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  • August 29, 2016
  • 04:30 AM
  • 28 views

Osteoarthritis May Be Associated With More Than Just Joint Pain

by Jane McDevitt in Sports Medicine Research (SMR): In the Lab & In the Field

Former elite athletes with osteoarthritis are more likely to have symptoms of common mental disorders (distress, sleep problems, adverse alcohol use) compared to those without osteoarthritis.... Read more »

Schuring N, Aoki H, Gray J, Kerkhoffs GM, Lambert M, & Gouttebarge V. (2016) Osteoarthritis is associated with symptoms of common mental disorders among former elite athletes. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy. PMID: 27488101  

  • August 28, 2016
  • 06:29 PM
  • 39 views

Healing Prayer and the Brain: Not a Match Made in Heaven

by The Neurocritic in The Neurocritic

Activity of the medial prefrontal cortex after psycho-spiritual healing (Baldwin et al., 2016).Everything we do and feel and experience changes the brain. Psychotherapy, juggling, taxi driving, poverty, reading, drugs, art, music, anger, love. If it didn't we'd be dead. Why should prayer be any different? The trick is to accurately determine the structural or physiological changes that are unique to a specific activity. And when assessing the effectiveness of clinical interventions, how the changes compare to an adequately matched control intervention. Plenty of high profile studies have failed to do that, including a recent one on emotionally focused therapy.1 I feel bad about criticizing a study on the neural correlates of healing prayers. I'm not one of those smug atheists who lord their intellectual superiority over the unwashed religious masses. Certain atheist organizations claim they're all about promoting scientific literacy and a secular worldview. But I think these New Atheists are detrimental to science literacy, since they alienate the vast majority of the population.So why am I blogging about a prayer intervention for depression? It's not to sneer at the authors. And it's especially not to sneer at the participants, who were recruited from Houston-area churches. My interest is the unholy alliance between brain imaging and a psychological intervention with no control condition. As I've said before......neuroimaging studies of psychotherapy that have absolutely no control conditions are of limited usefulness. We don't know what sort of changes would have happened over an equivalent amount of time with no intervention. More importantly, we don't know whether the specific therapy under consideration is better than another form of psychotherapy, or better than going bowling once a week.Healing Prayer, Trauma, and ForgivenessThis is especially true for a treatment that is based on faith and a strong belief that the intervention will work — a Christian form of prayer focused on forgiveness and psycho-spiritual healing (PSFH). A prayer minister “led the subject through three different phases: (1) a prayer of forgiveness for the perpetrator of the hurtful event; (2) a prayer of blessing on the perpetrator; and (3) a prayer to heal the emotional damage caused by the traumatic event.”Study design for the 6 week healing prayer intervention (Baldwin et al., 2016).The 18 participants had moderate to severe levels of depression on the Hamilton Depression Scale (HAM-D). Oddly, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was not assessed before or after the intervention. This was a major weakness, given that the purpose of the intervention was to forgive the perpetrator of childhood abuse and to heal from emotional trauma. In this sense, PSFH is akin to more formalized psychotherapies such as forgiveness therapy. It's no surprise that a non-randomized, unblinded prayer intervention in religious persons resulted in dramatically reduced HAM-D scores in the 14 participants who completed the study (11 of whom were available for a one year followup). Who am I to criticize a practice that helps suffering people? I won't do that.What I will do is point out difficulties in task design that make it nearly impossible to interpret some aspects of their fMRI study. The task used a symptom provocation paradigm using 3 key words to evoke memories of the traumatic event (15 seconds) and feelings of the traumatic event (15 seconds), separated by a 2 second blank screen.2 Is it possible to separate traumatic memories from the feelings they evoke, and to switch between them on such short notice? Certain therapies (such as prolonged exposure) are designed to do just that. The authors stated that anecdotally, this appeared to be the case here as well:In this and our previous study, subjects frequently mentioned informally that PSFH results in a separation of the traumatic memory and associated feelings: while the memory remains intact, it no longer associates with traumatic feelings. Activity of the precuneus to Bad Feelings was higher before psycho-spiritual healing (Baldwin et al., 2016). It is, however, difficult to interpret a 23 voxel decrease in precuneus activity in 14 subjects as a reflection of such a complex therapeutic change, especially since this brain region is involved in both self-referential processing and episodic memory retrieval.But to be even more fair, the authors listed ten caveats to their admittedly preliminary study.3 When all is said an... Read more »

  • August 28, 2016
  • 02:29 PM
  • 36 views

A visual nudge can disrupt recall of what things look like

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Interfering with your vision makes it harder to describe what you know about the appearance of even common objects, according to researchers. This connection between visual knowledge and visual perception challenges widely held theories that visual information about the world -- that alligators are green and have long tails, for example -- is stored abstractly, as a list of facts, divorced from the visual experience of seeing an alligator.... Read more »

