News Analysis

News: Brain, Psychology


>> = Important Articles; ** = Major Articles



**Art, Music May Make Children Smarter (980217)

Brain treats memories differently, say scientists (970718)

Ultrasound Reveals Thinking Brain (970821)

Mapping the Mind’s Navigation System (970917)

Musicians develop more brainpower (980423)

Brain damage may spark creative talent -U.S. study (980501)

London hosts Olympiad of mind games (London Times, 970818)

All In The Mind (London Times, 970818)

Mental muscles flexed at Mind Sports Olympiad (CNN, 970825)

First Annual Mind Sports Olympiad (970818)

Interview with Dominic O’Brien (9708)

Memory Matters (9708)

Brain scan shows how to spot a bright spark (London Times, 030317)

Study: Female Funny Bone More Analytical (Foxnews, 051107)

Is Psychology Losing Its Way? (Christian Post, 051226)

The Reign of the Therapeutic—Someone’s Asking Questions (Mohler, 060104)

Teen Rubik’s Cube Champion Solves Puzzle 5 times in About 12 Seconds Each (Foxnews, 071007)

Study: Blondes Make Men Act Dumber (zfh, 071119)





**Art, Music May Make Children Smarter (980217)


PHILADELPHIA — Art and music are more than fun distractions for students — they just might make them smarter, a psychologist said Tuesday.


Fine arts seem to fine‑tune the brain and help it focus on other kinds of learning, Martin Gardiner of Brown University in Providence, R.I. told the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And, he said, it seems to work for kids of all ages.


Gardiner reported in 1996 that first‑grade students — who are aged six and seven — showed improved reading and math skills when they got regular music and art training, too.


“The learning of the kind I am looking at seems to occur not just in younger childhood but in older children as well,” Gardiner told a news conference.


The children in Gardiner’s first study were taught using the Kodaly method — a systematic course of instruction in music that is structured much like regular classroom work. Concepts like pitch rhythm and melody are taught.


Gardiner said he was now working with more first‑graders in Minnesota, fourth and fifth graders, who are aged nine to 11, in Rhode Island and eighth graders, aged 13 and 14, in Vermont.


They are all being taught music, but in different types of programs, Gardiner said.


He said the brain seems to be able to apply what is learned in one area, music, to another such as math. Learning involved not just taking in information, but training the brain in how to process it as well.


There were logical links between music and math, in particular, Gardiner said. Both involved going up and down scales — notes in music and numbers in math.


But there was also probably something deeper involved.


“Learning from the arts can help build emotional skills,” he said. “They address parts of the psyche that can’t be addressed in any other way.”


Gardiner said he hoped to do a study in adults as well to see if the learning advantages continued beyond childhood.


There must be an evolutionary advantage somehow, Gardiner said.


“The arts have had an important role from the beginning in providing ways to express things,” he said. “I am beginning to feel that it is no mistake that the biggest thinkers in history had a greater role for the arts in their lives.”


Gardiner said he would urge any school to include whatever arts training was possible. “If we do not put them at the center of education I think we are robbing ourselves of an important secret weapon,” he said.




Brain treats memories differently, say scientists (970718)


WASHINGTON — The brain organizes memories so that humans need a kind of cerebral web browser to recall everyday personal events but can summon learned facts without its help, scientists said Thursday,


The hippocampus, a curved ridge of grey matter along each side of the brain which derives its name from the Greek words for sea horse because of its shape, is crucial for our ability to “surf around” the network of everyday memory, researchers reported in the weekly journal Science.


In a study of three patients with brain injuries affecting the hippocampus and occurring in one case at birth, in another by age four and in the third at age nine, they found a severe loss of everyday memory while the ability to learn remained unaffected.


Scientists at the Institute of Child Health in London, led by Dr. F. Vargha-Kadem, and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., studied three young adults who had suffered hippocampal injuries. Beth, 14, was born after a difficult delivery and remained without a heartbeat for seven to eight minutes before being resuscitated; Jon, 19, was delivered prematurely at 26 weeks and suffered two protracted convulsions of 90 minutes and two hours at age four; Kate, 22, was an average student until the age of nine when she accidentally received a toxic dose of an asthma drug which left her profoundly amnesic and later resulted in epilepsy.


None of the three could remember everyday events, such as where belongings were located, what day it was, or what television programs they had watched. Nor could they reliably find their way in familiar surroundings, remember telephone conversations or messages, appointments or holidays.


According to all three sets of parents, the everyday memory losses were so disabling that they could not be left alone, much less lead lives commensurate with their age, circumstances and aspirations.


“Remarkably, despite their pronounced amnesia for the episodes of everyday life, all three attended mainstream schools and attained levels of speech and lanuage competence, literacy and factual knowledge that are within the low average to average range,” the scientists said.


Their findings shed light on how the brain organizes different kinds of memories and shows that two types — episodic (our record of personal events) and semantic (our lifetime accumulation of factual knowledge) are partly separate with only the first fully dependent on the hippocampus. The three patients were able to learn because their semantic memories were intact. Dr Howard Eichenbaum of Boston University hailed the scientists’ findings as “striking.”


He noted that while neuroscientists agreed that there were multiple forms of memory, no one was sure what made each memory type distinct or where in the brain each type resided.


“They have shown that the hippocampus is crucial for our ability to surf around the network to connect faces, places and events, while information is rigidly stored in our semantic memories,” he explained.




Ultrasound Reveals Thinking Brain (970821)


NEW YORK — Ultrasound images of blood flow in the brain allow doctors to “see” when people are actively thinking, says Dr. Albert E. Roberts, a psychologist at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina.


Blood flow through the brain increases while a person is actively thinking — for example, while trying to recall a series of letters and numbers.


“While they’re engaged in the task, the velocity is increased. If they resolve a task, the blood flow typically slows down — or if they decide to quit, the blood flow also slows back down,” Roberts explained. He presented his research last week at International Neurosonology ‘97, a meeting held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina that reviewed the latest research on the use of ultrasound on the brain.


Roberts said the method involves high frequency sound waves sent through the skull and brain by a pen-like transcranial Doppler ultrasound probe held close to the ear.


The ultrasound signals, which are reflected back by red blood cells flowing within the brain’s arteries, then show up on the Doppler monitor as a series of saw-toothed lines.


“I am looking at the angle of the tooth,” Roberts said, explaining that the angle at rest may be 45 degrees and may become more shallow (perhaps 30 degrees) when the person is engaged in thought. “That indicates that the blood is flowing faster in the brain.”


In terms of potential medical uses, Roberts noted that Doppler ultrasound is already in use for detecting problems such as brain aneurysms (ballooned areas of arterial walls) because the blood flow speed and pattern in the affected areas are different.


“My particular interest is to work with stroke patients,” he said. “After a stroke, there may or may not be impairments, and sometimes these impairments — particularly cognitive impairments — may not be discernible because the person cannot speak or move their hands to communicate.”


The psychologist says knowledge of increased brain blood flow velocities can be used after stroke as an indication that a person is listening and responsive, that “those brain mechanisms responsible for memory are still intact and the prognosis for deficits is very low.”


Roberts also said there is the possibility that the technology may be used as a marker for Alzheimer’s disease. He explained that recent studies in neuropsychology indicate that some cognitive tests reveal signs of cortical deterioration before other symptoms appear.


“And since the brain becomes active for these tests, I think the blood flow velocities will show these (signs) as well. Maybe medical intervention can at least slow the appearance of overt symptoms,” Roberts said.


Roberts conducts his ultrasound studies with college students. He measures each subject’s brain blood flow at rest and then during visual and verbal tasks such as recalling a random sequence of numbers and letters, finding words among jumbled letters, and mentally rotating a drawing of a three-dimensional object.


Dr. William McKinney, a professor of neurology at Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said that transcranial Doppler ultrasound is part of “a major endeavor using different technologies as windows to thought.” These include other scanning techniques, including positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).


