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  • September 15, 2012
  • 07:06 AM

Control A Robot With Your Brain?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A paper just out makes the dramatic claim that you can control a robot using thought alone, Avatar style, thanks to a 'mind reading' MRI scanner. But does it really work?Here's how it works. Dutch neuroscientists Patrik Andersson and colleagues bought a robot - an off-the-shelf toy called the 'Spykee' -  is equipped with Wifi and  a video camera. The controlling human lay in the scanner and real-time fMRI was used to record brain activity. The video feed from the robot was showed on a ........ Read more »

  • September 13, 2012
  • 03:40 AM

Brains In A Dish Need Sleep Too?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

All animals sleep, but despite decades of research, neuroscientists still have no clear answer as to why. Now a dramatic new study reveals that sleep may be a fundamental state that even brain cells growing in a dish need.Swiss neuroscientists Valerie Hinard and colleagues cultured mouse cortical neurons in dishes equipped with arrays of electrodes. This allowed them to record the electrical activity produced by the growing 'brain'. They also measured the expression of different genes in the neu........ Read more »

Hinard V, Mikhail C, Pradervand S, Curie T, Houtkooper RH, Auwerx J, Franken P, & Tafti M. (2012) Key electrophysiological, molecular, and metabolic signatures of sleep and wakefulness revealed in primary cortical cultures. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 32(36), 12506-17. PMID: 22956841  

  • September 11, 2012
  • 02:17 PM

Cocktail-Party Neuroscience

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

"That's all very well, but what about the real world?"This, or something to this effect, is a stock criticism of much of psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Studies of human behavior and brain function under carefully controlled laboratory conditions don't tell us much about everyday life, the argument goes.It's a serious point. But a group of neuroscientists have now sought to dispel such worries in rather spectacular fashion. With the help of some nifty wireless headsets, Alan Gevins and co........ Read more »

  • September 9, 2012
  • 05:36 AM

Geometric Illusions in Astronauts

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Geometric illusions in astronauts sounds like the title of a late 70s prog album, but it's actually the topic of a remarkable psychology paper just published.Authors Gilles Clement and colleagues of the impressively-named International Space University were interested in the effects of zero gravity on optical illusions and the perception of shape.They hypothesized that our sense of gravity pointing down (via the inner ears) is responsible for certain visual illusions. In the Inverted T illusion,........ Read more »

  • September 6, 2012
  • 12:19 PM

When Data Filtering Introduces Bias (fMRI Edition)

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A couple of months ago I blogged about a paper showing that 'filtering' of EEG data can create spurious effects.Now, we read about another form of bias that filters can introduce, this time for fMRI: Filtering induces correlation in fMRI resting state data.Australian neuroscientists Catherine Davey and colleagues consider temporal filtering of fMRI data in studies looking at correlation (brain functional connectivity).Because both very high frequency and very slow changes in the fMRI signal are ........ Read more »

  • September 2, 2012
  • 08:22 AM

This Is Your Brain On Management

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Have you ever wondered whether how the brains of managers work? New research from a group of German neuroscientists and management experts reveals all: Dissociated Neural Processing for Decisions in Managers and Non-ManagersThe results were rather remarkable:Using fMRI, the researchers found that managers' brains were less active in a number of areas, compared to the brains of non-managers, when doing the same task. By contrast, managerial brains were more active than the others only in one smal........ Read more »

Caspers S, Heim S, Lucas MG, Stephan E, Fischer L, Amunts K, & Zilles K. (2012) Dissociated neural processing for decisions in managers and non-managers. PloS one, 7(8). PMID: 22927984  

  • August 30, 2012
  • 03:53 AM

Autoerotic Asphyxiation For Science

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The death of an autoerotic asphyxiation fan ended up providing science with some valuable observations of what happens during chokingOn Twitter recently, I've been highlighting some really bad ideas courtesy of the medical literature. From injecting vaseline into your own penis, to pumping compressed air up your rectum for a joke, people have tried it and they've ended up on PubMed as a result.But a recent paper details an extreme case. Canadian medics Anny Sauvageau and colleagues report on the........ Read more »

  • August 29, 2012
  • 03:04 AM

Beyond Self-Report

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

If you want to learn about someone, should you ask them?Two pieces of research published recently cast doubt on the validity of self-report as a tool in psychology and psychiatry. The first found that teens who reported that they suffered from bullying experienced more mild 'psychotic-like' symptoms. That correlation would be consistent with the idea that these symptoms arise as a response to stress.However - the same study found that there was absolutely no correlation between peer ratings of ........ Read more »

  • August 22, 2012
  • 11:48 AM

Neuroscience: Solving The Hard-On Problem

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Take a good look at this, fellas:It might not look like much, but this is science's very first glimpse of something rather close to the hearts of most men.These images show nerve activation in the spinal cord during sexual arousal. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), best known as a way of recording brain activity, applied to the spine, Canadian researchers Kozyrev et al were able to record the changes associated with, well, stimulation. Here's the paper: Neural correlates of sex........ Read more »

  • August 21, 2012
  • 04:07 AM

Psychiatrists: Does Fire Put Out Fire?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

If you're trying to fight fire, should you use fire?This, pretty much, is the question asked by a group of psychiatrists in a new paper: Will disruptive mood dysregulation disorder reduce false diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children?The background here is that there's growing concern that bipolar disorder, previously thought to be extremely rare in prepubescent children, is now being diagnosed, inappropriately, in children - specifically in American children. This epidemic of so-called "pedia........ Read more »

