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Slowly Forgetting: ALF

Illustration by Shaumya Sankar

If you’re a student of psychology, then you’ve probably heard of HM, or Henry Molaison. He’s the person behind one of the most famous case studies in cognitive psychology, who lost his ability to form new memories after brain surgery. Memory research is one of the areas of psychology where case studies continue to offer significant opportunities for advancing the field. A contemporary example is the phenomenon known as accelerated long-term forgetting (ALF), which was first discussed in the form of a case report. A patient had suffered brain hypoxia, meaning that he had been depleted of oxygen for a period of time, causing brain damage. After this episode, his anterograde memory, that is his ability to create new memories and then recall them,  was deeply changed. 

Initial testing revealed an almost perfect retention of information at short delay intervals. However, when the time between learning and recalling grew larger, it was clear he was forgetting things at a pathological rate (De Renzi & Lucchelli, 1993). In short, ALF Patients show fast decay of recently learned information, but only after a long period of time. In clinical practice, most standardized memory tests focus on episodic memory. They measure performance using verbal and figural recall or recognition tasks. Recall is usually tested after a delay of approximately 20-30 minutes. This is not long enough to detect ALF. The pathological forgetting usually does not become apparent until approximately 24 hours (Savage et al., 2019). 

Most cases of ALF are reported in relation with different forms of epilepsy, but ALF has also been associated with other diseases. For example, in a study by Weston and colleagues (2018), it is suggested that ALF may be an early, presymptomatic feature of Alzheimer’s disease. It also occurs in individuals with transient ischemic attacks (a sort of ministroke), or after severe traumatic brain injury. 

Studies suggest that ALF is most likely an impairment of memory consolidation, rather than memory encoding (Hoefeijzers et al., 2013). Memory consolidation, or the stabilization of a memory after its encoding,  occurs over days and weeks (Chambers, 2017). The standard model of consolidation (Squire & Alvarez, 1995) assumes two phases of consolidation, which Mayes and colleagues (2003) also refer to as “fast” and “slow” consolidation. In the first, early phase of consolidation, the medial temporal lobe (MTL) with structures such as the hippocampus is considered central. As you might remember, HM had large parts of both his hippocampus removed. Within this model, we can assume that he was not able to start the early phase of consolidation.  

In the second, later phase of consolidation, memories are reorganized to be supported by the neocortex and eventually become independent of the MTL.
For this reason, research on ALF examining prolonged retrieval delays may be useful in gaining insight into the processes that are important for successful maintenance of information in long-term memory (Butler et al., 2019). 

In terms of the structures involved the hippocampus has a central role in both encoding and retrieval of information (Atherton et al., 2019). Some studies have found an association between ALF and hippocampal abnormalities. That being said, the picture is more complicated than trouble in the hippocampus = ALF. While hippocampal volume correlates with forgetting over short periods of time, meaning that smaller hippocampuses are associated with more forgetting, there is no such relationship in the brains of ALF in patients with memory loss brought on by epilepsy. Thus, it  seems that hippocampal dysfunction alone is not sufficient to explain ALF (Helmstaedter et al., 2019). Indeed., ALF has been found predominantly in tasks involving word lists and visual designs. Both types of stimuli affect item memory, which is supported by extra-hippocampal regions (Ranganath & Ritchey, 2012), underlining how this problem stretches beyond the hippocampus. This has stimulated research into the relevance of extrahippocampal regions (Mameniškienė et al., 2020). 

ALF continues to be an elusive diagnosis, but as research continues, we get a better understanding of how our brain shapes the inner workings of our memory. In the same vein, it’s important not to forget the patients. By continuing research, we can hope to one day be able to provide a better diagnosis, and who knows, maybe even treatment? A first step would be to implement more sophisticated tests for memory, going beyond the current 20-30 minutes recall delay. 

Sources 

Atherton, K. E., Filippini, N., Zeman, A., Nobre, A. C., & Butler, C. R. (2019). Encoding-related brain activity and accelerated forgetting in transient epileptic amnesia. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior, 110, 127–140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2018.04.015

Butler, C., Gilboa, A., & Miller, L. (2019). Accelerated long-term forgetting. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior, 110, 1–4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2018.12.009

Chambers A. M. (2017). The role of sleep in cognitive processing: focusing on memory consolidation. Wiley interdisciplinary reviews. Cognitive science, 8(3), 10.1002/wcs.1433. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcs.1433

De Renzi, E., & Lucchelli, F. (1993). Dense retrograde amnesia, intact learning capability and abnormal forgetting rate: A consolidation deficit? Cortex: A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior, 29(3), 449–466. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0010-9452(13)80253-5

Helmstaedter, C., Winter, B., Melzer, N., Lohmann, H., & Witt, J. A. (2019). Accelerated long-term forgetting in focal epilepsies with special consideration given to patients with diagnosed and suspected limbic encephalitis. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior, 110, 58–68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2018.01.003

Hoefeijzers, S., Dewar, M., Della Sala, S., Zeman, A., & Butler, C. (2013). Accelerated long- term forgetting in transient epileptic amnesia: an acquisition or consolidation deficit?. Neuropsychologia, 51(8), 1549–1555. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.04.017

Mameniškienė, R., Puteikis, K., Jasionis, A., & Jatužis, D. (2020). A Review of Accelerated Long-Term Forgetting in Epilepsy. Brain sciences, 10(12), 945. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10120945

Mayes, A. R., Isaac, C. L., Holdstock, J. S., Cariga, P., Gummer, A., & Roberts, N. (2003). Long-term amnesia: A review and detailed illustrative case study. Cortex: A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior, 39(4-5), 567–603. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0010- 9452(08)70855-4

Ricci, M., Mohamed, A., Savage, G., & Miller, L. A. (2015). Disruption of learning and long-term retention of prose passages in patients with focal epilepsy. Epilepsy & behavior : E&B, 51, 104– 111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yebeh.2015.06.016

Ranganath, C., & Ritchey, M. (2012). Two cortical systems for memory-guided behaviour. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 13(10), 713–726. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3338

Squire, L. R., & Alvarez, P. (1995). Retrograde amnesia and memory consolidation: a neurobiological perspective. Current opinion in neurobiology, 5(2), 169–177. https://doi.org/10.1016/0959-4388(95)80023-9

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What drives people to become an organ donor?

