Monthly Archives: May 2013

Can electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, electroshock) cause permanent acquired prosopagnosia?

It seems very clear that ECT can cause at least temporary acquired prosopagnosia or severely impaired face memory:

“In this building I, I saw her maybe four times, I visited maybe four times, and um, she progressively got less aware of who I was. On one occasion she didn’t know me from Adam.”

That is a quote from an episode (titled “Mind Control”) in the television series Into the Mind, featuring Dr Michael Mosley (I very much like his TV work and the shows he appears in). The person the quote refers to had been an attractive English 21 year-old lady named Mary Thornton who was sent to a psychiatric institution by her parents after some family conflicts. Patients in that institution were given extreme and experimental treatments: deep sleep therapy, heavy regimes of psychiatric drugs and ECT. The doctor who dreamed-up these experimental regimes of psychiatric treatment was the ambitious and controversial psychiatrist Dr William Sargant, who apparently set out explicitly to destroy memory in his treatment and also reportedly had his own history of psychiatric illness (depression).

The person who spoke the above quote in the TV series was the then-boyfriend of the young lady who had been given the extreme psychiatric treatment. For a while after being released from St Thomas’ Hospital in London she forgot that she had ever had a boyfriend, but then the memory returned and she found his phone number. They met again, and have been together ever since. As you might expect, many of the other patients did not have such happiness in their lives following release from psychiatric care. Some never made it out of that hospital alive. Australian history has a similar horror story of very similar forms of psychiatric abuse, in the Chelmsford Hospital scandal, which led to a Royal Commission into Deep Sleep Therapy. Twenty-four Australian patients had died as the result of deep sleep therapy. The Australian version of Dr Sargant was Dr Harry Bailey, Chief Psychiatrist at Chelmsford Private Hospital. It is thought he was responsible for the deaths of 85 patients. Bailey killed himself before he could be held accountable for his crimes.

A quote from Mary Thornton:

“My memories are like snap-shots, one is the electrodes being touched to the side of my head, being given a general anaesthetic, seeing an image of myself in a mirror one day, seeing a strange face looking back at myself, and being really, really frightened that I would never get out.”

We must make sure that such medical abuse is never, ever allowed to happen again, in any corner of the globe.

Links to relevant info:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroconvulsive_therapy#Effects_on_memory

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=William_Sargant&oldid=546499660

http://www.bbcactivevideoforlearning.com/1/TitleDetails.aspx?TitleID=23342

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Where are tests for people who suspect they or their kids have prosopagnosia?

The top search term leading to this blog for the last month has been “prosopagnosia test”, even though this blog is primarily about the opposite condition of super-recognition, and also covers another brain-based peculiarity of mine which is synaesthesia. I also write about prosopagnosia and link to relevant resources because I understand the importance of face memory as a human ability which we are all assumed to possess, but which many people do not possess. I’m sure the recent upswing in interest in testing for prosopagnosia or face-blindness or facial agnosia or a disability in face memory is due to the famous actor Brad Pitt’s recently publicized interview in Esquire magazine in which he revealed that he suspects that he has prosopagnosia, and his poor face memory has had a definite negative impact on his social life. He has been lucky in that an American expert in face memory and prosopagnosia has publicly offered testing and brain imaging to Mr Pitt. This is great, but whether he takes up this offer is his decision. What about less famous people who have similar suspicions about their own face memory ability or that of a person in their life? What about parents who suspect that their child or children might have prosopagnosia? We know that one type of prosopagnosia is developmental prosopagnosia, which affects people from early in life and can run in families and is certainly genetically inherited. Don’t assume that it is a disability that kids will grow out of; as far as I know this is not true. We have good reasons for believing that children who can’t recognize faces and therefore probably have social difficulties and possibly anxiety issues as a result would be especially at risk of being wrongly diagnosed and stigmatized as being on the autistic spectrum. It is very important that people of all ages who might have prosopagnosia be identified, informed and if possible helped. We are in the midst of an upswing in interest in this issue. So where is the help? Where are the tests? Where should Australians or British people wanting to know about prosopagnosia testing go to for help?

