Thursday, August 25, 2011

Strangers in an "Unstrange" Land

I just finished Roy Richard Grinker's book Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, and I very much recommend it to just about anyone with an interest in autism.

It's written from a parent's point of view, and mostly (it seemed to me) for an audience of other parents, but there's a lot in it to interest people outside that core audience, too. There's a lot of historical stuff about the first descriptions of autism, and about how psychologists have tried to understand it over the past six decades or so; Grinker's father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all psychoanalysts (psychiatrists, too --- his grandfather founded the Archives of General Psychiatry), so he has a very strong grounding in the history of psychology and psychoanalysis.

He also addresses the question of whether there is or is not an autism epidemic, going into some detail about how diagnostic categories have changed, how the availability of special-education services varies by diagnosis, and how the ways of measuring the prevalence of autism have changed.

The first edition of the DSM to have "autism" as a category was the DSM-III, published in 1980. The criteria for "Infantile Autism" were fairly specific:

A. Onset before 30 months of age
B. Pervasive lack of responsiveness to other people (autism)
C. Gross deficits in language development
D. If speech is present, peculiar speech patterns such as immediate and delayed echolalia, metaphorical language, and pronominal reversal.

(There was also a category for people meeting all of these criteria, but with the condition not appearing until after 30 months of age; there were also "residual state" diagnoses for people whose speech problems or unresponsiveness had lessened to the point that they no longer met the above criteria).

The DSM-III-R criteria were somewhat looser, getting rid of the age-of-onset criterion and collapsing the "residual states" into Autistic Disorder itself --- you could have an autism diagnosis even if you did not currently meet all the criteria, as long as you had met them before.

The loosest criteria of all were those of the DSM-IV, which I had already known, but what I didn't know was that their flexibility wasn't all by design:

[T]here was an error in the final manuscript. It is not well known, even among experts, but in 1993, when the authors of the child psychiatry section of the DSM were editing the proofs of the new DSM-IV, which would be published in 1994, they missed a critical mistake. For PDD-NOS, the largest group of autism spectrum disorders, they had intended to write as the criteria, "impairment of reciprocal social interaction and in verbal or nonverbal communication skills." A different text was accidentally published. It said, "impairment of reciprocal social interaction or verbal and nonverbal communication skills, or when stereotyped behavior, interests, and activities are present." The authors had wanted someone to qualify as autistic only if they had impairment in more than one area, but the criteria, as published, required impairment in only one area for a diagnosis of PDD-NOS.

Another interesting aspect of his discussion of autism diagnoses hinges on the different priorities of clinicians and researchers, and his idea (well-buttressed with quotations from prominent psychiatrists) that autism diagnoses are often made not because "autism" accurately describes the child being evaluated, but because they think the special-education services targeted at autistic children will do the most good for that child. That would go a long way toward explaining the "diagnostic substitution" that's occurred over the years, with more children being classified as "autistic" at the same time as fewer children are being classified as having plain old intellectual disability. (Grinker also includes a parallel instance of a diagnostic category that no one would argue is actually becoming more common --- traumatic brain injury --- becoming more widely used over the same period of time, due to changes in the U.S. Department of Education's disability coding system).

The part of the book that was most interesting to me was the series of chapters on cultural attitudes toward autism in three other countries: India, South Korea and South Africa. For each country, Grinker profiles one or two families with autistic children, usually starting with the mother, and letting her tell the story of how she came to suspect that there was something different about her child, and how she overcame varying degrees of stigma, disbelief and lack of services to get her child therapy, special education and a place to live when she could no longer take care of him/her.

