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  • February 28, 2015
  • 10:04 AM

Meditating For Alice In Wonderland Syndrome

by Chiara Civardi in United Academics

Dear Alice’s fan, this poem by Shel Silverstein is titled ‘Alice’ and now it’s your turn: are you ready to go down the rabbit hole again and be guided in our mind’s wonderland? So, let’s see what the blow up-potion and the shrinking-cake are made of.... Read more »

  • February 27, 2015
  • 07:04 PM

ME/CFS is real: confirmation if it is needed...

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Scientists discover robust evidence that chronic fatigue syndrome is a biological illness" went the title of the press release for the study by Mady Hornig and colleagues [1] (open-access) detailing an immune 'signature' and also possible staging of the illness.I couldn't help but wince at some of the media headlines reporting on this study as 'proof' that chronic fatigue syndrome / myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is a real illness. As I've indicated before on this blog (see here) anyone who has trawled through the collected peer-reviewed research in this area would be hard pressed to arrive at any other conclusion than that CFS/ME is very real and severely impacts on a person's quality of life. I say that accepting that the various definitions and descriptions of the conditions (note the plural) have not always been kind to CFS/ME research and to a large extent, perhaps held back science from making the breakthroughs we've potentially seen with the Hornig results. Hopefully SEID [systemic exertion intolerance disease] might help this process along a little...Back to the paper:The authorship of the latest research paper includes the great and the good of CFS/ME (and autism) research. Mady Hornig and Ian 'virus hunter' Lipkin have talked quite a bit in recent times about their research commitment to CFS/ME following the whole XMRV de-discovery issue a few years back (see here). José Montoya has similarly impressed with the idea that certain anti-virals *might* be indicated for some cases of CFS/ME (see here).Cytokines - those chemical messengers of the immune system - were the target molecules predominating in the Hornig paper taking into account "diagnosis and other clinical variables". Said immune molecules (over 50 of them) were analysed in nearly 300 participants diagnosed with CFS/ME compared against nearly 350 asymptomatic controls. Authors drew on participants derived from two large US studies of CFS/ME, and those all-important case definitions relied on meeting either or both of the "1994 CDC Fukuda criteria... and the 2003 Canadian consensus criteria for ME/CFS." Participants were also categorised according to how long they had reported experiencing symptoms.Results: "No substantive differences were found between cases and controls when short- and long-duration cases were combined and compared with healthy control subjects." You could see how that sentence could be taken by certain people/groups. But... "Analyses that considered duration of illness revealed that early ME/CFS cases had a prominent activation of both pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines as well as a dissociation of characteristic intercytokine regulatory networks." Those describing a shorter duration of illness, as a group, presented with elevated levels of several proinflammatory cytokines than controls or longer illness duration participants. As per the press release: "The association was unusually strong with a cytokine called interferon gamma that has been linked to the fatigue that follows many viral infections, including Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of infectious mononucleosis)." When they say 'unusually strong association', they talk about an odds ratio (OR) of 104.77 (95% CI, 6.975 to 1574.021; P = 0.001) (noting the very wide confidence intervals too).Various other analyses were also applied to the data. "The CART (Classification and Regression Tree) decision tree machine learning method was applied to plasma cytokine and clinical covariate data to find predictors that distinguished ME/CFS cases of short illness duration (≤3 years) from those with a long illness duration (>3 years)." In that respect, the age of participants seemed to play something of a role in the results obtained. But, the authors also acknowledge that this data was "not then validated on an independent test set."Discussions surround the possible reasons for the results obtained, particularly how symptom duration seemed to play an important role in the authors' findings. I do like the idea that "an “exhaustion” of the cytokine-producing cells" might account for why there seems to be a 'burst' of immune system involvement in the early stages of the disease followed by a kind of cytokine burn-out. "The study supports the idea that ME/CFS may reflect an infectious "hit-and-run" event" is one way of looking at it.What's more to say about this work? Well, we might be seeing 'immune markers' mentioned a little more in CFS/ME research circles in the near future on top of what has been previously reported (see here). Whether specific cytokine profiles might be considered 'diagnostic' for CFS/ME needs quite a bit more replication before anyone gets too ahead of themselves. That being said, as and when such a profile is detected, one might reasonably assume that there could be ways and means to intervene. Another quote: "There are already human monoclonal antibodies on the market that can dampen levels of a cytokine called interleukin-17A that is among those the study shows were elevated in early-stage patients." I say this without making any judgement calls nor providing anything that looks, sounds or smells like clinical/medical advice. I might also advance the idea that other factors might also link into something like IL-17A (see here).I'm also minded to say that the excitement over immune issues being associated with CFS/ME shouldn't also push other areas back into the shadows as per the very interesting findings being reported on things like mitochondrial function (see here), the gut microbiota (see here) and potential intervention options (see here) to name but a few.Still, only a few months into 2015 and CFS/ME (or SEID if you wish) is really making some research headlines...----------[1] Hornig M. et al. Distinct plasma immune signatures in ME/CFS are present early in the course of illness. Science Advances. 2015; 1: 1: e1400121.----------Mady Hornig, José G. Mo... Read more »

Mady Hornig, José G. Montoya, Nancy G. Klimas, Susan Levine, Donna Felsenstein, Lucinda Bateman, Daniel L. Peterson, C. Gunnar Gottschalk, Andrew F. Schultz, Xiaoyu Che.... (2015) Distinct plasma immune signatures in ME/CFS are present early in the course of illness. Science Advances, 1(1). info:/

  • February 27, 2015
  • 12:02 PM

Good News, Northerners: Birds from Harsher Climates Are Smarter

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

You won't see a chickadee shoveling out a parking space and claiming it with a folding chair, no matter how good your binoculars are. But birds, too, have to be resourceful when they live in inhospitable climates. Travel just 600 meters up a mountain, and you'll find chickadees vastly more clever than their peers living a more comfortable life below.

