Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Provocative & biased perspective: The neuromodulator dopamine may be a crucial link between neural circuits performing Bayesian inference and the perceptual idiosyncrasies of people with schizophrenia

Illusions, Delusions, and Your Backwards Bayesian Brain: A Biased Visual Perspective. Born R.T., Bencomo G.M. Brain Behav Evol,  Mar 2021. https://doi.org/10.1159/000514859

Abstract: The retinal image is insufficient for determining what is “out there,” because many different real-world geometries could produce any given retinal image. Thus, the visual system must infer which external cause is most likely, given both the sensory data and prior knowledge that is either innate or learned via interactions with the environment. We will describe a general framework of “hierarchical Bayesian inference” that we and others have used to explore the role of cortico-cortical feedback in the visual system, and we will further argue that this approach to “seeing” makes our visual systems prone to perceptual errors in a variety of different ways. In this deliberately provocative and biased perspective, we argue that the neuromodulator, dopamine, may be a crucial link between neural circuits performing Bayesian inference and the perceptual idiosyncrasies of people with schizophrenia.

Keywords: Cerebral cortexDopamineNeuromodulatorsSchizophreniaSensory systemsVision

Closing Remarks and Future Directions

This has been an admittedly biased review of several different bodies of literature, perhaps illustrating the pitfalls inherent in overly strong priors. Our aim from the start was to be provocative and, whether the ideas presented here are absolutely correct in their detail is less important than the dialogue and future studies that we are hoping to inspire. Besides, it takes only one additional inhibitory interneuron intercalated into a circuit to completely invert the sign of a predicted effect or influence! And, as noted above, simply changing the subtype of a neuromodulator’s receptor can lead to very different effects on the same circuit.

In this spirit, we close with a few thoughts on several specific areas that we think merit deeper investigation. First, at the circuit level, the mechanisms by which top-down information interacts with local circuits remain largely unknown, exacerbated by the fact that many of these interactions take place in layer 1. While modern approaches using serial-section electron microscopy (EM) have begun to flesh out the details of local circuits [Morgan and Lichtman, 2013], layer 1 has not been amenable to traditional EM-based connectomics, because, as previously noted, the vast majority of the inputs are from distant sources. However, such distant sources might soon be identifiable in serial EM reconstructions by using recently developed methods that allow neural tracing with viral vectors carrying different genetically encoded labels that are distinguishable with EM [Cruz-Lopez et al., 2018; Zhang et al., 2019]. New, nondestructive imaging methods also promise to extend the distances over which circuits can be reconstructed at the ultrastructural level [Kuan et al., 2020].

Second, most studies on the influence of top-down information on perception and cognition have been done in humans and NHPs, where tools to study circuit mechanisms are lagging compared to those in rodent models. In the future, this border zone needs to be more thoroughly investigated, both by improving our toolkit for circuit-level manipulations in NHP [Dai et al., 2015; El-Shamayleh et al., 2016; Galvan et al., 2017] and seeking out meaningful touchpoints between studies on NHPs and rodents, in the spirit of Figure 4.

Third, the mechanisms by which neuromodulators influence specific cortical circuits are poorly understood; a myriad of cellular and synaptic effects have been described but understanding the overall effects will require sophisticated computational models [Seamans and Yang, 2004].

Fourth, how circuit-level influences of neuromodulators lead to changes in perception and behavior remains deeply mysterious. This is true, not only for dopamine, but other neuromodulators as well. Chief among those that seem ripe for investigation is serotonin (5-HT), given the powerful perceptual distortions that are produced by hallucinogenic drugs, most of which are believed to act through 5-HT2A receptors [Nichols, 2004; González-Maeso et al., 2007; Halberstadt, 2015]. The historical events [Pollan, 2019] that led to these drugs being classified as “schedule 1” made them virtually inaccessible to the scientific community for many years. Thankfully, this historical influence appears to be on the wane, and we hope that perceptual scientists will make use of this powerful set of tools for future studies on perception.

