Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Horror

The Austrian case of Josef Fritzl and his imprisoned incestuous family is so shocking that it produces a feeling of physical revulsion. How can it be true, we wonder, such monstrous behavior? As neuroscientists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, as students and researchers and clinicians, we question what was (and is) so fundamentally broken in this man's brain that he was able to perpetrate such unspeakable acts upon his own flesh and blood.

Latin perpetratus, past participle of perpetrare, from per- through + patrare to accomplish, from pater father — more at father
From the BBC:

Police announce the arrest of Mr Fritzl on suspicion of incest and abduction. All the children are placed in care and [his 42 yr old daughter] Elisabeth is given medical and psychological treatment.

Mr Fritz gives police the code to unlock a hidden door to a basement living space made up of a network of tiny windowless chambers.

All the children except Kerstin meet for the first time, and Elisabeth is reunited with her mother.


Mr Fritzl confesses to imprisoning Elisabeth in a cellar for 24 years and fathering her seven children. He confirms to investigators that one of their children died in infancy and that he had taken the dead body and thrown it into an incinerator.


Mr Fritzl appears before a magistrate and is remanded in custody while the investigation continues.

Police announce that DNA tests confirm that Mr Fritzl is the father of Elisabeth's children.

How did they survive? It is impossible to imagine how developmentally stunting, how physically and psychologically damaging, such an existence must be.
Scale of the physical scars from Josef Fritzl emerges

The scale of the physical scars borne by Josef Fritzl's victims was becoming apparent today as the three children he kept imprisoned for years in a cellar were reunited with their siblings.

While three of the six children to survive from Mr Fritzl's incestuous relationship with his daughter Elisabeth were brought up as part of normal Austrian society, the others lived their lives without daylight in rooms 1.7 metres (5ft 6in) high.

The Austrian authorities revealed that all the imprisoned children have emerged with defective immune systems and suffering from vitamin D deficiency.

None of them had ever seen a doctor or a dentist before their release and the oldest, at the age of 19, has already lost most of her teeth.

The height of their prison ceilings has left them each with a cramped physical posture and all three are anaemic.

One of the children is being tested to see if his sight and hearing have been impaired by 18 years of confinement.

Experts said that the psychological problems resulting from being the child of an incestuous relationship – and of living in a claustrophobic bolthole – are unique.

“Psychologically a lot depends on what their mother has told them over the years, whether she has explained the reason for their imprisonment or whether they have come to accept it as a normal condition,” Rotraud Perner, a psychotherapist from Vienna, said.

A normal condition. More from Times Online:

Mr Fritzl went on lengthy holidays abroad and was absent for weeks on end. Pictures of him on holiday in Thailand in 1998 were published in a German newspaper, which deemed the trip “a gentlemen’s holiday”, claiming that Mr Fritzl had gone there with a male friend from Germany.

. . .

Even though Mr Fritzl’s former employers and neighbours – as well as newspaper investigations – revealed that he had previous convictions for sex offences and arson in the 1970s and the 1980s, the authorities claimed that it would probably be impossible to recover the original criminal records because such documents were not kept in Austria after a certain time.

His history of rape and sexual assaults extend back to the 1960s, according to some reports. How did he get away with it for so long? In his own house, even, living with his wife and the rest of his family? It remains to be seen if the level of public outcry and protest in Austria, and the depth of soul-searching, will match what occurred in Belgium in response to the case of Marc Dutroux.

[Related: Regarding the Pain of Others]

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Friday, April 25, 2008

I have to praise you like I should

OR, why most people (in Japan, at least) do give a damn about their bad reputation.

MTV's Artist of the Week 04.21.08: Gossip

In the burgeoning field of neurorewardspotting, the equation is pretty simple:

Money = Chocolate = Sex = Fairness = Beauty = Punishing Bad Players = Alcohol = Cocaine = Nicotine = Methamphetamine = etc. AND NOW... acquiring a good reputation in the eyes of others.

So add the new paper by Izuma et al. (2008) to the growing list of studies claiming that all rewards are alike (at least, as far as the striatum is concerned).
Praise as good as cash to brain: study

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Paying people a compliment appears to activate the same reward center in the brain as paying them cash, Japanese researchers said on Wednesday.

They said the study offers scientific support for the long-held assumption that people get a psychological boost from having a good reputation.

"We found that these seemingly different kinds of rewards -- a good reputation versus money -- are biologically coded by the same neural structure, the striatum," said Dr. Norihiro Sadato of the Japanese National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Okazaki, Japan.
In brief, the authors say that
The goals of the present study were to investigate whether the acquisition of a good reputation activated reward-related brain areas, specifically the striatum, and, if so, whether this social reward activated the same reward circuitry as monetary rewards, as predicted by social exchange theory.
So there was a condition where people could win money (or not), and there was a condition where people could view positive labels beneath their photos (or not). The Social Reward Experiment is illustrated below.

Fig. 2A (Izuma et al., 2008). The sequence of events during a High Social Reward-Self trial. In a single HSR-Self trial (4 s), a picture of each subject was shown continuously and an item indicating the impressions of himself/herself made by others was shown below the picture for 3 s, during which each subject was asked to rate the desirability of the item.

Participants performed the gambling ($) task first, and at the end of the session, they filled out questionnaires, answered open-ended questions, and appeared in a 1 min video to introduce themselves. They were told that 8 people (4 men, 4 women) would rate them, using trait adjectives, based on the above material. Finally, they were asked to return on another day for the Social Reward Experiment.

