In a provocative review paper just published, French neuroscientists Jean-Michel Hupé and Michel Dojat question the assumption that synesthesia is a neurological disorder.
In synesthesia, certain sensory stimuli involuntarily trigger other sensations. For example, in one common form of synesthesia, known as 'grapheme-color', certain letters are perceived as allied with, certain colors. In other cases, musical notes are associated with colors, or smells.
The cause of synesthesia is obsc... Read more »
Hupé JM, & Dojat M. (2015) A critical review of the neuroimaging literature on synesthesia. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 103. PMID: 25873873
A new paper in Neuroimage suggests that methods for removing head motion and physiological noise from fMRI data might be inadvertently excluding real signal as well.
The authors, Molly G. Bright and Kevin Murphy of Cardiff, studied the technique called nuisance regression. It's a popular approach for removing fMRI noise. Noise reduction is important because factors such as head movement, the heart beat, and breathing, can contaminate the fMRI signal and lead to biased results. Nuisance regres... Read more »
Bright MG, & Murphy K. (2015) Is fMRI "noise" really noise? Resting state nuisance regressors remove variance with network structure. NeuroImage. PMID: 25862264
According to a large study just published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, there's no correlation between brain anatomy and self-reported autistic traits.
Dutch researchers P. Cedric M. P. Koolschijn and colleagues looked at two samples of young Dutch adults: an 'exploration' sample of 204, and a separate 'validation' group of 304 individuals.
Most of the participants did not have autism. The researchers looked for associations between various aspects of brain ... Read more »
Koolschijn PC, Geurts HM, van der Leij AR, & Scholte HS. (2015) Are Autistic Traits in the General Population Related to Global and Regional Brain Differences?. Journal of autism and developmental disorders. PMID: 25847757
A new study published in the journal Neurocase made headlines this week. Headlines like: "Sarcasm Center Found In Brain's White Matter". The paper reports that damage to a particular white matter pathway in the brain, the right sagittal stratum, is associated with difficulty in perceiving a sarcastic tone of voice.
The authors, studied 24 patients who had suffered white matter damage after a stroke. In some cases, the lesions included the sagittal stratum in the right hemisphere, and... Read more »
Davis CL, Oishi K, Faria AV, Hsu J, Gomez Y, Mori S, & Hillis AE. (2015) White matter tracts critical for recognition of sarcasm. Neurocase, 1-8. PMID: 25805326
A psychiatry journal, the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (JNMD), has just published a remarkable attack on another journal, Frontiers in Psychology. Here's the piece: it's by the JNMD's own Statistics Editor. In it, he writes that:
To be perfectly candid, the reader needs to be informed that the journal that published the Lakens (2013) article, Frontiers in Psychology, is one of an increasing number of journals that charge exorbitant publication fees in exchange for free open access to p... Read more »
Cicchetti DV. (2015) Cognitive Behavioral Techniques for Psychosis: A Biostatistician's Perspective. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 203(4), 304-5. PMID: 25816048
Who discovered autism? Traditionally, the priority has been ascribed to two psychiatrists, Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, who both published independent but remarkably similar descriptions of the syndrome in 1943 - 44 (although Asperger had released a preliminary description in 1938.)
But according to a new paper in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, both Kanner and Asperger were scooped by nearly two decades - by a Soviet child psychiatrist, Grunya Efimovna Sukhareva. She described a syn... Read more »
In the Journal of Personality, a new study reports on the uniformity of human experience around the globe: The World at 7: Comparing the Experience of Situations Across 20 Countries
The research was an online survey of a total of 5447 people. Each participant was asked to think about what happened the previous evening at 7 pm. Then they were asked to describe the 7 pm scene by means of 89 statements (descriptors), which included things like: "Rational thinking is called for.", "Situation ra... Read more »
Guillaume E, Baranski E, Todd E, Bastian B, Bronin I, Ivanova C, Cheng JT, de Kock FS, Denissen JJ, Gallardo-Pujol D.... (2015) The World at 7: Comparing the experience of situations across 20 countries. Journal of personality. PMID: 25808415
Modern winemakers may have erred when they switched to producing high alcohol wines. According to a new paper, from Spanish neuroscientists Ram Frost and colleagues, a low alcohol content wine actually produces more brain activity in 'taste processing' areas than more alcoholic varieties do.