Illustration by Johanna Henry

Default option as a means to nudge people toward consenting to organ donation

Choice architecture is an approach that emphasizes that there are many ways in which choices can be presented to the decision-maker, and aims to use small  nudges to help people toward certain choices or options (Johnson et al., 2012). One way choice architects can influence people’s decisions is by presenting choices in a certain way, like selecting a default option.

Before going into a deeper explanation of what a default option is, let’s take a look at the concept of “nudging”. A nudge is a simple aspect that influences people’s behavior in a predictable way, without prohibiting any choices, or significantly changing the economic incentives. For example, if a school wants to reduce the amount of candy bars that students eat, then placing fresh fruits instead of candy bars near the register in the cafeteria would be considered as a nudge, while banning candy bars outright does not constitute a nudge. There are several types of nudges, but in this article, I will focus on the default option nudge.

A default option is an option that becomes effective when no active choice is made (Vetter & Kutzner, 2016), by influencing individuals who accept whatever the default setting is, even if it has significant consequences (Kaiser et al., 2014). The default option nudge can be applied to a variety of contexts, like consumer choices, health-related decisions, or environmental policies. Now let’s get concrete.  

Johnson and Goldstein (2003) asked the question “What drives the decision to become a potential organ donor?”. Within the American population, they had found a gap between people who approve of organ donation (85%) and those who themselves agreed to be a donor by signing a donor card (28%). Within the European Union, the donation rates vary a lot between countries. This is seemingly independent of organ donation infrastructure, economic and educational status, and religion (Gimbel et al. in Johnson & Goldstein, 2003). The authors explain the differences in donation rates between the countries by referring to the local organ donation policy. More precisely, the choice between an opt-in policy (meaning that no one is an organ donor unless they register to be one), and an opt-out policy (meaning that everyone is a donor unless they request not to be) (Johnson & Goldstein, 2003). The opt-out constitutes a default option nudge to be an organ donor. By the way, in Switzerland, a proposal to change to an opt-out policy will be put on vote the 15th of May 2022!

Figure 1: Johnson & Goldstein (2003)

As you can see on the histogram, the gap in consent rates is huge depending on public policies in the countries in question. For those waiting in line to receive a new organ, increasing the number of donors is a matter of life and death. 

But how does the default option influence choices?
There are three main explanations in the literature. First, default options can be perceived as indicators of the recommended action, a suggestion by policy-makers (Johnson & Goldstein, 2003; Vetter & Kutzner, 2016; Kaiser et al., 2014). This is linked to social influence: the default option is perceived as an injunctive norm and as the option that most people choose (Everett et al., 2015), so choosing the non-default option implies a departure of the majority group (Kaiser et al., 2014). Secondly, making a decision demands an effort, whereas accepting a default option doesn’t (Johnson & Goldstein, 2003; Vetter & Kutzner, 2016; Kaiser et al., 2014). In the case of an opt-out option, having to fill out a form to request not to be an organ donor can be unpleasant and thus increase acceptance of the default. Third, it is likely that some choose the default option simply to “go with the flow” and as a way to avoid making an active decision. 

In the end, the default option will be chosen more often than other options. However, the default option doesn’t work in any situation of course: making it more difficult to reach candy than fruits in your kitchen probably won’t  stop your children from preferring candy to fruit. 

Bibliography:

Everett, J. A. C., Caviola, L., Kahane, G., Savulescu, J., & Faber, N. S. (2015). Doing good by doing nothing? The role of social norms in explaining default effects in altruistic contexts. European Journal of Social Psychology, 45(2), 230‑241. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2080

Johnson, E. J., & Goldstein, D. (2003). Do Defaults Save Lives? https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1091721

Johnson, E. J., Shu, S. B., Dellaert, B. G. C., Fox, C., Goldstein, D. G., Häubl, G., Larrick, R. P., Payne, J. W., Peters, E., Schkade, D., Wansink, B., & Weber, E. U. (2012). Beyond nudges : Tools of a choice architecture. Marketing Letters, 23(2), 487‑504. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11002-012-9186-1

Kaiser, F. G., Arnold, O., & Otto, S. (2014). Attitudes and Defaults Save Lives and Protect the Environment Jointly and Compensatorily : Understanding the Behavioral Efficacy of Nudges and Other Structural Interventions. Behavioral Sciences, 4(3), 202‑212. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs4030202

Vetter, M., & Kutzner, F. (2016). Nudge me if you can—How defaults and attitude strength interact to change behavior. Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, 1(1‑3), 8‑34. https://doi.org/10.1080/23743603.2016.1139390

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Losing yourself: Dissociative Identity Disorder

Illustration by Shaumya Sankar

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t recognize yourself? For some people this goes so far that it turns into a pathological state, usually referred to as a dissociative identity disorder. 

In the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association 2013), dissociative identity disorder (DID) is described as a disruption of identity characterized by two or more distinct personality states or an experience of possession. This definition might seem a bit intimidating, so let me try explaining it in a less medical manner. 

Firstly, what is a dissociative condition? It is a state that most people have experienced at least a dozen times in their lives: when we read a book we love, play a video game, watch a movie or even when you can not find something you just held in your hand. It’s the moments we get so lost in our own minds that for a second we forget what we were doing. 

What separates this state that we have all experienced from a full on disorder is above all the quantitative aspect. Where we usually remember where we left that thing a few minutes later, they spend entire hours in this dissociative state, and later they don’t remember it at all. 

