UK Black-Carribeans Have A Nine Times Increased Likelihood Of Developing Schizophrenia

“To some extent, people who are insane are nonconformists, and society and their family wish they would live what appear to be useful lives.” – Nobel Prize Winner John Nash Who Suffered From Schizophrenia
The median global prevelance of schizophrenia has been estimated at 4.6 per 1000 of the general population. In the UK, a GP with an average list size of just under 2000 patients can expect to care for about eight patients with Schizophrenia, and possibly 12 if their practice is in an urban area. But the incidence rates of Schizophrenia in UK-resident Black-Carribeans have been consistently reported to be a great deal higher. When these findings were first reported many assumed it to be a first generation migrant effect or merely the result of methodological artefacts associated with inconsistencies in the diagnosis of schizophrenia in black carribeans. More recently however it has become clear that incidence rates of schizophrenia is even higher in second generationUK Black-Carribeans.
There was an enormous study conducted by the UK based Aetiology and Ethnicity in Schizophrenia and Other Psychoses (AESOP). It looked to examine the ethnic variations in schizophrenia incidence in the UK. In 2006, it was reported that there is a ninefold increase in the risk of developing schizophrenia in the UK Black-Carribeans when compared to the white British population. To put it into perspective Black Africans had a 5.8 increased likelihood and South Asians had a 1.4 increase. These findings are a big concern to Black-Carribean communities in Britain, to their GPs and to health service management responsible for their wellbeing. So why is Schizophrenia more prevalent in UK based Black Carribean communities?
Genetics seems to be quite a powerful risk factor in the development of schizophrenia.
The lifetime risk increases with genetic relatedness: 2% in third-degree relatives (first cousins); (uncle/aunt) to 6% (half-siblings) in second degree relatives; and 6% (parents) to 9% (siblings) in first degree relatives of suffering individuals. For twins, the risk is highr still: 17% for dizygotic twins and 48% for monozygotic twins.
Since studies have demonstrated a genetic contribution, it would then be that schizophrenia among Black-Carribeans are a feature of the emigrated rather than the native community. And indeed studies have found pretty similar levels of Schizophrenia in both populations. But there is still a huge argument stating that UK-based clinicians can do more to better protect the UK-resident Afro-Carribean community.
Alot of the time with psychiatric diagnoses, the process has a slightly subjective element. This may mean that clinicians may diagnose incorrectly at times. Clinicians are like average people, and can sometime carry limited biases that may impact the diagnosis of schizophrenia in UK based Black-Carribeans. To quantify the possibility of clinical bias, British and Jamaican psychiatrists were compared. The british psychiatrists classified 62% of Afro-Carribean patients as having schizophrenia where as the Jamaican psychiatrists recorded this diagnosis for 55% of these patients. ‘Race thinking’ (resorting to cultural stereotypes), and examples of institutional racism within the mental health service (discriminatory within an organisation) may also result in a degree of clinican bias in everyday practice. Cultural differences may also contribute to diagnostic error. At one extreme, Fernando has argued that existing cross-cultural incidence studies are flawed by the ‘category fallacy’ whereby western definitions of mental illness are applied to non-western cultures. Differences between cultures in the way hallucinations and religious experiences are regarded may have contributed to excess diagnoses in ethnic minority groups, as many non-western cultural beliefs could be considered to overlap with features of schizophrenia. The role that clinician bias plays in diagnoses of Schizophrenia in UK Black-Carribeans is often overlooked, but it is an incredibly important discussion to be had.
Another issue that has to be mentioned is the marked differences between African-Carribean and white British patients with psychosis in terms of their pathways to care. Black Carribeans typically follow adverse pathways during their first and subsequent episodes of psychosis they are more likely to experience compulsory admission, more likely to be referred to psychiatric services through the criminal justice system, less likely to be referred by a GP, and have more protracted untreated symptoms during their first episode of psychosis. This difference in treatment between the two ethnic minority groups is slightly alarming to say the least. Are UK Black-Carribeans receiving the same care that White British people are when their psychotic epsiodes begin?
The association of schizophrenia with unemployment, poverty, and lower social class is well known. Urbanicity itself is associated with the incidence of schizophrenia, even allowing for confounding by known socioeconomic indicators, with growing up in an urban environment increasing the risk of developing schizophrenia later on in life by a factor of around 1.7. Since most Black-Carribeans in the UK live in inner city areas, and growing up in an urban area contributes to the risk of developing schizophrenia, it can be argued that undertermined factors operating in an urban environemnt may account for some of the ethnic variations in incidence. Levels of social and family support may also play a role in the excess incidence of schizophrenia in UK Black-Carribeans. Parental separation and loss before the age of 16 years were found to be strongly associated with the onset of psychosis. UK resident Black-Carribeans living in predominantly white neighbourhoods have been found to have a higher incidence of schizophrenia. This has been termed, the ‘ethnic density effect’, and may be another expression of social isolation. Individuals living in areas where their own ethnicity constitutes a smaller proportion of the local population have been reported to feel excluded from local social networks. It seems that many Schizophrenic episodes may be triggered by feeling of social isolation. Being Black-Carribean in a largely white society with limited community support may be a reason behind the increased incidence of Schizophrenia in these communities.
Psychological factors appear to play a large role in the development of Schizophrenia, adversity in many forms appears to contribute to higher rates of Schizophrenia, but attitudes to adversity are also likely to play a role. Studies show that migrants whose skin colour is substantially darker than that of the native population are most vulnerable to schizophrenia. Racism based on the darkness of skin colour rather than merely on ethnic grouping may account for such findings, and perception of racism have been found to increase according to skin darkness. Larger visible differences between an ethnic group and the host population may enhance an outside status. Again it seems that the darker you are in a predominantly white society means the greater amount of racism you may receive.
The higher level schizophrenia in Black-Carribeans living in the UK probably reflects the interaction of multiples risk factors, many of which cluster in the Black-Carribean community in the UK. Particularly significant factors appear to be the combination of isolation and exclusion, both within society (living in areas of low ethnic density and reduced participation in society) and within the family (family break-up and paternal separation). These factors seem to be more powerful than socioeconomic disadvantage, which is more likely to be a consequence than causal. Racism itself may contribute to social exclusion, further increasing the vulnerability to schizophrenia.

