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Weekly Roundup of Posts 24 Sep 2012

The 2012 Bioethics conference on the Moral Brain, featuring Joseph Ledoux and Josh Greene is now online.

An extract from the upcoming new title from Ben Goldacre's new book Bad Pharma Here also is his TED talk.

A new review of retracted articles in biomedical and life-science research finds that 67.4% were due to misconduct.

On schizophrenia as a brain disease link.

A recent piece on the Nature blog calling for further research into improving current psychotherapies.

An interview with science blogger Ed Yong talks about some of the misconceptions of oxytocin.

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  • Karen Franklin reports on a soon to be published study in Law and Human Behaviour, the first of its kind in the US, which examined levels of agreement among independent forensic evaluators in routine legal practice. The study found a surprisingly low level of agreement between evaluators who looked at 483 evaluation reports involving 165 criminal defendants. Read the full post: Sanity opinions show "poor" reliability, study finds

  • A short interview with Professor Vikram, one of the guest editors for the new PLOS Medicine Global Mental Health Series, which "seeks to expand the evidence base of global mental health by publishing case studies of global mental health in practice." Q & A with Vikram Patel. You can read the editorial here: Putting Evidence into Practice: The PLoS Medicine Series on Global Mental Health Practice.

  • Why I am Always Unlucky But You Are Always Careless - Vaughan Bell on the fundamental attribution error.

  • An audio interview with Oliver Burkeman and Jules Evans on the upside of pessimism.

    For Burkeman, a contented life must embrace uncertainty and get friendly with failure. But could the active pursuit of happiness be part of the problem? Evans takes a more can-do approach, looking back to the wisdom of ancient Greek philosophers and tracking it through to the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy of today, which helped him to escape depression in his early 20s. Hear the interview.

  • A moving and entertaining TED Talk by Psychology and Law Professor Elyn Saks on what it is like to live with schizophrenia. Elyn Saks: A tale of mental illness from the inside

(Image by Mattaz)

The Darker Side of Positive Thinking 09 Jul 2012

A beautifully animated film to explore Barbara Ehrenreich ideas on our culture's "mandatory optimism".

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Weekly Roundup of Posts 20 Jun 2012

Weekly Roundup from the Blogosphere:

-A post about wardrobe advice for expert witnesses Bow ties: The simple solution to expert witness credibility by Karen Franklin

-The New York Times report on a recent paper in PLOS which suggest that as many as 1 in 8 of those who survive a heart attack will go on to develop post traumatic stress disorder. Read more: Heart Attack Survivors May Develop P.T.S.D.

-The adverse consequences of exercise. A summary of the article can be found on the New York Times blog is here.

-Short video on what makes a good psychotherapy session

-An amusing post on the social neuroscience of self-reference by science blogger scicurious

-A post about medical health records and confidentiality

-A list of prominent neuroscientists who tweet

(Image by Vacacion)

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Social Media and the Diagnosis of Mental Illness 18 Jun 2012

While much has been written recently about the dangers of internet use, new research seems to suggest a potential role for social media in assisting with the diagnosis of mental disorders. Last week, The Guardian reported on a study done at the University of Leeds where researchers found an association between the frequency and pattern of internet use and depression, and this week theNeurocritic has written an interesting post about how a dramatic increase in texting (not to be confused with hypertexting of course) is a modern version of hypergraphia, which can be a sign for a manic episode.

And certainly the evidence for manic/hypomanic hypergraphia has been plainly obvious for as long as the internet has existed. There are thousands of bipolar bloggers and Tweeters and Facebook users and online journalers before that. Unlike PubMed, Google Blog Search returns 3,670 hits for bipolar hypergraphia and 4,230 hits for manic hypergraphia. And those are just the posts that use the term hypergraphia. One could envision a study on quantitative changes in written output on Twitter or blogs as a possible sign of bipolar cycling.

(Image by Jhaymesisviphotography)


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Growing Rate of Body Dysmorphic and Eating Disorders in the UK Elderly 11 Jun 2012

This article from the Guardian reports on the plight of an increasing number of the elderly plagued by body-image related anxiety.

