There Ain’t No Cure For The Wintertime Blues- Maybe There Is

8 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

Beating the Winter Doldrums

By Maia Szalavitz  Source:

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As the days get shorter and winter closes in, many people feel like hibernating. We start sleeping more, eating more, avoiding social contact. The effects can be particularly oppressive for people with depression, many of whom feel escalating dread as the end of Daylight Saving Time approaches. Here are eight ways to keep the black dog at bay, after you turn back the clocks.

Light Therapy

By Maia Szalavitz
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Michael Terman, the director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia University Medical Center, notes that winter depression is often spurred by waking up in darkness rather than light, which affects your body clock in a way that he calls “depressogenic.”

Paradoxically, then, this means that the end of Daylight Saving Time may
initially help those who are suffering winter depression, because turning the clock back means it’s more likely to be light out when you wake up. “On the Sunday of the change to standard time, all other things being equal, the sun rises an hour earlier relative to sleep. One would think this might provide a temporary respite,” he says.

Change itself, however, can be jarring, causing sleep loss. “This transient
effect can in fact have medical consequences in vulnerable people, even
including cardiac emergencies,” says Terman, noting that heart attacks and car accidents increase immediately after the time change.

MORE: Could a Body Clock Drug Help Ease Depression?

For people who are prone to the winter blues, Terman suggests trying light therapy. Exposure to bright light, especially first thing after waking up, has three major positive effects that can relieve depression, Terman says. “It keeps the circadian clock in check, preventing it from drifting later than your desired (or, workday) sleep period. It’s an energizer that gives a morning boost, whether you’re depressed or just sluggish. And it has direct antidepressant properties, stimulating the same neurotransmitters as antidepressant medications,” he says.

Special types of lights are required; it’s not enough to flick on your
bedside lamp. A visit to a therapist who specializes in this treatment is also recommended to start, although lightboxes can be purchased without a prescription.

Terman’s website has a questionnaire to help you determine the best time of day to use light therapy, based on how much of a “morning” or “evening” person you are. If you are prone to depression and already using light therapy, Terman suggests skipping your usual dose this
Sunday to help your body adjust to the new time schedule, and then resuming afterward at the same hour you used it previously.

Even if your depression doesn’t have a seasonal pattern, research shows that light therapy can help: it has been found useful for treating bipolar
depression, depression during pregnancy and chronic depression.

MORE: Is Daylight Saving Time Bad for Your Health?


By Maia Szalavitz

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Depression can worsen fears of social rejection, causing you to avoid social occasions. But social support is one of the most important factors for recovery from depression and for avoiding relapse. So try to go out even when you don’t feel like it: make a commitment to do a certain number of social activities each week and stick to it.

Once you’ve forced yourself to get out, the dread of socializing typically
eases and you’ll often find that you’re having a surprisingly good time. Remind yourself of this the next time you feel the urge to stay home. And be aware that depression can cause you to be oversensitive to social slights that may not have been intended. If you think someone has rejected you in some way (for example, a colleague failing to say hello to you in the hall), try to consider alternative explanations for the incident (she was preoccupied with concerns over her imminent meeting with the boss) and avoid overreacting or ruminating on depressing thoughts.

If you find yourself unable to enjoy social situations that used to give you
pleasure, you may need to seek additional help. This is a symptom of depression called anhedonia, which often requires medication or other professional treatment to lift.

MORE: Friends With Benefits: Being Highly Social Cuts Dementia Risk by 70%


By Maia Szalavitz

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Like socializing, exercise is something that depressed people often dread and seek to avoid; however, it dramatically improves mood if you can get yourself do it. “My clinical impression is that regular aerobic workouts can markedly lift depressed mood in about 33% of patients,” says Terman. “But if they don’t keep it up, they quickly crash.”

To motivate yourself, choose an activity that you enjoy (or at least, hate
less than all the other exercises) and schedule it at regular times, so that it becomes a routine. Exercising repeatedly at the same time each day or days of the week helps create a habit, and the more you repeat that habit, the harder it becomes to let yourself deviate from it.

Remind yourself before each workout that you will feel great once you get
going — and afterward — and that there is no reason for feeling dread or
avoiding exercise. The more you mentally reconfirm the direct link between exercise and rise in mood, the less credence you’ll lend the dread over time.

MORE: How Understanding Drug Addiction Can Motivate You to Exercise

Deep Breathing

By Maia Szalavitz

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If you do yoga or any other form of meditation, you know that focusing on
breathing is a critical part of the practice. It’s also useful for fighting
depression. Why? One reason is that taking slow, deep, relaxing breaths
stimulates the vagus nerve, which is responsible for counteracting the stress response.

The vagus is a “very complex and widespread nerve that not only lowers heart rate and can lead to more relaxation, but also has branches that go to the face and [voicebox],” says Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at Miami University, explaining that low vagal activity is the “reason depressed people seem so emotionally flat.” When vagus nerve activity increases, that flat affect lifts.

Under stress, the heart beats faster and blood pressure rises. The vagus
nerve sends the opposite message. And because depression is often initiated or exacerbated by stress, anything that tamps down the stress response can help. In fact, one therapy for treatment-resistant depression is the use of a device that electrically stimulates the vagus nerve.

But you don’t have to go that far to seek stimulation. “You can stimulate the vagus by breathing, if you make your expirations longer like in yoga. If you exhale for twice as long as you inhale, you will be enhancing vagal activity,” says Field. (Another way to stimulate the vagus is by breathing in deeply and then exhaling forcefully while holding your nose and mouth closed, until your ears “pop.” Obviously, don’t hold your breath this way for too long or push too hard.)

When anxiety runs high, remembering to slow down and breathe deep can help prevent it from pushing you over the brink and into depression.

MORE: Yoga and Stretching Can Help Relieve a Bad Back


By Maia Szalavitz

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Massage isn’t just a fun luxury. It can be as effective in treating
depression as talk therapy. During massage, levels of the stress hormone
cortisol, which is often high in depressed people, fall while levels of the
neurotransmitter serotonin — the same brain chemical increased by antidepressant medications — rise.

“There are many, many, many studies on depression and massage showing that there is not only a decrease in symptoms of depression but also underlying changes that are happening physiologically and biochemically,” says Field.

Research hasn’t found one particular type of massage to be more mood-lifting than others, but one key factor matters. “You don’t get these effects unless there’s at least moderate pressure,” Field says. “Light stroking is actually aversive and operates in the opposite direction. It increases heart and stress hormones.”

MORE: Aching Back? Try Massage for Chronic Pain


By Maia Szalavitz

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Here’s good news for coffee drinkers: a recent analysis of data from the massive Nurses’ Health Study found that women who drank more than
four cups of coffee a day had a 20% lower risk of depression than women who drank less. (The research did not include men but there’s little reason to suspect a wildly different effect in them.)

Such research can’t prove that caffeine or coffee causes better mood; it only shows an association. But since many people say they find coffee to be a mood-lifter and since, overall, there’s more evidence of benefit than harm, having an extra cup might be just what the doctor ordered.

MORE: What We’ve Been Waiting For: Zero-Calorie, ‘Inhalable’ Caffeine


By Maia Szalavitz

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There are two supplements available in health food stores that studies suggest have at least some positive effects on depression:
S-adenosyl-L-methionine, or SAM-e, and omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Omega-3s are also abundant in oily fish, so simply adding more salmon and sardines to your diet could help banish winter blues. SAM-e is not found in foods, but identifying high-quality supplements that contain the right amount of key ingredients in the appropriate form can sometimes be tricky; ask your doctor for guidance. Both supplements appear to be safe, with few reported negative side effects.

MORE: Study: Fish Oil May Prevent Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Professional Help

By Maia Szalavitz

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Seeking professional mental health care can help you navigate an array of tactics to beat depression. If you’re already in treatment, now’s a good time to talk with your therapist or doctor about a seasonal slip in mood and how to prevent it from becoming something worse. Perhaps medications will need to be adjusted or talk therapy stepped up; for severe cases of depression, your therapist may recommend other options.

But whatever you do, don’t simply suffer. Depression is more treatable now than ever before, and with the cold and dark fast approaching in many parts of the country, the time to stop it is now.

MORE: What the 400% Increase in Antidepressant Prescribing Really Means

Maia Szalavitz is a
health writer at Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the
discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter
at @TIMEHealthland.



House Needs More Than His Cane- He Needs His Old Cast Back

House Watch: Please, Please Bring Back the Old Team

I’ve been watching House M.D. since it first aired in 2004, and I can safely say that last night’s “Risky Business” was a steaming pile of place
holding. Or that the writers were dulled by Vicodin. Whatever the case, the episode proved that, as fantastic an actor as Hugh Laurie is, he alone cannot carry the show. We need the old Team back. Please.

