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  • September 3, 2015
  • 08:28 PM

Reproducibility project: A front row seat

by Dan Mirman in Minding the Brain

A recent paper in Science reports the results of a large-scale effort to test reproducibility in psychological science. The results have caused much discussion (as well they should) in both general public and science forums. I thought I would offer my perspective as the lead author of one of the studies that was included in the reproducibility analysis. I had heard about the project even before being contacted to participate and one of the things that appealed to me about it was that they were trying to be unbiased in their selection of studies for replication: all papers published in three prominent journals in 2008.  Jim Magnuson and I had published a paper in one of those journals (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition) in 2008 (Mirman & Magnuson, 2008), so I figured I would hear from them sooner or later. In 2012 I was contacted by one of the members of the Open Science Collaboration requesting either our original experiment files or details of the procedure so they could replicate it as closely as possible. I provided the experiment files and we had a little email discussion during which I provided the details of our data analysis procedure (exclusion of error trials and reaction time outliers, etc.) and verified which of the effects from our original paper was the critical one for replication -- an inhibitory effect of near semantic neighbors on visual word recognition. They conducted a power analysis and ran their final data collection plans by me for my input. I flagged some minor issues, but didn't see anything that would be a significant problem. It was great to be informed every step of the way -- it felt like a true replication effort that was independent and transparent, but I could identify any significant problems.My key finding was statistically significant in their replication, though the effect size was smaller than in my original report. Thanks to the project's open sharing of the data and analysis code, I was able to make a version of their Figure 3 with my study identified (X and arrow):My experience with the reproducibility project was that they were extremely careful and professional. The studies for replication were selected systematically rather than due to particular skepticism or certainty and I was consulted every step of the way of the replication of my study, which allowed me to both help make it a true replication and to raise any concerns about differences between my original study and the replication.The hand wringingMost of the discussion about the Science paper has been about whether or not there is a crisis in psychology or whether psychology is a "real" science -- where physics, chemistry, maybe biology are the "real" sciences. First, science is a method, not a content area. One can apply the scientific method to the behavior of atoms, molecules, organisms, or human behavior. Each of those domains has its own challenges, but the science is in the method, not in the content. Second, part of that method is replication. Not replicability, which is a property of a particular phenomenon; but replication, which is a methodological strategy. Observing a phenomenon once is intriguing, observing it repeatedly makes it something worth explaining. Each individual scientific report should be treated as provisional: Jim and I observed an effect that we reported in that 2008 paper, but it could have been a random coincidence or a bizarre property of the context of our experiment. This replication gives me more confidence in the result and I have separately found the effect in a different task and two different populations (Mirman, 2011; Mirman & Graziano, 2013), which makes me more confident in our underlying theory. To my mind, the bigger problem is that there is very little incentive for running replication studies. Journals and funding agencies want to see innovative science and replications are literally the opposite of innovative. People have proposed various clever ways of encouraging and sharing replication studies and some journals have started publishing replication reports. I hope this trend continues and the academic culture begins to accept and reward replications.Third, much discussion has focused on the fact that a high proportion of studies did not "replicate" - an effect that was originally statistically significant was not statistically significant in the replication - and that the replication effect sizes were generally smaller than the originally reported effect sizes. The latter was true of my study: the effect replicated, but the replication effect size was smaller than the effect size in our original report, which is reflected by our data point being below the diagonal in the figure. The replication issue is a straightforward consequence of the effect size issue: even assuming that an effect exists in the population (not just in the original sample), if the population effect size is smaller than the one in the original sample, then power analysis based on the original sample effect size will produce under-powered studies that will, sometimes, fail to detect the effect in the population. So the relevant issue is that reported sample effect sizes tend to be larger than population effect sizes, but this is a direct consequence of the "statistical significance filter", also known as "publication bias": statistically significant effects can be published but null results are very rarely published. For example, Jim and I may not have been the only people to test for a near semantic neighbor effect, but maybe the effects in the other studies were smaller and not statistically significant, so they were not been published (probably not even submitted for publication). When you chop off the low end of the effect size distribution, the average of the trimmed distribution will necessarily be larger than the average of the full distribution.Where do we go from here? I think we need two major changes:(1) We need to start encouraging and rewarding replication studies. Not just when we think someone is wrong, but as a matter of course, as part of going about the business of psychological science. I've heard many good ideas -- using replication studies as assignments in research methods courses, publishing them as online supplements to the original studies or having an online repository of replications -- these and/or other ideas need to become part of how we do psychological science. (2) We need to accept that we're dealing with variable effects and that each new result should be treated as provisional until it is thoroughly replicated. There are lots aspects to this, but I think the most important one is not to take it personally or get defensive when someone raises doubts or fails to replicate our work. One can run a perfectly good experiment, do all of the analyses the best possible way, and come up with something that is true for the sample but not true for the population. I think it is important to be very aware of how big a leap we are making when we see a phenomenon in 20 college students and draw conclusions about fundamental aspects of human cognition.... Read more »

  • September 3, 2015
  • 02:06 PM

Do antipsychotic medications affect cortical thinning?