Even those who are relatively fit and healthy in later years struggled with the idea that they no longer conformed to a youthful ideal, said Rumsey, who recently co-wrote The Oxford Handbook of the Psychology of Appearance. "It is a myth that older people don't care what they look like: the 'normal' signs of ageing can prove very depressing and many people find it hard to see themselves in a positive light when they see a wrinkled face and a sagging body looking back in the mirror. We are now at a point where there is a social stigma around the effects of the natural ageing process, and this can lead to very low self-esteem and the classic signs of body dysmorphic disorder."

(Image: All rights reserved by [email protected])


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The Overdiagnosis of ADHD in Younger Children 30 May 2012

In his latest post, blogger Neuroskeptic critiques a recent challenge to the "immaturity hypothesis" and points to what may be a common misdiagnosis of ADHD in younger children, who seem relatively immature to their older classmates in the same grade. Earlier this year, a Canadian study of ADHD rates in almost a million children found that children born later in the year were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

This is strong support for the "immaturity hypothesis" - the idea that some children get a diagnosis of ADHD because they're younger than their classmates at school, and their relative immaturity is wrongly ascribed to an illness.


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Coordination Of Client Care During Therapist’s Absence 29 May 2012

A useful blog post by Tamara Suttle for therapists on managing clients during a temporary absence.


Replication in Psychology 18 May 2012

In an excellent blog post on the Nature website, Ed Yong discusses the problem of replication in psychology and the challenges facing those who try to publish negative findings.

Positive results in psychology can behave like rumours: easy to release but hard to dispel. They dominate most journals, which strive to present new, exciting research. Meanwhile, attempts to replicate those studies, especially when the findings are negative, go unpublished, languishing in personal file drawers or circulating in conversations around the water cooler. “There are some experiments that everyone knows don't replicate, but this knowledge doesn't get into the literature,” says Wagenmakers. The publication barrier can be chilling, he adds. “I've seen students spending their entire PhD period trying to replicate a phenomenon, failing, and quitting academia because they had nothing to show for their time.”


Maternal stress and emotional problems in children 15 May 2012

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, links cortisol levels during early pregnancy with increased amygdala volume and emotional problems in children. The study followed 65 mother-child dyads over a 7 year period.

The current findings represent, to the best of our knowledge, the first report linking maternal stress hormone levels in human pregnancy with subsequent child amygdala volume and affect. The results underscore the importance of the intrauterine environment and suggest the origins of neuropsychiatric disorders may have their foundations early in life.

The full text of the paper is available in the link below.


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Social connection and longevity 13 May 2012

In an excerpt from his book Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior, popular science writer Leonard MlodInow, writes about the link between our physical health and our connection with others.

Social connection is such a basic feature of human experience that when we are deprived of it, we suffer. Many languages have expressions—such as “hurt feelings”—that compare the pain of social rejection to the pain of physical injury.


Quest for the connectome: scientists investigate ways of mapping the brain 08 May 2012

There is a macabre brilliance to the machine in Jeff Lichtman's laboratory at Harvard University that is worthy of a Wallace and Gromit film. In one end goes brain. Out the other comes sliced brain, courtesy of an automated arm that wields a diamond knife. The slivers of tissue drop one after another on to a conveyor belt that zips along with the merry whirr of a cine projector.

Lichtman's machine is an automated tape-collecting lathe ultramicrotome (Atlum), which, according to the neuroscientist, is the tool of choice for this line of work. It produces long strips of sticky tape with brain slices attached, all ready to be photographed through a powerful electron microscope.

When these pictures are combined into 3D images, they reveal the inner wiring of the organ, a tangled mass of nervous spaghetti. The research by Lichtman and his co-workers has a goal in mind that is so ambitious it is almost unthinkable.


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The Scientific Flaws of Online Dating Sites 08 May 2012

Every day, millions of single adults, worldwide, visit an online dating site. Many are lucky, finding life-long love or at least some exciting escapades. Others are not so lucky. The industry—eHarmony, Match, OkCupid, and a thousand other online dating sites—wants singles and the general public to believe that seeking a partner through their site is not just an alternative way to traditional venues for finding a partner, but a superior way. Is it?

