This time of year is a rough one is the Southeast. It's a time of angiosperm related hyprocrisy. It's so pretty outside that it cries out for Easter egg hunts, picnics, and other outside activities.
(it really does look like this)
Unfortunately, once the weather is warm for a few days, it looks like this.
(Sci's car this morning, only it was worse than that. RUN FOR YOUR LIVES.)
As you might be able to imagine, this sort of thing means that the sneezing rate in the south has a remarkable uptick in the spring (though there's no data on this, and compared to fall and summer allergies and winter colds, Sci might indeed just be spouting off lies right now).
But did you know that there are some people who will sneeze on a bright, sunny day, regardless of the pollen count? Did you know WHY?!
Langer et al. "When the Sun Prickles Your Nose: An EEG Study Identifying Neural Bases of Photic Sneezing" PLoS ONE, 2010.
And the best part of this study, what do you CALL the "photic sneeze reflex"?
ACHOO (Autosomal Cholinergic Helio-Ophtalmologic Outburst) syndrome. Some grad students who came up with this were probably giggling hysterically over their beers for this one.
(Sci would like to note that she sneezed no less than about 5 times during this write-up, though probably not due to sunlight) Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Langer N, Beeli G, & Jäncke L. (2010) When the sun prickles your nose: an EEG study identifying neural bases of photic sneezing. PloS one, 5(2). PMID: 20169159
tags: evolutionary biology, behavioral ecology, molecular ecology, personality, novelty seeking, exploratory behavior, dopamine receptor, dopamine receptor D4 gene, DRD4 gene polymorphism, ornithology, birds, Great Tit, Parus major, bpr3.org/?p=52,peer-reviewed research, peer-reviewed paper
Bold or cautious? Individuals with a particular gene variant are very curious --
but only in some populations.
Image: Henk Dikkers.
Research shows that personality variations are heritable in humans and other animal species, and there are many hypotheses as to why differences in personality exist and are maintained. One approach for investigating the heritability of personality lies in identifying which genes underlie specific personality traits so scientists can then determine how the frequencies of specific variants of personality-related genes change in both space and time as well as in relation to changing environmental influences. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
KORSTEN, P., MUELLER, J., HERMANNSTÄDTER, C., BOUWMAN, K., DINGEMANSE, N., DRENT, P., LIEDVOGEL, M., MATTHYSEN, E., van OERS, K., van OVERVELD, T.... (2010) Association between DRD4 gene polymorphism and personality variation in great tits: a test across four wild populations. Molecular Ecology, 19(4), 832-843. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2009.04518.x
A few months ago, I asked Why Do We Sleep?That post was about sleep researcher Jerry Siegel, who argues that sleep evolved as a state of "adaptive inactivity". According to this idea, animals sleep because otherwise we'd always be active, and constant activity is a waste of energy. Sleeping for a proportion of the time conserves calories, and also keeps us safe from nocturnal predators etc.Siegel's theory in what we might call minimalist. That's in contrast to other hypotheses which claim that sleep serves some kind of vital restorative biological function, or that it's important for memory formation, or whatever. It's a hotly debated topic.But Siegel wasn't the first sleep minimalist. J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley created a storm in 1977 with The Brain As A Dream State Generator; I read somewhere that it provoked more letters to the Editor in the American Journal of Psychiatry than any other paper in that journal.Hobson and McCarley's article was so controversial because they argued that dreams are essentially side-effects of brain activation. This was a direct attack on the Freudian view that we dream as a result of our subconscious desires, and that dreams have hidden meanings. Freudian psychoanalysis was incredibly influential in American psychiatry in the 1970s.Freud believed that dreams exist to fulfil our fantasies, often though not always sexual ones. We dream about what we'd like to do - except we don't dream about it directly, because we find much of our desires shameful, so our minds disguise the wishes behind layers of metaphor etc. "Steep inclines, ladders and stairs, and going up or down them, are symbolic representations of the sexual act..." Interpreting the symbolism of dreams can therefore shed light on the depths of the mind.Hobson and McCarley argued that during REM sleep, our brains are active in a similar way to when we are awake; many of the systems responsible for alertness are switched on, unlike during deep, dreamless, non-REM sleep. But of course during REM there is no sensory input (our eyes are closed), and also, we are paralysed: an inhibitory pathway blocks the spinal cord, preventing us from moving, except for our eyes - hence why it's Rapid Eye Movement sleep.Dreams are simply a result of the "awake-like" forebrain - the "higher" perceptual, cognitive and emotional areas - trying to make sense of the input that it's receiving as a result of waves of activation arising from the brainstem. A dream is the forebrain's "best guess" at making a meaningful story out of the assortment of sensations (mostly visual) and concepts activated by these periodic waves. There's no attempt to disguise the shameful parts; the bizarreness of dreams simply reflects the fact