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

People diagnosed with schizophrenia critically rely upon treatment with antipsychotic medications to manage their symptoms and help them function at home and in the workplace. But despite their benefits, antipsychotic medications might also have some negative effects on brain structure or function when taken for long periods of time.... Read more »

  • September 3, 2015
  • 04:34 AM

What will happen to my child when I'm gone?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

From time to time I cover some uncomfortable topics on this blog as a function of what hand the autism research cards deal. Today is another one of those times as I bring to your attention the paper by Cathy Cox and colleagues [1] and their analysis of death concerns and psychological wellbeing in mothers of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).What they observed based on completion of a "fear of death scale" and "measures of death-thought accessibility, positive and negative affect, depression, and anxiety" by some 70 mums of children with autism and 70 mums of "typically developing children" suggested that more investigation in this area is required. Aside from reporting "worse psychological health" than control mums, the autism mums group "evidenced greater death-thought accessibility" that in turn "mediated the influence of ASD diagnosis on negative affect, depression, and anxiety." In other words: "increased death-thought accessibility among mothers of children with ASD was associated with worse psychological health."Thinking about one's own mortality and the idea that our time on this dusty rock called home is finite is not an uncommon feature of life. Death is a daily feature of life as any newspaper or news website informs us. Specifically with autism in mind, various viewpoints have been published by parents of children with autism on the topic of death concerns and the important question: what will happen to my child / children when I'm gone?This is an uncomfortable question to try and answer given the multitude of factors around things like provisions, finances and family circumstances including the role that any siblings may need to play. That also a parents death will inevitably affect the child (or adult) with autism serves to further complicate any response. It's perhaps not surprising that some parents have written some fairly extreme material with titles like 'Why I can never die' when it comes to this topic.There is no easy way through this important subject. Cox et al talk about how training care providers to "better discuss thoughts of death may help to alleviate stress and foster greater psychological well-being" for parents of children with autism as being one answer. I agree that death needs to figure more in conversations but am slightly unsure as to how talk without positive action and planning is going to put minds at rest and reduce an already heavy burden of stress and risk of adverse psychological health. That there may also be some fairly unique circumstances associated with the presentation of anxiety in some mums [2] (see here for further reading on intolerance of uncertainty) perhaps adds to the requirement for quite a bit more study and action in this important area.----------[1] Cox CR. et al. Death concerns and psychological well-being in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder. Res Dev Disabil. 2015 Aug 6;45-46:229-238.[2] Uljarević M. et al. Brief Report: Effects of Sensory Sensitivity and Intolerance of Uncertainty on Anxiety in Mothers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord. 2015 Aug 9.----------Cox CR, Eaton S, Ekas NV, & Van Enkevort EA (2015). Death concerns and psychological well-being in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder. Research in developmental disabilities, 45-46, 229-238 PMID: 26256841... Read more »

  • September 2, 2015
  • 02:41 PM

A supposedly memory-enhancing commercial brain-stimulation device actually impairs memory

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

It's easy to understand why so many people have been tempted by the futuristic-looking brain stimulation headset. The manufacturers promise their product will increase brain speed and plasticity and improve mental abilities such as working memory. What's more, the device uses a technology that's usually described as "non-invasive" – transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS for short – to send currents apparently safely into your prefrontal cortex.There is ample lab research to suggest that tDCS can have cognitive benefits (although a recent review questioned such claims). However, the device is not exactly the same as the CE-certified devices used in this past research, and experts in the field have called for more direct investigations of commercial tDCS products. Others have warned that the biological effects of the technology (altering brain cell activity) shouldn't really be considered non-invasive at all, and that the long-term effects of the devices is unknown.Now a new study has just been published in Experimental Brain Research that directly tests the effects of the headset on participants' working memory. Note, this study was on the original headset which was on sale for several years, but which late last year the company replaced with its CE-certified version 2 product.Laura Steenbergen and her colleagues assigned 12 participants to receive brain stimulation from the headset for 20 minutes prior to completing a working memory task; 12 others received stimulation "online", which means it was applied during the working memory task. The headset was worn precisely as the manufacturers instruct, with two electrodes placed on each side of the front of the head (see image, right). Each group conducted a genuine brain stimulation session, and also a "sham" session in which the device was only switched on for thirty seconds and then switched off. Participants couldn't tell which session was real and which was sham. The working memory test was a variant of the widely-used n-back task, which involved watching a stream of letters on-screen and looking out for when the current letter matched the letter shown two items earlier (in the easier version of the task), or the letter shown four items earlier (in a devilishly difficult version of the task). This is a test of working memory because it requires that participants keep track of the history of prior letters while at the same time paying attention to new letters.The take-home finding is bad news for users and highlights the need for more research on commercially available brain stimulation products. In the active stimulation condition (online or offline), participants actually spotted fewer of the target letters in both the easier and more difficult versions of the working memory task (75 per cent accuracy versus 78 per cent, on average; a statistically significant difference). Meanwhile, reports of uncomfortable sensations such as burning at the electrode and headache were higher in the stimulation condition than in the sham condition. At least in this investigation, the brain stimulation was all pain and no gain." is just one example of a device that can easily be purchased and, without any control or expert knowledge, used by anyone," the researchers said. "The results of our study are straightforward in showing that the claims made by companies manufacturing such devices need to be validated."_________________________________  Steenbergen, L., Sellaro, R., Hommel, B., Lindenberger, U., Kühn, S., & Colzato, L. (2015). “Unfocus” on commercial tDCS headset impairs working memory Experimental Brain Research DOI: 10.1007/s00221-015-4391-9 --further reading--The trouble with tDCS? Electrical brain stimulation may not work after allIt's shocking - How the press are hyping the benefits of electrical brain stimulationRead this before zapping your brainPost written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.Our free fortnightly email will keep you up-to-date with all the psychology research we digest: Sign up!

