Showing posts with label Musings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Musings. Show all posts

February 27, 2013

Raising An Issue in Indian Psychology

A recent literature search threw up an interesting-looking paper; a randomised controlled trial (RCT) on the effect of yoga on gunas (personality) in healthy volunteers (free to read). I was surprised as I rarely come across academic papers on yoga, that too with explicit reference to 'gunas' in the title. . I couldn’t help noticing at the outset that the study appeared to have been carried out at the Department of Yoga Research, Swami Vivekananda Anusandhana Samsthana, a deemed-to-be yoga university. The study was also published in the International Journal of Yoga, which appears to be the university’s own journal publication. So there is plenty of scope for bias to creep in.

Despite that RCTs are the 'gold standard' of psychological research when done properly, the stated aims of this paper didn't exactly fill me with confidence. The study itself wasn't what interested me, but rather one of the tools that the researchers used to assess the participants' personalities. In psychology, personality is assessed using specific scales or questionnaires that have been designed to measure a particular construct, say, anxiety or depression. The Beck Depression Inventory is probably the best known and widely used example of a scale to measure depression, and you can find information about other scales at Wikipedia.

An important concept in the construction of such scales is known as construct validity, the ability of the scale to measure what it is supposed to measure. Using the BDI as an example, can it be that a set of questions is capable of measuring the presence and intensity of depression in a person? All other things being equal, the answer is that it is probably the most reliable tool we have for measuring depression at the moment and that it has been consistently used in a number of different medical fields. Much research has been done in the field of personality psychology in an attempt to construct a real-term workable scale with which to assess personality. Many scales exist, but generally speaking researchers have come to agree that personality can be defined in terms of the "Big 5" factors: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and Psychopathy, and that all of our personalities can be measured in different ratings of these. The Reliability of such scales is another important issue that also means something different to the popular sense of the word, and we'll get to that at some point.

For this study the research team wanted to analyse the effects of a yoga course on personality and self-esteem, and they measured these with Karunanidhi's Self-Esteem Inventory (1996) and, wait for it, the Gita Inventory of Personality (Das, 1991). According to this paper, the GIP (referred to as GIN within the paper) was to measure three dimensions of personality: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.

There is reason to suspect that, at least in the case of the GIP, something mischievous is afoot in the name of psychology. The Gita referred to is of course the Bhagavad-Gita, a Hindu scripture (traditionally believed to be 5000 years old), and the three personality dimensions being assessed are described in the 14th chapter of the text. I'm aware of issues of sensitivity surrounding cross-cultural research in psychology, the importance of accepting cultural boundaries, and so on. If you were to rely on Wikipedia, cross-cultural psychiatry (or transcultural psychiatry) is that which is "concerned with the cultural and ethnic context of mental disorders and psychiatric services".

I have to wonder, though, are cases like this something that ought to be a concern or to be praised? On one hand we have here a different outlook on personality that is independent of Western-oriented psychology, but on the other we have to wonder about the appropriateness of assessing people's individual personality traits on the basis of definitions provided in an antiquated religious text. Psychological research is frequently slighted or condemned (depending on who you listen to) as being overly WEIRD - analysing and assessing people that are dominantly Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic, and that is a fair criticism in context. In general, the field is crying out for fresh perspectives.

However, it remains unclear if ethnically contextual research from the other end of the spectrum will be able to provide new insight into the field of personality psychology if little to no effort is made to work collegially, and using similar standards of measurement with which to assess people and carry out much needed research.

Deshpande S., Nagendra H.R. & Nagarathna R. (2009). A randomized control trial of the effect of yoga on Gunas (personality) and Self esteem in normal healthy volunteers., International Journal of Yoga, 2 (1) 13-21. PMID:

March 2, 2010

Junkie On The Phone

Kirsten Emott is an MD from British Columbia who also writes poetry. The March 2010 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry has published a poem of hers that was originally printed in The Naked Physician: Poems About the Lives of Patients and Doctors by R. Charach.

Junkie On The Phone

You don’t have a headache.

The GP you named doesn’t know you.

The pharmacist recognizes your name.

You even called me before.

