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

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  • November 27, 2012
  • 02:57 PM

Best. Experiment. Ever.

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Studies have shown that men's testosterone levels increase after sexual stimulation. However, other research shows that merely briefly chatting to a woman also causes testosterone release, making it unclear whether sex, per se, is associated with testosterone changes.So an intrepid band of researchers decided to find out using a unique methodology. Their paper's called Salivary Testosterone Levels in Men at a U.S. Sex Club and it's about... that.They first set the scene: Subjects were recruited ........ Read more »

Escasa, M., Casey, J., & Gray, P. (2010) Salivary Testosterone Levels in Men at a U.S. Sex Club. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(5), 921-926. DOI: 10.1007/s10508-010-9711-3  

  • November 23, 2012
  • 04:53 PM

Are Porn Stars Happier?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Women who appear in porn are happier than other women, enjoy sex more - and have lots more of it. So says a new paper with the pulls-no-punches title of Pornography Actresses: An Assessment of the Damaged Goods HypothesisResearchers James Griffith and colleagues sampled 177 American adult actresses, and an equal number of other women of the same age, gender and relationship status. The results were pretty clear: the actresses said they started having sex earlier; had far more partners with an av........ Read more »

Griffith JD, Mitchell S, Hart CL, Adams LT, & Gu LL. (2012) Pornography Actresses: An Assessment of the Damaged Goods Hypothesis. Journal of sex research. PMID: 23167939  

  • November 22, 2012
  • 04:09 PM

The Perils of Sharing Brain Scans

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A fascinating paper by neuroscientists Van Horn and Gazzaniga chronicles their pioneering, but not entirely successful, attempt to get researchers sharing their brain scans: Why share data? Lessons learned from the fMRIDC.It all started in 1999 when, along with some colleagues, they decided that the time was right for data sharing in neuroimaging. They got some public funding, and tried to get various major neuroscience journals to require that anyone publishing an fMRI study should make their d........ Read more »

  • November 19, 2012
  • 05:25 PM

Should You Judge A Book (Woman) By The Cover?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

"Do physically attractive women possess particularly attractive inner attributes?"So ask the authors of a study just out in Psychological Science: Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover, Revisited. Their answer? People do tend to judge (female) books by their covers, but we shouldn't.Psychologists Segal-Caspi and colleagues took 118 female Israeli students and videotaped them walking into a room and reading a weather forecast. Then other students - male and female - judged the 'targets' on attractivene........ Read more »

  • November 16, 2012
  • 05:23 PM

We're Probably Not Getting Dumber

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There's been loads of interest over the past few days in the idea that humans have been getting stupider for the past few millennia. That's according to Stanford's Gerald R. Crabtree - I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues. Furthermore, I would gue........ Read more »

  • November 14, 2012
  • 12:20 PM

The New "Mood Disorder" That Isn't One

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The storied history of "Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)", a controversial new child psychiatric disorder proposed for inclusion in the new DSM-5 manual, continues.If DSM-5 is officially published (it's due in 2013), kids will be deemed DMDD if they showsevere recurrent temper outbursts that are grossly out of proportion in intensity or duration to the situation.At least three times a week. Would giving that label be helpful?Pittsburg psychiatrists David Axelson and colleagues have ........ Read more »

Axelson D, Findling RL, Fristad MA, Kowatch RA, Youngstrom EA, McCue Horwitz S, Arnold LE, Frazier TW, Ryan N, Demeter C.... (2012) Examining the proposed disruptive mood dysregulation disorder diagnosis in children in the Longitudinal Assessment of Manic Symptoms study. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 73(10), 1342-50. PMID: 23140653  

  • November 12, 2012
  • 05:14 PM

Beware Small Positive Studies

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A Letter in the prestigious American Journal of Psychiatry offers a skeptical response to a paper published there recently.The original article claimed amazing benefits of a safe and cheap brain stimulation technique in treating schizophrenia. But Dutch letter-writers Sommer et al aren't convinced.It's a short piece and worth quoting:We read with interest the article by Brunelin et al. in the July issue, which described the application of transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) in the tre........ Read more »

