External brain stimulation goes deep, Nature News
Neuroscience hasn’t been weaponized – it’s been a tool of war from the start, The Conversation
A Dose of a Hallucinogen From a ‘Magic Mushroom,’ and Then Lasting Peace, NY Times
If Animals Have Rights, Should Robots? The New Yorker
This scientific quest to find “missing” memories is changing the way we think about the brain, Vox
Zap! Magnet Study Offers Fresh Insights Into How Memory Works, NPR Shots Blog
Do These Genes Make Me Lonely? Inside Higher Ed
AI Songsmith Cranks Out Surprisingly Catchy Tunes, MIT Technology Review
Experimental treatments aim to prevent brain damage in babies, Nature News
"American Horror Story" in Real Life: Understanding Racialized Views of Mental Illness and Stigma, The Neuroethics Blog
AI learns to predict the future by watching 2 million videos, New Scientist
Failed Alzheimer’s trial does not kill leading theory of disease, Nature News
We may be able to tap into our memories from infancy, New Scientist
Super-Recognizers Lurk among Us, Scientific American
Head Transplant Patient Will Use Virtual Reality to Smooth Transition to New Body, Smithsonian Magazine
Brain stimulation guides people through an invisible maze, New Scientist
Fully Implanted Brain–Computer Interface in a Locked-In Patient with ALS, New England Journal of Medicine
Increased Sleep Depth in Developing Neural Networks: New Insights from Sleep Restriction in Children, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Reward, salience, and attentional networks are activated by religious experience in devout Mormons, Social Neuroscience
Impressions Based on a Portrait Predict, 1-Month Later, Impressions Following a Live Interaction, Social Psychology & Personality Science
Predicting “When” in Discourse Engages the Human Dorsal Auditory Stream: An fMRI Study Using Naturalistic Stories, The Journal of Neuroscience
The slippery slope of dishonesty, Nature Neuroscience
When someone offers to turn a gay person straight, what they offer is called "conversion therapy." One example of conversion therapy is "Pray the gay away." These four words express both a normative claim about what some people should do (stop being gay) and a practical suggestion about how they should go about doing it (by praying).
To date, conversion therapies have been largely unsuccessful--to put it mildly. Rather than changing individuals’ sexual orientations, they have often led to serious psychological health problems and sometimes suicide. Individuals that have undergone conversion therapy have reported “negative social and emotional consequences including self-reports of anger, anxiety, confusion, depression, grief, guilt, hopelessness, deteriorated relationships with family, loss of social support, loss of faith, poor self-image, social isolation, intimacy difficulties, intrusive imagery, suicidal ideation, self-hatred, and sexual dsyfunction” (see APA Task Force Report on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation for more details).
Because of the health consequences for LGBTQ youth, as well as the plethora of moral and political issues conversion therapies raise, many Americans, including myself, are concerned about Vice President-Elect Mike Pence’s support for diverting tax dollars to fund research into conversion therapies. In addition to directly harming LGBTQ individuals’ health--through medication side effects etc.--government support for conversion therapy would also send the message that individuals should not be gay, which could lead to an increase in hate crimes, the use of dangerous conversion therapies, and higher suicide rates among sexual minority populations.
Despite these serious considerations, I do not think that Mike Pence’s support of conversion therapy is entirely misguided. Though current conversion therapies have harmful consequences, future ones may not, and the development of a safe and effective conversion therapy could improve the quality of life of many individuals that suffer on account of their same-sex erotic desires (combined with their religious beliefs, social circumstances, etc.). For individuals that (e.g.) genuinely believe that they are going to burn in hell for eternity if they act on their same-sex desires, conversion therapy could relieve a lot of psychological stress.
So how do we reconcile these conflicting interests?
I think a far safer alternative to federal government support is continuing to allow organizations like Focus on the Family to fund research into conversion therapies, provided none of the therapies are put into practice unless they have been proven to be safe and effective (much like any other medication or treatment), and they are not made available to minors. This alternative keeps the federal government from taking a potentially dangerous stance, and it allows research that could be beneficial.
