All posts by Andrea Roulaine

“Sweatin Pressure”

SCR (skin conductance response) is highly sensitive to emotions in some people. Fear, anger, startled response, orienting response and sexual feelings are among the reactions which may produce similar skin conductance responses. SCR is widely used in psychological research due to its low cost and high utility. Oftentimes, the galvanic skin responses are combined with recording of heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure because they are all autonomic dependent variables.

The Different Colors of the Mind

dr. Rachel Brezis
Dr. Rachel Brezis

 

Dr. Rachel Brezis has a BA in Psychology with a minor in Anthropology and Cognitive Science which she obtained at Hebrew University. Dr. Brezis also has a MA and PhD in Comparative Human Development where she received both at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Brezis is current position is at the Center for Culture and Health at the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California in Los Angeles. Her main focus of research currently is Autism Spectrum Disorder in India and the United States.

Dr. Brezis dissertation was titled: Social and Non-Social Memory in Adolescents with Autism: At the juncture of biological, cognitive and social development. Her research interests are in Autism; autobiographical, episode, and semantic memory; neuropsychology; MRI; adolescence; cultural psychology and cultural neuroscience; in Israel and India. Dr. Brezis also speaks French and Hebrew, along with English, of course.

 

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To begin with, I believe we all interpret and interact in our cultural environment in many different ways which helps us make sense of the world around us; just some of us have a little difficulty in processing that raw data to create meaning to our lives. Children and adults with autism are examples of individuals who have a hard time in creating that meaning. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the social and communication skills of a person, and is followed by ritualized behaviors. Dr. Brezis suggests that attempts have been made to trace this type of behavioral manifestations of autism to particular brain regions, recent anatomical and functional imaging studies are pointing to a deficit in brain connectivity. Autistic people may have a glitch in the way they processing information to create meaning.

According to Dr. Brezis, autism is a condition that fundamentally disrupts the junction between self and others, or self and culture, autism provides a unique lens onto the process of acculturation. Acculturation is a modification in a culture group or individual by adapting or borrowing traits from another culture. According to Dr. Brezis, some theories suggest that since people with autism have problems in processing others thoughts, they are incapable of religious belief. To some theorists, people with autism cannot link meaning to events that happen in the world. For instance, if a person was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and all of a sudden got better, it was because of some overseeing force that controls everyone’s destiny.

Some theories suggest that any religious practices autistic people are involved in are mechanical and interpersonal, and are unable to attach real self meaning to that religion. But with recent research done by Dr. Brezis, this may not be the case. Maybe through acculturation individuals with autism may have found a way to interpret and interact with a higher power. Through a string of interviews, that Brezis conducted, with children and adults with autism and Asperser’s syndrome, and of Jewish religion, Jewish because, according to Brezis, its special emphasis on the behavioral performance of biblical commandments and their derivations, despite its lack of an explicit credo, Dr. Brezis came to a conclusion, that these individuals, as Brezis calls it, displayed a sense of an agentive God who gives meaning to the world and events in it.

Brezis revealed through a series of interview questions, questions involving background, simple descriptive questions, questions related to their parents degree of religious practice, and tracing their religious education to see if their religious practices had changed over time and if their religious practice were driven by their own choice, Brezis came to the conclusion, that autistic individuals do have a sense of a higher power and can link that agentive God to an event that establishes meaning. In one interview, a young boy claimed he spent all his money on a bicycle, and did not have any money left but said that God would provide for him. And after a awhile, he was offered two jobs. He contributed him having a job to a higher power. This demonstrates that autistic people can, and do, have a sense of an agentive God and can connect events to a higher power.

Brezis also claims that in reviewing her transcripts she discovered a week sense of self in autistic individuals, and that they use narratives of personal interest to create or construct their identities.

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As autistic people may use cultural surrounding to create colorful scripts to determine religious meaning, the average person, whatever average means, creates alternative ways to learn, such as, the three learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Each learning style has its own cultural flair to help people process that raw data to create meaning, to help educate that person. Someone with a visual learning style may use graphs and body language when learning. Individuals who learn through auditory learning do better with hearing and listening forms of education, while others do better with a hands-on approach, which is called a kinesthetic type of learning. We all use colorful scripts to help us create and understand the world we live in. I really liked the way Dr. Brezis puts it, using a metaphor, “because of the unique pattern of abilities and disabilities associated with autism, the condition may be seen as a reflective prism through which the white light of culture is broken down into its myriad color components.” Rather than blocking certain elements of culture, the autistic mind pushes that person to use cultural resources creatively, coloring the cultural scripts that they appropriate with new hues. We all see and learn things in different colors, and those colors help us all to discover the meaning to the lives in which we live.