We meet Golden and Suzanna Khumalo, and their son, Big Boy, who moved from Soweto to Cape Town in South Africa to get their son to a psychiatrist, and away from Golden's parents and ex-wife, who blamed Big Boy's autism on, respectively, displeased ancestors and witchcraft. We meet a woman named Merry Barua, in Delhi, India, who founded a school for autistic children called Open Door, which she began for her own son, in the absence of any other school that met his needs. We also meet two families from South Korea: a woman named Seung-Mee, with an autistic daughter named Soo-Yong, who joined a Christian church because the church members were the only people she ever met who really seemed to accept her or her daughter, and another family with three children, one of whom is autistic and kept hidden from the world. Autism is a highly stigmatized condition in South Korea, and one that reflects poorly on an entire family, so often doctors will diagnose a child with an attachment disorder instead. Grinker does think it's getting better for autistic people there, though: a recent film about an autistic marathon runner is lessening the taboo somewhat, and giving people the idea that autistic people can do more, and have fuller lives, than they had previously thought.

There was one aspect of autism that I thought this book didn't go into very much, though: he doesn't include very many quotes from autistic people themselves. (I can only remember one, actually --- at the very end, talking about a college class on autism he taught where one of the students had Asperger's syndrome). This didn't bother me as much as it might have, since he wrote about his autistic daughter Isabel in such an empathic way; rather than simply describe her behavior as if she were some kind of space alien, he gives context for everything she does, and tries to convey something of her feelings. He lets us see her grow up, learn things, acquire skills, and pursue her special interests. He writes from a caregiver's point of view, and everyone he interviews is also a caregiver, but he writes about his daughter with such love, respect and understanding that I never got the feeling that he thought of her as a burden, as an extension of himself or as anything but her own person.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Born This Way

Some book I read a long time ago --- it may have been Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate --- maintained that, in the US, conventional wisdom has swung back and forth on whether differences between people that show up in adulthood have been present since birth, or whether they are acquired during childhood and adolescence.

It's usually intelligence that gets discussed in this way, almost always in the context of racist, sexist, or otherwise inequality-justifying theories about some groups being naturally smarter than others, but there's been a similar periodicity in thinking about other things, like personality traits. (Gender differences in cognitive style, interests, and personality are some of the things that are now widely believed to be present at birth; see Cordelia Fine's book Delusions of Gender for a lot more about these ideas' ubiquity and the still-ambiguous nature of the evidence they're supposed to be grounded in).

Right now, I want to talk about how this idea has gotten established in two different subcultures to which I belong: the autism community* and the gay community.

Autism and homosexuality have somewhat similar recent histories in US culture: both either are, or have been, considered mental disorders, both were thought in the 1950s and early '60s to be caused by some warping of the normal bond between mother and child (either, as with autism, too much distance between them, or with male homosexuality, not enough), and papers from the 1960s, '70s and '80s document various attempts to "treat," with aversion therapies that would now be considered abusive, children showing signs of either one. (One researcher even worked on both projects: O. Ivar Lovaas, who has done famous, if controversial, work adapting Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for use with autistic children, has also co-written several articles about "feminine boys," and using ABA to normalize their behavior).

Homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973, but there are still people who consider it (or anything deviating from straight, married monogamy, really) a pathological condition, and therapists who specialize in trying to turn gay people straight.

In contrast to that idea --- that gay people can change, and therefore should change --- the gay-rights movement has embraced the idea that sexual orientation is inborn. (And most mental-health professionals, including groups like the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Medical Association, pretty much agree with them that no sexual orientation is inherently pathological, and that you can't change a person's sexual orientation through therapy).

The picture is somewhat different for autistic people. Not only is autism still considered a disease, and a pretty serious one, by almost everybody, but the idea of innateness, when it comes to autism, doesn't have the same implied corollary of "... and therefore you should accept us the way we are" that it has in reference to sexuality.

No, the shift from "psychogenic" to "biogenic" theories of autism happened for two reasons: first, and probably most important, the evidence (what little there was in the early '60s) didn't fit well with the psychogenic model**, and fit better with the biogenic one; another factor was activism by parents, who were fed up with being blamed for their children's condition, and who called for more research into potential biological causes.

Here, Boston University law professor Daniela Caruso, who has written an article on the history and legal impact of autism advocacy in the US, describes the relationship between the nascent field of biomedical research into autism and the beginnings of the US's major autism-advocacy groups:

It was only in 1964 that Bernard Rimland put forth an alternative explanation of the syndrome, based not on psychodynamics but rather on neurobiology. In 1965, Rimland founded the American Society for Autism (ASA) which is, to this day, a major center of advocacy.

