Archive for the ‘memes’ Category

A brief interlude in Dichotomy Week:

Preventive migraine therapy raises quality of life

Was there anyone saying it did not? When you take two medications known to be effective in treating migraines, and you give them to people so that they will have fewer migraines, and then they have fewer migraines, is it noteworthy to report that their quality of life improves? It would be interesting and unexpected if peoples’ quality of life stayed the same despite fewer migraines, or that it dropped, but the people who might argue that (the happiness-stays-the-same-after-you-adjust-to-life-changes emotions researchers) weren’t in the article. (Although, interestingly, peoples’ mild anxiety and mild depression didn’t change in the study…but they don’t go into that.)

The study was probably run with the expectation that the two drugs they looked at would perform differently, but since they didn’t apart from one finding the article doesn’t explain, they tried to make the best of the quality-of-life finding. It’s not a bad finding, their study just isn’t well-presented so as to capture interest and attention, like it would have been if they’d presented something more surprising.

I feel a bit cheap when I write about how researchers have located a brain area for something or other. It’s unremarkable that every aspect of cognition occurs in the brain; that’s where it all goes on. Except most people still find it really interesting to hear that people perceive faces with a specific part of the brain, or inhibit their behavior with a specific part of the brain. (I heard once that if you’re at a teaching/education conference and really want to drive your point home, you say that your learning technique leads to changes in the brain zomg.) The aspect most relevant here is that convincing people that mental illnesses are brain disorders tends to carry a lot of weight. (Although actually, they tend to involve the body too, and that’s pretty important.)

My guess is a lot of it is due to our having different mental systems for handling people’s thoughts/beliefs/intentions and for handling people as biological bodies, so it’s counterintuitive and mentally catchy to find out that something you’d thought was part of the person is actually part of their body. Reality doesn’t have a boundary between biological and mental, but the distinction we have between the two in our minds tends to influence things in odd ways.

Anyhow, here’s the link that inspired this. I think this is interesting beyond the “omg it’s in the brain” aspect, because it lifts out “remembering visual information in order” as a thing in itself and suggests that it might be impaired in ADD (and my guess would be other mental disorders as well since bipolar also involves the prefrontal cortex, depression involves the prefrontal cortex, autism involves the prefrontal cortex, etcetera). I’d love to see some investigations on whether/how this is an issue in daily life.

I’m going to be away all day tomorrow, so here’s Friday’s entry.

This is the fourth general take I’ve seen on the notion of what makes ideas memorable and makes them spread. The first is a paper by freelance philosopher Murray Davis, on what makes ideas interesting. He says it is when they are surprising, and contain relevance for our behavior. The second is meme theory, Dawkins and all those, and this unfortunately is often poorly spelled out. The third is cultural epidemiology, which is my “home” in terms of thinking about culture – I’ll write more on that later. I like this one too, because it seems to be both broader and more specific than Davis or Dawkins, and more accessible than cultural epidemiology, which requires some cognitive science briefing.