Post List

  • October 24, 2014
  • 04:27 AM

Collective Structures in Software Projects

by Jörg Friedrich in Software Engineering Economics

To understand the social dynamics of complex software development processes, it is necessary to analyze in which structures the persons involved and how this involvement affected their work. Damian Tamburri has in recent years identified the relevant social structures in a number of publications, analyzed and graded on their effect. He first distinguishes four basic […]... Read more »

Tamburri, D., Lago, P., & Vliet, H. (2013) Organizational social structures for software engineering. ACM Computing Surveys, 46(1), 1-35. DOI: 10.1145/2522968.2522971  

  • October 24, 2014
  • 02:51 AM

Autism, siblings and DSM-5 Social Communication Disorder

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

A quick post to bring to your attention the paper by Meghan Miller and colleagues [1] who concluded that: "Pragmatic language problems are present in some siblings of children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] as early as 36 months of age". Further: "As the new DSM-5 diagnosis of Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder (SCD) is thought to occur more frequently in family members of individuals with ASD, it is possible that some of these siblings will meet criteria for SCD as they get older".Isn't this a school day?The DSM-5, as many in the autism community will already know, has been the source of quite a bit of discussion/argument as to how it has started to re-define what we label as autism or autism spectrum disorder. The initial signs have been that use of the DSM-5 criteria does indeed impact on the numbers of cases of autism (see here) and in particular, that the category termed 'Social Communication Disorder' (SCD) is filling up with those who might present with social communication issues without the repetitive or restricted behaviours required to fulfil the ASD label. Whether this implies the same levels of services and resources will be available to those with SCD as it is supposed to for those with ASD remains to be seen.I did wonder whether the Miller findings were an important indication (although not the first [2]) that science might also be putting a bit more flesh on to the bones of the concept of a broader autism phenotype (BAP). Describing the subtle speech and language and social interactive issues described on the diagnostic borderlands of autism [3], it strikes me that there is more than a smidgen of overlap between SCD and the BAP (at least with more strength of data than the suggestion of a link between the BAP and postnatal depression). With cautions down the years about assuming "all children with pragmatic difficulties have autism" [4], does the advent of the SCD diagnostic category offer a viable alternative?Music to close, and the sheer brilliance of Morrissey (live). And for those who might want to know a little more about the man behind the music: The Importance Of Being Morrissey.----------[1] Miller M. et al. Early pragmatic language difficulties in siblings of children with autism: implications for DSM-5 social communication disorder? J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2014 Oct 15.[2] Botting N. & Conti-Ramsden G. Pragmatic Language Impairment without Autism. Autism. 1999; 3: 371-396[3] Dawson G. et al. Defining the broader phenotype of autism: genetic, brain, and behavioral perspectives. Dev Psychopathol. 2002 Summer;14(3):581-611.----------Miller M, Young GS, Hutman T, Johnson S, Schwichtenberg AJ, & Ozonoff S (2014). Early pragmatic language difficulties in siblings of children with autism: implications for DSM-5 social communication disorder? Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines PMID: 25315782... Read more »

  • October 24, 2014
  • 12:05 AM

Who is at Risk for Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome?

by Hallie Labrador MD, MS in Sports Medicine Research (SMR): In the Lab & In the Field

Risk of medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is associated with increased body mass index, navicular drop, ankle plantarflexion range of motion (ROM) and hip external rotation ROM.... Read more »

  • October 23, 2014
  • 05:58 PM

The Genes Responsible for Immune System Reset after Infection

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

We’ve all been sick before, the aches and pains that come with it– most of the time including a fever — are all responses to our immune system kicking into high gear. But what if your body didn’t reverse course and go back to a, let’s call it” relaxed state.” Once the battle is won, the body’s efforts would be wasted on energy costing defense. A bad thing when the body really should be focusing on repairing the damage done by the foreign invaders.... Read more »

Brian Head,, & Alejandro Aballay. (2014) Recovery from an Acute Infection in C. elegans Requires the GATA Transcription Factor ELT-2. PLoS Genetics. info:/10.1371/journal.pgen.1004609