  • November 10, 2012
  • 04:44 AM

Migraines On Twitter

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

People talk about migraines on Twitter more on weekdays than weekends and holidays - and the peak time of day for the horrible headaches is 7 in the morning.The working-day effect on migraines has been reported before - perhaps a reflection of stress or, less charitably, people wanting a day off work... although some people suffer weekend migraines. Of the working week, Tuesdays saw the most migraines, while Fridays were the least bad. About 80% of Twitter migraine mentions came from women - w........ Read more »

  • November 8, 2012
  • 01:40 PM

Blogging's First Academic Paper

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

In an historic achievement, I can announce that I have become (to my knowledge) the first blogger ever to publish in a peer-reviewed academic journal under a blogging pseudonym.Skeptic, N. (2012) The Nine Circles of Scientific Hell Perspectives on Psychological Science 7 (6) 643-644 This is based on a post from two years ago (far and away the most popular post I've ever done). Now as historic achievements go, this is fairly niche, but I do think it's important.Most of the problems with the way s........ Read more »

Neuroskeptic. (2012) The Nine Circles of Scientific Hell. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(6), 643-644. DOI: 10.1177/1745691612459519  

  • November 7, 2012
  • 01:14 PM

The Persistence of "Past-Life" Memories

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Many children spontaneously report memories of 'past lives'. For believers, this is evidence for reincarnation; for others, it's a psychological oddity.But what happens when they grow up?Icelandic psychologists Haraldsson and Abu-Izzedin looked into it. They took 28 adults, members of the Druze community of Lebanon. They'd all been interviewed about past life memories by the famous reincarnationist Professor Ian Stephenson in the 70s, back when they were just 3-9 years old.Did they still 'rememb........ Read more »

  • November 5, 2012
  • 06:31 PM

Exercise And Depression Revisited

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new study has found little evidence that aerobic exercise helps treat depression, contrary to popular belief.Danish researchers Krogh and colleagues randomly 115 assigned depressed people to one of two exercise programs. One was a strenuous aerobic workout - cycling for 30 minutes, 3 times per week, for 3 months. The other was various stretching exercises.The idea was that stretching was a kind of placebo control group on the grounds that, while it is an intervention, it's not the kind of exer........ Read more »

  • November 2, 2012
  • 08:54 AM

John Bargh's "Transient and Ephemeral" Blogs

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Leading social psychologist and Yale Professor John Bargh has been at the center of a number of controversies lately.Most recently, researcher Brent Donnellan covered a case in which he was unable to replicate one of Bargh's experiments, which prompted Bargh to share his original raw data with him, but on the condition that he never discussed it publicly: What’s the First Rule about John Bargh’s Data? You do not talk about John Bargh’s dataBut a couple of months back, even more ........ Read more »

  • November 1, 2012
  • 02:32 PM

Autism Brain Scans Flawed? You Read It Here First

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a piece in Nature today, a major line of research about autism might be seriously flawed:One of the most popular and widely accepted theories on the cause of autism spectrum disorders attributes the condition to disrupted connectivity between different regions of the brain.This 'connectivity hypothesis' claims that the social and cognitive abnormalities in people with autism can be explained by a dearth of connections between distant regions of the brain. Some flavours of this t........ Read more »

Ben Deen, & Kevin Pelphrey. (2012) Perspective: Brain scans need a rethink. Nature. info:/

  • October 31, 2012
  • 06:13 AM

The Changing Face of British Suicide

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Which jobs are at the highest risk of suicide?In a fascinating new study, British researchers Roberts, Jaremin and Lloyd show dramatic changes over time. 30 years ago, the worst occupations for suicide were the medical professions. Now, it's blue-collar workers, with coal miners topping the list.They used official records of UK suicides, comparing 1979-1983 and 2000-2005. Here's the key data (their graphs, my colours)In the 80s, veterinarians were the most suicidal of all jobs; by 2005, they'd d........ Read more »