How do you test the cleverness of birds? Using tubes with tasty worms inside, naturally. Biologists don't like to call animals "smart," thou... Read more »

  • February 27, 2015
  • 11:17 AM

How Deep Mind learns to win

by neuroecology in Neuroecology

About a year ago, DeepMind was bought for half a billion dollars by Google for creating software that could learn to beat video games. Over the past year, DeepMind has detailed how they did it. Let us say that you were … Continue reading →... Read more »

Mnih V, Kavukcuoglu K, Silver D, Rusu AA, Veness J, Bellemare MG, Graves A, Riedmiller M, Fidjeland AK, Ostrovski G.... (2015) Human-level control through deep reinforcement learning. Nature, 518(7540), 529-533. PMID: 25719670  

Volodymyr Mnih, Koray Kavukcuoglu, David Silver, Alex Graves, Ioannis Antonoglou, Daan Wierstra, & Martin Riedmiller. (2013) Playing Atari with Deep Reinforcement Learning. arXiv. arXiv: 1312.5602v1

  • February 27, 2015
  • 04:37 AM

Hyperprolactinemia and risperidone use in autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The findings reported by Yaowaluck Hongkaew and colleagues [1] (open-access) on prolactin levels being "positively and significantly associated with risperidone dose" in cases of children and adolescents diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the point of discussion today.Prolactin by the way, is the hormone most commonly associated with stimulating breast development and milk production in women. To quote from the US National Institute of Health (NIH) entry on prolactin: "There is no known normal function for prolactin in men." Risperidone is a neuroleptic (antipsychotic) which has quite a few clinical indications including for the management of irritability in (some) autism [2]. Indeed, risperidone is one of the few (only?) drugs to be specifically approved for pediatric autism and dealing with irritability.It's been known for a while that risperidone use is associated with elevations in prolactin levels [3]. More recently, the research base has expanded to suggest that various factors might impact on the elevations in prolactin correlated with risperidone use [4] including "sex, pubertal stage, psychiatric disease, and associated autoimmune disorders."So, then to the Hongkaew study which is open-access but...Data on 147 children and young adults diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were included for study. "All participants receiving a risperidone-based regimen for at least 4 weeks were enrolled in this study." Researchers also made sure that (a) medication was taken before the donation of a blood sample, and (b) participants were not taking other medications "that could potentially affect risperidone metabolism and prolactin elevation." This did not however exclude all other medicines.Said blood draws was analysed for serum prolactin concentration using a chemiluminescence immunoassay system.Results: "mean risperidone dose of the subjects was 1 mg/day or 0.03 mg/kg/day" and "mean duration of therapy was 46.06 months". Sixty-six participants (44%) presented with hyperprolactinemia - elevated levels of serum prolactin - most of whom were male. Dosage of risperidone also seemed to have an effect on prolactin results: "The median prolactin level at the high dose was significantly higher than at the recommended dose and low dose" based on categorisations of dose higher or lower than the FDA recommended amount taking into account body weight.Duration of treatment, age, weight and other variables did not show any statistical correlation with prolactin levels.The authors conclude: "This information will be helpful to clinicians by providing significantly important clinical information to properly inform therapeutic practice and prevent sexual dysfunction consequently in autistic children treated with risperidone."I don't mean to come down too hard on risperidone with this post but this is not the first time that prolactin levels have been reported as elevated when it comes to autism [5] following the use of this pharmaceutic. Aside from the aesthetic changes potentially associated with higher prolactin levels and in particular, their potential effects on males (the subject of litigation), there is some suggestion in the literature that elevations in prolactin over the longer term might elevate risk of certain other issues [6] albeit correlation not necessarily being the same as causation and reiterating the duration of treatment measured by Hongkaew et al. As an aside, I'm going to be coming to the paper by Stubbs and colleagues [7] in the near future in light of other work on the potential effects of elevated prolactin.Insofar as the use of risperidone for managing irritability in cases of autism, I've talked before about it's usefulness in this area and how certain adjuvant therapies might also help (see here). Accepting that irritability under the heading of 'challenging behaviours' is a mighty complicated issue (see here) and potentially tied into many different factors, there remains a place for risperidone under certain circumstances (assuming good medicines management accompanies such use). Still, the collected literature on prolactin and risperidone use with autism in mind adds a cautionary note to this medicine and other relations allied to other important side-effects such as weight gain. Use and monitor with care is perhaps the important message from the Hongkaew and other data...Music: the quite controversial Disarm from the Smashing Pumpkins.----------[1] Hongkaew Y. et al. Hyperprolactinemia in Thai children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder treated with risperidone. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2015 Jan 22;11:191-6.[2] Dinnissen M. et al. Clinical and pharmacokinetic evaluation of risperidone for the management of autism spectrum disorder. Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol. 2015 Jan;11(1):111-24.[3] Aboraya A. et al. Hyperprolactinemia associated with risperidone: a case report and review of literature. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2004 Nov;1(3):29-31.[4] Margari L. et al. Prolactin variations during risperidone therapy in a sample of drug-naive children and adolescents. Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 2015 Mar;30(2):103-8.[5] Anderson GM. et al. Effects of short- and long-term risperidone treatment on prolactin levels in children with autism. Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Feb 15;61(4):545-50.[6] Tworoger SS. et al. A 20-year prospective study of plasma prolactin as a risk marker of breast cancer development. Cancer Res. 2013 Aug 1;73(15):4810-9.[7] Stubbs B. et al. Schizophrenia and the risk of fractures: a systematic review and comparative meta-analysis. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2015 Jan 15. pii: S0163-8343(15)00005-5.----------Hongkaew Y, Ngamsamut N, Puangpetch A, Vanwong N, Srisawasdi P, Chamnanphon M, Chamkrachchangpada B, Tan-Kam T, Limsila P, & Sukasem C (2015). Hyperprolactinemia in Thai children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder treated with risperidone. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 11, 191-6 PMID: 25653528... Read more »

