Saturday, August 29, 2009

So You Think You Can Neuroblog?

Real members of the Society for Neuroscience (as opposed to all those fake members with pseudonyms) can apply to be an Official SfN Neuroblogger at the 40th Annual Meeting in Chicago:
SfN Interactive: Blogging and Tweeting the Annual Meeting

SfN encourages members to blog and tweet about events specific to Neuroscience 2009 while it’s happening.

Interested in Serving as a Neuroblogger?

Is there a Special Lecture your colleagues should not miss? Is there an interesting Poster that catches your eye? Want to gather colleagues at an SfN-Sponsored Social? Consider being a Neuroblogger.
What are some of the benefits of being a Neuroblogger? Besides the possibility of greater exposure (for a limited time before, during, and after the meeting), you'll get......
  • An official “SfN Social Media” ribbon to wear at the annual meeting [!!]

NOTE: unOfficial SfN Social Media Ribbon designed by Sandra Kiume, who will not be liveblogging the meeting.


But there's more! Your name will be entered into a drawing for a free iPod nano. And [better late than never] you'll have.....
  • The honor of taking part in SfN Interactive’s flagship year
The Neurocritic was rather skeptical when SfN first announced that attendees would need to apply in order to blog at the conference this year. Their media policy isn't exactly social media-friendly, in terms of who is eligible for press credentials:
Internet News Outlets

Bona fide Internet news organizations that distribute information directly to the general public are eligible. Personal Web site writers, writers from Web sites operated by non-media companies, or Web site creators are ineligible to register as media.
And their embargo policy actually prevents one from liveblogging or livetweeting:
Information from all other presentations, including lay language summaries, is embargoed until the conclusion of the relevant presentation.
Strictly speaking, this means that a poster is embargoed until the end of the 4 hour session. So you're not supposed to blog about a 1 PM poster until 5 PM (although I don't know how this will be enforced). The same is true for a 15 min talk, so no quick Twitter updates until after the speaker has finished.

There are other rules and requirements as well:
  • By applying to be a Neuroblogger, from October 17 to 21, you are expected to write one or more blog entries per day about activities, events, and experiences related to Neuroscience 2009 in Chicago.
  • SfN cannot provide blog hosting or online content management services...
  • You must be a current SfN member to submit an application.
  • On the application, provide a link to your current blog(s) or writing samples from entries you've composed in the past, preferably during a previous scientific meeting.
  • Selected bloggers will be categorized by theme but will not be limited to blogging about just that theme.
  • Selected blog links will be posted on this Web site two weeks before the meeting and will remain until two weeks after the meeting.
This all seems fairly regimented for the free-form blogging style that many of us know and love. On the other hand, this does mark the entry of a very large professional society into the world of social media. They face a difficult learning curve, however, as revealed by these exceptionally opaque hashtags that SfN recommends for use in the 140 character Twitter microblogging service:

If you plan to tweet with your colleagues about events occurring at Neuroscience 2009, use these theme-specific hash tags:

  • #sfnthemea
  • #sfnthemeb
  • #sfnthemec
  • #sfnthemed
  • #sfnthemee
  • #sfnthemef
  • #sfnthemeg
  • #sfnthemeh
...because (of course) everyone knows that #sfnthemef is Cognition and Behavior while #sfnthemec is Disorders of the Nervous System. These categories are just a wee bit difficult to parse. #sfn the meh, anyone??

She's smug, she's literate, she's Amber.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Studious Nerds Are Neurotic and Party Animals Are Antisocial

From the authors who brought you "Religion is the Xanax of the people" (aka Neural Markers of Religious Conviction) comes the finding that college students with lower grades are similar to religious zealots on a specific neural response to making an error. Meanwhile, students with high GPAs resemble atheists on the same neural marker. However, the new paper by Hirsh and Inzlicht (2009) did not draw a parallel to their previous study (Inzlicht et al., 2009). In fact, the two findings were interpreted in very different terms. In the new article:
A greater ability to monitor performance and engage cognitive-control mechanisms when needed thus appears associated with improved real-world performance.
Meanwhile, in the prior paper:
...religious conviction is marked by reduced reactivity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a cortical system that is involved in the experience of anxiety and is important for self-regulation. ... These results suggest that religious conviction provides a framework for understanding and acting within one's environment, thereby acting as a buffer against anxiety and minimizing the experience of error.
So the religious people were not utter failures at engaging cognitive control mechanisms, instead they were less anxious. And the smart students were not neurotic, they were better able to monitor their task performance. Hmm.

