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

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  • June 4, 2012
  • 12:58 PM

Identical Twins, Different Lives

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Virginia psychiatrists Kendler and Halberstadt describe a neat "natural experiment" into what causes depression - The road not taken: life experiences in monozygotic twin pairs discordant for major depressionThey interviewed 14 pairs of identical twins. One of each pair had reported a history of depression while the other hadn't. The twins were interviewed together, and asked to describe their lives, in particular any differences between their experiences.It's well worth reading, for the human i........ Read more »

  • June 1, 2012
  • 04:22 PM

Seeing Things in Pictures

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A team of Japanese neurologists propose a new method to detect visual hallucinations - the Pareidolia Test.Pareidolia means perceiving things that aren't there, in random or unrelated stimuli. Uchiyama et al created a set of 25 photos, each of which contains things that kind of look like faces, animals, or other objects... but not really. As you can see, the flowers and the birds look like faces. I can't work out what the leopard and the trees are meant to be, though...The authors showed the pic........ Read more »

Uchiyama, M., Nishio, Y., Yokoi, K., Hirayama, K., Imamura, T., Shimomura, T., & Mori, E. (2012) Pareidolias: complex visual illusions in dementia with Lewy bodies. Brain. DOI: 10.1093/brain/aws126  

  • May 30, 2012
  • 02:44 PM

ADHD: Unhappy Birthday?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Earlier this year a major study of almost one million Canadian children found that rates of diagnosed ADHD - as well as use of ADHD medications like Ritalin - were higher in kids born later in the year.This is strong support for the "immaturity hypothesis" - the idea that some children get a diagnosis of ADHD because they're younger than their classmates at school, and their relative immaturity is wrongly ascribed to an illness. In British Columbia, where the study happened, the cut-off for scho........ Read more »

  • May 23, 2012
  • 03:47 PM

Rich People May Not Be So Unethical

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There was quite the stir a few weeks back about a psychology paper claiming that rich people aren't very nice: Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior. The article, in PNAS, reported that upper class individuals were more likely to lie, cheat, and break traffic laws.However, these results have been branded "unbelievable" in a Letter to PNAS just published. Psychologist Gregory Francis notes that the paper contains the results of 7 seperate experiments, and they all found statis........ Read more »

  • May 22, 2012
  • 03:28 PM

Gaydar Works (A Bit, On Facebook)

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The media are gleefully reporting a recent paper showing that "gaydar is real" - we can tell who's gay just by looking: The Roles of Featural and Configural Face Processing in Snap Judgments of Sexual OrientationWhile it's a fine paper, I'm afraid that the results really aren't that exciting.American undergraduate students were able to classify people as gay or straight with better than chance accuracy, based purely on photos of their face. For male photos, the hit rate was 0.57; for women it wa........ Read more »

  • May 17, 2012
  • 04:54 PM

Another Antidepressant Crashes & Burns

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Yet another "promising" novel antidepressant has failed to actually treat depression.That's not an uncommon occurrence these days, but this time, the paper reporting the findings is almost as rubbish as the drug: Translational evaluation of JNJ-18038683, a 5-HT7 receptor antagonist, on REM sleep and in major depressive disorderSo, Pharma giant Janssen invented JNJ-18038683. It's a selective antagonist at serotonin 5HT-7 receptors, making it pharmacologically rather unusual. They hoped it would w........ Read more »

Bonaventure, P., Dugovic, C., Kramer, M., De Boer, P., Singh, J., Wilson, S., Bertelsen, K., Di, J., Shelton, J., Aluisio, L.... (2012) Translational evaluation of JNJ-18038683, a 5-HT7 receptor antagonist, on REM sleep and in major depressive disorder. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. DOI: 10.1124/jpet.112.193995  

  • May 16, 2012
  • 02:15 PM

Why We Sleep, Revisted

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

I've got another guest post over at Discover magazine: Is the Purpose of Sleep to Let Our Brains “Defragment,” Like a Hard Drive?It's an expanded version of two Neuroskeptic posts(1,2) about the theory that the job of slow-wave sleep is to prune connections in the brain, connections which tend to become stronger while we're awake and might become too strong without periodic resetting.One of the commenters on the Discover post pointed out that this idea a bit like a much older idea about slee........ Read more »

