fMRI Used For Lie Detection by the Government?


From Raw Story:

“Two private companies have announced that they will begin to offer “lie detection” services using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), as early as this summer. fMRI can produce live, real-time images of people’s brains as they answer questions, view images, listen to sounds, and respond to other stimuli.”

That’s just a little bit intimidating, I think. I’m sure most of you could use your imagination and think of the implications.


Excellent Website on Fish Oil…


I ran across a website not too long ago that I’m not sure I’ve mentioned to you guys. It is a blog called Fatty Acid Trip. They have tons of research, and all of the latest and greatest news on omega 3 fatty acids from fish (EPA and DHA). The best part is, they have the information categorized by the disorder fatty acids have been shown to treat. Definitely check it out, especially if you arn’t already dosing up on your 1-2g of EPA/day.

As a side note, I’m not sold on their whole super HIGH-EPA fish oil conclusion. I’ve heard a lot of good things about DHA, and believe there’s a reason why it is also naturally in the fish oil. I’d go for the regular stuff with a mixture (and you’ll probably pay less too).


Depression in elderly linked to decline in executive functioning


From Eurekalert:

Brain function and negative thinking linked to late-onset depression

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — Late-onset depression, which first emerges in people aged 60 and over, is linked to a decline in the brain’s executive functions that leads to repetitive, negative thought patterns a new study reveals. Executive functions are those that enable people to plan and control their thoughts and actions.

Published in the current issue of Cognitive Therapy and Research, the finding is based on a survey of 44 people suffering from depressive symptoms. Aged 66–92 years, the study’s participants came from retirement communities in Sydney, Australia. The study’s lead author, Bill von Hippel, says evidence for the conclusion is based on three findings.

“First, the people with late-onset depressive symptoms showed poorer performance on executive function tests than those with early onset depression.” “Executive decline” is a normal part of ageing linked to decreased efficiency in the brain’s frontal lobes. Typical signs of executive decline include disinhibition, rigid thinking, inattention and a decline in working memory.

“Second, we saw that executive decline was associated with rumination – a tendency for repeated negative thinking patterns — among those with late-onset depression,” says von Hippel, who is associate professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales. “We saw no such link among those who had early-onset depression.”

“Third, the link between executive decline and late onset depression was brought about by their joint association with rumination. That is, executive decline was only associated with late-onset depression to the degree that it led people to ruminate. When executive dysfunction did not lead to rumination, it did not predict late-onset depression.

“Clinical rumination is like problem-solving gone awry – it’s a wrong turn,” says Dr von Hippel. “Looking inward and being reflective is a useful thing to do, especially when negative events happen in our life. But if we get stuck in a pattern of saying ‘why me?’ there’s a risk that we can spiral into a pathology. Instead of solving the problem we just stew in it.”

Dr von Hippel says longitudinal research is now necessary to reveal whether executive decline causes excessive rumination and late-onset depression, or whether some other related process underlies these associations. “By measuring mental functioning before and after late-onset depression develops, we’ll get a clearer idea of the role of executive dysfunction in the development of excessive rumination and late onset depression. We also hope to get a clearer idea of when executive dysfunction leads to rumination and when it does not.”

“What we can say is this,” he adds. “Executive decline is a normal part of ageing, but late-onset depression is not. Feeling sorrow after negative events is also normal, but excessive rumination is not. Our current research suggests that for some people, these normal processes spiral out of control. Our goal now is to get a clearer idea of when and why executive dysfunction leads to these pathological outcomes, and what we might do to circumvent this process.”

What I find interesting about this article is, first of all, the fact that it connects both executive functioning (specifically attention and working memory) and rumination (think: pure o). Why is it that I bring this up? People with obsessive compulsive disorder (and I would assume this includes the Pure O genre) likely have screwed up dopaminergic systems, and certainly frontal lobe issues. It’s also known that if the dopamine system is out of whack — either too high or too low in dopamine — the working memory will suffer as a result.

Since working memory is one of the few faculties in the human brain that can be quickly and effectively trained to be greater, could this be a route to treating the so-called “late onset depression,” as well as other forms of depression or rumination? Just some things to mull over… Until then… Go play your sudoku. Or your brainbuilder.com, which is my personal favorite. Expect an upcoming article on the working memory.


Why I Believe In Hypnosis


I’ve heard a lot about how hypnosis works, but honestly, I had always been skeptical. I figured it could be the effect of hysteria, or of people wanting changes bad enough that hypnosis working was only natural that it would seem to work when they’ve invested the money, and time into making changes in themselves.

