Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gambling In Animals

Jack Dikian
December 2010

A few days ago while chatting with a friend about animal behaviors - the thought occurred to me whether animals can behave in ways that resemble gambling as we know it.

Personality, certain predispositions, neural and neuro-chemical basis for gambling (and even that gambling is a form of deviant behavior) has been postulated as has a range of psychoanalytical theories. Pathological gambling is characterized by persistent, maladaptive gambling behavior, which disrupts personal and professional life.

On the other hand, some even (perhaps unreasonably) rationalize that gaming is no different to those many that undertake risky behaviors as part and parcel of their professional occupation - Making speculations about the economy, and in taking calculated risks with investments and so on.

In wondering about the propensity of gambling behaviors in animals, the deeply seated psychological perspectives such as those that suggest "true" gamblers want to lose all their money so that they can reach a state of nothingness and despair –That is they have a desire to actually lose their money, so as to be punished for unresolved tensions and internal conflicts in their lives.

So could perhaps neural and neuro-chemical basis for gambling be modelled by animals. It turns out that rats have been used to undertake experiments in gambling scenarios.

In one experiment Rats choose among four different options to earn as many sugar pellets as possible within a period of time. Each option is associated with the delivery of a different amount of reward, but also with a different probability and duration of punishing time-out periods during which reward cannot be earned.

The schedules are designed such that persistent choice of options linked with larger rewards result in fewer pellets earned per unit time. Rats learn to avoid these risky options to maximize their earnings, comparable with the optimal strategy.

In this case, the levels of Serotonergic and Dopaminergic agents was showen to impair and/or improve gambling performance in Rats.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Jack Dikian
December 2010

With all that has been unfolding in my personal life, the highs, and bitter disappointments, I wanted to try and focus on happier days - times gone by. One of those times was when I first read Mary Poppins, and then again, years later when I saw the movie. As the story goes -

After Mary Poppins wins a horse race, flush with her victory, she is immediately surrounded by reporters who pepper her with leading questions and they comment that she probably is at a loss for words. Mary disagrees, suggesting that at least one word is appropriate for the situation - Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and begins the song.

Mary Poppins says about Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, who cares what it sounds like? And who cares if it's a real word? Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is a nonsense word that describes exactly how it feels: fantastic! Mary Poppins uses it to express her effortless win at the cartoon derby. Mr. Banks uses it when he feels the freedom to walk away from a dead-end job. The children sing it while they march around the house.

The origin of the word - super- "above", cali- "beauty", fragilistic- "delicate", expiali- "to atone", and docious- "educable", with the sum of these parts signifying roughly atoning for educability through delicate beauty.

Mary Poppins Principle - is about making life a game.

That staightlaced nanny who was "practically perfect in every way" certainly had a way of injecting fun into people's lives! From going to the bank to connecting new friends to the cartoon derby, Mary Poppins embodies the concepts of freedom through discipline and discipline through fun.

Much like Mary Poppins, just after she made herself hired and went to the children's nursery, she decided that they should tidy up the room? The children were upset and she said that they would make a game of the activity.

"This is a game, isn't it, Mary Poppins?" was Jane's concerned question, in which she replied that you have to have an element of fun in everything you do. As a consequence, the activity, instead of being perceived as an ordeal or a chore, is then perceived as a collaborative game; it becomes enjoyable.

Games are the one essential in life which we should strive to maintain, no matter how old we are and no matter how worn out we might be. I am not talking about sports, here, though some possess a "game" quality. I am talking about the act of having fun while doing certain activities.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome - Do You Look Fat?

Jack Dikian
December 2010

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS) is named after Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking Glass. In one scene, Alice eats cookies that change the size of her body, causing her to alternately be too small and too large for her environment.


Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (This condition is also known as micropsia and macropsia) describes a set of symptoms, the most common of which are:

  • The sizes of parts of the body are perceived incorrectly,
  • The sizes of external objects are perceived incorrectly,
  • The body changing shape uniformly or just in certain parts,
  • The experience of temporal disturbances,
  • The sense of touch may be distorted,
  • The feeling of sinking into the floor or passing through walls,
  • The experience of fractured vision which looks like a complex mosaic, and
  • Sounds seeming louder, softer, closer, or further than they really are.

Most reports are from children or by people later in life who experience the Alice in Wonderland symptoms and these are often at night.