I won’t prescribe the drugs.

Play the game elsewhere.

Call up some other doctor.

Set out your lies:

"Doctor, here is my lie.

I want you to join me in my lying.

Pretend I am sick.

Give me what will make me sicker.

Give me a stick

with which to beat myself.

Help me to die."

November 17, 2008

Why IDiotic Research is BAD for Science

This is a partial repost of a previous blog as I wanted to have a separate post outlining one of my postgraduate experiences of scientific research for a paper, and how it can be scuppered when Creationist/ID papers start entering research databases. After I've outlined my general concerns about this, listen to this tale of research woe. The following exchange took place in the context of a conversation with a believer:

Question: In response to your statement about religious scientists engaging in intellectual dishonesty and their position being unjustifiable, why should you or anyone object to what someone wishes to spend their time researching?

Answer: Because they basically waste everyone's time with what is essentially junk science. In fact its not just scientists, but a whole load of other people like swamis and gurus who think that they can make scientific pronouncements and get away with it. I discussed this briefly at someone's blog a few months ago. This is a very good question you've asked. This summer [2008] it is likely that I'll be involved in a massive scientific project that I hoped would be along the lines of an investigation in the religious content of auditory hallucinations in non-psychotic populations. If I get ethical approval for the basic idea, there is a possibility of significant expansion which will result in investigations beyond the original proposal and quite probably end up a something seriously publishable. As such, it is my duty to do the background research (for the introduction of what will be my paper as I explained above) by seeing what has already been done and how my study can fit in with any previous research. I came across this paper:

Norris, R.S. (2005). Examining the structure and role of emotion: Contributions of neurobiology to the study of embodied religious experience. Zygon, 40(1), 181-200.

A paper that I can only describe through gritted teeth as absolute shit. There was nothing whatsoever of any value in it, least of all to me. Norris basically draws some thoughts together along the lines of: "Look at how this explains this, and how that explains that. Isn't this grrrrrreat?" I was so disturbed by this paper that I checked out the Zygon journal. Strange name for a scientific journal, don't you think? But apparently it is also known as the Journal of Religion and Science, and here's what's written on their website:

"The journal Zygon provides a forum for exploring ways to unite what in modern times has been disconnected—values from knowledge, goodness from truth, religion from science. Traditional religions, which have transmitted wisdom about what is of essential value and ultimate meaning as a guide for human living, were expressed in terms of the best understandings of their times about human nature, society, and the world. Religious expression in our time, however, has not drawn similarly on modern science, which has superseded the ancient forms of understanding. As a result religions have lost credibility in the modern mind. Nevertheless some recent scientific studies of human evolution and development have indicated how long-standing religions have evolved well-winnowed wisdom, still essential for the best life. Zygon's hypothesis is that, when long-evolved religious wisdom is yoked with significant, recent scientific discoveries about the world and human nature, there results credible expression of basic meaning, values, and moral convictions that provides valid and effective guidance for enhancing human life."

Sounds pretty cool, huh? Like some of those weird ideas you hear about science and religion coming together in a synthesis. Personally I'd be suspicious of a publication that had people like Viggo Mortenson on their advisory board but there you go. If I did some digging around, I'm sure I'd find these guys all to be a bunch of Creationists. Whoops, Intelligent Design advocates, sorry. These statements of purpose and all sounds very professional and above-board until you take a look at some of their articles. By virtue of my ATHENS login I was able to access their latest March 2008 issue, and here's an abstract from an article entitled 'The Centrality of Incarnation':

"What we urgently need at the beginning of the twenty-first century is a christological vision that can shape and inform a new and powerful way of helping humankind to interpret their place within the universe. A christological vision that is unintelligible and uninteresting can have a profoundly deleterious soteriological implication: the orbit of God's saving grace will not be wide enough to encompass the universal place of humankind. Arthur Peacocke's move is clear and to the point: Only when the foundations and universal scope of God's grace are fully established for all of creation, only then can the importance of God's specific work in Jesus the Christ be established."