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Steenbergen, L., Sellaro, R., Hommel, B., Lindenberger, U., Kühn, S., & Colzato, L. (2015) “Unfocus” on commercial tDCS headset impairs working memory. Experimental Brain Research. DOI: 10.1007/s00221-015-4391-9  

  • September 2, 2015
  • 02:23 PM

Feeling blue and seeing blue: Sadness may impair color perception

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

The world might seem a little grayer than usual when we’re down in the dumps and we often talk about “feeling blue” — new research suggests that the associations we make between emotion and color go beyond mere metaphor. The results of two studies indicate that feeling sadness may actually change how we perceive color. Specifically, researchers found that participants who were induced to feel sad were less accurate in identifying colors on the blue-yellow axis than those who were led to feel amused or emotionally neutral.... Read more »

Thorstenson CA, Pazda AD, & Elliot AJ. (2015) Sadness Impairs Color Perception. Psychological science. PMID: 26307592  

  • September 2, 2015
  • 08:30 AM

Preparation Makes a Difference to Pets in an Emergency

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

After the Great Earthquake in Japan, preparation was key to evacuating with pets - including training and socialization.When the magnitude 9 earthquake struck Japan in 2011, causing a tsunami and subsequent accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant, over 15,000 people were killed. Many people had to evacuate at short notice. In 2012, pet owners from two of the most badly affected areas, Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures, were asked about whether or not they took their pet and the types of planning they had done beforehand. The survey, by Sakiko Yamazaki (Humane Society International), has important implications for disaster preparedness. In both Iwate and Fukushima, the most common thing people had done to prepare for an emergency was to have extra supplies of pet food. The percentage of people who did this was about the same amongst those who did and did not evacuate with their pet.Training and socialization of pets made a difference. Yamazaki says, “a higher percentage of those who evacuated with their pets prepared by socialization/obedience training pets, compared with those who could not, suggesting that this could be an effective way to prepare regardless of the type of disaster.”In Iwate, 46% of people who evacuated with pets had socialized and trained them, compared to 26% of those who had to leave their pets behind. In Fukushima, the figures are 30% and 8%, respectively.46% of the participants had to leave all their pets behind when they evacuated. Only 41% were able to take all of their pets with them. The situation in Fukushima was slightly different than Iwate, since people were not encouraged to take pets with them, and thought they would only be evacuated for a short time. In Fukushima, other factors that made a difference were having extra (non-food) supplies for the pet, having copies of the pet’s photo and vet record, and knowing where they could board their pet temporarily.The most common help needed after the quake was provision of pet food. Not surprisingly, people who had left their pet behind were more likely to need help in locating their pet. In Iwate, vet care was also needed; and in Fukushima, other pet supplies were needed. Help still needed at the time of the survey varied, reflecting the fact that those in Fukushima were still in temporary accommodation. These results show that an everyday thing – the training and socialization of your pet – turned out to be essential in an emergency. This means disaster preparedness for pets is not just about emergency supplies, but also about giving your pet the skills to cope with normal, everyday living. 289 people completed the survey (140 from Iwate Prefecture and 149 in Fukushima). It is not a random sample, and people in Iwate were recruited via an organization that gave help to pet-owners (and hence may have been more likely to seek help). The questionnaire also relies on people’s memories after the event. Nonetheless the results are useful since participants were all people who evacuated at the time of the disaster from areas that were devastated.Other studies have highlighted the importance of including pets in emergency planning (Heath and Linnabary, 2015), and of utilizing pets to help vulnerable people prepare for disasters (Thompson et al 2014). People will often risk their lives to save pets in an emergency. Preparing in advance helps ensure your pet can go with you if you ever have to evacuate. This study is a concrete example of the difference it can make.What is the emergency preparedness plan for your household?The full paper is available to read (open access) here. Photo: Grisha Bruev ( ReferencesHeath, S.E., & Linnabary, R.D. (2015). Challenges of managing animals in disasters in the US Animals, 5 (2), 173-192 : 10.3390/ani5020173#sthash.7n7gGyyg.dpuf Thompson, K.,, Every, D., Rainbird, S., Cornell, V., Smith, B., & Trigg, J. (2014). No pet or their person left behind: Increasing the disaster resilience of vulnerable groups through animal attachment, activities and networks Animals , 4 (2), 214-240 : 10.3390/ani4020214 ... Read more »

Heath, S.E., & Linnabary, R.D. (2015) Challenges of managing animals in disasters in the US. Animals, 5(2), 173-192. info:/10.3390/ani5020173#sthash.7n7gGyyg.dpuf

Thompson, K.,, Every, D., Rainbird, S., Cornell, V., Smith, B., & Trigg, J. (2014) No pet or their person left behind: Increasing the disaster resilience of vulnerable groups through animal attachment, activities and networks. Animals , 4(2), 214-240. info:/10.3390/ani4020214

A survey of companion-animal owners affected by the East Japan Great Earthquake in Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures, Japan. (2015) Yamazaki, S. Anthrozoos, 28(2). info:/