The syndrome was first described in 1955 by the English psychiatrist John Todd. Todd named it, of course, for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Because the syndrome is usually associated with visual hallucinations and (usually) patients with either family members with a history of migraine headaches or themselves suffering migraines. It’s not a coincidence, therefore, to know that Lewis Carroll also suffered from severe migraine.


A psychopathological syndrome of distorted space, time and body image. The patient has a feeling that the entire body or parts of it have been altered in shape and size (
metamorphosis), associated with visual hallucinations.

Alice in Wonderland syndrome is a disorienting neurological condition which affects perception. Sufferers may experience micropsia, macropsia, and/or size distortion of other sensory modalities. A temporary condition, it is often associated with migraines, brain tumors, and the use of psychoactive drugs. It can also present as the initial sign of the Epstein-Barr Virus (See mononucleosis).

Psychoanalytic interpretation by Todd has made more understandable and plausible the illusionary dreams, feeling of levitation, and alteration in the sense of passage of time that Alice experienced. Alice trod the paths and byways of a wonderland well known to Carroll, her creator, who suffered severely from migraine.

Lippman’s report, one of the patients stated that she felt short and wide as she walked, calling this a ”tweedlike dum” or ”tweedle dee” feeling. Associated disorders may include apraxia, agnosia, language disorders, feelings of déjà vu or jamais vu, dreamlike or trancelike states, and delirium.

Similarly, The
Cheshire Cat syndrome is another medical eponym taken from Alice in Wonderland. It was first described by the British physician Eric George Lapthorne Bywaters (born 1910) in 1968.

Cross-Sensory Deficits - Synesthesia

Jack Dikian
December 2010

We tend to use cross-sensory metaphors in our everyday language quite frequently. For example, she’s a prickly person, or he’s wearing a loud shirt. But what we may not be aware of is that some people, some estimate up to 5% of the population may suffer from neurological (clinical) synesthesia.

Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

In one of the most common forms of synesthesia, individuals will perceive letters of the alphabet and numbers with a shaded or tinged color. While different individuals usually do not report the same colors for all letters and numbers, studies with large numbers of synesthetes find some commonalities across letters such as the letter” A” is likely to be colored red.

Another example of synesthesia is where individuals report that some sounds trigger colour, shape and motion. For example, a barking dog may trigger color and simple shapes that arise, move around, and then fade.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Genetics - Linked To Infidelity, Gambling, and Political Liberalism

Jack Dikian
December 2010

Can people's tendency toward infidelity, uncommitted one-night stands, alcoholism, gambling, some destructive behaviors, thrill-seeking and even political liberalism be explained by genetics?

According to a new study by Researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York, a dopamine receptor gene, DRD4 is linked to people's tendency toward both infidelity and uncommitted one-night stands

The same gene has already been linked to alcoholism and gambling addiction, as well as less destructive thrills like a love of horror films.

Justin Garcia, a postdoctoral fellow at Binghamton University, State University of New York, Using a detailed history of sexual behavior and relationships from 181 young adults researchers found that individuals with a certain variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to have a history of uncommitted sex, including one-night stands and acts of infidelity.

The motivation seems to stem from a system of pleasure and reward, which is where the release of dopamine comes in," Garcia said. "In cases of uncommitted sex, the risks are high, the rewards substantial and the motivation variable — all elements that ensure a dopamine 'rush.'"

A recent Israeli study has also found a connection between sex drive and the DRD4 gene. In the study 148 male and female students, researchers from the Hebrew University and the University of the Negev, found that around 30 per cent of those studied carried a variation of the DRD4 gene that also correlates with stronger sex drive.

According to researchers at University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and Harvard University, "ideology is affected not just by social factors, but also by DRD4."

The study was led by UCSD's James Fowler and focused on 2,000 subjects from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Scientists matched the subjects' genetic information with "maps" of their social networks. According to researchers, they determined that people "with a specific variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be liberal as adults."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Irrational beliefs

Jack Dikian
July 2004

In one of my favourite novels Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger, the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus is mentioned briefly. At one point Franny says: "I sat and I sat, and finally I got up and started writing things from Epictetus all over the blackboard. I filled the whole front blackboard--I didn't even know I'd remembered so much of him. I erased it--thank God!--before people started coming in. But it was a childish thing to do anyway--Epictetus would have absolutely hated me for doing it—but”

Epictetus also is credited for saying "Men are disturbed not by events, but by the views which they take of them.", although not quoted in Salinger’s novel. It is the thought - the idea that it is our beliefs that we hold and not the events themselves that cause us to become depressed, anxious, enraged, etc.

