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Comments on neurobiology, neuroimaging, and psychiatry from a skeptical neuroscientist.

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  • November 4, 2011
  • 06:18 AM

Dream Action, Real Brain Activation

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A neat little study has brought Inception one step closer to reality. The authors used fMRI to show that dreaming about doing something causes similar brain activation to actually doing it.The authors took four guys who were all experienced lucid dreamers - able to become aware that they're dreaming, in the middle of a dream. They got them to go to sleep in an fMRI scanner. Their mission was to enter a lucid dream and move their hands in it - first their left, then their right, and so on. They a........ Read more »

Dresler M, Koch SP, Wehrle R, Spoormaker VI, Holsboer F, Steiger A, Sämann PG, Obrig H, & Czisch M. (2011) Dreamed Movement Elicits Activation in the Sensorimotor Cortex. Current biology : CB. PMID: 22036177  

  • October 31, 2011
  • 05:13 PM

The Google of Negative Results

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new online resource has been launched which offers us the chance to find out what isn't happening in science.BioNOT is a free searchable database of negative findings in biology and medicine.Text mining approaches to the scientific literature have become increasingly popular as a way of helping researchers to make sense of a growing number of papers. But they've tended to focus on positive findings and skim over negative ones. In this sense they're following in the tradition of scientists them........ Read more »

  • October 27, 2011
  • 05:26 AM

The Teen Happiness Gene?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Whether you were happy with life as a teenager could be down to a certain gene, says a new study.In a large study of American adolescents, the AddHealth project, teens who carried the long form of the 5HTTLPR locus were more likely to say they were satisfied or very satisified with their lives (at age 18 to 26). People with two long variants were the most cheerful, with short/long carriers in the middle and short/short being the least so.The effect was significant controlling for ethnicity (p=0......... Read more »

  • October 22, 2011
  • 07:40 AM

Life With Low Serotonin, Revisited

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Last year I covered the case of a young man born with a genetic disorder which caused him to suffer low levels of the monoamine neurotransmitters - serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline.These are the chemicals that are widely thought to be deficient in depression, and they're the target of antidepressant drugs (especially serotonin).If low monoamines cause depression, you'd expect someone with low monoamines to be depressed, at least on the simplest view. But the case from last year had no repo........ Read more »

  • October 20, 2011
  • 03:53 AM

The Facebook Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Facebook friend tally is associated with differences in brain structurePeople with lots of Facebook friends have denser grey matter in three regions of the brain, a study suggestsWhen I heard about this, my heart sank. The Facebook area of the brain? It had all the hallmarks of a piece of media neuro-nonsense: a hook (Facebook!), a simplistic neo-phrenological story (bigger brains are better!)... so I was expecting to discover that the fuss was all about some tiny, statistically questionable stu........ Read more »

Kanai, R., Bahrami, B., Roylance, R., & Rees, G. (2011) Online social network size is reflected in human brain structure. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1959  

  • October 18, 2011
  • 04:41 PM

What Is Brain "Activation" on fMRI?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Functional MRI is one of the most popular ways of measuring human brain activity. But what is "activity"?Fundamentally, neural activity is electical potentials and chemical signals. fMRI doesn't measure these directly. Rather, it measures changes in the oxygen content of blood in different parts of the brain.The more the brain cells are firing, the more oxygen they use up, although oxygenation actually increases as a kind of compensation for the activity and this increase is what gets measured. ........ Read more »

  • October 15, 2011
  • 06:23 AM

Placebos And The Brain's Own Pot

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a neat little new paper, the placebo effect relies on the brain's own marijuana-like chemicals, endocannabinoids.Or rather, some kinds of placebo effects involve endocannabinoids. It turns out that "the placebo effect" is not one thing.The authors, led by Fabrizio Benedetti, have previously shown that placebo "opioids" - i.e. when you expect to get a painkiller such as morphine, but actually it's just water - relieve pain via the brain's own opioid system (endorphins). Blocking endo........ Read more »

Benedetti F, Amanzio M, Rosato R, & Blanchard C. (2011) Nonopioid placebo analgesia is mediated by CB1 cannabinoid receptors. Nature medicine, 17(10), 1228-30. PMID: 21963514  