Following Rimland's work, activism in the name of autism began to flourish thanks to both grassroots efforts and power houses. Some groups - most visibly Cure Autism Now (CAN) and the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) - coalesced around genetic research and investigation of toxic substances potentially related to the surge of autism. It is no coincidence that such movements emerged in a context of burgeoning environmental activism. Many other capillary initiatives focused instead on the reality of living with autism by developing information centers for parents of newly diagnosed children, and starting awareness campaigns aimed at educating the public about this poorly-understood phenomenon.

(See also: this post, which discusses another article on the history of autism advocacy in the US. I also found another recent article about the role of parent activism throughout the history of autism, but I can't get at the full text of it).

I also found this snippet in Rimland's book itself (that part of it I could see on the Internet, anyway; I don't own the book), discussing why he thought so many researchers were reluctant to consider the possibility that autism had a biological basis:

In discussing the obvious prejudice against the hereditary viewpoint, Nolan Lewis (1954) points out, "It would seem that most of the prejudice against genetic inheritance stems from a feeling in the realm of wish fulfillment, based on the idea that acceptance of genetic factors would create an attitude of therapeutic hopelessness." Williams (1956) cites this point among others in his attempt to penetrate the prejudice against heredity. He notes that hopelessness is by no means justified by the evidence, and cites the ready correction of diabetes, phenylketonuria and hypothyroidism as examples.

So, that's kind of interesting --- that, at the outset, there was reluctance to adopt a conception of autism as innate and biologically based because of worries that that might mean it was impossible to eradicate through treatment --- but the answer to that wasn't, "so let's not try to make them non-autistic, let's just try to integrate them into society to the best of our, and their, ability", it was "don't be silly, of course we can make them non-autistic!"

I'd also want to point out that the two competing narratives of autism came from the same source: medical professionals, whether psychoanalysts or biomedical researchers. This is in contrast to the two competing narratives of homosexuality, one of which came from medical professionals and the other of which came straight (heh) from the people they were trying to describe. It wasn't until much later that autistic people's own viewpoints were even known to exist, much less taken into account by medical professionals and policymakers.

So, while as far as I know most autistic people do think they were born autistic, that idea doesn't have the same liberatory subtext for autism that it has for sexual orientation. (Indeed, the switch over to a mainstream view of autism as innate and biologically based had already happened when research into "extinguishing" autistic behaviors was at its peak.) The biggest thing it did was to free parents from guilt at having caused the autism, which is important and was definitely needed, but it left the position of the autistic people themselves unchanged.

*I'm using that phrase --- instead of "the autistic community" --- because I am mostly talking about parents. I've made this distinction before: the autism community, which includes parents/caregivers, healthcare workers, autism researchers, and educators; and the autistic community, which is the autistic people themselves. Sometimes the latter group is included in the former, but mostly it is not, and sometimes the two groups are at odds with each other.

**See Chapter 3 of Rimland's 1964 book, Infantile Autism, for a discussion of what those findings were and how they conflicted with the psychogenic model of autism.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More Autistic Strengths: Symmetry-Spotting

ResearchBlogging.orgEXECUTIVE SUMMARY: A recent study has added to the list of cognitive strengths peculiar to autism: in this study, a group of autistic teens/young adults and a group of age-, IQ-, sex- and eyesight-matched control subjects were shown a series of paired images, all of them different arrangements of lots and lots of tiny black-and-white dots, and determine which of the two images has some of the dots arranged in a symmetric pattern. Consistently, the autistic young people were able to pick out the symmetrical images at lower signal-to-noise ratios (i.e., with smaller proportions of the dots possessing mirror images) than their non-autistic peers.

Michelle Dawson and Laurent Mottron have done lots of research on perception and cognition in autism --- particularly visual processing. (Morton Ann Gernsbacher is another frequent collaborator, but she didn't participate in the research I'm about to describe).