  • October 23, 2014
  • 10:20 AM

Smartphone App Boosts Alcoholism Treatment Outcome

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

Smartphone apps and other mobile technology are emerging as promising tools in medical treatment.A recent randomized study published in JAMA Psychiatry found evidence that a smartphone app improves alcoholism treatment outcomes.David Gustafson and colleagues conducted a study funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.A series of 349 adults with DSM-IV alcohol dependence were enrolled as they entered a alcoholism residential treatment program.Approximately half of the subjects were provided with a smartphone that had an app known as Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (A-CHESS).The smartphone with A-CHESS app provided the following support:An audio-guided relaxation programA GPS alert system when users neared a high-risk drinking location (i.e. a bar previously used by the participant)A two-way message system between treatment team and participantA panic button that allowed users to notify two support contactsA log function that allowed the research team to monitor smartphone services usedThe key findings from the study included the following for the A-CHESS assigned group:Statistically significant reductions in number of risky drinking days compared to controls (1.39 days per month versus 2.75 days per month)Higher rates of abstinence at 4-, 8- and 12-month follow-up periodsReduction in number of risky drinking days was correlated with number of A-CHESS pages viewed and number of days the service was accessedThe authors noted that some outcome measures were not improved in the A-CHESS group compared to controls including frequency of negative consequences related to drinking.The cost of the smartphone and A-CHESS app was estimated at $597 per patient during the study.This study does demonstrated the feasibility and potential utility of using smartphones and treatment augmentation apps for those with alcohol dependence.The specific components promoting improved outcomes in this study are unable to be identified.However, the results are encouraging and support further research efforts and evolution of smartphone app design for enhancing the treatment of alcohol dependence and other addictions.Readers with more interest in this research can access the free full-text manuscript by clicking on the PMID link in the citation below.Photo of grosbeak is from the author's files.Follow the author on Twitter WRY999Gustafson DH, McTavish FM, Chih MY, Atwood AK, Johnson RA, Boyle MG, Levy MS, Driscoll H, Chisholm SM, Dillenburg L, Isham A, & Shah D (2014). A smartphone application to support recovery from alcoholism: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA psychiatry, 71 (5), 566-72 PMID: 24671165... Read more »

Gustafson DH, McTavish FM, Chih MY, Atwood AK, Johnson RA, Boyle MG, Levy MS, Driscoll H, Chisholm SM, Dillenburg L.... (2014) A smartphone application to support recovery from alcoholism: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA psychiatry, 71(5), 566-72. PMID: 24671165  

  • October 23, 2014
  • 09:05 AM

The Monster Mash – Diseases That May Have Spawned Monster Legends

by Bill Sullivan in The 'Scope

Creepy diseases that produce symptoms that mimic characteristics associated with legendary monsters!... Read more »

Schulenburg-Brand D, Katugampola R, Anstey AV, & Badminton MN. (2014) The cutaneous porphyrias. Dermatologic clinics, 32(3), 369. PMID: 24891059  

Deshmukh S, & Prashanth S. (2012) Ectodermal dysplasia: a genetic review. International journal of clinical pediatric dentistry, 5(3), 197-202. PMID: 25206167  

Ramirez-Bermudez J, Aguilar-Venegas LC, Crail-Melendez D, Espinola-Nadurille M, Nente F, & Mendez MF. (2010) Cotard syndrome in neurological and psychiatric patients. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 22(4), 409-16. PMID: 21037126  