After searching thru many dead links I’ve found a link that appears to lead to an online version of the Cambridge Face Memory Test. This is probably the best face memory test available today. There are two versions; the short and the long form. The short version has 72 questions in it. It can be important to know which you did, but I suspect that the test linked to here will give a score in the proper context. http://www.icn.ucl.ac.uk/facetests/fgcfmt/fgCFMT.php

For the testing of children, one of the leading face memory researchers who created the CFMT, Dr Brad Duchaine, and two other researchers, Kirsten Dalrymple and Jesse Gomez, have created the CFMT-Kids, which “…is available to other researchers”, so I’ll guess parents will have to find a face memory researcher in their city (good luck) and do some begging.  I don’t know if this test is available online, but I suspect that it isn’t.  http://w.journalofvision.org/content/12/9/492.short

For help and advice I guess Faceblind.org would be the best place to look on the internet:  http://www.faceblind.org/

References

Kirsten Dalrymple, Jesse Gomez and Brad Duchaine CFMT-Kids: A new test of face memory for children. Journal of Vision. August 13th 2012 vol. 12 no. 9 article 492. doi: 10.1167/12.9.492.

http://sciencealerts.com/stories/1967742/CFMTKids_A_new_test_of_face_memory_for_children.html

Kirsten A. Dalrymple, Sherryse Corrow, Albert Yonas and Brad Duchaine Developmental prosopagnosia in childhood. Cognitive Neuropsychology. 29:5-6, 393-418.  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02643294.2012.722547#.UaRRDrU3B8E   http://www.faceblind.org/social_perception/papers/Dalrymple%20et%20al%202012%20CN.pdf

I’ve just found out about Brad Pitt and prosopagnosia

A CNN news article about Brad Pitt and his suspicions about prosopagnosia came out on Friday. I’ve only just found out about Brad Pitt and face recognition issues. I’m amazed. There is speculation about how he visually recognizes his partner actor Angelina Jolie. Perhaps Mr Pitt just consistently approaches the most beautiful woman in the room. I guess you can do that when you look as gorgeous as Mr Pitt.

Note the photos and notes in the CNN article about many other famous prosopagnosics, including Australia’s beloved Dr Karl and Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden. A disability in face memory isn’t the only difficulty in life that Crown Princess Victoria has had to contend with. She is also a dyslexic and won a battle against anorexia in the 1990s. According to the CNN article, Brad Pitt has been invited to go to Carnegie Mellon University to see Prof Marlene Behrmann and be tested for face-blindness or prosopagnosia and to have his brain imaged. That’s his decision to make. Prof Behrmann does appear to be an expert in the area of face recognition. I would cite Dr Brad Duchaine as another world-class expert.

I don’t see anything wrong with Prof Behrmann’s offer, but a celebrity shouldn’t feel that he has to make a public show of getting diagnosed with something. I guess Mr Pitt has seen the positive impact that his partner’s recent sharing of medical information has made. Perhaps he feels that he would like to also share and go public about a personal issue, and have a professor check out his lobes and gyri and white matter. Perhaps Mr Pitt feels that his apparent difficulty with face memory has alienated so many people that he must now seek and offer a public explanation of why he hasn’t recognized people. Being diagnosed as a prosopagnosic in a consultation that is reported in press releases would appear to be a solution. Finding out whether or not you are a super-recognizer of faces or a prosopagnosic can also be done privately and at no cost. The short version of the Cambridge Face Memory Test used to be freely available on the internet for anyone to complete in the privacy of their own home, with access to their own score. In my opinion, no one should have to volunteer to have their brain scanned or be studied as a single case or be studied as one of many research subjects just to get access to scientifically sound face memory testing and one’s own test results. I also don’t think anyone should have to pay a consultation fee to see someone with letters after their name just to get access to testing. Good face memory tests can be and have been offered freely over the internet. Governments subsidize public access to important health-related information resources on the internet, and I don’t see why face recognition tests should be any different.

