Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tony Blair Tastes Like Desiccated Coconut...

'George Bush is like crusty potato'

James Wannerton, president of the UK Synaesthesia Association, explains how the condition which "mixes the senses" affects his life.

He is speaking at a conference in Edinburgh where scientists and others with the condition are discussing the phenomenon.

Wannerton experiences a rare form of synesthesia known as lexical-gustatory synesthesia, in which spoken and written words elicit specific taste sensations that remain constant (Ward & Simner, 2003).

He continues describing his experience in the BBC article:

For as long as I can remember, words, word sounds, musical instruments and certain ambient noises have produced involuntary bursts of taste on my tongue.

Texture and temperature also feature in this experience which is with me 24 hours a day. My dreams also contain tastes, and I am unable to turn it off.

Although predominant during my formative years, I never considered these invasive sensations to be abnormal. Tasting words seemed as natural as breathing.

As I got older and more involved in the wider world, I found my word/taste associations having an increasing effect in my everyday life, subtly dictating the nature and course of my friendships, personal relationships, my education, my career, where I live, what I wear, what I read, the make and colour of car that I drive. The list is endless.

. . .

Whenever I see a picture of Tony Blair I instantly get the taste of desiccated coconut.

Gordon Brown leaves me with a very strong taste of dirt and Marmite, so he shouldn't count on getting my vote.

George Bush gives me a taste similar to the crusty potato bit on top of a cottage pie.

Why does this occur? Lexical-gustatory synesthesia has not yet been studied from a neurophysiological perspective. A more common form of synesthesia is grapheme-color synesthesia, where numbers and letters are consistently associated with specific colors (Ward et al., 2005). What are the neural mechanisms of such percepts? A recent study (Rouw & Scholte, 2007) used diffusion tensor imaging, a magnetic resonance imaging method that provides images of white matter tracts, to provide suggestive evidence of increased connectivity in the inferior temporal lobe regions involved in processing color and letter/word stimuli.1


1 Although the increase in anisotropy, indicative of greater connectivity, extended to multiple brain areas [explained by hand-waving].


Rouw R, Scholte HS. (2007). Increased structural connectivity in grapheme-color synesthesia. Nature Neuroscience, 10(6), 792-797. DOI: 10.1038/nn1906

Ward J, Simner J. (2003). Lexical-gustatory synaesthesia: linguistic and conceptual factors. Cognition 89:237-61.

Ward J, Simner J, Auyeung V. (2005). A comparison of lexical-gustatory and grapheme-colour synaesthesia. Cognitive Neuropsychology 22:28-41.

Gordon Brown and jar of Marmite
James gets a taste of Marmite
when he sees Gordon Brown

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Friday, March 28, 2008


The Neurocritic has decided to run for public office as a candidate of the Superhappy Evolution and Neuroscience Party.

Here is our manifesto! Yay!

We want every woman to live like a princess with robotic servants and we want everyone to live like wealthy billionaires, wealthy members of royalty, and wealthy slavemasters with robotic servants and robotic slaves that will do all of the work for them.

FACE IT, it would be fun to live like a wealthy person with robotic servants or slaves doing all the work for you!

We want to do this by demanding a 100% requirement to teach artificial intelligence robotics for grades K-12 and a requirement class in universities with the goal of teaching students to make robots that can replace people and serve people. Every student will learn to make robots that can serve us and do all of the work for us so we can live like wealthy princesses, wealthy billionaires, and wealthy slavemasters with robotic servants.

I would also add a free pizza (a real one) to all registrants at Neuroscience conferences.

According to the promotional materials,
(CUrrently the Superhappy Party is officially registered in California and Nevada and I plan on registering it in all fifty states!)
However, I could find evidence only of an attempt to register (and only in California):
Parties Attempting to Qualify
As of March 2008




So it remains to be seen if The Neurocritic will appear on the ballot in your state...

Animated brain gif:

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Unusual Conference Advertising

ICAD 2008

FIGURE 1 (Mosconi et al., 2008). Representative cortical 18F-FDG PET patterns in NL, AD, DLB, and FTD. 3D-SSP maps and corresponding Z scores showing CMRglc reductions in clinical groups as compared with the NL database are displayed on a color-coded scale ranging from 0 (black) to 10 (red). From left to right: 3D-SSP maps are shown on the right and left lateral, superior and inferior, anterior and posterior, and right and left middle views of a standardized brain image.


Mosconi L, Tsui WH, Herholz K, Pupi A, Drzezga A, Lucignani G, Reiman EM, Holthoff V, Kalbe E, Sorbi S, Diehl-Schmid J, Perneczky R, Clerici F, Caselli R, Beuthien-Baumann B, Kurz A, Minoshima S, de Leon MJ. (2008). Multicenter Standardized 18F-FDG PET Diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment, Alzheimer's Disease, and Other Dementias. J Nucl Med. 49:390-398.

