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Plumbing the dark depths of depression / Something to crow about: how corvids protect their sources of food / Arrogance and cove

Plumbing the dark depths of depression

Long nights and overcast mornings that take hours to brighten can make this season of the year depressing. Indeed, a formula devised by a researcher at Cardiff University suggests that misery reaches its peak each year on 24 January as foul weather, debt, fading Christmas memories, failed new year resolutions and a lack of motivation conspire to depress.

Soon, it is true, there will be a sense that another springtide is on its way,but not just yet. Our enthusiasm for living and activity is damped down by thatcurious phenomenon known as seasonal affective disorder — appropriatelySAD for short — which is commonly encountered in our temperate latitudes.

The dominant symptoms of SAD include moody depression, lack of energy and enterprise,irritability, anxiety, inability to concentrate on an immediate task, reducedlibido and a tendency to shirk social encounters. In contrast to most depressionsof a non-seasonal type, SAD tends to induce sleepiness, which may prove troublesomeduring the day, combined with an urge to consume rich foods such as chocolateand other products with a high fat or carbohydrate content.

Estimates by psychiatrists have suggested that some 3 per cent of the UK populationshow a clinically significant winter depression. Treatment with one of the specificserotonin-reuptake inhibitors, such as fluoxetine, paroxetine, citalopram orsertraline, may relieve the symptoms, but not always.

Light therapy has been widely advocated, although this may have conflicting results.Exposure to light intensity of 2,500 lux or more, particularly in the morning,which is calculated to advance the onset of melatonin secretion, has been practised.

A procedure known as “dawn stimulation” has also been used. One suchregime involves applying white light of slowly increasing intensity from about4.30am during sleep, peaking at 250 lux after 90 minutes. A US study showed thatthis was more efficacious than a 30-minute exposure to 10,000 lux (roughly theoutdoor light intensity half an hour after dawn) starting at 6am. The objectof treatment is to advance the phase of the circadian rhythm.

Something to crow about: how corvids protect their sources of food

CrowsFranklin Coombs in his book ‘The crows’ (1978) comments on our ambivalent feelings towards members of the crow family. “They may be used as food,appear in folklore, they can be pets and pests, and a source of aesthetic pleasureor scientific interests”. The earliest remains of crows found in Britainhave been in Norfolk and Suffolk, dating from the interglacial period 500,000to 600,000 years ago.

In the 2 December 2005 issue of Science, a review of a recent book by two Washingtonwriters called ‘In the company of crows and ravens’ offers a fascinatingview of interactions between crows and humans. The authors claim that the relationshiprepresents an example of “cultural co-evolution”, although the existenceof culture in any other animal than ourselves raises a contentious issue. Culturemay be defined as a basic biological attribute of long-Iived social animals.It involves a socially transmitted behavioural pattern.

One example is the propensity for crows in New Caledonia to use different extractiveforaging tools according to the geographical area they inhabit. The expansionof agricultural production has led to a revolution of cultural habits in crowsthat developed a preference for some cultivated crops rather than others. Whenfarmers reacted by hunting and harassing the birds they shifted their feedingsites to relatively unprotected crops or into urban areas.

Birds exhibit a memory for their feeding areas and storage sites, corvids possessingan exceptional gift for remembering the situations where they have cached foodfor up to nine months. Moreover, crows protect their food by hiding it in placesconcealed from competitors. Several tactics are employed to ensure protection,apparently reflecting those used by the concealer itself. Not only can the birdsrecollect when and where their cache was laid down, but some remember the sizeof the individual items. If asked with which animals humans have most in common,some experts in corvine behaviour might well choose crows and ravens.

Arrogance and covetousness: where the bully and the politician meet

That remarkable philosopher William of Worplesdon commented in 1295: “He that striveth from lowly station to diminish or deflect arrogance and covetousness in those who hold sway in the councils of the land is as the humble moldewarp that thinketh by its busy burrowings to bring down the strongholds of the mighty.” Arrogance and covetousness are indeed the ruling passions of our civilisation, and are responsible for a multitude of the miseries endured by the humble and the defenceless.

Arrogance is defined as “undue assumption of importance” and closely resembles pride, meaning an unduly high opinion of oneself. Hand in hand with arrogance goes assertiveness, which is the attempt to influence or control one’s fellows for motives which may show a range of reasonableness or otherwise. It is notorious that, during a genuine interview in which someone asks a legitimate question of someone with political or social power, the interviewee today often seeks to conceal a weak answer beneath an avalanche of words designed to prevent any critical word from being heard.

The golden rule for politicians and bureaucrats is “Keep talking at all costs, and never allow your adversary a word in edgeways.” This, in essence, is arrogance. It has become so commonplace that stating an honest counter-opinion has come to be stigmatised as an attack upon law and order. Arrogant assertiveness has four components, according to the philosophers. They are refusing requests, asking favours, expressing positive or negative feelings, and continuing a slanted general conversation. The arrogant talker must use a louder voice, more verbal emphasis and a penetrating gaze. He or she is engaged in self-presentation, a set of thoughts which the individual holds regarding personality, body image and chosen role in social intercourse.

As opposed to arrogance we have more civilised characteristics that do not seek dominance and are the true fabric of a contented society. Empathy is defined as the capacity to share the emotion.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10020796

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