I picked this up from Jezebel. They used the headline of “Depressing Study: Men Look More At Your Body Than Your Face” and said:

“I’m not a boob man or a butt man or a leg man, I’m a face man,” say LIARS. According to new research, no matter what a woman’s build, men spend more time looking at women’s bodies than they do their faces, …But it’s not only men who are focusing on women from the neck down; women do it to each other, too

they cited USA Today, which is our first tip that they didn’t bother to read the study in the first place. This lack of reading may have gotten them further into trouble since Jezebel even had the nerve to criticize the design.

here’s a grain of salt to take with this: the study involved 29 women and 36 men, a group so small that it would be almost impossible for it to be at all representative of the population. If subjects were drawn from a pool consisting of a public university community, the results would only reflect the attitudes and behaviors of a tiny slice of American culture and not a boob staring epidemic. And a lot of college kids are kind of awful.

While college sophomore psychology students (see below) are notoriously used in Psych studies and equally notoriously poorly representative of many populations of interest…they are not dismissible as entirely meaningless. Often times results from such studies do indeed hold up when replicated in other populations of interest. Nevertheless, this Jezebel comment is pretty hilarious considering how completely backwards they got the story on the actual findings. Which is in large part due to simply passing on the bit from USA Today instead of reading the paper.

From the USA Today article titled “Yes, men really do ogle women’s bodies“:

The eyes don’t lie: Men really do look at women’s bodies more than their faces, according to a new study that used eye-tracking technology to prove what many women have long observed.

But it’s not just men who do it — the study found that women look at other women’s bodies, too.

Both sexes fixed their gaze more on women’s chests and waists and less on faces. Those bodies with larger breasts, narrower waists and bigger hips often prompted longer looks.

Truthy! Just what we always suspected and now here it is in peer-reviewed scientific format!

Let’s go to the article, shall we? The study by Gervais and colleagues (2013) is pretty simple. The authors recruited some subjects from the traditional “Psychology Department Participant Pool” (aka, students enrolled in Psych classes) and fitted them with eyetracking devices. They showed them some pictures of women and asked them to rate them for either appearance or personality (separate groups for each of these conditions).

Gervais13-appendixThe stimuli were photographs of 10 real women which were modified slightly. Here is the figure listed as the Appendix in the article so you can see how the photoshopping of the visual stimuli worked out. The major dependent measure was “dwell time”, i.e., how long the subject spent with their dominant eye focused on one of three zones of the picture (face, chest, waist). They also measured “first-fixation” but this was somewhat contaminated by the fact the fixation cross used to start a trial was in the center of the screen where the chest would appear. So a missed opportunity there. The dwell time is the major outcome measure for discussion.

One of the main goals of the study was to determine if “High, Average and Low” concordance with what they describe as the “cultural ideal” body shape affected the distribution of gaze time. Also to determine if men and women subjects differed and if the type of rating being requested of the subjects altered dwell time.

The results could not be any clearer. Both men and women spent more time gazing on the Face region then they did on the Chest or Waist region. By a lot. Whether asked to assess Appearance or Personality. In the Appearance condition, women spent 1158 ms on the Face, 463 ms on the Chest and 331 ms on the Waist. Values for men were 1296, 448 and 301 ms respectively. When divided out by the three categories of “cultural ideal”, Men’s dwell times were 1520, 456, 280 ms for the High ideal and 1628, 366, 246 ms for the Low ideal. The same relationships held for the women viewers.

The authors note in the Results:

A main effect of body part, F(1.09, 66.25)=215.68,p < .0001, ηp 2 = .78, revealed that women’s faces
(M=1486.61, SE =64.17) were gazed at for longer durations than their chests (M=381.68, SE =23.33) and their waists [DM-pretty sure this is a typo and meant to be ‘faces’] (M=266.62, SE =16.04) and women’s chests were gazed at for longer durations than their waists, ps<.0001.

So. The lede of both USA Today and Jezebel is completely false.

