Cognitive enhancements and mental conditions #1: the “negative medical bias problem”.

I was going to extend that post on emotions and omotions into a post on racial pejoratives and sensitivity to the term “privilege”, but I need to think about some [a] resources [b] that Tony at The Shoop’s Roost gave me. Bigotry and how all of the little pieces that create it is a pretty complex thing and that bears some thinking about. So I’m going to put that one on hold for a bit and finally start a series of posts about alterations in how the minds of people with Tourette’s Syndrome can be benefits and not just the drawbacks that we all hear about through medicine and popular culture. This series is meant to eventually be turned into a presentation that I can give to children and adults with TS so that they can get a better idea about what TS is (as best as we can understand it) and how they might use it to their benefit.

[Lets just get it over with.

We believe that Tourette’s Syndrome, AD(H)D, OCD, Autism, Schizophrenia and some other mental conditions are “features” of humanity and not “bugs”. THEY ARE NORMAL AND NATURAL as a general rule, though they can be debilitating at their most intense because human development is not a clean process. The problem is that in a modern context things are a lot more confusing and we have culturally decided to pretend that we are all the same (for good reasons that have bad effects). So as medical research started pinching off groups of humans as having similar sets of features, we have been resistant to the idea that these people who have mental strengths and interesting relationships with the surrounding society are in fact how we sort into “kinds” of humans.

Now to start demonstrating it.]

History and the negative bias problem.

As a species we do some things pretty good, and we do some things pretty badly. We are pretty good at identifying and understanding things that cause people suffering when it comes to medicine and creating systems to try to deal with that suffering. Modern medicine is fantastic in how it’s able to take a human problem and figure out what is happening at multiple levels from the molecular to the social. We have tremendous knowledge about what is wrong. So much knowledge that a major part of science is creating ways of organizing and using all of that knowledge constructively. But we can also be very foolish as a species because of how our minds work in a modern social context.

[A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, especially when we don’t always do the best thing or the right thing with that knowledge because we are social primates with an evolutionary history very different from the world we live in today. We are in many ways a reminder of what things were like so when you react or act you are often pretending that it’s 500,000 years ago and have no idea.]

We tend to have a negative emotional bias as a species [1] meaning that on average we will pay more attention to the negative. Bias [2] is a word that I’m sure that many of you have heard before. I’m also willing to bet that you have heard that bias is a bad thing as “being biased” is used to dismiss people in arguments often. But it’s not a bad thing, it is in fact a neutral thing since bias just means that your reasoning and motivation is shaped towards particular things. If you have personal experience with evidence that pushes you towards one side of a social conflict (for example you have studied the evidence for biological evolution) you are in fact biased on that issue for good reasons. Bias means you are not neutral with respect to something independent of anything else, and the reason bias tends to be a negative word is because we are not naturally neutral without culture.

Negativity Bias


I think that what this means functionally is that on average when encountering things we don’t personally have experience with we will be cautious and suspicious. Think about it like this, would it be better for your ancestors to see lions in bushes where there were none (false positive error [3]), or to miss the lion that was there (false negative error [4])? Your ancestors would have had a greater chance of surviving if they saw the occasional thing that was not there. So up here in modern times it’s likely the case that we prioritize negative emotions as higher than positive ones. So we emphasize negative characteristics and possible harms more than positive characteristics and possible benefits when thinking about or perceiving things we do not have personal experience with.

[We can’t say if this bias is “hardwired” or not, or how pervasive it is in how we perceive the world. It’s possible that humans would be neutral towards unfamiliar things if it were not for the effect of culture on how we interact with the world. But I would say that functionally we have a negative bias towards things called mental conditions.]

[This is balanced by some positive biases such as an in-group bias that flips this to a positive emotional bias with respect to people and things we have personal experience with. That whole “seeing patterns where there are none” might explain conspiracy theorists. There is probably more that one of those with TS, not to mention a bunch of mad prophets.]

As each of our individual emotional impressions diffuses into the nested sets of organized groups that make up society through of our personal interactions the emotional impressions become “averaged”* into our shared morals, ethics, assumptions, emotional sensitivities, group narratives and more about the things we care about the most. Consider the emotional priorities of Democrats or Republicans versus the emotional priorities of America as a whole, and the collection of stories each group tells.

[*Averaging is not a simple as the average of 5, 5, and 5 being 7.5. That average is altered by the fact that we will be more or less sensitive to things depending on what the emotion is, what object it’s attached to, what our experience of that object was and how significant (intensity of benefit/harm/previous experience/peer opinion/…) the object is to us. A good general picture of a way the average is biased is represented by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs [5]. For example the more personal and related to resource acquisition something is, the more intensely you will tend to feel about it.]

How the negative emotional bias relates to what is called “mental illness”, “mental disorder” or the most neutral one I could think of “mental condition” has to do with how medicine handles suffering people and history.


Perception of medicine associated things shaped by the negative emotional bias and history.

Medicine is in the business of ending suffering, as it should be. Some of that suffering runs so deep that rationality becomes challenging or impossible while experiencing, interacting with and remembering. So it is totally reasonable that a whole lot of negative emotion be bound up in medicine when it comes to medical problems and the social structure that researches and delivers solutions to suffering. But as I pointed out above we tend to prioritize the negative in perception thought and memory. So we will tend to understand things associated with medicine by negative emotional impressions more often.

Where we start running into problems is in the reality of how an “illness”, “disorder” or “condition” is defined.

