Saturday, July 27, 2013

(De)Merit Badges for Non-Preregistered Research

Will Study Pre-Registration Be Good for Psychology?

There has been a lively debate recently about study pre-registration, a publishing model (or online repository) where detailed methodological and statistical plans for an experiment are registered in advance of data collection. The idea is to eliminate questionable research practices such as failing to report all of a study's dependent measures, deciding whether to collect more data after looking to see whether the results are significant, and selectively reporting studies that 'worked.'

Chris Chambers and Marcus Munafo wrote a widely discussed article that appeared in the Guardian:
Trust in science would be improved by study pre-registration

Open letter [with over 80 signatories]: We must encourage scientific journals to accept studies before the results are in

. . .

[The current] publishing culture is toxic to science. Recent studies have shown how intense career pressures encourage life scientists to engage in a range of questionable practices to generate publications – behaviours such as cherry-picking data or analyses that allow clear narratives to be presented, reinventing the aims of a study after it has finished to "predict" unexpected findings, and failing to ensure adequate statistical power. These are not the actions of a small minority; they are common, and result from the environment and incentive structures that most scientists work within.

The Open Science Framework, a movement for greater transparency in science, has developed merit badges to designate Open Data, Open Materials, and Preregistration.

The Open Data badge is earned for making publicly available the digitally shareable data necessary to reproduce the reported results.

The Open Materials badge is earned by making publicly available the components of the research methodology needed to reproduce the reported procedure and analysis.

The Preregistered badge is earned for having a preregistered design and analysis plan for the reported research and reporting results according to that plan. An analysis plan includes specification of the variables and the analyses that will be conducted.

One could imagine the introduction of two new demerit badges for Questionable and Rejected work.1

Questionable badges are issued when the committee suspects that questionable research practices have been used, as outlined in the paper by John et al. (2012).

The Rejected badge is earned when there is a suspicion that outright fraud may have occurred. This will typically spur an inquiry.

While an admirable goal, there may be aspects of this scheme that the proponents haven't fully considered.

Pre-registration would put science in chains

The pre-registration of study designs must be resisted, says Sophie Scott

. . .

...there are numerous problems with the idea. Limiting more speculative aspects of data interpretation risks making papers more one-dimensional in perspective. And the commitment to publish with the journal concerned would curtail researchers’ freedom to choose the most appropriate forum for their work after they have considered the results.

. . .

Moreover, in my fields (cognitive neuroscience and psychology), a significant proportion of studies would simply be impossible to run on a pre-registration model because many are not designed simply to test hypotheses. Some, for instance, are observational, while many of the participant populations introduce significant sources of complexity and noise; as introductions to psychology often point out, humans are very dirty test tubes.

One possible outcome is that certain types of research are privileged over others.2  The badge manifesto states that...
Badges do not define good practice, they certify that a particular practice was followed.

I find this assertion to be kind of hollow in the absence of badges issued for these other types of research, considered unsuitable for Preregistration. Therefore, in the spirit of fair play, I hereby introduce three new badges!

The Exploratory badge is issued to meritorious research that is not hypothesis-driven. This could include characterization of disease states and vast swaths of the neuroimaging literature ("Human Brain Mapping"), particularly in the early days. Not to mention the entire Human Connectome Project...

The Fishing Expedition badge can be earned by imaging studies that use exciting new methods like multi-voxel pattern analysis in neural decoding ("mind reading") applications, machine learning approaches to classify patient vs. control groups, and the latest in data mining ("Big Data").

The BRAIN Initiative badge is awarded by President Obama to research supported by his new $100 million Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative. This bold new research effort will include advances in nanotechnology and purely exploratory efforts to record from thousands of neurons simultaneously.3

Additional Commentary on Study Pre-Registration

Sophie Scott has compiled the thoughts of researchers with varying degrees of opposition to pre-registration. Some are not totally opposed, but have questions on how it will be implemented and how it might be problematic for certain types of research. I fall into this latter camp.

The one current publication format for Registered Reports, in the journal Cortex, "guarantees publication of their future results providing that they adhere precisely to their registered protocol."

