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

Neuroskeptic
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  • February 6, 2013
  • 04:36 PM
  • 295 views

Still 'Profiteering From Anxiety'

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Late last year, the excellent Neurobonkers blog covered a case of 'Profiteering from anxiety'.It seems one Nader Amir has applied for a patent on the psychological technique of 'Attentional Retraining', a method designed to treat anxiety and other emotional problems by conditioning the mind to unconsciously pay more attention to positive things and ignore unpleasant stuff.For just $139.99, you can have a crack at modifying your unconscious with the help of Amir's Cognitive Retraining Technologie........ Read more »

Amir, N., & Taylor, C. (2013) Correction to Amir and Taylor (2012). Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81(1), 74-74. DOI: 10.1037/a0031156  

Amir, N., Taylor, C., & Donohue, M. (2013) Correction to Amir et al. (2011). Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81(1), 112-112. DOI: 10.1037/a0031157  

  • January 28, 2013
  • 02:22 PM
  • 345 views

Another Scuffle In The Coma Ward

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

It's not been a good few weeks for Adrian Owen and his team of Canadian neurologists.Over the past few years, Owen's made numerous waves, thanks to his claim that some patients thought to be in a vegetative state may, in fact, be at least somewhat conscious, and able to respond to commands. Remarkable if true, but not everyone's convinced.A few weeks ago, Owen et al were criticized over their appearance in a British TV program about their use of fMRI to measure brain activity in coma patients. N........ Read more »

  • January 27, 2013
  • 04:46 AM
  • 324 views

Is This How Memory Works?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

We know quite a bit about how long-term memory is formed in the brain - it's all about strengthening of synaptic connections between neurons. But what about remembering something over the course of just a few seconds? Like how you (hopefully) still recall what that last sentence as about?Short-term memory is formed and lost far too quickly for it to be explained by any (known) kind of synaptic plasticity. So how does it work? British mathematicians Samuel Johnson and colleagues say they have the........ Read more »

  • January 17, 2013
  • 01:12 PM
  • 351 views

A Scuffle In The Coma Ward

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A couple of months ago, the BBC TV show Panorama covered the work of a team of neurologists (led by Prof. Adrian Owen) who are pioneering the use of fMRI scanning to measure brain activity in coma patients.The startling claim is that some people who have been considered entirely unconscious for years, are actually able to understand speech and respond to requests - not by body movements, but purely on the level of brain activation.However, not everyone was impressed. A group of doctors swiftly w........ Read more »

Turner-Stokes L, Kitzinger J, Gill-Thwaites H, Playford ED, Wade D, Allanson J, Pickard J, & Royal College of Physicians' Prolonged Disorders of Consciousness Guidelines Development Group. (2012) fMRI for vegetative and minimally conscious states. BMJ (Clinical research ed.). PMID: 23190911  

  • January 14, 2013
  • 05:41 PM
  • 302 views

Drunk Rats Could Overturn Neurological Orthodoxy

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A form of brain abnormality long regarded as permanent is, in fact, sometimes reversible, according to an unassuming little paper with big implications.Here's the key data: some rats were given a lot of alcohol for four days (the "binge"), and then allowed to sober up for a week. Before, during and after their rodent Spring Break, they had brain scans. And these revealed something remarkable - the size of the rats' lateral ventricles increased during the binge, but later returned to normal.Contr........ Read more »

Zahr NM, Mayer D, Rohlfing T, Orduna J, Luong R, Sullivan EV, & Pfefferbaum A. (2013) A mechanism of rapidly reversible cerebral ventricular enlargement independent of tissue atrophy. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. PMID: 23306181  

  • January 13, 2013
  • 04:45 AM
  • 305 views

DSM-5: A Ruse By Any Other Name...

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

In psychiatry, "a rose is a rose is a rose" as Gertrude Stein put it. That's according to an editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry called: The Initial Field Trials of DSM-5: New Blooms and Old Thorns.Like the authors, I was searching for some petal-based puns to start this piece off, but then I found this "flower with an uncanny resemblance to a MONKEY" which I think does the job quite nicely:Anyway, the editorial is about the upcoming, controversial fifth revision to the Diagnostic an........ Read more »

Freedman R, Lewis DA, Michels R, Pine DS, Schultz SK, Tamminga CA, Gabbard GO, Gau SS, Javitt DC, Oquendo MA.... (2013) The Initial Field Trials of DSM-5: New Blooms and Old Thorns. The American journal of psychiatry, 170(1), 1-5. PMID: 23288382  