“And the nice part of the ultrasound method is that it’s not invasive. It can be done as an outpatient with inexpensive equipment and without injections of nucleotides or radioactive or magnetic substances,” he said.


“I think it’s going to be a real revolution to us not only in the discovery of different thought patterns, but also islands of function within the brain that receive blood flow when activated,” McKinney added.


He said the method may also allow doctors to monitor blood flow changes in the brain in response to specific drugs and adjust the dosage accordingly.


“I think many things can be monitored, including increased cerebral blood flow and changes in blood flow associated with migraine (headache),” he said.


In addition, McKinney saw an application of ultrasound monitoring for learning disabilities.


“Suppose somebody is dyslexic. Would their blood flow during reading be different than a normal person? The answer is likely yes,” he said.


Roberts research also strikes a blow for gender equality. “Although most people think men are better at visual thinking, we’re finding that women may do so more effectively,” he said.




Mapping the Mind’s Navigation System (970917)


NEW YORK — The navigational skills of taxi drivers may have guided scientists to the ‘compass’ of the human mind: that part of the brain responsible for finding our way in the physical world.


That area seems to be the hippocampus, a band of brain tissue that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Dr. Eleanor MacGuire, a researcher at London’s Institute of Neurology says, “The hippocampus in humans houses the mental maps that we use to find our way around.”


The study appears in the current issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.


Researchers have long suspected that the hippocampus plays a leading role in neurological ‘guidance’ systems. The London researchers point out that “in food-storing birds, the hippocampus is larger than in species who cache food to a lesser extent.” In times of food scarcity, such birds would depend on accurate memories of where food was kept, and how to get there.


But isolating the role of the hippocampus in humans was not so easy. To do so, the researchers focused on humans who depended, in their own way, on a keen sense of internal ‘map-making’ for their own financial survival: London cabbies.


Eleven experienced cabbies were asked to recite the optimum routes within London between selected points. The researchers say the taxi drivers “reflected on their responses in a considered and non-automatic manner.” As they did so, investigators utilized positron emission tomography (PET) scanning to watch for patterns of brain activity.


A variety of brain areas, including the right hippocampus, ‘lit up’ during such tasks.


Humans seem to employ ‘visual’ memory in route-recall: blindfolded taxi drivers “reported visualizing actual travel along the routes, including ‘seeing’ salient landmarks as they were passed,” the study authors say.


They then asked the taxi drivers to remember and describe various world landmarks (New York’s Statue of Liberty, for example). These landmarks were visually familiar, but outside of London, and thus could not be placed by the cabbies into any individually-memorized topographical context.


“Recall of famous landmarks for which subjects had no knowledge of their location within a spatial framework activated similar regions, except for the right hippocampus,” the study authors discovered.


They also asked the cabbies to recall the plots to certain films. They theorized that this type of recall bore similarities to memory-based navigation, since each involves mental ‘landmarks,’ and occurs in a logical sequence. However, PET scans revealed that again the right hippocampus was relatively silent during film-plot recall.


The London investigators conclude that “the right hippocampus is recruited specifically for navigation in large-scale spatial environments.”


While taxi drivers may have more experience with mental map-making and retrieval than most of their fellow human beings, the researchers point out that “the cognitive strategies used in way-findings” remain common to us all.


They say future studies will focus on the specific mechanisms occurring within the right hippocampus during route-recall and navigation.




Musicians develop more brainpower (980423)


SKILLED musicians have an area of the brain that is up to 25 per cent larger than those who have never played an instrument, research has shown. The region is part of the cortex where nerve cells group according to pitch, much like notes on a piano’s keyboard are arranged in ascending order.


The researchers at the University of Munster in Germany have been imaging these “tonotopic maps” in musicians and non-musicians as they listen to a series of notes. They found that, in the most experienced players, the area stimulated was up to a quarter larger than in non-musicians.


The scientists also found that musicians who began playing aged nine or younger had the largest tonotopic maps as adults.The findings, published in Nature, have been made by a team at the university led by Christo Pantev.


They studied 20 musicians, some of whom had perfect or instinctive pitch and others who had relative pitch. The musicians had been playing for between 13 and 23 years.


Nine said the piano was their primary instrument and 11 said strings or woodwind. A group who had never played were also screened. No difference was found between those with perfect pitch and those with relative or learned pitch.


The researchers believe that it is not just an area of the cortex that is enlarged in musicians. The team previously pinpointed that the planum temporale of the left hemisphere was also bigger.




Brain damage may spark creative talent -U.S. study (980501)


WASHINGTON, April 30 — A rare form of dementia which causes the loss of many brain functions can also heighten the artistic talents of those afflicted, a study said on Thursday.


Damage to one part of the brain may somehow release functions that were previously suppressed, said neurologist Dr. Bruce Miller, from the University of California at Los Angeles, who conducted the study.


Miller described the case of a stockbroker who left his firm to become an artist and a man with no previous musical training who started composing quartets.


“Paradoxically, for these people a period of exceptional creativity heralded the beginnings of a tragic disease,” Miller said.


“It sort of emphasizes that we have to focus on the strengths of our patients instead of their deficits,” he added in a telephone interview.


Patients who have frontotemporal dementia have lost cells in parts of the brain that regulate social behavior. This often causes personality changes.


It is often genetic, and develops in people in their 50s.


Encouraging creativity in patients in the early stages of the disease has health benefits. It may be therapeutic for them mentally to know that they can develop new abilities despite the disease and it is possible that the creative stimulation of the brain could slow the progress of the disease, Miller said.


The disease normally attacks the brain’s frontal lobes — responsible for complex thought and planning — and the front part of the temporal lobes.


Miller studied 80 patients and found 24 of them had unaffected frontal lobes. Half of the patients with unaffected frontal lobes showed increased creative ability, ranging from writing music to inventing chemical detectors.


The patients’ talents increased as their diseases progressed, according to the study, which Miller presented to the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Minneapolis. One man won a patent for a chemical detector he invented at a time when he could name only one out of 15 items on a word test.


Another designed a home sprinkler system although he had lost his ability to speak.


Miller began to study creativity in dementia patients when a patient’s son told him that that his father had started painting, and that the paintings were improving as the disease worsened.




London hosts Olympiad of mind games (London Times, 970818)


MORE than 2,000 competitors, including draughts players from Mongolia and a Scrabble team from Kenya, will be in London this week for the first Mind Sports Olympiad. Medals will be at stake in 36 tests of mental agility.


The usual Olympic rituals of drug tests, false starts and agonising injuries are not expected during the events, not all of which will be familiar to Britons. Alongside chess, backgammon, bridge, speed-reading and jigsaw puzzles will be skat, a German card game, and fanorona, an ancient draughts-style game from Madagascar.


Dominic O’Brien, the world memory champion who can recall a shuffled pack of cards in 38.2 seconds, is hoping to take gold in the memory skills race, and the first world IQ champion will be crowned in a competition endorsed by Mensa. The Decamentathlon will test all-round mental skills in bridge, chess, creative thinking, memory, draughts, Go, IQ, Mastermind, mental calculations and Othello.


Gold, silver and bronze medals will be at stake, as well as a £100,000 prize fund and several Concorde tickets. Organisers of the event, supported by The Times and held at the Royal Festival Hall from today, hope to launch an annual competition to celebrate not just the achievements of the champions but to encourage mental agility. They claim that, contrary to popular belief, brain cells do not wither with age. “Far from dying off, the synaptic connections can be physically improved by the proper exercise of the brain,” a spokeswoman said.




All In The Mind (London Times, 970818)


Mental games make the most humane of sporting contests


This week London provides an arena for formidable mental combat. The Mind Sports Olympiad, open to anyone, begins at the Royal Festival Hall. Contestants are arriving from all over the world to pit their cerebral skills against each other. Those unable to attend in person can log on to the Internet site and vie in a virtual game.