that the input is pretty much random.Hobson and McCarley proposed a complex physiological model in which the activation is driven by the giant cells of the pontine tegmentum. These cells fire in bursts according to a genetically hard-wired rhythm of excitation and inhibition.The details of this model are rather less important than the fact that it reduces dreaming to a neurological side effect. This doesn't mean that the REM state has no function; maybe it does, but whatever it is, the subjective experience of dreams serves no purpose.A lot has changed since 1977, but Hobson seems to have stuck by the basic tenets of this theory. A good recent review came out in Nature Neuroscience last year, REM sleep and dreaming. In this paper Hobson proposes that the function of REM sleep is to act as a kind of training system for the developing brain.The internally-generated signals that arise from the brainstem (now called PGO waves) during REM help the forebrain to learn how to process information. This explains why we spend more time in REM early in life; newborns have much more REM than adults; in the womb, we are in REM almost all the time. However, these are not dreams per se because children don't start reporting experiencing dreams until about the age of 5.Protoconscious REM sleep could therefore provide a virtual world model, complete with an emergent imaginary agent (the protoself) that moves (via fixed action patterns) through a fictive space (the internally engendered environment) and experiences strong emotion as it does so.This is a fascinating hypothesis, although very difficult to test, and it begs the question of how useful "training" based on random, meaningless input is.While Hobson's theory is minimalist in that it reduces dreams, at any rate in adulthood, to the status of a by-product, it doesn't leave them uninteresting. Freudian dream re-interpretation is probably ruled out ("That train represents your penis and that cat was your mother", etc.), but if dreams are our brains processing random noise, then they still provide an insight into how our brains process information. Dreams are our brains working away on their own, with the real world temporarily removed.Of course most dreams are not going to give up life-changing insights. A few months back I had a dream which was essentially a scene-for-scene replay of the horror movie Cloverfield. It was a good dream, scarier than the movie itself, because I didn't know it was a movie. But I think all it tells me is that I was paying attention when I watched Cloverfield.On the other hand, I have had several dreams that have made me realize important things about myself and my situation at the time. By paying attention to your dreams, you can work out how you really think, and feel, about things, what your preconceptions and preoccupations are. Sometimes.Hobson JA, & McCarley RW (1977). The brain as a dream state generator: an activation-synthesis hypothesis of the dream process. The American journal of psychiatry, 134 (12), 1335-48 PMID: 21570Hobson, J. (2009). REM sleep and dreaming: towards a theory of protoconsciousness Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10 (11), 803-813 DOI: 10.1038/nrn2716... Read more »
Hobson JA, & McCarley RW. (1977) The brain as a dream state generator: an activation-synthesis hypothesis of the dream process. The American journal of psychiatry, 134(12), 1335-48. PMID: 21570
Hobson, J. (2009) REM sleep and dreaming: towards a theory of protoconsciousness. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(11), 803-813. DOI: 10.1038/nrn2716
We’ve looked at brain regions and development during word related tasks (word generation, reading and repeating), but we haven’t yet looked at a straight up study of word recognition and development.
What’s the best task to use to study visual word recognition? You can have people read out loud, but that involves processes like speech generation. Likewise, reading sentences or paragraphs
... Read more »
The perils of a hypersensitive dopamine system.
The brooding, antisocial loner, the one with impulse control problems, a penchant for risk-taking, and a cigarette dangling from his lip, is a recognizable archetype in popular culture. From Marlon Brando to Bruce Lee, these flawed heroes are perhaps the ones with restless brain chemicals; the ones who never felt good and never knew why (“What are you rebelling against?” “What’ve you got?”).
A recent study at Vanderbilt University, published in Nature Neuroscience, used PET scans and fMRI imaging to suggest that impulsivity and other “antisocial” traits “predicted nucleus accumbens dopamine release and reward anticipation-related activity in response to pharmacological and monetary reinforcers, respectively.”
In other words, the Vanderbilt researchers maintained that so-called “psychopathic traits” like impulsivity and risk taking are linked to addiction and gambling by means of an overly active dopamine system. PET scans of dopamine responses to a low dose of amphetamine showed that “individuals who scored high on a personality assessment that teases out traits like egocentricity, manipulating others, and risk taking had a hypersensitive dopamine response system,” according to a press release from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which funded the study.
Putting a different spin on the matter, NIDA director Nora Volkow said: “By linking traits that suggest impulsivity and the potential for antisocial behavior to an overreactive dopamine system, this study helps explain why aggression may be as rewarding for some people as drugs are for others.”
