Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Phone Psychotherapy

Obtaining therapy via teleconference is just as effective as face-to-face sessions, according to a new research by Stephane Guay, a psychiatry professor at the Universite de Montreal.

"Previous studies have shown that phobia therapy via teleconferencing was just as efficient as face to face contact," says Dr. Guay, who is also director of the Trauma Studies Centre at the Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital's Fernand-Seguin Research Centre. "We wanted to see if the process could also be used for post-traumatic stress treatment."

Until recently, telemedicine was limited to doctors using the technology to communicate with peers who would weigh-in on x-rays results or supervise a surgery. With teletherapy, patients could theoretically consult experts from the other side of the globe.

As part of this study, 17 post-traumatic stress victims from the Outaouais region underwent 16 to 25 sessions via teleconference with Montreal therapists. A control group consisted of patients receiving face-to-face therapy.

The teletherapy participants, however, still needed to visit a hospital equipped with the necessary equipment and supervised by medical personnel. "It would be ethically indefensible for them to stay home," says Dr. Guay. "Post-traumatic stress therapies require that a patient relive certain traumatic events and should they become uncomfortable it is mandatory that someone be there to intervene."

The teletherapy group and the control group equally benefited from their therapy. "The same number of patients in both groups saw a significant decrease in their post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety symptoms," says Dr. Guay. "In fact, 75 to 80 percent overcame their chronic post-traumatic stress."

Patients were later evaluated and none were affected by distance to their therapist and none expressed discomfort about the technological aspects of the procedure. "In fact, comments were more in favor of tele-therapy," says Dr. Guay. "It seems patients appreciate a certain distance from their therapist."

Teletherapy could be increasingly used to provide access to treatments requiring specialists who are unavailable in remote regions. While Dr. Guay says teletherapy can't be used for all types of rehabilitation, it would lend itself well to the treatment of depression, phobias and eating disorders.

Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins
University of Montreal

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dancing Babies

Babies Are Born To Dance According To New Research

Researchers have discovered that infants respond to the rhythm and tempo of music and find it more engaging than speech.

The findings, based on the study of infants aged between five months and two years old, suggest that babies may be born with a predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music.

The research was conducted by Dr Marcel Zentner, from the University of York's Department of Psychology, and Dr Tuomas Eerola, from the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Jyvaskyla.

Dr Zentner said: "Our research suggests that it is the beat rather than other features of the music, such as the melody, that produces the response in infants.

"We also found that the better the children were able to synchronize their movements with the music the more they smiled.

"It remains to be understood why humans have developed this particular predisposition. One possibility is that it was a target of natural selection for music or that it has evolved for some other function that just happens to be relevant for music processing."

Infants listened to a variety of audio stimuli including classical music, rhythmic beats and speech. Their spontaneous movements were recorded by video and 3D motion-capture technology and compared across the different stimuli.

Professional ballet dancers were also used to analyse the extent to which the babies matched their movement to the music.

The findings are published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Man Who Tastes Shapes

The Man Who Tastes Shapes

By: Keith Varnum

Some people see, taste, hear and feel things the rest of us don' t. James Wannerton tastes words: "New York is runny eggs. London is extremely lumpy mashed potatoes." Carol Steen sees every letter with a color: "Z is the color of beer, a light ale."
For Carol Crane, music is felt: "I always feel guitars on my ankles and violins on my face." Other people experience smells when exposed to shapes, or hear sounds inside taste. And for some, numbers have color, sounds have smell, and words have flavor. Music is not only heard, it's seen and tasted--the list goes on.

Neurologist Richard Cytowic explores this surreal world of " synesthesia" in his book, The Man Who Tasted Shapes. " Synesthesia means joined sensation, and some people are born with two or more of their senses hooked together," explains Cytowic.
The most common form of synesthesia is when a person see letters in different colors instead of seeing black ink letters as black. Although people differ from each other in what colors the letters are, the colors usually remain the same for each individual throughout their life.

Depending on what food they taste, other synesthetes experience taste as a shape, like a triangle or circle. Another person sees orange when feeling pain.
For New York artist Carol Steen, synesthesia is inspiration. She sees shapes and colors when listening to music or receiving acupuncture-images that she transforms into works of art. "It's like putting on sunglasses and being able to see the world through the sunglasses," she says. Once, when Steen injured her leg while hiking, all she saw was a world bathed in orange.

And, Carol Crane does more than simply hear a concert. She physically experiences each instrument within a different part of her body.

Still another person hears a sound that tastes like pickles. For as long as he can recall, words have triggered the part of Wannerton's brain that responds to tastes and flavors. "I can remember being in a big school assembly hall listening to the Lords Prayer," he says, "and it was while listening to that, I used to get flavor after flavor coming in. It was mostly bacon."

Wannerton says his synesthesia causes him some discomfort in his personal life. "I've had girlfriends with names I couldn't stand saying. Tracey is a very strong flavored name and it's flaky- pastry. Whenever I was in her company, that's what I thought of constantly." And at the end of the day, he suffers from sensory overload. But still he doesn't want a cure. "I've had it since I can remember, and taking it away--I wouldn't like the thought of that," he says.
What's going on inside the synesthete's brain?