This multicenter study examined (18)F-FDG PET measures in the differential diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease (AD), frontotemporal dementia (FTD), and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) from normal aging and from each other and the relation of disease-specific patterns to mild cognitive impairment (MCI). METHODS: We examined the (18)F-FDG PET scans of 548 subjects, including 110 healthy elderly individuals ("normals" or NLs), 114 MCI, 199 AD, 98 FTD, and 27 DLB patients, collected at 7 participating centers. Individual PET scans were Z scored using automated voxel-based comparison with generation of disease-specific patterns of cortical and hippocampal (18)F-FDG uptake that were then applied to characterize MCI. RESULTS: Standardized disease-specific PET patterns were developed that correctly classified 95% AD, 92% DLB, 94% FTD, and 94% NL. MCI patients showed primarily posterior cingulate cortex and hippocampal hypometabolism (81%), whereas neocortical abnormalities varied according to neuropsychological profiles. An AD PET pattern was observed in 79% MCI with deficits in multiple cognitive domains and 31% amnesic MCI. (18)F-FDG PET heterogeneity in MCI with nonmemory deficits ranged from absent hypometabolism to FTD and DLB PET patterns. CONCLUSION: Standardized automated analysis of (18)F-FDG PET scans may provide an objective and sensitive support to the clinical diagnosis in early dementia.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Application of “Shoe-Smell” to Control Epileptic Seizures

Just in time for Easter...

Jaseja H. (2008). Scientific basis behind traditional practice of application of "shoe-smell" in controlling epileptic seizures in the eastern countries. Clin Neurol Neurosurg. Mar 17; [Epub ahead of print].

Epilepsy has been known for thousands of years and has been subjected to various forms of conventional and non-conventional therapies including a non-pharmacological conservative treatment known as aromatherapy, ever since. One commonly practiced form of aromatherapy that persists as an immediate first-aid measure even today in some parts of developing countries in the East is the application of “shoe-smell” during an epileptic attack. The questionable remedial role has intrigued neuro-scientists at least in these parts of the world. This brief paper attempts to provide an insight to the basis of persistence of this practice and to explore a possible scientific logic behind its unscientifically reported remedial effectiveness. The neurophysiology of olfactory stimulation from “shoe-smell” reveals a sound and scientific reasoning for its remedial efficacy in epilepsy; olfactory stimuli in this study have been found to possess significantly effective anti-epileptic influence which could have formed the basis for the use of application of “shoe-smell” in earlier times and also for its persistence even today in those parts of developing regions.

NOTE: this is actually a serious article, and the author lays out some possible mechanisms of the effect.
Although today, this age-old practice of “shoe-smell” may sound ridiculous apart from being most unscientific, its persistence as a remedy does tempt researchers to provide an insight to the reasons and basis for this continuing practice...

. . .

In earlier times, at least in case of temporal seizures with secondary generalization, strong olfaction (in the form of an old shoe) is likely to have succeeded in halting the progress of the seizure and aborting its generalization. People may have learnt this remedial effect from the above fortuitous observation. In those days, shoes were commonly made from leather and the other contaminants like sweat, dust, mud, etc., may have contributed to the strong smell emanating from the shoes; further, the easy availability of the shoes as a first and handy aid coupled with difficult accessibility to medical aids (both the physician and the drugs) aided in the evolution and development of the application of “shoe-smell” as an important first-aid treatment for epileptic seizures.

Existence of an inherent relation between smell and TLE especially uncinate seizures has been known for a long time, uncus being phylogenetically a part of olfactory brain. Olfactory hallucinations and auras often accompany temporal lobe seizures (Chen et al., 2003; West & Doty, 1995). Olfactory areas are in close proximity as well as directly connected to regions where seizures develop in TLE and neuronal activity generated by olfaction can thus prevent the spread of synchronous activity responsible for the epileptic attack.
So the question on everyone's mind today is...


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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mentalizing Mentalizing

I am the opposite of you
You battle your mean spirit
I'm suffering through my own
You answer to no one
I don’t know what that’s like
I honestly don’t know what that’s like

-Throwing Muses, Mercury

I'm really trying to imagine what is in the minds of social psychologists who design fMRI studies like this one, but I can't seem to do it. Perhaps I should follow their advice (Jenkins et al., 2008):
Importantly, introspection can only provide insight about another's feelings, beliefs, and preferences to the extent that one's own mind serves as a reasonable proxy for that of the other person. If two people tend to experience very different mental states in the same situations, neither would be well advised to attempt to mentalize about the other on the basis of her own introspection. Thus, the strategy of using one's own mental states as a basis for understanding those of others should be limited to situations in which one can assume that another person generally thinks and feels similarly to oneself. Perceivers may less readily use their own mental states as a guide to the thoughts and feelings of people perceived to be substantially dissimilar from self.
I must be substantially dissimilar from a social psychologist...