With our colleagues Paul Eastwick, Benjamin Karney, and Harry Reis, we recently published a book-length article in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest that examines this question and evaluates online dating from a scientific perspective. One of our conclusions is that the advent and popularity of online dating are terrific developments for singles, especially insofar as they allow singles to meet potential partners they otherwise wouldn’t have met. We also conclude, however, that online dating is not better than conventional offline dating in most respects, and that it is worse is some respects.


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Neuroscience fiction in newpapers 08 May 2012

A recent article in the journal Neuron analysed how neuroscience stories are typically presented by major UK newspapers. Although diplomatically stated in the paper, the findings do not inspire confidence. To summarise, it seems that when neuroscience findings are covered by the mainstream press, they're invariably interpreted in questionable ways in order to support political ideology or predetermined views and theories, up to and including discriminatory stereotypes - for example about homosexuals.

While newspaper stories about neuroscience research usually have some sort of appreciable logic, they typically end up with conclusions or predictions that are well beyond the focus of the original study, and bear little or no resemblance to a scientific critique. (Ironically, the most common category used in what seemed to be an ever increasing flow of misinformation was "Brain optimisation".)


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Psychiatry's "Bible" Gets an Overhaul 08 May 2012

The APA is now working on the fifth version of the hefty tome, slated for publication in May 2013. Because the DSM-IV was largely similar to its predecessor, the DSM-5 embodies the first substantial change to psychiatric diagnosis in more than 30 years. It introduces guidelines for rating the severity of symptoms that are expected to make diagnoses more precise and to provide a new way to track improvement. The DSM framers are also scrapping certain disorders entirely, such as Asperger’s syndrome, and adding brand-new ones, including binge eating and addiction to gambling.

In the past the APA has received harsh criticism for not making its revision process transparent. In 2010 the association debuted a draft of the new manual on its Web site for public comment. “That’s never been done before,” says psychiatrist Darrel Regier, vice chair of the DSM-5 Task Force and formerly at the National Institute of Mental Health. The volume of the response surprised even the framers: 50 million hits from about 500,000 individuals and more than 10,000 comments so far.


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Insights From the Youngest Minds 08 May 2012

Dr. Spelke is a pioneer in the use of the infant gaze as a key to the infant mind — that is, identifying the inherent expectations of babies as young as a week or two by measuring how long they stare at a scene in which those presumptions are upended or unmet. “More than any scientist I know, Liz combines theoretical acumen with experimental genius,” Dr. Carey said. Nancy Kanwisher, a neuroscientist at M.I.T., put it this way: “Liz developed the infant gaze idea into a powerful experimental paradigm that radically changed our view of infant cognition.”

Here, according to the Spelke lab, are some of the things that babies know, generally before the age of 1:

They know what an object is: a discrete physical unit in which all sides move roughly as one, and with some independence from other objects.


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Child Bipolar Disorder Still Rare 08 May 2012

Bipolar disorder usually strikes between the ages of 15 and 25, and is extremely rare in preteens, according to a major study: Age at onset versus family history and clinical outcomes in 1,665 international bipolar-I disorder patients

The findings are old hat. It's long been known that manic-depression most often begins around the age of 20, give or take a few years. Onset in later life is less common while earlier onset is very unusual.


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Kinect cameras watch for autism 08 May 2012

The unusual set-up at the University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Development in Minneapolis is designed to look for signs of behavioural disorders. The plan is to find out if Microsoft's gaming sensor, combined with computer-vision algorithms trained to detect behavioural abnormalities, can be used to automate the early diagnosis of autism.

Diagnosing an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in young children is tricky, but the earlier a child can begin speech therapy and get help learning social and communication skills, the better. Many different symptoms may suggest a child has an ASD, but they are subtle. It usually takes an experienced doctor to spot the signs by analysing video footage of the child playing - a costly and time-consuming process.


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Parents’ Depression Linked to Problems in Children 08 May 2012

Nowadays it’s increasingly clear that pediatricians, obstetrician-gynecologists and internists must be more alert. Research into postnatal depression in particular has underscored the importance of checking up on parents’ mental health in the first months of a baby’s life.