  • October 23, 2014
  • 07:38 AM

Four Solar-Powered Animals

by beredim in Strange Animals

Photosynthesis, a process used by plants and some bacteria to convert light from the sun into chemical energy which can be later released to fuel their activities. Animals on the other hand, have to consume other organisms in order to cover their energy needs. But every rule has an exception.In recent years, researchers have discovered a small number of animals that much like plants have found a way to directly harness and feed off the Sun’s energy.1# Oriental Hornet (Vespa orientalis)Typically, wasps and hornets are most active during the early morning when they do the majority of their daily activities. However, this is not the case with the oriental hornet that is most active during the middle of the day. This social insect nests underground and the workers correlate their digging activity with the intensity of sunlight. It turns out there is actually a good reason why these insects love intense sunlight.Oriental HornetPhoto By MattiPaavola (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsThe species has an outer layer (cuticle) that allows it to harvest solar energy. The yellow parts of the body (in the head and abdomen) contain a pigment called Xanthopterin. Xanthopterin works as a light harvesting molecule, transforming light into electrical energy. Currently, it is assumed that part of this energy is transformed in a photo-biochemical process which aids the species with energy demanding activities, like flying and digging. The harvested energy appears to also provide enough energy to carry out some metabolic functions, as researchers have found that most of the metabolic activity occurs in the yellow pigment layer.As for the brown tissues, although incapable of directly harnessing the sun's energy, they still play an important role in the whole process. Structural analysis has found that they are full of grooves that capture light by channeling rays into the tissues and breaking them apart into smaller rays. Essentially, the brown areas act as a light trap, only 1% of the light that strikes is reflected away.2# Eastern Emerald Elysia (Elysia chlorotica)Elysia chlorotica is a medium-sized green sea slug of the Plakobranchidae family. Elysia chlorotica is a partially solar-powered slug that sequesters and retains active chloroplasts from the Vaucheria litorea algae it eats. During the feeding process, it first punctures the algal cell wall with its radula. The slug then holds the algae firmly in its mouth and,sucks out the contents. Instead of digesting the entire cell it retains the algal chloroplasts, by storing them within its own cells throughout its digestive system.Elysia chloroticaPhoto By EOL Learning and Education Group[CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia CommonsThe incorporation of chloroplasts within the cells of the slug allows it to capture energy directly from light, like most plants do, through photosynthesis. In periods where algae is not readily available as a food supply, the species may be able to survive for months on the sugars produced through the photosynthesis done by the incorporated chloroplasts.Although E. chlorotica slugs are unable to synthesize their own chloroplasts, the ability to maintain the chloroplasts acquired from Vaucheria litorea in a functional state indicates that Elysia chlorotica must possess photosynthesis-supporting genes within its own nuclear genome, most likely acquired through horizontal gene transfer*.3# Pea Aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum)Pea aphids are notable for being the only so-far known animals to synthesize a carotenoid, Torulene. Carotenoids are pigments produced by plants, fungi and other microorganisms and play an important role in photosynthesis. A 2010 study on pea aphids found that they have gained the ability to synthesize torulene through horizontal gene transfer from fungi. Two years later, new research revealed that this carotenoid may be behind a photosynthetic-like ability.The authors of the latest study examined three different types of the species: green aphids, which have the highest levels of carotenoids, orange aphids which produce intermediate levels of carotenoids and white aphids, which have little to no carotenoids. When researchers measured their ATP* levels, they found that the green aphids produced significantly more ATP than white aphids. What's more interesting is that the orange ones produced more ATP when exposed to sunlight than when moved into the dark. The researchers also crushed the orange aphids and purified their carotenoids to show that these extracts could absorb light and create energy.The findings strongly suggest that the little critters can trap light and convert it into cellular energy. According to Maria Capovilla, co-author of the study, this ability could function as an emergency energy source that helps aphids survive their treks from plant to plant.4# Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)Finally we have the Spotted Salamander, an animal that has long been suspected to be in a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae. Back in the distant 1888, biologist Henry Orr first reported that the species' eggs often contain a single-celled green algae called Oophila amblystomatis.Spotted Salamander egg-mass with algae visible inside the eggsPhoto By Fredlyfish4 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsToday we know that the eggs are routinely colonized within a matter of hours. During this stage, the embryos release waste material, which the algae uses for food. In return the algae photosynthesizes and release oxygen for the developing embryos. In general, embryos that have more algae have a higher survival ratio and develop faster than the ones with few or none. But all this is old news..In 2011, a study examining the species' eggs found that some of the algae was present within the embryos themselves, and in some cases invaded embryonic cells and tissues. This suggested that the embryos weren't just receiving oxygen but glucose too. In simple words, the algae inside their body generates fuel for the salamanders during the embryonic stage.... Read more »

Rumpho ME, Worful JM, Lee J, Kannan K, Tyler MS, Bhattacharya D, Moustafa A, & Manhart JR. (2008) Horizontal gene transfer of the algal nuclear gene psbO to the photosynthetic sea slug Elysia chlorotica. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(46), 17867-71. PMID: 19004808  

Plotkin M, Hod I, Zaban A, Boden SA, Bagnall DM, Galushko D, & Bergman DJ. (2010) Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis). Die Naturwissenschaften, 97(12), 1067-76. PMID: 21052618  

Valmalette, J., Dombrovsky, A., Brat, P., Mertz, C., Capovilla, M., & Robichon, A. (2012) Light- induced electron transfer and ATP synthesis in a carotene synthesizing insect. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/srep00579  

Kerney, R., Kim, E., Hangarter, R., Heiss, A., Bishop, C., & Hall, B. (2011) Intracellular invasion of green algae in a salamander host. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(16), 6497-6502. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1018259108  

