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Comments on neurobiology, neuroimaging, and psychiatry from a skeptical neuroscientist.
A thought-provoking new paper from Oxford neuroscientists Stephen Smith and colleagues reports a correlation between a certain pattern of brain activity and, well, a great many things.
The researchers took 461 resting state fMRI scans from the open Human Connectome Project (HCP) database. Associated with each scan is a set of 'meta-data' about the volunteer who had the scan. These 158 variables (listed here) cover everything from age and gender, to mental health status, income, and 'times use... Read more »
Smith SM, Nichols TE, Vidaurre D, Winkler AM, Behrens TE, Glasser MF, Ugurbil K, Barch DM, Van Essen DC, & Miller KL. (2015) A positive-negative mode of population covariation links brain connectivity, demographics and behavior. Nature Neuroscience. PMID: 26414616
A remarkable paper just published in PLoS ONE reports on what is, I think, one of the largest psychological experiments of all time.
Researchers Elizabeth L. Paluck and colleagues partnered with a TV network to insert certain themes (or messages) into popular dramas shown on US TV. They then looked to see whether these themes had an effect on real world behavior, ranging from Google searches to drink-driving arrests.
The study was based on three prime time Spanish-language dramas (tele... Read more »
Paluck EL, Lagunes P, Green DP, Vavreck L, Peer L, & Gomila R. (2015) Does Product Placement Change Television Viewers' Social Behavior?. PloS one, 10(9). PMID: 26398217
An influential theory about the malleability of memory comes under scrutiny in a new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience.
The 'reconsolidation' hypothesis holds that when a memory is recalled, its molecular trace in the brain becomes plastic. On this view, a reactivated memory has to be 'saved' or consolidated all over again in order for it to be stored.
A drug that blocks memory formation ('amnestic') will, therefore, not just block new memories but will also cause reactivated m... Read more »
Gisquet-Verrier P, Lynch JF 3rd, Cutolo P, Toledano D, Ulmen A, Jasnow AM, & Riccio DC. (2015) Integration of New Information with Active Memory Accounts for Retrograde Amnesia: A Challenge to the Consolidation/Reconsolidation Hypothesis?. The Journal of Neuroscience, 35(33), 11623-33. PMID: 26290239
The claim that the hormone oxytocin promotes trust in humans has drawn a lot of attention. But today, a group of researchers reported that they've been unable to reproduce their own findings concerning that effect.
The new paper, in PLoS ONE, is by Anthony Lane and colleagues from Louvain in Belgium. The same team have previously published evidence supporting the link between oxytocin and trust.
Back in 2010 they reported that "oxytocin increases trust when confidential information is ... Read more »
Lane A, Mikolajczak M, Treinen E, Samson D, Corneille O, de Timary P, & Luminet O. (2015) Failed Replication of Oxytocin Effects on Trust: The Envelope Task Case. PloS ONE, 10(9). PMID: 26368396
A paper just published in American Psychologist has the unusual distinction of seemingly being written by four members of the same family.
Opportunistic biases: Their origins, effects, and an integrated solution was authored by Jamie DeCoster, Erin A. Sparks, Jordan C. Sparks, Glenn G. Sparks and Cheri W. Sparks. Four Sparks!
In science it's not unusual to have couples who work together and collaborate in writing papers. Sometimes this is evident from the author list, if they're marr... Read more »
DeCoster J, Sparks EA, Sparks JC, Sparks GG, & Sparks CW. (2015) Opportunistic biases: Their origins, effects, and an integrated solution. The American psychologist, 70(6), 499-514. PMID: 26348333
Last week, the Open Science Collaboration reported that only 36% of a sample of 100 claims from published psychology studies were succesfully replicated: Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science.
A reproducibility rate of 36% seems bad. But what would be a good value? Is it realistic to expect all studies to replicate? If not, where should we set the bar?
In this post I'll argue that it should be 100%.
First off however, I'll note that no single replication attemp... Read more »
Open Science Collaboration. (2015) Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science. Science (New York, N.Y.), 349(6251). PMID: 26315443
Everyone dreams - even people who believe that they "never dream" and can't remember any of their dreams. That's according to a group of French researchers writing in the Journal of Sleep Research: Evidence that non-dreamers do dream.