  • September 2, 2015
  • 02:13 AM

Sub-threshold autistic traits and creativity

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I was intrigued by the results reported by Catherine Best and colleagues [1] recently and the suggestion that yet another sweeping generalisation attributed to autism (or at least autistic traits) might turn out to be not as accurate or universal as we might have all been led to believe.Based on the analysis of data from over 300 people who completed an on-line questionnaire (anonymously) measuring autistic traits, researchers reported that creative ideas as measured by a divergent thinking task might show some connection to self-reported autistic traits. Further: "autistic traits were associated with high numbers of unusual responses on the divergent thinking tasks." Ergo, thinking outside of the box may show something of a relationship to autistic traits and creativity may not be an alien concept for those on the autism spectrum (a shocker I know).Bearing in mind headlines such as 'Scientists discover people with autism have 'fewer ideas but are more creative and think outside the box'' that don't really reflect the study design and findings in their entirety (only 75 of the study participants said they had received a diagnosis of autism), I do think that the Best study findings call for quite a bit more research inspection in this area. Previous investigations have for example, suggested that there may be quite a bit more to see when it comes to verbal creativity and [some] autism [2] bearing in mind the small participant numbers included in such trials.Divergent thinking and it's links to creativity is not necessarily a new concept when it comes to autism despite the increasing recent popularisation of this phenomenon. Viewers in the UK might have already seen the Channel 4 series 'The Autistic Gardener' detailing how a diagnosis of autism may not be a hurdle to good design skills; also over-turning other generalisations about perceived interests and vocations for those on the autism spectrum too (see here).Caution does need to applied to the Best findings as they stand bearing in mind the study methodology used and the application of their findings to "a non-clinical sample." As per other commentary on the paper, it is still a little unclear as to how listing alternative uses for a brick or paper clip actually translates into a real-world setting. That also aspects of creativity have been previously associated with other labels (see here) and the lack of information on study participants with some of these other aspects in mind (e.g. comorbidity), and one needs to be mindful not to push the findings beyond their original scope however desirable they may be.Still, the study results do make for some interesting reading and reiterate that all minds potentially have something rich to offer to society. Indeed, playing to strengths is a key theme of other recent research as per the concept of 'attention to detail' and threat detection [3] for example.Music: Daft Punk - One More Time.----------[1] Best C. et al. The Relationship Between Subthreshold Autistic Traits, Ambiguous Figure Perception and Divergent Thinking. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders. 2015. August 14.[2] Kasirer A. & Mashal N. Verbal creativity in autism: comprehension and generation of metaphoric language in high-functioning autism spectrum disorder and typical development. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 Aug 11;8:615.[3] Rusconi E. et al. XRIndex: a brief screening tool for individual differences in security threat detection in x-ray images. Front Hum Neurosci. 2015 Aug 10;9:439.----------Best, C., Arora, S., Porter, F., & Doherty, M. (2015). The Relationship Between Subthreshold Autistic Traits, Ambiguous Figure Perception and Divergent Thinking Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-015-2518-2... Read more »

  • September 1, 2015
  • 01:34 PM

Researchers help identify neural basis of multitasking

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

What makes someone better at switching between different tasks? Looking for the mechanisms behind cognitive flexibility, researchers have used brain scans to shed new light on this question. By studying networks of activity in the brain’s frontal cortex, a region associated with control over thoughts and actions, the researchers have shown that the degree to which these networks reconfigure themselves while switching from task to task predicts people’s cognitive flexibility.... Read more »

  • September 1, 2015
  • 03:30 AM

5 Study Skills to Accelerate Your Learning

by Winston Sieck in Thinker Academy

So much to learn. Will it ever end? Nope. You will be learning for the rest of your life. School is simply a kick starter. No matter what path you take in life after school, learning will be part of it. Yet, the forever journey to develop your talents doesn’t have to be nerve-racking or…
Check out 5 Study Skills to Accelerate Your Learning, an original post on Thinker Academy.
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  • September 1, 2015
  • 03:07 AM

Let's talk about sex and autism (reviewed)

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The review from Nicola Beddows and Rachel Brooks [1] highlighting the important issue of sexual behaviour with autism in mind is brought to your attention today.Trawling through the peer-reviewed literature looking at reports of inappropriate sexual behaviour present in adolescents diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the authors concluded that various behaviours were included and that there were a variety of possible reasons for said behaviours. Indeed they report that: "Despite being such a common problem for schools, institutions and families to manage, it is surprising how sparse literature is particularly regarding why inappropriate behaviour occurs and what education is effective."Sex education is a topic that has cropped up quite early on in the life of this blog (see here). Although jesting with the inclusion of an excerpt from a Seinfeld episode in that particular entry, the important message was that more efforts need to be made to talk about sex and the various details around the topic with young people on the autism spectrum. And when I say 'young people' I mean young people (not just as and when hair starts sprouting and other bodily changes start happening to accompany that golden time called PUBERTY).Beddows & Brooks make some important points about how to approach the topic of sex education with autism in mind: "It is suggested that individualized, repetitive education should be started from an early age in an accessible form. Social skills development is also important before more technical aspects of sex education are taught." I can't disagree with such sentiments, although would also link you to some writings from an expert in this area (Dr Lynne Moxon) about sex education and the 'special' child and a document from NHS Choices covering an equally important area: sexual health. I might also add that some research groups seem to be listening to the idea that sex education training could be a useful add-on for some people on the autism spectrum [2]...'Don't be afraid to talk about sex' is the message. So also said Salt-N-Peppa...----------[1] Beddows N. & Brooks R. Inappropriate sexual behaviour in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: what education is recommended and why. Early Interv Psychiatry. 2015 Aug 12.[2] Visser K. et al. Study protocol: a randomized controlled trial investigating the effects of a psychosexual training program for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. BMC Psychiatry. 2015 Aug 28;15(1):207.----------Beddows N, & Brooks R (2015). Inappropriate sexual behaviour in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: what education is recommended and why. Early intervention in psychiatry PMID: 26265030... Read more »

  • August 31, 2015
  • 02:24 PM

Television viewing linked to higher injury risk in hostile people

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

People with hostile personality traits who watch more television than their peers may be at a greater risk for injury, potentially because they are more susceptible to the influence of television on violence and risk-taking behaviors, a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health analysis discovered.... Read more »

Fabio, A., Chen, C., Dearwater, S., Jacobs, D., Erickson, D., Matthews, K., Iribarren, C., Sidney, S., & Pereira, M. (2015) Television viewing and hostile personality trait increase the risk of injuries. International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion, 1-10. DOI: 10.1080/17457300.2015.1061560  

  • August 31, 2015
  • 10:09 AM

Cow Pies Can Make You Smarter and Less Stressed

by Miss Behavior in The Scorpion and the Frog

It seems like everyone is running around buying school supplies and books, registering for classes, and fretting about how hard it is going to be to learn another whole year’s worth of stuff. The secret to success, it turns out, may lie in cow dung.A cow pie. Photo taken by Jeff Vanuga at the USDA available at Wikimedia Commons.Recent research has highlighted the important role that microbes living in animal digestive tracts have on host animals’ health and behavior. This influence of our gut microbes on our behavior is called the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Many of these microbes have long-standing populations that reproduce and spend their whole lives in our guts. Because our digestive tracts do not have much oxygen, these species are anaerobic (do not require oxygen to live). However, our gut communities also have more transient aerobic members (species that do require oxygen to live) that come in when they are ingested and die or leave with the droppings. One of these transient aerobic intestinal citizens is Mycobacterium vaccae (or M. vaccae for short), an aerobic bacterium that naturally lives in soil, water, and yes, cow dung.When mice are injected with heat-killed M. vaccae, they develop an immune response that activates their brain serotonin system and reduces signs of stress. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is found in the brain and is involved in regulating alertness, mood, learning and memory. In fact, many antidepressant drugs work by increasing the amount of available serotonin in the brain. Interestingly, serotonin is also found in the digestive system, where it plays a role in digestive health. Since M. vaccae can increase serotonin function, and serotonin reduces anxiety and improves learning, researchers Dorothy Matthews and Susan Jenks at The Sage Colleges in New York set out to test whether eating live M. vaccae could reduce anxiety and improve learning in mice. A drawing of the mouse maze used by Dorothy and Susan. This image is from their 2013 Behavioural Processes paper.The researchers developed a Plexiglas mouse-maze with three difficulty levels, where each increase in difficulty was marked by more turns and a longer path. They encouraged the mice to run the maze by placing a tasty treat (a square of peanut butter on Wonder Bread™) at the end of the maze. Half of the mice were given live M. vaccae on the peanut butter and bread treat three weeks and one week before running the maze, and then again on each treat at the end of each maze run. The other half were given peanut butter and bread without the bacterial additive. The mice then ran the maze roughly every other day: four times at level 1, four times at level 2 and four times at level 3. Each maze run was video recorded and the researchers later watched the videos to count stress-related behaviors.The mice that ingested M. vaccae on their peanut butter sandwiches completed the maze twice as fast as those that ate plain peanut butter sandwiches. They also had fewer stress-related behaviors, particularly at the first difficulty level of the maze when everything was new and scary. In general, the fewer stress behaviors a mouse did, the faster its maze-running time was. The mice that ate the M. vaccae also tended to make fewer mistakes.The researchers then wanted to know how long the effects of M. vaccae lasted. They continued to test the mice in the same maze, again with four runs at level 1, four runs at level 2 and four runs at level 3, but for these maze runs no one was given the M. vaccae. The mice that had previously eaten the M. vaccae continued to complete the maze faster and with fewer mistakes and to show fewer stress-related behaviors for about the first week before the M. vaccae effects wore off.What does this all mean? It means eating dirt isn’t all bad (although I don't recommend eating cow poop). Letting yourself get a bit dirty and ingesting some of nature's microbes could even help you learn better, remember more, and stay calm - especially in new situations. Just something to think about as the school year gets started.Want to know more? Check these out:1. Matthews, D., & Jenks, S. (2013). Ingestion of Mycobacterium vaccae decreases anxiety-related behavior and improves learning in mice Behavioural Processes, 96, 27-35 DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2013.02.0072. Lowry, C., Hollis, J., de Vries, A., Pan, B., Brunet, L., Hunt, J., Paton, J., van Kampen, E., Knight, D., Evans, A., Rook, G., & Lightman, S. (2007). Identification of an immune-responsive mesolimbocortical serotonergic system: Potential role in regulation of emotional behavior Neuroscience, 146 (2), 756-772 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2007.01.067 ... Read more »

  • August 31, 2015
  • 07:02 AM

Talking about climate change without  knee-jerk responses from listeners

by Doug Keene in The Jury Room

We recently posted new research on the secret to combatting distrust of science. Now we have more research on how to talk about climate change without setting off automatic and defensive reactions from listeners. Not many of our readers are going to be litigating climate change issues, but the challenge of discussing complex scientific issues […]

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How can I convince them this wasn’t racist? Just keep talking…
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... Read more »

  • August 31, 2015
  • 04:31 AM

Cats on Treadmills (and the plasticity of biological motion perception)