  • October 23, 2014
  • 07:02 AM

How reminders of money affect people's expression and perception of emotion

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Bank robbers and gamblers will tell you what people are prepared to do for the sake of money. But money also has more subtle influences. Back in 2006, researchers showed that mere reminders of money made people more selfish (although note a later attempt failed to replicate this result).In the latest research in this field, a team led by Yuwei Jiang have shown that exposing people to pictures of money, or to money-related words, reduces their emotional expressivity and makes them more sensitive to other people's expressions of emotion. The researchers think the effect occurs because money primes a business mindset, and in business the cultural norm is to conceal emotion.There were six studies in all, involving a mixture of dozens of undergrads in Hong Kong, and dozens of US adults recruited via the Amazon Mechanical Turk website. In every case some participants were exposed to money and some weren't. The money exposure was either via looking at pictures of cash and coins, ostensibly to judge the clarity and lighting of the pictures (control participants saw pictures of sea shells, furniture or green leaves), or through rearranging words into sentences, many of which pertained to money (control participants only dealt with neutral sentences).Being exposed to pictures of money or money-related words led participants to say they were less keen on sharing their emotions; to actually convey less negative emotion when asked to write a negative review about a product they were unhappy with; to convey less positive emotion when asked to write a description of a funny movie clip; to perceive other people's facial expressions of emotion as more intense; and to have less desire to interact with a smiley or angry person. In each case these effects were shown in comparison with control participants who were not exposed to money.A couple of details to consider. Jiang and his colleagues said these effects weren't simply related to motivation. For example, on the writing tasks, the money condition participants wrote just as many words and for just as long as the control participants; the specific difference was that they included less emotion in their writing. Also, there were ways to reduce the effects of money. For example, when money-exposed people were told that other people's emotions were being displayed in private, they no longer rated those people's emotions as more intense - this is consistent with the idea that money primes a business mindset that has implications for the public, but not private, expression of emotion.The researchers said their findings have several practical implications. "... if a consideration of money increases individuals' perception that the public expression of emotion is inappropriate," they explained, "it may decrease the desirability of using money as a medium of exchange when strong feelings are being conveyed." They also added that more research is needed to see if the effects they reported will apply in nations or cultures that are less commercialised than the US and Hong Kong._________________________________ Jiang, Y., Chen, Z., & Wyer, R. (2014). Impact of money on emotional expression Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 228-233 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.07.013 Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

... Read more »

Jiang, Y., Chen, Z., & Wyer, R. (2014) Impact of money on emotional expression. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 228-233. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.07.013  

  • October 23, 2014
  • 04:46 AM

Postpartum depression and the broader autism phenotype?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"The findings suggest that pregnant women with BAP [broader autism phenotype] have an elevated risk for PPD [postpartum depression]".That was the conclusion reached by Ryosuke Asano and colleagues [1] based on their analysis of data derived from the Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study [2]. The idea being that the more subtle presentation of issues linked to a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (the BAP) might predispose to a great likelihood of other behavioural or psychiatric symptoms [3] to be present. We'll see about that.What're you lookin' at, ya hockey puck?The Asano paper is open-access but just in case...As part of the HBC study looking at pregnant women to ascertain "an early diagnostic algorithm for [offspring] ASD" [2] researchers garnered various snippets of information from over 800 pregnant women in mainland Japan.Covering mid-pregnancy to approximately 3 months after childbirth, women were asked to complete the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) (a tool fairly routinely used here in the UK) to "measure their depressive symptoms after childbirth". The EPDS was completed 3 times after childbirth (between 2-4 weeks, 5-7 weeks and 8-12 weeks).The BAP was assessed using the Broader Phenotype Autism Symptoms Scale (BPASS) [4] and administered via interview "mainly during the 2nd trimester of the pregnancy". Authors also did some additional work to "check whether our use of the BPASS is reliable and valid". Potential confounders such as a history of depression or anxiety and the level of emotional support provided by partners during pregnancy were also examined in participants; indeed, some 11% of the research cohort "had a history of depression and/or anxiety disorders".Results: "The overall cumulative incidence of PPD was 15.2%". This figure is not a million miles away from other estimates of PPD [4] based on the use of the EPDS (albeit with a slightly different cut-off point). Indeed, the HBC study had already hinted at something around this figure previously [5].Scores on the BAP were "weakly but positively associated with depressive symptoms after childbirth at all measurement periods". I have to say that despite these various correlations being significant, I was not particularly impressed with the correlation (r) values reported (ranging from 0.14 to 0.16 assuming 0 is no correlation and 1 is a perfect correlation). Indeed, when looking at the mean (average) composite score of the BPASS (see Table 1) between the PPD and non-PPD groups you can see there is very little difference in measured BAP (13.77 vs. 13.14).Again, based on the data provided in Table 1, of more interest is the effect of a history of depression/anxiety on PPD status, where 30/128 (23%) and 65/713 (9%) of the PPD and non-PPD groups respectively reported. The authors note that a: "history of depression and/or anxiety disorders was associated with a more than 3-fold increase in the risk of PPD".With all due respect to the authors, I have to say that I'm not convinced that scoring high on the BAP is truly a major risk factor for postpartum depression. I'm not totally ruling out any relationship as per the Ingersoll findings on the BAP and depressed mood [3] or based on the increasing body of work looking at autism and subsequent mood disorders (see here for example). It's just that there are far more likely predictors/predisposers to PPD than subclinical autistic traits. Indeed, yet another paper from the HBC study [6] further hinted at some of those other factors based on that history of depression/anxiety among other things.Music then... You've got the love (Florence + The Machine version).----------[1] Asano R. et al. Broader autism phenotype as a risk factor for postpartum depression: Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2014; 8: 1672–1678.[2] Tsuchiya KJ. et al. Searching for very early precursors of autism spectrum disorders: the Hamamatsu Birth Cohort for Mothers and Children (HBC). Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. 2010; 1: 158-173.[3] Ingersoll B. et al. Increased rates of depressed mood in mothers of children with ASD associated with the presence of the broader autism phenotype. Autism Res. 2011 Apr;4(2):143-8.[4] Verreault N. et al. Rates and risk factors associated with depressive symptoms during pregnancy and with postpartum onset. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2014 Sep;35(3):84-91.[5] Matsumoto K. et al. Age-specific 3-month cumulative incidence of postpartum depression: the Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study. J Affect Disord. 2011 Oct;133(3):607-10.[6] Mori T. et al. Psychosocial risk factors for postpartum depression and their relation to timing of onset: the Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study. J Affect Disord. 2011 Dec;135(1-3):341-6.----------Asano, R., Tsuchiya, K., Takei, N., Harada, T., Kugizaki, Y., Nakahara, R., Nakayasu, C., Okumura, A., Suzuki, Y., Takagai, S., & Mori, N. (2014). Broader autism phenotype as a risk factor for postpartum depression: Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8 (12), 1672-1678 DOI: 10.1016/j.rasd.2014.08.010... Read more »

