Temporal typo trauma

There’s a lovely typo in a 1976 paper from the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry that reports on a study about epilepsy after surgery. Check out the last sentence of the abstract:

Incidence of postoperative epilepsy after a transtentorial approach to acoustic nerve tumours.

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1976 Jul;39(7):663-5.

Cabral R, King TT, Scott DF.

Sixty-nine patients who had neurosurgical treatment for acoustic neuroma by one of two different techniques were studied with a view to determining the incidence of postoperative epilepsy. Fourty-five patients who had larger tumours underwent a combined translabyrinthine and transtentorial neurosurgical approach. For the others with smaller neuromas a translabyrinthine method was used. Only the combined approach was associated with postoperative epilepsy, and it occurred in 22% of the patients. Epilepsy was associated with temporal love trauma during surgery.

Link to entry on PubMed.

2007-01-05 Spike activity

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

A boy who can walk on hot coals offers clues to genetics of pain.

A curious report of 50 Vietnamese schools girls fainting due to ‘mass hysteria‘.

Research on how you compare yourself with colleagues and happiness at work is investigated by the BPS Research Digest.

A new chemical could provide the first highly accurate living diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

A few articles on exercises for cognitive enhancement:
* The New York Times reports on brain exercises.
* Time magazine discusses ‘Nintendo for Grandma’.
* The Washington Post considers keeping sharp with mental exercises.

It seems Freud had a few troubles repressing his innermost desires, as a hotel guest book suggests.

Neurofuture has some wonderful art generated by neural networks.

Anarchic art journal MungBeing has a special issue on ‘The Mind’.

The International Herald Tribune argues that neuroscience is now explaining what might cause ‘ghosts’.

A (presumably Falafel loving) Israeli scientist argues that chickpeas may have been responsible for the evolution of the human brain.

Freedom is slavery

We have the impression that our free will is supreme, but modern neuroscience is starting to challenge the idea that we are the masters of our fate and captains of our soul.

A recent article in The New York Times looked at some of the philosophical aspects of free will from the perspective of physics and neuroscience.

Newtonian physics suggests that interactions in the physical world are deterministic, that is, the outcome is predictable.

As physical objects, a crucial question is how can we have free will in a universe where every outcome is determined by what went before.

Some people have suggested that the ‘fuzzy’ nature of quantum physics might provide an answer to this, but there have been no convincing accounts of how this might work.

In neuroscience, free will is more to do with whether we have conscious control over our actions.

Two main threads of research have suggested that our experience of having complete conscious control over our actions may be an illusion.

The first is from experiments like those originally completed by Benjamin Libet. He asked people simply to move their hand whenever they felt like it and note the time when they first felt the urge to move.

While they performed this voluntary action, he recorded electrical activity from areas in the brain known to be involved in generating actions.

His experiments, and many subsequent replications, suggest that the brain’s movement areas are active about 200 milliseconds before we feel the urge to move.

In other words, we only become conscious of the intention to move after the brain has initiated the action.

The second source of doubts about our sense of free will is from patients who have suffered brain injury and discover that they have lost conscious control over their actions.

One of the most striking examples is anarchic hand syndrome, linked to frontal lobe damage, where patients find their hand has a ‘mind of its own’ and often have to prevent it from carrying out actions they don’t consciously intend.

An article in The Economist questions whether such findings are eroding the concept of legal responsibility.

This is particularly in light of court cases where evidence of neurological disturbance has been used in an attempt to persuade the jury that the person wasn’t responsible for their actions, and, therefore, not guilty of the crime in question.

Link to NYT article “Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t”.
Link to Economist article ‘Free to choose?’ (both via 3Q).

Cognitive biases and the start of war

Foreign Policy magazine has an article by Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon on the role of cognitive biases in the decision to go to war.

Kahneman is a nobel prize winning psychologist known for his work on decision making and Renshon is a political scientist and author of the book Why Leaders Choose War: The Psychology of Prevention (ISBN 0275990850).

Social and cognitive psychologists have identified a number of predictable errors (psychologists call them biases) in the ways that humans judge situations and evaluate risks. Biases have been documented both in the laboratory and in the real world, mostly in situations that have no connection to international politics. For example, people are prone to exaggerating their strengths: About 80 percent of us believe that our driving skills are better than average. In situations of potential conflict, the same optimistic bias makes politicians and generals receptive to advisors who offer highly favorable estimates of the outcomes of war. Such a predisposition, often shared by leaders on both sides of a conflict, is likely to produce a disaster. And this is not an isolated example.

The article is an interesting attempt to apply knowledge of cognitive biases to understanding political decision making in high stress, high stakes situations.

This is an area which is becoming increasingly important in military psychology. Both to understand how individual soldiers might make battlefield decisions, and how leaders might make strategic choices during conflict.

Link to article ‘Why Hawks Win’ (via Frontal Cortex).

Psychiatry on the move

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is now releasing ‘continuing professional development’ podcasts, which sound dull, but are actually fascinating discussions of new and developing issues in psychology and psychiatry.

CPD is a requirment for clinicians to make sure they keep training throughout their careers. It is designed to update them up with the latest developments in their field.

The CPD podcasts take the form of extended interviews with people who are also interviewed for the British Journal of Psychiatry podcasts we featured previously.

In the CPD podcasts, however, the discussion focuses on related psychological or neuroscientific theories and the how they can be apply to clinical situations.

With the additional material on the site, British psychiatrists can then take an accredited test to demonstrate their learning.