Now, there IS a portion of blame for the authors because they are at pains to emphasize their findings; again from the Results:

consistent with Hypothesis 1a, participants gazed at women’s faces for shorter durations in the
appearance-focus condition than the personality-focus condition. Participants also gazed at women’s chests and waists for longer durations in the appearance-focus condition than the personality-focus condition.

…and perhaps more tellingly from the first part of the Discussion:

Despite the importance of the objectifying gaze to objectification theory (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) and the adverse consequences of the gaze on women recipients, no published studies to date have empirically documented the nature of the objectifying gaze—less focus on faces and more focus on sexual body parts—in perceivers. Regarding dwell time, participants gazed at women’s faces for shorter durations and chests and waists for longer durations when they were asked to objectify the women by evaluating their appearance (vs. personality, consistent with Hypothesis 1a) and this effect was exacerbated for women with bodies that fit cultural ideals of beauty (i.e., hourglass shaped women, consistent with Hypothesis 1b).

Very careful phrasing there indeed and I can see how “participants gazed at women’s faces for shorter durations and chests and waists for longer durations” would be very easily misinterpreted in the reader’s mind as suggesting that faces were receiving less gaze time than were the other regions of the pictures.

But really. A cursory look at the Tables makes the fact that both men and women spent more time gazing at faces than at chests or waists pretty dang obvious. It almost pops out, thanks to the convenient fact that dwell time differed across the 1,000 ms mark. I just don’t see how you could miss this if you read the article.

Of course, the journalists didn’t read the article.

And this is considered perfectly acceptable within the profession of Journalism.

Scienceblog.com barely escapes by sticking close to the authors words without extraneous interpretive phrasing. “The researchers found that participants focused more on women’s chests and waists and less on faces when they were asked to objectify the women by evaluating their appearance rather than their personality.

ScienceCodex screwed it up, “When asked to focus on a woman’s appearance, study participants largely looked at women in “that way” – they quickly moved their eyes to and then dwelled on a woman’s breasts and other sexualized body parts.“.

The South Jersey Courier-Post fell entirely into the trap, “Men really do look at women’s bodies more than their faces, according to a new study“, just like USA Today and Jezebel.

as did CBS Philly, “scientists concluded that participants focused more on the female’s chests and figure when asked to evaluate their appearance than they did on the women’s facial features.“.

UPDATE 2: Aha! found the press release from the authors’ University. OOOOO, Bad authors! BAD! “When asked to focus on a woman’s appearance, study participants largely looked at women in “that way” — they quickly moved their eyes to and then dwelled on a woman’s breasts and other sexualized body parts.“. So Science Codex just stenographed this. But the blame lies with the authors who should have reviewed the PR. And given how very precisely this is written I suspect them of willing complicity. The impression is given via “and then dwelled on” that this is gazing more than on the non-“sexualized” body parts, i.e., the face. Or hey, maybe I’m wrong and they include face as sexualized and waist as nonsexualized? In which case this is accurate-ish.
Sarah J. Gervais, Arianne M. Holland and Michael D. Dodd. My Eyes Are Up Here: The Nature of the Objectifying Gaze Toward Women, Sex Roles, in press DOI: 10.1007/s11199-013-0316-x

The news is chattering over a new paper by Smet and Byrne entitled “African Elephants Can Use Human Pointing Cues to Find Hidden Food” [link]. The lede is frequently the typical one for comparative cognition studies. Take this example from VOA:

Elephants are able to recognize human gestures without any sort of training, new research shows. Scientists believe the finding indicates that elephants are able to understand humans in a way most other animals do not.

They might be excused for this since the authors themselves write, in the Results and Discussion section “Here we found elephants capable of responding spontaneously to pointing gestures that require attention to subtle differences in the position of the forearm and hand.“. This is, however, a tired and old problem with this type of study.

Even Carl Zimmer, writing in the NYT, makes most of his post about this wonderous “spontaneous” property of all elephants. Still, to his credit he does include the critical caveat.

Diana Reiss, an expert on elephant cognition at Hunter College, wondered if the elephants had already learned about pointing by observing their handlers pointing to each other.
“In these elephant camps such opportunities can easily go unnoticed by their human caretakers,” said Dr. Reiss.

