Saturday, November 26, 2011

Agoraphobia - A (Very) Short Overview

Agoraphobia is an unmotivated fear regarding open spaces such as markets, bridges, streets and even big tunnels. It also may include a fear of being in a crowd, a gathering and even being inside a bus and other situations that involve public transport. According to DSM IV TR (p.429)agoraphobia is anxiety about, or avoidance of, places or situations from which escape might be difficult (or embarrassing) or in which help may not be available in the event of having a panic attack or panic-like symptoms. 

The person suffering from agoraphobia experiences a fear so extreme they cannot go in public places, remaining isolated in their own home. In rare cases, the person will also experience high anxiety when left alone at home if they are used with somebody permanently with them. Panic attacks are the most common symptoms and the person will have them whenever they feel insecure.  Other symptoms are high blood pressure, sweating, nausea, chocking, chest pains, shortness of breath, fear of being out of control, fear of dying, trembling, etc.
Agoraphobia usually occurs after 20+ years and it seems to affect more women than men.

-SSRIs and SNRIs
-cognitive behavioral therapy (10-20 visits):   
  • Learning to gain control over the feelings
  • Recognizing and replace panic-causing thoughts
  • Stress management
  • Relaxation techniques

-gradual exposure
  • Desensitization
  • Exposure therapy

Also, remember, if you suffer from panic disorder, an early treatment will prevent agoraphobia. 

Further reading and sources:  
Anxiety disorders, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR (4th ed.,) p. 429

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Schizophreniform disorder - A (Very) Short Overview

Schizophreniform disorder  is a mental disorder characterized by a transitory psychotic episode. The most common symptoms are: delusions, hallucinations, catatonic behavior, social withdrawal, and disorganized speech. Other symptoms may include: lack of energy, poor hygiene, apathy, etc. These are all very similar to schizophrenia, but they will disappear spontaneously after 1-2 months (but less than 6 months).

V. Magnan described this disorder in the 19th century as one with an unexpected debut, unsystematic symptoms, and delirium prone to mystical and persecutory themes, aprosexia, and spatiotemporal confusion.

The prevalence of schizophreniform disorder is distributed among sexes equally, but the peak onset will be between ages of 18-24 years in men and 24-35 years in women.

If the symptoms persist beyond 6 months we no longer face a schizophreniform disorder diagnosis, but one of schizophrenia. There is also a significant risk associated with schizophreniform patients, especially if they go into a depression after their psychotic episodes. This is where psychotherapy may help patients understand their psychotic episodes and it is likely to improve the prognosis and recovery as patients are less prone to experience relapse.

I. Barrelet published a statistical prognosis regarding this disorder in 1986 showing the following evolution:  1 out of 7 cases are actually signs of schizophrenia,  1 out of 4 cases was the sign of bipolar disorder psychosis, and in 1 out of 10 cases it was an acute symptom of bipolar disorder. However, despite this statistic, prognosis is usually optimistic. A relapse is influenced by physical health, use of substances and alcohol, family history, environment, and other episodes. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Post apocalyptic novels, logical fallacies, and eating disorders

I haven't done one of these in a while. There are so many links I wanted to show you, I probably forgot most of them. Let's start with this blog. This is so great, it's actually an online post-apocalyptic novel. Check it out, I know I loved it.

This is obviously hilarious because is from Cracked. Another interesting article from Cracked is this one about logical fallacies and how we are wrong most of the time.  Also,check out this link with a new study about autism and this one about a new therapy that might help children with autism say their first words.  This other one is about new evidence about earliest humans in Europe. If you are not sure of your path in life, read this article about signs that you might be giving up your dreams.

This article about the role of family in the treatment of eating disorders is fascinating. Here's John Carlton's website, he's only the BEST COPYWRITER IN THE WORLD.

Today I learned about Impostor Syndrome:

Impostor syndrome describes a situation where someone feels like an imposter or fraud because they think that their accomplishments are nowhere near as good as those of the people around them. Usually, their accomplishments are just as good, and the person is being needlessly insecure. 

I'll leave you guys with this nice song:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Misconceptions in Psychology: Left/Right Hemisphere Dominance

You probably heard people saying to you that you use your left or right brain more; movies, books, and even school, they all promote this idea. Unfortunately, this isn’t a true indicator of how you think. Thinking is actually more complex and there are more than one types of thinking implied in one process of though, despite it being analytic or creative.

This lateralization of our brain is a theory based on a very simplistic understanding of how our brain works. The whole idea started being popular after Gazzaniga and Sperry’s tests on people with epilepsy. They severed patients' corpus callosum, obtaining what was known as split brain. In tests, patients used their hemispheres independently. However, this cannot be generalized to all people, especially people who don’t suffer from epilepsy or had their corpus callosum severed. But there was a lot of fuss in the media about the discovery and soon a lot of self help books started promoting the idea that we use just one brain side. 

