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  • December 18, 2015
  • 04:39 PM

Depression is more than a “mental health” problem and we can now measure its risk

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

A network of interacting brain regions known as the default mode network (DMN) was found to have stronger connections in adults and children with a high risk of depression compared to those with a low risk. These findings suggest that increased DMN connectivity is a potential precursor, or biomarker, indicating a risk of developing major depressive disorder (MDD).... Read more »

Posner, J., Cha, J., Wang, Z., Talati, A., Warner, V., Gerber, A., Peterson, B., & Weissman, M. (2015) Increased Default Mode Network Connectivity in Individuals at High Familial Risk for Depression. Neuropsychopharmacology. DOI: 10.1038/npp.2015.342  

  • December 16, 2015
  • 09:46 AM

Buried with a Sickle: Death’s Scythe or Anti-Demon Protection?

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

Scythes and sickles have a very clear symbolic association for modern populations. The personification of death is traditionally pictured with a scythe (full size version pictured to the right) or sickle […]... Read more »

  • December 14, 2015
  • 05:40 PM

Emotion processing in the brain changes with tinnitus severity

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Tinnitus, otherwise known as ringing in the ears, affects nearly one-third of adults over age 65. The condition can develop as part of age-related hearing loss or from a traumatic injury. In either case, the resulting persistent noise causes varying amounts of disruption to everyday life. While some tinnitus patients adapt to the condition, many others are forced to limit daily activities as a direct result of their symptoms. A new study reveals that people who are less bothered by their tinnitus use different brain regions when processing emotional information.... Read more »

Fatima T. Husain et al. (2015) Increased frontal response may underlie decreased tinnitus severity. PLOS ONE. info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0144419

  • December 8, 2015
  • 05:43 PM

Discrimination by any other name: Language tests and racist migration policy in Australia

by Laura Smith-Khan in Language on the Move

Australia has a proud national narrative of migration and multiculturalism. It also has an equally prevalent history of exclusionary and discriminatory migration policy. Perhaps the most famous is its “White Australia Policy”, which sought to restrict the migration of “non-European” … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • December 8, 2015
  • 04:28 PM

Self-consciousness: Beyond the looking-glass and what dogs found there

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

That man’s best friend has a conscience is what every owner would be willing to bet, without even thinking about it for a moment. This means that dogs have self-consciousness. But the problem in science is that ideas and assumptions must be demonstrated. It is not enough for someone to have an inkling of something for it to be considered a scientific fact. Self-awareness, or self-consciousness, has been studied mainly by examining the responses of animals and children to their reflection in the mirror.... Read more »

  • December 8, 2015
  • 01:46 PM

The Dire State of Science in the Muslim World

by Jalees Rehman in The Next Regeneration

Universities and the scientific infrastructures in Muslim-majority countries need to undergo radical reforms if they want to avoid falling by the wayside in a world characterized by major scientific and technological innovations. This is the conclusion reached by Nidhal Guessoum and Athar Osama in their recent commentary "Institutions: Revive universities of the Muslim world", published in the scientific journal Nature. The physics and astronomy professor Guessoum (American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates) and Osama, who is the founder of the Muslim World Science Initiative, use the commentary to summarize the key findings of the report "Science at Universities of the Muslim World" (PDF), which was released in October 2015 by a task force of policymakers, academic vice-chancellors, deans, professors and science communicators. This report is one of the most comprehensive analyses of the state of scientific education and research in the 57 countries with a Muslim-majority population, which are members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).... Read more »

  • December 4, 2015
  • 02:54 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 »

  • December 3, 2015
  • 03:11 PM

Exposure to violence makes you more likely to lie, cheat

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Can watching a violent movie make you more likely to lie, cheat or steal? What about reading a violent book? While that may seem like a stretch, a new research study shows it may be the case. The study finds that exposure to human violence is strongly linked to an increase in cheating for monetary gain. In other words, violence may be making us less ethical.... Read more »

  • December 3, 2015
  • 11:33 AM

So You’ve Got a Hole in Your Head, Now What?

