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

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  • August 3, 2012
  • 01:00 PM

DSM-5 R.I.P?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Yesterday, the proposed new DSM-5 revision of the American Psychiatric Associations "Bible of Psychiatry" came under yet more criticism.Aaron T. Beck, the father of cognitive behavioural therapy, started it off with an attack on the upcoming changes to one diagnosis, Generalized Anxiety Disorder; but many of the points also apply to the other DSM-5 proposals:The lack of specific features, which is the primary issue for GAD, will not be addressed in DSM-5. The hallmark of the condition will remai........ Read more »

Starcevic V, Portman ME, & Beck AT. (2012) Generalized anxiety disorder: between neglect and an epidemic. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 200(8), 664-7. PMID: 22850300  

  • July 29, 2012
  • 10:38 AM

Why Don't Social Scientists Want To Be Read?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Here's the abstract of a paper just out called In pursuit of leanness: The management of appearance, affect and masculinities within a men's weight loss forum.In a somatic society which promotes visible, idealized forms of embodiment, men are increasingly being interpellated [sic] as image-conscious body-subjects. Some research suggests that men negotiate appearance issues in complex and varied ways, partly because image concerns are conventionally feminized. However, little research has conside........ Read more »

  • July 23, 2012
  • 04:31 PM

Search Trends Reveal Sexual Seasons

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Americans are most likely to search for sex online during the early summer and the winter, according to research just published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.The authors looked at the Google Trends for a selection of naughty words and phrases, and this revealed a pretty marked 6 month cycle for searches originating from the USA, with two yearly peaks in the search volumes. There was no such pattern for some non-sexual control words.Here's the graph for pornography searches, with an idealize........ Read more »

  • July 21, 2012
  • 11:08 AM

A Case Study in Voodoo Genetics

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new review of published studies looking at the relationship between a gene and brain structure offers a sobering lesson in how science goes wrong.Dutch neuroscientists Marc Molendijk and colleagues took all of the studies that compared a particular variant, BDNF val66met, and the volume of the human hippocampus. It's a long story, but there are various biological reasons that these two things might be correlated.It turns out that the first published reports found large genetic effects, but tha........ Read more »

Molendijk ML, Bus BA, Spinhoven P, Kaimatzoglou A, Voshaar RC, Penninx BW, van Ijzendoorn MH, & Elzinga BM. (2012) A systematic review and meta-analysis on the association between BDNF val(66) met and hippocampal volume. American journal of medical genetics B Neuropsychiatric genetics. PMID: 22815222  

  • July 20, 2012
  • 08:55 AM

Brain Scanning... Or Vein Scanning?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Many fMRI studies of brain activity could be biased by the effect of large blood vessels, according to an interesting new report: Origins of intersubject variability of BOLD and arterial spin labeling fMRI.fMRI measures BOLD, the Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent response. As the name says, BOLD is when a bit of the brain becomes more active, it uses more oxygen, and the oxygenation level of the blood in the area drops - although it then increases to compensate, and it's the increase that most f........ Read more »

  • July 15, 2012
  • 07:23 AM

BOLD Blobs Brighten Baby Brains

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Babies born prematurely show the same kind of brain activation seen in adults: but it's a lot slower. That's according to an interesting study using fMRI scanning.The authors, Tomoki Arichi and colleagues of London, measured brain activation in response to mild sensory stimulation (touching the right hand) in three groups: adults, "preterm" infants who were just 38 weeks old since conception, and "term" infants who'd been conceived about 42 weeks before scannin........ Read more »

Arichi T, Fagiolo G, Varela M, Melendez-Calderon A, Allievi A, Merchant N, Tusor N, Counsell SJ, Burdet E, Beckmann CF.... (2012) Development of BOLD signal Hemodynamic Responses in the Human Brain. NeuroImage. PMID: 22776460  

  • July 10, 2012
  • 04:58 PM

The Coming Age of Fetal Genomics

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

It's 2020. A young woman and her partner have just found out that she's pregnant with her first child. and they're going to be parents.They're overjoyed, of course. But they're also worried. They've seen the adverts warning parents-to-be about the risk of de novo mutations - genetic mistakes that occur inside sperm or egg cells, and affect the child. These mutations, the ads say, are much more common than previously believed and they can cause all kinds of problems: intellectual disabilities, au........ Read more »