Francis Crick and Graeme Mitchison. (1983) The Function of Dream Sleep. Nature, 111-114. info:/

  • May 12, 2012
  • 06:56 AM

Shyness By Any Other Name

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

People think of "social anxiety disorder" as more serious than "social phobia" - even when they refer to exactly the same thing.Laura C . Bruce et al did a telephone survey of 806 residents of New York State. They gave people a brief description of someone who's uncomfortable in social situations and often avoids them. The question was: should they seek mental health treatment for this problem?When the symptoms were labelled as "social anxiety disorder", 83% of people recommended treatment. But ........ Read more »

  • May 10, 2012
  • 02:35 PM

Scanning The Acidic Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to University of Iowa researchers Vincent A. Magnotta and colleagues, any neuroscientist with an MRI scanner could soon be able to measure the acidity (pH) of the human brain in great detail: Detecting activity-evoked pH changes in human brain. If it works out, it would open up a whole new dimension of neuroimaging - and might be able to answer some of the biggest questions in the field.The method relies on measuring T1 relaxation in the rotating frame (T1ρ). Essentially, it's about t........ Read more »

Magnotta, V., Heo, H., Dlouhy, B., Dahdaleh, N., Follmer, R., Thedens, D., Welsh, M., & Wemmie, J. (2012) Detecting activity-evoked pH changes in human brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1205902109  

  • May 7, 2012
  • 11:07 AM

Child Bipolar Disorder Still Rare

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Bipolar disorder usually strikes between the ages of 15 and 25, and is extremely rare in preteens, according to a major study: Age at onset versus family history and clinical outcomes in 1,665 international bipolar-I disorder patientsThe findings are old hat. It's long been known that manic-depression most often begins around the age of 20, give or take a few years. Onset in later life is less common while earlier onset is very unusual.The main graph could have been lifted from any psychiatry te........ Read more »

Baldessarini, R., Tondo, L., Vázquez, G., Undurraga, J., Bolzani, L., Yildiz, A., Khalsa, H., Lai, M., Lepri, B., Lolich, M.... (2012) Age at onset versus family history and clinical outcomes in 1,665 international bipolar-I disorder patients. World Psychiatry, 11(1), 40-46. DOI: 10.1016/j.wpsyc.2012.01.006  

  • May 5, 2012
  • 05:59 AM

More Depressed Than Average?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Whether we think of ourselves as "depressed" or "anxious" depends on what we think about other people's emotional lives, rather than our own, according to an important paper just published: Am I Abnormal? Relative Rank and Social Norm Effects in Judgments of Anxiety and Depression Symptom SeverityThe work appears in the obscure Journal of Behavioural Decision Making, which is downright criminal. It deserves to be in the British Journal of Psychiatry ... and it's not often I think that about a pa........ Read more »

  • May 2, 2012
  • 02:32 PM

Spurious Positive Mapping of the Brain?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Many fMRI studies could be giving false-positive results according to an important new paper from Anders Eklund and colleagues: Does parametric fMRI analysis with SPM yield valid results?—An empirical study of 1484 rest datasets.The authors examined the SPM8 software package, probably the most popular tool for analyzing neuroimaging data.Their approach was beautifully simple. They wanted to check how often conventional analysis of fMRI would "find" a signal when there wasn't really anything ha........ Read more »

  • April 27, 2012
  • 03:02 PM

Who Invented Autism?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The concept of "autism" is widely believed to have been first proposed by Leo Kanner in his 1943 article, Autistic Disturbances Of Affective Contact.But did Kanner steal the idea? That's the question raised in a provocative paper by Nick Chown: ‘History and First Descriptions’ of Autism: A response to Michael Fitzgerald. The piece stems from a debate between Chown and Irish autism expert Michael Fitzgerald, who first made the accusation in a book chapter.On the evidence presented, I don't th........ Read more »

  • April 24, 2012
  • 03:03 PM

Bias in Studies of Antidepressants In Autism

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There's little evidence that antidepressants are useful in reducing repetitive behaviors in autism - but there is evidence of bias in the published literature. That's according to Carrasco, Volkmar and Bloch in an important report just out in Pediatrics: Pharmacologic Treatment of Repetitive Behaviors in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Evidence of Publication BiasThey looked at all of the published trials examining whether antidepressant drugs (mostly SSRIs, like Prozac) were better than placebo in r........ Read more »