Asano, R., Tsuchiya, K., Takei, N., Harada, T., Kugizaki, Y., Nakahara, R., Nakayasu, C., Okumura, A., Suzuki, Y., Takagai, S.... (2014) Broader autism phenotype as a risk factor for postpartum depression: Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8(12), 1672-1678. DOI: 10.1016/j.rasd.2014.08.010  

  • October 22, 2014
  • 11:05 PM

Microscopic observation in live tissue, awesome! But don’t ignore the methods

by Austin Bouck in Animal Science Review

The NIH sent me an email this week (via the various government listservs I’m enrolled in) that was proudly declaring that the mysteries of the cell were being solved right now, so I took the clickbait. In it was a cool study where we were able to actively watch mitochondria oscillate inside a living animal...... Read more »

Natalie Porat-Shliom, Yun Chen, Muhibullah Tora, Akiko Shitara, Andrius Masedunskas, & Roberto Weigertemail. (2014) In Vivo Tissue-wide Synchronization of Mitochondrial Metabolic Oscillations. Cell Reports. info:/

Weigert R, Porat-Shliom N, & Amornphimoltham P. (2013) Imaging cell biology in live animals: ready for prime time. The Journal of cell biology, 201(7), 969-79. PMID: 23798727  

  • October 22, 2014
  • 03:55 PM

Converting Skin Cells to Neurons: A Fight Against Huntington’s

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Neurological diseases are some of the hardest to fight against (in my opinion). The big reason is the brain, we still know so little about it and treatment for anything effecting it can be difficult to say the least. Take Huntington’s disease, an ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disorder. There is no cure and no real treatment, but that might change relatively soon thanks to a new discovery.... Read more »

Victor, M., Richner, M., Hermanstyne, T., Ransdell, J., Sobieski, C., Deng, P., Klyachko, V., Nerbonne, J., & Yoo, A. (2014) Generation of Human Striatal Neurons by MicroRNA-Dependent Direct Conversion of Fibroblasts. Neuron, 84(2), 311-323. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.10.016  

  • October 22, 2014
  • 11:21 AM

Are All Labrador Retrievers the Same?