  • January 12, 2013
  • 04:26 AM
  • 344 views

Smart People Say They're Less Depressed

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The questionable validity of self-report measures in psychiatry has been the topic of a few recent  posts here at Neuroskeptic.Now an interesting new study looks at the question in issue from a new angle, asking: what kind of people report feeling more or less depressed? Korean researchers Kim and colleagues found that intelligence and personality variables were both linked to the tendency to self-rate depression more severely.The study involved 100 patients who'd previously suffered from a........ Read more »

  • January 6, 2013
  • 05:37 AM
  • 331 views

Artwork During Recovery From Encephalitis

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

I recently wrote about anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a neurological disorder that often manifests with psychiatric symptoms, such as depression and hallucinations.The latest American Journal of Psychiatry features a strange series of four drawings made by a 15 year old girl during an episode of the disease, which presented as psychotic symptoms but later progressed to severe insomnia and epilepsy before it was diagnosed and treated."As she gradually recovered we asked her to draw something. S........ Read more »

Esseveld MM, van de Riet EH, Cuypers L, & Schieveld JN. (2013) Drawings During Neuropsychiatric Recovery From Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis. The American journal of psychiatry, 170(1), 21-2. PMID: 23288386  

  • January 3, 2013
  • 02:41 PM
  • 310 views

Flawed Statistics Make Almost Everyone's Brain "Abnormal"

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A popular method for detecting abnormalities in the shape and size of individual brains is seriously flawed, and is almost guaranteed to find 'differences' even in normal people.So say Italian neuroscientists Scarpazza and colleagues in an important new report: Very high false positive rates in single case Voxel Based Morphometry.Voxel Based Morphometry (VBM) is a way of analyzing brain scans to detect structural differences. It's most commonly used to compare groups of brains to find average di........ Read more »

  • December 30, 2012
  • 07:56 AM
  • 389 views

Finally, Hard Evidence Against The "Autism Epidemic"?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The idea of an 'autism epidemic' has a lot of people very worried.No-one disputes that diagnosed rates of autism have increased enormously over the past 15 years or so, around the world. However, other people write it off as essentially a cultural phenomenon: we're getting better at detecting the disorder and more willing to label kids as having it.I subscribe to the latter view, but there's very little hard evidence for it. To prove that diagnostic changes have occurred, rather than a true incr........ Read more »

  • December 29, 2012
  • 05:32 AM
  • 365 views

Mental Illness and Crime, Yet Again

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

As if on cue, a major study about the relationship (if any) between mental disorder and crime has appeared just when everyone's talking about that.Although having said that, people seem to be interested in that issue most of the time nowadays, in the UK at any rate, with schizophrenia topping the list of supposedly scary syndromes.So - should we be worried?The new research, from Australian team Morgan et al, surveyed everyone born in the state of Western Australia between 1955 and 1969. About 1......... Read more »

  • December 26, 2012
  • 08:37 AM
  • 412 views

Religion Rises After Disaster Strikes

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

People turn to religion after natural disasters - but it doesn't actually provide much solace.So say researchers Sibley and Bulbulia, who examined the population of Christchurch, New Zealand, before and after the 2011 earthquake. 185 died and many city landmarks were damaged in the disaster.The paper, Faith after an Earthquake, opens with a Biblical quote.Sibley and Bulbulia took advantage of the fact that a longitudinal study of the 'health and values' of the New Zealanders was already underway........ Read more »

  • December 24, 2012
  • 07:28 AM
  • 455 views

How Intelligent is IQ?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

"If your IQ is somewhere around 60 then you are probably a carrot'', according to a British spokesman for high-IQ club Mensa. IQ's in the news at the moment thanks to a paper called Fractionating Human Intelligence from Canadian psychologists Adam Hampshire and colleagues. Some say it 'debunks the IQ myth' - but does it?The study started out with a huge online IQ test...Behavioral data were collected via the Internet between September and December 2010. The experiment URL was originally advertis........ Read more »

Hampshire, A., Highfield, R., Parkin, B., & Owen, A. (2012) Fractionating Human Intelligence. Neuron, 76(6), 1225-1237. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.06.022  

  • December 22, 2012
  • 06:08 AM
  • 332 views

When "Mental" Illness Isn't

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

 There's a theory that 'psychiatric diseases' like depression and schizophrenia aren't diseases because they're not diagnosed on the basis of any kind of biological abnormality, but purely on symptoms - unlike 'real' diseases like cancer and AIDS.Now, in my view there's quite a bit of truth in that - but there's also a serious flaw in the argument. Sometimes, disorders diagnosed on the basis of psychiatric symptoms do turn out to have had a clear biological cause. So the original diagnosis ........ Read more »