Modern interest in sport and physical fitness borders on the obsessional. We worship at the temple of the body. But the exercise of the mind is as essential to our wellbeing as our morning score of sit-ups. Honing logic, increasing mental agility and expanding memory, it heightens adaptability and staves off premature senility. The ancient world knew this well. It was for mens sana in corpore sano that Juvenal prayed.


Many of the games featured in the Olympiad are of antique provenance. It has often been postulated that a precursor to draughts existed in Egypt as long ago as 1600 BC, while the Chinese, it is believed, were playing a version of chess ­ xiangqi ­ as long ago as 400 BC. These ancient games now take their place in the Olympiad alongside such innovations as Abalone, a test of strategy played with marbles on a hexagonal board, and Magic: The Gathering, a trading-card game invented in 1993. Ancient or modern, imaginative or logical, they share one element: the power to expand and sharpen the mind.


In themselves these games may seem futile. Years of intensive training are sometimes required and the skills attained may not have direct practical use. But Plato believed that such games formed a vital part of a leader’s education, while such thinkers as Marcel Duchamp, Hermann Hesse and Ludwig Wittgenstein elevated them to an almost mystical significance.


Nowadays companies are increasingly aware of the importance of their intellectual assets which ­ though they may not register on the balance sheet ­ enhance competitiveness. The ancient Chinese game of Go, in which the winner is the one whose counters control most territory on a grid, is said to be analogous to business management. Merchant banks are quick to employ chess masters, while contestants who compete to compile computer programmes against the clock have obvious commercial relevance.


Britain sets an important precedent in staging this first Mind Sports Olympiad. The nation is improving its performance in these contests of the mind. Earlier this year the English team won the European chess championship. Perhaps next year we should move the counters one square further, competing to invent a new game ­ one which, like the glass bead game which Hesse dreamt off, would employ the widest range of mental faculties, melding the skills of art and science. But for now, let play commence.




Mental muscles flexed at Mind Sports Olympiad (CNN, 970825)


LONDON (CNN) -- Men and women of exceptional brain power took part in the first-ever Mind Sports Olympiad in London. The Gold went to Dominic O’Brien, who emerged as the overall winner, retaining his title as the world’s best memorizer.


O’Brien won the title after 12 grueling events and competing against brain athletes from 49 countries in the week-long event.


The organizers said the idea behind the event was to counter the traditional pattern of equating Olympics with brawn and pure muscle power.


“The body was being given all the publicity, so you had the world athletic championships, you had rugby championships, you had football championships -- and where was the brain? I mean, the brain was at the head of all these bodies,” said organizer Tony Buzan.


The Mind Olympiad was divided into roughly three categories.


In the category for board games, competitors faced off in the African Owari, the ancient Chinese Go, and chess. Scrabble and crosswords figured in the same category.


Card games, including bridge and the German Skat, were another brain cell discipline.


But perhaps the most prestigious events were those that tested memory and creative thinking. In the speed card event, for instance, the contestants had to recall a shuffled deck of playing cards against the clock, with a maximum time allowed of five minutes. The competitors then had 10 minutes in which to recall the order of the 52 playing cards.


The tension in the room was noticeable as players were reciting their cards whilst all around them their rivals were calling out their memorized sequences.


O’Brien was able to remember the cards in under 40 seconds. He was also able to recall a string of several thousand numerical digits in sequence.


The champ said he found that exercising the brain actually resulted in something like an “expanding filing cabinet.”


Great thinkers would likely have agreed with O’Brien. The Greek philosopher Plato already maintained that mental sports were essential training for philosophers as well as kings. And Communist revolutionary Lenin called chess the gymnasium of the mind, and wanted all good Communists to learn how to play.


Even modern capitalists seemed to agree. The Olympiad of the Mind was sponsored by the Swedish Financial Services Company Skandia, which presented O’Brien with a cycle helmet and brain insurance worth $1.5 million.




First Annual Mind Sports Olympiad (970818)


Royal Festival Hall, London, UK

August 18-24, 1997


“The contestant in mental games must train for battle with just as much care as the athlete.” - Plato




In addition to the best known, classic, thinking games, there will be tournaments for a number of more recently invented games, which have achieved world-wide popularity, including : Abalone, Continuo, Hare and Tortoise, Lines of Action, Magic - the Gathering, Mastermind, Rummikub, Stratego and Twixt. There will also be tournaments for some of the best strategy games from Africa and Asia: Chinese Chess, Japanese Chess, Owari and Fanorona ( which originated in Madagascar but is now popular in Europe and in the USA). Computer Programming, will test programmers’ skills in three areas: speed of writing the programs, speed of execution of the programs and compactness of program code. CreativeThinking will monitor the contestants’ speed, flexibility and originality in verbal, conceptual, imaginative, artistic and engineering thought. I.Q. (set and marked by Mensa) will test the standard Intelligence Quotient skills including verbal skills (vocabulary, word relationships, etc.), numerical skills (calculation, number relationships, etc.) and spatial relationship skills.Speed Reading competitors will be tested on an unpublished text to determine their average number of words read per minute and their percentage comprehension (determined by a questionnare on details from the text). Mental Calculations will find the world’s best at mental arithmetic. Memory Skills (August 2nd-3rd) will include the ability to remember whole packs of playing cards, as many digits as possible of a long number, passages of text, etc.




The Decamentathlon is a 4-hour challenge in 10 different games and mental skills: Bridge, Chess, Creative Thinking, Draughts (Checkers) 8x8, Go, IQ Competition, Mastermind, Memory Skills, Mental Calculations and Othello (Reversi). Anyone taking a calculator, including calculator watches etc., into the tournament room, will be disqualified.


Each of the 10 games and mental skills will be worth a maximum of 100 points. It is quite possible to win the Decamentathlon tournament even if you are unable to attempt all 10 sections - if you do well enough on those that you do attempt then you may score more points than someone who attempts all 10 sections but performs less well on average.


The first skill to be tested is Memory. The Memory Skills test consists of two parts. In the first part of the test you will be given a normal deck of 52 playing cards which have been shuffled. You may study this deck of cards for 5 minutes and then you put the deck, together with a number that identifies you, in the card box, which is collected by the judges. When the judges collect the cards they will hand out an envelope containing a sheet of paper on which is printed a 96 digit number.


Once all the cards have been collected you will be asked to write down as many of the cards in the deck as you can remember, in the order in which they occurred. After you have completed the memory test your written list will be compared with the actual order of the deck and you will score 1 point for every card that you remember correctly BEFORE you make the first mistake.


After 5 minutes of recalling the cards you will be asked to study the 96 digit number. You will have 5 minutes to look at this number and then you must put the sheet containing the number in the envelope provided. These envelopes will then be collected and you will be asked to write down as many of the digits as you can recall, in the same order as on the printed sheet. You may take as long as you wish to write down the number and you will score half a point for every digit you remember correctly before making your first mistake. The maximum score on the Memory Skills test, as with each of the other sections, will therefore be 100 points.


After you have recalled as many digits as possible of the number you may continue with the questions in the other 9 sections of the contest, in whichever order you wish.


Each of the other 9 sections will consist of a written test. In chess, for example, you will be shown some positions from games and asked to write down what you think is the best move.




This is the game as it is most widely played in English speaking countries, particularly the UK and USA. There are two features of the capture in 8 x 8 Draughts which most distinguishes this form of the game from International Draughts.


In 8 x 8 Draughts a man making a capture must land on the square immediately after the captured man, from where a further capture or captures may (and must) be made if it is legal to do so. Also, in 8 x 8 Draughts, if more than one way of capturing is possible it is NOT compulsory to capture the greatest number of men.


DRAUGHTS (CHECKERS) 10 x 10 This game is best known as “International Draughts” or “International Checkers”. At the start of the game each player has 20 men, arranged to fill the first four ranks of the board.


In International Draughts the king may move as many squares as the player wishes on one diagonal, backwards or forwards.


When making a capturing move, the captured men are removed from the board at the end of the move, not during the move.