I'm not sure this would work in studies with children, patients, or other difficult populations, where everything is not always predictable in terms of task performance, nature of the brain response, etc. In my blurb on Sophie's blog, I said:

Another of your examples, neuropsychological case studies, is particularly difficult. Are you not supposed to test the rare individual with hemi-prosopagnosia or a unique form of synesthesia? Many aging and developmental studies could be problematic too. What if your elderly group is no better than chance in a memory test that undergrads could do at 80% accuracy? Maybe your small pilot sample of elderly were very high performers and not representative? Obviously, being locked into publishing such a study would set you back the time it would take to make the task easier and re-run the experiment. You could even say in the new paper that you ran the experiment with 500 items in the study list and the elderly were no better than chance. Who's to say that a reviewer would have caught that error in advance?

At any rate, I think it's important to have these kinds of discussions. And to freely distribute new kinds of badges.


1 Just to be clear, I made these up.

2 I'm not at all opposed to pre-registration, and I think it'll be an interesting experiment to see whether research practices improve and "scientific quality," or replicability, increases. But I can see the danger in that being viewed as "saintly" research with the rest of it tainted.

3 The Brain Activity Map as the Functional Connectome
To elucidate emergent levels of neural circuit function, we propose to record every action potential from every neuron within a circuit—a task we believe is feasible.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Rorschach inkblots and the neuroscientific basis for pareidolia

image via psychpsychbaby

A fascinating new historical article in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry reviews the aesthetic and perceptual aspects of the Rorschach inkblots and proposes a role for them in understanding pareidolia, the phenomenon of ‘seeing’ objects in amorphous shapes (Schott, 2013). The Rorschach test was developed by handsome Swiss psychoanalyst Hermann Rorschach as a Psychodiagnostic method and only later used as a "projective test" thought to reveal unconscious psychopathology. Although still in use today, it has been widely discredited and shown to be an invalid instrument for assessing personality and mental illness (e.g., see What's Wrong With The Rorschach: Science Confronts the Controversial Inkblot Test).

Rorschach Card III via Wikipedia

Rorschach himself viewed the test as perceptual (p. 16 of Lemkau & Kronenberg's 1951 translation of Rorschach, 1921 - PDF):
Almost all subjects regard the experiment as a test of imagination. This conception is so general that it becomes, practically, a condition of the experiment. Nevertheless, the interpretation of the figures actually has little to do with imagination, and it is unnecessary to consider imagination a pre-requisite. ...

The interpretation of the chance forms falls in the field of perception and apperception rather than imagination.

Rorschach denied that it was projective in nature (p. 123, ibid):
The test cannot be considered as a means of delving into the unconscious. At best, it is far inferior to the other more profound psychological methods such as dream interpretation and association experiments. This is not difficult to understand. The test does not induce a «free flow from the subconscious» but requires adaptation to external stimuli, participation in the «fonction du réel».

Schott (2013) views the inkblots as both artistic entities (noting that Rorschach was a "gifted draughtsman and an excellent art critic") and as visual stimuli for scientific study. Perceptual features of the inkblots are considered in detail:
The pivotal graphic features which constitute the blots, and which give rise to the blots’ perceptual effects, include:
  • form: their amorphous shape
  • symmetry
  • the perception of movement: ‘Movement without Motion’
  • the blank spaces: figure–ground relationships
  • the use of colour
  • shading.

Finally, the article summarizes several neuroimaging experiments that have used the inkblots as stimuli. For example, Asari and colleagues reported that unusual or unique perceptions of the blots were associated with greater activation in the right temporal pole (2008) and with larger amygdala volumes (2010).

The Neuroscientific Basis for Pareidolia
Pareidolia is the phenomenon of perceiving a meaningful stimulus (such as a face or a hidden message) in fairly random everyday objects or sounds. We do have quite a propensity to see faces everywhere, and some religious people see the face of god (and other religious iconography) everywhere.

Schott (2013) concludes by suggesting that the images merit further investigation by neuroscientists for studies of pareidolia:
...these iconic ink-blots—which straddle iconography, psychology and neuroscience—deserve further study, and may yet illuminate important aspects of cerebral function, and even dysfunction.

But DO NOT use them to discriminate psychopaths from non-psychopaths in forensic populations (or for any other clinical diagnostic purpose, for that matter)...


Rorschach, H. (1921). Psychodiagnostics: A Diagnostic Test Based On Perception (1951 translation).