 Mind Machine

As Neuroscience, computer science and robotics research develops at exponential rates; scientists are beginning to realise things that once seemed like distant fantasies. Research that would not be out of place in a state of the art sci-fi blockbuster are right here right now, and may be accessible to the average person within the next 10 years. Scientists are making huge strides in Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), which refers to a direct communication pathway between the brain and external devices. In today’s world, there are products on Amazon that can read your brainwaves through electroencephalography (EEG), there are robotic arms in laboratories that can be controlled by brain waves and demonstrations of brain controlled exoskeletons that allow paraplegics to walk again simply by thinking about it. A direct relationship between computers and the brain is here, and it might become an everyday thing sooner than people think. Below are two new technologies that demonstrate the power and rapid rise of BCI;  technologies that have the potential to greatly impact people’s lives. Technologies that will ultimately change the way we view computers.

Brain Implants That Allow people to control robotic arms

BCI is being used to greatly improve the standard of people’s lives, and this no more evident than in the development of new robotic arms for paralysed individuals. There has already been demonstrations of mind control robotic technology in amputees, however, an amputee still has their spinal cord and nervous system in tact. This means that electrical impulses can be read out from nerves in the arms and chest before they are used to control the prosthetic limb. However, in the case of spinal injury patients, these signals need to be decoded directly from the brain.

More recently, the prospect of patients with spinal injuries being able to seemlessly control robotic limbs or even entire body suits in the future has been raised. New BCI technologies have led to the development of a neuro-prosthetic device implant. These devices are planted in the area of the brain where intentions are made. Simply by thinking about moving their arms, participants have been able to move a robotic arm to help them with all kinds of tasks such as drinking from a bottle, performing a smooth hand-shaking gesture and playing rock, paper, scissors.

In the process of creating the neuro prosthetic device, scientists were focusing on gathering signals from the brains motor cortex. The motor cortex is where the brain generates the electrical signals that are sent down the spinal cord and control the contractions of every muscular movement. The replying neuro-prosthetics produced movements that were delayed and jerky; not the smooth and seemingly automatic gestures associated with natural movement. They then decided to move the implants into the ‘higher’ brain region, called the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), which gives rise to the intention of movement, rather than the details of how to execute. By decoding a person’s actual intentions, the scientists were able to get closer to achieving their goal.