[Since some of you might sense me getting evasive, equivocal and hair-splitty, no matter what the objective reality of diseases, disorders and conditions is the priority is ending suffering. We are not dismissing or ignoring anyone’s experience of a mental illness, mental disorder or mental condition. We are unapologetic in pointing out that a lot of what we act like we want to eradicate is very likely to be “features” of what humanity is and not “bugs”. Perfectly natural ways that brains and minds operate that can be expressed in ways and contexts that can cause suffering to a the person with the thing, or someone else who they affect. In this case I think that society just does not know what to do with us now that we no longer live in groups of 150.]

Let’s start out “easy”. Is aggression or assertiveness and objectively bad thing? No. There are times when one should be aggressive or assertive, but if a person is aggressive or assertive in the wrong context (defined by experience + instinct + emotion + socialization > morality and ethics) they will harm someone or dominate someone for no good reason. Is seeking sex an objectively bad thing? No. But given the statistics on rape there is a lot of sex seeking going on in a context that causes suffering. Now think about how people bias their emotions with respect to medicine and aggression, assertiveness and sex. That is a metric fuckton of current controversies and I don’t think it will take you long to think of an example. The same is true of many things we call mental illnesses/disorders/conditions and the ones relevant to people like me are the neurodevelopmental disorders [6]. (Wikipedia neurodevelopmental disorders [7])

The DSM-V lists many neurodevelopmental disorders but I want to focus on: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Tourette’s Disorder. Now about 3% of the population is on the autism spectrum, 5% is on the AD(H)D and spectrum and 1% is on the TS spectrum. Those are not mutually exclusive so lets pretend that is 6% of the population. If these were like aggression, assertiveness and seeking sex we would expect to find situations where these features were a benefit instead of a drawback. Good instead of bad. It turns out that there are benefits.

Benefits of Autism, AD(H)D and Tourette’s Syndrome.


It turns out that when you ignore the fact that medicine stereotypically only sees people complaining of suffering and you look at lots of the people in each of these groups, you start to see people actively benefiting from the characteristics that come with these conditions. Autism and TS share a lot of features. Both of us have sensory hypersensitivity [8] (which is associated with savant syndrome[9]).

[I’m not saying I am a savant, that’s the sort of thing other people say you are. I KNOW we are an arrogant sort. That being said what a savant is can inform about how perception can be shaped. If there is a “tourettic savant” knowing what parts of perception they were gifted in would be informative for how the tendencies are shaped in the rest of us.]

Both of us have rule-based language enhancements [10] (TS linked towards the end). Both of us have obsessions and compulsions that seem associated with organization and relationships (autism, [11] TS [12] and also [13]) and is in turn related to what is called called hypersystematic behaviors and tendencies in autism. Lately people with autism who have benefited from the features of autism have been getting a lot more press and there are even business opportunities in placing people with autism in jobs that benefit from their natural talents [14]. The benefits of being a person with autism seem to be related to classes or categories of objects, how they are organized and what they associated details are. For example:

…computers, trains, historical dates or events, science, or particular TV programmes. Many younger children with autism like Thomas the Tank Engine, dinosaurs or particular cartoon characters. Sometimes, people develop obsessions with things like car registration numbers, bus or train timetables, postcodes, traffic lights, numbers, shapes or body parts such as feet or elbows.

People with autism may also become attached to objects (or parts of objects), such as toys, figurines or model cars – or more unusual objects like milk bottle tops, stones or shoes. An interest in collecting is also quite common: it might be Star Trek DVDs, travel brochures, insects, leaves or bus tickets.


It’s like they are able to fixate on an object class like “television program” or “car associated number” and master what it is. I have to point out what I have read indicates that only some people with autism seem to have these abilities. But…

[…we think all people with autism have these abilities. What matters is if the had a life experience and made choices that let them build on them in ways that are useful to them. Did they have a life that let them learn to control the sensory torrent in a way that strengthened their ability to use the associated brain systems in contexts that benefit them.]

AD(H)D (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).

In AD(H)D the benefits are harder to describe because they are very qualitative. The “H” that can be dropped in and out has to do with the “hyperactivity component”.

[The difference between ADHD and ADD seems of a similar kind as the difference between an extrovert and an introvert and includes something called “externalizing behaviors”. We happen to hypothetically believe that analogously autism and TS are internalized and externalized versions of one another.]

ADD by itself has to do with a disengagement with the world because some “filters” that people use to detect, recall, store and retrieve information about reality. Those filters essentially “perk you up” and make reality interesting because the signals stand out and create interest. Without the emotional information in those filters we essentially become “bored” on a level that is extremely hard to deal with. That level of boredom is so bad that AD(H)D is associated with self-medicating “novelty-seeking behaviors” and we are more prone to substance abuse problems [15].

[This might help explain why we like arguing online.]

Without those filters we have more reading problems, tend to have less working memory for names and numbers and are not the best “paper work types”. The hyperactivity component makes you more interactive with the world so instead of the student that stares out the window we are the student that blurts out things without thinking. In the support groups we have to make sure we don’t neglect the people with ADD.

What about benefits [16]? The hyperactivity can be like having lots of energy if we focus it right. What about the filters? Without those filters it can be said that “reality does not grab us as strongly”. Sure we may annoy a person obsessed with order and structure (and can actually become one of those people) but think about what it means to “think outside of the box”. I think of that process as “pattern breaking” and we are really good pattern breakers, even when we don’t want to be. Here is something you may have encountered in school called a concept map.