The original cast of the show; from left to ri...

More grumbling ahead, but first a SPOILER ALERT: If you missed “Risky
Business,” I’ll stop you with my cane if you try to read on.

Here’s the problem: Park was a cute addition to the first few episodes, and Charlyne Yi seems to be growing as an actress. But whether it’s her ridiculous haircut or—sorry to be House-like—her weird, lisp-ish voice,
she is starting to grate. Adams (Odette Annable) is better—she works well as the pretty foil that House always wants and needs. But it’s difficult not to see her as just another Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) or 13 (Olivia Wilde, whom you can see, if you are supremely bored, in the middling film In Time; she plays Justin Timberlake’s mother, which I would explain if it wouldn’t put you to sleep by the end of this sentence).

Hugh Laurie in House

A quicker-than-usual recap for a worse-than-usual episode: Patient this week is Thad Barton, a CEO who is about to fire a bunch of Americans by moving his operations to China. Disgruntled employees have vandalized his yard–a stuffed version of Barton hangs in effigy from one of his lovely trees—but when his daughter stops by, he shows his first symptom: binocular vision. His daughter, who is within an arm’s reach, seems many yards away.

It’s not a hugely interesting case (a major flaw in a show that relies on
titillating cases to keep its procedural mojo flowing), and House takes it
mostly because Barton is rich. If he saves Barton’s life, House reasons, Patient will re-fund the diagnostics department at PPTH, and we can finally get the Team back. This is an awful idea for an episode for at least two reasons: the case turns out to be complicated but ultimately dull, and it’s only a vehicle to get to a place we know we’re already headed: House back in power.

The show moves briskly to a staggering array of diagnostic possibilities
(very briskly: the Massive Attack intro is missing again). Park starts with Japanese encephalitis virus (Barton has spent a lot of time in Asia preparing to move the company), but House points out that Barton has been vaccinated.

Hugh Laurie during the HOUSE session of the 20...

Park then offers central serous choroidopathy, which causes fluid to
build up under the retina. The disease affects middle-aged men more often than other populations and can cause objects to look farther away—or closer—than they really are. Which is exactly what happens to Barton: his binocular vision reverses so that everything seems huge. Central serous choroidopathy sounds perfect, but House (and House M.D. writers) always wants something weird, so he suggests Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, which is actually a real disease that
causes the same kinds of visual misperceptions.

Having “diagnosed” Barton–never mind that it’s way too early in the ep for
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome to be correct—House then hits up Barton for money. House threatens to put Barton in a mental institution if he doesn’t pony up. He tells Barton—in Mandarin (I’m sorry, when did House learn to speak Mandarin—and why??)—that the Chinese won’t do business with someone who had been institutionalized because of the pervasive stigma against mental illness in China.

A side plot continues the now completely overblown saga of Park’s
disciplinary hearing for slugging her boss, chief neurologist Mark Andrews, who either grabbed or slapped her ass. It turns out that Andrews not only touched her inappropriately but had been drinking before going to the hospital. So, I’m sorry, there was simply no way Park was going to be fired at her hearing. House ensures she will stay by urging the board to fire her—everyone on the board hates him, as Foreman points out, so they will naturally do the opposite of what he recommends. So he did something nice, sort of. But the stakes were so low that the whole plot line seemed like wasted time. We get it: House likes to screw with his Team to the point that they go nuts, but he usually protects them from others who threaten them.

After Barton starts puking blood, House, Adams and Park have a DDX in
Foreman’s immaculate gray-green office. Adams says an angiographic exam has shown bleeding in Barton’s heart. Park suggests Factor V Leiden deficiency, which could explain blood from Barton’s mouth. Just then, Foreman walks in and kicks them out. He also rips up the check Barton wrote for House’s department because Barton gave the money only under duress.

There’s more diagnostic back-and-forth. Barton starts itching and then stops. Is that a symptom? We never really find out. We do learn that Barton’s wife died a few months before of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but Adams suggests that Non-Hodgkin’s could have been wrong. Maybe the lymphoma was really caused by a sexually transmitted virus called HTLV
. House orders radiation to treat and then goes off to clinic duty.

And finally, in the clinic, we get one truly funny scene and the only
Halloween reference on a Halloween-night episode: a man has come dressed as Cheng and Eng, the first conjoined twins to be called “Siamese” twins. The clinic Patient has become stuck (presumably with super glue) to the mannequin he used for the costume. Dripping with sarcasm as he cuts away the mannequin, House says, “The best Halloween costumes are always the ones that need an explanation.” (I laughed out loud at this line even though I went dressed this year in a bow tie, top hat and suspenders that had fake money stuffed in them. A
card on my hat said “1%.” Get it?)

To wrap things up: House connives to get Park to disobey an order he knows is wrong so that she will learn to stand up for herself. Her “mistake”—she puts Barton through a tilt-table test—puts the Patient in a coma, but that’s exactly where House wanted him, so that he could rule out a spinal-cord problem and prove that the wiring between Barton’s brain and his heart are faulty.

House also has some confrontations with a guy in the orthopedics department, which is still occupying House’s conference room. At one point, the ortho guy plaster-casts pretty much every one of House’s office items, which makes for a funny visual. When House goes to slug ortho doc, he has the A-Ha moment: he sees an X-ray showing what I think was a hip-replacement device. You can need one of those when you get rheumatoid arthritis, which in rare cases can cause—Final Diagnosis—hyper viscosity syndrome, which House explains this way: “Your blood was getting thick and syrupy. Complexes of large, Y-shaped antibodies were clotting your blood vessels, causing your organs to shut down one by one.”

I think I actually yawned at this point. Couldn’t it have been Alice in
Wonderland Syndrome?

Barton is thankful, though, and he gives House the money. And finally–SORT OF MAJOR SPOILER ALERT FOLLOWS–we get to see Chase and Taub next week. For my part, I can’t wait. The final scene tonight had Adams smashing up the ortho department with a bat that House provides. It turns out she was recently divorced from a cheating husband. House loves for his Team to show their anger because anger and pain are the only emotions he is skilled at feeling. I get that. But I’ve also known that for years. What are they going to do about my anger and hurt? My
diagnosis of “Risky Business”: D-minus. I would say F if it weren’t for the 20-sec. Cheng and Eng scene. Anyway, see you next week.

Transforming age-worn cells in people over 90 into rejuvenated stemcells

‘Rejuvenated’ stemcells coaxed from centenarian

By Marlowe Hood | AFP

Scientists said Tuesday they had transformed age-worn cells in people over 90 — including a centenarian — into rejuvenated stemcells that
were “indistinguishable” from those found in embryos.

Embryonic stem cells are pictured through a microscope viewfinder in a laboratory,

The technical feat, reported in the peer-reviewed journal Genes & Development, opens a new path toward regenerative medicine, especially for the elderly, the researchers said.

“This is a new paradigm for cell rejuvenation,” said Jean-Marc Lemaitre, a researcher at the Institute of Functional Genomics at the University of Montpellier and the main architect of the study.

“The age of cells is definitely not a barrier to reprogramming,” he told AFP by phone.

That human embryonic stem cells (ESC) can potentially become any type of cell in the body has long held out the tantalizing promise of diseased organs or tissue being repaired or replaced with healthy, lab-grown cells.

A scheme of the generation of induced pluripot...

But the leap from theory to practice has proven difficult, and fraught with
ethical and moral concerns because any such procedure requires the destruction of a human embryo.

The discovery in 2007 that it is possible to coax certain adult cells back
into their immature, pre-specialised state has fuelled renewed efforts to
generate brand new muscle, heart or even brain cells, this time from raw
material provided by the patient.

Experiments to date, however, have shown that the usual chemical recipe for generating these so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) works less well or not at all with the elderly and very elderly — precisely the cohort with the most to gain from regenerative therapies.

Diseases and conditions where stem cell treatm...

The barrier was cellular senescence, a natural process linked to ageing that can trigger cell death when certain mechanisms within the cell become too degraded to function properly.

Lemaitre and colleagues decided to alter the standard genetic starter kit
used to generate adult stemcells by adding two new ingredients — known as transcription factors — called NANOG and LIN28.

Experiments with human subjects ranging in age from 74 to 101 showedthat the new cocktail worked.

Several critical markers of ageing in cells were “reset”, including the size
of telomeres, the tiny protective caps found on the ends of chromosomes that wear down with age, the researchers reported.

Telomeres and telomerase, the enzyme that control them, are a key agent in longevity.

Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get worn down a little bit. The enzyme’s job is to partially rebuild them. Eventually, when the telomeres are worn beyond repair, a cell dies.

Diagram of stem cell division and differentiat...

Gene expression profiles, levels of oxidative stress, and the metabolism of the cell’s energy-generating mitochondria were all likewise rejuvenated, according to the study.