What is mentalizing?1
Mentalizing refers to our ability to read the mental states of other agents and engages many neural processes. The brain's mirror system allows us to share the emotions of others. Through perspective taking, we can infer what a person currently believes about the world given their point of view.
It's an extremely complicated aspect of social cognition and as such is not easily reducible to its putative components and processes -- which, according to Wikipedia, include schemas, representations, regulation, memory, attention, accessibility, salience, priming, etc. In fact, some neurophilosophers maintain that the neuroscientific study of beliefs, desires, etc. is hopelessly naïve and predicated on erroneous folk psychological notions. But I digress.

What did the current study do? The authors proposed to use the technique of repetition suppression (the mechanisms of which are poorly understood even in studies examining object processing in the lateral occipital complex) to determine whether mentalizing about "similar others" draws on the same neural resources as introspecting about oneself, in contrast to mentalizing about "dissimilar others." Thus, the experiment was constructed as a priming study of sorts, where thoughts about oneself were preceded by either thoughts of similar others (primed), or thoughts of dissimilar others (unprimed). Reductions in neural activity for the primed condition -- repetition suppression -- would suggest that the participants were drawing on the same "self-evaluation" sort of neural regions to guess the mental states of those deemed similar to themselves.

So how were "the others" classified relative to the study participants? After the scanning session, the subjects (13 Boston area students)
...answered two questions about their own sociopolitical attitudes in random order ("How politically liberal or conservative are you?" and "How socially liberal or conservative are you?") by using a 7-point scale (1 = very liberal, 4 = neither liberal nor conservative, and 7 = very conservative).
The mean was 3.03, so the group was slightly liberal but fairly middle of the road. And how did the researchers classify them? Why, as liberals! Gah!

OK, let's look at "the others" and the task.
Participants were told that the experiment investigated the ability to make inferences about others on the basis of minimal information. Before scanning, participants read a short paragraph about each of two unfamiliar target individuals depicted by face photographs. Following Mitchell et al. (2006), one target was described as a college student in the Northeast who maintained liberal social and political attitudes similar to those of our typical student participant. In contrast, the other target was described as a conservative, fundamentalist Republican attending a large university in the Midwest (i.e., as fairly dissimilar from our typical participant)....

During scanning, participants performed a modified version of the opinion-judging task used by Mitchell et al. (2006) Trials were divided into prime and self phases. Each trial began with the presentation of one of three primes: (i) the photograph of the liberal target, (ii) the photograph of the conservative target, or (iii) a chalk outline of a head with the word "me" written inside, used to represent the participant her or himself. This prime image appeared above a four-point response scale (1 = not at all and 4 = definitely). Simultaneously, an opinion question appeared between the prime and the response scale, and participants were asked to use the scale either to estimate how likely the target would be to endorse the opinion or, for the chalk outline, to report their own response to the question. Opinion questions referred to a range of personal issues that were pretested to be unrelated to political orientation (e.g., "dislike mushrooms on pizza?"; "enjoy crossword puzzles?"; "like to be the center of attention?"; "generally see things from many perspectives?"; "enjoy helping friends with problems?"; and "like impressionist artwork?")...

The self phase of each trial began after a 400-ms interval and was identical to the chalk outline prime described above, in which participants reported their own response to an opinion question.
So "the others" were sketchy fictitious characters who either liked or didn't like mushrooms on their pizza. Anyway, what are the behavioral correlates of such a manipulation? Were there any? This is important, because repetition suppression in certain brain regions that are more perceptual (such as the LOC or fusiform gyrus) is seemingly independent of behavioral priming (e.g., speeding up on primed trials relative to unprimed), whereas repetition suppression in other regions (such as prefrontal cortex) is sensitive to the response conditions and thus, behavioral priming (Horner & Henson, 2008).

But we don't get to read about reaction time data in the scanner.
...analysis of response time in the fMRI experiment was precluded by the abbreviated length of trials necessitated by rapid event-related scanning, such that participants were typically near the ceiling allowed by the response window [which seemed to be 3,600 ms].
Instead, a separate behavioral study showed that RTs were significantly faster after similar (M = 1,990 ms) than dissimilar (M = 2,079 ms) targets, but it seemed RTs were even more facilitated (299 ms faster) if the subject made the exact same response (e.g., pressing the 3 key) for similar other and self. But then they go on to say that a weakly-powered subanalysis of the fMRI data revealed that the repetition suppression effect was independent of response key. My head hurts now...

Sigh. One more detail about the actual region [singular] of interest, which was ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC). In their previous study (Mitchell et al., 2006), the "Like Me" region was located at MNI coordinates of 18, 57, 9 but the center of mass migrated to the opposite hemisphere at –6, 45, 3 in the present experiment 2 (with an alternate vMPFC ROI of -3, 51, 12 in the Supplementary Material).