Hongkaew Y, Ngamsamut N, Puangpetch A, Vanwong N, Srisawasdi P, Chamnanphon M, Chamkrachchangpada B, Tan-Kam T, Limsila P, & Sukasem C. (2015) Hyperprolactinemia in Thai children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder treated with risperidone. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 191-6. PMID: 25653528  

  • February 26, 2015
  • 03:04 PM

Dr. Frankenstein might be impressed, the human head transplant

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Sure it sounds like something from the book Frankenstein, but Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group has made it known that he intends to announce at this summer’s American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons meeting, that he believes he has put together a group of techniques that should make it possible to attach a human donor body to a head.... Read more »

  • February 26, 2015
  • 11:02 AM

Some student-professor pairings lead to "unusually effective teaching" (and it's possible to predict which ones)

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Video trailers can be used to predict whichlecturers are the best teachers, and whichstudents they are especially suited to.In the near future, students could be presented with a series of video trailers of different professors at their university. Based on their ratings of these videos, the students will be paired with the professors who provide the best fit. The outcome will be superior learning, and greater student satisfaction.That's the promise of a new study that asked 145 psychology undergrads to rate 6-minute teaching videos of 10 different professors, and then to rate their experience of an actual 40-minute live lecture with those same professors taken several weeks later.Jennifer Gross and her colleagues explain that student evaluations of professors are made up of three key factors: each professor's actual ability (this component tends to correlate across ratings given by different students); each student's rating bias (this component correlates across the ratings given by the same student to different professors – for example, some students are more lenient in their ratings than others); and relationship effects.This last component that is one of the key points of interest in the new study. It pertains to the specific fit, or not, between a professor and a student. When there is a good fit, this leads to unusually high ratings by that student for the professor, above and beyond what you'd expect given the student's usual rating bias, and given the level of ratings the professor usually attracts.To zoom in on these relationship effects simply requires factoring out each student's rating bias, and each professor's average rating across students.The exciting finding is that the researchers were able to use the students' ratings of, and their mood during, the 6-minute trailers to forecast how they later rated the actual lectures, including predicting which professors got the highest average ratings after the lectures, and predicting relationship effects.This result is important, the researchers explained, because the students' memory for material taught in a given lecture was independently related both to that lecturer's average ratings (some lecturers are better than others), but also to the specific relationship effects (i.e. whether the student in question had given that lecturer unusually high ratings – the sign of a good professor/student fit)."These findings support the possibility of developing online systems that would provide personalised recommendations that specific students take courses from specific professors," the researchers said.However, they acknowledged that their results need to be replicated, and they also outlined some limitations of the study. This included the fact they'd carefully compiled the 6-minute trailers to showcase each professor's teaching style (a time-consuming endeavour); that the live evaluations involved just one lecture rather than an entire course; and that the professors' teaching skills were confounded with the topics they taught._________________________________  Gross, J., Lakey, B., Lucas, J., LaCross, R., R. Plotkowski, A., & Winegard, B. (2015). Forecasting the student-professor matches that result in unusually effective teaching British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85 (1), 19-32 DOI: 10.1111/bjep.12049 --further reading--Engaging lecturers can breed overconfidenceIs it time to rethink the way university lectures are delivered?Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Gross, J., Lakey, B., Lucas, J., LaCross, R., R. Plotkowski, A., & Winegard, B. (2015) Forecasting the student-professor matches that result in unusually effective teaching. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(1), 19-32. DOI: 10.1111/bjep.12049  