“The age markers in the cell has been erased,” said Lemaitre. “The iPSC stemcells we got can produce functional cells of all types with a capacity to proliferate and enhance longevity.”

By reversing the age-altered physiology of the cells, he added, the new reprogramming technique “may constitute an optimal strategy for developing cell-based therapies for aged patients.”

A large gap remains between this “proof-of-concept” study and therapeutic applications, the researchers cautioned.

And recent experiments with mice suggests that generating adult stemcells may yet face unexpected barriers.

Certain kinds of iPSC may be rejected by the immune system even if they are derived from the same organism, the experiments showed.

Four-inch-long Amoebas live Six Miles under the Pacific Ocean

Giant single-celled organisms discovered deep within the
Mariana Trench

By Taylor Hatmaker, Tecca | Today in Tech

The ocean depths have produced many a strange and wonderful
thing — but the deeper you go, the stranger it gets. In the western Pacific’s Mariana Trench — the very deepest spot in the world’s oceans — scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at U.C. San Diego have discovered one of the world’s largest single cell organisms living deeper than was previously thought possible.

Euglena freshwater single celled organisms

The massive xenophyophores — a type of protozoa related to amoebas — are so large that they can easily be observed with the human eye, measuring up to 4″ across.

While they’d been discovered previously around the five mile deep mark — still deep enough into the ocean to crush many living things with sheer undersea pressure — the new find proves that strange single-cell life exists even within the extreme conditions of the trench.

These single-celled organisms are way larger than any previously
on record

To plumb the depths of the trench, the researchers lowered what’s known as a “dropcam” into the pitch-black ocean abyss. The dropcam is essentially a high resolution camera encased in a thick pressure-proof (and waterproof) glass sphere. These extremely primitive organisms can withstand eight tons of pressure per square inch — a record that most of their more highly evolved brethren in the animal kingdom can’t hold a candle to.

(Source) This article originally appeared on Tecca

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“Anyone who is prepared to put himself through this is bound to do something good with his life”

Reformed skinhead endures agony to remove tattoos

By HELEN O’NEILL – AP Special Correspondent

Julie Widner was terrified — afraid her husband would do something reckless, even disfigure himself.

“We had come so far,” she says. “We had left the movement, had created a good family life. We had so much to live for. I just thought there has to be someone out there who will help us.”

After getting married in 2006, the couple, former pillars of the white power movement (she as a member of the National Alliance, he a founder of the Vinlanders gang of skinheads) had worked hard to put their racist past behind them. They had settled down and had a baby; her younger children had embraced him as a father.

EDITOR’S NOTE — A reformed skinhead, Bryon Widner was
desperate to rid himself of the racist tattoos that covered his face — so
desperate that he turned to former enemies for help, and was willing to endure months of pain. Second of two parts.

And yet, the past was ever-present — tattooed in brutish symbols all over his body and face: a blood-soaked razor, swastikas, the letters “HATE” stamped across his knuckles.

Wherever he turned Widner was shunned — on job sites, in stores and restaurants. People saw a menacing thug, not a loving father. He felt
like an utter failure.

The couple had scoured the Internet trying to learn how to safely remove the facial tattoos. But extensive facial tattoos are extremely rare, and few doctors have performed such complicated surgery. Besides, they couldn’t afford it. They had little money and no health insurance.

So Widner began investigating homemade recipes, looking at dermal acids and other solutions. He reached the point, he said, where “I was totally prepared to douse my face in acid.”

In desperation, Julie did something that once would have been unimaginable. She reached out to a black man whom white supremacists consider their sworn enemy.

Daryle Lamont Jenkins runs an anti-hate group called One People’s Project based in Philadelphia. The 43-year-old activist is a huge thorn in the side of white supremacists, posting their names and addresses on his website, alerting people to their rallies and organizing counter protests.

In Julie he heard the voice of a woman in trouble.

“It didn’t matter who she had once been or what she had once believed,” he said. “Here was a wife and mother prepared to do anything for her family.”

This combination of eight …

This combination of eight photos provided by Bill Brummel Productions shows the progress of tattoo removal treatments for former skinhead Bryon Widner. For 16 years, Widner was a glowering, swaggering, menacing vessel of savagery – an “enforcer” for some of America’s most notorious and violent racist skinhead groups. Though his beliefs had changed, leaving the old life would not be easy when it was all he had known – and when his face remained a billboard of hate. (AP Photo/Duke Tribble, Courtesy of MSNBC and Bill Brummel Productions)

Jenkins suggested that Widner contact T.J. Leyden, a former neo-Nazi skinhead Marine who had famously left the movement in 1996, and has promoted tolerance ever since. More than anyone else, Leyden understood the revulsion and self-condemnation that Widner was going through. And the danger.

“Hide in plain sight,” he advised. “Lean on those you trust.”

Most importantly, Leyden told him to call the Southern Poverty Law

“If anyone can help,” he said, “it’s those guys.”


When Widner called, says Joseph Roy, “it was like the Osama Bin Laden of the movement calling in.”

Roy is chief investigator of hate and extreme groups for the SPLC. The nonprofit civil rights organization, based in Montgomery, Ala., tracks hate groups, militias and extreme organizations. Aggressive at bringing lawsuits, it has successfully shut down leading white power groups, bankrupted their leaders and won multimillion dollar awards for victims.

The SPLC hears regularly from people who say they are trying to leave hate and extreme groups. Some are fakes. Some are trying to spread false intelligence. Many are in crisis, and return to the group when the crisis passes.

“Very rarely have we met a reformed racist skinhead,” says Roy.

Over the years, Roy had dubbed Widner the “pit bull” of skinheads. “No one was more aggressive, more confrontational, more notorious,” Roy said.

And yet, over several weeks of conversations with Bryon and Julie, he became convinced. There was something different about this couple — a sincerity, a raw determination to put the past behind them and to seek some sort of redemption.

In March 2007 Roy and an assistant flew to Michigan. Roy still marvels at the memory of the guy with the freakish face walking out to greet them, wearing a “World’s Greatest Dad” sweat shirt, holding his baby boy in one arm while a little girl clung to his other one.

Over the next few days they got to see the suffering Bryon was going through. They listened in horror when he told them he was considering using acid on his face. “He was in a bad place,” Roy said. “This was a guy who was fighting for his life.”

Widner shared information about the structure of various skinhead groups, the different forms of probation in some gangs, the hierarchy of others. He agreed to speak at the SPLC’s annual Skinhead Intelligence Network conference, which draws police from all over the country.

For his part, Roy promised to ask his organization to do something it had
never done before — search for a donor to pay for Widner’s tattoos to be
surgically removed. Widner didn’t hold out much hope. But for now, he agreed not to experiment with acid.

Financially and emotionally, things were getting tougher. Widner found part-time work shoveling snow and odd handyman jobs, but barely enough to support a family. The vicious postings on the Internet continued. Pig manure was dumped on their cars. There were hang-up
calls in the middle of the night. Anonymous callers left threatening messages: “You will die.” Several times, tipped off by sympathetic friends that a crew was on the way to “take care” of them, the family fled to a hotel.

So when Roy called a couple of months later saying a donor was willing to pay for the surgery, Widner could hardly believe it. The donor, a longtime supporter of the SPLC had been moved by Widner’s story
— and shocked by photographs of his face.

“For him to have any chance in life and do good,” she said, “I knew those
tattoos had to come off.”

She agreed to fund the surgeries — at a cost of approximately $35,000 — on several conditions. She wanted to remain anonymous. She wanted assurances that Bryon would get his GED, would go into counseling and would pursue either a college education or a trade.

It was easy to agree. These were all things Widner wanted to do.

In this Aug. 1, 2011 photo, …

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

It would take up to a year to find the right doctors and schedule the operations. Meanwhile, it was clear the family had to leave Michigan. The white power Web forums were wild with chatter about the race traitor couple and their family. Through local police, the FBI warned that they
were in danger.

In the spring of 2008 they packed their belongings and moved to Tennessee, near Julie’s father. They rented a three-bedroom house in the country, joined a church. Helped by his father-in-law and his pastor, Widner found some work. The threats subsided.


Dr. Bruce Shack, who chairs the Department of Plastic Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, vividly remembers the first time he met Widner. After seeing photographs and talking to the SPLC, he had agreed to do the surgery. But he was totally unprepared for
Widner’s face.

“This wasn’t just a few tattoos,” he said. “This was an entire canvas.”

It was June 2009 and the couple had driven to Vanderbilt to meet him. Shack’s genial manner immediately put them at ease.

“He didn’t just see the tattoos,” Widner says. “He saw me as a real human being.”

Shack also saw one of the biggest challenges of his career.