Concept Map

In a concept that you take a central thing as an object (which can also be a concept) and you try to connect it to the concepts or features that the central object is most closely connected to (concepts the object consists of really). Like how a door is connected to the idea of going in and out, opening and closing, reversibly blocking an opening, security and other things. One reason we are so easily distracted is because those related concepts (and objects connected to them) are just as interesting to us as the central object. So our attention slides around all of the equally interesting things and right out of the box.  I also think of this as “tangential thinking”.

[See what I mean by context sensitive? You have to pair this with some solid skills in creating routines and organizing your life because where other people get unconscious help directing their attention we either have to have really good habits so we make sure we do what we need to do, or we develop really good concentration abilities so we can control as much of perception as we can.]

If we are really enjoying what we are doing we slip into a state called “hyper-focus” [17] where we can hold one part of something more complex in our attention so strongly that we don’t hear you trying to talk to us. Gamers have called this being in “the zone” and it’s a state everyone wants in a professional context. That last link also has some interesting stuff on day dreaming and creativity as well as leadership skills.

[But you have to learn to control that too because if we focus on something too hard we will fail to notice that something important is related to it, or something that we should do with it. Going down the wrong path and wasting time and effort because we chased the wrong thing sucks. If you are practiced you can eventually scan things and spot most important things most efficiently.]

As a result of this AD(H)D is often related to creativity and many of us are artists. The features are also good for a person in the position of being “on point” in a military formation since they must constantly scan for threats and objectives in a tense environment. I often wonder just how many of us manage to make it in the world of science though.

Tourette’s Syndrome.

Now we get to the one the blog is mostly about. The media has not caught up with TS advantages in the same way that it has with autism in that the cognitive (mental) advantages of autism are discussed and in TS it’s mostly the physical advantages that are discussed. For example soccer goalie Tim Howard attributes some of his success to TS [17]. I suppose that makes sense since after the verbal tics TS is best known for the physical tics and any article that gives people with TS some benefits with the physical aspects is a valuable thing.

But I want to take a deeper and more fundamental look at what TS is doing to our minds and not just at how the physical is changed. It’s the attempt to understand the cognitive advantages that has kept me obsessed and provided me some emotional drive after I had to leave my science career five years ago. More than anything else it was the following papers and the story of Dr. Samuel Johnson [19] that captured my imagination and pushed me towards teaching myself brain science.

In a series of posts I will be individually presenting the contents of these papers in a form that I hope to be able to directly turn into a PowerPoint presentation, right after a post that discusses what “rules” and “associations” mean when it comes to a major division in brain systems. Don’t worry about understanding all of the information in the abstracts below, I will do that in the next four posts. For now I have bolded the bits having to do with the enhancements in TS. As I go through them I will try to paint a picture of what the associated brain anatomy and systems are thought to do in general human terms. I will also try to describe just what I thing TS is as a “thing” that applies to all of us.

[We ask ourselves, what is a “tourettic savant”? And how do they appreciate the world in greater resolution and detail the way that an autistic savant does? We provide a “translation” of each abstract blow it.]

Time processing in children with Tourette’s syndrome [20]

Tourette syndrome (TS) is characterized by dysfunctional connectivity between prefrontal cortex and sub-cortical structures, and altered meso-cortical and/or meso-striatal dopamine release. Since time processing is also regulated by fronto-striatal circuits and modulated by dopaminergic transmission, we hypothesized that time processing is abnormal in TS.

We compared time processing abilities between nine children with TS-only (i.e. without major psychiatric comorbidities) and 10 age-matched healthy children, employing a time reproduction task in which subjects actively reproduce different temporal intervals, and a time comparison task in which subjects judge whether a test interval is longer or shorter than a reference interval. IQ, sustained and divided attention, and working memory were assessed in both groups using the Leiter International Performance Scale-Revised, and the Digit Span sub-test of the WISC-R.

Children with TS-only reproduced in an overestimated fashion over-second, but not sub-second, time intervals. The precision of over-second intervals reproduction correlated with tic severity, in that the lower the tic severity, the closer the reproduction of over-second time intervals to their real duration. Time reproduction performance did not significantly correlate with IQ, attention and working memory measures in both groups. No differences between groups were documented in the time comparison task.

The improvement of time processing in children with TS-only seems specific for the over-second range of intervals, consistent with an enhancement in the ‘cognitively controlled’ timing system, which mainly processes longer duration intervals, and depends upon dysfunctional connectivity between the basal ganglia and the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex. The absence of between-group differences on time comparison, moreover, suggests that TS patients manifest a selective improvement of ‘motor’ timing abilities, rather than of perceptual time abilities. Our data also support an enhancement of cognitive control processes in TS children, probably facilitated by effortful tic suppression.

 [TS involves alterations to brain anatomy and physiology that are known to be involved in the processing of the sense of time. Researchers compared nine children with TS-only and ten similar “normal” children in the ability to estimate and reproduce subsecond (less than one second) and suprasecond (greater than one second) lengths of time. TS children reproduced suprasecond lengths of time with greater accuracy than controls suggesting enhancement of “motor timing” systems.]

Smooth Pursuit and Fixation Ability in Children With Tourette Syndrome [21]

The smooth pursuit eye movements and fixation ability of children aged 8 to 16 years with Tourette syndrome (TS) were examined.