When making a capturing move with a king, it is forbidden to jump twice over the same enemy man, but it is allowed to jump twice over the same empty square.


The capturing move is made by jumping the capturing man over the captured man, as in 8 x 8 Draughts, but the capturing man may then land on any empty square beyond the captured man.


If a player has a choice of more than one way of capturing, he or she MUST capture the largest possible number of men.


The rules of International Draughts may be found, in both English and French, on the www:




Fanorona is the national game of Madagascar. The word is pronounced “fa-noo-roo-na”.


The following rules, apart from the correction by David Pritchard, were written for the “Knights of the Square Table” (NOST) by Philip Cohen and Michael Keller and appear here by permission of the authors. Copyright (c) 1997 by Philip Cohen and Michael Keller.


Their source was: “Fanorona, The National Game of Madagascar” by J. and S. Chauvicourt, edited and translated by Leonard Fox (International Fanorona Association, 1984).


EQUIPMENT: The players (White and Black) each have 22 pieces placed on the intersections of a 9x5 grid with ten diagonals drawn in. The following intersections have these lines, starting from the intersection and going towards all four diagonally adjacent intersections: b2, d2, f2, h2, c3, f3, h3, b4, d4, f4 and h4.


White’s pieces start on: a1-i1, a2-i2, b3, d3, g3 and i3. Black’s pieces start on a5-i5, a4- i4, a3, c3, f3 and h3.


NOST uses standard algebraic notation to designate each point on the board. Thus, the intersection nearest to White on his left is a1 and on his right is i1. The farthest intersection from White on his left is a5 and on his right it is i5. Capturing is indicated by a :


PLAY: In NOST play, White starts. At each turn a player moves a piece one step along one of the lines on the board. Note that not all diagonal moves are possible; a1b2 is legal, for example, but not a2b1.


A move can capture opposing pieces along its line of movement in one of two ways:


(a) Approach capture: If the piece moves next to an opposing piece along its line of movement, it takes that piece and any adjacent opposing pieces along the line of movement. For example, in the initial position, d2e3 captures f4 and g5.


(b) Withdrawal capture: if the piece moves directly away from an opposing piece or line of pieces, it captures all of them. For example, if White (from the initial position) plays e2e3, capturing e4 and e5, Black may reply f4e5, capturing g3, h2, and i1.


A move cannot capture both by approach and by withdrawal; if both are possible the moving player must choose which capture to make. For example, if White (from the initial position) plays d3e3, he may capture f3 (by approach) or c3 (by withdrawal), but not both.


A player must make a capturing move on each turn if possible. After making a capture, if the moving piece can move along a different line and make another capture, it may do so on the same turn and may continue making further captures as long as it is able. These additional captures are not compulsory; a player may stop at any time after making at least one capture.


Each capture must involve a change of direction and cannot reverse direction along the same line just traversed. For example: White opens the game with d3e3:c3. Black may play d4c3:b2,a1; c3d3:e3; d3d4:d2,d1; d4e3:f2,g1; e3d2:c1; d2c3:e1; c3d3:b3 (or may stop anywhere during the series of captures).


Captured pieces are removed after each move in the series, so a piece making a series of captures may later move to a point which was originally occupied by an opposing piece.


A player can NOT return to any point occupied earlier in the turn (or at the beginning of the turn). [NOTE: The original source for these rules, as translated by Fox, say the opposite, which is wrong. This correction has been pointed out by David Pritchard.] Note also that White may not make a noncapturing move, such as e1d2, because he has capturing moves at his disposal.




The object is to capture all of the opponent’s pieces. If both sides have pieces left but neither can force any further captures, the players may agree to a draw.




As you might imagine, this is a game of opening slaughter and a much quieter middle-game.


Beware of errors in the rules from other sources. For example, Fanorona is one of the games in Klutz Press “The Book of Classic Board Games”, but the rules there are wrong in two respects: they omit to say that initial captures are compulsory, but do say that further captures are compulsory. Fanorona is also found in other collections of games, most of which contain an incorrect rule that Black may not make multiple captures on his first turn. This is not true - not only are such moves legal, but some have standard names in the Malagasy literature.




We shall be using the Nihon Ki-in 1989 rules. These rules are given in “The Go Player’s Almanac”, compiled and edited by Richard Bozulich, published by The Ishi Press, pages 230-242. ISBN 4-87187-040-5.


The Nihon Ki-in rules are also available on the web:


The 19 x 19 tournaments will be organized on the MacMahon system. We will apply handicaps amongst the strongest players at the top of the draw, but will use them at the Tournament Director’s discretion (ATTD) at the lower end, where ranks tend to spread out. The 13 x 13 and 9 x 9 tournaments will not be MacMahon.


Komi will be 6 for the 19 x 19 games, 9 for 13 x 13 and 5 for 9 x 9.




The I.Q. tournaments at the Mind Sports Olympiad are being set and marked by Mensa, the high-IQ society. Tests will be set in four languages: English, French, German and Spanish. For those whose mother tongue is none of these, it is possible to compete for a set of “restricted” medals (and Pentamind points) by participating in all the non-linguistic tests. Anyone trying to win the Concorde ticket and other prizes, as well as the principal medals, must take all parts of the test.




Each day there will be a different puzzle for which participants are given 4 hours to complete it. A premium is placed on completing a puzzle. Your score for each puzzle is:


percentage of pieces in their CORRECT place + ( 100 if the whole puzzle is correctly completed)




[a] A piece which is not in its correct place is not counted AND 3 pieces are deducted from the count of the number correctly placed.


[b] A player who completes, for example, 99% of a puzzle, scores 99. Completing the whole puzzle scores 200.


[c] If more than one competitor completes all 5 puzzles correctly then the total time taken will be used to determine the winner.




Lines of Action is a game played on an 8x8 board with Draughts (Checkers) men, 12 on each side. The game was invented by Claude Soucie who died in 1996 and is described in Sid Sackson’s book “A Gamut of Games”. Those of you would would like to learn more about the game and/or to play some games of LOA by e-mail should visit or send mail to:  with help as the subject.




At the start of the game the black men are placed in two rows along the top and bottom of the board. Using algebraic notation these men are on the following squares: b1, c1, d1, e1, f1, g1, b8, c8, d8, e8, f8 and g8.


The white men are placed in two rows at the left and right edges of the board: a2, a3, a4, a5, a6, a7, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6 and h7.




The object is to move your pieces until they are all in one connected group. Diagonally adjacent squares are considered to be connected.




Black moves first.


On each turn, the player to move must move one of his pieces horizontally or vertically, exactly as many squares as there are men of either colour ANYWHERE along the line of movement. (These are the “lines of action”.) For example, in the initial position Black may move the man on b1 to b3 (two squares) because there are two men (both black) on the b-column. If he plays this move then White could reply by moving the man from h3 to e3 (three squares) because there are now three men (two white and one black) on the 3rd row.


A man may jump over its own men.


A man may not jump over an opposing man, but can capture an opposing man by landing on it.


If one player is reduced by captures to a single man, the game is a win for the player with a single man.


If a move simultaneously creates a “win” for both the moving player and the opponent, the moving player wins.




Owari is one of a huge family of games (more than 400 in all) called the Mancala family. Originally played in pits dug in the sand, it is more usually seen on wooden boards with cups carved out of them. More confusion probably exists about the various Mancala games than about any other group of Mind Sports.


The game played at the Mind Sports Olympiad is the version played and popularized in the UK by the Oware Society (same word, different spelling). There are 6 pits on each side of the board and one big pit at each end. At the start of the game each of the smaller pits contains 4 stones.


To learn more about Owari click on the Owari site in our web links page.




Anyone taking part in 5 or more tournaments for DIFFERENT games or mental skills is automatically entered for the Pentamind Championship. No extra time or effort is involved on the part of the participant. If you take part in more than 5 tournaments we will count your 5 best Pentamind scores. First prize in Pentamind includes a return ticket by Concorde from London to New York!