Lead author Joshua Buckholtz of Vanderbilt said that “the amount of dopamine released was up to four times higher in people with high levels of these traits, compared to those who scored lower on the personality profile. Buckholtz suggested that a pattern of exaggerated dopamine responses “could develop into psychopathic personality disorder.”
Dr. Robert Cloninger, a prominent addiction researcher, has asserted in the past that children who show a high propensity for risk-taking, along with impulsivity, or “novelty-seeking,” are more likely to develop alcoholism and other addictions later in life.
And, in interviews with the late psychologist Henri Begleiter for my book on addiction science, Begleiter insisted that addicts were stuck with a package of symptoms he called behavioral dysregulation. “Disinhibition, impulsivity, trouble fitting into society—you have certain behavioral disorders in kids who later develop into alcoholics and drug addicts,” he said. The behavior itself doesn’t cause the addiction. The dysregulated behavior is a symptom of the addiction.”
“When you talk to these people, as I have,” Begleiter said, “you see that the one thing they pretty much all report is that, under the influence of the drug, they feel much more normal. It normalizes their central nervous systems. Initially, what they have is a need to experience a normal life.”
So, it wasn’t ducktails, pool halls, tattoos, casual sex, or lack of parental involvement that caused addiction to alcohol and cigarettes and pot, and maybe cocaine and speed and heroin. It wasn’t just the “bad kids.” Irrational anger, impulsive decisions, certain compulsive behaviors like gambling—these behaviors were symptoms of the same group of related disorders that included drug and alcohol addiction, and which involved specific chemicals and areas of the brain related to reward, motivation, and memory.
The trait of impulsivity is a possible marker for addiction that may help explain why it is usually impossible to persuade addicts to give up their drugs by sheer force of logic—by arguing that the drugs will eventually ruin their health or kill them. “They tell me it’ll kill me,” sang Dave Van Ronk, “but they don’t say when.”
Consider the always-instructive case of cigarette smoking. In 1964, the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health laid out the case for the long-term ill effects of nicotine quite effectively—and millions of people quit smoking. A stubborn minority did not, and many of them still have not. Are they simply being hedonistic and irresponsible? Or are the long-term negative consequences, so dramatically clear to others, simply not capable of influencing their thinking to the same degree? Biochemical abnormalities similar to those predisposing certain people to addiction may also prevent them from comprehending the long-term results of their behavior.
Buckholtz, J., Treadway, M., Cowan, R., Woodward, N., Benning, S., Li, R., Ansari, M., Baldwin, R., Schwartzman, A., Shelby, E., Smith, C., Cole, D., Kessler, R., & Zald, D. (2010). Mesolimbic dopamine reward system hypersensitivity in individuals with psychopathic traits Nature Neuroscience, 13 (4), 419-421 DOI: 10.1038/nn.2510
Graphics Credit: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/
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Buckholtz, J., Treadway, M., Cowan, R., Woodward, N., Benning, S., Li, R., Ansari, M., Baldwin, R., Schwartzman, A., Shelby, E.... (2010) Mesolimbic dopamine reward system hypersensitivity in individuals with psychopathic traits. Nature Neuroscience, 13(4), 419-421. DOI: 10.1038/nn.2510
What is Context? How Do We Use It?
What Happens When We Lose It?
One of our most essential life skills is the ability to build context - the core assumptions which enable effective choice of behavior. The literatures on posttraumatic growth, many forms of therapy, recovery from depression or significant loss describe new context as a foundational achievement: recovery happens as we create better, more valid assumptions about ourselves and the world around us.
Two other foundational qualities for recovery and growth are the development of new abilities and the development of social relationships and the associated capacity for self-regulation. In many cases, these qualities are present, just neglected. The building of positive context can reveal these capacities. In other words, as we develop wisdom, we discover new capabilities and relationships we couldn’t recognize earlier.
Traumatic events cause the invalidation of highly significant assumptions. Trauma destroys context. After the trauma, we grow with the development of positive context or wither as such development is neglected. Consider these two definitions:
Tedeschi and Calhoun:1
Psychological crisis can be defined in relation to the extent to which the fundamental components of the assumptive world are challenged, including assumptions about the benevolence, predictability, and controllability of the world; one's safety is challenged, and one's identity and future are challenged. The "seismic" set of circumstances severely challenges, contradicts, or may even nullify the way the individual understands why things happen, in terms of proximate causes and reasons, and in terms of more abstract notions involving the general purpose and meaning of the person's existence. Such threats to the assumptive world are accompanied by significant levels of psychological distress.