  • October 11, 2011
  • 03:54 AM

Mental Illness And Creativity Revisited

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new study offers support for the theory that mental illness is associated with "creative" achievement.The idea that madness is close to creative genius is a popular one. From the nutty professor to the tortured genius, there's no end of sterotypes, and pop culture seemingly offers plenty of examples, from Van Gogh and his ear to Charlie Sheen and his bi-winning.But is it true?A new study says yes. Kyaga et al looked at everyone in Sweden who had been treated as an inpatient for either schizoph........ Read more »

Kyaga, S., Lichtenstein, P., Boman, M., Hultman, C., Langstrom, N., & Landen, M. (2011) Creativity and mental disorder: family study of 300 000 people with severe mental disorder. The British Journal of Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.085316  

  • October 6, 2011
  • 03:39 PM

Le Pack It In

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Earlier this year, a large group of autism experts signed a consensus statement condemning "Le Packing", a certain procedure used in children with autism.They said:This alleged therapy consists of wrapping the patient (wearing only underclothes or naked in the case of young children) several times a week during weeks or months in towels soaked in cold water (10°C to 15°C). The individual is wrapped with blankets to help the body warm up in a process lasting 45 minutes, during which time the ch........ Read more »

  • October 5, 2011
  • 04:18 AM

To Catch A Predator... With A Brain Scanner?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

With the help of an MRI scanner and some child pornography, a new study claims to be able to tell whether someone is a paedophile: Assessment of Pedophilia Using Hemodynamic Brain Response to Sexual Stimuli.It was an fMRI study of 24 self-identified paedophiles (recruited through a clinic offering anonymous treatment) and 32 male controls. Everyone was shown a series of images of naked men, women, boys and girls. The neural response to child vs. adult images was the main outcome measure.Respect ........ Read more »

Ponseti, J., Granert, O., Jansen, O., Wolff, S., Beier, K., Neutze, J., Deuschl, G., Mehdorn, H., Siebner, H., & Bosinski, H. (2011) Assessment of Pedophilia Using Hemodynamic Brain Response to Sexual Stimuli. Archives of General Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.130  

  • October 3, 2011
  • 05:21 AM

Failed Drug Company... Failed Drug?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The pharmaceutical industry is in trouble at the moment, with many companies pulling out of development in certain areas and psychiatry is high on the list.The tale of one troubled would-be antidepressant has just been published in the form of a clinical trial that was terminated early when the parent company went under. But another company came along to save the day, so the drug might live on.Amitifadine is a triple reuptake inhibitor (TRI). What's that? Prozac and other SSRI antidepressants wo........ Read more »

  • October 1, 2011
  • 08:51 AM

The Recession and Death

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The present economic crisis has led to more suicides in Europe - but fewer deaths in road traffic accidents. So says a brief report in The Lancet. The authors show that suicide rates in people under the age of 65, which have been falling for several years in Europe, rose in 2008 and again in 2009, in line with unemployment figures. The overall effect was fairly small - 2009 was no worse than 2006. It still corresponds to a 5% annual increase in most countries. In Greece, Ireland, and Latvia the ........ Read more »

Stuckler D, Basu S, Suhrcke M, Coutts A, & McKee M. (2011) Effects of the 2008 recession on health: a first look at European data. Lancet, 378(9786), 124-5. PMID: 21742166  

  • September 29, 2011
  • 06:59 AM

Why Brain Scanners Make Your Head Spin

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Here at Neuroskeptic we see a lot of dizzyingly bad (and sometimes even good) neuroscience, but did you know that brain scanners can literally send your head into a spin? A new paper explains why, with implications for all MRI researchers.MRI scanners rely on extremely powerful magnetic fields. This is why you can't take metal objects into the scanner room, as they'd be pulled into it. Yet the fields can also exert other kinds of effects on the body.I'd always been told that static, unchanging m........ Read more »

Roberts, D., Marcelli, V., Gillen, J., Carey, J., Della Santina, C., & Zee, D. (2011) MRI Magnetic Field Stimulates Rotational Sensors of the Brain. Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.029  

  • September 27, 2011
  • 05:01 AM

Schizophrenia And The Developing World Revisited

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A major international study threatens to overturn what we thought we knew about schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia are more likely to get better if they live in poor countries: that's been known for about 25 years. In the 1980s, a series of pioneering World Health Organization (WHO) studies looked at the prognosis for people diagnosed with schizophrenia around the world.All of the data showed that people in developed countries were less likely to recover than those from poorer areas.T........ Read more »

