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  • November 9, 2010
  • 08:41 AM

Effect of musical training on school performance: Are all those music lessons worth it?

by Psychology 379 bloggers in Cognition & the Arts

Schools these days have gotten increasingly competitive. And with this increased competition, every parent is looking to give their child an edge so their that they can get into the most prestigious and exclusive academic program. Now I’m not sure if measures as extreme as holding headphones up to a pregnant mother’s stomach to play Bach or Mozart for the baby is the best way to go, but one thing that has been shown to give your child a boost in overall school performance is music lessons.... Read more »

Wetter, O., Koerner, F., & Schwaninger, A. (2008) Does musical training improve school performance?. Instructional Science, 37(4), 365-374. DOI: 10.1007/s11251-008-9052-y  

  • November 9, 2010
  • 07:00 AM

Endocrine Society Practice Guideline on Post-Bariatric Surgery Management

by Arya M. Sharma in Dr. Sharma's Obesity Notes

With the ever-increasing number of patients undergoing bariatric surgery, it is not surprising that professional organisations around the world are publishing a slew of recommendations and guidelines on how best to manage these patients.
The latest guideline on this topic appears this month in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the official journal of The [...]... Read more »

  • November 9, 2010
  • 07:00 AM

Narcissism in High-Functioning Individuals – Big Ego or Severe Disorder?

by Shaheen Lakhan in Brain Blogger

Love seeketh only Self to please, To bind another to its delight, Joys in another’s loss of ease, And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite. – William Blake from “The Clod and the Pebble” Though Blake showed an intuition of the evils of pathological narcissism in the quoted verses, there are certain personality disorders that [...]... Read more »

  • November 9, 2010
  • 07:00 AM

Location, location, location

by David Bradley in Sciencetext

Smart phones and other portable devices are increasingly hooking us into location-based systems so that we can find local services, check in at events, connect with friends and businesses and much more. But, there is a downside to allowing a third party to know your GPS co-ordinates or access your cell phone location – privacy [...]Post from: David Bradley's Sciencetext Tech TalkLocation, location, location
... Read more »

Ali Khoshgozaran, & Cyrus Shahabi. (2010) A taxonomy of approaches to preserve location privacy in location-based services. Int. J. Comput. Sci. Eng., 5(2), 86-96. info:/

  • November 9, 2010
  • 05:30 AM

Surviving HIV

by Becky in It Takes 30

Untreated, HIV is normally a death sentence.  But not quite always.  A small number of people infected with HIV can survive for decades without symptoms.  They’re called “elite controllers”, and — although the fact that they’re healthy makes them hard to identify with certainty — they’re thought to comprise less than 1% of the infected [...]... Read more »

The International HIV Controllers Study. (2010) The Major Genetic Determinants of HIV-1 Control Affect HLA Class I Peptide Presentation. Science. info:/10.1126/science.1195271

  • November 9, 2010
  • 05:30 AM

The future babble of obesity prognostication

by Yoni Freedhoff in Weighty Matters

Lies, damn lies and statistics.Now to be fair I've been primed to disbelieve most future predictions by being mid-way through Dan Gardner's excellent Future Babble, but really, obesity rates to hit 42% is headline news?The headlines referred to a study published last week in PLoS Computational Biology that had some truly fancy Harvard folks hammer out a formula to predict what obesity's going to do down the road. Those fancy folks are building on a prior study of theirs that proved that obesity is socially contagious and this one takes that one to it's apparently logical mathematical landing point of 42% of everyone you know's going to be obese one day.Of course obesity is a highly complicated condition. Yes, it's simple to describe, more energy goes in than out, but ultimately there are a great many variables at play which impact on intake and output.This most recent study doesn't appear to me to address any of those. For instance off the top of my head I would have thought it important in a study of prognostication to provide fancy statistical ways to explain why it wouldn't matter to outcomes if portions sizes continued to grow in restaurants, advertisers continue to ramp up their targeting of children, food delivery becomes even more ubiquitous, incentive or disincentive taxation schemes were enacted, or if suddenly our governments stopped subsidizing the base ingredients that allow food manufacturers to make calories insanely cheap, but hey, I admit quite readily, I'm no mathematician.More importantly I've got to ask, "So what?". Arguing about how high obesity rates are going to climb is about as useful to helping the problem as folks on the Titanic arguing about exactly how big that iceberg is that's looming on the horizon. I realize that basic research is important and I admit that I've been set off more by the news coverage than by the study, but at the end of the day what I'm trying to say is that while I'm sure the intellectual exercise of guesstimating how high obesity rates can climb was personally rewarding for those researchers, I can't help but wish that instead they'd have used their massive collective brainpower to work on something that actually has even the remotest bit of clinical relevance.Quid tum!Hill, A., Rand, D., Nowak, M., & Christakis, N. (2010). Infectious Disease Modeling of Social Contagion in Networks PLoS Computational Biology, 6 (11) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000968[thanks to Idea Sandbox for the graphic up above]