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

Let’s just say that you are an Iron Age herder living in Switzerland. You’re out walking through your flock of cattle, and one of them gets fiesty and kicks you […]... Read more »

Erdal, Y., & Erdal, �. (2011) A review of trepanations in Anatolia with new cases. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 21(5), 505-534. DOI: 10.1002/oa.1154  

Moghaddam, N., Mailler-Burch, S., Kara, L., Kanz, F., Jackowski, C., & Lösch, S. (2015) Survival after trepanation—Early cranial surgery from Late Iron Age Switzerland. International Journal of Paleopathology, 56-65. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpp.2015.08.002  

  • December 2, 2015
  • 09:18 PM

Our pale blue dot in the wake of destruction

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

This is our home, that pale blue dot, dwarfed by an arrow that takes up less space on your screen than this sentence. For all our might and “overwhelming” intelligence, if we flexed our mental might and developed a weapon to destroy this pale blue dot, it would almost certainly go unnoticed in the universe.... Read more »

  • November 28, 2015
  • 04:20 PM

The silence of the genes, an epigenetic tale

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Research led by Dr. Keiji Tanimoto from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, has brought us closer to understanding the mechanisms underlying the phenomenon of genomic imprinting. In this intriguing event, one copy of a gene is ‘turned off’, or silenced, depending on whether it was derived from the mother or the father.... Read more »

Matsuzaki H, Okamura E, Takahashi T, Ushiki A, Nakamura T, Nakano T, Hata K, Fukamizu A, & Tanimoto K. (2015) De novo DNA methylation through the 5'-segment of the H19 ICR maintains its imprint during early embryogenesis. Development (Cambridge, England), 142(22), 3833-44. PMID: 26417043  

  • November 24, 2015
  • 05:36 PM

Cultural brokering

by Ingrid Piller in Language on the Move

Recently, I signed a contract for a revised second edition of my 2011 book Intercultural Communication: A Critical Introduction to be published in 2017. One way in which I am planning to extend the book is to have a greater … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • November 22, 2015
  • 11:30 PM