Of course, the rating by a panel of 8 judges was all a ruse, and the experimenters instead had a list of 84 adjectives. Examples of the High Social Reward words (rated by a separate group of subjects as 7.5 on a 9 point scale) were Sincere, Honest, Understanding, Dependable, Open-minded, Earnest. Examples of the "Low Social Reward" words (which were actually pretty neutral, rated as 5.5) were Patient, Rational, Friendly, Individualistic. A few negative words like Timid and Conceited were included to maintain the ruse of evaluation by others, but two subjects saw through it anyway (they were excluded).

Fig. 2B (Izuma et al., 2008). Study design of the social reward experiment. A 2 × 3 factorial design was used (plus fixation rest blocks). In HSR blocks, the items presented were all clearly positive and desirable traits, whereas in LSR blocks the items were positive but less desirable, and some negative items (e.g., “selfish”) were included. Subjects viewed each item not only as impressions of themselves but also as impressions of other people. Regardless of the impression targets, the subjects were asked to rate the desirability of each item during scanning. In NoSR blocks, “XXX” was presented instead of an item, and the subjects were asked to press a button each time they saw it.

OK, so what were the results? If you guessed the striatum was activated by winning money and by receiving compliments, you would be right. However, the cash was more rewarding, apparently, since it activated most of the midbrain, thalamus, striatum, and insula (and even subcortical white matter!).

Fig. 4 (Izuma et al., 2008). Axial Slices Showing Areas Commonly Activated by Monetary and Social Rewards. Areas activated by monetary rewards are shown in green, and areas activated by social reward are shown in magenta. The contrast of HMR versus NoMR was used for the monetary reward activation map. The interaction contrast of (Self − Other) (HSR − NoSR) masked by (HMR − NoMR) was used for the social reward activation map.

Media coverage of these findings (and others, the air is just dripping with them these days) suggests that all pleasurable activities are interchangeable, which is clearly not the case. It's as if the rest of the brain doesn't matter. What I really want to know is why all of these rewarding activities are so so different (beyond mere sensory's that question of qualia again). One can derive pleasure from eating chocolate, looking at an attractive face, and punishing cheaters, and these activities might activate some of the same neural regions involved in processing reward, but don't go around saying they "activate the same brain circuitry" and that we're "hard-wired" to treat fairness and social status as rewards.


IZUMA, K., SAITO, D., SADATO, N. (2008). Processing of Social and Monetary Rewards in the Human Striatum. Neuron, 58(2), 284-294. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.03.020

Despite an increasing focus on the neural basis of human decision making in neuroscience, relatively little attention has been paid to decision making in social settings. Moreover, although human social decision making has been explored in a social psychology context, few neural explanations for the observed findings have been considered. To bridge this gap and improve models of human social decision making, we investigated whether acquiring a good reputation, which is an important incentive in human social behaviors, activates the same reward circuitry as monetary rewards. In total, 19 subjects participated in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments involving monetary and social rewards. The acquisition of one's good reputation robustly activated reward-related brain areas, notably the striatum, and these overlapped with the areas activated by monetary rewards. Our findings support the idea of a “common neural currency” for rewards and represent an important first step toward a neural explanation for complex human social behaviors.

We've come a long long way together,
Through the hard times and the good,
I have to celebrate you baby,
I have to praise you like I should

I have to praise you
I have to praise you
I have to praise you
I have to praise you like I should

Praise You
------Fatboy Slim

And in case you were wondering, here's How to Fix a Bad Reputation.

If that doesn't work, trying Standing in the Way of Control...

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wise-guy on PET, Part 2

And why all other methods in cognitive neuroscience (with the parenthetical exception of intracranial EEG) are rubbish. From his April 15 talk at the 15th annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society.

After our initial recap of the wit and wisdom of Prof. Richard Wise, we learned that:
  1. Modern tractography has taught us nothing new.1
  2. "Broca's area and Wernicke's area have expanded like Balkan states." [uh, wouldn't that similie imply fragmentation, not expansion?]
  3. We should "throw out most of the literature from stroke aphasia."
  4. fMRI studies of language have "fostered confusion, not understanding."
  5. Hickok & Poeppel "have a job for life."
Now it's time to highlight Wise's own work and to explain why he's persisted in running PET studies while the rest of the field2 abandoned that methodology long ago. But first, let's be a bit didactic.3

fMRI Advantages

  • doesn't need radioactive tracers
  • better spatial resolution (1-2 mm)
  • event-related designs
  • can intermix trial types

fMRI Disadvantages

  • noisy – bad for auditory studies (although sparse-sampling methods help)
  • too claustrophobic for some people
  • poor imaging of OFC and ATL (due to susceptibility artifact4, although distortion-correction methods are being developed)
  • motion artifact with speaking aloud (although many studies have overcome this)

PET Advantages
  • quiet – good for auditory studies
  • more open and “naturalistic”
  • no susceptibility artifact
  • speaking aloud not a worry

PET Disadvantages

  • radioactive tracers
  • worse spatial resolution (4-5 mm)
  • brain activity over a 40 sec period
  • stuck with blocked designs
OK, now on to the two PET papers under discussion. The first study compared implicit comprehension of spoken and written language (i.e., passive listening and reading, no task). The idea was to demonstrate the existence of amodal semantic areas in the ATL that are activated to both spoken and written narratives (when each are compared to their respective control conditions). The second study compared speech comprehension and speech production, and is riddled with confounds because it's very difficult to control the content of self-referential, spontaneous narratives produced in response to cues. [NOTE: coverage of these experiments in the talk was minimal, brief, and primarily limited to the results. Thus, I have augmented the discussion with my reading of the papers.]