The participants underwent surgery where they had a pair of small electrode arrays implanted in two parts of the PPC. Each four by four millimetre array contained 96 electrodes each recording the activity of single neurons. The arrays are connected by a cable to a system or computer processors that decode the brain’s intent and turn into movement of the robotic arm. The technology can be viewed in a video.


how it all works – taken from the guardian

The implications of this research may change the lives of paralysed people across the world. By implanting two small chips into the PPC an individual may be able to control all kinds of technology, simply by thinking it. The next question is how far will the technology go and how quickly?

Mind Controlled Exoskeleton Suit That Allows Paraplegics To Walk

One bit of BCI technology that has received a lot of media attention is an exoskeleton that can be controlled by the user’s thoughts. In the opening ceremony of the 2014 Brazil World Cup, a paraplegic man walked and kicked a ball thanks to BCI technology. Neuroengineer Miguel Nicolelis led a group of 156 people from 25 different countries in a project that spanned 18 months, with the ultimate aim of creating an exoskeleton controlled by thought processes.

The mind controlled exoskeleton is built out of lightweight alloys and powered by hydraulics. It uses sensors to read the electrical activity of the brain which generates the motor commands that are usually downloaded onto the spinal cord. The motor planning is a result of electrical impulses in the brain, picked up by sensors and then converted into digital commands which are then sent to the exoskeleton. After spinal cord lesions the brain still sends these messages but the body can not receive them because of the break in the spine. Instead, the exoskeleton becomes the body, so the impulses do not go down the spines to the muscles instead they go to a computer which decodes them and sends them to the exoskeleton.

To use the skeleton, the person is helped into the suit and given a cap with sensors in that are fitted with electrodes. These signals are then passed to the computer in the backpack where they are read and decoded. An operators feet rest on plates, which also have sensors, that detect when contact is made with the ground. With each footfall a signal shoots up to a vibrating device sewn into the forearm of the weavers shirt. The device seems to fool the brain into thinking that the sensation came from their foot. In virtual reality simulations, patients felt like their legs were moving and touching something.

This technology may just put wheelchairs in museums, technology keeps on developing at incredible rates since the World Cup. Companies are starting to invest heavily in research of the exoskeleton, with the vision of being the first to create the technology that allows paraplegics to walk again. Nicolelis believe that the technology is ripe for turning into everyday devices to help paralysed patients. The system has been passed as safe to use. The exoskeleton has been fitted with multiple gyros to stop it from falling over during the balancing act of bipedal walking.

BCI advances are coming fast and thick at the moment, and show no signs of slowing. The days when amputees can fit a robotic arm in every morning as if they never lost a limb are upon us, and it will not be long until the technology spreads to more commercially driven products. The day when you can turn off the light just by thinking of it is almost here, and it’s an exciting time for science!

Leaders Are Made Not Born

Confident, charismatic and tough are some traits that you would expect to find in a successful leader. That is why it is widely believed that all leaders have similar personality types, meaning there is an archetypal personality for leaders. A good leader is thought of as someone who has such a strong personality that people just follow them because of their forceful ideologies and values. Those who have sufficient character are likely to triumph over whatever reality they confront.

A new picture of leadership has emerged however, which focuses on how a persons ability to lead is largely dependent on their understanding of their followers, not by how charismatic they can be. It explains that leadership is the ability to shape what followers want to do instead of enforcing compliance; leadership is dependent on constituent co-operation and support rather than punishment and fear. To gain any form of credibility amongst followers, leaders must try to position themselves among the group and never above it.

Recent literature identifies that a good leader does not have any fixed set of personality traits. Instead a leader is often a choice by the group being led, in fact leaders can even select the traits they want to project to followers to increase their standing amongst the group. A leader shares in the same identity as their followers, they are a representation of their group. The most influential presidents, captains and chief executives adopt the values and identity of the group then try to shape that identity for their own ends.

No accident that George. W. Bush, has often presented himself to Americans as a regular guy rather than the next in line from an elite East Coast Yale University dynasty!

From Charisma to Consensus

100 years ago, the dominant theory of leadership was that all leaders have the ideal personality. There was a romanticised view of leaders, with many people seeing them as heroes and saviours. However, post WW2, and following the rise of fascism and Nazism many turned against the notion that character alone determined the effectiveness of leaders. To believe that entire nations could be lead by one charismatic person into carrying out some of the Nazi atrocities was hard to stomach, so psychologists began to look for other explanations of leadership.

