NeuroPod on ‘bionic ears’ and training neurons

The latest edition of the excellent Nature NeuroPod podcast has just hit the wires with discussions of cochlear implants, conscious control of individual neurons, the neuroscience of Parkinson’s disease and the function of the blood-brain barrier.

The highlight for me was the section on ‘bionic ears’ or cochlear implants – the first mass produced neural implant that can help some forms of hearing loss.

As well as tackling the neuroscience of the devices, the programme also plays what it sounds like to have one, which is quite distinct from normal hearing.

There’s lots more great pieces in this month’s edition, so definitely worth catching.

Link to NeuroPod page.
mp3 of latest podcast.

A diagnosis of ‘Strange and Inexplicable Behaviour’

The World Health Organisation’s ICD-10 manual of diseases and health problems has a diagnosis of ‘Strange and Inexplicable Behaviour’ that gives, rather appropriately, no further explanation, except that it’s classified with code R46.2

It is from Chapter XVIII of the ICD-10 which tackles ‘Symptoms, signs and abnormal clinical and laboratory findings, not elsewhere classified’.

It turns out that the whole of Section R46 is a bit of a gold mine:
R46.0  Very low level of personal hygiene
R46.1  Bizarre personal appearance
R46.2  Strange and inexplicable behaviour
R46.3  Overactivity
R46.4  Slowness and poor responsiveness.
R46.5  Suspiciousness and marked evasiveness
R46.6  Undue concern and preoccupation with stressful events
R46.7  Verbosity and circumstantial detail obscuring reason for contact
R46.8  Other symptoms and signs involving appearance and behaviour
Many thanks to my friend and colleague Jorge who pointed out this little known and under-appreciated diagnostic gem.

Link to ICD-10 chapter with section R46.

Ted Hughes On Thinking

Editor of The Psychologist and man about town, Jon Sutton, just sent me a fantastic monologue by poet Ted Hughes on the experience of thinking.

I’ve uploaded the piece to YouTube where you can hear Hughes’ remarkable analysis in his own characteristic voice.

The piece is almost nine minutes long but in this part Hughes describes what psychologists would now call metacognition.

There is the inner life of thought which is our world of final reality. The world of memory, emotion, feeling, imagination, intelligence and natural common sense, and which goes on all the time consciously or unconsciously like the heartbeat.

There is also the thinking process by which we break into that inner life and capture answers and evidence to support the answers out of it.

And that process of raid, or persuasion, or ambush, or dogged hunting, or surrender, is the kind of thinking we have to learn, and if we don’t somehow learn it, then our minds line us like the fish in the pond of a man who can’t fish.

I have tried to find the origin of the piece but have come up with nothing and Jon says he originally recorded it from Jarvis Cocker’s BBC 6music show but has no more details.

If you know any more about the piece, do add a note in the comments.

Link to Ted Hughes ‘On Thinking’ (massive thanks @jonmsutton).

2010-10-29 Spike activity

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

Two words: Zombie Neuroscience. Oscillatory Thoughts on the strange tale of how the author became one of the world’s most sought after neuroscientists for the undead.

Scientific American on how graphic warnings on cigarette packets put off occasional smokers but heavy smokers react by taking even harder drags.

When people are faced with scientific research that clashes with their personal view, they try a range of strategies to discount the findings. Excellent BPS Research Digest interview.

Esquire has a feature article on amnesic patient HM. Neuroscience served with a ‘Women We Love’ gallery – what more could you want? I can hear some of you saying a ‘Men We Love’ gallery.

Do sisters make us happier? asks The Frontal Cortex.

The Guardian has an exasperated article about the rent-a-quote psychologists and pseudo-psychologists happy to spout all kinds of nonsense about troubled footballer Wayne Rooney.

There’s a fantastic in-depth discussion about the role of cooking in human brain evolution over at Neuroanthropology.

The Boston Globe covers philosopher Peter Hacker’s block rocking challenge to neuroscientists: make sense! There’s an expanded piece where he attacks more sacred cows over at The Philosopher’s Magazine.

This week’s editor’s selection from focuses on psychology and neuroscience posts.

Seed Magazine has an excellent article asking ‘do smoking bans work?’

The misconduct case against Marc Hauser may be looking shaky, or it might not. Neuroskeptic covers the machinations.

The Science Show from ABC Radio National has a short but excellent discussion on how rational and human reasoning differ.

The official bloggers have been announced for the Society for Neuroscience conference and hardly any of them seem to have a blog. Fear not, Functional Neurogenesis has a list of both official and unofficial bloggers covering the event.

Newsweek has a good piece on how researching premature babies can help us understanding neurodevelopmental disorders like autism.

The excellent Addiction Inbox covers a new report by the UN on the world-wide use of synthetic highs and the ‘designer drugs’ trade.

Time has a photo essay by a photographer who has created a ‘photographic conversation’ with his autistic son.

