Autism a target for ‘cereal box diagnosis’

rice_krispies_autism.jpgIn a somewhat bizarre turn of events, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies have agreed to print ‘autism awareness’ messages on the side of their US breakfast cereal packets in partnership with American lobbying group Autism Speaks.

Autism Speaks is a controversial group in some areas, as they claim to speak for people with autism and tend to use emotional messages (compare with the UK’s National Autistic Society) to promote the idea that autism is a “neurological disorder” and “the nation’s fastest-growing serious developmental disorder”.

Although autism is associated with serious learning disabilities in some, many with autism are quite functional and happy to be autistic, and resent the idea that everyone with autism has a ‘neurological disorder’.

Along these lines, a recent edition of NPR radio show All Things Considered looked at the views of people with autism who argue that we should be aiming to accept people with autism, rather than ‘cure’ them.

Furthermore, the idea that cases of autism are on the increase is controversial, largely owing to the fact that the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders has significantly widened in the last 30 years (as discussed recently on Mind Hacks) and the knowledge of autistic-like traits has become more common.

The cereal packets contain a list of “a few of the possible early signs” of autism and then encourages people to consult their doctor if they have concerns about their child.

Link to info on campaign from Autism Speaks.
Link to critical view from Autism Diva blog.

Scientist creates android double of self

ishiguro_self_android.jpgHiroshi Ishiguro, director of the Intelligent Robotics Lab at Osaka University in Japan, has created an android double of himself and intends to use it to give lectures to test how well his creation recreates the ‘presence’ of genuine human interaction.

Ishiguro was recently in the news when he demonstrated a female android he had created which was a copy of a popular Japanese news reader.

One of his main aims is to understand the subtleties of face-to-face human interaction so he can reproduce this artificially and overcome the so-called ‘uncanny valley‘ that makes close-to-human robots seem synthetic and unnatural.

Link to Wired article on Ishiguro’s android double.

Probe the brain

PBS has a fun flash game where you can recreate Wilder Penfield’s brain stimulation experiments from the safety of your own desktop on a virtual, er, human.

If the anyone actually looked like that, I suspect that having brain surgery to help alleviate epilepsy, or a neuroscientist poking round on the surface of your brain with an electrode, would be the least of your worries.

Link to brain probe game (thanks Annie!).

Lays me down with my mind she runs

side_lightbulb.jpgAn article in last month’s American Scientist offered an interesting theory of why some people are driven to find knowledge – because of the kick of natural opioids in the brain.

Sadly, the article is not freely available online, but the theory is outlined by neuroscientist Professor Irving Biederman in a pdf file he’s put online, and in a summary from Eureka Alert.

The idea is that the moment of finally understanding something causes a release of natural endorphins in the brain, providing a response to knowledge acquisition that conditions us to want more.

In other words, intellectual curiosity may be driven by an addiction to an opioid high.

Biederman’s theory was inspired by the well-known discovery that opioid receptors increase along the ventral visual pathway in the brain – the one that is most strongly associated with recognition and meaning.

At the moment, the theory is still largely speculative, although remains an interesting take on why humans are naturally curious.

Link to summary from Eureka Alert.
pdf of talk by Biederman outlining his theory.
Link to summary of Biederman’s American Scientist article.

2006-07-21 Spike activity

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


New brain-computer interface turns brains into automatic image sorter thats operate faster than human consciousness.

The Neurophile discusses the difficulty with classifying LSD.

Manchester University reports on the use of virtual reality to test claims of telepathy.

Do we agree on what’s beautiful? asks Cognitive Daily.

The Neurophilosopher analyses Grossberg’s neural network model that attempts to explain autism.

The latest results on the effects of mobile phones on the brain are discussed by Brain Ethics.

ABC Radio Health Report discusses the myths and realities of adult ADHD.

New Scientist reports that probable cause of some deadly brain cancers established.

More on drug advertising from Neurofuture (aw, shucks) and Omni Brain.

Dating coaches. huh?

Comic strip tackles the new face of teenage rebellion. Computational linguistics in the firing line.

2006 Biomedical Image Awards contains several neuroscience images.

It can’t hurt to ask to ask about drugs? Can it? Asking about drugs use can increase the chance of people using substances suggests new research.

Men who share a bed with someone suffer mild cognitive impairment, women sleep better!

Omni Brain are recruiting!

It’s like jamais vu never again

SydneyOperaHouse.jpgThe 4th International Conference on Memory is currently in full swing in the beautiful Australian city of Sydney, and there’s been a couple of interesting news reports from presentations on deja vu and jamais vu research.

I’m sure d√©j√† vu is familiar to you, but you may never have encountered jamais vu before. [Thank you ladies and gentlemen, I shall be here all evening].

Although details are a bit sketchy, a report from AFP News gives the outline of an experiment on déjà vu by Chris Moulin and colleagues who used hypnosis to experimentally induce familiarity in participants for information they had not recently encountered.

The 18 [participants] were told that when they were next presented with a word in a red frame, they would feel that the word was familiar, although they would not know when they last saw it. But if they saw a word in a green frame, they would think that the word belonged to the original list of 24.

The volunteers were then taken out of hypnosis and presented with a series of words in frames of various colours. Some of the words were not in the original list of 24 and were framed in red or green. Ten of the volunteers said they felt an odd sensation when they saw new words in red, and five others said this sensation definitely felt like deja vu.

ABC News reports on an experiment on jamais vu (a feeling of unfamiliarity when encountering something familiar) by Akira O’Connor and colleagues that involved asking participants by write down the same word over and over until it started feeling ‘peculiar’.

These experiences were described as being similar to classic jamais vu, as described in the literature on people who have permanent or intense jamais vu as part of a neurological or psychiatric condition.

The abstracts of all the talks are available as one large pdf file, but for convenience, I’ve included the abstracts of the d√©ja vu and jamais vu presentations below the fold.

By the way, if anyone attending ICOM-4 has any photos or reports online, let us know, as it would be great to link to them.

Continue reading “It’s like jamais vu never again”

The psychology of stalking

girl_hand_on_head_bw.jpgThe ever excellent ABC Radio All in the Mind has a special edition on the psychology of stalking, investigating the drives and motivations of persistent stalkers as well as the impact on their victims.

In order to better understand stalking, Paul Mullen’s group have categorised people who stalk according to what motivates them. There’s the rejected stalker, usually ex-partners trying to reinstate a relationship. The intimacy seeker, who professes love but is oblivious to their victim’s feelings – people who stalk celebrities usually fall into this category and are the most persistent. There’s the incompetent suitor, who lacks the social skills necessary to establish an intimate relationship; the resentful stalker, who’s motivated by anger and a desire for revenge – they can be very frightening but rarely physically violent. And lastly, and thankfully the most rare, is the predatory stalker – they are driven by sadistic pleasure, their stalking is sexual in nature and often leads to attack.

The British Psychological Society magazine The Psychologist published an article on stalking a few years ago (pdf) also examining this intriguing yet disturbing phenomenon.

Link to audio and transcript of AITM on stalking.
pdf of article on stalking from The Psychologist.