researchers (including the post’s authors) to move beyond “static dichotomies (north, south, west, HIC, LMIC, global, local)” and top-down or bottom-up approaches but I’m not sure to what, precisely, apart from recognizing “interesting frictions”?

One advance that has gotten less press is DSM-5’s recognition that mental health, like physical health, is a developmental process and exquisitely sensitive to the timing as well as the intensity of experiences and events. Another comes from recognition of the need for a developmentally oriented network of primary care at the community level that address biological, social, and environmental risk factors for mental as well as medical illnesses – infectious diseases, poverty, stress, migration. (See, e.g., Sunday’s NYT magazine article, “What Can Mississippi Learn from Iran?” re primary health care reform.)

[Dr. Aaron] Shirley [creator of HealthConnect, a model inspired by Iran’s primary health care systems] says he believes that the problems of the American poor — living conditions, deficient education, harmful behaviors and the lack of family support and access to healthful lifestyles — demand house calls. This approach was used by groups in Atlantic City and Camden, N.J., profiled by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker last year, which identified the worst offenders of emergency-room readmission and deployed social workers and nurses to figure out the myriad sources of ill health. What was clear above all else from Gawande’s account is that what these people needed was constant attention. Because one stumble — an unpaid electricity bill, for example — can lead to cascading health setbacks.

Neuroscience

1. Great Book, Great Interview: Ginger Campbell interviews Olaf Sporns about Networks of the Brain (MIT, 2011).

2. John Hawks linked to a fascinating paper on his blog, “Evolutionary History and Adaptation from High-Coverge Whole-Genome Sequences of Diverse African Hunter Gatherers” by Lachance et al. in Cell., which points out high levels of genetic diversity within African hunter-gatherer populations.

To reconstruct modern human evolutionary history and identify loci that have shaped hunter-gatherer adaptation, we sequenced the whole genomes of five individuals in each of three different hunter-gatherer populations at >60× coverage: Pygmies from Cameroon and Khoesan-speaking Hadza and Sandawe from Tanzania. We identify 13.4 million variants, substantially increasing the set of known human variation. We found evidence of archaic introgression in all three populations, and the distribution of time to most recent common ancestors from these regions is similar to that observed for introgressed regions in Europeans. Additionally, we identify numerous loci that harbor signatures of local adaptation, including genes involved in immunity, metabolism, olfactory and taste perception, reproduction, and wound healing. Within the Pygmy population, we identify multiple highly differentiated loci that play a role in growth and anterior pituitary function and are associated with height.

3. Russell Fernald’s “Social Control of the Brain,” in latest Ann Rev of Neurosci using a fish model.

4. Latest SCAN: “The Association Between Financial Hardship and Amygdala and Hippocampal Volumes: Results from the PATH Through Life Project.

5. Finally, here is a link to the pdfof the 2012 Human Brain Project report because I’m obsessed with this image:

And, in my simple minded way, if we can do this, our collective experts can come up with a solution for Mississippi.

Psychiatry

1. Rutgers press release dd. 7/19/12: Anxiety Disorders in Poor Mothers More Likely to be the Result of Poverty, not Mental Illness.

2. In the July 2012 issue of BJPsych, Psychotic symptoms in young people without psychotic illness: mechanisms and meaning by Graham Murray and Peter Jones.

Psychotic symptoms are common in the general population. There is evidence for common mechanisms underlying such symptoms in health and illness (such as the functional role of mesocorticostriatal circuitry in error-dependent learning) and differentiating factors (relating to non-psychotic features of psychotic illness and to social and emotional aspects of psychotic symptoms). Clinicians should be aware that psychotic symptoms in young people are more often associated with common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety than with severe psychotic illness.

3. Also in the same issue,, psychiatric neuroscientist Mary Phillips has an editorial on “Neuroimaging in Psychiatry: Bringing Neuroscience into Clinical Practice.”

4. Freedman et al’s “Treating a physician patient with psychosis,” Asian Journal of Psychiatry, June 2012 via @JonesNev

5. Also via Nev Jones (@JonesNev): “Voice Hearing and Pseudoseizures in a Maori Teenager: An Example of Mate Maori and Maori Traditional Healing” in Australas Psychiatry, 19 July 2012. See also “Maori Healers’ Views on Wellbeing: The Importance of Mind, Body, Spirit, Family and Land” in Social Science & Medicine (June 2010).

Abstract

Objective: The aim of this paper is to describe a Māori traditional healing approach to assessment and treatment of distressing psychiatric symptoms in a young man.Method:We describe the case of a 17 year old Māori male with voice hearing and pseudoseizures and the assessment and intervention by one of the authors (WN). We report on the young man’s and his family’s experience of this treatment. We outline concepts from a Māori world view that illuminate an indigenous rationale for this approach. Results: A single session traditional Māori healing intervention was associated with immediate resolution of this young man’s psychiatric symptoms and restoration of his sense of wellbeing, despite cessation of antipsychotic treatment. He and his family felt satisfied with the cultural explanation about the origin of his distress, which was congruent with their world view. He remained well at follow-up one year later. Conclusions: Collaboration between psychiatrists and traditional Māori healing practitioners can enhance the mental health care of Māori whaiora (service users) and their families. Indigenous research is required to further evaluate the acceptability and effectiveness of such joint approaches.

The FPR Interviews Psychologist Carol Ryff on Well-Being and Aging

 Dr. Carol D. Ryff, Professor of Psychology and
 Director of the Institute on Aging 
at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, speaks with science writer Karen A. Frenkel about well-being in the United States and Japan, and different attitudes towards aging. She also compares Western and Eastern types of intervention to promote well-being. Since 1995, Dr. Ryff and her Wisconsin team have been studying 7,000 individuals and examining factors that influence health and well-being from middle age through old age. The study is called MIDUS (Mid-Life in the U.S. National Study of Americans). Dr. Ryff is also involved in a parallel study in Japan known as MIDJA (Midlife in Japan). A reference list of works cited is included at end of the post. 

Dr. Ryff will be discussing “Varieties of Resilience in MIDUS” at the next  FPR-UCLA conference on Culture, Mind, and Brain: Emerging Concepts, Methods, and Applications, which will take place at UCLA on 19–20 October 2012, in a session chaired by neuroanthropologist Daniel Lende (USF) on “Stress and Resilience.” 

[This interview is cross-posted at PLoS Neuroanthropology.]

KAF: How did you get interested in well-being and aging?

CR: My interest in formulating psychological well-being is traceable to my distant interest in  existential, humanistic, and developmental psychology, particularly formulations about people struggling to deal with challenges they confronted in life, finding ways to manage them, if not learn from them, and deepen their sense of life meaning.

KAF: Please describe what’s meant by well-being in our culture and in Japanese culture.

CR: The topic of well-being has proliferated recently in our culture, so that there are many definitions. I’ll put forth one, but it’s certainly not the only one. The model of psychological well-being I developed was based on the integration of theories from developmental, clinical, humanistic, and existential psychology.

