Flashback Friday: Did Gollum have schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder?

By Seriously Science | December 19, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Sara

Photo: flickr/Sara

To round out our week of BMJ Christmas Issue articles, here’s a classic from 2004 in which a group of medical students attempt to diagnose Gollum’s issues. After reasoning through a number of possible diagnoses, ranging from vitamin deficiency (also discussed elsewhere in the literature) to hyperthyroidism, they conclude that Gollum likely suffered from schizoid personality disorder.  Good thing we finally straightened that out.

A precious case from Middle Earth.

“Sméagol (Gollum) is a single, 587 year old, hobbit-like male of no fixed abode. He has presented with antisocial behaviour, increasing aggression, and preoccupation with the “one ring.”… …His forensic history consists of Deagol’s murder and the attempted murder of Samwise Gamgee. He has no history of substance misuse, although like many young hobbits he smoked “pipe weed” in adolescence. Sméagol has forgotten many memories of his childhood, and we have limited collateral history on his premorbid personality. Before obtaining the ring he was an inquisitive child with odd interests, who enjoyed causing mischief and solitary activities such as burrowing under trees to look at roots. He dislikes himself, stale raw fish, and “hobbitses.”

Several differential diagnoses need to be considered, and we should exclude organic causes for his symptoms. A space occupying lesion such as a brain tumour is unlikely as his symptoms are long standing. Gollum’s diet is extremely limited, consisting only of raw fish. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may cause irritability, delusions, and paranoia. His reduced appetite and loss of hair and weight may be associated with iron deficiency anaemia. He is hypervigilant and does not seem to need much sleep. This, accompanied by his bulging eyes and weight loss, suggests hyperthyroidism. Gollum’s dislike of sunlight may be due to the photosensitivity of porphyria. Attacks may be induced by starvation and accompanied by paranoid psychosis.

An internet search found over 1300 sites discussing the nature of Gollum’s “mental illness.” We asked 30 randomly selected medical students if they thought Gollum had a mental illness. Schizophrenia was the most common diagnosis (25 students), followed by multiple personality disorder (three). On initial consideration schizophrenia seems a reasonable diagnosis. However, in the context of the culture at the time it is unlikely. Delusions are false, unshakeable beliefs, not in keeping with the patient’s culture. In Middle Earth, the power of the ring is a reality. The passivity phenomena Gollum experiences are caused by the ring, and these symptoms occur in all ring bearers. Gollum does not fulfil the ICD-10 criteria for the diagnosis of schizophrenia…

…Gollum displays pervasive maladaptive behaviour that has been present since childhood with a persistent disease course. His odd interests and spiteful behaviour have led to difficulty in forming friendships and have caused distress to others. He fulfils seven of the nine criteria for schizoid personality disorder (ICD F60.1), and, if we must label Gollum’s problems, we believe that this is the most likely diagnosis.”

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Did Sauron lose because he didn’t give his orcs vitamins?
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: BMJ week, feelings shmeelings

BMJ Week: Do you know what your kids are watching? Study finds children’s movies rife with MURDER!

By Seriously Science | December 18, 2014 6:00 am


It’s that time of year again: the British Medical Journal‘s Christmas Edition is out, featuring some of the most hilarious research published since… well, since forever! All this week, we will be featuring the best of this and past years’ BMJ Christmas research articles to get you in the holiday spirit.

Today, the focus is on kids’ animated films. I never really realized how dark and violent some cartoons were until I watched them with my toddler. Apparently, these researchers had the same experience, because they set out to quantitatively measure how much death occurs in kids’ vs. adults’ films. By comparing 45 animated films and 90 dramatic adult films, they discovered that important characters, including parents, in children’s animated films were more likely to die compared with characters in adult films.  The form of death was also often gruesome: “our sample of animated films included three gunshot deaths (Bambi, Peter Pan, Pocahontas), two stabbings (Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid), and five animal attacks (A Bug’s Life, The Croods, How to Train Your Dragon, Finding Nemo, Tarzan), suggesting grisly deaths are common in films for children.” Do you have suggestions for movies that don’t require you to explain the nature of mortality to your 3-year-old? Share them in the comments!

CARTOONS KILL: casualties in animated recreational theater in an objective observational new study of kids’ introduction to loss of life

Objectives To assess the risk of on-screen death of important characters in children’s animated films versus dramatic films for adults.