... Read more »

Hill, A., Rand, D., Nowak, M., & Christakis, N. (2010) Infectious Disease Modeling of Social Contagion in Networks. PLoS Computational Biology, 6(11). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000968  

  • November 9, 2010
  • 05:07 AM

Identity crisis

by David Winter in Careers - in Theory

One of the most influential thinkers in the field of developmental psychology was Erik Erikson. Originally a pupil of Freud, he made a name for himself with his work on the development of human social identity. I read about Erikson’s theories when studying for my professional qualification, but most emphasis on developmental theory in careers [...]... Read more »

  • November 9, 2010
  • 04:30 AM

Bombers wearing suicide vests can be detected from a safe distance

by SAGE Insight in SAGE Insight

Sensing and identifying the improvised explosive device suicide bombers: people carrying wires on their body From The Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology Terrorist threats from small devices continue to be a very real global concern. A reminder of the persistent danger from such weapons was flagged just last week as Federal [...]... Read more »

  • November 9, 2010
  • 03:32 AM

The rise of white graphene

by Michael Berger in nanowerk

Along with graphene, boron nanoribbons have attracted more and more fundamental research interest. However, a major challenge in providing experimental evidence is that the preparation of atomically thin boron nanoribbons is very difficult. In new work that represents an important step in bridging theoretical predictions and experimental realization of atomically thin boron nanoribbons, reseaerchers demonstrate the successful fabrication of 'white graphene' nanoribbons - made of thermally and chemically stable atomic layers of hexagonal boron nitride - by unwrapping multiwalled boron nanotubes under delicate argon plasma etching. They show that the insulator-semiconductor electrical transition takes place during this processing and that this typically electrically insulating compound becomes a semiconductor when it is in ribbon morphology. ... Read more »

Zeng, H., Zhi, C., Zhang, Z., Wei, X., Wang, X., Guo, W., Bando, Y., & Golberg, D. (2010) “White Graphenes”: Boron Nitride Nanoribbons via Boron Nitride Nanotube Unwrapping. Nano Letters, 2147483647. DOI: 10.1021/nl103251m  