Scholars began to favour ‘contingency models’ which focus on the context which leaders operate, as opposed to the leader alone. Influential social psychologist Fred Fiedler suggested that the secret to good leadership lies in finding and settling in the ‘perfect match’. By this Fiedler meant that there is an ideal leader for every group, basically, every would be leader has an ideal leadership context. Strong leadership comes out of a symbiotic relationship between leaders and followers within a social group, it requires an intimate understanding of group psychology.

The study of how groups can restructure individual psychology provides the first clues into the secrets of effective leadership. Henri Tajfel and John. C. Turner’s research into social identity in the 1970s may provide some answers. Social identity refers to the part of a person’s self that is defined by a group. Turner pointed out, social identity allows people to identify and act together as group members. Social identities thus make group behaviour possible; enabling us to reach a consensus on what matters to us to co-ordinate our actions with others and to strive for shared goals.

This viewpoint does not appeal to leadership directly, but clarifies why leadership requires a common ‘us’ to represent a group. Leaders are at their most effective when they can induce followers to see themselves as a group member and to see the group’s interest as their own interest. An example of this comes from Bernard Bass from the American Binghamton University when he showed that leaders are best when they ensure that followers see the group’s identity as their personal identity, and therefore they can lead them to do certain things because it is in the best interest of everyone.

A prime of example of how it is integral for a leader to share similar identities as followers comes from the European monarchs. Before national identities emerged, many monarchs ruled by force, using power rather than understanding. Once people identified with nations, effective monarchs needed to rule as patriots who were able to lead the people because of a shared national identity. Monarchs such as Louis XVI of France misunderstood or ignored this transition and litterally lost their heads.

One of the Gang

When shared social identity exists, leaders can best represent the identity that will have the most influence over the group members. The best leaders are usually prototypical of the group that they are leading. George. W. Bush is a prime example in the way he connected with Middle America – intentionally or otherwise – when he littered his speeches with verbal gaffes, something that columnist Kevin Drum suggested in the Washington monthly worked in Bush’s favour during the 2004 election. Indeed, those who scoffed at Bush’s awkward utterances suffered, because their criticisms cast them as the alien elite, out of touch with most ordinary Americans.

Even the way Bush dressed helped him to appear as representative of the group’s he was leading. His leather jackets and cowboy clothes create an image of him as a regular guy. In the same vein the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat adopted the headscarf of the peasantry to identify with his people. Such examples counter the idea that leadership requires a particular set of personality traits, the only desired traits and actions necessary have to fit in with the culture of the group being led.

This may explain why young people have become so disinterested in politics in recent years. They may not relate to the politicians today, and therefore feel indifferent about voting any one group in.

If fitting in is important for gaining influence and control, then anything that sets leaders apart from the group can compromise their effectiveness. Acting superior or failing to treat followers respectfully or listen to them will undermine a leaders credibility. That is why paying CEOs disproportionately large wages often results in unrest within a company, because those who are being led find it hard to relate to those who are leading, because of the differences in salary.

Wielding words – The Skill of lincoln
“Four scores and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”
– Abraham Lincoln
Leadership is not just conforming to group norms! The best leaders define their groups social identity to fit with policies they plan to promote, enabling them to position those policies as expressions of what their constituents already believe. In Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, Abaraham Lincoln strongly emphasised the principle of equality to rally people around his key policy objectives: unification of the states and emancipation of the slaves
Lincoln elevated equality to a position of supreme importance and made it the touchstone of American identity. After Lincoln’s address, Americans interpreted the constitution in a new way. This reshaping of American identity as centred on equality allowed Lincoln to unite and mobilise Americans around freeing slaves.

No matter how skilled a person may be a leader’s effectiveness is highly dependent on two things: Do followers see their leaders as one of them? Do followers find their leader’s vision of identity compelling? Psychological analysis tells us that for leadership to function well, leaders and followers must be bound by a shared identity and by the quest to use that identity as a blueprint for action. The division of responsibility in leadership can vary. In more authoritarian cases, leaders can claim sole jurisdiction over identity and punish anyone who dissents. In more democratic cases leaders can engage the population in a dialogue over their shared identity and goals. Either way, the development of a shared social identity is the basis of influential and creative leadership. If you can control the definition of identity, you can change the world.

Musa Clarke

Look Who’s Talking

Initiatives in America look to encourage social mobility and academic achievement in children from poorer backgrounds, simply by encouraging parents to talk to their children more.