(4a) Spitsyna et al. 2006.
The stimuli and contrasts in this experiment were as follows:
Intelligible spoken and written narratives were contrasted with unintelligible auditory (spectrally rotated speech) and visual (false font) stimuli matched closely to the narratives in terms of auditory and visual complexity. Thus, during data analyses, the contrasts of the intelligible with the modality-specific unintelligible conditions were intended to demonstrate processing of speech and written language beyond the cortical areas specialized for early auditory and visual processing.
The results of these contrasts? Prominent activations in the ATL for both speech vs. rotated speech and written text vs. false font (greater in the L hemisphere than in the R). Another large cluster of activity was located posteriorly, at the junction of the L temporal, occipital, and parietal (TOP) cortices.

Fig. 1 (Spitsyna et al. 2006). The results of analyses within wavelet space of two contrasts: speech with rotated speech, and written text with false font. The estimated effect sizes, both positive (red–yellow) and negative (blue) results, expressed as Z-scores without a cutoff threshold, are displayed on axial brain slices from ventral to dorsal. The strongest positive effect size for each contrast was observed within the left anterior temporal cortex (arrows).

In his talk, Wise noted the anterior and posterior temporal clusters of activation (illustrated in the schematic below).

Fig. 8 (Spitsyna et al., 2006). An anatomical summary of the results, overlaid on the lateral (top row) and ventral (bottom row) surfaces of the left cerebral hemisphere, showing the convergence of spoken and written language in the left STS (pink shading) and in posterior (the TOP junction) and anterior (lateral TP and anterior FG) cortex (red shading). The auditory streams of processing are shown in blue, and the visual streams are in yellow.

In discussing these findings the authors state:
This anatomical model contrasts sharply with those recently presented by Hickok and Poeppel (2004) and by Catani and ffytche (2005), which ascribe an exclusive role for posterior temporal or inferior parietal cortex in the access to verbal meaning.
In addition, there was little (if any) involvement of Broca's area, which conflicts with the results of most fMRI studies [but not, apparently, with a replication of this experiment performed by Wise's group, using sparse-sampling techniques]. Furthermore,
Although previous imaging studies investigating both spoken and written language processing and cross-modal priming study have demonstrated inferior frontal gyrus activation, these studies involved performance of explicit metalinguistic tasks. In contrast, the present study and previous PET studies of implicit language processing do not emphasize a role for the left inferior frontal gyrus in implicit language comprehension.
Or as Wise put it, the metalinguistic tasks are "party games, not spontaneous speech" (or implicit comprehension).

(4b) Awad et al. 2006.
I was going to discuss this paper as well, but the caveats the authors put forth in their own Methods section made me abandon all hope. For instance,
Intelligible speech was contrasted with its “matched” baseline condition of an unintelligible auditory stimulus (spectrally rotated speech)...

During separate scans, the subjects generated self-referential propositional speech in response to cues (e.g., “tell me what you did last weekend”). The prompts were different from those that had been used to elicit the speech that had been recorded for the speech comprehension scans.

. . .

...a potential confound is that personal narratives vary in the richness of episodic detail they contain. ... Because the subjects were naive to the prompts they were going to receive during the speech production scans, to prevent previous rehearsal of stories with loss of spontaneity, we had no control over this aspect of the study.

An additional confound relates to the observation that subjects whose attention is not held by perception of meaningful stimuli or by performance of an explicit task exhibit a reproducible pattern of activity in midline anterior (prefrontal) and posterior (retrosplenial and posterior cingulate) cortex and in bilateral temporoparietal cortex.
OK, enough of that.

To summarize the Wise-guy's final message, the role of ATL regions in semantic memory has been largely overlooked in experiments using neuropsychological and fMRI methodologies, but not in those using PET or intracranial EEG (the latter discussed by Eric Halgren - speaker #2 in the session - in his talk on "ELECTROPHYSIOLOGY OF SEMANTIC RESPONSES IN THE ATL").


1 We must consider the possibility that he might not actually believe some of these statements...

2 With the notable exception of those using radioligands such as [11C] raclopride for dopamine D2/D3 receptors and PIB (Pittsburgh Compound-B) for amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

3 Sources include links from the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging explaining MRI and PET, a review paper (Otte & Halsband, 2006), and my own semantic memory.

4 Susceptibility artifact is the signal dropout/distortion that occurs with fMRI, which limits the images that can be obtained from the orbitofrontal cortex and the anterior temporal lobes. In fact, the first speaker in the session, Matthew Lambon Ralph, mentioned
new fMRI studies utilizing a correction for the field inhomogeneities that plague the inferior aspects of the ATL.

Main References

Awad M, Warren JE, Scott SK, Turkheimer FE, Wise RJ. (2007). A Common System for the Comprehension and Production of Narrative Speech. Journal of Neuroscience, 27(43), 11455-11464. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5257-06.2007

Humans devote much time to the exchange of memories within the context of shared general and personal semantic knowledge. Our hypothesis was that functional imaging in normal subjects would demonstrate the convergence of speech comprehension and production on high-order heteromodal and amodal cortical areas implicated in declarative memory functions. Activity independent of speech phase (that is, comprehension and production) was most evident in the left and right lateral anterior temporal cortex. Significant activity was also observed in the posterior cortex, ventral to the angular gyri. The left and right hippocampus and adjacent inferior temporal cortex were active during speech comprehension, compatible with mnemonic encoding of narrative information, but activity was significantly less during the overt memory retrieval associated with speech production. Therefore, although clinical studies suggest that hippocampal function is necessary for the retrieval as well as the encoding of memories, the former appears to depend on much less net synaptic activity. In contrast, the retrosplenial/posterior cingulate cortex and the parahippocampal area, which are closely associated anatomically with the hippocampus, were equally active during both speech comprehension and production. The results demonstrate why a severe and persistent inability both to understand and produce meaningful speech in the absence of an impairment to process linguistic forms is usually only observed after bilateral, and particularly anterior, destruction of the temporal lobes, and emphasize the importance of retrosplenial/posterior cingulate cortex, an area known to be affected early in the course of Alzheimer's disease, in the processing of memories during communication.