  • November 9, 2010
  • 03:25 AM

Genes To Brains To Minds To... Murder?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A group of Italian psychiatrists claim to explain How Neuroscience and Behavioral Genetics Improve Psychiatric Assessment: Report on a Violent Murder Case.The paper presents the horrific case of a 24 year old woman from Switzerland who smothered her newborn son to death immediately after giving birth in her boyfriend's apartment. After her arrest, she claimed to have no memory of the event. She had a history of multiple drug abuse, including heroin, from the age of 13. Forensic psychiatrists were asked to assess her case and try to answer the question of whether "there was substantial evidence that the defendant had an irresistible impulse to commit the crime." The paper doesn't discuss the outcome of the trial, but the authors say that in their opinion she exhibits a pattern of "pathologically impulsivity, antisocial tendencies, lack of planning...causally linked to the crime, thus providing the basis for an insanity defense."But that's not all. In the paper, the authors bring neuroscience and genetics into the case in an attempt to providea more “objective description” of the defendant’s mental disease by providing evidence that the disease has “hard” biological bases. This is particularly important given that psychiatric symptoms may be easily faked as they are mostly based on the defendant’s verbal report.So they scanned her brain, and did DNA tests for 5 genes which have been previously linked to mental illness, impulsivity, or violent behaviour. What happened? Apparently her brain has "reduced gray matter volume in the left prefrontal cortex" - but that was compared to just 6 healthy control women. You really can't do this kind of analysis on a single subject, anyway.As for her genes, well, she had genes. On the famous and much-debated 5HTTLPR polymorphism, for example, her genotype was long/short; while it's true that short is generally considered the "bad" genotype, something like 40% of white people, and an even higher proportion of East Asians, carry it. The situation was similar for the other four genes (STin2 (SCL6A4), rs4680 (COMT), MAOA-uVNTR, DRD4-2/11, for gene geeks).I've previously posted about cases in which a well-defined disorder of the brain led to criminal behaviour. There was the man who became obsessed with child pornography following surgical removal of a tumour in his right temporal lobe. There are the people who show "sociopathic" behaviour following fronto-temporal degeneration.However this woman's brain was basically "normal" at least as far as a basic MRI scan could determine. All the pieces were there. Her genotypes was also normal in that lots of normal people carry the same genes; it's not (as far as we know) that she has a rare genetic mutation like Brunner syndrome in which an important gene is entirely missing. So I don't think neurobiology has much to add to this sad story.*We're willing to excuse perpetrators when there's a straightforward "biological cause" for their criminal behaviour: it's not their fault, they're ill. In all other cases, we assign blame: biology is a valid excuse, but nothing else is.There seems to be a basic difference between the way in which we think about "biological" as opposed to "environmental" causes of behaviour. This is related, I think, to the Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations and our fascination with brain scans that "prove that something is in the brain". But when you start to think about it, it becomes less and less clear that this distinction works.A person's family, social and economic background is the strongest known predictor of criminality. Guys from stable, affluent families rarely mug people; some men from poor, single-parent backgrounds do. But muggers don't choose to be born into that life any more than the child-porn addict chose to have brain cancer.Indeed, the mugger's situation is a more direct cause of his behaviour than a brain tumour. It's not hard to see how a mugger becomes, specifically, a mugger: because they've grown up with role-models who do that; because their friends do it or at least condone it; because it's the easiest way for them to make money.But it's less obvious how brain damage by itself could cause someone to seek child porn. There's no child porn nucleus in the brain. Presumably, what it does is to remove the person's capacity for self-control, so they can't stop themselves from doing it.This fits with the fact that people who show criminal behaviour after brain lesions often start to eat and have (non-criminal) sex uncontrollably as well. But that raises the question of why they want to do it in the first place. Were they, in some sense, a pedophile all along? If so, can we blame them for that?Rigoni D, Pellegrini S, Mariotti V, Cozza A, Mechelli A, Ferrara SD, Pietrini P, & Sartori G (2010). How neuroscience and behavioral genetics improve psychiatric assessment: report on a violent murder case. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 4 PMID: 21031162... Read more »

Rigoni D, Pellegrini S, Mariotti V, Cozza A, Mechelli A, Ferrara SD, Pietrini P, & Sartori G. (2010) How neuroscience and behavioral genetics improve psychiatric assessment: report on a violent murder case. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 160. PMID: 21031162  

  • November 9, 2010
  • 01:09 AM

The clock speed of perceptual experience

by Janet Kwasniak in Thoughts on thoughts

Horowitz and group investigated the timing of attention shifts with a number of clever experiments aimed at separating the contributions to the total time of elements of attention shifts.
Abstract: Do voluntary and task-driven shifts of attention have the same time course? In order to measure the time needed to voluntarily shift attention, we devised several [...]... Read more »

Horowitz, T., Wolfe, J., Alvarez, G., Cohen, M., & Kuzmova, Y. (2009) The speed of free will. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62(11), 2262-2288. DOI: 10.1080/17470210902732155  