  • February 26, 2015
  • 02:43 AM

Carnitine and autism continued

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper from everyone's favourite Saudi - Egyptian autism research tag-team that is Gehan Mostafa and Laila AL-Ayadhi [1] (open-access) on plasma polyunsaturated fatty acids and serum carnitine levels in a cohort of children diagnosed with autism / autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is served up for your reading delight today.Regular readers of this blog might have heard me talk before about the pretty interesting research findings to come from this research partnership (see here and see here for example) covering all-manner of different sectors of the autism research environment.This times around the name of the game was: "to investigate plasma levels of PUFAs [polyunsaturated fatty acids] and serum carnitine in relation to GI [gastrointestinal] manifestations in autistic children." The idea being that: "Carnitine and PUFAs are antiinflammatory molecules and their deficiency may result in GI inflammation and gut injury" following other work with autism in mind (see here).A few pointers about the study might be in order:"This cross-sectional study was conducted on 100 children with autism." Participants ranged in age between 3-10 years and importantly were not taking additional fatty acids or anticonvulsants. A control group of 100 age- and sex-matched children asymptomatic for autism were also studied: "not related to the children with autism, and demonstrated no clinical findings suggestive of immunological, GI or neuropsychiatric disorders."Autism severity was assessed using the CARS and GI issues were examined "by an experienced pediatric gastroenterologist according to the Questionnaire on Pediatric Gastrointestinal Symptoms - Rome III Version used by previous studies that assessed gastrointestinal dysfunction in autism." Fasting blood samples were also provided and serum carnitine and plasma PUFAs examined.Results: both biological measures were lower as a group for the children with autism compared to controls. Indeed: "Low serum carnitine and plasma DHA [Docosahexaenoic acid], AA [Arachidonic acid], linolenic and linoleic acids, below the 5th percentile of the control values, were found in 66%, 62%, 60%, 43% and 38%, respectively of autistic children."Bearing in mind that PUFAs can exist in more than one form as per the old omega-3 / omega-6 issue (see here), authors also reported a group difference in the ratio of ω6/ω3 PUFAs: "ω6/w3 ratio (AA/DHA) was significantly higher in autistic patients" compared with controls. This is something also reported by the authors in other publications [2].GI symptoms were reported to be present in about half of the autism group. An important sentence is included about GI issues: "They were recurrent, severe and the patients were attending the clinic because of these agonizing symptoms." Further: "Autistic patients with GI manifestations had significantly lower serum carnitine and plasma DHA than patients without such manifestations."I know I tend to say this about nearly every study I blog about but this is interesting work. Carnitine and autism is an area which I've got quite a bit of time for on this blog and the growing consistency in results suggesting lower levels of this stuff in quite a few cases of autism (see here). Some of the genetics of carnitine metabolism might also be 'linked' to at least some autism too (see here) with a particular focus on the idea of inborn errors of metabolism. Certainly, autism research should know a thing or two about them (see here).The relationship between fatty acids and autism reflects a slightly less clear picture in terms of results. In a post going back to 2011, I talked about some of the peer-reviewed research on the use of supplementary fatty acids for autism (see here) and how certain comorbidity present in quite a bit of autism (see here) might be the bigger target. More recent research has kinda corroborated that idea (see here)."How GI factors are related to autism is not yet clear" is another important quote from the authors. Yes, we are now in an era where there is general acceptance that certain functional GI issues are over-represented among those with autism (see here) but the hows and whys are still the source of significant speculation. I'd be minded to suggest that it's likely to be complicated and probably without a universal factor for everyone with autism and GI issues. There are some areas emerging that may yield further information such as examination (not hype) of those trillions of wee beasties which call our gut home (see here) and a 'possible' relationship with more pathological bowel states (see here). The Mostafa/AL-Ayadhi findings suggest another possible correlate.I leave you with a quote from the authors: "these data should be treated with caution until further investigations are performed, with a larger subject population, to determine whether the occurrence of GI manifestations is a mere association or a consequence to reduced plasma PUFAs and serum carnitine levels in autistic patients." I couldn't agree more.Music then. The Strokes with New York City Cops.----------[1] Mostafa GA. & AL-Ayadhi LY. Reduced levels of plasma polyunsaturated fatty acids and serum carnitine in autistic children: relation to gastrointestinal manifestations. Behavioral and Brain Functions 2015, 11:4. [2] Mostafa GA. et al. A possible association between elevated serum levels of brain-specific auto-antibodies and reduced plasma levels of docosahexaenoic acid in autistic children. J Neuroimmunology. 2015. Jan 27.----------Mostafa, G., & AL-Ayadhi, L. (2015). Reduced levels of plasma polyunsaturated fatty acids and serum carnitine in autistic children: relation to gastrointestinal manifestations Behavioral and Brain Functions, 11 ... Read more »

  • February 25, 2015
  • 09:30 AM

Examining Evidence for Leaderboards and Learning

by Richard Landers in NeoAcademic

As I described in my last post, gamification is often misused and abused, applied in ways and in situations where it is unlikely to do much good. When we deploy new learning technologies, the ultimate goal of that change should always be clear, first and foremost. So how do you actually go about setting that sort of […]The post Examining Evidence for Leaderboards and Learning appeared first on NeoAcademic.Related articles from NeoAcademic:Psychological Theory and Gamification of Learning More Evidence for Video Games as Instructors How to Gamify Your Teaching: The Processes of Gamification Testing Improves Learning; Quizzing Improves Student Exam Scores Designing Learning Games to Maximize Engagement ... Read more »

