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  • July 6, 2012
  • 05:25 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
  • 03:42 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
  • 05:32 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
  • 01:25 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
  • 02:47 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
  • 06:02 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
  • 01:51 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
  • 03:27 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
  • 01:17 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
  • 04:44 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
  • 04:15 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
  • 02:10 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  

  • June 4, 2012
  • 11:58 AM

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
  • 03:22 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
  • 01:44 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
  • 02:47 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
  • 02:28 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
  • 03:54 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
  • 01:15 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
  • 05:56 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 »

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