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June 09, 2006

Weekend reading 17

Kathy Sierra wrote an interesting post a couple of months ago at the Creating Passionate Users blog:

Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain

Everyone's favorite A-list target, Robert Scoble, announced the unthinkable a few days ago: he will be moderating his comments. But what some people found far more disturbing was Robert's wish to make a change in his life that includes steering clear of "people who were deeply unhappy" and hanging around people who are happy. The harsh reaction he's gotten could be a lesson in scientific ingorance, because the neuroscience is behind him on this one.

Whether it's a good move is up to each person to decide, but I've done my best here to offer some facts. [...]

A few things I'll try to explain in this post:

1) One of the most important recent neuroscience discoveries--"mirror neurons", and the role they play in a decision like Robert's

2) The heavily-researched social science phenomenon known as "emotional contagion"

3) Ignorance and misperceptions around the idea of "happy people"

And, sort of tangentially related to Ms Sierra's post, I found an interesting post at Cafe Hayek by Russell Roberts called Fake Science on Rage:

Here's how the AP story begins:

To you, that angry, horn-blasting tailgater is suffering from road rage. But doctors have another name for it — intermittent explosive disorder — and a new study suggests it is far more common than they realized, affecting up to 16 million Americans.

"People think it's bad behavior and that you just need an attitude adjustment, but what they don't know ... is that there's a biology and cognitive science to this," said Dr. Emil Coccaro, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Chicago's medical school.

I love that phrase: "there's a biology and cognitive science to this." It's scientific, don't you see? It's not just a matter of vague concepts like anger, or self-control. It's part of your biology. Never mind that the the phrase has no real meaning.

But how would you actually diagnose this disorder to make sure it's a disorder rather than say, merely an attitude or an immaturity?

Update: (Sundy, 6/11)
Having just finished Stafford and Webb's book Mind Hacks yesterday, I was interested to read the final chapter in which they talk about mimicry, mirror neurons and, in particular, how to Spread a Bad Mood Around -- it's one of their section titles. That chapter seemed to back up some of what Ms. Sierra had wrotten in her post.

Then a quick google led me to the Mind Hacks blog where I found a post about the very same study that was mentioned at Cafe Hayek. Here's the take at the Mind Hacks blog on that study:

Having 'uncontrollable' angry outbursts meets the criteria for "intermittent explosive disorder" - a diagnosable mental illness. According to a recent study, 7.3% of Americans could be diagnosable within their lifetime - that's 1 in 14 people.

The diagnosis just seems to describe people who have occasional and extreme angry outbursts that are out of proportion to the stresses they experience.

No wonder diagnostic manuals get a bad name when behaviour within the normal spectrum (even if it is only displayed by a minority of people) is pathologised as a 'mental illness'.

I suspect this reflects an increasing attitude than unless something is defined as a 'mental illness' people can't be offered help for their problem, or perhaps, won't be willing to seek assistance.

This post provides links to an article in the New Scientist and to an abstract of the study itself.

Posted by joke du jour at June 9, 2006 07:01 PM

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