‘Neurological correlates’ – a blog worth a visit

Time to plug a blog readers may or may not yet be familiar with.

Swivelchair at Neurological correlates deals with neuroscience and human behaviour. He translates current psychology/brain research into understandable terms. But more than that, he formulates his own hypotheses. Here is one an intriguing idea:

I’m interested in white matter, which is sort of the neural wiring in the brain, connecting the areas of gray matter. I think that the trouble with disordered thinking may be because of faulty wiring between functional areas of the brain. If this is the case, then that give me hope that it can be fixed — growing new synaptic connections may be a matter of blocking inhibitors or of growing new connections.

In a series of excellent recent posts he considers psychopaths, etc. in the light of possible faulty white matter. Do have a look-see; they warrant reading. Here are a few things that came to my mind.

Do Psychopaths Dream?
January 4, 2008

I noticed that in recovering alcoholics I know, they don’t report dreams, and some have said they don’t dream. And then in suspected psychopaths I know, same thing — lack of dreaming.

If this observation is correct, he suspects a white matter deficiencies. Any feedback from readers would no doubt be appreciated.

ISO Psychopath or Narcissist
January 3

In this post Swivelchair does two things.

First, he uses Google trends to analyse which term is searched most often – ‘psychopath’ or ‘narcissist’ – and reproduces the results for the reader’s perusal.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the region from which most total searches come is South Africa which is fast becoming the world’s serial sex-crime epicenter. (I also notice on that Google search page an article in the Columbus Dispatch – ‘ Historian says Jack the Ripper was South African psychopath’!)

Second, Swivelchair links to an article by Playfuls which discusses Dr. John Clarkes’s ideas on the workplace psychopath. Generally solid stuff. My only quibble is in the bits I’ve highlighted where two things get blurred. :

The workplace psychopath will do anything to get the power, the status and the salary they crave.

“The workplace psychopath thinks the same as the criminal psychopath. They are all out for themselves,” says Clarke. “However, the difference is that where the violent criminal psychopath physically destroys their victims, the workplace one psychologically destroys them.”

I’ve argued that in the first instance the psychopath craves power over another; this involves destruction of one sort or another. Status, money, etc. are added bonuses. It is the narcissist who craves admiration and the Machiavellian who craves status.

January White Matter Days: Pedophiles have deficient white matter in areas relating to sexual cues
January 2

Continuing his theme of white matter deficiency, Swivelchair links to a research article by Cantor, et al., and comments:

Male pedophiles have white matter deficiencies in particular areas — not surprisingly connecting the frontal lobes to the areas of the brain related to sexual cues.
I wish the people on “To Catch a Predator” would consent to being in a study to see what it is that makes it OK to sexualize a child.

Movie Review:”Margot at the Wedding” and “The Hoax”
January 2

Believing that too many reviewers miss the psychological essence of of films, he offers two fine ‘Neuro movie reviews’.

I don’t think Clifford Irving [played by Richard Gere in ‘The hoax’] intentionally ever set out to hurt anyone, and this was somewhat triangulated by my personal contact. I think he was sort of the “Bill Clinton” type– maybe a little more anxiety, a little less charm. Probably smarter. I don’t know. Maybe he did intentionally hurt those around him. But, he seemed to really just want money and the man-about-town kind of life.
The “Margot” character [played by Nicole Kidman in ‘Margot at the wedding’], on the other hand, was seriously an emotional murderer, if not on her way to being a physical one. And in the movie, she knew it. (The scenes with her son show how horrendous a mother like this can be).

As if to prove Swivelchair’s criticism of much movie reviewing, see ‘Down in the valley’ and then read the Wikipedia review which is accurate and completely misses the psychological reality of the protagonist played by Edward Norton.

Neuro Music Review: “Flagpole Sitta”, Narcissistic stream of consciousness?
January 1

This question refers to the Harvey Danger, ‘Flagpole sitta’, song which is linked to via Youtube.

Here’s one verse:

Been around the world and found
That only stupid people are breeding
The cretins cloning and feeding
And I don’t even own a TV

One last thing, the site is notable for its use of old illustrations.

Are there sites that warrant a review? Let me know.

Photo: misty rewritten, originally uploaded by did.it


13 thoughts on “‘Neurological correlates’ – a blog worth a visit

  1. DrSteve, Big thank you for the kind review! I’m honored!

    One reason I started blogging is to “pay it forward” — yours and other blogs have been extremely empowering to me, alone, spraying coffee at my computer monitor in astonishment when I’m wondering what on earth other people are thinking.

    So big thanks to you for your graciousness. Big encouragement for anyone else who thinks they might have something to say to start a blog. By all means, connect with fellow bloggers.

    Maybe this will be helpful: I start with an idea, like, “what is the best way to tell if I’m dealing with a psychopath that doesn’t take a lot of time?”

    And a hypothesis: “There is a neural disconnect, and some other people who have this disconnection seem to never dream.”

    Then I go and try to find data which supports or refutes this hypothesis.

    Because of my background, I can generally wade through the scientific jargon, and that’s what I post.

    But I’m no expert, and the most difficult thing is overcoming my own self-criticism: in my head are all the scientists and experts I know from corporate-land, telling me how wrong I am and how my conclusions can’t be drawn from those results, etc.

    So right now, it looks like maybe the psychopathy checklist should include, “individual does not report dreaming”.

    Could be wrong — plus, it’s a little tough to ask someone if the have dreams when you’re at a business function.

    Thanks again Drsteve — Swivelchair

  2. swivelchair – One of the really great (and sometimes not so great) things about blogging is that it enables/permits one to be more adventurous than is possible in the academic world. One can play a little loose and free, combining as-yet unrelated notions to combine third ideas that are certainly worth contemplation.