There are different types of dissociative disorders, with different particularities to the dissociative states. What makes DID stand out, is the fact that when people suffering from DID dissociate, they usually tend to act like a completely different person, having completely different habits, gestures and even referring to themselves with different names. Patients harbor two or more personalities, with cases up to a 100 (DSM-IV, 1994) different alters being on record, and in some cases, these personalities can communicate with one another (Howell 2011; Keys 1981). However, it is a very rare disorder affecting between 0.01% and 1% of the population.

Now that we have a general idea of what DID is, the next question is of course, what leads people to dissociate? How do you end up like this? The most cited cause of dissociative identity disorder is trauma. It is believed that in the case of a deep traumatic event, people develop different personalities as a coping mechanism, in order for the person not to experience the full impact of the occurrence. The most common events behind DID are sexual assault and childhood abuse. (Wiginton 2021, Edelstein 2015)

How is DID detected? What are the diagnostic criteria? The most known symptom, and perhaps the most obvious one, is memory loss (also known as amnesia). In the majority of cases, people who dissociate do not remember long passages of time, in the DSM-5 this is described as “recurrent gaps in the recall of everyday events, important personal information, and/or traumatic events that are inconsistent with ordinary forgetting”. Due to this amnesia, they will also have a blurred sense of their personality and a sense of being detached from themselves and their emotions. Moreover, the DSM-5 states that the disturbance should not be a normal part of a broadly accepted religious practice or attributable to any physiological effects of a substance (American Psychiatric Association 2013). Usually, DID is also accompanied by other mental health problems like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

One of the most frequent questions when it comes to dissociative identity disorder is treatment related: is there a cure? There does not exist a specific pharmacological treatment for DID. Even though there is medication that treats some of the symptoms that are likely to occur, such as depression or anxiety, the most effective treatment is psychotherapy(Brand, B., & Loewenstein, R. J. 2010). In this case, the therapy should be focused on identifying and working on the past trauma, managing the behavioral changes and merging the separate identities into a single one. In some cases, hypnotherapy is also recommended. This is a form of guided meditation that helps recover repressed memories. However, a definitive cure does not exist, the above-mentioned treatments are mainly able to reduce the symptoms. Nonetheless, people do learn to have more control over their behavior and live with their difficulties. Therefore, having a secure support system is very important for people suffering from DID.

Bibliography:

Brand, B., & Loewenstein, R. J. (2010). Dissociative disorders: An overview of assessment, phenomenology, and treatment. Psychiatric Times, 27(10), 62-69.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Dissociative Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm08

Keys, Daniel. 1981. The Minds of Billy Milligan. Random House.

Howell, F. Elizabeth. n.d. Understanding and Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder: A Relational Approach. Routledge.

TraumaDissociation.com. n.d. “Alters in Dissociative Identity Disorder (MPD) and DDNOS.” http://traumadissociation.com/alters#healthymultiplicity.

Cleveland Clinic medical professional. 2021. “Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder).” Cleveland Clinic (blog). May 25, 2021. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9792-dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder.

Dorahy, Martin J, Bethany L Brand, and Vedat Şar. 2014. “Dissociative Identity Disorder: An Empirical Overview” 48 (5): 402–17. https://doi.org/10.1177/0004867414527523.

Mayo Clinic Staff. 2017. “Dissociative Disorders.” Mayo Clinic (blog). November 17, 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dissociative-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20355215.Wiginton, Keri. 2021. “What Is Dissociation?” WebMD (blog). June 28, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/dissociation-overview.

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The Official psyCH Study Tips!

Illustration by Shaumya Sankar

The exam period is upon us once again, and if you’re like us, you probably don’t mind a little break from studying. Why not use your pause for something useful, like reading a few suggestions on how to make the most of the time you have left to prepare for your exams? 

Now before we dive into this, I want to make a small disclaimer. I wrote The Official psyCH Study Tips! in the title because it sounded better, but I have to be honest with you, Kristian’s Personal Tongue-in-cheek Suggestions for Students Approaching an Exam, is closer to what I’m actually doing here. In essence, everyone has their own preferences, strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning. I for one am almost unable to remember anything I hear. To compensate, I take notes all the time. Talking to my mother, or talking to my thesis advisor, it makes no difference. If it’s not spelled out in letters, it’s gone in 5 minutes. I even have to check my ID to remember my age every now and then. Sometimes I wonder how I even made it beyond my bachelor’s, but I digress. All I’m trying to say is that these suggestions seemed to have worked for me, so maybe they can work for you. Let’s get into it! 

  1. Make a study plan

You don’t learn from just sitting in the library, you learn from studying. At first glance this seems so obvious that it’s bordering on a truism, and yet it’s easily forgotten. Only time spent actually working is valuable to you when preparing for your exams. The first step towards minimising the gap between library-time and effective-work-time is to get organised. Draw up an overview of all the hours at your disposal, and assign specific tasks to each timeslot. 

Don’t just put general things like “studying”  (then you’re going to end up like me, writing blog posts when you should be writing summaries). Be as specific as possible, for example: 10h-12h: Social Psychology: Write summaries of chapter 3-4. Specify what, when and where, with a concrete goal in mind, so you know how far you’ve advanced. Above all, be realistic in your goals, you can always adjust them later if you’ve misjudged your capabilities.

Now before you start drawing up 14 hour days, have a look at the next suggestion 

  1. Stick to your usual schedule!

Imagine for a moment you’re preparing for a sprinting competition. You need to run 60 metres as fast as possible. 

This is basically what an exam is. You can argue that exams are far from the best way to assess you abilities (I’m sure there is some psychological model explaining the different phases of despair when facing an upcoming exam, trying to argue against the importance of exams is probably the first one) and you may be right, but the fact of the matter remains: you have been assigned a very short period to show all you’ve learned during the last semester. 