  • December 18, 2012
  • 06:54 AM
  • 373 views

Ketamine: Magic Antidepressant Or Illusion? Revisited

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There's a lot of interest in the idea that ketamine provides unparalleled rapid, powerful antidepressant effects, even in people who haven't responded to conventional antidepressants.Earlier this year, I asked:Ketamine - Magic Antidepressant, or Expensive Illusion?There have now been several studies finding dramatic antidepressant effects of ketamine, the "club drug" aka "horse-tranquilizer". Great news? If you believe it. But hold your, er, horses... there's a problem.My concern was that althou........ Read more »

Zarate CA Jr, Mathews D, Ibrahim L, Chaves JF, Marquardt C, Ukoh I, Jolkovsky L, Brutsche NE, Smith MA, & Luckenbaugh DA. (2012) A Randomized Trial of a Low-Trapping Nonselective N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Channel Blocker in Major Depression. Biological psychiatry. PMID: 23206319  

  • December 15, 2012
  • 12:29 PM
  • 386 views

Search Trends Reveal The Most Suicidal States

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

US states with more Google searches for suicide-related things actually have a higher suicide rate, according to a study just out.Researchers Gunn and Lester write that, across the 50 US states,The association between suicide rates and the search volume for ‘‘commit suicide’’ was significant and positive[r=0.31, p=0.01]... ‘‘how to suicide’’ was marginally significant and positive [r=0.21, p=0.07]... Finally, ‘‘suicide prevention’’ was significant and positive [r=0.61, p=........ Read more »

  • December 15, 2012
  • 12:26 PM
  • 354 views

Neither Drugs Nor Therapy Prevent Psychosis

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Neither medication nor psychotherapy is effective in improving the prognosis for youngsters considered to be at high risk of developing psychosis, according to a major study just published.The idea of identifying and treating young people at risk of becoming psychotic - because of a family history of schizophrenia, or because they're showing some mild symptoms - has become very fashionable lately. But can we really do anything to pre-empt the disorder?In this trial, 115 "ultra-high risk" Austral........ Read more »

McGorry, P., Nelson, B., Phillips, L., Yuen, H., Francey, S., Thampi, A., Berger, G., Amminger, G., Simmons, M., Kelly, D.... (2012) Randomized Controlled Trial of Interventions for Young People at Ultra-High Risk of Psychosis. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. DOI: 10.4088/JCP.12m07785  

  • December 8, 2012
  • 11:17 AM
  • 362 views

The Case Of The Missing Parasites

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Collembola or "Springtails" are a common group of bugs - they're technically not insects although much like them - found all over the world.There's no evidence that these critters are parasites for humans - except for one strange scientific report claiming to have found Collembola body parts in skin scrapings from people diagnosed with delusional parasitosis - a psychiatric disorder characterised by the belief that one is infested with parasites.According to said 2004 paper by Altschuler et al, ........ Read more »

  • November 30, 2012
  • 02:54 PM
  • 462 views

Did Boys Use To Wear Pink?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There's a belief that the colours we associate with the genders - pink for girls and blue for boys - used to be the other way around.About 100 years ago, we're told, boys wore pink clothes, but then during the early 20th century, it flipped over. This is often used as an example of how arbitrary gender stereotypes are.However according to psychologist Marco Del Giudice, the whole "pink-blue reversal" is an 'urban legend'. He argues that there's really only anecdotal evidence for the existence of........ Read more »

  • November 29, 2012
  • 01:31 PM
  • 446 views

Ritalin, The Ultimate Crimefighter?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There's been lots of interest in the idea that ADHD meds reduce crime rates.No doubt that, even as we speak, worried pundits are writing of how this is a worrying Orwellian scenario and yadda yadda. But what's really going on?The research is from Sweden and published in the New England Journal of Medicine: Medication for Attention Deficit–Hyperactivity Disorder and Criminality. The first thing to note is that the study is not about giving medication in order to prevent crime; it was purely loo........ Read more »

Lichtenstein P, Halldner L, Zetterqvist J, Sjölander A, Serlachius E, Fazel S, Långström N, & Larsson H. (2012) Medication for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and criminality. The New England journal of medicine, 367(21), 2006-14. PMID: 23171097  

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