Valproic Acid for Perfect Pitch? Steady, Now…

FDA_seizure_drug_DepakoteFor the past few days, the internet has been abuzz with the announcement of the “perfect pitch miracle drug.” Let’s back up a bit, shall we?

Valproic acid has been used alone or in addition to other medications for nearly fifty years to treat epilepsy, and is the active ingredient in drugs such as Valproate and Depakon. It is also used in the prevention of migraines, mania in bipolar disorder and for the treatment of aggression exhibited in children with ADHD. It is in the class of anticonvulsants. To talk a little bit about how it works, our brain is made up of thousands of nerve cells that communicate back and forth via electrical signal, a very intricate and delicate process that need maintain a steady and stable balance for normative functioning. When repetitive and abnormally rapid electrical signals are released, this process becomes disturbed and over stimulated. Anticonvulsants such as Valproate function as a stabilizer by increasing the amount of the natural nerve-calming chemical GABA, (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), as an HDAC (histone deacetlyase) inhibitor (Monti et al., 2009). GABA is one of the brain’s chief inhibitory neurotransmitters, which many researchers believe to regulate anxiety. When the amount of GABA in the brain falls too low, Valproate prevents the breakdown of the chemical and works to stabilize the amount of electrical activity, which explains why the drug has been found effective as a treatment for periods of mania and epileptic seizures.

Unfortunately, valproic acid is far from the ideal end-all. Valproate has been known to potentially cause serious or life threatening damage to the liver, pancreas, and blood cells, and holds an alarmingly high statistic for weight gain. It is not approved for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and has recently been the target of a lawsuit due to unforeseen birth defects. It is also known to cause ataxia, thrombocytopenia and leucopenia, so before we all go rushing off to “increase our brain function,” it might be wise to spend a moment thinking critically.

This morning, Tom Ashbrook of On Point, NPR stated “Imagine a pill that could rewire your brain. Would make your brain young again. Able to learn and absorb like a five-year old. Music. Languages. Would you take it?”  Neuroplasticity has risen to near-celebrity status over the past few months, and recent study by Frontiers of Systems Neuroscience is certainly fanning the flame. Carried out by researchers from France, Canada, Maryland, Australia, Massachusetts and England, the study set out to discover whether such periods when enzymes “impose ‘brakes’ on neuroplasticity, might be able to “reopen critical periods of neuroplasticity” via a drug that blocks productions of those enzymes. Absolute pitch was thought to be a solid assessment of this possibility because there are “no known cases of an adult acquiring absolute pitch.”

Absolute pitch (AP) is the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a musical sound without any reference point. Individuals who possess AP, constituting about 0.01% of the general population, are able to identify the pitch class, i.e., one of the 12 notes of the Western musical system, e.g., C, D, G#, of a sound with great accuracy (varying between 70–99%, depending on the task, as compared to 10–40% for non-AP individuals, Takeuchi and Hulse, 1993). The study explains:

“Importantly, acquiring AP has a critical period (Levitin and Zatorre, 2003; Russo et al., 2003). A critical period is a fixed window of time, usually early in an organism’s lifespan, during which experience has lasting effects on the development of brain function and behavior. The principles of critical period phenomena and neural plasticity are increasingly well understood both at the behavioral/experiential (Kleim and Jones, 2008) and at the molecular/cellular level (Hensch, 2005). Specifically, behaviorally induced plasticity in the healthy brain, typically after the end of the relevant critical period, can lead to improvement beyond normal or average performance levels. However, for many tasks, this requires targeted training—simple routine use is often insufficient. The factors known to influence the efficiency of such targeted training include the number of repetitions involved, the intensity of the training as well as the relevance or saliency of the stimuli or task trained. Importantly, such training-induced learning is quite specific to the trained task and to the underlying brain networks, although some transfer to other, related domains of knowledge or skills is sometimes possible. At the cellular level, critical periods close when maturational processes and experiential events converge to cause neuoro-physiological and molecular changes that dampen or eliminate the potential for further change (Hensch, 2005Bavelier et al., 2010), thus imposing “brakes” on neuroplasticity. One of the epigenetic changes leading to decreased plasticity after the critical period involves the action of HDAC, an enzyme that acts as an epigenetic “brake” on critical-period learning (Morishita and Hensch, 2008Qing et al., 2008). Research has shown that inhibition of HDAC can reopen critical-period neuroplasticity in adult mice to enable recovery from amblyopia (Putignano et al., 2007Silingardi et al., 2010), and to facilitate new forms of auditory learning (Yang et al., 2012).” (http://www.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnsys.2013.00102/full ).

