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  • 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 »

  • July 15, 2012
  • 06:23 AM

BOLD Blobs Brighten Baby Brains

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Babies born prematurely show the same kind of brain activation seen in adults: but it's a lot slower. That's according to an interesting study using fMRI scanning.The authors, Tomoki Arichi and colleagues of London, measured brain activation in response to mild sensory stimulation (touching the right hand) in three groups: adults, "preterm" infants who were just 38 weeks old since conception, and "term" infants who'd been conceived about 42 weeks before scannin........ Read more »

Arichi T, Fagiolo G, Varela M, Melendez-Calderon A, Allievi A, Merchant N, Tusor N, Counsell SJ, Burdet E, Beckmann CF.... (2012) Development of BOLD signal Hemodynamic Responses in the Human Brain. NeuroImage. PMID: 22776460  

  • July 10, 2012
  • 03:58 PM

The Coming Age of Fetal Genomics

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

It's 2020. A young woman and her partner have just found out that she's pregnant with her first child. and they're going to be parents.They're overjoyed, of course. But they're also worried. They've seen the adverts warning parents-to-be about the risk of de novo mutations - genetic mistakes that occur inside sperm or egg cells, and affect the child. These mutations, the ads say, are much more common than previously believed and they can cause all kinds of problems: intellectual disabilities, au........ Read more »

Fan HC, Gu W, Wang J, Blumenfeld YJ, El-Sayed YY, & Quake SR. (2012) Non-invasive prenatal measurement of the fetal genome. Nature. PMID: 22763444  

  • July 7, 2012
  • 09:04 AM

When Data Filtering Introduces Bias

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Oh no. Another worrying methods problem for neuroscience, this time for electrophysiologists: Systematic biases in early ERP and ERF components as a result of high-pass filtering.The event-related potential (ERP) and event-related field (ERF) techniques provide valuable insights into the time course of processes in the brain. Researchers commonly filter the data to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. However, filtering may distort the data, leading to false results. Using our own EEG data, ........ Read more »

  • July 6, 2012
  • 05:25 AM

Can You Learn To Be Synaesthetic?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A neat study from Dutch psychologists Olympia Colizoli, Jaap Murre and Romke Rouw claims that it's possible to train people to have synaesthesia.Synaesthesia generally comes out of the blue - some people just have it while others don't. Those who do experience it typically report that they've always had it. But could it be learned?Colizoli et al recruited 17 non-synaesthetes and got them to read books specially printed such that 4 common letters, "a", "e", "s" and "t", were always printed in a c........ Read more »

  • July 5, 2012
  • 03:42 AM

The Racist Brain?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Is the human brain... a racist?There are some worrying indications that it could be. After all, the cerebrum is largely composed of so-called "white" matter, and the only black area is a little 'ghetto' at the bottom called, shockingly, the substantia nigra...!Seriously though. There's a paper just out in Nature Neuroscience from Kubota et al that looks at The Neuroscience Of Race. It's a fine review as far as it goes, but to me at least, it really shows up the limits of contemporary neuroscienc........ Read more »

Kubota JT, Banaji MR, & Phelps EA. (2012) The neuroscience of race. Nature neuroscience, 15(7), 940-8. PMID: 22735516  

  • June 30, 2012
  • 05:32 AM

False Positive Neuroscience?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Recently, psychologists Joseph Simmons, Leif Nelson and Uri Simonsohn made waves when they published a provocative article called False-Positive PsychologyThe paper's subtitle was "Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant". It explained how there are so many possible ways to gather and analyze the results of a (very simple) psychology experiment that even if there's nothing interesting really happening, it'll be possible to find some "sign........ Read more »

  • June 29, 2012
  • 01:25 PM

B. F. Skinner vs. the Rorschach Test

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

What happened when the world's most no-nonsense psychologist took a Rorschach test?A fun little paper reports on B. F. Skinner's Rorschach results. He agreed to be tested as part of a 1953 project psychoanalysing various eminent scientists. The scientists were anonymous at the time but now Norwegians Cato Grønnerød et al have dug them out of the archives (Skinner has been dead since 1990).Skinner was the world's leading exponent of behaviourism, a school of thought that held roughly that ........ Read more »

  • June 26, 2012
  • 02:47 PM

Brain Activation Is Pretty Selective

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Neuroimaging researchers like to talk about bits of the brain in terms of what kind of stimuli they respond to.The "Fusiform Face Area (FFA)" and "Parahippocampal Place Area (PPA)" are two of the most popular of these 'clue is in the name' areas. The FFA lights up in response to seeing faces, while the PPA is more into places... so textbooks will tell you.But how selective are these areas really? We know that the FFA activates more to faces than to other things on average, but is there overlap? ........ Read more »

Mur M, Ruff DA, Bodurka J, De Weerd P, Bandettini PA, & Kriegeskorte N. (2012) Categorical, yet graded - single-image activation profiles of human category-selective cortical regions. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 32(25), 8649-62. PMID: 22723705  

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