by The Neurocritic in The Neurocritic

Cats on a treadmill. From Treadmill Kittens.It's been an eventful week. The 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The 10th Anniversary of Optogenetics (with commentary from the neuroscience community and from the inventors). The Reproducibility Project's efforts to replicate 100 studies in cognitive and social psychology (published in Science). And the passing of the great writer and neurologist, Oliver Sacks. Oh, and Wes Craven just died too...I'm not blogging about any of these events. Many many others have already written about them (see selected reading list below). And The Neurocritic has been feeling tapped out lately.Hence the cats on treadmills. They're here to introduce a new study which demonstrated that early visual experience is not necessary for the perception of biological motion (Bottari et al., 2015). Biological motion perception involves the ability to understand and visually track the movement of a living being. This phenomenon is often studied using point light displays, as shown below in a demo from the BioMotion Lab. You should really check out their flash animation that allows you to view human, feline, and pigeon walkers moving from right to left, scrambled and unscrambled, masked and unmasked, inverted and right side up.from BioMotion Lab 1Biological Motion Perception Is Spared After Early Visual DeprivationPeople born with dense, bilateral cataracts that are surgically removed at a later date show deficits in higher visual processing, including the perception of global motion, global form, faces, and illusory contours. Proper neural development during the critical, or sensitive period early in life is dependent on experience, in this case visual input. However, it seems that the perception of biological motion (BM) does not require early visual experience (Bottari et al., 2015).Participants in the study were 12 individuals with congenital cataracts that were removed at a mean age of 7.8 years (range 4 months to 16 yrs). Age at testing was 17.8 years (range 10-35 yrs). The study assessed their biological motion thresholds (extracting BM from noise) and recorded their EEG to point light displays of a walking man and to scrambled versions of the walking man (see demo).from BioMotion LabBehavioral performance on the BM threshold task didn't differ much between the congenital cataract (cc) and matched control (mc) groups (i.e., there was a lot of overlap between the filled diamonds and the open triangles below).Modified from Fig. 1 (Bottari et al., 2015).The event-related potentials (ERPs) averaged to presentations of the walking man vs. scrambled man showed the same pattern in cc and mc groups as well: larger to walking man (BM) than scrambled man (SBM). Modified from Fig. 1 (Bottari et al., 2015).The N1 component (the peak at about 0.25 sec post-stimulus) seems a little smaller in cc but that wasn't significant. On the other hand, the earlier P1 was significantly reduced in the cc group. Interestingly, the duration of visual deprivation, amount of visual experience, and post-surgical visual acuity did not correlate with the size of the N1.The authors discuss three possible explanations for these results:(1) The neural circuitries associated with the processing of BM can specialize in late childhood or adulthood. That is, as soon as visual input becomes available, initiates the functional maturation of the BM system. Alternatively the neural systems for BM might mature independently of vision. (2) Either they are shaped cross-modally or (3) they mature independent of experience.They ultimately favor the third explanation, that "the neural systems for BM specialize independently of visual experience." They also point out that the ERPs to faces vs. scrambled faces in the cc group do not show the characteristic difference between these stimulus types. What's so special about biological motion, then? Here the authors wave their hands and arms a bit:We can only speculate why these different developmental trajectories for faces and BM emerge: BM is characteristic for any type of living being and the major properties are shared across species. ... By contrast, faces are highly specific for a species and biases for the processing of faces from our own ethnicity and age have been shown.It's more important to see if a bear is running towards you than it is to recognize faces, as anyone with congenital prosopagnosia ("face blindness") might tell you...Footnote1 Troje & Westhoff (2006):"The third sequence showed a walking cat. The data are based on a high-speed (200 fps) video sequence showing a cat walking on a treadmill. Fourteen feature points were manually sampled from single frames. As with the pigeon sequence, data were approximated with a third-order Fourier series to obtain a generic walking cycle."Reference... Read more »

  • August 31, 2015
  • 04:16 AM

Mesenchymal stem cell transplantation and a mouse model of autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I once again tread carefully in this brief post talking about stem cells and autism on the back of what seems to be some growing research interest in this area (see here).The paper by Hadar Segal-Gavish and colleagues [1] adds to this increasing interest with their efforts detailing what happened to a mouse model of autism (the BTBR mouse) following "intracerebroventricular MSC [mesenchymal stem cells] transplantation."Looking at what happened when MSC transplantation was used, the authors highlight various behavioural and biological effects including: "a reduction of stereotypical behaviors, a decrease in cognitive rigidity and an improvement in social behavior." BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) was also reported to show changes following transplantation: "elevated BDNF protein levels in the hippocampus accompanied by increased hippocampal neurogenesis in the MSC-transplanted mice compared with sham treated mice."The authors conclude: "Our study suggests a novel therapeutic approach which may be translatable to ASD [autism spectrum disorder] patients in the future."Acknowledging that stem cells and autism is still a little bit of a hot potato in terms of the limited available research and more ethical questions about its use, these are interesting results. A recent opinion paper from Simberlund and colleagues [2] on the topic of MSC and autism highlighted the 'pitfalls and potential promises' of this line of investigation, and how despite almost universal scientific approval in terms of 'success' of this type of intervention so far, "substantial methodological and theoretical challenges and pitfalls remain before this can be considered a viable therapeutic option."I'm gonna leave it at that for now.Music: Aerosmith - Walk This Way.----------[1] Segal-Gavish H. et al. Mesenchymal Stem Cell Transplantation Promotes Neurogenesis and Ameliorates Autism Related Behaviors in BTBR Mice. Autism Res. 2015 Aug 10.[2] Simberlund J. et al. Mesenchymal stem cells in autism spectrum and neurodevelopmental disorders: pitfalls and potential promises. World J Biol Psychiatry. 2015 Jul 31:1-8.----------Segal-Gavish H, Karvat G, Barak N, Barzilay R, Ganz J, Edry L, Aharony I, Offen D, & Kimchi T (2015). Mesenchymal Stem Cell Transplantation Promotes Neurogenesis and Ameliorates Autism Related Behaviors in BTBR Mice. Autism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research PMID: 26257137... Read more »

Segal-Gavish H, Karvat G, Barak N, Barzilay R, Ganz J, Edry L, Aharony I, Offen D, & Kimchi T. (2015) Mesenchymal Stem Cell Transplantation Promotes Neurogenesis and Ameliorates Autism Related Behaviors in BTBR Mice. Autism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research. PMID: 26257137  

  • August 30, 2015
  • 06:53 PM

Borderline Personality Linked To Lack of Activity In Empathy Areas of Brain

by Marie Benz in Interview with: Brian W. Haas, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Psychology University of Georgia Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Dr. Haas: We used a new way to study Borderline Personality … Continue reading →
The post Borderline Personality Linked To Lack of Activity In Empathy Areas of Brain appeared first on Medical Research Interviews and News.
... Read more » Interview with:, & Brian W. Haas, Ph.D. (2015) Borderline Personality Linked To Lack of Activity In Empathy Areas of Brain. info:/