Before going any further, let's look at the experimental design and the neural measures. Both experiments used EEG recordings, specifically event-related potentials. The ERP brain waves reflect electrophysiological activity recorded remotely from the scalp. While it's great for determining the temporal parameters of neural activity, it's not so great at determining where the activity is located in the brain.

The brain wave of interest is the error-related negativity (ERN), recorded at the time that people make mistakes in a task:
The ERN is evident as a large negative polarity peak in the event-related brain potential waveform that occurs when people make errors in reaction time tasks. It begins at the moment of the error and reaches a maximum about 100 milliseconds later (see Gehring et al., 1993, PDF). It is largest at fronto-central scalp locations and appears to come from an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex...
The task used in both studies was the ever-popular Stroop task, in which color words are presented in font colors that either match or conflict with the printed word. Subjects are told to name the color and ignore the word. The Stroop interference effect (slower for BLUE than for RED) arises because reading is a more automatic process than color naming. Thus, subjects are prone to make errors on this task, and that's what the authors were interested in studying.

The participants were 31 undergraduates who consented to having their transcripts released. Their EEG was measured while they performed the Stroop task, and the ERN was calculated from the response-locked averages on all error trials. The results are illustrated below. Simply put, students with high GPA had a larger ERN response than those with low GPA.

Figure 2 (Hirsh & Inzlicht, 2009). The relation between academic success and the ERN. (A) Event-related potentials at Fz on error trials for individuals with high and low Grade Point Averages, as derived from a tertiary split of the sample. (B) Spatial distribution of the ERN, quantified as the peak minimum voltage deflection occurring between 50 and 150 ms after an error. (C) Headmap of correlations between GPA and ERN magnitude. (D) Source localization indicates an anterior cingulate generator for the ERN.

What might this mean? There is some disagreement about what the ERN wave represents: a direct response to the mismatch between the intended action and the actual one, a more generic response to conflict in general, or an emotional response to f***ing up. The authors opted to impose two different interpretations, so it's not surprising that the ERN can mean different things to different researchers. Or to the same researchers in different contexts. In the present context,
As predicted by models of self-regulation and cognitive control, academic performance was correlated with ERN magnitude, with better grades being associated with stronger (more negative) ERN responses, r= -.40.
"Cognitive control" (a sometimes murky concept) was evaluated by looking at post-error slowing, i.e. how much a person slows down on the trial immediately after making a mistake. If a subject has slowed down a lot, that means he's reined in the overly fast reaction time that led to the error in the first place (by responding more cautiously on the next trial). In the present study, a greater degree of post-error slowing was associated with larger ERN amplitudes and higher grades -- and viewed as an exemplar of greater cognitive control. This was taken to have sweeping implications for the rest of their lives:
Academic performance is a gateway to many important life outcomes, influencing the career options that are available to a student. At the broader societal level, achievement in academic domains plays a vital role in sustaining cultural and scientific innovation. The current study suggests that individuals who are better able to monitor their performance and engage cognitive control mechanisms when needed enjoy greater success in undergraduate programs.
How does this relate to smaller ERNs in highly religious persons? Do religious zealots have poor cognitive control? Or does it mean that lower grades are the Xanax of the people (Inzlicht et al., 2009)?
How is it that religion can bring about both peace of mind and zealous conviction? We suggest that religious conviction buffers against anxiety by providing relief from the experience of uncertainty and error, and in so doing, strengthening convictions and narrowing attention away from inconsistencies. We hypothesize that this muted response to uncertainty and error is evident neurophysiologically such that religious conviction is associated with reduced activity in the anterior cingulate cortex,1 a cortical system involved in a form of attention that serves to regulate both cognitive and emotional processing.
Read more in Atheists Are Neurotic and Religious Zealots Are Antisocial.


