A new paper in PNAS raises the interesting suggestion that our brain function goes through yearly cycles. According to authors Christelle Meyer and colleagues, their findings reveal new evidence of seasonal effects in human cognitive brain function "that could contribute to cognitive changes at specific times of year."
However in my view, the study is too small to be conclusive.
Meyer et al. used fMRI to scan 28 young participants. Each of the volunteers spent 4 1/2 days in a laborator... Read more »
A potential case of data manipulation has been uncovered in a psychology paper. The suspect article, Why money meanings matter in decisions to donate time and money, came out in 2012 from University of Arizona psychologists Promothesh Chatterjee, Randall L. Rose, and Jayati Sinha.
This study fell into the genre of 'social priming', specifically 'money priming'. The authors reported that making people think about cash reduces their willingness to help others, while thinking of credit cards has... Read more »
Well? Would you...?
This was the question faced by the participants in a rather extraordinary series of studies described in a new paper from Illinois psychologists Randy J. McCarthy and colleagues. In total, 1081 parents with children aged under 18 were presented with an outline of a person, and asked to imagine that it was their own child. They were told to think of a time when their child made them angry. Finally, they were asked how many pins they would like to stick into the "doll" in or... Read more »
McCarthy RJ, Crouch JL, Basham AR, Milner JS, & Skowronski JJ. (2016) Validating the Voodoo Doll Task as a Proxy for Aggressive Parenting Behavior. Psychology of violence, 6(1), 135-144. PMID: 26839734
A press-release from the Harvard-MIT Broad Institute reaches astonishing heights of hyperbole in announcing a new schizophrenia study (Sekar et al. 2016). Here's the release:
Genetic study provides first-ever insight into biological origin of schizophrenia
Landmark analysis reveals excessive "pruning" of connections between neurons in brain predisposes to schizophrenia
A landmark study, based on genetic analysis of nearly 65,000 people, has revealed that a person’s risk of schizo... Read more »
Sekar A, Bialas AR, de Rivera H, Davis A, Hammond TR, Kamitaki N, Tooley K, Presumey J, Baum M, Van Doren V.... (2016) Schizophrenia risk from complex variation of complement component 4. Nature. PMID: 26814963
We've learned this week that computers can play Go. But at least there's one human activity they will never master: neuroscience. A computer will never be a neuroscientist. Except... hang on. A new paper just out in Neuroimage describes something called The Automatic Neuroscientist. Oh.
So what is this new neuro-robot? According to its inventors, Romy Lorenz and colleagues of Imperial College London, it's a framework for using "real-time fMRI in combination with modern machine-learning te... Read more »
Lorenz R, Monti RP, Violante IR, Anagnostopoulos C, Faisal AA, Montana G, & Leech R. (2016) The automatic neuroscientist: A framework for optimizing experimental design with closed-loop real-time fMRI. NeuroImage. PMID: 26804778
Capgras syndrome is a strange disorder in which the sufferer becomes convinced that someone close to them has been replaced by an impostor.
Yet now, a new and even stranger variant of the syndrome has been reported - "Cat-gras". This is the name coined by Harvard neurologists R. Ryan Darby and David Caplan in a new paper in the journal Neurocase. The authors describe the case of a man who believed that his cat was in fact a different cat.
According to Darby and Caplan, the patient ... Read more »
Darby, R., & Caplan, D. (2016) “Cat-gras” delusion: a unique misidentification syndrome and a novel explanation. Neurocase, 1-6. DOI: 10.1080/13554794.2015.1136335
A new paper in the prestigious Journal of Neuroscience makes some exciting claims about the neurobiology of PTSD - but are the methods solid?