Brewin et al. (1996):2
Trauma generally involves a violation of basic assumptions connected with survival as a member of a social group. These include assumptions (not necessarily conscious ones) about personal invulnerability from death or disease, status in a social hierarchy, the ability to meet internal moral standards and achieve major life goals, the continued availability and reliability of attachment figures, and the existence of an orderly relation between actions and outcomes.
Any quality of learning beyond primal instinct and reflex is context - our somatic markers, biases, scripts, schemas, personalized mind-blindness, unchallengeable doubts and certainties, internal working models, values and personality. Context is nothing less than the applicable portion of our model of both the world and also how we most effectively and efficiently respond to it.
Context is positive if it affirms possibility and capacity. Positive context leads to useful behaviors. Positive context promotes attunement to the present state of mind and body. We can have positive context for negative circumstances and scenarios: the assumption we should flee in the presences of certain threats is a positive assumption.
Context is negative if it is absent, inappropriate generalized or abstract, or worse, if it is a negation of possibility or capacity. Context is negative if it emphasized the presumption of accuracy over positivity. Negative context often promotes behaviors which neglect present circumstances.
When we take time to “think,” to “access higher order cognitive functions,” we are accessing our ingrained knowledge base so we can efficiently choose the most effective behavior. As we access context, we develop behaviors with more accuracy and nuance. It would be like taking care with what you say rather than blurting out the first thoughts.
When we lose access to food and shelter, or are wounded, our physical living is threatened. We lose life fitness. When we lose context, our decisioning will be too fast (denying access to higher-order functions) or too slow (worsening peril are losing opportunity), and less effective because of lack of core understanding. Here again, we have lost life fitness. When we lose context, we face the horror of psychic annihilation. We are overwhelmed by our own life experience.
(For a greater discussion on the role of life fitness, see How Loss Creates Depression And Growth)
Posttraumatic growth is the consequence of the struggle to rebuild physical resources, regulatory resources (such as friendships or relationships) and context. Of the three, context is likely the most significant.
Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004), again:
Because of the affect involved, and the restructuring of the fundamental components of the assumptive world, growth seems to have a qualitative and quantitative difference in trauma survivors. Their attributions that growth was accomplished because of, and in the aftermath of, the struggle with trauma may be acknowledgments that much cognitive processing and affective engagement went into the changes they report. Research indicates that when persons who have experienced severe trauma have been compared with those who do not report trauma, positive personal changes are reported at a reliably higher level among trauma survivors.
So understanding how we use and lose context should offer some ideas about how to approach the creation of new, more positive and vital context.
The Body And the ‘What Is That?’
Each iota of experience is the product of body change in response to an emotionally salient object: Body-as-it-was, object, body-as-it-is. These body changes are emotions. A simple organism swims along and enters a patch of acidic water. It reacts and swims away. For a patch of food-rich water, it swims in and enjoys the bounty. The condition of the water changes the behavior of the organism.
However hard-wired by evolution, there is a process of assessment (what is that?) and behavior choice (what do I do?). Together, the answers drive the primal first sentence of experience: body-as-it-was, object, body-as-it-is - simple-organism, acidic-water, organism-fleeing. The answers determine the enacted emotion.
Assessment gathers input from our senses. We have one set of memories for such information. We compose the what from the primal question what is that? We simultaneous retrieve context from our prior experience and innate reflexes to prefigure that. We have a contextual memory to hold this evolving concept.
The Dual Memory Model
Chris Brewin et al. (2010):3
Evidence from cognitive psychology and neuroscience implies distinct neural bases to abstract, flexible, contextualized representations (C-reps) and to inflexible, sensory-bound representations (S-reps)... [Our] model is used to explain how the different types of distressing visual intrusions associated with clinical disorders arise, in terms of the need for correct interaction between the neural systems supporting S-reps and C-reps.
When an event occurs (our body encounters and object), we pay attention to the object and ask the primal question - what is that? We notice things and take in the salient information. We experience the remembered presence of this event.
At the instance of the encounter, we create two types of representations: sensory-based representations (s-reps) of the things we notice and contextual-based representations of the assumptions we make. When the object is as we expect, the s-rep and the c-rep correspond and there are few distinctions to notice. It fades from our attention.
For example, I turn to stare at the wall as I write. The wall looks (s-rep) as it is supposed to look (c-rep). I continue to stare, thinking about my writing, not about the wall. Core understanding could give rise to qualities such as mind blindness. We could choose to search for novelty amidst prefigured familiarity, but our choice would not reflect qualities of being startled or curious. In fact, such behavior might simply reflect boredom.
When something is not as it supposed to be, we experience novelty, core understanding, and speculative assumptions. Novelty is an s-rep without associated c-rep. Familiar information within prefigured context (the core understanding) is an s-rep matched to a c-rep. Speculative assumptions are c-reps unsupported by the core understanding. The combination of novelty and speculation creates emotional salience.