1 However, one cannot say for certain that the anterior cingulate is the sole origin of the ERN, because EEG is recorded from the scalp and not inside the brain.


Hirsh, J., & Inzlicht, M. (2009). Error-related negativity predicts academic performance Psychophysiology. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2009.00877.x

Inzlicht M, McGregor I, Hirsh JB, Nash K (2009). Neural Markers of Religious Conviction. Psychological Science 20:385-92.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

"The Secrets of Hypnosis"?

Steal Mind Hacks Content!

That's in reference to a blog that has ripped off the entire RSS feed of Mind Hacks to try to sell their book and audio transcripts.

EDIT: as suggested by a commenter, the link to said blog was moved from "blog" to "ripped off" which matches the new Spike Activity entry at Mind Hacks. And yes, you can see it now on the thieving website.
Secrets of Hypnosis is a cheap-ass website hawking dodgy-looking hypnosis CDs that has completely ripped off Mind Hacks without attribution.
Then they have the nerve to put "copyright © 2009 The Secrets of Hypnosis" on the bottom of the page.


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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Eastern vs. Western emoticons

Asian Smiley Emoticons Plush - Set Of 6

In a study of cultural differences in the recognition of facial expressions...

...eye movements of 13 Western Caucasian and 13 East Asian people [were recorded] while they observed pictures of expressive faces and put them into categories: happy, sad, surprised, fearful, disgusted, angry, or neutral. The faces were standardized according to the so-called Facial Action Coding System (FACS) such that each expression displayed a specific combination of facial muscles typically associated with each feeling of emotion. They then compared how accurately participants read those facial expressions using their particular eye movement strategies.

It turned out that Easterners focused much greater attention on the eyes and made significantly more errors than Westerners did. The cultural specificity in eye movements that they show is probably a reflection of cultural specificity in facial expressions, [Rachael E.] Jack said. Their data suggest that while Westerners use the whole face to convey emotion, Easterners use the eyes more and mouth less.

A survey of Eastern versus Western emoticons certainly supports that idea.

"Emoticons are used to convey different emotions in cyberspace as they are the iconic representation of facial expressions," Jack said. "Interestingly, there are clear cultural differences in the formations of these icons." Western emoticons primarily use the mouth to convey emotional states, e.g. : ) for happy and : ( for sad, she noted, whereas Eastern emoticons use the eyes, e.g. ^.^ for happy and ;_; for sad.

In addition to having their eye movements monitored, the participants in the study of Jack et al. (2009) classified same-race and other-race faces as conveying one of these emotions: happiness, surprise, fear, disgust, anger, sadness, or no emotion (neutral). The results suggested that facial expressions are not as universal as Paul Ekman made them out to be:
East Asian observers made significantly more errors when categorizing "disgust"’ (p less than 0.05) and "fear" (p less than 0.001) than Western Caucasian (WC) observers did. In contrast, WC observers categorized all facial expressions with comparably high accuracy.
In East Asian participants disgust was most often confused with anger, and fear was mistaken for surprise -- which happened because of a greater focus on the eyes, as shown in the figure below. Eye fixations on the mouth (in red) were less intense for the East Asians compared to the Western Caucasians, which resulted in less accurate discrimination of surprise vs. fear and disgust vs. anger (shown in the red bars in the bottom two panels).

Adapted from Fig 1B (Jack et al.) - Color-coded distributions presented on grayscale sample stimuli show the relative distributions of fixations across face regions. Higher color saturation indicates higher fixation density, shown relative to all conditions. Note that the red ‘‘mouth’’ fixations for EA observers are less intense as compared to WC observers across conditions. Color-coded bars to the left of each face represent the mean categorization accuracy for that condition, with red indicating a significant difference in categorization errors between groups. SR = same race, OR = other race.