Although several studies have examined the saccadic ability of patients with TS, there have been only a few studies examining pursuit ability in TS.

Pursuit gain (eye velocity/target velocity) and intrusive saccades during fixation were measured in children with TS-only, TS+attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and TS+ADHD+obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and in controls (8 to 16 y). Two pursuit tasks and 1 fixation task were used. In random pursuit 1 (RP1), each step and ramp cycle began from fixation; in random pursuit 2 (RP2), each cycle followed the next. In the fixation task, children were required to maintain fixation on a center dot and ignore distractor stimuli.

All children had significantly higher pursuit gains in RP2 than in RP1 when pursuing a 30 degrees/s moving target. In addition, in RP2, the TS+ADHD+OCD group displayed significantly higher pursuit gains relative to the TS-only, TS+ADHD, and control groups. In the fixation task, the TS+ADHD group exhibited significantly more intrusive saccades than the TS+ADHD+OCD and control groups.

Our findings support an enhanced oculomotor ability in the TS+ADHD+OCD group and the presence of an online gain control mechanism during ongoing pursuit. These findings are discussed in more detail.

[Now it gets trickier, some of these effects only show up when TS is combined with ADHD and OCD. I love biology…(no really)]

 [In an experiment designed to track how subjects were able to visually fix on and track targets, subjects with TS, ADHD and OCD were able to visually track targets with greater accuracy (defined as eye following target as it moves, “pursuit velocity gain”.]

Enhanced antisaccade abilities in children with Tourette syndrome: the Gap-effect Reversal [22]

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a childhood onset disorder of motor and vocal tics. The neural networks underlying TS overlap with those of saccade eye movements. Thus, deviations on saccadic tasks can provide important information about psychopathology of TS. Tourette syndrome often coexists with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Hence, we manipulated various components of a saccade task to measure its effects on saccades of children with TS-only, TS+ADHD, TS+ADHD+OCD and healthy controls. Children looked toward (prosaccade) or in the opposite direction (antisaccade) of a peripheral target as soon as it appeared. The prosaccade and antisaccade tasks were presented in three conditions. In the Gap200 condition, the fixation dot disappeared 200 ms prior to the appearance of the peripheral target, In the Gap800 condition, the fixation dot disappeared 800 ms prior to the appearance of the peripheral target and in Overlap200 the fixation dot disappeared 200 ms after the appearance of the peripheral target. Fixation-offset manipulations had different effects on each group’s antisaccades. The TS+ADHD+OCD group’s antisaccade latencies and error rates remained relatively unchanged in the three conditions and displayed a pattern of eye movements that can be interpreted as enhanced. Alternatively, the TS+ADHD group displayed an overall pattern of longer saccadic latencies. Findings corroborate the hypothesis that the combination of tic disorder and ADHD results in unique behavioral profiles. It is plausible that a subgroup of children with TS develop an adaptive ability to control their tics which generalizes to enhanced volitional control of saccadic behavior as well. Supporting evidence and other findings are discussed.

 [In an experiment designed to track how subjects were able to visually fix on and track targets, subjects with TS, ADHD and OCD were able to generate antisaccades (looking away from a peripheral target) at the same error rate (errors are looking in the wrong direction) in all trials. All other groups had error rates that increased as the time a central target was left behind before a peripheral target appeared increased. (The central target seems to interfere with locking onto the peripheral target).]

Speeded processing if grammar and tool knowledge in Tourette’s syndrome [23]

 Tourette’s syndrome (TS) is a developmental disorder characterized by motor and verbal tics. The tics, which are fast and involuntary, result from frontal/basal-ganglia abnormalities that lead to unsuppressed behaviors. Language has not been carefully examined in TS. We tested the processing of two basic aspects of language: idiosyncratic and rule-governed linguistic knowledge. Evidence suggests that idiosyncratic knowledge (e.g., in irregular past tense formation; bring-brought) is stored in a mental lexicon that depends on the temporal-lobe-based declarative memory system that also underlies conceptual knowledge. In contrast, evidence suggests that rule-governed combination (e.g., in regular past tenses; walk+-ed) takes place in a mental grammar that relies on the frontal/basal-ganglia-based procedural memory system, which also underlies motor skills such as how to use a hammer. We found that TS children were significantly faster than typically developing control children in producing rule-governed past tenses (slip-slipped, plim-plimmed, bring-bringed) but not irregular and other unpredictable past tenses (bring-brought, splim-splam). They were also faster than controls in naming pictures of manipulated (hammer) but not non-manipulated (elephant) items. These data were not explained by a wide range of potentially confounding subject- and item-level factors. The results suggest that the processing of procedurally based knowledge, both of grammar and of manipulated objects, is particularly speeded in TS. The frontal/basal-ganglia abnormalities may thus lead not only to tics, but also to a wider range of rapid behaviors, including the cognitive processing of rule-governed forms in language and other types of procedural knowledge.

[In an experiment that analyzed the abilities of children with TS to come up with novel word forms in the context of a sentence, TS children were faster at producing rule-governed past tenses then control children. In an experiment that analyzed how fast children with TS could name pictures of objects, children with TS were faster than controls at naming manipulated (like a tool) objects.]

[a] Racism, A Sociological Perspective by Nicki Lisa Cole at

[b] Why Black People can use the N-word: A Perspective by African American at Word. The Online Journal on African American English

[1] Negativity Bias. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 7/6/15 from

[2] Bias. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 7/6/2015 from

[3] Type I error (false positive error). In Wikipedia, retrieved on 7/6/15 from

[4] Type II error (false negative error). In Wikipedia, retrieved on 7/6/15 from

[5] Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 7/6/15 from

[6] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.

