November 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Personality traits predict placebo pain relief (Helen Albert, 11/19/12, Cosmos Online)

The team assessed the effects of different personality traits on the degree of pain relief provided by a placebo. Volunteers were told they were going to experience pain from a continuous injection of hypertonic salt water into their jaw muscle, but that a 'pain killer' (disguised placebo) would be applied beforehand.

The researchers measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood before and after the test to evaluate levels of stress experienced by the participants, as well as evaluating the degree of secretion and activation of pain killing opioid chemicals in the brain during the experiment.

They found that people who scored highly for personality traits such as altruism, straightforwardness, and resiliency on psychiatric questionnaires had the greatest pain relief after placebo treatment, the lowest levels of cortisol in the blood, and the greatest degree of opioid activation in the brain.

In contrast, people who scored highly for being angry or hostile did not feel pain relief in response to placebo, had higher levels of cortisol, and had the lowest measurable amount of opioid activation.

"We ended up finding that the greatest influence came from a series of factors related to individual resiliency, the capacity to withstand and overcome stressors and difficult situations," said Zubieta.

"People with those factors had the greatest ability to take environmental information - the placebo - and convert it to a change in biology."

"This is a really interesting study that shows that placebo analgesia is associated with certain positive psychological traits," said neuro-rheumatologist and pain expert Anthony Jones from the University of Manchester in England.

"The nice thing about this study is that they have shown that the strength of these relationships is related to the release of natural opiates in regions of the brain that are concerned with emotional regulation and resilience to stress and change," he added.

Zubieta and colleagues said that people who are able to manufacture these 'natural pain killers' in response to placebo may be more resilient in stressful situations, which is supported by the lower levels of cortisol seen in these individuals.

They may also make better patients and have a better patient-doctor relationship than people who are naturally more hostile.

"Placebo effects are not necessarily due to placebo pills," commented Colloca.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Free Textbooks Spell Disruption for College Publishers: Startup companies offering knockoff textbooks are attracting students, and lawsuits. (Michael Fitzgerald on November 19, 2012, Technology Review) 

In 2011, [Ariel Diaz] started Boundless Learning, a Boston company that has begun giving away free electronic textbooks covering college subjects like American history, anatomy and physiology, economics, and psychology.

What's controversial is how Boundless creates these texts. The company trawls for public material on sites like Wikipedia and then crafts it into online books whose chapters track closely to those of top-selling college titles. In April, Boundless was sued by several large publishers who accused the startup of engaging in "the business model of theft."

Theft or not, the college textbook industry is ripe for a disruptive shock from the Internet. Publishers today operate using what Mark Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan, calls a "cartel-style" model: students are required to buy specific texts at high prices. Perry has calculated that prices for textbooks have been rising at three times the rate of inflation since the 1980s.

On average, college students spend around $1,200 each year on books and supplies. Those costs, which sometimes exceed the tuition at a community college, are prompting a wider rebellion against commercial publishers. In February, California legislators passed a law directing the state to produce free versions of texts used in the state's 50 most popular college courses. In October, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said printed textbooks, a $6 billion industry in the United States (when sales of both used and new books are tallied), should be made "obsolete."

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


A Wonderful Life : Terry Teachout reaches down deep into the soul of Louis Armstrong. (Thomas S. Hibbs, 11/20/12, National Review)

At one point during Terry Teachout's play Satchmo at the Waldorf, the character of Louis Armstrong, performed by the accomplished stage and screen actor John Douglas Thompson, talks about his astonishing ability to string together a series of high Cs on his horn. Satchmo adds that, after those high notes, he likes "to take things way back down low, so you know you been somewhere." Something similar is true of Teachout's play. As with the experience of all true art, you know you've been somewhere. [...] Teachout's very risky composition of a one-man play, focusing primarily, of course, on Armstrong but secondarily on Armstrong's manager, Joe Glaser, and with brief appearances by Armstrong's musical nemesis, Miles Davis, could have easily faltered in any number of ways. Bad pacing, uneven shifts between characters, or the inability of the actor to sustain a 90-minute series of monologues -- any of these could have derailed the performance.

Happily for viewers, none of these difficulties surface. The script scintillates, and the performance captivates, from start to finish. Above all, theatergoers will discover a very happy coincidence of material and performer, with John Douglas Thompson moving with ease back and forth between the characters, masterfully altering the emotional register -- from anger to sorrow, from desperation to joy -- and keeping the audience entertained throughout. (A lengthy standing ovation followed the performance I attended last weekend in Philadelphia.)

Prompted by a famous photograph of a pensive and weary Armstrong backstage at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1971, just months before his death, Satchmo at the Waldorf is a behind-the-scenes presentation of the life of Louis (pronounced Lewis, not Louie, because, as Armstrong says, "I ain't French. I'm black") Armstrong, the man. As he says early on, "People don't know me; all they know is what they see on TV."
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


A Plea for Bipartisanship (Douglas Schoen and Jessica Tarlov, 11/19/12, Daily Beast)

According to our poll, both parties are viewed negatively. Fifty-eight percent view the Republicans in Congress unfavorably, 56 percent say the same about the Democrats, and 70 percent believe that we need a new party dedicated to compromise, conciliation, fiscal discipline, and economic growth that draws on the best ideas from both sides.

Moreover, there is huge concern that the political class in Washington has not provided any meaningful approach to addressing our mounting fiscal challenges. Sixty-one percent of the electorate disapproves of how Obama and the Democrats in Congress have handled the issues surrounding the fiscal cliff, and 58 percent gave a similar response about the Republicans. Meanwhile, an extraordinary 88 percent of those surveyed agreed with this statement: "We need a bipartisan agreement to reduce the deficit, where everything is on the table, and both Republicans and Democrats compromise on some positions they feel strongly about."

On the policy substance, 66 percent of respondents favored a tax increase for upper-income Americans, and 49 percent endorsed a program whereby Congress reduces the federal budget deficit through equal spending cuts and tax increases--both statistics that favor Obama's position. (In the latter poll, 35 percent favored only spending cuts, and 5 percent favored only tax increases.) At the same time, lest Democrats get carried away, it is important to note that an even greater number of respondents--75 percent--believe the current level of federal spending helps neither individuals nor the economy.