In this Monday, Aug. 1, 2011 …

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Shack showed Widner the laser — which looks like a long, fat pen — that would trace the exact outline of the tattoos as it burned them off his face. He explained how it would deliver short bursts of energy, different amounts depending on the color and depth of the tattoo. It would take many sessions for the ink to fade. And it would be painful, far more painful than getting the tattoos in the first place.

“You are going to feel like you have the worst sunburn in the world, your
face will swell up like a prizefighter, but it will eventually heal,” Shack told
Widner. “This is not going to be any fun. But if you are willing to do it, I’m
willing to help.”

Widner didn’t hesitate. “I have to do it,” he said, as Julie held his hand.
“I am never going to live a normal life unless I do.”

On June 22, 2009, Widner lay on an operating table, his mind spinning with anxiety and hope. A nurse dabbed numbing gel all over his face. Shack towered over him in protective goggles and injected a local
anesthetic. Then he started jabbing Widner’s skin, the laser making a staccato rat-tat-tat sound as it burned through his flesh.

Widner had never felt such pain. Not all the times he had suffered black eyes and lost teeth in bar brawls, not the time in jail when guards — for fun — locked him up with a group of black inmates in order to see him taken down. His face swelled up in a burning rage, his eyes were black and puffy, his hands looked like blistered boxing gloves. He had never felt so helpless or so miserable.

“I was real whiny during that time,” he says.

“He was real brave,” says Julie.

After a couple of sessions, Shack decided that Widner was in too much pain: The only way to continue was to put him under general anesthetic for every operation. It was also clear that the removal was going to take far longer than the seven or eight sessions he had originally anticipated.

They developed a routine. Every few weeks, Widner would spend about an hour and a half in surgery and another hour in recovery, while Julie would fuss and fret and try to summon the strength to hide her fears and smile at the bruised, battered husband she drove home. It would often take days for the burns and oozing blisters to subside.

Shack and his team marveled at Widner’s determination and endurance. The Widners marveled at the team’s level of commitment and care. Even nurses who were initially intimidated by Widner’s looks found themselves growing fond of the stubborn former skinhead and his young family.

Slowly — far more slowly than Widner had hoped — the tattoos began to fade. In all he underwent 25 surgeries over the course of 16 months, on his face, neck and hands.

On Oct. 22, 2010, the day of the final operation, Shack hugged Julie and shook hands with Bryon. Removing the tattoos, he said, had been one of his greatest honors as a surgeon. But a greater privilege was getting to know them.

“Anyone who is prepared to put himself through this is bound to do something good with his life,” Shack said.


In a comfortable yard in a tidy suburban subdivision, Bryon and Julie Widner smoke Marlboros and sip energy drinks as they contemplate the newest chapter in their lives. Only a few trusted friends and family members know where they live  — they agreed to be interviewed on condition that the location of their new home not be disclosed.

This time, they moved because they had deliberately exposed themselves to danger. After much consideration, the couple had agreed to allow an MSNBC film crew to follow Widner through his surgeries. The cameras didn’t spare the details, capturing Widner writhing and moaning in agony. Widner didn’t care. If anything he felt that he deserved the pain and the public humiliation as a kind of penance for all the hurt he had caused over the years.

But there was a deeper motivation for going public with his story. There was a chance that some angry young teenager on the verge of becoming a skinhead would see Widner’s suffering and think twice.

Maybe he would realize that, as Widner says now, “I wasn’t on any great
mission for the white race. I was just a thug.”

They moved the day after the documentary — “Erasing Hate” — aired in

Widner’s arms and torso are still extensively tattooed. He is in the process of inking over the “political” ones, like the Nazi lightning bolts. His face is clean and scar free, and he has a shock of thick black hair. With his thin glasses and studious expression, he looks nerdy, Julie jokes.

His neck and hands have suffered some pigment damage, he gets frequent migraine headaches and he has to stay out of the sun. But, he says, “it’s a small price to pay for being human again.”

The move took a financial toll. Julie had to pawn her wedding ring to buy
groceries and pay the rent. But Widner has found some work — construction and tattoo jobs. He got his GED and they both plan to start courses at the local community college.

They say they feel safe. Several police officers and firefighters live
nearby; the FBI has visited and the local police know their story.

In this Saturday, Aug. 6, …

In this Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 photo, Bryon Widner, center left, and his wife are applauded in Pasadena, Calif., after the screening of a documentary film featuring their family. After getting married in 2006, the couple, former pillars of the white power movement (she as a member of the National Alliance, he a founder of the Vinlanders gang of skinheads) had worked hard to put their racist past behind them. They had settled down and had a baby; her younger children had embraced him as a father. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Still they can’t help but worry. It’s one thing getting out of the white
power movement as others have done, fading into obscurity. It’s another to publicly denounce the violent world they once inhabited.

Bryon has constant nightmares about what injuries he might have inflicted —  injuries he can only imagine because so often he was in a drunken stupor when he beat someone up. Did he blind someone? Did he paralyze someone? He doesn’t know.

But there are moments of grace. After a recent screening of the documentary in California, a black woman embraced Widner in tears. “I forgive you,” she cried.

They’ve thrown out everything to do with their racist past, including
photographs of Widner and his crew posing at Nordic fests and of the white power conferences Julie used to attend. And yet there are reminders all around, and not just the remaining tattoos. Tyrson’s name — inspired by the Norse god of justice, Tyr — troubles them for its connection to the racist brand of Odinism his father practiced with the Vinlanders. But how do they ask a 4-year-old to change his name to Eddie?

The child tugs at his daddy’s Spiderman T-shirt, begging him to come play video games. “OK, buddy,” Widner says. “Let’s go shoot a few bad guys.” With that, the man who once brandished his hate like a badge of honor scoops up his son and turns on his Xbox.

Widner plays the role of Captain America. The bad guys are Nazis.

Helen O’Neill, a New York-based national writer for The Associated Press, can be reached at features(at)

Your Brain On Horror- The Lure

Invasion of the disembody snatchers

The latest edition of The Psychologist has a fantastic article on the psychology of horror, taking in everything from the popularity of cultural themes like zombies and vampires to research into the enjoyment of slasher films.

Zombie Walk 2010

It’s a really comprehensive look at the both the psychological concept, the feeling of horror, and where its origins may lie in our evolutionary and cultural past, as well as numerous studies on how we react to fear and horror, both in real life and in entertainment.

This bit particularly caught my eye.

Related to this is the ‘snuggle theory’ – the idea that viewing horror films may be a rite of passage for young people, providing them with an opportunity to fulfil their traditional gender roles. A paper from the late 1980s by Dolf Zillmann, Norbert Mundorf and others found that male undergrads paired with a female partner (unbeknown to them, a research assistant), enjoyed a 14-minute clip from Friday the 13th Part III almost twice as much if she showed distress during the film. Female undergrads, by contrast, said they enjoyed the film more if their male companion appeared calm and unmoved. Moreover, men who were initially considered unattractive were later judged more appealing if they displayed courage during the film viewing.

Surely asking people to watch horror films with a companion who is secretly working with psychologists to study your reactions to fear is a fantastic plot for a horror film.

Yours for only $1 million Wes Craven.

Declaration of interest: I’m an unpaid associate editor and occasional columnist for The Psychologist. I avoid exploring abandoned houses on the edge of town.

______________________The Article______________________

From The Psychologist
Volume 24 – Part 11 – (November 2011)

The lure of horror

Christian ‘Jeepers’ Jarrett with a Halloween special, on the intriguing insights into our psyche offered by scary stories

Pages: 812-815

Fear coils in your stomach and clutches at your heart. It’s an unpleasant emotion we usually do our best to avoid. Yet across the world and through time people have been drawn irresistibly to stories designed to scare them. Writers like Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker continue to haunt the popular consciousness. Far longer
ago, listeners sat mesmerised by violent, terrifying tales like Beowulf and
Homer’s Odyssey.

‘If you go to your video store and rent a comedy from Korea, it’s not going to make any sense to you at all,’ says literature scholar Mathias Clasen based at Aarhus University, ‘whereas if you rent a local horror movie from Korea you’ll instantaneously know not just that it’s a horror movie, but you’ll have a physiological reaction to it, indicative of the genre.’

Why is horror the way it is?

Fresh from a study visit to the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Clasen believes the timeless, cross-cultural appeal of horror fiction says something important about humans, and in turn, insights from evolutionary psychology can make sense of why horror takes the form it does. ‘You can use horror fiction and its lack of historical and cultural variance as an indication that there is such a thing as human nature,’ he says.

This nature of ours is one that has been shaped over millennia to be afraid, but not just of anything. Possibly our ancestors’ greatest fear was that they might become a feast for a carnivorous predator. As science writer David Quammen has put it, ‘among the earliest forms of human
self-awareness was the awareness of being meat’. There’s certainly fossil
evidence to back this up, suggesting that early hominids were preyed on by carnivores and that they scavenged from the kill sites of large felines, and vice versa. Modern-day hunter-gatherers, such as the Aché foragers in Paraguay, still suffer high mortality rates from snakes and feline attacks.

