People with “Maladaptive Daydreaming” spend an average of four hours a day lost in their imagination
"Daydreaming can evolve into an extreme and maladaptive behaviour, up to the point where it turns into a clinically significant condition," scientists say.
First, have a read of this:
“I have been lost in a daydream for as long as I can remember….These daydreams tend to be stories…for which I feel real emotion, usually happiness or sadness, which have the ability to make me laugh and cry…They’re as important a part of my life as anything else; I can spend hours alone with my daydreams….I am careful to control my actions in public so it is not evident that my mind is constantly spinning these stories and I am constantly lost in them.”
The 20-year-old woman who emailed these reflections to Eli Somer at the University of Haifa, Israel, diagnosed herself with Maladaptive Daydreaming, sometimes known as Daydreaming Disorder. While Maladaptive Daydreaming is not included in standard mental health diagnostic manuals, there are cyber-communities dedicated to it, and “in recent years it has gradually become evident that daydreaming can evolve into an extreme and maladaptive behaviour, up to the point where it turns into a clinically significant condition,” write Somer and Nirit Soffer-Dudek at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in a new paper on the disorder, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.
This study is, they say, the first to explore the mental health factors that accompany Maladaptive Daydreaming (MD) over time – and it provides insights into not only what might cause these intense, vivid, extended bouts of daydreaming but also hints at how to prevent them, or how to stop them in their tracks. Because while many people who experience MD report enjoying their daydreams at the time, MD can also negatively affect their relationships with others, their day-to-day lives, and their overall emotional well-being.
Earlier work led researchers to suggest that MD might be either a dissociative disorder, a disturbance of attention, a behavioral addiction or an obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder.
For the new online study, Somer and Soffer-Dudek recruited 77 self-diagnosed sufferers of MD, from 26 different countries, ranging in age from 18-60. Just over 80 percent were women (possibly because women seem to be more affected by MD than men, the researchers write).
The participants first provided details about any mental health diagnoses (21 had been diagnosed with depression, 14 with anxiety disorders and 5 with OCD, among other disorders). Then, each evening before bed, for 14 days, they completed a series of questionnaires that asked about their experiences that day. These scales assessed levels of dissociation, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, depression, general anxiety, social anxiety, and emotion – and also maladaptive daydreaming. (Participants were asked to report on the extent to which statements such as “I felt the need or urge to continue a daydream that was interrupted by a real-world event at a later point” had applied to them that day.)
On average, participants reported spending four hours a day daydreaming. On days on which their MD was more intense and time-consuming, they also experienced higher levels of obsessive-compulsive symptoms, dissociation and negative emotion, and both types of anxiety. But only obsessive-compulsive symptoms consistently predicted the intensity and duration of maladaptive daydreaming on the next day, regardless of the levels of obsessive-compulsive symptoms on that following day.
Despite these findings, the researchers note that only five of the participants had actually been diagnosed with OCD – “This discrepancy suggests that obsessive-compulsive symptoms and MD share common mechanisms and interact with each other…but MD does not seem to be merely a subtype of OCD.” However, they added that many people with MD describe being consistently drawn to their daydreaming in a compulsive way. “The finding that a surge in obsessive-compulsive symptoms precedes MD [also] points to a key role of this construct as a contributing mechanism,” Somer and Soffer-Dudek argue.
Compulsions to daydream, or to carry on daydreaming even after many hours have passed, might be addressed using cognitive behavioral approaches developed to address other compulsions, the researchers suggest. They also speculate that low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin may play a role in MD, as in OCD. If future work confirms this, drugs that modify serotonin levels may possibly be used in treatment.
There were some limitations of the study – in particular, that it was based entirely on self-reports. But as research on MD is scarce, and this is thought to be the first longitudinal exploration of the disorder, the results should at least help to inform future work in this area. Though it’s also possible that not all people with MD will want treatment. As the woman with MD who emailed Somer also wrote: “I am torn between the love of my daydreams and the desire to be normal.”
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A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.
- Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
- Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
- The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
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