Now back to the race. How would you prepare for a sprint ? Would you spend three weeks running as many marathons as you can, and then show up on race day with a few cans of red bull, hoping that you make it to the finish line?  

It sounds ridiculous when put like this, and yet this is what plenty of students do each exam period, and they keep doing it year after year. 

In concrete terms, this means that when preparing your schedule, you use short intervals, just as if you were trying to increase your cardiovascular fitness. For me that means at maximum two hours for each task, longer then that and I’m bored to death long before the end. Even more importantly: pace yourself. Despite what many students seem to think, you don’t get a medal for sitting in the library until 2 in the morning. You don’t get a medal for doing good on your exam either (unless you do VERY good, but you’re reading this instead of studying, so we both know that’s not going to happen), but good grades are always helpful, and being exhausted on the third day of your study period because you worked for 14 hours yesterday is not going to get you anywhere. 

Try to stick to your usual schedule as much as reasonably possible. Only hours spent working effectively count towards your exam, so make sure the hours you spend in the library enter into that category. When the sun has settled, and you’re so hungry and tired that you keep confusing b’s with d’s, it’s time to head home. 

  1. Exercise!

Some Roman guy once wrote “Mens in sana in corpore sano”, which translates to “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. You’ve probably heard this before, but I’m going to help you understand what it means for your exam preparation. The exam period is not a good time to stop exercising!  That being said, make sure you do something fun, like playing football, climbing or whatever you like ( I personally hate football). Despite what the behaviourist wants you to believe, you’re not actually a rat (even though you might smell like one). Running in a wheel or pushing buttons up and down are not fun ways for humans to exercise. Pursue physical activity during your exam period for the fun of it, not just to move. Your grades will improve. 

  1. Talk to other students about the material 

As you get closer to the exams you have a better grip on the materials. Now it’s time to clear any misconceptions from your mind, and above all, do some active rehearsal. Find the smartest girl or guy in your class or friend group, and ask them to study with you. Ask each other questions, exchange summaries, discuss what parts you find the most interesting, and tie it to something from your everyday life. 

For example, if you’re revising evolutionary psychology you can talk about how you can’t seem to find anyone willing to reproduce with you, or if you’re studying social psychology, talk about how the the Dunning-Kruger effect relates to your personal experience at university!

 So there you go. I hope these suggestions help you, and if they didn’t, then you’re probably doing it wrong 😉

Good luck with your exams!

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On the shoulders of giants: speaking with the founder of psyCH

How did you end up founding psyCH?
All the way back in 2002 the Fachschaftsvorstand in Bern sent an e-mail to all students inviting them to some Psychology Student Congress in Turkey. Like everyone else I first ignored the e-mail. The acronym EFPSA (European Federation of Psychology Students) sounded too scary.

Then there was another e-mail saying something like “so far nobody wants to go, but it’s a unique chance”. I remember telling my friend Sven Gross during a break “why is nobody going there, it sounds great”. He asked me “Why aren’t we going?”. And so we ended up going.

That decision changed our lives completely.  I met the girl who is now my wife at the congress. We’re expecting our third child! 
Needless to say it was a crazy experience, so eye opening! We soon realized that Switzerland was not yet a member of EFPSA, in part because there was no Swiss national organisation for psychology students.
We immediately decided to found psyCH to solve that problem.
On the way home from Turkey, Sven and I had the first brainstorming session for the new organization.

What were your initial goals?
The goal was EFPSA membership, everything else came later.

How many members were there in the beginning?
Sven and I found Miriam Lörtscher in Bern, with whom we set out the general plan. Then we went recruiting in Fribourg, Zürich and Basel and found highly motivated people there. If I remember correctly, those were the people that were present when we officially founded the organization in the dome room of the Uni Bern main building.

When did you start to understand the scope of your achievement?
I felt really proud when psyCH joined EFPSA in 2004 and I felt very proud when we were personally invited to the 10 year psyCH anniversary in 2013. We tried to create something that would stand the test of time, but we also knew that keeping such organizations alive wasn’t easy. I’m very happy to see that psyCH is alive and well  today, almost 20 years later.

What are your thoughts on the current state of psyCH?
I follow as much as I can, it’s cool to see that many things like the psyPra and the always highly successful psyKo still exist! I guess some things changed, and I’m sure some things were improved over the years. I’m no longer familiar with the organisational structure of psyCH, but the mere fact that it’s still around certainly means something. Overall I’m very happy to see that psyCH still exists.

Any words of advice for the current psyCH team?
No, I’m sure I’d have a lot to say if somebody asked me something specific. But the fact that psyCH is still around shows that capable people are in charge, and no advice is needed!

How has your role in psyCH shaped your life ?
It has completely changed my life on many levels. Founding psyCH gave me a great deal of self-confidence and self-efficacy and in the process I got the chance to hone my leadership skills. I don’t think I would be an entrepreneur today if it wasn’t for this journey. And of course, I live in Estonia now and I am married to the Secretary Treasurer of EFPSA in 2001-2002.

What is your favourite memory from when you were a part of psyCH?
There are just too many to list them all here, but surely it’s something to do with an EFPSA Congress. Maybe something like this picture of our delegation at the cultural evening at the EFPSA Congress 2004 in Kopaonik, Serbia.

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Have you ever heard of parasomnias?

Parasomnias are undesirable experiences that occur during the transition from wakefulness to sleep, during sleep, or upon awakening from sleep. A parasomnia can result from an unstable state of consciousness in which certain areas of the brain are asleep and others are awake. There are two types of parasomnias: those that occur during the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) phases of sleep and those that occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep. (Cai & Price, 2021). In this article, the focus is specifically directed toward NREM parasomnias in children.