Haro JM, Novick D, Bertsch J, Karagianis J, Dossenbach M, & Jones PB. (2011) Cross-national clinical and functional remission rates: Worldwide Schizophrenia Outpatient Health Outcomes (W-SOHO) study. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science, 194-201. PMID: 21881098  

  • September 24, 2011
  • 08:37 AM

The Real "Contagion" Virus

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Seen Contagion yet?It's pretty scary. A new epidemic disease comes out of nowhere and starts killing everyone. It infects the brain - victims suffer seizures, or fall into a coma, and die. It spreads like wildfire. Humanity's only hope lies in Lawrence Fishburne and Kate Winslet.Luckily, that's fiction. But only just.In the movie, the killer bug is called "MEV-1", but it might as well have been called the Nipah virus, because it was closely based on a real disease of the same name. So much so th........ Read more »

  • September 22, 2011
  • 04:30 AM

Alice In Wonderland Syndrome

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

One pill makes you largerAnd one pill makes you smallAnd the ones that mother gives youDon't do anything at allGo ask AliceWhen she's ten feet tallSo sang Jefferson Airplane in their psychedelic classic White Rabbit. While this song seems sure to have been inspired by the use of certain unapproved medications, don't have to be dropping acid to feel ten feet tall.A new paper from Germany reports on a case of "Alice In Wonderland Syndrome" associated with topiramate, an anti-epileptic drug also us........ Read more »

Jürgens TP, Ihle K, Stork JH, & May A. (2011) "Alice in Wonderland syndrome" associated with topiramate for migraine prevention. Journal of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry, 82(2), 228-9. PMID: 20571045  

  • September 21, 2011
  • 03:25 AM

Antidepressants In The UK

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Antidepressant sales have been rising for many years in Western countries, as regular Neuroskeptic readers  will remember.Most of the studies on antidepressant use come from the USA and the UK, although the pattern also seems to hold for other European countries. The rapid rise of antidepressants from niche drugs to mega-sellers is perhaps the single biggest change in the way medicine treats mental illness since the invention of psychiatric drugs.But while a rise in sales has been observed ........ Read more »

Lockhart, P. and Guthrie, B. (2011) Trends in primary care antidepressant prescribing 1995–2007. British Journal of General Practice. info:/

  • September 11, 2011
  • 02:49 PM

Neuroscience Fails Stats 101?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a new paper, a full half of neuroscience papers that try to do a (very simple) statistical comparison are getting it wrong: Erroneous analyses of interactions in neuroscience: a problem of significance.Here's the problem. Suppose you want to know whether a certain 'treatment' has an affect on a certain variable. The treatment could be a drug, an environmental change, a genetic variant, whatever. The target population could be animals, humans, brain cells, or anything else.So you giv........ Read more »

  • September 1, 2011
  • 04:06 AM

Men, Women and Spatial Intelligence

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Do men and women differ in their cognitive capacities? It's been a popular topic of conversation since as far back as we have records of what people were talking about.While it's now (almost) generally accepted that men and women are at most only very slightly different in average IQ, there are still a couple of lines of evidence in favor of a gender difference.First, there's the idea that men are more variable in their intelligence, so there are more very smart men, and also more very stupid on........ Read more »

Hoffman M, Gneezy U, & List JA. (2011) Nurture affects gender differences in spatial abilities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 21876159  

  • August 21, 2011
  • 09:32 AM

Is Sleep Brain Defragmentation?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

After a period of heavy use, hard disks tend to get 'fragmented'. Data gets written all over random parts of the disk, and it gets inefficient to keep track of it all.

That's why you need to run a defragmentation program occasionally. Ideally, you do this overnight, while you're asleep, so it doesn't stop you from using the computer.

A new paper from some Stanford neuroscientists argues that the function of sleep is to reorganize neural connections - a bit like a disk defrag for the brain - a........ Read more »

Wang G, Grone B, Colas D, Appelbaum L, & Mourrain P. (2011) Synaptic plasticity in sleep: learning, homeostasis and disease. Trends in neurosciences. PMID: 21840068  

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