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

Neuroskeptic
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  • July 23, 2016
  • 09:41 AM
  • 82 views

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
  • 23 views

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
  • 16 views

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
  • 157 views

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 »

  • July 10, 2016
  • 09:25 AM
  • 62 views

Can Psychologists Learn More by Studying Fewer People?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In a brief new Frontiers in Psychology paper, Matthew P. Normand argues that Less Is More: Psychologists Can Learn More by Studying Fewer People.





Normand writes that the conventional wisdom - that a bigger sample size is better - is wrong. Repeated measurements of a few subjects, or even just one individual, can be more informative than casting the net widely, he says
Psychologists tend to view the population of interest to be people, with the number of individuals studied taking pre... Read more »

  • July 7, 2016
  • 11:37 AM
  • 205 views

False-Positive fMRI Hits The Mainstream

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover



A new paper in PNAS has made waves. The article, called Cluster failure: Why fMRI inferences for spatial extent have inflated false-positive rates, comes from neuroscientists Swedish neuroscientists Anders Eklund, Tom Nichols, and Hans Knutsson.

According to many of the headlines that greeted "Cluster failure", the paper is a devastating bombshell that could demolish the whole field of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI):
Bug in fMRI software calls 15 years of research into ques... Read more »

Eklund A, Nichols TE, & Knutsson H. (2016) Cluster failure: Why fMRI inferences for spatial extent have inflated false-positive rates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 27357684  

  • June 21, 2016
  • 05:42 AM
  • 111 views

Anonymity Doesn't Always Promote Online Aggression

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

It's widely said that anonymity on the internet helps to promote aggressive, low quality or trolling comments. On this view, the anonymous commenter, knowing they cannot be held accountable, is free to do things that they would be ashamed to do under their real name.





But now German researchers Katja Rost and colleagues challenge this view, in a new study published in PLOS ONE. Rost et al. say that real names can actually be associated with more aggression than anonymous posts, based o... Read more »

  • June 16, 2016
  • 11:01 AM
  • 92 views

Reflections On Voodoo Neuroscience

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Seven years ago, neuroscientists Ed Vul and colleagues made waves with their paper on 'voodoo correlations' in social neuroscience. Now, in a new paper, historian of medicine Cornelius Borck looks back on the voodoo correlations debate and asks whether neuroscience might be likened to voodoo in another sense.



Borck argues that neuroscience has something in common with animism, the religious belief that spirits inhabit various objects. In particular, he says, fMRI studies can be likened to... Read more »

Borck, C. (2016) Animating Brains. Medical History, 60(03), 308-324. DOI: 10.1017/mdh.2016.25  

  • June 11, 2016
  • 05:29 AM
  • 237 views

The Four-Dimensional Brain?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

"The brain is a three dimensional object." It would seem that this is one of the least controversial facts about the brain, something we can all agree on. But now, in a curious new paper, researchers Arturo Tozzi and James F. Peters suggest that the brain might have an extra dimension: Towards a fourth spatial dimension of brain activity


From topology, a strong concept comes into play in understanding brain functions, namely, the 4D space of a ‘‘hypersphere’s torus’’, undetectable by........ Read more »

Tozzi A, & Peters JF. (2016) Towards a fourth spatial dimension of brain activity. Cognitive neurodynamics, 10(3), 189-99. PMID: 27275375  

  • June 10, 2016
  • 08:31 AM
  • 211 views

Decoding Faces from the Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In a fascinating new paper, researchers Hongmi Lee and Brice A. Kuhl report that they can decode faces from neural activity. Armed with a brain scanner, they can reconstruct which face a participant has in mind. It's a cool technique that really seems to fit the description of 'mind reading' - although the method's accuracy is only modest.


Here's how they did it. Lee and Kuhl started out with a set of over 1000 color photos of different faces. During an fMRI scan, these images were shown to... Read more »

Lee H, & Kuhl BA. (2016) Reconstructing Perceived and Retrieved Faces from Activity Patterns in Lateral Parietal Cortex. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 36(22), 6069-82. PMID: 27251627  

  • June 3, 2016
  • 01:42 PM
  • 136 views

The Myth of the Optimism Bias?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Are humans natural, irrational optimists? According to many psychologists, humans show a fundamental optimism bias, a tendency to underestimate our chances of suffering negative events. It's said that when thinking about harmful events, such as contracting cancer, most people believe that their risk is lower than that of 'the average person'. So, on average, people rate themselves as safer than the average. Moreover, people are also said to show biased belief updating. Faced with evidence that t........ Read more »

Punit Shah, Adam J. L. Harris, Geoffrey Bird, Caroline Catmur, & Ulrike Hahn. (2016) A Pessimistic View of Optimistic Belief Updating. Cognitive Psychology. info:/

  • May 30, 2016
  • 06:30 AM
  • 166 views

Foreign language syndrome: the Italian who became "French"

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover



A curious case report from Italian neuropsychologists Nicoletta Beschin and colleagues: Compulsive foreign language syndrome: a clinical observation not a mystery

The authors describe a 50 year old Italian man, JC, who turned into a 'caricature' of a Frenchman after a brain injury caused by a vascular anomaly. JC insisted in speaking French at all times, even though his knowledge of the language was rather poor (he had learned it at school, but not practiced it for decades.) What's more, ... Read more »

  • May 28, 2016
  • 09:34 AM
  • 284 views

A Recurring Sickness: Pathological Déjà Vu

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover



Have you read this sentence before? Perhaps it feels strangely familiar? The experience of déjà vu is a common one, but in rare cases, it can become a disorder. In a fascinating new Cortex paper, French psychologists Julie Bertrand and colleagues discuss the phenomenon of pathological déjà vu.