theory of mind

Fashionable Learning

Susan Brand, Rita Dunn, and Fran Greb, in their article, Learning Styles of Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Who are They and How Can We Teach Them?, claimed two specially trained researches examined the learning styles of third-through twelfth-grade students who had been, A: diagnosed with ADHA and B: was receiving prescription drugs, to identify learning styles of these children. Both researchers used the Dunn and Dunn learning Model and they identified individual’s reactions to each 21 elements while concentrating on new and difficult academic knowledge or skills. Those included their reactions to several things. The list as follows; One, their immediate instructional environment- sounds vs silence; bright light vs soft lighting; warm vs cool temp; and formal vs informal seating. Two, own emotionality motivation, persistence, responsibility, and preference for structure vs choices. Three, their sociological preferences for learning – alone, with peers, with either a collegial or authoritative adult, or in a variety of ways as opposed to patterns or routines. Four, physiological characteristics – perceptual strengths; time of day energy levels; intake and mobility needs. And five, global vs analytic processing as determined through correlations among sound, light, design, persistence, sociological preference, and intake. The study of the Elementary School (3rd -6th grade) students with ADHD, according to the article, large clusters of these students required low rather than bright light when concentrating on academic tasks. (Could illumination be contributing to the hyperactivity?) A majority of these student lacked persistence. (Would intermittent relaxation periods refortify them so that they could concentrate better?) And last, the children were not able to function well academically in the morning. (Would afternoon academic periods produce better results among those students?). Brand, Dunn, and Greb suggest that the findings reject that there are no common learning styles characteristics among ADHA children. These students required soft lighting, intermittent relaxation breaks, and either late morning, afternoon, or evening learning, dependent on the individual. And these children also were significantly more motived by parental encouragement than children in the general population. (Should parents of ADHA children play a greater role in their schooling than is usual among parents?) The Study of Secondary School Students with ADHA (5th-12th grade) suggested that the students displayed a preference for structured afternoon learning, with information presented in patterns, through kinesthetic and tactile instructional resources. In addition, they were parent-motivated, according to the article.

The Seven Wonders of the Mind

Howard Gardner of Harvard has identified seven distinct intelligences. According to Gardener, he developed a theory from cognitive research to which students possess different kinds of minds and therefore learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways. Howard Gardener formulated a list of seven intelligences, the first two have been typically valued in schools; the next three are usually associated with the arts; and the final two are what Gardner called ‘personal intelligences’, according to the article. The list as follows: Linguistic intelligence – involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. Logical-mathematical intelligence – consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigates issues scientifically. Musical Intelligence – involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence – entails the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Spatial intelligence – involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas. Interpersonal intelligence- is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. Intrapersonal intelligence – entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations.

“A Playful Mind”

Dr. Jaak Panksepp and Sheri Six of Washington University suggest that free play, which includes rough-and-tumble activities, running, jumping, and play fighting, are increasing recognized as essential components of a child’s development. Both human and animal studies have provided evidence that periods of play improve social skills, impulse inhibition and attention and result in specific neurochemical and dendritic changes in many neurons, especially in those brain areas in which ADHA children are deficient.         Therefore, long term provision of more opportunities for physical play may be an effective, non-medicinal therapy for reducing some of the disruptive behaviors of ADHA and facilitating brain development in children diagnosed with ADHA, according to the article. Humans are born ready in take in sensory information, to learn and to grow, brains do not come fully encoded and knowledgeable of the variety of experiences in which a person may encounter throughout his or her life. Much of the higher brain is considered empty and is programmed by epigenetic effects that modulated by subcortical brain regions. Our brains contain at least seven primary-process emotional systems. These systems compel us to explore, care for our young, and drive us to play, especially the young, according to Panksepp and Six. The details of the play circuitry are not fully known but lesions to the parafascicular complex and posterior dorsomedial thalamic nuclei reduce play behaviors in rats, strongly suggesting that the areas make up part of the play circuit. Other brain areas that may be involved include the cerebellum, basal ganglia, and various hypothalamic areas but many of these areas are also involved in movement or aggression, both of which could affect one’s desire or ability to play, according to the article. Panksepp and Six explain that taken together, the evidence supports the assertion that play is one of the primary-process brain circuits, devised through evolution, that promote instinctual feelings and behaviors, and ultimately aid development of the mature social brain. Play has been found to effect significant changes in the brain and is likely, therefore, an important factor in brain development. Dendritic length, complexity and spine density of the medial prefrontal cortex are refined by play.  Panksepp and colleagues found that play in rats reduced hyperactivity and possibly promoted behavioral inhibition and attention to surroundings, all of which are likely factors affecting children’s academic and social success. Suggesting that by adding ample play opportunities may help improve the success of ADHA treatment, especially in regards to social success. Play, after all is beneficial for all children, not just children with ADHA. Since play also improves self-control, attention, and hyperactivity, it may be that early play could prevent at least some diagnoses of ADHD as children age, according to the article.