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

Or do show dogs and field dogs vary in temperament?Photo: c.byatt-norman / ShutterstockIt’s often said there are personality differences between Labrador Retrievers bred to show (conformation dogs) and those bred to work (field dogs). And chocolate labs have a reputation for being different than black and yellow labs. Is it true? New research by Sarah Lofgren et al (Royal (Dick) Veterinary School, University of Edinburgh) investigates.Although many Labrador Retrievers are family pets, some work as hunting dogs while others are bred for the show ring. There’s a difference in appearance between field (or working) Labradors and conformation (or show) dogs, and some people think they have different personalities too. Almost 2000 owners of Labrador Retrievers registered with the UK Kennel Club completed a demographic survey and the C-BARQ, a questionnaire that assesses canine personality. The survey included questions about exercise, and whether the dog was a family pet or a working dog used for retrieval or as a show dog.Gundogs were given higher ratings for trainability, fetching, and attention seeking than show dogs and pets. They were also rated as less likely to bark, less fearful of loud noises, and less likely to have a stereotypy (unusual behaviour). Most of these are not surprising as they fit with the requirements of a dog that has to work at retrieval in the field. For example, it’s good they are considered less fearful of loud noises since they will routinely hear gunshots as part of their work. They need to be good at retrieval, and they will spend periods of time waiting in between retrieves.The show dogs were rated as less fearful of humans, objects and noise, less aggressive to people who are not the owner, and less agitated when ignored. Again most of these fit with the requirements of a dog that will perform well in the show ring, where there are unfamiliar people and sounds, and the dog will be handled by the judge who is a stranger to them.Compared to black and yellow Labradors, chocolate Labs were given lower ratings for trainability and fear of noises, and higher ratings for unusual behaviours. Compared to black Labs, they scored lower on fetching but were more excitable and more likely to be agitated when ignored; however these were not different compared to yellow labs. It is not known if the genes for coat colour also affect behaviour in this breed. It is also possible that other genes exist by chance at greater levels in certain kinds of Labrador, particularly since some dogs were related. One of the nice things about this study is the range in the amount of daily exercise; while some dogs had less than an hour, others got more than four hours of exercise a day. In general, the dogs who got more exercise were less fearful of humans and objects, less likely to have separation anxiety, and less aggressive. The authors suggest that dogs who get less exercise may become bored and frustrated.One potential confound the researchers acknowledge is that dogs originally bred to work, who subsequently turn out not to be very good at it, may then become family pets instead. Hence it is possible that the dogs kept solely as pets include some ‘failed’ working dogs.The results are correlational and do not show causality. The differences between the two types of Labrador Retrievers could be due to genetics (being bred for a different purpose), environment (being raised and trained differently), or a combination.  In addition, the results rely on reports from owners who are likely aware of widely held beliefs about the breed.The scientists say, “This large-scale study of behavioural characteristics in Labrador Retrievers revealed a number of associations between physical, lifestyle and management characteristics of the dogs and personality traits. The explanatory factor with the largest overall effect was the Working Status of the dog, where pets showed dispositions that are generally considered less desirable than those of Gundogs and Showdogs.”The study is fascinating because it looks at personality differences within one breed, which is unusual. It also shows a relationship between exercise and temperament. The higher ratings for trainability amongst gundogs – who have received large amounts of training – make me wonder if this is a fixed trait, or if training leads to increased trainability.  Many people think Labrador Retrievers are the perfect family dog. What kind of Labrador do you prefer?ReferenceLofgren, S., Wiener, P., Blott, S., Sanchez-Molano, E., Woolliams, J., Clements, D., & Haskell, M. (2014). Management and personality in Labrador Retriever dogs Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 156, 44-53 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.04.006... Read more »

Lofgren, S., Wiener, P., Blott, S., Sanchez-Molano, E., Woolliams, J., Clements, D., & Haskell, M. (2014) Management and personality in Labrador Retriever dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 44-53. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.04.006  

  • October 22, 2014
  • 09:46 AM

Video Tip of the Week: SeqMonk

by Mary in OpenHelix

Always on the lookout for effective visualization tools, I recently came across a series of videos about the SeqMonk software. It’s not software that I had used before, so I wanted to look at the videos, and then try it out. It downloaded quickly, offered me an extensive list of genomes to load up, and […]... Read more »

  • October 22, 2014
  • 08:05 AM

Death By Haunted House

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

People enjoy a good scare at Halloween, it’s an epinephrine rush without the bother of real danger. But could you actually be scared to death? Science says yes, it should really be called the fight, flight, faint, or fatality response. In susceptible people, a severe fright can literally change the shape of the heart and destroy the efficient pumping of blood. Unfortunately, something similar can happen in infants, and it can be lethal as well.... Read more »

  • October 22, 2014
  • 07:29 AM

Crucial gene for Malaria Transmission

by Pieter Carrière in United Academics

A new step in battling Malaria: making transmission its weakest link. Scientists could prevent the development of gametocytes.... Read more »

Kafsack BF, Rovira-Graells N, Clark TG, Bancells C, Crowley VM, Campino SG, Williams AE, Drought LG, Kwiatkowski DP, Baker DA.... (2014) A transcriptional switch underlies commitment to sexual development in malaria parasites. Nature, 507(7491), 248-52. PMID: 24572369  

Kåhrström CT. (2014) Parasite development: master regulator of sex. Nature reviews. Microbiology, 12(4), 233. PMID: 24608336  

Rovira-Graells N, Gupta AP, Planet E, Crowley VM, Mok S, Ribas de Pouplana L, Preiser PR, Bozdech Z, & Cortés A. (2012) Transcriptional variation in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Genome research, 22(5), 925-38. PMID: 22415456  

Gardner, M., Hall, N., Fung, E., White, O., Berriman, M., Hyman, R., Carlton, J., Pain, A., Nelson, K., Bowman, S.... (2002) Genome sequence of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Nature, 419(6906), 498-511. DOI: 10.1038/nature01097  