Finally, the body of literature showing a reduced susceptibility to contextual visual illusions and abnormal corollary discharge in patients with schizophrenia, while suggestive, remains difficult to interpret for a variety of reasons including the fact that most of these patients are on a variety of psychoactive medications, are often condemned by their illness to extremely difficult socioeconomic situations, and frequently have other neuropsychiatric diagnoses. In this regard, several studies showing diminished top-down perceptual effects in the normal population that correlate with “cognitive-perceptual schizotypal traits” [Teufel et al., 2010; Bressan and Kramer, 2013] seem particularly promising, particularly given the possibility of conducting large-scale psychophysical studies online, using tools such as Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” [Rajalingham et al., 2015; de Leeuw and Motz, 2016].

There is a tremendous gap between the conceptual simplicity of Bayesian inference and our understanding of the neural mechanisms that might implement it. Even such seemingly basic questions as how neural systems represent probability remain unsettled [Beck et al., 2008; Ma and Jazayeri, 2014; Haefner et al., 2016; Walker et al., 2020]. The situation might seem hopeless. Connectomics has revealed seemingly Byzantine cortical circuitry [Bock et al., 2011] which can adopt a variety of different functional modes under the influence of multiple systems of neuromodulators [Bargmann and Marder, 2013], each having scores of effects at different levels of the circuit [Seamans and Yang, 2004; Tritsch and Sabatini, 2012]. While new experimental tools to probe circuit function are surely part of the solution, ultimately, what is most needed are synthetic computational models, i.e., models that themselves represent the consensus of an entire modeling community [Bower, 2015], which can integrate results across different levels of investigation into (hopefully) simpler explanations at the level of circuit motifs that perform canonical computations [Douglas and Martin, 2007; Kouh and Poggio, 2008; Carandini and Heeger, 2011; Miller, 2016] in the service of behavioral goals [Krakauer et al., 2017]. 

People perceive themselves to adhere more strictly to COVID-19 guidelines than others

People perceive themselves to adhere more strictly to COVID-19 guidelines than others. Andreas Mojzisch,Christian Elster &Markus Germar. Psychology, Health & Medicine, Mar 29 2021. https://doi.org/10.1080/13548506.2021.1906435

Abstract: People have a fair idea of how they are supposed to behave to slow down the spread of COVID-19. But what about people’s perception of their own compared to others’ adherence to the guidelines? Building on prior research on self-enhancement biases, we predicted that people perceive themselves to adhere more strictly to the COVID-19 guidelines than others. To test this hypothesis, we conducted a large-scale online experiment (N = 1,102), using a sample from four countries (UK, US, Germany, Sweden). As predicted, people perceived themselves to adhere to the COVID-19 guidelines more strictly than both the average citizen of their country and their close friends. These findings were robust across countries. Furthermore, findings were not moderated by whether people first thought about themselves or about others. In conclusion, our study provides a robust demonstration of how a long-standing psychological effect perseveres, even during a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis.

Keywords: COVID-19better-than-average-effectholier-than-thou effectself-enhancementsocial comparison

Favorable socioeconomic environment in childhood appears to have a positive effect on offspring’s compassion in their middle adulthood; this effect may attenuate by middle age

Saarinen AI, Keltner D, Dobewall H, Lehtimäki T, Keltikangas-Järvinen L, Hintsanen M (2021) The relationship of socioeconomic status in childhood and adulthood with compassion: A study with a prospective 32-year follow-up. PLoS ONE 16(3): e0248226, Mar24 2021. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0248226

Abstract: The objective of this study was to investigate (i) whether childhood family SES predicts offspring’s compassion between ages 20–50 years and (ii) whether adulthood SES predicts compassion or vice versa. We used the prospective population-based Young Finns data (N = 637–2300). Childhood family SES was evaluated in 1980; participants’ adulthood SES in 2001 and 2011; and compassion for others in 1997, 2001, and 2012. Compassion for others was evaluated with the Compassion scale of the Temperament and Character Inventory. The results showed that high childhood family SES (a composite score of educational level, occupational status, unemployment status, and level of income) predicted offspring’s higher compassion between ages 30–40 years but not in early adulthood or middle age. These results were obtained independently of a variety of potential confounders (disruptive behavior in childhood; parental mental disorder; frequency of parental alcohol use and alcohol intoxication). Moreover, high compassion for others in adulthood (a composite score of educational level, occupational status, and unemployment status) predicted higher adulthood SES later in their life (after a 10-year follow-up), but not vice versa. In conclusion, favorable socioeconomic environment in childhood appears to have a positive effect on offspring’s compassion in their middle adulthood. This effect may attenuate by middle age. High compassion for others seems to promote the achievement of higher SES in adulthood.