Six key components of well-being seem to capture what it means to function positively. One is positive self-regard, what I call “self-acceptance.” Another is having high-quality relationships with other people – “positive relationships with others.” Another is having a sense of direction in your life – “purpose in life.” Another component is feeling that you’re making the most of your talents and potential, utilizing your capacities, which I refer to as “personal growth.” Feeling you can make choices for yourself and your life even if they go against conventional wisdom is referred to as “autonomy.” The last one is managing the demands and opportunities in your environment in ways that meet your needs and capacities. We call that “environmental mastery.”

These components of well-being fall under a broad umbrella of eudaimonic well-being, which comes from a term used by Aristotle to describe the highest of all human good – “eudaimonia” used by him referred to the realization of one’s true potential. However, even the ancient Greeks had differing views about what might constitute the ultimate targets in living.  Epicurus, for example, wrote about hedonia, which corresponds to the contemporary interest in happiness, positive affect, and feeling good. Those aspects of well-being also get a lot of attention in current scientific studies.

Core dimensions of psychological well-being and their theoretical dimensions. With kind permission from Springer Science+Business Media: Journal of Happiness Studies, Know thyself and become what you are: A eudaimonic approach to psychological well-being, 9, 2006, p. 20, C. D. Ryff & B. H. Singer, Fig. 1.  

KAF: Do people from different cultures find eudaimonia/purposefulness differently?

CR: Your question points to a growing area of scientific investigation – namely, how does well-being vary across cultural contexts? There’s growing evidence to suggest that it does vary. Some differences reflect themes of independence vs. interdependence that have been key ideas in formulating cultural psychology. Well-being in the West is formulated more in terms of the individual and how he or she may feel about how they’re doing in life. In the East, well-being is much more about the self embedded within social relationships; for example, how well you’re doing in meeting your obligations to others.

Another difference between the U.S. and Japan pertains to how positive or negative affect are put together. In the U.S., our self-report tools with well-validated scales ask people to report on their levels of positive and negative affect in general, or in the last week or month. In the U.S. we find that the two types of affect tend to be inversely correlated. There are obviously exceptions for those suffering from depression and dealing with major life stressors. But the typical profile in the U.S. is for someone to report high levels of positive affect and low levels of negative affect.

That is not true in Japan. Both tend to be more moderately reported. That is, there is no cultural prescription for feeling mostly positive emotion and not feeling much negative. If anything, there is socialization to feel both, as strands of a rope that are woven together. This is traceable to philosophy and religion perspectives that underlie cultural psychology in Japan and Asian cultures more generally. The basic idea is that embedded within every positive is a negative and vice versa. In such a cultural context, it is expected that individuals experience both kinds of affect. In addition, such feelings are construed as fleeting and not necessarily under one’s own control; instead, they are seen as inherently in flux. That’s very different than in the West where we see all kinds of prescriptive messages to be happy. Oodles of websites and popular books exemplify this pursuit of happiness, which is a big part of life in the West.

KAF: In another paper on dialectical and non-dialectical emotional styles, you ask whether cultural differences can be observed across different kinds of emotional styles. You found that moderate dialectical emotional types had poor health in the U.S. and in Japan. How do you explain these findings?

CR: The idea of dialectical emotions comes back to how positive and negative affect are put together in the U.S. compared to Japan. The idea of dialecticism is that there is a back and forth between positive and negative affect in Japan, so it’s common for people to experience both, to some degree.

Emotion typology. From Cultural differences in the dialectical and non-dialectical emotional styles and their implications for health, Y. Miyamoto & C. D. Ryff, Cognition & Emotion, 25(1), 2011. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

In the U.S., when we look at how emotions are related to people’s health, we find that those with more positive and less negative affect report better health. This is true even when we look at more objective health criteria, like stress hormones, or other biological risk factors.

When we looked at how positive and negative affect are put together in Japan, it raised interesting questions – what does affect mean for health in Japan and is it different from what we see in U.S.? In a culture where negative affect is not seen as something that you need to get rid of, or run from, does it imply different links to health outcomes?

In the Myamoto and Ryff (2011) paper,  we reported that dialectical emotion – which is this blend of positive a negative affect – was predictive of better health in Japan than in the U.S. We have since found that negative affect in the U.S. predicts worse self-reported health and worse biomarkers, such as measures of inflammation (interleukin-6, IL-6), a marker that is a precursor to various disease outcomes. That is not true in Japan. This is important because it is not just about subjective experience and how that relates to self-reported health; even for more objective indicators such an inflammatory markers, negative affect is not predictive in Japan. That’s very interesting because it says the U.S. formulation of emotions, including which are the best kinds to have and how they impact your health, is culturally specific – it does not generalize to Japan.

KAF: Please highlight the most salient neural correlates of well-being.

CR: Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, brings a neuroscience perspective to some of the research we’re doing in the MIDUS study. Some of Davidson’s research looks at neural correlates. Originally it was about negative affect. He found, based on EEG-based responses to laboratory stimuli that those prone to negative affect or depression show greater right prefrontal activation patterns.  In contrast, those with more positive dispositional styles, defined in terms of high levels of psychological well-being, showed the opposite pattern, that is, greater left pre-frontal activation in response to laboratory stimuli. The findings were summarized in “Making a life worth living: Neural correlates of well-being” by Urry et al. (2004). Moreover, the strong signal between my measures of well-being and greater relative left prefrontal activation was evident, even after controlling for hedonic reports of well-being (positive affect).  Such findings underscore the importance of distinguishing between different types of well-being. It is not the same as hedonic well-being. That’s what they found – that the signal with eudaimonic well-being was there even when adjusted for feeling good.

KAF: Do you have information about neural correlates of well-being in Japan?

CR: No. We hope such assessments might be added eventually, but do not have them as yet. Because Japanese adults are more likely to report some degree of both negative or positive affect, it would be interesting to examine whether the affective neuroscience data observed in U.S. samples extends to the east Asian context.

KAF: In your most recent article “Cultural perspectives on aging and well-being:  A comparison of Japan and the U.S.” you describe different attitudes towards life among the aged. Please summarize the East-West distinctions.

CR: In the U.S., we’ve seen evidence that eudaimonic aspects of well-being look compromised in older compared to younger age groups, particularly with regard to existential things, like purpose in life and personal growth and feeling that you’re making the most of your talent. In Japan, a culture that is respectful of elders via traditions of filial piety, there are many ways in which the language itself and forms of interaction show honor for elders. We wondered if  contrasted to our American culture, which reveres youth and in some ways construes getting old as a personal failing, might we find a different pattern of aging and well-being in Japan?  We found that older people in Japan, unlike their U.S. counterparts, did not report lower levels of personal growth. This somewhat supported our idea that it may be easier to grow old in Japan than in the U.S.

On the other hand, we found lower scores on purpose in life for older people in both cultures. The fact that older people in both of these first world countries are living longer is a challenge.  Japan, in fact, has the highest proportion of older people of any country in the world at present. That older people are reporting lower scores on purpose in life compared to younger age groups is a concern in both contexts. Both of our countries face serious challenges in figuring out how to best utilize the talents and capacities of our older populations.