Their research has identified several cognitive strengths* specific to autism: enhanced sensitivity to pitch; enhanced sensitivity to, and recall of, details (without any corresponding loss of ability to see the big picture); ability to switch between different strategies (big-picture vs. small details) as needed; . Autistic people also do a lot better on one particular IQ test, Raven's Progressive Matrices, than you would predict based on their scores on other IQ tests (e.g., various Wechsler tests).

A new skill has just been added to this constellation: the ability to quickly determine whether a complex pattern is symmetrical or not.

In a study published this past spring in PLoS ONE, a group of Canadian researchers --- Mottron and Dawson, along with three others: Audrey Perreault, Rick Gurnsey and Armando Bertone --- had participants look at very complicated, visually "busy" patterns of small dots arranged on a video screen and determine, in the very short time the pattern remained onscreen (250 milliseconds), whether it was symmetrical or not. (They were shown two different patterns, one symmetrical and one not, and they had to identify the symmetrical one.)

Here's an example of the kind of image they would have to categorize:
(If it looks obvious to you, remember they only got a fraction of a second to look at it!)

The images were all just black and white, except for the one colored dot in the center, where the participants were told to focus their attention. In the above image, which is 100% symmetrical, each dot has a twin, the same size and color, placed so that they would lie one on top of the other if you printed the image out and folded it along its axis of symmetry. In that image, you can see that the vertical axis is the axis of symmetry; some images are symmetrical along the horizontal axis, and others are symmetrical along an oblique axis, the line y = x in a Cartesian coordinate plane with the colored dot at the origin.

These shapes are symmetrical about the horizontal (x) axis:
These shapes are symmetrical about the vertical (y) axis:

The pink and green curves are symmetrical to each other about the line y = x (blue)

Some of the images were also only partially made up of symmetrically-paired dots; the study participants were supposed to identify which of the two images shown to them had any degree of symmetry at all. (It was always just one; I guess you could design an experiment where both of the images had some degree of symmetry and the participants had to determine in which the degree of symmetry was greater, but that would be harder than just picking out which one had any degree of symmetry at all.)

The two groups whose performance was compared in this study were a group of 14** autistic young people (ages 14 to 35) and 15 typically-developing young men matched with the autistic subjects for age, IQ and visual acuity.

The criterion used to compare the two groups was "symmetry detection threshold", or the proportion of dots in a symmetrical design that had to have mirror images before a given person could identify the symmetrical design 75% of the time. Average detection thresholds were compared across groups, and also across what type of symmetry the image displayed. Both groups did best at spotting symmetry along a vertical axis, and both groups did the worst at spotting it across the line y = x.

But for all of these conditions, the autistic people had lower detection thresholds --- they correctly found symmetry more often in patterns that had less of it, relative to background noise --- than their non-autistic peers.

The study authors see this as indicative of our (autistic people's) ability to look at things more than one way simultaneously. (Another recent study, not referenced in this one, also found something suggestive of that: autistic people were better able to reproduce "ambiguous figures," or line drawings that look like they could be one of two things, depending on how you look at them). They also see their results as incompatible with the "weak central coherence" theory of autism, which explains our relatively keen collective eye for detail as a deficit in big-picture thinking. But this symmetry-spotting task requires both processes at once --- local-level, small detail perception for checking individual dot pairs to see if they really are exactly symmetrical, and also larger-scale, "gestalt" perception of whole shapes created by all the dots together.

Perreault, A., Gurnsey, R., Dawson, M., Mottron, L., & Bertone, A. (2011). Increased Sensitivity to Mirror Symmetry in Autism PLoS ONE, 6 (4) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019519

*Other, earlier research has also identified autistic strengths: as early as 1983, Amitta Shah and Uta Frith discovered that autistic children did especially well at disembedding figures; those two researchers were also the ones who identified the other really well-known "islet of ability", in the Block Designsection on various IQ tests.

