308 posts · 237,566 views
Comments on neurobiology, neuroimaging, and psychiatry from a skeptical neuroscientist.
Over the past few years I've covered (1,2,3) the work of Anders Eklund, a Swedish researcher who has discovered a potentially serious flaw in software commonly used to analyse fMRI data.
Eklund has shown that popular parametric statistical analysis tools for fMRI are prone to false positives - they often 'find' brain activation even where it doesn't exist. The issue affects the leading software packages such as FSL and SPM.
The main root of the problem is spatial autocorrelation - the ... Read more »
Kriegeskorte, N., Bodurka, J., & Bandettini, P. (2008) Artifactual time-course correlations in echo-planar fMRI with implications for studies of brain function. International Journal of Imaging Systems and Technology, 18(5-6), 345-349. DOI: 10.1002/ima.20166
Psychiatric drugs come in many kinds: there are antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety medications, and more. But what all of these categories have in common is that they're anti- something. This is how we classify these drugs - by what they treat.
Except there's a problem - very few psychiatric drugs are only used to treat one thing. Take "antipsychotics". They're used in psychosis, but they're also a key tool in the treatment of mania, a different disorder entirely. Many of these dru... Read more »
Zohar J, Stahl S, Moller HJ, Blier P, Kupfer D, Yamawaki S, Uchida H, Spedding M, Goodwin GM, & Nutt D. (2015) A review of the current nomenclature for psychotropic agents and an introduction to the Neuroscience-based Nomenclature. European neuropsychopharmacology : the journal of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 25(12), 2318-25. PMID: 26527055
In a new Nature paper, Berkely neuroscientists Alexander G. Huth and colleagues present a 'semantic atlas' of the human brain. Huth et al. have mapped which brain areas respond to words, according to the semantics (meanings) of each word. It turns out that these maps are highly similar across individuals - which could have implications for 'mind reading' technology.
Huth et al. recorded brain activity with fMRI while seven volunteers listened to over two hours of audio narrative (taken fr... Read more »
Huth AG, de Heer WA, Griffiths TL, Theunissen FE, & Gallant JL. (2016) Natural speech reveals the semantic maps that tile human cerebral cortex. Nature, 532(7600), 453-8. PMID: 27121839
Back in 2013, I wondered if we would ever discover the neural basis of spontaneous thoughts. Why, I asked, do certain ideas just "pop" into our minds at particular times? Now a new paper published in Neuroimage, Canadian neuroscientists Melissa Ellamil and colleagues reports on the neural basis of spontaneous thoughts.
Ellamil et al. recruited a group of 18 volunteers, all of whom were highly experienced practitioners of mindfulness meditation. These individuals were selected, the authors... Read more »
Ellamil M, Fox KC, Dixon ML, Pritchard S, Todd RM, Thompson E, & Christoff K. (2016) Dynamics of neural recruitment surrounding the spontaneous arising of thoughts in experienced mindfulness practitioners. NeuroImage. PMID: 27114056
Does the thought of money make people more selfish? Last year, I blogged about the theory of 'money priming', the idea that mere reminders of money can influence people’s attitudes and behaviors. The occasion for that post was a study showing no evidence of the claimed money priming phenomenon, published by psychologists Rohrer, Pashler, and Harris. Rohrer et al.'s paper was accompanied by a rebuttal from Kathleen Vohs, who argued that 10 years of research and 165 studies establish that mone........ Read more »
Vadillo MA, Hardwicke TE, & Shanks DR. (2016) Selection bias, vote counting, and money-priming effects: A comment on Rohrer, Pashler, and Harris (2015) and Vohs (2015). Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 145(5), 655-63. PMID: 27077759
In a new paper called Molecular fMRI, MIT researchers Benjamin B. Bartelle, Ali Barandov, and Alan Jasanoff discuss technological advances that could provide neuroscientists with new tools for mapping the brain.
Currently, one of the leading methods of measuring brain activity is functional MRI (fMRI). However, as Bartelle et al. note, it has its limitations:
Because brain activity mapping with fMRI depends on neurovascular coupling, resolution at the level of single cells is out of reach.... Read more »
Does ice cream cause drownings? Let's think about this statistically. Consider that, in any given city, daily sales of ice cream are, most likely, positively correlated with daily rates of drownings.