The randomized, double blind study was conducted on twenty four men, half of which received Valproate and the other half, a placebo. The men who received Valproate showed advantage in pitch class identification. To come to the conclusion, it is imperative that we acknowledge the fact that these powerful pharmaceuticals were in no way developed for something so “trivial” of the acquisition of perfect pitch – the diagnostic simply was appropriate for a brief and extremely small study and subject pool. The researchers conclude:

If confirmed by future replications, our study will provide a behavioral paradigm for the assessment of the potential of psychiatric drugs to induce plasticity. In particular, the AP task may be useful as a behavioral correlate. If further studies continue to reveal specificity of VPA to the AP task (or to tasks on which training or intervention is provided), critical information will have been garnered concerning when systemic drug treatments may safely be used to reopen neural plasticity in a specific, targeted way.”

It is vital during this time of exponential and rapid advances in the realm of neuroscience that we keep the grounding measures of ethics and morality at the forefront of our minds. There is a reason performance enhancing drugs are strictly forbidden in competitive sports. While it is truly of great interest to deliberate over the implications of a drug altered to target neuroplasticity, with great power (all together now) comes great responsibility. 

Photo credit: http://sheller.com/practice-areas/practice-areas.php?title=Depakote-divalproex_sodium

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What Dreams May Come : Neural Substrates in Resilience

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

-Shakespeare, Hamlet

On December 5, 2013, Neuron published case study “The Will to Persevere Induced by Electrical Stimulation of the Human Cingulate Gyrus.” Although researchers at Stanford University came across these intriguing results by accident, the implications may prove in the future to be of some consequence. In order to gain knowledge in the neurological source of seizures, study co-author Vinitha Rangarajan explains they were in the process of delivering an electrical charge to the anterior midcingulate cortex region (involved in emotion, pain and cognitive processing) of two persons with epilepsy when the finding occurred. When the charge was delivered, both individuals experienced increase in heart rate, and various sensations in their chest and neck. These physiological sensations were accompanied by a psychological expectation of challenge, and the desire to surmount it.

When, in following, the patients only thought their brains were being stimulated (but were not), they did not experience any of the prior symptoms. This process of assumed stimulation was repeated 5mm away, with the same result – an absence of any or the previous physical or psychological effects. In a press release, lead author Dr. Parvizi explains “Our study pinpoints the precise anatomical coordinates of neuronal populations, and their associated network, that support complex psychological and behavioral states associated with perseverance.” Dissimilarities in this neuronal structure may be tied to innate differences in our capacity to cope and endure amid trying circumstances.

The study highlights dictate:[i]

  • Electrical stimulation of the anterior cingulate region performed in two subjects
  • A stereotyped set of cognitive and autonomic changes was elicited in both subjects
  • This included feeling of anticipated challenge and strong motivation to overcome it
  • Site of stimulation in both subjects was a core node of the brain’s salience network

Summary

Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is known to be involved in functions such as emotion, pain, and cognitive control. While studies in humans and nonhuman mammals have advanced our understanding of ACC function, the subjective correlates of ACC activity have remained largely unexplored. In the current study, we show that electrical charge delivery in the anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) elicits autonomic changes and the expectation of an imminent challenge coupled with a determined attitude to overcome it. Seed-based, resting-state connectivity analysis revealed that the site of stimulation in both patients was at the core of a large-scale distributed network linking aMCC to the frontoinsular and frontopolar as well as some subcortical regions. This report provides compelling, first-person accounts of electrical stimulation of this brain network and suggests its possible involvement in psychopathological conditions that are characterized by a reduced capacity to endure psychological or physical distress.

In brief departure, I am reminded of William James’ thoughts on the notion of the “threshhold.”

Recent psychology has found great use for the word ‘threshold’ as a symbolic designation for the point at which one state of mind passes into another. Thus we speak of the threshold of a man’s consciousness in general, to indicate the amount of noise, pressure, or other outer stimulus which it takes to arouse his attention at all. One with a high threshold will doze through an amount of racket by which one with a low threshold would be immediately waked. Similarly, when one is sensitive to small differences in any order of sensation we say he has a low ‘difference-threshold’- his mind easily steps over it into the consciousness of the differences in question. And just so we might speak of a ‘pain-threshold,’ a ‘fear-threshold,’ a ‘misery-threshold,’ and find it quickly overpassed by the consciousness of some individuals, but lying too high in others to be often reached by their consciousness.[ii]

What is it that allows some individuals to fall off the horse fifty times, only to get back up fifty one? To attend one hundred grueling auditions whilst retaining the hope and inertia to continue showing up? To find love and then betrayal, and yet continue to open one’s heart to the vulnerabilities of emotion? Findings such as these in neuroscience are critical to the understanding of pain, fear, and crisis thresholds, and leave many open pathways for discovery in the realm of physical and psychological resilience.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

neurons


[i] Parvizi J, Rangarajan V, Shirer W, et al. The Will to Persevere Induced by Electrical Stimulation of the Human Anterior Cingulate Cortex. Neuron. 2013.