  3. Hi DrSteve and swivelchair,

    The only way we’re likely to get anywhere new is when we are freed from academic constraints. Most of the time is spend chasing other’s work and footnotes – hardly a recipe for innovation. Most Ph.D. theses contain one new idea – and this has to be justified by reference to the literature!

    As long as you put them forward as your own idea and state that you may be wrong, then bring on boldness! Bring on the new connections! In the brain and on blogs!

    If ever the world needed new ideas and their effective implementation surely it is now!

  4. evan – Agreed. The thought of all the work that has gone into all those micro-focussed dissertations gathering dust – well, it makes one blanch.

    PhD student: But you write contentious and speculative things, why can’t we?
    Professor: I’ve paid my dues.

  5. Swivelchair,
    I caught just a portion of a program about a little girl who had been locked away from birth for 12 or 13 years by her parents before being discovered. The experts estimated emotional maturity to be around 18 months. The attempt at rehibilitation they considered unsuccessful and she is living in a home. The scientists’ conclusions based the failure on the inability to grow or reroute white matter. In other words, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

    Without getting timely or deep (impossible?), considering rehabilitation of the psychopath, is all white matter not of the same makeup? If not ,can it be differentiated which can be altered and which can’t? Can it be differentiated which are linked to traits of a psychopath? If so, do you know if none, part, or all are or are not of this group of use it or lose it?

    I’d appreciate any thoughts.

  6. Hi Benzthere and Dr Steve

    Benzthere – sad so sad about people treating children that way.. . . that reminds me of the eastern-European orphans, too.

    OK, here goes. I think white matter may be the unsung hero of mental health.

    1. OK, we know white matter is like wiring — directions (the way the synapses fire, north to south, say), connecting two points (two areas of gray matter).

    2. Where white matter is defective, it’s as though that part of the gray matter is “unplugged” — that’s what the whole “do psychopaths dream” thing was about, maybe the frontal lobe is disconnected. The frontal lobe still works, but it’s not connected to the basal areas of the brain involved in REM sleep.

    3. Interesting reports (Just pulled the citations today)
    a. White matter defects are present in dyslexia-symptoms.
    b. White matter defects are present in Williams’ Syndrome — maybe accounting for the lack of eye-hand coordination
    c. White matter defects are present in OCD (still looking at that)

    4. In all those — dyslexia, Williams Syndrome, and OCD — people are functional, just certain aspects of personality are distorted. Sort of like one area is “unplugged”

    5. These seem to be local effects. Contrast, say, multiple sclerosis, where there is an immune attack on the myelin sheath, not localized.

    6. With psychopaths — and fetal alcohol effects — there seems to be a developmental issue, in that the brain looks not fully developed when you do an fmri (I think or maybe I have this wrong). Both have serious problems with moral/altruism/empathy indicating a disconnect of the frontal lobe.

    7. Maybe failure to fully develop the white matter in utero is what happens with psychopaths. Or maybe there is some fetal alcohol effect.

    8. But, pathological liars have plenty of white matter in their frontal lobes — in fact, too much. (There is a reference on this, Y. Yang et al.). So maybe this is the brain overcompensating for some sort of blockage in failing to let the white matter grow in the right direction. White matter overgrowth in the frontal lobes as a compensatory mechanism for defective white matter connections in the emotional centers.

    9. Can you grow it back? Ah.
    With Williams syndrome, the genetic problem is with the neuron cytoskeleton, so this would probably require new cells from someone else.

    Or, the gray matter terrain may block the white matter growth, physically. Like a tumor. With deprivation, there may not be the undulations or textures or even the cell density. (It’s very sad).

    But with psychopaths or fetal alcohol — if everything else is normal, maybe there is a growth factor — like glial derived neurotrophic factor or brain derived neurotrophic factor (or there may be a bunch of others) — that could be administered locally for sprouting the cells.

    (the delivery past the blood brain barrier is tough for proteins, and so this medieval process – drilling a hole the size of a quarter in the skull, and putting in a micro-pump — is needed).

    There. Sorry for the length of the post, but I’ll try to put something more comprehensible together on my blog when I get a chance.

  7. swivelchair – Thanks for this detailed answer – I look forward to your blog post!

    Unplugged – I love the notion (also it sounds like ‘MTV unplugged’ which is nice but irrelevant).

    I saw the Oliver Sacks documentary on Williams syndrome – what delightful children they are!

    (By the way, there’s an email waiting for you.)

  8. Thank you Swivelchair. I appreciate the time you spent and that was good explanation of a complicated process.

    The show was awful to watch. Once discovered, before the father was arrested, he committed suicide. The little girl learned some words, but was never able to string words together to form a sentence.

    From the program, they said (beyond in utero) there are stages of developmental stimulation that also must take place at the correct time in order for the circuitry to develop properly. So I wonder also how much nurture contributes or fails to contribute too. It all seems pretty unimaginable to me, being able to treat some of these malfunctions, yet remarkable how much about brain functioning is known.

    I too will watch for your post.

  9. DrS and B,

    But there definitely is nature/nurture, and how irreversible organic changes are


    In that post there’s a link to some slides from an expert on the delayed-reaction of brain changes with child abuse.

    There’s a slide deck of about 100+ slides, but you can go through pretty fast.

    (The white matter post should be a few more days – you know, the first week after vacation. . ..)

  10. Late response, but…have you considered the obvious when it comes to figuring out new ways of discovering what Ps are really like? How about talking to their victims, who describe experiences that aren’t one those lists that doctors use? There is a lot more to the reality of the P than you know. It’s up close and personal for people on some web boards and blogs.

    1. I’m not sure why you say “a lot more…than I know”. I know darn well. I do agree that there are excellent sites out there where victims descibe their lives with psychopaths – the Lovefraud blog is excellent.

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