Now, no matter how strong this correlation is, it doesn't really mean that ice cream is dangerous. Rather, the association exists because of a 'confound' variable. In this case it's temperature: on sunny days, people tend to eat more ice cream and they also tend to go swimming more often, thu... Read more »
Westfall J, & Yarkoni T. (2016) Statistically Controlling for Confounding Constructs Is Harder than You Think. PloS one, 11(3). PMID: 27031707
A group of Indian psychiatrists have raised concern over suspicious similarities between three papers published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine (IJPM). Their allegations have just been published, also in the same journal.
The authors, Girish Banwari and colleagues, focus on a 2015 paper about the use of the drug modafinil in treating schizophrenia. Banwari et al. say that this article
Contains no data at all and that only one reference was cited in the bibliography. A l... Read more »
Banwari G, Karia S, Avudaiappan S, Tharayil HM, & Andrade C. (2016) Modafinil Augmentation of Atypical Antipsychotic Agents: Duplicate Publication, Self-plagiarism, Salami Publication, and Other Matters. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 38(1), 86-7. PMID: 27011415
Do you haet typos? If you spot a grammo (a grammatical error), does your blood boil?
Some people are more offended by these kinds of linguistic errors than others, but why? Ann Arbor psychologists Julie E. Boland and Robin Queen examine this in a new PLOS ONE paper called If You’re House Is Still Available, Send Me an Email: Personality Influences Reactions to Written Errors in Email Messages
The authors recruited 83 volunteers (on MTurk) and asked them to imagine that they'd placed an... Read more »
Boland JE, & Queen R. (2016) If You're House Is Still Available, Send Me an Email: Personality Influences Reactions to Written Errors in Email Messages. PloS one, 11(3). PMID: 26959823
The 'file drawer problem' refers to the fact that in science, many results remain unpublished - especially negative ones. This is a problem because it produces publication bias.
Now, a group of Belgian psychology researchers have decided to make a stand. In a bold move against publication bias, they've thrown open their own file drawer. In the new paper, Anthony Lane and colleagues of Leuven say that they've realized that over the years, "our publication portfolio has become less and less... Read more »
Anthony Lane, Olivier Luminet, Gideon Nave and Moïra Mikolajczak. (2016) Is there a publication bias in behavioral intranasal oxytocin research on humans? Opening the file drawer of one lab. Journal of Neuroendocrinology. info:/
In July last year I asked, Could Traveling Waves Upset Cognitive Neuroscience? This was a post about a paper from David Alexander et al. arguing that neuroscience was overlooking the importance of how neural activity moves or travels through the brain.
Now Alexander et al. are back with a new PLoS ONE paper in which they describe traveling waves in human brain activity, as measured with magnetoencephalography (MEG). The authors scanned 20 volunteers during a visual and auditory task.
A... Read more »
Alexander DM, Nikolaev AR, Jurica P, Zvyagintsev M, Mathiak K, & van Leeuwen C. (2016) Global Neuromagnetic Cortical Fields Have Non-Zero Velocity. PloS one, 11(3). PMID: 26953886
Last October, Michael R. Blatt, editor in chief of the journal Plant Physiology, ruffled many feathers with an editorial, Vigilante Scientists. In this piece, Blatt argued that anonymous online comments were bad for science, pointing to PubPeer as an especially problematic site.
I wasn't convinced by Blatt's arguments. True, I have used the term "vigilante science" (in 2013) myself, in reference to PubPeer, but I meant it as a compliment.
Now Blatt has re-entered the debate over anonym... Read more »
According to a spectacularly misleading article in the Telegraph: Scientists discover how to 'upload knowledge to your brain'
Feeding knowledge directly into your brain, just like in sci-fi classic The Matrix, could soon take as much effort as falling asleep, scientists believe. Researchers claim to have developed a simulator which can feed information directly into a person’s brain and teach them new skills in a shorter amount of time...