Seminars that would help people enhance a certain part of the brain started being really popular and everybody continued believing this erroneous theory that our brain is divided into a mathematical/deductive/logical part and another one which is creative/visual/imaginative. Next time you hear such pop-psychology in an academic environment you should point out that it might not be the best approach on how the brain works. 

Don't get me wrong though, there are differences when it comes to both hemispheres, but the similarities are much more pronounced.

PS: I want to apologize that I haven't been able to answer all the comments and comment on other blog lately.  I hope I will have more time to resume my favorite activity pretty soon. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Micro Introduction to Epistemology

Epistemology is narrowly defined in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as the study of knowledge and justified belief. It is a branch of philosophy that actually studies the nature, objectives, origins and methods of scientific knowledge. The questions it asks are: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What is the source and structure of knowledge and what are its limits? The name of this field comes from episteme, which means knowledge, and logos, which means study or theory. According to epistemology, knowledge is true belief, but don’t think at the term “belief” as how we use it in our natural language. One must also not consider a belief born from logical fallacies as knowledge. So, epistemology studies how belief becomes knowledge, considering that knowledge equals truth (epistemology considers that false propositions cannot be known).


Types of knowledge

The word knowledge can be used in various ways, but the distinction that should be made clear here is the fact that philosophers use this word in a factive sense. However, even the factive usages of knowledge are many and need to be distinguished. Some philosophers believe that there is a clear distinction between “knowing that”, “knowing how”(knowing how to drive a car), and the acquaintance knowledge(this could also be called familiarity); but epistemology is mostly interested in the first type.

As we can see, epistemology focuses on knowledge. However, its main focus is the knowledge of propositions such as S knows that P, where S is the subject who has knowledge and p is the proposition that is known. Epistemology then asks: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for S to know that P? As I mentioned earlier, there are certain conditions: knowledge requires truth and it also requires belief. But S believing p, for example, could just be a manner of luck, so knowledge also needs justification. This analysis has been shown to be incomplete and it requires another element called reliability. This is called the Gettier Problem, but I will not go any further with that for the moment.

If we sink deeper into this problem we can also distinguish different types of prepositional knowledge. Based on the source of the knowledge, people can have a priori knowledge which is non empirical, meaning that it is independent of any experience and can be obtained with the use of reason. Another type of knowledge is empirical or a posteriori knowledge which can only be obtained by certain senses, experience and the use of reason. Epistemology addresses all kinds of knowledge with different standards and methods for a priori and a posteriori. There are different conceptions here:  rationalists believe that all knowledge is grounded on reason, while empiricists believe that all knowledge is based on experience. Another distinction is made when we address collective or individual knowledge. The field of social epistemology studies how collectives of individuals acquire knowledge. Social epistemology studies knowledge in a social context, how human knowledge becomes a collective achievement. For some, social epistemology should retain the same mission as classical epistemology, but others believe that it should be a successor discipline that must replace traditional epistemology.

Sources of Knowledge

In general epistemology knowledge is gained through direct analysis, formalized logical analysis, critical and historical analysis, and experiments. The study of scientific knowledge is made through inductive means and it leads to generalization regarding the process of scientific knowledge and a critical analysis.

The sources of knowledge are perception, introspection, memory, reason, and testimony.

Perception includes the five senses. There should be a distinction made if we actually perceive X or it seems to us that X. In the latter, also called an experience of perceptual seeming, X is false because experience is fallible.

Introspection allows us to know our own mental state. So it is less prone to error since it can be really difficult for me to seem that I might have a certain inner state. So, there is no difference between appearance and reality when it comes to introspection, giving it a special status and making it infallible (even a source of certainty, according to some).

Memory is fallible because it cannot be precise. Something could seem to be a part of our memory, so we could be wrong. Epistemology’s problem with memory is deciding whether it is a source of knowledge about the past. The sad truth is that all we know resides in memory and its reliability is problematic.

This is actually an a priory type of knowledge. Epistemology has some questions prepared for it too: does it exist? Some skeptics deny apriority and believe that everything is empirical. If it is possible, then how does it manifest itself and to what extent? For example, some empiricists argued that a priori knowledge is somehow inferior since it is limited to the realm of the analytic and not about the world. There is also the issue of necessary or contingent truths, but more on that, hopefully, when we will have time to analyze things thoroughly (I promised this is going to be extremely short).

Testimony doesn’t have its own cognitive faculty and the knowledge aquired through testimony is actually coming to know that p on the basis of someone’s saying that p. Epistemology asks why is testimony a soruce of knowledge? Well, it only is when it comes from a reliable source. But how do we decide what is reliable or not when we cannot gain knowledge on that? If we don’t know the grade or reliability of a person that person doesn’t put us in a position of knowing something. (Read this about testimony if you are interested in knowing more, I promise it’s interesting )

I will stop now and just say that there are fascinating subjects in epistemology like: evolutionary epistemology (I think you will see more on this since it’s a current obsession of mine), religious epistemology, moral epistemology, meta-epistemology, etc. I will try to write more on this subject, hopefully on more particular areas. 

Sources and further reading: