Category Archives: carnival

Encephalon #70 is up on the SharpBrains!

The latest edition of brain carnival Encephalon is now up at the Sharp Brains blog. This edition is themed around the mysteries and illusions of the human mind and a couple of my favorites include the Mind Hacks article on hypnosis; and the Power of Neo One article by Brain Heath Hacks.

Encephalon #66 is now out!

Encepahlon #66 is now out at the Ionian enchantment and is an official no-frills no-fuss edition; It contains a motley collection of articles and some of the ones that caught my fancy were a Effortless Incitement commentary on a Daniel Neetle paper related to how likely it is that you know about your sibling’s death, based on whether you are fully related or step-siblings or maternally/paternally related half-siblings. Another good article is on the spatial memory encoding by Neurophilosophy.

An unusual article worth checking out is Podblack cat’s article exploring whether poetry is inspirational in nature and dependent on one-shot creative process (maybe having a long previous gestation period, but resulting in a dramatic giving-to-birth moment)or can be perfected with practice and hard work. Although I am a pretty hardliner adherent to practice as being superior to inborn talent/giftedness theory, I would still maintain that poetry is more of a un/subconscious skill and is not easily broken into explicit steps that can be first verbalized, practiced and then later gained expertise in- it is more like learning to ride a bicycle- you have to learn it and become good with practice, but you cannot really teach much there. I respect Stephen Fry a lot, and would definitely read the Ode Less Traveled, but I’m not sure I completely buy the theory that you can really teach poetry! I write poetry myself and so am entitled to my own opionion on that front!

Encephalon #64 up at the Neurocritic

The 64th edition of Encephalon is up at the Neurocritic and has been exceptionally well presented. Neurocritic embeds all the articles in context, sometimes linking to other external sources, and also providing a seamless flow between the varied topics that are covered. The articles themselves are very good, and include submissions from some new blogs other than the usual suspects.A couple of my favorites include a construal level-procrastination linkage study and a DAT-KO mice couldn’t get high on cocaine study. There is more at the source, so head over to there.

Get High on Encephalon #62

Welcome to the 62nd brain-dope edition of the brain carnival Encephalon.

Sci@Neurotopia, sets the stage by asking the question whether Prozac and other anti-depressants can be called addictive. While we all know that drugs like cocaine and heroin can be addictive, yet can other benign drugs that we take to relive symptoms that are problematic in the first place, can also be classified as being addictive based on the fact that these drugs show at least two of the DSM criteria for addiction- tolerance and withdrawal? What about their non-high nature or non-craving properties? An interesting discussion ensues, but Sci also seemingly puts her-foot-in-her-mouth by trying to argue that there are two types of addictions- physical and psychological! She makes amend for the same by writing a subsequent post that clarifies that she is not a Dualist who believes that psychological symptoms of addiction like craving are not a result of brain chemistry but indeed does believe that they are as physical in origins as the ‘physical’ withdrawal symptoms such as constipation. An undertone of the post and comments was that perhaps we need different categories for addiction – one based solely on substance abuse and other more general addiction based on craving and other psychological components included too. DrugMonkey however, seemed to think that this opens a Pandora box for other spurious addictions like net or video-games addiction.

Daniel@Neuroanthropology however is not afraid of rocking the boat, and clearly and persuasively argues for recogintion of psychological as well as physical aspects of addiction. He argues that the fact that we use two systems of inferring causality- the intention based model applied to human interactions and the billiard-ball model of physical causality applied to non-animate interactions; is relevant to addiction and how that is viewed in terms of a disease model or a morality model.Based on his interaction with his class students, he is inclined to believe that we apply intentional model and subjectivity when referring to our own obsessions and to substance dependence, but a disease model when applied to substance abuse. Dependence, involving psychological components , he believes to be more critical.

Although Daniel mentions facebook and related obsession and dependence and not in terms of addiction per se, we all know too well Vaughan’s view on the matters of internet and related addictions. This time however, Vaughan@MindHacks is in not a critical mood, but laughing all the way  with the recent discovery that laughing gas (N2O), not to be confused with the brain neuro transmitter nitric oxide, has some hitherto unknown effects on those inhaling it. Laughing gas is a popular anesthetic and it has been found that it increases imagination and suggestibility.It can be safely concluded that suggesting that the surgery will not cause pain, would just enhance the anesthetic effects of N2O by using its suggestibility effects too to the fullest. All that remains to be seen is is N2O addictive and if so would people line up for repetitive surgeries or dental procedures given the ability-to-make-one laugh (and thus imaginably get oneself ‘high’:-)  effects of the gas!

While inhaling the N20 may not really present an addictive conundrum, what about Deep Brain Stimulation for Pleasure? Sajid@BrainBlogger reports that some studies at Oxford are being carried to ascertain the DBS effects in orbital PFC and how that may affect reward/ pleasure/ Libido. The benefits are to be found in female sexual dysfunction, but bypassing the normal brain circuitry and directly stimulating the brain for pleasure may be more akin to the way the addictive drugs act. what about tolerance and increasing DBS to get the same quantity of reward? What if someone removes the implant , would there be withdrawal effects?

A different type of conundrum is posed by Maria@BrianBlogger as she reports on the face transplant follow-up studies that found that the woman who received face transplant was pleased with the effects though she ostensibly sees a different face in the mirror daily.   She concludes that one should not just screen for organ compatibility, but also psychological coping mechanisms in the case of face transplant as psychological issues are involved here.

When one talks of Psychological coping, who else needs more support than the one being stalked? In the national stalking awareness month swivelchair@NeurologicalCorrelates focuses on stalking and highlights research that found that stalking involved many components of OCD like cognitive inflexibility (being obsessed and feeling compelled) and source-monitoring issues with memory (inability to recall the source of memory) apart from other deficits like lacking an ability to take others’ perspective. while we treat stalking as related to OCD, should we also extend and relate it to addiction in general? Is craving for a non-responding beloved the same as craving for a substance as the beloved has been ‘objectified’ and is worth only as a an object and not as a person? should the same environmental sensitivity and cue based approaches to addiction recovery be applied to stalkers too? Does it make sense to restrict the stalkers from any access to the ‘drug’ or any environment that reminds them of the ‘drug’?

Swivelchair@NeurologicalCorrelates also sends in a post regarding  a hypothesis that aggression may be a result of excessive pruning of white matter tracts. He arrives at this by putting the fact that an ErbB4 gene variant leads  to demyelenation/ less connectivity of left frontotemporal brain region. This region, is also implicated in aggression/hostility and thus his deduction. I have doubts as he mentions the same gene and brain region also implicated in schizophrenia/Psychosis and I disagree that psychotics are in general more aggressive than the normal human population. (although, to be fair, this is not explicitly claimed by Swivelchair anywhere).

Talking of Schizophrrenia, how did such a disease evolve and get fixed in the human population at such a high level of incidence? Walter@HighlightHealth writes about a study that found that genes in the human lineage that were under recent selection pressure and diverged from the chimpanzees , were also related to energy metabolism in the brain and on the same locus are present some of the schizophrenia genes. Thus, he concludes that Schizophrenia is a direct costly byproduct  to the cognitive demands placed during human evolution especially the demands of brain metabolism and maintaining a big brain for greater cognitive work and thus the need to increase efficiency of metabolisms etc. Thus, the assertion that Schizophrenia is a direct result of  changes in metabolism during human brain evolution.

Talking about evolution and comparative methods, did you know how manual dexterity evolved in humans? Mo@Neurophilosophy illustrates how manual dexterity evolved in humans giving us the ability of fine motor control. He notes that we have a direct (synapsing directly on motor neurons)  as well as indirect (involving inter neurons) path from the primary motor coretx to the motor neurons. Also, their appear to be two distinct sub regions of M1- one involving neurons synapsing directly onto the motor neurons and the other synpasing via inter neurons in the spinal chord. Also doing a comparative analysis on Capuchin (who have a prominenet direct as well as indirect pathway like humans)  and Squirrel monkey (who only have the weak direct path) reveals that Capuchins are manually dexterous while Squirrels are not, thus confirming that it is the direct pathway which is anatomically recent and used in fine motor control. Now this is called cutting edge science reporting.   

DoctorSpurt@EffortlessIncitement reports on a study that found correlation between physicological traits like EMG and skin conductance and political attitudes like high support for preserving the social structure form internal/ external threats. In brief, and in a crude reading it found that ‘conservatives are cowards’. Put other way, using a variety of measure sit was found that threatening stimuli caused more physiological reaction in those who were of a conservative bent of mind. Now that is some correlation between political attitudes, personality and fearfulness.  

We have talked about aggression and fearfulness and we have talked about evolution. And we know that people differ from each other in their baseline aggressive and fearfulness rates. How does this difference come about. I@TheMouseTrap present evolutionary perspectives on personality traits and I owe a post that would  link the evolution of personality traits to evolution of co-operation/ altruism.