The American Psychiatric Association, May 18, 2013.

[7] Neurodevelopmental Disorder. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 7/6/2015 from

[8] Towards objectively quantifying sensory hypersensitivity: a pilot study of the “Ariana effect”.

Panagopoulos et al. PeerJ. 2013 Aug 1;1:e121.

[9] Talent in autism: hyper-systemizing, hyper-attention to detail and sensory hypersensitivity.

Baron-Cohen et al. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 May 27; 364(1522): 1377–1383.

[10] Inflectional morphology in high-functioning autism: Evidence for speeded grammatical processing.

Walenski et al. Res Autism Spectr Disord. 2014 Nov 1;8(11):1607-1621.

[11] Obsessions and Autism. At on 7/2/15.

[12] Tourette’s syndrome, trichotillomania, and obsessive-compulsive disorder: how closely are they related?

Ferrão et al. Psychiatry Res. 2009 Nov 30;170(1):32-42.

On a theoretical continuum of tics and compulsions, it can be hypothesized that a nodal point exists where the shift from“unintentional” to “intentional” repetitive behaviors takes place. Subjective experiences that precede these behaviors may be helpful in defining this demarcation (Miguel et al., 1995), and may be particularly useful to investigate in the subgroup of OCD with tics. OCD patients with tics often report compulsions not preceded by obsessions, and instead usually perform their repetitive behaviors to relieve sensory phenomena (i.e., bodily sensations, general feelings), or to reach a specific sensation or feeling “just-right” (Leckman et al., 1994; Miguel et al., 1995, 1997, 2000).
In terms of type of obsessive–compulsive symptoms, patients with OCD plus tics more frequently report intrusive violent, sexual, religious images/thoughts, somatic obsessions, counting rituals, tic-like compulsions, and hoarding (George et al., 1993; Holzer et al., 1994; Eapen et al.,1997; Petter et al.,1998; Swerdlowet al.,1999; Diniz et al., 2005). When symptoms are measured based on dimensions, the aggressive/ sexual/religious factor and the symmetry/ordering/arranging factor are also more frequently associated with the OCD plus tics subtype (Leckman et al., 1997; Hasler et al., 2005).

[12] The psychopathological spectrum of Gilles de la Tourette syndrome.

Cavanna et al. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Jul;37(6):1008-15.

Moreover, it has been observed that obsessive–compulsive symptoms in people with tics have their own character (Frankel et al., 1986; George et al., 1993). Compulsions tend to be more related to counting, symmetry and “just right” thoughts or actions. Typical examples of this include having to cross a door threshold in a certain manner, counting all the floor tiles in a room or having to perform a tic in a particular way (which can lead to repetitive tics). Intrusive aggressive or inappropriate sexual thoughts and images are relatively common in people with GTS, whilst the obsessive–compulsive symptoms in pure OCD tend to be more related to fears about contamination or harm coming to another person (e.g. Frankel et al., 1986; George et al., 1993; Cavanna et al., 2006b; Worbe et al., 2010). Frankel et al. (1986) reported that patients with GTS had significantly higher obsessional scores on a specially designed inventory when compared to controls. The obsessional items endorsed by GTS patients changed with increasing age, with younger patients endorsing more items to do with impulse control, and older subjects endorsing items about checking, arranging and fear of contamination. Cluster analysis of the inventory responses revealed a group of seven questions that were preferentially endorsed by GTS patients (blurting obscenities, counting compulsions, impulsions to hurt oneself) and eleven questions elicited high scores from OCD patients (ordering, arranging, routines, rituals, touching one’s body, obsessions about people hurting each other). George et al. (1993) showed that patients with GTS and co-morbid OCD have significantly more violent, sexual and symmetrical obsessions and more touching, blinking, counting, and self-damaging compulsions, compared to patients with OCD only, who have more obsessions concerning dirt or germs and more compulsions about cleaning. The phenomenological differences between the repetitive behaviours encountered in GTS and OCD have been consistently reported in further studies (e.g. Worbe et al., 2010). The current view is that GTS and OCD can share some neurobiological underpinnings, and that specific obsessive–compulsive symptoms are likely to be intrinsic to GTS (Robertson, 2000; Lombroso and Scahill, 2008; Cavanna et al., 2009a).

[14] Specialisterne company website “about” page, US branch.

Specialisterne (which translates from Danish as “The Specialists”) is an innovative social business concept originally founded in Denmark in 2004. Specialisterne is internationally recognized as the first and foremost example of how high functioning people with autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder) can become effectively included in society, and provide valuable, high quality services to their employers.

[15] A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D. From The New York Times by Richard A. Friedman on 10/31/14

[16] The Creative Gifts of ADHD. From Scientific American by Scott Barry Kaufman on 10/21/14

[17] Bother Me, I’m Thinking. From The Wall Street Journal by Jonah Lehrer on 2/19/11

[18] Up In Your Head: Can Having Tourette Syndrome Make You a Superior Athlete? On Yahoo News by Joseph Diaz and Lauren Effron on 8/14/2014

[19] Dr. Samuel Johnson. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 7/6/15 from

[20] Time processing in children with Tourette’s syndrome.