The Encephalon mind and brain blogging carnival is back from the dead! You can read it over at Cephalove.

Discover Magazine has an excellent piece on consciousness, tinnitus (‘ringing in the ears’) and how it be treated by tweaking the brain’s tone map.

Ace forensic psychologist Karen Franklin who normally blogs at In the News has started a new blog called Witness aimed at introducing people to forensic and criminal psychology.

New Scientist has and interesting illusion that aims to combine a perceptual distortion with a beauty perception quirk.

The text of the latest annual ‘State of the Regiment’ address to the US military PSYOP units is up over at the PSYOP Regimental Blog.

The Lancet has a critical essay on genetics, the media and claims that new psychological disorders are suddenly ‘biological’.

What’s the chance that a man’s kids are not really his, biologically? Barking Up the Wrong Tree looks at the statistics.

The Atlantic has more images from the ‘Portraits of the Mind’ book on the history of depictions of the brain that we featured recently.

A handslide victory

If ever there was a scientific study destined for the Ig Nobel awards, this is it. The Economist reports on new research finding that searches for internet porn increased in US states that backed the winning party in an election.

The study was inspired by the ‘challenge hypothesis’ which states that competition and dominance raise testosterone levels in males with an increased interest in mating following soon after.

The hypothesis has largely been confirmed in animals, but psychologists Patrick and Charlotte Markey decided to see whether the effect could be seen in humans after elections:

To do this they first used a web service called WordTracker to identify the top ten search terms employed by people seeking pornography (“xvideos” was the politest among them). Then they asked a second service, Google Trends, to analyse how often those words were used in the week before and the week after an American election, broken down by state.

Their results, just published in Evolution and Human Behavior, were the same for all three of the elections they looked at—the 2004 and 2008 presidential contests, and the 2006 mid-terms (in which the Democrats made big gains in both houses of Congress). No matter which side won, searches for porn increased in states that had voted for the winners and decreased in those that had voted for the losers. The difference was not huge; it was a matter of one or two per cent. But it was consistent and statistically significant.

Less sophisticated people would make ‘hung like a donkey’ jokes at this point, but I’m far too refined as I’m sure regular readers are aware.

If you want to see the research without the fig leaf of the mainstream media, the full text of the scientific paper is available online as a pdf.

Link to Economist article ‘Rising to the occasion’.
Link to DOI entry and summary of paper.
pdf of full text of scientific paper.

A misdirection of mind

Scientific American has an excellent video where two neuroscientists and a street magician with remarkable pickpocketing skills explain how illusionists manipulate our attention.

It’s a hugely entertaining piece and really highlights how the idea of ‘sleight of hand’ is itself a misdirection, as the most important of the magician’s manipulations is to alter where we focus and what we expect.

The people featured in the video were all involved in the recent scientific discussions about what stage magic can teach cognitive neuroscience about the mind and brain.

You’ll also notice there is a bit of scientific sleight of hand that happens at about the 9 minute mark where the all-purpose ‘mirror neuron‘ theory is pulled out of a hat as an explanation that stretches way beyond what we actually know about the mirror system.

It doesn’t say whether mirror neurons can also saw a woman in half but I’m sure someone will suggest it in the near future.

Despite this moment of unsubstantiated speculation, the video is an excellent guide to the psychology of attention and great fun to boot.

Link to video ‘Neuroscience meets magic’.

An uneven distribution of traumatised soldiers

A brief insight into why US troops returning from the same war zones as UK troops show four times the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder – taken from a recent Military Medicine article on mental health treatment in the British armed forces.

The prevalence of PTSD among U.S. forces returning from Iraq has approached 20% of combat personnel. This is in contrast to U.K. forces, which have reported approximately 5% using the same screening tools. There are differences between the forces deployed, some of which may explain the differences in mental health outcomes: U.S. troops are younger, less experienced, deploy for longer tours, and are more likely to be reservists than U.K. forces, all of which are independent risk factors for the development of symptoms of PTSD. A further explanation is that the higher levels of reporting may reflect societal and cultural factors not necessarily associated with deployment.

‘Societal and cultural factors’, of course, could mean anything from the British ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to dealing with mental distress to the system of support and compensation for US troops which has been noted not to encourage improvement as well as it might.

However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that part of the difference may be due to the experiences of the troops, and as far as I know, there is no research that has looked at whether your average US soldier in Iraq simply deals with more potentially traumatising events – combat, injured civilians, bombings and so on.

The article is a fantastic discussion of how the UK armed forces manage mental health but unfortunately it’s locked behind a paywall, because discussions about British army psychiatry can explode if not handled by professionals.

UPDATE: The authors of the paper, the King’s Centre for Military Health Research, have kindly put the full text of the article online which you can read as a pdf.


Link to locked article in Military Medicine.
Link to PubMed entry for article.