EXERCISING AWAY DEPRESSION

In “Head Strong,” Ferris Jabr writes about the mounting evidence suggesting that, for some people, moderate to vigorous exercise may be the safest, cheapest and most effective treatment for depression. Some readers shared comments on Facebook about their own experiences.

Clare Emmett writes, “I have lifelong treatment-resistant depression and exercise is the only thing that works for me,” but she cautions that “it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.… It doesn’t work for everyone.” Jeroen Zuiderwijk also points out “the problem is that depression kills the motivation to exercise.… So in that respect, it’s like telling people with obesity the solution is to eat less as it will reduce the craving.” Psychiatrist Elizabeth Bartlett writes, “Exercise is really helpful.… However, as someone who has suffered from depression I am aware that it is virtually impossible to motivate myself to exercise.” Melissa Dawn notes, “It’s … not a quick fix, but … working out for at least 45 minutes, four times a week helps tremendously.”

ACADEMICALLY GIFTED, EMOTIONALLY STUNTED?

I found Tom Clynes’s article “Nurturing Genius” a bit disturbing. I began to worry when the author wrote of skipping grades as an unqualified good. After I skipped second grade, I was then the smallest, weakest and most emotionally immature kid in class for many years. This meant I got bullied savagely, without hope of recourse, and had an absolutely terrible personal life, especially when I got old enough to notice girls. The academic benefits were zero, as far as I can tell. There was no consideration in the article of emotional growth and getting along with others.

E. N. Anderson
University of California, Riverside

As a single parent to one of those peculiar creatures in that 99.9th percentile group, I feel that a community’s ability to nurture gifted children lies in early identification. Virginia, for example, is where my son’s intellectual abilities were first identified. There the school system reached out to parents to help them better understand what giftedness means for them and their child. We moved to Michigan 18 months ago, and I was disappointed by the state’s resources for gifted education. Even if a public education system can’t provide specific programs for intellectually gifted kids, it should at least implement early-identification programs.

Erin K. Dunn
Lake Orion, Mich.

How tiresome that we’re still having the same old arguments about how to realize the potential of gifted children that I was hearing when I was in high school 50 years ago. It happens to be Super Bowl Sunday as I’m writing, so I propose this thought experiment: imagine switching our approaches between the development of physically versus mentally gifted children.

Picture a football team in which the coaches focused their attention primarily on the weak and mediocre players, while the most promising athletes were essentially ignored (because they would probably “succeed on their own”) and socially ostracized as “nerds” and “geeks.” Would you bet on that team getting anywhere near a championship?

Robert Salvage
Indialantic, Fla.

THE POVERTY GAP

John D. E. Gabrieli and Silvia A. Bunge’s article “The Stamp of Poverty” struck a chord with some of our readers. On Facebook, Matteo Rivera writes, “All [those] people saying you can find a way out of [poverty] with hard work and believing in yourself are the ones who maintain the meritocratic system that keeps the poor being poor.” Paul Harbin adds, “It only makes evident the level of problem which slavery and racism have created.” Others point to possible upsides to experiencing poverty. Kenneth Shattles writes, “I can see reasons why poverty could lead to problem-solving skills and other benefits as well as being detrimental to the development of cognitive skills.”

HIGH-TECH CRIME PREVENTION

Regarding “Computer Judges,” by Jason G. Goldman [“Tomorrow’s Criminal Justice,” Head Lines], a field study in Chicago used an Internet-based test to identify teens and adults at high risk of violence, targeting them with jobs, mentors and anger management. From 2009 to 2015 the effort saved an estimated total of 324 lives and about $2 billion (as my psychology colleagues and I described in the Review of European Studies in March 2016). The use of tests to identify at-risk individuals has been replicated by, among others, University of Chicago economist and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt. Overidentifying violates civil rights. Underidentifying puts citizens at risk of becoming victims of sex offenses, robbery, assault, arson or murder.

Robert John Zagar
Chicago

PERSONALITY’S MISSING PIECE

In “The Morality Factor,” Taya R. Cohen writes that the turning point in discovering the new dimensions of personality beyond the “big five” model was when researchers included in their study 400 adjectives used in South Korea. They found the moral dimension of honesty-humility. If they were searching the adjectives in North Korea, they would probably find a factor of unconditional obedience—to the deep satisfaction of the selection procedures in the Western corporate world. Is there any chance in the future of finding factors such as independent thinking, civilian courage, social sensitivity and proneness to activism?

Blaz Mesec
Ljubljana, Slovenia

OCTOPUS CAMOUFLAGE

“The Mind of an Octopus,” an excerpt from the book Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, by Peter Godfrey-Smith, contains very interesting information about the complexities of the animal’s brain/mind. It was disappointing, however, not to find more about what is perhaps the most astounding capability of cephalopods: their ability to adapt their color to that of their surroundings. While a considerable amount is known about the pigment-bearing cells, or chromatophores, in their skin, little or nothing is known about the neurological processes that make it possible for these animals to camouflage in their environment. It is evident that they must be able to somehow match the light reflectance of their background, regardless of what color-vision systems their enemies or potential food sources have.

It is a very remarkable capability (for humans only achievable with much technology), and knowing how it operates in cephalopods is of much interest.

Rolf Kuehni
Tybee Island, Ga.

EDITORS’ NOTE: Although our excerpt did not include research on octopus camouflage, the topic is explored elsewhere in Godfrey-Smith’s excellent book.

SAD: JUST IN WINTER?

The Mind in Pictures cartoon “Winter Blues,” by Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham, discusses seasonal affective disorder (SAD): what it is, how to cope, and so on. At the end, individuals suffering from SAD are “reminded” that spring and summer—brighter seasons—are just around the bend.

Is SAD also diagnosed in people who become gloomy when the weather gets brighter or when winter changes to spring (rather than fall to winter, say)?

Andrea Dasilva
via e-mail

THE EDITORS REPLY: Although seasonal affective disorder is typically associated with winter, in rare cases (about one in 10) it can strike in summer. Such individuals are more likely to suffer depression symptoms such as insomnia, appetite and weight loss, and agitation or anxiety. For these people, sometimes a cool-climate getaway is all that’s needed to lift the summer blues.