Canadian researchers Mišić et al. used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to measure neural activity in four groups: traumatized Canadian soldiers, non-traumatized soldiers, civilians with mild traumatic brain injury, and healthy civilians. They found that
Soldiers with PTSD display inter-regional hypersynchrony at high frequencies (80–150 Hz), as well a... Read more »
Mišić B, Dunkley BT, Sedge PA, Da Costa L, Fatima Z, Berman MG, Doesburg SM, McIntosh AR, Grodecki R, Jetly R.... (2016) Post-Traumatic Stress Constrains the Dynamic Repertoire of Neural Activity. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 36(2), 419-31. PMID: 26758834
A special issue of the journal Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics features perspectives from various people who have experience with genetic testing. Many of the articles look interesting - with titles such as I Had Genetic Testing for Alzheimer's Disease Without My Consent. But my attention was drawn to one piece in particular, called A Sister, a Father and a Son: Autism, Genetic Testing, and Impossible Decisions. The author of the article has chosen to remain anonymous.
The piece recounts how o... Read more »
Anonymous Two. (2015) A Sister, a Father and a Son: Autism, Genetic Testing, and Impossible Decisions. Narrative inquiry in bioethics, 5(3), 226-228. PMID: 26752577
How does the brain encode physical pain? Which brain areas (if any) respond only to painful stimuli?
A new paper reports that one supposedly "pain-selective" brain region, the posterior insula, doesn't actually specifically encode pain - it activates in response to diverse non-painful stimuli as well. The study appears in PLoS Biology and it comes from Giulia Liberati and colleagues of the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium.
Liberati et al. found that the insula responds to non-... Read more »
Liberati G, Klöcker A, Safronova MM, Ferrão Santos S, Ribeiro Vaz JG, Raftopoulos C, & Mouraux A. (2016) Nociceptive Local Field Potentials Recorded from the Human Insula Are Not Specific for Nociception. PLoS Biology, 14(1). PMID: 26734726
Last month, a neuroscience paper got a lot of attention for reporting that Negative Age Stereotypes Predict Alzheimer's Disease Biomarkers.
It was greeted by headlines such as:
If you think elderly people are icky, you're more likely to get Alzheimer’s (Healthline)
Lack of respect for elderly may be fuelling Alzheimer's epidemic (The Telegraph)
Your attitude about aging may impact how you age (TIME)
The research, published in the journal Psychology and Aging, wasn't about Alzheimer's ... Read more »
Levy BR, Ferrucci L, Zonderman AB, Slade MD, Troncoso J, & Resnick SM. (2015) A Culture-Brain Link: Negative Age Stereotypes Predict Alzheimer's Disease Biomarkers. Psychology and Aging. PMID: 26641877
In a provocative new paper, Norwegian psychologist Jan Smedslund argues that psychology "cannot be an empirical science". Smedslund is a veteran of the field; his first paper was published in 1953.
He opens by saying that
Psychology is a science in crisis, both with respect to theoretical coherence and practical efficiency.
This, he says, is not a problem that could be remedied by further development of psychological theory. Rather, the point is that the whole enterprise is inherently... Read more »
Missing out on a night's sleep causes "robust alterations" in the functional connectivity of the brain, according to a new paper just out in Neuroimage.
Neuroscientists Tobias Kaufmann et al. of the University of Oslo acquired resting state fMRI scans from 60 male volunteers. The participants were scanned three times each - once in the morning, again the same evening, and then finally the next morning. But only some of the volunteers were allowed to sleep in the night before the final sca... Read more »
Kaufmann T, Elvsåshagen T, Alnæs D, Zak N, Pedersen PØ, Norbom LB, Quraishi SH, Tagliazucchi E, Laufs H, Bjørnerud A.... (2015) The brain functional connectome is robustly altered by lack of sleep. NeuroImage. PMID: 26712339
In a short piece for the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, Susan E. Lederer discusses what happens when research participants die in the course of medical research.
Lederer opens by noting that in the 1950s, little outrage greeted the reports of deaths among volunteers. For instance:
In March of 1952 James S. Leedom (known as "Stan") was an 18-year-old freshman honors student at Seattle University, and one of 40 volunteers in a University of Washington study of the safety... Read more »
Lederer SE. (2015) Dying for Science: Historical Perspectives on Research Participants' Deaths. AMA journal of ethics, 17(12), 1166-71. PMID: 26698591
If you got a Christmas card in the mail from a complete stranger, would you send them one back?