[ii] The Varieties of Religious Experience, New York: Longmans, Green, 1916. Originally published in 1902.

Musicality correlates with sociability and emotionality in Williams Syndrome

(Ng R, Lai P, Levitin D, Bellugi U)

From the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California, USA

Williams Syndrome (WS) is a neurogenetic developmental disorder characterized by peaks and valleys of cognitive abilities. One peak that has been understudied is the affinity that many individuals with WS have toward music. It remains unknown whether their high levels of musical interest, skill and expressivity are related to their sociable personality or their verbal intelligence. Authors examined the relationships between musicality (musical interest, creativity and expressivity), sociability (social-emotionality, social approach) and language comprehension in WS and typically developing (TD) controls. Findings suggest that emotion-expressivity through music in WS may be linked to their sensitivity and responsivity to emotions of others, whereas general interest in music may be related to greater linguistic capacity in TD individuals. Musicality and sociability may be more closely related in WS relative than in typical development; implications for future interventions for this neurodevelopmental condition will be discussed.

photo

Full PDF in English

In Italiano –

La Sindrome di Williams (WS) è un problema dello sviluppo neurologico caratterizzato da punti di forza e di debolezza nelle abilità cognitive. Una qualità che è stata poco studiata è l’affinità elettiva che molti soggetti con WS hanno verso la musica. Non è chiaro se l’alto livello di interesse musicale, di capacità esecutiva e di espressività sia correlato alla loro personalità sociale o alla loro intelligenza verbale. In questo studio gli autori hanno esaminato la relazione tra la musicalità (interesse musicale, creatività ed espressività), l’attitudine sociale (emotività sociale, approccio sociale) e la comprensione del linguaggio in bambini affetti da WS e in bambini con sviluppo neurologico tipico (TD). I risultati suggeriscono che l’espressività delle emozioni attraverso la musica nei bambini con WS potrebbe essere legata alla loro sensibilità nei confronti delle emozioni altrui, mentre l’interesse generico nella musica potrebbe essere dovuto a una maggiore capacità linguistica nei bambini con sviluppo tipico (TD). La musicalità e l’attitudine sociale potrebbero essere più affini nei soggetti WS piuttosto che nei soggetti TD. Gli Autori discutono i risultati nell’ottica di possibili interventi educativi per i soggetti con WS.

Effects of voice on emotional arousal

(From the Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston MA, USA; Department of Psychology, Wesleyan University, Middletown CT, USA).

Effects of voice on emotional arousal – Loui P, Bachorik JP, Li HC, Schlaug G

In December 2011, as a slight detour from some graduate school meetings, I traveled to Vienna to attend the 2nd World Congress of Clinical Neuromusicology. It was here that I met Dr. Gottfried Schlaug and witnessed his intriguing presentation on Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT). This groundbreaking work has since proved to be a useful form of therapy in a variety of pragmatic ways across the general public. 

He comes to us now with results from a study investigating the effects of the human voice and lyricism have on emotional valence and arousal, and though the results may prove less than shocking, the implications for the continued study of emotion and music should be:

Music is a powerful medium capable of eliciting a broad range of emotions. Although the relationship between language and music is well documented, relatively little is known about the effects of lyrics and the voice on the emotional processing of music and on listeners’ preferences. In the present study, we investigated the effects of vocals in music on participants’ perceived valence and arousal in songs. Participants (N = 50) made valence and arousal ratings for familiar songs that were presented with and without the voice. We observed robust effects of vocal content on perceived arousal. Furthermore, we found that the effect of the voice on enhancing arousal ratings is independent of familiarity of the song and differs across genders and age: females were more influenced by vocals than males; furthermore these gender effects were enhanced among older adults. Results highlight the effects of gender and aging in emotion perception and are discussed in terms of the social roles of music.

