Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Wow! The blog’s been silent a couple of weeks, and it only seemed like a few days. Same thing happened this summer, which apparently lasted only 4 weeks for me. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” the adage goes. Apparently it also moves rapidly when quite busy. But, that got me thinking on some random musings about time; so I took some time to get them down:

The Aborigines of Australia do not always have a linear concept of time. Mental health professionals note occasional difficulty with psychological assessments due to this pattern. Aboriginal people do not see events necessarily in past, present, or future sense, but rather in a “time-circle” on the basis of importance to themselves and their community. To put it in our perspective, September 11th 2001 would be closer to our “time-circle” than, say, Martha Stewart going to jail.

Those that focus on the present to the exclusion of a stressful past have lower scores on depression scales. A study done by Morton Beiser on Southwest Asia Refugees hypothesizes that a “Nostalgic” time orientation incorporates the actual stressful memory into the sense of time, and thus correlates with a greater depression symptoms. Dr. Herbert Rappaport at Temple U. notes that emotional maturity comes when one is able to project well into the past and the future in a balanced way had the strongest self acceptance.

Acute stressors, such as car accidents, tend to slow the perception of time; while longer stressors, such as being held hostage for days, tend to have a more compressed perception of time. I wonder if the brain attempts to keep the perception of time accurate during stressors or anticipated stressors. Perhaps this is why we whistle when we are nervous?

Altered time perceptions are described frequently in altered neurochemical states. Depression, Anxiety and Substance abuse are all identified with a potential for “remembered time” perception changes. Multiple studies have identified cannabinoid, serotonin, dopamine, and opiate receptor systems that are associated with altering time consciousness.

Attention Deficit Disorder and Parkinson’s disease are also linked to time perception changes. These latter two disease states appear to have a direct difficulty with “perceptual time” or “clock time,” the ability to estimate or compare duration of time. The most recent neuroimaging suggests that the basal ganglia and dopamine, acting upon the parietal lobes are the role players for this sense of time.

“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute -- and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity.”
-Albert Einstein

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Music Update

I'll be attempting to update the posted music on a (more-or-less) monthly basis. The basic theme is to present one known artist or piece juxtaposed with a lesser known artist, although I'm sure I'll stray frequently.

Other than Norah Jones, for whom I have "an infatuation of unnatural proportions" (so it says here on the restraining order), I have to place Paul McCartney at the top of my music list. My admiration for Sir Paul's music is huge, from the earliest Beatles recordings, to Wings, and his solo work. Memory Almost Full is some of his best work in years, and should be familiar to those who frequented any Starbucks last year, as it was co-promoted by the coffeehouse chain. Some view this as Paul's swan song, as it has a self-referencing elegy, but I wouldn't bet on this intentionally being his last work. (I think London Undersound is his next project) "House of Wax" is my personal favorite off the album, and, while not getting really any radio play, seems to tap into his deeper album-rock sound, that often was overshadowed by the likes of "Say, Say, Say."

I have a passion for downtempo world music, often found under the genre of "chillout/lounge" The Buddha Bar series of mixes probably best demonstrates this type of music. I am particularly partial to some of the smooth female vocalists' works in this area. Sheila Chandra is of South Indian descent, and is from the UK. She started with the group Monsoon at age 16, and has been known for her melodic and classic vocal style, often woven over ragas and other world sounds. Although her voice has only become richer with time, and her exploration into greater sounds increased exponentially, it is the young Sheila heard here in her first (and probably best known) hit "Ever So Lonely." While the video is very early 80's (1982, to be exact), the sound was groundbreaking at the time, and has set the stage for the likes of Nitin Sawhney (who is working with Sir Paul!), Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Colonial Cousins, and many other Asian-influenced artists.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mickey OCD's

FOND DU LAC, Wis. - A 54-year-old man says his obsessive-compulsive disorder drove him to eat 23,000 Big Macs in 36 years. Fifty-four-year-old Don Gorske says he hit the milestone last month, continuing a pleasurable obsession that began May 17, 1972 when he got his first car.

Gorske has kept every burger receipt in a box. He says he was always fascinated with numbers, and watching McDonald's track its number of customers motivated him to track his own consumption.

The only day he skipped a Big Mac was the day his mother died, to respect her request.

The correctional-institution employee says he doesn't care when people call his Big Mac obsession crazy. He says he's in love with the burgers, which are the highlights of his days.


Some thoughts:

1. Do the math. He's averaging almost two per day.
2. Apparently he has written a 205 page book about this. Because of his OCD, he types only using one finger, and double spaces between each word.
3. He's physically fit. (6 foot, 180). Still, I'd love to see an echocardiogram on this guy.
4. Yes, he's in "Super Size Me."

