May, 2010


14
May 10

The politics of human heredity in the USSR, 1920-1940

The politics of human heredity in the USSR, 1920-1940

Adams MB.
Department of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104-6310.

Abstract

After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, Iurii Filipchenko (in Petrograd) and Nikolai Koltsov (in Moscow) created centers of genetic research where eugenics prospered as a socially relevant part of the new “experimental” biology. The Russian Eugenics Society, established in 1920, was dominated by research-oriented professionals. However, Bolshevik activists in the movement tried to translate eugenics into social policies (among them, sterilization) and in 1929, Marxist geneticist Alexander Serebrovsky was stimulated by the forthcoming Five-Year Plan to urge a massive eugenic program of human artificial insemination. With the advent of Stalinism, such attempts to “biologize” social phenomena became ideologically untenable and the society was abolished in 1930. Three years later, however, a number of eugenicists reassembled in the world’s first institute of medical genetics, created by Bolshevik physician Solomon Levit after this return from a postdoctoral year in Texas with H.J. Muller. Muller himself moved to the Soviet Union in 1933, where he agitated for eugenics and wrote Stalin in 1936 to urge an artificial insemination program. Shortly thereafter, Muller left Russia, several of his colleagues were shot, and the Institute of Medical Genetics was disbanded. During the next three decades, Lysenkoists regularly invoked the Soviet eugenic legacy to claim that genetics itself was fascist.

(Link)


13
May 10

Eugenics and American social history, 1880-1950

Eugenics and American social history, 1880-1950

Allen GE.
Department of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130.

Abstract

Eugenics, the attempt to improve the human species socially through better breeding was a widespread and popular movement in the United States and Europe between 1910 and 1940. Eugenics was an attempt to use science (the newly discovered Mendelian laws of heredity) to solve social problems (crime, alcoholism, prostitution, rebelliousness), using trained experts. Eugenics gained much support from progressive reform thinkers, who sought to plan social development using expert knowledge in both the social and natural sciences. In eugenics, progressive reformers saw the opportunity to attack social problems efficiently by treating the cause (bad heredity) rather than the effect. Much of the impetus for social and economic reform came from class conflict in the period 1880-1930, resulting from industrialization, unemployment, working conditions, periodic depressions, and unionization. In response, the industrialist class adopted firmer measures of economic control (abandonment of laissez-faire principles), the principles of government regulation (interstate commerce, labor), and the cult of industrial efficiency. Eugenics was only one aspect of progressive reform, but as a scientific claim to explain the cause of social problems, it was a particularly powerful weapon in the arsenal of class conflict at the time.

(Link)


13
May 10

Autistics Have A Normally Functioning Mirror Neuron System

I’m not surprised by these results. (I was skeptical of the theory that suggested it wasn’t functioning normally, for various reasons.)

Basically, some people had a theory that autistics had a dysfunction in their mirror neuron system. This evidence is evidence against that theory.

From ScienceDaily

A team of neuroscientists has found that the mirror neuron system, which is thought to play a central role in social communications, responds normally in individuals with autism. Their findings, reported in the journal Neuron, counter theories suggesting that a mirror system dysfunction causes the social difficulties exhibited by individuals with autism.
[...]
These results, they conclude, argue strongly against the “dysfunctional mirror system hypothesis of autism” because they show that mirror system areas respond normally in individuals with autism.

The actual paper this is from is: "Normal Movement Selectivity in Autism", by Ilan Dinsteinsend, Cibu Thomas, Kate Humphreys, Nancy Minshew, Marlene Behrmann, and David J. Heeger.


13
May 10

Measuring Creativity

How do you measure creativity?! Is there something like IQ for creativity?! Perhaps a set of measurements, and not just one.

Here’s an except from an article on the New York Times that talks about some of Rex E. Jung‘s research….

[N]o single measure for creativity exists. While I.Q. tests, though controversial, are still considered a reliable test of at least a certain kind of intelligence, there is no equivalent when it comes to creativity — no Creativity Quotient, or C.Q.

Dr. Jung’s lab uses a combination of measures as proxies for creativity. One is the Creativity Achievement Questionnaire, which asks people to report their own aptitude in 10 fields, including the visual arts, music, creative writing, architecture, humor and scientific discovery.

Another is a test for “divergent thinking,” a classic measure developed by the pioneering psychologist J. P. Guilford. Here a person is asked to come up with “new and useful” functions for a familiar object, like a brick, a pencil or a sheet of paper.

Dr. Jung’s team also presents subjects with weird situations. Imagine people could instantly change their sex, or imagine clouds had strings; what would be the implications?

In another assessment, a subject is asked to draw the taste of chocolate or write a caption for a humorous cartoon, as is done in The New Yorker magazine’s weekly contest. “Humor is an important part of creativity,” Dr. Jung said.

The responses are used to generate what Dr. Jung calls a “Composite Creativity Index.”


12
May 10

The Grass They Feed On

A nice quote from Razib Khan

[I]n the ancient world there was little motive for peasants to move, as there was little difference in quality of life from locale to locale. In a world where productivity gains were marginal and zero-sum economic psychology dominated the motive existed for the rent-seeking elites to move onto greener pastures, not the productive peasantry who were the green pastures no matter where they were resident.


12
May 10

Light Physical Touch From Female Can Increase Financial Risk Taking

This doesn’t seem to be a sexual thing that only affects men. But seems to be something similar to the affect of a mother’s touch, that affects both men and women.