Sleepwalking is a common NREM parasomnia in childhood that usually disappears in adolescence but may persist or reappear again in adulthood (Petit et al., 2015). In the third edition of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, sleepwalking is defined as a complex behavior that is usually triggered during partial arousal from slow-wave sleep (American Academy of Sleep Medicine [AASM], 2014). During sleepwalking, the individual barely responds to questions, may perform inappropriate complex activities such as climbing out of a window, and shows amnesia and confusion after waking up (AASM, 2014; Cai & Price, 2021). Sleep terror is an early childhood NREM parasomnia and consists also of partial arousal from slow-wave sleep, often accompanied by a cry or a continuous scream, accompanied by manifestations of intense fear in the behavioral and autonomic nervous system (AASM, 2014). For most children, these sleep disturbances are relatively harmless but, in some cases, there is a high risk of injury, not to mention the disruption of the parent’s sleep (Petit et al., 2015).

These two parasomnias have many features in common, including a relative insensitivity to external stimuli during sleep and mental confusion after waking up (AASM, 2014). Both types of episodes occur mainly during slow-wave sleep and their onset is prompted by the same factors, including fever or high temperature (Larsen, Dooley, & Gordon, 2004), medication (Pressman, 2007), sleep deprivation (Zadra, Pilon, & Montplaisir, 2008), noise (Pilon, Montplaisir, & Zadra, 2008) and sleep-related respiratory events (Guilleminault, Palombini, Pelayo, & Chervin, 2003). Treatment is also the same for both disorders, with scheduled waking recommended for children (Petit et al., 2015). 

There is an assumption that these parasomnias represent different phenotypic expressions of the same underlying disorder rather than different pathologies (Petit et al., 2015). A convincing argument for this view is the common occurrence of these parasomnias within families. In a small sample it was shown that 96% of people with sleep terrors and about 80% of sleepwalkers have at least one family member affected by sleep terrors, sleepwalking or both (Kales et al., 1980).

Bibliography :
  • American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2014). International classification of sleep disorders (3rd ed.). Darien, IL: American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 
  • Cai, A., & Price, R. S. (2021). 80 – Parasomnias. In B. L. Cucchiara & R. S. Price (Eds.), Decision-Making in Adult Neurology (pp. 164-165). Elsevier.
  • Guilleminault, C., Palombini, L., Pelayo, R., & Chervin, R. D. (2003). Sleepwalking and sleep terrors in prepubertal children: what triggers them? Pediatrics, 111(1), e17-25. doi:10.1542/peds.111.1.e17
  • Kales, A., Soldatos, C. R., Bixler, E. O., Ladda, R. L., Charney, D. S., Weber, G., & Schweitzer, P. K. (1980). Hereditary factors in sleepwalking and night terrors. The British Journal of Psychiatry: The Journal of Mental Science, 137, 111–118. doi:10.1192/bjp.137.2.111
  • Larsen, C. H., Dooley, J., & Gordon, K. (2004). Fever-associated confusional arousal. European Journal of Pediatrics, 163(11), 696–697. doi:10.1007/s00431-004-1531-9
  • Petit, D., Pennestri, M.-H., Paquet, J., Desautels, A., Zadra, A., Vitaro, F., … Montplaisir, J. (2015). Childhood Sleepwalking and Sleep Terrors: A Longitudinal Study of Prevalence and Familial Aggregation. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(7), 653–658. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.127
  • Pilon, M., Montplaisir, J., & Zadra, A. (2008). Precipitating factors of somnambulism: impact of sleep deprivation and forced arousals. Neurology, 70(24), 2284–2290. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000304082.49839.86
  • Pressman, M. R. (2007). Factors that predispose, prime and precipitate NREM parasomnias in adults: clinical and forensic implications. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 11(1), 5–30; discussion 31-33. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2006.06.003
  • Zadra, A., Pilon, M., & Montplaisir, J. (2008). Polysomnographic diagnosis of sleepwalking: effects of sleep deprivation. Annals of Neurology, 63(4), 513–519. doi:10.1002/ana.21339

Author : Alexander Ariu

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Facts

Are virtual emotions real ?

It’s been some years now that Internet takes a huge place in our life. It was, and still is, a wonderful tool that allows us to be in touch with our friends and family who live far from us. The industry of social media developed very fast and so well that today, we can not live without it. Our social media represents our personality, or I better say, it represents what we want other people to think about our personality. It started with Facebook, followed by many others including dating apps. Cyberspace is considered as an uncertain space for our identities and this is why we create the “identity game” (Gassey, 2019) which is influenced by many factors. On social media, we look for social connections indeed, but for other things as well. For example, the reactions others may have toward our feed pushes us to explore ourselves. In order to avoid cognitive dissonance in the way we present ourselves and what others think we’re always in readjustment. The biggest challenge that we have to deal with is the impossibility to validate the information we see. It depends on us whether or not we believe what we read.

When it comes to emotions felt through social media, lots of questions take place. Is what I feel relevant or even real ? Is everything made in my head ? We are 80% sure that we express ourselves clearly while discussing with someone and yet there’s only a 50% chance that she or he understands our tone (Gassey, 2019). This unique fact shows the importance of non-verbal behaviour in our communication. While communicating online, our imagination plays a huge role to reduce as much as possible the uncertainty that we deal with. It reveals our need to orient ourselves through the different relations we may create online.

The fact of attributing the power of emotional evocation to devices of objects creates therefore a valid form of presence for our brain (Gassey, 2019). The best example for this is the well-known “emoji”; we infer different emotions to different emojis which help us to understand what the other wants to say. In addition, “emojis” can be interpreted as signs of proximity by some. However, we forget that interpretations differ for each one of us. Some may use emojis very often and others tend to use them very rarely. While on one hand making emotion more valid, emojis can lead to misunderstandings on the other hand.

In conclusion, virtual emotions are mostly perceived subjectively as real, well-founded and even rational (Gassey, 2019). Yet we have to keep in mind that most of the time they are based on uncertain or even false, biased or manipulated information and nothing can replace the authenticity of the face-to-face conversation.

Bibliography :
  • Gassey, O. (2019, Printemps). Introduction à la sociologie des pratiques sociales en ligne
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  • Brake, T. (2017, juillet 12). Understanding virtual emotional intelligence. https://www.trainingjournal.com/print/5143

Author : Ardiana Dacaj

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Facts

What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette’s syndrome is a neuropsychiatric disorder that manifests itself in so-called tics. Tics are spontaneous movements, sounds, or utterances of words that occur without the intention of the affected person. The movements often occur repeatedly in the same way but are not rhythmic and can occur individually or in series. Tourette’s usually begins in childhood, more rarely in adolescence. Younger children in particular often go through a phase with tics that disappear on their own after a few months.  If complex vocal and multiple motor tics occur in combination, one speaks of Tourette’s syndrome (APA, 2013).

The causes of Tourette’s syndrome have only been rudimentarily researched to date. It is assumed that it is largely genetically predisposed (Pauls, 2003). The development of Tourette syndrome is attributed to a disorder in the neurotransmitter metabolism of the brain. In particular, the neurotransmitter dopamine is the focus of research. Studies have shown that the number of dopamine receptors in the brains of patients with Tourette syndrome is increased (TGD, 2021). However, a disturbed serotonin, norepinephrine, glutamine, and opioid metabolism and the interactions between these substances also seem to play a role (TGD, 2021). The disorders manifest themselves primarily in the so-called basal ganglia. They regulate which impulses a person translates into actions and which do not. In order to develop this, additional triggers in the environment must be present. These include, for example, negative factors during pregnancy and birth, such as smoking and psychosocial stress during pregnancy, prematurity, and oxygen deprivation at birth (TGD, 2021).

The psychological suffering of those affected is high in some cases due to the prominent, uncontrollable symptoms – especially in Tourette’s syndrome. The complexity of some tic disorders sometimes causes great astonishment and also anger or rejection among those around them (family members, friends, teachers; Hoekstra, Steenhuis, Kallenberg, & Minderaa, 2004; Khalifa & Von Knorring, 2006). Many non-affected persons cannot imagine that these actions and vocalizations are involuntary and disease-related. Some people feel also provoked by the tics; especially if it involves coprolalia/copropraxia. Coprolalia is a complex vocal tic in which affected individuals express obscenities in single words or sometimes entire sentences. Copropraxia is the same but for motor tics in which, for example, the middle finger is often shown. Therefore, justified fear due to the tics and also feelings of shame are very common in children and adolescents with chronic tic disorders or Tourette syndrome (Freeman et al., 2009; Kobierska, Sitek, Gocyła, & Janik, 2014). On the other hand, many affected individuals are well integrated socially, as long as the symptomatology is not too pronounced (Freeman et al., 2009).

Often, the affected children do not even notice their tics at first. It is usually the parents or educators who become aware of these behavioral characteristics. They often feel disturbed, worry, and consider whether parenting mistakes were behind it, even if the children’s development is going well (Khalifa & Von Knorring, 2006). For most of those affected, the symptoms improve after puberty or even disappear completely. Others have tics throughout their lives. Boys are affected four times as often as girls (Leckman et al., 1998). It is estimated that about one percent of people develop Tourette syndrome (Robertson, 2008).

Bibliography :
  • Freeman, R. D., Zinner, S. H., Müller‐Vahl, K. R., Fast, D. K., Burd, L. J., Kano, Y., … Stern, J. S. (2009). Coprophenomena in Tourette syndrome. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 51(3), 218–227. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2008.03135.x
  • Hoekstra, P. J., Steenhuis, M. P., Kallenberg, C. G., & Minderaa, R. B. (2004). Association of small life events with self reports of tic severity in pediatric and adult tic disorder patients: a prospective longitudinal study. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 65(3), 426.
  • Khalifa, N., & Von Knorring, A. L. (2006). Psychopathology in a Swedish population of school children with tic disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(11), 1346-1353.
  • Kobierska, M., Sitek, M., Gocyła, K., & Janik, P. (2014). Coprolalia and copropraxia in patients with Gilles de la Tourette syndrome. Neurologia I Neurochirurgia Polska, 48(1), 1–7. doi: 10.1016/j.pjnns.2013.03.001
  • Leckman, J. F., Zhang, H., Vitale, A., Lahnin, F., Lynch, K., Bondi, C., … Peterson, B. S. (1998). Course of tic severity in Tourette syndrome: the first two decades. Pediatrics, 102(1 Pt 1), 14–19. doi: 10.1542/peds.102.1.14
  • Pauls, D. L. (2003). An update on the genetics of Gilles de la Tourette syndrome. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 55(1), 7–12. doi: 10.1016/S0022-3999(02)00586-X
  • Robertson, M. M. (2008). The prevalence and epidemiology of Gilles de la Tourette syndrome: Part 1: The epidemiological and prevalence studies. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 65(5), 461–472. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.03.006
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  • MondoMedia. (2011, March 10). Dick Figures – Role Playas (Ep #9) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UikCf4HyoY

Author : Alexander Ariu

Categories
Facts

White privilege

Whether we like it or not, 2020 was a year characterized by events that challenged us as individuals and societies in ways that we didn’t believe possible. Indeed, leaving aside COVID-19 and its huge impact on our daily lives, we also experienced several events that pushed us to question our ways of living and our understanding of socio-economic and environmental issues. Therefore, it seems to me that values such as equality, solidarity and fairness were something that became central in a lot of discussions. Consequently, 2020 was the year where, thanks to some globally supported social movements, things that were acceptable before by the largest number were no longer tolerable in a time where companionship was needed. 