I can’t believe that I’ve just written a post about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and a beautiful princess who once had an eating disorder. It just isn’t the kind of thing that I do.

CNN Staff Does Brad Pitt suffer from face blindness? CNN May 24, 2013.  http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/23/showbiz/celebrity-news-gossip/brad-pitt-esquire-face-blindness/index.html

Tom Junod A life so large. Esquire. June/July 2013.  http://www.esquire.com/features/brad-pitt-cover-interview-0613

Shilo Rea News Brief: Carnegie Mellon Invites Brad Pitt To Campus For Face Blindness Diagnosis, Research. Carnegie Mellon News. May 23rd 2013.  http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2013/may/may22_faceblindness.html

Princess Victoria’s face confession. Female First. February 13th 2008.  http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/royal_family/Princess+Victoria-48079.html

Anouk – Birds representing The Netherlands at Eurovision 2013

This was the only tune at this year’s Eurovision that had any colour for me:

http://youtu.be/n5iazXvMw5o

 

Louisville psychology researchers seeking babies to participate in studies

Are you a parent of a baby who lives in the area? Infants between 3 and 14 months of age with normal vision and hearing are invited to participate (in person) in some psychological studies, including the study of face perception. Please contact the University of Louisville Infant Cognition Lab:  https://louisville.edu/psychology/cashon/

Confirmation that Harry Lorayne’s “names and faces” method is not designed to address the problem of poor face memory or prosopagnosia

“Most of us recognize faces (did you ever hear anyone say, “Oh, I know your name, but I don’t recognize your face”?). It’s the names we have trouble with. Since we do usually recognize faces, the thing to do is apply a system wherein the face tells us the name. That is basically what Mr Lorayne’s system accomplishes, if it is applied correctly.”

on page 51 of The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas, Ballantine Books, 1974.

Perhaps this method might be of some use to prosopagnosics, but it clearly isn’t designed to aid or replace face memory ability. Normal face memory is assumed.

Cuisenaire Rods and paper money – grapheme-colour synaesthesia and nostalgia all at the same time

Someone shared a photo of those colored wooden rods which were used to teach maths in primary schools in WA in the 1970s on Facebook. These ones had colours that were faded and drab compared to most photos of Cuisenaire Rods which can be found on the internet. Perhaps the rods that they provided for young students in WA schools faded with age or after being washed. I was quite amazed to see that six out of the ten digits represented by the rods in the WA photo were in colours that roughly correspond to my colour-grapheme synaesthesia for numbers. One of the rod colours was pretty close. I don’t think this is a coincidence. One of the numbers that was not a match for the rods in colour was indeed a match for the old Australian paper dollar note for that number.

Does finding a learned origin for my synaesthesia associations show that my synaesthesia is not “biological” or genuine? No it doesn’t. Synaesthesia researchers know that syn is a thing that develops at around the age when kids are being educated with tools such as these rods, and it is known that there are cultural/linguistic influences on grapheme-color synesthesia.

This is a link to some Cuisenaire Rods for sale. The colours are a bit different to the ones I used as a kid:

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/82-Wooden-CUISENAIRE-Rods-PRIMARY-SCHOOL-MATHS-essential-PARENT-GUIDE-/200921898009

