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  • February 2, 2012
  • 02:22 AM

Science Majors are from Mars...

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a new study, students with a family history of autism tend to major in math and science, while substance abuse and depression are more common in the ancestors of humanities fans.In an online survey, over 1,000 new Princeton undergrads were asked about their intended major and whether anyone in their family had been diagnosed with one of 16 neurological and psychiatric disorders. More details here.Of the 16 maladies, 5 were so rare that there wasn't enough data to analyze. Of the rem........ Read more »

  • January 31, 2012
  • 03:29 AM

Voodoo Neuroscience Revisited

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Two years ago, neuroscientists were shaken by the appearance of a draft paper showing that half of the published work in a particular field had fallen prey to a major statistical error.Originally called "Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience", it ended up with the less snappy name of Puzzlingly high correlations in fMRI studies of emotion, personality, and social cognition. I prefer the old title.The error in question is now known variously as the "circular analysis problem", "non-independe........ Read more »

  • January 26, 2012
  • 03:02 AM

Take Your Placebos, Or Die

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

People who take their medication as directed are less likely to die - even when that "medication" is just a sugar pill.This is the surprising finding of a paper just published, Adherence to placebo and mortality in the Beta Blocker Evaluation of Survival Trial (BEST).BEST was a clinical trial of beta blockers, drugs used in certain kinds of heart disease. The patients were aged about 60 and they all suffered from heart failure. Everyone was randomly assigned to get a beta blocker or placebo, the........ Read more »

  • January 25, 2012
  • 03:59 AM

The Hidden Face Within

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

One of these two images contains a hidden picture of a face. Which one?This was the question faced by participants in a remarkable psychology experiment just published, Measuring Internal Representations from Behavioral and Brain Data. Five healthy volunteers were presented with a series of random black and white grid patterns. Each grid square was either black or white, and this was randomly determined on each trial.There was no pattern to the images, they were completely random. But the subjec........ Read more »

  • January 21, 2012
  • 12:23 PM

The Trojan Horses of Medicine

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Dodgy science is being smuggled into medical journals thanks to a loophole in the regulations, say Italian psychiatrists Barbui and Cipriani in an important article.They focus on agomelatine, a recently-approved antidepressant. But their point applies to all of medicine, not just psychiatry.Here's the problem. Nowadays, major medical journals have rules governing systematic reviews and meta-analyses of clinical trial data. If you want to review the evidence about how well a certain drug works, o........ Read more »

  • January 20, 2012
  • 01:31 PM

The Age (Cohort) of Autism

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

New data shed light on the recent mysterious rise in the number of kids being diagnosed with autism.The new research doesn't explain the increase, but it tells us more about it. It shows that the rise in Californian autism diagnoses (reported to the state DDS) over the period 1996 to 2005 was a cohort effect, meaning that the rates of diagnosis have got higher, the later a child was born.A child who's 10 today (born 2002) has double of the chance of having a recorded diagnosis compared to a 14-y........ Read more »

  • January 19, 2012
  • 03:33 AM

Challenging the Antidepressant Severity Dogma?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Regular readers will be familiar with the idea that "antidepressants only work in severe depression".A number of recent studies have shown this. I've noted some important questions over how we ought to define "severe" in this context, and see the comments here for some other caveats, but I'm not aware of any studies that directly contradict this idea.Until now. A new paper has just come out which seeks to challenge this dogma - not the author's term, but I think it's fair to say that the severit........ Read more »

Stewart, J., Deliyannides, D., Hellerstein, D., McGrath, P., & Stewart, J. (2011) Can People With Nonsevere Major Depression Benefit From Antidepressant Medication?. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. DOI: 10.4088/JCP.10m06760  

  • January 13, 2012
  • 03:02 AM

Dolphins who Dream of Whales

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Once in a while you come across a paper that can only be described as lovely. This is one: Do dolphins rehearse show-stimuli when at rest?Five dolphins lived in a certain aquarium in France. Every day, they put on shows for people - jumping around, that kind of thing. One day the aquarium started playing a 20-minute clip of "intro music" for the show. This consisted of various oceanic sounds including sea birds, dolphin noises and some whale-song.What happened next was amazing. About a month abo........ Read more »

  • January 11, 2012
  • 03:40 PM

Do Brain Scans Sway Juries?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Does seeing a criminal's brain affect jury decisions?Edith Greene and Brian Cahill ask this question in a new study which put volunteers in the position of jurors in a murder trial. The 'defendant' was guilty, but the question was: should they get life in prison, or death?It turned out that seeing brain scans didn't have much of an effect - but it's not clear how far the results would generalize.208 mock-jurors were randomly assigned to get different kinds of mitigationinformation about the accu........ Read more »

  • January 10, 2012
  • 02:58 PM

The Plight of Psychoanalysis?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A New York psychoanalyst reveals her concerns about the profession in A Letter to Freud: On the Plight of PsychoanalysisDinah M. Mendes's letter covers several topics, but I was struck by the sections that deal with the contemporary challenges facing American analysts. She paints a rather sad picture of analysts who spend years in training, only to find a shortage of people out there who want their treatment:At psychoanalytic training institutes it is often difficult for candidates to secure con........ Read more »

  • January 9, 2012
  • 10:53 AM

Men and Women - Alien Personalities?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

