Smart Students Formulate Cheaper Generic Drug

The ever-increasing costs of prescription medications have made dramatic headlines over the last twelve months.

epipenOne of the more recent and visibly-reported medication increases involved Epipen, the life-saving epinephrine drug used to counteract severe allergic reactions. That drug underwent a 600% price increase over a short period while maintaining a 90% market share due to lack of competition.

Other essential medications also have undergone sharp price increases in the recent past. These include life-saving leukemia-fighting drugs, diabetic medications and anti-clotting pharmaceuticals.

But one of the most dramatic medication price increases in the last year involved a drug called Daraprim, an anti-daraprimparasitic medication used to treat infections such as malaria and toxoplasmosis. When Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the marketing rights to this drug, the price jumped almost overnight from approximately $US13.50 to about $750 per tablet—over a 5000% increase!

Daraprim is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medications and that stimulated a group of high school students in Sidney, Australia to figure out how such a price increase could be justified and took on a project to prove that there could be a more cost-effective alternative.

The students, working with University of Sydney chemist Alice Williamson, eventually created 3.7 grams of pyrimethamine, Daraprim’s active ingredient, in their high school chemistry lab for about $20—an amount that would sell in the United States for up to $110,000 at the current manufacturer’s list price.

Although the drug is extremely expensive in the United States because Turing Pharmaceuticals controls the exclusive distribution rights in the States through a loophole called “the closed distribution model”, the drug is out of patent and available in most countries around the world for about $1 to $2 instead of the $750 US pricing per tablet.

studentThe students worked through an online research-sharing platform called Open Source Malaria to duplicate the medication in a more cost-effective manner. They even found a safer way to create the drug since the usual manufacturing process of pyrimethamine from raw ingredients involved dangerous reagents not allowed in their high school chemistry lab.

They successfully synthesized the drug in a safer, more cost-effective manner and the resulting medication’s purity was confirmed by spectrograph analysis. Therefore, these industrious students creased a new version of Daraprim—a generic that could compete with the Turing Pharmaceuticals version in the US market.

Unfortunately, any competing drug for Daraprim would have to be compared to the branded drug in extensive clinical trials to receive FDA approval and that would be an expensive and arduous process. The main goal of these students was to prove that a true generic version of this malaria drug could be made inexpensively and they accomplished that.

Hopefully, an inspired generic manufacturer would attempt to useclapping-hands their research and the new technique of engineering this drug since these students were kind enough to publish their manufacturing process fully and free online.

Kudos to this brilliant, selfless group of budding scientists!

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in About James J. Murray, Alternative Drug Manufacturing Methods, Blog Writers, Blogging, Daraprim Price Increases, Future Drug Manufacturing Practices, Future of Drug Manufacturing, Future of Prescription Drug Distribution, Generic Drug Manufacturing, Generic Drugs in the US, Generic vs Brand Name Drugs, Increasing Costs of US Pharmaceuticals, Innovative Drug Manufacturing Practices, James J. Murray Blog, Medication Safety Issues, Medication Shortages in the US, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, New Blog, New Drug Manufacturing Methods, New Drug Research, Prescription Drug Safety, Prescription For Murder Blog, Prescription Trends, Synthesizing Inexpensive Generic Drugs, The American Drug Supply, The High Cost Of Medications in the US, Ways To Create More Cost-Effective Generic Drugs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Is the Future of Entertainment a Pharmaceutical?

At a recent Wall Street Journal conference (WSJD Live 2016), Netflix CEO people-playing-video-gameReed Hastings speculated that the future of entertainment might be something OTHER than watching and interacting with the screen of an electronic device.

Netflix, an entertainment industry innovator with its “DVD-by-mail services” not very many years ago, has evolved into an industry leader with a successful streaming service and as an original content provider with hits such as Stranger Things, House of Cards and Narcos.

At the conference–which brought together CEOs, founders and investors—these visionaries discussed cutting-edge tech opportunities that are emerging around the globe.

During his remarks about the future of contemporary entertainmentvirtual-reality-entertainment-future-3 sources, Hastings suggested that new technologies like augmented and virtual realities (AR and VR) are already happening and could branch out beyond simple gaming to entertainment that does not require sophisticated tech equipment.

In his talk, Hastings suggested that as augmented and virtual reality technology flourished, improved and finally matured, newer entertainment sources would evolve to replace them.