Recently published on SSRN:
This comprehensive report, published as part of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University, more than two years in the making and 493 pages long, is an unprecedented step towards improving player health, concluding with several important recommendations. To date, there has been no analysis of the universe of stakeholders that may influence the health of NFL players, nor any systematic analysis of their existing or appropriate legal and/or ethical obligations. While clinical health care interventions are essential, player health also depends on understanding the wider context in which players work.
The report examines 20 diverse stakeholders: NFL players, the NFL, the NFLPA, NFL club medical staff, second opinion, neutral and personal doctors, NFL clubs and personnel, NFL coaches, contract advisors, financial advisors, equipment managers and manufacturers, players’ family members, officials, the media, NFL business partners, and fans.
In total, the report makes 76 recommendations.
Highlights of the key proposals are summarized below:
• Conflicts of interest: The current arrangement under which a team’s medical staff, including doctors and athletic trainers, have responsibility both to the players and to the club presents an inherent structural conflict of interest. A division of responsibilities between two distinct groups of medical professionals is needed to minimize such conflict and ensure that players receive medical care that is as unbiased and uninfluenced by competing interests as possible. Care and treatment should be provided by one set of medical professionals, called the “Players’ Medical Staff,” appointed by a joint committee with representation from both the NFL and NFLPA. The evaluation of players for business purposes should be conducted by a separate set of medical personnel, known as the “Club Evaluation Doctors.”
• Player health and adversarial collective bargaining: The NFL and NFLPA should refrain from making improvements to player health policies a “bargaining chip” in labor negotiations, to the extent that this is not already the case. Players should never be asked to trade their healthcare for other benefits in the collective bargaining process.
• Ethical guidelines: Various stakeholders — including club doctors, athletic trainers, coaches, contract advisors, and financial advisors — should adopt, improve and enforce Codes of Ethics specific to the environment of the NFL.
• Ongoing research into the health effects of the game: The NFL and NFLPA should continue to initiate and support efforts to scientifically and reliably identify the health risks and benefits of playing professional football.
• Access to data: The NFL and, to the extent possible the NFLPA, should make aggregate, de-identified injury data publicly available for independent reanalysis. They should also continue to improve their robust collection of data and offer it to qualified professionals for analysis.
• Meaningful penalties: The collective bargaining agreement (CBA)should be amended to impose meaningful fines for any club or person found to have violated Sections 1 through 6 of Article 39 of the 2011 CBA (players’ rights to medical care and treatment).
• Investing in players’ health and care: The NFLPA should consider investing greater resources to investigate and enforce player health issues and enforce player rights, including Article 39 of the CBA.
Published alongside the report are a list of the Top 10 Recommendations in the report (also included in the Executive Summary at the beginning of the report), and A Patient Bill of Rights for NFL Players — including current and proposed rights under the CBA, NFL policy, law and/or codes of ethics (which can be found on the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University website).
The Competing Identities of Neuroethics, Bill of Health, Harvard Law
Scientists use AI to 'rewrite' painful memories in people's brains, WIRED
External brain stimulation goes deep, Nature News
Debating the Replication Crisis - Why Neuroethics Needs to Pay Attention, The Neuroethics Blog
Laser used to control mouse's brain — and speed up milkshake consumption, Nature News
What Neural Networks, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning Actually Do, Lifehacker
Eli Lilly’s Experimental Alzheimer’s Drug Failed in Large Trial, NY Times
Unconscious brain training beats phobias without the stress, New Scientist
Your Dog Remembers Every Move You Make, NPR Shots Blog
AI Machine Attempts to Understand Comic Books ... and Fails, MIT Technology Review
Dutch police use augmented reality to investigate crime scenes, New Scientist
The fight of your life, Mosaic
Fear reduction without fear through reinforcement of neural activity that bypasses conscious exposure, Nature Human Behaviour
A rapidly acting glutamatergic ARC→PVH satiety circuit postsynaptically regulated by α-MSH, Nature Neuroscience
Brain Computation Is Organized via Power-of-Two-Based Permutation Logic, Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience
Control of Dynamic Limb Motion Using Fatigue-Resistant Asynchronous Intrafascicular Multi-Electrode Stimulation, Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience
Last week I wrote about the DSM-5’s criteria for diagnosing individuals with psychopathy (or ASPD). The key point was that the DSM-5 defined psychopathy in terms of behaviors. Individuals who had (e.g.) repeatedly broken the law and pathologically lied could be diagnosed as psychopaths, without the need for a personality inventory or fMRI scan.