From the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, infants are absorbing everything around them. Their sponge like brains are uber alert, as they begin to make sense of the external word. This is most evident in the words they absorb, with them being particularly susceptible to language, with infants as young as 10 months showing some language specialisation. We may not place enough importance on these early stages of language development, because recent studies suggest that the amount children are spoke to during this period has clear implications on their success in later life.

Recent research has discovered that the number of words a child hears in their early years will be a clear determination of their academic success and IQ in later life. There appears to be clear differences between groups of people in the amount of words children hear in these critical periods of language development. Researchers have gone as far as to say that differences in socioeconomic status (SES) are maintained as a result of what children are exposed to. Parents of high SES interact with their children more than those from lower SES backgrounds. 

Psychologists argue that just by going to pre-school, children can reach school ages almost 2-3 years ahead of their peers. Simply as a result of them being interacted with more in infancy, and therefore hearing more words and developing more. Once this difference is established it often stays and in some cases may even grow. This offers  some explanation as to why there is a such a definitive positive relationship between SES and academic achievement.

These word gaps can even be identified in differences in the brain. Kim Noble a neuroscientist at Colombia university in America found that children from high SES backgrounds have larger areas of the brain related to language. Broca’s area, associated with speech production, and Wernicke’s area, responsible for language understanding; are notably larger in children from high SES backgrounds. 

How do we create a level playing field independent of SES background influences? Many suggest that pre-school should be more readily available. However, researchers at the american association for the advancement of science, say these differences in brain anatomy begin well before preschool.


Anne Fernald – Stanford University

This achievement gap begins really early! Evidence exists that shows those as young as 18 months show a big difference in children from a low SES and high SES background. These gaps don’t disappear if anything they may get a little wider or pretty much stay constant. But they are there much earlier than we had thought

In America, where social mobility is a genuine issue, they have introduced programmes to help low SES children enter school on a level playing field. Dana Suskind, director of the thirty million words initiative argues that by preschool it might be too late, and to give children the opportunity to reach their full potential, they aim to get children where it begins, in the home between 0-3 years of age. They say that with more talk from a young age true changes can occur. 

The research is clear, impact of of children’s early language environment has a direct impact on the beginning of the achievement gap as we know it. To shorten this gap we need to get parents speaking to their children in their homes. So when they eventually begin school they will have all the necessary tools to achieve.

It is a real issue in America and one that is being taken seriously. By the ages of 8-9 81% of children from low income families in America do not have age appropriate cognitive abilities. This deficit can be traced back to their early years. The positive news is that these enormous differences are easily combated. Something as simple as directly talking to a child is incredibly effective. Particularly in the early years, because by the time a child reaches five their brains have done most of it’s growing. A boost in parent-talk may be the answer to shortening the gap between academic achievement in low income and high income children.

Musa Clarke

Money Motivated

Statistics from the non-partisan Economic policy institute show that chief executive pay jumped more than 725 percent in 2013 in comparison to a 5.7 percent rise in the wages of average workers, this disparity between the highest earners and others seems to be widening

In the aftermath of the economic downturn, senior executives and bankers have been scrutinised and often branded as ‘fat cats’ because of their high salaries and substantial reward packages. This has led to outcries from various constituent groups to examine the pay of senior executives, bankers and CEOs more closely. From a psychological perspective paying more to those in charge may not actually be the most effective way of motivating them.

Does more money mean more motivation?

Ever since people started to appreciate management as a science it has been common belief that the most effective way of motivating employees is through the use of wage incentives. More money = more motivation; is the mantra followed by most firms. The psychological explanation is that an individual is most motivated through the use of external rewards like increases in salary and bonuses; this method is often referred to as extrinsic motivation. The reasoning is that human behaviour is goal orientated. So bankers and senior executives are motivated to increase their efficiency in order to increase the incentives they receive, in theory.

In 1972 Edward Deci argued that there is another way to motivate. There are certain behaviours that people will do and do well, not for any tangible rewards but instead for their own inherent rewards. These behaviours are intrinsically motivated. Deci wondered whether these two types of motivation could coincide with each other. What he found was that the more tangible  rewards one received the less intrinsically motivated one was. Basically if you are motivated by money, that is likely to be the only thing you’re motivated by. Bankers are rewarded with huge bonuses and rises in annual salary so you can say they are extrinsically motivated. But how does this tangible motivation affect how well senior executives and bankers work?

Are the bonuses related to firm performance?