This is science, are you kidding me? And just to make sure I wasn't being unfair I had a look at some other articles much to my chagrin and my theory of these guys being a bunch of religion-biased creationists was more or less confirmed as many of them praise the ideas of Arthur Peacocke. They are definitely religious anyway and biased with it. Articles entitled with things like 'Jesus and Creativity' don't really catch my interest.

And here's a gem from an article entitled 'Is a complete biocognitive account of religion feasible?' Pretty relevant to my interests, I'd think? Unfortunately not:

"Concluding this critical review, I am convinced, along with other scholars in the field, that the cause of the cognitive science of religion would be better served if detached from the biological approach. Very often the evolutionary ideas are highly speculative, lack empirical evidence, and become misleading."

Not only is this utter nonsense, but is it surprising that it was written by someone from a university in the Vatican City? I am filled with shock even while writing this, words can't express how I feel for these morons clogging up valuable PubMed space with their hokum gobbledygook dressed up as "science". Needless to say, I ain't likely to be referring to Zygon articles in any academic piece I write. Unless I wish to poke fun of course. Much has also been written about the Templeton Foundation and their apparent bias in annually awarding $1.6m to individuals who do something in "trying various ways for discoveries and breakthroughs to expand human perceptions of divinity and to help in the acceleration of divine creativity". Other religious sects are jumping on this bandwagon too, putting out junk science books such as those authored by Michael Cremo and Richard L. Thompson; have you read Cremo's 'Human Devolution'? Don't bother, you have better things to do.

So this is basically why I'd object to this type of "research", Member1, because every few years its people like these who also waste everyone's time with court cases against various State Boards of Education in the US that contest the theory of evolution and demand that "Creationism" be taught alongside it in schools. They are outcasts with their junk science.

November 11, 2008

War On Neuroscience? What War?

After the initial shock of reading the article about Creationism's declaration of war on neuroscience, I thought I had better give some of my own thoughts. It would be very easy (and also very lazy) to rant on as many have already done by condemning them as "stupid" and IDiots (ID = Intelligent Design, IDiots = advocates of ID) although I do feel that way sometimes. One of my favourite science writers, Steven Novella, has written an excellent two-part review of the article and also provides some of the background behind the controversy:

Reports of the Demise of Materialism Are Premature

Reports of the Demise of Materialism Are Premature - Part II

This whole affair annoys me deeply because, as a general researcher, I am bound to keep up with all the latest developments in the field so as to maintain my own standard of knowledge as well as being properly equipped to deal with issues that I come across. What to speak of any patients I may eventually treat! And now I am going to have to take a greater care with what I read. Of course due care and caution needs to be taken with what we anyway, such as whether experimental studies have been carried out by using a fairly rigorous methodology and whether the (statistical) data really do support the conclusions, but now every time I read a paper that presents somewhat startling or surprising results I'm going to have a niggly little voice in the back of my head asking, "Did an IDiot write this?"

I've already had some disturbing run-ins with IDiotic papers (blogged here) and I still shudder at the memory. Aside from all that, though, is the disturbing possibility of how old notions of neuroscience are proposed for ressurrection (for want of a better term!) in order to substantiate this new 'battle', implicated in the very term 'non-material neuroscience' that is being thrown around by them suggests that they are on a mission to decry 'material' neuroscience as if it is a bad thing. What any good neuroscientist would know through years of private practice and research is that a duality between the two doesn't exist: the mind is the brain and vice versa. This is experienced even in empirical ways where we see a patient suffering from brain injury very often undergoes variable personality changes. The effect of any changes of course depends on the severity of the injury, and cases like these have been known about and treated for nigh on two centuries already (as per the incredible case of Phineas Gage). In short, an injury (or deficiency) to an important part of the brain generally causes the patient to exhibit behaviour that is synonymous with the injury or deficit at hand. The important point about cases like these, and which is often missed, is that it is possible to suggest that fundamental things such as 'thoughts' and 'personality' which are usually thought of in abstract terms can be said to have a material origin.