But are Shrink Rap Roy's Psych Notes for Smilies universal across Eastern and Western psychiatrists? That remains an open question...
:-) stable. cont prozac 40mg. f/u 3 mos.

:-)) reduce prozac to 20mg. f/u 1mo.

:-)))) d/c prozac. add lithium 300 tid. check TSH, creat. f/u 1wk.

:-D add depakote. check lithium level, LFTs, CBC. f/u 1wk.

:- stable. cont prozac 40 mg. f/u 1mo.

:-( increase prozac to 60mg. f/u 2wk.

:'-( add wellbutrin SR 150mg. f/u 1wk.

X-( call 911. send to ER. check for OD.


Jack RE, Blais C, Scheepers C, Schyns PG, Caldara R (2009). Cultural Confusions Show that Facial Expressions Are Not Universal Current Biology. DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2009.07.051

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Monday, August 10, 2009

A New Clitoral Homunculus?

Homunculus image from Reinhard Blutner.

OK kids, let's start today's lesson by viewing the G-Rated [i.e., genital-less] flash explanation of homunculus.

The neuroanatomical definition of homunculus is a "distorted" representation of the sensorimotor body map (and its respective parts) overlaid upon primary somatosensory and primary motor cortices. The above figure illustrates the sensory homunculus, where each body part is placed onto the region of cortex that represents it, and the size of the body part is proportional to its cortical representation (and sensitivity). It's rare to see the genitals represented at all. And if they are present, they are inevitably male genitals. To remedy this puritanical and androcentric situation, Swiss scientists at University Hospital in Zurich conducted a highly stimulating study in 15 healthy women to map the somatosensory representation of the clitoris (Michels et al., 2009).

The authors begin by reviewing the work of Wilder Penfield et al.:
During the last 70 years the description of the sensory homunculus has been virtually a standard reference for various somatotopical studies (Penfield and Boldrey 1937; PDF). This map consists of a detailed description of the functional cortical representation of different body parts obtained via electrical stimulation during open brain surgery. In their findings they relied on reported sensations of different body parts after electrical stimulation of the cortex. Assessment of the exact location was generally difficult and sometimes led to conflicting results. The genital region was especially hard to assess due to difficulties with sense of shame.
Recent studies have tried to map the somatosensory represenation of the human penis using neuroimaging methods, but there has been disagreement over whether it shows the classic medial representation seen in the figure above, or a more laterally located representation in the postcentral gyrus. For example, Kell et al. (2005) noted that...
...classical and [some] modern findings appear to be at odds with the principle of somatotopy,1 often assigning it to the cortex on the mesial wall. Using functional neuroimaging, we established a mediolateral sequence of somatosensory foot, penis, and lower abdominal wall representation on the contralateral postcentral gyrus in primary sensory cortex and a bilateral secondary somatosensory representation in the parietal operculum.
But there are no comparable fMRI studies of female genitalia. So how is such a study conducted, methodologically speaking? Electrical stimulation of the dorsal clitoral nerve was compared to electrical stimulation of the hallux (big toe). It was all very clinical, no sexual arousal involved. Here's the experimental protocol:
Prior to the imaging session, two self-attaching surface disc electrodes (1 × 1 cm) were placed bilaterally next to the clitoris of the subjects so that we were able to stimulate the fibers of the dorsal clitoral nerve. Before the start of the experiment, electrical test stimulation was performed to ensure that subjects could feel the stimulation directly at the clitoris. In addition, the strength of electrical stimulation was adjusted to a subject-specific level, i.e. that stimulation was neither felt [as] painful nor elicited – in case of clitoris stimulation – any sexual arousal (see below). Functional imaging was performed in a block design with alternating rest and stimulation conditions, starting with a rest condition. ... In addition to the clitoris stimulation, we performed in eight of the recorded subjects a second experimental session, in which we applied electrical stimulation of the right hallux using the same type of electrodes, stimulation and scan paradigm.
If you "see below" in the Methods you'll discover that after the fMRI session, participants rated their level of sexual arousal and discomfort on a visual analogue scale that ranged from -10 (unbearable pain or strong sexual arousal) to 10 (pleasure or no arousal at all/sleepiness). The median score for sexual arousal was zero with some variability [range: −7.5 to 8; −2 (25% percentile) and 2.5 (75% percentile)]. The median score for comfortableness was −2 [range: −7 to 9; −2.5 (25% percentile) and 0 (75% percentile)]. C'est la vie.

The neuroimaging results revealed that compared to the rest blocks,
Electrical clitoral stimulation produced significant activations predominantly in bilaterally prefrontal areas (BA 6, 8 and 45), the precentral, parietal and postcentral gyri, including S1 (BA 2 and 3; 40–70% probability) and S2 (BA 43 and ventral BA 40, 30–60% probability). In addition, distributed activations were also seen in the anterior and posterior parts of the insula and the putamen.

Fig. 3 (Michels et al., 2009). Illustration of the random-effect group-activation pattern for the contrast ‘electrical clitoral stimulation versus rest’ (orangeyellow color code; p less than 0.02 uncorrected for multiple comparisons) and for the contrast ‘electrical hallux stimulation versus rest’ (greenblue color code; p less than 0.001 uncorrected for multiple comparisons) on a group average brain. A cluster extent threshold of p less than 0.05 is applied for both contrasts. Electrical clitoral stimulation elicited bilateral activations of lateral surface of S1 as indicated by the white circles.

The major result was similar to the penile homuculus findings of Kell et al. (2005): a failure to replicate the original 1937 studies of Penfield and Boldrey. Although the statistical thresholds here for the clitoral stimulation were not stringent enough, the authors use this to their advantage:
We found no evidence of clitoral representation in the mesial wall, even when using unconventionally low statistical thresholds. This finding is further substantiated by other recent cytoarchitectonic studies revealing that BA 2 does not reach the inter-hemispheric fissure and BA 3 and BA 1 reach the postcentral mesial wall with a probability of only 30% . Our results are also in good agreement with [neuroanatomical] studies on nonhuman primates.
In conclusion, it appears that Michels et al. (2009) have indeed mapped out a new clitoral homunculus, to go along with the new penile homunculus. The standard somatosensory images2 should be revised accordingly.


1 Somatotopy, or somatotopic organization refers to
the maintenance of spatial organisation within the central nervous system. For example, sensory information maintains its structure (i.e. sensory information on the hand remains next to sensory information on the arm) throughout the spinal cord and brain.
Foot fetishes aside, the mapping of the genitals next to the toes is in violation of somatotopic organization.

[like the standard homunculi shown above and below]


Kell CA, von Kriegstein K, Rösler A, Kleinschmidt A, Laufs H. (2005). The sensory cortical representation of the human penis: revisiting somatotopy in the male homunculus. J Neurosci. 25:5984-7.

Michels, L., Mehnert, U., Boy, S., Schurch, B., & Kollias, S. (2009). The somatosensory representation of the human clitoris: An fMRI study NeuroImage. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.07.024

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"Science Fiction, Science Fantasy"

Dr. Geoffry Aguirre of the University of Pennsylvania can has cortex?

Of all places, the FaithWorld blog at Reuters has some excellent coverage of the ongoing Penn Neuroscience Boot Camp,
An intensive summer institute for non-neuroscientists seeking a better understanding of the science behind the proliferation of new “neurofields” including neuroethics.
The post begins with "god spot? no there's not" researcher Dr. Andrew Newberg, who has done neuroimaing studies of glossolalia (or speaking in tongues) and meditative prayer.

SPECTacular Glossolalia (Newberg et al., 2006)

The figure above illustrates the singing state (control condition) in (a) and the glossolalia state in (b). The authors say there is decreased regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) bilaterally in the frontal lobes and unilaterally in the left caudate during glossolalia, so we'll just have to take their word for it. BUT:
Our results were hypothesis driven so comparisons were only tested for the major structures of the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes, as well as the amygdala, hippocampus, striatum, and thalamus, and thus a correction for multiple comparisons was not performed.