Spitsyna, G, Warren JE, Scott SK, Turkheimer FE, Wise RJ. (2006). Converging Language Streams in the Human Temporal Lobe. Journal of Neuroscience, 26(28), 7328-7336. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0559-06.2006

There is general agreement that, after initial processing in unimodal sensory cortex, the processing pathways for spoken and written language converge to access verbal meaning. However, the existing literature provides conflicting accounts of the cortical location of this convergence. Most aphasic stroke studies localize verbal comprehension to posterior temporal and inferior parietal cortex (Wernicke’s area), whereas evidence from focal cortical neurodegenerative syndromes instead implicates anterior temporal cortex. Previous functional imaging studies in normal subjects have failed to reconcile these opposing positions. Using a functional imaging paradigm in normal subjects that used spoken and written narratives and multiple baselines, we demonstrated common activation during implicit comprehension of spoken and written language in inferior and lateral regions of the left anterior temporal cortex and at the junction of temporal, occipital, and parietal cortex. These results indicate that verbal comprehension uses unimodal processing streams that converge in both anterior and posterior heteromodal cortical regions in the left temporal lobe.

Other Refs

Catani M, ffytche DH. (2005). The rises and falls of disconnection syndromes. Brain 128:2224-39.

Hickok G, Poeppel D. (2004). Dorsal and ventral streams: a framework for understanding aspects of the functional anatomy of language. Cognition 92:67–99.

Otte A, Halsband U. (2006). Brain imaging tools in neurosciences. J Physiol Paris 99:281-92.

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wise-guy on the Superiority of PET

And why all other methods in cognitive neuroscience (with the parenthetical exception of intracranial EEG) are rubbish. From Tuesday's talk at the 15th annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society.

In his presentation, Professor Richard J. Wise outdid The Neurocritic on the snark front, issuing a constant stream of sarcastic bon mots to slaughter the sacred (and not-so-sacred) cows of cognitive neuropsychology and functional neuroimaging. He was the last of four speakers in a session on The anterior temporal lobes and semantic memory: Putting everything together (details and abstract below).

The style of his talk consisted of paper citations, followed by slams of the authors, their techniques, and their results. Without further ado, I give you the wit and wisdom of the Wise-guy.

(1) Catani & ffytche, 2005; Schmahmann et al., 2007.
First on the hit list is modern tractography (tracing white matter pathways) and the use of diffusion tensor imaging. "There's nothing new there" ... "it's all been done 50-100 years ago." Then it's on to straw man Norman Geshwind (prominent American behavioral neurologist) and his revival of disconnection syndromes,
condition(s) in which information transfer between parts of the brain is interrupted or blocked.
Most relevant here is the syndrome of conduction aphasia, first described by Karl Wernicke as a disconnection between Broca's area in the left inferior frontal cortex and the eponymous Wernicke's area in the left temporal-parietal region (see figure at right, adapted from Fig. 2 of Catani & ffytche, 2005). Damage to the arcuate fasciculus was thought to be the cause of conduction aphasia, but it's actually a little more complicated than that (Catani et al., 2005).

This served a launching pad for Wise to criticize all of classical and modern aphasiology, with its overemphasis on perisylvian language areas. 1

"Broca's area and Wernicke's area have expanded like Balkan states," taking over wide swaths of cortex.

The realities of the human brain's vascular anatomy cause a selection bias in the types of patients seen after a stroke -- lesions to Broca's and Wernicke's area are overrepresented -- because infarcts in the left middle cerebral artery often result in aphasia. Wise was critical of lesion studies in general, calling them nonspecific and akin to phrenology. We should "throw out most of the literature from stroke aphasia." However, it must be said that the gentleman doth protest too much, since he is the head of a group that studies, of all things, recovery from aphasia following stroke:

Brain Disorders Section: STROKE RECOVERY

No matter, onward we go. If the anterior temporal lobes (ATL) are so important for semantic memory (see also footnote #1), how about patients with pharmacologically intractable epilepsy, who have anterior temporal lobectomies (removal of the ATL) to alleviate their uncontrollable seizures? Why don't they have substantial impairments in semantic memory? The Wise answer is that these individuals are unlike those with semantic dementia, because there is reorganization of function due to chronic epilepsy. The ATL on the affected side isn't functioning normally anyway, so the story goes, so other brain regions have compensated for the faulty tissue. This argument only works for those who have had seizures since childhood, I might retort, and the literature on the topic has yielded mixed results.

OK then, how about the fact that ATL patients only have unilateral resections, whereas semantic dementia patients typically have bilateral ATL degeneration (Lambon Ralph & Patterson, 2008)? The Wise view is that "unilateral ATL damage will not cause 'semantic amnesia,' just as unilateral ATL damage will not cause 'episodic amnesia'"'2 -- which to me seems an unwise comparison, because unilateral ATL damage can, in fact, cause an impairment in episodic memory. This was just one of the no-citation, unsubstantiated factoids tossed about in his talk.

[However, I'll skip his next citation, that of Tian et al. (2001) on Functional Specialization in Rhesus Monkey Auditory Cortex in the interest of time, if anyone has made it this far...]