Now, if you have read the Mouse Trap posts, you may wonder if some of the correlations I see between different personality traits and evolutionary adaptive tasks are not spurious and voodoo like? A different kind of voodoo correlation is examined by Neurocrtic , this time referring to the exaggerated and spurious correlation found between fMRI brain regions identified in social cognitive neuroscience and behavioral and personality measures. I haven’t read the Vul et al paper, but Neurocritc presents a good summary and details the points-counterpoints that are raised. One thing that caught my attention, off-the-bat,  was the confusion of state personality variables with trait variables (anxiety or empathy can be measured as both trait and state variables). While the trait variable correlations in personality psychology may be low (~ 0.7); I’m not sure the measures that measure state variables (like anxiety at the present moment ) suffer from same level of reliability concerns (but how can we test-retest a state…isn’t the state bound to change with each experiment). Anyway the discussion is very enlightening and Neurocritic rejoices in seeing the others slither in pain as their studies are put to question . Oh Schadenfreude.!   

One thing however that Neurocritic does put into question is the allure of fMRI brain scans and how having a brain scan in a study can lead to credibility.Dr Deb at her blog links to a provocative study that found that more brain areas lit up when net surfing than when reading. So do we conclude that net surfing, is good for your health? If so, as its effects are largely beneficial, can we still consider it as an addiction? We seem to have come a full circle.

Before I conclude, just a brief note to let all of you know that you can now subscribe to the encephalon feed here and to many other health and medicine related carnivals here.

That is all for this edition. hope you got your kicks and are dependent on the fortnightly dose of enecpehalon to maintain your sanity. BTW, did anyone miss the 5 Jan edition of encepahlon….did someone suffer from withdrawal symptoms? do let us know via comments!

Encephalon: call for submissions.

The next edition of the Encephalon carnival , which also happens to be the first edition in this new year 2009, will be hosted right here at the Mouse Trap on 19th January. Here is requesting you all to send in your psychology/ neuroscience related contributions to encephalon(DOT)host(AT)gmail(DOT)com or directly to me at sandygautam(AT)yahoo(DOT)com.

Please do send in as many quality contributions as possible so that we can kickstart the new year in style! Dont forget that I need the submission by Sunday, the 18th Jan to include in the 19th jan edition.

Get Enchanted with the Enecpehalon # 59

Ionian Enchantment has published the 59th edition  of the brain carnival Encephalon and it contains some of the best blogging from the usual suspects.

I found the new technique of cooling a brain region to slow the neural activity (spike rate I believe) and thus to deduce as to which particular brain region in songbirds is associated with Rhythm very fascinating. Girrlscientists at Living the Scientific Life does a great job of describing the study.  Greg at Neuroanthropology discuses the work of Andy Clark with reference to massive modularity and innate/learned controversy and concludes that a middle-of-the-road neuroconstructivist approach is the best.

Other cool stuff includes new findings that some cognitive auditory abilities may be enhanced in late Huntington disorder and a writeup of the hallucinatory states induced by Ganzfiled procedure.  There is more cool stuff, so go and have a look!

Encepahlon #58 now Out: Decide to read it now!!

The 58th edition of Encephalon, is now available at the Highlight Health blog. This decision making edition that implores you to take stock of your needs, preferences, values and emotions to arrive at a decision to read and appreciate the best in last fortnight’s brain blogging, is very ably hosted and presented by Walter.

The articles I liked in particular were a comprehensive review of  gender differences in aging by Chris at Ouroboros; an article on whether, to what extent and at what age do fetuses start feeling/ experiencing pain by Paul at the Combining Cognits blog; a review  of gender differences in depression and its treatment by Dr Shcok; and various other interesting articles like the five-clover luck theory by David at ScienceBase or the bullies get kick out of seeing pain of others deconstruction by the the Neurocritic. There is more available including reports on psychopathy, multi-tasking, addiction etc, so rush on to the original Encephalon edition for more stimulating posts.

Encephalon 57 now out

The latest edition of Encephalon is now up at the Mind Hacks blog. It is a very good collection of neuro articles and there is lot of good stuff to drool at.
I especially liked the Neurocritic article on correlation between the spontaneous activity in fMRIs and slow wave EEG signals- we know that it is an important phenomenon, but what all this spontaneous activity signifies is still unclear. I also like Pure Pedantry commentary on the finding that tow subregions of dlPFC are implicated in hypothesis-generation. He raises important points regarding what three conditions a brain area should show before we jump to concluding that that area is indeed responsible for a particular function.

There is plenty of other interesting stuff including A Michael Posner interview, a report on selectively erasing memories in mice and a controversial post on whether more gesture usage implies slower linguistic learnings and capabilities in children; so head on to the Encephalon and get your kicks!