Schott, G.D. (2013). Revisiting the Rorschach ink-blots: from iconography and psychology to neuroscience. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry DOI: 10.1136/jnnp-2013-305672

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Jesus Christ and The Passion of Neuroscience

The case of the seriously confused book cover

Neuroscience, Neuropsychology, Neuropsychiatry, Behavioral Neurology: Emotion, Evolution, Development, Cognition, Language, Memory, Brain Damage, Consciousness, Abnormal Behavior
R. Joseph  (author)

This should be quite a read!!

Book Description

March 1, 2014 0974975540 978-0974975542

Right & Left Hemisphere Frontal Lobes Temporal Lobes Parietal Lobes Occipital Lobes Limbic System Limbic Language Memory, Hippocampus, & Amnesia Basal Ganglia: Striatum Brainstem Cerebellum

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link via @Neuro_Skeptic

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link via ‏@hegelhegelhegel

But we might also have a seriously confused author.

R. Joseph is Rhawn Joseph... advocate of directed panspermia and has developed his own hypothesis. He believes life did not originate on Earth but was transplanted to Earth by "cosmic seeds" encased in space debris 700 million years after the formation of the Earth. He claims that these genetic seeds filled with DNA contained the genetic instructions for the metamorphosis of all life, including woman and man. He also rejects the neo-Darwinian synthesis, instead replacing it with a form of non-Darwinian evolution which he describes as a "pre-determined evolutionary metamorphosis" which is pre-programmed in DNA of all life on earth.

Other masterworks by the same author:

His Geocities-era website simply must be seen to be believed:

Here's his narcissistic list of publications.

The Index (Neuroscience, Astrobiology, Quantum Physics).


Sex Differences. Females Have More Sex  [i.e., women are evil whores].

Evolution of Sexual Consciousness: Breasts, Buttocks & the Big Brain.

Wow. He is really a juvenile racist sexist homophobe. Don't waste your time.

Jesus Christ: The Passion--And the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John 
This is actually by R. Gabriel Joseph [Edited to add: apparently]

ADDENDUM (July 18, 2013): That ridiculous Evolution of Sexual Consciousness travesty was originally published in the "Journal" of Cosmology but later retracted due to "censorship" (only to reappear on Joseph's own site):

My porn is science, dammit!

In the summer of 2011, the journal published an article by Rhawn Joseph entitled "Sexual Consciousness: The Evolution of Breasts, Buttocks and the Big Brain". PZ Myers made fun[12] of the article's thesis and the random images of naked women that it contained. Apparently some other people were not happy about it either, because the article was retracted moved to Rhawn Joseph's personal site ( and its original page got replaced with a whiny rant decrying censorship.[13]

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Destructive Power of Shame

Shame is a negative self-conscious emotion that encompasses the feeling that something is terribly wrong with the self as a human being. Feelings of shame are a prominent factor in suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and self-harm (Hastings et al., 2002; Gilbert et al., 2010).  Lately I've encountered several articles saying that shame really isn't that bad for you, after all. The first theme of these commentaries is the spectacle of public shaming, and the second theme concerns private shame as a means of social control.

The Futility of Public Shaming

One news article bemoaned the end of shame in American politics. Sex scandals, drug use, and other egregious mistakes just don't have the same permanently negative consequences they used to. If you're a powerful male politician, that is.

Where’s the shame? Scandals may no longer end political careers 

WASHINGTON — Sex. Drugs. Cheating on a spouse.

Those words used to add up to shame. Put them in the same sentence as a politician’s name, and they ended careers.

Not anymore. The latest batch of unlikely back-from-the-swamp hopefuls are Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer. Weiner resigned his New York City congressional seat two years ago after revelations that he’d tweeted a sexually suggestive picture of himself to a woman who was following him on Twitter. Spitzer left the state’s governorship in 2008 after reports surfaced that federal investigators had tagged him as “Client 9,” soliciting high-end prostitutes.

Read more here:

Here's the list of prominent male politicians from the article:

The lesson from all this: Wind up on the ever-increasing roll of tainted celebrities and re-emerge as the friendly, professional politician that vaulted you into office in the first place, and you’ll probably be OK.

"You'll probably be OK"... if you're a man. Has a female politician ever emerged intact from a federal sex scandal? Or has even been involved in such a scandal? If so, the double standard of slut shaming would likely put an end to her career. One of the few women on the state and local list is:
  • Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (R)... The married mother of one resigned from her leadership position and announced that she would not be seeking reelection shortly before four fellow Republicans indicated that she had been engaged in an "inappropriate" relationship with a male staffer. (2011).