Design Kaplan-Meier survival analysis with Cox regression comparing time to first on-screen death.

Setting Authors’ television screens, with and without popcorn.

Participants Important characters in 45 top grossing children’s animated films and a comparison group of 90 top grossing dramatic films for adults.

Main outcome measures Time to first on-screen death.

Results Important characters in children’s animated films were at an increased risk of death compared with characters in dramatic films for adults (hazard ratio 2.52, 95% confidence interval 1.30 to 4.90). Risk of on-screen murder of important characters was higher in children’s animated films than in comparison films (2.78, 1.02 to 7.58).

Conclusions Rather than being the innocuous form of entertainment they are assumed to be, children’s animated films are rife with on-screen death and murder.”

Bonus figure from the full text:

Survival curves for parents of protagonists in animated versus comparison films

Survival curves for parents of protagonists in animated versus comparison films

Related content:
How to make people think random Disney characters are creepy.
Scientists finally explain why your grandma will never find “Borat” funny.
NCBI ROFL: A scientific analysis of kids in a candy store.


BMJ Week: Finally, we know why the magazines in your doctor’s waiting room are so old.

By Seriously Science | December 17, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/striatic

Photo: flickr/striatic

It’s that time of year again: the British Medical Journal‘s Christmas Edition is out, featuring some of the most hilarious research published since… well, since forever! All this week, we will be featuring the best of this and past years’ BMJ Christmas research articles to get you in the holiday spirit.

In today’s gem of a study, the researchers set out to determine why all of the magazines in doctor waiting rooms are old. You might guess that it’s just because someone dumped a bunch of magazines on the coffee table back in 2010 and no one has replaced them since. But no — according to this study, in which the researchers tracked waiting room magazines over the course of a month, the magazines tend to be old because most of the newer magazines actually get stolen! In particular, the authors found that “gossipy” magazines (e.g.People and US) are more likely to get stolen, prompting them to suggest that offices only stock “non-gossipy” magazines if they want to keep their reading material current. Might we humbly suggest Discover Magazine?

An exploration of the basis for patient complaints about the oldness of magazines in practice waiting rooms: cohort study

Objective To explore the basis for patient complaints about the oldness of most magazines in practice waiting rooms.

Design Cohort study.

Setting Waiting room of a general practice in Auckland, New Zealand.

Participants 87 magazines stacked into three mixed piles and placed in the waiting room: this included non-gossipy magazines (Time magazine, the Economist, Australian Women’s Weekly, National Geographic, BBC History) and gossipy ones (not identified for fear of litigation). Gossipy was defined as having five or more photographs of celebrities on the front cover and most gossipy as having up to 10 such images.

Interventions The magazines were marked with a unique number on the back cover, placed in three piles in the waiting room, and monitored twice weekly.

Main outcome measures Disappearance of magazines less than 2 months old versus magazines 3-12 months old, the overall rate of loss of magazines, and the rate of loss of gossipy versus non-gossipy magazines.

Results 47 of the 82 magazines with a visible date on the front cover were aged less than 2 months. 28 of these 47 (60%) magazines and 10 of the 35 (29%) older magazines disappeared (P=0.002). After 31 days, 41 of the 87 (47%, 95% confidence interval 37% to 58%) magazines had disappeared. None of the 19 non-gossipy magazines (the Economist and Time magazine) had disappeared compared with 26 of the 27 (96%) gossipy magazines (P<0.001). All 15 of the most gossipy magazines and all 19 of the non-gossipy magazines had disappeared by 31 days. The study was terminated at this point.

Conclusions General practice waiting rooms contain mainly old magazines. This phenomenon relates to the disappearance of the magazines rather than to the supply of old ones. Gossipy magazines were more likely to disappear than non-gossipy ones. On the grounds of cost we advise practices to supply old copies of non-gossipy magazines. A waiting room science curriculum is urgently needed.”

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NCBI ROFL: Who needs a doctor when you have Facebook?
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NCBI ROFL: Finally, a male contraceptive: behold the ball cozy!


BMJ Week: Sword swallowing and its side effects.

By Seriously Science | December 16, 2014 6:00 am
spacing is important

Fig 1: One of the authors (DM) swallowing seven swords.