  • August 27, 2016
  • 05:05 AM
  • 64 views

On autism spectrum disorder [research] validity

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Today I'm directing your reading attention to a really, really interesting paper by Lynn Waterhouse and colleagues [1] (open-access) whose review findings suggest that: "the ASD [autism spectrum disorder] diagnosis lacks biological and construct validity."The paper is a bit of a long read but most definitely worth it as the quite complicated subject of exactly what goal the label of autism actually serves is discussed. The results of various questions posed by the authors suggest: "No unitary ASD brain impairment or replicated unitary model of ASD brain impairment exists. ASD core diagnostic symptoms are not uniquely linked and are only very rarely expressed without nondiagnostic symptoms. ASD has no reliable early predictor, no unitary developmental course, no unitary life outcome, no unitary recurrence risk, no unitary pattern of BAP [broader autism phenotype] features, and no standard homogeneous subgroups." They conclude that from a research perspective at least, disbanding the label of autism as it currently stands is the next logical step. Said disbanding "is likely to be reductive and uncomfortable" particularly when it comes to all those grand [sweeping] theories of autism put forward down the years. Feathers would not doubt be ruffled.The authors do make reference to two important concepts when it comes how we might want to rethink autism: the Research Domain Criteria framework (RDoC) and Early Symptomatic Syndromes Eliciting Neurodevelopmental Clinical Examinations (ESSENCE). One is an attempt to move away from simple psychiatric labels as somehow denoting homogeneity, the other is the recognition that labels rarely appear in some sort of diagnostic vacuum. Both are in some way the future of autism research and indeed, the future is already now.I'm impressed with the paper from Waterhouse et al. The authors have done a good job of basically saying that as things stand, one single label covering such a diverse and heterogeneous group is not fit for purpose. To see real progress in autism research, science needs to think more about those 'autisms' (see here) and stop using the label of autism as the starting point for research (see here). I struggle to disagree with both those sentiments and other authors appear to have reached similar conclusions [2]. Exactly what that means for the autism in the future - from both a research and clinical perspective - is still a little up in the air but the label has weathered change before and no doubt will continue to do so.And if that isn't enough reading material for you, how about the latest instalment from the British Psychological Society here in Blighty when it comes to autism? Perhaps this will need a revision or two as the Waterhouse suggestions start to percolate through the research community?----------[1] Waterhouse L. et al. ASD validity. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2016. Aug 10.[2] Geier DA. et al. Examining genotypic variation in autism spectrum disorder and its relationship to parental age and phenotype. Appl Clin Genet. 2016 Jul 28;9:121-9.----------Waterhouse, L., London, E., & Gillberg, C. (2016). ASD Validity Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s40489-016-0085-x... Read more »

Waterhouse, L., London, E., & Gillberg, C. (2016) ASD Validity. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. DOI: 10.1007/s40489-016-0085-x  

  • August 26, 2016
  • 07:02 AM
  • 78 views

Juvenile offenders, divorce likelihood, assessing conscious awareness  and myth-busting in 2016

by Doug Keene in The Jury Room

Here’s another collection of tidbits that did not stimulate full posts but that we found interesting enough to share with you so that you can investigate them more for yourself if you so desire. While this post contains more serious information than we usually share in these sorts of posts, it is useful information to […]

Related posts:
Myth-busting: ”Today’s adults have a shorter attention span than a goldfish” 
So is that juvenile offender a “wayward youth” or a “superpredator”?
The Bias Awareness Scale 


... Read more »

  • August 26, 2016
  • 06:41 AM
  • 84 views

How Do Most People Do Mathematics?

by Stefan Buijsman. in United Academics

Mathematics is an important part of modern society. Science and engineering are hard to imagine without mathematics, and even simple things such as calculating the cost of groceries involve mathematics. So, it's not strange to stop and wonder what mathematics is. That turns out to be a very difficult question.... Read more »

Stefan Buijsman. (2016) Philosophy of Mathematics for the Masses: Extending the scope of the philosophy of mathematics. Stockholm: Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University . info:other/978-91-7649-351-9

