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Sunday, December 14th, 2008
7:47 pm - // The Future is made of awesome. /

Coming soon to a theatre near you: your DREAMS!

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Monday, July 21st, 2008
11:46 am - // Long time no science. /

Hacking mosquito genes to fight Malaria

Quality of teaching apparently more significant than class size. YA THINK??

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Sunday, June 15th, 2008
7:30 am - // Fish de-volve after reduction in pollution. /

This is really freakin' cool.

"While evolution is usually expected to creep along over eons, the stickleback has managed to evolve in full-speed reverse to cope with the cleanup of Lake Washington, according to a study led by researchers at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The findings, to be published in the May 20 issue of the journal Current Biology, document a rare example of an animal reverting to an earlier evolutionary version to survive a rapid change in its environment, according to the senior author of the paper, Catherine Peichel, a Hutchinson Center researcher. "It was very surprising," said Peichel."

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Friday, March 14th, 2008
12:05 am - // Subvoc TellMe? /

Something that looks a lot like early subvocalizing tech actually working... more or less. The video is worth watching. The future is exciting!

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Tuesday, March 11th, 2008
4:18 pm - // Pants on Fire. /

Liars appear to have honey bunches more prefrontal white matter. You know, the stuff Autistics have dramatically less of. Lying is a lot more complex than telling the truth - but the liars studied still got caught and identified, or even admitted to being liars - does this make them bad liars? One figures the ability to white lie or even really seriously lie might offer evolutionary advantages, particularly for male reproductive strategy, where the 'getting caught' buffer would have less impact. One also suspects our culture probably has a major role to play on why we don't run around spouting utter bullshit to each other all day long - other studies I've seen suggest this may be assisted by belief in free will. I've always been kind of amazed at how many people seem to successfully maintain honesty in non-consequence situations, as well as how many bad liars don't even get it when you try to gently point out to them that you've caught them in their lie and the game's over.

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Sunday, March 2nd, 2008
2:13 pm - // Neuroscence, Law, Ethics, and Ummm. /

Michael Gazzaniga, Professor of Psychology, UCSB; Law and Neuroscience Project (we like him) in an hour-long interview by Carl Zimmer, Professor of Saying Ummm All The Damn Time, and writer for The Loom (we like him but not when his mouth moves).

I really like this session (minus Carl Zimmer's ummmms). In the course of talking about law, neuroscience, and ethics, they touch upon a series of studies I explained to a dinner companion about a month ago, AND EVEN MENTION ONE THING I DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT ALREADY!!! There's not much to look at, so I suggest you treat it like a podcast and listen while you putter. If it makes you have questions or thoughts, come back here and share them!

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Tuesday, February 26th, 2008
12:29 pm - // Study: Antidepressents don't work. /

"But one of the largest studies of modern antidepressant drugs has found that they have no clinically significant effect. In other words, they don't work.

The finding will send shock waves through the medical profession and patients and raises serious questions about the regulation of the multinational pharmaceutical industry, which was accused yesterday of withholding data on the drugs.

It also came as Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, announced that 3,600 therapists are to be trained during the next three years to provide nationwide access through the GP service to "talking treatments" for depression, instead of drugs, in a £170m scheme. The popularity of the new generation of antidepressants, which include the best known brands Prozac and Seroxat, soared after they were launched in the late 1980s, heavily promoted by drug companies as safer and leading to fewer side-effects than the older tricyclic antidepressants."

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Friday, February 22nd, 2008
12:39 pm - // Kissing Up. /

Scientific American article on why we kiss

Key Concepts:
* A kiss triggers a cascade of neural messages and chemicals that transmit tactile sensations, sexual excitement, feelings of closeness, motivation and even euphoria.
* Kisses can convey important information about the status and future of a relationship. At the extreme, a bad first kiss can abruptly curtail a couple’s future.
* Kissing may have evolved from primate mothers’ practice of chewing food for their young and then feeding them mouth-to-mouth. Some scientists theorize that kissing is crucial to the evolutionary process of mate selection.

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Wednesday, February 13th, 2008
12:10 am - // Scientists for Better PCR. /

Sciencegeeky YouTube video below cut!

Who's your daddy?Collapse )

current mood: amused

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Monday, February 4th, 2008
9:55 pm - // Territory Acquisition Games More Rewarding for Men than Women. /

In today's "well duh" department...