The scoring system for Pentamind is as follows. If you win a tournament (any tournament) you score 100 Pentamind points. If you finish last in a tournament you score 0 Pentamind points. If you finish in n-th place in a tournament in which there are p players in the final tournament table (this means p players who have completed at least half of their games in the tournament), then your Pentamind score is calculated from the following formula:


Pentamind score = 100 x [ p + 1 - n ] / p


For example, if there are 50 players in a tournament and you finish 2nd you score:


100 x [ 50 + 1 - 2] / 50 = 98 Pentamind points




Interview with Dominic O’Brien (9708)


Dominic O’Brien, the current World Memory Champion, is hot favourite to retain his title this year. Here he talks to the Olympiad News production team.


Q. What is your impression of the Mind Sports Olympiad?


A. It’s a big event! It’s also rather worrying - I feel as if I am being fattened up for the kill. But I hope to do the killing myself! Of course the Mind Sports Olympiad is an excellent event.


Q. You’re competing in the memory championship, any other events?


A. No. I am just concentrating on trying to retain the memory title (the competition is on Thursday and Friday) and am directing all my efforts in that direction.


Q. In the future do you fancy your chances in other events?


A. Maybe the IQ or perhaps the speed reading. I am not fast at the moment but when I have some spare time I will devote my attention to it.


Q. What other events interest you?


A. Mainly the chess and backgammon but I have spent most of my time doing interviews with for example CNN, Daily Telegraph, Newsbeat (Radio 1), The Scotsman, BBC 1, GMTV and Sky.


Q. How long have you been preparing for the memory championships?


A. Six weeks. I have been dealing out lots of cards and flashing lots of numbers up on my computer screen. I have devised my own program to do this.


Q. What other things have you been doing recently?


A. I have been writing a memory course, comprising four books and 12 audio tapes, which will be published in the autumn by Linguaphone, the language people. They want to get involved in memory and this should be a good vehicle for them. The series will be called Super Memory Power.


Q. How do you see the future for memory competitions?


A. It seems to me that they could become very popular as they are completely egalitarian - something everyone can do. Anyone can scribble numbers down and try to remember them. You don’t need a chessboard, or Scrabble set, or backgammon board. If you know the right techniques anyone can do it. By getting involved in this publishing work I am, in a sense, digging my own grave. I eventually see myself perhaps devoting all my time to teaching, becoming the David Leadbetter of memory.


Q. What did you do before concentrating on memory?


A. I used to have a job extracting silver from photographic waste. Unfortunately the price of silver plummeted, so I had to do something else.


Q. And what got you started on memory?


A. About ten years ago I saw Creighton Carvello on Record Breakers, memorising a pack of cards in 2 minutes 59 seconds. I though this was fascinating and looked into it. It took me three months to beat this time, and it was a further four years before it became a profession for me.


Q. What are the practical applications?


A. If anything is good for the mind, it is memory training. Memory training develops all cortical skills and trains the whole of the brain, using both hemispheres. The techniques of using association, imagination and location employ all elements of the brain.


Q. Are alternative techniques possible?


A. This is difficult, because the established methods are the most natural (the Greeks were using them 2,000 years ago). You can tinker with the details but the essence of the technique remains the same.


Q. How has your memory work helped you in other areas?


A. I am generally more switched on and more focused. My concentration is also much improved. I recently had an EEG on my brain, taken while I was memorising cards, and it reported that my brain went into the alpha state (7hz), which is the perfect learning state. It is also the state achieved when you meditate. I suppose this is logical, because if you are concentrating hard for 38 seconds you can’t afford to start wondering if you’ve left the cooker on.


The events in the 1997 World Memory Championship are as follows:


1. Memorisation of a 4,000 digit number with one hour allowed.


2. Memorisation of 100 names and faces in 15 minutes.


3. Memorisation of 500 random words in 15 minutes.


4. Memorisation of a 300 digit spoken number, one digit every two seconds. This is scored by sudden death. If you get the second digit wrong -you score 2.


5. Memorisation of as many packs of cards as possible in one hour.


6. Memorisation of a random number, five minutes allowed.


7. Memorisation of images on screen: 40 images are shown and memorised. 80 are then shown again and the previously seen ones then have to be identified.


8. Memorisation of a 1,000 digit binary number in half an hour.


9. Memorisation of a 500 word poem, with punctuation, in 15 minutes.


10. A surprise competition, 20 minutes.


11. Memorisation of one pack of cards, in the fastest time possible. The competition world record is held by Andy Bell (41.37 seconds). Dominic’s world record (outside competition) is 38.29 seconds.


This event takes place on Thursday and Friday - do you fancy your chances against Dominic O’Brien?




Memory Matters (9708)


One of the media darlings of the MSO has been reigning World Memory Champion Dominic O’Brien. His amazing skills are readily accessible to the public - everyone can understand the magnitude of the feats performed in this event. O’Brien started today’s championships with a record-breaking performance. At the same time, rival Andy Bell made it clear that this year’s Memoriad will be a vicious battle.


The first of the 12 challenges is the memorisation of a multiple digit number in an hour. This year the test number totalled 4,000 digits since the customary 2,000 was considered too low(!). O’Brien shattered his own world record of 1,392 by raising the mark to 1,512. Incredibly, Bell took an early lead in the competition by toppling Dominic from this list for the first time - the world record is now 1,620 digits!


O’Brien then resumed his customary spot at the head of the leader table by winning the 100 names and faces event, as well as the 500 random words (with another world record). Bell moved closer by winning the 300 spoken numbers - another O’Brien speciality - and another double world record, Andy raising the bar in this competition to 228.


The tension escalated as these titans continued to vault over earlier mental landmarks. In the one hour recall of packs of playing cards another double world record ended in a new theft of an O’Brien speciality. Bell managed an astonishing 1,170, eclipsing Dominic by over 200 cards. Nevertheless, O’Brien managed to extend his slender lead with an unmatched world record in the speed numbers.


After the seventh event, the recall of screen images, the first day of competition ended, and the warriors could retire to tend to their aching brains. O’Brien took another first, and must still be the overall favourite. Nevertheless, with Bell scoring remarkable successes in some of O’Brien’s favourite events, tomorrow should provide further drama. As O’Brien remarked somewhat shakily early today: ‘I’m a good each-way bet, but I wouldn’t put any money on the nose.’


‘I memorise ten packs of cards a day. When it’s over, I usually have a headache.’ - Dominic O’Brien, The Daily Express




Dominic O’Brien retained his title as World Memory Champion yesterday after a tough battle. His win was celebrated in great style when the sponsors, Skandia, presented him with a certificate insuring his brain against accident for a year, to the tune of £1,000,000. Dominic accepted the award in evening dress and a blue crash helmet, demonstrating both elegance and due care for his valuable equipment.


This year O’Brien had to fend off a determined challenge from Andy Bell, who set three new world memory records before stumbling in the sixth event, speed numbers. Until this moment Bell and O’Brien had been neck and neck, but when O’Brien set another record here and Bell crashed out, the duel was effectively over.


Bell explained that he had lost his rhythm in the speed numbers (five minutes to recall as many digits as possible), having accomplished after three minutes what he felt he should have managed in one. Andy refused to post a low score: ‘On the spur of the moment I walked out. I was very disappointed.’ He added that he felt he would have moved ahead of O’Brien here.


Asked if he had concentrated his training on his rival’s specialities, Bell offered a flat ‘no’. ‘That’s just the way the cards fell. I think I could have done even better; there is huge room for improvement. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone new came out of the blue next year and won this event at their first attempt. All it takes is a good technique.’


Watching the final event, speed cards (one deck, best of two attempts), it was clear that the rivals were both straining to set a new world record but, sadly for the spectators, both fell short. This event illustrated a clear contrast in style between these two great memorisers. O’Brien speeds through the deck methodically, rarely pausing. When finished, Dominic sits with his eyes closed as he burns the sequence into his brain. Bell does bursts of several cards at a time, repeating this after a brief delay. He appears to fix his images while staring into space.