What does the data tell us? If senior executives are being paid more and their firms are benefitting from this increased motivation then surely large salaries are justified? Well data into the relationship between senior executive pay and firm performance is contradictory and inconclusive. Some studies show that the more they pay out the higher the firm performance is, others find no relationship between the two. Some senior executives may argue that firm performance is a poor indicator of individual performance though. Some firms have good senior executives but perform poorly others have poor ones and perform well. It seems like firm performance is influenced by a whole bunch of different factors.

Excess pay – creativity and company morale

Psychologist Dan Pink recently argued that over incentivising actually dulls thinking and creativity. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank into different tasks unearthed some interesting truths about how different types of motivation can impact our cognition. They found that the more money you paid individuals the poorer their performance was in certain tasks. Anything involving mechanical skill, bonuses worked as expected, the higher the pay the better the performance. Once the task involved creativity, thinking outside of the box or even ‘rudimentary cognitive skill’, a larger reward led to a drop in ability.

One step further, do these big wages effect team morale and chemistry within organisations? Yes, negatively. There is evidence to prove that paying senior executives too much money can lead to unrest amongst those that are underpaid. The more income equality in an organisation leads to more emotional distress in employees who are paid less. This is because relative wealth is just as important as absolute wealth. Business psychologists refer to this as the equity theory. An individual considers that they are treated fairly if they perceive the ratio of their input to their outcomes equivalent to those who are around them. Businesses may find that those lower down in the organisation will not work as hard because they see the disparity in wages as being unfair.

Why do we keep paying our bankers and senior executives these large sums?

Many people refer to the tournament theory. This happens when wage differences are based not on marginal productivity but instead on relative differences between the individuals. Basically companies pay huge sums of money to senior bankers to motivate those below them to work harder for promotions. By encouraging this type of competition within the company they believe it means everyone will work harder. But since the majority of incentives are offered in the form of immediate tangible rewards it has been argued that this has led to increased risk-taking. Large incentives mean they deliberately ignore long-term risks in pursuit of short-term goals. 

What actually works then?

Well from a psychological perspective it is obviously abit more complex than just paying more. Just paying more decreases intrinsic motivation, encourages risk-taking and discourages those in the company working at the base. What businesses should focus on instead is not simply just rewarding CEOs, bankers and executives with more money but instead try to intrinsically motivate them.  One way of doing this is by rewarding them with stocks. By doing this you give them a higher shareholding which means they become more dependent on the companies wellbeing. Every move they make will directly affect them. It means they become one with the company in a sense. This type of intrinsic motivation has been proven to encourage creativity and innovation.

Questions may be raised when offering those at the top higher share holdings. It’s basically giving more power to those who have the majority of it already. People suggest that this means they have less people to answer to and can distribute large contracts to themselves. However, if you create a board independent of any senior executives, a board tasked to manage salaries and compensation/rewards in order to review and control remuneration thereby ensuring wages and bonuses stay at the desired level.

It’s definitely a business model that works. Companies such as John Lewis and Ben & Jerry’s, have followed a business plan of rewarding executives with share holdings as opposed to monetary rewards. These companies have proven that it is a successful and sustainable model. It is not just a case of increasing motivation, but with less monetary incentives wage disparity between the highest and lowest incomes within the company shorten. Less differences between wages results in higher work satisfaction right the way through an organisation.

Maybe these large bonuses are more of a hindrance than help. There is still a difference between what science knows and what business does. Science has proven that the extrinsic methods used to reward executives only works in a rare set of circumstances. The secret to high performance is not found in rewards and punishments but instead as a result of unseen intrinsic drive, the drive to do things for their own sake and benefit.

Musa Clarke

Dream Away


Daydreaming and latent inhibition have continuously been linked to creativity
In the last 50 years there has been increased focus on the scientific study of daydreaming. Most researchers identify similar themes: the striking continuity between night dreaming and day dreaming and the ability of creative people to harness this continuity. Neuroscience has allowed us to take this research to new and creative heights by identifying what actually occurs in the brain of day dreamers and it’s links to creativity.

As we drift off to sleep, our working memory network, consisting primarily of the lateral frontal and parietal cortices, switches off. This brain network is the one that involves attention to the outside world, immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing. Once this brain network deactivates our default brain network takes over; also referred to as the resting brain. It involves aspects of our self, such as our self representations, dreams, imagination, current concerns, autobiographical memory and perspective taking ability. The default network involves our most inner streams of consciousnessInterestingly, those with higher default brain network activity during rest have a tendency to day dream more frequently.