**There were originally 17 people in that group, but three of them couldn't do the experimental task, so they did not contribute any data.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Fun Fact About Leo Kanner

I just started reading Roy Richard Grinker's book Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, and in a chapter on the early history of autism (covering Kanner and Asperger, plus Eugen Bleuler's and Sigmund Freud's use of the term "autistic" to describe aspects of other conditions, and also stories of feral children, whom Grinker believes were probably autistic), I came across this anecdote:

In 1943, a New York psychoanalyst named Abram Blau wrote a paper in which he argued that whereas there were numerous words, proper and slang, for the penis, there were few words, and virtually no slang words, for the analogous organ in women, the clitoris. Based on this assumption, Blau made grand arguments about the universal symbolic importance of the penis to humanity. Kanner, as evidence-based as anyone in psychiatry at that time, was furious about Blau's assumption, based on no data collection at all, and quickly wrote a paper with the dry title "A Philological Note on Sex Organ Nomenclature," which he published in a psychoanalytic journal. In it, Kanner listed dozens of words for the clitoris, from languages all over the world, and all of them, he claimed, from memory. He destroyed Blau's argument.

Grinker included it to illustrate Kanner's prodigious memory, which Grinker believes was one of the "subclinical," autistic-like traits Kanner possessed that may have given him insight into the inner lives of the children he studied.

I'm posting it here because I think it's funny. Male psychoanalysts and their penis fixations never cease to amuse me.

(Unfortunately, the only copy of the article I can find online is here, with the full text only accessible to subscribers to that website. So I can't find any of the words Kanner listed, which is annoying.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cat Pic of the [variable time period]

(Can you spot Ben, the gray tabby, in this picture?)

I just finished this necklace, and was photographing it for listing on Etsy this morning. Ben was very interested in those proceedings, and decided he had to take part in them, too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

British Neuroscientist Thinks the Internet Is Rewiring Our Brains

ResearchBlogging.orgA famous British neuroscientist and popular-science writer, the Baroness Susan Greenfield, who is a Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford, a member of the House of Lords, and until recently was the Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, has suggested that widespread Internet use might have something to do with the increasing prevalence of autism.

Here she is, quoted in an article in the Guardian:
"It could be the case that this different environment is changing the brain in an unprecedented way. It's such an important issue and I'm just putting it before people to discuss." Greenfield said there was a need for work to be done, but measuring subtle changes in the brain was extremely difficult. She cited an article in Scientific American that showed US teenagers may be losing their ability to feel empathy. "When you are social networking online and not learning how to connect face to face or how to hug, not out there rehearsing those things, then could that mean a child goes on to exhibit autistic-like behaviour?"

"I point to the increase in autism and I point to internet use. That's all. Establishing a causal relationship is very hard but there are trends out there that we must think about. I have not said that internet use causes autism and I would apologise to any family who is upset by anything I have said."

She added: "I have never, ever said that the internet is bad for the brain. But if the environment is changing, then the brain will change to adapt. All I have ever said is, let's talk about this. The internet has become the central, iconic feature of young people's lives and to say our brains will not be affected by that is to deny our evolutionary heritage."
Asked in this interview with New Scientist for any evidence supporting this hypothesis, she cites two studies: this one describing differences in brain anatomy between healthy and Internet-addicted Chinese university students, and this review (full text here) of the psychological and neurological literature on the effects of various electronic media.

She also cited this article, mentioned in this Scientific American podcast, which is a meta-analysis of 72 studies of empathy in American college students, all conducted between 1979 and 2009, and all using the same measure of empathy: the Interpersonal Reactivity Index. I will talk about that study in another post; for now, I'd like to focus on the Internet-addiction study.)

The Chinese study used diffusion tensor imaging (a type of magnetic resonance imaging that measures the movement of water molecules along a tract of fibrous tissue and uses the three-dimensional vectors, or tensors, describing the water molecule's motion to build a three-dimensional computer model of the tissue) to look for differences in gray-matter volume and white-matter structure between two groups of eighteen young people (twelve young men and six young women in each group), one consisting of people meeting diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction (using the Young Diagnostic Questionnaire for Internet addiction), and the other consisting of healthy, age- and sex-matched control subjects who said they used the Internet for less than two hours per day.
(Figure 1A, in Yuan et al., 2011 - orange blotches represent brain regions where the 18 Internet-addicted young people in this study had less gray matter than non-addicted people of the same age and sex)

