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

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  • October 13, 2012
  • 06:56 AM

A New Theory of Psychosis?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A team of British neuroscientists led by the (in)famous David Nutt says that magic mushrooms offer a new theory of psychosis: Functional Connectivity Measures After Psilocybin Inform a Novel Hypothesis of Early PsychosisIt's a reanalysis of a study from earlier this year, which got quite a lot of attention, in which 15 volunteers were injected with psilocybin - the major active hallucinogenic ingredient in 'magic mushrooms' - during an fMRI scan.In a nutshell, the rather interesting proposal in ........ Read more »

Carhart-Harris RL, Leech R, Erritzoe D, Williams TM, Stone JM, Evans J, Sharp DJ, Feilding A, Wise RG, & Nutt DJ. (2012) Functional Connectivity Measures After Psilocybin Inform a Novel Hypothesis of Early Psychosis. Schizophrenia bulletin. PMID: 23044373  

  • October 7, 2012
  • 07:24 AM

Getting The Position Right For EEG

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

In science, it's often the most 'boring', easily overlooked factors that determine whether an experiment succeeds or fails.A new paper reveals strong effects of body posture on brain electrical activity: Subject position affects EEG magnitudes. Just lying face-up as opposed to face-down can powerfully affect the signal measured using electroencephalography (EEG), according to Justin Rice and colleagues of New York.Here's why: EEG uses electrodes, placed on the scalp, to measure the electrical po........ Read more »

Rice JK, Rorden C, Little JS, & Parra LC. (2012) Subject position affects EEG magnitudes. NeuroImage. PMID: 23006805  

  • October 5, 2012
  • 06:28 AM

Are Gay Men Happier?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A neat little study from UCLA psychologists Francisco J. Sánchez and colleagues examines the mental health of homosexual men using a unique identical twin design.The paper kicks off with a remarkably lucid introduction:Men would rather drive around lost than stop and ask for directions. Although this is a gross stereotype, the notion that men should be self-sufficient and able to solve their own problems is a dominant ideal within traditional views of masculinity... men who rigidly adhere to su........ Read more »

  • September 29, 2012
  • 01:35 PM

Brain Wiring - More Mess Than Manhattan?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Earlier this year, Harvard neuroscientist Van J. Wedeen and colleagues published a Science paper saying that brain white matter 'wiring' is organized in a grid-like fashion, with sheets of fibres crossing each other.As Ed Yong put it, that the brain is full of Manhattan-like grids.However, they were wrong - and that neat grid structure was purely an artefact of the method they used. So say London-based critics Marco Catani and colleagues in a Technical Comment just published.Catani et al argue t........ Read more »

  • September 23, 2012
  • 06:57 AM

Publication Bias in Animal Research

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Publication bias has historically been thought of mostly in the context of clinical trials. But I have been banging on for the past 4 years about how it's a problem for more 'basic' science as well. I'm not alone in my concerns as an interesting new paper reveals: Publication Bias in Laboratory Animal Research. The authors surveyed the approximately 3,000 Dutch scientists involved in research on laboratory animals. The response rate was about 20%.When asked how much animal research ends up being........ Read more »

  • September 15, 2012
  • 08:06 AM

Control A Robot With Your Brain?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A paper just out makes the dramatic claim that you can control a robot using thought alone, Avatar style, thanks to a 'mind reading' MRI scanner. But does it really work?Here's how it works. Dutch neuroscientists Patrik Andersson and colleagues bought a robot - an off-the-shelf toy called the 'Spykee' -  is equipped with Wifi and  a video camera. The controlling human lay in the scanner and real-time fMRI was used to record brain activity. The video feed from the robot was showed on a ........ Read more »

  • September 13, 2012
  • 04:40 AM

Brains In A Dish Need Sleep Too?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

