290 posts · 192,841 views
Comments on neurobiology, neuroimaging, and psychiatry from a skeptical neuroscientist.
Most neuroscientists will tell you that long-term memories are stored in the brain in the form of synapses, the connections between neurons. On this view, memory formation occurs when synaptic connections are strengthened, or entirely new synapses are formed.
However, in a new piece in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, Austrian researcher Patrick C. Trettenbrein critiques the synapse-memory theory: The Demise of the Synapse As the Locus of Memory.
Trettenbrein acknowledges that "t... Read more »
Trettenbrein, P. (2016) The Demise of the Synapse As the Locus of Memory: A Looming Paradigm Shift?. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. DOI: 10.3389/fnsys.2016.00088
Are the eyes the windows to intelligence? In an interesting paper, Georgia psychologists Jason S. Tsukahara and colleagues report that there's a positive correlation between pupil size and cognitive ability.
It's well known that our pupil size varies over time due to changes in both emotional state and cognitive 'effort'. As Tsukahara et al. put it
Starting in the 1960s it became apparent to psychologists that the size of the pupil is related to more than just the amount of light enterin... Read more »
Tsukahara JS, Harrison TL, & Engle RW. (2016) The relationship between baseline pupil size and intelligence. Cognitive psychology, 109-123. PMID: 27821254
A remarkable paper claims that staying off Facebook for a week could make you happier: The Facebook Experiment, by Morten Tromholt of Denmark.
What makes this study so interesting is that it was a randomized controlled trial (RCT) and so was able, at least in theory, to determine whether quitting Facebook actually causes changes in well-being. Previously, there has been lots of research reporting correlations between social network use and happiness, but correlation isn't causation.
... Read more »
Tromholt M. (2016) The Facebook Experiment: Quitting Facebook Leads to Higher Levels of Well-Being. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 19(11), 661-666. PMID: 27831756
I've blogged about my fair share of scientific papers over the years, but this is a new one: a paper about me.
Writing in Science and Engineering Ethics, author Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva discusses the question of Are Pseudonyms Ethical in (Science) Publishing? Neuroskeptic as a Case Study
Teixeira da Silva, a plant scientist and frequent poster on PubPeer amongst other forums, opens with the following:
There is a prominent blogger called Neuroskeptic who has a web-site and even a... Read more »
Teixeira da Silva, J. (2016) Are Pseudonyms Ethical in (Science) Publishing? Neuroskeptic as a Case Study. Science and Engineering Ethics. DOI: 10.1007/s11948-016-9825-7
Do you find gruyère gross? Are you repelled by roquefort?
Neuroscientists are now investigating why this might be. A new paper claims to reveal The Neural Bases of Disgust for Cheese.
French (heh) researchers Jean-Pierre Royet and colleagues used fMRI to scan 15 people who liked cheese and 15 who "hated" it. During the scan, the participants were shown images of cheese and were exposed to cheese odors.
The six neuro-cheeses were blue cheese, cheddar, goat cheese, gruyère, parmesan, ... Read more »
Royet JP, Meunier D, Torquet N, Mouly AM, & Jiang T. (2016) The Neural Bases of Disgust for Cheese: An fMRI Study. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 511. PMID: 27799903
A new paper could prompt a rethink of a basic tenet of neuroscience. It is widely believed that the motor cortex, a region of the cerebral cortex, is responsible for producing movements, by sending instructions to other brain regions and ultimately to the spinal cord. But according to neuroscientists Christian Laut Ebbesen and colleagues, the truth may be the opposite: the motor cortex may equally well suppress movements.
Ebbesen et al. studied the vibrissa motor cortex (VMC) of the rat, ... Read more »
Ebbesen CL, Doron G, Lenschow C, & Brecht M. (2016) Vibrissa motor cortex activity suppresses contralateral whisking behavior. Nature Neuroscience. PMID: 27798633
I just came across a remarkable new paper on the science of salt-passing behavior: Expected Results Show that a Longer Nose Means Slower Times for Passing the Salt and Pepper: A Second Report
The article, which I have no doubt is entirely serious in nature, lists as its authors Canadian researchers Minér Patrick, Léon Le Néz and Pat Minér.
Here's how Patrick et al. describe their work:
Eighty female student subjects were tested by being asked to pass salt or pepper by another stud... Read more »
Patrick M, Le Néz L, Minér P. (2016) Expected Results Show that a Longer Nose Means Slower Times for Passing the Salt and Pepper: A Second Report. Dual Diagnosis: Open Access. info:/
fMRI researchers should care about (and report) the size of the effects that they study, according to a new Neuroimage paper from NIMH researchers Gang Chen and colleagues. It's called Is the statistic value all we should care about in neuroimaging?. The authors include Robert W. Cox, creator of the popular fMRI analysis software AFNI.
Chen et al. explain the purpose of their paper:
Here we address an important issue that has been embedded within the neuroimaging community for a long tim... Read more »
Chen G, Taylor PA, & Cox RW. (2016) Is the Statistic Value All We Should Care about in Neuroimaging?. NeuroImage. PMID: 27729277
"Social priming" has been the punching-bag of psychology for the past few years.
The term "social priming" refers to the idea that subtle cues can exert large, unconscious influences on human behaviour. The classic example of a social priming effect was the "professor priming" study in which volunteers who completed a task in which they had to describe a typical professor, subsequently performed better on a general knowledge task. In other words, as the authors put it, "priming a stereotype o... Read more »
Is European neuroscience facing a jobs crisis? Writing in The Lancet Neurology, Mario Bonato and Esperanza Jubera-Garcia sound the alarm:
As young European neuroscientists, we want to bring attention to the dramatic absence of professional long-term opportunities that researchers are facing mostly, although not exclusively, in the south of Europe.