It’s that time of year again: the British Medical Journal‘s Christmas Edition is out, featuring some of the most hilarious research published since… well, since forever! All this week, we will be featuring the best of this and past years’ BMJ Christmas Research Articles to get you in the holiday spirit. Enjoy!

Sword swallowing and its side effects.

“OBJECTIVE: To evaluate information on the practice and associated ill effects of sword swallowing. DESIGN: Letters sent to sword swallowers requesting information on technique and complications. SETTING: Membership lists of the Sword Swallowers’ Association International. Read More


BMJ Week: Sex disparity of the Darwin Awards supports the Male Idiot Theory (MIT).

By Seriously Science | December 15, 2014 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Xuilla

Image: Flickr/Xuilla

It’s that time of year again: the British Medical Journal‘s Christmas Edition is out, featuring some of the most hilarious research published since… well, since forever! All this week, we will be featuring the best of this and past years’ BMJ Christmas Research Articles to get you in the holiday spirit. To get things started, we present a paper from this year’s edition that investigates sex differences in Darwin Award winners. The writing is pretty great, so we will let the authors introduce it in their own words. Enjoy!

The Darwin Awards: sex differences in idiotic behaviour.

“Sex differences in risk seeking behaviour, emergency hospital admissions, and mortality are well documented. However, little is known about sex differences in idiotic risk taking behaviour. Read More


Flashback Friday: Chest waxers beware: body hair protects against bedbugs.

By Seriously Science | December 12, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/vince42

Photo: flickr/vince42

Scientists have long speculated about why humans have so little body hair compared with other primates. (The most widely accepted explanation is that less body hair allowed for more efficient cooling on the savannahs where humans evolved.) However, less attention has been paid to the fine coating of hair that we have retained. In this study, the researchers set out to test their hypothesis that our fine body hair serves to defend us against “ectoparasites”–that is, bloodsucking insects like bedbugs. To do so, they shaved one arm of each subject and then released a bedbug onto each arm (one shaved, one unshaved). The researchers then asked the subjects to count how often they “perceived the presence of something on their arm” (see full methods description below). Turns out that shaving the arms not only made it easier for the bedbugs to bite, but also made them harder to detect. This makes intuitive sense–the tiny hairs on your arm obstruct the bug’s passage and make it more likely that you’ll feel it moving around. The authors conclude that body hair might have been kept for precisely this reason. Something to consider the next time you head to the waxing salon…

Human fine body hair enhances ectoparasite detection

“Although we are relatively naked in comparison with other primates, the human body is covered in a layer of fine hair (vellus and terminal hair) at a relatively high follicular density. There are relatively few explanations for the evolutionary maintenance of this type of human hair. Here, we experimentally test the hypothesis that human fine body hair plays a defensive function against ectoparasites (bed bugs). Read More

High heels scientifically proven to increase women’s attractiveness.

By Seriously Science | December 11, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/fashionbyhe

Photo: flickr/fashionbyhe

If you’ve ever worn high heels, you know that most people don’t wear them for fun. They tend to hurt your feet and cause all kinds of foot and ankle problems for women who wear them often. Clearly, people torture themselves with footwear because they think it makes them more attractive. But does it? Well, this researcher (who you might recognize from such classics as “Bust size and hitchhiking: a field study“) took it upon himself to scientifically test this hypothesis. He had a “19-year-old female confederate” wear shoes with varying heights of heels and tested whether people were more likely to help her by filling out a survey or picking up a dropped glove. As you might have guessed, the heels did make a difference: the higher the heels, the more likely men–but not women–were to help. In the final experiment, the woman sat in a bar and timed how long it took before a man hit on her. On average it took 7 minutes for a man to hit on the woman in high heels, but 13 minutes for the same woman in low heels (in case you were wondering, the study was done in France). The author concludes by speculating on the reasons that high heels make a woman more attractive: Do they make her feet smaller and youthful-looking? Do people just associate high heels with sexiness? In our opinion, he left out an important possibility: maybe people just feel sorry for someone hobbled, even if they did it to themselves.

High Heels Increase Women’s Attractiveness

“Research has found that the appearance of women’s apparel helps increase their attractiveness as rated by men and that men care more about physical features in potential opposite-sex mates. However, the effect of sartorial appearance has received little interest from scientists. In a series of studies, the length of women’s shoe heels was examined. Read More

How do you tell if your cow is feeling emotional? Just feel her nose!