But through the use of technologifes like the fMRI, we don’t have to guess about it. This New Scientist article covers what the fMRI has found about hypnosis:

Highly susceptible

Gruzelier and his colleagues studied brain activity using an fMRI while subjects completed a standard cognitive exercise, called the Stroop task.

The team screened subjects before the study and chose 12 that were highly susceptible to hypnosis and 12 with low susceptibility. They all completed the task in the fMRI under normal conditions and then again under hypnosis.

Throughout the study, both groups were consistent in their task results, achieving similar scores regardless of their mental state. During their first task session, before hypnosis, there were no significant differences in brain activity between the groups.

But under hypnosis, Gruzelier found that the highly susceptible subjects showed significantly more brain activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus than the weakly susceptible subjects. This area of the brain has been shown to respond to errors and evaluate emotional outcomes.

The highly susceptible group also showed much greater brain activity on the left side of the prefrontal cortex than the weakly susceptible group. This is an area involved with higher level cognitive processing and behaviour.


Considering that hypnosis specifically is meant to alter one’s behavior, I believe this study speaks for itself.


AboutNeurofeedback: It’s all about it!


Ordinarily I wouldn’t get so excited as to write a blog entry specifically and only about ONE website. This website, however is an exception. Often times it’s hard for me to explain neurofeedback in a quick manner to people… This website solves the problem. It explains a huge number of details surrounding neurofeedback through its FAQ, audio recordings of professionals talking about neurofeedback, links to relevant research, and a reading list that even includes a number of very interesting books I hadn’t even heard of up until now.

To put it quite simply… This website is awesome on the range of aspects of neurofeedback it covers. Check out AboutNeurofeedback.com.


Broca’s Area Plays Critical Role In Executive Function


New research via fMRI is showing that broca’s area, an area near the temporal lobes that is generally associated with speech organization, plays a role in executive function. Executive function exemplifies a key aspect of human intelligence by giving us the ability to plan, from “cooking a meal to organizing a space mission.”

From Eurekalert:

“The researchers found that Broca’s area–which lies on the left side of the brain about in the temple region–and its counterpart on the right side activate when people are asked to organize plans of action. They said their finding of the general executive function of Broca’s area could explain its key role in language production.”

“In their experiments, the researchers asked volunteers to execute a sequence of button presses when they saw colored squares or letters on a screen. Koechlin and Jubault designed their experiment so that they could precisely distinguish hierarchical planning of tasks from the temporal organization of tasks. The subjects were asked to perform both simple sequences of button presses in response to a stimulus, “simple action chunks,” and “superordinate action chunks.” Simple action chucks were single motor acts that required sequential action. Superordinate action chunks included “a sequence of categorization tasks, like sorting a deck of playing cards first by color, then by suit, then by rank.”

“While they performed the tasks, the subjects were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging. This scanning technique involves using harmless magnetic fields and radio waves to measure blood flow in brain regions, which reflects brain activity.”

“Interestingly, Broca’s area is mostly known to be critically involved in human language, especially in processing hierarchical structures of human language and in organizing linguistic segments that compose speech,” they wrote. They concluded that “our results support the view that Broca’s area implements an executive function specialized for processing hierarchical structures in multiple domains of human cognition. We speculate that the modular executive system of hierarchical control we describe possibly captures key functional components that may explain the critical contribution of Broca’s area to human language.”

Does this mean that the ability to plan ahead effectively could’ve helped develop key abilities needed to communicate via verbal language?


Fish oil soon compulsory for students in the UK?


Susan was thoughtful enough to notify me of some very impressive news occuring in the UK.

Ministers are awaiting the results of a Food Standards Agency review into the effects of Omega 3, it was revealed yesterday. If, as some scientists believe, Omega 3 is shown to have a beneficial impact, ministers are prepared to consider giving children daily doses in liquid or capsule form.

The beliefs in regard to how much benefit to cognition omega 3 can yield (not to mention its aid for the neurotic) are becoming so widely accepted that the UK apparently may make it compulsory for students in the UK. Anyone else got a feeling the UK economy may see a drastic boost in the next 15 years? Hmmmm… :-)

Check out the full story at Guardian Unlimited Politics…


The Open Source Projects of the Neuro Community


In a recent Mind Hacks article they were discussing the Open-rTMS project. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is (as stated on the project’s website): the application of variable magnetic fields to the brain. Research has indicated that rTMS (repeating TMS pulses, or repetitive TMS) may have effects as diverse as treatment of depression, pain relief, feelings of euphoria or fear, and altered states of consciousness such as out-of-body experiences.

The project has not reached maturity yet, but once it has I’m sure it will be quite awesome. Their goal is to give people the ability to experiment with TMS effects. If it’s affordable enough, I will likely give it a try.