Shaming on the Internet

How about for obnoxious offenders in the general public? Does the public shaming of those who spew idiotic sexist, racist, and homophobic comments on social media do any good?

The Public Shaming Tumblr aims to draw attention to bad actors on Twitter. Matt Binder says:
I started retweeting people complaining about welfare, food stamps, etc. and then following it up with a previous tweet of theirs that makes them look hypocritical/dumb/etc.

I discovered that as I would retweet these, my followers would start @replying these people and let them know they were idiots. They would then delete their offending tweet.

Well, I couldn’t let that happen. So, I screenshot away.

One continuous stream of vile sexist hatred was directed at Women's Wimbledon champion, Marion Bartoli. Why? Because she's not a blond model. Even BBC presenter John Inverdale took part in the insults, saying she "never going to be a looker"... to which Bartoli responded:
"It doesn't matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I'm sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes."

This is the bottom line. She won Wimbledon, and her detractors will never accomplish anything that monumental. Does shaming the immature little boys for their pathetic cries for attention help anyone?

Some of those dudes deleted their accounts (to perhaps reappear another day), but others just go on their merry way with earth-shattering pronouncements like, "I have to untangle my earphones at least 3 times a day" and "Playstation is better than Xbox."

Public shaming doesn't seem to cause any lasting change. Does it?
Shaming: it’s a bit crap for everyone

It’s no surprise to anyone that Twitter and Facebook are filled with vile, racist, homophobic, bigoted awfulness. Because humanity is filled with vile, racist, homophobic bigots.
. . .

The consequence of these shaming sites, is that us “enlightened” folk then pile in on the bigots and abuse them and tell them how awful they are. And I’m willing to bet that the number of individuals who have rescinded what is probably years’ of built up bigotry is the same number of terrorist attacks that the Wellington airport security screeners have stopped: Zero.
. . .

That’s not to say we should let people get away with awfulness, but when we publicly name and shame and by proxy invite the internet to start tormenting these people, we are becoming them. No better than they are because we now have a figure to poke a stick at.

The shame sweepstakes become more costly and damaging once we enter the world of mental illness, addiction, and difference. Yet some still argue in favor of shaming.

Has there been a resurgence of shame as a means of social control?

1. Shame is good for you!  Shame is biological, so it's inevitable that those who are different or disabled will feel it. That was the premise of an article in the Atlantic, which in my opinion was complete and utter bullshit.

Challenging the Anti-Shame Zeitgeist

In response to a spate of teen suicides last year, a number of celebrities (Anne Hathaway, Justin Timberlake, Ellen DeGeneres, among others) used their visibility to castigate people who bully others. When public figures denounce bullying, they draw attention to the power of shame: A victim's experience at the hands of a bully can be so excruciating that life becomes unendurable.
. . .

Everywhere we look, pride is on the march, and shame is on the run.
. . .

If shame is such a bad thing, why did evolution see fit to program it into our genes? Evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists believe that guilt and shame evolved to promote stable social relationships. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Evolution, "conformity to cultural values, beliefs, and practices makes behavior predictable and allows for the advent of complex coordination and cooperation." While the anti-shame zeitgeist views conformity to norms as oppressive, support for a great many of our social norms and the shame that enforces them is virtually unanimous.

For example, many would agree that fathers who walk out on their families, neglect their offspring, and fail to make child support payments should feel ashamed. Shame is the appropriate emotion for those men to feel: if powerful enough, the experience of shame might help them to fulfill their obligations as fathers and members of society.

Is there any scientific evidence that shaming deadbeat dads causes them to pay child support?

But it gets worse, with justifications for the biological and social inevitability of shame. Disabled children, little people, LGBT folks - be ashamed of yourselves! and stay in the closet.

While the efforts of all the parents in Solomon's book [Far From the Tree] to promote healthy self-esteem in their children are worthy and admirable, here is the unfortunate reality: those afflicted with a major disability will inevitably experience a sense of shame for the ways in which they are different, regardless of whether they have been shunned or actively shamed by their peers. Shame spontaneously arises from the perception of unfavorable difference, whether or not society inflicts it upon the person. 