  • February 25, 2015
  • 08:30 AM

Why You Need to Socialize Your Puppy

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

The importance of socialization can’t be stressed enough.These days, more and more people understand that puppies need to be socialized. But sometimes people wonder, how do we know this? It’s based on classic research in canine science.Many papers contribute to our understanding of puppies. In 1950, J.P. Scott and Mary-‘Vesta Marston published a study of 17 litters, including the earliest age at which they opened their eyes for the first time, began to walk, and engaged in play. They hypothesized there were critical periods in canine development. In 1959, C.J. Pfaffenberger and J.P. Scott noticed that puppies being raised to be guide dogs were more likely to fail their training if they were kept in kennels for longer and missed some early socialization.Then in 1961, Daniel Freedman, John King and Orville Elliott published research on puppies in Science. They said, “the net result suggests that the seventh week of age was the period in which the pups were most receptive to socialization, and that 2½ to 9-13 weeks of age approximates a critical period for socialization to human beings.”They studied eight litters of puppies (five of Cocker Spaniels, three of Beagles). It was an isolation experiment in which each mother and her pups were kept in a fenced one-acre field without any contact with people. Food and water was supplied via openings in the fence. Every week, certain pups were taken from each litter for 7 days of socialization. The socialization does not match what people do for puppies nowadays; in fact, during their week indoors, the pup was played with, fed and otherwise taken care of, during just three thirty minute sessions per day. Pups were taken from their litters for socialization at either 2, 3, 5, 7 or 9 weeks of age. At the end of the week, they were returned to their mum and litter-mates. Every day during the socialization there was a 10 minute test of how much time the puppy would spend near the experimenter. The 2-week old pups were too young to really do anything. But by 3 weeks, they were able to interact with the experimenter and “spent most of the 10 minute period pawing, mouthing and biting him and his garments.” At 5, 7 and 9 weeks old it is reported that the pups were initially wary but then warmed up (within one play session, two days and three days respectively). Photos: Lex-art (top); Zuzule (both 14 weeks old, all of the puppies were removed from the field and tested over the following 2 weeks.Five puppies acted as ‘controls’ and remained in the field with their mother the entire time. The result of not being socialized was terrible. The scientists said, “unless socialization occurred before 14 weeks of age, withdrawal reactions from humans became so intense that normal relationships could not thereafter be established.” One of the control puppies was “petted and fondled” every day for the following three months, and did not really become more sociable in that time. It’s interesting to look back at this article because science – and dog training – has improved since it was conducted. Full details of the socialization are not given and the numbers of puppies are small. These days proper desensitization and counter-conditioning would be used for a fearful pup (subjecting it to unwanted petting could make it even more fearful). Nonetheless, these results tell us a lot. They tie in with other studies of the time, including raising Chihuahua puppies with cats (Fox, 1969). They relate to what is known about sensitive periods in other animals (including humans). But now that we know how harmful lack of socialization is, the study would not be repeated today.Socializing puppies is about more than just people. It involves pleasant experiences with unknown dogs, surfaces, places, anything that puppy might come across as an adult. Socialization should start in the home of the breeder, or the foster home if it is a rescue (puppies are available from rescues too). If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder or rescue what they do to socialize puppies, and be prepared to do lots of socialization yourself.In her book Culture Clash, Jean Donaldson says “it’s advisable to go way overboard covering all the bases before the socialization window closes, especially for spookier breeds or individuals. This means exposing the puppy to as wide a social sphere as possible in terms of human age groups, sexes, sizes, shapes, colours and gaits. The experiences should be positive (play, treats, nothing scary) and include a wide variety of patting, handling and movement by the humans. It also means getting the puppy used to anything it may have to encounter in later life, such as car rides, veterinary exams (make the first one or two fun rather than scary), cats, traffic, soccer games, elevators and pointy sticks.”There is a balance to be struck in socializing puppies to prevent future behaviour problems and protecting them from disease when they are not fully immunized. This is something to discuss with your vet. The AVSAB position statement on puppy socializationsays, “Because the first three months are the period when sociability outweighs fear, this is the primary window of opportunity for puppies to adapt to new people, animals and experiences. Incomplete or improper socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioural problems later in life including fear, avoidance, and/or aggression. Behavioural problems are the greatest threat to the owner-dog bond… Behavioural issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age.”“The importance of a critical period for socialization is hard to overestimate,” says Jean Donaldson. It’s important to get it right. And because dog training is an unlicensed profession, this means you should choose your puppy’s dog trainer with care.What are your tips for socializing a puppy?ReferencesDonaldson, Jean (2005, 2nd edition). Culture Clash: A revolutionary new way of understanding the relationship between humans and domestic dogs. Dogwise.... Read more »

  • February 25, 2015
  • 06:01 AM

The six forms of resistance shown by participants in Milgram's notorious "obedience studies"