“Playful Learning”

According to Peter Gray, in his article, Play as a Foundation for Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence, education is essential to the human condition and people everywhere depend for their survival on skills, knowledge, and ideas passed from generation to generation; and such passing along is, by definition, education. Because of education, we are the benefactors (and the victims) of the inventions and ideas of our ancestors. This is true of hunter-gatherer cultures too. Hunter-gatherer adults, however, do not concern themselves much with their children’s education. They assume that children will learn what they need to know through their own, self-directed exploration and play, according to the article. Peter Gray suggests that hunter-gatherers promoted, through cultural means, the playful side of their human nature and this made possible their egalitarian, nonautocratic, intensely cooperative ways of living. Hunter-gatherer bands, with their fluid membership, are likened to social-play groups, which people could freely join or leave. They maintain playful attitudes in their hunting, gathering, and other sustenance activates, partly by allowing each person to choose when, how much they would engage in activates. Our culture, when we think of education we think primarily of schooling, not of play. Schools, even more than most adult workplaces, operate through hierarchy and exercise of power, which is the opposite of play. The teacher is boss, and the students must do as they are told, according to the article. Gray explains in his article that by law, in our culture, are required to attend school, which deprives them of the power to quit. Little wonder children find it almost impossible to bring their playful instincts to this kind of education. In contract, among hunter-gatherers, play is the foundation for education. We speak of “training” children, just as we speak of training horses. Our manner of talking and thinking about parenting suggests that we own our children, much as we own our domesticated plants and livestock, and we control how they grow and behave. Training requires suppression of the trainee’s will and hence suppression of play. Hunter-gatherers, in their world, all animals and plants are wild and free. Young plants and animals grow on their own, guided by internal forces, making their own decisions. Hunter-gatherers take this general approach towards child care and education. Each young organism depends, of course, on its environment, but its way of using that environment comes from within itself. One of the means by which children use the cultural substrate to promote their own development is play, according to Gray.

ADHA: “Changing Gears”

George Halasz and Alasdair L A Vance, in their article, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in Children: moving forward with divergent perspectives, claimed that the US National Institutes of Health released a statement, in the year 2000, that the diversity of opinions about ADHA raises questions concerning the literal existence of the disorder, whether it can be reliably diagnosed. And Dr. Peter Jensen, from the US National Institute of Mental Health, stated that according to the panelists, ADHA remains of an “unproven” status and should give pause to both researchers and clinicians who may have reified ADHA as a ‘thing’ or ‘true entity’. No clinical or laboratory test can validly and reliably distinguish children with ADHA from those without ADHA and given the heterogeneity of the condition as currently defined, it seems unlikely that such a test will emerge, according to the article. Halasz and Vance suggest, since there to no test for ADHA, the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders-4th edition (DSM-IV) bases diagnosis on the on the specific clinical features – behavioral symptoms and signs. According to the article, the DSM-IV taskforce chair observed that this approach perpetuates the lack of “developmentally sensitive, interactive or longitudinal perspective which limits the usefulness of the categories for both research and adolescents,” which means, DSM neglects developmentally sensitive interactive issues, such as attachment, which could into lead to misdiagnosis. This article suggests that while there is growing evidence for biological vulnerabilities associated with ADHA, George Halasz and Alasdair L A Vance believe that environmental factors, including early problems in parental attachment, are important in determining the type and timing of deficit that a child develops the risk to academic and social performance and eventual outcomes. Halasz and Vance advocate an integrated biopsychosocial approach to diagnosis and management with a thorough developmental assessment to identify developmental factors, such as deficits in early attachment, contributing to the presentation, according to the article.