Shrink Think:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety spectrum disorder characterized by repetitive, and often anxiety provoking thoughts (Obsessions) and repetitive or ritualistic behaviors (Compulsions). The symptoms should be severe enough to cause a disturbance to "normal" functioning, or to cause significant distress to the individual. I have many patients who have described the difficulty with stopping the compulsive behavior as like trying to stifle a sneeze. (Curiously, I have heard the same comment about tics in Tourette's Syndrome). If a compulsive behavior is missed, sometimes the individual will have to perform a secondary behavior to "make up for" the missed compulsion. This is called "undoing." An example is a person who has to count the stairs, and goes back two steps, if he misses one. Classic OCD patterns include counting routines, germ phobias rituals, and checking (locks, doors, etc.)

Some of the more curious OCD patterns I have seen include:

Grooming: washing each body part 33 times. This made for a long morning routine.

Galeophobia: fear of sharks with OCD. This individual would ruminate about sharks, and have specific undoings when hearing the word "shark" or other trigger words, such as "ocean." Taking a bath was out of the question for many years.

Demonic Possession: A young individual would think the name of the devil repetitively, and that the devil would be in inanimate objects of a certain shape or color, if he did not use his undoing. The pattern of requiring specific numbers, lack of extreme severity, (relatively speaking in Psychiatric terms!), overall awareness of this patterns, and positive treatment response to conventional therapy helped differentiate this diagnosis from schizophrenia or schizotypal personality disorder.

Common treatments include medications, such as SSRI's (Prozac type medications), usually at fairly higher dosages, and behavioral therapy. One example of behavioral therapy is systematic desensitization, for example as with germ phobia rituals, desensitizing the individual with dirt on their hands, and increasing the amount of time that he can tolerate it. Many persons with OCD do not seek out treatment, and try, often successfully, to just work around it.

As with many anxiety symptoms, there is a continuum, upon which most of us exist. Simple phobias, preference towards certain patterns, etc. are often all part of the wonderful variety in life: While I am not one who is usually attuned to organization, I have all of my CD's organized alphabetically, with each CD in the case positioned that one can read the title of the CD when it is opened.

Thoughts? Or, care to share your Obsessions and/or Compulsions?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Smelly Science?

A new study from Craig Roberts in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences notes that birth control pills could cause a woman to choose the wrong mate.

From an article byJeanna Bryner at LifeScience:

Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes are involved in immune response and other functions, and the best mates are those that have different MHC smells than you. The new study reveals, however, that when women are on the pill they prefer guys with matching MHC odors.

MHC genes churn out substances that tell the body whether a cell is a native or an invader. When individuals with different MHC genes mate, their offspring's immune systems can recognize a broader range of foreign cells, making them more fit.

Past studies have suggested couples with dissimilar MHC genes are more satisfied and more likely to be faithful to a mate. And the opposite is also true with matchng-MHC couples showing less satisfaction and more wandering eyes.

"Not only could MHC-similarity in couples lead to fertility problems," said lead researcher Stewart Craig Roberts, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Newcastle in England, "but it could ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pill, as odor perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners."

Sexy scents

The study involved about 100 women, aged 18 to 35, who chose which of six male body-odor samples they preferred. They were tested at the start of the study when none of the participants were taking contraceptive pills and three months later after 40 of the women had started taking the pill more than two months prior.

For the non-pill users, results didn't show a significant preference for similar or dissimilar MHC odors. When women started taking birth control, their odor preferences changed. These women were much more likely than non-pill users to prefer MHC-similar odors.

"The results showed that the preferences of women who began using the contraceptive pill shifted towards men with genetically similar odors," Roberts said.


The abstract and link to the journal article is here.

A few thoughts:

1. This explains my wife’s disinterest after having kids!

2. There was no placebo group used in this study, always a red flag in my books, especially when one could have easily been done.

3. There is no data to suggest that scent plays a primary role in choosing a mate in this testing group. Only MHC compatible or incompatible scents were tested, which is a far cry from the actual dating choices. That is, there are way too many other factors involved.

4. On the other hand, a new genetic/MHC compatibility internet dating service could be just around the corner for some enterprising person who reads this blog. eSmell.com anyone? Or perhaps a new cologne “infertile, for Men. By Calvin Klein”

5. If my understanding of genetics is correct, MHC is more compatible with first degree relatives. Don’t give your sister the pill.

6. Craig Roberts is the same researcher who determined that women prefer more "rugged" men during the fertile phases of their menstrual cycle (Abstract here). Then again, I'm not sure how much we can trust research from someone who can't spell "odor" correctly.