Getting some faint inklings…

I’ve just been triggered by some titles of articles in the July volume of
Brain journal. At various times in the past I’ve done research on several weird topics that seem to be coalescing in my head (don’t worry- it just means I’m going insane!). My first foray into psychological research was an exploration of the development of non verbal communication in autism. I was trying to see what autistic youngsters paid attention to when someone was trying to communicate with them, eg. did they look at mum’s hand when she pointed at something, did they look at the object she was pointing at, or did they stare blankly around ?(-as usual with many of them). when I was teaching developmental psychology to teachers, I came across the wonderful little book by Margaret Donaldson “Children’s Minds”, which explained that children only pay attention and learn from situations and things that are SALIENT to them. Thus, what’s important to a schoolteacher may not be very important to a kid- and fair enough! Then, I thought, what if autistic kids don’t have any built in “salience”– nothing in their environment seems more important than anything else, so they don’t pay attention to the same things at the right time. A postgrad colleague put it as “what is a cue?” for autistic kids, as the uni where I was working was into very mathematical human information processing, not the woolly observational empirical stuff that I was the centre of my PhD. All I knew was that they seemed to pay attention more to movement than still things and if things changed or moved too much or confusingly they either blew up or withdrew. Hence some people said they had crook sensory thresholds or poor “gating” of incoming information.
anyway, years later, I was researching “body image” with eating disordered people. I found that there was a real separation between what the attitudinal features of body image were and whether people could recognise their own body visually as the right size. Most “thought” they were too fat, even if they were objectively quite thin, but they had rather strange responses to size judgments which were very hard to explain, except by unconscious avoidance of the truth. Thus, I got into the next link of my weird chain of connections…my boss and I visited Prof Stephen Kosslyn at Harvard Uni Psychology Dept as he was supervising a friend of ours who was doing her own PhD on body image perception. He had been doing some brain imaging research on nerve pathways associated with recognition vs. long term memory of images and mental rotation of objects. We got into conversation about “mirror” neurons and imaging of still vs. moving objects. It was all so intriguing that we decided I should do a Harvard Summer School on the imaging techniques- however, that came to nothing as my boss got cancer, changed his life and academic direction and that was it! Still, my interest persisted, and I’ve continued to read the latest stuff in the journals.
Now what if??? I thought, when I saw separate titles in Brain this month on: autism and brain activity during pragmatic language; the role of “action” neurons in understanding humans and language; implicit vs. explicit recognition in visual field defects; mirror neurons in brain recovery after strokes; and review of a book titled “Another way to understand”.
Boing!!! Went my brain! I think all this stuff can be connected up to provide additional insight into how our unique human brains work in integrating meaning in the world and translating that into language, and some of the core problems in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
Now all I have to do is email Borat’s brother and suggest it to him in a way that doesn’t sound as silly as Borat!!!


4 thoughts on “Getting some faint inklings…

  1. Now that I’ve properly read this post, I’m making connections, finding things, remembering things all over the place.

    I was listening to Ockham’s Razor earlier today. This particular episode was about Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID).

    And that third brother.

    More connections?

  2. You’re a bit of a thinker/philosopher, huh?1 Thanks for the Ockham’s Razor episode- I had heard of Body Image Identity Disorder (BIID) briefly before, and thought they were probably rather psychopathic people. The OR episode has made me think there may be genuine ones, esp. since the brain imaging evidence was so unusual. My main encounters with people who wanted surgery to change the body to their inner “image” of how they should be were mainly those either with gender identity issues or body dysmorphic problems. I have only really got to know one person who wanted a sex change from female to male and she also has alcoholism, sometimes opiate addiction, anorexia nervosa, bulimia and a borderline personality disorder. No one with a scalpel was game to get within a mile of her. She is usually in a private psychiatric clinic drying out and recovering from a period of self-starvation if she isn’t at home in bed or down the pub. Poor thing- nothing can be done for her, really. She went through the counselling and hormone replacement but was considered too unstable to have surgery. She hasn’t self-mutilated except wrist cutting. My friend up the road, his sister is married to a transgendered person, who changed from man to woman 20 years into their marriage. They live happily now as a pair of lesbians, with the transgendered one being ultra feminine and the partner a “butch” woman, who does all the chores, driving and gardening! I’ve met a lot of women with anorexia nervosa who also had body dysmorphia, requesting and occasionally receiving various surgeries such as hairline alteration, nose and chin work, breast augmentation, buttock implants and liposuction. They are all still psychologically ill- none was suddenly “cured” by surgery, sadly. On the other hand I know a lot of people who have had nose, ear or chin plastic surgery- no trimmings, and they are happily getting on with their lives.

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