Vicario et al. Brain Cogn. 2010 Jun;73(1):28-34.

[21] Smooth pursuit and fixation ability in children with Tourette syndrome.

Tajik-Parvinchi et al. Cogn Behav Neurol. 2011 Dec;24(4):174-86.

[22] Enhanced antisaccade abilities in children with Tourette syndrome: the Gap-effect Reversal.

Tajik-Parvinchi et al. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Nov 13;7:768.

[23] Speeded processing of grammar and tool knowledge in Tourette’s syndrome.

Walenski et al. Neuropsychologia. 2007 Jun 18;45(11):2447-60.


Emotions and Omotions. Who has your puppet strings?

All that shit you feel in your head.

Emotions. we all know about them, but we really don’t know about them. What I mean by that is that we feel emotions and we largely understand what another person is talking about when they say they feel a certain way, but we don’t really pay attention to what we do when we act on them. We know that we hate what another person is arguing politically, but we don’t really have a very detailed view of how we approach them, understand what they are saying, and how we respond to them. When we get into details of how we act on emotions things get very interesting. This is especially true when you take an outside view of how we act and look for patterns in lots of situations.

In this entry I’m going to try to explain how I see emotions and social emotions structured, and then finish up by using that to show some of how I see people fight with words. Specifically how “fight/flight/freeze” seems to work when people are arguing and getting intense. Some of this might get a little abstract because I’m trying to symbolize things that we don’t normally think about in these terms. But I think it’s worth it because of how this relates to my grappling [1] metaphor for social conflict. I described it like this,

Instead of limbs, joints and whole body being used with force and torque, you have objects and meanings being manipulated with emotion and instinct. There are positive and negative emotions in there, of many intensities connected to many objects and people-objects. All to convince a person, and especially an audience, by plucking at social emotions.

Social emotions are one of the “joints” in this metaphor. Our language has lots of little “pivot points” where meaning and emotion as it relates to objects in language can be manipulated. The division of “one of us” and “one of them” in our minds twists the way we see many many things. We literally change our entire way of looking at information depending on who we are talking to or receiving information from (motivated reasoning [2]). That in-group/out-group psychology switch gets flipped back and forth on a regular basis results in some most interesting kinds of human hypocrisy and bullshit.

I’ve posted an image of a Plutarch wheel before, and this one is modified with some symbols and explanations below.

Modified Plutarch Wheel

Modified from: Wikipedia Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions by Machine Elf 1735.


A really simple definition of emotions that works for us here is that emotions are the sensations that have a role in binding perception into memory and are used in memory recall so we can know what to do with what we see based on past experience. Emotions are painted on what we see as what we feel. Here is what the symbols mean.

[(+) = positive, feels good/satisfying

(-) = negative feels bad/threatening

(>*) = approach/fight

(<*) = withdraw/flight

just to complete the set for the future

(~) = pause/freeze

I’m not sure how that last one works computationally but it might have to do with balanced or cancelled signals. Also there is an approach-fight, withdraw-flight spectrum. Probably a pause-freeze spectrum too.]

The horizontal and vertical axes are split into positive (feels good/satisfying) and negative (feels bad (-)/threatening) halves. And they are also split into approach/fight, withdraw/flight behaviors (low and high intensity versions). It includes the traditional names for many but not all emotional states, and as you can see they blend at the diagonals such that you both like and fear someone you admire.

These are how we feel about things. That term “feels about” is a quality statement, what you perceive leaves a felt mark on you. Good/bad or approach/withdraw is termed the valance of the emotion, and they have intensity. You like it (ecstasy-serenity), you don’t like it (grief-pensiveness), you hate it (rage-annoyance), you fear it (terror-apprehension). So far this should be intuitive for us. Now I want you to think out of the box.

[If you happen to have ADHD this might be easier for you because we are good “think out of the box” types because associated concepts are often as interesting to us as the central object in perception making tangents easy.]


Objects of Discussion

You are the box here and you must think outside of yourself. You have a pretty good idea what your emotions are to you and we all unconsciously act as if other humans perceive the world as we do. But what is the purpose of emotion to all of humanity? Your anger. Your happiness. Your sadness. Your ecstasy. These always have to do with other people around you as much as they have to do with you. Evolution frankly does not care about you and me all that much. What it cares about is the whole group. If you and me vanished the human race would just keep on going largely like it was and we don’t tend to pretend this is true because it terrifies many of us. But if you want to know reality and have the advantage of knowledge when you act you will put at least as much emphasis on what you are to the group and other individuals as well as what they are to you.

This article discusses a study where scientists developed techniques for detecting emotions in measured brain activity and the discovered that the three things that impact how you store (modulate) emotion in order of effectiveness is valance, intensity, and other people [3].

“We found that three main organizing factors underpinned the emotion neural signatures, namely the positive or negative valence of the emotion, its intensity — mild or strong, and its sociality — involvement or non-involvement of another person. This is how emotions are organized in the brain.”

[That’s right. I’m in your head. EVERYONE is in your head. Other people are literally creating patterns in your brain that can permanently alter the function and  structure of your brain and the beliefs and behavior of the mind it generates. Look on the bright side, you get to be in our head too which is why you should take all of this stuff seriously. Once you know about it you have some moral and ethical decisions to make. We certainly can’t unsee this stuff and would not want to.

What did you expect? We are networked biological computers and social primates.]

From good/bad emotional impressions, to emotional impressions that define objects.

