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Monday, June 18, 2007How Do You Feel When You See Somebody Falls Or Get Hurt?
A brain anomaly can make the saying "I know how you feel" literally true in hyper-empathetic people who actually sense that they are being touched when they witness others being touched.
The condition, known as mirror-touch synesthesia, is related to the activity of mirror neurons, cells recently discovered to fire not only when some animals perform some behavior, such as climbing a tree, but also when they watch another animal do the behavior. For "synesthetes," it's as if their mirror neurons are on overdrive.
"We often flinch when we see someone knock their arm, and this may be a weaker version of what these synesthetes experience," University College London cognitive neuroscientist Jamie Ward said.
Now scientists find these synesthetes possess an unusually strong ability to empathize with others. Further research into this condition might shed light on the roots of empathy, which could help better understand autism, schizophrenia, psychopathy and other disorders linked with empathy.
Synesthesia is a condition where sensations that normally are experienced separately get blended together. The most common form is color-grapheme synesthesia, where a person experiences colors upon hearing or reading words. Others can taste words.
In mirror-touch synesthesia, when another person gets touched, the synaesthete feels a touch on their body. University College London cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore discovered a mirror-touch synesthete in 2003 by a stroke of good luck.
"I was giving a talk and mentioned synesthesia, and that anecdotally there were reports that some people felt touches they only observed, and there was a woman in the audience who asked, 'Doesn't everyone experience that? Isn't that completely normal?'" Blakemore recalled.
Until that point, that 39-year-old woman did not realize her mirror-touch synesthesia was unusual. "It was something she's always had," Blakemore told LiveScience. In fact, a cousin of hers also has it, suggesting it runs in families.
When the woman faced someone and saw that person get touched on the left cheek, she felt it on her right cheek. On the other hand, if she stood next to somebody and that person got touched on the right side, she felt a touch on her right side.
The pain of horror films
Now Ward and doctoral student Michael Banissy reveal 10 more mirror-touch synesthetes they discovered among University College London students, as well as among people who possess other types of synesthesia. (The woman that Blakemore has 11 relatives with color-grapheme synesthesia, and that woman had color-grapheme synesthesia herself when she was younger.)
The researchers had the mirror-touch synesthetes take a questionnaire designed to measure empathy. For instance, they were asked to agree or disagree with statements such as "I can tune into how someone feels rapidly and intuitively."
The mirror-touch synesthetes scored significantly higher than people without synesthesia, findings detailed in the July issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.
One mirror-touch synaesthete, Alice, said "I have never been able to understand how people can enjoy looking at bloodthirsty films, or laugh at the painful misfortunes of others when I can not only not look but also feel it." Another, Jane, said she felt her synesthesia is "a positive thing because I believe it makes me more considerate about the feelings of others."
I never quite figured out why the sexual urge of men and women differ so
much. And I never have figured out the whole Venus and Mars thing. I have
never figured out why men think with their head and women with their heart.
FOR EXAMPLE: One evening last week, my girlfriend and I were getting into
Well, the passion starts to heat up, and she eventually says “I don’t feel
like it, I just want you to hold me.”
I said “WHAT??!! What was that?!”
So she says the words that every boyfriend on the planet dreads to hear…
“You’re just not in touch with my emotional needs as a woman enough for me
to satisfy your physical needs as a man.” She responded to my puzzled look
by saying, “Can’t you just love me for who I am and not what I do for you in
Realizing that nothing was going to happen that night, I went to sleep.
The very next day I opted to take the day off of work to spend time with
her. We went out to a nice lunch and then went shopping at a big, big
unnamed department store. I walked around with her while she tried on
several different very expensive outfits. She couldn’t decide which one to
take so I told her we’d just buy them all. She wanted new shoes to
compliment her new clothes, so I said lets get a pair for each outfit. We
went onto the jewelry department where she picked out a pair of diamond
earrings. Let me tell you…she was so excited. She must have thought I was
one wave short of a shipwreck. I started to think she was testing me because
she asked for a tennis bracelet when she doesn’t even know how to play
tennis. I think I threw her for a loop when I said, “That’s fine, honey.”
She was almost nearing sexual satisfaction from all of the excitement.
Smiling with excited anticipation she finally said, “I think this is all
dear, let’s go to the cashier.”
I could hardly contain myself when I blurted out, “No honey, I don’t feel
Her face just went completely blank as her jaw dropped with a baffled
I then said “honey! I just want you to HOLD this stuff for a while. You’re
just not in touch with my financial needs as a man enough for me to satisfy
your shopping needs as a woman.” And just when she had this look like she
was going to kill me, I added, “Why can’t you just love me for who I am and
not for the things I buy you?”
Apparently I’m not having sex tonight either.
We've seen the prototypes and heard the speculation for years now, but here we have it, the world's first solar cell phone, and you can buy one right now...if you happen to live in China.
HiTech Wealth telecommunications has just begun selling the S116 and the specs are pretty impressive. However, the $510 pricetag will have you wondering why you don't just get an iPhone. A 1.3 mpx camera, and an MP3 player are fairly standard additions to cell phones these days, but the solar panels do make this guy stand out.