An event causes body change. We emote. I use the following diagram as a generalized form of body-as-it-was - ▲1, object - ▼1, body-as-it-is - ▲2: ▲▼▲. (For more information, see the discussion of the primal first sentence footnoted below).4 The presence of ▼1 cause a body change (the difference between ▲2 and ▲1).
Our choice of emotion is based the ... Read more »
Tedeschi, R., & Calhoun, L. (2004) TARGET ARTICLE: "Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence". Psychological Inquiry, 15(1), 1-18. DOI: 10.1207/s15327965pli1501_01
Brewin, C., Gregory, J., Lipton, M., & Burgess, N. (2010) Intrusive images in psychological disorders: Characteristics, neural mechanisms, and treatment implications. Psychological Review, 117(1), 210-232. DOI: 10.1037/a0018113
The five senses are usually studied in isolation and there is no doubt that this ‘divide and conquer’ method has given us very valuable insight into the way the brain processes sensory information. However, in our daily life, we combine inputs from all sensory channels to make sure we know what’s happening around us. If [...]... Read more »
 Belkin, K., Martin, R., Kemp, S., & Gilbert, A. (1997) AUDITORY PITCH AS A PERCEPTUAL ANALOGUE TO ODOR QUALITY. Psychological Science, 8(4), 340-342. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.1997.tb00450.x
 Piesse, G. (1867) The art of perfumery, and the methods of obtaining the odors of plants. By G. W. Septimus Piesse. Second American, from the third London edition. Lindsay . Journal of the Franklin Institute, 83(6), 423-424. DOI: 10.1016/0016-0032(67)90381-X
 Wesson DW, & Wilson DA. (2010) Smelling sounds: olfactory-auditory sensory convergence in the olfactory tubercle. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 30(8), 3013-21. PMID: 20181598
by Robert Deyes in Promega Connections
The plans had been made, details finalized and all expenses paid. I was to travel to the south coast of England to complete my training for the British Sub-Aqua Club Sports Diver certificate. I boarded a train from London’s Waterloo station down to the quiet seaside resort of Bournemouth where I was received [...]... Read more »
Russell DW. (1996) UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3): reliability, validity, and factor structure. Journal of personality assessment, 66(1), 20-40. PMID: 8576833
Cole SW, Hawkley LC, Arevalo JM, Sung CY, Rose RM, & Cacioppo JT. (2007) Social regulation of gene expression in human leukocytes. Genome biology, 8(9). PMID: 17854483
Eisenberger NI, Lieberman MD, & Williams KD. (2003) Does rejection hurt? An FMRI study of social exclusion. Science (New York, N.Y.), 302(5643), 290-2. PMID: 14551436
So I’m in Las Vegas, gambling capital of the world. And I was reminded of the Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler. And of this video of Kenny Rogers singing The Gambler with the muppets. Because the muppets make everything better.
Figure 1: Isn’t the whole guy dying and turning into a ghost thing a little much [...]... Read more »
I have been following, and am passionate about, the positive psychology movement for quite some time, but was surprised to discover that there was something called positive neuroscience also in place. I recently came across this new scientist article about the research paper of Rex Jung et al and was pleased to discover More >Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
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Novelty Seeking and Reward Dependence: the dopamine white matter connection. I had earlier wrote extensively on Cloninger’s personality temperaments and proposed that dopamine...
Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorder: The propensity towards psychosis Schizophrenia, as we all know, is one of the most...