In the past few years, young scientists from several European countries have been forced to move to other countries, or to quit research a... Read more »
Bonato M, & Jubera-Garcia E. (2016) The sharp drop in the number of faculty positions is compromising the future of neuroscience. The Lancet. Neurology, 15(11), 1118-9. PMID: 27647639
A widely-used 'brain stimulation' tool has no effect on the speed of the brain's responses, according to a new study from Australian neuroscientists Jared Horvath et al.
The technique of transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) involves attaching electrodes to the scalp and applying a weak electrical current. This current is thought to flow through the brain and alter neural activity in areas close to the electrodes. tDCS is a popular experimental method in neuroscience, and there's a... Read more »
Horvath JC, Carter O, & Forte JD. (2016) No significant effect of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) found on simple motor reaction time comparing 15 different simulation protocols. Neuropsychologia, 544-552. PMID: 27664296
The journal Neurology published a unique and touching paper today: it's by artist Susan Schneider Williams, the widow of actor Robin Williams, who died by suicide in August 2014. It's titled The terrorist inside my husband's brain, the 'terrorist' being Lewy Body disease (LBD), the neurodegenerative disorder that, as Schneider Williams recounts, destroyed his life.
Here's how she describes the first signs of her husbands' illness:
The colors were changing and the air was crisp; it wa... Read more »
Writing in PLoS Biology, neurobiologist Thomas C. Südhof discusses Truth in Science Publishing: A Personal Perspective. Südhof is a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford. A veteran scientist, he's been publishing since 1982.
So what's the state of science publishing as Südhof sees it?
He first notes that "scientists, public servants, and patient advocates alike increasingly question the validity of published scientific results, endangering the publi... Read more »
Südhof TC. (2016) Truth in Science Publishing: A Personal Perspective. PLoS biology, 14(8). PMID: 27564858
To what extent does brain structure correlate with different psychological traits? An interesting new paper from Massachusetts General Hospital researchers Mert R. Sabuncu and colleagues uses a new method to examine what the authors call the 'morphometricity' of various behaviours and mental disorders.
Sabuncu et al. define morphometricity as "the proportion of phenotypic variation that can be explained by macroscopic brain morphology" - in other words, the degree to which people with sim... Read more »
Sabuncu MR, Ge T, Holmes AJ, Smoller JW, Buckner RL, Fischl B, & Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. (2016) Morphometricity as a measure of the neuroanatomical signature of a trait. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 27613854
A paper just published in Science has given rise to some astonishing headlines:
Dogs can understand human speech, scientists discover
Dogs process language like us
Dogs understand both words and intonation of human speech
But is the media's excitement justified, or are they barking up the wrong tree?
Here's the paper, from Hungarian neuroscientists Atilla Andics and colleagues. It was a canine fMRI study: dogs were trained to lie still in the MRI scanner and were played voice reco... Read more »
An unusual study reports the effects of emoticons on human brain activity: Neural correlates of text-based emoticons
South Korean neuroscientists Ko Woon Kim et al. used fMRI to record brain activation in 18 volunteers who were shown various expressive text symbols, in both the Asian 'vertical' and Western 'horizontal' styles:
However, it turned out that the brain doesn't really respond to emoticons at all: there was no significant difference in the brain response to the real emoticons... Read more »
Kim KW, Lee SW, Choi J, Kim TM, & Jeong B. (2016) Neural correlates of text-based emoticons: a preliminary fMRI study. Brain and behavior, 6(8). PMID: 27547502
A new paper in Brain tells the story of attempts to turn brain waves into music. The authors are Bart Lutters and Peter J. Koehler: Brainwaves in concert: the 20th century sonification of the electroencephalogram
Electroencephalography (EEG), a technique for measuring brain electrical activity, was invented by German psychiatrist Hans Berger in 1929. Berger's EEG displayed the recorded activity in the form of graphs, using a mobile pen and a rotating drum of graph paper, but within 5 years,... Read more »
Lutters B, & Koehler PJ. (2016) Brainwaves in concert: the 20th century sonification of the electroencephalogram. Brain. PMID: 27543971
Last month we learned that a problem in commonly used fMRI analysis tools was giving rise to elevated rates of false positives. Now, another issue has been discovered in an fMRI tool. The affected software is called GingerALE and the 'implementation errors' are revealed in a new paper by Simon B. Eickhoff et al., the developers of the package.
GingerALE is a meta-analysis tool, that offers the ability to combine the results of multiple fMRI studies to assess the overall level of evide... Read more »
Eickhoff SB, Laird AR, Fox PM, Lancaster JL, & Fox PT. (2016) Implementation errors in the GingerALE Software: Description and recommendations. Human brain mapping. PMID: 27511454
Do you ever feel like your brain is stuck in a rut? A new study from neuroscientists James M. Shine and colleagues reveals the existence of 'temporal metastates' in human brain activity. These metastates are modes or patterns of activity that can persist over days, weeks or even months at a time, and they seem to be related to fluctuations in energy levels and attention.
The authors made use of a unique fMRI dataset, namely the results of repeated scanning of neuroscientist Russ Poldrack's br... Read more »
Shine JM, Koyejo O, & Poldrack RA. (2016) Temporal metastates are associated with differential patterns of time-resolved connectivity, network topology, and attention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 27528672
A new position paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has generated a lot of controversy among some scientists: Toward Fairness in Data Sharing.
It's not hard to see why: the piece criticizes the concept of data sharing in the context of clinical trials. Data sharing is the much-discussed idea that researchers should make their raw data available to anyone who wants to access it. While the NEJM piece is specifically framed as a rebuttal to this recent pro-data sharing N... Read more »
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