  • August 26, 2016
  • 03:38 AM
  • 61 views

What does the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) actually measure?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Higher AQ [Autism Spectrum Quotient] scores were associated with higher scores of loneliness, social anxiety, depression, and anxiety, as well as with lower scores of quality of life (QoL)."Those were some of the key findings reported by Phil Reed and colleagues [1] who used the very popular 'are you autistic?' AQ screening tool to look at the presence of autistic traits "along with depression, anxiety, loneliness, quality of life, and social anxiety" in a University student cohort (N=413).Finding that among their research population some 8% scored above the cut-offs used by the AQ, researchers also reported those important 'associations' all tied into QofL.Accepting that I'm probably a little biased when it comes to the 'problematic' use of the AQ as a screening tool for autism (see here and see here), my interpretation of the Reed results plays into the idea that the AQ is certainly picking up something, but exactly what is still the source of some debate (see here). I might for example, point you in the direction of the findings by Kitazoe and colleagues [2] who, based on similar student cohort, talked about "qualitatively different groups" over and above "a single homogeneous group" when it came to high scorers on the AQ.It is also pretty well accepted that issues such as social anxiety and depression are over-represented when it comes to a diagnosis of autism (see here and see here respectively) and one has to wonder whether the AQ might be tuned into to the features of those labels over and above core autism. Indeed, going back a few years, the findings reported by Kunihira and colleagues [3] kinda signalled as much where personality traits "toward an obsessional personality" were seemingly connected to AQ scores in a non-autistic population as well as "higher depression and anxiety." Such findings might also be 'useful' when it comes to looking at the AQ in the context of eating disorders too [4].I look forward to seeing more research done on this important topic (something ripe for more University student research projects perhaps).----------[1] Reed P. et al. Loneliness and Social Anxiety Mediate the Relationship between Autism Quotient and Quality of Life in University Students. J Dev Phys Disabil. 2016. Aug 12.[2] Kitazoe N. et al. Whether the Autism Spectrum Quotient consists of two different subgroups? Cluster analysis of the Autism Spectrum Quotient in general population. Autism. 2016 Apr 30. pii: 1362361316638787.[3] Kunihira Y. et al. 'Autistic' traits in non-autistic Japanese populations: relationships with personality traits and cognitive ability. J Autism Dev Disord. 2006 May;36(4):553-66.[4] Mansour S. et al. Emotions mediate the relationship between autistic traits and disordered eating: A new autistic-emotional model for eating pathology. Psychiatry Res. 2016 Aug 8;245:119-126.----------Reed, P., Giles, A., Gavin, M., Carter, N., & Osborne, L. (2016). Loneliness and Social Anxiety Mediate the Relationship between Autism Quotient and Quality of Life in University Students Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities DOI: 10.1007/s10882-016-9504-2... Read more »

  • August 25, 2016
  • 02:50 PM
  • 87 views

The relationship between low physical activity and psychotic symptoms

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Physical activity can help reduce cardiovascular disease and premature mortality in people with psychological problems. However, there is limited data on exercise in people with serious mental disorders, especially from low- and middle-income countries. This study explored whether complying with the World Health Organization recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise per week is related to psychotic symptoms or the diagnosis of a psychosis.

... Read more »

Brendon Stubbs, Ai Koyanagi, Felipe Schuch, Joseph Firth, Simon Rosenbaum, Fiona Gaughran, James Mugisha, & Davy Vancampfort. (2016) Physical Activity Levels and Psychosis: A Mediation Analysis of Factors Influencing Physical Activity Target Achievement Among 204 186 People Across 46 Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Schizophrenia bulletin . info:/10.1093/schbul/sbw111