But what would that grand leap in entertainment be? In a word, the answer would be PHARMACOLOGICALS!

The Netflix CEO stated that the current real threat to capturing new customers and retaining present customers is anything that takes the viewer’s attention away from the screen. Recreational drugs are nothing new and I’ve blogged about a significant number of them in the past. Certainly, recreational drug use is on the rise worldwide. I speculate that it is a potential competing element to screen entertainment even now.

In his speech, Hastings said that possibly in twenty to fifty years one blue-and-white-capsulesmight take a personalized colored pill to hallucinate in an entertaining way, and then take a white pill to bring the customer back to the real world.

Certainly, it’s an idea straight out of The Matrix. It’s also a more recent idea featured in the video game Watch Dogs. Hastings went on to state, “And if the source of human entertainment in thirty or forty years is pharmacological, we’ll be in real trouble.” I conclude that pharmaceuticals of the future might essentially replace device-based entertainment at some point in time.

As a thriller writer, I’m always interested in innovative technology to spice up my storylines. That might now include entertainment without screen devices! And how sinister could that become if that entertainment were pharmaceutical in nature and then misused?

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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Why A Writer Should Be Thankful!

Here in the United States it’s Thanksgiving time—Thursday, November 24th to bethanksgiving-dinner exact—and it’s a day of fantastic food feasts, with the bonus of a long holiday weekend ahead.

More importantly, it’s a time to reflect on what makes our lives so special and rewarding and what makes us thankful when we think back on the current year and the events that have shaped our lives in the recent past.

As my life has evolved from a clinical pharmacist into the world of writing fiction, I’ve come to realize how special and rewarding it is to be an author.

Although there are challenges in each and every endeavor we attempt and with each life thank-you-quotesdecision we make, writing has been most rewarding for me in many ways. A few of the “special perks” of being a writer, and the ones for which I am most thankful for, include:

(1) My Life Experiences: We all have life experiences from which we draw on in our daily lives, but a writer has the special privilege of being able to share some of those experiences with readers and, especially as a fiction author, I shape those experiences in special, entertaining ways. It’s those life experiences that help develop my story plots, refine my character developments and influence the dialogue I write. I’m thankful every day for new experiences that help me become a more creative writer.

(2) I’m Allowed To Fantasize As Much As I Want: Writing is one of the fewdraw,glasses,hand,in,mouth,illustration,thinking,type,machine,writer-bc5f6977780ab1c98071f6be04bfc0c9_m professions where it’s totally acceptable to live in a fantasy world and still be considered mentally stable. I love that I can have imaginary friends (my characters) and can communicate with them anytime I want. I’m thankful that I escape reality on a regular basis and still have those around me think that’s perfectly normal.

(3) I Can Be As Manipulative As I Want: The reality of the modern, civilized world involves consensus and compromise on a daily basis to achieve one’s personal goals. A writer doesn’t have to worry about that. If you write non-fiction, you’re considered the expert. As a fiction writer, I’m allowed to write believable lies and dictate what happens in every scene I create. I tell my characters what to say, how say it, how to think and how to act. I’m thankful for the opportunity to function as an all-powerful deity and have my characters cooperate in that effort.

(4) I Make People Think, Smile and Frown: Writers, through their words, reach out and touch their readers’ hearts and minds in special and meaningful ways. Whether the writer’s work is fanciful fiction, serious drama, or non-fiction, the reader’s world is forever changed by the written word. I’m thankful that I can entertain my readers—and possibly educate them in the process—while giving them the opportunity to experience a world different from their own.

(5) Time To Write: It’s often a struggle to find the time to back away from reality, sit at unnamedmy computer and immerse myself in the imaginary worlds in which my characters live. Often, the real world continues to figuratively knock at my office door. I’m thankful for those times when I’m able to be absorbed into the worlds I’m creating for my characters. That time is very special and extremely personal to me until the manuscript is complete and ready to be shared with others.

(6) Time To Read: No writer, and no writing talent, is ever complete. Having the time to read stimulates my mind to be more creative and teaches me to be a better author. Writing is a time-consuming profession and I’m very thankful for those occasions when I can enjoy the talents of other authors.