Fig. 1 (Jenkins et al., 2008). A region of vMPFC (–6, 45, 3; 47 voxels in extent) was defined from an explicit self-reference task in which judgments of one's own personality characteristics were compared with judgments of another person George Bush (i.e., self greater than Bush).

So there you have it.

ADDENDUM: And there's more! In the comments, Elliot highlights the faulty method used to initially identify the vMPFC region of interest shown above:
After the opinion-judging task, participants completed an explicit self-reference task... On each of 100 trials, participants saw a single trait adjective that could be used to describe a person's personality or dispositional traits (e.g., curious, intelligent, or neurotic). Each trait adjective was accompanied by the name of one of two targets: self or Bush.
As if opinions about Bush among even slightly liberal college students will be completely neutral! No confound with negative emotion there...

On what is perhaps a more useful note, you can read a thorough summary of mentalizing as it relates to clinical practice on the Menninger Clinic web site. Impairments in mentalizing about the minds of others have been widely reported in people with autism and schizophrenia, but more subtle deficits have also been observed in individuals with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and eating disorders. In fact, a brand new study (Bateman & Fonagy, 2008) reported some success in treating BPD with mentalization therapy:
BPD is traditionally treated with a combination of a specific type of psychotherapy (called dialectical behavior therapy) and sometimes medications to treat other specific, related concerns (such as depression).

But an alternative psychotherapy treatment approach is also available, called mentalization based therapy (MBT). This psychodynamic approach focuses on helping an individual separate out what thoughts and feelings are theirs, and what thoughts and feelings are others’. While this may seem like an obvious thing to know or how to do, it is theorized that people with borderline personality disorder often have difficulty with just this thing.

...five years after treatment was completed, people who received mentalization treatment did significantly better than those who didn’t (on measures such as suicidality, diagnosis, medication, global functional and use of additional treatment services).
So while it can be helpful to use introspection to infer the mental states of others (particularly those most "like you"), this method can be carried to counterproductive extremes.


1 also called Theory-of-Mind

2 Yes, I know the ROI was 47 voxels in extent. I'm just sayin'...


Bateman A, Fonagy P. (2008). 8-Year Follow-Up of Patients Treated for Borderline Personality Disorder: Mentalization-Based Treatment Versus Treatment as Usual. Am J Psychiatry Mar 17; [Epub ahead of print].

Horner AJ, Henson RN. (2008). Priming, response learning and repetition suppression. Neuropsychologia Feb 2; [Epub ahead of print].

Jenkins AC, Macrae CN, Mitchell JP. (2008). Repetition suppression of ventromedial prefrontal activity during judgments of self and others. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(11), 4507-4512. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0708785105

One useful strategy for inferring others' mental states (i.e., mentalizing) may be to use one's own thoughts, feelings, and desires as a proxy for those of other people. Such self-referential accounts of social cognition are supported by recent neuroimaging observations that a single brain region, ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC), is engaged both by tasks that require introspections about self and by tasks that require inferences about the minds of others perceived to be similar to self. To test whether people automatically refer to their own mental states when considering those of a similar other, we examined repetition-related suppression of vMPFC response during self-reflections that followed either an initial reflection about self or a judgment of another person. Consistent with the hypothesis that perceivers spontaneously engage in self-referential processing when mentalizing about particular individuals, vMPFC response was suppressed when self-reflections followed either an initial reflection about self or a judgment of a similar, but not a dissimilar, other. These results suggest that thinking about the mind of another person may rely importantly on reference to one's own mental characteristics.

Mitchell, J.P., Macrae, C.N., and Banaji, M.R. (2006). Dissociable Medial Prefrontal Contributions to Judgments of Similar and Dissimilar Others. Neuron 50: 655–663.

We quit making out to attend this meeting
With old ladies on tremendous amounts of coke
And reeling, I hear my bad voice call
My wayward brain reels
My easily distracted brain reels

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Friday, March 14, 2008

The Journal of Truly, Truly Outrageous Medical Hypotheses

Via The Lay Scientist...
Do Sexy Shoes cause Schizophrenia?

Is there an association between the use of heeled footwear and schizophrenia?” [1]. The human mind has an almost infinite capacity to come up with unlikely ideas and connections. From the Department of Lateral Thinking in Sweden, comes a hypothesis by Jarl Flensmark that’s so crazy, it could just be true… can high heels cause schizophrenia?

Normally when reviewing a scientific paper, it’s sensible to start with the background, and explain how the idea originated as a result of hints given in a variety of previous studies and speculations. In this case I can’t, because I honestly can’t figure out what inspired Flensmark, what piece of wiring in his head made him come up with the connection between high-heeled shoes and Shizophrenia [sic]. He may be right, he may be completely wrong, but I don’t care – the man is a genius.

Well, I don't know about genius...creative, perhaps. Or is he...