‘Yes, I do them three at a time, Dominic does two,’ Bell explained. ‘I form an image like a kangaroo through a pineapple, and then assign a location to it.’






Six new records were set at the MSO:


One hour random numbers


A. Bell 1,620 digits; D. O’Brien 1,512 (Old Record: 1,392 D. O’Brien)


500 words


D. O’Brien 155 words


Spoken number


A. Bell 228 digits; D. O’Brien 207 (OR: 200 D. O’Brien)


One hour multiple decks of cards


A. Bell 1,170 cards; D. O’Brien 936 (OR: 780 D. O’Brien)


Speed numbers


D. O’Brien 240 digits (OR: 200 D. O’Brien)


Binary number


D. O’Brien 2,385 digits; A. Bell 2,058 (OR: 1,926 D. O’Brien)


Vocabulary Test


An A-Z of unsuccessful challenges in the Scrabble this week: atok (a species of skunk); bonxie; cruve; dicentra; eltchi (a Turkish ambassador); fritz; gothite; hijabs; iceboats; jasp; knur; lazo; maelid (an apple nymph); nauplii (larval form in many crustacea with one eye and three pairs of appendages); obangs; pooter (an entomological collecting bottle); quaich (a drinking cup); rundlets; scolion (a drinking song); tupiks (Eskimo animal skin tents); urachi; vozhd (a supreme leader in Russia); weber; xu; ygoe; zobu. Girls on Top Women took to the stage in numbers today, with Andrea Smith earning a silver in the jigsaw puzzle competition and Sigrid Ludwig capturing the gold in Zatre. One of the day’s most remarkable achievements was that of ten-year-old Aysha Choudhary who took a bronze medal in the British Rummikub Championship. However, the female star of the day was Shutai Zhang who took medals in both the 13x13 and 19x19 Go. Additionally Shutai was part of an avalanche of Dutch winners today. The Dutch contingent was seen celebrating in the bar late into the night and may well not add to their tally today!




Robert Sheehan has been bridge correspondent of The Times newspaper for the past three years, but is nevertheless competing in the backgammon section of the Mind Sports Olympiad. He has just completed a compendium of his bridge articles from The Times, which will be published by Batsford next month.


Q. Are you a keen backgammon player?


A. Bridge is obviously my main game, but I used to play a lot of backgammon. However, I don’t play so much these days.


Q. What other games have caught your interest at the Mind Sports Olympiad?


A. Stratego is a very good game, as is gin rummy. However, the problem with gin rummy, as with other games such as backgammon and poker, is that the best players are unlikely to compete without the inducement of a chance to win big money. For example, in the world series poker in Las Vegas you have to pay a sizeable entry fee, but if things go your way and you capture first prize, you can win a million dollars.


Q. What are the origins of bridge?


A. It was invented by the millionaire Harold S. Vanderbilt in the 1920s. Together with some friends, Vanderbilt worked out the rules during some experimental games on a sea journey. He was soon infatuated with his creation and became so worried that a situation would arise where no fourth player was available to play, that he even taught the new game to his butler. However, when the butler was called upon to fill in, the social convention of the time dictated that he should remain standing throughout the game.


Q. Is bridge growing in popularity?


A. It certainly is at the moment. A lot more people seem to be taking up the game than previously. Regular weekend events are held at hotels around the country and these typically result in 400-500 entries. A small difficulty with bringing new blood into the game is that tournament players are often quite aggressive. After a while you get used to it, but such behaviour can be off-putting for newcomers to the tournament scene.


Q. Some Mind Sports are currently rather male-dominated. Is this the case with bridge?


A. No, not at all. It is true that the high stakes rubber bridge games are still largely a male preserve, but the lower stakes games probably have more women playing than men. Also players in duplicate bridge are split more or less 50/50 between the sexes. In the UK we have a very strong women’s team - they recently ran out as winners of the European Championships, while in the men’s event the British finished seventh.


Q. Is there much luck in bridge?


A. There is not a great deal in the duplicate events. In the World Championship finals, matches are played over two days and this is long enough for the stronger teams to overcome the vagaries of luck. Sometimes you do get big swings that are based on luck - such as a correctly bid grand slam failing on a 50/50 finesse - but in these long matches 90% of the time, the better team will win.


Q. Can you explain about the different bidding systems used in bridge?


A. All sorts of systems are allowed but you must disclose the system you are using to your opponents before the start of the game. Furthermore, you are allowed, at any time during the auction, to ask the meanings of their bids.


Q. Bridge obviously involves communication with a partner - do players try to exploit this by cheating?


A. In some games it can happen but, at a high level, the introduction of a physical barrier between the players has completely prevented this. Additionally, there is no verbal communication, all bids being made with the use of bidding boxes. Although this is wonderful for eliminating the possibility of cheating, it does create a rather strange impression for the lay public. In social games, cheating can easily happen - the most common method being grumbling at a partner’s lead.


Q. How is bridge conveyed to the public at tournaments?


A. At the big tournaments big television screens are used to relay the bids and plays throughout to the theatre. Commentators are employed to help explain what each bid means in order to overcome the problem that people who don’t play regularly will have little real idea what is going on.


Q. How strong are bridge-playing computers?


A. They are very good at bidding, which is relatively easy to program. However, there are some difficulties with card play, and this has proved difficult for the programmers to crack. Attempts have been made to use similar algorithms to those which have proved so successful in chess, but the programs can never go more than five or six ply deep. A new program known as Goren in a Box has recently been introduced, and it is possible that this will become strong.


Q. You are also a shareholder in the spread betting company IG Index. Do you envisage that betting on Mind Sports will become popular?


A. IG have already made markets in chess events, such as Kasparov-Short, Kasparov-Anand and Kasparov-Deep Blue. Interest in spread betting is increasing at a phenomenal rate and it is perfectly possible that our Mind Sports coverage will increase in the future.




Brain scan shows how to spot a bright spark (London Times, 030317)


INTELLIGENCE tests of the future could involve a brain scan rather than endless questions after the discovery that clever people really are “brighter” than the rest of us.


Scientists have identified “bright spots” in the brain, which clever people use more efficiently to solve problems. And there is a chance that we could all improve our intellect simply by learning to concentrate more, since the bright spots are generally in areas controlling attention.


The discovery by researchers from Washington University in St Louis and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, goes some way to explaining why some people are more intelligent than others — although they acknowledge other factors such as heredity, diet and education.


Forty-eight volunteers who took part in the study took tests measuring general fluid intelligence (gF) — a reasoning and problem-solving ability similar to IQ.


The volunteers’ brains were then scanned while they tackled a complex problem, looking at cards bearing a series of faces and being asked to spot a face that had appeared three places back in the sequence. Other cards featuring faces two or four places back were added to confuse them.


The research team, led by Jeremy Gray of Washington University, report in Nature Neuroscience that they found a remarkable correlation between high gF scores, good test results and a distinctive pattern of brain stimulation. Certain structures, particularly in the pre-frontal cortex, showed much greater activity in those who performed well.


Dr Gray said: “Behavioural interventions such as schooling and other factors can have markedly positive influences on gF. A mechanistic understanding could lead to more specific approaches to enhancing it.”




Study: Female Funny Bone More Analytical (Foxnews, 051107)


WASHINGTON  — The difference between the sexes has long been a rich source of humor. Now it turns out, humor is one of the differences.


Women seem more likely than men to enjoy a good joke, mainly because they don’t always expect it to be funny.


“The long trip to Mars or Venus is hardly necessary to see that men and women often perceive the world differently,” a research team led by Dr. Allan L. Reiss of the Stanford University School of Medicine reports in Tuesday’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


But they were surprised when their studies of how the male and female brains react to humor showed that women were more analytical in their response, and felt more pleasure when they decided something really was funny.


“Women appeared to have less expectation of a reward, which in this case was the punch line of the cartoon,” said Reiss. “So when they got to the joke’s punch line, they were more pleased about it.”