  • August 25, 2016
  • 03:45 AM
  • 81 views

Hospitalisation for infection and risk of death by suicide

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"An increased risk of death by suicide was found among individuals hospitalized with infection in prospective and dose-response relationships. These findings indicate that infections may have a relevant role in the pathophysiological mechanisms of suicidal behavior."Some intriguing data has been recently reported by Helene Lund-Sørensen and colleagues [1] (open-access) examining the possibility that certain types of infection (or perhaps the biological response to infection) might increase the risk of suicidal behaviour. Some good media coverage about the study can be read here.If your sticking with my interpretation of the results, Denmark was the the source of the data, as yet again one of those quite amazing Scandinavian population registries provides a starting cohort of around 7 million people "observed for a total of 149 061 786 person-years" from which subsequent results are derived.Sadly, some 32,000 suicides (completed) were recorded during the study period; around a quarter of such reports were among people who had "previously been diagnosed as having an infection during a hospitalization." Such data was reported in terms of incidence rate ratios (IRRs) and equated to those hospitalised for infection being 42% more likely to die by suicide than those not hospitalised for infection. The 'dose-response' relationship eluded to in that opening sentence refers to the finding that the more serious the infection and/or the longer the hospital stay (treatment), the more likely the risk of death by suicide. Such an association also held when adjustment was made for potential confounding variables such as sex, age and socio-economic status.Accepting that suicide - whether contemplated, attempted or completed - is a very complicated and often very individual process these are interesting results. Of course one has to be slightly careful in drawing too many conclusions from such data given both the large number of 'infections' included as part of the analyses and the possible "psychological effect of being hospitalized with a severe infection." The Lund-Sørensen data is still data built on association not necessarily 'cause and effect'.Still, adding to the increasingly popular idea that infections or the biological response to infection at critical periods of development and life can seemingly affect behaviour (see here and see here for a few more potential examples) as well as physiology, the current study makes an important case for further study in this area. Not least because even if only playing a role in a small proportion of suicides, there may be important screening and possible intervention avenues to explore. I'm also wondering what such a possible association might mean with regards to the 'transmission' of certain infections and potential suicide risk? Y'know added to the speculation that some types of depression could perhaps be relabelled as an infectious disease [2] and in light of the strong connection between depression and suicidal behaviours...----------[1] Lund-Sørensen H. et al. A Nationwide Cohort Study of the Association Between Hospitalization With Infection and Risk of Death by Suicide. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016. Aug 10.[2] Canli T. Reconceptualizing major depressive disorder as an infectious disease. Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders. 2014; 4:10----------Lund-Sørensen H, Benros ME, Madsen T, Sørensen HJ, Eaton WW, Postolache TT, Nordentoft M, & Erlangsen A (2016). A Nationwide Cohort Study of the Association Between Hospitalization With Infection and Risk of Death by Suicide. JAMA psychiatry PMID: 27532502... Read more »

  • August 24, 2016
  • 02:51 PM
  • 108 views

How long do you want to live? Your expectations for old age matter

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Why do some people want to live a very long time, while others would prefer to die relatively young? In a latest study, a team of researchers investigated how long young and middle-aged adults in the United States say they want to live in relation to a number of personal characteristics. The results showed that more than one out of six people would prefer to die younger than age 80, before reaching average life expectancy.

... Read more »

  • August 24, 2016
  • 07:02 AM
  • 83 views

Psychopathy Personality Inventory—Revised (PPI-R) Scale 

by Rita Handrich in The Jury Room

We wrote about this scale in our last post when researchers (trying to convince the reader there is such a thing as a good psychopath for you to hire) used it in a study of German adults. The PPI-R is apparently a measure of psychopathy that is able to “detect relatively mild levels of psychopathy […]

Related posts:
The Trust in Science and Scientists Inventory Scale 
Measuring beliefs in the paranormal: The Australian Sheep Goat Scale
The Dirty Dozen Scale 


... Read more »

Lilienfeld, S. O., & Widows, M. R. (2005) Psychological Assessment Inventory–Revised (PPI-R). Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources. info:/

  • August 24, 2016
  • 04:13 AM
  • 97 views

ALSPAC says maybe to link between prenatal paracetamol exposure and childhood behavioural difficulties

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

ALSPAC - the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children - continues to give in research terms as today I approach the findings reported by Evie Stergiakouli and colleagues [1]. They observed that: "Children exposed to acetaminophen [paracetamol] prenatally are at increased risk of multiple behavioral difficulties, and the associations do not appear to be explained by unmeasured behavioral or social factors linked to acetaminophen use insofar as they are not observed for postnatal or partner’s acetaminophen use." Some media attention for the study can be found here.Continuing the research journey on a topic not unfamiliar to this blog (see here and see here for example) that exposure to paracetamol during the nine months that made us might not be a totally benign affair, Stergiakouli et al analysed data for some 7,700 mothers included in the initiative between 1991 and 1992. Questions about paracetamol use at 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy were asked of mothers and maternal reports of child behaviour problems at 7 years using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) were thrown into the research mix.Results: those behavioural difficulties potentially associated with maternal paracetamol use at both 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy included both conduct problems and hyperactivity symptoms. Researchers were also able to record no (significant) connection between post-natal paracetamol use nor partner paracetamol use and childhood behavioural problems. They concluded that "the timing of acetaminophen use might be important" and that "the association between prenatal acetaminophen exposure and childhood behavioral problems is not explained by unmeasured familial factors linked to both acetaminophen use and childhood behavioral problems and that the findings are consistent with an intrauterine effect."Combined with the various other studies suggesting an association between prenatal exposure to paracetamol and offspring behavioural 'issues' the case for a possible link is growing. ALSPAC has a number of methodological strengths to its design, not least "the availability of prospective information on acetaminophen use during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy and postnatally by the mother and by her partner." The fact that numerous potentially confounding variables were also controlled for is another bonus for the study results: "maternal age at birth, parity, socioeconomic status, smoking and alcohol consumption during pregnancy, prepregnancy body mass index (BMI), maternal self-reported psychiatric illness, and possible indications for acetaminophen use." This is pretty strong data (or at least as strong as the other data published on this topic).Mechanism(s) of effect? Still something that needs a little more work I'm afraid, before any precise information is revealed. The authors go with some ideas based on the "endocrine-disrupting properties of acetaminophen" for example, but let's wait and see before anyone makes too many sweeping generalisations. I might however suggest that the possibility of a link between paracetamol exposure and asthma (see here) could be important in light of what asthma might mean for the risk of presentation of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) for example (see here). Just a thought and bearing in mind the evidence linking paracetamol use and asthma is not always all on-way.Further studies are required on this increasingly important topic. Please also bear in mind no medical or clinical advice is given or intended on this blog. Speak to your physician if you need more information about pain relief during pregnancy.----------[1] Stergiakouli E. et al. Association of Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy With Behavioral Problems in Childhood. JAMA Pediatrics. 2016. Aug 15.----------Stergiakouli, E., Thapar, A., & Davey Smith, G. (2016). Association of Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy With Behavioral Problems in Childhood JAMA Pediatrics DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.1775... Read more »