(2) Vigneau et al., 2006.
Professor Wise just "loves" this paper, a meta-analysis on activation peaks in language tasks. The abstract begins with the statement,
The advent of functional neuroimaging has allowed tremendous advances in our understanding of brain–language relationships, in addition to generating substantial empirical data on this subject in the form of thousands of activation peak coordinates reported in a decade of language studies.

Fig. 1 (Vigneau et al., 2006). Overview of the meta-analysis. Sagittal projection map of the 730 activation peaks. Each activation peak is color-coded according to its contrast category: phonology (blue), semantic (red), and syntax (green).

Next on the hit list is fMRI. "Thousands of activation points? This fosters confusion, not understanding. It looks as if someone fired a shotgun at the left cerebral cortex, with the barrel fired in limited areas - once again revealing a selection bias against the ATL." 3
In subsequent figures of the paper, the authors are guilty of "converting shotgun pellets to cannonballs."

I must admit, the man has a very good point here...

(3) Hickok & Poeppel, 2007.
And Dr. Wise-guy reserved his most sarcastic comment for the authors of this paper. "Every two years they produce a new model. They have a job for life." However, I would think that the willingness to revise one's model in the face of new and conflicting data is an essential aspect of the scientific method, no? Pose a testable (and falsifiable) hypothesis, collect data, confirm or disprove your hypothesis. Isn't that the way it works? We should congratulate Hickok and Poeppel for advancing theory and knowledge of the functional neuroanatomy of speech processing. Reaching the thin air of the scientific stratosphere does not grant one the immunity to ignore data that don't fit a long-standing rigid theory...

Wise did, however, issue a backhanded compliment to the duo by conceding that they "read and think widely and deeply." Hickok and Poeppel are also the authors of the Talking Brains blog.

In Part 2, The Neurocritic takes on the claim that PET (postitron emission tomography) provides a "more naturalistic" experimental environment than MRI, among other justifications for using an outdated method. Stay tuned!


1 This was, after all, a symposium on the importance of the anterior temporal lobes (not perisylvian cortex) in semantic memory (e.g., memory for word meanings and conceptual knowledge),
factual information and general knowledge about the world, generally thought to be independent of context and personal relevance.
2 Here, Wise is referring to an impairment in episodic memory, the typical meaning for the terms 'amnesia' or 'anterograde amnesia'.

3 This is because susceptibility artifact, or the signal dropout/distortion that occurs with fMRI, limits the images that can be obtained from this region. More on this point later, in Part 2.


Catani M, ffytche DH. (2005). The rises and falls of disconnection syndromes. Brain 128:2224-39.

Catani M, Jones DK, ffytche DH. (2005). Perisylvian language networks of the human brain. Ann Neurol 57:8-16.

Hickok G, Poeppel D. (2007). The cortical organization of speech processing. Nat Rev Neurosci. 8:393-402

Lambon Ralph MA, Patterson K. (2008). Generalization and Differentiation in Semantic Memory: Insights from Semantic Dementia. Ann NY Acad Sci. 1124:61-76.

Schmahmann JD, Pandya DN, Wang R, Dai G, D'Arceuil HE, de Crespigny AJ, Wedeen VJ. (2007). Association fibre pathways of the brain: parallel observations from diffusion spectrum imaging and autoradiography. Brain 130:630-53.

Vigneau M, Beaucousin V, Hervé PY, Duffau H, Crivello F, Houdé O, Mazoyer B, Tzourio-Mazoyer N. (2006). Meta-analyzing left hemisphere language areas: phonology, semantics, and sentence processing. Neuroimage 30:1414-32.

Symposium Session 7, Grand Ballroom B
Tuesday, April 15, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

The anterior temporal lobes and semantic memory: Putting everything together

Chair: Timothy T. Rogers
Speakers: Matthew Lambon Ralph, Eric Halgren, Timothy T. Rogers, Richard Wise


Abstract: Functional imaging studies have emphasized the roles of posterior temporal and inferior frontal cortex in speech comprehension and production. These studies have predominantly used magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique that returns a relatively low signal-to-noise ratio in anterior temporal cortex. Positron emission tomography (PET) does not have this disadvantage. Across a number of studies, using a range of different study designs that involved normal speech comprehension, reading comprehension, propositional speech production and narrative writing, PET has demonstrated strong converging activity in anterior temporal cortex. Language comprehension, irrespective of modality, results in symmetrical activity between the hemispheres, whereas language production is associated with greater activity on the left. The comprehension of speech is associated with strong functional connectivity between the two anterior temporal lobes, a connectivity that is not present when subjects listen to acoustically matched but unintelligible spectrally-rotated speech. More recent fMRI studies are now also demonstrating language-related signal in anterior temporal cortex. Interpretation of these functional imaging studies is made in the light of what is known of impaired and preserved language and memory functions in patients with semantic dementia. Together, the data provides very powerful evidence that anterior temporal cortex is implicated in semantic memory.

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Wearable Wireless EEG Fashion Accessory

...and it's a hybrid, too!

Everyone in wearable wireless EEG systems with hybrid power supplies (by IMEC)!!

From the press release:
Wireless EEG system self-powered by body heat and light

Smart Systems Integration, April 9 -10, 2008, Barcelona, Spain - Booth 125

09-04-2008 - eindhoven, The Netherlands and Leuven, Belgium -- In the framework of Holst Centre, IMEC has developed a battery-free wireless 2-channel EEG system powered by a hybrid power supply using body heat and ambient light. The hybrid power supply combines a thermoelectric generator that uses the heat dissipated from a person’s temples and silicon photovoltaic cells. The entire system is wearable and integrated into a device resembling headphones. The system can provide more than 1mW on average indoor, which is more than enough for the targeted application.