... Read more »
Jung, R., Grazioplene, R., Caprihan, A., Chavez, R., & Haier, R. (2010) White Matter Integrity, Creativity, and Psychopathology: Disentangling Constructs with Diffusion Tensor Imaging. PLoS ONE, 5(3). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009818
Haskins Laboratories - brain areas activated during reading.An unfocused and rambling article in the New York Times the other day was excited about the potential use of neuroimaging to revive the gloomy state of university literature departments. It also tried to convey the importance of evolutionary psychology in explaining fiction. The piece opened with Professor Lisa Zunshine discussing Phoebe's complex theory of mind in the sitcom Friends:(Follow closely now; this is about the science of English.) Phoebe and Rachel plot to play a joke on Monica and Chandler after they learn the two are secretly dating. The couple discover the prank and try to turn the tables, but Phoebe realizes this turnabout and once again tries to outwit them.As Phoebe tells Rachel, “They don’t know that we know they know we know.” 1The juxtaposition of ideas makes perfect sense, now doesn't it?Theory of mind is "the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own." ToM has been studied by cognitive and developmental psychologists for a long time (quite nicely) without input from English professors.But the Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know continues, trying to convince us of the coming revolution.. . .At a time when university literature departments are confronting painful budget cuts, a moribund job market and pointed scrutiny about the purpose and value of an education in the humanities, the cross-pollination of English and psychology is a providing a revitalizing lift.Jonathan Gottschall, who has written extensively about using evolutionary theory to explain fiction, said “it’s a new moment of hope” in an era when everyone is talking about “the death of the humanities.” To Mr. Gottschall a scientific approach can rescue literature departments from the malaise that has embraced them over the last decade and a half. Zealous enthusiasm for the politically charged and frequently arcane theories that energized departments in the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s — Marxism, structuralism,2 psychoanalysis — has faded. Since then a new generation of scholars have been casting about for The Next Big Thing.So literature is abandoning Marxism and psychoanalysis in favor of neuroimaging!! Meanwhile, key neuroimagers have taken up psychoanalysis (Carhart-Harris & Friston, 2010) and socialism (Tricomi et al., 2010).These recent efforts seem to fit into the recently maligned microfield of neuro-lit-crit. An article by Raymond Tallis appeared in The Times Literary Supplement with the provocative title, "The Neuroscience Delusion." Its central theme?Neuroaesthetics is wrong about our experience of literature – and it is wrong about humanity....The literary critic as neuroscience groupie is part of a growing trend.We have become accustomed over the past half-century to critics sending out to other disciplines for “theoretical frameworks” in which to place their engagement with works of literature. The results have often been dire, the work or author in question disappearing in a sea of half-comprehended or uncritically incorporated linguistics, mathematics, psychiatry, political theory, history, or whatever.Tallis was writing in response to an article by acclaimed novelist A.S. Byatt on how the scientific zeitgeist influences contemporary writers. In an obvious example, the centrality of sex in Darwinian and Freudian thought had a clear impact on the novels of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. Byatt also looks ahead to the possible role of neuroscience in illuminating artistic understanding:Novel thoughtsNeuroscience is helping us to understand how art works – and it may offer us a way out of narcissism. . ....Neuroscience, and the study of the activity of the brain, is beginning to bring its own illumination to our understanding of how art works, and what it is. I have come to see the delight in making connections – of which metaphor-making is one of the most intense – as perhaps the fundamental reason for art and its pleasures. Philip Davis, at Liverpool University, has been working with scientists on responses to Shakespeare’s syntax, and has found that the connecting links between neurones stay “live” – lit up for longer – after responding to Shakespeare’s words, especially his novel formations of verbs from nouns, than they do in the case of “ordinary” sentences.I critiqued an early version of the Shakespeare study, before it was published in a peer-reviewed journal (by Thierry et al., 2008). At the time, press coverage was rather simplistic (and incorrect) about the observed findings, using phrases like "the brain is positively excited" to describe an EEG component of positive polarity. However, the published paper was written by an expert on EEG studies of language and is quite respectable. That is part of the point here: it's best to not leave the neuroimaging media sound bytes entirely up to the English professors.3In brief, Thierry, Davis and colleagues wanted to observe what happens to the brain when people read passages containing the Shakespearean functional shift, a linguistic device that involves using a noun to serve as a verb (for example).To explain a little, the researchers recorded EEG while participants read selections from Shakespeare. They were looking for EEG signatures of semantic violations (indexed by a negative voltage brain wave at ~400 msec, called the N400) and syntactic violations (indexed by a positive-voltage brain wave at ~600 msec, called the P600).Above figure from a different study, published in Biological Psychology by Isel et al. (2006)The brain waves were obtained by averaging a bunch of EEG trials together, and these event-related potential (ERP) components reflect summed electrical activity (post-synaptic potentials) from a huge number of pyramidal cells, recorded remotely from the scalp (to put it simply). The polarity of these components (i.e., positive or negative) does not indicate whether they are excitatory or inhibitory.The stimulus materials were well-controlled for a number of factors. Some example sentences are given below.Alternatives to the critical word are given between brackets. The functional shift is in bold, followed by... Read more »
Thierry, G., Martin, C., Gonzalez-Diaz, V., Rezaie, R., Roberts, N., & Davis, P. (2008) Event-related potential characterisation of the Shakespearean functional shift in narrative sentence structure. NeuroImage, 40(2), 923-931. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.12.006
by Robert Deyes in Promega Connections
Promega Connections post about the how social connections influence the brain.... Read more »
Russell DW. (1996) UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3): reliability, validity, and factor structure. Journal of personality assessment, 66(1), 20-40. PMID: 8576833
Sci was going to try and stick with the sex this week, but this paper reminded her SO much of this article in the New Yorker, which then reminded her SO much of that awesome YouTube video, and the next thing you knew Sci had to blog bees on crack. It's how I roll.
