Saturday, January 23, 2010
"People might either shut down emotionally or get very sensitive emotionally and cry at the drop of a hat," said Laurie Anne Pearlman, former president of the Trauma Research, Education, and Training Institute Inc. and author of several books about vicarious trauma. "The hallmark of both direct and indirect or vicarious trauma is disrupted spirituality, a loss of meaning or hope."
Many people on the staff at CARE are going through trauma, and some have lost relatives, said Rigo Giron, associate vice president for strategic initiatives at CARE.
"It's a hard place for them because they are committed to provide relief, but at the same time they need to recover from the trauma they face. They're very stressed," he said. "They're very traumatized. It's hard for them to overcome that."
Mental health specialists with the American Red Cross are primarily in Haiti to work with earthquake victims, but are also looking out for fellow volunteers, said Jonathan Aiken, spokesman for the Red Cross.
The University of Miami's Project Medishare also is coordinating the travel of mental health professionals to Haiti beginning next week to help quake victims, but also to assist other aid workers if needed, a representative said.
Disaster and emergency workers often get an adrenaline rush that powers them to work without rest. That, combined with a strict ethic of working as much as possible, is "a recipe for trouble" for both the helpers and the people they're serving, Pearlman said.
"After we're overworked for a certain amount of time, as we all know, our brains don't work as well, and we're not making such good judgments, we're not making such good decisions, and then pretty soon you're on the list of people who need to be taken care of, rather than the list of people who can help," she said.
It helps to have people encouraging volunteers to take breaks now and then, although it's also hard for the workers amid the disaster relief to heed that message, she said.
This is the kind of advice that Moore said he received before his departure for Haiti on Wednesday. A staff psychologist told him to try to make himself take breaks while doing earthquake relief -- for instance, exercising, reading or otherwise getting away from the situation briefly. Journaling and communicating with family and friends are also "good, almost cathartic ways" of coping, Moore said.
Aid workers and volunteers who have psychiatric histories, major life stresses or traumas of their own are more vulnerable to trauma in Haiti, and may need more help, Pearlman said. A personal trauma history in itself is not a bad thing -- and people in the trauma field are more likely to have one -- but it's a problem when they haven't worked through it, she said.
There are ways relief agencies can help: If an organization has policies restricting the number of hours before a break, or before leaving the disaster site altogether, that can help, she said.
"It's hard to say, 'Well, look, everybody, I see that you folks don't have food or water, but I need to go rest for a few hours,' " she said. "But it's very important to do it."
Upon reading this BBC report...
US researchers found they could predict how well an amateur player might perform on a game by measuring the volume of key sections of the brain.
Writing in the journal Cerebral Cortex, they suggest their findings could have wider implications for understanding the differences in learning rates.
There is broad acceptance of a link between brain size and intelligence.
...Upon reading this report, I thought of Boskop Man. Who can such a person be? To begin with, he is extinct—he no longer walks the earth. But he once did, and today his remains are either controversial or obscure. Everyone knows about Mr. Neanderthal; few know of this Mr. Boskop. Why? One, Boskop came from black Africa; two, he had an unusually huge brain; and three, the first two (black Africa/big brain) are not supposed to go together.
It's easy for humans to deal with hominids (Neanderthals and others along those lines) that had smaller brains than us, but it is difficult to accept the fact that the world has seen hominids—particular African hominids—who had more brains than we do. From Big Brain, a book by Gary Lynch and Richard Granger:
In the autumn of 1913, two farmers were arguing about hominid skull fragments they had uncovered while digging a drainage ditch. The location was Boskop, a small town about 200 miles inland from the east coast of South Africa.