History of neuroscience: The mystery of trepanation

by neurosci in Neuroscientifically Challenged

In 1867, an archaeologist and diplomat named Ephraim George Squier sought out the help of Paul Pierre Broca, the esteemed anatomist and surgeon. He was trying to solve a mystery about an ancient Incan skull that had been given to him by a wealthy artifact collector in Peru. In addition to its age, the Neolithic skull had a unique feature: on the top of the cranium a rectangular piece of bone had been removed. The presence of several cross-cuts surrounding the hole suggested that it was not a simple battle wound, but instead the result of a surgical procedure known as trepanation.This alone would have made the skull an interesting relic, but what really sparked a scientific controversy about the skull was that many who examined it believed the surgery had been performed some time before the individual's death, as the bone seemed to show evidence of healing after the cuts had been made. While it was conceivable that Neolithic Peruvians could have performed such an operation as part of some after-death ritual, it was hard for many in Squier's time to believe these ancient peoples possessed the surgical acumen necessary to excise part of the skull of a living patient without causing death in the process. After all, the survival rate for surgical trepanation in the 1800s seldom reached 10% in the best hospitals of the day. Being unable to elicit a consensus view on the timing of the surgery from the members of the New York Academy of Medicine, Squier sent the skull to France to get an opinion from Broca, who was a distinguished expert in the study of the human skull.At the time, Broca had already made the key discovery that would cause him to be a household name among psychologists and neuroscientists: that there was a region of the frontal lobe (now known as Broca's area) that seemed to be involved specifically in the production of language. He was still in the midst of vigorously defending this hypothesis (as he would continue to do for years to come), but he immediately developed a great interest in the skull Squier sent to him.After examining the skull, Broca also was convinced that the opening was evidence of a surgical procedure done while the patient was still alive; Broca believed the patient survived for up to two weeks after trepanation. Doubts among the rest of the scientific community remained, however, until a collection of skulls was unearthed from a Neolithic grave site in central France several years later; a number of the skulls also had holes in them and the healing observable on these skulls made a more convincing argument for the idea that the holes were made well before death. In many cases, in fact, it seemed years may have passed between surgery and death.Why trepanation?The discovery of the French skulls helped to convince many of Broca's contemporaries that Neolithic peoples had the ability to perform trepanation on the living in such a way that the patient could often survive, but major questions remained as to how and why they did it. After Broca's interest had been piqued by Squier's skull he pursued answers to these other questions with characteristic determination. In fact, Broca ended up writing more papers on the reasons for prehistoric trepanation than he did on Broca's area and language.To answer the question about how trepanation was done, Broca tried using simple tools that were available to Stone Age peoples (like flint) to scrape holes in the crania of recently-deceased individuals. He found that, although it took him 50 minutes to scrape through an adult skull (counting time spent taking breaks to rest his tired hand), it could be accomplished with these crude instruments. Now we know that this scraping method was only one of several different primitive approaches to trepanation. Others included making intersecting cuts in the skull and then removing a rectangular portion of the bone (this was what was seen in Squier's skull), or making a circular cut and then removing a disc of skull.It's unclear if anesthesia was used during the operation when conducted in ancient times. Some have suggested Peruvians may have used coca (the plant cocaine would later be isolated from), as it can act as a local anesthetic. Others have hypothesized ancient peoples may have used substances like alcohol or opium to reduce pain associated with the procedure. It's also very possible, however, that no anesthesia was used. Studies of Oceanic and African cultures that still practiced trepanation in the 20th century found that many of them did so without any type of anesthesia.But the biggest mystery about trepanation is why the procedure was done. Broca thought and wrote extensively about this subject, eventually coming to favor a hypothesis that the practice was rooted in superstition. According to his view, Stone Age peoples did not understand the physiological basis of disorders like epilepsy, and thus were inclined to believe they were due to mystical events like demonic possession. Trepanation, Broca thought, may have been a way of treating these intractable mental disorders by creating a hole in the head through which demonic spirits could escape.Although there are some aspects of Broca's original hypothesis that have become discredited (such as his belief---formed due to how long it took him to scrape through an adult skull---that the procedure was conducted only on children), it is still considered by many to be a valid explanation for why trepanation was done in the ancient world. Others, however, like Broca's colleague P. Barthelemy Prunieres, argued that trepanation had a more practical justification. Prunieres reasoned that the procedure grew out of the attempted treatment of cranial fractures, which would likely have involved efforts to remove pieces of fractured bone from the site of the injury. In some cases, head injuries can cause the accumulation of blood within the cranium, which may lead to a potentially life-threatening increase in intracranial pressure; this pressure can sometimes be partially relieved by trepanation. Thus, ancient peoples may have unwittingly been performing surgery that had a real benefit for some patients. If trepanation appeared to lead to an improvement in the condition of some patients, this may have caused the procedure to be utilized more frequently even if the true reasons for the improvements were not fully understood.The perspectives of Broca and Prunieres represent two general views of ancient trepanation that each continue to receive support today: one that contends trepanation was done due to the influences of mysticism, another that argues it was a prehistoric attempt at rational surgery. It is likely, however, that different groups in different geographical areas had different reasons for performing the procedure, as trepanation was not a practice confined to one region or culture. Indeed, studies of 20th-century African tribes who still use the procedure found that reasons for trepanning varied among tribes, with some using it to treat cranial injuries and others using it to expel evil spirits.Trepanation beyond the Stone AgeTrepanation did not begin and end with ancient Stone Age peoples. It was advocated by the famous Greek physician Hippocrates to allow for the drainage of blood after a cranial injury. Galen, the preeminent surgeon of the Roman Empire, also promoted the use of the procedure for blood drainage, but added to his recommendations a discussion of its beneficial effects on intracranial pressure. In the process, Galen provided an explanation of the potential palliative effects of trepanation that crudely resembles a contemporary understanding of them. The ancient Greeks and Romans also began developing more modern tools to use in trepanation; in the 1600s a three-pronged device for drilling through the skull was invented; it was called a tre fines, from the Latin for three ends. This led to the term trephination becoming a synonym for trepanation.Trepanation continued to be used up through the 1800s for the treatment of head injuries as well as for epilepsy and other mental illnesses. Gradually, however, the practice fell out of favor in the 19th century. The mortality rates for trepanation at the time were very high, and it came to be recognized that any benefits it might offer were significantly outweighed by the risk of death associated with the surgery. Today similar procedures like craniectomy, which also involves removing part of the skull, are sometimes used to treat instances of increased intracranial pressure caused by major head trauma.We will likely never be certain of the reasons Neolithic peoples practiced trepanation. Perhaps it was due to primitive beliefs in demonic possession, or maybe it was an attempt to protect the brain from the pressure created by intracranial bleeding. Then again, it may be that both of these explanations are erroneous. We can however, feel fairly confident that trepanati... Read more »

