April 2017

Derek K. Tracy, Dan W. Joyce, Sukhwinder S. Shergill

Full text: The British Journal of Psychiatry Apr 2017, 210 (4) 307-308; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.210.4.307

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Kaleidoscope explores all the vices this month. Can you think of a physical sensation that might be either painful or pleasurable depending on your state of mind or body? My example, which I suspect is more innocent than yours*, is the difference between holding a very cold drink in your hand on a hot summer’s day, and holding that same drink on an icy winter morning. Alliesthesia is the name for such a phenomenon – the same stimulus producing different responses - and Kaleidoscope investigates a paper on the topic with the provocative title that “the brain wants what the body needs”.

Moving swiftly on to cigarettes and coffee; both are ‘nootropics’ – that is they enhance cognitive functioning. Alfréd Rényi said that ‘a mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems’, and a new paper explores just how much coffee can perk you up, but perhaps even more interesting is another reported study looking at the energy drink Red Bull. The authors did a clever experiment evaluating this, including diet Red Bull. The outcome was the diet version did very little: it’s sugar that gives you wings…

Finally, our eyes were drawn to a research paper from China entitled “sexy women can tempt men down the road of immorality”. I will let you make up your own mind if you concur with the inference of who is to blame for any bad boy behaviour. More importantly is a study looking at gender stereotypes held by children. At the age of 5, there was no difference between children in how they viewed other boys and girls, but by age 6 both boys and girls were more likely to ascribe the characteristic of ‘nice’ to pictures of other girls, and ‘brilliant’ (but less nice) to pictures of boys. By age 7, both genders (correctly) identified that girls tended to get the higher average grades in school, but when given the choice girls predominantly chose to play a game described as being for children who “try really, really hard”, whilst boys went for the one “for brilliant children”. The authors finish with “a sobering conclusion: many children assimilate the idea that brilliance is a male quality at a young age”. There is much work for us all to do; perhaps we can start at home.

*you’re terrible, Muriel.