  • August 23, 2016
  • 02:31 PM
  • 111 views

Too much activity in certain areas of the brain is bad for memory and attention

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Neurons in the brain interact by sending each other chemical messages, so-called neurotransmitters. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the most common inhibitory neurotransmitter, which is important to restrain neural activity, preventing neurons from getting too trigger-happy and from firing too much or responding to irrelevant stimuli.

... Read more »

  • August 23, 2016
  • 03:47 AM
  • 99 views

Autism and/or ADHD in Down's syndrome

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"High rates of ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder] were found: 17 (42%) and 14 (34%) of the 41 children met DSM criteria for ASD and ADHD respectively."That was the conclusion reached in the study by Ulrika Oxelgren and colleagues [1] looking at the "prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in a population-based group of children and adolescents with Down syndrome." The population in this case comprised 60 children and young adults diagnosed with Down's syndrome (Down syndrome if you prefer) and the gold-standards that are the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) were the instruments of choice when arriving at decisions of whether autism might be present or not.New news? No it's not new news that autism (whether in diagnosis or in traits) may be over-represented when it comes to Down's syndrome (see here and see here for other research-based examples). There has even been a suggestion that regression - a key part of at least some autism - may be part and parcel of some cases of Down's syndrome (see here) too.Oxelgren et al suggest that the combination of Down's syndrome and the "intellectual disability and medical disorders" that can accompany Down's syndrome added to a possible higher rate of autism potentially make for "a severely disabled group" worthy of far greater attention when it comes to screening and intervention. I don't think anyone would disagree with such sentiments and in particular, how preferential autism screening should once again be added to a growing list of diagnoses and labels. Indeed, such data in particular directs further attention to the link between intellectual (learning) disability and autism (see here and see here).----------[1] Oxelgren UW. et al. Prevalence of autism and attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder in Down syndrome: a population-based study. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2016 Aug 9.----------Oxelgren UW, Myrelid Å, Annerén G, Ekstam B, Göransson C, Holmbom A, Isaksson A, Åberg M, Gustafsson J, & Fernell E (2016). Prevalence of autism and attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder in Down syndrome: a population-based study. Developmental medicine and child neurology PMID: 27503703... Read more »

Oxelgren UW, Myrelid Å, Annerén G, Ekstam B, Göransson C, Holmbom A, Isaksson A, Åberg M, Gustafsson J, & Fernell E. (2016) Prevalence of autism and attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder in Down syndrome: a population-based study. Developmental medicine and child neurology. PMID: 27503703  

  • August 22, 2016
  • 07:02 AM
  • 111 views

Listen up, HR folks! There are ‘good’ psychopaths for you to hire!

by Doug Keene in The Jury Room

How to hire the "good psychopath"? ... Read more »

  • August 22, 2016
  • 05:17 AM
  • 110 views

"Theory of mind is not theory of emotion"