For my Italian friends: 

La musica è un mezzo potentissimo capace di sollecitare un’ampia varietà di emozioni. Sebbene la relazione tra il linguaggio e la musica sia ben documentata, si sa relativamente poco circa gli effetti delle parole e della voce sull’elaborazione delle emozioni musicali e delle preferenze dell’ascoltatore. In questo studio, gli Autori indagano l’effetto della voce cantata sulla percezione della valenza emotiva e dell’arousal sugli ascoltatori. 50 partecipanti sono stati invitati a esprimere un giudizio sulla valenza emotiva delle canzoni familiari che venivano loro presentate, con o senza voce. Gli Autori hanno osservato un potente effetto del contenuto delle parole sull’arousal percepito. Inoltre, gli Autori hanno rilevato che l’effetto delle parole nell’aumentare i punteggi di arousal era indipendente dalla familiarità del pezzo ed era differente tra individui di sesso ed età diversi. Le donne erano più influenzate dalle parole rispetto agli uomini, e questi effetti dipendenti dal genere aumentavano con l’aumentare dell’età dei soggetti. I risultati sottolineano l’importanza del genere e dell’età nella percezione delle emozioni nella musica e vengono discussi in termini di ruolo sociale della musica.

For further inquiry into the study, please visit Frontiers.

CASBS Stanford Welcomes 2013-2014 Fellows and Visiting Scholars

 

THE CENTER FOR ADVANCED STUDY  IN THE BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY
WELCOMES 2013-2014 FELLOWS AND VISITING SCHOLARS

 
Stanford, CA: September 12, 2013 – The Center for the Advanced Study of
Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University today welcomed the 35
Fellows and eight visiting scholars who make up the Class of 2014.

Chosen through a rigorous selection process, the group represents some of
academia’s most innovative scholarship across these behavioral sciences:
anthropology, communication, economics, education, history, law, linguistics,
philosophy, political science, public health, psychiatry, psychology, science &
technology, and sociology. The scholars hail from 21 universities in the United
States, as well as from universities in Canada, England, and Sweden.
Fellows pursue their own research for the full academic year while contributing
to the CASBS community through weekly seminars, occasional public lectures,
and informal conversations over daily lunch.

Informal interaction, in particular, fosters the cross-pollination of ideas across

disparate fields of study, said CASBS Director Iris Litt, MD, herself a Fellow
(1985). “Fellows typically report an expansion in their thinking, and sometimes
even a new approach to their research,” she said. “The launch of the field of
behavioral economics, attributed in large measure to our own Daniel
Kahneman, is an excellent example of this.” Kahneman, a Fellow in psychology
(1978) received the Nobel prize in economic science in 2002.

During their CASBS year, Fellows address some of the most pressing problems

of our day, seeking insight and innovation that will advance humanity at all
levels – whether on the international stage, the workplace, or within the
individual psyche. Among planned areas of study for members of this year’s
class:• the notion of peoplehood and its implications in the Israel/Palestine conflict;

• the manufacture of rayon – a textile marketed as ‘green,’ yet highly
dangerous to the people who make it and the environment;
• the economics of sexual orientation;
• psychobiological triggers of mania in an individual;
• the development of creativity in adolescence;
• implications of copyright law and emerging technologies;
• where data and behavior intersect.
About the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
Since its founding in 1954, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral
Sciences at Stanford University has brought together distinguished scholars in
the behavioral sciences to confront societal problems worldwide. The Center is
honored to count among its Fellows 22 Nobel laureates, 14 Pulitzer Prize
winners, and 44 MacArthur Fellows, in addition to hundreds of members of the
National Academies.
Fellows have helped develop new policies and practices in fields as diverse as
medicine, education, electoral politics, crime prevention, and international
development. And they’ve played key roles in starting new interdisciplinary
fields such as behavioral economics.
For ongoing news and events about CASBS, please visit http://www.casbs.org and follow on Twitter, @CASBSStanford .

 

Here are the 2013-2014 Fellows, listed by field of study:
Anthropology
• Ilana Gershon, Indiana University
During her time at the Center, cultural anthropologist Ilana Gershon is
studying how people agree upon ethical standards when using new
media in the course of hiring and firing. Her previous work explored why
Samoan migrants experience different ways of being culture-bearers in
New Zealand and the United States.
• Lawrence Rosen, Princeton University
Anthropology Fellow Lawrence Rosen will work on his latest book, Drawn
From Memory: Arab Lives Unremembered, a study of the intellectual lives
of four ordinary Moroccans he has known many years. It analyzes the
concept of memory in settings of the history, rural and urban
development, religious, and ethnic relationships of the country.Communication
• Byron Reeves, Stanford University
In his scholarship, Byron Reeves balances academic pursuit and
business entrepreneurship. One area of focus is psychological processing
of media in the areas of attention, emotions, learning, and physiological
responses. He is working on the application of multi-player game
technology to behavior change and the conduct of serious work.
• Natalia Roudakova, University of California, San Diego
Natalia Roudakova’s work bridges cultural anthropology to political
communication and comparative media studies. She notes, “Although
there is some tradition of ethnography in journalism studies,
anthropologists have not played much of a role in the field of political
communication.” Her research addresses that gap.