In our earlier “The Key To Genius: Manic-Depression and the Creative Life” (1998) Amherst Prometheus Books we catalog the role of the disorder in the lives and careers of Isaac Newton, Ludwig von Beethoven, Charles Dickens, Vincent van Gogh and other creative geniuses.
Both of these articles appeared in the journal, Medical Hypotheses. This journal had crossed my radar screen before, enough to register as a repository of wacky ideas. But this time, I decided to investigate the review criteria and Editorial Board.
Aims & Scope

Medical Hypotheses takes a deliberately different approach to review. Most contemporary practice tends to discriminate against radical ideas that conflict with current theory and practice. Medical Hypotheses will publish radical ideas, so long as they are coherent and clearly expressed. Furthermore, traditional peer review can oblige authors to distort their true views to satisfy referees, and so diminish authorial responsibility and accountability. In Medical Hypotheses, the authors' responsibility for the integrity, precision and accuracy of their work is paramount. The editor sees his role as a 'chooser', not a 'changer': choosing to publish what are judged to be the best papers from those submitted.

From Charlton BG. Peer usage versus peer review BMJ 2007; 335: 451 :- "Traditionally, editorial review is the main alternative to peer review. A scientist editor or editorial team applies a sieve, with varying degrees of selectivity, to research submissions. Strictly, this process should not attempt to predict whether ideas and facts are "true," because truth can be established only in retrospect. Instead, editorial selection works within constraints of subject matter on the basis of factors such as potential importance and interest, clarity and appropriateness of expression, and broad criteria of scientific plausibility. Even probably untrue papers may be judged worth publishing if they contain aspects (ideas, perspectives, data) that are potentially stimulating to the development of future science.
Who is on the Editorial Board?

Editor-in-Chief: Bruce G. Charlton, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

Founding Editor: David F. Horrobin

Editorial Advisory Board:
Peter Andras, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
William Bains, Hertfordshire, UK
Roy Calne, Cambridge, UK
Arvid Carlsson, Goteborg University, Sweden
Antonio R. Damasio, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, USA [now at USC]
David Healy, North Wales Department of Psychiatry, UK
David L. Hull, Northwestern University, USA
J. Lee Kavanau, UCLA, USA
Mehar Manku, Stirling, UK
Andrew Miles, King's College, London, UK
Mark A. Notturno, Interactivity Foundation, USA
David Pearce, Brighton, UK
V.S Ramachandran, USA
Jonathan Rees, University of Edinburgh, UK
Jack Scannell, London, UK
Gavin Spickett, Royal Victoria Infirmary, UK
James Willis, Guildford, UK
Joon Yun, Palo Alto Institute, USA

Many of these men [yup, they're all men] are prominent, respected scientists. Some are gadflies. How many names do you recognize? I've put links on the ones familiar to me.

Now back to the manic-depressive article by Julian Lieb [2].
Two manic-depressives, two tyrants, two world wars

Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin were tyrants who attained absolute power, and misused it in a gargantuan fashion, leaving in his wake a trail of hatred, devastation and death. All made war on their perceived enemies and on their own countrymen. In “A Brotherhood of Tyrants: Manic Depression and Absolute power” (1994) Amherst, Prometheus Books, D. Jablow Hershman and I expose manic-depressive disorder as the force that drove them to absolute power and the terrible abuse of it. We uncover manic-depressive disorder as a hidden cause of dictatorship, mass killing and war, and show how the psychopathology of the disorder can be a key factor in the political pathology of tyranny. ... Key to the destroyers is an indifference to the suffering of others, a need to control everyone and everything, a resistance to reason, and grandiose and paranoid delusions. The paranoid and grandiose delusions of manic-depressives are as infectious and as virulent as a deadly microbe, and can easily infect those in thrall to the host figure. It is a phenomenon known as “induced psychosis” and its imprint is often to be seen on the world stage. In this article I will add Kaiser Wilhelm to the list of manic-depressive warmongers, and passages from Robert Payne’s “The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler” that are not only pathognomonic of manic-depressive disorder, but of the mixed variant.
Wow! Just wow. The level of speculation and bigotry is astounding. I've heard of the "Key to Genius" book, but not the "Tyrant" one. I searched and searched but could not find evidence of an online book review of the latter,* and only a handful of user reviews. The best is this one by a user at Barnes &

Customer Rating for this product is 1 out of 5 pop psychology at it's finest
A reviewer, not amused, 01/27/2004

Hershman and Lieb combine a disneyesque sense of morality with the literary talents of a fourth grader to bring you an original and good idea gone sour. The references used in the book are taken out of context and abused. they conclude that mania and depression are caused by external circumstances and/or at the will of the individual which couldn't be further from the truth. This book will only further the misunderstanding of a frequently misunderstood disease and as a manic-depressive I am offended.

Also recommended: Read anything by Kay Redfield Jamison. She seems to be among the select few who have a firm grasp on the subject

Here's a lovely excerpt from the book:

Because, of course, it's been scientifically proven that bipolar disorder has a 100% inheritance rate...