I want you to think about things that act the same as emotions but store information about different qualities. I want you to think of emotions that define kinds of objects.  It’s a crappy term and I want a new one but lets call them omotions for now. Some of these omotions categorize simple objects that we encounter.


And we all self reference when trying to understand the world.


We encounter all sorts of objects.


(The “>*” and “<*” below is supposed to represent going towards or away from and object.)

(-)(>*)[Other]:pest insects

(+)(<*)[Other]:beautiful dangerous waterfall

(-)(<*)[Other]:forest fire

(-)(>*)[Other]:damaged tool

And at some point we discover that that some of these objects are like us.





Objectification as a concept is run on a brain system. So people discussing sexual objectification deserve your attention. Perception paints characteristics and qualities to define what we are perceiving, how we feel about it, and what we should do. But the concept of objectification is probably broader than that. Do racists objectify racial minorities? They only seem to care about them as objects and not people from what I see.]

I want you to imagine that those emotions are “tags” in a tagging system similar the tags that I apply to blog posts to organize them.


Omotions abd emotions

[This is a TS aside just for fun, “demonic lore”. Skip to the next part if you want.

There are a lot of anatomical differences in the brain between a person with TS and “average humanity”. Including the amygdala, what is often thought of as the “fear center” but is actually at least as involved in positive emotions as it is in negative emotions. We think of the amygdala [4] as the “writing head” and possibly “reading head” (I’m still doing reading) for your “hard drive” when it comes to emotional signatures. Our amygdala is… different [5]. One relevant part (basolateral complex) has something to do with “emotional, aversive, and discriminative learning”,  “reinforcers”, “reward anticipation”, “behavior suppression”, and “modulation”. And the other part (central nucleus) has something to do with emotional and autonomic (intensity, fight/flight/freeze type stuff) motor behavior.

Fun stuff.]

Your brain paints omotions and emotions onto what you perceive as you experience reality so that you know what it is to you and how you relate to it now based on how you related to it in the past. Those tags determine how the experience is stored and what you will feel about future perceptions that relate to the past experience so you can determine what/who something is and how to feel about it.

Did you notice that “(not like)[Me]” on the figure instead of just nothing for non-person objects? I’ll explain that below.

Confusing “(-)[Other](like)[Me]” with “(-)[Other]”. Descending into hypocrisy and irrationality.

Social emotions are critical in psychological differences in behavior between a person’s in-group and out-group (“my people” versus “those people”). Those emotions are part of why logical fallacies work. Consider the ad hominem fallacy [6]. Dismissing another person’s argument because of an irrelevant characteristic often occurs after someone finds out the other person is a feminist, a republican, a democrat, a conservative, a liberal, a libertarian, a communist, a socialist and any number of other groups. Would you think that someone should dismiss what you have to say just because you are on a particular part of the political spectrum or with a particular group? Of course not.

Ad hominem

Yet for many people the rules for “us” change when it’s one of “them”. Somehow the fact that you feel bad about the other person is all you need to render them literally “not like me”. This could either mean that a person never learned to see another person as the same as them socially, or they are suppressing the omotions that make them see the other person as the same as them socially. So that “(like)[Me]” up there is basically equivalent to empathy.

I can’t say what all of the differences are but “(not like)[Me]” and the total absence of any category for things being (like/unlike) [Me] are probably different. But for now I will concentrate on “(not like)[Me]” because I suspect that the absence version is a severe thing (perhaps equivalent to psychopathy).

[Want to feel how they work? Consider a Conservative Republican Christian Male White terrorist, or a Liberal Democrat Atheist Male White terrorist. Consider the fact that all women experience sexism from men.

I bet a bunch of you just felt a surge of “something” inside.  Was that “something” anger? Was it attached to anything interesting? Did the urge to say “Not all Republicans!” or “Not all Whites!” or “Not all Men!” come to mind? Yet I did not say that all of all of those groups do anything. I described a person that has existed and does exist, and what women experience. All that happened because from your perspective I chose not to textually separate a group you are part of from something terrible. Sucks how manipulable we are huh?

Who has your puppet strings? You? Or Us…]

A spectrum of strategies in offense, defense, evasion, redirection and more.

This final section involves a set of patterns that I have seen in human social conflict that involve the object of discussion, the object that is the opponents and the object that is the audience. These patterns are like specific “moves” in fighting like a punch, block or throw. That object of discussion can take many forms, but the emotional rules are the same. Good/Bad, Intensity and social emotions are the primary things affecting what one feels about the object and shapes how they “choose” to respond.

Moving towards or away from an object that someone likes or dislikes will occur depending on the people involved and how they respond to one another AND the audience. An honest and reasonable opponent willing to engage in a social exchange in control of themselves and their reasoning and logical skills will engage in a fair fight. A dishonest and unreasonable opponent unwilling to engage in a social exchange who is not in control of their reasoning and logical skills will not engage in a fair fight.

One of the issues I’ve seen people fight over the most lately is rape and sexual harassment.

[We are naturally attracted to concentrations of social tension and conflict. Why avoid the big stuff now?]

Objects of importance in an argument.

The 5 most important object categories to keep in mind in a conflict in progress are:

1) You.

2) Your opponent(s).

3) The object(s) of discussion.

4) The audience.

5) The emotions and omotions each person associates with the object(s) of discussion.