When most of us awaken, our working memory brain network re-engages, and our default brain network withers into the background. In most people the working memory network and default network ‘anti correlate’ with each other, meaning that when one network is activated the other is deactivated. This is definitely a good thing! Proper connectivity between the two networks allows people to know when to distinguish between pure fantasy (their inner stream of consciousness) and reality (the external world). But that’s most people… 

Schizophrenics tend to have an overactive default network. Creative folks also exhibit an overactive default network. Prior research has suggested that the thing that seems to differentiate creative but functional individuals and those with mental illnesses is that creatives have the ability to engage their default network and working memory network simultaneously. Those who lose grip on reality and become paranoid and delusional have let the floodgates down, so to speak, letting too much of their default network control their attention.

Researchers investigated the functional brain characteristics of participants while they engaged in a working memory task. No participants had a history of neurological or psychiatric illness, all had intact working memory abilities. They administered two different versions of the same working memory task during an fMRI scanning session, one vision requiring much more concentration than the other. The  more difficult working memory task required constant updating of information in memory while having to resist distraction.

They also explored creativity and the default brain network by asking participants to display their creativity in a number of ways. They had to generate unique ways of using a typical object, imagine desirable functions in ordinary objects and imagine the consequences of unimaginable things happening. These tests have previously been linked to openness to experience and frequency of visual hypnagogic experiences (e.g. Lucid dreaming, hallucinations) which in turn have been linked to vividness of mental imagery.

The researchers found that the more creative the participant, the more activity in their default mode network was altered. Particularly, creative individuals had difficulty suppressing the preceneus area of their default network while engaging in the more effortful working memory task. The preceneus is the area of the default network that typically displays the highest levels of activation during rest (when a person is not focusing on an external task). Creatives exhibit more activation in this area than those that are not, and so do those with schizophrenia. The preceneus has been linked to self-related mental representations and episodic memory retrieval.

How is it conducive to creativity? Researchers state that an inability to suppress seemingly unnecessary cognitive activity may actually help creative subjects in associating two ideas represented in different networks. Intriguingly, prior research has shown a similar inability to deactivate the default network among those with working memory deficits, as well as schizophrenic individuals and their relatives (who are more likely to have schizotypy). The key to functional creativity then seems to be the ability to keep ones internal stream of consciousness ‘on call’ while being able to concentrate on a task. 

Jonah Lerner discusses the importance of daydreaming and distractions for creativity. He mentions a recent study showing that A.D.H.D. is associated with creative acheivement. A Harvard study found a sample of high I.Q. individuals that were eminent creative achievers were seven times more likely to have reduced latent inhibition. Latent inhibition is a filtering mechanism that we share with other animals, and it is tied to the neurotransmitter dopamine. It involves the ability to consider something as relevant even if it was previously tagged as irrelevant. A reduced latent inhibition allows us to treat something as novelty, no matter how many times we’ve seen it before. 
However, latent inhibition is not related to cognitive style; intelligence and latent inhibition seem to be independent abilities. Those with a reduced latent inhibition have more confidence in their intuitions! This is likely down to the fact that those with a reduced latent inhibition actually have more accurate intuitions. It is not a measure of distractibility, latent inhibition tasks measure a form of mental flexibility. It’s not that people who have a reduced latent inhibition always treat the irrelevant as relevant; it’s just that they consider everything as potentially relevant. And this is conducive to creativity because sometimes the seemingly irrelevant is relevant.

How can this research impact our lives? We need to broaden our definition of ‘productive’ thinking. For too long we’ve assumed that every thought process that is not focused attention is a waste of time. We have trained our children to believe that the only way to succeed is to stare at the blackboard or to fixate on the lesson plan. That may not be the way.

It’s reflected in how teachers view their students. A study showed that although teachers said they wanted a classroom full of creatives they were mistaken. In fact, when the teachers were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures – the list included everything from ‘individualistic’ to ‘risk-seeking’ to ‘accepting authority’. The traits most closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their least favourite students. 

Judgements for the favourite students were negatively correlated with creativity; judgements for the least favourite students were positively correlated with creativity

The classroom then is not designed for impulsive expression – that’s known as talking out of turn. Instead it’s all about obeying group dynamics and paying strict attention. Those are important life skills of course but psychological research seems to suggest such skills have little to do with creativity.