So fast tracking to more recent history - Albert Ellis (an American psychotherapist and psychologist) developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, one of the first of the cognitive behavior therapies, and based on the premise that humans, in most cases, do not merely get upset by unfortunate adversities, but also by how they construct their views of reality through their language, evaluative and irrational beliefs, meanings and philosophies about the world, themselves and others.

Ellis put the most irrational beliefs under three main headings:

1. I must do well and have the approval of others or else I am no good.

2. Other people must treat me well and do "the right thing" or else they are no good and deserve to be punished.

3. Life must be easy, and I must get what I want without discomfort or inconvenience.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cna yuo raed tihs snetnece amd are yuo srupiriesd taht yuo can.

Jack Dikian
October 2010

Can yuo rmemeber to pruchsae tmoato suauce, can of baens, btuter, beard, and vegeatbels

There are (and have been) a number of models psychologists have adopted to describe or explain how we might recognize words (word recognition). Historically psychologists have moved from a theory where we use the overall shape of a word to one of using letters for word recognition.

Word shape or ‘Bouma shape”

The idea here is that we perceive words as complete patterns rather than a sequence of letter parts. Some claim that the information used to recognize a word is the pattern of ascending, descending, and neutral characters. This method was first described in the 1880’s by James Cattell, suggesting that we recognize word patterns as an overall image because we have seen these patterns on many occasions.

This model is supported by what is in cognitive psychology, the word superiority effect (the phenomenon that people are more accurate in recognizing a letter in the context of a word than they are when a letter is presented in isolation).

Some experimental support for the word shape model has been reported by Woodworth (1938) in his book Experimental Psychology.

Serial Letter Recognition

The method for word recognition is that words are read letter-by-letter sequentially from left to right. In essence, recognizing a word is equivalent to looking up a word in a dictionary. You start off by finding the first letter, than the second, and so on until you recognize the word. This model, however, can’t explain the word superiority effects.

Parallel Letter Recognition

Here, letters within a word are recognized simultaneously, and the letter information is used to recognize the words. This is a model that is currently accepted by most psychologists, with much of the evidence coming from eye movement work.

There are a number of [recognition] heuristics that are used to explain parallel letter recognition. An activation based parallel letter recognition model (an activation flow) requires stimulus letters to be processed simultaneously by first recognizing the features of the individual letters, such as horizontal lines, diagonal lines, curves, etc.

Activation flow from feature units towards word units and from word units to letter units may be used in a bottom-up and top-down process. In the bottom-up flow, stimulus letter features are sent to the “letter detector level”, where each of the letters in the stimulus word are recognized simultaneously. In this cascade system, the stimulus word is processed by first, the feature detectors, letter detectors, and finally word detectors.

Cattell, J. (1886). The time taken up by cerebral operations. Mind, 11, 277-282, 524-538.
Woodworth, R.S. (1938). Experimental psychology. New York; Holt.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Deja Vu - Uncanny feeling of being here before

Jack Dikian


Recently I happened to type the word “deja vu” into Google’s trends tool and was surprised to see that in 2008 there was a number of spikes – that is the search volume index jumped greatly, and more so, that since 2008, the search volume index for this word grew. The other interesting thing about this trend seems, at least on first glance, to be mainly emanating from Brazil, Greece, and Portugal (see Fig. 1)

I, like many others, have experienced more than once the uncanny feeling or illusion of having already seen or experienced something that is being experienced for the first time. And, again similar to those who report to have experienced this, it leaves people puzzled, disoriented and searching for explanations.


The term deja vu is French and means, literally, "already seen." Those who have experienced the feeling describe it as an overwhelming sense of familiarity with something that shouldn't be familiar at all. Say, for example, you are traveling to England for the first time. You are touring a cathedral, and suddenly it seems as if you have been in that very spot before. Or maybe you are having dinner with a group of friends, discussing some current topic, and you get the feeling that you've already experienced this very thing - same friends, same dinner, same topic.