Viewing the content of horror fiction through the prism of evolutionary evidence and theory, it’s no surprise that the overriding theme of many tales is that the characters are at risk of being eaten. ‘Do we have many snakes or snake-like creatures or giant serpents in horror fiction?’
Clasen asks. ‘Yes we do: look at Tremors – they were really just very big snakes with giant fangs’. In fact, many horror books and movie classics feature oversized carnivorous predators, including James Herbert’s The Rats,Shaun Hutson’s Slugs, Cat People, King Kong, and the Jaws franchise, to name but a few. Where the main threat is a humanoid predator, he or she will often be armed with over-sized claws (Freddie Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street) or an insatiable taste for human flesh (e.g. Hannibal Lecter in the 1981 novel Red Dragon).

Vampires and other mythical monsters

And yet, arguably, the most iconic horror monsters are not the furry or slimy toothed beasts of the natural world, but the unreal, mythical fiends that we call vampires, werewolves, zombies and ghosts. Can a psychological approach explain their enduring appeal too? On the face of it, the answer is straightforward: with the exception of ghosts, these mythical monsters are exaggerated, souped-up versions of the more realistic threats faced by our ancestors. They’re strong, they’re unstoppable and very, very hungry.


But digging deeper, these monsters may also endure culturally because they press the right cognitive buttons. For example, just as Pascal Boyer (cited in Barrett, 2000) has argued that many religious entities thrive by being ‘minimally counter-intuitive’ – that is, they fulfil nearly all the criteria for a given category, but violate that category in one particularly
memorable, attention-grabbing fashion (a random example would be Moses and the bush that’s in flames but doesn’t burn) – a similar account could explain the enduring appeal of horror monsters. In this vein (ahem), vampires fit the human category in most respects, except they are undead. Ghosts are similarly person-like but have no body.

Another cognitive button pressed by horror would be our tendency to see agency where there is none, a kind of over-active theory of mind that facilitates a belief in wraiths and spectres. Similarly, perhaps clowns (e.g. as in Stephen King’s 1986 novel It) have the capacity to provoke fear because their make-up conceals their true facial emotions, thus thwarting
our instinctual desire to read other people’s minds through their faces (it’s
notable that many other horror baddies conceal their faces with masks).

There are other overlaps with religion based around the disgust-reaction and the far-reaching effects of our deep-seated fear of infection. The term ‘psychological immune system’ is used to describe findings such as that people are more prone to racial prejudice when primed with reminders of infection. In the same way that many religious practices are thought to have evolved to deal with corpses and the infectious health risks they present, the cultural origin and persistence of some mythical monsters can similarly be understood in terms of our fixation with death and infection. For example, one theory has it that the vampire myth emerged from a pre-scientific misinterpretation of the appearance of corpses – bloated and apparently full of fresh blood. A 16th century skeleton with a brick jammed posthumously in its jaw was uncovered recently from a mass grave near Venice. Archaeologists at the University of Florence believe the brick was intended to prevent the corpse feasting after death.

Graffiti Monster Eating Human via Flickr

The horror creature whose popularity feeds most obviously from our fear of contagion is the unstoppable, flesh-eating automaton known as a zombie. One possible source of the zombie myth is Haiti where deceased relatives are sometimes believed to be living with their families in an
undead state. Research suggests these ‘zombies’ in reality are brain-damaged or mentally ill relatives, but a controversial suggestion made by anthropologist Wade Davis is that victims are enslaved by witch doctors using a ‘zombie powder’ containing tetrodotoxin, a compound found in puffer fish, which can cause zombie-like symptoms such as lassitude and loss of will.

Besides its disgustingness, another feature of the zombie movie monster that exploits our cognitive machinery is known as the uncanny valley (see box overleaf) – that is, there’s something particularly unnerving about an entity that moves jerkily in a way that’s nearly human, but not quite. ‘Zombies also drastically reduce the moral complexity of life,’ says
Clasen. ‘Zombies are unequivocally bad, they need to be killed, they need to be shot in the head. There is no moral shade of grey and that can be a pleasurable fantasy – a way to relax your mind.’ No wonder, in the competition to scare audiences, zombies are staggering towards dominance at the box office (recent hits including Zombieland, I am Legend and 28 Days Later).

Image by Swingman via Flickr

Does this idea, that fictional monsters tap into our evolved mental habits and fears, amount to anything other than speculation? In a 2004 paper, Hank Davis and Andrea Javor at the University of Guelph provided a simple test. They took three of the evolutionary-cognitive themes we’ve discussed so far – predation, contagion and violations of the person
category – and had 182 participants rate 40 horror films on their successful portrayal of these features. Films that scored higher tended to have performed better at the box office. The Exorcist, often described as the ultimate horror film, scored highest and came out joint fifth in terms of box office revenue. ‘Successful horror films are those that do the best job of tapping into our evolved cognitive machinery – they exploit topics and images we already fear,’ says Davis.

If monsters succeed by playing on our primal fears and flicking our cognitive switches, this begs the question: which monster does it most successfully? The zombie may be clawing its way ever deeper into pop
culture, but vampires probably remain the quintessential movie monster, at least according to a 2005 survey by Stuart Fischoff at California State University’s Media Psychology Lab.

Fischoff’s team asked 1166 people aged 6 to 91 to name their favourite movie monster and the reasons for their choice. Vampires, and in particular Count Dracula, came out on top overall. The youngest age group (aged 6–25) preferred Freddy Krueger, but vampires still came in at number two. In general, younger viewers were more partial to slasher film baddies than older participants. Popular reasons for participants’ choice of monster included superhuman strength, intelligence and luxuriating in evil. ‘Movie monsters tap into our archetypal fears that never entirely disappear no matter how mature, smart, informed and rational we think we’ve become,’ says Fischoff. ‘As the American cartoonist of Pogo, Walt Kelly, might have said, “We’ve met the monster and he is us”.’

But why the particular appeal of vampires? Fischoff thinks it may have to do with their sexiness. Since at least Bram Stoker’s Dracula (but with the exception of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu) and continuing to modern incarnations in the True Blood and Twilight series, they are, Fischoff
says, ‘…inherently sexy… Even their act of monstrousness, neck biting and blood sucking, with or without killing, is intimate and sensuous.’ Other factors, according to Fischoff, include: their immortality; their fascinating, tormented characters (most of them are not simple killing machines); and the fact they often have a vestige of humanity, and can fight their impulses. ‘They can be “us”,’ Fischoff says, ‘epitomising our flirtation with our dark side, our Id, our selfish, impulse-ridden, tantruming child who battles with our adult-parent side.’

Who wants to be afraid?

Psychology can help explain why horror takes the persistent form that it does, but that still leaves the question of why we should want to scare ourselves through fiction in the first place. One suggestion is that, like play, it allows us to rehearse possible threatening scenarios from a position of relative safety. ‘Movie monsters provide us with the opportunity to see and learn strategies of coping with real-life monsters
should we run into them, despite all probabilities to the contrary,’ says
Fischoff. ‘A sort of covert rehearsal for… who knows what.’ Despite its
fantastical elements, Clasen explains that successful horror fiction is usually realistic in its portrayals of human psychology and relationships. ‘That’s where horror matters,’ Clasen says; ‘that’s where horror can teach us something truly valuable.’

Further clues come from a line of inquiry, most of it conducted in the 80s and 90s (coinciding with the rising popularity of slasher films), that looked at individual differences in horror film consumption. After all, although many people enjoy horror, most of us don’t. Who are these people who pay out money to be scared? A meta-analysis of 35 relevant articles, by Cynthia Hoffner and Kenneth Levine published in 2005 in Media Psychology, highlights the principal relevant traits: affective response;
empathy; sensation seeking; aggressiveness; gender; and age.

The more negative affect a person reports experiencing during horror, the more likely they are to say that they enjoy the genre. Media experts like Dolf Zillmann make sense of this apparent contradiction as a kind of conversion process, whereby the pleasure comes from the relief that follows once characters escape danger. This explanation struggles to account for the appeal of slasher films, in which most characters are killed. Part of the answer must lie with meta-emotion – the way we interpret the emotional feelings we’re experiencing, with some people finding pleasure in fright. Another possibility is that, for some, pleasure is derived from the sense that film victims are being punished for what the viewer considers to be their immoral behaviour. Consistent with this, a 1993 study by Mary Oliver found that male high school viewers who endorsed traditional views on female sexuality (e.g. ‘it’s okay for men to have sex before marriage, but not women’), were more likely to enjoy horror movie clips, especially if they involved a female victim portrayed with her lover.