Musa Clarke

Seeing Sounds and Tasting Shapes – Synaesthesia the Phenomenon


Duke Ellington – Arguably the greatest Jazz composers had Synaesthesia


I hear a note by one of the fellows in the band and it’s one colour. I hear the same note played by someone else and it’s a different colour. When I hear sustained musical tones, I see just about the same colours that you do but I see them in textures                                                                                                                    Duke Ellington

Over 100 years ago a bizarre condition surfaced, Francis Galton (1880) reported a disorder called Synaesthesia. He noticed that some patients produced a sensation in one modality after a stimulus was applied to another. As when hearing a certain sound evokes the visualisation of a certain colour. However, Synaesthesia can come in many forms, for example the printed number ‘5’ always ‘looks’ green where as ‘2’ may ‘look’ red or every time you taste garlic you feel a square shape in your hand. Following the increased study into the condition what is more fascinating than its uniqueness is what it can teach us about the average mind.

The incredible difference in Synaesthetes is that they retain second senses vividly. As much as you might think of cold when looking at an ice cube you never actually feel it. However, in our everyday life we mix two senses, we may say the cheese tasted ‘sharp’ or her smile was ‘warm’. In much of literature you will find an array of metaphors and similes that mix two senses.

Many argue then that the disorder is just an extreme version of a quality that all humans share in. This incredible ability to map one sense to another is said to have been the base for the development of language as was demonstrated in a study by Ramachandran and Hubbard. They used two different objects and asked participants to identify which one was named ‘boobaa’ and which ‘kiki’. 95 percent identified the round blob like item as ‘boobaa’ and the sharp angular object as ‘kiki’. They then stated the reason behind this was the sharp phonemic inflections of the sounds ‘KI-KI’.


BooBaa and KiKi

This experiment led to a landslide in literature about how humans map one completely independent cortical area to another in order to derive answers. It birthed the idea that there is a subconscious Synaesthesia that includes sensory to motor association in the human mind. Considering it in the context of language development many, not all, languages follow similar patterns, for example, in English adjectives denoting large objects contain rounded vowels and involve widening the vocal tract and lips (LARGE; HUGE; ENORMOUS). Similar patterns appear in other adjectives, by narrowing the lips when it comes to words that describe small objects (tiny; minute; miniature). We subconsciously naturally associate two unrelated senses. Something as simple as dancing, which comes naturally to most of us, is the product of us mapping our motor cortical areas against our audio sensory areas. It’s these everyday things that research into Synaesthesia has helped us garner further understanding of.

So why do some experience this phenomenon at greater intensity than most? Synaesthesia is a heritable condition, and is caused by a mutation gene that prevents the independence of certain modalities in the brain. What evolutionists discovered is that having Synaesthesia provides adaptive benefit. Synaesthesia has been linked to creativity, with the disorder more common among artists and musicians. Being creative means you are more sexually attractive since creativity indicates genetic quality. By having Synaesthesia you will benefit in regards to sexual selection. Other benefits of having Synaesthesia come in memory. Synaesthete Daniel Tammet used his associations to memorise pi to 22,514 digits. Demonstrations like this point to a link between synesthetic experiences with cognitive and perceptual anchors that help in retention of critical stimuli in the world, which would have been invaluable to our ancestors.

How does Synaesthesia work? Most research into the disorder suggest that it is likely to be a consequence of cross wiring between two independent brain regions. Fascinating stuff, considering the most common type of Synaesthesia is grapheme-colour (visual stimuli, numbers or letters with colours). The visual grapheme and colour areas both reside within the fusiform gyrus in very close proximity to one another. Meaning an increased likelihood of cross wiring between them. The closeness of these two areas is particularly prevalent in the left hemisphere which helps in explaining why the majority of synaesthetes are non-right handers, since handedness is hemisphere specific.

So why don’t we all have cross wiring in our brains? It is known that the cross wiring in the brain is a result of defective synaptic pruning between different brain areas. Developmental theories suggest that infants are born with the mixing of senses but as we get older synaptic pruning takes place until all the senses become disentangled from one another. Studies show that in the first two months of life there are wide spread cortical responses to visual and audio stimuli. When a baby hears a funny sound their eyes will open up widely, as if they are seeing sounds. This is demonstrated in the video: A baby’s response to funny noises. Their little brains are not completely pruned and separated so more than one sense is activated by one stimuli. This means that everyone has Synaesthesia in the early periods of their life but as we grow older our brain regions separate as each region becomes more specialised.

Musa Clarke