"After analyzing the imaging data for the entire group, the researchers found that the participants showed activation in the brain's mesocorticolimbic center, the region typically associated with reward and addiction. Male brains, however, showed much greater activation, and the amount of activation was correlated with how much territory they gained. (This wasn't the case with women.) Three structures within the reward circuit - the nucleus accumbens, amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex - were also shown to influence each other much more in men than in women. And the better connected this circuit was, the better males performed in the game.

The findings indicate, the researchers said, that successfully acquiring territory in a computer game format is more rewarding for men than for women. And Reiss, for one, isn't surprised. "I think it's fair to say that males tend to be more intrinsically territorial," he said. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out who historically are the conquerors and tyrants of our species-they're the males."

Reiss said this research also suggests that males have neural circuitry that makes them more liable than women to feel rewarded by a computer game with a territorial component and then more motivated to continue game-playing behavior. Based on this, he said, it makes sense that males are more prone to getting hooked on video games than females,.

"Most of the computer games that are really popular with males are territory- and aggression-type games," he pointed out."

Now, the point of that was this: See the line I made into the link? That's an overly broad statement. As a thought exercise, how about you ubergeeks describe an experiment in which females would be more motivated to perform? I've chatted about this with a few people one-on-one, but I'd like to know what y'all think.

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Sunday, August 19th, 2007
6:47 pm - // This One Goes To Eleven. /

Axons, it appears, may in fact be tuning knobs that can crank up or damp down brain signals before the terminal passes them on with neurotransmitters. (And nicotine might significantly enhance the axon up-tuning, though that didn't seem to be the express focus of this study.)

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Monday, June 18th, 2007
5:20 pm - // "D'OH!" Moments. /

"According to a new study by Icelandic psychologists, healthy people commit an average of 6.4 such lapses or “action slips” a week."
"The Icelandic researchers said establishing how common such lapses are in healthy people could help alleviate the concerns of those who have suffered a head injury or whiplash and believe they are making more mistakes than usual, despite performing normally on formal neuropsychological tests. In particular if patients completed their own diary of absent-mindedness, this could potentially “demonstrate that the number of actual memory lapses is smaller than estimated by the patient, and that they are not any different or more frequent than among healthy individuals,” the researchers said."

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Wednesday, June 13th, 2007
12:51 pm - // Noisy Redundant Brains. /

"A good analogy to redundant circuitry, which accomplishes the same behavior by different wiring configurations, would be a piece of text, in which you can say the same thing with different words," Rokni explained. "Our theory holds that the learning brain has the equivalent of a 'teacher' and a 'tinkerer'--a learning signal and noise in the learning process, respectively.

"In producing a specific piece of text, the tinkerer just randomly changes the words, while the teacher continually corrects the text to make it have the right meaning. The teacher only cares about the meaning and not the precise wording. When the teacher and tinkerer work together, the text keeps changing but the meaning remains the same. For example, the tinkerer may change the sentence 'John is married' to 'John is single,' and the teacher may correct it to 'John is not single.'

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Friday, May 25th, 2007
7:55 pm - // Meditation and "attentional blink". /

Hardcore meditation's impact on attentional blink. Experienced meditators mitigate attentional blink by assigning less mental resources to the first instance. I found this extremely interesting.

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Saturday, May 12th, 2007
12:55 pm - // Sexual selection and braaaaaiiiiiins. /

"The authors found that sexual selection had an important influence on primates’ brains. Greater male-on-male competition (sexual selection) correlated with several brain structures involved with autonomic functions, sensory-motor skills and aggression. Where sexual selection played a greater role the septum was smaller, and therefore potentially exercised less control over aggression.

In contrast, the average number of females in a social group correlates with the relative size of the telencephalon (or cerebrum), the largest part of the brain. The telencephalon includes the neocortex, which is responsible for higher functions such as sensory perception, generation of motor commands and spatial reasoning. Primates with the most sociable females evolved a larger neocortex, suggesting that female social skills may yield the biggest brains for the species as a whole. Social demands on females and competitive demands on males require skills handled by different brain components, the authors suggest. The contrasting brain types, a result of behavioural differences between the sexes, might be a factor in other branches of mammalian brain evolution beyond anthropoid primates, too."