They found that the Internet-addicted people had less gray matter, on average, than the non-Internet-addicted people in a few areas: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (i.e., the part of the prefrontal cortex that's on top and to the sides), the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (on the left side only), the orbitofrontal cortex, the cerebellum and the supplementary motor area straddling the boundary between the frontal and parietal lobes. For a few of these areas (the left anterior cingulate, the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the right supplementary motor area), the degree of atrophy correlated with how long the person had been addicted --- i.e., the longer they'd been addicted, the smaller those brain areas would be.

They also found differences in white-matter distribution between the two groups in two regions: the left posterior limb of the internal capsule and the right parahippocampal gyrus.
(Figure 2, in Yuan et al., 2011 - top series of images show major white-matter tracts in study participants' brains; image (b) gives a side view of the brain and shows an area in blue where Internet-addicted subjects are thought to have less white matter than control subjects; image (c) shows an area in orange where the Internet-addicted subjects are thought to have more white matter than controls. Bottom graph shows the relationship between their measure of white-matter density, taken at the blue area, and the duration of individual study participants' Internet addictions.)

The measure they used, fractional anisotropy, reflects the degree to which the diffusion of water is constrained by the presence of linear fibers. If there were nothing there, water molecules would diffuse outward in a sphere; the degree to which the diffusion pattern deviates from a perfect sphere, and the direction in which the most diffusion occurs, give you an idea of where the fibers are and how many of them there are.

This short, but very technical, article describes how this measure is typically used in neuroimaging studies*:

Much progress has been made in modeling more complex diffusion geometries that a single tensor fails to model, but most clinical studies still rely on simple [diffusion tensor imaging]-derived scalar measures. Some of these, such as the trace of the covariance matrix or mean diffusivity (MD) can adequately describe isotropic water diffusion, but this only occurs in the cerebrospinal fluid spaces of the brain. In the white matter, myelinated fibers resist water diffusion orthogonal to the local dominant fiber orientation, and diffusion occurs preferentially along local fiber tracts. In clinical research, white matter fiber integrity is commonly assessed by determining how strongly diffusion is directionally constrained. One common scalar measure of directional diffusion, the fractional anisotropy (FA), is computed from the diffusion tensor's eigenvalues, and quantifies the magnitude of this directional preference. Clinical studies now routinely use FA as an index of white matter integrity, sensitive to white matter deterioration in aging and neurodegenerative diseases.

Using this explanation of what fractional anisotropy values are understood to mean --- higher numbers mean more diffusion occurring in the same direction, which is taken to mean that fibers running in that direction are numerous and thick; lower numbers imply fewer and/or thinner fibers --- you can see that the researchers are saying they think their Internet-addicted subjects have less white matter (lower FA value) than their non-addicted subjects in the parahippocampal gyrus, and also more white matter (higher FA value) in the left posterior limb of the internal capsule.

The researchers believe that these changes are a result of the Internet addiction, although they can't totally rule out the possibility that they existed before the onset of addiction, and may actually have been part of the reason those young people were susceptible to addiction in the first place. In favor of their brain-changes-as-effect-of-Internet-addiction model, they cite the positive correlations they found between several of the changes they found (decreased gray matter in the left anterior cingulate, right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and right supplementary motor area, along with increased white matter in the left posterior limb of the internal capsule) and duration of Internet addiction. But not all of the changes showed such a correlation --- less than half, to be exact.

When you take into account brain lateralization, you come up with eleven areas that differed between groups: four of the five regions showing loss of gray matter were affected on both sides, for a total of eight affected areas, plus one more (the left anterior cingulate) and the two regions showing white-matter changes (both confined to one side of the brain). That gives you only four out of eleven affected regions where the change showed any relationship to how long the person had been addicted; if the relation to time was meaningful, you'd expect it to show up more consistently. As is, it leaves open the possibility that whatever correlations were observed are just statistical noise.