Faces, faces everywhere

I’ve been following with great interest the Mindscapes series of articles in New Scientist magazine by Helen Thompson. This week is no less fascinating, maybe even more. It’s about a man whose personality changed following two strokes, paradoxically transforming from criminality to sensitivity, with the strokes also triggering an unstoppable surge of artistic creativity. The artist’s name was Tommy McHugh. He passed away last year. Such artists by virtue of brain transformation are sometimes labelled as acquired savants, and the interesting thing is that they often seem to experience synaesthesia, which raises the question of whether they were always synaesthetes or perhaps synaesthesia is latent in all people, and can be uncovered by changes in brain functioning. What especially interests me about McHugh’s art is the extraordinary focus on faces in his paintings and also sculptures, many of them having such subtle depictions of multiple faces that they could be described as a celebration of pareidolia. Colour is also clearly an aspect of visual experience that McHugh enjoyed experimenting with. I was also struck by McHugh’s description of what it was like to have the first stroke; when he woke up in hospital he saw a tree sprouting numbers. That sounds like just the type of non-psychotic hallucination that Oliver Sacks described in his recent book Hallucinations. It is my understanding that faces, colour and graphemes including numbers are all processed in the fusiform gyrus. The fusiform gyrus is also believed to be involved in at least some types of synaesthesia. I know about this stuff because I have experienced synaesthesia involving faces, graphemes, colours and just about everything that goes on in the fusiform gyrus, and I’m apparently naturally gifted in face memory ability. It looks as though McHugh could also have experienced synaesthesia, judging by the title of one painting “Feeling the Feelings Tasting Emotions”. Yes, I’ve experienced that too. A few years ago I speculated that the famous synaesthete Bauhaus artist Kandinsky showed a focus on the things processed in the fusiform gyrus in one of his paintings (Upward), including a face that could be missed by viewers not gifted with a goodly dose of pareidolia.  This might be what happens when your fusiform gyrus gets off it’s leash, and McHugh insisted that it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23523-mindscapes-stroke-turned-excon-into-rhyming-painter.html

http://www.tommymchugh.co.uk/ex_pictures_gallery/index.html

http://www.tommymchugh.co.uk/ex_sculptures_gallery/es_index.html

http://www.tommymchugh.co.uk/index.html

Doubts that legendary memory performer had any advice for prosopagnosics

On the weekend we visited “the hills”. Communities in picturesque forest locations a bit away from the city tend to have a lot of arts and crafts and historical attractions and also lots of second-hand book shops. They are a lot like Fremantle, but not a port and there’s less foreign tourists and probably not nearly as many junkies. Can any community have too much “arts and crafts”? I think it is possible. Why paint life badly when you could be experiencing it instead? Browsing second-hand bookshops is also a questionable use of time, but I can’t keep out of them. I know the vast majority of their stock has a value that is close to landfill, but now and then I come across a forgotten book that adds something unique to a current interest. In one second-hand bookshop I spotted an old, stained and overpriced copy of a book about recognizing people written by the legendary mnemonist Harry Lorayne, whose specialty was memorizing the names of people in the audience in incredible quantities, presumably mentally linking names with faces.

For a person with a scientific interest in face memory, a performer like Lorrayne is of interest. How did he do it? Did he have superior face memory? Did he have a technique for improving face memory? I didn’t buy the book by Lorrayne, but I scanned through it to get an idea what all of the chapters were about, and as far as I can tell, there’s no technique in the book except  mnemonic techniques for creating and memorizing visual images that are visual-conceptual mnemonics for linking people’s names to their faces. As far as I can tell Lorayne’s techniques are all about linking names with faces, but offer no tips or help in visually memorizing the faces. As far as I can tell, Lorrayne takes normal face memory in the reader for granted, so I doubt that a prosopagnosic would find anything to help in his book. I can imagine that a face-blind person might have bought this book in the hope that it would help, and be left disappointed and confused. We should be very grateful to the researchers in psychology and neuroscience who are giving us more and more real information and advice about face memory and prosopagnosia and other perceptual abilities and disabilities. Reliable information, useful tests and the latest research findings can be found through the internet. Ignorance should be left behind in dusty old second-hand book shops.

Perth missing persons – can you help?

Perth WA Crime Reports on Facebook quite often features photos of people missing from WA locations. Can you help? Have you seen any of these people?

http://www.facebook.com/perthwacrime