The current body of scientific literature that focuses on training of working memory is still rather small, as is shown quite impressively by the recent meta-analysis, which included only 23 studies with small sample sizes. The studies vary in procedures and subject populations, including children with ADHD and stroke patients. With that in mind, we think it is simply too early to conclude that working memory interventions are not effective. In “Building Better Brains,” we acknowledge that there are many questions regarding the breadth and durability of training effects, but we argue that the prevailing evidence supports optimism that intelligence is not entirely fixed.
Editors' note: For more information about this topic, including a new study from the journal Intelligence that found working memory training did not result in lasting improvements, see “Best Evidence for Brain Training Falls Short,” a blog by Scientific American editor Gary Stix, at http://tinyurl.com/8r4pn9d
Regarding “Hard to Swallow,” by Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham, the assumption of such a condescendingly dismissive attitude toward nonmainstream health care modalities reflects badly on a publication founded in scientific principles. One narrative caption makes the blanket statement that “alternative medicine practices, which have no scientific basis, may just be relying on this placebo mechanism.” Although this is surely true of some practices, it is irresponsible to imply that such a description applies across the board.
The cartoon betrays a profound ignorance of the perspective being mocked (“I can feel my karmic energy flowing!” cries the acupuncture patient. Seriously?), not to mention the amassed evidence regarding Chinese medicine and various other modalities that at the very least merit more credit and intellectual curiosity than this comic gives them. What I see here demonstrates no scientific effort toward objectivity but rather the dogmatically barred and narrow outlook that so often poses on the pedestal of science.
Karli Nabours-Palermo, R.N.
Lake Charles, La.
GIVING TV TOO MUCH CREDIT
I wouldn't hasten to thank television's increasing portrayal of mental health issues for any apparent drop in associated stigmas, as Daisy Yuhas does in her article “Psychology: As Seen on TV!” Many of the TV shows cited in Yuhas's article depict mental illness in an extreme fashion, with no attempt to represent the humanity of mental illness sufferers let alone the complexity of their conditions. For this I doubt the creators of such shows are motivated by little else than ratings, which would explain their preference for the psychotic disorders and cases of OCD. I recently watched my first episode of Criminal Minds. Never have I been so quick to grab the remote control as when a character on the show pronounced: “Listen, doctor, my mother is a paranoid schizophrenic who's been institutionalized, so I know very well what mental illness looks like.”
As long as there is no genuine exploration of mental health issues, with attempts to challenge rather than confirm the assumptions we uphold, it could hardly be considered progress if each and every TV show this century were to suddenly feature a shrink.
HELP END CAT ADDICTION
Tori Rodriguez's article about personality changes linked to cats and toxoplasmosis hardly seems to qualify as news. As the writer notes, the connection with schizophrenia and the advice that pregnant women not clean cat litter boxes have been around for a long time, so more common personality changes linked to Toxoplasma infections can't really be unexpected.