Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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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.

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  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    July 31, 2014

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    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

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    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 30, 2014

  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

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