2005-11-25 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:


Great new blog on combating stress, depression and addiction is now online and accepting new readers!

Singing for the Brain‘ shows remarkable results in helping people with Alzheimer’s communicate by using song.

Makes for a great story but probably best taken with a pinch of salt: Naked statue triggers mental imbalance, supposedly.

Emotional deprivation and neglect in childhood has long lasting effects on neurohormones. The Guardian also has the story.

Therapy for anxiety disorders can be successfully conducted over email.

People with mild symptoms of depression are better at perceiving details of their social environment than those who are not depressed.

Brain imaging study show ‘first ever’ images of stress in the brain.

People best able to filter out irrelevant information are better at remembering.

Relatives of people diagnosed with autism show similarities in brain structure and behaviour.

Tom Cruise’s on-air anti-psychiatry tirade recreated by talking aliens (via BoingBoing).

Through a scanner deeply

hypno_eye.jpgThe New York Times has an article on the increasing interest in hypnosis among cognitive neuroscientists, who are trying to understanding how suggestion and belief can affect basic mental processing.

The article describes some interesting recent work on hypnosis and perception, but omits some of the most fascinating experiments in this area.

A study published in 2003 involved hypnotising participants to simulate experiences of external control, akin to experiences sometimes found in psychosis, to discover whether similar brain areas might be involved in the psychotic and non-psychotic experiences.

Another study, published in the same year, involved hypnotising participants so they thought they were paralysed, in an attempt to better understand ‘hysterical’ paralysis, sometimes known as conversion disorder – a condition where paralysis is thought to occur due to psychological trauma rather than physical damage.

In these cases, hypnotised, non-hypnotised or ‘pretending’ participants were were asked to conduct actions while being brain-scanned, to compare and contrast active brain areas.

Interestingly, these two studies suggested that quite different brain networks were involved in producing the experiences, although both activated the cerebellum, a complex area, known to be involved in movement, but still largely mysterious.

Link to article ‘This Is Your Brain Under Hypnosis’.

Misunderstanding mirrors

mirror.jpgIf I asked you to draw a full-size outline of your head on a flip chart, and then to draw the outline of your head as it appears in the mirror, would you draw the two outlines the same size? You shouldn’t do because the mirror image of your head (as it appears to you) is exactly half its true size, irrespective of how far you are from the mirror, a fact that few people realise. That’s according to a new study published in Cognition by Marco Bertamini and Theodore Parks at the Universities of Liverpool and California.

They also found that most people believe the mirror image of their own head will grow smaller as they move away from the mirror – it doesn’t it stays the same. Yet most participants correctly realised that if they watched the mirror image of another person’s head, it would get smaller as that other person moved away from the mirror. Finally, only a minority of participants realised that the size of the mirror image of another person’s head would get bigger as they, the participant, moved away from the mirror. Confused? Me too.

Link to study abstract

Autistic pride

autism_pride_ribbon.jpgThe Observer has an article on the growing ‘autistic pride’ movement that aims to reframe autism as a variation of human experience with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, rather than as a neurological disorder that needs to be ‘cured’.

Many people with autism or Asperger’s syndrome describe people without such traits as ‘neurologically typical’ or NTs, based on the idea that autism might involve different brain ‘wiring’.

The autistic pride movement has found a natural home on the internet and several sites take a witty approach to making their point.

The Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical turns autism science on its head, by spoofing a research centre that examines non-autistic people as unusual or pathological.

The movement often places itself within a wider ‘neurodiversity‘ movement, demanding that society respects differences in brain structure and function, rather than always focusing on trying to ‘correct’ them.

The article also mentions the autism software project Reactive Colours, whose director, Wendy Keay-Bright, we interviewed back in July.

Link to Observer article ‘Say it loud, autistic and proud’.
Link to wikipedia article on autism rights movement.
Link to Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical.

Tajne uma (Croatian Mind Hacks)

tajne_uma.jpgThe Croatian translation of Mind Hacks has just been published. The full title is “Tajne uma. 100 hakerskih trikova na≈°eg mozga” and you can see it / buy it here. Kudos to the translator, Ognjen Strpic, who i discovered is not only fluent in English and Croatian, but also in Neuroscience too (Ognjen picked up on a small error I’d made in the text on the physical colour of part of the visual cortex).

Modern-day psychosurgery

neurosurgery.jpgAs a follow up to our previous post on the history of the now discarded practice of lobotomy, there’s been quite a bit of recent interest in the science and ethics of modern-day brain surgery in treating mental illness, a practice often known as ‘psychosurgery’.

BBC Radio 4 aired a one-off documentary called Brain Surgery to Cure the Mind, that discussed its history, practise and effects, including the use of ‘deep brain stimulation or DBS.

DBS involves implanting an electrode to increase or decrease activation in a certain brain area. It was pioneered for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease but early results suggest it may be useful in treating severe clinical depression. One advantage of DBS over other types of neurosurgery is that it is reversible.

An alternative type of brain surgery, used in both severe psychiatric illness and Parkinson’s disease, is to sever or remove a small area of brain thought to be involved in the causing the distress or impairment.

This latter form is particularly controversial, and the British Journal of Psychiatry has published a debate entitled ‘Should neurosurgery for mental disorder be allowed to die out?’.

A recent review of the scientific literature, based on psychiatric neurosurgery in Scotland details the evidence for the effectiveness of such treatments, what the most common forms of brain surgery involve, and the likely physical and cognitive risks.

Link to BBC ‘Brain Surgery to Cure the Mind’ (with audio).
Link to debate ‘Should neurosurgery for mental disorder be allowed to die out?’.
Link to article ‘Status of neurosurgery for mental disorder in Scotland’.

Voting causes happiness? Really?

I love the New Economics Foundation and I think they do great work, but at first glance this report on Britain’s democractic deficit looks like it makes the classic correlation-is-not-causation blunder:

‘There is significant evidence that the democratic deficit at the heart of the British electoral system is making us unhappy. The 2001 post election survey shows that there is a strong link between levels of personal well-being, the health of communities and voting behaviour. People who voted in the election tended to be more trusting, have higher levels of civic duty, were more engaged in their local communities and were happier than people who didn‚Äôt vote.’

More here