But what does the brain really have to say about Beaujolais? Can scanning help us pick a Sauvignon? Will neuroimaging reveal the secret to a good... er... Nero d'Avola?
In their paper, publishe... Read more »
Frost R, Quiñones I, Veldhuizen M, Alava JI, Small D, & Carreiras M. (2015) What Can the Brain Teach Us about Winemaking? An fMRI Study of Alcohol Level Preferences. PloS one, 10(3). PMID: 25785844
According to a new study from Chinese neuroscientists Fan Xu and colleagues, some monkeys can experience depression in a similar way to humans.
The researchers studied cynomolgus monkeys, also known as crab-eating macaques (Macaca fascicularis), a species native to Southeast Asia. Cynomolgus monkeys are highly social animals. Xu et al. previously showed that isolating a monkey from its companions caused it to develop depression-like behaviors. In their new paper, the authors say that they'v... Read more »
Xu F, Wu Q, Xie L, Gong W, Zhang J, Zheng P, Zhou Q, Ji Y, Wang T, Li X.... (2015) Macaques exhibit a naturally-occurring depression similar to humans. Scientific reports, 9220. PMID: 25783476
When should scientists apply for grants? Does spending more time writing applications pay off in the long run? A paper published in PLoS ONE this week examined the eternal question: To apply or not to apply?
The authors, Ted and Courtney von Hippel, start out by noting that most major grant awards are highly competitive - with success rates of just 20% in the case of US federal NIH and NSF awards. What's more, although decisions are made by a panel of expert judges, the evidence is th... Read more »
von Hippel T, & von Hippel C. (2015) To apply or not to apply: a survey analysis of grant writing costs and benefits. PloS one, 10(3). PMID: 25738742
According to a new paper, one of neuroscience's most famous case-studies came about as a result of a serious medical blunder.
Henry Molaison (1926 - 2008), better known as HM, was an American man who developed a dramatic form of amnesia after receiving surgery that removed part of the temporal lobes of his brain. The 1953 operation was intended to treat HM's epilepsy, but it had the side effect of leaving him unable to form new memories.
The consequences of HM's surgery are well known ... Read more »
Mauguière F, & Corkin S. (2015) H.M. never again! An analysis of H.M.'s epilepsy and treatment. Revue neurologique. PMID: 25726355
Multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) is an increasingly popular approach for analyzing the results of fMRI scanning experiments that measure brain activity. MVPA searches for patterns of activation that correlate with a particular mental state. This is called 'decoding' neural activity.
Now a new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience from Caltech neuroscientists Julien Dubois et al. reports that MVPA is unable to decode certain kinds of information, even though single-unit recordings confirm th... Read more »
Dubois J, de Berker AO, & Tsao DY. (2015) Single-Unit Recordings in the Macaque Face Patch System Reveal Limitations of fMRI MVPA. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 35(6), 2791-802. PMID: 25673866
In an interesting short paper just published in Trends in Cognitive Science, Caltech neuroscientist Ralph Adolphs offers his thoughts on The Unsolved Problems of Neuroscience.
Here's Adolphs' list of the top 23 questions (including 3 "meta" issues), which, he says, was inspired by Hilbert's famous set of 23 mathematical problems:
Problems that are solved, or soon will be:
I. How do single neurons compute?
II. What is the connectome of a small nervous system, like that of Caenorhabi... Read more »
In a new paper, a group of MIT researchers argue that science is producing PhDs in far greater numbers than there are available tenured jobs for them to fill.
The authors, engineers Richard C. Larson, Navid Ghaffarzadegan, and Yi Xue, start out by noting that
The academic job market has become more and more competitive... nowadays, less than 17% of new PhDs in science, engineering and health-related fields find tenure-track positions within 3 years after graduation.