Other researchers have examined related claims that female characters are more likely to be killed than male characters, especially if they’re portrayed as sexually promiscuous. A 2009 study by Andrew Walsh and
Laurier Brantford analysed 50 slasher films released between 1960 and 2007, including the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hatchet. The researchers found that male characters were more likely to be victims of rapid, serious violence, whereas females were more likely to be victims of less serious, but more drawn-out violence, including confinement and stalking. Female characters were also more likely to be seen partially or fully naked, and when scenes involved a mix of sex and violence, the victim was more likely to be female. ‘Frequent depictions of women in prolonged states of terror may reinforce traditional gender schemas of women as helpless and, as a result, may serve to normalise aggression or hostile attitudes toward women,’ Walsh and Brantford said.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, people with lower self-reported empathy levels are also more likely to say they enjoy horror films. However, this literature is hampered by conflicting findings depending on whether one includes or omits films that include scenes of graphic torture and violence. People who seek out intense thrills and experiences (as measured by Marvin Zuckerman’s Sensation-Seeking Scale), and those who are more aggressive, are also more likely to report enjoying horror films, as are men, probably in part because they tend on average to be more aggressive and have lower empathy (see ‘Your brain on horror’).

With regard to age, there’s a suggestion that enjoyment rises through childhood, peaks in adolescence and then gradually fades with age. Related to this is the ‘snuggle theory’ – the idea that viewing horror
films may be a rite of passage for young people, providing them with an
opportunity to fulfil their traditional gender roles. A paper from the late
1980s by Dolf Zillmann, Norbert Mundorf and others found that male undergrads paired with a female partner (unbeknown to them, a research assistant), enjoyed a 14-minute clip from Friday the 13th Part III almost twice as much if she showed distress during the film. Female undergrads, by contrast, said they enjoyed the film more if their male companion appeared calm and unmoved. Moreover, men who were initially considered unattractive were later judged more appealing if they displayed courage during the film viewing. ‘Scary movies and monsters are just the ticket for girls to scream and hold on to a date for dear life and for the date (male or female) to be there to reassure, protect, defend
and, if need be, destroy the monster,’ says Fischoff. ‘Both are playing gender roles prescribed by a culture.’


The horror genre, as popular as ever, offers intriguing insights into our psyches and is surely ripe for further investigation. Brain-imaging technology is only just starting to be deployed to study the neural correlates of the horror experience. The notion of meta-emotion, or how some people are able to interpret negative affect as a positive experience, is another intriguing area for study. Norbert Mundorf at
the University of Rhode Island, one of the scholars who studied individual
differences in horror appreciation back in the 80s and 90s, admits that he and colleagues perhaps focused too much on the enjoyment of slasher films, neglecting the psychology of more subtle horror experiences, which would have been trickier to study. Looking ahead he believes that changes to the way we consume media – especially the ability to access niche material online in limitless supply – also poses new questions about our enjoyment of horror. ‘We need to understand how this media-rich environment affects consumption of extremely violent and disturbing content,’ he says. ‘In particular, one would expect that it provides unlimited material for those high in sensation-seeking. New research approaches would benefit from analysing media consumption in this
virtually unlimited virtual environment.’

Another intriguing angle for the future is whether insights from psychology could help guide horror writers and producers to develop even scarier material. Clasen believes most successful horror writers have an intuitive insight into human psychology – ‘H.P. Lovecraft, for example, had a solid grasp of human biology and psychology and used that in stories to creep people out’ – but he agrees the ultimate horror story has yet to be told.
It’s when the day comes that there is no horror fiction, if it ever does, that
we should probably worry. As Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, ‘Where there is no imagination there is no horror.’

Box 1: Psychoanalysis and metaphor

Traditionally, horror fiction has been interpreted in cultural and metaphorical terms, often with a psychoanalytic bent. By this account, the vampire’s blood lust can be seen as representing repressed sexual
desires, and the threat of daylight as the disapproval of society. Werewolves symbolise the beast within us all, our perennial battle to constrain the insatiable Id.

Freud himself wrote about ‘das Unheimliche’ in literature, which translates as ‘the uncanny’. In a long, meandering essay he said an uncanny experience occurs ‘either when infantile complexes which have
been repressed are once more revived by some impression, or when primitive beliefs which have been surmounted seem once more to be confirmed.’ Later commentators have picked up these ideas and interpreted horror fiction as a safety valve for our raging passions and fears. While this idea may contain a kernel of truth, many readers will find psychoanalytic interpretations far-fetched. Barbara Creed (cited by Tudor, 1997), for instance, has argued that the ubiquity of blood, and especially bleeding women, in horror films is a manifestation of castration anxiety; David Gilmore (cited by Clasen, 2012) sees the abundance of richly toothed monsters with gaping mouths as a sign of the oral-aggressive stage of psychosexual development; and Elaine Showalter (cited by Clasen, 2010) sees Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as representing turn-of-the-century homosexual panic, with the novel’s ‘chocolate-brown fog’ indicative of anal sex.

Other metaphorical and cultural interpretations are more credible. For instance, George Romero has admitted that the zombies in Night of the Living Dead (1968) were intended to symbolise the mindless consumer
society of the USA. The tensions between vampire and human communities in True Blood seem to be an obvious metaphor for racial tension – an undertone arguably shared by other vampire tales such as the Anita Blake Vampire-Hunter series. And no doubt films like Outbreak (1995) tapped into the then and now media-driven fear of mass infection.

Box 2: The uncanny valley

One likely reason that zombies are so disturbing is that they are located in the depths of what roboticist Masahiro Mori called the ‘uncanny valley’. In the 70s Mori noticed that as robots became more realistically human, their appeal increased until, that is, they became too human-like, at which
point people’s reaction to them darkened, as they experienced an eerie feeling. Zombies have human faces and bodies, but with their plodding gait and empty gaze it’s clear that they’re not fully human, which particularly creeps us out. An explanation proposed for the uncanny valley is that an entity that appears almost like us, but not quite, triggers our evolved fear for disease and infection, or an innate mating aversion. Mori himself thought that ultra-realistic entities remind us of corpses and death. A recent study by Shawn Steckenfinger and Asif Ghazanfar showed that macaque monkeys also exhibit the uncanny valley. They were found to look longer at pictures of real or unrealistic macaque faces than pictures of almost-real cartoon macaque faces, with looking-time taken to be an indicator of preference. Steckenfinger and Ghazanfar proposed that as an entity becomes hyper-realistic it triggers raised
perceptual expectations – for example, about skin tone and subtle movements – and when these are not met, an uncomfortable feeling ensues.

Box 3: Your brain on horror

What goes on in the brain of a person watching horror? Readers may be surprised to hear that the amygdala – that almond-shaped brain structure so often associated with fear – was not one of the areas identified in a brain-scan study by Thomas Straube and his colleagues at Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena. They used fMRI to monitor 40 participants
as they watched scary scenes from Aliens (1986), The Shining (1980), The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Others (2001). Neutral scenes from the same films served as comparison material. Scary clips triggered increased activity in the visual cortex, the insular cortex (a region involved in self-awareness) and the thalamus (the relay centre between the cortex and sub-cortical regions). Subjective feelings of anxiety were associated with more activity in the dorso-medial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) – an area previously associated with the assessment of the emotional significance of stimuli and situations. In relation to the lack of amygdala activity, Straube’s team reasoned that amygdala activation is more often associated with sudden, unexpected threats, rather than the sustained anxiety elicited in the current study.

Another aspect to their investigation addressed the trait of sensation seeking. Consistent with prior research that found sensation seekers are more aroused by stimulating material, high scorers on sensation seeking in the present study showed a greater response in the visual cortex when
watching horror clips. Also, high sensation seekers exhibited lower activity in the thalamus and insula during neutral clips, consistent with the idea that they might be under-aroused in usual circumstances. The greater baseline activation in low sensation seekers could represent a signal of potential danger, the researchers said, and therefore limit their search for further challenges, including horror movies. Much of this is clearly speculative and more research is needed. ‘Researchers need to find out the neural differences between different forms of horror (with or without disgust, etc.) and the interactions between bodily responses, inter-individual differences, and brain activation,’ says Straube.

Dr Christian Jarrett is The Psychologist’s staff journalist.


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Licorice- More Trick Than Treat?

Scary treat? Black licorice can harm heart, warns the FDA

Michael Werner / Getty Images/StockFood

Glycyrrhizin, which is what gives licorice its sweet flavor, can cause the heart to beat dangerously fast.

By Linda Carroll

While indulging our sweet-tooth may be a time-honored Halloween tradition, there’s one tasty morsel that could turn out to be more of a trick than a treat for some of us, the Food and Drug Administration warns.