But first, let's get in the mood:
(Nice web, crack spider)
And from the New Yorker:
There's that fat kid again. I'm going to sting this whole family! "Aah!" They're running! I'm buzzing, I'm buzzing, I'm buzzing, this is incredible. I'm in the car! I'm in the car. I'm in the car! Everyone's screaming and flailing and . . .
And let's go.
Barron et al, 2009. "Effects of cocaine on honey bee dance behaviour" Journal of Experimental Biology, 2009.
(The authors are Australian. I wonder very much if they deliberately put "behavior" in the title so they could spell it like that and get us Americans all ornery. :) )
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Have you ever read a science story in a newspaper and just not understand what the point of the research was?
Alex Buque looks at the recent moral compass and magnets hoo-haw and wonders what all the fuss is.... Read more »
Young L, Camprodon JA, Hauser M, Pascual-Leone A, & Saxe R. (2010) Disruption of the right temporoparietal junction with transcranial magnetic stimulation reduces the role of beliefs in moral judgments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 20351278
Dyslexic rats? Really? Well, these rats can’t read, but they’re still used as an animal model for dyslexia.
First, some background. The underlying cause of dyslexia is still under debate, but it’s generally accepted that it involves deficits in auditory and phonological (language sounds) processing, with a possibility of visual deficits as well. Post mortem
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In an intriguing political story, it seems that Switzerland is on the verge of voting in legal representation for all victim animals. A key consideration is whether a fish, for example, is a sentient being. Well, I think that is interesting, but I write this because it reminds me of something a mate of mine [...]... Read more »
Edwards SC, & Pratt SC. (2009) Rationality in collective decision-making by ant colonies. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 276(1673), 3655-61. PMID: 19625319
Tero A, Takagi S, Saigusa T, Ito K, Bebber DP, Fricker MD, Yumiki K, Kobayashi R, & Nakagaki T. (2010) Rules for biologically inspired adaptive network design. Science (New York, N.Y.), 327(5964), 439-42. PMID: 20093467
tags: writer's block, psychology, abnormal psychology, cognitive psychology, writing, publishing, career, publish or perish, bpr3.org/?p=52,peer-reviewed research, peer-reviewed paper, journal club
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Didden, R., Sigafoos, J., O'Reilly, M., Lancioni, G., & Sturmey, P. (2007) A Multisite Cross-Cultural Replication of Upper's (1974) Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of Writer's Block. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40(4), 773-773. DOI: 10.1901/jaba.2007.773
Upper, D. (1974) The unsuccessful self-treatment of a case of “writer's block”. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 7(3), 497-497. DOI: 10.1901/jaba.1974.7-497a
Sci would like to note that today's entry is being written on the adorably tiny screen of her netbook, which is named Ruby. Everyone say hi to Ruby!
Unfortunately, this is because her wireless on her normal computer suddenly decided that it was too good for her modem. Perhaps it's an April Fool's Day joke. This is not a good time for this to happen, but of course the not good times ARE the times when this happens, as we all know. And so, until that gets fixed, we are stuck on the netbook, which may mean increased typos and various other things that happen when Sci's hands are confined to a 10" space.
A few days ago Sci looked at a recent study which has come out on dopamine and obesity, which showed changes in reward-related behaviors and changes in the dopamine D2 receptor after rats got really fat. This paper (which apparently some people decided to interpret as "food is just like heroin", which is just silly) was based on the hypothesis that severe chronic overeating results in some changes in the brain which are similar to those seen in drug addiction.
Sci hasn't really looked into this before, but this really began to interest her. She decided to dig in a little, and take a look at some of the clinical literature, in particular some of the human stuff.
And so here we go.