How different are men and women? Are they from two different planets?In the cleverly-titled The Distance Between Mars and Venus, the authors argue that personality-wise, the differences between men and women have been underestimated by previous studies because they used simplistic statistics.Traditional studies of gender and personality have given some men and some women a personality quiz, and calculated the average male and female scores on the different aspects of personality.When you do this........ Read more »

  • January 4, 2012
  • 03:04 PM

Hot Sex Prevents Breast Cancer

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Breast cancer is caused by sexual frustration. Women should ditch their unsexy husbands and find a real man to satisfy them if they want to reduce the risk of the disease. That's according to An Essay on Sexual Frustration as the Cause of Breast Cancer in Women: How Correlations and Cultural Blind Spots Conceal Causal Effects, a piece that was published today in The Breast Journal.Really -Endocrinological processes are important targets in breast cancer research. These processes are also importa........ Read more »

  • January 3, 2012
  • 04:40 PM

Antidepressants: Bad Drugs... Or Bad Patients?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Why is it that modern trials of antidepressant drugs increasingly show no benefit of the drugs over placebo? This is the question asked by Cornell psychiatrists Brody et al in an American Journal of Psychiatry opinion piece.They suggest that maybe it's the patients fault:Participation that is induced by cash payments may lead subjects to exaggerate their symptoms [i.e. in order to get included into the trial]... Another contributing factor to high placebo response rates may be the extent to whic........ Read more »

  • January 2, 2012
  • 06:36 AM

What're You Lookin' At (When You Dream)?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Why do our eyes move during sleep?Here at Neuroskeptic we've already asked why do we sleep? and why do we dream? There are plenty of theories, but no clear answers to either of those questions.We don't even know the function of one of the most famous sleep phenomena, rapid eye movements (REMs). It's been known for decades that during certain phases of sleep, the eyes show a pattern of rapid flickering movements, and that this REM sleep is when most (but not all) dreams occur.But what are the eye........ Read more »

  • December 30, 2011
  • 08:04 AM

How Realistic is fMRI?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

How representative are fMRI experiments? Is "the brain" that we investigate with fMRI the same brain that we use outside the MRI scanner?A new paper from Bernhard Hommel and colleagues of Leiden in the Netherlands offers some important caveats. They looked to see what effect playing some recorded MRI scanner sounds had on people's ability to perform some simple cognitive tasks, while sitting outside the scanner.MRI is notoriously noisy. When you have an MRI scan you have to wear earplugs to prot........ Read more »

Hommel, B., Fischer, R., Colzato, L., van den Wildenberg, W., & Cellini, C. (2011) The effect of fMRI (noise) on cognitive control. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. DOI: 10.1037/a0026353  

  • December 27, 2011
  • 11:00 AM

Scanning The Brain While Looking At Scans

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new study investigated what goes on in the brain when doctors make a diagnosis.Radiologists use X-rays and other imaging techniques to diagnose diseases - but in this study, they went into the scanner themselves. Brazilian researchers Marcio Melo et al used fMRI to record neural activity while the radiologists were shown an array of chest X-rays.Some of the scans showed evidence of disease, which the doctors were required to diagnose. There were also two control conditions, in which the stimul........ Read more »

  • December 22, 2011
  • 05:20 AM

An Objective Measure of Consciousness...?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Could a puff of air in the eye offer a way to evaluate whether someone is conscious or not?Yes it could, say Cambridge's Tristan Bekinschtein and colleagues in a new paper about Sea slugs, subliminal pictures, and vegetative state patients.It's all about classical conditioning of the kind made famous by Pavlov. This is learning caused by the pairing of two stimuli, one of them unpleasant. So if I were to ring a little bell before, say, pepper spraying you, and I did that repeatedly, you would pr........ Read more »

  • December 17, 2011
  • 05:27 AM

Young, Canadian and on Antipsychotics

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Antipsychotic use in Canadian children and teens is rising dramatically - prescriptions more than doubled in just 4 years, from 2005 to 2009.That's according to a paper just out from Pringsheim et al. It's been known for a while that the same is true of the USA. The data reveal that the Canadian border is no barrier to the spread of antipsychotics.What's surprising is that while in the USA, some of these drugs are officially licensed for use in certain children and adolescent psychiatric disorde........ Read more »

  • December 15, 2011
  • 02:54 AM

"Mad Honey" Sex Is A Bad Idea

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A cautionary tale from Turkey - do not eat poison honey to try to spice up your sex life. "Mad honey" is honey made by bees from the nectar of toxic Rhododendron flowers. In places where wild Rhododendrons grow, including Turkey, it's a health hazard. The dangers of mad honey were known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and it's reported that leaving tainted honeycombs in the path of invading armies was a popular military tactic.2000 years later, some people still haven't quite got the message. ........ Read more »

Mikail Yarlioglues et al. (2011) Mad-Honey Sexual Activity and Acute Inferior Myocardial Infarctions in a Married Couple. Texas Heart Institute Journal. info:/

  • December 13, 2011
  • 03:08 AM

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Here's a paper - soon to appear in Psychological Science - which says that Most Reported Genetic Associations with General Intelligence Are Probably False PositivesThe authors tried to replicate published associations between particular genetic variants (SNPs) and IQ (specifically the g factor). They looked at three datasets, a total of about 10,000 people, and didn't confirm any of the 12 associations.As Razib Khan says in his post on this, "My hunch is that these results will be unsatisfying t........ Read more »

Chabris, C. F. et al. (2011) Most Reported Genetic Associations with General Intelligence Are Probably False Positives . Psychological Science. info:/

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