For instance, we cannot talk about last year’s social movements without mentioning the series of police brutality protests that took place in America and around the world. The terrible events leading to these protests highlighted a major injustice in our societies, the one based on race. During the protests, we watched in horror as the series of violence and oppression inflicted on African American people unfolded before us. And with the realization that a group of people was oppressed, came the realization that others have it much easier. 

These protests and social movements around the world represented a wakeup call for a lot of White people, who benefit every day from the privileges that come along with belonging to this group. People’s responses to this were very different, some seeing it as proof that they had the responsibility to educate themselves and to support in any way they can the fight against racism, while others were tempted to give a more simplistic and defensive response, one that could take many forms but that was always along the lines of “BUT I have a hard time too”. For example, a study made by Phillips and Lowery (2015) shows that White people who were asked to read a text informing them that they are advantaged in different domains, report more hardships than Whites who did not read it. This kind of response is due to the fact that White people were confronted with evidence that their group benefited from privilege, which can be uncomfortable. According to the authors, “claiming personal life hardships may help Whites manage the threatening possibility that they benefit from privilege” (Cooley, Brown-Iannuzzi & Cottrell, 2019). The reason why this is threatening is because we function in societies that predominantly believe that personal qualities determine life outcomes. Therefore, it may be difficult to recognize that one benefits from privileges because on some level it diminishes the legitimacy of people’s achievements. In this case, claiming hardship allows individuals to deny that factors such as systemic racial privilege helped them, without completely denying that their group as a whole benefits from it. This has important consequences, because if people think that they have not personally benefited from privilege, they would be prone to think that they should not endure personal costs associated with policies created to reduce inequity (Lowery, Knowles, & Unzueta, 2007). 

However, informing people about their privilege can also have positive consequences. For instance, a study made by Cooley, Brown-Iannuzzi and Cottrell (2019) showed that informing white people about their privilege can increase the perceived racism in violent encounters between the police and black men, regardless of political ideology. Alternatively, without this information, White social liberals perceived significantly more racism than social conservatives. These results are important because in order to change, we first have to acknowledge the existence and the gravity of racism. 

These findings offer perspectives about the effects of educating White people about their privilege. It also raises questions about the right way of doing without activating the need to deny the issue. One thing is certain, this will always be an uncomfortable subject, but it is also one that we have to address in order to grow as fairer societies and simply because it is our own responsibility.

Bibliography :
  • Cooley, E., Brown-Iannuzzi, J., & Cottrell, D. J. (2019). Liberals perceive more racism than conservatives when police shoot Black men—But, reading about White privilege increases perceived racism, and shifts attributions of guilt, regardless of political ideology. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 85, 103885. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2019.103885
  • Lowery, B.S., Chow, R.M., Knowles, E.D., & Unzueta, M.M. (2012). Paying for positive group-image: How perceptions of inequity affect responses to redistributive social policies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 323–336. 
  • Taylor Phillips, L., & Lowery, B. S. (2015). The hard-knock life? Whites claim hardships in response to racial inequity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 61, 12-18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2015.06.008
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Author : Paula Morales

Categories
Facts

Your brain and gratitude

We can agree that almost each of us holds a diary once in life. In adult life, it can seem childish to keep journaling our thoughts and emotions, but it could help us in so many ways. For example, it allows us to think more clearly, to know oneself better, to reduce the amount of stress we feel toward something or a specific situation. It can also stop us from ruminating because putting emotions into words forces us to analyze everything around them and the most important: slow down our mind (83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress, s. d.).

My focus on this article will be specifically on the emotion of gratitude, a very common one yet very underrated. Gratitude is one of the most complicated emotions in our society and because we link it to religion, we can feel indebted towards something or someone and everyone knows that this feeling isn’t a very good one (Singh, 2018).

However, studies show that the expression of gratitude through journaling or voice recording can have a huge number of benefits on different aspects of our well-being. It can help us sleep better (Wood et al., 2009), reduce stress and anxiety (Wood et al., 2008), lower symptoms of depression (Liang et al., 2020) and even reduce the risk of heart disease (Neighmond, 2015) according to the professor Paul Mills. A lot of studies are being conducted in the field of Positive Psychology and more particularly around gratitude. We now know that feeling grateful towards something has a more realistic (physical) impact on our brain and behaviour than what we previously thought. 

This year isolated us for a long time and thus our tendency to overthink and ruminate upon our “before Corona” life and uncertainty about our future could sometimes be very heavy and make us feel down for several days. That is why I suggest you try this by yourself and see if it works for you. If you are a writing person you can write down in a journal two or three things you are thankful for during your day. Another idea can be to share your gratitudes with a friend through a call or simply by messaging them. The fact of writing every day can feel heavy or exhausting for some of us and it can slide to the negative aspect of gratitude (guilt and shame). If it is being forced, feel free to listen to yourself and manage it according to your preferences.

Bibliography:
  • 83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress. (s. d.). Retrived on 18th december 2020 from https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/
  • Liang, H., Chen, C., Li, F., Wu, S., Wang, L., Zheng, X., & Zeng, B. (2020). Mediating effects of peace of mind and rumination on the relationship between gratitude and depression among Chinese university students. Current Psychology, 39(4), 1430‑1437. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-018-9847-1
  • Singh, M. (2018, december 24). If You Feel Thankful, Write It Down. It’s Good For Your Health. NPR.Org. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/12/24/678232331/if-you-feel-thankful-write-it-down-its-good-for-your-health
  • Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., Lloyd, J., & Atkins, S. (2009). Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 66(1), 43‑48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.09.002
  • Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Gillett, R., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2008). The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression : Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(4), 854‑871. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2007.11.003
Featured image :
  • An Attitude of Gratitude. (2018, mai 30). Valleys Steps. http://www.valleyssteps.org/an-attitude-of-gratitude/

Author : Ardiana Dacaj

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Facts

Things you did not know about sleep

People spend a third of their time sleeping. While some go through life with the philosophy “sleep is for the weak”, science knows how important good sleep is for your health. There are some things in our everyday behavior, which affect our sleep, but conversely, sleep also affects various areas in our life. In the following, I would like to present to you some facts about sleep you may not have known yet.