Women were subjecting humor to more analysis with the aim of determining if it was indeed funny, Reiss said in a telephone interview.


Men are using the same network in the brain, but less so, he said, men are less discriminating.


“It doesn’t take a lot of analytical machinery to think someone getting poked in the eye is funny,” he commented when asked about humor like the Three Stooges.


While there is a lot of overlap between how men and women process humor, the differences can help account for the fact that men gravitate more to one-liners and slapstick while women tend to use humor more in narrative form and stories, Reiss said.


The funnier the cartoon the more the reward center in the women’s brain responded, unlike men who seemed to expect the cartoons to be funny from the beginning, the researchers said.


The new insight could improve understanding of such conditions as depression, the researchers said.


“The bottom line is that I think it contributes to the foundation of understanding individual differences in humans,” Reiss said. Humor is used by humans to cope with stress and to establish relationships, and it can even help strengthen the immune system.


Reiss’ team studied the response of 10 women and 10 men to 70 black-and-while cartoons, asking them to rate the jokes for how funny they were. While the volunteers were looking at the cartoons their brains were being studied with an MRI to determine what parts of the brains were responding.


In large part, men and women had similar responses to humor, using parts of the brain responsible for the structure and context of language and for understanding juxtaposition.


In women, however, some areas were more active than in men. These included the left prefrontal cortex, which the researchers said suggests a greater emphasis on language and executive processing, and the nucleus accumbens, or NAcc, which is part of the reward center.


Reiss said he was surprised at the NAcc finding. The researchers theorized that because women were being more analytical they weren’t necessarily expecting the cartoons to be as funny as did the men.


Then, when they saw the punch line, the reward center lit up, indicating something pleasant and unexpected.


Arnie Cann, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, commented: “Given the findings in the current study, that women appear to use more executive functions, it could be that they are more engaged in scrutinizing the humor to decide if it fits their views on what is acceptable humor. Once they decide the humor is OK, they could be experiencing a relief-like response.”


That would fit in with the finding that women experience more reward from the joke, said Cann, who was not part of Reiss’ research team.




Is Psychology Losing Its Way? (Christian Post, 051226)


A recent book edited by eminent psychologists Rogers Wright and Nicholas Cummings delivers a stunning indictment of the mental health professions. Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm documents and critiques the ascent of social activism over open-minded scientific inquiry and quality mental health care in the current mental health establishment. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about mental health care in this country.


The book casts a critical eye on much of the social activism of the psychological and psychiatric professional associations over the past thirty years. However, Drs. Wright and Cummings cannot be dismissed as disgruntled conservatives. Their deeds validate their claim to be “lifelong liberal activists.” For instance, while president of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Cummings supported the development of the first task force championing the mental health needs of gays, lesbians and bisexuals.


In addition to being personally involved in social activism, the authors have been keen and pragmatic observers of the mental health professions over the past 40 years. My own contact with Nick Cummings made a lasting impact on me. I first met Dr. Cummings in 1986 when American Biodyne, the first real managed behavioral health care company in America, came to Ohio as a manager of the state employee behavioral health care program. I just started my counseling private practice in Portsmouth, Ohio, and wanted to get on board the managed care train. Biodyne did something very novel for a managed care company: all therapists in the preferred network were required to be trained by the company leaders, including the president and founder, Nick Cummings. In all my years of education, both in school and post-grad, I have never listened to a better trainer than Nick Cummings. He believed mental health therapy could be a powerful influence in a person’s life but it was never to be used to gratify the therapist or to promote a political agenda. That same theme permeates this book. Drs. Cummings and Wright believe that modern psychology has been overthrown by forces of social activism and as a consequence faces irrelevance.


As one example, Cummings and Wright demonstrate how political support for gay activism has led to stifling of client self-determination. Consider this quote from the book regarding sexual identity therapy:


“In the current climate, it is inevitable that conflict arises among the various subgroups in the marketplace. For example, gay groups within the APA [American Psychological Association] have repeatedly tried to persuade the association to adopt ethical standards that prohibit therapists from offering psychotherapeutic services designed to ameliorate “gayness” on the basis that such efforts are unsuccessful and harmful to the consumer. Psychologists who do not agree are termed homophobic. Such efforts are especially troubling because they abrogate the patient’s right to choose the therapist and determine therapeutic goals. They also deny the reality of data demonstrating that psychotherapy can be effective in changing sexual preferences in patients who have a desire to do so.” (From the introduction, page xxx).


Sexual identity therapy is not the only political hot potato tackled by the authors. They demonstrate how politically correct posturing can serve to obscure research findings. For instance, co-editor Wright cites research by Cummings suggesting that positive male figures in the lives of children are significantly related to a decrease in the number of children requiring medication for behavior problems. However, he laments that such research results are frequently stifled or even dismissed because they offend feminist sensibilities.


Drs. Wright and Cummings express concern over the professional consequences of psychology’s misadventures into social activism. They paint a picture of psychologists being unable to support themselves as psychologists because the profession has become enamored with producing position statements about social change. Mental health care in America is adequate but barely so. Any practicing counselor knows how difficult it is to find quality services anywhere outside of the metropolitan areas of this country. Cummings and Wright predict that psychology’s preoccupation with social activism threatens to make it irrelevant as a force for quality and affordable health care for all people.


So how is the current leadership of the APA reacting to the critique of Cummings and Wright? Not well. It appears the former APA luminaries are getting a cold shoulder from the current leadership. At a recent meeting of National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, Dr. Wright noted that the APA adopted a “strategic decision not to respond” to their book to avoid giving it undue attention. Furthermore, the APA initially prohibited its member-publications from even reviewing the book. Observed Dr. Wright: “So much for diversity and open-mindedness.”


In my opinion, the current APA leadership will ignore these warnings at their peril. When it comes to trends in mental health care, Nick Cummings has rarely been wrong in his predictions. I don’t think he is wrong this time.



Warren Throckmorton, PhD is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy in the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City (PA) College.




The Reign of the Therapeutic—Someone’s Asking Questions (Mohler, 060104)


Something’s going on at The Los Angeles Times. On New Year’s Day, the paper ran not one, but two articles questioning America’s therapeutic culture and addiction to the latest psychological or psychiatric fads. When a major American newspaper publishes two articles in one issue making this essential point, we ought to take notice.


In “Psychiatry’s Sick Compulsion: Turning Weaknesses into Diseases,” psychiatrist and philosopher Irwin Savodnik of UCLA argues that his own field of psychiatry is infected with a preoccupation that focuses on illusory diseases. Referring to the holiday season, Savodnik explains that the American Psychiatric Association [APA] has now identified a new disease—seasonal affective disorder, or SAD—and this may explain why some people feel depressed, frustrated, or elated during and after the Christmas season.


“As Americans rush to return Christmas junk, bumping into each other in Macy’s and Best Buy, the psychiatric association ponders its latest iteration of feeling bad for the holidays,” Savodnik informs. “And what is the association selling? Mental illness. With its panoply of major depression, dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, the association is waving its . . . flag to remind everyone that amid all the celebration, all the festivities, all the exuberance, many people will ‘come down with’ or ‘contract’ or ‘develop’ some variation of depressive illness.”


What Savodnik describes is part and parcel of what many observers identify as the diseasing of America. Problems large and small, real and imagined are packaged as new diseases to be treated with everything from seminars to pharmaceuticals.


Irwin Savodnik is a well-known critic of modern psychiatry. Last year, he traced what he saw as positive developments in Russian psychiatry, even as he lamented that his colleagues in America are “moving in exactly the opposite direction.” As he explained: “For the better part of the 20th century, psychiatry was dominated by psychoanalysis, so much that in the public eye the two were nearly synonymous. Five-day-a-week-on-the-couch treatment was de rigueur. Psychoanalysts authored most of the prominent textbooks in the field. Gradually, though, psychoanalysis, under attack from some sectors of the intellectual community, perceived as too expensive and unscientific, began to lose its grip on the psychiatric community.” Abandoning psychoanalysis, American psychiatrists turned to drugs. “In the past 30 years,” Savodnik suggests, “the overriding ideology of American psychiatry has shifted to a biological model. Psychopharmacology has become its therapeutic backbone.”