(7) My Mentors and Contemporaries: There are many writers, essayists, poets, editors and bloggers among my list of friends. I value their talents and especially their opinions about my work. I particularly value the suggestions from my wife, my first editor. She’s the one person who has the opportunity to see my work before anyone else, and I’m thankful for her patience. I’m grateful for my writer friends who take the time to read whatever I’ve written and for their help to mold me into a better writer. It’s a generous gift they share with me and I very much appreciate them.

Happy Thanksgiving! And I wish you success at being thankful on a daily basis.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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When Sleep is Not Possible

someone-sleepingWe all need sleep to survive. Sleep is a natural process that allows the body to recharge, refresh and prepare (both physically and psychologically) for a new day of adventure.

Scientists understand the chemistry that causes us to become sleepy—the 24-hour cycle of hormones (such as melatonin) that release to prepare us for sleep—but the action of sleeping is often referred to as one of nature’s greatest mysteries.

Although we take sleep for granted—that it will come each night around a certain time and that we’ll wake up refreshed and ready to face a new day—there are some in the world who would give anything for a good night’s sleep.

There is a very rare disease called “fatal familial insomnia” (FFI for short) which makes it impossible for someone to fall asleep. And when I say thatseveral-generations this disease is rare, I mean EXTREMELY RARE. Research shows that this inherited disorder has been discovered in only about 40 families worldwide (affecting about 100 people).

The name says it all—it’s a genetic disorder that’s passed down from parent to child to grandchild, and so on. If one parent has the gene, a child from that person has a 50% risk factor for inheriting the disease. If inherited, the genetic disorder may remain dormant for years before symptoms suddenly appear.

Fortunately, potential patients can now be tested for the gene to avoid having children and possibly passing FFI to them. There is, however, a non-inherited variant of this disease called “sporadic fatal insomnia” (sFI) which develops in a similar fashion to FFI but without the family genetic link.

The initial symptoms of both FFI and sFI appear as worsening insomnia that progresses to a complete inability to fall asleep. Within a month of such extreme insomnia, patients realize that they have a disease like no other.

Panic attacks, paranoia and various phobias begin to exhibit toward the end of that first sleepless month. Rapid weight loss follows shortly thereafter and, within the first six months, dementia sets in. The patient can become mute or unresponsive due to an inability for organize thought.

Death is the definitive progression of this disease, but that final outcome can take anywhere from seven to 36 months. The average survival span for patients diagnosed with FFI is about 18 months after onset of the initial symptoms.

venice-italyThe first known case—Patient Zero—is said to be an Italian man who died in Venice in 1765. By the time he died, he had passed on the genetic disorder to his children and the family curse initiated.

Scientists have discovered that FFI is caused by a mutation of a protein in the brain—essentially an inherited prion disease. Prions are amyloid particles (protein fragments) that develop from normal brain proteins when they “misfold” into flawed protein structures that can then transmit erroneous signals between cells.

I’ve written a blog in the past about prion protein diseases that cause disordersprionreplication such as mad cow disease. FFI and sFI, however, are very specific prion protein mutations.

As a pharmacist, I realize that drugs can alter brain chemistry in such a way as to mimic FFI by creating chronic insomnia events. Particular drugs can generate an interesting cause and effect that might produce a nice plot twist for a villain searching for a dramatic method of torture.

Besides the usual suspects of caffeine, and possibly an array of herbal stimulants, chronic misuse of stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine (speed) and methylphenidate (Ritalin) can create extreme insomnia episodes.

There are also non-amphetamine-like drugs (Provigil and Nuvigil, for example) that alter brain chemistry and which are used therapeutically to enhance wakefulness and alertness. Such drugs, if misused properly, could produce an interesting extended episode of lethal insomnia.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in A How To Blog on Murder Plot Ideas, Abnormal Protein Invasion of the Brain, About James J. Murray, About Murder, Blog Writers, Blogging, Bloodless Death Scene Writing, Choosing How a Character Should Die in a Story, Creating Unique and Interesting Character Flaws, Deciding How to Kill Off a Character in a Novel, Designing Murder Plots, Developing Storyline Ideas, Drugs For Murder Plots, Fatal Brain Infections, Fatal Familial Insomnia, Fatal Insomnia, How To Write A BloodLess Murder Scene, Ideas for Murder Scenes, Insomnia, Insomnia Diseases, James J. Murray Blog, Killing a Villain in a Novel, Killing Off Characters in Writing, Lethal Insomnia, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, New Blog, Plotting Interesting Murder Scenes, Prescription For Murder Blog, Prion Linked Diseases, Prion-Associated Diseases, Prions and Murder, Prions and Neurological Degeneration, Prions and The Science of Murder, Sporadic Fatal Insomnia, The Walking Dead, Unique Murder Plots | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ANTIMONY – A Shimmery Toxic Metal

antimonyAntimony is a naturally-occurring metal usually found in ore deposits. Although it is a rare element, it’s extensively used in the manufacturing industry and is present in many household items. Its appearance is described as “a silvery, luscious gray metal” but consumers often don’t see it in its natural state.