The authors themselves point this out, although they try to handwave it away:

All of these elephants have lived in captivity since infancy: they have had the opportunity to witness pointing used between humans. However, observation of human interactions does not automatically translate into aptitude at interpretation of these interactions.

Whoa dude. Whoa. Hold up. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Except, apparently, in comparative cognition when we are just sooooo keen to believe findings that show species X is “just like humans” in some cognitive or behavioral property.

I have at least one observation in the archive that points out where not thinking hard about the study design can lead to unsupported conclusions being widely disseminated. This post was originally published Feb 25, 2008.

In the midst of World War I, Wolfgang Köhler conducted a famous series of experiments to investigate problem solving ability in chimpanzees. The lasting impression of these experiments, reinforced by just about every introductory Psychology text, was Köhler’s assertion that the chimps demonstrated “insightful” learning.
Did they now?

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There’s a great review of a new book (Are Dolphins Really Smart?,  by Justin Gregg) penned by Jessa Gamble at LWON. Go read because it is incredibly important to realize:

A disproportionate amount of dolphin research time has been devoted to teasing out any potential for language – the science-fictional myth of dolphinese – from their vocalizations. If dolphins had language, we would almost certainly have found it by now. When their vocalizations turned out to be rote and inflexible, “I’m scared!” “I’m mating!” “I see food!” pretty much covers it, the research turned to echolocation clicks. Perhaps dolphins were sending each other 3D holographic messages encoded in their clicks. Nope.


[waccaloon terrorist AR org]’s lawsuit against SeaWorld challenges dolphin captivity under anti-slavery legislation, citing exceptional intelligence as evidence of their “non-human personhood.” When advocacy for the ethical treatment of animals is based on exaggerated claims of their intelligence, it fails to recognize the inherent worth of animals regardless of their similarity to humans. And in dolphins, that similarity is easily refuted. It’s time relieve the dolphins of all our human baggage and realize that evolution has produced all kinds of intelligence, and it’s all around us.

Gamble notes that the book by Gregg systematically dismantles many popular myths about dolphins and, of course, points out that dolphins are total dicks

Adult male dolphins routinely kill porpoises, not for food — or even out of competition for food – but because the porpoise is similar in size to a dolphin calf. The killings serve as practice for their regular infanticidal behaviour, a sure way to ready mothers for mating.

Sounds like a good read.




Repost: Insightful Animal Behavior: A “Sufficiently Advanced Technology”

Jane Goodall, Plagiarist


an interesting segment from the PBS NewsHour:


April 16, 2013

From Adweek:

Gil Zamora is an FBI-trained forensics artist with over 3,000 criminal sketches under his belt. Dove and Ogilvy Toronto hired him to interview and draw seven different women—two sketches of each. The first sketch was based on each woman’s personal description of herself. The second was based on a description provided by a stranger the woman had just met. Of course, the differences are vast.


Of course they are. This stuff has psychology graduate student work written all over it. Imagine the diversity of studies to be done! Me, I bet I’d describe myself in my 20s rather than the way I look now…

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because it strips away all the confident predictions about what you would do if some shit was going down…

Go Team!!!!!

February 3, 2013

I’ve decided I am rooting for neuronal survival during the NFL SuperBowl today.

Go #teamneuron!

First Aid for Mental Health

December 15, 2012

Almost by definition there is something wrong with the mental health of mass shooters like the Aurora cinema guy, the Sikh Temple shooter and the one who just killed 20 elementary school children, 6 staff members, his own mother and ultimately himself.

In parallel with the calls for better gun control in the US we experience calls for improved health care for the brain. But the failing is not the provision of care so much as it is the detection of mental health problems that might lead to mass shootings.

We will never get to a one to one prediction of who is about to become the next news cycle. But then, we don’t know who will heal eventually from a given infection, who will recover from stroke without a given intervention…or who will get heart attack save for the cholesterol meds, statins and what not.

So we go with the odds.

And we detect problems with broad screening (annual checkups), acute responses (minor cardiac event perhaps)…and crowdsourcing.