Dr. Vilyanur Ramachandran, a neurologist who studies quirks of the brain, was scanning the brain of McAllister, a man who sees music. During the imaging, the music being played stimulates not only McAllister's audio cortex, but also his visual cortex. "The visual area lit up in him," says Ramachandran, "so you know there was neurological activity in the visual region of his brain even though he was only listening to music." McAllister describes it as a "Fantasia-like experience: explosions of color all over the place. A bright flash of lavender getting dimmer and dimmer; now we're going over a pink staircase, some lavender violins. It looks very beautiful."

This is all the more surprising since McAllister is blind! He lost his sight when he was 12, the result of a degenerative eye disease. But he never lost his synesthesia.
Are we all born with joined sensation?

Though scientists can prove synesthesia exists physiologically, they still don't know what causes it. Some researchers think cross-wiring in the brain produces the phenomenon. Another theory is that everyone is born with synesthesia-that we, as infants, experience the world as a jumble of interwoven sensations. Then, as most of us mature, our physical senses slowly become distinct and sharply defined, like images being brought into focus by a camera lens. With synesthetes this doesn' t happen.

For some, synesthetic perceptions seem to exist outside the body. Carrie Schultz describes how she sees electric guitar riffs in purple swirls that envelop her.
For others, the awareness is internal, in their "mind's eye." When Glenda Larcombe hears a truck backing up--making a beep- beep-beep sound--she sees the beeps as a series of red dots. The mingling of senses is often difficult for synesthetes to describe. Larcombe, for instance, said the red dots she sees when she hears beeping are not part of her actual vision. "It's not like I would see a red dot right in front of me-it's in my mind's eye" she says in an interview. She also reports feeling her interviewer's voice, "like a wave, like water, with yellow and orange."
Ex-journalist, Page Getz says "God is blue." She describes headache pain as a kind of greenish-orange, music by the rock group Nirvana as having the taste or sensation of Dr Pepper, and the color after sex as static silver. She quit her job as a journalist because her editors' word changes often disrupted what she saw as a sentence's natural chromatic progression.

Everyone's got blended senses to a degree Psychologist Carol Mills says this sensory-blending ability might be a normal part of all adult brains. "It may go on in all of us even if we don't have synesthesia," said Mills. "For example, if I give you a very high-pitched note and a series of colors and ask you to match one, you are going to pick a light color. If I give you a low bass note, you are probably going to pick a dark color. The difference is when a synesthete hears a low note, they see dark. When they hear a high note, they see a light color."

No firm figures exist for how common synesthesia is. The best estimates range from 1 in 200 to 1 in 20,000.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Are We Teaching Attention Skills?

Are we teaching attention skills?
By Jessica Garrett, PhD

We know the human brain is capable of remarkable plasticity. New research suggests that the brain continues developing into adulthood. One of the last regions of the brain to develop is the pre-frontal cortex.

Recent research also suggests that ADD and ADHD have a basis in the brain. In particular the pre-frontal cortex and the motor cortex seem slower to mature in the brains of people with ADHD. Diet, exercise, and a lot of stimulant drugs are used to cope with the symptoms of ADD & ADHD. Stimulants in particular can be a god-send to people and families coping with ADD/ADHD. But are these drugs used in concert with learning SKILLS and STRATEGIES for focusing attention and other executive functioning skills.

Let's back up a step. Executive functioning is the name we give to all the "parenting" tasks accomplished by the brain -- specifically the pre-frontal cortex. This includes planning, thinking flexibly, thinking abstractly, acquiring rules, initiating appropriate actions and inhibiting inappropriate actions, and selecting relevant sensory information. I think of the pre-frontal cortex as the most "adult" portion of the brain, not only because it doesn't complete it's development until well into young-adulthood, but also because these tasks of executive functioning seem particularly "adult."

These executive functioning tasks are some of the tasks that kids with ADD/ADHD have most difficulty with. But here's the thing: all kids have trouble with these things until they LEARN HOW TO DO THEM. What three year old can think abstractly? Not a one. What 8 year old doesn't occasionally behave inappropriately (can I get a fart joke?)? These are things we teach kids as their brains develop. It's a back-and-forth between the development of the brain's capabilities and the demands of the environment. If we never work those attentional muscles, they will not develop. This isn't to say that we should expect any kid to be able to, for example, plan an elaborate project without any support. But it does mean that we should help them break the task into manageable pieces and support them until they can do it themselves. In the words of the great educational psychologist, we should scaffold their thinking (okay...those aren't exactly Vygotsky's words. He was Russian, after all. But that's the gist). We should treat them as cognitive apprentices (Vygotsky, again) or thinkers-in-training. That's for all kids, including, maybe especially, those with ADD/ADHD.

If we reconceptualized the deficits of ADD/ADHD as areas that needed more training (planners-in-training? concentrators-in-training?), would we change how we treated the condition? I think we would.
In fact, I suspect that by allowing our executive-functioners-in-training to rely too strongly on drugs to alleviate the symptoms of their problem, we're denying them the opportunity to develop those skills that will allow them to be adult thinkers -- successful executives of their brain.

Source URL:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


There is a site that I think is worth checking out for all Psych students as well as non Psych students. It's called PsyBlog at This site contains very informative and smart articles on just about anything related to psychology and behavior and written in clear simple language. You can get free email updates and recently PsyBlog has added itself to Facebook. Give it a look and I think you'll find it entertaining as well as informative.