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

When discussing Milgram's notorious experiments, in which participants were instructed to give increasingly dangerous electric shocks to another person, most commentators take a black or white approach.Participants are categorised as obedient or defiant, and the headline result is taken as the surprising number of people – the majority – who obeyed by going all the way and administering the highest, lethal voltage.A new study takes a different stance by looking at the different acts of resistance shown by Milgram's participants, regardless of whether they ultimately completed the experiment. This isn't the first time researchers have explored defiance in the Milgram paradigm (for example, see this 2011 study, and last year's reinterpretation of the findings), but it's the most comprehensive analysis of resistance as revealed through the dialogue in Milgram's original studies.Sociology doctoral researcher Matthew Hollander has purchased and transcribed audio recordings of 117 of Milgram's participants taken from different versions of the seminal 1960s research. He has carefully analysed the three-way conversational interactions between the experimenter, each participant playing the role of "teacher", and the "learner" (actually an actor) who was subjected to the shocks and cried out in pain and protest. From these interactions, Hollander has identified six different forms of resistance, three implicit and three explicit.The three implicit forms of resistance were: silences and hesitations (e.g. after the experimenter has instructed the participant to continue with the process); imprecations (often in response to cries from the learner); and laughter. The claim about laughter is controversial because earlier commentators have interpreted laughter by Milgram's participants as a worrying sign of sadism. Hollander is interested in those specific instances when participant laughter followed commands from the experimenter – this laughter, he believes, was an act of resistance because it was intended to show the participant's ability to cope with the difficult situation.The three explicit forms of resistance were: addressing the learner (e.g. asking him if he's happy to continue); prompting the experimenter (e.g. either querying whether it's necessary to continue, or telling him that the learner is in pain); and finally "stop tries", in which the participant stated he or she did not want to continue.Comparing participants who ultimately obeyed all the way to the highest shock, and those who refused to complete the experiment, there are some revealing similarities and differences in the forms of resistance they used along the way.Most participants who completed the experiment, and those who refused, used the implicit "wait and see" resistance strategies, which Hollander says were designed to delay the continuation of the experiment, presumably in the hope that the experimenter would halt proceedings. But only the participants who, at some stage, refused to complete the experiment, used the explicit strategy of addressing the learner – effectively granting him the authority to dictate whether the process should continue. These defiant participants also used more "stop tries" – 98 per cent used at least one, compared with just 19 per cent of the participants who ultimately completed the experiment.Hollander said his conversation-analytic approach promised to "open up new perspectives on an old experiment whose legacy lives on." What's more, he believes the same approach could usefully be applied to other settings. By improving our understanding of the interpersonal dynamics of authority and the resistance to authority, such research "could save lives and empower potential victims," he said._________________________________  Hollander, M. (2015). The repertoire of resistance: Non-compliance with directives in Milgram's ‘obedience’ experiments British Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12099 --further reading--More on Stanley Milgram in the Research Digest archive.Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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  • February 25, 2015
  • 05:31 AM

Analysing the salivary proteome in autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper from Armand Ngounou Wetie and colleagues [1] (open-access here) reporting pilot results from a mass spectrometry based proteomic analysis of saliva in cases of autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared with asymptomatic controls is served up for your reading delight today. There has already been some media attention about this paper (see here).It's an interesting paper for quite a few reasons; not least the continuing voyage of the analytical technique known as mass spectrometry into autism research (see here) and further beyond [2]. Mass spec by the way, represents a rather advanced way of looking at biological samples for potential biomarkers or compounds of interest to specific states or conditions (among other things). Ngounou Weite et al have some research form in this area as per a previous paper titled: 'Mass spectrometry as a tool for studying autism spectrum disorder' [3] which I would encourage you to peruse for some background reading.Their latest study delves into an interesting analytical medium, saliva, something we all generally have and importantly, something pretty non-invasive when it comes to collecting a sample [4]. "Using nano liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, we found statistically significant differences in several salivary proteins" the authors report, comparing saliva samples from those with autism vs. asymptomatic controls. The sorts of differences detected between the groups - quite small groups (N=6 per) - tended to fall into the domain of 'immune function' as per issues with neutrophil elastase and various antigen binding sites of immunoglobulin. Indeed, the authors conclude: "Our results indicate that this is an effective method for identification of salivary protein biomarkers, support the concept that immune system and gastrointestinal disturbances may be present in individuals with ASDs." I would agree with those sentiments.Aside from the small participant groups and the fact that all participants were male and many carried some comorbidity (ADHD, epilepsy) alongside their autism label, 4 of the participants with autism were taking some kind of pharmaceutic/nutraceutical compared with none of the controls. As per other biomarker studies of autism, one always needs to be a little mindful of any effects from these factors particularly when looking at functional biofluids. In terms of the mass spec method, it all looks pretty comprehensive including the use of Q-ToF as the detector of choice and pooled group samples run in triplicate to ensure some kind of reproducibility in results. The authors did subject saliva samples to some preparation before analysis as per their focus on peptide content and a "full MS scan [that] covered the m/z range from 400 to 1,350". What this might mean is that some very low molecular weight compounds and indeed, potentially important larger compounds might have escaped their attention. But certainly I'm not going to quibble about this for now.Of course this is not the first time that saliva has been used as an analytical medium in autism research (see here) outside of just looking at parameters such as cortisol (see here). And I assume it won't be the last either...Music to close: Jane's Addiction and Stop.----------[1] Ngounou Wetie AG. et al. A Pilot Proteomic Analysis of Salivary Biomarkers in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Res. 2015 Jan 27. doi: 10.1002/aur.1450.[2] Dumas M-E. & Davidovic L. Metabolic Profiling and Phenotyping of Central Nervous System Diseases: Metabolites Bring Insights into Brain Dysfunctions. Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology. 2015. Jan 24.[3] Wood AG. et al. Mass spectrometry as a tool for studying autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Molecular Psychiatry 2013; 1: 6.[4] Wormwood KL. et al. Salivary proteomics and biomarkers in neurology and psychiatry. Proteomics Clin Appl. 2015 Jan 29.----------Ngounou Wetie AG, Wormwood KL, Russell S, Ryan JP, Darie CC, & Woods AG (2015). A Pilot Proteomic Analysis of Salivary Biomarkers in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research PMID: 25626423... Read more »

Ngounou Wetie AG, Wormwood KL, Russell S, Ryan JP, Darie CC, & Woods AG. (2015) A Pilot Proteomic Analysis of Salivary Biomarkers in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research. PMID: 25626423  

