Friday, August 30, 2013

Can Language Reveal the Invisible?

Words can play a powerful role in what we see, according to a study published this month by University of Wisconsin-Madison cognitive scientist and psychology professor Gary Lupyan, and Emily Ward, a Yale University graduate student, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Perceptual systems do the best they can with inherently ambiguous inputs by putting them in context of what we know, what we expect," Lupyan says. "Studies like this are helping us show that language is a powerful tool for shaping perceptual systems, acting as a top-down signal to perceptual processes. In the case of vision, what we consciously perceive seems to be deeply shaped by our knowledge and expectations." more

Thursday, August 29, 2013

US Behavioural Research Studies Skew Positive

US behavioural researchers have been handed a dubious distinction—they are more likely than their colleagues in other parts of the world to exaggerate findings, according to a study published today. The research highlights the importance of unconscious biases that might affect research integrity, says Brian Martinson, a social scientist at the HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who was not involved with the study. “The take-home here is that the ‘bad guy/good guy’ narrative — the idea that we only need to worry about the monsters out there who are making up data—is naive,” Martinson says. more

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Researcher Controls Colleague's Motions in First Human Brain-To-Brain Interface

University of Washington researchers have performed what they believe is the first noninvasive human-to-human brain interface, with one researcher able to send a brain signal via the Internet to control the hand motions of a fellow researcher. Using electrical brain recordings and a form of magnetic stimulation, Rajesh Rao sent a brain signal to Andrea Stocco on the other side of the UW campus, causing Stocco's finger to move on a keyboard. While researchers at Duke University have demonstrated brain-to-brain communication between two rats, and Harvard researchers have demonstrated it between a human and a rat, Rao and Stocco believe this is the first demonstration of human-to-human brain interfacing. more

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Psychedelic Drug "Erases Fear" in Mice

Juan Sanchez-Ramos (University of South Florida): One theme of research in our lab is the regulation by drugs and environmental variables of hippocampal neurogenesis (the birth of new neurons). The role of neurogenesis in learning, especially in classical conditioning, was of interest to us, but not especially fear conditioning. Research by others (T. Shors and E. Gould at Rutgers) had demonstrated that obliteration of hippocampal neurogenesis with a chemotherapeutic agent resulted in inability to acquire a classical conditioned response, the conditioned blink reflex. This earlier work was done in a larger rodent, the rat, in which it is possible to record the eye blink with an electrode placed above the eye. We were interested in this fundamental unit of learning but could not apply it to our mouse model. However, we found that fear conditioning could easily be studied in a mouse. With this background, I speculated that low doses of psilocybin which act directly on serotonin receptors (the 5HT2a) in hippocampus and other areas, might enhance the acquisition of a conditioned fear response by stimulating neurogenesis. In fact, it did not enhance acquisition and surprisingly, it enhanced extinction of fear conditioning. more

Monday, August 26, 2013

Wean Yourself Off Facebook with Shock Therapy and Harassing Phone Calls

Two MIT students, Robert R. Morris and Dan McDuff, were having trouble finishing their dissertations. The culprit? Too much social media. Doing what I can only assume any MIT students would do, they leveraged technology to solve their problems. It was a two-pronged approach. Prong one included connecting a shock circuit to a computer on one end and to conducting pads that sat atop a keyboard wrist wrest on the other end. Morris and McDuff wrote a script that could detect when they started cruising Facebook, at which time a current got sent to the conducting pads, shocking their wrists. They call it the Pavlov Poke... more

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Psychotherapy Lags as Evidence Goes Unheeded

Psychotherapy has issues. Evidence shows that some psychosocial treatments work well for common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and that consumers often prefer them to medication. Yet the use of psychotherapy is on a clear decline in the United States. In a set of research review papers in the November issue of the journal Clinical Psychology Review, psychologists put psychotherapy on the proverbial couch to examine why it’s foundering. Their diagnosis? Much as in many human patients, psychotherapy has a combination of problems. Some of them are of its own making while some come from outside the field itself. Fundamentally, argue Brandon Gaudiano and Ivan Miller, Brown University professors of psychiatry and human behavior whose review paper introduces the section they edited, the psychotherapy community hasn’t defined, embraced, and articulated the ample evidence base clarifying their practice, while drug makers and prescribers have done so for medications. In a system of medicine and health insurance that rewards evidence-based practice and looks upon biology as a more rigorous science, psychotherapy has lost ground among physicians, insurers and policymakers...“We haven’t been holding ourselves to evidence-based practice,” Gaudiano said of fellow psychologists. “Because of that we’ve had other groups who are more medication-focused define practice standards.” more