4 Discussion

This study showed that high childhood family SES predicts offspring’s higher compassion in middle adulthood (approximately at the age of 30–40 years), but not in early adulthood or middle age. Hence, living in economically advantaged circumstances seemed to have a positive influence on one’s disposition to feel compassion for others in adulthood. Moreover, we found that high compassion in adulthood predicted higher adulthood SES, but not vice versa.

The positive relationship of childhood family SES with offspring’s compassion is in line with previous literature. Previous studies suggest that high childhood family SES is strongly linked to favorable psychosocial qualities of home environment that may promote compassion development. Specifically, high family SES is proposed to be linked to lower parental stress levels [1214], higher maternal support for the offspring [1214], higher quality of the parent-child communication [16], and better family climate [12]. High quality of the parent-child relationship, in turn, predicts offspring’s higher compassion in adulthood [39].

Importantly, the influence of childhood family SES on offspring’s compassion was not significant in early adulthood (approximately ages of 20–25 years) or in middle age (approximately ages of 45–50 years). This study did not investigate potential mechanisms between SES and compassion but there may be some potential explanations. Firstly, it may be that compassion-related qualities need to be a comparatively stable feature of one’s identity, before one is able to conduct prosocial actions toward outgroup-individuals and to forgive for others who have behaved aggressively [40]. In order to form a stable identity, one needs to mentally go through the past events in childhood and adolescence, including parenting practices and childhood family circumstances. Previously, the age of 30 years is found to be a critical age period for personality traits to become more stabilized [41]. We speculate that this may potentially provide one explanation why parental SES predicted compassion beginning at the age of 30 years. Secondly, compassion increased over age in all the SES groups. Hence, in middle age, there may have not been enough variance in compassion to obtain statistically significant differences between SES groups. Thirdly, there were fewer participants in extreme age ranges that may likely resulted in broader confidence intervals and weaker statistical significance of the associations.

The results showed that high compassion predicts higher SES in adulthood. This may be explained by the motivational component of compassion leading to higher willingness to prosocial behavior [3] that, in turn, is related to higher social connectedness [42]. Further, experiencing compassion is related to more frequent actions to promote common goals in one’s social communities [43]. These social benefits of compassion may promote compassionate individuals’ higher status at occupational environments. In addition, compassion may protect against work stress and burnout because high compassion is related to better coping with stress [4445] and more favorable health behavior [46].

Previous studies have suggested that high adulthood SES is related to weaker compassion-related qualities, such as lower ability to recognize others’ emotional states [19] and less frequent altruistic and helpful behavior toward others [2021]. Those studies, however, did not control for childhood family SES. In this study, we took into account childhood family SES and obtained no association between offspring’s adulthood SES and compassion.

The current study had some methodological limitations that are necessary to be taken into consideration. In Finland, there is a comprehensive social welfare system with quite a strong progressive taxation. Further, unemployed individuals are typically provided with satisfactory unemployment benefits. Additionally, there is a 9-year-long comprehensive school for the whole age group, so that all the citizens may likely have basic educational knowledge. Hence, even “low SES” may likely refer to satisfactory levels of socioeconomic circumstances (i.e. having apartment, food, and health care) and, conversely, there are very few individuals with extreme wealth in Finland. Consequently, our results cannot be generalized to populations with extremely low and high levels of SES where the link between compassion and SES might be different. In addition, there may be possible cultural differences in the SES-compassion relationships that may restrict the generalizability of our findings and that could be addressed in up-coming studies. Overall, our findings suggest that even comparatively small increases in childhood family SES (within a reasonable SES range) have a beneficial influence on offspring’s compassion in adulthood.