In questionnaire surveys, up to 6.5% of people report that they 'never dream'. Although most of these people report having dreamed at some point in the past, roughly 1 in every 250 people say that they can't remember ever dreaming - not even once.
But... Read more »
Herlin B, Leu-Semenescu S, Chaumereuil C, & Arnulf I. (2015) Evidence that non-dreamers do dream: a REM sleep behaviour disorder model. Journal of sleep research. PMID: 26307463
A creepy case report in the journal Neurocase describes a man who came to believe that his reflection was another person who lived behind the mirror.
The patient, Mr. B., a 78-year-old French man, was admitted to the neurology department in Tours:
During the previous 10 days, Mr. B. reported the presence of a stranger in his home who was located behind the mirror of the bathroom and strikingly shared his physical appearance. The stranger was a double of himself: he was the same size,... Read more »
Diard-Detoeuf, C., Desmidt, T., Mondon, K., & Graux, J. (2015) A case of Capgras syndrome with one’s own reflected image in a mirror. Neurocase, 1-2. DOI: 10.1080/13554794.2015.1080847
Are there areas of the cerebral cortex purely devoted to vision? Or can the "visual" cortex, under some conditions, respond to sounds? Two papers published recently address this question.
First off, Micah Murray and colleagues of Switzerland discuss The multisensory function of primary visual cortex in humans in a review paper published in Neuropsychologia.
They criticize the conventional view that the primary visual cortex (in the occipital lobe) is little more than a reception point ... Read more »
Bedny M, Richardson H, & Saxe R. (2015) "Visual" Cortex Responds to Spoken Language in Blind Children. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 35(33), 11674-81. PMID: 26290244
Murray MM, Thelen A, Thut G, Romei V, Martuzzi R, & Matusz PJ. (2015) The multisensory function of primary visual cortex in humans. Neuropsychologia. PMID: 26275965
A new study casts doubt on the idea that alcohol causes people to seem more attractive - the famous "beer goggles" effect.
Psychologists Olivia Maynard and colleauges, of Bristol, UK, conducted an unusual "real world" experiment. Rather than doing their testing in the laboratory, they went into three Bristol pubs in the evening (5-11 pm) and recruited volunteers on the spot. With a total sample size of 311, it was a very large sample.
Each participant was breathalyzed to estimate thei... Read more »
Maynard, O., Skinner, A., Troy, D., Attwood, A., & Munafò, M. (2015) Association of Alcohol Consumption with Perception of Attractiveness in a Naturalistic Environment. Alcohol and Alcoholism. DOI: 10.1093/alcalc/agv096
Meta-analyses are systematic syntheses of scientific evidence, most commonly randomized controlled clinical trials. A meta-analysis combines the results of multiple studies and can lead to new insights and more reliable results.
However, according to Italian surgeon Giovanni Tebala writing in Medical Hypotheses, meta-analyses are becoming too popular, and are in danger of taking over the medical literature.
Searching the PubMed database, Tebala shows that the yearly rate of publication... Read more »
Another day, another alarming brain-related story hits the news:
Dementia is striking victims earlier and death rates are soaring
Modern living has led to earlier dementia, says study
In fact the study in question doesn't show that. The paper, published in Surgical Neurological International (see also) is from British researchers Colin Pritchard and Emily Rosenorn-Lanng.
The authors show that the number of deaths attributed to neurological diseases (including dementia) have risen ... Read more »
Pritchard, C., & Rosenorn-Lanng, E. (2015) Neurological deaths of American adults (55-74) and the over 75′s by sex compared with 20 Western countries 1989-2010: Cause for concern. Surgical Neurology International, 6(1), 123. DOI: 10.4103/2152-7806.161420
In a new paper just out in Neuron, researchers Timothy Laumann and colleagues present an in-depth analysis of the functional connectivity of a single human brain.
The brain in question belongs to neuroscientist Russ Poldrack, and he's one of the authors of the paper. Poldrack was fMRI scanned a total of 84 times over a period of 532 days. The goal of this intense scanning schedule was to provide a detailed analysis of the functional connectivity of an individual brain.