Caffeine

Everyone knows that caffeine can help you wake up in the morning or make you more alert. But there are at least two other hidden aspects of caffeine most people do not know. Do you know how long caffeine stays in your system? If you drink a cup of coffee around 2 pm, 50% of the caffeine will still be in your system after about five to six hours. It could be that almost a quarter of that caffeine is still in your brain at midnight. As a result, it can make it harder for you to fall asleep. But not only this, caffeine also affects your brain during sleep. It turns out that caffeine can actually decrease the amount of deep, non-rapid eye movement sleep, which is important for restorative, deep sleep. As a consequence, it could be that you wake up the next morning and you do not feel refreshed, you do not feel restored by your sleep. 

Alcohol

It is often mistakenly thought that alcohol can be a sleeping aid. However, this is not the case. Alcohol can be problematic for sleep in three different ways. First, alcohol is considered a sedative. But sedation is not the same as sleep. In deep sleep, the brain is active and many brain cells fire and go silent together at the same time. This way, brain waves are generated. When you are sedated, none of this takes place. Sedation is a case where we are simply switching off the firing of the brain cells. This causes all the positive aspects of sleep to be lost. Furthermore, alcohol can actually trigger and activate the fight or flight branch of the nervous system during sleep. This causes you to wake up throughout the night, even if you may not notice it. As a result, you will not feel refreshed in the morning. Lastly, alcohol can block your rapid-eye-movement sleep. This kind of sleep is important for your emotional and mental health. 

Memory

Sleep is critical for learning and making new memories. Sleep makes your brain ready to absorb new information. But not only before, but also after learning, we need sleep. This is especially important for the consolidation of what has been learned. While we sleep, the same neurons are activated that were activated during the learning process. Thus, sleep is actually replaying and scoring those memories into a new circuit within the brain, strengthening that memory representation. This process is called replay. The final way in which sleep is beneficial for memory is integration and association. Sleep does not just simply strengthen individual memories; sleep will cleverly interconnect new memories together. 

Emotions

Lack of sleep makes us emotionally irrational and hyperactive. Studies show that the amygdala, which is the brain structure important for emotion, is almost 60% more responsive in sleep-deprived individuals than usual.  This is due to the communication between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Normally, there is good communication between the two. In sleep-deprived people, however, this connection is significantly worse. As a consequence, the amygdala is responding far more sensitively due to a lack of sleep. What is more, sleep can help you soothe difficult emotional experiences. And so, perhaps it is not time that heals all wounds, it is the time during sleep that provides that form of emotional convalescence.

Immunsystem

There is a very intimate association between our sleep health and our immune health. Individuals sleeping less than seven hours per night are three times more likely to become infected by the rhinovirus, otherwise known as the common cold. That is because during sleep at night, the production of immune factors is stimulated. Furthermore, the body actually increases its sensitivity to those immune factors. Thus, your immune system is more robust after a good night of sleep.

Bibliography
Featured image:
  • Wiedmer, J., (2020). Good Night.

Author : Jessica Wiedmer

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current directions Facts

Why are some people left-handed?

Have you ever wondered why left-handed people are so rare? Everyone knows that right-handed people are more frequent than left-handed people. You may have heard different theories about how the handedness is determined, but you probably never heard of a theory explaining why left-handed people are so rare. Daniel M. Abram found a way to explain the small number of left-handed people with a mathematical model.

Only one out of ten people is left-handed. The fascinating thing is that this ratio has remained steady for the last 500’000 years. Until today, it is not exactly clear what determines the handedness. One thing we know, however, is that the handedness is nothing you can choose, it is given. Many different theories try to explain this. The observation that left-handed parents tend to have left-handed children more often than right-handed parents, can be explained either by the influence of genes or the environment. Studies with identical twins show that both genes and the environment influence handedness, since identical twins do not have the same dominant hand more often than other siblings do.

This implies that there must be a reason in evolution responsible for the small number of left-handed people. Daniel M. Abrams proposed a mathematical model, which suggests that the ratio of competitive and cooperative pressure is responsible for the small number of left-handed people. 

The advantages of left-handed people are most obvious when facing an opponent in combat or competitive sports. Because there are usually very few left-handed people, most athletes are used to train with right-handed people. When right-handed and left-handed people meet, the left-handed person will be better prepared than a right-handed opponent. Daniel M. Abrams showed that 50% of professional baseball players are left-handed. The imbalance, in the beginning, leads to an advantage for left-handed players. This is called the fighting hypothesis and is an example of negative frequency-dependent selection. The rarer a trait, the more valuable it is. But according to the rules of evolution, a group that has an advantage should grow until the advantage disappears. If all humans did was fight, natural selection would lead to more left-handed people. The number of left-handed people would grow until there would be so many of them that it would not be rare anymore and therefore left-handedness would not be an advantage anymore. Thus, in a purely competitive world, the ratio between left and right-handed people would be 50/50. 

However, human evolution is not only driven by competition but also by cooperation. Cooperative pressure pushes the handedness in the other direction. In golf, where performance does not depend on the opponent, only 4 percent of the top players are left-handed. The reason for this is a phenomenon called “tool sharing”. Many products and tools are made for right-handed people, as they also make up the majority of our society. Left-handed players are worse at using these tools. For this reason, left-handed people would be less successful in a purely cooperative world until they would no longer exist. 

To summarize, according to Abram’s mathematical theory, the stable number of left-handed people is seen as an equilibrium created by competitive and cooperative effects. 

Bibliography:
  • Abrams, D., (2015, February). Daniel Abrams : Why are some people left-handed ? Retrieved from
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  • Wiedmer, J., (2020). Handmade.

Author : Jessica Wiedmer