Exploring the bystander effect

I just finished reading an astounding book, The Unresponsive Bystander: Why Doesn’t He Help? by Bibb Latané and John M Darley (Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1970). Latané and Darley set out to understand what makes the modern bystander so apparently apathetic and callous, watching but not helping as others are hurt, maimed and even die. They ask whether urbanization has created such […]

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Depressed? Try sky-diving!!

I just started my annual teaching of Medical Neurobiology to University of Chicago Pritzker medical students. In the first day-overview, I wanted to drive home the point that body and brain work together to produce emotion and affect. Pointing to the picture above, I said, “Clearly, my nephew cannot be depressed in this moment; nor is he likely to solve […]

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Empathic rats… and TV

Last week, out of the blue, I received the above video from Oxford Scientific Films. Well, maybe not entirely out of the blue but certainly long after I’d given the footage any thought. Let me explain. In spring of 2013, a producer from Oxford Scientific Films contacted me about filming our empathic rats for use in a documentary to be aired on BBC. I have a great deal of respect for BBC and despite the fact that rats are reluctant “movie stars,” I agreed. I knew that the production would be well done and I wanted our rats to gain the exposure that a BBC show could afford them. So on Sunday, July 7th, 2013, I met a crew at my laboratory. Filming went well. Victoria Huang and Amisha Gandhi, two University of Chicago undergraduates in my laboratory, had patiently worked with the rats. The rats were so mellow that they were completely non-plussed by the cameras and strangers. They were stars as you can see for yourself. The day was long but quite enjoyable. And we were even able to crowd together and listen to Andy Murray win Wimbledon. Our British visitors were happy and proud. The show was designed to highlight relationships between individuals from different species. Our work was included because the empathic feeling that links two rats is likely to be related to the feeling that connects two from different species. Originally, we heard that the show […]

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Mammograms and a “history of breast cancer”

I was talking about my previous post (http://wp.me/p4e7xm-1H) with a colleague. We were discussing how the cautions against regular mammograms probably do not hold for individuals with a family history of breast cancer. My colleague then pointed out that in fact women’s histories have been contaminated by the high number of women “successfully” treated for tumors that would likely have […]

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Our brain and mammograms

The utility of mammograms in improving survival from breast cancer suffered another blow. From a rational point of view, the idea that women without any risk factors will benefit from regular mammograms is dead and buried, 6 feet under with the coffin nailed shut. And yet, many women feel a strong pull to get a mammogram. I think there are generally two reasons. First, we humans are spectacularly irrational, emotionally driven animals. I can not do any better than Chris Mooney did in a Mother Jones article in explaining this. So I strongly recommend that you check out Chris’ article: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney. In brief, put an emotional viewpoint in the ring with a logical laying out of the facts, and the emotional viewpoint will score a knock-out in no time flat. Regardless of their content or source, facts and reason don’t stand a chance against emotionally held beliefs. The second reason that women still want mammograms despite a complete lack of evidence for their efficacy in improving survival is that most women have no way to make sense of mammograms’ lack of efficacy. This essentially puts emotion in an uncontested fight. There is no logical framework within which to understand the evidence regarding mammograms. So here is a framework. Cancer cells have a natural history. They are in a competition with other cells for the body’s resources. Some cancer cells are successful and consequently wreak havoc. But many other cancer cells […]

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