These Afrikaner farmers, to their lasting credit, had the presence of mind to notice that there was something distinctly odd about the bones. They brought the find to Frederick W. FitzÂ Simons, director of the Port Elizabeth Museum, in a small town at the tip of South Africa. The scientific community of South Africa was small, and before long the skull came to the attention of S. H. Haughton, one of the country’s few formally trained paleontologists. He reported his findings at a 1915 meeting of the Royal Society of South Africa. “The cranial capacity must have been very large,” he said, and “calculation by the method of Broca gives a minimum figure of 1,832 cc [cubic centimeters].” The Boskop skull, it would seem, housed a brain perhaps 25 percent or more larger than our own.
The idea that giant-brained people were not so long ago walking the dusty plains of South Africa was sufficiently shocking to draw in the luminaries back in England.
Later in the book:
[P]eople do not easily escape from the idea of progress. We’re drawn to the idea that we are the end point, the pinnacle not only of the hominids but of all animal life.
Boskops argue otherwise. They say that humans with big brains, and perhaps great intelligence, occupied a substantial piece of southern Africa in the not very distant past, and that they eventually gave way to smaller-brained, possibly less advanced Homo sapiens—that is, ourselves.
Lynch and Granger speculate that the enormous Boskop brain ("[Their] brain size is about 30 percent larger than our own—that is, a 1,750-cc brain to our average of 1,350 cc... that leads to an increase in the prefrontal cortex of a staggering 53 percent") gave them a deeper, dreamier, and wider experience of the world.
While your own prefrontal area might link a sequence of visual material to form an episodic memory, the Boskop may have added additional material from sounds, smells, and so on. Where your memory of a walk down a Parisian street may include the mental visual image of the street vendor, the bistro, and the charming little church, the Boskop may also have had the music coming from the bistro, the conversations from other strollers, and the peculiar window over the door of the church. Alas, if only the Boskop had had the chance to stroll a Parisian boulevard!And that is the problem. They had no civilization to express/exploit their dreams and imaginings. They lived around 10,000 years ago, but the only civilization suitable for their gifts of memory and processing (Greece) did not appear until 2000 years ago. But imagine if in our world (our information age) there was race of people who could do this with their minds:
We internally activate many thoughts at once, but we can retrieve only one at a time. Could the Boskop brain have achieved the ability to retrieve one memory while effortlessly processing others in the background, a split-screen effect enabling far more power of attention?A brain with a split-screen affect!
Boskop’s greater brains and extended internal representations may have made it easier for them to accurately predict and interpret the world, to match their internal representations with real external events.The beautiful ones have already been born.
Perhaps, though, it also made the Boskops excessively internal and self-reflective. With their perhaps astonishing insights, they may have become a species of dreamers with an internal mental life literally beyond anything we can imagine.
Going for a Jog Builds Brain Cells, Study Finds
Jan. 19, 2010 -- Running may do more than improve your cardiovascular fitness and overall physique. It might actually make you smarter.
Scientists reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say that running has a profound impact on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Adult mice that voluntarily used running wheels increased their number of brain cells and performed better at spatial learning tests than non-exercising mice, they discovered.
Spatial learning refers to the ability to navigate through or discriminate between the unfamiliar -- such as telling the difference between two patterns, or finding your way around a new city. Spatial memory refers to how you remember the location or layout of the objects in the space around you. You record spatial memories after processing key sensory information, such as what you see and hear. Animals use spatial memory to remember where their food bowl is located. Mice, for example, learn this by scrambling through a maze to find the food at the end.
In the latest spatial learning experiment, researchers learned that the running mice were better able to tell the difference between the locations of two adjacent identical stimuli. This ability was closely linked to an increase in new brain cell growth in the hippocampus. Ongoing mice experiments have repeatedly shown that running boosts the number of new brain cells in this area. Until the late 1990s, neuroscientists believed that we did not grow new brain cells after birth.
Today, mounting evidence continues to reveal that exercise triggers significant physiological and structural changes in the brain that are beneficial to cognitive function.
SOURCES: Creer, D.J. PNAS Early Edition.
News release, PNAS News Office.
News release, PNAS News Office.