This study had also a variety of strengths. Firstly, to our knowledge, this study was the first to investigate the relationship of childhood family SES with compassion over a long-term prospective follow-up (32 years) into adulthood. Further, we investigated the relationship between adulthood SES and compassion over an 11-year follow-up. Secondly, we could take into consideration a variety of other covariates (child’s disruptive behavior, parental mental disorder, parents’ frequency of alcohol use and intoxication). Thirdly, we used SES composite scores consisting of several SES indicators (level of income, occupational status, educational level, employment status), in order to capture the multidimensional aspects of socioeconomic circumstances. Fourthly, we had a large population-based sample with intergenerational design and three respondents from each family (mother, father, and child). Finally, as academic-level education is provided free-or-charge for the Finnish citizens, childhood family SES may not largely determine offspring’s SES development. Hence, the effects of one’s own characteristics (such as compassion) on later SES development can be more clearly observed in our Finnish sample than in some other countries.

Commonly, unemployment or other socioeconomic troubles are treated using public employment services such as vocational training [47]. There is evidence, however, that compassion may have favorable influences on socioeconomic status: for example, compassionate practices at work place are found to predict higher work engagement and to protect against burnout in stressful circumstances over a 6-month follow-up [48]. Our study showed that compassion is related to higher socioeconomic status over an 11-year follow-up. Further, there is evidence that compassion may be enhanced even with a few-week-long compassion intervention [49], including practices to e.g. increase tolerance to other’s suffering and to shift attention from self-monitoring to recognizing others’ emotional states [50]. Finally, there is evidence that women coming from low-SES childhood families may not be willing to contact health-care professionals and must be contacted even ten times in order to get them to participate in psychotherapy [51]. Our study suggests that individuals with low childhood SES may have a lower level of compassion that, in turn, may potentially be manifested as a distrust toward health-care professionals. Consequently, individuals coming from socioeconomically harsh environments could be treated with particular warmth and trust, as has been suggested also previously [52]. 

Decreases in desires for a relationship are significantly associated with greater life satisfaction; the results are used to suggest how many singles may be able to maintain high levels of life satisfaction in the face of social stigmata

Reduced relationship desire is associated with better life satisfaction for singles in Germany: An analysis of pairfam data. Elyakim Kislev. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, March 30, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/02654075211005024

Abstract: This research estimates the extent to which life satisfaction of singles is influenced by their desire to be single. Regression analyses on data from the Panel Analysis of Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics (pairfam) studies are used to investigate this question, paying particular attention to longitudinal differences between never-married and divorced/separated men and women. Panel data analyses between different waves of the pairfam data indicate that decreases in desires for a relationship are significantly associated with greater life satisfaction. These patterns hold for all but one of the demographic groups investigated (divorced/separated men). The results are used to suggest how many singles may be able to maintain high levels of life satisfaction in the face of social stigmata.

Keywords: Divorce, life satisfaction, marriage, singlehood

Earliest childhood memories for the five senses: Memories reported for sight were marginally longer, from a younger age, and estimated to be more important compared to memories reported for the other senses

Do you remember? Similarities and differences between the earliest childhood memories for the five senses. Fabian Hutmacher. Memory, Volume 29, 2021 - Issue 3, Mar 9 2021.  https://doi.org/10.1080/09658211.2021.1895222

Abstract: We perceive the world with our five senses. However, the role that these five senses play in early childhood memories has received relatively little attention. Against this background, participants (N = 117) were asked to write down their earliest childhood memories for the five senses and to answer additional questions regarding these memories. There was no significant difference between the five senses regarding the percentage of participants reporting a memory or between the valence and the subjective reliability of the reported memories. However, memories reported for sight were marginally longer, from a younger age, and estimated to be more important compared to memories reported for the other senses. A qualitative content analysis revealed that the vast majority of the reported memories fell into a limited number of categories. Interestingly, several categories played a role in more than one sense. Nevertheless, the reported memories also mirrored the characteristic properties that one is able to perceive with each sense. Overall, the findings support the notion that sight is the dominant sense. At the same time, they remind us that each sense provides us with unique information about ourselves and the world around us.