Typically, antimony is used in the manufacture of flame-retardant products, toys, car seat covers, clothing (even for children), semi-conductors and infrared detectors. It istracer-bullets also a key component as an alloy with lead in the manufacture of tracer bullets and batteries, and it’s even used in therapies to treat schistosomiasis (a flatworm parasite) and leichmaniasis (a parasite from sandflies).

Although antimony is considered a rare metal, it’s widely available and is present in many of the items we use every day. The incongruity I see here is that antimony is an extremely toxic substance and can be lethal if inhaled or ingested in sufficient quantities.

In fact, antimony has been described as “the perfect poison” since it has many advantageous attributes. It’s odorless, colorless and nearly tasteless when dissolved. Because it is virtually undetectable, accidental exposure to lethal doses is a real threat.

Factory workers have the greatest potential for antimony exposure as an occupational antimony-skin-spotshazard. The symptoms for inhaled exposure include dizziness, headaches, pneumonia-like symptoms and “antimony spots” appearing on the skin. Ingested exposure might exhibit as depression, nausea and vomiting, kidney damage, and may even cause certain types of cancer.

Therapeutic exposure while treating schistosomiasis and leichmaniasis might exhibit as an inflamed pancreas and heart ailments.

Although the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and that of the European Union (EU) maintain standards for reduced exposure to antimony, those of the EU may fall short for fruit juice concentrate products. Both agencies monitor bottled drinking water levels and maintain standards for such products since antimony can leak from the plastic in bottles into the water.

So, antimony actually does make “a perfect poison”—not only because of itsdanger_poison_dx83_osha odorless, colorless, tasteless qualities—but because of its ready availability in so many manufacturing processes.

As a writer of murder mysteries, I did find an interesting downside to deliberate antimony poisoning. This substance acts as a natural preservative. Therefore, the bodies of antimony-poisoned victims tend to be well-preserved, even appearing “fresh” after several years of burial.

Therefore, if you intend to use antimony as the lethal weapon in your next mystery, be sure to not only get rid of the evidence but also get rid of the body!

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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Walking Dead Syndrome

I realize that the Halloween holiday is now behind us, but all that spooky stuff and people dressed up as zombies reminded me of a blog I did a couple years ago about an interesting medical disease known as Cotard’s Syndrome.

In 1880, the neurologist Jules Cotard described this mental disorder as “Thedead_walking_by_joe_roberts-d58qa4s-1 Delirium of Negation” and the disease has since been alternately named Cotard’s Syndrome, Cotard Delusion and Walking Dead Syndrome.

The simple definition of Cotard’s Syndrome is that a person thinks he or she is already dead but still maintains the capacity to move around. The patient walks aimlessly with no purpose and with no interest in sleep, so the person feels trapped in a zombie-like state of existence.

People afflicted with this mental disease have a strong delusion that either they have already died, do not exist or that their blood and/or internal organs have been lost. Some of the patients with this disease also believe that they have lost various body parts or insist that they have lost their soul.

With this disorder, people have trouble performing simple personal hygiene tasks such as bathing or brushing their teeth. They are unable to conduct day-to-day work activities or perform any kinds of actions that normal people do.

hunk_walking_dead_by_redkojimax-d6d73duThey withdraw from the world, thinking that their bodies are decaying and putrefying, and their minds even delude them into seeing the process of decay when they look at their reflections in a mirror. They often do not eat, drink, speak much or interact with others.

Patients with Cotard’s Syndrome have been shown to spend considerable time in a graveyard because that is where they believe they should be.

There were over 1,000 cases documented in 2013. And, although Cotard’s Syndrome was not included in the 1994 nor the 2000 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it was included in the tenth edition of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems of the World Health Organization, in which “Cotard delusion” is identified as a disease of human health.