  • October 22, 2014
  • 05:10 AM

Five-year-olds can see through your bravado

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Imagine you wanted to lie to a five-year-old. "The toy shop is closed Billy," you say, "it always closes at 2pm on a Monday." You reason that if you make this announcement with confidence, then Billy is sure to believe you.It's not a bad strategy. In a new study involving nearly a hundred kids aged four to five, they were more likely to believe statements made by a woman who spoke and gestured with confidence, than those made by a woman who was hesitant and uncertain. In this case, the women's comments weren't about a toy shop, they were about the names of rare animals shown in pictures to the children (including a lanternfish and an Iberian lynx). These children had no prior experience with the women, so the women's confidence was an important cue to whether they knew what they were talking about.But the bluster strategy has a weakness. If you've lied or been inaccurate in the past, then your bravado is likely to be ineffective. The child, especially if aged 5 and upwards, will see through your confident facade and focus instead on your reputation for being wrong. "You said that about the sweet shop last week, Mummy, but when I went and checked, they were actually open. Therefore I don't believe you now".The researchers Patricia Brosseau-Liard and her colleagues demonstrated this childhood ability by showing a new group of children short videos of two women making bold or hesitant statements about four animals the children were familiar with - including a duck and a whale. One woman was consistently confident but inaccurate, for example she said whales live in the ground. The other woman was consistently hesitant but accurate. After this experience, the children heard the same women telling them the names of four unfamiliar animals - each woman made a different claim about the correct name and the children had to choose who to trust. The women sustained the same confident or hesitant style throughout.The four-year-olds were often swayed by the woman who had bravado, even though they'd just seen her get her facts wrong about four familiar animals. With each extra month of wisdom, however, there was a clear developmental trajectory in the sample, so that the older children were far more likely to trust the hesitant woman with a history of being right, than the confident woman with a record for being wrong.This isn't the first time that researchers have investigated children's sensitivity to the confidence and past accuracy of speakers. But it's actually only the second study ever to look at what happens when these cues collide. "Around the time of their fifth birthday children appropriately grant greater weight to someone's prior reliability over that person's current level of confidence," the researchers said. "This form of emerging skepticism will serve them well as they navigate through a world selecting 'better' from 'worse' sources of information."_________________________________  Brosseau-Liard, P., Cassels, T., & Birch, S. (2014). You Seem Certain but You Were Wrong Before: Developmental Change in Preschoolers’ Relative Trust in Accurate versus Confident Speakers PLoS ONE, 9 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0108308 --further reading--Young children trust kindness over expertiseToddlers won't bother learning from you if you're daftPost written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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  • October 22, 2014
  • 04:38 AM

Can a brain scan tell us anything about the art of creative writing?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

When an accomplished creative writer gets on with their craft, their brain operates in a somewhat different way to a novice's. A new imaging study suggests that the expert approach may be more streamlined, emotionally literate, and initially unfiltered.Katharina Erhard with her colleagues from the German universities of Greifswald and Hildesheim asked participants to read a fragment of a story, to brainstorm what could continue the narrative, and then, for two minutes, to write a continuation of the story. Their brains were scanned throughout. This is an improvement on previous studies that have simply involved participants imagining a story while lying in a scanner.Participants were 20 experts - students on competitive creative writing courses with over 10 years experience and a weekly average of 21 hours practice - and 28 novices practicing less than an hour per week. Independent judges considered the experts' writing significantly more creative: "unmade laundry, unloved days" was how one expert closed his response to an account of a bitter bachelor killing himself in a laundry, whereas a tale of a violinist losing his instrument in the snow conjured this image: "the glacier, winding its tongue around the sounds, suddenly gulped the violin". The differences between expert and novice brain activation during the writing phase offers some tantalising clues to how such quality emerges.In the frontal cortex, expert brains showed greater activity in areas crucial to language and goal selection, including across the inferior frontal gyri (IFG). Verbal creativity has been associated with left IFG activation many times before, but involvement of the right IFG was unexpected. The area is associated with emotional language processing, such as interpreting expressive gestures, so this may suggest that experts are attending more deeply to the emotional currents of text and their ideas. Together with recent evidence that metaphor comprehension recruits the right temporal lobe, this suggests a role for processes housed in the right hemisphere when a verbal task is more abstract and less factual.Expert writing also involved more activation in the left caudate. This is part of the basal ganglia, long known to be critical to learning and expert performance, and seems to reflect ordinarily cortical cognitive processes becoming automatised and bundled together within the deeper brain. In this case, these may be to do with visually processing text, as the experts showed less activation in occipital areas involved in visual and perceptual processing.One final finding: during brainstorming, expert brains showed increased activation relative to novices in several regions associated with speech production. Taking these findings together, they paint a picture of expert creative writers: ideas bubble within them, already on the road from concept to expression, readily communicable, almost rising into their throats. These are handled by neural systems streamlined to take care of the basics, while the writer devotes greater attention to the emotional interpretation of their text. It will be down to future researchers to verify or reject this characterisation - and hopefully, some great future writers to tell us about it. Maybe you._________________________________ Erhard, K., Kessler, F., Neumann, N., Ortheil, H., & Lotze, M. (2014). Professional training in creative writing is associated with enhanced fronto-striatal activity in a literary text continuation task NeuroImage, 100, 15-23 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.05.076 Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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  • October 22, 2014
  • 04:26 AM