Economics
• Ali Ahmed, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study
During his fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral
Sciences, economist Ali Ahmed will focus on addressing research
questions related to economics of sexual orientation. While most of his
research is in the field of economics of discrimination, he also studies
behavioral economics, labor economics, and economics of religion.
• Petra Moser, Stanford University
Returning Fellow Petra Moser’s research at CASBS will examine the
effects of copyright policies: Do stronger copyright terms increase the
price of books? And how do stronger copyright terms influence diffusion?

Education
• Sarah Freedman, University of California, Berkeley
Returning Fellow Sarah Freedman will conduct data analysis and write
about a five-year research project, The Development of Ethical Civic Actors
in Divided Societies: Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the United States.
Of her work she says, “I am interested in linguistic analyses that provide
windows into how varied students think about civic participation.”

History
• Ethan M. Pollock, Brown University
Ethan Pollock’s current research project tells the history of the Russian
bathhouse to gain new perspectives on Russian identity, traditional and
modern notions of health & hygiene, and the evolution of ideas about
community and sociability. (Under contract, Oxford University Press.)• Bruce J. Schulman, Boston University
Bruce J. Schulman’s CASBS project, “‘Are We A Nation?’: The Birth of
the Modern United States,” explores the transformation of American
nationhood between 1896 and 1929–the era in which the United States
emerged as a world power, international economic leader, and reservoir
for displaced persons from around the globe.
• Peter Stansky, Stanford University
Peter Stansky’s scholarly aim is to better understand Britain, mostly in
the areas where culture, literature, art, and politics meet, as in his
collection of essays, From William Morris to Sergeant Pepper. His current
project is a study of Edward Upward, the least-known member of the
group who gathered around W. H. Auden.

Law
• Molly S. Van Houweling, University of California, Berkeley
Molly Van Houweling’s research focuses on copyright law’s implications
for new information technologies, and vice versa. One strand of her
research explores how legal rules, designed to regulate sophisticated
commercial interests, affect unsophisticated individuals empowered by
information technology. She is currently working on a book, tentatively
entitled Property’s Intellect.

Linguistics
• Roger Levy, University of California, San Diego
Through study at the intersection of linguistics, cognitive science, and
game theory, Roger Levy hopes his work will help us better understand
how speakers and listeners are able to reason about each other to
achieve effective communication. He will also study the language of
children to better understand how language learning takes place.
• Judith Tonhauser, Ohio State University
Judith Tonhauser’s project, Content and context in the study of meaning
variation, is based on the idea that human languages may differ in their
morphological inventories and syntactic structures, but nevertheless
convey comparable meanings.

Philosophy
• John M. Doris, Washington University
John M. Doris works at the intersection of psychology, cognitive science,
and philosophical ethics. He is finishing work on a new book, Talking to
Our Selves: Reflection, Skepticism, and Agency, and beginning work on a collection of his papers, Character Trouble: Undisciplined Essays on
Persons and Circumstance, both to appear with Oxford University Press.
• Sam Fleischacker, University of Illinois at Chicago
Sam Fleischacker plans to use his time at CASBS to examine a series of
philosophical issues raised by the Israel/Palestine conflict. He’s
particularly interested in the notion of peoplehood, the link (if any)
between peoplehood and territory, and the question of whether states
should represent or foster a people’s identity.

Political Science
• Alison Renteln, University of Southern California
Alison Renteln’s research project focuses on various public policy
incentives for civic engagement. “As part of this study, I will undertake
comparative analyses of Good and Bad Samaritan laws and mandatory
voting systems,” she says. “I am particularly interested in crossdisciplinary scholarship on empathy as it relates to political participation
and humanitarian assistance.”
• Robert Van Houweling, University of California, Berkeley
Robert Van Houweling plans to complete a book about political
repositioning. It focuses on how voters react when politicians change
their policy positions, and in turn, considers the impact voters’ reactions
have on candidate strategies. He has on-the-ground experience as well,
having served as a legislative assistant to Senator Thomas Daschle.
• Michael D. Ward, Duke University
Political scientist Michael D. Ward’s primary interests are in
international relations (spanning democratization, globalization,
international commerce, military spending, as well as international
conflict and cooperation), political geography, as well as mathematical
and statistical methods.
• Erik Wibbels, Duke University
Political scientist Erik Wibbels’s CASBS project aims to develop
innovative approaches to understand why the quality of governance
varies across the geography of countries—why, for instance, central
authorities in places like Afghanistan and Mexico are able to govern some
parts of their countries but not others.