This point is very unpalatable for those who tend to a spiritual or otherwise New-Agey outlook on life, and who would be given to beliefs or sentiments that favour a sense of being a controller of one's own destiny. One certainly can exhibit control over certain areas in ones life, but this isn't about which outlook, viewpoint or worldview is correct or superior. This is about simple facts. And these facts make it clear that a material viewpoint is the only real path one can take to understanding issues of neuronal importance. Any reasonable person who gives a moment's thought to the concept will be able to understand that all our experiences - sensory, emotional, somatic, metaphysical - are processed only through the brain. Thus, even at the outset, the idea of a "non-material neuroscience" as propounded by Schwartz, Beauregard, and those of their ilk, is defeated.

But for me, this is one of those areas where science and philosophy merge to such an extent that it becomes a big blur. What the ID movement is trying to do is ressurrect "Cartesian dualism" which, put simply, is Rene Descartes' idea that mind and body are separate. Applied to neuroscience, this translates as the mind being a separate and different 'entity' from the brain tissues that host it. He summed up this idea in the famous saying, "cogito ergo sum," "I think, therefore I am." According to Descartes, the mind and the body were composed of different types of substances just as oil and water. How could this be? We can see from our own experience that if we think about kicking someone up their bum and have our minds instruct our foot to do so, signals are sent to the leg that prepares and allows our foot to take aim and kick. Conversely, our bodies can also have an effect on our minds; a cut on the hand, for instance, may be painful enough to send distress signals to our brains and perhaps lead us into a state of panic. It seems that there is some ostensible connection between our bodies and minds.

Although Descartes insisted on their being separate entities and didn't adequately answer how these connections take place, Cartesian dualism, the theory that espouses these views, has come to explain these connections as a form of interactionism, that the (separate) body and mind interacted with each other in some way. In what ways they do that also hasn't been adequately explained. There are other types of dualism of course.

Perhaps the explanations above may go some way in explaining the shortcomings of the dualist theory, and why monism, the conception of the mind and the brain being one entity, is a much better model to use in trying to understand neuroscientific issues and problems. This kind of view is apparent in many modern descriptions of mind: 'Minds are simply what brains do' (Minsky, 1986); "'Mind is designer language for the functions that the brain carries out' (Claxton, 1994); Mind is 'the personalisation of the physical brain' (Greenfield, 2000). To quote Susan Blackmore:

"Such descriptions make it possible to talk about mental activities and mental abilities without supposing that there is a separate mind. This is probably how most psychologists and neuroscientists think of 'mind' today, but there is much less agreement when it comes to consciousness." - Consciousness: An Introduction, 2007 (p. 13).

And this is in fact one of the current problems in neuroscience: how consciousness works. The New Scientist article correctly identifies this as an area where the ID movement are very likely to strike. But before we discuss that, a short description of consciousness must suffice. To describe a neural function that is, to say the least, responsible for our being alive is very hard to do. Is it appropriate to describe consciousness as a 'live' phenomenon? What about those unfortunate individuals who exist in a vegetative state due to horrific injuries, aren't they technically "alive"? Or are they? Who can adequately describe consciousness, in all its fancies and frivolities, dreams and nightmares, naturals and supernaturals, illusions and vividity, in a way that would comprehensively define it? The answer is: there isn't one. Consciousness is simply too big and too difficult to describe and there is no general definition that could come close to fully explaining it.

However, there are ways in which we can come close to understanding it or how it works. The ability to categorise stimuli and react to them, to discriminate between things, the way different cognitive structures integrate to provide information, the reportability of mental states, the mechanics of focus and attention, the deliberate control of behaviour, the difference between sleep and wakefulness, all of these are generally separate issues that can be understood in themselves. They are what we call the 'easy' problems of consciousness, denoting that these issues are relatively easy to understand when sufficient research has been carried out and these processes unfold. When we have 'easy' problems, it automatically follows that we have a 'hard' problem and it is this very hard problem that lies unsolved in the mystery of consciousness. The hard problem can be properly described as how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience. Or put another way, how can the functioning of neurons (objective processes) give rise to the subjective experiences that make us who we are, our loves, our joys, our sadnesses, our life experiences, our memories, our emotions, everything about us that makes us unique?