KAF: I’m surprised because I had the impression that they were better utilized in Japan.

CR: There is some evidence of that with regard to personal growth, but keep in mind that for assessments on whether they feel their life has purpose, meaning, and direction, older persons in both cultures scored lower than middle-age people. The life of older people in Japan is changing, with fewer extended families living in the same households. Growing numbers of elderly persons in Japan live alone, which was not at all common in previous decades. Their family patterns are becoming westernized.

KAF: You describe Western well-being therapy, and two Japanese psychotherapeutic techniques: Morita therapy, developed by Shoma Morita in the 1900s, and Naikan, which Yoshimoto Ishin developed in the 1950s. Please compare them here.

CR: Using well-being therapy as developed by Fava in the West, the core objective is to get people out of the experience of negative emotion – whether it’s anxiety or depression. The way that well-being tries to do that is to get patients to focus on their experiences of well-being by keeping daily diaries of positive experience. It’s a kind of cognitive therapy that tries to help individuals understand how their thinking patterns may prematurely curtail their experiences of the positive, maybe because they think they don’t deserve it, or because it feels foreign.

Morita therapy in Japan is remarkably different. It is designed to treat distressed or maladjusted people, but the focus is not on fixing emotions. In fact, they are viewed as beyond the person’s control. Emotions come and go and people do not control them. They may be positive or negative, and you can observe them, but it’s not worth your time to try to fix them. What you can fix is what you do. So the therapy tries to get people to shift into thinking not so much about how they feel, but what they are doing. The idea is to focus on daily behaviors, over which one can exercise control. That path is intended to help people function better while at the same time learn not to be done in by feeling bad about some things some of the time. The message there is that bad feelings happen. It’s not your job to eliminate them. It’s your job to focus on what you can do. That’s a dramatically different therapeutic model.

Naikan therapy goes to the heart of this interdependent way of being in Japan because the therapy is built around your relationships with key others. Three questions are the focus: how you feel about your mother, which from psychodynamic perspectives is not new idea. But the question is first, what have you received from your mother? Second, what have you given to your mother? And third, what trouble, inconvenience, deceit, pettiness, have you caused your mother? You are never given the option to answer the question, how has your mother caused problems for you, which constitutes the focus of vast amounts of psychotherapy in the West.

KAF: I was so fascinated by this because it is considered improper, or bad form, to dwell on how you might have been badly treated.

CR: If the cultural prescription is to care about and do a good job of meeting obligations to other people, it requires that you recognize what these people have done for you, that you be appreciative of it and aware of ways in which you have fallen short in doing well by them. That kind of therapy seems unheard of in the West. Most people, no matter what kind of therapy they’re receiving, probably spend a lot of time going over how others have mistreated them.

KAF: Is there no emphasis on that because that, too, is not in your control?

CR: That could be an explanation. However, even the core questions of Naikon therapy are not so much about what feelings might have gone on between you and your mother. Instead, the focus is on what has your mother done for you and what have you done for your mother and what have you given to her? It’s more about actions.

KAF: How does that relate back to the goal of promoting well-being?

CR: All forms of therapy try to improve the human condition or experience, but they have different goals and ways of getting there.

KAF: How can a deeper understanding of well-being benefit the planet? Why should lay people be interested in differences in American and Japanese well-being?

CR: That’s a great question. It’s really the “so what?” question. What does it add up to? Do we have something more to say than that cultures differ? Clearly, they differ in terms of what well-being is, what mental maladjustment is, and how they treat it. But there is also the question of whether one form of well-being is better than another? Are some cultures doing a better job of answering these questions than others? How to grapple with these issues?

One response is to look at what these different types of well-being in different parts of the world mean for peoples’ health as they age. That’s what we’re trying to do in MIDUS and MIDJA. We have only begun to look at the evidence, but it appears that different aspects of well-being matter for health in differ ways depending on the cultural context where people reside. Thus, inter-dependent aspects of well-being, social obligations and how well you’re managing the needs of others around you may matter more for health over the long-term in Japan than in the U.S. We don’t know, but’s that’s what we want to find out from the data.

Another response to the “so what?” question, which intrigues me more, is to consider whether learning about our respective differences is a route to improving the human condition in some more fundamental way?  This is asking whether it is beneficial to have knowledge of how well-being is construed in different cultural contexts. For example, in Japan there’s nothing wrong with feeling negative emotion; it’s not viewed as something amiss that possibly needs to be fixed in therapy. Such an insight might be useful for us to know in the West.

Similarly, it might be useful for people in Japan to know something about how we function. We give the individual more leeway and encouragement to realize personal talents and capacities, and make the most of themselves; that it’s OK sometimes to choose for yourself some of the time rather than thinking only about others around you. This might be useful to consider in Japan.

Embedded within these reflections is the idea that varieties of well-being around the world each are prone to their own forms of excess and inadequacy. However, until we look at well-being in multiple contexts, we may be blind to what these forms of excess are.  The way to gain this understanding is to look at the experiences of, and ideals about, well-being around the world.

It’s like looking in a mirror. We see ourselves and our own views about what it means to be well by looking in a different cultural mirror. Maybe that helps us we see that what we do isn’t always the best. Maybe it needs to be slightly shifted this way or that.

That’s a bias I bring. I think learning about cultural differences enriches everybody.

References Cited

Karasawa, M., Curhan, K. B., Markus, H. R., Kitayama, S. S., Love, G. D., Radler, B. T., & Ryff, C. D. (2011). Cultural perspectives on aging and well-being: A comparison of Japan and the United States. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 73 (1), 73–98. http://dx.doi.org/10.2190/AG.73.1.d

Miyamoto, Y., & Ryff, C. D. (2011). Cultural differences in the dialectical and non-dialectical emotional styles and their implications for health. Cognition & Emotion, 25(1), 22–39. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02699931003612114

Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. H. (2006). Know thyself and become what you are: A eudaimonic approach to psychological well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9, 13–39. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10902-006-9019-0

Urry, H. L. Nitschke, J. B., Dolski, I., Jackson, D. C., Dalton, K. M., Mueller, C. J., Rosenkranz, M. A., Ryff, C. D., Singer, B. H., & Davidson, R. J. (2004). Making a life worth living: Neural correlates of well-being. Psychological Science, 15(6), 367–372. pdf

Neal Halfon on Managing Health Care Costs by Focusing on Trajectories Shaped in Childhood

Neal Halfon, director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, and a contributor to our recent book, Formative Experiences: The Interaction of Caregiving, Culture, and Developmental Psychobiology (Cambridge, 2010)  has a new opinion piece in US News & World Report on health care costs that argues against “short-term economic fixes” for (in particular) “costly chronic conditions.”