But why? Are we simp... Read more »
Larson RC, Ghaffarzadegan N, & Xue Y. (2014) Too Many PhD Graduates or Too Few Academic Job Openings: The Basic Reproductive Number R 0 in Academia. Systems research and behavioral science, 31(6), 745-750. PMID: 25642132
How do people in different cultures view history? Around the globe, who are regarded as the best and worst historical figures? A new survey out now in PLoS ONE reveals the patterns of world opinion: "Heroes" and "Villains" of World History across Cultures.
The researchers, led by Katja Hanke of Germany and James H. Liu of New Zealand, polled 6,902 university students from 37 different countries. In an anonymous survey, the participants rated 40 historical figures on a seven point scale f... Read more »
Hanke K, Liu JH, Sibley CG, Paez D, Gaines SO Jr, Moloney G, Leong CH, Wagner W, Licata L, Klein O.... (2015) "Heroes" and "Villains" of World History across Cultures. PloS one, 10(2). PMID: 25651504
What do Hennessy, Jack Daniels, and Everclear have in common? According to a rather fascinating new study, these three brands are especially popular with those teenage drinkers who get into booze-related fights.
In the new paper, researchers Sarah P. Roberts and colleagues of Boston say that some brands of alcohol are correlated with self-reported involvement in "alcohol related fights and injuries", in a national sample of American underage drinkers (i.e. drinkers under the age of 21).
... Read more »
Roberts SP, Siegel MB, DeJong W, Naimi TS, & Jernigan DH. (2015) Brand Preferences of Underage Drinkers Who Report Alcohol-Related Fights and Injuries. Substance use . PMID: 25612075
When scientists disagree about something, what often happens is that the two sides of the argument form separate communities, with scientists collaborating with others on their "team" while avoiding working with their "opponents". But is there a better way?
A paper just published today presents the results of an experiment that was conducted as an 'adversarial collaboration'. This is where some researchers sit down with some members of the "other side" and agree upon a plan for a study to... Read more »
Matzke D, Nieuwenhuis S, van Rijn H, Slagter HA, van der Molen MW, & Wagenmakers EJ. (2015) The effect of horizontal eye movements on free recall: A preregistered adversarial collaboration. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(1). PMID: 25621378
Ethnographer Jill A. Fisher offers a fascinating look at the rumors and urban legends that circulate among the volunteers who get paid to take part in medical research: Stopped hearts, amputated toes and NASA
Fisher visited six clinical trial facilities across the USA. All of these facilities were exclusively devoted to running phase I trials, testing new drugs to see if they are safe in humans. She spent a total of 450 hours in the field, getting to know the 'guinea pigs', and the staf... Read more »
Fisher JA. (2015) Stopped hearts, amputated toes and NASA: contemporary legends among healthy volunteers in US phase I clinical trials. Sociology of health , 37(1), 127-42. PMID: 25601069
A simple statistical misunderstanding is leading many neuroscientists astray in their use of machine learning tools, according to a new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience Methods: Exceeding chance level by chance.
As the authors, French neuroscientists Etienne Combrisson and Karim Jerbi, describe the issue:
Machine learning techniques are increasingly used in neuroscience to classify brain signals. Decoding performance is reflected by how much the classification results depart from the... Read more »
Combrisson E, & Jerbi K. (2015) Exceeding chance level by chance: The caveat of theoretical chance levels in brain signal classification and statistical assessment of decoding accuracy. Journal of Neuroscience Methods. PMID: 25596422
A compelling article in the Journal of Medical Biography recounts the story of Bayard Holmes and Henry Cotton, two American "surgeon-psychiatrists" who believed that they could cure schizophrenia by removing parts of their patients' intestines (and other organs). Both men tested their theories on their own children - with tragic results. The article is by Jonathan Davidson of Duke University.
Holmes and Cotton had a theory to justify these extreme treatments: autointoxication - the id... Read more »
Davidson J. (2014) Bayard Holmes (1852-1924) and Henry Cotton (1869-1933): Surgeon-psychiatrists and their tragic quest to cure schizophrenia. Journal of medical biography. PMID: 25504547
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