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Thursday, May 3rd, 2007
3:55 am - // Oxytocin and Ecstasy in Mice. /

"The drug 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; ecstasy) has a widely documented ability to increase feelings of love and closeness toward others. The present study investigated whether oxytocin, a neuropeptide involved in affiliative behavior, may play a role in this effect. A moderate (5 mg/kg, i.p.) dose of MDMA increased social interaction in male Wistar rats, primarily by increasing the amount of time rats spent lying adjacent to each other. MDMA (5 mg/kg) activated oxytocin-containing neurons in the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei of the hypothalamus, as shown by Fos immunohistochemistry. MDMA (5 mg/kg i.p.) also increased plasma oxytocin levels and this effect was prevented by pre-treatment with the 5-HT1A antagonist WAY 100,635 (1 mg/kg i.p.). The oxytocin receptor antagonist tocinoic acid (20 μg, i.c.v.) had no effect on social behavior when given alone but significantly attenuated the facilitation of social interaction produced by MDMA (5 mg/kg). The 5-HT1A agonist 8-hydroxy-2-(di-n-propylamino)-tetraline) (8-OH-DPAT, 0.25 mg/kg, i.p.) increased social behavior in a similar way to MDMA and this effect was also significantly attenuated by tocinoic acid. Taken together, these results suggest that oxytocin release, stimulated by MDMA through 5-HT1A receptors, may play a key role in the prosocial effects of MDMA and underlie some of the reinforcing effects of the drug."

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Wednesday, April 18th, 2007
6:48 pm - // Bipolar Brains. /

Neuroscientists at UCLA have shown that lithium, long the standard treatment for bipolar disorder, increases the amount of gray matter in the brains of patients with the illness.
"When the researchers compared the brains of bipolar patients on lithium with those of people without the disorder and those of bipolar patients not on lithium, they found that the volume of gray matter in the brains of those on lithium was as much as 15 percent higher in areas that are critical for attention and controlling emotions."

Bipolar medication debates continue. 2003 UCLA study says antidepressants help. 2007 NIMH study says no.

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Wednesday, April 11th, 2007
3:23 am - // Love on the Brain. /

Amusingly written article on the basic neurochemistry of love.
"There are two shrimp-size things on either side of your brain called the caudate nuclei. This is the gear that operates bodily movements and the body's reward system: "the mind's network for general arousal, sensations of pleasure, and the motivation to acquire rewards," Fisher writes. And when the test subjects looked at their sweeties, these things started singing "Loosen Up My Buttons" with the Pussycat Dolls!

This, then, kicked the party over to the tiny ventral tegmental area, a little peapod-size thingy that sends dopamine bopping around your head.

This is what scientists call lots of fun."

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Wednesday, April 4th, 2007
3:12 pm - // Multitasking. /

My prefered MO usually involves a fairly hefty amount of layered multitasking, often drawing comments from more focused types. The heart of this NYT article on multitasking isn't so much that it's all bad, as that there's an optimum point after which the rate of returns on layering further goes way down. The "main" task(s) will usually suffer, so one needs to be able to adjust one's concurrent project load depending on the heaviest-focus item. I'm not sure knowledge-work interrupts represent quite the same thing as intentional layered multitasking though - I think interrupts that can be controlled differ greatly from those that can't, like checking new email versus having someone pop by your office with a hot crisis. I wonder if heavy multitaskers have any difference in their context-switching abilities, since that seems to be the key element?

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2:46 pm - // Psych, Neuroscience, DST, reliable witnessing, and bipolar disorder. /

Is psychology still relevant now that we have neuroscience?

Early Daylight Saving didn't save any energy - but a lot of people liked it anyway.

Courtroom confidence, reliable witnesses, and errors. Basically, if you say you're sure of something and you're wrong, that's worse than being kinda unsure and wrong, but being unsure and right carries less weight than sure and right. Part of being a reliable witness is being able to tell how reliable you are.

"Finding the right treatment balance for people with bipolar disorder is a constant challenge; STEP-BD aims to identify the best treatment options. "Treating depression in people with bipolar disorder is notoriously difficult," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel. "STEP-BD sought to determine if adding an antidepressant to a mood stabilizer is effective and safe in treating depressive episodes. The results suggest that antidepressants are safe but not more effective than placebo as assessed in a large number of people with bipolar disorder.""

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