This is an issue that neuroscience cannot yet fully explain, although research is always ongoing. Some neuroscientists are sceptical and say that the hard problem will never be solved. Others think, as per the article, that new physical principles need to be postulated in order to guide research and solve it. Still others suggest that sufficient research into the easy problems will cause the hard problem to disappear automatically. Time (and research) will tell.

There will be those who, throwing their hands up in frustration (or thunder from their pulpits à la Jeffrey Schwartz), decide it's all a waste of time and go to the opposite extreme in their extreme thirst for an explanation. As per Daniel Dennett (1991), 'accepting dualism is giving up.' And this is precisely what these people appear to have done in joining the ID movement. But before you start thinking about the influence of right-wing Christian fundamentalists, Steven Novella has shown how the current agents for non-material neuroscience have links to Buddhism, loose associations with Deepak Chopra, as well as the intellectual abuse of quantum mechanics. This makes things a little more difficult because there are some neuroscientists who are interested in Buddhist meditational methodologies (and who employ them in their own lives) as a tool to better understand the experiential quality of consciousness, and some papers are sometimes published that discuss the possibility of what those Buddhist principles may be able to contribute to research in the area. Novella also goes into an excellent discussion of what constitutes the correct understanding of materialism, or naturalism, that is required to understand scientific or neuroscientific issues, and how IDeology diverts and is generally incompatible with the basic precepts of science, such as how a hypothesis should be falsifiable in principle. One example of this is how ID'ers suggest that "unexplained" issues in science can be explained once one accepts the notion of an intelligent top-down designer ('Godiddit!'), but how could this assumption be falsifiable? How is it possible to even prove that an intelligent designer exists? Thus, how could ID ever be scientific in spite of their claims to be so?

All in all, it appears that the IDeologues have learnt nothing from their abject failures in attacking evolution. As outlined in their mission statement they seek nothing less than the destruction of materialism, so it is expected that they will simply up sticks and move somewhere else to kick up a fuss. If they follow similar strategies to when they attacked evolution, we can expect more of the same: attacking all the "weak points" and filling the gaps with God. The disturbing thing is that they do this academically and while wearing the same white lab coats that genuine scientists wear, so the public will be fooled into thinking that any controversy they stir up will be a genuine one and that "conflicting opinions" may have some substance to them. They will publish their "scientific" academic papers (mostly in their own journals) and leave them to confuse the innocent wide-eyed newbies. This is all very disappointing, and underlines all the negatives of being influenced by an ideology that conflicts with the facts. Who would ever attempt to square a circle? Yet this is what the IDiots are trying to do.

I do not think much of their declaration of war. What war? Based on previous history, IDiots hardly ever come up with any real evidence of their claims; they simply re-interpret older and 'classic' experiments to suit their ways of thinking. When the 'weaknesses' of neuroscience are an open secret, the ID'ers will have the tough job of explaining away the 'hard problem' as well as having to explain how Cartesian dualist principles are valid after all. I'm not envious, but I'm not expecting too much from them either. Simply saying 'Godiddit!' to everything isn't a scientifically valid answer nor does it provide satisfactory explanations. It also turns out that David Chalmers, the philosopher who coined the term 'hard problem', has shown significant unease at how it has been hijacked by the ID'ers and has made some interesting points on his blog.

What worries me are the reactions of the public. As mentioned before, they are likely to be fooled into thinking that non-material neuroscience is just as equal and valid a paradigm as 'material' neuroscience is. We are likely to hear more 'spiritual' explanations for how various neural functions work from individuals such as the odious Deepak Chopra, and quite possibly the repellent 'Godiddit!' chorus from the Bible-quoting (or Dhammapada-quoting) peanut gallery. And of course, the usual criticisms about evil crackpot scientists with their chemicals and their test tubes, and how damn myopic and narrow-minded they are to ignore the "spiritual realm" in their doomed endeavour to search for the meaning of everything. This isn't a fantasy - this is history - which has the peculiar quality of repeating itself. That the whole evolution debacle even made it to several legal courts and education boards brought the indignation of many a scientist and a judge, but the one good thing about this "war" on neuroscience is that it is unlikely to have a large effect on public education as the subject is generally only taught at university level. Still, the idea of graduates' heads being filled with 'alternative' theories (when there are already plenty of 'orthodox' theories to digest) is something that causes me to shudder.

