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Jun 9, 2008

Encephalon 47

For this videotastic edition of Encephalon, the brain science blog carnival, I did a little outreach to a video maker. Neuroethologist Bjoern Brembs of is adept at science 2.0, contributing to SciVee, and soon publishing in the cutting edge Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) with a pubcast on spontaneous behaviour in drosophila that elaborates on his well-known publications. Here's a fresh animation depicting the Drosophila Flight Simulator (00:04:08). associate editor David Killoren sends in a diavlog (split-screen webcam interview) on an always-popular subject, Free Will: Happiness and the Foundations of Morality. Will Wilkinson joins Jonathan Haidt to discuss the issues. The full interview is an hour long, but Killoren recommends an "especially engaging (to me) clip, in which Haidt argues that morality is a 'big, complicated mess of human instinct' with more than one foundation." The clip is below, or watch it all here.

Aside from my intentional emphasis on neuro-related videos, a theme has emerged from the Encephalon contributions I've received: food. Does calorie restriction allow us to live longer? Ouroboros contributes some thoughtful arguments in Of mice and men: Deleterious psychological effects of CR may be limited to rodents. Chris Patil criticizes the CALERIE study on psychological effects of calorie restriction (CR). Previous studies in rodents showed that extreme CR brought on anhedonia, however, early results from CALERIE seem to indicate that a 25% CR in healthy subjects has no psychological effects.

Another videographer's submission, that also relates to food, comes from Laura Collins of the blog Are You 'Eating With Your Anorexic'? She asks, Are parents to blame for eating disorders? (00:03:24) The experts she interviews say no, emphasizing that anorexia is a brain disorder. Collins advocates the "family-based Maudsley approach" to treatment.

Even if there isn't direct causation, family exacerbates the problem sometimes. This was almost certainly the case with singer Karen Carpenter, who died of anorexia. The very-banned 1987 film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story by Todd Haynes depicts her life and illness. He was sued by her brother and by their record company and the film will not be legally distributed again, but lo, here's a torrent, here's another link, and it's on Google video below (00:43:19). Superstar is unique in using Barbie-like dolls as actors. You might not imagine that method would create such sympathy and poignancy, but it's a brilliant and powerful film. It's also the most badass thing you'll likely see here on Channel N - watch it before someone threatens to sue me.

To control food intake in a far healthier way, Walter Jessen of Highlight Health explains how Remembering lunch can help reduce the desire to snack. "Mind over matter may really work when it comes to managing appetite. Researchers at the University of Birmingham, U.K. have found that recalling foods eaten at lunch has an inhibitory effect on subsequent snacking later the same day."

Enough about food. Are placebos easy to swallow? Superblogger Vaughan Bell of Mind Hacks begins with a NYT article on a company marketing placebos to discuss the phenomenon of the placebo effect in his cleverly-titled post Placebo is not what people think. He corrects some common assumptions and reveals the ethical dilemma of doctors using placebos (with or without the patient's knowledge). So does bioethicist law professor Adam Kolber of the Neuroethics and Law blog who wrote a great post on Placebo deception of children, and an in-depth paper titled A Limited Defense of Clinical Placebo Deception. It's free for download.

Vaughan also lends a link to a vintage video featuring renowned psychologist Albert Bandura explaining his 1961 experiment on social learning and aggression in children. The post Battering Bobo supplies some background, and here's the video (00:05:03):

Kylie S. of the PodBlack Blog compares past to present in her comprehensive post Classic science paper - Belief in fortune telling amongst college students. "Although times have changed, much has not when it comes to belief in fortune tellers. Thankfully, we can now see how a variety of factors influence how we think about weird things and may even have a chance to do more in comparison to a 1930s paper on college students' beliefs."

A Mormon/LDS pediatric neurology resident who invites us to call him Doc discusses Modern medicine for manipulation of the mind in his blog Mind, Soul and Body. His subject is the hormone oxytocin, produced during reproductive functions, which promotes bonding and trust. Experiments have demonstrated that boosting oxytocin levels lead to people being more easily manipulated in economic games. Fortunately, he points out, there is no way to surreptitiously dose someone with oxytocin. (I will add that those "trust sprays" on the market are useless.)