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Human Eye Movements for Vision Are Remarkably Adaptable

When something gets in the way of our ability to see, we quickly pick up a new way to look, in much the same way that we would learn to ride a bike, according to a new study published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on August 15. Our eyes are constantly on the move, darting this way and that four to five times per second. Now researchers have found that the precise manner of those eye movements can change within a matter of hours. This discovery by researchers from the University of Southern California might suggest a way to help those with macular degeneration better cope with vision loss. "The system that controls how the eyes move is far more malleable than the literature has suggested," says Bosco Tjan of the University of Southern California. "We showed that people with normal vision can quickly adjust to a temporary occlusion of their foveal vision by adapting a consistent point in their peripheral vision as their new point of gaze." more

Monday, August 19, 2013

Researchers Debunk "Right-Brained" or "Left-Brained" Myth

Chances are, you've heard the label of being a "right-brained" or "left-brained" thinker. Logical, detail-oriented and analytical? That's left-brained behavior. Creative, thoughtful and subjective? Your brain's right side functions stronger -- or so long-held assumptions suggest. But newly released research findings from University of Utah neuroscientists assert that there is no evidence within brain imaging that indicates some people are right-brained or left-brained..."It's absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don't tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection, " said Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study, which is formally titled "An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging." It is published in the journal PLOS ONE this month. more

Friday, August 16, 2013

Evidence-Based Justice: Corrupted Memory

In a career spanning four decades, Loftus, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, has done more than any other researcher to document the unreliability of memory in experimental settings. And she has used what she has learned to testify as an expert witness in hundreds of criminal cases — Pacely's was her 101st—informing juries that memories are pliable and that eyewitness accounts are far from perfect recordings of actual events. Her work has earned her plaudits from her peers, but it has also made her enemies. Critics charge that in her zeal to challenge the veracity of memory, Loftus has harmed victims and aided murderers and rapists. She has been sued and assaulted, and has even received death threats...Now, the 68-year-old scientist's research is starting to bring about lasting changes in the legal system. In July last year, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling—based largely on her findings—that jurors should be alerted to the imperfect nature of memory and the fallibility of eyewitness testimony as standard procedure. Loftus is working with judges in other states to make such changes more widespread. more

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Online "Likes" Herd Others to Similar Views

Positive opinions are more influential than negative ones, at least on the Internet. If an article is “liked” on a website such as Facebook or Reddit, new readers are more likely to approve of it, according to a study published in the journal Science. While the positive reactions create a “herding” effect, the authors said, negative views don’t appear to affect people the same way. Using an undisclosed news-aggregation website, the scientists tinkered with the favorability ratings of certain comments on the site. The comments that got a positive boost from the researchers subsequently took off in popularity, receiving a 25 percent higher rating on average from other users. more

Monday, August 12, 2013

How Little We Understand Our Own Behaviour

An intriguing article in the June 2013 issue of the Psychologist journal got me thinking of BF Skinner, an old hero of mine. Skinner is one of the most famous psychologists of the 20th century and was a man who stirred much controversy, both among his peers and within society generally. Skinner was often referred to as the father of behaviourism. In his attempts to understand, predict and control behaviour, he emphasised the role of environmental factors above internal factors such as feelings, states of mind, innate personality and so on, seeing these, in essence, as emergent consequences of our learning environment. He did recognise the importance of physiology and genetics, but argued that in gaining psychologically relevant knowledge we should attend to the environment in which a person lives, their learned behavioural repertoire and the consequences that follow their actions. In other words, if you really want to understand me, pay attention to what I do, not what I say – or what you think I think. more

Friday, August 02, 2013

Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience

By reducing human thought and behavior to colorful images of excited neurons, neuroscientists have turned brain scans into brain scams, write psychiatrist Satel and psychologist Lilienfeld. The argument that thinking involves more than brain activity is not new, but the authors give it an up-to-date, provocative treatment. Satel and Lilienfeld take aim at functional MRI scans that have been used by researchers and media to claim that specific brain areas represent the seats of love, hate and other human experiences. At best, the authors say, these scans detect a fraction of brain activity that occurs when people perform mental tasks. Such brain measures can neither fully predict nor explain people’s thoughts and feelings, they assert. more