. . .

Compared to a previous EEG demonstrator developed within Holst Centre, which was solely powered by thermoelectric generators positioned on the forehead, the hybrid system has a reduced size and weight. Combined with full autonomous operation, no maintenance and an acceptable low heat flow from the head, it further increases the patient’s autonomy and quality of life. Potential applications are detection of imbalance between the two halves of the brain, detection of certain kinds of brain trauma and monitoring of brain activity.

. . .

The EEG system uses IMEC’s proprietary ultra-low-power biopotential readout application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) to extract high-quality EEG signals with micro-power consumption. A low-power digital-signal processing block encodes the extracted EEG data, which are sent to a PC via a 2.4GHz wireless radio link. The whole system consumes only 0.8mW, well below the power produced to provide full autonomy.
-via NewScientist:
The portable electroencephalogram (EEG) device resembles a set of headphones. It could provide wireless monitoring of patients at risk of seizures, have cars or other machinery respond to stressed users, or provide new ways to interact with computer games.

IMEC [Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre] is Europe's leading independent research center in the field of micro- and nanoelectronics, nanotechnology, enabling design methods and technologies for ICT systems.

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Staplers, Snakes, and Sex

Do sexy pictures make men more likely to buy expensive sports cars? Possibly, according to Science Daily:
Irrelevant Image Of Attractive Woman Can Make A Man More Willing To Take Big Financial Risks

ScienceDaily (Apr. 5, 2008) — Attractive women plus cool cars equal brisk sales for auto dealers as men snap up those cars, prompted—or so advertising theory goes—by the association. But is the human male really so easily swayed? Can the irrelevant image of an alluring female posing by the merchandise actually encourage a heterosexual man to purchase it?

Possibly, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.
However, this new study (Knutson et al., 2008) has nothing to do with advertising and how it might influence the purchase of expensive merchandise.

Well then... Do sexy pictures make men more likely to take financial risks? The answer is yes, according to this AP story:
Sex and financial risk linked in brain

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer Sat Apr 5, 4:22 AM ET

WASHINGTON - A new brain-scan study may help explain what's going on in the minds of financial titans when they take risky monetary gambles — sex. When young men were shown erotic pictures, they were more likely to make a larger financial gamble than if they were shown a picture of something scary, such a snake, or something neutral, such as a stapler, university researchers reported.

The arousing pictures lit up the same part of the brain that lights up when financial risks are taken.
What sort of financial risk, you ask? Well, it turns out the risk in this particular study is not so big: $1.00 vs. $0.10, not exactly high-stakes trading on Wall Street.
"You have a need in an evolutionary sense for both money and women. They trigger the same brain area," said Camelia Kuhnen, a Northwestern University finance professor...

The study only involved 15 heterosexual young men at Stanford University. It focused on the sex and money hub, the V-shaped nucleus accumbens, which sits near the base of the brain and plays a central role in what you experience as pleasure.

OK, an evolutionary need for money? The sex and money hub? How exciting! Let's continue...

What did the experiment entail? On each trial, the participants saw one of three cues that predicted the category of a subsequent picture stimulus (household appliances, spiders & snakes, or erotic couples). Then the subjects waited for 2 sec before they chose between $1.00 and $0.10 in a guessing/gambling task. The researchers were particularly interested in what happened to the nucleus accumbens (aka the brain's "pleasure center"), which receives input from dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area. This mesolimbic dopamine pathway has been linked to reward, pleasure, and addiction.

Fig. 1 (Knutson et al., 2008). Cued risk task structure and regressor timing. Participants first viewed affective stimuli consisting of a shape (cue: circle, triangle, square) followed by a picture (picture: erotic couples, household appliances, snakes and spiders). Next, participants gambled by first waiting (anticipation), next choosing the high or low-risk option (choice), and finally viewing the outcome of their choice (outcome). Conjoined regressors modeled brain activation in response to affective stimuli (cue+picture) and during anticipation of choosing the gamble (anticipation).

So does the level of activity in the nucleus accumbens during the anticipatory phase predict the choice of a higher-risk gamble following the presentation of pleasant erotic stimuli? Why yes, it does.
Prediction analyses utilized logistic regressions to determine whether brain activation could predict financial risk taking. The first analysis indicated that viewing positive stimuli predicted subsequent shifts to the high-risk option, but gains on earlier high-risk trials predicted shifts to the low-risk option. A second analysis indicated that bilateral NAcc activation significantly predicted subsequent shifts to the high-risk option. A third analysis including stimulus and brain activation variables together indicated that viewing positive stimuli no longer significantly predicted shifts to the high-risk option, but NAcc activation did, suggesting a critical role for NAcc activation.
The bottom line?
...these results suggest that even incidental reward cues can act on anticipatory affect to alter financial risk taking. The findings have broad implications for understanding how affect might influence decisions, and for assessing the effectiveness of emotional persuasive techniques.
But didn't we already know that sex cues ruin men's decisiveness and spoil their decision-making abilities? Actually, that paper showed that lingerie sharpens the financial mind of high-testosterone males, resulting in more rational choices (taking the unfair option over nothing at all) in the ultimatum game.

If you're attending the upcoming meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in San Francisco, you can hear a talk by Dr. Knutson and others on Sunday, April 13:
The Power of Expectancy in the Human Brain





Knutson, B, Wimmer G, Kuhnen C, Winkielman P. (2008). Nucleus accumbens activation mediates the influence of reward cues on financial risk taking. Neuroreport, 19(5), 509-513.