Fan HC, Gu W, Wang J, Blumenfeld YJ, El-Sayed YY, & Quake SR. (2012) Non-invasive prenatal measurement of the fetal genome. Nature. PMID: 22763444  

  • July 7, 2012
  • 10:04 AM

When Data Filtering Introduces Bias

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Oh no. Another worrying methods problem for neuroscience, this time for electrophysiologists: Systematic biases in early ERP and ERF components as a result of high-pass filtering.The event-related potential (ERP) and event-related field (ERF) techniques provide valuable insights into the time course of processes in the brain. Researchers commonly filter the data to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. However, filtering may distort the data, leading to false results. Using our own EEG data, ........ Read more »

  • July 6, 2012
  • 06:25 AM

Can You Learn To Be Synaesthetic?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A neat study from Dutch psychologists Olympia Colizoli, Jaap Murre and Romke Rouw claims that it's possible to train people to have synaesthesia.Synaesthesia generally comes out of the blue - some people just have it while others don't. Those who do experience it typically report that they've always had it. But could it be learned?Colizoli et al recruited 17 non-synaesthetes and got them to read books specially printed such that 4 common letters, "a", "e", "s" and "t", were always printed in a c........ Read more »

  • July 5, 2012
  • 04:42 AM

The Racist Brain?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Is the human brain... a racist?There are some worrying indications that it could be. After all, the cerebrum is largely composed of so-called "white" matter, and the only black area is a little 'ghetto' at the bottom called, shockingly, the substantia nigra...!Seriously though. There's a paper just out in Nature Neuroscience from Kubota et al that looks at The Neuroscience Of Race. It's a fine review as far as it goes, but to me at least, it really shows up the limits of contemporary neuroscienc........ Read more »

Kubota JT, Banaji MR, & Phelps EA. (2012) The neuroscience of race. Nature neuroscience, 15(7), 940-8. PMID: 22735516  

  • June 30, 2012
  • 06:32 AM

False Positive Neuroscience?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Recently, psychologists Joseph Simmons, Leif Nelson and Uri Simonsohn made waves when they published a provocative article called False-Positive PsychologyThe paper's subtitle was "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 (very simple) psychology experiment that even if there's nothing interesting really happening, it'll be possible to find some "sign........ Read more »

  • June 29, 2012
  • 02:25 PM

B. F. Skinner vs. the Rorschach Test

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

What happened when the world's most no-nonsense psychologist took a Rorschach test?A fun little paper reports on B. F. Skinner's Rorschach results. He agreed to be tested as part of a 1953 project psychoanalysing various eminent scientists. The scientists were anonymous at the time but now Norwegians Cato Grønnerød et al have dug them out of the archives (Skinner has been dead since 1990).Skinner was the world's leading exponent of behaviourism, a school of thought that held roughly that ........ Read more »

  • June 26, 2012
  • 03:47 PM

Brain Activation Is Pretty Selective

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Neuroimaging researchers like to talk about bits of the brain in terms of what kind of stimuli they respond to.The "Fusiform Face Area (FFA)" and "Parahippocampal Place Area (PPA)" are two of the most popular of these 'clue is in the name' areas. The FFA lights up in response to seeing faces, while the PPA is more into places... so textbooks will tell you.But how selective are these areas really? We know that the FFA activates more to faces than to other things on average, but is there overlap? ........ Read more »

Mur M, Ruff DA, Bodurka J, De Weerd P, Bandettini PA, & Kriegeskorte N. (2012) Categorical, yet graded - single-image activation profiles of human category-selective cortical regions. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 32(25), 8649-62. PMID: 22723705  

  • June 24, 2012
  • 07:02 AM

This Is Your Brain On Ethics - Really

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience offers a look at the neural correlates of ethical decision making: Differential Neural Circuitry and Self-Interest in Real versus Hypothetical Moral DecisionsThere have been quite a few studies using neuroimaging to measure activations associated with tackling hypothetical moral dilemmas but what makes the new paper interesting is that the participants were faced with a real moral choice. Well, mostly real.The task was called "........ Read more »