Roberts SE, Jaremin B, & Lloyd K. (2012) High-risk occupations for suicide. Psychological medicine, 1-10. PMID: 23098158  

  • October 30, 2012
  • 07:13 AM

Men and Women: From Earth, Not Mars & Venus?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Another day, another debate over how different men and women are, psychologically speaking. Bobbi Carothers and Harry Reis argue that Men and Women Are From Earth.Their approach is rather interesting.We sought to empirically determine whether standard gender differences are better conceived as taxonic or dimensional. Although men and women may differ on average in myriad ways, these differences may be dimensional, reflecting different amounts of a given attribute assessed along a single dimensio........ Read more »

  • October 27, 2012
  • 05:49 AM

Is fMRI About To Get Fifty Times Faster?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a paper just published, a new technique of functional MRI scanning (fMRI) could soon allow neuroscientists to measure brain activity far faster: Generalized iNverse imaging (GIN): Ultrafast fMRI with physiological noise correctionAuthors Boyacioglu and Barth claim remarkable things for the technique:We find that the spatial localization of activation for GIN is comparable to an EPI protocol and that maximum z-scores increase significantly... with a high temporal resolution of 50 mil........ Read more »

Boyacioglu R, & Barth M. (2012) Generalized iNverse imaging (GIN): Ultrafast fMRI with physiological noise correction. Magnetic resonance in medicine : official journal of the Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine / Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine. PMID: 23097342  

  • October 25, 2012
  • 06:03 PM

Gene-Guided Antidepressants?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Over the past couple of years, "Big Pharma" has largely moved away from psychiatric drug development. This shift has been widely discussed.But another trend has been happening over the same time period - or so it seems to me. This is the rise of small companies who offer techniques for diagnosing mental illness, or predicting which drugs will work best. Generally (it seems) partnerships between venture capitalists and psychiatry (ex-)researchers, these enterprises might be dubbed "Little Pharma"........ Read more »

Hall-Flavin, D., Winner, J., Allen, J., Jordan, J., Nesheim, R., Snyder, K., Drews, M., Eisterhold, L., Biernacka, J., & Mrazek, D. (2012) Using a pharmacogenomic algorithm to guide the treatment of depression. Translational Psychiatry, 2(10). DOI: 10.1038/tp.2012.99  

  • October 23, 2012
  • 10:46 AM

The Psychology of Edgar Allan Poe

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A paper by psychology undergrad Erica Giammarco offers a look at the mind that gave us The Raven and The Masque of the Red Death: Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychological ProfilePoe lost his mother to tuberculosis at the age of 2; he was then adopted, but his foster mother died young as well. He enrolled at the University of Virginia but became involved in gambling and had to ask his foster father for money; they argued and at the age of 20, Poe was cut off from his family. He married, but his wife suff........ Read more »

Giammarco, E. (2013) Edgar Allan Poe: A psychological profile. Personality and Individual Differences, 54(1), 3-6. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2012.07.027  

  • October 20, 2012
  • 04:45 AM

When Replication Goes Bad

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

How to ensure that results in psychology (and other fields) are replicated has become a popular topic of discussion recently. There's no doubt that many results fail to replicate, and also, that people don't even try to replicate findings as much as they should.Yet psychologist Gregory Francis warns that replication per se is not always a good thing: Publication bias and the failure of replication in experimental psychologyAmong experimental psychologists, successful replication enhances belief ........ Read more »

  • October 14, 2012
  • 08:46 AM

More on False Positive Neuroimaging

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Back in June, I warned that the ever-increasing number of clever methods for analyzing brain imaging data could be a double-edged sword:Recently, psychologists Joseph Simmons, Leif Nelson and Uri Simonsohn made waves when they published a provocative article called False-Positive Psychology - 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  simple psych........ Read more »

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