At the end of the day, what matters is that - war or no war - this shift is important to acknowledge and represents a challenge for this scientific establishment to face it head-on. Plenty of people would disagree about there being anything to face, and they would be right, but the final paragraph of the article was very telling: "What can scientists do? They have been criticised for not doing enough to teach the public about evolution. Maybe now they need a big pre-emptive push to engage people with the science of the brain - and help the public appreciate that the brain is no place to invoke the 'God of the gaps'."

And this is the reason why this blog exists. It represents my very small and humble contribution to public education.

September 10, 2008

Hadron Switch-on

Now that the Large Hadron Collider has been switched on, we can expect a flurry of astounding news and reports that will contribute to the advancement of knowledge and science. For a start, it promises to recreate the conditions at the birth of the universe that will allow scientists a better view of how the universe came into being. Billed as "the largest experiment in the world" where protons will collide at 99.99% the speed of light, there isn't much remaining to say to people who continue to cling to beliefs about sky fairies and diablos as fundamental and important forces in the universes.

Except this:

August 31, 2008

Hot Chicks Make Men Nervous Yes, really, they do. It's a scientific fact.

As someone who has to read a lot of academic science papers, I occasionally come across studies that really should have been funded by the Ministry of the Bleeding Obvious. I mean, really, it makes you wonder what some researchers are thinking when they carry out these sorts of studies, and whether they actually get grants to do this stuff?

Here, let me explain. An item in the latest BPS Research Digest let me know of an "eye-catching study that didn't make the final cut" (I wonder why?). The premise of this paper is that men with more attractive wives or girlfriends engage more in "mate retention behaviours" which may include actively trying to stop them talking to other men, reading their diaries or emails, and buying gifts to keep them interested. Hey, isn't that how a typical relationship is supposed to be? ;-)

I didn't bother reading the entire paper because the abstract alone was enough for a good laugh. I also have a deadline to meet so there may be more later. You'll have to forgive me for my lack of sophistry in this post because I just can't stop laughing. Let's go through it:

"More attractive women are more likely to be pursued as mates by men other than their long-term partner and, therefore, to place their partner at greater risk of cuckoldry (investing unwittingly in a child to whom he is genetically unrelated)."

This seems a fair enough intro. If your partner happens to be seriously hot it stands to reason that they'd have other guys lusting after them, covertly if not obviously. Let's say that the deal is done, she cheats on you, gets pregnant and decides to have the baby. Unless you're a total loser really, really nice guy, I don't think you'd be easily conned persuaded into bringing up another man's child. Why would you? But listen..

"Men partnered to more attractive women perform more mate retention behaviors – behaviors designed to thwart a woman’s infidelity. With greater risk of female infidelity, men may perform additional anti-cuckoldry tactics such as frequent in-pair copulations (IPC)."

In other words, SEX. And lots of it!

This really is the answer, apparently. If you're frightened that your girl may run off with another man and leave you, there's nothing like a page (or several) from the Kamasutra to put the spice back into things. To offset the "greater risk" of her cheating on you, it is essential to give her what she needs until she's screaming for a coffee break. Whoa Nelly, who knew science papers could make such sexist and racy reading!

And, by the way, is there anything more ridiculous as abbreviating sex? IPC? Couldn't they think of something a tad more interesting that doesn't remind you of the International Pipeline Conference? But then again, I suppose we are discussing plumbing of sorts..

"We secured self-reports from 277 men in a long-term relationship and investigated: (1) the relationship between female partner’s attractiveness and IPC frequency and (2) the mediating role of female partner’s attractiveness on the relationship between IPC frequency and male mate retention behaviors."

I would have loved to have seen that. In plain English, they "investigated" how hot the wives or girlfriends of 277 men and how often they had sex. I can just about imagine a panel of "experts" objectively rating people on standard attractiveness scales (so reminiscent of that paragon of impartiality, but can you imagine asking people about the details of their sex lives? If you're familiar with the Beck Depression Inventory, you'll see how Item 21 rates "Loss Of Interest In Sex". When I administered this questionnaire in two of the studies I've been involved with, I can tell you that there was much twitching and nervous darting glances, polite coughs, and even an occasional giggle when it came to answering that particular question.