[I don't think that having a hypothesis exonerates one from correcting for multiple comparisons.]

So should we be skeptical of these pretty pictures? Yes! The press routinely portrays fMRI as capable of mind reading, for example, and lie detection. However, Aguirre (an expert in fMRI methodology) says this is “science fiction, science fantasy.” What are his reasons for skepticism? FaithWorld outlines them in Beware brain scientists bearing gifts (gee-whiz journalists too…):

  • scientific awesomeness“This is an incredible technology. Neuroimaging is not phrenology. It really is a scientific discipline that has reproducible results that makes valuable predictions that explain larges areas of cognition and cognitive neuroscience that previously had been inaccessible.”
  • image properties“There’s definitely an esthetic in the presentation of this data. People see this as a natural aspect of the brain, not the result of tests. Some groups made a very wise investment in the display technology for how neuroimaging results were reported. Those were the images that got displayed on the covers of the top scientific journals and made a splash.”
  • thresholding — The brain images leave out data outside the main focus. “This contributes to the overly localised view of brain function. So we say, ‘ah this is the spot for love’ or whatever, because it’s all that we see.”
  • overinference“It’s very easy to believe a lot of things about these images that might not be true… It’s also implied that when you’ve found activisation in a region, you’ve found the region ‘for’ something. But what does that mean?”
  • chicken versus egg problem “Just because you find a difference between groups in some brain imaging measure does not mean that structural difference was genetically determined.” But the brain also develops according to its owner’s environment and experience, so this is too narrow a focus.
  • lurking Cartesian dualism“In the way we think about people’s actions and describe the effect of diseases or drugs, there is frequently a lurking dualism there. We say, ‘oh it wasn’t his fault, his brain did that.’ Well, who else could it have been? Where else could those thoughts and feeling or plans have come from, except in the brain? This idea that the brain and the mind are separate is part of what makes these images so remarkable. Wow look! Here’s a part of the brain that’s more active when you’re feeling romantic love or not! That’s just astounding to folks who would have thought romantic love was outside the brain, in the heart or the soul and far away.”
  • illusion of inferential proximity “It doesn’t automatically follow that a brain imaging technology is going to give you greater inferential leverage on a question than just talking to somebody. There’s an illusion that somehow you’re getting much closer to the behavior you want to measure, just because you’re measuring a brain image. That might not be the case.”
  • ease of imaging — Many hospitals have brain scanners and researchers can use them and free imaging software to create impressive images. “If you have an internet connection and a scanner, you can be a cognitive neuroscientist and publish a paper. Lots of the variance in the lousy scientific papers over these years can be explained this way. What will come out will be a well-formed brain image that will give the impression you must be a very good scientist because you created something that looks very polished.”
It's very easy to fall for the The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations, so keep your critical faculties intact.


Newberg AB, Wintering NA, Morgan D, Waldman MR (2006). The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during glossolalia: A preliminary SPECT study. Psychiatry Res. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 148:67-71.

Weisberg DS, Keil FC, Goodstein J, Rawson E, Gray JR. (2008). The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. J Cog Neurosci. 20:470-7.

Explanations of psychological phenomena seem to generate more public interest when they contain neuroscientific information. Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people's abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation. We tested this hypothesis by giving naïve adults, students in a neuroscience course, and neuroscience experts brief descriptions of psychological phenomena followed by one of four types of explanation, according to a 2 (good explanation vs. bad explanation) x 2 (without neuroscience vs. with neuroscience) design. Crucially, the neuroscience information was irrelevant to the logic of the explanation, as confirmed by the expert subjects. Subjects in all three groups judged good explanations as more satisfying than bad ones. But subjects in the two nonexpert groups additionally judged that explanations with logically irrelevant neuroscience information were more satisfying than explanations without. The neuroscience information had a particularly striking effect on nonexperts' judgments of bad explanations, masking otherwise salient problems in these explanations.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Zombie Brain Cupcake


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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

"None of us are saints"

-Albert Fish, serial child killer and cannibal

I went to visit my parents for a few days. It was my mother's birthday, and she wanted to pick up a free DVD rental at the local video store. Interestingly, she chose The Gray Man, a movie about "a real life Hannibal Lecter" ... a "classy and disturbing piece of true crime".