  • February 25, 2015
  • 12:02 AM

Can’t stand the sounds of chewing, loud breathing, or pen clicking? Dutch psychiatrists propose that may be the symptom of a new disorder

by Megan Cartwright in Science-Based Writing

Dutch psychiatrists have proposed that misophonia – a hypersensitivity to common, irritating noises like eating, loud breathing, and pen clicking – be classified as its own psychiatric disorder. After evaluating 42 Dutch patients with the disorder, the psychiatrists concluded that … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • February 24, 2015
  • 10:15 PM

Most supernatural beliefs are about avoiding harm, not bringing benefit

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

A survey of supernatural beliefs across cultures around the world has found that beliefs involving hazards and harms were about 50% more common than beliefs about benefits, opportunities and other good things. Daniel Fessler, at the University of California, and colleagues searched a representative dataset of 60 cultures held at the Human Relations Area Files [Read More...]... Read more »

  • February 24, 2015
  • 10:31 AM

Recruiters think they can tell your personality from your resume. They can't

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Recruiters are poor at inferring an applicant’s personality from their resume, but that doesn’t stop them from jumping to conclusions on the back of their flawed assumptions. That’s according to a new study that involved over a hundred professional recruiters evaluating pairs of resumes.The US-based recruiters estimated applicant personality from the limited information in short two-page resumes. Their estimates were poorly correlated with the self-ratings made by the MBA students who’d written the resumes. But the recruiters appeared to rely heavily on these flawed estimates when drawing conclusions on hireability, as their personality estimates accounted for almost half of the variance in their decision-making. Meanwhile the students’ self-ratings – a more reliable source of information on true personality – were a poor predictor of whether the recruiters would favour them.Another experiment involved 266 participants recruited online and asked to play the role of recruiter. This time, the set of resumes were broken down into their component parts, revealing that a range of elements can provoke personality judgments, from the look and feel of the resume (setting off recruiter inferences about conscientiousness), to mentions of voluntary activities (triggering assumptions of extraversion and agreeableness) and computer skills (interpreted as a sign of openness to experience).The participants in this experiment were most likely to form conclusions about conscientiousness, extraversion and openness to experience and, like the professional recruiters, the more they saw an element having something to say about personality, the more relevant they saw it for assessing hireability.As a resume is often the first impression an applicant gives to a potential employer, it’s worth understanding the assumptions they make, argue Gary Burns and his colleagues, who conducted these experiments. The researchers suggest taking time to give a fair impression of yourself, and recommend some less obvious take-aways such as giving detailed information about your education, describing your extracurricular activities, and steering clear of unusual fonts._________________________________ Burns, G., Christiansen, N., Morris, M., Periard, D., & Coaster, J. (2014). Effects of Applicant Personality on Resume Evaluations Journal of Business and Psychology, 29 (4), 573-591 DOI: 10.1007/s10869-014-9349-6 Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Burns, G., Christiansen, N., Morris, M., Periard, D., & Coaster, J. (2014) Effects of Applicant Personality on Resume Evaluations. Journal of Business and Psychology, 29(4), 573-591. DOI: 10.1007/s10869-014-9349-6  

  • February 24, 2015
  • 05:53 AM

Only Non-Depressed See Monster In The Mirror

by chiara civardi in United Academics

Try this experiment and you will have goosebumps all over your body: stare at your face in the mirror in a dimly lit room. Keep staring at yourself for a few minutes. Hey, wait! What was that? Did you see it? Was it a monster, an animal, your deformed face, someone else you know, or a stranger?... Read more »

  • February 24, 2015
  • 04:38 AM

Maternal recall vs. medical records: implications for autism research

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I don't want to dwell too much on the findings reported by Paula Krakowiak and colleagues [1] talking about the accuracy of "maternally-reported diabetes and hypertensive disorders, and reliability of BMI [body mass index] measurements during periconception and pregnancy compared with medical records when mothers are interviewed 2-5 years after delivery" but they are potentially important.With authors such as Krakowiak and Irva Hertz-Picciotto on the paper in question, those who follow the autism research scene might have already made the connection back to the CHARGE (CHildhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) study (beincharge!) as the source of the current data. Indeed from CHARGE, findings such as a link between maternal obesity and offspring autism risk (see here) and maternal diabetes and autism (see here) have been previously discussed on this blog. For the most part, examination of such factors linked to subsequent offspring autism diagnosis has been through self-report and post-event questioning which potentially opens up such studies to various forms of bias.The results from Krakowiak et al seemed to suggest when questioned about such issues: "self-reported diabetes and hypertensive disorders during periconception and pregnancy show high validity among mothers." Further: "Recall of pre-pregnancy BMI is reliable compared with self-reported values in medical records." In other words, still with some caution, families involved in initiatives such as CHARGE can and do quite accurately communicate their medical history. Of course this is not the first time that science has shown parentally-derived medical information to be pretty accurate when it comes to autism as per the Gorrindo findings [2]: "sensitive to the existence, although not necessarily the nature of" gastrointestinal issues related to autism (see here). That being said, developmental history recall is still subject to some forms of bias (see here).There's little more for me to say about this topic aside from highlighting how: "Multiparity was associated with higher discrepancies in BMI and misreporting of hypertensive disorders" suggestive that 'the state of having borne a number of children' might interfere with recall in these areas. Still, when it comes to asking parents about their health and wellbeing before, during and after the birth of their children with autism research in mind and without over-generalising, one might be a little less critical of the value of the information received.Music to close: The Flaming Lips and Race For The Prize. Scientists... don't race for the prize!----------[1] Krakowiak P. et al. Maternal Recall Versus Medical Records of Metabolic Conditions from the Prenatal Period: A Validation Study. Matern Child Health J. 2015 Feb 6.[2] Gorrindo P. et al. Gastrointestinal dysfunction in autism: parental report, clinical evaluation, and associated factors. Autism Res. 2012 Apr;5(2):101-8.----------Krakowiak P, Walker CK, Tancredi DJ, & Hertz-Picciotto I (2015). Maternal Recall Versus Medical Records of Metabolic Conditions from the Prenatal Period: A Validation Study. Maternal and child health journal PMID: 25656730... Read more »