The experience of déjà vu is usually accompanied by a compelling sense of familiarity, and also a sense of "eeriness," "strangeness," "weirdness," or what Sigmund Freud calls "the uncanny." The "previous" experience is most frequently attributed to a dream, although in some cases there is a firm sense that the experience has genuinely happened in the past.

As much as 70 percent of the population reports having experienced some form of deja vu. A higher number of incidents occur in people 15 to 25 years old than in any other age group. Deja vu has been firmly associated with temporal-lobe epilepsy. Reportedly, deja vu can occur just prior to a temporal-lobe seizure. People suffering a seizure of this kind can experience deja vu during the actual seizure activity or in the moments between convulsions. However, deja vu occurs in individuals with and without a medical condition, there is much speculation as to how and why this phenomenon happens.

Some current thinking

Some practitioners attribute de ja vu to simple fantasy or wish fulfillment, while some psychiatrists ascribe it to a mismatch in the brain causing the brain to mistake the present for the past. Others from the world of the para-sciences believe, amongst other things that it is related to a past-life experience. The frequency of the experience has left specialists searching for explanations. There is an evident absence of rationale, as expressed through varying opinions from psychologists, neurobiologists and even spiritual healers.

Links with a number of disorders and / or other factors

Early researchers tried to establish a link between déjà vu and serious psychopathology such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and dissociative identity disorder, hoping for some diagnostic value. However, there does not seem to be any special association between déjà vu and schizophrenia or other psychiatric conditions such as depersonalization(1). The strongest pathological association of déjà vu is with temporal lobe epilepsy leading some researchers to speculate that the experience of déjà vu is possibly a neurological anomaly.

As most people suffer a mild (non-pathological) epileptic episode regularly such as a hypnagogic jerk - it is conjectured that a similar minor neurological aberration occurs in the experience of déjà vu, resulting in an erroneous sensation of memory.

There have been reports that certain pharmaceutical drugs increase the chances of déjà vu occurring in the user.

A neurobiological explanation involves brain grid and place cells as described by the work of Neuroscientist Edvard I. Moser of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. When the brain is keeping track of an environment, Place cells (neurons) are involved in the processing of this by [mapping] place cells to specific locations in an environment and fire when you pass through that location.

Grid cells on the other hand work in a network to produce a kind of internal coordinate system, noting information about distance and direction. These neurons do not correspond to a specific location but become active across several regularly spaced points in any setting.

Grid cells are located in the entorhinal cortex, a brain region that processes information before sending it to the hippocampus, the area where place cells are located. Because place cells have a unique firing pattern for nearly every experience, it is likely that the hippocampus, and not primarily the entorhinal cortex, decides whether a location is novel or being revisited. When a strange place is experienced as familiar, it may be because the activated ensemble of place cells at that location happens to be similar to a pattern of activity that was elicited by a previous locale.


What is going on in Brazil, Greece, and Portugal and why have they become so interested in this phenomena?


(1) Z Klin Psychol Psychopathol Psychother. 1991;39(4):357-68.
Depersonalization and déjà vu experiences: prevalences in nonclinical samples

(2) Neuroscientist Edvard I. Moser of the Norwegian University of Science

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Johari Window

Jack Dikian

July 2003


This article describes the use of Johari windows in Conflict Resolution, Negotiation and Team Building


The Johari Window model also known as the “Johari Window” demonstrates the process of giving and receiving feedback, improving self-awareness, personal development, group development and understanding relationships between individuals within a group.

Psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham developed the window in 1955, while researching group dynamics at the University of California Los Angeles. The model was first published in the Proceedings of the Western Training Laboratory in Group Development by UCLA Extension Office in 1955, and was later expanded by Joseph Luft.

The Johari Window model is especially relevant today as a communication model that can be used to improve understanding between individuals within a team or in a group setting where emphasis is increasingly placed on, and influence of soft' skills, behaviour, empathy, cooperation, and inter-group development.

The three key ideas behind the tool:

  • That individuals can build trust between themselves by disclosing information about themselves – self-disclosure and exposure,

  • That they can learn about themselves and come to terms with personal issues with the help of feedback from others – this is feedback solicitation,

  • The team collectively are unaware of feelings, latent abilities, aptitudes and experiences and through collective or mutual discovery, can help people to fulfil more of their potential, achieve more, and contribute to organisational performance.