ScienceBlogger Jake Young of Pure Pedantry writes a great research summary in his post The use of adjuvants in Alzheimer's. Nasally-administered Protollin and glatiramer acetate, basically immune activators for microglia, dramatically reduced the ABeta plaque (or "molecular crud") that accompanies the disease. He cautions that the study is limited to rats, but is still promising. For prospective Alzheimer's drugs, it's all about location, location, location is a post that looks at other drug research aimed at reducing ABeta production: in this case enzyme inhibitors. In both entries Jake does a fantastic job of distilling complicated molecular biology for the layperson while remaining just as informative for students and professionals.

Is the pleasure molecule dopamine? Mike of the Brain Stimulant blog poses that question and covers relevant research by Kent Berridge and others, concluding that the brain is too complex to reach conclusions about it.

Mo Costandi of Neurophilosophy sends in three posts. Socializing promotes survival of new nerve cells and may preserve memory, in songbirds at least, and a new study described in the NYT speculates on a link. Growing new brain cells to treat depression follows a press release from San Diego-based pharmaceuticals company BrainCells Inc. announcing clinical trials of their proprietary technology BCI-540 in a quest to stimulate neurogenesis as treatment for depression. (Note: oddly, the clinical trials will take place exclusively at sites in Canada. Possibly this is due to American politics surrounding stem cells but the company has not divulged sufficient info to speculate.) The third post, Channelrhodopsin restores vision in blind mice, reports on an exciting new study in Nature Neuroscience. Mice lacking photoreceptors had a photosensitive protein gene found in green algae introduced to cells in the retina, which made them re-sensitive to light. Senior author Connie Cepko comments on his post, clarifying that the introduced gene did not integrate into the chromosomes.

Two entries are offered up from the group blog Brain Blogger. Neuroscience: Psychotherapy's Executioner by Jared Tanner calls for a balance between dualism and "monoism." The Bipolar Trend by J.R. White discusses the assertion that bipolar disorder is overdiagnosed. You can find my opinion on the subject in the comments on that post, since J.R. solicited me to comment on it. I answered before I realized he was spamming a lot of other bloggers to do the same. J.R., please don't do that, it's not nice.

Neuroanthropology is another group blog, today contributing three posts. Cultural aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Thinking on meaning and risk is written by their newest blogger, Erin Finley. It's an interesting peek at her work studying PTSD and depression in American veterans. Synaesthesia & metaphor: I'm not feeling it by Greg Downey criticizes major league neurologist V.S. Ramachandran. Downey says, "The problem is that I don’t think that synesthesia is a good metaphor for, well, metaphor." He is also sceptical about a NYT article that many bloggers have written about,The Science of Sarcasm (Not That You Care). In Lessons from sarcasm (so useful) he points out that the perception of sarcasm varies by culture and may be related to their style of humour, and wonders how that might affect results.

Meanwhile, Steve Higgins at Of Two Minds found the most accurate infographic ever on the process of sarcasm and the brain. Our neuroblog-sovereign of sarcasm The Neurocritic also has snide words in Oh great. Now we know what the right parahippocampal gyrus does.

Alvaro Fernandez of Sharp Brains looks at Executive functions, education and Alzheimer's disease. He connects a Newsweek article on the importance of executive functions (attentional control over behaviour) for students to a news item on the decline of those functions with Alzheimer's. As well, Dr. Janice Dorn offers a well-written piece about "Behavioral NeuroFinance" titled This is your brain on trading. Dorn discloses some traits of stock traders, who must excel at quick decision-making, and how they have trained to become experts.

The Neurocritic exhibits some fabulous artwork from BRAINWAVE: Common Senses, a group show about representations of mind and brain, held at New York's Exit Art gallery. Watch an interview with the curator. Works range from Suzanne Anker's juxtaposition of 3D Rorschach ink blots (iconic to the public, but not used in contemporary clinical psychology) with butterflies and MRI brain scans, to Fernando Orellana and Brendan Burns' robot performing Sleep Waking (00:02:51). "Using recorded brainwave activity and eye movements during REM sleep to determine robot behaviors and head positioning, 'Sleep Waking' acts as a way to 'play-back' dreams. Through this piece we hope to investigate one of the possible human-robot relationships."

One last video link… a cool blogger got engaged this week (there's no public announcement yet, so I'll won't mention any names). Here's a classic video on the psychology of setting goals in a relationship. Congratulations!


Neuroanthropology hosts the next edition of Encephalon on June 23. Your submissions are welcomed via @


At 09:31, Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you for including my video - great Encephalon!


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