Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

January 9, 2013

Slate: What's up with 'crazy eyes'?

For the first time, police officers on Monday gave a public moment-by-moment account of accused Aurora shooter James Holmes' arrest, as part of a hearing that touched on whether Holmes is mentally fit to stand trial. Officer Jason Oviatt described Holmes as "very relaxed" after the shooting, noting that Holmes had extremely dilated pupils. Are dilated pupils a sign of mental illness?

Not a good one. Dilation of the pupils can reflect not just the lighting conditions in a room but the thoughts and feelings of a person, mentally ill or not. For example, dilated pupils can indicate sexual arousal. Psychologists sometimes study the expansion and contraction of the pupils to find an objective measure of the mind's inner processes, in something called pupillometry. This practice has been used to study everything from racial bias to sexual preference to what happens when the mind puzzles over a difficult math problem.

However, while pupillometry has been used to study aspects of mental illness, including schizophrenia, and while psychologists began observing pupil dilation among the mentally ill more than 100 years ago, pupil dilation on its own is not a good indicator of psychosis or other mental illness. Pupil dilation is regulated by the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the body that controls our fight-or-flight response. So even when psychosis causes changes in pupil dilation, such as by triggering an excited state of fear or anger, the dilation itself is identical to dilation in the non-mentally ill. Moreover, just as with sane people, the pupils return to normal once the state is over.

Dilation of the pupils can also be a side effect of using certain drugs. For example, LSD and mescaline both cause pupil dilation. Some people who suffer from mental illness may find themselves with dilated pupils caused by treatment with prescribed antipsychotic medications.

Text Only
Slate
  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 18, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 16, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Boston doctors can now prescribe you a bike

    The City of Boston this week is rolling out a new program that's whimsically known as "Prescribe-a-Bike." Part medicine, part welfare, the initiative allows doctors at Boston Medical Center to write "prescriptions" for low-income patients to get yearlong memberships to Hubway, the city's bike-share system, for only $5.

    April 11, 2014

  • A man with amnesia taught us how memories become personal

    Although not as celebrated as the late American amnesiac H.M., for my money K.C. taught us more important and poignant things about how memory works. He showed how we make memories personal and personally meaningful. He also had a heck of a life story.

    April 7, 2014

  • Investing more money in tornado research would be a disaster

    This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding to focus on improving forecasts of "high impact weather events" like tornadoes and hurricanes "for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy."

    April 3, 2014

  • Hate With Friends, the fun new Facebook tool

    Hating movies, earworms, conventions of grammar, clothing brands, diet fads - you get the twinkle of pleasure without the glob of guilt, or the cold brush of fear. A Coldplay song doesn't know you hate it.

    April 2, 2014

  • dog-sunglasses.jpg Do animals have a sense of humor?

    Right now, in a high-security research lab at Northwestern University's Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, scientists are tickling rats. Their goal? To develop a pharmaceutical-grade happiness pill. But their efforts might also produce some of the best evidence yet that humor isn't something experienced exclusively by human beings.

    March 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_zuckerberg.jpg The logic of Facebook's multibillion-dollar shopping spree

    Yet again, Facebook has spent a gaudy sum of money to buy a hot startup. This time, it's virtual reality pioneer Oculus VR, at a purchase price of $2 billion. And don't be surprised if Mark Zuckerberg continues on his buying spree.

    March 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140325-AMX-BARISTA251.jpg Coffee's third wave? The Apple to Starbucks' Microsoft

    Do you remember when Starbucks was cool? It opened in Seattle in the 1970s as a local specialty roaster, a trendy alternative to the prevailing generic swill. But the price of conquest is cachet. What was once novel — the warm décor, the gentle music, the faux-Italian lingo — has become banal. Today's coffee snobs would rather snort Sanka than set foot inside a Starbucks

    March 26, 2014 2 Photos