Despite being aimed at qualified psychiatrists, the discussions are remarkably accessible.

Recent programmes have tackled the neuropsychology of empathy, whether trials for psychiatric drugs are truly objective, and making judgements of someone’s future risk for violence.

Link to psychiatry CPD podcasts.

Brain fitness carnival

The brain fitness freaks at cognitive enhancement blog Sharp Brains have launched a Brain Fitness carnival so they can create a regular digest of self-submitted online articles.

The first edition is due out on Friday January 17th so get your submissions sent in if you want to be included.

Sharp Brains is also a company that wants to develop commercial mental exercise programmes based on sound science to help improve and maintain cognitive function.

They even envisage ‘Brain Gyms’ so you could drop in after work and pump some mental iron:

We at SharpBrains believe that Brain Fitness will grow one day to become as widespread as physical fitness, and that Brain Fitness Centers or “brain gyms” will complement today’s gyms.

Ha! Make a (NSFW) sexy pop video out of that one Eric Prydz!

Link to details of the upcoming Brain Fitness carnival.
Link to carnival homepage.

New season of BBC All in the Mind kicks off

A new season of the BBC radio programme All in the Mind (not to be confused with the Australian ABC Radio programme of the same name) has just started and you can listen to the archives online.

The BBC version, to be fair, is a little more starched than the Aussie version, but covers a wider range of topics each week.

The first edition, broadcast just before Christmas, looked at the impact of reality TV on children who have been the subject of such TV programmes, and visits a unique suicide prevention drop-in centre.

The second in the series, broadcast tonight and available online from tomorrow evening, looks at false confessions and whether we all have think of the same colour when we think of a colour word.

It will also discuss the technology behind neurofeedback – a technique for ‘training the brain’ by turning EEG signals into something you can monitor and, therefore, learn to change.

As the technology has become cheaper, neurofeedback is becoming big business, with some dubious claims being made on its behalf (as a web search demonstrates).

However, despite the wild promises of some unscrupulous clinics, there is some sound science behind it and some early evidence it might help to improve certain mental abilities.

There’s even a game – Mindball – that you can play purely with the power of thought. All in the Mind tries it out!

Link to BBC All in the Mind website with audio.

Music of the Hemispheres

There’s a great piece in The New York Times on Prof Daniel Levitin and the rapidly developing research field tackling the cognitive neuroscience of music.

We’ve covered material related to Levitin’s recently-released book This is Your Brain on Music (ISBN 0525949690) before, but the NYT article goes into a little more detail into some of the scientific findings than previous articles.

Letivin is an ex-rock producer who eventually became disillusioned with the music industry but maintained his love of music through his work as a neuropsychologist.

For his first experiment he came up with an elegant concept: He stopped people on the street and asked them to sing, entirely from memory, one of their favorite hit songs. The results were astonishingly accurate. Most people could hit the tempo of the original song within a four-percent margin of error, and two-thirds sang within a semitone of the original pitch, a level of accuracy that wouldn’t embarrass a pro.

“When you played the recording of them singing alongside the actual recording of the original song, it sounded like they were singing along,” Dr. Levitin said.

It was a remarkable feat. Most memories degrade and distort with time; why would pop music memories be so sharply encoded? Perhaps because music triggers the reward centers in our brains. In a study published last year [pdf] Dr. Levitin and group of neuroscientists mapped out precisely how.

Observing 13 subjects who listened to classical music while in an M.R.I. machine, the scientists found a cascade of brain-chemical activity. First the music triggered the forebrain, as it analyzed the structure and meaning of the tune. Then the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area activated to release dopamine, a chemical that triggers the brain’s sense of reward.

His book got a glowing review from Salon, although I’ve yet to find any reviews in the academic literature.

However, Levitin’s website has a huge amount of information on it, including the audio of interviews he’s done and the full text of all his papers, so is well worth a visit if you’re interested in checking out the area.

UPDATE: Dr Levitin emailed to say the book has indeed been reviewed in the academic literature. A review that appeared in the journal Cerebrum is available online as a pdf. Enjoy!

Link to NYT article ‘Music of the Hemispheres’ (via BrainWaves).
Link to Salon review of ‘This is Your Brain on Music’.
Link to Levitin’s website.

Brain Surgery – Live on the Wireless!

The always excellent ABC Radio All in the Mind has just had a particularly compelling edition where they covered a neurosurgery operation to fix a particularly dangerous type of problem – an arteriovenous malformation or AVM – in a young woman named Kia.

An AVM is a tangle of veins and arteries meaning that the usually separate arterial (oxygen rich) and venous (oxygen depleted) blood can become mixed or doesn’t flow properly.

The problem is usually present from birth owing to a problem in development, and when intact, might not cause any noticeable symptoms.

However, AVMs are known to be fragile and there is a high risk that the AVM might bleed or cause an aneurysm – potentially causing death or serious brain injury.

Therefore, if treatable (and some are so big, complex or fragile that they can’t be treated) surgeons will often opt to risk an operation to remove the AVM to prevent any catastrophes in the future.

You’d think that radio wouldn’t be a good medium to cover a surgical procedure but the programme makes for compelling listening as the neurosurgeon, Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld, narrates each stage as the operation progresses.

The patient and other staff also describe their hopes and fears, as well as their role in the treatment.

One of the most striking things is the sound of the drill as it cuts into the skull.

Link to AITM on ‘Brain Surgery – Live on the Wireless!’