One interesting consequence of defining psychopathy in terms of behavior is that it is at least theoretically possible for non-human animals (or perhaps extraterrestrial beings) to exhibit the requisite behaviors sufficient for a diagnosis. So one might ask, “if a non-human exhibited similar behaviors, would they likewise be a psychopath?”
Robert Latzman et al. recently put forward a triarchic model of psychopathy for chimpanzees that could be used to make such a diagnosis (though, to be clear, making a clinical diagnosis of chimpanzees was not the goal of their research).
Their triarchic model frames psychopathy in terms of three dimensions: disinhibition, meanness, and boldness. A high level of expression of each of these dimensions suggests that a chimpanzee is a psychopath (or “well suited for investigations of basic biobehavioral dispositions relevant to psychopathology”).
Disinhibition refers to impulse control problems, including “lack of foresight, impaired regulation of affect and urges, insistence on immediate gratification, and deficient behavioral constraint.”
Meanness encompasses “deficient empathy, disdain for and lack of close attachments with others, rebelliousness, excitement seeking, exploitativeness, and empowerment through cruelty.”
Finally, boldness “encompasses low levels of fear/avoidance, manifest as high self-assurance and social efficacy, capacities to remain calm in situations involving threat and to recover quickly from stressful events, and a tolerance for unfamiliarity and danger.”
Latzman et al. measured the degree of expression of disinhibition, meanness, and boldness in chimpanzees by observing their behaviors and scoring the chimpanzees on different items. Disinhibition, for example, was measured by noting if chimpanzees were impulsive (“displays some spontaneous or sudden behavior that could not have been anticipated”), irritable (“easily provoked”), excitable (“easily aroused to an emotional state”) socially inept (“acts inappropriately in social settings”), attention seeking (“troubled by others who are in a desirable or advantageous situation…”), and inventive (“more likely to engage in novel behaviors”).
The researchers found that meanness and disinhibition were moderately positively correlated, as were boldness and meanness. Boldness and disinhibition, however, were insignificantly correlated.
One of the big takeaways from this research is that the triarchic model of psychopathy for chimpanzees may allow researchers to study psychopathy with non-human subjects. Chimpanzees are well suited for such investigations into psychopathy because they are so similar to humans. In addition to sharing an extremely high percentage of genes, chimpanzees also display complex socio-emotional and communicative traits. To give just a few examples, chimpanzees engage in reconciliation behavior, form coalitions with other chimpanzees, console other chimpanzees, and share food with non-kin.
Ideally, further research into psychopathic chimpanzees will give us a better understanding of psychopathy in humans and perhaps lead to a safe and effective form of treatment.
With Sotomayor’s Elmore Dissent, Another Inroad for Neuroscience into Law, Stanford University Law and Sciences Blog
Stressed by Election Results? Try Neuroscience, The Conversation
Oh, For the Joy of a Tickled Rat, NY Times
How IBM Watson May Help Solve Cancer Drug Resistance, Time Magazine
The Future of Artificial Intelligence and Cybernetics, MIT Technology Blog
You Are Your Brain, So Don’t Blame Your Brain, Discover Magazine
A Better Way to Crack the Brain, Nature Magazine
Neuroscientists Call for Deep Collaboration to 'Crack' the Human Brain, Science Daily
Deep Neural Network Learns to Judge Books by Their Covers, MIT Technology Review
After the Earthquake: Why the Brain Gives Phantom Quakes, The Guardian
Big Brain Projects Urged to Aid Public Health, Nature Magazine
The Brain Basis of Hating Cheese?, Discover Magazine
On the Ethics of Machine Learning Applications in Clinical Neuroscience, The Neuroethics Blog
A Brain–Spine Interface Alleviating Gait Deficits After Spinal Cord Injury in Primates, Nature Magazine
Transplanted Embryonic Neurons Integrate into Adult Neocortical Circuits, Nature Magazine
IL-33/ST2 Signaling Excites Sensory Neurons and Mediates Itch Response in a Mouse Model of Poison Ivy Contact Allergy, PNAS
Toward Whole-Body Connectomics, Journal of Neuroscience
Imagine Robert is on trial for committing a series of gruesome murders. He tortured several people to death, and he shows no remorse for his actions. Neuroscientists scan his brain to determine the cause of Robert’s emotional deficits—e.g. his lack of empathy—and determine that the following regions of his brain are atypical: temporal poles, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), parahippocampal regions, amygdala, and hippocampus. On the basis of their findings, Robert is diagnosed with psychopathy.