Bertrand et al. present an English translation of what is probably the first description of the condition, published in 1896 in French by the psychiatrist Francois-Léon Arnaud (1858-1927).

Ar... Read more »

Bertrand JM, Martinon LM, Souchay C, & Moulin CJ. (2016) History repeating itself: Arnaud's case of pathological déjà vu. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior. PMID: 27188828  

  • May 22, 2016
  • 05:51 AM
  • 268 views

Pinpointing the Origins of Migraine in the Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Migraines are a very unpleasant variety of headaches, often associated with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, photophobia (aversion to light) and visual disturbances. Hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer regular migraines, but their brain basis remains largely unclear.



Now a new paper reports that the origin of migraines may have been pinpointed - in the brain of one sufferer, at least. German neuroscientists Laura H. Schulte and Arne May used fMRI to record brain... Read more »

  • May 19, 2016
  • 07:29 AM
  • 284 views

Does Memory Reconsolidation Exist?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A new PNAS paper casts doubt on an influential theory of memory.

The reconsolidation hypothesis holds that when a memory is recalled, its molecular trace in the brain becomes plastic, meaning that the memory has to be consolidated or ‘saved’ all over again in order for it to persist. In other words, remembering makes a memory vulnerable to being modified or erased. Reconsolidation has generated lots of research interest and even speculation that blocking reconsolidation could be used as a t........ Read more »

Hardwicke TE, Taqi M, & Shanks DR. (2016) Postretrieval new learning does not reliably induce human memory updating via reconsolidation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(19), 5206-11. PMID: 27114514  

  • May 15, 2016
  • 08:07 AM
  • 295 views

Hyperthermia as an Antidepressant?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Getting warm has a dramatic antidepressant effect, according to a new report published in the prestigious journal JAMA Psychiatry. But is it hot science or a hot mess?

The researchers, led by Clemens Janssen of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studied 29 people with depression who were not receiving any other treatments. Half were randomized to receive whole-body hyperthermia (WBH), using a setup which raised their core body temperature to 38.5 degrees (37 degrees is normal).



The o... Read more »

Janssen CW, Lowry CA, Mehl MR, Allen JJ, Kelly KL, Gartner DE, Medrano A, Begay TK, Rentscher K, White JJ.... (2016) Whole-Body Hyperthermia for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA psychiatry. PMID: 27172277  

  • May 14, 2016
  • 09:28 AM
  • 353 views

The Neural Basis of Seeing God?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A remarkable case report describes the brain activity in a man at the moment that he underwent a revelatory experience.

According to the authors, Israeli researchers Arzy and Schurr, the man was 46 years old. He was Jewish, but he had never been especially religious. His supernatural experience occured in hospital where he was undergoing tests to help treat his right temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), a condition which he had suffered from for forty years. As part of the testing procedure, the pat... Read more »

  • May 12, 2016
  • 05:01 PM
  • 310 views

The Smell of the Cinema: Human Chemical Signals?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

The air in a cinema contains a chemical cocktail emitted by the audience - and the emotional tone of the movie influences the molecular composition of the cloud.

That's according to a striking set of results from researchers Johnathan Williams and colleagues who took air samples from two 230-seater screens of a cinema in Germany over a period of two weeks.





Here's an example of the chemical trace associated with shows of the movie "The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire", featuring three... Read more »

  • May 7, 2016
  • 05:17 AM
  • 293 views

Ketamine and Depression: A Breakthrough?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In recent years there has been great research interest in ketamine as an antidepressant. Ketamine, a drug better-known for its use as an anaesthetic (and a recreational drug in lower doses) is claimed to have powerful, rapid-acting antidepressant effects, even in depressed patients who have not responded to more conventional drugs. However, its mechanism of action remains unclear.


Now, in a major new Nature paper, Baltimore researchers Panos Zanos and colleagues say that ketamine itself is ... Read more »

Zanos P, Moaddel R, Morris PJ, Georgiou P, Fischell J, Elmer GI, Alkondon M, Yuan P, Pribut HJ, Singh NS.... (2016) NMDAR inhibition-independent antidepressant actions of ketamine metabolites. Nature. PMID: 27144355  

  • May 5, 2016
  • 02:11 PM
  • 301 views

fMRI and False Positives: A Basic Flaw?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Over the past few years I've covered (1,2,3) the work of Anders Eklund, a Swedish researcher who has discovered a potentially serious flaw in software commonly used to analyse fMRI data.

Eklund has shown that popular parametric statistical analysis tools for fMRI are prone to false positives - they often 'find' brain activation even where it doesn't exist. The issue affects the leading software packages such as FSL and SPM.



The main root of the problem is spatial autocorrelation - the ... Read more »

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