He argues that:

Individual and population health follow a trajectory. More and more research is clearly showing that early health influences are critical, and that lifelong health trajectories are initiated and programmed in utero, and formulated during the early years—right through adolescence. While the impact of poverty and other social adversity on the health trajectories of young children is well documented, it is not only the poorest children that are at greatest risk for lifelong health problems. Many low income and middle class families are also squeezed by lower wages, higher costs of living, and a lack of adequate education and support services that their children need to arrive at school healthy and ready to learn. Several decades of research shows that children who are deprived of the developmental scaffolding that guarantees a healthy trajectory are more likely to experience school failure, teen pregnancy, criminality, and substance abuse during the second decade; obesity, elevated blood pressure, and depression by the third and fourth decade; coronary artery disease, diabetes, and renal disease by the fifth and sixth decades; and premature aging and memory loss in old age.

His solution is a health care system that focuses on prevention of chronic health conditions in children by “optimizing health and development pathways in the early years,” rather than on the detection of disabilities in the young and disease in the old.

If we are going to really shift the cost curve into a lower trajectory, we need to shift the health curve in to a higher trajectory. The most leveraged and cost effective way to do that is to focus on the time in life when health trajectories are being formed, developed, and launched.

In his chapter (co-authored with biological anthropologist Emily S. Barrett and physician-psychologist Alice Kuo), he likens children to “canaries in the coal mine” in the sense that “children often serve to reflect changes in society, especially those that cause alterations in their health and development.”

Call for Proposals – From NeuroSelves to NeuroSocieties: Cross-Disciplinary Conversations Around the Neurosciences

Laura Sizer, Dean of the School of Cognitive Science and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Hampshire College, is organizing a small conference next summer to explore “issues at the intersections of the neurosciences and the social sciences and humanities.” The conference is supported by the Foundation for Psychocultural Research – Hampshire College’s Program in Culture, Brain & Development. Below is the call for conference proposals; feel free to pass it on to interested colleagues.

From NeuroSelves to NeuroSocieties:  Cross-disciplinary Conversations Around the Neurosciences

June 11th & 12th, 2012
Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts

An interdisciplinary conference hosted by Hampshire College  and the Foundation for Psychocultural Research-Hampshire College  Program in Culture, Brain & Development.

Call for Proposals

Our understandings of self and society are being transformed by the neurosciences. At the same time neuroscience is shaped and driven by social structures such as law, media and education, and informed by fields such as sociology, anthropology, philosophy and evolutionary biology. The emerging fields of neuroethics, neurolaw and neuroeconomics are a testament to the desire to apply a better understanding of the brain to moral and social issues, but also point to a need to understand the myriad ethical, legal and cultural implications of the science itself.

This conference offers an opportunity for cross-disciplinary communication among scholars from many disciplines around how the neurosciences shape – and are shaped by – diverse social forces and cultural ideas.

We invite proposals from faculty and graduate students from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives. 

Please submit a proposal that describes your background, interest, and proposed presentation topic.  Participants will be expected to give a short presentation of how their work engages with – or could shed light on – issues at the intersections of law, philosophy, economics, ethics, or some other aspect of the cultural/social/political sphere and the neurosciences. Participants will receive a $500 stipend. Some assistance is available to help with travel costs; applicants are invited to apply for travel funding.

The conference program features two keynote speakers: Dr. Adina Roskies, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Dartmouth College, and Dr. Peter Reiner, Professor, National Core for Neuroethics and the Kinsman Laboratory of Neurological Research, Department of Psychiatry and Brain Research Center, University of British Columbia.

Presentations and panels will be structured around participant interests and proposals. For illustrative purposes only, possible topics might include (but are not limited to): changing conceptions of moral, personal or economic decision-making; diagnosis, treatment and conceptions of mental illness; ethical challenges posed by neuroscience research; art and neuroscience of creativity; social and ethical implications of neuropharmacological interventions; interactions between educational policies, practices, and the neurosciences; questions of free will and human agency; neuroscience of empathy, trust, and sociality; brain imagery and popular media; neuroscientific recasting of social problems such as addiction and violence.

Please go to http://www.hampshire.edu/cbd/22808.htm for more information about the conference and submitting a proposal. The deadline to submit proposals is February 15th, 2012.  Please send proposals and questions to Ryan McLaughlin, CBD coordinator, rmclaughlin@hampshire.edu .

Toward an Anthropological Theory of Mind (AToM) – Stanford Workshop Summary

This is the first in a series of posts covering cross-disciplinary research on theory of mind.

Last weekend a small, international gathering of twenty-seven anthropologists and psychologists took place at the Stanford Humanities Center, organized by Stanford anthropology professor Tanya Luhrmann  and Culture and Mind postdoctoral fellows Julia Cassaniti, and Jocelyn Marrow. The meeting was made possible by a gift from the Robert Lemelson Foundation.

Nestled under the dappled shade of oak trees, the center provided a beautiful setting for a relaxed yet animated discussion on the concept of theory of mind, including the possibility of cross-cultural, comparative research program. (See end of post for full list of participants.

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According to the hypothesis on which the meeting was based “there are cultural variations in the way minds are imagined, and . . . these variations have consequences for mental experience (broadly defined) and the nature of social interaction.” Invited speakers briefly summarized their work (papers were circulated in advance) but most of each session and many lively coffee-break conversations were devoted to exploring related questions and research opportunities.

The workshop opened on Thursday evening with a talk by anthropologist Rita Astuti (London School of Economics) covering the history of ToM and the challenges of cross-cultural, interdisciplinary work. Below is a summary of the Friday morning session on “interiority and boundedness,” featuring talks by anthropologists Joel Robbins (UC San Diego), Julia, and Tanya.

Theory of Mind

Theory of mind (ToM) was coined by primatologists David Premack and Guy Woodruff to refer to the ability of an individual to “impute mental states to himself and to others” (Premack & Woodruff, 1978; Call & Tomasello, 2008). The concept subsequently carried over to developmental psychology and neuroscience. Psychologists were interested in the emergence in young children of a capacity to attribute false beliefs to other persons (Wimmer & Perner, 1983; also referred to as the Sally-Anne test or S-AT). Neuroscientists began to explore some possible neural mechanisms of ToM (which critically “enables us to predict what others are going to do” [U. Frith & C. Frith, 2010] ) like imitation (eventually bolstered by the discovery of mirror neurons in macaques, which fired when observing an object-directed gesture, with the mirror neuron “system” thus appearing to mediate an understanding of others’ actions), as well as “precursor” mechanisms, like face processing, gaze monitoring, or detection of animacy and their dysfunctions (Hurley & Chater, 2005; Rizzolatti & Craighero, 2004; Iacoboni & Dapretto, 2006). A particularly influential 1985 paper for both research programs by Simon Baron-Cohen, Alan Leslie, and Uta Frith argued that children with autism lacked a theory of mind based on their difficulties with the false belief test (Baron-Cohen, Leslie, & Frith, 1985). (Links to research cited available at end of post.)

