Fwd: With goggles, 'split-brain' theory comes into focus

From: Wade T.Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Date: Thu Apr 04 2002 - 01:20:02 BST

  • Next message: Steve Drew: "Re: Wildebeest !!"

    Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id BAA23079 (8.6.9/5.3[ref pg@gmsl.co.uk] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from fmb-majordomo@mmu.ac.uk); Thu, 4 Apr 2002 01:25:57 +0100
    Date: Wed, 3 Apr 2002 19:20:02 -0500
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed
    Subject: Fwd: With goggles, 'split-brain' theory comes into focus 
    From: "Wade T.Smith" <wade_smith@harvard.edu>
    To: Memetics Listserv <memetics@mmu.ac.uk>
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
    Message-Id: <B4F7A386-4761-11D6-8174-003065B9A95A@harvard.edu>
    X-Mailer: Apple Mail (2.481)
    Sender: fmb-majordomo@mmu.ac.uk
    Precedence: bulk
    Reply-To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk

    With goggles, 'split-brain' theory comes into focus

    By Ellen Barry, Globe Staff, 4/2/2002


    For years, as the age of psychoanalysis gave way to the age of
    neurobiology, Frederic Schiffer has labored alone on an idea about the

    In his Newton office, he would fit patients with odd-looking wraparound
    goggles blocking light completely from one side. With vision stimulating
    first one side of the brain and then the other, he would explore
    differences that emerged. He would set up left-brain-right-brain
    dialogues he describes as ''couples therapy.'' Sometimes he called the
    hemispheres by different names, and told them not to pick on each other.
    His colleagues, he said, tended to ''stand off and snicker.''

    ''The goggles just are unappealing to academics,'' said Schiffer, an
    associate attending psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Belmont. ''They
    think they're kind of weird.''

    But new research shows that Schiffer's results bear some striking
    similarities to results for a promising new treatment for depression.
    Patients who felt happier when Schiffer's goggles forced them to look
    right were also more likely to improve when their left brains were
    ''tickled'' by a magnetic pulse, according to a new study by Schiffer
    and Alvaro Pascual-Leone, a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical
    Center, published in the March issue of Neuropsychiatry,
    Neuropsychology, and Behavioral Neurology.

    And, while Pascual-Leone cautions that the correlation between his own
    results and Schiffer's was more a ''tantalizing curiosity'' than a
    breakthrough, he said the links were strong enough that Schiffer's
    goggles deserve more research.

    Brain researchers have explored the split between the brain's two
    hemispheres for hundreds of years. In the 1960s, Roger Sperry observed
    patients whose nerve fibers had been severed, separating the two
    hemispheres completely, and began sketching which side controlled
    particular cognitive tasks. The left side, they concluded, seems to
    house language skills, analytical and categorization tasks; the right
    has been widely associated with novelty, creativity and sometimes

    By the 1980s, motivational speakers and pop psychologists urged people
    to draw - or cook, or manage employees - using their repressed right

    The stark right-brain, left-brain dichotomy has been dismissed by most
    scientists as simplistic quasi-science, but neurologists have never lost
    interest in ''laterality'' and whether an inbalance can lead to
    psychiatric symptoms. Electroconvulsive therapy, regarded by some
    psychiatrists as a very effective treatment of depression, is frequently
    used on a single nondominant side of the brain in order to stimulate it
    into activity.

    Schiffer's research falls distinctly outside the norm, though. Not only
    does he believe that one hemisphere of the brain can be more active than
    the other, he believes that they house separate personalities that
    sometimes wage a battle for dominance. Seven years ago, he brought this
    theory into practice by intentionally stimulating one side of the brain
    during a therapy sesssion.

    In about 30 percent of subjects, he reported instantaneous dramatic
    results: With goggles blocking light on one side, and then flipped
    around to block the other, the patient would report completely different
    emotions and perceptions. Gradually, Schiffer concluded that many of his
    patients had one underdeveloped personality that resided in one
    hemisphere and could be treated intensively when the subject was wearing
    the goggles. By stimulating the healthier half, he thought it was
    possible to alleviate depression.

    ''What I think is useful to me as a clinician is the concept of an
    intact, immature mind,'' he said. ''It's not just an id, it's a real,
    live person you can relate to.''

    Schiffer presented his theory in his 1998 book ''Of Two Minds: The
    Revolutionary Science of Dual-Brain Psychology,'' and was featured on
    the TV news magazine ''20/20'' - but to his disappointment, the work
    failed to attract other researchers. He knew that it had not been
    submitted to the rigorous, randomized double-blind studies that bring
    new techniques into the mainstream. But he did not expect attacks from
    critics like Emory University psychology professor Scott Lilienfeld, who
    complained angrily to ''20/20'' that goggle therapy was ''entirely
    unsubstantiated as a psychological treatment'' and should not be widely

    ''It sounds simplistic. People don't like simplistic,'' said Marcel
    Kinsbourne, a professor of cognitive studies at Tufts University. ''It's
    done clinically in his office in Newton. When it was presented, it was
    done very casually. That doesn't mean it's not right.''

    Meanwhile, prestigious laboratories were investigating brain laterality.
    There was increasing excitement about transcranial magnetic stimulation,
    or TMS, in which a pulsed magnetic field is passed from a hand-held coil
    through the skull to stimulate electric activity in the brain. Painless
    magnetic fields focused on the frontal lobe are said to have
    antidepressant effects similar to electroconvulsive therapy. Approved as
    a depression treatment in Canada, Israel and parts of Europe, TMS is
    still a ''nonestablished method'' in this country, said Pascual-Leone,
    who had researched the technique in Spain before moving to Boston.

    Certain that the effects of TMS on one hemisphere would mirror the
    effects of visual stimulation, Schiffer dropped off a pair of his
    goggles to Pascual-Leone's office five years ago. He made this
    prediction: Subjects who responded strongly to left-side visual
    stimulus - meaning their right brain was activated - would also respond
    to right-side TMS.

    Pascual-Leone tested the glasses on 37 depressed patients, and found
    that 20 reported an improved mood when stimulus was directed to their
    left brain, and 15 felt worse. After two weeks of TMS, the first 20 felt
    42 percent less depressed, as measured by the Hamilton Depression Rating
    Scale. The second 15 reported a much smaller improvement of 11 percent.

    ''I was actually surprised to see it,'' said Pascual-Leone. ''Of course
    it is exactly the prediction Fred Schiffer could and did make.''

    As interesting as the corellation is, Pascual-Leone said, it's
    ''difficult from a physiological point of view what it means'' until one
    method or the other is more thoroughly tested.

    Schiffer said he hopes that the correlation will finally attract
    researchers to his thesis - and popularize the use of goggles in
    therapy. But he knows, from years of trying, that launching a new idea
    will always be an uphill battle.

    ''I got a call last week from someone who gets good results with a
    colored strobe light,'' Schiffer said. ''I'm busy, I don't have time to
    pursue it. You have to have some really compelling notion to pull people
    away from their own work.''

    Ellen Barry can be reached by e-mail at barry@globe.com.

    This story ran on page C7 of the Boston Globe on 4/2/2002.
    Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

    ===============================This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    see: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Apr 04 2002 - 01:36:49 BST