The panels trickle-charge the battery in any amount of light, including indoors (or even by candlelight), and the battery life is 2.5 times longer than it would without the panels. An hour of direct sunlight will give users 40 extra minutes of talk time.
While this first model is pretty exciting, HiTech Wealth will be releasing six more solar phones within the year and has promised 30 solar models before 2009.
Getting a robot to host a wedding, an event that many see as the ultimate demonstration of humanity, may seem a little weird to some, but to Seok Gyeong-Jae, one of the designers of Tiro the robot, it's perfectly natural. Gyeong-Jae is soon to be married in Daejeon (around 80 miles from Seoul), with Tiro taking the role of master of ceremonies. In order to completely, 100% remove any possibility that Tiro will come off as harsh or inhuman, he will simulate a female voice as he attempts to move proceedings along -- as the logic goes, if it works for in-car GPS, why not for weddings? There's no mention of how the bride feels about all this, so we're assuming one of the robot's alternate tasks is to keep her happy by acting as a personal servant until the big day: let's just hope that she doesn't mind if her "wedding in white" is realized via blinking LEDs.
"Greetings from Germany", writes Karoline, "I collect pictures from funny animal pairs too. Here's my one image from a frog, that rescues a mouse from high water."
A great deal of fuss is often made about failing the bar exam. The news a few weeks ago was that Governor Patakis daughter passed the exam, but it is always mentioned that it was her second try. Similarly, John Kennedy, Jr. failed the New York bar exam twice, before finally passing it on his third try.
As one who took several medical licensure and specialist exams, and the Virginia bar exam, passing all, I might be inclined to pat myself on the back, but my former background as a mathematician won’t let me do that. I do remember, however, some remarks from a noted orthopedic surgeon about his own specialty exam: “It was a hellishly hard test, and went on for hours,” he said, ”but I’m really glad I passed the first time I took it. Only about 35 percent who took it passed the exam.”
He was describing, with only the slightest tinge of boastfulness, the qualifying exam for specialists in orthopedic surgery. Passing the exam entitled one to join the “college” of orthopedic surgeons, and list oneself as specialist.
“Was it all multiple choice?” I asked. “And how did they grade it?” I was thinking of my own exams. “Did they count only the right answers.?”
When he said Yes to all the questions questions, I did not have the heart to tell him what I knew as a mathematical certainty—that the exam was, like most graduate medical exams, and large parts of legal licensing bar exams in most states , virtually a complete fraud.
The reason these tests are fraudulent—and the harder they are, the more they are fraudulent—is that for an extremely difficult test graded in that way, guessing tends to count much more than knowledge.
A simple example will describe why this is the case. To illustrate this, consider an extreme case.
Suppose you and I take a test, and you know twice as much as I do. For simplicity (this is the extreme case) suppose the test consists of 100 questions, each True or False, and moreover (this is the key point), let us agree that the test will be graded by only counting the number right.
Naturally, both of us will guess at an answer for those questions that stump us.
Now suppose the test is very hard. As hard as it could be actually. Suppose the test is so hard that I, with lesser knowledge, can only answer one question based on actual knowledge. I answer that question, and guess at the other 99. You, who know twice as much as I, can answer two questions based on knowledge. So you guess at 98 answers.
As you can readily imagine, the odds of you getting a higher grade than I are very slight. In fact, over 45 percent of the time, in repeated trials, I would outscore you, even though my knowledge is half that of yours.
I chose a True-False test for this example, but it doesn’t make any real difference were the test to be multiple choice with several choices in each question. The only thing that makes a difference is how hard is the test. Your advantage would grow substantially as the test was weakened.
For further example, if the test was so easy, and you so well-versed in the subject that you could get a perfect score, and I knew half as much, I would answer 50 questions based on knowledge, and guess at 50. In the long run, I would get half of those 50 correct, for a final score of 75. So you get 100, and I get 75, on the average.
Were the test to be multiple choice, with four choices for each question, and your knowledge was also 100 percent and mine half that, I would then (guessing at 50) get a score of 50 + (1/4 times 50), or 62.5. on the average.
These extreme cases demonstrate the point, that truly hard multiple choice tests, graded by counting only the number right and ignoring guessing, are fraudulent.
But suppose the grading attempts to adjust for guessing. There is no way of knowing what is in the mind of the test-taker, so the customary is to subtract, from the number correct, some fraction of the number wrong.
For True-False exams for example, the number subtracted would most likely be (Number Wrong ÷ 2). Let’s see how that would work out, for the sample case above. You, answering two questions correctly and guessing at 98 would be likely, on the average, to get 49 wrong, and so have a final score of 2 + 49 - (49 ÷ 2), or 75.5, while I, again on the average. answering only 1 correctly and guessing at 97, would get a final score of 1 + (97 ÷ 2) - ((97 ÷ 2) ÷ 2)), which comes out to be 25.25. Here there is a substantial difference between our scores, closer to the two-fold difference in our actual knowledge.