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  • April 24, 2012
  • 02:03 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
  • 02:03 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
  • 01:43 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
  • 06:16 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
  • 05:33 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
  • 02:39 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
  • 02:11 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  

  • April 8, 2012
  • 04:49 AM

Bigender - Boy Today, Girl Tomorrow?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An interesting report in (believe it or not) Medical Hypotheses - Alternating gender incongruity: A new neuropsychiatric syndrome providing insight into the dynamic plasticity of brain-sex. Bigender individuals report alternating between male, female, and (sometimes) mixed gender states. Case and Ramachandran - that's V.S. Ramachandran of phantom limb fame - write:Under the transgender umbrella, a distinct subset of "Bigender" individuals report blending or alternating gender states. It came to ........ Read more »

  • April 6, 2012
  • 05:15 AM

Neurostimulation - The Genius Machine?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Do you wish you were smarter? Are you often baffled by puzzles?According to Australian neuroscientists Chi and Snyder, all you need is a bit of electric assistance: Brain stimulation enables the solution of an inherently difficult problem.In their study, 22 volunteers were faced with the 9 dots problem, a notoriously difficult puzzle. The goal here is to draw exactly four straight lines connecting all nine of these dots, without retracing any line, or lifting your pen from the page.Can you ........ Read more »

  • April 4, 2012
  • 06:03 PM

Co-Vary Or Die

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

I've just come across a striking example of why correcting for confounding variables in statistics might not sound exciting, but can be a matter of life and death.Imagine you're a doctor or researcher working with HIV/AIDS. You're taking a sample of blood from a HIV+ patient when you slip and, to your horror, jab yourself with a bloodied needle.What do you do?In a 1997 study, researchers Cardo et al studied hundreds of cases of this kind of accidental HIV exposure ("needlestick injuries") in med........ Read more »

  • March 31, 2012
  • 11:57 AM

DSM-V: A Little Mix Up

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Proposals in the upcoming DSM-V psychiatric manual for diagnosing "mixed" mood states may be muddled, according to a new paper.The mixed state - the name alluding to a mix between depression and mania - has traditionally been viewed (more or less) as combining the dysphoria of depression with the energy of mania. Anger, agitation, restlessness and so forth. I've been depressed and I know only too well the difference between that "active" depression and the "inactive" kind; if I had to choose, I'........ Read more »

  • March 29, 2012
  • 02:45 PM

3D fMRI Promises Deeper Neuroscience

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new approach to fMRI scanning offers a three-dimensional look at brain activation.fMRI is already a 3D technique, of course, but in the case of the cerebral cortex - which is what the great majority of neuroscientists are most interested in - the 3D data are effectively just 2D images folded up in space. The cortex can be thought of a big sheet crumpled up into the shape of a brain, and it's possible to use software to 'unfold' the cortex into a 2D map for the purposes of fMRI data visualizati........ Read more »

  • March 27, 2012
  • 01:53 PM

Broken Hearts and Broken Livers

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

In a new paper, Beyond the Blues, German psychologists Postert et al discuss how the Hmong people of South East Asia talk about sadness - or rather, how they don't, because they don't really have a word for it.Based on anthropological fieldwork in a number of Hmong communities in Laos, the focus of this article is on the Hmong term tu siab, literally "broken liver". This is usually translated as "sadness" in the dictionaries, but the authors say that, although it is certainly the closest thing t........ Read more »

  • March 23, 2012
  • 03:33 AM

The Mystery of Trephination

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Why did ancient peoples cut holes in their heads?The Woman of Pritschoena who died around 4,500 years ago in what's now Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Her skeleton was discovered in 1913 by a local archaeologist. Thanks to being buried in a gravel pit, her remains are exceptionally well preserved.The Woman's skull is a fine example of trephination - the practice of deliberately cutting holes in the skull. The Woman was trephined twice, as you can see in the images above taken from a paper just out. In ........ Read more »

Alfieri, A., Strauss, C., Meller, H., Stoll-Tucker, B., Tacik, P., & Brandt, S. (2012) The Woman of Pritschoena: An Example of the German Neolithic Neurosurgery in Saxony-Anhalt. Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, 21(2), 139-146. DOI: 10.1080/0964704X.2011.575117  

  • March 21, 2012
  • 03:45 AM

Brain Scanning - Just the Tip of the Iceberg?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Neuroimaging studies may be giving us a misleading picture of the brain, according to two big papers just out.By big, I don't just mean important. Both studies made use of a much larger set of data than is usual in neuroimaging studies. Thyreau et al scanned 1,326 people. For comparison, a lot of fMRI studies have more like n=13. Gonzalez-Castillo et al, on the other hand, only had 3 people - but each one was scanned while performing the same task 500 times over.Both studies found that pretty mu........ Read more »

  • March 17, 2012
  • 07:27 AM

Personality Without Genes?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a paper just published (but available online since 2010), we haven't found any genes for personality.The study was a big meta-analysis of a total of 20,000 people of European descent. In a nutshell, they found no single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with any of the "Big 5" personality traits of Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. There were a couple of very tenuous hits, but they didn't replicate.Obviously, this is bad........ Read more »

de Moor, M., Costa, P., Terracciano, A., Krueger, R., de Geus, E., Toshiko, T., Penninx, B., Esko, T., Madden, P., Derringer, J.... (2010) Meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies for personality. Molecular Psychiatry, 17(3), 337-349. DOI: 10.1038/mp.2010.128  

  • March 15, 2012
  • 04:43 PM

The Blinking Brain - A Problem For fMRI?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Every time we blink, a wave of activity sweeps through our brain - and this could be a serious problem for some fMRI researchers.French neuroscientists Hupé et al report on A BOLD signature of eyeblinks in the visual cortex. They found that spontaneous blinks are associated with a neural activation pattern over the occipital cortex areas responsible for processing vision.In many ways this is not surprising - when you blink, everything goes dark, and then lights up again, all within a fraction o........ Read more »

  • March 13, 2012
  • 04:23 PM

The Age of ADHD

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Diagnosed rates of ADHD in American children have skyrocketed in the past 20 years, and use of medication such as Ritalin and Adderall has increased by an even greater amount.So says a report just out in Clinical Pediatrics, using data from the major US National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS). The rate of office based visits (i.e. visits when a doctor saw or treated a patient, outside of a hospital) was the main outcome measure. The authors looked at the number of visits reporting a diag........ Read more »

  • March 10, 2012
  • 08:22 AM

The Case of the Phantom Phantom Finger

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A "phantom limb" is the sensation that an amputated limb (or other body part) is still present.They can be distressing, especially when they're accompanied by pain in the "limb" which is not uncommon. The leading theory of why they happen is that the brain areas that used to receive sensations from the lost appendage respond to input "spilling over" from nearby brain regions.Anyway, a phantom limb is bad enough, but a paper just out reports on the case of a phantom finger that was never there in........ Read more »

  • March 7, 2012
  • 03:09 PM

Ketamine - Magic Antidepressant, or Expensive Illusion?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Not one but two new papers have appeared from the Carlos Zarate group at NIMH reporting that a single injection of the drug ketamine has rapid, powerful antidepressant effects.One placebo-controlled study found a benefit in depressed bipolar patients who were already on mood stabilizers. The other found benefits in treatment-resistant major depression, though ketamine wasn't compared to placebo that time. Here's the bipolar trial: There have now been several studies finding dramatic antidepressa........ Read more »

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