  • February 23, 2015
  • 03:54 PM

Mistargeted Messages Could Spur Help-Seeking for Depression

by amikulak in Daily Observations

From decades of research, scientists have developed effective, empirically-validated interventions for treating major depression and, yet, many people suffering from depression don’t receive these treatments. While there can be many reasons […]... Read more »

  • February 23, 2015
  • 12:45 PM

Work harder by remembering you don't have to work

by Katharine Blackwell in Contemplating Cognition

What things will you do this week, not because you particularly want to, but because you feel you have to? For many people, this probably includes everything work related, from waking up early in the morning, to gritting teeth through a rush hour commute, to trying to stay awake through a particularly torturous meeting. Whatever obligation you are dreading this week, would it help you get through it if you remembered that, strictly speaking, you don’t have to do it?... Read more »

  • February 23, 2015
  • 10:34 AM

The “Backfire Effect”: Correcting false beliefs about vaccines can be surprisingly counterproductive

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Nearly half of the US population wrongly believes the flu vaccine can give you flu,but correcting this error has the opposite of the desired effectBy guest blogger Simon OxenhamAccording to a new study, 43 per cent of the US population wrongly believes that the flu vaccine can give you flu. In actual fact this is not the case – any adverse reaction, besides a temperature and aching muscles for a short time, is rare. It stands to reason that correcting this misconception would be a good move for public health, but the study by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler published in Vaccine found that debunking this false belief had a seriously counterproductive effect.The researchers looked at 822 US adults who were selected to reflect the general population in terms of their mix of age, gender, race and education. About a quarter of this sample were unduly concerned about the side effects of the flu vaccine. It is amongst these individuals, that attempting to correct the myth that the flu vaccine gives you flu backfired. The researchers showed participants information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which was designed to debunk the myth that the flu vaccine can give you flu. This resulted in a fall in people's false beliefs but, among those concerned with vaccine side-effects, it also resulted in a paradoxical decline in their intentions to actually get vaccinated, from 46 per cent to 28 per cent. The intervention had no effect on intentions to get vaccinated amongst people who didn't have high levels of concerns about vaccine side effects in the first place.Why is it that as false beliefs went down, so did intentions to vaccinate? The explanation suggested by the researchers is that the participants who had "high concerns about vaccine side effects brought other concerns to mind in an attempt to maintain their prior attitude when presented with corrective information". A psychological principle that might explain this behaviour is motivated reasoning: we are often open to persuasion when it comes to information that fits with our beliefs, while we are more critical or even outright reject information that contradicts our world view.This is not the first time that vaccine safety information has been found to backfire. Last year the same team of researchers conducted a randomised controlled trial comparing messages from the CDC aiming to promote the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The researchers found that debunking myths about MMR and autism had a similarly counterproductive result - reducing some false beliefs but also ironically reducing intentions to vaccinate.Taken together, the results suggest that in terms of directly improving vaccination rates, we may be better off doing nothing than using the current boilerplate CDC information on misconceptions about vaccines to debunk false beliefs. If this is the case then the ramifications for public health are huge, but before we can decide whether this conclusion is accurate we'll have to wait to see if the finding can be replicated elsewhere. History has taught us that when it comes to vaccines, acting on scant evidence can have catastrophic consequences.The studies do have their limitations: both looked at intentions to vaccinate rather than actual vaccination rates, which may be different in practice. Furthermore, in both sets of experiments, only the official US CDC vaccine safety messages were used. It is possible that if the experiments were repeated with other wordings, perhaps those used by the NHS in the UK for example, we would see different results.If the backfire effect is replicated in future studies, how are we to proceed? Research into the backfire effect can provide some tentative suggestions. To begin with, it is likely we should avoid restating myths wherever possible and when we must restate myths, we should try to precede the myth with a warning that misleading information is coming up. This can help prevent myths from growing in our minds through mere familiarity. When we debunk myths we should also try to offer an alternative explanation for false beliefs, to fill the gap left by misinformation. We should also try to keep our explanations brief, which can help counter the imbalance that often occurs between simple, memorable myths and the more complicated reality. What is clear from the recent findings regarding beliefs about vaccines and the recent outbreaks in vaccine preventable diseases in the UK, the US and elsewhere, is that what we are currently doing to try to convince people to get vaccinated — may no longer be working._________________________________ Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (2015). Does correcting myths about the flu vaccine work? An experimental evaluation of the effects of corrective information Vaccine, 33 (3), 459-464 DOI: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.11.017... Read more »

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