Does extensive Internet use physically change the brain? It's certainly possible, given what we know about neuroplasticity, but this study doesn't shed a whole lot of light on it. Its design makes it impossible to know whether the brain differences observed between Internet-addicted and non-addicted students were effects or potential causes of Internet addiction.

Even granting that possibility (that extensive Internet use can, over time, remodel an Internet user's brain), though, it's still very, very unlikely that there's any connection between widespread Internet use and increasing prevalence of autism. The timing is wrong, for one thing --- most autism diagnoses are given in early childhood, and a lot of parents begin to ask questions and look into it when their child is an infant or toddler. Given the text-based nature of the Internet, it is highly unlikely that pre-literate children are doing a lot of web surfing on their own.

For more about this weirdness, see Neuroskeptic, Jon Brock, Dorothy Bishop, Neuroskeptic again, and this hilarious website riffing on Greenfield's gnomic comment "I point to the increase in autism and I point to the Internet. That's all."

*The article also criticizes the measure as being too vague, and not a very good predictor of actual fiber density and location. It describes an alternative measure that the authors consider more accurate.

Yuan, K., Qin, W., Wang, G., Zeng, F., Zhao, L., Yang, X., Liu, P., Liu, J., Sun, J., von Deneen, K., Gong, Q., Liu, Y., & Tian, J. (2011). Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder PLoS ONE, 6 (6) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020708

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Readers, Help Me Name Things!

Etsy has just added a new way to describe the things you've made to make it easier for people to find them; you choose a "style" that describes the general look of whatever it is you've made.

I like this idea, in theory: anything that will maximize my item's chances of showing up in a search is fine with me!

The only problem is, I have no idea what most of the labels mean. (Sometimes I might have a general idea, or know what it means in one area --- like, say, Art Deco architecture --- but have no idea how that same style translates into another area, like, say, jewelry.)
(One of my favorite bracelets of this type: 5-7 strands of one color of seed beads strung through a series of vertical spacer bars woven out of another, contrasting color of seed beads, with a large focal bead set off by a rectangular frame. This one is indigo/blue-green, with the focal bead made of dichroic glass.)(This bracelet is made from the same general pattern; it's grass-green/golden-yellow for its color scheme, though. I also have this in purple).
(Necklace made along the same lines --- multiple strands of dark red beads threaded through a whole bunch of round beads in square frames woven from beads in contrasting colors. This is one of my favorite necklaces!)

So I'm going to ask you, the readers of this blog --- or those of you who, unlike me, have a working knowledge of art history --- to comment and tell me what art-history/fashion terms they think might pertain to the things I have pictured in this post.
(One of those weird things I am not sure what to call. I love these, but the two names I've seen for them --- "handflower" and "slave bracelet" --- strike me as, respectively, dorky and creepy.)

(Another one!)
(One more!)
(Another recurring pattern: bracelets/necklaces with ribbed panels woven of alternating, vertical columns of seed beads and bugle beads, in different shades of the same color. I have necklaces in blue, blue/black, and green, and bracelets in purple, green and blue/black)
(I've also got a couple necklaces where the focal elements are arranged asymmetrically --- all clustered to one side)

(For the curious, here's the list of labels they suggest you choose from: Abstract, African (yeah ... European art gets all these very specific terms denoting style and historical period; all African art just gets lumped together indiscriminately), Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Asian (d'oh!), Athletic, Avant Garde, Boho, Burlesque, Country and Western, Edwardian, Fantasy, Folk, Goth, High Fashion, Hip Hop, Hippie, Hipster, Historical, Hollywood Regency, Industrial, Kawaii, Kitsch, Mediterranean, Mid-Century, Military, Minimalist, Mod, Modern, Nautical, Neoclassical, Preppy, Primitive, Regency, Renaissance, Resort, Retro, Rocker, Rustic, Sci-Fi, Shabby Chic, Southwestern, Spooky, Steampunk, Techie, Traditional, Tribal, Victorian, Waldorf, Woodland, Zen. You can also add others, but I'm too confused by all of this to try that. Besides, all the words I know that denote a certain style or subculture are obviously inapplicable to my work).