Shame springs from the knowledge that your development didn't unfold as might have been expected under normal conditions.

So here it is, according to : if you're different in any way, you should feel ashamed for who you are. For simply existing in a less than perfect state. Because you are "pre-programmed" to feel that way.

Here's what I think: shame is a toxic social construction. It's used by religions to control the sexual behavior of their congregations. It's used by bullies to promote their social standing over the weak. It's used by parents to ostensibly make their children into high achievers, but they end up depressed, anxious, eating disordered. It's used by the media to make women (and men) so ashamed of their bodies that they go out and buy products to lose weight, improve their looks, enhance their private parts. Shame seems to hold a central role in the perception of an adverse self-image in young women with eating disorders (Franzoni et al., 2013).

2. Shame is good for you!  Addiction is a choice, so those who have a substance use disorder should be shamed into getting clean and sober. That was the territory covered in a 2007 Slate article by Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld, authors of Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience. An old blog post by Dirk Hanson at Addiction Inbox pointed me to their essay, which took exception to the notion that addiction is a brain disease:

Medical Misnomer
Addiction isn't a brain disease, Congress.

A full-scale campaign is under way to change the public perception of drug addiction, from a moral failing to a brain disease. Last spring, HBO aired an ambitious series that touted addiction as a "chronic and relapsing brain disease." In early July, a Time magazine cover story suggested that addiction is the doing of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which courses through the brain's reward circuits. And now Congress is weighing in.

They're opposed to the NIDA definition of drug addiction:
Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.

Satel and Lilienfeld continue:
Characterizing addiction as a brain disease misappropriates language more properly used to describe conditions such as multiple sclerosis or schizophrenia—afflictions that are neither brought on by sufferers themselves nor modifiable by their desire to be well. Also, the brain disease rhetoric is fatalistic, implying that users can never fully free themselves of their drug or alcohol problems. Finally, and most important, it threatens to obscure the vast role personal agency plays in perpetuating the cycle of use and relapse to drugs and alcohol. 

And now we get to their justification for shaming:
Finally, dare we ask: Why is stigma bad? It is surely unfortunate if it keeps people from getting help (although we believe the real issue is not embarrassment but fear of a breach of confidentiality). The push to destigmatize overlooks the healthy role that shame can play, by motivating many otherwise reluctant people to seek treatment in the first place and jolting others into quitting before they spiral down too far.

Really??? There is absolutely no evidence that shame motivates an addicted person to seek help. Quite the contrary, shame prevents people from getting the treatment they need (Wiechelt, 2007). Note that shame is different from guilt - with shame you're a bad person, and with guilt you did a bad thing. Why would shaming someone already filled with shame about their own undesirable behaviors be a motivating force for change?

Here's a straight answer from @maiasz
Being Ashamed of Drinking Prompts Relapse, Not Recovery

Embarrassment over an excessive-drinking session doesn’t necessarily lead to more sobriety.

In a study of alcoholics and relapse rates, researchers found that the more shame-ridden a drinker looked when talking about drinking — interpreted through body language like hunched shoulders — the more likely he or she was to relapse and the more drinks he or she downed during that relapse.
. . .

The results add to a body of literature suggesting that widely used shaming and humiliating methods of treating alcohol and other drug problems — such as those seen on shows like Celebrity Rehab — are not only ineffective but also may be counterproductive.

For example, a review of the research on the use of humiliating, confrontational tactics, which attempt to induce shame, found that none of the studies done in four decades supported this approach. In one study included in the analysis, the more the counselor confronted the client with past mistakes or other shaming information about his problem, the more the client drank.

So let's not challenge the anti-shame zeitgeist or encourage public shaming of those with addictions, mental illnesses, disabilities, or differences of any sort.


Franzoni E, Gualandi S, Caretti V, Schimmenti A, Di Pietro E, Pellegrini G, Craparo G, Franchi A, Verrotti A, Pellicciari A. (2013). The relationship between alexithymia, shame, trauma, and body image disorders: investigation over a large clinical sample. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 9:185-93.