In his most recent article, Savodnik points to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV], published by the APA. He warns that ads have recently appeared in psychiatric journals proposing that shyness be diagnosed as a new “syndrome” that will be soon on its way to becoming a disease. Savodnik bets that the next edition of the DSM-IV will include shyness as a disease.


“As it turns out, the association has been inventing mental illnesses for the last 50 years or so,” Savodnik recounts. “The original diagnostic manual appeared in 1952 and contained 107 diagnoses and 132 pages, by my count. The second edition burst forth in 1968 with 180 diagnoses and 119 pages. In 1980, the association produced a 494-page tome with 226 conditions. Then, in 1994, the manual exploded to 886 pages and 365 conditions, representing a 340 percent increase in the number of diseases over 42 years.”


Are we actually to believe that Americans are now afflicted with 258 “conditions” that did not even exist (or were absolutely unknown) in 1952?


A quick look through the DSM-IV will reveal that almost every living human being is afflicted with one or more of the “conditions” described in this encyclopedia of mental and emotional problems. More than anything else, this just goes to prove the adage of the psychotherapeutic industry—you are either in therapy or in denial.


Most tellingly, Savodnik understands that more is at stake here than the professional concerns of psychiatry. His field, he acknowledges, “is a leading indicator, a barometer of social practice and political change.”


Political change is a big part of the equation. As Savodnik wrote in The Los Angeles Times, “It’s a natural step from using social and political standards to create a psychiatric diagnosis to using them to influence public policy.” Savodnik’s acknowledgement that politics plays such a big part in the development and diagnosis of psychiatric disorders is itself remarkable.


The “triumph of the therapeutic” so well described by Philip Reiff discounts personal responsibility and flies in the face of the Christian worldview. “Pathology has replaced morality,” Savodnik asserts. “Treatment has supplanted punishment. Imprisonment is now hospitalization. From the moral self-castigation we find in the writings of John Adams we have been drawn to Woody Allen-style neuroses. Were the psychiatric association to scrutinize itself more deeply and reconsider its expansionist diagnostic programs, it would, hopefully, make a positive contribution to our culture by not turning the good and bad into the healthy and the sick.”


In essence, Savodnik’s article is a shot fired across the bow of his own chosen profession. But The Los Angeles Times also published a second article on a related theme in the same edition. In “Self-Help’s Big Lie,” Steve Salerno, author of SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, argues that the overselling of personal empowerment and self actualization “may be the great unsung irony of modern American life, destined to disappoint as surely as the pity party that it was meant to replace.”


Salerno’s target is the self-esteem industry that, he suggests, has “been unambiguously disastrous” for the country. He describes this overselling of personal empowerment as “the hyping of hope” that replaces personal responsibility and achievement with the illusion of self-worth based upon nothing at all.


“Self-esteem-based education presupposed that a healthy ego would help students achieve greatness, even if the mechanisms necessary to instill self-esteem undercut scholarship,” Salerno explains. “Over time, it became clear that what such policies promote is not academic greatness but a bizarre disconnect between perceived self-worth and provable skill.”


Thus, Salerno blames self-esteem gurus such as Dr. Phil McGraw, Oprah Winfrey, and Tony Robbins for leading the nation astray by promising that self-esteem is the tonic for all problems. Salerno cites management consultant Jay Kurtz, who argues: “The most dangerous person in corporate America is the highly enthusiastic incompetent. He’s running faster in the wrong direction, doing horribly counterproductive things with a winning enthusiasm.”


Savodnik and Salerno write from a basically secular worldview. In their own way, each sees the modern therapeutic industry as a self-deluding mechanism for inventing illusory diseases, medicalizing problems with psychotropic drugs, and deluding Americans into thinking that their problems have nothing to do with their own personal responsibility and moral actions.


Christians understand an even deeper problem with the therapeutic industry and the self-esteem fad. As human beings, we cannot possibly understand ourselves by merely observing ourselves and our fellow humans. We are not autonomous creatures and our worth is not rooted in our own existence, or in any skill or quality we may possess or develop.


Instead, we find our worth in the knowledge that we are made in the image of God, and we find our health only in knowing Him and honoring Him. Of course, this is made possible only through the redemptive work of Christ, who willingly assumed human flesh and went to the cross as a demonstration of humility, not vainglorious self-esteem. As psychiatrist Paul Vitz reminds, “self-esteem is a deeply secular concept.” The essence of the Christian worldview is not self-esteem, but human dignity. But then, a confident belief in human dignity, and a dismissal of the cult of self-esteem, may soon show up as a “disease” in a forthcoming edition of the mental health manuals.




Teen Rubik’s Cube Champion Solves Puzzle 5 times in About 12 Seconds Each (Foxnews, 071007)


BUDAPEST, Hungary —  A 16-year-old took the top prize at the Rubik’s Cube world championship Sunday, solving the puzzle five times in an average of 12.46 seconds.


But the fastest single attempt was a cool 10.88 seconds, just off the world record of 9.86 seconds.


Yu Nakajima of Japan won the main event for twisting the classic 3x3 cube — which has nine colored tiles on each on its six sides — into the winning position, where all like-colored tiles are on the same face.


Andrew Kang of the United States, who came in second for the main event, set the best time for a single attempt at the championship. The world record has been held by Thibaut Jacquinot of France since May.


The five-attempt event garners the top award of $7,000, prizing consistency over of a single — possibly lucky — win.


More than 250 competitors from 33 countries took part in the event, the first to be held in Hungary — where the game was invented by Erno Rubik in 1974 — since competition began in 1982.


Rubik, an engineer who developed several other mechanical games after the cube, made a rare public appearance at the medal ceremony, helping to hand out the main awards.


“I’m glad the cube is reaching new generations, who face it with fresh wonder, curiosity and enthusiasm,” the game’s creator said.


Other competitors showed their skill by solving the cube blindfolded, with one hand or with their feet.


Finland’s Anssi Vanhala, 15, was fastest with his feet at 49.33 seconds, although his favorite cube — which players customize with everything from silicon lubricants to talcum powder — was stolen during the competition.


Ryan Patricio, 18, a high school senior from Temecula, Calif., defended his world title in the one-hand category with a new world record, averaging 21.13 seconds in five attempts.


“Definitely there is room improvement and I expect a sub-20 (second) average at the next world championship in two years,” said Patricio.


Hungary’s Matyas Kuti was fastest solving the 4x4 and 5x5 cubes and also won several of the blindfolded events, which seemed to draw the most respect from his peers.


Blindfolded contestants attempt to memorize the position of key cubes before covering their eyes. Kuti’s best blindfolded time for the 3x3 cube was just over 1 minute, 7 seconds.


Electronic timers were used and players solved the cubes that started at positions set with the help of computers.




Study: Blondes Make Men Act Dumber (zfh, 071119)


While blondes may have more fun, a new study suggests that fair-haired ladies may be making those around them dumber.


Researchers found that men’s scores on general knowledge tests drop when they are shown photos of blonde women, the Sunday Times of London reported.


Upon further inspection, it was found that the test subjects were not distracted by the light hair, but driven by social stereotypes to “think blonde.”


“This proves that people confronted with stereotypes generally behave in line with them,” Thierry Meyer, joint author of the study and professor of social psychology at the University of Paris X-Nanterre, told the Times of London. “In this case blondes have the potential to make people act in a dumber way, because they mimic the unconscious stereotype of the dumb blonde.”


The study indicates a belief by scientists that stereotyping is a powerful driving force in interacting with others.


For example, previous research found that people talk more slowly in front of the elderly, the Times reported. [KH: This is different. It is an adjustment aiming to better communication.]