Friday, October 19, 2007

Ask A Stupid Question...

I just e-mailed the take-home portion of my Psychological Assessment midterm to the professor, and now I have completed midterms.

I had a test on the construct and measurement of intelligence yesterday in that class.

I also had a presentation on the reliability of motoneurons in the pontine nuclei for Neuroanatomy and Physiology. I did quite well on the presentation and actually managed to generate some discussion. It was an interesting paper and I enjoyed it.

I don't know how I did in the Psychological Assessment exam.

I find that I am having trouble changing the "set" (as they call it in psychology) from Neuroscience to Psychology as I run from one to the other. The neuroscience classes tend to have a very tightly focused research orientation and the psychology class seems to be looser and more clinically based. Also the culture of the departments is different, especially with respect to the interactions between students and professors.

It gets really difficult for me to change my set when the subjects interact, as they did on Tuesday, when in Psychology, the professor did a presentation on basic brain anatomy. At one point he was discussing the Pons and he said that injuries to the Pons tends to cause widespread neurological problems due to the importance of the Reticular Formation to the function of the higher centers.

I was excited by his comments. At last! Something that I could relate to my other class. I was, after all, in the middle of developing my PowerPoint for the Hu paper on the Pons. My focus, alas, was on that research, so I asked the following:
"Do clinicians look for visual-motor signs that could indicate Pontine Reticular Formation damage? Like problems with saccades?"

The professor paused for a moment and gave me a funny look.
Then he said: "Well, generally people with massive damage to the Pons are either dying or dead."

The class giggled. I felt like a total idiot. I was thinking of the research level, in which induced lesions in the deep nuclei of the Pons are shown to have specific effects on saccades--which are a quick movements of both eyes in the same direction in order to direct focus at a new stimulus. But the good professor was talking about clinical situations in which a person suffered massive head trauma. And anyway, he was introducing general brain anatomy to the class. He wasn't interested in tightly focused details. We were talking on completely different wavelengths.

I didn't get the social cues. At times like these, I am sure that the apple does not fall far from the tree. N. has Aspergers, an Autism Spectrum Disorder. I can see that I do display the Broader Autistic Phenotype, as Tony Attwood calls it. This is probably why I do better in neuroscience than in psychology.

And you know what they say:

'Ask a stupid question and you get a stupid answer.'

That's exactly what happened.

Naturally, my curiousity led me to take a look at Kandel--our neuroscience text.

It turns out that there are two problems that can arise from lesions in the Pontine Reticular Formation that can lead to visual motor problems.

One is nystagmus--the inability of the eye to fix on a stimulus after saccading to it. This means unwanted, repetitive saccades because although commands are coming from the frontal lobes to pay attention to certain sights and sounds and not others, the visual-motor neurons are compromised and cannot carry them out.

The other is seen in patients with MS. It is called internuclear ophthalmoplegia, and is caused by dysfunction of the motor commands to the medial rectus muscle--the one on the side of the eye nearest to the nose--but only when it moves laterally in saccades.

You see, I asked a stupid question. That is, wrong focus, wrong time, wrong place.
And I got a stupid answer. That is, one not directed to the level at which I was asking the question.

I did learn from it.

But I am especially mortified because as we talked about intelligence tests and the concept of intelligence, this professor specifically stated that understanding social situations--that is issue like "set"-- are an important component of intelligence.

I guess that makes the somewhat socially inept, technical geniuses in my family...stupid.

What we need to do is make a new movie in which introverted neuroscience grad students take over the psychology department by virtue of their higher performance IQs.

We could call it Revenge of the Geeks!


Mama Squirrel said...

Oh no, definitely not stupid!

And your post has been most educational. (grin) Thanks for sharing your own studies, irony included!

Rebecca said...

Actually, I also thought your question was pretty relevant -- wouldn't a clinical psychologist want to be aware of physical symptoms which might indicate a referral to a neurologist? That's where the research meets the road, isn't it?

"...he said that injuries to the Pons tends to cause widespread neurological problems due to the importance of the Reticular Formation to the function of the higher centers." Hmmm...seems like its your professor who is not reading social cues if he expected his listeners to glean from *that* that he was talking about a dead person. Since when does "widespread neurological problems" equal "dead or dying"?! I'll bet you weren't the only person in the room who wasn't clear on that point!!!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

My guess is that our good professor was surprised by the question because it was on a level that he was not prepared to present and assumed knowledge that he cannot be sure everyone in the class has.

I do think it would be come for a clinical psychologist to know this stuff so that they can catch it if they are testing, but the conditions I was asking about are rare.

Since I popped up with this question which was outside the class "set" and not in keeping with culture of the department, I think I was the one not reading the appropriate social cues.

I find this stuff so interesting that I assume discussion format, although this was not the case. I did it again today, too. And again, I was thinking on a level of detail beyond what we were talking about.

I guess I am just the resident BAP of the class!