If someone were bleeding in front of you, chances are decent that you would know whether to get a bandaid (even a 5 year old knows to add the antibiotic cream) or stick a finger on the vein while yelling for help. In a crowd? Someone would know CPR if a person stops breathing…in a pinch you’d have a go based only on what you remember from teevee shows.

What about when someone shows signs of a mental health problem? How does the crowd and pre-FirstResponse do with those situations?

I have only recently been made aware of Mental Health First Aid.

It intrigues me.

Hard on the heels of something I just learned about at a recent conference, the NIMH issued a Press Release for a new clinical trial they funded.

A drug that works through the same brain mechanism as the fast-acting antidepressant ketamine briefly improved treatment-resistant patients’ depression symptoms in minutes, with minimal untoward side effects, in a clinical trial conducted by the National Institutes of Health. The experimental agent, called AZD6765, acts through the brain’s glutamate chemical messenger system.

Interesting. The background is that prior studies* have shown that the dissociative anesthetic ketamine is capable of the rapid (within hours) amelioration of depressive symptoms. Yes, ketamine. The recreational drug known as Special K and the veterinary anesthetic they’ve used on your pet cat or dog. Same ketamine that is approved for human use in pediatric anesthesia, emergency medicine in some cases and for tricky clinical situations.

The same ketamine that has been widely used for decades in humans and nonhuman animals. It has established efficacy, mechanism of action and a huge therapeutic index. A big distance between effective doses and the dose that will kill you. Whether effect is recreational, medical or veterinary. Meaning it is safe.

So why are the studies (cited below*) of effect in depression so exciting? Because traditional drug therapy for depression takes weeks to have effect. Weeks of daily dosing. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac are broadly familiar to most of my Readers, I would assume. Efficacy with these front-line meds takes up to three weeks to see effect on depressive symptoms. Trouble is, some cases of depression are acutely suicidal–they may just kill themselves before any SSRI has a chance to make them feel better. And hell, who wants to wait three weeks if another med could make you feel better by tomorrow? Prior to the ketamine work, the only other thing that seemed to have such a rapid effect was ECT. Yeah, ElectroConvulsive Therapy. Which has come a loooooong way from the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest era….but still. A single ketamine dosing seems quite preferable.

So…..on to the me-too drug development! Woot!
Zarate CA Jr, Mathews D, Ibrahim L, Chaves JF, Marquardt C, Ukoh I, Jolkovsky L, Brutsche NE, Smith MA, Luckenbaugh DA. A Randomized Trial of a Low-Trapping Nonselective N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Channel Blocker in Major Depression. Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Nov 30. pii: S0006-3223(12)00941-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.10.019. [Epub ahead of print][Publisher, PubMed]

This AZD6765 compound is, as you might deduce from the letters, property of AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals and indeed one of the authors lists this as his affiliation. The rest of the folks are from the NIMH intramural program which, presumably, provided the majority of the funding for the study.

The conclusions appear to be that this novel compounds, with a similar mechanism of action as ketamine worked but less well. From the Presser:

About 32 percent of 22 treatment-resistant depressed patients infused with ASD6765 showed a clinically meaningful antidepressant response at 80 minutes after infusion that lasted for about half an hour – with residual antidepressant effects lasting two days for some. By contrast, 52 percent of patients receiving ketamine show a comparable response, with effects still detectable at seven days. So a single infusion of ketamine produces more robust and sustained improvement, but most patients continue to experience some symptoms with both drugs.

However, depression rating scores were significantly better among patients who received AZD6765 than in those who received placebos. The researchers deemed this noteworthy, since, on average, these patients had failed to improve in seven past antidepressant trials, and nearly half failed to respond to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

So this is good. Anything that shows promise as a rapid-alleviator of depression is good by my lights.

But why is NIMH spending taxpayer dollars to develop me-too drugs? Look, I recognize that drugs within a class of pharmacological mechanism, like the SSRIs, may be differentially effective for different patients. And it is a good thing if we have more options to tailor medication to the individual patient. ADHD is another situation where an array of monoamine transporter inhibitors, including methylphenidate and amphetamine, are used with success and failure. One drug works for one patient, another works for a different patient….and they might describe the other medication as even worse than not being treated. So…great.

