Happy seasonal festival of your adopted social context

The Christmas holidays are approaching and I suspect updates to Mind Hacks will be a little sporadic over the next week or two.

Hopefully we’ll manage some posts but I’m not sure how internet access will work out as we travel about spreading good cheer (or, alternatively, we might just be travelling about).

Enjoy yourself, wherever and whoever you are!

Everything begins with an EEG

The most important application of brain-machine interfaces is to allow paralysed people the ability to control their environment.

The second most important application, is, of course, to create psychedelic rave visuals to accompany pumping acid techno.

Mind VJ is a project by Lenara Verle and Marlon Barrios-Solano that has filled this neglected area of research by designing an EEG-based system that creates intense visuals in response to electrical brain changes.

In MIND VJ, the idea is to use the rhythm of our own brain waves as the conducting element for the performance. In this manner, we can tap into a normally “hidden” area of our body (brain function and its electrical activity) and make it “visible” in the form of projected images. In this case, the images projected won’t be wave graphs, like the ones usually plotted by medical EEG machines, but artistic images, undergoing real-time changes and manipulations controlled by the current brain wave output of the subject (the MIND VJ)

Provocatively, The MIND VJ project references thoughts of utopian cyber dreams about the ultimate direct brain to computer interface, and on the other side brings paranoid ideas of “mind reading” and “mind control”.

I think we can guess where the drugs kicked in when they were writing that bit of text.

There’s more about the project on their website and a video of Mind VJ in action.

Apparently the project is still in progress and I look forward to seeing how it develops.

Link to Mind VJ.

The Violent Brain in new SciAmMind

A new Scientific American Mind has arrived and two of the feature articles are available online – one of which is on the neuroscience of violence.

The article makes a fantastic complement to the Science News article on psychopaths we featured previously.

It touches on psychopathy, but is more focused on the wider issues of non-psychopathic violence that could be triggered in anyone in the population.

Some people in the population engage in more violent acts than others and much research has focused on what are the social and biological risk factors that distinguish high from low-violence individuals.

The frontal lobes seems important as neural circuits here seem to be involved in preventing impulsive acts.

People who experience an abusive or impoverished childhood are also known to be at higher risk for violence, and it is possible that these experiences shape the function of the relevant circuits in the brain as it develops.

Genetics also plays a part, and recent findings that a version of a gene known as MAOA is linked to violence suggests that we may partly inherit a ‘violence threshold’. Brain Ethics has a fantastic article on this research if you want to know more.

The article also talks about the Dunedin project, an important and long-running study on development and psychopathology that has provided a huge amount of data in this, and many other areas.

The December edition of SciAmMind also has articles on the military applications of neuroscience, which we featured previously on Mind Hacks, and a number of articles only available to subscribers or in the print edition.

These include articles on migraine, hearing voices, cooperation, crying, brain-scan lie detecting and whether the teen brain is too rational.

UPDATE: I’ve just noticed that there’s a great article on Cognitive Daily examining a recent study on the interaction between guns, aggression and testosterone.

Link to SciAmMind article ‘The Violent Brain’.

Eli Lilly antipsychotic drug storm continues

The New York Times have published a second article based on internal documents from drug company Eli Lilly over the promotion of an antipsychotic medication known as Zyprexa or olanzapine – this time claiming that Eli Lilly have been deliberately promoting the drug for unlicensed conditions.

When a drug is ‘licensed’, this is not a license to prescribe the drug, but a license for the drug company to advertise it for a specific condition.

For example, olanzapine is licensed for schizophrenia, meaning it can be advertised as treatment for this condition.

However, doctors have the freedom to prescribe the drug for anything they want to if they think it will help. This is known as ‘off-label’ prescribing.

Promoting ‘off-label’ prescribing is illegal, however, and the article in the New York Times suggests Eli Lilly has been doing exactly this by marketing the use of olanzapine for dementia and undiagnosed psychotic symptoms.

This campaign was allegedly targeted at ‘primary care physicians’ (i.e. GPs or non-specialist doctors) rather than specialists.

In terms of marketing, pharmaceutical companies often consider GPs to be soft targets as they have to know ‘a little about a lot’, and so are more likely to be persuaded by selective data on a particular topic.

From the article:

The documents also show that Lilly encouraged primary care doctors to treat the symptoms and behaviors of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder even if the doctors had not actually diagnosed those diseases in their patients. Lilly’s market research had found that many primary care doctors did not consider themselves qualified to treat people with schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder.

In response to these and previous allegation made by the New York Times, Eli Lilly have issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and have suggested that the allegations are based on an unrepresentative selection of company documents:

The Times failed to mention that these leaked documents are a tiny fraction of the more than 11 million pages of documents provided by Lilly as part of the litigation process. They do not accurately portray Lilly’s conduct. As part of Lilly’s commitment to patients and healthcare professionals, many high-level Lilly physicians and researchers — along with researchers from outside Lilly — were engaged for a number of years to study the issue of Zyprexa and diabetes. Leaked documents involving these discussions do not represent an accurate view of company strategy or conduct.

Link to NYT article ‘Drug Files Show Maker Promoted Unapproved Use’.
Link to response from Eli Lilly.

A Place for Consciousness

A new edition of hardcore consciousness research journal Psyche has just been released online with a special issue focusing on consciousness, causation and the links to the physical structure of the brain.

All the papers are freely available online, and address the arguments put forward in philosopher Gregg Rosenberg’s influential book A Place for Consciousness (ISBN 0195168143).

Rosenberg has a page about the book, with several of the key chapters available online.

In fact, for those wanting a quick overview of his theory, he’s put together some PowerPoint slides which explain the key points in nine easy steps.

The new edition of Psyche examines Rosenberg’s arguments in some detail, as the link between consciousness and brain function, and the causal role of mental phenomena are two of the most important and difficult parts of modern consciousness research.

Link to Psyche.
Link to page on Rosenberg’s book with chapters and summary.

Vegetarians have higher childhood IQ

…although a third seem to suffer from conceptual problems! A paper published this week by the British Medical Journal report that children with higher IQs tend to go on to become vegetarian.

Adults who classified themselves as vegetarian tended to be five points higher in IQ when they were tested at age 10.

Interestingly, the results remained stable after education and social class were controlled for.

However, a third of people who classified themselves as vegetarian ate chicken or fish, suggesting most people work with a reasonably flexible definition.

This study is from a research group in Southhampton who are looking at the link between childhood factors and adult brain development.

We recently reported on an earlier study on childhood head size and IQ.

Link to write-up from BBC News.
Link to abstract from the BMJ.