By Seriously Science | December 10, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/purpleslog

Photo: flickr/purpleslog

A critical part of improving the treatment of animals involves minimizing their distress as much as possible. But while it can be obvious when an animal is in pain, knowing when an animal is happy can be more difficult. In this study, the authors observe that the temperature of a cow’s nose goes down when it is experiencing positive emotions (in this case, enjoying being petted — yes, apparently even cows like teh pets!). However, this finding is complicated by the fact that nasal temperatures also go down when animals are experiencing negative emotions. Not to have a cow about it, but it looks like figuring out how to differentiate between different emotions will have to wait for future research; until then, let’s go pet some cows!

Nasal temperatures in dairy cows are influenced by positive emotional state

“Understanding how animals express positive emotions is an important area of focus for animal welfare science, yet it is widely neglected. Emotions can be either positive or negative in valence, depending on the rewarding or punishing nature of the stimulus, and they can vary in the degree of arousal or excitement. Previous literature has shown a strong connection between peripheral temperatures and high arousal, negative experiences. Stress, fear and frustration have all been found to cause a drop in peripheral temperature. Little is known however, about whether the experience of positive emotions affects peripheral temperatures. In this study we sought to identify whether the nasal temperature of cows was affected by emotions, and if nasal temperature could be reliably used as a measure of emotional state in cows. We induced a positive, low arousal emotional state by stroking cows in preferred regions, in a similar manner to allogrooming. We performed 350 full focal observations, each comprising three conditions; pre-stroking, stroking, and post-stroking. During each 15 minute focal observation we remotely took the focal cow’s nasal temperature six times, twice during each condition. Read More

Santa Claus and doctors found equally reliable, despite one being imaginary.

By Seriously Science | December 9, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/LadyDragonflyCC

Photo: flickr/LadyDragonflyCC

One would hope that the general public feels like they can trust and like their doctor. But feelings are subjective, and it can be difficult to interpret what people mean when they talk about how they feel. So it’s helpful to have a scale or comparison. And who do people like and trust as much as Santa Claus? Well, according to this Danish study…doctors! We’re not sure if this says more about how the public views doctors or how much the Danish believe in Santa, but either way, Happy Holidays!

Santa Claus is perceived as reliable and friendly: results of the Danish Christmas 2013 survey.

“INTRODUCTION: Several studies have indicated that the population in general perceives doctors as reliable. In the present study perceptions of reliability and kindness attributed to another socially significant archetype, Santa Claus, have been comparatively examined in relation to the doctor. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings, rated G

Dung beetles use the polarization of sunlight to navigate.

By Seriously Science | December 8, 2014 6:00 am

As we’ve said before, dung beetles are really awesome. Not only do they love poop, but to make sure they get their fair share, they form and roll giant balls of the stuff away to their underground lairs, a job that makes them important ecosystem managers. And if you’re one of the poor souls who has never seen a dung beetle in action, here’s a YouTube video to prove it:

How do dung beetles know where to take their precious cargo, you ask? A study we covered a few years ago showed that nocturnal dung beetles can navigate using the stars, specifically the pattern of the Milky Way across the night sky. But what about diurnal dung beetles that are active during the day? Well, these scientists set out to answer that question, and they came up with a fascinating answer. If it’s visible, dung beetles use the sun’s location to orient (not very surprising). However, these amazing creatures can still navigate when the sun is hidden. To do this, they take advantage of the fact that light becomes polarized when filtered through our atmosphere, a feature of sunlight invisible to our senses. Sunlight coming from different parts of the sky is polarized differently, allowing dung beetles to navigate even when the sun is not visible. Neat!

Diurnal dung beetles use the intensity gradient and the polarization pattern of the sky for orientation.

“To escape competition at the dung pile, a ball-rolling dung beetle forms a piece of dung into a ball and rolls it away. To ensure their efficient escape from the dung pile, beetles rely on a ‘celestial compass’ to move along a straight path. Here, we analyzed the reliability of different skylight cues for this compass and found that dung beetles rely not only on the sun but also on the skylight polarization pattern. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals, ha ha poop, rated G

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Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]gmail.com.

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