Black licorice can lead to heart arrhythmias and other health problems when consumed by adults in large quantities, the FDA noted in its pre-holiday alert.

Glycyrrhiza glabra from Koehler's Medicinal-Plants

Experts say that consuming 2 ounces of black licorice per day for two weeks can set the heart stuttering in susceptible individuals. The culprit is a compound called glycyrrhizin, which is what gives licorice its sweet flavor.

Glycyrrhizin causes the kidneys to excrete potassium. And low levels of potassium can make the heart beat dangerously fast or out of sync, says Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine.

The compound also leads to salt and water retention which can be a problem for people with heart failure or high blood pressure, Fonarow said.

It’s long been known in some cultures that licorice was more than just a sweet indulgence. In certain parts of the world, the chewy stuff is prescribed to treat everything from heartburn to bronchitis to viral infections. So far, though, there hasn’t been a study proving that licorice can cure anything, the FDA alert noted.

Because licorice is a bioactive food, which means it can tweak metabolic processes in the body, you also have to worry about interactions with medications, Fonarow said.

“Licorice can be a problem for people taking diuretics, digoxin and laxatives,” Fonarow said, explaining that the combination of the candy with these medications can also drive potassium down to dangerously low levels. “It can also interfere with normal cortisol metabolism.”

Licorice comfits

Some studies have suggested that licorice can drive up blood pressure in women taking oral contraceptives because of the potassium effect.

The FDA suggests that everyone, young and old, be careful about how much black licorice they consume at one time.

And if you’re one of the unlucky ones who develops an irregular heart rhythm or muscle weakness after eating a lot of licorice, the agency suggests you “stop eating it immediately and contact your healthcare provider.

This is scary considering my wife and I go through a box of Good N Plenty every evening watching TV. We are addicted to it. I find myself craving it throughout the course of a day and night. Why is it that everything we enjoy always has a down side to it? Bummer! -Bloggo

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I Fear To Think- 20 Strange Phobias

20 Weird Phobias

Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself?

Everyone feels anxious or fearful sometimes, and while those feelings are mostly normal, when a fear is irrational, intense, and persistent, it is considered a phobia.  A study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that between 8.7% and 18.1% of Americans suffer from phobias. Only 10% of reported cases become lifelong illnesses in which the physical symptoms that accompany the feelings of anxiety – like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, and sweating – become so severe that they limit daily activities and interfere with quality of life.

While the majority of phobias are relatively commonplace – a fear of crowds (agoraphobia), spiders (arachnophobia), public speaking – many others are decidedly more obscure. You probably haven’t you heard of venustraphobia (fear of beautiful women) or lutraphobia (fear of otters – yes, the animal).

We decided to take a look at some of the things that some people are pathologically scared of – most pretty rare conditions and some common ones that you just didn’t know there was a name for.

Photo Credit: The Next Web


With the holidays behind us, it’s safe to talk about this fear of dining or dinner conversation. As a clinical disorder, deipnophobia is a very specific version of a social phobia or social anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, such phobias are diagnosed when “people become overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations” and affect about 15 million American adults.

People with this kind of fear might dread and actively avoid any situations that might cause them to engage in dinner conversation. Or, it might just serve as a good excuse to avoid dinner with the in-laws.

Photo Credit: Capture Queen


Defined as the fear of relatives, this is another social phobia that might be exacerbated during the holidays when getting together with family is pretty much unavoidable. As a common anxiety, it is the source of a whole class of jokes about in-laws (see previous slide) and mythologized in children’s stories about scary stepmothers. But serious sufferers will have an intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by their relatives and may experience blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, and difficulty speaking when made to confront their fear.
Photo Credit: Mary Witzig


A fear of animals is fairly common – spiders and snakes are pretty scary, after all – and is one of the most frequent fears among children. There are certainly sensible reasons to avoid and fear dangerous or threatening animals, but zemmiphobia is particularly irrational since it is a fear of the “great mole rat”, a creature that, as far as we know, doesn’t exist (there is a “greater mole rat” that lives in Siberia, if that counts). There are several kinds of mole rat and judging by the naked mole rat pictured here, it is not too surprising that some people have an intense fear of them.
Photo Credit: Leithcote


A “specific phobia” is one of three general types of phobias recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and defined as “a persistent and irrational fear in the presence of some specific stimulus which commonly elicits avoidance of that stimulus.”Pteridophobia refers to the irrational or obsessive fear of ferns, which is, indeed, very specific. The feeling of anxiety induced by the frond-y, spore-producing plant is not so common, although a fear of plants in general, Botanophobia, has been documented:  The actress Christina Ricci admitted in 2003 to British Esquire that she is afraid of houseplants. “They are dirty,” she said. “If I have to touch one, after already being repulsed by the fact that there is a plant indoors, then it just freaks me out.”

Photo Credit: oskar karlin


The word genuphobia comes from the Latin genu, meaning “knee”. Yes, it refers to an overwhelming, irrational fear of knees. Genuphobes may fear their own knees and/or fear seeing other people’s knees. They tend to avoid the beach and other places where knees are prominently displayed, and probably hate summer.

Photo Credit: Khairil Zhafri


Aulophobia is the abnormal fear of flutes. Whether it is the sound or the physical form of this woodwind instrument that instills panic in the sufferer, the magic is certainly gone for the aulophobic.

Photo Credit: Eustaquio Santimano


Kyphophobia is a fear of stooping or becoming stooped or crooked. In our lazier moments, we all might dread having to crouch down to pick up something we dropped on the floor, a mild form of this affliction that true sufferers must deal with regularly.One might suspect origins of this fear lie in negative feelings about aging and becoming stooped. A person who develops kyphophobia may avoid any situation in which they would have to stoop and may view such a position repulsive. This phobia can eventually become difficult to manage and interfere with daily activities – like picking up after oneself, for example.

Photo Credit:  Spider.Dog


This is one that might be more common, but perhaps you didn’t know there was a name for it: the fear of clowns. While the clown is meant to entertain and distract, research has shown that children are often quite frightened of painted-on smiling faces. Clown themes are generally avoided in hospitals and schools for this reason.To make matters worse, there are plenty of references in popular culture to creepy clowns and the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who performed as a party clown when not committing horrendous crimes. Clowns are definitely a mixed bag, and coulrophobes will be happy to know there is a name for their fear.

Photo Credit: craig Cloutier


Phagophobia, the fear of swallowing, is a serious condition that can lead to malnutrition and weight loss. It may follow a bout of actual dysphagia – the medical term for difficulty swallowing – but even as a psychosomatic condition it can become extremely debilitating. In some cases, the phagophobe eats only soft and liquid foods or might have an almost obsessive need for water while eating. Gulp.

Photo Credit: JoséMa Orsini


Cathisophobia is the fear of sitting down, and just imagining it is exhausting. Imagine being offered a seat and panicking over the prospect of getting off your poor tired feet.  As with many phobias, treatments vary from case to case. Treatment methods include talking cures (psychoanalysis), behavioral therapy, hypnosis, progressive desensitization, and medication.

Photo Credit: Martin Sillaots


Walloonphobia is not a clinical phobia, but rather a form of prejudice like xenophobia or homophobia. The term refers to the fear, dislike, or discrimination against Walloons – the French-speaking people who live predominantly in the southern half of Belgium known as Wallonia.Walloon culture contrasts with that of the Flemings, who inhabit the northern part of the country and speak Flemish, a language similar to Dutch. And while Walloons have been the object of Walloonphobia (presumably from their Flemish neighbors to the north), there are plenty of famous Walloons in history: Peter Minuit famously purchased the island of Manhattan from Native Americans in 1626 for goods valued at today’s equivalent of some pocket change.

Photo Credit:  Flavio@Flickr


Another typically non-clinical type of phobia that has its roots social and cultural prejudice, ephebiphobia refers to the irrational fear of teenagers or youth. So when the grumpy curmudgeon on your block yells at you when your soccer ball rolls into his yard, you can call him an ephebiphobe and suggest he get treatment for his condition.

Photo Credit: Max Braun


Fear of the color red – the color of blood – might be a more common phobia than porphyrophobia, the fear of the color purple. There are many people who simply don’t like the color, and there are those rare cases of individuals who actually panic at the mere sight of it. Surely they are not Baltimore Ravens fans.

Photo Credit: Dr. Stephen Dann


If you are desperately afraid of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth, you have arachibutyrophobia. Indeed, sufferers can easily avoid confronting their fear and voila, problem solved. The word was used by Charles M. Schulz in a 1982 installment of his “Peanuts” comic strip, and it certainly doesn’t apply to dogs, who entertain tens of thousands of people a day by eating peanut butter.

Photo Credit: Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha


Blennophobia, the fear of slime, does not seem so strange. Granted, it’s not something one regularly has to deal with, but some people are downright freaked out by it. No telling how an individual would develop such an irrational fear. Watching too many sci-fi movies perhaps?  An incident involving snails?