But make no mistake. The central feature driving me-too drug development is profit. Drug companies decide they can take a big enough slice of the market away from the market-leader to make it worth their while. Perhaps they had development in parallel and had sunk enough cost in by the time their competitor gained FDA approval that there was no turning back. Whatever. Point being that they are in it for the money and not for some noble cause of serving that subset of patients that do not gain relief from their competitor’s drug.

Over the past few years the side-chatter about the ketamine effect on depression has frequently been a lament about the lack of financial motive for companies to push forward with ketamine. Push forward with specific clinical trials to gain on-label approval for the indication of depression. Push forward with marketing campaigns. Push forward with physician education and stroking like they do with their proprietary stuff.

The Zarate paper took a stab at claiming the reason for developing something else was an attempt to avoid the adverse effects of ketamine. The dissociative type effects can be unpleasant and recovery doesn’t look fun. So there’s some toehold there to claim one is motivated to find a “perfect” drug which somehow produces the therapeutic effect with nothing else. Color me skeptical, given what I know about existing NMDA channel blockers like ketamine (and PCP, did I mention that? Yeah, angel dust might work for depression….).

So I smell profit motive in this effort.

What I don’t understand is why NIMH is involved with this. Why not just pursue the evidence body for ketamine?
*References pulled out of the paper
R.M. Berman, A. Cappiello, A. Anand, D.A. Oren, G.R. Heninger, D.S. Charney et al. Antidepressant effects of ketamine in depressed patients. Biol Psychiatry, 47 (2000), pp. 351–354

N. Diazgranados, L. Ibrahim, N.E. Brutsche, A. Newberg, P. Kronstein, S. Khalife et al. A randomized add-on trial of an N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonist in treatment-resistant bipolar depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 67 (2010), pp. 793–802

C.A. Zarate Jr, N.E. Brutsche, L. Ibrahim, J. Franco-Chaves, N. Diazgranados, A. Cravchik et al. Replication of ketamine’s antidepressant efficacy in bipolar depression: A randomized controlled add-on trial Biol Psychiatry, 71 (2012), pp. 939–946

G.W. Valentine, G.F. Mason, R. Gomez, M. Fasula, J. Watzl, B. Pittman et al. The antidepressant effect of ketamine is not associated with changes in occipital amino acid neurotransmitter content as measured by [(1)H]-MRS Psychiatry Res, 191 (2011), pp. 122–127

M. aan het Rot, K.A. Collins, J.W. Murrough, A.M. Perez, D.L. Reich, D.S. Charney et al. Safety and efficacy of repeated-dose intravenous ketamine for treatment-resistant depression Biol Psychiatry, 67 (2010), pp. 139–145

Gurdur has an excellent post on “How not to criticize psychiatry“. It’s a must read.

Many psychomedications – just like many medications in general – can have bad side-effects. So do you for example recommend vaguely against antibiotics or cortisone or aspirin because in each case there can be bad side-effects? Or how about whether Lipitor (a statin, used to lower cholesterol level) can cause memory loss or not? Or chemotherapy meds that can really go to town in side-effects? This is yet again the hurdle of lack of exactness; a very vague accusation made without context or consideration. There is also the factor that a severe mental dysfunction is itself very dangerous to the sufferer – and as with many other conditions, such as the also-as-yet-poorly-understood autoimmune conditions, it becomes a matter of weighing risks and effects of a medication against risks and effects of the original illness.

Likely because like most people, most skeptics etc. simply don’t know enough about psychiatry – or medicine in general. Access to good healthcare is an even more important issue, and includes psychiatry, yet just how many skeptics, atheists etc. cover health and healthcare issues in any detailed depth? Very few indeed. SC is right to say psychiatry should be a concern for the left, for skeptics, for everybody. But then so too should immunology, paediatrics, and practically every other branch of medicine. Health care is a pressing concern, and often very much a class issue too.

