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Comments on neurobiology, neuroimaging, and psychiatry from a skeptical neuroscientist.

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  • October 22, 2016
  • 06:00 AM

Does Effect Size Matter for fMRI?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • October 13, 2016
  • 11:37 AM

Social Priming - Does It Work After All?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

"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 »

Payne BK, Brown-Iannuzzi JL, & Loersch C. (2016) Replicable effects of primes on human behavior. Journal of experimental psychology. General, 145(10), 1269-1279. PMID: 27690509  

  • October 10, 2016
  • 11:31 AM

Are There Too Few Jobs In Neuroscience?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • October 3, 2016
  • 05:05 PM

Can Electricity Stimulate Your Brain To Work Faster?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • September 29, 2016
  • 12:11 PM

The Terrorist Inside Robin Williams' Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

Williams SS. (2016) The terrorist inside my husband's brain. Neurology, 87(13), 1308-11. PMID: 27672165  

  • September 15, 2016
  • 04:41 AM

How to Hold Scientific Journals Accountable?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • September 13, 2016
  • 01:39 PM

How Well Does Brain Structure Predict Behaviour?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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  

  • September 1, 2016
  • 03:32 PM

Can Dogs Understand Speech?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

Andics A, Gábor A, Gácsi M, Faragó T, Szabó D, & Miklósi Á. (2016) Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs. Science (New York, N.Y.). PMID: 27576923  

  • August 26, 2016
  • 06:49 AM

From :-D to =8-0 - Effects of Emoticons on the Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • August 23, 2016
  • 03:58 PM

Making Music From Brainwaves: A History

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • August 21, 2016
  • 05:49 AM

What To Do About Software Errors in fMRI?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • August 19, 2016
  • 02:42 PM

The Brain That Goes Through Phases: Temporal Metastates in fMRI

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • August 16, 2016
  • 01:57 PM

Science Without Open Data Isn't Science

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

International Consortium of Investigators for Fairness in Trial Data Sharing. (2016) Toward Fairness in Data Sharing. The New England journal of medicine, 375(5), 405-7. PMID: 27518658  

  • August 1, 2016
  • 03:53 PM

Some Surprising Authors of Psychology Papers

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In a fascinating new paper, Scott O. Lilienfeld and Steven Jay Lynn discuss 78 Surprising Authors of Psychological Publications. The paper is a list of celebrities and other notable figures who, at one time or another, have published an academic paper in psychology.

Did you know that Lisa Kudrow, aka Phoebe from Friends, was co-author on a 1994 paper about 'Handedness and Headache' published in the journal Cephalalgia? Well, thanks to Lilienfeld and Lynn, now you do. Other actors who have a... Read more »

Lilienfeld SO, & Lynn SJ. (2016) You'll Never Guess Who Wrote That: 78 Surprising Authors of Psychological Publications. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 11(4), 419-41. PMID: 27474131  

  • July 31, 2016
  • 06:39 AM

The End of Ego-Depletion Theory?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

It's not been a good month for the theory of ego-depletion - the idea that self-control is a limited resource that can be depleted by overuse. Two weeks ago, researchers reported evidence of bias in the published literature examinig the question of whether glucose can reverse ego-depletion.

Now, the very existence of the ego-depletion phenomenon has been questioned by an international collaboration of psychologists who conducted a preregistered replication attempt (RRR). The results have just... Read more »

Hagger, M., & Chatzisarantis, N. (2016) A Multilab Preregistered Replication of the Ego-Depletion Effect. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(4), 546-573. DOI: 10.1177/1745691616652873  

  • July 27, 2016
  • 09:49 AM

The Myth of Human Adult Neurogenesis?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In a new paper that could prove explosive, Australian neuropathologists C. V. Dennis and colleagues report that they found very little evidence for adult neurogenesis in humans.

In recent years, the idea that neurogenesis - the production of new neurons - occurs in specific regions of the adult brain has become widely accepted, and much discussed. Disruptions to neurogenesis have been proposed to play a role in stress, depression, and other disorders.

However, Dennis et al. say that ne... Read more »

Dennis CV, Suh LS, Rodriguez ML, Kril JJ, & Sutherland GT. (2016) Human adult neurogenesis across the ages: An immunohistochemical study. Neuropathology and applied neurobiology. PMID: 27424496  

  • July 23, 2016
  • 09:41 AM

A New Map of the Brain: What Does It Mean?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A new Nature paper has earned a lot of media attention, unusually given that it's a fairly technical and 'basic' piece of neuroscience. In the paper, researchers Matthew F. Glasser and colleagues present a new parcellation (or map) of the human cerebral cortex, breaking the cortex down into 180 areas per hemisphere - many more than conventional maps.

But is this, as Nature dubbed it, "the ultimate brain map"?

To generate their map, Glasser et al. first downloaded 210 people's data from... Read more »

Glasser MF, Coalson TS, Robinson EC, Hacker CD, Harwell J, Yacoub E, Ugurbil K, Andersson J, Beckmann CF, Jenkinson M.... (2016) A multi-modal parcellation of human cerebral cortex. Nature. PMID: 27437579  

  • July 19, 2016
  • 03:17 PM

Can Ultrasound Diagnose Autism?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A paper makes the remarkable claim that autism could be detected through the use of ultrasound to peer beneath the skull. This paper is from 2014, but it just came to my attention.

The authors of the piece, James Jeffrey Bradstreet, Stefania Pacini and Marco Ruggiero, studied 23 children with autism and 15 control children, who were unaffected siblings of the autistic group. Using ultrasound, the authors looked under the skull overlaying the brain's temporal cortex. The ultrasound reveale... Read more »

  • July 16, 2016
  • 04:06 PM

Blogs, Papers, Plagiarism and Bitcoin

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Retraction Watch reports on a strange case of alleged plagiarism.

In February 2016, F1000Research published a paper called How blockchain-timestamped protocols could improve the trustworthiness of medical science. The authors, Greg Irving and John Holden, demonstrated the use of the bitcoin blockchain as a way of publicly verifying the existence of a certain document at a certain point in time. This approach, they say, could be used to make preregistered research protocols more secure. A prob... Read more »

  • July 14, 2016
  • 11:15 AM

Does Sugar Really Fuel Willpower?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Another prominent psychology theory has come under scrutiny by researchers who say the published results look unrealistic.

In a new paper, Miguel A. Vadillo et al. take aim at the idea that the body's reserves of willpower rely on glucose.

The background here is the 'ego depletion' model, a psychological theory which holds that self-control is effortful and draws on a limited resource, which can eventually be depleted if it's overused. Many researchers have proposed that glucose is thi... Read more »

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