Psychiatry
• Albert Rothenberg, Harvard University
Returning Fellow Albert Rothenberg is studying the development of
creativity and creative thinking during adolescence. It’s an extension of

Studies in the Creative Process, a project where he serves as principal
investigator and which has carried out research on creativity in
literature, art, psychotherapy, and science.

Psychology
• David Dunning, Cornell University
While at CASBS, experimental psychologist David Dunning plans to work
on a book examining the personal to societal implications of
ignorance. He says he is particularly interested in “the fact that people
largely fail to know where their knowledge and expertise end – and their
ignorance begins.”
• Sheri L. Johnson, University of California, Berkeley
Sheri Johnson’s research focus during her CASBS year is
psychobiological triggers of mania. “I like that my work bridges many
different paradigms to help understand why people with bipolar disorder
develop symptoms on a given day,” she says. “I also really love the
process of working with collaborators and with students to develop
ideas.”
• Lee Jussim, Rutgers University
Lee Jussim’s research looks at the relationships between social
perception and social reality. His primary interests are interpersonal
processes, judgment and decision-making, prejudice and stereotyping,
self and identity, and social cognition.
• Jon A. Krosnick, Stanford University
Returning Fellow and social psychologist Jon Krosnick’s top priority for
his Fellowship year is to finish his book reviewing 100 years of research
on how to design questionnaires optimally. He researches attitude
formation, change, and survey research methods. For 15 years, he has
researched the American public’s views of global warming.
• Nilam Ram, Penn State University
Nilam Ram plans to write about how real-time assessments and analytics
can empower people to use data about their own behavioral patterns in
order to make changes that will help them have a better life. These
“personalized interventions … can be deployed at population scale,” he
says.
• Simine Vazire, Washington University
While at CASBS, Simine Vazire will work on research related to selfknowledge, exploring these questions: How well do we know ourselves?
How can we improve self-knowledge? And what are the consequences of
poor self-knowledge? She will also be working on research methodology:

Public Health
• Paul Blanc, University of California, San Francisco
Paul Blanc continues his research on the viscose rayon industry
and occupational disease. He says the material is linked to widespread,
often lethal disease among workers and environmental degradation.
Yet, “Rayon is even marketed as a renewable green product,” he says,
“because carbon disulfide is mixed with cellulose, a renewable resource.”
• Merwyn (Mitch) Greenlick, Oregon Health and Science
Returning Fellow Mitch Greenlick will work on a book on the Oregon
Legislature. From the time of his swearing-in, he recorded his reactions
to the Legislature, forming a body of work spanning six legislative
sessions; over time, perspective emerges from that of a minority
freshman to that of a senior committee chair in the majority.
• Heather Munroe-Blum, McGill University
Heather Munroe-Blum will focus on how public policy in science and
education contribute to a nation’s social and economic success within
the larger global context – with particular attention to young people. It’s
a natural extension of her work advising governments on the role that
progressive, evidence-based public policy plays in enriching society and
international competitiveness.
Science and Technology Studies
• Steve Woolgar, Oxford University
Sociologist Steve Woolgar’s main current research projects include
mundane governance, the social dynamics of provocation, and the utility
of radical academic ideas for business and management. He is interested
in technology and organizational change, branding and brand
development, the rise of ethics, and visualization and evidence in
eScience.

Sociology
• Elizabeth Bruch, University of MichiganElizabeth Bruch plans to explore mate search strategies and mate choice
behavior on online dating sites. She writes, “One central focus for me is
how search strategies and contact behavior differs across dating markets
… and also how people learn who is in their ‘league’ based on their
interactions on the site.”
• Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Graduate Center of the City University of New York
Cynthia Fuchs Epstein returns to the Center for a third fellowship to
work on the upcoming book, The Difficulty of Doing Good: Law Students’
Commitment to Careers in the Public Interest. Her work looks at the use of
categories and distinctions in social life, with a focus on their impact on
women and minorities.
• Barbara Heyns, New York University
Returning Fellow Barbara Heyns studies the sociology of education,
social stratification, sociology of childhood, social policy, adolescence and
the life cycle, and quantitative methodology.
• Ching Kwan Lee, University of California, Los Angeles
In research for her upcoming book, Ching Kwan Lee poses the question,
“what is the peculiarity of Chinese capital in Africa?” In order to identify
what is Chinese (not just capitalist), she compares Chinese and nonChinese foreign investors in two core economic sectors in Zambia:
copper mining and construction.
• Elaine Wethington, Cornell University
Medical sociologist Elaine Wethington plans to work on a book about the
potential for translational sociology, focusing on the sociology of mental
health and illness and the life course. Her research interests are in the
areas of stress, protective mechanisms of social support, aging and the
life course, and translational research methods.