  • August 17, 2012
  • 04:22 AM

Is Poker A Game of Skill or Luck?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Success in poker is all about luck, according to researchers at the University of Bremen, Germany: Is Poker a Game of Skill or Chance? A Quasi-Experimental Study.I'm not a gambling man, but I'll bet this is going to be a controversial study.The authors recruited 300 poker players - half were defined as 'experts' and the rest were  'average'. Players sat at tables of 6, with 3 experts and 3 average per table, and played 60 hands of Texas Hold 'em. On some tables, there was a fixed limit, on ........ Read more »

  • August 14, 2012
  • 02:41 PM

A Bloody Mess: Pharma, Legal Threats, and Fraud

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Over at ScienceInsider, we read that a German pharma company, Fresenius Kabi, threatened a scientist with legal action over a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The paper asked, in effect: what's the best way to boost blood volume after bleeding? The old-fashioned - and cheap - approach is to give water with various salts, called Ringer's solution. However, it has been proposed that it might be more effective to add a form of starch to the mix, specifically hydroxyethyl star........ Read more »

  • August 11, 2012
  • 07:32 AM

Questionnaire Extremism and National Character

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

"Personality differences" between people from different countries may just be a reflection of cultural differences in the use of 'extreme' language to describe people.That's according to a very important paper just out from an international team led by Estonia's René Mõttus.There's a write up of the study here. In a nutshell, they took 3,000 people from 22 places and asked them to rate the personality of 30 fictional people based on brief descriptions (which were the same, but translated into ........ Read more »

  • August 10, 2012
  • 12:16 PM

On Twitter, It's Beer Before Liquor

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

People tweet about beer in the evenings, especially on Fridays, according to a not-very-surprising-but-still-fun little report in the journal Epidemiology: Using Twitter to Measure Behavior PatternsThe study used, a free searchable database of millions of Tweets. The site grew out of an excellent bit of research you might remember from last year that examined how average mood varies over the course of the day and year.People tweet about and presumably drink beer (and wine) most in the e........ Read more »

  • August 7, 2012
  • 09:11 AM

Brains In Motion Are Bad For Neuroscience

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new paper in Human Brain Mapping reports on: Functional magnetic resonance imaging movers and shakers: Does subject-movement cause sampling bias?Head movement is a well known problem that can badly impact the quality of neuroimaging data, introducing spurious signals and obscuring real ones. It's an issue for all brain scanning research but according to Wylie and colleagues, authors of this paper, it's especially serious for studies comparing disease patients to healthy controls.The authors go........ Read more »

  • August 3, 2012
  • 12:00 PM

DSM-5 R.I.P?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Yesterday, the proposed new DSM-5 revision of the American Psychiatric Associations "Bible of Psychiatry" came under yet more criticism.Aaron T. Beck, the father of cognitive behavioural therapy, started it off with an attack on the upcoming changes to one diagnosis, Generalized Anxiety Disorder; but many of the points also apply to the other DSM-5 proposals:The lack of specific features, which is the primary issue for GAD, will not be addressed in DSM-5. The hallmark of the condition will remai........ Read more »

Starcevic V, Portman ME, & Beck AT. (2012) Generalized anxiety disorder: between neglect and an epidemic. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 200(8), 664-7. PMID: 22850300  

  • July 29, 2012
  • 09:38 AM

Why Don't Social Scientists Want To Be Read?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Here's the abstract of a paper just out called In pursuit of leanness: The management of appearance, affect and masculinities within a men's weight loss forum.In a somatic society which promotes visible, idealized forms of embodiment, men are increasingly being interpellated [sic] as image-conscious body-subjects. Some research suggests that men negotiate appearance issues in complex and varied ways, partly because image concerns are conventionally feminized. However, little research has conside........ Read more »

  • July 23, 2012
  • 03:31 PM

Search Trends Reveal Sexual Seasons

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Americans are most likely to search for sex online during the early summer and the winter, according to research just published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.The authors looked at the Google Trends for a selection of naughty words and phrases, and this revealed a pretty marked 6 month cycle for searches originating from the USA, with two yearly peaks in the search volumes. There was no such pattern for some non-sexual control words.Here's the graph for pornography searches, with an idealize........ Read more »

  • July 21, 2012
  • 10:08 AM

A Case Study in Voodoo Genetics

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new review of published studies looking at the relationship between a gene and brain structure offers a sobering lesson in how science goes wrong.Dutch neuroscientists Marc Molendijk and colleagues took all of the studies that compared a particular variant, BDNF val66met, and the volume of the human hippocampus. It's a long story, but there are various biological reasons that these two things might be correlated.It turns out that the first published reports found large genetic effects, but tha........ Read more »

Molendijk ML, Bus BA, Spinhoven P, Kaimatzoglou A, Voshaar RC, Penninx BW, van Ijzendoorn MH, & Elzinga BM. (2012) A systematic review and meta-analysis on the association between BDNF val(66) met and hippocampal volume. American journal of medical genetics B Neuropsychiatric genetics. PMID: 22815222  

  • July 20, 2012
  • 07:55 AM

Brain Scanning... Or Vein Scanning?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Many fMRI studies of brain activity could be biased by the effect of large blood vessels, according to an interesting new report: Origins of intersubject variability of BOLD and arterial spin labeling fMRI.fMRI measures BOLD, the Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent response. As the name says, BOLD is when a bit of the brain becomes more active, it uses more oxygen, and the oxygenation level of the blood in the area drops - although it then increases to compensate, and it's the increase that most f........ Read more »

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