Currently, the mainstream definition in the psychiatric neuroscience literature  characterizes ToM as the cognitive (or “high level”) capacity to “mind read,” that is, “to attribute mental states like thoughts, beliefs, intentions, and feelings to oneself and others,” (Montag et al., 2011). But, as several attendees noted, some assumptions implicit in this sort of definition – e.g., the extent to which ToM is based on explicit inferences of internally held propositions – presume an understanding of mind which is western.  Anthropologists have long been aware that the western model of mind is not shared by all people. Those at the meeting had assembled to explore what they knew about the consequences of different models of mind for mental experience, developmental process, psychiatric illness, and the adults experience of inferring intentions.

AToM: Interiority and Boundedness

In the first talk of Friday’s session, anthropologist Joel Robbins (UC San Diego) discussed his research on the Urapmin of Papua New Guinea, who, although generally described as sociocentric or relational, have a very strong sense of a core self that is virtually unknowable to others. For the Urapmin, the heart is the seat of thoughts, feelings, and intentions, and it is believed “one cannot know what goes on in the heart of another person.” The Urapmin appear not to use speech as a vehicle for expressing thoughts, feelings, or intentions, so much so that the language lacks verbs like thank, apologize, promise, and lie, and they are distrustful of others’ speech. (Although persons’ mental states are opaque to one another, Joel was quick to distinguish this form of “innate” opacity – a core self doubly wrapped within the heart/body  – from the communicative opacity and non-expressivity cultivated by the Yap that Jason Throop would go on to describe in the afternoon session.) At the same time, according to Joel, the Urapmin regularly say that people “do what they want to do,” or “are driven by their hearts,” and they have a rich vocabulary for different kinds of emotions and thoughts that arise in the heart. This means that in the Urapmin case the belief that people cannot know what others are thinking and feeling does not, as some have predicted, correlate with a general lack of cultural elaboration of ideas about the contents of the mind and their importance in motivating action. Joel also said that in the 1970s all adults in the community converted to charismatic Christianity and consequently face conflicting demands from, on the one hand, a religion that requires sincerity in speech and honesty in the confession of one’s sins to God and, on the other, from a traditional belief in the impossibility of such kinds of communication.

After giving a brief summary, Joel provided two basic claims/research questions: (1) Assuming theories of mind shape the mental experience of those who hold them, how do we test the possibility that people are not reading the minds of others in interpreting what they say or how they act? (2) Just as cultural ideas about language connect to morality, sociality, ideas about selves, etc., we should explore the ways in which cultural theories of mind are connected in important ways to ideas in other domains. Joel felt he was on firmer ground with the second research program in terms of exploring the ramifications of an Urapminian theory of mind. For example, most people in Urapmin assume they are “innately” related to many others, rather than expecting relationships to built out of shared feelings and thoughts, and the unpredictability of speech is moderated by everyday gift exchanges, which “almost have the rhythm of conversations” (a promise, for example, is made via the bestowal of a small gift rather than conveyed verbally.)

After Tanya opened up the session to questions and comments, one of the attendees mentioned Vygotsky’s work on the connection between language development and thought, particularly how inner speech develops from hearing external speech followed by a stage of talking (or thinking) out loud – i.e., a process of internalizing what is heard – which is eventually inhibited. Children and adults continue to hear subvocalizations which are unintelligible to others, however, and which serve as a vehicle for thought. She wondered about the extent to which the Urapmin subvocalize, and “how they are construing subvocalization in inner speech, if it’s not thought.”

Joel was intrigued by the suggestion, but also noted the complexity of an investigation into subvocalization. Interestingly, he mentioned that when people “hear God,” when the Holy Spirit tells them something, they do not “hear a voice,” but rather they experience the Holy Spirit “as a certainty in my heart,” although Joel also said this was common for charismatics generally.

Linguistic anthropologist Bambi Schieffelin (New York University), who conducted research among the Bosavi of Papa New Guinea and said they share many of the same orientations and preferences, commented that when her 4-year-old son talked to himself, the Bosavi found it very peculiar, even “creepy.” She thought there was an interesting cultural possibility that speech among the Bosavi (as part of a particular language ideology) always requires an addressee. Cultural psychologist Hazel Markus (Stanford University) said that in East Asia – Japan Korea and Taiwan, specifically – the idea that speech is appropriate only in certain situations or that the mouth is the source of misfortune (or meaningless prattle in the case of a chatterbox) is very common. In Japan, if something really matters “you won’t say it”; in other words, thoughts and speech are not necessarily always closely aligned. Also, “you have to have another person before the self is “on,” she said. (This isn’t to say there isn’t a very clear sense of an interior “something,” which is important and a source of great, emotionally expressive literature in Japan, she said.)

The second talk by Julia Cassaniti, based on her research in a small community in Thailand, explored how Buddhist ideas are lived in everyday life. She described three key concepts: mindfulness, kwan, and karma. According to her position paper, “the concentration and focus of the mind [mindfulness] is both a goal and a representation of healthy minds and bodies.” When the mind is distracted, the implication is that our “souls” or “ghosts” (kwan) are scattered. Julia likened kwan to our understanding of “wits.” Keeping our minds (or wits) balanced and permeable in the sense of open to experiences and aware of (and wary of ) our own and others’ intentions (“out in the air”) keeps our mind/wits together. Karmic energy (“the energy of intentionality”), which is destabilizing, arises when the mind becomes fixed on particular ideas, desires, or goals that “shoot out from us.” Consequently, people are reluctant to hazard a guess about what another person might be thinking or feeling, because this presumes the other is possessed of a single, bounded, autonomous mind that is wholly separate from one’s own.

A participant wondered what the relationship was between what people tell you in an interview and what they may be doing in everyday life. Julia said her informants seemed to actively practice what they believed, when, say, they were confronted with a predicament like the loss of money. Referring to soul-calling ceremonies, in which a white string bracelet used to “keep one’s kwan together,” is attached to the wrist, Aparecida Vilaça (Museu Nacional/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro) recalled a similar practice in Amazonia in which an object – a necklace of beads – is considered “outside but also inside.” If the necklace breaks apart, so does one’s identity or personality (the wearer “goes crazy”). Julia said the white-string bracelets weren’t necessarily used to hold something inside; they’re not permanent and when the string wears out, the bracelet is put in a river and floats away. Another participant, who was familiar with a different Buddhist practice, said that in that context the intentions of the practitioners are very strong, but the point is to not get too attached to them or too obsessed with moving in a particular direction. Julia seemed to feel that the idea of having intentions but just not becoming too attached to them might have a deleterious looping effect, but concerns with attachment resonated (she described a festival in which lanterns or little boats are set afloat as a reminder not to become too attached to worries or intentions). Regarding the different perceptions of the mind that can be gleaned from the many varieties of religious practice in Thailand, China, and the US, Hazel Markus noted how, in the West, the mind is perceived as influencing or making things happen in the world. But “effortfully striving for something may not always be the best way to make things happen, in fact it’s often problematic, “ she said, “and that’s what’s so difficult for Westerners to grasp.” Another participant wondered if kwan stays in one piece or disintegrates into separate pieces when it “wanders off.” Julia said it appeared to stay in one piece. But she also said kwan is sometimes referred to in the singular, sometimes in the plural in the literature. The lack of noun/verb inflection in the language makes it difficult to determine. She felt, however, kwan was a concept best understood in the plural.