Cases have been reported in patients with mood and psychotic disorders, and the psychiatric syndrome has varying degrees of severity. Mild cases exhibit as despair and self-loathing, and more severe cases are characterized by intense delusions of non-existence and chronic psychiatric depression.

A study of a Cotard’s patient showed that the PET scan of the person’s brain indicatedMH900438746 low metabolism activity. Additionally, large parts of the patient’s frontal lobe (which controls attention, memory and motivation) and the parietal lobe (sensory perception) of this patient’s brain had almost no activity—a condition common to people in the vegetative state.

The cause of Cotard’s Syndrome is still unknown, but one famous case was the vocalist in a black metal band called Mayhem and the vocalist developed Cotard’s after he was resuscitated following a serious auto accident.

What is known is that most cases of Cotard’s are more responsive to electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) than to pharmacological therapies. Follow-up psychotherapy with antidepressants, antipsychotics and/or mood stabilizers has proven to be beneficial, however, in restoring a positive self-image for these patients as well as a more normal hopefulness about their future.

zombie_by_hokunin-d1ruvahSo, if you’re looking for a zombie-like plot scenario but want a more scientifically-based rather than a science fiction-based approach, look into Cotard’s Syndrome for a reasonable explanation of your next walking corpse character.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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Lying for a Living!

FICTION => A Believable Lie -> Taking a small bit of truth or fact and evolving thatwriter into a web of deceit, dishonesty or lethal acts (at least in my novels).

That’s what we do as fiction writers. We lie for a living. I often joke with my friends by telling them, “Remember, I lie for 100,000 words when writing a novel.” They laugh and I laugh with them because I’m sure they know me as a very honest person and one who “tells it like it is.”

But in fiction writing we, as authors, get to embellish and escalate the truth or at least spiral away from facts by making our characters do things that most humans would not have the courage to do in the real world.

I suppose that’s why I was so interested in a recent article that I saw online. It discussed the act of lying and the fact that it actually becomes easier to lie over time.

pinnochioThe article stated that dishonesty is an integral part of our social world. People lie all the time—those bits of untruths we call white lies—to be more socially correct or to make themselves or those around them feel less uncomfortable about a harsh truth.

I hate to think of anyone lying to me, or me to them, but I believe most of us will agree that we’ve done that at some point in our lives.

The article indicated, however, that those little innocent lies can actually degrade a person’s moral code by allowing those small breaches of honesty to grow over time. A recent study that was published in the Journal Nature Neuroscience suggested that telling self-serving lies may snowball into bigger, more significant lies—that lying gets easier over time. The study indicated that there is definitive science to prove it.

Researchers performed “functional MRI scans” on subjects that measured blood flow inM430/0196 their brains when they were asked to lie for personal gain. The results indicated that the amygdala, that part of the brain associated with emotion, received greater blood flow when people initially lied for some personal gain. However, the response of heightened blood flow (more brain activity) decreased with each new lie—even though the magnitude of the lies increased.

These researchers also showed that additional drops in synaptic activity of the amygdala region could be predicted with some accuracy when subjects lied about more important issues at a future time.

This interesting first look into how the brain can be desensitized to increasing acts of dishonesty suggested to these scientists that this physiological effect could be predictive of a blunted emotional response to other escalations of sinister behavior—such as theft, other criminal acts and possibly even murder.

Researchers suggest that any particular task one practices—as in the ability to tell small social lies effectively—gets hardwired into one’s brain circuitry while those areas of the brain that control morality might become inhibited.

cheating-on-a-testAs a clinical pharmacist, I’ve read about studies where students were given a mild sympatholytic agent (those types of drugs used for anxiety, panic disorders or for PTSD) and the results showed that the students were twice as likely to cheat on an exam as compared to those who took a placebo. The drugs altered the brain’s chemistry enough to weaken their moral judgment without a corresponding physiological response (the usual nervousness, sweating, elevated blood pressure, etc) one can experience when doing something that is known to be wrong.

This current study, however, suggests that the physiological and psychological responses to an emotional-producing sinister act can be blunted over time with repeated exposure, even without chemical substances becoming part of the mix. By repeating the unacceptable act time and again, a person could lose the ability to feel guilty about an unacceptable act.

These studies provide interesting information for authors of thrillers, mysteries and other genre works in which the characters are habitually acting in socially unacceptable ways. The science behind those actions might prove that these villains are acting normally according to their brains.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

 

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