  • November 22, 2015
  • 04:01 PM

Neuroscience and the search for happiness

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Exercising, meditating, scouring self-help books… we go out of our way to be happy, but do we really know what happiness is? Wataru Sato and his team at Kyoto University have found an answer from a neurological perspective.... Read more »

Sato, W., Kochiyama, T., Uono, S., Kubota, Y., Sawada, R., Yoshimura, S., & Toichi, M. (2015) The structural neural substrate of subjective happiness. Scientific Reports, 16891. DOI: 10.1038/srep16891  

  • November 21, 2015
  • 06:09 PM

The mysterious fungus that has major health consequences

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Researchers at the University of Toronto examined fungi in the mucus of patients with cystic fibrosis and discovered how one particularly cunning fungal species has evolved to defend itself against neighbouring bacteria. A regular resident of our microbiome – and especially ubiquitous in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients -the Candida albicans fungus is an “opportunistic pathogen.”
... Read more »

  • November 21, 2015
  • 11:40 AM

Where Are All the Wearables We Want to Wear?

by Aurametrix team in Health Technologies

Millions of years ago our ancestors straightened up and started carrying tools around, instead of dropping them after use. And so technology became a part of daily routine.​As time passed, more useful tools were made than it was feasible to carry or wear over the shoulder. One solution to this problem was monetary exchange, the other was a better technology. Wearables promised to add more convenience than carryables and, ever since humans started to wear clothes some 170,000 years ago, there was no lack of attempts to turn useful products into wearables. But this was not easy.Eyeglasses correcting vision appeared 700 years ago and moved into mass production phase as more books were printed and read. Yet, first wearers of glasses, monks and scholars, were stigmatized as weak and old until the early 1900s when the 29th US president Theodore Roosevelt and the king of comedy Harold Lloyd finally made glasses popular.  Eyeglasses kept evolving but their primary function remained vision correction and eye protection. Google glass was an amazing technological accomplishment but we were not ready to put computers on our faces.The first wearable HDTVs from Sony were inconvenient because of the bulky battery pack, and the surrounding waves seemed to reverberate  through your skull. Even so, smart glasses are already developing loyal following  in niche markets such as Augmented/Virtual Reality  gaming and tools for persons with physical disabilities. Google glass is heading toward a second version, and so are second generation wearable TVs like recently launched Royole-X that combines high-resolution display with noise-cancelling headphones. Virtual reality is back with some incredible headsets in development, and the best is yet to come.The first truly wearable watches were created 200 years ago, some 300 years after portable spring driven clocks. The first smartwatch appeared in 1977. Hewlett Packard’s HP-01 combined a personal calculator, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a timer, and a 200 year calendar.  Linux-based WatchPad developed by IBM  and Citizen in 2001 featured a graphic display, Bluetooth and an accelerometer and were called a “popular publicity gimmick”. Smartwatches developed in the last decade run on processors and internal components designed for smartphones. As new electronic components are being created, watch designs are getting slimmer,  more attractive and more functional.  Smartwatches might have a chance.Hearing aids introduced over 100 years ago, are examples of still existing and successful wearable technology. They evolved from cartoonish ear trumpets to digital hearing devices that do more than amplify sound. Many technical problems – such as background noise still remain, but developers are already working on merging more features – like health tracking capabilities or the ability to flip through songs with just the tilt of a head – to create the new wave of hearables.Google Engineers Invent New Body Part To Strap Gadgets Onto. This was a satirical headline from Onion, but the truth is inventors have already tried every part of the human body as a surface for wearables.Wearable storage evolved from clunky wooden trunks to small purses hung on one's belt (like Robin Hood's pouch) to ​pockets as we know them, sewn into trousers and dresses, in the late 1700s. Pockets went out of fashion  in the 1790s, and women began to use handbags. They came back larger and plainer during the 19th century. Today's  attempts at wearable storage vary from handbags with built-in-batteries to charge your favorite gizmos on the go, to microchips in clothes or implantable chips storing personal information for mobile payments, to wearable robots aka exosceletons for lifting and carrying heavy loads. But however strange some of the wearables may seem, they are the future and this future is ripe for growth.  REFERENCES Toups MA, Kitchen A, Light JE, & Reed DL (2011). Origin of clothing lice indicates early clothing use by anatomically modern humans in Africa. Molecular biology and evolution, 28 (1), 29-32 PMID: 20823373Bouzouggar A, Barton N, Vanhaeren M, d'Errico F, Collcutt S, Higham T, Hodge E, Parfitt S, Rhodes E, Schwenninger JL, Stringer C, Turner E, Ward S, Moutmir A, & Stambouli A (2007). 82,000-year-old shell beads from North Africa and implications for the origins of modern human behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104 (24), 9964-9 PMID: 17548808... Read more »