  • August 29, 2015
  • 01:48 PM

Confidence in parenting could help break cycle of abuse

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

To understand how confidence in parenting may predict parenting behaviors in women who were abused as children, psychologists have found that mothers who experienced more types of maltreatment as children are more critical of their ability to parent successfully. Intervention programs for moms at-risk, therefore, should focus on bolstering mothers’ self-confidence–not just teach parenting skills, the researchers said.... Read more »

  • August 29, 2015
  • 05:17 AM

Maternal obesity and offspring autism meta-analysed

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

So: "The meta-analysis results support an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder in children of women who were obese during pregnancy. However, further study is warranted to confirm these results."That was the conclusion reached by Ya-Min Li and colleagues [1] looking at the collected peer-reviewed data currently available on how maternal weight might impact on offspring neurodevelopmental outcomes. Without wishing to blame or stigmatise (this is a blog based on the examination of cold, objective, peer-reviewed science) such results are not altogether unexpected based on instances where maternal weight might impact on offspring autism risk have been discussed (see here).There are caveats to ideas of such an association. Not least that observational studies for example, often provide little information on 'cause and effect'. That not every child born to a mum who is overweight and/or obese develops autism should also be kept firmly in mind, as should the idea that overweight and/or obesity can sometimes sit with other comorbidity as part of the 'metabolic syndrome' so potentially introducing other variables into any association (see here). I might add that an array of other factors cross obesity and autism risk areas, not least mothers' nutritional status before and during pregnancy for example (see here).That all being said, there is more science to do in this area. Thinking back to other discussions on data about how father's weight might also influence offspring autism risk (see here) and the idea of foetal programming [2] based to a large extent on the writings of the late David Barker, one gets some ideas of where science might want to start heading in continuing this line of inquiry.Music: Keane - Everybody's Changing.----------[1] Li YM. et al. Association Between Maternal Obesity and Autism Spectrum Disorder in Offspring: A Meta-analysis. J Autism Dev Disord. 2015 Aug 9.[2] Lau C. & Rogers JM. Embryonic and fetal programming of physiological disorders in adulthood. Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today. 2004 Dec;72(4):300-12.----------Li YM, Ou JJ, Liu L, Zhang D, Zhao JP, & Tang SY (2015). Association Between Maternal Obesity and Autism Spectrum Disorder in Offspring: A Meta-analysis. Journal of autism and developmental disorders PMID: 26254893... Read more »

  • August 28, 2015
  • 08:59 AM

This is what happened when psychologists tried to replicate 100 previously published findings

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

While 97 per cent of the original results showed a statistically significanteffect, this was reproduced in only 36 per cent of the replications After some high-profile and at times acrimonious failures to replicate past landmark findings, psychology as a discipline and scientific community has led the way in trying to find out more about why some scientific findings reproduce and others don't, including instituting reporting practices to improve the reliability of future results. Much of this endevour is thanks to the Center for Open Science, co-founded by the University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek.Today, the Center has published its latest large-scale project: an attempt by 270 psychologists to replicate findings from 100 psychology studies published in 2008 in three prestigious journals that cover cognitive and social psychology: Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.The Reproducibility Project is designed to estimate the "reproducibility" of psychological findings and complements the Many Labs Replication Project which published its initial results last year. The new effort aimed to replicate many different prior results to try to establish the distinguishing features of replicable versus unreliable findings: in this sense it was broad and shallow and looking for general rules that apply across the fields studied. By contrast, the Many Labs Project involved many different teams all attempting to replicate a smaller number of past findings – in that sense it was narrow and deep, providing more detailed insights into specific psychological phenomena.The headline result from the new Reproducibility Project report is that whereas 97 per cent of the original results showed a statistically significant effect, this was reproduced in only 36 per cent of the replication attempts. Some replications found the opposite effect to the one they were trying to recreate. This is despite the fact that the Project went to incredible lengths to make the replication attempts true to the original studies, including consulting with the original authors.Just because a finding doesn't replicate doesn't mean the original result was false – there are many possible reasons for a replication failure, including unknown or unavoidable deviations from the original methodology. Overall, however, the results of the Project are likely indicative of the biases that researchers and journals show towards producing and publishing positive findings. For example, a survey published a few years ago revealed the questionable practices many researchers use to achieve positive results, and it's well known that journals are less likely to publish negative results.The Project found that studies that initially reported weaker or more surprising results were less likely to replicate. In contrast, the expertise of the original research team or replication research team were not related to the chances of replication success. Meanwhile, social psychology replications were less than half as likely to achieve a significant finding compared with cognitive psychology replication attempts, but in terms of declines in size of effect, both fields showed the same average reduction from original study to replication attempt, to less than half (cognitive psychology studies started out with larger effects and this is why more of the replications in this area retained statistical significance).Among the studies that failed to replicate was research on loneliness increasing supernatural beliefs; conceptual fluency increasing a preference for concrete descriptions (e.g. if I prime you with the name of a city, that increases your conceptual fluency for the city, which supposedly makes you prefer concrete descriptions of that city); and research on links between people's racial prejudice and their response times to pictures showing people from different ethnic groups alongside guns. A full list of the findings that the researchers attempted to replicate can be found on the Reproducibility Project website (as can call the data and replication analyses).This may sound like a disappointing day for psychology, but in fact really the opposite is true. Through the Reproducibility Project, psychology and psychologists are blazing a trail, helping shed light on a problem that afflicts all of science, not just psychology. The Project, which was backed by the Association for Psychological Science (publisher of the journal Psychological Science), is a model of constructive collaboration showing how original authors and the authors of replication attempts can work together to further their field. In fact, some investigators on the Project were in the position of being both an original author and a replication researcher."The present results suggest there is room to improve reproducibility in psychology," the authors of the Reproducibility Project concluded. But they added: "Any temptation to interpret these results as a defeat for psychology, or science more generally, must contend with the fact that this project demonstrates science behaving as it should" – that is, being constantly sceptical of its own explanatory claims and striving for improvement. "This isn't a pessimistic story", added Brian Nosek in a press conference for the new results. "The project shows science demonstrating an essential quality, self-correction – a community of researchers volunteered their time to contribute to a large project for which they would receive little individual credit."_________________________________  Open Science Collaboration (2015). Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science Science --further reading--A replication tour de forceDo psychology findings replicate outside the lab?A recipe for (attempting to) replicate existing findings in psychology... Read more »