In addition to TMS, there is a project for neurofeedback called openEEG, which can get you a neurofeedback device for around $300, which is cheaper than the cheapest commercial unit I’ve found — the MindPeak CEO at $600.


Inducing Autistic Savantism


Savant-like numerosity skills revealed in normal people by magnetic pulses
Abstract. Oliver Sacks observed autistic twins who instantly guessed the exact number of matchsticks that had just fallen on the floor, saying in unison “111”. To test the suggestion that normal individuals have the capacity for savant numerosity, we temporarily simulated the savant condition in normal people by inhibiting the left anterior temporal lobe of twelve participants with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). This site has been implicated in the savant condition. Ten participants improved their ability to accurately guess the number of discrete items immediately following rTMS and, of these, eight became worse at guessing as the effects of the pulses receded. The probability of as many as eight out of twelve people doing best just after rTMS and not after sham stimulation by chance alone is less than one in one thousand.”

Wow. They’re able to temporarily induce savant-like abilities in people by using a powerful pulsating magnet. How cool is that.


Pure O (Pure Obsessional OCD)


I ran across an article on wikipedia recently I found interesting. Instead, it touts itself as OCD without the outward manifestations and only “both the anxiety-inducing obsessions and relief-seeking compulsions of OCD take place in the mind.”

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From Wikipedia:

Left untreated, Pure O can be debilitating to the sufferer, who often finds work and social time consumed by the condition. While OCD is an anxiety disorder, the longterm effects of its stress can include exhaustion and depression.

Recent developments in treatment of type “Pure O” OCD has been very successful, with improvement/remission rates of 90-100%, according to specialist on purely obsessive OCD Dr. Steven Phillipson, Dr. S. Rachman and others. New York based Phillipson in fact classifies “Pure O” as a psychological condition rather than a mental illness or disorder.

Pure O” is a highly treatable condition that can be cured, however it requires the right kind of professional treatment/therapy and an absolute determination to become better. Successful treatment ranges from 4-6 months (milder cases) to 1-2 years for the average case.

A person with Pure O experiences periods of intense rumination that are triggered by intrusive or unwanted thoughts, sometimes called “spikes.” Spike traits vary widely by individual, dictated by personal makeup and circumstance. Some frequently cited illustrations include:

  • A heterosexual man is making love with his wife when the name of his male best friend happens to flash through his mind.
  • A loving mother spots a pillow and has a momentary apprehension of infanticide.
  • A young bachelor checks a mirror prior to a date and feels a surge of confidence, but shortly afterward cannot recall what exactly led to that feeling of pride.
  • An aspiring painter glances at one of her works and experiences a sense of insecurity about her abilities.
  • A son is eating a cake his mother made for him with great care and love. He suddenly gets an idea how nonsensical it would be to throw the cake into trash instead of enjoying it and then telling his mother that he enjoyed it.
  • A passenger is waiting on a train platform while the train is coming. He has a thought of what if he did a sudden erroneous movement and fell under the train.

Of course, these instances are not unique to those with Pure O; they are the sorts of day-to-day emotions and quirks experienced by human beings across the board. And for most people, such thoughts are passing and benign; at worst, they are momentarily jarring. For the Pure-O sufferer, however, such thoughts can be the spikes that induce panicky obsession, leading to an amplified sense of fear or self-doubt.

To neutralize the perceived danger presented by the spike, the Pure O is compelled into rumination, an often intricate mental routine driven by a pressing need to “solve” the fear or uncertainty. Ruminations vary from person to person. One type of rumination may involve continually reconjuring an unpleasant scenario. Another example might be an effort to precisely recall the sequence and order of thoughts that led to the spike.

These ruminations can be highly scary. For the example with the train, the passenger would normally react with stepping back a bit to be more safe and forgets the matter. However a Pure O sufferer after stepping back starts worrying about what if these thoughts actually increase the probability that he makes the erroneous movement? After longer time he starts worrying about the time spent with these thoughts and starts worrying if persisent intrusive thoughts of this kind actually cannot cause him a temporary impulse of disabled judgment when the train comes next time and him jumping into the rails actively.

These ruminations are accompanied by anxiety ranging from mild to severe, and can endure for extensive stretches, often hours at a time. Sufferers have described episodes that persist over a series of days. In most every instance, the rumination is all-consuming, essentially taking full occupation of the mind. During rumination, sufferers often find themselves unable to turn their focus to anything else, including “legitimate” sources of stress or danger. For instance: Genuinely bad news — say, word of a friend’s hospitalization — may not trump or even penetrate the anxiety felt by an OCD sufferer who is ruminating on even a seemingly innocuous matter.