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The Daily Agenda for Thursday, March 15

Jim Burroway

March 15th, 2012

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Celebrations This Weekend: Texas Bear Roundup, Dallas, TX.

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
The Delivery of “Safe” Electric Shock for Psychological Treatments: 1935. Two years earlier in April 1933, the New York Branch of the American Psychological Association decided to form the Committee on the Use of Electric Shock in Psychological Experimentation. The committee was formed to “exchange views regarding some of the difficulties involved in electrical stimulation,” namely the delivery of powerful electric shock in aversion therapy as part of the popular new therapeutic craze known as Behavioral Therapy. The electric shock had to be powerful enough to serve as a negative reinforcement against undesired thoughts, feelings or behaviors, but not so strong that it would prove lethal. That was not a small issue in the 1930s. Electrical executions had been by then well on their way to replacing the hangman’s noose and the firing squad as more “humane” ways of imposing the death penalty on criminals. To avoid the same fate for psychiatric patients, research was needed to invent “safer” devices and institute safety standards so that clinicians could begin shocking their patients into conformity.

In a paper published in the March 1935 edition of Psychological Bulletin, New York University’s Louis William Max came to the rescue with a nine page thesis, describing his research into the problem. He had experimented with three types of protective devises: fuses, mechanical relays, and vacuum tube-based devices:

The ideal protective device must meet three requirements: (1) it must operate smoothly and unfailingly at the pre-determined cut-off current; (2) this operation must be sufficiently rapid, since the duration factor is an important one in lethal shock; and (3) the cut-off action must never occur below the prearranged maximum, as this would interfere with experimentation. Since the quantitative evidence thus far available is of a more or less anecdotal nature, and the physiologically safe limits both as to time and intensity have not yet been satisfactorily determined, we recommend as provisional maxima 12 m.a. and 8 sigma (½ cycle of 60 cycle A.C), these values being subject to subsequent increase when justified by further experimentation. This means that an adequate safety device must eliminate all currents above 12 m.a., and that this elimination must take place within 8 sigma after the onset of the stimulus. The 8 sigma limit is but a small fraction of the threshold shock-duration reported by Duchosal as producing ventricular fibrillation in the animal heart, and thus affords a good margin of safety; as ½ cycle A.C. it also provides a convenient electrical parameter for specifying and checking the speed of A.C. protective devices.

While his study of the three types of devices was still ongoing, his investigation into the use of fuses and mechanical relays didn’t appear promising. Instead, he recommended a “vacuum-tube protective device for A.C. shock with adjustable cut-off,” complete with crude hand-drawn schematics. He had been using a version of his device using D.C. electric shocks on human subjects for the previous two years. But D.C. shocks were unsatisfying; A.C. was what delivered the best jolt (electric chairs, for this reason, used A.C., not D.C.):

Schematic diagram of Louis William Max's device for inducing a powerful electric shock. (Click to enlarge.)

Of the vacuum-tube devices investigated, the one which best meets our requirements is that of Fig. 2. As regards expense, a complete stimulator circuit built around this device would cost less than present electrostimulators. Its chief disadvantage is that its underlying circuit is more complicated than a fuse or relay circuit would be. But the manipulative adjustments required are rather simple, and could easily be made even by a non-electrically minded experimenter, by following a set of operating instructions.

…Regardless of which protective device proves most adequate, the design of shock apparatus needs improvement. All live and exposed connections with which an operator may come in contact or which may be short-circuited by an accidentally dropped screwdriver or metal pencil should be eliminated. Experimenters, for example, have reported unpleasant shocks from exposed studs and tap switches…

Even the most ideal of protective devices cannot substitute for the exercise of care in the use of shock apparatus. For the operator’s protection, it is recommended that only one hand be employed in the manipulation of the controls in present high-voltage apparatus. In locating the shocking electrodes on the subject, avoid all contralateral leads {i.e., from one side of the body to the other), or ipselateral leads above and below the heart (such as right hand to right foot). Where possible, electrodes should be firmly fastened to the subject, especially when intense shocks are contemplated, as the subject’s “startle” responses may dislodge an electrode and throw it into contact with a body part to be avoided. The subject might well be insulated from the ground, by means of a rubber mat or glass casters, particularly where the floor is of cement or composition. Finally, every experimenter using shock apparatus on human subjects should learn the Shaefer method of resuscitation.

Six months later, Max would present a paper before the 43rd annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Ann Arbor, Michigan (See Sept 6) describing the use of his new invention in an attempt at “breaking up” a “homosexual neurosis in a young man.”

[From Louis W. Max. "Protective devices and precautions against lethal shock" Psychological Bulletin 32, no. 3 (March 1935): 203-211.]

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Comments

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MattNYC
March 15th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy,

It’s time to bring back the Box of Rocks.

BoR = Did not insult an entire U.S. Territory

Frothy = Just told Puerto Rico that they should SPEAK ENGLISH if they want to be a State

(despite many bible-thumping Pentacostals and Roman Catholics, he just handed PR to Mitt–or maybe to the Adulterer)

Charles
March 16th, 2012 | LINK

Electric shock treatment is sill used by licensed psychiatrists for depression that does not respond to medication. Today it is a very mild shock and the person is injected with a drug that controls the seizures. When I was committed for my major depression back in May 2007 several patients were undergoing the treatment.

Charles
March 16th, 2012 | LINK

To MattNYC, I don’t like Santorum on stands on social issues. But I do believe that English should be declared as the official language of the United States. We need a common language. What I am saying is that the children of the United States should be taught to be fluent in English. If you want to fragment these United States letting states determine if they are going to be Spanish speakers or English speakers, that is the way to go.

Jim Burroway
March 16th, 2012 | LINK

Charles,

What you underwent is not electric shock aversion therapy, but ECT, electro-convulsive therapy, which is completely different. In ECT, electricity is used to initiate a series of convulsions which “reboots” the brain. Many people with severe depression have been helped tremendously by this treatment. This is the treatment that was portrayed (badly) in “One Flew Over Rhe Cuckoo’s Nest”

Electric Shock Conversion Therapy is completely different. Where ECT is done under anesthesia, the whole point of aversion therapy is to inflict pain. The setup typically involves delivering a painful electric shock whenever a slide of a male nude is displayed (when treating gay men), but no shock is delivered when a slide of a female nude is shown. Electric shock aversion therapy is now condemned by the menial health community as abusive and ineffective. A form of aversion therapy was portrayed (crudely) in “A Clockwork Orange.”

Charles
March 16th, 2012 | LINK

Jim, I understand the difference. Also, I did not undergo such treatment while I was in the hospital. However, a number of people did. One was my young roommate who was gay.

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