Encephalon #54 : up and running

The 54th edition of Encephalon, the premium brain carnival , is now up and running on the Neurophilosophy blog. There are many interesting articles there, like the article on color vision (I too have written about color vision extensively in the past-), so go and have a look, and savor what fancies you!

Ode to the Brain: Encephalon 51st edition now out!

Welcome to the 51st edition of the brain carnival, Encephalon.

25 little gems,
on the mind and the brain-
aren’t they one and the same!

SharpBrains sets the tone for this edition of the Encephalon with a collection of 25 haikus contributed by its readers- all with either the brain or the mind as their guiding theme. While each haiku present there is unique and worth a read, the allusion above to ‘aren’t they one and the same’ has more to do with the ‘mind and the brain’ part — is the age-old dichotomy still relevant; do we still need a mind when we are increasingly comfortable talking in terms of the brain?

Daniel from Neuranthropology examines this age-old dichotomy from a Critical Neurosciences perspective and argues that instead of trying to resolve this dichotomy, one should focus instead, on the new paradigms, methods and approaches that become available when one tries to explain mental phenomenon in neural terms. The other two aspects of Critical Neuroscience he highlights are how ideology may influence the (neuro) science and how the new neuroscience should be a science for change- actively taking responsibility for the impact that new findings bring about.

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Continuing with the mind-brain theme, is it plausible that the reason we focus so much on the dichotomy is just because we have a separate name for the mind from the brain? Dennett seems to think so for consciousness- he believes that just because we have invented a unitary name for that inner-subjective-feel phenomena that may be a result of diverse neural phenomena, we are tricked into believing that we have a unitary consciousness. This trickery or illusion is accomplished by a Magical sleight of hand- that of giving a name to an un-existing phenomenon. Vaughan, over at The Mind Hacks, illustrates this beautifully using a card trick called ‘The Tuned Deck’ in which just attributing a magical tuning property to ‘the’ deck leads to even seasoned magicians getting dumb-founded as they try to discover a single concept behind the many diverse tricks that are used to create that trickery. So it seems that naming something a rose endows it with an essence that was not earlier present!

Oh sweet memory,
my heart breaks deep inside.
Oh sweet memory,
it’s you I’m trying to hide.
Mahfooz Ali

While a rose may or may not smell sweet, depending on whether it is given a name or not, we all know too well the association between sweet and memories. But I bet you didn’t knew that there was another angle to this association between sweet and memories. Latest research indicates that moderate increases in blood sugar levels can lead to better short-term memory. Jeniifer Gibson, from The BrainBlogger, highlights this recent research and cautions that those who have better blood sugar regulation, do better cognitively and that high levels of baseline blood sugar are associated with reduced hippocampal volume and reduced cognitive functioning. So do control your intake of sugar-and don’t use this as a pretext to indulge your sweet cravings- after all research such as this keeps indicating that Alzheimer’s may just be a type-III diabetes!!.

“Where is our Safe Haven?”
“Where do we hide?”
“Up ahead is a church still standing!
I’d better hurry, and get inside.”

While it may be difficult to hide one’s memories, it is very easy for us to spot a hiding place- a safe haven, a nest. Is the same true of mice- do they have ‘concepts’ and ‘categories’ – like the ‘nest’- built-up / learned in their brains? Doctor Spurt at Effortless Incitement revisits a PNAS paper, that had been widely discussed at its time of publication, regarding whether mice encode concepts like nests using its hippocampal neurons. He finds evidence for three such type of neurons and comes out convinced ready to take on all Heideggereans!

No man is an island, entire of itself..
..any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind
John Donne

You may prefer to be confined to your safe haven or your own private island, but research shows that humans, in general, are extremely social and empathetic- determined to get inside each others’ mind- and sometimes on each others nerves! but what about those, who have a diminished ‘theory of mind’? Doc at the Mind, Soul and Body blog describes people with Asperger’s syndrome and how they may lack some of the core prerequisites for discerning other peoples minds- deficits in recognizing faces, interpreting non-verbal cues and figurative languages and reduced empathy. He also takes stock of leading theories of why this difference may be – from inability to ignore sensory stimulus to the ever ubiquitous mirror neurons!

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?

Fair or not, Mirror Neurons have been around for quite some time and have been credited with everything from Global Warming to US economic woes. Marc Dingman, at the Neuroscientifically Challenged, challenges this hegemony of Mirror Neurons, and though does not outright dismisses them, is sure that they would be replaced soon by neuronal groups called convergence-divergence zones (CDZs).Have we already come full circle? Would a mirror by any other name still keep us trapped? Before we jump to conclusions, we ought to read that well written piece about the latest Antonia Damasio paper in Nature, and appreciate that non-local CDZs with which the mirror neurons are to be replaced, are a neuronal circuit- and that too not specific to or linked to imitation. Rather, it is a higher-order association area are where many local CDZs inputs converge and which may subsequently reactivate those local CDZs when one aspect of the older experience is re experienced.