Previous studies... Read more »
Laumann TO, Gordon EM, Adeyemo B, Snyder AZ, Joo SJ, Chen MY, Gilmore AW, McDermott KB, Nelson SM, Dosenbach NU.... (2015) Functional System and Areal Organization of a Highly Sampled Individual Human Brain. Neuron. PMID: 26212711
According to British biochemist Donald R. Forsdyke in a new paper in Biological Theory, the existence of people who seem to be missing most of their brain tissue calls into question some of the "cherished assumptions" of neuroscience.
I'm not so sure.
Forsdyke discusses the disease called hydrocephalus ('water on the brain'). Some people who suffer from this condition as children are cured thanks to prompt treatment. Remarkably, in some cases, these post-hydrocephalics turn out to have... Read more »
Forsdyke, D. (2015) Wittgenstein’s Certainty is Uncertain: Brain Scans of Cured Hydrocephalics Challenge Cherished Assumptions. Biological Theory. DOI: 10.1007/s13752-015-0219-x
Can the thought of money make people more conservative?
The idea that mere reminders of money can influence people's attitudes and behaviors is a major claim within the field of social priming - the study of how our behavior is unconsciously influenced by seemingly innocuous stimuli. However, social priming has been controversial lately with many high profile failures to replicate the reported effects.
Now, psychologists Doug Rohrer, Hal Pashler, and Christine Harris have joined the sk... Read more »
Doug Rohrer, Harold Pashler, & Christine R. Harris. (2015) Do Subtle Reminders of Money Change People’s Political Views?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. info:/
Can our beliefs, motivations and emotions influence our visual perception? Are cognition and perception ultimately inseparable?
A lot of recent psychological research says "yes" to the question. For instance, it has been claimed that carrying a heavy backpack makes a hill look - not just feel - steeper. Other researchers say that feeling sad makes things seem darker - not just metaphorically, but literally.
However, according to a new paper by Yale psychologists Chaz Firestone & Br... Read more »
Firestone C, & Scholl BJ. (2015) Cognition does not affect perception: Evaluating the evidence for 'top-down' effects. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1-77. PMID: 26189677
A new paper published in Cognitive Processes argues that neuroscientists may need to look at brain activity from a new angle, in order to understand neural dynamics.
According to the authors, David Alexander et al. of Leuven in Belgium,
A ubiquitous methodological practice in cognitive neuroscience is to obtain measure of brain activity by analyzing the time course of activity alone, or the spatial topography of activity alone.
This usually results in throwing away most of the data as... Read more »
Alexander DM, Trengove C, & van Leeuwen C. (2015) Donders is dead: cortical traveling waves and the limits of mental chronometry in cognitive neuroscience. Cognitive processing. PMID: 26139038
A talking white elephant called Slizamandee could save the world with his wisdom and "teach us with the deepest voice of history", according to an academic paper published today.
The article appeared in the journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology. The authors are led by Otto E. Rössler, a biochemist. It's called Is it Ethical to heal a young white Elephant from his physiological Autism? Many thanks to Michelle Dawson for bringing it to my attention.
Rössler et al. start ou... Read more »
Rossler, O., Theis, C., Heiter, J., Fleischer, W., & Student, A. (2015) Is it Ethical to heal a young white Elephant from his physiological Autism?. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2015.06.020
Can we learn without being aware of what we're learning? Many psychologists say that 'unconscious', or implicit, learning exists.
But in a new paper, London-based psychologists Vadillo, Konstantinidis, and Shanks call the evidence for this into question.
Vadillo et al. focus on one particular example of implicit learning, the contextual cueing paradigm. This involves a series of stimulus patterns, each consisting of a number of "L" shapes and one "T" shape in various orientations. For ... Read more »
Vadillo MA, Konstantinidis E, & Shanks DR. (2015) Underpowered samples, false negatives, and unconscious learning. Psychonomic bulletin . PMID: 26122896
A new paper from a group of American neurologists makes the case that Hitler suffered from Parkinson's disease for much of his life, and that some of his most fateful decisions were influenced by the neurological disorder.
The article is by Raghav Gupta and colleagues and it appears in World Neurosurgery - a journal with an interesting political history of its own.
Gupta et al. note that
The possibility of Hitler suffering from Parkinson's has long been the subject of debate... [a res... Read more »
Gupta R, Kim C, Agarwal N, Lieber B, & Monaco EA 3rd. (2015) Understanding the Influence of Parkinson's Disease on Adolf Hitler's Decision-Making during World War II. World neurosurgery. PMID: 26093359
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