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  • 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:/

  • December 11, 2011
  • 07:58 AM

Do Antidepressants Make Some People Worse?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Antidepressants may help depression in some people but make it worse for others, according to a new paper.This is a tough one so bear with me.Gueorguieva, Mallinckrodt and Krystal re-analysed the data from a number of trials of duloxetine (Cymbalta) vs placebo. Most of the trials also had another antidepressant (an SSRI) as well. And the SSRIs and duloxetine seemed to be indistinguishable so from now on I'll just call it antidepressants vs. placebo as the authors did.People on placebo got, on av........ Read more »

  • December 9, 2011
  • 08:51 AM

The Brain's High School Spot

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

It's been known for a long time that electrical stimulation of the brain's temporal lobe can sometimes evoke vivid memories.The famous neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield first noticed this effect as part of his pioneering stimulation experiments, but he believed that it was both uncommon and haphazard with any given stimulation able to evoke any memory, more or less at random.A new paper, however, says different. Philadelphia's Joshua Jacobs et al report that they found a spot in the left temporal lob........ Read more »

Jacobs J, Lega B, & Anderson C. (2011) Explaining How Brain Stimulation Can Evoke Memories. Journal of cognitive neuroscience. PMID: 22098266  

  • December 7, 2011
  • 03:35 AM

Scientific Databases - or Filters?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new online database called AutismKB offers a quick way to find the evidence linking genes to autism.You can read up on it in a paper describing the project.You can browse by chromosome or gene name, it includes data on all kinds of genetic variants from SNPs to CNVs and it gives each variant a score according to the strength of the evidence. I haven't had a chance to really tell how useful these scores are, but there's an option to create your own score based on how much weight you give differ........ Read more »

Xu LM, Li JR, Huang Y, Zhao M, Tang X, & Wei L. (2011) AutismKB: an evidence-based knowledgebase of autism genetics. Nucleic acids research. PMID: 22139918  

  • December 6, 2011
  • 12:43 PM

The Network of Mental Illness

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A provocative but problematic paper just out offers a new perspective on psychiatric symptoms.The basic idea is that rather than psychiatric disorders being entities, they are just bundles of symptoms which cause each other: ...symptoms are unlikely to be merely passive psychometric indicators of latent conditions; rather, they indicate properties with autonomous causal relevance. That is, when symptoms arise, they can cause other symptoms on their own. For instance, among the symptoms of MDE we........ Read more »

Borsboom D, Cramer AO, Schmittmann VD, Epskamp S, & Waldorp LJ. (2011) The small world of psychopathology. PloS one, 6(11). PMID: 22114671  

  • December 3, 2011
  • 08:34 AM

A Psychedelic Tale of Two Neurotransmitters

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An unexpected interaction between neurotransmitter systems may explain psychosis and hallucinations, according to a fascinating new paper.Serotonin (5HT) and glutamate are two neurotransmitters. Up until now, it was thought that they acted independently. A given neuron might have receptors for both serotonin and glutamate, but they didn't interact: serotonin would never affect the glutamate receptors, and vice versa.The new research overturns that view. Authors Miguel Fribourg and colleagues of........ Read more »

  • November 29, 2011
  • 05:14 AM

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy vs. Psychoanalysis

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Clinical trials of cognitive behavioural psychotherapy (CBT) for depression are often of poor quality - and are no better than trials of the rival psychodynamic school.So says a new American Journal of Psychiatry paper that could prove controversial.CBT is widely perceived as having a better evidence base than other therapies. The "creation myth" of CBT (at least as I was taught it) is that it was invented by a psychoanalyst who got annoyed at the unscientific nature of psychodynamic i.e. Freudi........ Read more »

Nathan C. Thoma et al. (2011) A Quality-Based Review of Randomized Controlled Trials of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Depression: An Assessment and Metaregression. American Journal of Psychiatry. info:/

  • November 26, 2011
  • 09:52 AM

Beware Dead Fish Statistics

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An editorial in the Journal of Physiology offers some important notes on statistics.But even more importantly, it refers to a certain blog in the process:The Student’s t-test merely quantifies the ‘Lack of support’ for no effect. It is left to the user of the test to decide how convincing this lack might be. A further difficulty is evident in the repeated samples we show in Figure 2: one of those samples was quite improbable because the P-value was 0.03, which suggests a substantial lack o........ Read more »

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