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war,
How to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye my heart thy picture’s sight would bar,
My heart mine eye the freedom of that right.

Talking of debunking something-anything-one should not forget the Neurocritic. After all, it is his prerogative to criticize and thrash the Junk science. I’m sure Neurocritic would agree with Marc in debunking the Autism-is-due-to-mirror-neurons theory, but this time he is busy analyzing the gazes of people with Autism (hypo social), Williams syndrome (hyper social) and normal children especially how much time and which portions of a social scene do these different populations focus on. He finds that indeed the eye may have a will of its own and tracking it may reveal some of our inner dynamics. He reviews recent research that found that children with Williams syndrome spend more time looking at faces (and in that too on eyes); while the opposite pattern was observed for those with Autism. This Area of Interest had a statistically significant interaction with the group type (Autism, Williams, normal). However the most important takeaway from the study (which one of the commentators pointed and Neurocritc too concurred) was that ‘normal’ children spent a significant time staring at the breasts of the lady in the picture!!

“The brain is my second favorite organ”
Woody Allen

While many psychologist do not hesitate in advising on how to keep your first favorite organ in shape; other saner folks are more concerned about how to exercise your second favorite organ’s muscles and what the emerging trends are. Alvaro at the SharpBrains blog lists the top 10 emerging trends in the brain fitness market and asks for other predictions – offering a free The State of the Brain Fitness Software Market 2008, for the best prediction/ comment. The trends he documents range from low tech computer software to involvement of doctors and pharmacists, insurance agencies and corporate wellness and leadership groups.

Man is the flying eagle, Woman, the singing nightingale.
To fly is to conquer space. To sing is to conquer the Soul.
Man is a temple, Woman a shrine.
Before the temple we discover ourselves, before the shrine we kneel.
In short, man is found where earth finishes, woman where heaven begins.
Victor Hugo

That brings us to the all important question of whether all those who would be spearheading this brain fitness revolution would have our best interests in mind. When big money like Insurance companies, pharmacists (drug companies) and corporates get involved, there is potential for dishing out the Neurotosh, Neurodosh and Nuerodash i.e. tosh or junk science, dosh or big money and dash or corruption all dressed up with a Neuro salad. While brain fitness movement may still be nascent and free of all such corrupting influences, Daniel at the Neuroanthropolgy blog found that this was the current state of affairs with respect to some practitioners of Neuroscience like Louann Brizendine the author of The Female Brain. Reporting from Montreal Critical Neurosciences conference he unearthed evidence of drug company linkages of Louann and how she twisted and over exaggerated the sexual differences in the brain to advocate her own interests.

I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I’ll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.

I’ll wait until November
That is the time for me.
I’ll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.

And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
“That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May.”
Gwendolyn Brooks

Greg over at the Neuroanthropology blog takes this line of argument one step further and looks at how psychiatrists like Prof. Joseph Biederman, who may also have dubious drug company linkages, nevertheless end up being an institution in themselves, and end up having a profound influence on how we conceive and label normalcy or difference. Specifically, Prof Biederman, was responsible for pushing the diagnosis of bipolairty in children and as a result has resulted in for-better-or-for-worse an overwhelming number of children who are now diagnosed with the illness. Does labeling them as bipolar introduce new dynamics in their interaction with parents and peers? What about the lasting effects the anti-psychotics would have during the critical developmental periods? Would this grip of psychiatry in this case, or the just-so evolutionary psychology stories that one readily accepts to rationalize ones prejudices in other cases, over our discourse really good or is it leading to a harmful effect? He leaves us with many more questions than answers! While we normally tend to turn a deaf ear to such songs of gloom, it is important that we heed the warning and at least not label the doomsayer a ‘crazy woman’!

Lastly if you are wondering how you got that headache – it has nothing to do with this ode to the brain. It is because you just ate freezing ice-cream – it has lead to a freezing sensation and to a condition called sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. Now, if reading the name of the condition itself leads to a headache don’t blame me. Jokes apart, Waynekid Kam, from the BrainBlogger, describes this condition and explains how eating ice-cream could lead to headaches. Now, if you find the prospect of eating ice-cream a little too unpalatable, you are welcome to send all your ice-cream money to my way- I don’t mind the headaches – or the ice-creams!

That’s all for this edition folks! Do keep sending in your submissions to and it will be featured in the next edition due 19 August at Ouroboros.