All animals sleep, but despite decades of research, neuroscientists still have no clear answer as to why. Now a dramatic new study reveals that sleep may be a fundamental state that even brain cells growing in a dish need.Swiss neuroscientists Valerie Hinard and colleagues cultured mouse cortical neurons in dishes equipped with arrays of electrodes. This allowed them to record the electrical activity produced by the growing 'brain'. They also measured the expression of different genes in the neu........ Read more »

Hinard V, Mikhail C, Pradervand S, Curie T, Houtkooper RH, Auwerx J, Franken P, & Tafti M. (2012) Key electrophysiological, molecular, and metabolic signatures of sleep and wakefulness revealed in primary cortical cultures. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 32(36), 12506-17. PMID: 22956841  

  • September 11, 2012
  • 03:17 PM

Cocktail-Party Neuroscience

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

"That's all very well, but what about the real world?"This, or something to this effect, is a stock criticism of much of psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Studies of human behavior and brain function under carefully controlled laboratory conditions don't tell us much about everyday life, the argument goes.It's a serious point. But a group of neuroscientists have now sought to dispel such worries in rather spectacular fashion. With the help of some nifty wireless headsets, Alan Gevins and co........ Read more »

  • September 9, 2012
  • 06:36 AM

Geometric Illusions in Astronauts

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Geometric illusions in astronauts sounds like the title of a late 70s prog album, but it's actually the topic of a remarkable psychology paper just published.Authors Gilles Clement and colleagues of the impressively-named International Space University were interested in the effects of zero gravity on optical illusions and the perception of shape.They hypothesized that our sense of gravity pointing down (via the inner ears) is responsible for certain visual illusions. In the Inverted T illusion,........ Read more »

  • September 6, 2012
  • 01:19 PM

When Data Filtering Introduces Bias (fMRI Edition)

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A couple of months ago I blogged about a paper showing that 'filtering' of EEG data can create spurious effects.Now, we read about another form of bias that filters can introduce, this time for fMRI: Filtering induces correlation in fMRI resting state data.Australian neuroscientists Catherine Davey and colleagues consider temporal filtering of fMRI data in studies looking at correlation (brain functional connectivity).Because both very high frequency and very slow changes in the fMRI signal are ........ Read more »

  • September 2, 2012
  • 09:22 AM

This Is Your Brain On Management

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Have you ever wondered whether how the brains of managers work? New research from a group of German neuroscientists and management experts reveals all: Dissociated Neural Processing for Decisions in Managers and Non-ManagersThe results were rather remarkable:Using fMRI, the researchers found that managers' brains were less active in a number of areas, compared to the brains of non-managers, when doing the same task. By contrast, managerial brains were more active than the others only in one smal........ Read more »

Caspers S, Heim S, Lucas MG, Stephan E, Fischer L, Amunts K, & Zilles K. (2012) Dissociated neural processing for decisions in managers and non-managers. PloS one, 7(8). PMID: 22927984  

  • August 30, 2012
  • 04:53 AM

Autoerotic Asphyxiation For Science

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The death of an autoerotic asphyxiation fan ended up providing science with some valuable observations of what happens during chokingOn Twitter recently, I've been highlighting some really bad ideas courtesy of the medical literature. From injecting vaseline into your own penis, to pumping compressed air up your rectum for a joke, people have tried it and they've ended up on PubMed as a result.But a recent paper details an extreme case. Canadian medics Anny Sauvageau and colleagues report on the........ Read more »

  • August 29, 2012
  • 04:04 AM

Beyond Self-Report

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

If you want to learn about someone, should you ask them?Two pieces of research published recently cast doubt on the validity of self-report as a tool in psychology and psychiatry. The first found that teens who reported that they suffered from bullying experienced more mild 'psychotic-like' symptoms. That correlation would be consistent with the idea that these symptoms arise as a response to stress.However - the same study found that there was absolutely no correlation between peer ratings of ........ Read more »

  • August 22, 2012
  • 12:48 PM

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
  • 05:07 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
  • 05:22 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
  • 03:41 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
  • 08:32 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
  • 01:16 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
  • 10:11 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 »

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