apsobserver@psychologicalscience.org ATTN: Observations OBSERVATIONS 7 Getting Outside Myself to Help the Thai People APS Fellow Bruce Svare reflects on his time in Thailand hose of us in higher education have a tendency to develop tunnel vision and become overly focused on our professional careers as scientists. When world problems remote from our homes become the lead story in news reports, we often pay only brief attention. That was me until 2004, when a tsunami struck Phuket, Thailand. While trained psychologists descended on the country to provide needed assistance and comfort, I learned that the field of psychology was in its infancy in Thailand. Most universities had little in the way of a formal psychology curriculum, and the profession of clinical psychology and the role it plays in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness was almost nonexistent. In 2006, I was given an opportunity to help. I was named a Fulbright Bruce Svare, former Fulbright senior scholar to Thailand, is recognized for his fund-raising efforts on behalf of the Thaisenior scholar to Thailand, with the year-long mission of promoting U.S. Educational Foundation (TUSEF). Pictured are, from left, the development of psychology in the Thai higher education system. I Svare, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Alina Romanowski, taught behavioral neuroscience and assisted with curriculum develop- His Eminence Manaspas Xuto, former Thai ambassador ment at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, and I also lectured at to the United States and adviser to the Thai minister of foreign affairs, and U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Eric John. other universities and medical schools. Svare is an APS Fellow and professor of psychology and Behavioral neuroscience is critical for understanding the biologi- neuroscience at the State University of New York at Albany. cal basis of both normal and disordered behavior. My ultimate hope is that my Fulbright work will have a positive impact on the growth of psychology in Thailand, the future training of Thai clinical psychologists, and the continued development of their mental health care system. My love for the Thai people and their rich cultural heritage continues to grow with each return visit. I have spearheaded fund-raising efforts in the United States to enable more Fulbright scholars to come to Thailand to teach and conduct research. When I attended the 60th anniversary celebration of the Fulbright Program in Thailand, I was one of only a few former Fulbrighters given the honor of describing my mission to Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn. -Bruce Svare t When the Zebra Loses its Stripes he capacity to remember that a zebra has stripes, or that a giraffe is a four-legged mammal, is known as semantic memory. It allows us to assign meaning to words and to recall general knowledge and concepts that we have learned. The deterioration of these capacities is a defining feature of semantic dementia and can also occur in Alzheimer’s patients. A group of French neurologists and neuropsychologists has identified the elements of semantic memory that are the first to deteriorate and may thus have explained why a surprising phenomenon known as hyperpriming can be seen in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Mickaël Laisney and colleagues, from the university hospitals at Caen and Rennes, studied the word-recognition abilities of 16 Alzheimer’s patients and eight patients with semantic dementia. The patients were shown pairs of words in succession and were asked to indicate whether they recognized the second word in each pair. Because of an effect known as semantic priming, people tend to more quickly recognize a word (e.g., “tiger”) if they have previously seen a related word (e.g., “lion”), and a previous study had found this effect to increase further in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, whereby patients recognized related words more quickly than healthy patients. This research was published in the January 2011 This hyperpriming phenomenon is surprising, because it is at odds with the idea of issue of Cortex (http://www.sciencedirect.com/ science/journal/00109452), edited by Sergio Della memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients. Sala, President of the Federation of the European However, the findings of this new study shed light on the puzzle by showing that the Societies of Neuropsychology. first elements of semantic memory to deteriorate are the distinguishing characteristics of a concept, such as a zebra’s stripes or a giraffe’s long neck. This causes a blurring of closely related concepts, e.g., zebras and giraffes becoming generic four-legged African mammals, which the authors suggest as the reason why patients temporarily find it easier to recognize related words in the early stages of memory loss. The effect disappears in later stages of the disease. Association for Psychological Science February 2011 — Vol. 24, No. 2 t New findings show which part of semantic memory is the first to deteriorate in Alzheimer’s disease