Gilbert P, McEwan K, Irons C, Bhundia R, Christie R, Broomhead C, & Rockliff H (2010). Self-harm in a mixed clinical population: the roles of self-criticism, shame, and social rank. The British journal of clinical psychology / the British Psychological Society, 49 (Pt 4), 563-76 PMID: 20109278

Hastings ME, Northman LM, Tangney JP (2002). Shame, Guilt, and Suicide. Suicide Science, 67-79 DOI: 10.1007/0-306-47233-3_6

Wiechelt SA (2007). The specter of shame in substance misuse. Substance use & misuse, 42 (2-3), 399-409 PMID: 17558937

Don't wait for pain
To find out you exist
Don't look for shame
Your better off without it
Life is unkind


For other critiques of the "addiction is a brain disease" view, see Why Addiction is NOT a Brain Disease by Marc Lewis and Why the New Definition of Addiction, as ‘Brain Disease,’ Falls Short by Maia Szalavitz.1

But note that Lewis holds more nuanced views than his categorical statement indicates (e.g., "it's accurate in some ways"),2 and Szalavitz has reported on predispositions towards addiction that are based on pre-existing differences in brain structure.

Arguing that addiction is either completely a matter of choice or entirely caused by a faulty brain misses the complexity of a person with a brain in a social environment.


1 Szalavitz also says:
Like depression, addiction is a real medical disorder that affects the brain. But if we want to reduce the stigma associated with it, emphasizing recovery and resilience is probably more useful than focusing on definitions of brain disease.

2 The entire paragraph from Lewis is worth quoting:
What’s wrong with this definition?

It’s accurate in some ways. It accounts for the neurobiology of addiction better than the “choice” model and other contenders. It explains the helplessness addicts feel: they are in the grip of a disease, and so they can’t get better by themselves. It also helps alleviate guilt, shame, and blame, and it gets people on track to seek treatment. Moreover, addiction is indeed like a disease, and a good metaphor and a good model may not be so different.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Stylized Neuroscience of Psychopaths

The eighth and final season of the hit series Dexter takes a scientific look at serial killers. British actress Charlotte Rampling plays Dr. Evelyn Vogel, a neuropsychiatrist who has written the definitive book on the brains of psychopaths. She's consulting with Miami Metro Homicide on an unusual case where the killer saws open the skull post mortem and scoops out part of the brain (with a melon baller).

Neuroscience is depicted as a somewhat ghoulish yet artistic and stylish endeavor (the corpse with a sawed off head is not shown in this still). This autopsy scene is particularly artsy with its use of red lit retro cabinetry and colorized MRI films on an old school light box.

Dr. Vogel is philosophical about her chosen field. In a conversation with our favorite serial killer and "blood spatter guy" she says:

"I was drawn to forensics too, but I chose to focus on neuroscience. Psychopaths. We both chose murder. Maybe we're both a little crazy."

"Maybe," Dexter replied.

Dr. Vogal continued: "Mad scientists' strange look at this -- a biological mass -- a body part -- yet somehow from all those firing of neurons something intangible emerges -- emotions, trust, morality, love. Unless you're a psychopath. But even then belief systems emerge."

WARNING! Fake grisly fake image below the jump reveals the role of the anterior insula in psychopathy.

Read more »

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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Meet The Neurocomplimenter

The Neurocomplimenter is a new project designed to counter gratuitous anti-neuroscience sentiment. It’s part of my campaign to combat pop neurobashing profiteers.

After seven years of critical neuroblogging, it’s time to highlight the positives:

“That was a fantastic study! Good show!

The project started with two inaugural posts hosted at a different locale:
From now on, these occasional neurocomplimentary pieces will appear on the sister site.

I'd like to briefly highlight the Language Embodiment post, which drew a nice comment from one of the authors:

Motor Cortex and Monkeys are Responsive to Statistical Regularities of Letter Strings

 A cool new study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience questions the notion that the premotor cortex response to action words is due to implicit motor simulation (de Zubicaray et al., 2013). Previously, the conceptual representation and/or simulation of action words in motor regions of the brain has been taken as evidence for embodied theories of language comprehension (Glenberg & Kaschak, 2002). These theories have been based on fMRI and EEG experiments showing that reading or listening to verbs that depict actions of the face, arm or leg activate somatotopically-specific regions of motor cortex (Hauk et al., 2004).

Their novel fMRI study showed that the motor cortex response to action verbs was actually due to ortho-phonologic probabilistic cues to grammatical class (de Zubicaray et al., 2013). In other words, the spelling and pronunciation of word endings influenced activity in motor regions of the brain. This does present a problem for grounded theories of language comprehension...


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