  • November 9, 2010
  • 12:07 AM

Electrical enhancement of mathematical ability

by Michelle Greene in NeurRealism

Mathematical ability is highly linked to earning power and career success.  A new paper  in Current Biology demonstrates that six days of 20 minute sessions of electrical stimulation over the parietal lobe can increase some numerical literacy tasks, even six months after the stimulation was applied!The electrical stimulation is called transcranial direct-current stimulation (TDCS). In this paradigm, electrodes are placed on the scalp as in EEG, and then a small amount of current (1-2 mA) is applied. In this paper, electrodes were applied to the parietal lobe as injuries to this region can lead to numerical difficulties. Three groups of participants were tested: two experimental groups who received stimulation, with the current going in each direction, and a control group who had electrodes applied, but without electrical stimulation (sham stimulation).During the stimulation, participants were presented with pairs of novel symbols that stood for digits. Participants would learn the value of these symbols by indicating which symbol represented the larger value. As you can see from this figure, all three groups learned the task over the six experimental sessions.Following the learning task, participants would then be given a "numerical Stroop" task to determine the automaticity of the symbol-value relationships. In this task, pairs of symbols are presented with one larger than the other. The larger symbol could be the symbol representing the larger value (congruent condition), could be the same value as the smaller value (neutral condition), or the larger symbol could represent the smaller value (incongruent condition). If the newly learned symbols were being processed as numbers, then the reaction times in the incongruent condition should be longer than neutral while congruent trials should lead to faster reaction times. It turns out that the stimulation did lead to an increased congruity effect, but only when the current was going in one direction (right-annode, left-cathode). In fact, current in the opposite direction seemed to decrease the learning of the symbols!As illustrated in the left-hand figure, sham stimulation led to a ~65ms congruency effect (because even without stimulation, the participants were still learning the task). However, in the right-annode, left-cathode stimulation, the effect was about twice as large, while the opposite stimulation provided no learning at all.Over at Practical Ethics, this paper is being discussed in terms of the societal benefit that could come from increased mathematical ability. Indeed, increasing numerical literacy could indeed decrease poverty and lead to increased innovation as they suggest. I also agree with their general unease about the possibility of "anti-enhancement" of mathematical abilities that is suggested from the right-cathode stimulation condition.Cohen Kadosh, R., Soskic, S., Iuculano, T., Kanai, R., & Walsh, V. (2010). Modulating Neuronal Activity Produces Specific and Long-Lasting Changes in Numerical Competence Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.10.007... Read more »

  • November 8, 2010
  • 08:47 PM

Genomic patterns of pleiotropy and the evolution of complexity (Wang et. al 2010)

by Victor Hanson-Smith in Evolution, Development, and Genomics

Posted by Victor Hanson-Smith, Conor O’Brien, and Bryn Gaertner. One of the grand challenges of evo-devo is to understand how mutations of genetic sequences affect concomitant phenotypic traits.  Eighty-one years ago, Fisher (1930) proposed that every mutation may affect every … Continue reading →... Read more »

Wang Z, Liao BY, & Zhang J. (2010) Genomic patterns of pleiotropy and the evolution of complexity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(42), 18034-9. PMID: 20876104  

  • November 8, 2010
  • 08:41 PM

Caperea alive!

by Darren Naish in Tetrapod Zoology

By now you might be relatively familiar with the bizarre soft tissue and bony anatomy of the peculiar, poorly known Pygmy right whale Caperea marginata [a juvenile Caperea that stranded on New Zealand is shown above; original image by New Zealand Department of Conservation, from Te Papa's Blog]. If you missed the relevant articles you might want to check them out here (on the giant, asymmetrical laryngeal pouch), here (on the vertebrae and ribs) and here (on the skull, ribs and tail). These articles (which were very much thrown together without any planning: they were spin-offs of the [unfinished] pouches, pockets and sacs series) were devoted entirely to the animal's anatomy, and didn't touch on what we know about this weird little whale's ecology and behaviour. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • November 8, 2010
  • 08:31 PM