Complete bios of each Fellow, along with links to their work, may be viewed
here.
Visiting scholars and practitioners in the Class of 2013-2014 include
• Physicist, applied mathematician and computer scientist Eric Bonabeau
of Icosystem Corporation,
• Retired publisher, author, and journalist Howard M. Epstein, is working
on Death or Survival: The Battle for the Lives of French Jewish Children in
World War II.
• Poet, political consultant, and computer scientist Tung-Hui Hu is a
scholar of new media.
• Ellen Konar is a social organizational psychologist-turnedentrepreneurial data scientist and industry executive.

Literary agent and retired publisher Donald Lamm serves as editorial
consultant to this year’s class. He is particularly interested in the
survival of the book in an age of information overload.
• Arnold Milstein, MD will focus on formulating testable methods to
increase the psychological nuance of innovations in care delivery
designed to lower healthcare spending.
• Professor and artist Julia Rothenberg looks forward to pursuing her art
“in the gorgeous and haunting landscapes of Stanford and the hills and
meadows of CASBS.”
• Jane A. Shaw, the dean of Grace Cathedral, is writing about renewed
interest in mysticism in the US and UK; separately she is working on a
collaboration with actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith.
• Sociologist Anna Sparrman is researching the intertwinement of children,
childhood, material culture, sexuality, and consumption from a
contemporary, everyday perspective.
• Paul Wise, MD, is investigating U.S. and international child health policy,
particularly the provision of technical innovation in resource-poor areas of the world.

Fellowship Applications Now Open – CASBS Stanford University

Fellowship Applications Now Open 

at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences 

at Stanford University

 

Stanford, CA:  August 6, 2013 – The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University is now accepting applications for residential fellowships for the 2014-2015 academic year. Interested scholars may apply or seek more information at the Fellows page on the Center’s website (www.casbs.org).  The deadline to apply is October 3, 2013.

 The Center’s bucolic setting has offered accomplished and promising scholars an academic idyll, wherein they may pursue the research of their own choosing, as well as interact with their peers from a wide variety of disciplines within the behavioral sciences and humanities.  Former Fellows have described their time here as transformational.

 About the Center

Since its founding in 1954, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University has brought together distinguished scholars in the behavioral sciences to confront societal problems worldwide. The Center is honored to count among its Fellows 22 Nobel laureates, 14 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 44 MacArthur Fellows, in addition to hundreds of members of the National Academies.

Fellows have contributed to fields as diverse as medicine, education, electoral politics, crime prevention, and international development, as well as the core behavioral science disciplines.  And they’ve played key roles in starting new interdisciplinary fields such as behavioral economics.

 

 

 

Creativity in Constraint: Exploiting the Boundaries

Daniel LevitinIf one were to Google “This Is Your Brain On…”(fill in the blank), they would find everything from drugs, to football, to Jane Austen. This Is Your Brain On Music spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list. Empathetic humans have a basic need and survival tendency to understand ourselves, and our behavior. Music has proven to be somewhat of an outlier and unifier simply due to the capability for a universal method of notation and expression. The expansion and sharing of music leaps from country to country, from people group to the academy and back again like wildfire. In culture, it is often a greatest common factor.

On July 11, 2013, Stanford University’s Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences held its second annual Behavioral Science Summit. The daylong, invite-only event examines the state of behavioral science and its role in technology, the arts, business, and society as seen through the lens of creativity and innovation. Over the duration of the summit, fifteen noted speakers gave presentations on the arts, technology, neuroscience, culture, product design and workplace productivity.

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow) delivered the opening keynote. The recurring theme of the summit proved to be collaboration, integration and originality. Kahneman explains that in order to develop new methodologies and vocabularies to bring to their home institutions and fields, innovators across a wide variety of professions have begun coming together to exchange ideas, and open up a dialogue.