* After reading the Lieb article, I noticed he cited a review by Dr. Jerrold M. Post [3].
These three leaders have been analyzed to a fare thee well, including medical historians (who are not cited) among the scholarly analysts. The diagnosis of manic-depressive illness, however, has not previously been raised. The reason is that the diagnostic conception of the authors is overly sweeping and broad. Many of the behaviors they describe as indicating manic-depressive illness are consistent with personality disorders and by no means pathognomonic of manic-depressive psychosis. In particular, many of the behaviors described seem to reflect significant narcissistic and paranoid traits. Others seem insufficiently to attend to the political and historical context...
But Lieb just whines in reply to Post's 12 year old review:
As far as I know, no one has explained how the egotism of the manic differs from the narcissism of the narcissist, or how the grandiosity and paranoia of the narcissist differs from the grandiosity and paranoia of the manic-depressive.
And thus ends his 2008 paper in Medical Hypotheses. Are the members of the Editorial board proud to have their names affiliated with such complete dreck?

But there's more. On February 16, 1996, Lieb wrote an editorial that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. I found the entire text online, and here's how it starts...
Hatred Often Lurks in the Shadows of Mania

by Julian Lieb

Mental illness: Society should understand the role of manic-depressive disorder and paranoia in crimes of genocide

WHILE MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS and patients yearn to see mental illness destigmatized, it is contrary to society's interests to ignore or minimize the role of emotional disorders in bigotry, hate crimes, and genocide.

Consider the perpetrators of the most terrible hate crimes in history. Those who knew or studied Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin offer vivid descriptions of the paranoid, delusional form of manic depressive order both men experienced.
...ironically, by instilling the hatred of millions of law-abiding citizens with bipolar disorder and by propagating stigma. This was duly noted by the person(s) who posted the editorial:
It is horribly ironic that the first sentence of this poisonous missive mentions how much those afflicted with mental illnesses want to see their conditions destigmatized. Just so. And equating manic-depression with evil incarnate certainly accomplishes that goal doesn't it? Telling people that the seeds of evil are to be found in manic-depression, and that it is as infectious and virulent as a deadly microbe seems to this reader to be a good example of what the writer purports to deplore - acts of hate.
But fortunately, the person(s) also notes:
I am pleased to say that a couple of days later it got the scathing denunciation in a letter to the editor that it so richly deserved.
Outrageous! And that was just one article in Volume 70, Issue 4, Pages 709-904 (2008). I'd hate to go through the archives.

But hey, why don't we consider Stimulating revolutionary science with mega-cash prizes?


[1] Flensmark, J. (2004). Is there an association between the use of heeled footwear and schizophrenia?. Medical Hypotheses , 63(1), 740-747. DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2004.05.014.

[2] LIEB, J. (2008). Two manic-depressives, two tyrants, two world wars. Medical Hypotheses, 70(4), 888-892. DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2007.07.036

[3] Post, J. (1996). Review of “A Brotherhood of Tyrants: Manic Depression and Absolute Power.” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 184(10), 647–648.

Truly, truly outrageous!

[One can only try to laugh in such a situation...]

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Broken Pipeline?

Gurgle, mutter
Hiss, stutter
Moan the words like water
Rush and foam and choke
Having waited
This long of a winter
I fear I only
Croak and sigh

-Suzanne Vega, Rusted Pipe
Flat Funding of the NIH Puts a Generation of Science at Risk

An unprecedented five consecutive years of stagnant funding for the National Institutes of Health is putting America at risk—slowing the pace of medical advances, risking the future health of Americans, discouraging our best and brightest researchers, and threatening America's global leadership in biomedical research. Unfortunately, President Bush's budget proposal recommends a sixth year of flat funding for the NIH in 2009.
And in the meantime, promising young researchers in the U.S. are dropping like flies...
Scientists are forced to spend less time doing research and more time writing and rewriting grants because fewer applications are funded on first submission (29% in 1999; 12% in 2007). Most successful grants now require two or three submissions to the NIH peer review process before being funded. This trend represents a clog in the system that is causing researchers to abandon promising work, downsize labs, and spend more time searching for other financial support.
Other blogs have discussed the broken pipeline, too. The entire report, compiled by a group of seven concerned academic research institutions, is available as a colorful PDF (6.60 MB).

Now the time has come to speak
I was not able
And water through a rusted pipe
Could make the sense that I do

-Suzanne Vega, Rusted Pipe

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Mmmm... Donuts... The Sequel

% Simpson Tide, Act one. Homer is standing in chains before
% a court composed completely of immense, talking doughnuts
% of various shapes, colors, and flavors. The judge,
% assumably, is a white doughnut seated at a table across
% from him.

White Doughnut: Homer Simpson, you stand accused of eating
half the population of the planet of the doughnuts!
[The doughnut onlookers give out a mass yell of protest.]
Pink Doughnut: As Homer's defense attorney, I feel we should
be mercifu... hey! Did you just take a bite out of me?
Homer: Uh... maybe.