And all this when I minimised observer effects by leaving them to answer the questions by themselves. A seemingly innocent question that asks how much your interest in sex has decreased, if it has, can be a great opportunity for a reactive answer that may not be the whole truth. So imagine how awkward and embarrassing it must have been to ask people how often they had sex with their hot partners? Ah, the wonderful reliability of self-report measures....

And if that wasn't enough, the researchers then investigated to what extent the attractiveness of a woman had on the number of times they had sex and the occurrence of mate-retention behaviours! Really! I mean, wouldn't you wanna get down to it all the time if you had a hottie for a lover? This isn't really surprising stuff, but instead has a creepy feel of voyeurism about it which reminds me of a study I read as an undergrad about how the concept of "personal space" was investigated by researching men's urine flow in public toilets. But that's a story for another day...

Now here's the result of it all:

"The results indicated that female attractiveness: (1) predicts IPC frequency and (2) partially mediates the relationship between IPC frequency and male mate retention behaviors."

See what I mean? The Ministry of the Bleeding Obvious has surely had their hand in this! The results say that the 'hotness' of a female is a good determinant of how many times you'll have sex with her (no, really?!) and is also a factor in how far you'd go to keep her and fend off other mens' advances. I'm not going to delve into the complex nature of relationships nor am I suggesting that physical attractiveness is the only major factor in sexual relations. I mean, I understand the ongoing nature of psychological and sociological research and how the bottom-up approach provides a great and solid foundation for future researches, and it certainly helps to have papers to refer to over every little thing, but come on, I don't think that this paper really deserved all the fanfare it was given by the BPS Digest and how "eye-catching" it was. I am rarely moved to write something almost immediately after reading, but just the abstract alone was enough for me to raise my eyebrows and skip to the next item in my inbox.

But I think that, for those days when I'm in a lighter mood and full of the benevolent desire to spread mirth and joy everywhere, I can allow myself some light entertainment and blog on ridiculous papers like this one. Heck knows, I've seen enough of them as a researcher so it might be fun to poke fun at them as a blogger. I think this might be the beginning of a new series: From the Ministry of the Bleeding Obvious. Catchy eh? :-)

Oh, and one last thing:

"The discussion addresses the mediated relationship, notes limitations of the research, and highlights directions for future research."

This line alone actually made me laugh out loud as well as make me want to download the paper and give it a fuller read. Heck, I might do that when I have a bit more time on my hands. "Directions for future research" indeed, that phrase kills me. :-)

F KAIGHOBADI, T SHACKELFORD (2008). Female attractiveness mediates the relationship between in-pair copulation frequency and men’s mate retention behaviors Personality and Individual Differences, 45 (4), 293-295 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2008.04.013

August 28, 2008

Thoughts on Thatcher's Dementia Mo wrote a post over at Neurophilosophy regarding a report Baroness Thatcher's declining mental health. Here's the comment I made there while responding to a previous commenter's remark:

"Polomint38's comment is especially poignant in light of a new article on ScienceDaily today: Even Without Dementia, Mental Skills Decline Years Before Death.

"It isn't very surprising that senior citizens generally experience decline anyway, it is interesting how this new longitudinal study shows how some skills can decline upto 15 years before death.

"Without being cruel to Thatcher, one can only wonder how much of an effect her mental decline could have had on her political savvy, and indeed for all politicians of a certain age. And by contrast, this makes the new breed of "younger" politicians look more impressive. Think Tony Blair (elected PM at age 43) and David Miliband (age 43). It is easy to think that younger politicians may be criticised for insufficient or lack of political experience, but at least we can surmise that they are reasonably sharp enough (cognitively speaking) to handle the pressures and the issues."

Thorvaldsson, V., Hofer, S.M., Berg, S., Skoog, I., Sacuiu, S., Johansson, B. (2008). Onset of terminal decline in cognitive abilities in individuals without dementia. Neurology DOI: 10.1212/