Autism, parental concerns and socioeconomic status

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I'd like to think that there are some rather important messages to be taken from the paper by Xiang Sun and colleagues [1] on level of parental concern, socioeconomic status (SES) and risk of autism. Not only did the authors conclude that: "a higher SES was not associated with the risk of having ASC [autism spectrum conditions]" they also found that: "No child met ASC criteria where parents expressed no concerns".Do you prefer "fashion victim" or "ensembly challenged"?SES - including variables such as family income, parental educational attainment(s) and parental occupation(s) - has been something of a talking point in autism research down the years and the rather mixed messages which have come out of the research literature on SES and offspring autism risk (see here). The growing appreciation that children of those positioned in a higher SES bracket don't seem to be at any significantly greater risk of autism is something rather important as per other evidence, for example, noted by Fujiwara [2]. Whether this means previous contrary findings were in error or that there has been some shift in the factors linked to the onset of contemporary autism is unknown at this time.Some of my first thoughts on the Sun SES findings were in relation to all the discussions about offspring autism potentially being associated with certain types of parental occupational choices [3]. Indeed, considering that the Sun study was both carried out in and originated from Cambridge (UK) and included Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen on the authorship team, it is coincidental that the findings could be construed as counter to such occupational links with autism (assuming that Physicists, Engineers and Mathematicians would be described as higher SES jobs).Of course I'm not saying the research on any relationship between offspring autism and parental occupation choice is all bunk; the paper from Windham and colleagues [4] and other evidence is too strong to negate (including that of occupational exposures potentially being involved). Merely that there may be much more to see than just a spectrum of 'talent' genes overlapping with autism risk genes [5] when it comes to receipt of a diagnosis on the very wide autism spectrum. Oh, and assuming you believe talent is all in the genes...The other finding from Sun et al discussing parental concern and potential diagnosis of autism in offspring also carries quite a bit of potential importance. Regular readers of this blog might already have picked up my respect for parents and carers as active agents both in terms of picking up the signs and symptoms of autism in their loved ones (see here) and also detecting and reporting other important comorbidity (see here). I see the Sun findings - "No child met ASC criteria where parents expressed no concerns" - as corroborating parents and caregivers as doing what they do best: knowing their own child. I might also suggest that the discussions on increasing autism rates solely being down to better awareness and greater diagnostic vigilance are not seemingly backed up by the Sun findings if we assume parental concerns represent the starting point of the diagnostic journey into autism.Some music to close. Gershon Kingsley and Popcorn.----------[1] Sun X. et al. Parental concerns, socioeconomic status, and the risk of autism spectrum conditions in a population-based study. Res Dev Disabil. 2014 Sep 25;35(12):3678-3688.[2] Fujiwara T. Socioeconomic status and the risk of suspected autism spectrum disorders among 18-month-old toddlers in Japan: a population-based study. J Autism Dev Disord. 2014 Jun;44(6):1323-31.[3] Baron-Cohen S. Does Autism Occur More Often in Families of Physicists, Engineers, and Mathematicians? Autism. 1998; 2: 296-301.[4] Windham GC. et al. Autism spectrum disorders in relation to parental occupation in technical fields. Autism Res. 2009 Aug;2(4):183-91.[5] Baron-Cohen S. Autism and the technical mind: children of scientists and engineers may inherit genes that not only confer intellectual talents but also predispose them to autism. Sci Am. 2012 Nov;307(5):72-5.----------Sun, X., Allison, C., Auyeung, B., Baron-Cohen, S., & Brayne, C. (2014). Parental concerns, socioeconomic status, and the risk of autism spectrum conditions in a population-based study Research in Developmental Disabilities, 35 (12), 3678-3688 DOI: 10.1016/j.ridd.2014.07.037... Read more »

  • October 22, 2014
  • 12:05 AM

Knee Cartilage Changes Following ACL Rupture

by Kyle Harris in Sports Medicine Research (SMR): In the Lab & In the Field

Following an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture overall cartilage thickness in the tibiofemoral joint increased at an average of 0.4% per year. Patients under 25 years of age showed greater cartilage thickening than older patients.... Read more »

  • October 21, 2014
  • 07:01 PM

Footwear and Flatfeet: Correlation or Causation?

by Craig Payne in Running Research Junkie

Footwear and Flatfeet: Correlation or Causation?
... Read more »

Watanabe, E., McBride, C., Tora, A., Ayode, D., Farrell, D., & Davey, G. (2014) Use of footwear and foot condition among rural Ethiopian school children. Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health. DOI: 10.1016/j.jegh.2014.06.001  

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