Photo Credit: Morning theft


Unless you are Amish, you may be at risk for koumpounophobia, the fear of buttons on clothing. Mild to severe feelings of disgust or panic affect sufferers when they touch or, for some, just look at buttons.In 2009, popular author Neil Gaiman released a promotional teaser trailer for the film Coraline, based on his novella of the same name. The trailer featured Gaiman warning koumpounophobes about the content of the film, which features characters with buttons in place of eyes.

Photo Credit: the Italian voice


Nomophobia, an abbreviation of “no-mobile-phone phobia”, was coined during a study by the UK Post Office, which commissioned a study to look at anxieties suffered by mobile phone users. The study found that nearly 53% of mobile phone users in Britain tend to be anxious when they “lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage.” The study compared stress levels induced by the average case of nomophobia to be on par with those of “wedding day jitters” and trips to the dentist.

Photo Credit: Orderlyschism


Unsurprisingly, sesquipedalophobia refers to the fear of long words, and it’s more of an ironic joke than an actual reported condition. Even more anxiety producing is the other word for the fear, antidisestablishmentarianismophobia. If you are actually afflicted by this condition, our apologies for freaking you out. Supercalafragilisticexpialidociousophobia. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Photo Credit: Thomas Tiernan


Pteronophobia is the fear of feathers or being tickled by feathers. If you are allergic, don’t worry, your problem is probably not mental. But if you break into a sweat just thinking of downy plumage, you are indeed pteronophobic.

Photo Credit: Jaredmoo


Optophobia is the fear of opening one’s eyes. If you are reading this right now, you are not optophobic. The condition could be related to a vampire-like phobia, photophobia, which is the fear of light or the condition of being overly-sensitive to light. For the poor optophobe, waking up in the morning is just that much more of a drag.

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Put A Hold On That Delivery Until After Halloween

No Trick: Fewer Babies Born on Halloween

By Stephanie Pappas |

“Happy Halloween” and “Happy birthday” may not be sentiments heard very often in the same breath, according to a new study. The research finds that the number of babies born drops on Halloween day, but
spikes on Valentine’s Day, a day with more positive associations.

Early 20th century Valentine's Day card, showi...

Most surprisingly, the birth decrease occurred not just among moms who scheduled C-sections or induced labors; spontaneous births rose and fell along with holidays as well.

The researchers aren’t sure how this holiday-birthday difference comes about, but the findings suggest that moms have some control over when they’ll go into labor, said study researcher Becca Levy of the Yale University School of Public Health.

“We know from other kinds of research that an individual’s will can have an impact on different hormonal factors,” Levy told LiveScience. “It’s possible that there’s something going on with mothers either wanting to
give birth or not wanting to give birth on a certain date, and that might affect a hormonal cascade, which could have an impact on the timing.”

Holiday labor

Levy and her colleagues began investigating the birth-timing question as a way to understand how personal beliefs are related to health. Some studies have suggested that the human will can triumph over the body, including in cases where terminally ill people seem to “hang on for the holidays” — though findings on whether that is the case have been mixed.

Child birth 35 mm

Image by prc1333 via Flickr

Levy chose Halloween and Valentine’s Day because neither holiday is major enough to affect hospital staffing, but both holidays have strong emotional connotations: Valentine’s is associated with happiness and love, while Halloween’s associations are considerably darker. [Read: 13 Halloween Superstitions Explained]

The researchers used birth certificate data to look at the timing of births
taking place one week before and after both Valentine’s Day and Halloween from 1996 to 2006. That made for a total of more than 1.6 million births around Valentine’s Day and 1.8 million births around Halloween. The researchers then compared the day-to-day differences in natural, induced and Cesarean births on the actual holiday with those on days around the holiday.

halloween night

What they found was striking: On Valentine’s Day, the likelihood of giving
birth went up by 5 percent compared with the weeks before and after the holiday. Births from spontaneous labor spiked 3.6 percent, while induced births went up 3.4 percent. Cesarean births were 12.1 percent more likely on Valentine’s, which might suggest women deliberately schedule C-sections to have Valentine’s Day babies.

Halloween showed a mirror-image effect. All types of births decreased on
Halloween as compared with the surrounding two weeks, the researchers reported this month in the journal Social Science & Medicine. The chance of giving birth on Halloween went down by a total of 11.3 percent, with 16.9 percent fewer C-sections, 18.7 percent fewer induced births and 5.3 percent fewer spontaneous births.

Mind matters?

There’s no way to tell whether the changes in spontaneous birth happen
because mothers consciously hope against Halloween babies and dream of Valentine’s-themed birthday parties, or whether the process might be
unconscious, Levy said. Either way, the findings do suggest that psychological and cultural factors may be at play in the seemingly spontaneous process of labor, she said.

“We don’t know the mechanisms, so that’s certainly something that needs to be explored,” Levy said, adding that since the study was based on birth
certificates, there was no way to tell how the moms in the study felt about
Halloween or Valetine’s Day births.

To find out why the holidays seem to influence birth timing, the researchers would need to conduct a much smaller study on expecting mothers, monitoring their hormone levels and feelings about certain potential birth days, Levy said.

You can follow LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries

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It’s Raining Men Time Bomb- Sex selective abortion, prenatal sex determination

The unstable future of a world full of men

AFPBy Giles Hewitt | AFP

 As the global population hits seven billion, experts are warning that skewed gender ratios could fuel the emergence of volatile “bachelor nations” driven by an aggressive competition for brides.

But many demographers believe the resulting shortage of adult women over the next 50 years will have as deep and pervasive an impact as climate change.

The statistics behind the warnings are grimly compelling.

In India and Vietnam the figure is around 112 boys for every 100 girls. In China it is almost 120 to 100 — and in some places higher than 130.

And the trend is spreading: to regions like the South Caucasus, where Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia all post birth ratios of more than 115 to 100, and further west to Serbia and Bosnia.

6th century

Global awareness of the problem was raised back in 1990 with an article by the Nobel prize-winning Indian economist Amartya Sen that carried the now famous title: “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing.”

Demographers say that figure is now more than 160 million — women selected out of existence by the convergence of traditional preferences for sons, declining fertility and, most crucially, the prevalence of cheap prenatal sex-determination technology.

As many as half a million female foetuses are estimated to be aborted each year in India, according to a study by British medical journal The Lancet.

“Earlier villagers had to go to the city to get a sonogram (ultrasound),”
said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the non-profit Population Foundation of India. “Today sonographers are going into the villages to cater to people who want sons.”

Even if the sex ratio at birth returned to normal in India and China within 10 years, Guilmoto says men in both countries would still face a “marriage squeeze” for decades to come.

“Not only would these men have to marry significantly older, but this growing marriage imbalance would also lead to a rapid rise in male bachelorhood… an important change in countries where almost everyone used to get married,” he said.

How that change might manifest itself is hotly debated, although nearly
everyone agrees there is no foreseeable upside.

Population growth

Image by eutrophication&hypoxia

Some forecast an increase in polyandry and sex tourism, while others predict cataclysmic scenarios with the rise of male-surplus societies where sexual predation, violence and conflict are the norm.

A particularly alarmist note was sounded several years ago by political
scientists Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer, who wrote that Asian countries with too many men posed a security threat to the West.

“High-sex-ratio societies are governable only by authoritarian regimes
capable of suppressing violence at home and exporting it abroad through
colonisation or war,” they said.

Mara Hvistendahl, a correspondent for Science magazine and author of the recently published “Unnatural Selection“, says fears of full-scale wars are unfounded, and points out that India remains a thriving democracy, despite its shockingly high gender imbalance.

However she does agree with the underlying premise.

“Historically, societies in which men substantially outnumber women are not nice places to live,” Hvistendahl stressed.

“Often they are unstable. Sometimes they are violent,” she said, adding that leaders in both China and India have spoken of the threat gender imbalance poses to social stability.

UN agencies have issued similar warnings about the correlation between a scarcity of women and increases in sex trafficking and marriage migration, albeit with certain caveats.

“The data is really limited,” said Nobuko Horibe, Asia-Pacific director of
the UN Population Fund. “It is very likely that this marriage squeeze would lead to these phenomena… but it’s very anecdotal at this stage.”

Population  Bloom

Image by Earthworm

But while more and more red flags are being raised over the long-term
implication of skewed sex ratios, few solutions are being offered.

Sex-selective abortion is illegal in both China and India, but officials say
the law is incredibly difficult to enforce.

There is “no silver bullet”, admits Guilmoto, who believes the first priority
is to make sure the problem is properly publicised — and not just in the
developing world.

“In some countries in eastern Europe, people are absolutely not aware of what is going on,” he warned.