Monday, 18 June 2007

Goldfish Research

I'm not sure if the research has been done, perhaps it's merely to assuage the guilt of their owners, but goldfish are often considered to have very short memories. One circumnavigation of the bowl and they forget that they've already encountered that plastic anchor.

Sometimes it seems that research along psychosomatic lines is goldfish-like. Take this article, 'A qualitative exploration of the Couvade syndrome in expectant fathers' by Brennan et al., reported here, and announced here. The Couvade syndrome (beware the use of 'psychomatic' in this Wikipedia article) is a condition in which the father of a foetus experiences some of the symptoms of pregnancy - pains, cravings, nausea, etc.

The couvade's been studied for a long while now, psychoanalytically and anthropologically, but in phenomena like this it never seems that much progress is perceived to have been made. Largely I would attribute this to researchers' shifting sense of the right way to do psychology. This abstract may depict the 'right' way to do things now, but one turn about the bowl earlier or later and it seems right to do something completely different.
The aim of this qualitative study is to explore the nature and duration of male partner's somatic and psychological symptoms, across gestation and parturition, collectively called the Couvade syndrome. Fourteen men with expectant partners aged 19-48 years from diverse social and ethnic backgrounds were interviewed. The data was processed using qualitative analytical software WinMAX Professional and the emerging themes and sub-categories identified and analysed. The first was 'Emotional Diversity in Response to Pregnancy', which varied with time and other factors and also included mixed and polarised feelings such as excitement, pride, elation, worries, fears, shock and reluctance. The second was 'Nature, Management and Duration of Symptoms', which revealed the types and duration of physical and psychological symptoms experienced by men. Attempts at managing these were influenced by social and cultural factors. Physical symptoms were more common than psychological ones, and their time course demonstrated trends similar to those reported for the Couvade syndrome. Although the former were reported to their GPs, no definitive diagnosis was made despite medical investigations being performed. The third theme, 'Explanatory Attempts for Symptoms' was influenced by cultural beliefs and conventions like religion, alternative medical beliefs or through the enlightenment by healthcare professionals in the process. Some participants were unable to find explanations for symptoms but some perceived that they were related in some way to the altered physiology of their female partners during pregnancy. These findings highlight the need for further research to acquire deeper insight into men's experiences of, and responses to, pregnancy as a way of explaining the syndrome.

Reik, Theodor (1914) 'Die Couvade und die Psychogenese der Vergeltungsfurcht', Imago, 3, 409-455.

Robert L. Munroe, Ruth H. Munroe, John W. M. Whiting (1973) 'The Couvade: A Psychological Analysis', Ethos, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 30-74.

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