Now who doesn't love Anthony Hopkins as the sophisticated serial killer, fava bean fan, and gourmand cannibal Hannibal Lecter of The Silence of the Lambs? Well, Lecter seems like an upright chap compared to Albert Fish, an extreme masochist and sadist who preyed on young children.

The Gray Man opens in an orphanage, where young Albert and the other boys are brutally beaten, with the obvious implication that these painful and degrading experiences contributed to creating a monster. The complicated thing is, although the monster suffered from religious delusions (at times), raped young boys, and engaged in every bizarre sexual fetish you can imagine, on the surface he appeared to be a kindly old gentleman who had married and raised 6 children. His mental health deteriorated after his wife left him, and it was at this time that his deliberate self-harm reached epic proportions: he self-embedded 29 needles into his groin, as can be seen in this x-ray [WARNING: neither link is for the faint of heart].

The film focused on the case of Grace Budd, who was voluntarily kidnapped from her family in 1928 after Fish (posing as "Mr. Frank Howard") convinced them he was a well-to-do farmer offering to hire her older brother. Fish ostensibly brought young Grace to a surprise birthday party for his niece, but in reality led her to an abandoned house in the country where he murdered and dismembered her. Her disappearance became a highly publicized missing persons case, with lead investigator William King working doggedly for years to solve it. Six years later, the Budd family received a deeply disturbing and obscene letter that told of torturing and eating children, and then described the utterly horrifying murder and consumption of their own child.
How she did kick – bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little _ss was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body.
Mercifully, The Gray Man shows none of this on camera. The most graphic scenes are of Fish's self-flagellation, plus some views of raw meat here and there.

The letter provided King with enough clues to track down and capture Fish, who was sentenced to death and executed in the electric chair, much to his own delight:
"What a thrill that will be if I have to die in the electric chair. It will be the supreme thrill. The only one I haven't tried."
Of most relevance for this blog is the testimony of psychiatrists who (predictably) called him sane (for the prosecution) and insane (for the defense):
That Fish was suffering from some religious psychosis was a given as far as Dr. Wertham was concerned. Fish's children had seen him "hitting himself on his nude body with a nail-studded paddle until he was covered with blood. They also saw him stand alone on a hill with his hands raised, shouting: 'I am Christ.'"

Fish told him: "What I did must have been right or an angel would have stopped me, just as an angel stopped Abraham in the Bible [from sacrificing his son]."
On the other hand, the elaborate ruse under which Grace Budd was abducted showed methodical planning and premeditation. Furthermore, although he had a history of hospitalization at Bellevue the examining psychiatrists always released him with a diagnosis of "disturbed but sane".

But Fish had an extensive family history of mental illness:
Psychosis seemed to have galloped through Fish's family history from what Dr. Wertham could ascertain: "One paternal uncle suffered from a religious psychosis and died in a state hospital. A half brother also died in a state hospital. A younger brother was feeble-minded and died of hydrocephalus. His mother was held to be 'very queer' and was said to hear and see things. A paternal aunt was considered 'completely crazy.' A brother suffered from chronic alcoholism. A sister had some sort of 'mental affliction.'
The Law and Neuroscience Blog had recent entries -- featuring relatively new neurowords -- on Neurolaw and Psychopathy and The Neuroprediction of Violence:
One issue that the MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Project is actively exploring is whether recent and future advancements in neuroscience could shed new light on the problem of prediction by further unlocking some of the remaining mysteries of the violent mind.
What neural events led to the depravity of Albert Fish? It remains a mystery..

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