• Chromatography Turns Psychologist – Looking Back at the Mauve Spot

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Chromatography Turns Psychologist – Looking Back at the Mauve Spot

Mar 30 2015

Since its inception over half a century ago, chromatography has gone from strength to strength, becoming a tried and trusted technique for breaking down compounds into their various components. It has pervaded all aspects of modern-day science, from pharmaceuticals and food evaluation to forensics and industry. For information on how it has become commonplace in the most unlikely of practices, read this article: 5 Uses of Chromatography in Everyday Life.

However, around 50 years ago, as the practice was just beginning to gather widespread popularity, it was used to try and explain one mystery which still largely eludes our understanding to this day – the human mind. While chromatography is excellent at separating substance from substance, black from white, it didn’t fare quite so well at attempting to analyse the grey matter of the human psyche.

Chromatography and Psychology

In 1968, a paper by A. Pauline Ridges, R. E. Bourdillon, S. A. Leslie and P. Harper entitled ‘“Pink Spot” and Schizophrenia’ was published in the very first volume and edition of the scientific journal International Journal of Descriptive and Experimental Psychopathology, Phenomenology and Psychiatric Diagnosis. The paper discussed the recent work done by various chromatographers, linking the appearance of a pink or mauve spot on analysis of urine samples with sufferers of schizophrenia.

The science behind the study explained that the mauve spot was demonstrative of “an abnormality of the transmethylation mechanisms of the body”. Scientists and psychologists, keen to find definitive proof that mental imbalances were a product of chemical and thus physical imbalances, leapt upon the idea.

However, credibility was lost for the study when it was found that the mauve spot appeared on the samples of patients suffering from maladies other than schizophrenia… and in fact, from completely healthy subjects, as well. Furthermore, not all schizophrenics displayed the mauve spot symptom, leaving researchers scratching their heads.

The final nail in the coffin for the mauve spot theory came about when a correlation between the administering of a certain drug and those patients who showed the mauve spot was discovered. Finally, the spot was not indicative of the condition, but rather the treatment intended to combat the condition.

Chromatography Still Has a Role to Play in Understanding Psychology

Though chromatography can’t offer definitive evidence of schizophrenia or other mental maladies, it can offer us insight into the behavioural patterns of humans and other species. This article, What is Chemical Ecology?, discusses how chromatography can be used to isolate specific chemicals which cause changes in odour in different living organisms. These fluctuations in the semiochemicals can then reveal enlightening information about mating protocol, genetic diversity, diet and aggression between species members.

Such information can then be used to develop pharmaceuticals which can help humans in a variety of ways, from insect repellents to disease prevention.


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