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

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  • January 21, 2016
  • 06:39 PM

"Cat-gras Delusion" - The Man Who Saw His Cat As An Impostor

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Capgras syndrome is a strange disorder in which the sufferer becomes convinced that someone close to them has been replaced by an impostor.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 »

  • January 17, 2016
  • 09:04 AM

A Neural Response to "Trigger" Stimuli in PTSD?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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  

  • January 16, 2016
  • 06:37 AM

Genetic Testing for Autism as an Existential Question

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • January 9, 2016
  • 09:51 AM

The Myth of the Brain's Pain Matrix?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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  

  • January 6, 2016
  • 10:13 AM

Does Ageism Cause Alzheimer's?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • January 2, 2016
  • 09:24 AM

Can Psychology Be an Empirical Science?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

Smedslund, J. (2015) Why Psychology Cannot be an Empirical Science. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science. DOI: 10.1007/s12124-015-9339-x  

  • January 1, 2016
  • 06:47 AM

Sleep Deprivation Alters Brain Connectivity

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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  

  • December 29, 2015
  • 05:40 AM

Martyrs to Science? When Research Participants Die

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • December 20, 2015
  • 07:26 AM

Only 2% of People Will Return A Christmas Card From A Stranger

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • December 17, 2015
  • 07:33 AM

The Case of the Bishop's Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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  

  • December 11, 2015
  • 06:56 AM

A Paradigm Shift for the Motor Cortex?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • December 7, 2015
  • 06:58 PM

False Positive fMRI Revisited

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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

  • December 4, 2015
  • 01:54 PM

Do Bilingual People Have a Cognitive Advantage?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • November 20, 2015
  • 03:06 PM

Multiple Personalities, Blindness and the Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • November 15, 2015
  • 07:34 AM

Meta-Neuroscience: Studying the Brains of Neuroscientists

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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 »

  • November 10, 2015
  • 02:36 PM

Reproducibility Crisis: The Plot Thickens

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A new paper from British psychologists David Shanks and colleagues will add to the growing sense of a "reproducibility crisis" in the field of psychology.

The paper is called Romance, Risk, and Replication and it examines the question of whether subtle reminders of 'mating motives' (i.e. sex) can make people more willing to spend money and take risks. In 'romantic priming' experiments, participants are first 'primed' e.g. by reading a story about meeting an attractive member of the opposite s... Read more »

Shanks DR, Vadillo MA, Riedel B, Clymo A, Govind S, Hickin N, Tamman AJ, & Puhlmann LM. (2015) Romance, Risk, and Replication: Can Consumer Choices and Risk-Taking Be Primed by Mating Motives?. Journal of experimental psychology. General. PMID: 26501730  

  • November 4, 2015
  • 05:41 AM

A Brain At Rest? Thoughts and Feelings in the "Resting State"

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Neuroscientists are increasingly interested in the brain's "resting state" - the neural activity that goes on while people are doing nothing in particular.

But how restful is rest? What do people think about when they're "resting"? Psychologists Russell T. Hurlburt discuss this issue in a new paper called What goes on in the resting-state? A qualitative glimpse into resting-state experience in the scanner

In a study of five volunteers undergoing resting state fMRI scans, the author... Read more »

  • October 27, 2015
  • 06:45 AM

Medication for Schizophrenia: Less is More?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

According to the New York Times (NYT) a week ago, a major new study found that lower doses of antipsychotics are better for the treatment of schizophrenia:
The findings, from by far the most rigorous trial to date conducted in the United States, concluded that schizophrenia patients who received smaller doses of antipsychotic medication and a bigger emphasis on one-on-one talk therapy and family support made greater strides in recovery over the first two years of treatment than patients who... Read more »

Kane JM, Robinson DG, Schooler NR, Mueser KT, Penn DL, Rosenheck RA, Addington J, Brunette MF, Correll CU, Estroff SE.... (2015) Comprehensive Versus Usual Community Care for First-Episode Psychosis: 2-Year Outcomes From the NIMH RAISE Early Treatment Program. The American journal of psychiatry. PMID: 26481174  

  • October 21, 2015
  • 05:19 AM

The Selective Laziness of Reasoning

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

If you could meet yourself, would you always agree with yourself?

You might hope so. But according to a new study, many people will reject their own arguments - if they're tricked into thinking that other people proposed them.

The paper, published in Cognitive Science, is called The Selective Laziness of Reasoning  and it's from cognitive scientists Emmanuel Trouche and colleagues. By "selective laziness", Trouche et al. are referring to our tendency to only bother scrutinizing arg... Read more »

Trouche E, Johansson P, Hall L, & Mercier H. (2015) The Selective Laziness of Reasoning. Cognitive science. PMID: 26452437  

  • October 10, 2015
  • 07:34 AM

Can Google Books Really Tell Us About Cultural Evolution?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In 2009, Google made available Google Books (also known as the Ngram corpus), a database that now includes over 8 million books from libraries around the world. The books comprise a collection of words (over 500 billion English words) and phrases and this dataset is freely available for research use. The Books corpus allows researchers to examine changes in the frequency of word use in books over time, dating back to 1800.

This has led a lot of striking findings. So for instance, it has b... Read more »

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