Wang et al. "Brain dopamine and obesity" The Lancet, 2001. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Studies comparing normal reading and dyslexic children often take a snapshot approach, comparing brain function at specific ages. However, these studies don’t tell us how these differences fit into the developmental picture. Are dyslexics following the same developmental course as normal readers, just at a different rate? Or do dyslexic brains develop in a
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Shaywitz BA, Skudlarski P, Holahan JM, Marchione KE, Constable RT, Fulbright RK, Zelterman D, Lacadie C, & Shaywitz SE. (2007) Age-related changes in reading systems of dyslexic children. Annals of neurology, 61(4), 363-70. PMID: 17444510
Jeff Bowers has published a paper or two arguing for the viability of grandmother cells -- cells that represent whole "objects" such as a specific face (or your grandmother's face). At issue, of course, is whether the brain represents information in a localist or distributed fashion and Jeff has used his case for grandmother cells as evidence against a basic assumption of parallel distributed processing (PDP) models. But the PDP folks don't seem to think "distributed" is a necessary property of PDP models. So in the guest post below, Jeff asks, What does the D in PDP actually mean? This is an interesting question, and Jeff would like to know your thoughts (see the new survey to respond). I'd also be interested in your thoughts on grandmother cells!Guest Post from Jeff Bowers:I’ve been involved in a recent debate regarding the relative merits of localist representations and the distributed representations learned in Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP) networks. By localist, I mean something like a word unit in the interactive activation (IA) model – a unit that represents a specific word (like a “grandmother cell”). By distributed, I mean that a familiar word (or an object or a face, etc.) is coded as a pattern of activation across a set of units, with no single unit sufficient for representing an item (you need to consider the complete pattern). In Bowers (2009, 2010) I argue that the neuroscience is more consistent with localist coding compared to the distributed representations in PDP networks, contrary to the widespread assumption in the cognitive science community. That is, single-cell recordings of neurons in cortex and hippocampus often reveal neurons that are remarkably selective in their responding (e.g., a neuron that responds to one face out of many). I took this to be more consistent with localist compared to distributed PDP theories.This post, however, is not with regards to whether localist or PDP models are more biological plausible. Rather, I’m curious as to what people think is the theory behind PDP models; specifically, what is your understanding regarding the relation between distributed representations and PDP models? In Bowers (2009, 2010) I claim that PDP models are committed to the claim that information is coded in a distributed format rather than a localist format. On this view, the IA model of word identification that includes single units to code for specific words (e.g., a DOG unit) is not a PDP model. Neither are neural networks that learn localist representations, like the ART models of Grossberg. On my understanding, a key (necessary) feature of the Seidenberg and McClelland model of word naming that makes it part of the PDP family is that it learns distributed representations of words – it gets rid of localist word representations.However, Plaut and McClelland (2010) challenge this characterization of PDP models. That is, they write:In accounting for human behavior, one aspect of PDP modelsthat is especially critical is their reliance on interactivity andgraded constraint satisfaction to derive an interpretation of an inputor to select an action that is maximally consistent with all of thesystem’s knowledge (as encoded in connection weights betweenunits). In this regard, models with local and distributed representationscan be very similar, and a number of localist models remainhighly useful and influential (e.g., Dell, 1986; McClelland &Elman, 1986; McClelland & Rumlehart, 1981; McRae, Spivey-Knowlton, & Tenenhaus, 1998). In fact, given their clear andextensive reliance on parallel distributed processing, we think itmakes perfect sense to speak of localist PDP models alongsidedistributed ones. (p 289).That is, they argue that the PDP approach is not in fact committed to distributed representations. Elsewhere they write:In fact, the approach takes no specific stance on the number of units thatshould be active in representing a given entity or in the degreeof similarity of the entities to which a given unit responds.Rather, one of the main tenets of the approach is to discoverrather than stipulate representations (p. 286)So on this view, the PDP approach does not rule out the possibility that a neural network might actually learn localist grandmother cells in the appropriate training conditions.With this as background, I would be interested in people’s views on this. Here is my question:Are PDP theories of cognition committed to the claim that knowledge is coded in a distributed rather than a localist format? [see new survey]Thanks for your thoughts,JeffReferencesBowers JS (2009). On the biological plausibility of grandmother cells: implications for neural network theories in psychology and neuroscience. Psychological review, 116 (1), 220-51 PMID: 19159155Bowers JS (2010). More on grandmother cells and the biological implausibility of PDP models of cognition: a reply to Plaut and McClelland (2010) and Quian Quiroga and Kreiman (2010). Psychological review, 117 (1) PMID: 20063980Plaut, D., & McClelland, J. (2010). Locating object knowledge in the brain: Comment on Bowers’s (2009) attempt to revive the grandmother cell hypothesis. Psychological Review, 117 (1), 284-288 DOI: 10.1037/a0017101... Read more »
Bowers JS. (2009) On the biological plausibility of grandmother cells: implications for neural network theories in psychology and neuroscience. Psychological review, 116(1), 220-51. PMID: 19159155
Bowers JS. (2010) More on grandmother cells and the biological implausibility of PDP models of cognition: a reply to Plaut and McClelland (2010) and Quian Quiroga and Kreiman (2010). Psychological review, 117(1), 300. PMID: 20063980
Plaut, D., & McClelland, J. (2010) Locating object knowledge in the brain: Comment on Bowers’s (2009) attempt to revive the grandmother cell hypothesis. Psychological Review, 117(1), 284-288. DOI: 10.1037/a0017101
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