Ocean acidification negatively affects coral establishment

by Phil Camill in Global Change: Intersection of Nature and Culture

When CO2 from fossil fuels accumulates in the atmosphere, some of it dissolves into the oceans where it reacts with water to form a weak acid (H2CO3) —carbonic acid— that lowers seawater pH and makes it increasingly difficult for corals and other calcitic organisms to form their calcium carbonate (CaCO3) skeletons.
A new study in the [...]... Read more »

Rebecca Albright, Benjamin Mason, Margaret Miller, and Chris Langdon. (2010) Ocean acidification compromises recruitment success of the threatened Caribbean coral Acropora palmata. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. info:/

  • November 8, 2010
  • 07:27 PM

Potential genetic basis for why BPA is harmful to animals

by Phil Camill in Global Change: Intersection of Nature and Culture

In a forthcoming article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Patric Allard and Monica Colaiácovo use a nemotode (round worm) system to explore how BPA damages genetic processes in animals.
BPA ranks among the highest production volume chemicals with a global annual production scale of ≈4 million metric tons. It is commonly used in [...]... Read more »

Patrick Allard and Monica P. Colaiácovo. (2010) Bisphenol A impairs the double-strand break repair machinery in the germline and causes chromosome abnormalities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. info:/10.1073/pnas.1010386107

  • November 8, 2010
  • 07:05 PM

Quantitative Population Impact of Adoption Among California Sea Lions

by Michael Long in Phased

Adoption frequency among California sea lions appears to be between roughly 6% and 17%, and is possibly a major contributor to sea lion populations.... Read more »

  • November 8, 2010
  • 05:18 PM

John Everett, part III.0: If some is good, then more must be better.

by csoeder in Topologic Oceans

Have you ever gone camping with someone who doesn’t know how to build a fire? It might go something like this: you get a pile of twigs burning, and immediately your friend starts piling on huge logs. The fire dwindles. “Hey,” your friend says, “This fire sucks. It must need more logs.” If some fuel [...]... Read more »

Coale, K., Johnson, K., Fitzwater, S., Gordon, R., Tanner, S., Chavez, F., Ferioli, L., Sakamoto, C., Rogers, P., Millero, F.... (1996) A massive phytoplankton bloom induced by an ecosystem-scale iron fertilization experiment in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Nature, 383(6600), 495-501. DOI: 10.1038/383495a0  

Iglesias-Rodriguez, M., Halloran, P., Rickaby, R., Hall, I., Colmenero-Hidalgo, E., Gittins, J., Green, D., Tyrrell, T., Gibbs, S., von Dassow, P.... (2008) Phytoplankton Calcification in a High-CO2 World. Science, 320(5874), 336-340. DOI: 10.1126/science.1154122  

Anthony, K., Kline, D., Diaz-Pulido, G., Dove, S., & Hoegh-Guldberg, O. (2008) Ocean acidification causes bleaching and productivity loss in coral reef builders. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(45), 17442-17446. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0804478105  

  • November 8, 2010
  • 04:36 PM

The Key to Everlasting Love

by eHarmony Labs in eHarmony Labs Blog

Read on to find out what couples can avoid doing in order to make love last a lifetime.... Read more »

Acevedo, B., & Aron, A. (2009) Does a long-term relationship kill romantic love?. Review of General Psychology, 13(1), 59-65. DOI: 10.1037/a0014226  

Hendrick, C., & Hendrick, S. (1986) A theory and method of love. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(2), 392-402. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.50.2.392  

  • November 8, 2010
  • 04:30 PM

Lions and lollipops. The brain’s amazing race for meaning.

by Lorimer Moseley in BodyInMind

Some take the tube, others the train…The Amazing Race in the brain It makes sense that we need to process and respond to some stuff we see quicker than other stuff we see.  Take for instance a lion versus a lollipop.  This paper by Pessoa and Adolphs explores the mechanisms behind emotional processing of visual [...]... Read more »

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