Surprisingly, this isn't a purely hypothetical question. Social psychologists have used Christmas cards from a stranger as a model to research the 'reciprocity norm' - the expectation that you should return a favor, and help someone who helps you.
In 1976, researchers Phillip Kunz and Michael Woolcott sent cards to a random sample of 578 Americans. Overall, they found that 20% of the recipients ... Read more »
Meier BP. (2015) Bah Humbug: Unexpected Christmas Cards and the Reciprocity Norm. The Journal of social psychology. PMID: 26666577
In an unusual new paper, a group of German neuroscientists report that they scanned the brain of a Catholic bishop: Does a bishop pray when he prays? And does his brain distinguish between different religions?
The researchers were Sarita Silveira and colleagues of Munich, and they used fMRI to measure brain activity in "a German bishop aged 72 years". He's said to be "an eminent representative of the Catholic Church in Germany."
I assume he removed his mitre before entering the scanner.
... Read more »
Silveira S, Bao Y, Wang L, Pöppel E, Avram M, Simmank F, Zaytseva Y, & Blautzik J. (2015) Does a bishop pray when he prays? And does his brain distinguish between different religions?. PsyCh journal, 4(4), 199-207. PMID: 26663626
Many people will be familiar with this rather strange image:
It's a depiction of the motor homunculus, which is essentially a "map" of the body located in the brain. The image shows how different spots of the primary motor cortex control different parts of the body.
So, for instance, the spot I've highlighted in red corresponds to the muscles in the thumb. If you were to stimulate this spot, say using an electrode, it would cause the thumb to twitch. By stimulating different points and... Read more »
Graziano MS. (2015) Ethological Action Maps: A Paradigm Shift for the Motor Cortex. Trends in cognitive sciences. PMID: 26628112
A new paper reports that one of the most popular approaches to analyzing fMRI data is flawed. The article, available as a preprint on arXiv, is from Swedish neuroscientists Anders Eklund et al.
Neuroskeptic readers may recall that I've blogged about Eklund et al.'s work before, first in 2012 and again earlier this year. In the previous two studies, Eklund et al. showed that the standard parametric statistical method for detecting brain activations in fMRI data is prone to false positi... Read more »
Anders Eklund, Thomas Nichols, & Hans Knutsson. (2015) Can parametric statistical methods be trusted for fMRI based group studies?. arXiv. arXiv: 1511.01863v1
For years, psychologists have been debating the "bilingual advantage" - the idea that speaking more than one language fluently brings with it cognitive benefits. Believers and skeptics in the theory have been trading blows for years, but matters recently came to a head in the form of a series of papers in the journal Cortex.
The bilingual advantage hypothesis states that bilinguals excel at 'cognitive control' also known as 'executive function' - meaning that they find it easier to su... Read more »
Paap KR, Johnson HA, & Sawi O. (2015) Should the search for bilingual advantages in executive functioning continue?. Cortex. PMID: 26586100
A new paper reports the fascinating and perplexing case of a woman who reported that she was host to multiple personalities - some of whom were completely blind. The paper is called Sight and blindness in the same person: gating in the visual system, authored by German psychologists Hans Strasburger and Bruno Waldvogel.
The patient in this case, "B. T.", aged 33, has a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID), a condition formerly known as multiple personality disorder (MPD). B. ... Read more »
Strasburger H, & Waldvogel B. (2015) Sight and blindness in the same person: Gating in the visual system. PsyCh journal. PMID: 26468893
How do neuroscientists' brains work?
In a remarkable (and very meta) new paper, German researchers Frieder Michel Paulus et al. scanned some neuroscientists (their own colleagues) using fMRI, to measure the brain response to seeing neuroscience papers. The study is out now in PLoS ONE: Journal Impact Factor Shapes Scientists' Reward Signal in the Prospect of Publication
Paulus et al.'s paper has already got a lot of attention: it's been featured on the famous Improbable Research blog, ... Read more »
Paulus FM, Rademacher L, Schäfer TA, Müller-Pinzler L, & Krach S. (2015) Journal Impact Factor Shapes Scientists' Reward Signal in the Prospect of Publication. PloS one, 10(11). PMID: 26555725
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