In functional magnetic resonance imaging research, nucleus accumbens (NAcc) activation spontaneously increases before financial risk taking. As anticipation of diverse rewards can increase NAcc activation, even incidental reward cues may influence financial risk taking. Using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging, we predicted and found that anticipation of viewing rewarding stimuli (erotic pictures for 15 heterosexual men) increased financial risk taking, and that this effect was partially mediated by increases in NAcc activation. These results are consistent with the notion that incidental reward cues influence financial risk taking by altering anticipatory affect, and so identify a neuropsychological mechanism that may underlie effective emotional appeals in financial, marketing, and political domains.

brown_bikini_girl.jpgBonus! Bikinis and Intertemporal Choice:

Van den Bergh B, Warlop L (2008). Bikinis Instigate Generalized Impatience in Intertemporal Choice. J Consumer Res., in press. Free PDF preprint.

Neuroscientific studies demonstrate that erotic stimuli activate the reward circuitry processing monetary and drug rewards. Theoretically, a general reward system may give rise to nonspecific effects: exposure to “hot stimuli” from one domain may thus affect decisions in a different domain. We show that exposure to sexy cues leads to more impatience in intertemporal choice between monetary rewards. Highlighting the role of a general reward circuitry, we demonstrate that individuals with a sensitive reward system are more susceptible to the effect of sex cues, that the effect generalizes to nonmonetary rewards, and that satiation attenuates the effect.

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Those Crazy Cults...

Adult members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stand around as children play with bottles of bubble water at their temporary housing, Fort Concho National Historic Landmark, in San Angelo, Texas, Monday, April 7, 2008. Credit: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez.
Texas Sect Earns Cult Status

By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 09 April 2008 11:56 am ET

The allegedly polygamous group whose compound was raided this week in Texas is either a religious sect or a full-blown cult, depending on whom you ask.

The raided compound was founded by jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who took over in 2002 as prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), which broke off from the Mormon church in the 1930s over the issue of polygamy.

Authorities have reportedly taken into legal custody more than 400 children and 133 women, deemed to have been harmed or in imminent danger of harm.

While the media and some sociologists call the group a religious sect, other experts see it as a clear-cut cult, defined by charismatic leadership and abuse. According to news accounts of the FLDS, pubescent girls were forced into "spiritual marriages" to older men. Inside the compound's walls, researchers say, a new reality was born, with members indoctrinated so fully they had no concept of reality outside the walls.

Also from LiveScience, a Top 10 List of Wacky Cults. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not crazy enough to qualify, however...

Heaven's Gate leader Marshall Applewhite

Top 10 Crazy Cults

10. Raëlians

9. Cargo Cults

8. Villa Baviera ...

Raëlian leader Claude Vorilhon
(also known as Raël)

ADDENDUM: The Smoking Gun has posted a copy of the affidavit filed by a Child Protective Services investigator, who charged that children at the FLDS compound were placed at risk of "emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse." Perhaps this group should replace Cargo Cults on the Top 10 List...

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Friday, April 04, 2008

Do "Lads Mags" Cause Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

This BBC news story starts off in an ominous fashion, and ends by extrapolating well beyond the study's actual results.
Magazines 'harm male body image'

Younger men who read so-called "lads mags" 1 could be psychologically harmed by the images of perfect male physiques they contain, research suggests.

While magazines aimed at men often include pictures of scantily-clad women, Dr David Giles said images of male bodies may be more dangerous.

His work, in Personality and Individual Differences, found regular readers were more likely to exercise to excess.

How are the magazines "dangerous"? And how is "exercise to excess" defined? More from the BBC:
...some of the content may drive men to try to become more muscular, even if that could harm their health.

Together with colleague Jessica Close, [Giles] surveyed 161 men aged between 18 and 36, and found that those who regularly read the magazines were more likely to be influenced by the imagery within.

More worryingly, they said they were also more likely to consider using anabolic steroids to improve their appearance.

OK, so we still don't know the definition of "exercising to excess." Time to look at the journal article (Giles & Close, 2008). The authors administered three questionnaires to 161 males between the ages of 18 and 36 (mean=22.2 yrs). We don't know anything else about the participants, most importantly whether any of them currently or formerly met criteria for any psychiatric illness.

But let's continue. Their exposure to lad magazines was assessed by asking them indicate, on a six-point scale from five (always) to 0 (never), how frequently they read each of these titles (FHM, Nuts, Maxim, GQ, Esquire, Zoo, Loaded, Bizarre and Stuff).
Sociocultural attitudes towards appearance were
...measured by the 21-item Sociocultural Attitudes Towards Appearance Questionnaire – Revised: Male Version (SATAQ-M) (Heinberg, Thompson, & Stormer 1995). [NOTE: that paper only contains the female version.] The SATAQ consists of two subscales: Internalization, which measures the degree to which respondents have personally internalised the prevalent attitudes of the media towards thin (female) or muscular (male) body shapes; and Awareness, which measures their acceptance of these standards as generalised social norms.
Finally, the drive for a beefy physique was measured with the 15-item Drive for Muscularity Scale (McCreary & Sasse, 2000), reproduced below.

TABLE 1 (from McCreary & Sasse, 2000). The Drive for Muscularity Scale (DMS; for boys, n=96). Each item is scored on a 6-point scale from never to always. Means and Standard Deviations can be viewed here.

Scale Item
1. I wish that I were more muscular.
2. I lift weights to build up muscle.
3. I use protein or energy supplements.
4. I drink weight-gain or protein shakes.
5. I try to consume as many calories as I can in a day.
6. I feel guilty if I miss a weight-training session.
7. I think I would feel more confident if I had more muscle mass.
8. Other people think I work out too often.
9. I think that I would look better if I gained 10 pounds in bulk.
10. I think about taking anabolic steroids.
11. I think that I would feel stronger if I gained a little more muscle mass.
12. I think that my weight-training schedule interferes with other aspects of my life.
13. I think that my arms are too small.
14. I think that my chest is not big enough.
15. I think that my legs are not big enough.