Researchers from HRL Laboratories, based in Cali... Read more »
Choe J, Coffman BA, Bergstedt DT, Ziegler MD, & Phillips ME. (2016) Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Modulates Neuronal Activity and Learning in Pilot Training. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 34. PMID: 26903841
In a new paper, neurologists Elias D. Granadillo and Mario F. Mendez describe two patients in whom brain disorders led to an unusual symptom: "intractable joking."
Patient #1 was
A 69-year-old right-handed man presented for a neuropsychiatric evaluation because of a 5-year history of compulsive joking... On interview, the patient reported feeling generally joyful, but his compulsive need to make jokes and create humor had become an issue of contention with his wife. He would wake her u... Read more »
Toxoplasma gondii is a tiny organism that lives inside cells. It may well live inside your cells - the parasite up to 50% of the world's population, along with cats and many other animal species.
This is worrying, because many researchers believe that T. gondii infection, or toxoplasmosis, can alter human behavior. Among other organs, the parasite infects the brain, and it has been blamed for making people more impulsive, and more prone to mental illness, including schizophrenia. The ... Read more »
Sugden K, Moffitt TE, Pinto L, Poulton R, Williams BS, & Caspi A. (2016) Is Toxoplasma Gondii Infection Related to Brain and Behavior Impairments in Humans? Evidence from a Population-Representative Birth Cohort. PloS one, 11(2). PMID: 26886853
A new paper in PNAS raises the interesting suggestion that our brain function goes through yearly cycles. According to authors Christelle Meyer and colleagues, their findings reveal new evidence of seasonal effects in human cognitive brain function "that could contribute to cognitive changes at specific times of year."
However in my view, the study is too small to be conclusive.
Meyer et al. used fMRI to scan 28 young participants. Each of the volunteers spent 4 1/2 days in a laborator... Read more »
A potential case of data manipulation has been uncovered in a psychology paper. The suspect article, Why money meanings matter in decisions to donate time and money, came out in 2012 from University of Arizona psychologists Promothesh Chatterjee, Randall L. Rose, and Jayati Sinha.
This study fell into the genre of 'social priming', specifically 'money priming'. The authors reported that making people think about cash reduces their willingness to help others, while thinking of credit cards has... Read more »
Well? Would you...?
This was the question faced by the participants in a rather extraordinary series of studies described in a new paper from Illinois psychologists Randy J. McCarthy and colleagues. In total, 1081 parents with children aged under 18 were presented with an outline of a person, and asked to imagine that it was their own child. They were told to think of a time when their child made them angry. Finally, they were asked how many pins they would like to stick into the "doll" in or... Read more »
McCarthy RJ, Crouch JL, Basham AR, Milner JS, & Skowronski JJ. (2016) Validating the Voodoo Doll Task as a Proxy for Aggressive Parenting Behavior. Psychology of violence, 6(1), 135-144. PMID: 26839734
A press-release from the Harvard-MIT Broad Institute reaches astonishing heights of hyperbole in announcing a new schizophrenia study (Sekar et al. 2016). Here's the release:
Genetic study provides first-ever insight into biological origin of schizophrenia
Landmark analysis reveals excessive "pruning" of connections between neurons in brain predisposes to schizophrenia
A landmark study, based on genetic analysis of nearly 65,000 people, has revealed that a person’s risk of schizo... Read more »
Sekar A, Bialas AR, de Rivera H, Davis A, Hammond TR, Kamitaki N, Tooley K, Presumey J, Baum M, Van Doren V.... (2016) Schizophrenia risk from complex variation of complement component 4. Nature. PMID: 26814963
We've learned this week that computers can play Go. But at least there's one human activity they will never master: neuroscience. A computer will never be a neuroscientist. Except... hang on. A new paper just out in Neuroimage describes something called The Automatic Neuroscientist. Oh.
So what is this new neuro-robot? According to its inventors, Romy Lorenz and colleagues of Imperial College London, it's a framework for using "real-time fMRI in combination with modern machine-learning te... Read more »
Lorenz R, Monti RP, Violante IR, Anagnostopoulos C, Faisal AA, Montana G, & Leech R. (2016) The automatic neuroscientist: A framework for optimizing experimental design with closed-loop real-time fMRI. NeuroImage. PMID: 26804778
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