When we last left the Krispy Kreme story, we saw greater activity in the substantia nigra and locus coeruleus while the characters viewed doughnuts (but not hex nuts) when they were hungry. The backstory revealed activation in the amygdala and posterior cingulate under the same conditions. The experiment by Mohanty et al. (2008) did have a greater purpose, however: explore the motivational modulation of the spatial attention network in a task that manipulated the motivational properties of the attentional target, the motivational state of the participant and the location of the target. To that end, we used a covert attentional shift paradigm to examine the effect of alterations in motivational states (hunger and satiety) on attentional biasing to peripheral locations where motivationally relevant (food) and irrelevant (tools) targets were expected to appear.

Figure 1 (Mohanty et al., 2008). Stimuli and timelines used in the experimental task. Participants were instructed to respond to the onset of peripherally presented targets (donuts or hex-nuts) and foils (danishes or screws) by pressing the right and left button respectively. A cue that preceded target onset by 200, 400, or 800 ms indicated that the target would appear on the side indicated by the directional cue (valid trial), on the opposite side (invalid trial), and on either side of the nondirectional cues (nondirectional trial). Each participant was imaged as they performed the task in two experimental sessions, once while hungry and once while satiated on donuts.

After determining the obvious effects of hunger on brain activity to peripherally-presented donut targets, the investigators
...examined brain regions that mediate motivational modulation of anticipatory spatial attention in a material-specific manner (level 2). For this purpose, another model was estimated to examine brain areas whose activity was associated significantly with cue benefit scores.
The experiment used a Posnerian task to examine covert shifts of attention. Prior to presentation of the dough/nut targets1, the participants viewed cues that correctly predicted the side of the target (valid cues), predicted the wrong side (invalid cues), or neither (nondirectional cues). The cue benefit score was the reaction time advantage obtained with valid compared to neutral cues.

What did the fMRI results show?

Figure 4b (Mohanty et al., 2008). Hunger altered the correlation between neural activity in the attentional network and the speed of attentional shifts differentially to food versus tool targets. There was a stronger positive correlation of neural activity with attentional shifts to food targets when hungry than when satiated, whereas an inverse pattern was seen for tools. Bar plots show mean parametric estimates (±1 SEM) of the correlation between neural activity in the PC [posterior cingulate] and PPC [posterior parietal cortex] and speed of attentional shifts to food and tool stimuli in hungry and satiated condition.

According to the authors, these results demonstrate
the interactive role of posterior parietal and cingulate cortices in integrating motivational information with spatial attention, a process that is critical for selective allocation of attentional resources in an environment where target position and relevance can change rapidly.


1 FOOD and TOOLS were specified as the targets in separate blocks of trials.


Mohanty A, Gitelman DR, Small DM, Mesulam MM. (2008). The Spatial Attention Network Interacts with Limbic and Monoaminergic Systems to Modulate Motivation-Induced Attention Shifts. Cerebral Cortex DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhn021. Feb 27; [Epub ahead of print].


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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Ready For Your Close-up, Mr. Chocolate Iced Kreme Filled

Your brain on Krispy Kremes

CHICAGO--What makes you suddenly dart into the bakery when you spy chocolate- frosted donuts in the window, though you certainly hadn't planned on indulging? As you lick the frosting off your fingers, don't blame a lack of self-control.

New research from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine reveals how hunger works in the brain and the way neurons pull your strings to lunge for the sweet fried dough.

Krispy Kremes, in perhaps their first starring role in neurological research, helped lead to the discovery.

Wow, this one seems like a parody of itself. "Perhaps" their first starring role? You mean there might be another Krispy Kreme neuroimaging publication out there? The press release continues:

In the study, subjects were tested twice -- once after gorging on up to eight Krispy Kreme donuts until they couldn't eat anymore, and on another day after fasting for eight hours.

In both sessions, people were shown pictures of donuts and screwdrivers, while researchers examined their brains in fMRI's.

When the subjects saw pictures of donuts after the eating binge [NOTE: eight doughnuts!!], their brains didn't register much interest. But after the fast, two areas of the brain leaped into action upon seeing the donuts. First, the limbic brain -- an ancestral part of the brain present in all animals from snakes to frogs to humans -- lit up like fireworks.

You don't say?? Or as Jane Wells puts it:
More earth-shattering research news from our nation’s universities! Northwestern U has come out with a study which reveals that -- hold your breath! -- we are more attracted to food when we are hungry than when we are not. What. A. Breakthrough.

. . .

Specifically, the researchers tested people on two different days. The first day, each person ate eight Krispy Kreme [...] doughnuts. On the second day, they fasted for eight hours. Each day they were shown pictures of Krispy Kremes, and their brains reacted differently.

Lo and behold, when they hadn’t eaten for eight hours they reacted MORE STRONGLY TO PICTURES OF FOOD.