(a) Reworded in final version to "Other people think I work out with weights too often." (b) Reworded in final version to "I think my arms are not muscular enough." (c) Reworded in final version to "I think my chest is not muscular enough." (d) Reworded in final version to "I think my legs are not muscular enough."

In the Results section, we get no indication of the range of responses on individual items in the Drive for Muscularity Scale (DMS), nor do we see any means or full scale scores. We do get to see a bunch of correlations and partial correlations that suggest to the authors that avid reading of men's magazines is bad (and can lead down the road to ruin, according to the BBC):
Some specialists have dubbed this condition "athletica nervosa", though a more frequently used term is body dysmorphic disorder.

[NOTE: However, individuals with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) have a distorted body image that reaches criteria for a DSM IV psychiatric disorder, and we do not know whether any of the participants in the Giles & Close had actual BDD.]

Dr Giles said: "Men and women increasingly get their ideas of what they should look like from the imagery they see in the media.

"The volume of content is growing and it is trapping young people in particular, into unhealthy obsessions about their own bodies."

The research found that men who were single were far less [sic] more likely to have body image problems than those in a relationship.

Professor Naomi Fineberg, a consultant psychiatrist who runs a treatment service for people with obsessive compulsive disorder, said that men and women suffered equally from body dysmorphic disorder.
But the research paper says nothing about BDD, nor about unhealthy behavior such as exercising to excess or taking steroids. The furthest the authors can go is with a breakdown of the DMS into attitude [questions #1, 7, 9, 11, 13-15] and behavior [questions #2-6,8,12] subscales (and the question about steroids loads very weakly on the behavior subscale).
"Among men, there are those who focus on their muscularity - they may not be seeking aesthetic perfection, but instead some kind of regularity, or symmetry, and they become preoccupied with achieving it. "We can't say for sure whether these magazines might be causing it, but it's very persuasive that cultural factors are important."
But we all know the real reason for the drive for muscularity:
Lift More Weights, Get More Mates: Resesarch Shows Muscular Men Have More Flings, Partners, Affairs

Women don't just like men with muscles — they go for them. Men who are more muscular than average are much more likely to have short-term affairs and multiple sex partners than their scrawnier peers, according to new UCLA research published in the August [2007] issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

"If you're trying to figure out why men — especially young men — spend so much time at the gym, here's your answer," said David Frederick, lead author and a UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology. "The stereotype is that men work out to compete with each other, but our research suggests that pumping iron is a way for men to enhance their attractiveness to women."

. . .

When compared with their less-muscular peers, young men who were more muscular than average were twice as likely to have had more than three sex partners in their lives.

. . .

The self-identified muscular men had not only had more sexual partners than their less burly peers, but they were twice as likely to have had brief flings or one-night stands with women. The difference in the number of sexual partners reported by the men who were more muscular than average was also notable: They reported having had an average of four partners, compared with an average of 1.5 partners for men who reported average or below-average muscularity.
UK girls “go for girlie guys over muscle men”

December 20, 2007 –

Put down those free weights and pick up some skin moisturiser and British women may want you that little bit more.

A study from two UK universities has demonstrated that women prefer a softer looking man over a musclehead, which means that the guys who have spent hours in the weights room to impress the ladies, may want to sign up for a yoga class instead.

This news should also encourage any guy who prefers books to bench pressing to go out and get their British girl.

The study was conducted at Universities of Durham and St. Andrew’s, where women were shown photographs of various men and asked to judge them on looks alone.

The women gave men with more ‘feminine’ features such as full lips and wide eyes ‘better’ ratings. Men who had typically masculine facial characteristics such as a strong jaw and small eyes were considered less suitable as potential mates.

Women stated they believed these ‘feminine’ men would be more faithful, make better parents and have warmer personalities than their more macho counterparts.

The women also said that the ultra masculine men would be more dominant partners and were more likely to cheat.

So what's a guy supposed to do? Does it really matter that much if you're American or English? Or is the relevant comparison really hook-up vs. relationship? 2


1 aka "men's lifestyle magazines" in the U.S.

2 Which was, in fact, the actual research result. But it's more fun to say that English girls go for girlie men.


Giles, D, Close J. (2008). Exposure to "lad magazines" and drive for muscularity in dating and non-dating young men. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(7), 1610-1616. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2008.01.023

Existing research argues that the muscular male body ideal, often promoted in the media, is associated with male body dissatisfaction and increasingly problematic attempts to attain unrealistic body shape by young males. The present study sought to examine the influence of “lad magazines”, a highly popular media sector over the last decade, and also the role of dating, or relationship, status, on the association between internalization of appearance ideals and drive for muscularity. One hundred and Sixty-one males between the ages of 18 and 36 from a UK university completed measures of exposure to lad magazines, eating disturbance, sociocultural attitudes towards appearance, and drive for muscularity. Internalization of appearance ideals was found to be a possible mediator of the relationship between lad magazine exposure and both drive for muscularity and eating disturbance. These effects were significantly stronger among non-dating males, suggesting that, especially for single men, preoccupation with attaining the ideal male body may be enhanced by the use of media that promote traditional masculine ideals.

McCreary DR, Sasse DK (2000). An exploration of the drive for muscularity in adolescent boys and girls. Journal of American College Health 48:297–304.

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

eXTReMe Tracker