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

A rather interesting paper by Beth Oakley and colleagues [1] (open-access might be available here) appeared recently providing a "cautionary note on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test" [2], one of the premier assessments thought to offer a performance-based measure "involving mental state attribution and complex facial emotion recognition from photographs where only the eye region of the face is available."Most people with some knowledge about autism research history will have heard about the proposal that Theory of Mind (ToM) - a term often used to cover that "mental state attribution" - might be affected in cases of autism (see here) and indeed, how careers and reputations have been made on such a generalisation. These days ToM is less and less being talked about as the heterogeneity of the autism spectrum becomes better understood and how specificity in particular, has proved to be an Achilles' heel for the concept (see here).One of the emerging ideas to account for some of the results obtained using the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (RMET) in cases of autism is that alexithymia - a construct characterised by an inability to describe or understand emotions - might actually be the more important issue than autism per se. The idea being that alexithymia can co-occur alongside some autism and that for those presenting with that combination, ToM and assessments like RMET might be problematic.So Oakley et al delved a little deeper into some of the hows and whys of some of the RMET results obtained with autism in mind and whether "the RMET indexes emotion recognition, associated with alexithymia, or ToM, associated with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]." They did it on the basis of examining a small group of participants diagnosed with an ASD (n=19) alongside 24 participants without autism. Alexithymia was assessed using "the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS–20)." Autism symptoms severity was measured using the Autism Spectrum Quotient (50) (oh dear..) and "current functioning" in the autism group was assessed using the gold-standard that is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) (more like it).Results: well bearing in mind the small participant numbers and the need for further independent replication of the findings, "Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) performance was unaffected by autism spectrum disorder... but was negatively impacted by alexithymia." Indeed, we are told that: "Six ASD and eight control participants met the criterion for severe alexithymia, with a score of 61 or above on the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS–20)." Further: "in individuals with ASD and comorbid alexithymia, it is alexithymia, rather than ASD per se, that impairs emotion recognition performance."I probably don't need to say too much more about this line of research and its important implications outside of perhaps the requirement to screen for alexithymia as and when autism is diagnosed. Insofar as the idea of an "alexithymia hypothesis of emotion-related deficits in ASD", this does sound like a tantalising option but again, I'd be slightly reluctant to go all-in with yet another grand theory for autism given the trials and tribulations that psychological theories in particular have faced over the years with autism in mind. As to other potential impacts from work such as this, well, assertions that a lack of empathy might the root of all evil (see here) also made by proponents of ToM might do well to take on board a role for alexithymia in any future judgements...Minus any charges of plagiarism, I leave you with the general summary from Oakley and colleagues:"This study suggests that a highly popular test of the ability to detect what someone else is thinking—the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test—is instead a test of the ability to recognize another person’s emotional expression. This is important because it suggests that patients who perform badly on this test may still be able to understand another person’s mental state and that, conversely, patients who perform well on this test may still have difficulties in mental state understanding."----------[1] Oakley BF. et al. Theory of mind is not theory of emotion: A cautionary note on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test. J Abnorm Psychol. 2016 Aug;125(6):818-23.[2] Baron-Cohen S. et al. The “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” Test: Complete Absence of Typical Sex Difference in ~400 Men and Women with Autism. PLoS ONE. 2015; 10(8).----------Oakley BF, Brewer R, Bird G, & Catmur C (2016). Theory of mind is not theory of emotion: A cautionary note on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test. Journal of abnormal psychology, 125 (6), 818-23 PMID: 27505409... Read more »

  • August 20, 2016
  • 09:30 PM
  • 115 views

Are Teaching and Learning Coevolved?

by Joshua Fisher in Text Savvy

Discussions in education are increasingly focused on "how students learn," and it seems to be widely accepted that teaching should adjust itself to what we discover about this. But if teaching is as natural a human faculty as learning, then this may be only half the story. How students (naturally) learn might be caused, in part, by how teachers (naturally) teach, and vice versa. And learners perhaps should be asked to adjust to what we learn about how we teach as much as the other way around.... Read more »

  • August 20, 2016
  • 05:45 PM
  • 122 views

'I miss you so much': How Twitter is broadening the conversation on death and mourning

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Death and mourning were largely considered private matters in the 20th century, with the public remembrances common in previous eras replaced by intimate gatherings behind closed doors in funeral parlors and family homes. But social media is redefining how people grieve, and Twitter in particular -- with its ephemeral mix of rapid-fire broadcast and personal expression -- is widening the conversation around death and mourning.

... Read more »

Nina Lyn Cesare, & Jennifer Lynn Branstad. (2016) Dying and Mourning in the Twittersphere. American Sociological Association. info:/

  • August 20, 2016
  • 06:54 AM
  • 131 views

What are we getting wrong in neuroscience?