Bouzouggar A, Barton N, Vanhaeren M, d'Errico F, Collcutt S, Higham T, Hodge E, Parfitt S, Rhodes E, Schwenninger JL.... (2007) 82,000-year-old shell beads from North Africa and implications for the origins of modern human behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(24), 9964-9. PMID: 17548808  

Sungmee Park, & Jayaraman S. (2014) A transdisciplinary approach to wearables, big data and quality of life. Conference proceedings : .. Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. Annual Conference, 4155-8. PMID: 25570907  

  • November 17, 2015
  • 05:48 PM

What’s in a name? More than you think…

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

What’s in a name? In the case of the usernames of video gamers, a remarkable amount of information about their real world personalities, according to research. Analysis of anonymised data from one of the world’s most popular computer games by scientists in the Department of Psychology at York also revealed information about their ages.... Read more »

  • November 17, 2015
  • 12:47 PM

Landscapes of Death and Mass Graves from the Roman Empire

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

There is an amazing relationship between human behavior and space. Our landscape and environment shapes what we can do on it, how we move through it, and where we can […]... Read more »

  • November 15, 2015
  • 01:58 PM

Bioanthro lab activity: Hominin brain size

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

Last week in my Human Evolution class we looked at whether we could estimate hominin brain sizes, or endocranial volumes (ECV), based on just the length and width of the bony brain case. Students took these measurements on 3D surface scans… … and then plugged their data into equations relating these measurements to brain size […]... Read more »

  • November 14, 2015
  • 05:18 PM

3-D printing aids in understanding food enjoyment

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Tasting food relies on food volatiles moving from the back of the mouth to the nasal cavity, but researchers have wondered why airflow doesn’t carry them in the other direction, into the lungs. Now a team of engineers, using a 3D printed model of the human airway from nostril to trachea, has determined that the shape of the airway preferentially transfers volatiles to the nasal cavity and allows humans to enjoy the smell of good food.... Read more »

Ni, R., Michalski, M., Brown, E., Doan, N., Zinter, J., Ouellette, N., & Shepherd, G. (2015) Optimal directional volatile transport in retronasal olfaction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1511495112  

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