KEYWORDS: Early childhood memorychildhood amnesiasensesvisual dominance

Why gift givers underestimate how uncomfortable recipients feel receiving a gift without reciprocating

When a gift exchange isn’t an exchange: Why gift givers underestimate how uncomfortable recipients feel receiving a gift without reciprocating. Julian Givi. Journal of Business Research, Volume 129, May 2021, Pages 393-405. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2021.03.013

Rolf Degen's take: Gift-givers underestimate how uncomfortable their offering will make recipients feel if those are unable to reciprocate

Abstract: When a gift is given from a giver to a recipient, there is often an expectation that the recipient will reciprocate, for example, during the winter holidays. However, recipients do not always have gifts to return to their givers for such “reciprocatory occasions.” They might be unaware beforehand, for instance, that the giver will be giving them one. This research examines whether givers accurately assess how uncomfortable recipients feel when they fail to reciprocate a giver’s gift for a reciprocatory occasion. Several studies demonstrate that givers severely underestimate how uncomfortable recipients feel in such situations. This occurs in part because givers feel less strongly than recipients that the actions of the two parties imply an imbalance in appreciation. Moreover, in part because of this forecasting error, givers give gifts more often than recipients prefer when it is known before a reciprocatory occasion that a recipient would be unable to reciprocate.

Keywords: Gift givingConsumer behaviorProsocial behaviorSelf-other decision-makingReciprocationEmotions

From 2019... Intelligence generation of males and females may rely on opposite cerebral lateralized key brain regions and distinct functional networks consistent with their respective superiority in cognitive domains

From 2019... Multimodal data revealed different neurobiological correlates of intelligence between males and females. Rongtao Jiang, Vince D. Calhoun, Yue Cui, Shile Qi, Chuanjun Zhuo, Jin Li, Rex Jung, Jian Yang, Yuhui Du, Tianzi Jiang & Jing Sui. Brain Imaging and Behavior volume 14, pages 1979–1993, Jul 9 2019. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11682-019-00146-z

h/t: David Schmitt https://twitter.com/PsychoSchmitt/status/1376859620686376961

Abstract: Intelligence is a socially and scientifically interesting topic because of its prominence in human behavior, yet there is little clarity on how the neuroimaging and neurobiological correlates of intelligence differ between males and females, with most investigations limited to using either mass-univariate techniques or a single neuroimaging modality. Here we employed connectome-based predictive modeling (CPM) to predict the intelligence quotient (IQ) scores for 166 males and 160 females separately, using resting-state functional connectivity, grey matter cortical thickness or both. The identified multimodal, IQ-predictive imaging features were then compared between genders. CPM showed high out-of-sample prediction accuracy (r > 0.34), and integrating both functional and structural features further improved prediction accuracy by capturing complementary information (r = 0.45). Male IQ demonstrated higher correlations with cortical thickness in the left inferior parietal lobule, and with functional connectivity in left parahippocampus and default mode network, regions previously implicated in spatial cognition and logical thinking. In contrast, female IQ was more correlated with cortical thickness in the right inferior parietal lobule, and with functional connectivity in putamen and cerebellar networks, regions previously implicated in verbal learning and item memory. Results suggest that the intelligence generation of males and females may rely on opposite cerebral lateralized key brain regions and distinct functional networks consistent with their respective superiority in cognitive domains. Promisingly, understanding the neural basis of gender differences underlying intelligence may potentially lead to optimized personal cognitive developmental programs and facilitate advancements in unbiased educational test design.

The arrival of white women: Tourism and the reshaping of beach boys’ masculinity in Zanzibar

The arrival of white women: Tourism and the reshaping of beach boys’ masculinity in Zanzibar. Altaïr Despres. Ethnography, March 22, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/14661381211002548

Abstract: Mass tourism in Zanzibar has been accompanied by a virulent denunciation of the dress, bodily, and sexual practices of white women, who have been accused of perverting the local culture. More specifically, they have been held responsible for the emasculation and feminization of Zanzibar’s male youth engaging in compensated intimate relations with them. In this article I argue that sexual relations between white women and Zanzibari men show the capacity of young Zanzibaris to recompose the balance between the two traditional axes in the construction of masculinity, namely economic power and sexual performance. While the economic power of Zanzibari men has suffered from capitalist globalization, sexual potency and expertise, as well as competition between men for access to women’s bodies have become key aspects of affirming masculinity.