What should we make of these brain scans?
The defense may argue that they show that Robert is mad and therefore less legally responsible for his violent actions. The argument might go something like this: Robert has deficits in some of the mental capacities necessary for following the law. One is not fully culpable for what one cannot do. Robert is not fully culpable for his violent crimes.
Another interpretation is that the brain scans show that Robert is a bad person. Robert has no capacity for empathy, not because he is mad, but because he is bad. Being bad is not a legitimate excuse for committing a crime. Thus, Robert’s brain scans do not make him less culpable.
I find both of these interpretations plausible. Perhaps when Robert was younger, his brain was fully typical. However, as he continued acting violently, he gradually lost the capacity for empathy. In this case, we might think that Robert is bad. On the other hand, perhaps Robert had these abnormalities from a young age, and they help explain his long standing pattern of violent behavior. In this case, we might think that he is mad.
Pretend that the bad interpretation is correct. Robert’s capacity for empathy has gradually diminished over time because of his bad choices. If this is the case, is he fully culpable for his violent crimes?
One possibility is that Robert is not fully culpable because when he committed the crimes, he did not have the mental capacities necessary for following the law (albeit as a result of his bad choices). Another possibility is that he is fully culpable in virtue of the decisions that led to his lack of empathy and subsequent crimes. In other words, Robert may be responsible for the person he is (a bad person) even if he currently lacks the important mental capacities cited by the defense.
I don’t have a satisfying answer to the mad or bad question, nor to the culpability question. But readers who are interested may find some closure in works by Nicole Vincent, Heidi Maibom, and Marga Reimer.
In a recent interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” David Plouffe told host Chuck Todd “we have a psychopath running for president. I mean, he meets the clinical definition, OK?" Todd responded by asking if it's fair to diagnose people on television, stating: "I assume you don't have a degree in psychology."
I am likewise not a psychiatrist, and I won’t take any stance on whether or not Trump is a psychopath, largely because I feel it is inappropriate to do so on a blog--at least as a general rule. Instead, I’ll lay out a way one can diagnose psychopathy and explain what a lay person would need to know about Trump to make a proper diagnosis.
As I mentioned in my last post, it is far from clear what a psychopath is, so different psychopathy tests can yield different results. I’ll restrain myself to one: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
The DSM-5 is perhaps Plouffe’s best bet for diagnosing Trump without a degree in psychology. This is because the DSM-5 focuses on behaviors, which do not leave as much room for subjectivity or require as much expertise as a personality test. Behaviors are observable, and with so much information on Trump online, it should be possible to determine which patterns of behavior he does and does not have.
The primary criterion for diagnosing someone with psychopathy (technically, in the DSM-5, antisocial personality disorder) is finding “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.” This pattern can be demonstrated by evidence that at least three of the following have regularly occurred since the age of fifteen (with onset before age fifteen):
So is Trump a psychopath? I don’t have enough information to say, but I would be curious if readers have evidence that more of these criteria have been met. The hardest part about diagnosing Trump would likely be finding evidence of the onset of conduct disorder before age fifteen. But perhaps more information on his adolescence is available than I realize.
I would be surprised if Trump met criterion 4 or 5 (five being most often associated with speeding, drunk driving, not caring for children, unsafe sex, etc.). But again, one only needs three of the seven.