I invite you to put the new blog of Professor J. David Jentsch on your list. At the unlikely activist you will find fare such as:

The mystery of addictions, Part 1: Why spend money on addiction research at all?

If they are remarkably lucky and have proper medical and psychological support, they may return to a healthy life and never use again. But for most, their freedom is only temporary, and they will relapse again days, weeks, months or even years later, returning them to their suffering and to their fateful spiral. You see, drugs kill. They are powerful toxins that can stop breathing or a heart. If they are injected, they can bring infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV along with them. And because they intoxicate the mind, they lead to reckless driving and other behaviors that risk the lives of the addict and those around them.

Ignoring science, from the bench

Put differently, juveniles and teens have a brain fully capable of feeling powerful emotions (like anger), but their ability to resist those emotions and to behave in a socially appropriate manner (like to inhibit aggressive reactions) is not at adult levels. The 5 justices who struck down harsh penalties for child offenders recognized this; it was a crucial part of their logic in this, and the earlier death penalty, case.

But like a frightening number of people in our society, the other 4 justices viewed the science as either being wrong or irrelevant. Their own ethical or philosophical views about crime and punishment appeared to trump their interest in scientific principles and facts. In this regard, they are not unlike strident animal rights activists opposed to biomedical and behavioral research involving animals.

A solemn voice in support of medical researchers

In the fall of 2010, an animal rights extremist sent me razor blades and heinous threats to cut my throat in the mail. It became a national news story, again highlighting the abject cruelty of some in the anti-vivisection movement. During this time, I turned on my phone one evening to see that I had received a voice mail. Anticipating the worst – yet another cruel, rabid and profane threat from my opponents – I found something quite different. I have kept this communication private for long enough. Now, at the wishes of the caller, I am sharing it with the broader community to demonstrate that support for humane animal research is everywhere…. It comes not from greed or ignorance, but from love and a hope that no one should ever suffer the same loss as the caller.

VoiceofSupport (click on this link to listen to this .wav file)

This one is for some folks I’ve been engaging with on the Twitts about Uncle Siggy…

Link to Youtube

Don’t forget DrZen’s comment:

Freud was a comparative neuroanatomist who made significant discoveries: http://bit.ly/vf3qK

A letter to the editor has recently been published in the Journal of Neurophysiology by authors Ringach and Jentsch. You may recall that these individuals are neuroscience researchers who have come under attack by extremist animal rights activists. These brave investigators have been stepping up in public to defend the conduct of animal research. The letter asks for your help, DearReader, as do I. Ringach and Jentsch conclude their letter as follows:

Despite being in the spotlight, our work is not different from the majority of articles appearing in the pages of this Journal and has always been in compliance with all the regulations on the use of animals in research. Investigators using primates, mice, or flies have been assaulted, so nobody can feel at ease. With an expanding list of investigators listed in the extremists’ crosshairs, it is clear that anybody could be next.
Enough is enough! We believe time has come to express our outrage at the activities of animal rights extremists and to request from our political representatives the security we and our families need to carry out our work. We believe that time has also come to discuss, debate, and express our opinions on the importance and ethics of animal research. Perhaps, most important, the time has also come to defend our research collectively and not to let only those under attack confront their plight alone.

One place to start is to stay aware. Follow @RaisingVoices and read / bookmark the Speaking of Research pages on ARA activities / talking points and research facts.
Sign the Pro-Test petition in support of the use of animals in well-regulated and responsible research.

Greg Laden has an absolutely fantastic post up on “The Falsehoods” in which he observes:

Biology is harder to learn than quantum physics. Why? Because most people think they totally get biology, but everyone knows nobody gets quantum physics. Therefore, any effort to explore quantum physics will result in new learning, but people rarely learn new biology. The bottom line is that our brains are full of biology, which would be good if most of it did not consist of falsehoods.

This is great stuff.

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The CSR directives assure us that the priority scores for our grants will be available on eRA Commons within 3 working days of the conclusion of the study section meeting. Of course, we have generally been waiting 4-5 months after initial submission for the study section to be held for a given grant.
Why do we do this?

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