Following the keynote, Daniel Levitin (This Is Your Brain On Music) took the stage. His talk, entitled “Creativity in music: Constraints and innovation” was of particular interest to the creativity gurus in attendance. He began with a simple definition of creativity. “Works of art that we judge to be the most creative involve the artists working under constraints to produce something novel, or something that pushes the edges of these assumed constraints.” Levitin brings up an interesting point: Some of the most creative music has come to exist not in result of revolution, but by way of evolution. It’s not really true invention, but a wide blending of previous work. Levitin reminds us that Mozart didn’t invent the symphony or the sonata-what Mozart is recognized for is his ability to work within the tight constraints provided, and yet still be able to come up with such ground-breaking musical statements.

To illustrate his point, Levitin gave a series of examples in order to showcase his theory regarding evolution v. revolution.

  • “Rocket 88” – Jackie Brenston, 1951
  • “Sweet Little 16” – Chuck Berry, 1957
  • “Surfin’ U.S.A.” – The Beach Boys 1963
  • “Back In The U.S.S.R.” – The Beatles, 1968

When listening and comparing these examples, even the untrained ear is hard pressed not to note the similarities from beginning to end. The journey of these songs is very clearly not revolution, but evolution. By taking similar (or in Brian Wilson’s case, nearly identical) chord structures and progressions, the songwriter is able to reinvent a past work with a fresh perspective. The Beatles are notorious for this, having released countless records that may be unashamedly traced back to artists such as Buddy Holly, Elvis and The Beach Boys. Levitin elaborates, “New concepts are anchored in terms of old concepts. That’s why we so appreciate music that’s built on something that came before.” He went on to explain that links between pieces associated with preexisting others tends to be stronger than novel and isolated links in memory. By acknowledging and exercising limitations in the formative process, the creator is able to push limits in a more precise scope, often resulting in unique creative inspiration via unambiguous problem solving.

Regarding individuality in musicianship and songwriting, Levitin calls attention to the large role boundaries play in identity. “An individual musician’s style varies to the extent that you recognize Ella Fitzgerald or Paul McCartney or Arthur Rubinstein because of their own limitations. If every musician were flawless, they’d have less personality. Musicians sound the way they do because they can’t do everything they want to be able to do, and they do it in this flawed, human way. Many of the musicians we find most compelling – Springsteen, Neil Young, Bob Dylan – the really emotive singers – were responding to vast constraints to their technical ability, and you hear them fighting against it.”

How does one then use constraint to stimulate creativity? The Behavioral Science Summit aims to unite and diversify varies field strategies and project tactics. The question we need to be asking is this: How can creative persons benefit from adhering to traditional business models such as the process of phasing out, minimizing scope creep and avoiding uncontrollable expansion? William James states it well: “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task (letter to Carl Stumpf, 1886). Without an ultimate goal, creativity left unchecked may spin out of control, only to end in the failure to produce a tangible work. Music is not idiosyncratic in terms of how creativity is addressed or assessed – this subtle concept is utilized over many different arenas. Every song in the Western world comes from a chromatic scale of but twelve notes. Every mixed and melted color comes from red, blue and yellow; every sonnet from a mere fourteen lines.

In a recent post in Forbes magazine, entitled “Creativity: How Constraints Drive Genius” David Sturt (VP, O.C. Tanner ) calls attention to a study undertaken on 1.7 million people with award-winning work. Based on O.C. Tanner’s findings, it seems that “people who create new value on the job are often inspired by their constraints” (Sturt, 2013). When Frank Gehry set out to design the Guggenheim in Bilbao or the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, he reported limitations and constraints as the most inspirational tools in his work. When an artist, project manager or designer sits down to create a work, they must begin by asking, “What problem am I trying to solve?” In doing this we are able to better perceive that true freedom can only be exerted within limits. Not unlike the music theory student setting out to compose within a tight set of guidelines, one must first learn and observe specific statutes. Once understood, we may begin looking beyond the rules, embracing the “benefit of limitations and necessity of structure to the creative process” (Gutierrez, 2013).

In conclusion, we are left then with the following: Regarding individuals with IQs categorized as genius or savant, we must ask ourselves if some of the most celebrated inventions in technology, medicine and the arts would exist with a ceiling. Can constraint be a catalyst, or is it necessary to defy the norm in order to achieve true greatness? Imitation versus innovation, evolution or revolution, restriction and an endless realm of possibilities remain to ponder. Looking back to the creativity of Beethoven versus Mozart, Picasso versus Monet, and Baryshnikov versus Fosse, these hypotheses are no longer so transparent. Is constraint essential for effective creative production, or have our greatest visions come from pushing the limits?

(Photo Credit: Matt Beardsley

Diana Hereld (@christypaffgen) is a Los Angeles based singer-songwriter, music educator and music psychology/neuroscience researcher. She blogs at As The Spirit Wanes The Form Appears.