by neurosci in Neuroscientifically Challenged

In 1935, an ambitious neurology professor named Egas Moniz sat in the audience at a symposium on the frontal lobes, enthralled by neuroscientist Carlyle F. Jacobsen's description of some experiments Jacobsen had conducted with fellow investigator John Fulton. Jacobsen and Fulton had damaged the frontal lobes of a chimpanzee named "Becky," and afterwards they had observed a considerable behavioral transformation. Becky had previously been stubborn, erratic, and difficult to train, but post-operation she became placid, imperturbable, and compliant. Moniz had already been thinking about the potential therapeutic value of frontal lobe surgery in humans after reading some papers about frontal lobe tumors and how they affected personality. He believed that some mental disorders were caused by static abnormalities in frontal lobe circuitry. By removing a portion of the frontal lobes, he hypothesized he would also be removing neurons and pathways that were problematic, in the process alleviating the patient's symptoms. Although Moniz had been pondering this possibility, Jacobsen's description of the changes seen in Becky was the impetus Moniz needed to try a similar approach with humans. He did so just three months after seeing Jacobsen's presentation, and the surgical procedure that would come to be known as the frontal lobotomy was born.Moniz's procedure initially involved drilling two holes in a patient's skull, then injecting pure alcohol subcortically into the frontal lobes, with the hopes of destroying the regions where the mental disorder resided. Moniz soon turned to another tool for ablation, however---a steel loop he called a leucotome (which is Greek for "white matter knife")---and began calling the procedure a prefrontal leucotomy. Although his means of assessing the effectiveness of the procedure were inadequate by today's standards---for example, he generally only monitored patients for a few days after the surgery---Moniz reported recovery or improvement in most of the patients who underwent the procedure. Soon, prefrontal leucotomies were being done in a number of countries throughout the world. The operation attracted the interest of neurologist Walter Freeman and neurosurgeon James Watts. They modified the procedure again, this time to involve entering the skull from the side using a large spatula. Once inside the cranium, the spatula was wiggled up and down in the hopes of severing connections between the thalamus and prefrontal cortex (based on the hypothesis that these connections were crucial for emotional responses, and could precipitate a disorder when not functioning properly). They also renamed the procedure "frontal lobotomy," as leucotomy implied only white matter was being removed and that was not the case with their method. Several years later (in 1946), Freeman made one final modification to the procedure. He advocated for using the eye socket as an entry point to the frontal lobes (again to sever the connections between the thalamus and frontal areas). As his tool to do the ablation, he chose an ice pick. The ice pick was inserted through the eye socket, wiggled around to do the cutting, and then removed. The procedure could be done in 10 minutes; the development of this new "transorbital lobotomy" brought about the real heyday of lobotomy.The introduction of transorbital lobotomy led to a significant increase in the popularity of the operation---perhaps due to the ease and expediency of the procedure. Between 1949 and 1952, somewhere around 5,000 lobotomies were conducted each year in the United States (the total number of lobotomies done by the 1970s is thought to have been between 40,000 and 50,000). Watts strongly protested the transformation of lobotomy into a procedure that could be done in one quick office visit---and done by a psychiatrist instead of a surgeon, no less---which caused he and Freeman to sever their partnership.Freeman, however, was not discouraged; he became an ardent promoter of transorbital lobotomy. He traveled across the United States, stopping at mental asylums to perform the operation on any patients who seemed eligible and to train the staff to perform the surgery after he had moved on. Freeman himself is thought to have performed or supervised around 3,500 lobotomies; his patients included a number of minors and a 4-year old child (who died 3 weeks after the procedure). Eventually, however, the popularity of transorbital lobotomy began to fade. One would like to think that this happened because people recognized how barbaric the procedure was (along with the fact that the approach was based on somewhat flimsy scientific rationale). The real reasons for abandoning the operation, however, were more pragmatic. The downfall of lobotomy began with some questions about the effectiveness of the surgery, especially in treating certain conditions like schizophrenia. It was also recognized that some types of cognition like motivation, spontaneity, and abstract thought suffered irreparably from the procedure. And the final nail in the coffin of lobotomy was the development of psychiatric drugs like chlorpromazine, which for the first time gave clinicians a pharmacological option for intractable cases of mental disorders. It is easy for us now to look at the practice of lobotomy as nothing short of brutality, and to scoff at what seems like a tenuous scientific explanation for why the procedure should work. It's important, however, to look at such issues in the history of science in the context of their time. In an age when effective psychiatric drugs were nonexistent, psychosurgical interventions were viewed as the "wave of the future." They offered a hopeful possibility for treating disorders that were often incurable and potentially debilitating. And while the approach of lobotomy seems far too non-selective (meaning such serious brain damage was not likely to affect just one mental faculty) to us now, the idea that decreasing frontal lobe activity might reduce mental agitation was actually based on the available scientific literature at the time.Still, it's clear that the decision to attempt to treat psychiatric disorders through inflicting significant brain damage represented a failure of logic at multiple levels. When we discuss neuroscience today, we often assume that our days of such egregious mistakes are over. And while we have certainly progressed since the time of lobotomies (especially in the safeguards protecting patients from such untested and dangerous treatments), we are not that far removed temporally from this sordid time in the history of neuroscience. Today, there is still more unknown about the brain than there is known, and thus it is to be expected that we continue to make significant mistakes in how we think about brain function, experimental methods in neuroscience, and more.Some of these mistakes may be due simply to a natural human approach to understanding difficult problems. For example, when we encounter a complex problem we often first attempt to simplify it by devising some straightforward way of describing it. Once a basic appreciation is reached, we add to this elementary knowledge to develop a more thorough understanding---and one that is more likely to be a better approximation of the truth. However, that overly simplistic conceptualization of the subject can give birth to countless erroneous hypotheses when used in an attempt to explain something as intricate as neuroscience. And in science, these types of errors can lead a field astray for years before it finds its way back on course.Other mistakes involve research methodology. Due to the rapid technological advances in neuroscience that have occurred in the past half-century, we have some truly amazing neuroscience research tools available to us that would have only been science fiction 100 years ago. Excitement about these tools, however, has caused researchers in some cases to begin utilizing them extensively before we are fully prepared to do so. This has resulted in using methods that cannot yet answer the questions we presume they can, and has provided us with results that we are sometimes unable to accurately interpret. In accepting the answers we obtain as legitimate and assuming our interpretations of results are valid, we may commit errors that can confound hypothesis development for some time.Advances in neuroscience in the 20th and into the 21st century have been nothing short of mind-boggling, and our successes in understanding far outpace our long-standing failures. However, any scientific field is rife with mistakes, and neuroscience is no different. In this article, I will discuss just a few examples of how missteps and misconceptions continue to affect progress in the field of neuroscience.The ________________ neurotransmitterNowadays the fact that neurons use signaling molecules like neurotransmitters to communicate with one another is one of those pieces of scientific knowledge that is widely known even to non-scientists. Thus, it may be a bit surprising that this understanding is less than 100 years old. It was in 1921 that the ... Read more »