Feldmanhall O, Dalgleish T, Thompson R, Evans D, Schweizer S, & Mobbs D. (2012) Differential Neural Circuitry and Self-Interest in Real versus Hypothetical Moral Decisions. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience. PMID: 22711879  

  • June 19, 2012
  • 02:51 PM

Beware Stimulus Effects in Psychology

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Recently I've blogged about methodological problems in neuroscience research but just to even things out a bit, here's a paper that highlights a potentially serious issue for psychologists - Treating Stimuli as a Random Factor in Social Psychology: A New and Comprehensive Solution to a Pervasive but Largely Ignored ProblemSuppose you want to find out whether people react differently to stimuli from two different groups. The reactions, stimuli, and groups could be anything: maybe you want to see ........ Read more »

  • June 14, 2012
  • 04:27 PM

Brains are Different on Macs

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Last month, neuroscientists were warned about potential biases in SPM8, a popular software tool for analysis of fMRI data.Now a paper highlights another software pitfall: The Effects of FreeSurfer Version, Workstation Type, and Macintosh Operating System Version on Anatomical Volume and Cortical Thickness MeasurementsFreeSurfer is one of the major image analysis packages and amongst other things, you can use it to measure the size of different parts of the brain. German researchers Ed Gronenschi........ Read more »

  • June 13, 2012
  • 02:17 PM

Kids Today Are Not Inattentive

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There's no evidence that children today are less attentive or more distractible than kids in the past, according to research just published by a team of Pennsylvania psychologists: Long-Term Temporal Stability of Measured Inattention and Impulsivity in Typical and Referred Children.The study gave a large sample of kids the "Gordon Diagnostic System" GDS test of sustained concentration ability. This dates to the 80s and it consists of a box, with a button, and a display with three digits. There a........ Read more »

  • June 9, 2012
  • 05:44 AM

Teaching Neuroanatomy With A Showercap

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Learning the names and locations of the different parts of the brain is a task that has brought grief to generations of students.I myself didn't know my caudate from my cingulate cortex all through my undergraduate studies and the first year of my doctorate. I only cracked it after spending a couple of days in the library, surrounded by a stack of anatomy textbooks, copying diagrams and coloring them in over and over until I could do it from memory.Now a group of Australian physiologists say the........ Read more »

Vanags T, Budimlic M, Herbert E, Montgomery MM, & Vickers T. (2012) Showercap Mindmap: a spatial activity for learning physiology terminology and location. Advances in physiology education, 36(2), 125-30. PMID: 22665427  

  • June 7, 2012
  • 05:15 PM

That Antidepressants In Water Cause Autism Study

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Oh dear. The newspapers this morning are reporting thatAutism 'could be triggered by very low doses of anti-depressants or other chemicals found in water supply'Here's the study. Young fish were exposed to a combination of three drugs, two antidepressants and an epilepsy med, for 18 days. First off, this study was tiny with an effective sample size of just 6. Three tanks of fish got exposed to the drugs, and three control tanks didn't. There were multiple fish per tank, five in fact, but those a........ Read more »

Michael A. Thomas, & Rebecca D. Klaper. (2012) Psychoactive Pharmaceuticals Induce Fish Gene Expression Profiles Associated with Human Idiopathic Autism. PLoS ONE. info:/

  • June 6, 2012
  • 03:10 PM

Bipolar Disorder - A BRIDGE to nowhere?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Last August I blogged about a research paper that claimed that almost half of all people suffering from depression actually have features of bipolar disorder - including me: So Apparantly I'm BipolarIt was called the BRIDGE study. I took issue with it for various reasons, including the fact that it counted as 'bipolar features' any periods of irritable or elevated mood, even if they were associated with drug treatment:Under the new regime if you've ever been irritable, high, agitated or hyperact........ Read more »

David M. Allen,, & et al. (2012) BRIDGE Study Warrants Critique. Archives of General Psychiatry, 69(6), 643. DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2012.118  

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