The theme of the final talk of the session by Tanya Luhrmann was how theory of mind changes mental experience. The talk focused on American experientially oriented evangelical Christians, who live in a world dominated by a “Westernized, Christianized, secularized theory of mind.” Three important features of this model are: (1) a wall between mind and world, which spirits cannot cross; (2) the interior word is important (i.e., “emotions and feelings count for something, they have causal consequences, and can make you sick”; (3) what’s in the mind is not real “in the way that tables and chairs are real.” Evangelical Christians hold a different theory of mind, in which God can cross the boundaries of the mind, and in which what is in the mind is real—but in a different manner than tables and chairs. These Christians must learn to adopt this new theory of mind. They cultivate a personal, interactive relationship with God, who is perceived as a person very much like oneself. The churches essentially teach a theory of mind in which individuals attend to the everyday flow of stream of consciousness and learn to “cherry pick out” particular thoughts, mental images, and feelings. Those that feel different, spontaneous, or “not me,” are identified as potentially emanating from God. Learning to orient to certain kinds of internal sensory information, asking for guidance from God on the most mundane matters of everyday life, and “daydreaming” about God as a continuous, warm, supportive presence (and conversation partner) is a kind of attention training paradigm for learning to respond to life’s bigger questions/challenges according to what God tells you to do. Tanya said a conflict arises in terms of being taught to orient to inner experience and cultivate an everyday relationship with God while, at the same time, not considering what occurs in the mind real. The result, Tanya said, is a kind of oscillating back and forth between the (fictional) mind/(real/fictional) world and the emergence of “a third (ontological) domain of reality” (“real but different”).

Tanya then described an experiment in which she randomized people into different prayer practices; those engaged in an imaginative prayer practice, which included daydreaming about God (vs. a control group engaged in Bible study) improved their mental imagery vividness and salience and their ability to use mental imagery and increased the likeliness of unusual sensory experiences. Many participants in this group also said “God became more real to them.” Based on these results, Tanya said she was interested in the idea of a cross-cultural research program that would look at dimensions of the mind like interiority, boundedness, whether the content of the mind is real, etc., in order to ask the following questions:  What is the significance given to inner thought? What is the inner-voice dialogue? What is the significance given to inner sensory experience, what kinds of experience count, what about unusual sensory experiences? Do dreams matter, if so, how? And what are the consequences of these different emphases on mental experience? Tanya also felt Aparecida’s comment about the idea of objects containing the mind would make an important research query.

In response to a participant’s question about the purpose of appealing to God on mundane matters Tanya said it was a way to make what you imagine God to be real (in terms of a real voice coming from outside your head). Evangelicals have “to get God across the boundary of the mind.” They have to get “God outside and real,” she said. (Tanya also described another set of practices by evangelicals, an effort to map emotional experiences onto God or to map God onto themselves so that they become more able to experience a sense of being loved by God.) Regarding Tanya’s idea for a cross-cultural study, another participant suggested not just asking about effects, in some secondary sense, but exploring the conflict among, e.g., the Urapmin, between their ToM and a Christian God whose intentions are knowable and can be expressed verbally. (“Why do you trust God’s words?”)

Tanya also commented that the American evangelical movement is a representation of God based on a specific representation of the American mind. She said there was a “buyer’s market” in God concepts designed for the secular mind because there is an acute awareness that people don’t necessarily believe in God. Hazel Markus felt an under-explored areas was the role of Protestant Christianity in giving life to an independent self, or form of agency, “that really underlies most of our theorizing.” Hazel thought this model of self wasn’t working for evangelical Christians, who may be seeking a more relational model (“the other was too harsh and too interior”). Tanya agreed, saying the evangelical movement (particularly the emphasis on personal experience) was a direct response to secularism.

Regarding the idea of a “buyer’s market,” Doug Hollan (UCLA) wondered how we can distinguish between a process of self selection (where a person has a certain set of proclivities, like hearing voices, and shops around for accommodating churches) vs. the argument of being socialized into certain practices that focus on “hearing” God. Tanya mentioned previous work using the Tellegen Absorption Scale in which she found a close relationship between a proclivity for absorption (according to the scale) and reporting an unusual sensory experience. Interestingly, referring to the randomized prayer practice trial she described earlier, absorption did not predict whether you experienced God as a person (being assigned to the imaginative prayer practice did) or whether you heard God, although it did predict lifetime report of hearing God. Another participant suggested keeping in mind the significance of individual differences in terms of temperament (or different attentional capacities or differences on the absorption scale).

Several questions emerged during the general discussion. One participant again brought up the question of how to explore what really happens in everyday life (vs. what the interviewee reports) in the sense of trying to understand what kinds of moments in life these cultural philosophies of mind are for (e.g., just those instances in which intentions are thwarted?) How can this be explored more systematically, that is, other than, say, looking at examples of reported speech? Also, in communities that follow different practices, how much of a difference is there in terms of the way an individual thinks, or theorizes, about his/her own and others’ mental states and anticipate others’ actions? Joel suggested that, at least among the Urapmin, their particular ToM operates constantly, it’s not just an explanatory model. Taking the Urapmin as an example, John Lucy suggested looking at ToM in terms of an overall system of social behavior rather than as a localized set of practices. How the culture acknowledges interior states (or doesn’t), would be a component. As the session drew to a close, the conversation continued to flow around these and other intriguing questions.

References

Call, J., & Tomasello, M. (2008). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? 30 years later. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 121(5), 187–192. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.02.010

On the 30th anniversary of Premack and Woodruff’s seminal paper asking whether chimpanzees have a theory of mind, we review recent evidence that suggests in many respects they do, whereas in other respects they might not. Specifically, there is solid evidence from several different experimental paradigms that chimpan- zees understand the goals and intentions of others, as well as the perception and knowledge of others. Never- theless, despite several seemingly valid attempts, there is currently no evidence that chimpanzees understand false beliefs. Our conclusion for the moment is, thus, that chimpanzees understand others in terms of a percep- tion–goal psychology, as opposed to a full-fledged, human-like belief–desire psychology.

Frith, U., & Frith, C. (2010). The social brain: Allowing humans to boldly go where no other species has been. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365(1537),165–176.

The biological basis of complex human social interaction and communication has been illuminated through a coming together of various methods and disciplines. Among these are comparative studies of other species, studies of disorders of social cognition and developmental psychology. The use of neuroimaging and computational models has given weight to speculations about the evolution of social behaviour and culture in human societies. We highlight some networks of the social brain relevant to two-person interactions and consider the social signals between interacting partners that activate these networks. We make a case for distinguishing between signals that automatically trigger interaction and cooperation and ostensive signals that are used deliberately. We suggest that this ostensive signalling is needed for ‘closing the loop’ in two-person interactions, where the partners each know that they have the intention to communicate. The use of deliberate social signals can serve to increase reputation and trust and facilitates teaching. This is likely to be a critical factor in the steep cultural ascent of mankind.