  • August 20, 2016
  • 04:47 AM
  • 124 views

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and risk of psychiatric disorder

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder affecting 5-15% of reproductive-aged women and characterized by high levels of circulating androgens."OK, go on."Women with PCOS had higher risks for a range of psychiatric disorders not shown before. Elevated risk in their siblings suggests shared familial factors between PCOS and psychiatric disorders."So said the findings reported by Carolyn Cesta and colleagues [1] who using Swedish national register data concluded that there may be something more to see when it comes to the presentation of PCOS and risk of receipt of a comorbid psychiatric label. Included under the banner of psychiatric conditions were a variety of different labels: "schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depressive and anxiety disorders, eating disorders, personality and gender identity disorder, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), tics, attempted and completed suicide." Personally, I'm not so sure these days that ASD should necessarily be termed a psychiatric condition but that was a decision made by the authors and I'm sure others might disagree with me.Participant numbers for the Cesta study were in the tens of thousands as one might expect when it comes to research using the various Scandinavian registries ("all women diagnosed with PCOS between 1990 and 2013 (n = 24,385), their full-siblings (n = 25,921), plus matched individuals (1:10/100) from the general population and their full-siblings") and results were presented as odds ratios and adjusted odds ratios (AORs).One particular part of the Cesta results stood out for me bearing in mind the primary focus of this blog: "Significantly higher AORs were found for ASD in both brothers and sisters of women with PCOS." Added to other research by Sunday Kosidou and colleagues [2] discussed on this blog (see here), these results potentially tap into some history in autism research talking about androgens and autism (minus any sweeping generalisations)."Health professionals treating women with PCOS should be aware that these patients – as well as their family members – are important targets for mental health care." Yet again the idea that preferential screening for something like autism and other labels appears as further clues potentially emerge as to the risk factors for autism. The familial aspect to the Cesta data also provide some ideas for research directions too and I might, speculatively, suggest at least one course of future investigation (see here).----------[1] Cesta CE. et al. Polycystic ovary syndrome and psychiatric disorders: Co-morbidity and heritability in a nationwide Swedish cohort. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016; 73: 196-203.[2] Kosidou K. et al. Maternal polycystic ovary syndrome and the risk of autism spectrum disorders in the offspring: a population-based nationwide study in Sweden. Mol Psychiatry. 2015 Dec 8.----------Cesta, C., Månsson, M., Palm, C., Lichtenstein, P., Iliadou, A., & Landén, M. (2016). Polycystic ovary syndrome and psychiatric disorders: Co-morbidity and heritability in a nationwide Swedish cohort Psychoneuroendocrinology, 73, 196-203 DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.08.005... Read more »

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