  • April 23, 2012
  • 03:03 PM

Are Psychologists All Mad?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A fun little study from 2008 looked at rates of self-reported mental illness in mental health professionals: Psychologists' And Social Workers' Self-Descriptions Using DSM-IV PsychopathologyThe authors did an anonymous survey of clinical psychologists and social workers in Israel.  They found thatThe sample of 128 professionals included 63 psychologists and 65 social workers. The presence of Axis I traits (i.e. mental illness) was reported by 81.2%, the three most frequent traits being mo........ Read more »

Nachshoni, T., Abramovitch, Y., Lerner, V., Assael-Amir, M., Kotler, M., & Strous, R. (2008) Psychologists' And Social Workers' Self-Descriptions Using Dsm-Iv Psychopathology . Psychological Reports, 103(1), 173-188. DOI: 10.2466/pr0.103.1.173-188  

  • April 19, 2012
  • 02:43 PM

Facial Expressions of Emotion Still Culturally Universal

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Do people from different cultures express emotions differently?A new paper says yes: Facial expressions of emotion are not culturally universal. But as far as I can see the data show that at least some of them very much are universal.First some background. The authors, Rachael Jack and colleagues of Glasgow, have published before on this theme. Back in 2009 I blogged about one of their previous papers, which showed that East Asians were less accurate than Westerners at categorizing certain emoti........ Read more »

Jack, R., Garrod, O., Yu, H., Caldara, R., & Schyns, P. (2012) Facial expressions of emotion are not culturally universal. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1200155109  

  • April 18, 2012
  • 07:16 PM

Preventing Psychosis?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Can we prevent psychosis? In a major study just published, Early detection and intervention evaluation for people at risk of psychosis, 288 young British adults who were deemed to be 'at risk of psychosis' were randomized to get cognitive therapy (CT) or a control condition. The hope was that it could prevent transition to serious psychotic illness.The primary outcome measure was how many of them later went on to get diagnosed with full-blown psychosis. 2 years later, 7% of the CT group and 9% o........ Read more »

Morrison, A., French, P., Stewart, S., Birchwood, M., Fowler, D., Gumley, A., Jones, P., Bentall, R., Lewis, S., Murray, G.... (2012) Early detection and intervention evaluation for people at risk of psychosis: multisite randomised controlled trial. BMJ, 344(apr05 1). DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e2233  

  • April 15, 2012
  • 06:33 AM

How A Stroke Changed Katherine Sherwood's Art

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

In 1997, American artist Katherine Sherwood was 44 when she suffered a major stroke. She writes about her experience and how it changed her work in a fascinating article just out, How a Cerebral Hemorrhage Altered My ArtAll of the images below are examples of her work, taken from the paper.Sherwood writes that she had long been interested in the brain. She incorporated neuroscience themes into her work even before the stroke. Here's a 1990 piece: Then, out of the blue, her life was changed:........ Read more »

  • April 11, 2012
  • 03:39 PM

Psychology vs Astrology

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Are personality tests any more accurate than astrology?A lovely study I just came across examined this question: Science Versus the Stars. The researchers took 52 college students and got them to complete a standard NEO personality questionnaire. They also had to state the date, time and place of their birth.Three weeks later, the participants were then given two personality summaries - one based on the personality tests, and one on their astrological chart generated with a computer program.The ........ Read more »

  • April 11, 2012
  • 03:11 AM

Homosexuals Are Smart?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa has never been far from controversy. When he's not having his blog cancelled for saying black women are unattractive, he's arguing that some nations just aren't smart enough to be monogamous.Given which, his latest work, saying that gay people are smarter on average, is probably his most politically correct paper in years, strange as that may sound.In three large population surveys (USA's AddHealth and GSS, UK's NCDS), Kanazawa found a small positive co........ Read more »

KANAZAWA, S. (2012) INTELLIGENCE AND HOMOSEXUALITY. Journal of Biosocial Science, 1-29. DOI: 10.1017/S0021932011000769  

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