I will note at this time that this is not like what is often termed “objectification” because the idea here is to talk about how your brain and mind literally create objects such as people that you see as having equal worth to yourself. A “non-‘objectified’ object” would be an opponent that you respect in a way that would cause you to treat them as you want to be treated including avoiding fallacious reasoning and logic.

1) You must consider yourself an object as much as any other. This is how you learn to strip bias away from what you choose to do in a social conflict. You must practice self objectifying by learning to identify it when you use reasoning that you would not want used on you. You literally have to make a mental simulation of yourself to do effective introspection.

2) Naturally they are the human object you are interacting with using language to create conceptual objects of discussion.

3) These can be anything conceptually. Literally every word of text can be an object in analysis of an argument. But there will be a central object, supporting objects, reasoning and logic (which are often objects when showing why someone is wrong).

4) This is virtually always a factor on the internet. The audience is always a psychological pressure that drives a lot of fallacious reasoning and logic, and other emotion-driven behavior. The general nature of the problem is “winning instead of being correct”. You want to be correct and win, in that order.

5) This is the point of this blog post. The (emotion)[omotion] combination drives perception, memory and behavior. Race, sex, gender, religion, political party, and more are all omotionally painted on what opponents perceive of one another. It drives your behavior and theirs. The trick is to make sure social groups are only used in reason, logic and rhetoric when relevant.


The relationship of the object with emotions and an “abstract/concrete filter”.

So let’s get to our example, solving the rape and sexual harassment problem. Many omotional connections have driven behavior. Rape and sexual harassment drive very strong emotions and reactions with respect to rape as a conceptual object as a concept or in specific examples. Logical fallacies are easy, these examples are about what look like social strategies with respect to topics that rouse intense emotions. What is worse is that they can be consciously or unconsciously done with respect to hurting people and making social problems worse (or not making them better at best).

I’m introducing something new here, I’m going to try calling it the abstract/concrete filter. This is essentially how specific or general someone is being about the object of discussion. An abstract concept and specific (concrete) examples are one way that this plays out. People will be abstract or specific depending on honesty and strategic needs.

Here are some examples of how I have seen it play out.

(-)(<*)[Concept of Rape]: If a person feels the object/subject threatening, such as someone with a relative who might have raped someone, one way to attack people trying to solve the rape problem is to stay in the abstract realms and avoid all discussion of specifics. If someone stays in the abstract realms they can bring up endless examples to counter what someone is talking about because you are dealing with a variable that can be endlessly replaced. If they were forced to actually deal with the specific, the conversation would turn to actual solving of rape which would not be in their strategic interests.

[The fear makes a person acting like a predator in communication avoid specifics about what they fear. If they stay abstract and ignore the specifics of their opponent they avoid what they fear and can keep doubting, minimizing, redirecting and more until their opponent is exhausted. What is worse is that they may not even know they are being predatory while retreating. That is a vulnerability :)]

(-)(<*)[rape]and(+)(>*)[public discussion]: A person interested in emotional dominance displays on people who want to solve the rape problem would attempt to foster public philosophical discussions that portray rape as a positive. One example is “If you had to rape to save the human race is this a moral good?” Seeing rape treated casually and positively is deeply hurtful to rape victims and their allies, yet privilege makes many unaware of this so the appeal to “Can’t we discuss a philosophical question without getting attacked?” can seem reasonable to some. This makes a rape victim or ally feel powerless if this occurs successfully or without social opposition/criticism. Again, since it’s a philosophical question it’s abstract so games can be played.

[The person thinking they are doing good here may be suffering from “They can’t tell me not to discuss rape philosophically!” The actual rapist would be enjoying the fact that they are triggering victims and allies. It might even be a mix. Human cruelty is often not straightforward unfortunately.]

Basically if someone finds something threatening and they are not in control of their emotions they will get general about things that “help the enemy” and specific about things that “hurt the enemy”. But it’s not as simple as how a rapist or a person who fears for a rapist might behave online. People with privilege such as white males like me will often get specific in ways that are harmful to people and what they are trying to express or change in society. For example:

(+)or (-)(>*)[Topic Subject Tangent]: At a social events about solving rape or sexual harassment people (males most often) asking questions often bring up what they experience in a way that subtracts from the overall message of the event. They make it about themselves and do not create a way for their experience to add to the event and the experiences of people effected by rape.

[This is mostly people used to being the center of attention acting like they are used to acting. They think everyone is interested in what they have to say or their experience instead of something that might actually solve the problem. I’m sure there is a “hidden rapist/harasser” in here somewhere but my predatory aspects have not been ready to speak casually about that.]

 There is a lot more than this. These are only some of the things that I notice about how people fight with words and how the emotions are arranged. I hope to flesh these ideas out a lot more in the future so if anyone thinks they see a hostile, unwanted or unfriendly strategy/behavior that fits in here feel free to offer example. What we see in other people is the only way these things get figured out.

The shit I do* to expel emotions related to all that fear and aggression I see…

[*Yeah some of the visuals are questionable in terms of facts, but I love the song.]


[1] Grappling. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 6/20/2015 from

[2] Motivated Reasoning. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 6/20/2015 from

[3] Scientists identify emotions based on brain activity. On Science Daily June 19, 2013 at

[4] Amygdala. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 6/20/2015 from

[5] Morphologic features of the amygdala and hippocampus in children and adults with Tourette syndrome.

Peterson et al 2007. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Nov;64(11):1281-91.

[6] Ad Hominem Fallacy. On Wikipedia, retrieved on 6/20/2015 from