From ScienceDaily

A woman’s touch is all it takes for people to throw caution to the wind. [...] If a female experimenter patted a participant on the back, they’d risk more money than if she just talked to them, or if a man did the patting. The researchers think this comes from the way that mothers use touch to make their babies feel secure.
[...]
The researchers found that participants who were touched felt more secure and took bigger risks than those who weren’t — but only if they were touched by a woman. The effect was stronger for a touch on the back than for a handshake, but went away entirely for participants who were touched by a man.

The results suggest that a woman’s touch works the same on adults as it does on infants: making them feel more secure and more willing to take risks.

From the actual paper…

Physical Contact and Financial Risk Taking

Jonathan Levav and Jennifer J. Argo
[...]

Abstract

We show that minimal physical contact can increase people’s sense of security and consequently lead them to increased risk-taking behavior. In three experiments, with both hypothetical and real payoffs, a female experimenter’s light, comforting pat on the shoulder led participants to greater financial risk taking. Further, this effect was both mediated and moderated by feelings of security in both male and female participants. Finally, we established the boundary conditions for the impact of physical contact on risk-taking behaviors by demonstrating that the effect does not occur when the touching is performed by a male and is attenuated when the touch consists of a handshake. The results suggest that subtle physical contact can be strongly influential in decision making and the willingness to accept risk.

(Link)


12
May 10

Psychology of Betrayal

Betrayal: A psychological analysis

Stanley Jack Rachman
[...]

Abstract

Betrayal is the sense of being harmed by the intentional actions or omissions of a trusted person. The most common forms of betrayal are harmful disclosures of confidential information, disloyalty, infidelity, dishonesty. They can be traumatic and cause considerable distress. The effects of betrayal include shock, loss and grief, morbid pre-occupation, damaged self-esteem, self-doubting, anger. Not infrequently they produce life-altering changes. The effects of a catastrophic betrayal are most relevant for anxiety disorders, and OCD and PTSD in particular.

Betrayal can cause mental contamination, and the betrayer commonly becomes a source of contamination. In a series of experiments it was demonstrated that feelings of mental contamination can be aroused by imagining unacceptable non-consensual acts. The magnitude of the mental contamination was boosted by the introduction of betrayal themes. Feelings of mental contamination can also be aroused in some ‘perpetrators’ of non-consensual acts involving betrayal. The psychological significance of acts of betrayal is discussed.

(Link)


11
May 10

Optimism Boosts The Immune System

Seems like this is likely related to the placebo effect.

Optimistic Expectancies and Cell-Mediated Immunity

The Role of Positive Affect

Suzanne C. Segerstrom and Sandra E. Sephton
[...]

Abstract

Optimistic expectancies affect many psychosocial outcomes and may also predict immune system changes and health, but the nature and mechanisms of any such physiological effects have not been identified. The present study related law-school expectancies to cell-mediated immunity (CMI), examining the within- and between-person components of this relationship and affective mediators. First-year law students (N = 124) completed questionnaire measures of expectancies and affect and received delayed-type hypersensitivity skin tests at five time points. A positive relationship between optimistic expectancies and CMI occurred: Changes in optimism correlated with changes in CMI. Likewise, changes in optimism predicted changes in positive and, to a lesser degree, negative affect, but the relationship between optimism and immunity was partially accounted for only by positive affect. This dynamic relationship between expectancies and immunity has positive implications for psychological interventions to improve health, particularly those that increase positive affect.

(Link)


11
May 10

Stress Makes Men Less Picky

The conclusion they are claiming…. Men usually like women that are “similar” to them, but when the men are stressed. they aren’t so picky in this respect.

Effects of stress on human mating preferences: stressed individuals prefer dissimilar mates

Johanna Lass-Hennemann, Christian E. Deuter, Linn K. Kuehl, André Schulz, Terry D. Blumenthal and Hartmut Schachinger
[...]

Abstract

Although humans usually prefer mates that resemble themselves, mating preferences can vary with context. Stress has been shown to alter mating preferences in animals, but the effects of stress on human mating preferences are unknown. Here, we investigated whether stress alters men’s preference for self-resembling mates. Participants first underwent a cold-pressor test (stress induction) or a control procedure. Then, participants viewed either neutral pictures or pictures of erotic female nudes whose facial characteristics were computer-modified to resemble either the participant or another participant, or were not modified, while startle eyeblink responses were elicited by noise probes. Erotic pictures were rated as being pleasant, and reduced startle magnitude compared with neutral pictures. In the control group, startle magnitude was smaller during foreground presentation of photographs of self-resembling female nudes compared with other-resembling female nudes and non-manipulated female nudes, indicating a higher approach motivation to self-resembling mates. In the stress group, startle magnitude was larger during foreground presentation of self-resembling female nudes compared with other-resembling female nudes and non-manipulated female nudes, indicating a higher approach motivation to dissimilar mates. Our findings show that stress affects human mating preferences: unstressed individuals showed the expected preference for similar mates, but stressed individuals seem to prefer dissimilar mates.

(Emphasis mine.)

(Link)


10
May 10

Paternalism is the problem

A nice quote from Will Wilkinson

Paternalist policy is often justified on the grounds that members of a certain category of people are less than fully-equipped to act wisely on their own behalf. But usually it has turned out that this seemed so — that members of a certain category are less than fully-equipped to act wisely on their own behalf – only because this is an effect paternalism. In short, paternalism makes itself seem necessary.