Category Archives: Academia

Study links perception of pain to expectations

Following up on our Quote of the day, some fascinating research on the placebo effect and the perception of pain from the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg:

Expectations have a lot of power over people as is evidenced by the placebo effect: Patients get pills that have no active ingredient. But the patients are not aware of that. Firmly believing that they are taking an effective drug, they actually get better afterwards. Only their expectations were at play here.

“The placebo effect often works quite well when treating pain and depression,” says Dr. Katharina Schwarz from the Institute of Psychology at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany. The mere expectation of getting a drug can alleviate symptoms and make you feel better: “And those are not just the patient’s subjective sensations, it can actually be measured physiologically.”

Expectations alter pain perception

Katharina Schwarz generally studies how expectations influence perception and behaviour. Pain was also a central theme of her doctoral thesis which she completed at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in 2015. One conclusion she draws: If men are told that they are more or less sensitive to pain than women, they will perceive pain differently afterwards.

The experimental set-up: Participants in the experiment were administered different heat stimuli trough a band on their forearm. They were asked to rate the pain they felt on a scale from “no pain” to “unbearable”.

On the next day of the experiment, a leaflet casually informed the men that they were more or less sensitive to pain than women. The information was backed by evolutionary psychological reasons, respectively. One study group was told that men can endure pain particularly well given their ancient role as hunters, for example. The other group read that women had a higher pain threshold because they have to endure the pain of giving birth.

Afterwards, the experiment was repeated. Now, the participants who thought that men were less sensitive rated the pain as being much less intense than on the previous day. Those, however, who had learnt that women have a higher pain tolerance now considered themselves more sensitive to pain than before.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Study shows acetaminophen reduces empathy

One of the most common over-the-counter painkillers appears too not only reduce your pain but also dulls your empathy for others, or at least that’s what a new study suggests.

The question now is: Do other painkillers do the same?

From Ohio State University:

When you take acetaminophen to reduce your pain, you may also be decreasing your empathy for both the physical and social aches that other people experience, a new study suggests.

Researchers at The Ohio State University found, for example, that when participants who took acetaminophen learned about the misfortunes of others, they thought these individuals experienced less pain and suffering, when compared to those who took no painkiller.

“These findings suggest other people’s pain doesn’t seem as big of a deal to you when you’ve taken acetaminophen,” said Dominik Mischkowski, co-author of the study and a former Ph.D. student at Ohio State, now at the National Institutes of Health. “Acetaminophen can reduce empathy as well as serve as a painkiller.”

Mischkowski conducted the study with Baldwin Way, who is an assistant professor of psychology and member of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research; and Jennifer Crocker, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Social Psychology and professor of psychology at Ohio State. Their results were published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience [$40 for one-day access — esnl].

Acetaminophen – the main ingredient in the painkiller Tylenol – is the most common drug ingredient in the United States, found in more than 600 medicines, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group.

Each week about 23 percent of American adults (about 52 million people) use a medicine containing acetaminophen, the CHPA reports.

In an earlier study, Way and other colleagues found that acetaminophen also blunts positive emotions like joy.

Taken together, the two studies suggest there’s a lot we need to learn about one of the most popular over-the-counter drugs in the United States.

“We don’t know why acetaminophen is having these effects, but it is concerning,” said Way, the senior author of the study.

“Empathy is important. If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse’s feelings.”

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

A must-watch: Requiem for the American Dream

The definitive Noam Chomsky video, featuring an extended interview conducted over four years in which he outlines his view of the state of American democracy.

And do set it to high resolution and full screen.

Requiem for the American Dream

The synopsis from IMDB:

REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM is the definitive discourse with Noam Chomsky, widely regarded as the most important intellectual alive, on the defining characteristic of our time – the deliberate concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a select few. Through interviews filmed over four years, Chomsky unpacks the principles that have brought us to the crossroads of historically unprecedented inequality – tracing a half century of policies designed to favor the most wealthy at the expense of the majority – while also looking back on his own life of activism and political participation. Profoundly personal and thought provoking, Chomsky provides penetrating insight into what may well be the lasting legacy of our time – the death of the middle class, and swan song of functioning democracy. A potent reminder that power ultimately rests in the hands of the governed, REQUIEM is required viewing for all who maintain hope in a shared stake in the future.
– Written by Jared P. Scott

Using interviews filmed over four years, Noam Chomsky discusses the deliberate concentration of wealth and power found in the hands of a select few.

Release date: January 29, 2016 (USA)

Directors: Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott, Peter D. Hutchison
Music composed by: Malcolm Francis
Screenplay: Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott, Peter D. Hutchison
Producers: Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott, Peter D. Hutchison
Cinematography: Rob Featherstone, Michael McSweeney

Threatened whites spur Donald Trump’s rise

If Donald Trump’s campaign staff are looking for a hook to hang their hopes on, it’s White Power — or rather the perceived loss of privileged status by a segment of the white population that feels threatened as their numbers threaten to dwindle to less than half the population.

An elegant demonstration conducted by Stanford University sociologist Robb Willer, Matthew Feinberg, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at the University of Toronto, and Rachel Wetts, a graduate student in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, proves the point.

Simply darken a photo of Barack Obama and and show it to white folks and they become more likely to say they support the Tea Party, the nucleus of Trump’s supporters.

From the research paper:

Participants were shown pictures of Jay Leno, William Shatner, and an official picture of President Barack Obama. To make more or less salient his African-American heritage, participants were randomly assigned to see a version of the picture in which Obama’s skin was either artificially lightened or darkened. Participants were next given a short survey of political attitudes including a “yes/no” item asking participants “Do you consider yourself a supporter of the Tea Party?

White participants shown the darkened photo were more likely to say they supported the Tea Party (22 percent) relative to a group shown a lightened photo of Obama (12 percent), according to the research.

The result:

White participants in the Dark Obama Prime condition were significantly more likely to report that they supported the Tea Party (22%) than white participants assigned to the Light Obama Prime condition (12%).

The darkening of a black person’s skin as been done before, most notoriously when Fox News darkened a photograph of Trayvon Martin, playing to an audience base that was only 1.38 percent African American, as NewsCorpse noted at the time:

BLOG Fox tweakers

The Fox fakery came at a time when the network was relentlessly pushing the Tea Party and its inherently racist agenda.

And now back to the latest study, with a report from Stanford University:

Threats to racial status among white Americans have driven support for the Tea Party political movement and may also help explain the rise of Donald Trump, a Stanford sociologist said.

Since the Tea Party’s rise in 2009, academic experts have offered different explanations for its growth. The latest evidence from Stanford researchers shows that a perception of a “decline of whiteness” among some white Americans may be a key reason.

For example, white people who were shown an artificially darkened picture of President Barack Obama were more likely to report they supported the Tea Party than if they were shown an artificially lightened version.

Robb Willer, a Stanford professor of sociology, writes in a new research paper [open access — esnl] that the election of Obama as the first non-white president converged with other economic and demographic trends around 2008 to spark the rise of the Tea Party. In short, these factors were perceived as threatening the relative “racial standing” of whites in the United States.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . .

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Quote of the day: Corporatizing the university

From Avery J. Wiscomb’s “The Entrepreneurship Racket” in the latest Jacobin, a fascinating dissection of the American university’s turn towards the entrepreneurial doctrine and the exploitation of research and students for the private rather than the common good:

Today, the culture of entrepreneurialism in higher education claims both students and faculty’s creative energy and ideas at their source, and when challenged insists this is what students and faculty really want, or what they really need.

This is a perversion of the values of education, especially when students are paying for the privilege of having their labor appropriated while at university, and many are going deep into debt to do it. Entrepreneurship in higher education masks increasingly exploitative and super-exploitative types of institutional practices.

As Jeffrey J. Williams asked in the Winter 2016 issue of Dissent: What is innovation for? And for whose interests? Similarly, we should ask what good is the entrepreneurial spirit in higher education, if it brings us exploitation? Innovation has become a buzzword that points to a corporate ethos and co-opts the positive rhetoric of change for its own ends; while entrepreneurialism indicates a deeper and more intractable installation of business values, remaking our universities through its physical places as well as policies.

More and more universities are turning to the creative labor of students and faculty as a source of funding, transforming higher education into a research service for the tech industry. We need to foster a different spirit of innovation in the university — one that serves the shared social welfare of students and faculty and recaptures the ideals of education.

Study points to pesticide, fire retardant ALS links

To folks of the Baby Boomer generation amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, was forever known as Lou Gehrig‘s disease, after the brilliant New York Yankee first baseman whose career was ended by a disease that progressive robbed him of control of his muscles.

Had it been nicknamed today, we’d probably be talking about Stephen Hawking‘s disease, after the brilliant physicist whose voice is known to most only as a synthesize reproduction produced by the last check muscle left to his control.

It’s one of the most horrific diseases imaginable.

And now research is pointing to links to controversial manmade chemicals found in our environment.

From the University of Michigan Health System:

New research shows environmental pollutants could affect the chances a person will develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

There is no cure for this rapidly progressive motor neuron disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Those afflicted eventually lose their strength and ability to move their arms, legs and body.

As part of a larger study on environmental risk factors for ALS, University of Michigan researchers published their work on pesticide and other environmental exposures in JAMA Neurology [open access].

“From the first ALS patient I saw over 25 years ago to the ALS patient I diagnosed this week, I am always asked the same question, ‘Why me? What is different about my life that I got this disease?’” says co-senior author Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute and longtime ALS clinician and researcher. “I want to answer that question for my patients.”

Feldman’s team studied 156 people with ALS and 128 people without it. All described their exposure to pollutants at work and at home, with a focus on occupational exposure. The researchers also measured toxic persistent environmental pollutants in blood to gain a more comprehensive assessment of environmental exposures.

“We found these toxic chemicals in individuals both with and without ALS,” says co-first author Stephen Goutman, M.D., director of the U-M Comprehensive ALS Clinic. “We are likely all exposed without our own knowledge, from the air, water and our diet, as these chemicals can last decades in the environment. However, persons with ALS, overall, had higher concentrations of these chemicals, especially in regards to pesticides.”

There was no strong correlation, however, between any particular occupation and likelihood of developing ALS, except for service in the armed forces, a link found in previous studies.

Blood tests showed increased odds of ALS for those with exposure to several different types of chemicals, many of which are no longer widely used because of environmental concerns, such as the pesticide DDT. Some of the classes of chemicals studied, however, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, used as flame retardants, have only recently undergone scrutiny as potential health hazards.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

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Schizophrenia, biploar disorder yeast infection link

For the second time, scientists have linked an infection by a living organism with symptoms of schizophrenia.

Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection typically acquired from contact with housecats, has been linked to schizophrenic symptoms and elevated risk of suicide, and now a second common infectious organism, Candida albicans, has been linked to both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as well as impaired memory.

From Johns Hopkins University:

In a study prompted in part by suggestions from people with mental illness, Johns Hopkins researchers found that a history of Candida yeast infections was more common in a group of men with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder than in those without these disorders, and that women with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who tested positive for Candida performed worse on a standard memory test than women with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who had no evidence of past infection.

The researchers caution that their findings, described online on May 4 in npj Schizophrenia [article is open access — esnl] — a new publication from Nature Publishing Group — do not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between mental illness and yeast infections but may support a more detailed examination into the role of lifestyle, immune system weaknesses and gut-brain connections as contributing factors to the risk of psychiatric disorders and memory impairment.

“It’s far too early to single out Candida infection as a cause of mental illness or vice versa,” says Emily Severance, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and member of the Stanley Division of Developmental Neurovirology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “However, most Candida infections can be treated in their early stages, and clinicians should make it a point to look out for these infections in their patients with mental illness.” She adds that Candida infections can also be prevented by decreased sugar intake and other dietary modifications, avoidance of unnecessary antibiotics, and improvement of hygiene.

Candida albicans is a yeastlike fungus naturally found in small amounts in human digestive tracts, but its overgrowth in warm, moist environments causes burning, itching symptoms, thrush (rashes in the throat or mouth) in infants and those with weakened immune systems, and sexually transmittable genital yeast infections in men and women. In its more serious forms, it can enter the bloodstream. In most people, the body’s own healthy bacteria and functioning immune system prevent its overgrowth.

Severance says she and her team focused on a possible association between Candida susceptibility and mental illness in the wake of new evidence suggesting that schizophrenia may be related to problems with the immune system, and because some people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to fungal infections.

There’s much more, after the jump. . . Continue reading