ADHD: “To Be or not to Be”

Angela Ine Frank-Briggs, from the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health, at the University of Harcourt Teaching Hospital in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, defines Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHA, as a neurobehavioral developmental disorder, primarily characterized by the co-existence of attention problems and hyperactivity which effects about 3 to 5% of children worldwide, with symptoms starting before 7 years of age and in about 50% of cases continuing into adult hood. According to Briggs, in her article, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA), and to the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, considers the following to be present before a child is to have ADHA: behaviors must continue for at least 6 months, and the symptoms must create a real handicap in a least two of the following areas of the child’s life: the classroom, on the playground, at home, in the community, or in social settings. Over the years, the terminology used to describe symptoms of ADHA has went thought many changes such as; “minimal brain damage”, “minimal brain dysfunction”, and learning/behavioral disabilities” just to name a few, according to the article. ADHA can be classified as a behavior disorder, a disruptive behavior disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or a conduct, and antisocial disorder, suggests Briggs, ADHA has three subtypes. One is called a predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, symptoms include; hyperactive and impulsiveness. The second sub type is Inattentive type, in which, according to the article, the children are less likely to act out or have difficulties getting alone with other children, they may sit quietly, but they are not paying attention to what they are doing. The last subtype is a combination of the two, inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity, called the Combined type.  To be diagnosed with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, symptoms must be observe in two different settings for six months or more, and to a degree greater than other children of the same age, according to Angela Briggs. The article states that a specific cause is not known, and even though some genes, like 7-repeat allele of DRD4 gene, play a role in ADHA, to date, no single gene has been shown to make a major contribution of ADHD.

ADHA: Liability or Assett?

Considering the social context of ADHA, could ADHA be an asset or a liability? Dan Eisenberg, PhD, and Benjamin Campbell in their article, The Evolution of ADHD: Social Context Matters, ask a very good question to begin with: Why hasn’t natural section removed the genes that underlie ADHA from the human population? According to Eisenberg and Campbell, we must consider our current and past social environments over our evolutionary history, along with genetic and molecular evidence.  Humans today live in a very different environment than our hunter-gatherer ancestors did over 10,000 year ago. According to the article, learning took place through play, observation, and informal instruction, rather than a structured classroom almost all of us have experienced today.  The genetics of AHDA plays a key role as well. It turns out that the 7R (ADHD associated) allele of the DRD4 gene was created around 45,000 years ago and was selected for, referring back to the article, and therefore likely was evolutionarily advantageous. In a study conducted by Chuansheng Chen and colleagues, according to the article, populations with longer histories of migrating tended to have a greater frequency of DRD4 7R alleles. Later, the article goes on to say, that Chen and his colleagues reported that populations that currently practiced a nomadic lifestyle tend to have higher frequencies of 7r (ADHD-associated) allele than sedentary populations. The article states that they analyzed the DRD4 genotypes of 150 adult Ariaal men, half form nomadic groups and half form the settled groups. The nomadic men who had the 7R ADHD associated allele were less underweight than the nomadic men, but among the settled man, the reverse was true. Clearly, according to the article, something about the nomadic context that allows people with ADHA­ like behaviors to be more successful in an evolutionary sense. The article ends with a question, more or less: Are there areas in our society where children and adults with ADHD might better use their traits? And on a finally last note, children and adults are lead to believe that this is disability, but as it turns out, depending of social context, could be seen as strength.

My Love for Art

A piece of my artwork
A piece of my artwork

Art to me is a way to disassociate myself, or disconnect from all the madness around me, and just breathe. With all the pressures of everyday life, sometimes I just need a place to hide. Whether it’s creating art, or looking at it. It’s my release from my worries. Art for our ancient ancestors could have started the same way, a release from the constant struggles of trying to stay alive.

  Symbolism is a form of art. For our ancestors, and even in today’s world, it has always been a way for people to communicate their ideas, beliefs, or actions. Our ancestors used places like cave walls to express themselves. Or created stone tablets to interact and translate their ideas, or beliefs with others around them. Except now, symbols are created digitally, on a computer, and seen on a global scale.

Art is thought to be a form of language. Language is translated by the use or combination of symbols. The more we develop mentally with age, the more we learn and understand new ideas. The more we learn, the better we are at communicating, creating  ideas, and making connections.

Being able to understand and develop languages from the use of symbols I’m sure has insured a person’s survival and reproduction from time to time. For instance, knowing what the word, or symbol, for biohazard means, or radioactive.

Form an evolutionary standpoint, the human brain continues to grow because of the accelerate rate of communication and problems solving between humans. As a human being’s culture and language abilities grow, the human brain will continue to thrive.