Encephalon 66 with just the facts, ma’am

The 66th edition of the Encephalon psychology and neuroscience writing carnival was published a few days ago and I’m only just catching up with the world. However, it’s got a great round-up of some of the best mind and brain blogging and is hosted by Ionian Enchantment.

A couple of my favourites include Neurotopia on problems with the popular but wrong serotonin theory of depression, and one from Effortless Incitement on how relatedness influences an individual’s knowledge about whether their sibling is alive or not!

There’s plenty more, so have a browse through this fortnight’s selection.

Link to Encephalon 66.

For the sake of Ritalin

Don’t Believe the Hype by hip hop group Public Enemy has a line which is often misheard as “I don’t rhyme for the sake of Ritalin”, when, in fact, the lyrics say “I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddlin'”.

I’ve just noticed that The Roots‘ track False Media, gives a clever nod to this perceptual miscue to make a point about the drug itself.

Eleven million children are on Ritalin
That’s why I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddlin’

Link to False Media lyrics.

I would have got away with it…

James Brewer suffered a stroke and, thinking he was dying, confessed to a murder he had committed thirty years earlier in his hospital bed. Like the majority of people who suffer stroke, he recovered and has now been charged with murder.

From BBC News:

A US man who thought he was dying and confessed to having killed a neighbour in 1977 has been charged with murder after making a recovery, US media say.

James Brewer could now face the death penalty over the unsolved killing in Tennessee 32 years ago, reports say.

Convinced he was dying after a stroke, Mr Brewer reportedly admitted to police he shot dead 20-year-old Jimmy Carroll.

The 58-year-old, who had fled Tennessee after the killing, was arrested after his condition improved, reports say.

Lest you find yourself in the same situation, you may like to know that the stroke mortality rates have fallen dramatically in recent decades.

Link to BBC News story.
Link to story in The Telegraph.

Medellín, mi corazón

I leave Medellín and the beautiful country of Colombia today after six fantastic months working at the Universidad de Antioquia and the Hospital Universitario San Vicente de Paúl.

My thanks to the everyone I worked with here for the fantastically warm welcome, the careful tuition in scientific Spanish and the fascinating conversations.

Colombia is a wonderfully friendly and stunningly beautiful country that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone, visitor or worker alike.

The picture is of one of the many beautiful mountains of Antioquia, in the ‘Paisa’ region.

Apologies for the likely sporadic updates over the next couple of days as I fly back to the UK and fight the jet lag.

Hasta pronto Colombia.

2009-03-20 Spike activity

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

Wired reports that Japanese ‘detergent suicide‘ technique creeps into U.S.

To the bunkers! BBC News has a video of a creepy but strangely seductive <a href="Female robot
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7946780.stm”>fembot from a Japanese tech firm.

Kraepelin´s Grandchildren is an interesting new Spanish-language brain blog.

Daniel Dennett does an interesting TED lecture on the counter-intuitive link between evolution and psychology.

Not Exactly Rocket Science covers a fascinating study finding that musical intervals actually reflect the sounds of our own speech.

I’ve been digging the Phrenologists Notebook blog recently. Looks plain, reads great.

BBC News has a great video clip from a Horizon documentary showing newborns doing ‘maths’ and how experiments test such young kids.

Thank you Neurotopia! Contrary to the popular headlines modafinil triggering dopamine activity in the nucleus accumbens does not make it addictive. People getting addicted to it does (which, so far, hasn’t happened).

BPS Research Digest has an excellent write-up of a review paper on successful non-drugs treatments for schizophrenia.

Completely false headline hides interesting write-up of study on anterior cingulate activation linked to religious belief in New Scientist.

New Scientist has a much better article on the effect of money on decision-making.

Am I normal? A new series of the wonderful BBC Radio 4 series has programmes on post-natal depression and gifted children.

Neurophilosophy reports on a study finding that brain waves predict successful memory for an event before it occurs.

The New York Times has an interesting article on Dr Alice Flaherty who studies the neuropsychology of empathy and has bipolar disorder.

A bill to promote the neurotechnology industry has been introduced into both the House and Senate of US Congress, reports Brain Waves.

Neuroscientist and author of a recent book on loneliness, John Cacioppo, is interviewed by Neuronarrative.

Scientific American has an interesting interview on delayed onset brain injuries with neurosurgeon Keith Black in the wake of Natasha Richardson’s death.

Predicting creditworthiness from photos of faces. The Economist covers another interesting psychological characteristics we can reliably read from the face (if averaged from a group’s responses).

PsyBlog has a piece on the ‘Cocktail Party Effect‘, presumably named in the days when psychologists had cocktail parties. Presumably, if discovered today it would be called the Friday after work down the pub effect.

The control centre of the US Army’s Human Terrain System and the role of the team in tackling military corruption is discussed by Wired.

The Frontal Cortex has a thought-provoking meditation on the value of neuroscience.

There’s been so much eye-opening stuff on Furious Seasons recently, I’ll just direct you to the entire blog.

Get me a mentally ill celebrity

The New Statesman has an interesting article by a press officer from one of the UK’s biggest mental health charities describing how press stories are put together and why it’s almost impossible to get any media interest without a ‘mentally ill celebrity’.

But there’s the rub. Shouldn’t we want to hear about these issues anyway? Do we really need to look to the stars? I started “selling” this campaign to journalists armed with a raft of compelling stories of real-life discrimination – the experienced business analyst who, after six months off with depression, made 150 job applications before an employer would give him a chance; the singer barred from joining a choir because she had had schizophrenia; the Cambridge graduate refused a chance to train as a teacher because of a history of mental health problems.

They’re interesting stories, emblematic of a stigma that still surrounds mental illness, and they matter to a great many people: one in four of us will have a mental health problem at some stage. And journalists know it. “Wow, yes, that is very interesting,” they say. “It’s dreadful, isn’t it? I know someone that happened to, actually, but . . . I was wondering if you could get me Mel C, y’know, Sporty Spice? Or Ruby Wax? Or, even better, do you have any new celebs who’ve had problems in the past?”

Link to New Statesman piece ‘Get me Sporty Spice’.

Permanently altering brain function, outside the skull

A surgical team from Italy have just reported that they’ve altered human brain function through neurosurgery conducted from outside the skull, by using beams of radiation.

The technique is known as radiosurgery and, in itself, isn’t novel. The team used the Cyberknife system, specifically designed to do this sort of operation.

However, the technique is typically used to treat brain tumours, and what is new is that the team have adapted this method to permanently knock out targeted areas to alter overall brain function.

They were inspired by deep brain stimulation and functional brain surgery. These aim to do a similar thing and are most commonly used to treat tremors and movement problems in Parkinson’s disease by altering the movement circuits in the brain.

This new operation aimed to do something similar, but with radiosurgery.

Their report appears in the journal Medical Physics, where they describe the treatment of two patients with, until then, untreatable disorders. One with chronic pain, stemming from nerve damage, and other with dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes certain muscles to painfully contract.

One of the challenges with this sort of operation is hitting exactly the right spot, and to achieve the necessary accuracy the team built a 3D computer model of the key areas from the brain scans which they then used to electronically direct the radiosurgery equipment.

The patient with dystonia had a pallidotomy, where part of his basal ganglia was ablated (destroyed), whereas the patient with chronic pain had a thalamotomy, taking out a section of his medial thalamus.

Both patients recovered well, significantly improved and showed no major side-effects at 15 months.

The image on the left shows where the radiation beams entered the head during the operation on the patient with chronic pain.

Link to research report.
Link to PubMed entry for same.