Let that sink in for a moment. When you are hungry, you react more strongly to images of food than when you are not hungry. Who knew?
Now, we at The Neurocritic never engage in such sheer ridicule, so we'll report one interesting result of the study (Mohanty et al., 2008) and expand upon it after access to the full article is obtained. The investigators reported greater activity in the substantia nigra (chock full 'o dopamine) and the locus coeruleus (chock full 'o norepinephrine) while viewing doughnuts (but not tools) during the hungry state. While a number of neuroimaging studies have looked at activity in the human substantia nigra, few have do so in locus coeruleus...


Mohanty A, Gitelman DR, Small DM, Mesulam MM. (2008). The Spatial Attention Network Interacts with Limbic and Monoaminergic Systems to Modulate Motivation-Induced Attention Shifts. Cereb Cortex Feb 27; [Epub ahead of print].

How does the human brain integrate information from multiple domains to guide spatial attention according to motivational needs? To address this question, we measured hemodynamic responses to central cues predicting locations of peripheral attentional targets (food or tool images) in a novel covert spatial attention paradigm. The motivational relevance of food-related attentional targets was experimentally manipulated via hunger and satiety. Amygdala, posterior cingulate, locus coeruleus, and substantia nigra showed selective sensitivity to food-related cues when hungry but not when satiated, an effect that did not generalize to tools. Posterior parietal cortex (PPC), including intraparietal sulcus, posterior cingulate, and the orbitofrontal cortex displayed correlations with the speed of attentional shifts that were sensitive not just to motivational state but also to the motivational value of the target. Stronger functional coupling between PPC and posterior cingulate occurred during attentional biasing toward motivationally relevant food targets. These results reveal conjoint limbic and monoaminergic encoding of motivational salience in spatial attention. They emphasize the interactive role of posterior parietal and cingulate cortices in integrating motivational information with spatial attention, a process that is critical for selective allocation of attentional resources in an environment where target position and relevance can change rapidly.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Facebook Group That Ridicules Blog Trolls

Name: Troll Hunter Killers
Type: Sports & Recreation - Professional Sports

A HQ for fellow hunters of the low lifes that are internet trolls. Have a group or forum under attack? You have come to the right place :)
Yes Mr. F***wit, they're all making fun of you. You're pathetic! No one cares what you think...

See also Trolls Wanted For Research Study and be sure to...
Read the comment! The irony is unbelievable!

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Of Two Minds on Brains, Pains, and Psychiatry

The 40th edition of Encephalon1 is available for your viewing pleasure at Mind Hacks. Read about a homolog of Broca's area in the chimpanzee brain (see original article by Taglialatela et al., 2008)! And more!

In other news, the most anticipated merger in neuroblog history has launched! Of Two Minds combines the brains of Steve Higgins (Omni Brain) and Shelley Batts (Retrospectacle).2 In one of the inaugural posts, Shelley interviews Dr. Justin Schmidt, of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index.

Q. Was there a point that you regretted letting a particular insect sting you?3

A. I never directly "let myself be stung" by anything particularly painful. Those that are really painful are quite good at stinging one without help. The worst stinging I received was probably by some black wasps (Polybia simillima) in Costa Rica. It was the only time I have ever seen that species, was ill-equipped at the time to collect the large nest, did not realize how good they were at penetrating bees suits and other barriers, and I absolutely needed that nest. The result was lots of nasty burning stings and a few irate colleagues who were nearby. Incidentally, most of my nasty stinging events are similar - they were serendipitous discoveries of a wonderful species that I needed and had no choice: grasp the moment, or lose it.
Finally, at World of Psychology, guest blogger Ron Pies, M.D. writes about the book, Of Two Minds by T.M. Luhrmann.
Very roughly, Luhrmann argued that the field of psychiatry is still divided between those who see mental illness as a psychological problem amenable to psychosocial therapies; and those who see it as a problem of abnormal brain chemistry, best treated by pharmacotherapy...

And this is truly a shame. The “Angel or Devil” dichotomy does nobody any favors, and certainly does not help patients with serious emotional disturbances.
Of Two Minds, which was published in 2000, focused on psychodynamic psychotherapy (mainly Freudian psychoanalysis). Will subsequent books on the topic incorporate the growing field of "Neuropsychoanalysis" (aka Freudian neuroimaging)?


1 Encephalon is the neuroscience and psychology blog carnival launched by Neurophilosophy and recently revived by Sharp Brains.

2 Guess it's time to update my ancient blogroll. Don't hold your breath, however. The legacy blogs shall live on...

3 Why does this question remind me of Chuck Palahniuk's Rant? Oh. It could be because the novel's protagonist enjoys being bitten by spiders.


Taglialatela JP, Russell JL, Schaeffer JA, Hopkins WD. (2008). Communicative Signaling Activates 'Broca's' Homolog in Chimpanzees. Curr Biol. Feb 26; [Epub ahead of print].

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