Keywords: Masculinity, sexuality, interracial intimacy, tourism, Zanzibar

Ecological variation & institutionalized inequality in hunter-gatherer societies: presence of defensible clumped resources is a likely determinant of institutionalized hierarchy; predictors such as population pressure & warfare, do not show this effect

Ecological variation and institutionalized inequality in hunter-gatherer societies. Eric Alden Smith and  Brian F. Codding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 30, 2021 118 (13) e2016134118; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2016134118

Significance: Persistent differences in wealth and power are pervasive in contemporary societies, yet were absent or muted for most of human history. To help explain how and why institutionalized hierarchy can arise in egalitarian systems, we examine a sample of Native American hunting and gathering societies that vary in the degree of inequality. Systematic evaluation of alternative hypotheses identifies the presence of defensible clumped resources that can be monopolized as a likely determinant of institutionalized hierarchy. When such resources are present, societies in our study exhibit substantial inequality, including slavery. Other possible predictors, such as population pressure and warfare, do not show this effect. These results suggest general factors likely facilitate the initial emergence of inequality in human societies.

Abstract: Research examining institutionalized hierarchy tends to focus on chiefdoms and states, while its emergence among small-scale societies remains poorly understood. Here, we test multiple hypotheses for institutionalized hierarchy, using environmental and social data on 89 hunter-gatherer societies along the Pacific coast of North America. We utilize statistical models capable of identifying the main correlates of sustained political and economic inequality, while controlling for historical and spatial dependence. Our results indicate that the most important predictors relate to spatiotemporal distribution of resources. Specifically, higher reliance on and ownership of clumped aquatic (primarily salmon) versus wild plant resources is associated with greater political-economic inequality, measuring the latter as a composite of internal social ranking, unequal access to food resources, and presence of slavery. Variables indexing population pressure, scalar stress, and intergroup conflict exhibit little or no correlation with variation in inequality. These results are consistent with models positing that hierarchy will emerge when individuals or coalitions (e.g., kin groups) control access to economically defensible, highly clumped resource patches, and use this control to extract benefits from subordinates, such as productive labor and political allegiance in a patron–client system. This evolutionary ecological explanation might illuminate how and why institutionalized hierarchy emerges among many small-scale societies.

Keywords: evolutionary ecologyhierarchyeconomic defensibilitypatron-client systems

Girls Try, Boys Aim High: Exposing Difference in Implied Ability, Activity, and Agency of Girls Versus Boys in Language on McDonald’s Happy Meal Boxes

Girls Try, Boys Aim High: Exposing Difference in Implied Ability, Activity, and Agency of Girls Versus Boys in Language on McDonald’s Happy Meal Boxes. Kristen Lee Hourigan. Sex Roles volume 84, pages377–391. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01173-7

Abstract: The present research investigates subtle yet powerful differences in the language present on cultural artifacts marketed for girls and boys. Through a content analysis of the verbs written on the girl-oriented and boy-oriented sides of all 56 McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes distributed between 2011 and 2019 in the United States, I uncover stark differences in the implied ability, activity, and agency levels of boys versus girls. The mixed methods nature of my exploration allows for statistical testing coupled with analysis of the language in context, revealing pervasive, nuanced differences that bolster our understanding of the complexity of the messages being relayed to children about what is appropriate and expected for boys versus girls. Central findings include the subtle, yet pervasive implication that girls are less active, less powerful, and in need of more detailed instruction and help, and they draw on a narrower set of skills as compared to boys. Through differential language, boys are also challenged at a qualitatively different level than girls and are assumed to have greater levels of ability (e.g., girls “try” and boys “aim high”). Girls’ agency is directly questioned, implying a lack of general confidence in the child’s ability to succeed, which is not the case for boys. Such subtle messages perpetuate insidious gender stereotypes and reinforce inequities in power and privilege.