Hurly, S., & Chater, N. Eds. (2005). Perspectives on imitation. (Vols. 1–2). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Iacoboni, M., & Dapretto, M. (2006). The mirror neuron system and the consequences of its dysfunction. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7, 942–951. doi:10.1038/nrn2024

The discovery of premotor and parietal cells known as mirror neurons in the macaque brain that fire not only when the animal is in action, but also when it observes others carrying out the same actions provides a plausible neurophysiological mechanism for a variety of important social behaviours, from imitation to empathy. Recent data also show that dysfunction of the mirror neuron system in humans might be a core deficit in autism, a socially isolating condition. Here, we review the neurophysiology of the mirror neuron system and its role in social cognition and discuss the clinical implications of mirror neuron dysfunction.

Montag, C., Neuhaus, K., Lehmann, A., Krüger, K., Dziobek, I., Heekeren, J. R., Heinz, A., & Gallinat, J.  (9/2011). Subtle deficits of cognitive theory of mind in unaffected first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience. Advance online publication. doi 10.1007/s00406-011-0250-2

Alterations of theory of mind (ToM) and empathy were implicated in the formation of psychotic experiences, and deficits in psychosocial functioning of schizophrenia patients. Inspired by concepts of neurocognitive endophenotypes, the existence of a distinct, potentially neurobiologically based social-cognitive vulnerability marker for schizophrenia is a matter of ongoing debate. The fact that previous research on social-cognitive deficits in individuals at risk yielded contradictory results may partly be due to an insufficient differentiation between qualitative aspects of ToM. Thirty-four unaffected first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients (21 parents, 8 siblings, 5 children; f/m: 30/4; mean age: 48.1 ± 12.7 years) and 34 controls subjects (f/m: 25/9; mean age: 45.9 ± 10.9 years) completed the ‘Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition’-a video-based ToM test-and an empathy questionnaire (Interpersonal Reactivity Index, IRI). Outcome parameters comprised (1) ‘cognitive’ versus ’emotional’ ToM, (2) error counts representing ‘undermentalizing’ versus ‘overmentalizing’, (3) empathic abilities and (4) non-social neurocognition. MANCOVA showed impairments in cognitive but not emotional ToM in the relatives’ group, when age, gender and neurocognition were controlled for. Relatives showed elevated error counts for ‘undermentalizing’ but not for ‘overmentalizing’. No alterations were detected in self-rated dimensions of empathy. Of all measures of ToM and empathy, only the IRI subscale ‘fantasy’ was associated with measures of psychotic risk, i.e. a history of subclinical delusional ideation. The present study confirmed subtle deficits in cognitive, but not emotional ToM in first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients, which were not explained by global cognitive deficits. Findings corroborate the assumption of distinct social-cognitive abilities as an intermediate phenotype for schizophrenia.

Rizzolatti, G., &  Craighero, L.  (2004). The mirror-neuron system. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 27, 169–192. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144230.PMID 15217330

A category of stimuli of great importance for primates, humans in particular, is that formed by actions done by other individuals. If we want to survive, we must understand the actions of others. Furthermore, without action understanding, social organization is impossible. In the case of humans, there is another faculty that depends on the observation of others’ actions: imitation learning. Unlike most species, we are able to learn by imitation, and this faculty is at the basis of human culture. In this review we present data on a neurophysiological mechanism—the mirror-neuron mechanism—that appears to play a fundamental role in both action understanding and imitation. We describe first the functional properties of mirror neurons in monkeys. We review next the characteristics of the mirror-neuron system in humans. We stress, in particular, those properties specific to the human mirror-neuron system that might explain the human capacity to learn by imitation. We conclude by discussing the relationship between the mirror-neuron system and language.

Premack, D. G., &  Woodruff, G. (1978). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 515–526.

An individual has a theory of mind if he imputes mental states to himself and others. A system of inferences of this kind is properly viewed as a theory because such states are not directly observable, and the system can be used to make predictions about the behavior of others. As to the mental states the chimpanzee may infer, consider those inferred by our own species, for example, purpose or intention, as well as knowledge, belief, thinking, doubt, guessing, pretending, liking, and so forth. To determine whether or not the chimpanzee infers states of this kind, we showed an adult chimpanzee a series of videotaped scenes of a human actor struggling with a variety of problems. Some problems were simple, involving inaccessible food bananas vertically or horizontally out of reach, behind a box, and so forth as in the original Kohler problems; others were more complex, involving an actor unable to extricate himself from a locked cage, shivering because of a malfunctioning heater, or unable to play a phonograph because it was unplugged. With each videotape the chimpanzee was given several photographs, one a solution to the problem, such as a stick for the inaccessible bananas, a key for the locked up actor, a lit wick for the malfunctioning heater. The chimpanzee’s consistent choice of the correct photographs can be understood by assuming that the animal recognized the videotape as representing a problem, understood the actor’s purpose, and chose alternatives compatible with that purpose.

Wimmer, H. & Perner, J. (1983). Beliefs about beliefs: Representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children’s understanding of deception. Cognition, 13, 41–68.

Understanding of another person’s wrong belief requires explicit representation of the wrongness of this person’s belief in relation to one’s own knowledge. Three to nine year old children’s understanding of two sketches was tested. In each sketch subjects observed how a protagonist put an object into a location x and then witnessed that in the absence of the protagonist the object was transferred from x to location y. Since this transfer came as a surprise they had to assume that the protagonist still believed that the object was in x. Subjects had to indicate where the protagonist will look for the object at his return. None of the 3–4-year old, 57% of 4–6-year old, and 86% of 6–9-year old children pointed correctly to location x in both sketches. Of the many cases where 4–6-year olds made an error they failed in only about 20% to remember the initial location correctly. As a test of the stability of children’s representation of the protagonist’s wrong belief the sketches continued with a statement about the protagonist’s intention to either deceive an antagonist or truthfully inform a friend about the object’s location. Independent of age, of those children who correctly thought that the protagonist would search in x, 85% of the time they also correctly thought that he would direct his antagonist to location y and his friend to location x. This shows that once children can represent a person’s beliefs they can constrain their interpretation of this person’s stated intentions to the person’s beliefs. In a more story-like situation another group of children had to infer a deceptive plan from the depiction of a goal conflict between two story characters and one character’s expedient utterance. At the age of 4–5 years children correctly judged this utterance as a lie only 28% of the time while 5–6-year olds did so 94% of the time. These results suggest that around the ages of 4 to 6 years the ability to represent the relationship between two or more person’s epistemic states emerges and becomes firmly established.