Open Science Collaboration. (2015) Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science . Science . info:/

  • August 28, 2015
  • 04:05 AM

Autoantibodies not implicated in cases of autism?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Contrary results are a common feature of the autism peer-reviewed research landscape. No sooner does one group publish the next 'big thing' when it comes to the singular term 'autism' than seemingly opposite results follow suit.So it is with the paper under discussion today by Simran Kalra and colleagues [1] (open-access) who concluded that: "The idea that autoantibodies represent an underlying cause or are biomarkers for autism pathophysiology is not supported by this report."Autoantibodies by the way, are part of the process whereby the body's immune system fails to recognise self as 'self' and mounts a response against the body's own tissue. It's a topic that has been discussed quite extensively with the autism spectrum in mind (see here for example) as part of a wider scientific debate about a role for immune function in at least some autism (see here).The Kalra paper is open-access but a few details might be useful:"Serological analysis was performed on typically developing children (n = 55), developmentally delayed children without autism (n = 24) and children diagnosed with autism (n = 104)." I believe this cohort of children were part of a larger study titled: 'Clinical and Immunological Investigations of Subtypes of Autism'.Based on an interesting analytical method - Luciferase Immunoprecipitation Systems (LIPS) - used as an alternative to the more traditional ELISA methods, researchers initially set about looking for the presence of "autoantibodies against GAD65." GAD65 by the way, is part and parcel of the mechanism for synthesising GABA (see a previous post on this topic). They then extended the study focus to look for antibodies "against several other autoimmune-associated autoantigens, candidate neurological autoantigens, and viral proteins."Results: well, when comparing study samples against samples from three people with diagnosed type 1 diabetes where GAD65 autoantibodies were to be expected to be present (and indeed were): "testing of serum from the typically developed children..., developmentally delayed children... and children with ASD... demonstrated no seropositive autoantibodies to GAD65." Likewise when comparing autism samples with samples from "three positive control samples from subjects with systemic lupus erythematosus" for Ro52 - one of the anti-Ro antibodies found in cases of SLE - there was again nothing of note to see. Collectively the authors conclude that: "These findings rule out the possibility that GAD65 and Ro52 autoantibodies are biomarkers in ASD [autism spectrum disorder]."Among the other results reported is an interesting remark when it comes to a retrovirus called XMRV. For those in chronic fatigue syndrome / myalgic encephalomyelitis circles, XMRV will probably be remembered for all the wrong reasons (see here) albeit with not all questions completely answered (see here). Kalra et al found nothing in terms of seropositivity when it came to autism and XMRV (and another target, mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV)). They do however caution that "additional studies are needed to determine if other infectious agents, or the body's response to such infections agents, might play a role" in some autism.These results are interesting. As per my opening comment on contrary results being part and parcel of autism research, the lack of GAD65 antibodies detailed is in direct contrast to previous findings such as those produced by Rout and colleagues [2] for example. Whilst there may be various reasons for the difference in findings including a role for the analytical method used, I was drawn to one comment made by Rout et al suggesting that there may be a subgroup of children with autism and/or ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) where further characterisation may be needed. That also reduced levels of GAD65 mRNA levels have been reported [3] in relation to autism (with appropriate caveats regarding tissue used for study) does not mean that GAD65 is off the research menu just yet.The lack of XMRV antibody findings reported by Kalra et al in relation to their autism group is not necessarily new news. Previous studies such as the one from Satterfield and colleagues [4] basically said as much.There are of course quite a few other types of autoantibodies and/or antibodies to infective agents that perhaps require more study using the technique utilised by Kalra and colleagues with autism in mind. The various contributions in this research area from the Saudi-Egyptian research tag-team that crop up on this blog every now and again (see here and see here) might be a next port of call. Anti-brain antibodies detailed by other teams might also receive the same treatment (see here). Who knows, researchers might also consider putting a little more flesh on the bones of all that folate receptor autoantibody research that is crying out for independent replication (see here) or even antimitochondrial antibodies (see here). Quite a few areas to consider.As for the infection side of things and realising the important contribution that at least one of the authors on the Kalra paper has made to another area of research (Swedo and PANDAS/PANS) I can think of quite a few research studies to be done. My growing interest in enterovirus and autism (see here) or even enterovirus and ADHD (see here) is again requiring some further investigation. Perhaps a little more 'out there' are the ways and means that the methods detailed by Kalra might also be transferable to more ancient retroviruses such as the HERVs that have been discussed before on this blog (see here) with autism and various other conditions in mind (see here).Music: John Newman - Come And Get It.----------[1] Kalra S. et al. No evidence of antibodies against GAD65 and other specific antigens in children with autism. BBA Clinical. 2015. August 8.[2] Rout UK. et al. Presence of GAD65 autoantibodies in the serum of children with autism or ADHD. Eur Child... Read more »

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