List of Participants

Rita Astuti, Professor, Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics

Lera Boroditsky, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Stanford University

Luke Butler, Graduate student, Psychology, Stanford University

Julia Cassaniti, Culture and Mind Postdoctoral Fellow, Anthropology, Stanford University

Eve Danzinger, Associate Professor in Anthropology, University of Virginia

Suzanne Gaskins, Associate Professor of Psychology, Northeastern Illinois University

Dedre Gentner, Alice Gabrielle Twight Professor, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University

Kathyrn Geurts, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Hamline College

Alexa Hagerty, Graduate student, Anthropology, Stanford University

Douglas Hollan, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles

Graham Jones, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Michelle Karnes, Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Stanford University

John Lucy, William Benton Professor Department of Comparative Human Development, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago

Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University Professor in Anthropology (and Psychology, by courtesy) Stanford University

Ellen Markman, Lewis M. Terman Professor of Psychology, Stanford University

Hazel Markus, Davis-Brack Professor in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Department of Psychology

Giulia Mazza, Graduate student, Anthropology, Stanford University

Jocelyn Marrow, Culture and Mind Postdoctoral Fellow, Anthropology, Stanford University

Joel Robbins, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego

Barbara Rogoff, University of California, Santa Cruz Foundation Distinguished Professor of Psychology

Sonya Pritzker, Assistant Researcher and Clinical Specialist at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine

Danilyn Rutherford, Associate Professor in Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Bambi Schieffelin, Collegiate Professor; Professor of Anthropology, New York University

Rupert Stasch, Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego

Allen Tran, Graduate Student, Anthropology, University of  California, San Diego

Jason Throop, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles

Aparecida Vilaça, Associate Professor in the Postgraduate Program in Social Anthropology, Museu Nacional/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

History’s Fundamental Contribution to STS

The collective blog Somatosphere, always a terrific source, has just posted about and embedded video from a public conference last Spring sponsored by Harvard’s Program on Science, Technology, and Society, entitled “Science and Technology Studies: The Next Twenty – Conversations Within and Beyond the Field.”

Below is an excerpt from a talk by UCLA historian Theodore Porter in the opening session (“Does STS Matter, and to Whom?”) on the fundamental contribution of history to STS. (Or, better, link to full talk and commentary; I recommend anything/everything by T. Porter, but here’s  an additional link to “How Science Became Technical,”Isis [2009].)

I do not think of history and STS as rival claimants for my loyalty, but of STS as the far flung community of scholars taking seriously that – when much of academia still does not – the fascinating and urgent importance of science and technology in regard to practically every aspect of modern life… And I hope most will recognize history as naming an ideal of analysis in time and a whole field of exemplars for understanding scientific activity in relation to a heterogeneous culture, a culture from which science does not stand apart but in which it moves and speaks.

The historical form is no alternative to the mission of STS but rather can serve it while drawing upon it. And studying the past, like travel, helps us appreciate the singularity of the present, an experience that is further enhanced when we examine how the present has incorporated and been given form by all those materials, customs, ideas, and practices that the past supply.

He made a final point concerning language that I think may also apply to those interested in not only integrating neuroscience and social science perspectives (particularly anthropology) as an academic exercise but doing so in a way that “also and mainly” engages the public on matters relating directly to them/us:  psychiatric diagnosis, caregiving, and public mental health policy:

I think it important to be able to talk about science in languages different from those of science.  While this includes some terms of art of our own, we can’t do without them, I prefer to keep as close as my meanings allow to the vernacular. This language of study and analysis does not disavow, but includes meanings and intentions, unexpected consequences, elements of paradox. Formal tools like statistical regression or actor network analysis might be helpful, but in STS aiming to understand “S” and “T” in relation to society, culture, history, or politics can only go so far with these…. Writing for the public, if we grant it the courtesy of supposing it intelligent, distorts our analysis less than writing to provide fodder for the millstones of bureaucracy.

References

Porter, T. (2009). How science became technical. Isis, 100. 

ABSTRACT Not until the twentieth century did science come to be regarded as fundamentally technical in nature. Atechnical field, after all, meant not just a difficult one, but one relying on concepts and vocabulary that matter only to specialists. The alternative, to identify science with an ideal of public reason, attained its peak of influence in the late nineteenth century. While the scale and applicability of science advanced enormously after 1900, scientists have more and more preferred the detached objectivity of service to bureaucratic experts over the cultivation of an engaged public. This reshaping of science, which has been both celebrated and condemned, provided a stimulus to the incipient field of history of science, and it remains a key historical problem.

Defining Mental Illness in Children: The SSI “Safety Net”

Quote

Excerpt from forthcoming New York Review of Books (“The Illusions of Psychiatry” by Marcia Angell dd. 7/14/11 ):

One would be hard pressed to find a two-year-old who is not sometimes irritable, a boy in fifth grade who is not sometimes inattentive, or a girl in middle school who is not anxious. (Imagine what taking a drug that causes obesity would do to such a girl.) Whether such children are labeled as having a mental disorder and treated with prescription drugs depends a lot on who they are and the pressures their parents face.[1]  As low-income families experience growing economic hardship, many are finding that applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments on the basis of mental disability is the only way to survive. It is more generous than welfare, and it virtually ensures that the family will also qualify for Medicaid. According to MIT economics professor David Autor, “This has become the new welfare.” Hospitals and state welfare agencies also have incentives to encourage uninsured families to apply for SSI payments, since hospitals will get paid and states will save money by shifting welfare costs to the federal government.

Growing numbers of for-profit firms specialize in helping poor families apply for SSI benefits. But to qualify nearly always requires that applicants, including children, be taking psychoactive drugs. According to a New York Times story, a Rutgers University study found that children from low-income families are four times as likely as privately insured children to receive antipsychotic medicines.

[1] Duff Wilson, “Child’s Ordeal Reveals Risks of Psychiatric Drugs in Young,” The New York Times , September 2, 2010.

Planning Underway for Next FPR-UCLA Interdisciplinary Conference (2012)

The tentative title for our next interdisciplinary conference is “The Emerging Neuroscience of Culture: Prospects and Challenges,” which is planned for 2012. Below is a brief description (comments are warmly welcomed!):

Over the next decade, many aspects of human behavior and emotions will become increasingly understood using the research and techniques of neuroscience, in conjunction with anthropology, sociology, economics, and psychology.  Combining a brain-based perspective with the critical significance of non-neuro-centric aspects of culture – systems of discourse, institutions, and belief – will lead to major advances in how we understand the different ways in which people live, organize, govern, and create meaning in global, national, and local contexts. The aim of this conference is to bring together anthropologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, and those in related fields in a relaxed and collegial setting (formal talks and lab and field case studies alternating with roundtable discussions)  to inform one another about the latest studies; discuss and debate different concepts, theories, and methodologies; and propose ideas for collaborative research projects. We are specially interested in teams that are developing multidisciplinary strategies, methodologies, and approaches and invite them to do joint presentations that include discussions or feature insights on the dynamics of these kinds of studies. We are also interested in presentations that consider the history and social implications of neuroscience.