Chapter 1. An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our mailing list, to receive news updates. Learn more.
By David Grimm In a decision that effectively recognizes chimpanzees as legal persons for the first time, a New York judge today granted a pair of Stony Brook University lab animals the right to have their day in court. The ruling marks the first time in U.S. history that an animal has been covered by a writ of habeus corpus, which typically allows human prisoners to challenge their detention. The judicial action could force the university, which is believed to be holding the chimps, to release the primates, and could sway additional judges to do the same with other research animals. “This is a big step forward to getting what we are ultimately seeking: the right to bodily liberty for chimpanzees and other cognitively complex animals,” says Natalie Prosin, the Executive Director of the animal rights organization, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), which filed the case. “We got our foot in the door. And no matter what happens, that door can never be completely shut again.” Richard Cupp, a law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and a noted opponent of personhood for animals, cautions against reading too much into the ruling, however. “The judge may merely want more information to make a decision on the legal personhood claim, and may have ordered a hearing simply as a vehicle for hearing out both parties in more depth,” he writes in an email to Science. “It would be quite surprising if the judge intended to make a momentous substantive finding that chimpanzees are legal persons if the judge has not yet heard the other side’s arguments.” © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20822 - Posted: 04.21.2015
Daniel Cressey Experiments that use only a small number of animals are common, but might not give meaningful results. Replace, refine, reduce: the 3 Rs of ethical animal research are widely accepted around the world. But now the message from UK funding agencies is that some experiments use too few animals, a problem that leads to wastage and low-quality results. On 15 April, the research councils responsible for channelling government funding to scientists, and their umbrella group Research Councils UK, announced changes to their guidelines for animal experiments. Funding applicants must now show that their work will provide statistically robust results — not just explain how it is justified and set out the ethical implications — or risk having their grant application rejected. The move aims to improve the quality of medical research, and will help to address widespread concerns that animals — mostly mice and rats — are being squandered in tiny studies that lack statistical power. “If the study is underpowered your results are not going to be reliable,” says Nathalie Percie du Sert, who works on experimental design at the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction (NC3Rs) of Animals in Research in London. “These animals are going to be wasted.” © 2015 Nature Publishing Group
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20798 - Posted: 04.15.2015
By David Grimm The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched an investigation into Harvard University’s New England Primate Research Center after several suspicious deaths at the Southborough, Massachusetts, facility. The inquiry coincides with a series of articles published by The Boston Globe, which has uncovered a number of potential animal welfare violations at the center, including a dozen dehydrated squirrel monkeys found dead in their cages or euthanized because of poor health between 1999 and 2011. In several cases it appears that the animals were not given water or were unable to drink due to malfunctioning water lines. In one incident, a monkey’s tooth caught in her jacket, preventing her from drinking. Some of these animals were the subject of a 2014 Veterinary Pathology paper on the impact of dehydration on lab animals. The journal says it is now investigating this study. The primate center is set to close at the end of next month, though—according to the Globe—the university blames finances, not animal care problems. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20791 - Posted: 04.14.2015
|By Gareth Cook The wait has been long, but the discipline of neuroscience has finally delivered a full-length treatment of the zombie phenomenon. In their book, Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?, scientists Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek cover just about everything you might want to know about the brains of the undead. It's all good fun, and if you learn some serious neuroscience along the way, well, that's fine with them, too. Voytek answered questions from contributing editor Gareth Cook. How is it that you and your co-author came to write a book about zombies? Clearly, it is an urgent public health threat, but I would not have expected a book from neuroscientists on the topic. Indeed! You think you're prepared for the zombie apocalypse and then—BAM!—it happens, and only then do you realize how poorly prepared you really were. Truly the global concern of our time. Anyway, this whole silly thing started when Tim and I would get together to watch zombie movies with our wives and friends. Turns out when you get some neuroscientists together to watch zombie movies, after a few beers they start to diagnose them and mentally dissect their brains. Back in the summer of 2010 zombie enthusiast and author—and head of the Zombie Research Society—Matt Mogk got in touch with me to see if we were interested in doing something at the intersection of zombies and neuroscience. © 2015 Scientific American
Link ID: 20772 - Posted: 04.10.2015
Cari Romm “As humans, we can identify galaxies light-years away. We can study particles smaller than an atom,” President Barack Obama said in April 2013, “But we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.” The observation was part of the president’s announcement of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, an effort to fast-track the development of new technology that will help scientists understand the workings of the human brain and its diseases. With progress, though, comes a whole new set of ethical questions. Can drugs used to treat conditions like ADHD, for example, also be used to make healthy people into sharper, more focused versions of themselves—and should they? Can a person with Alzheimer’s truly consent to testing that may help scientists better understand their disease? Can brain scans submitted as courtroom evidence reveal anything about a defendant’s intent? Can a person with Alzheimer’s truly consent to testing that may help scientists better understand their disease? To address these questions, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, an independent advisory group, recently released the second volume of a report examining the issues that may arise as neuroscience advances. The commission outlined three areas it deemed particularly fraught: cognitive enhancement, consent, and the use of neuroscience in the legal system. © 2015 by The Atlantic Monthly Group
Christian Jarrett November 2013, I proudly launched the Brain Watch blog here at WIRED. This will be my final post. For seventeen months I’ve used the blog to report on new neuroscience findings, to reflect on how neuroscience is influencing the public and media, to investigate the claims of brain products, to explore neurological abnormality and death, and to debunk misconceptions about the brain. I loved reading your comments and I was thrilled when I found my ideas from here quoted in other publications. It’s been a lot of fun. Here’s some of what I learned: Brain myths die hard When the movie Lucy came out last year, it provided me an opportunity to challenge the 10% brain myth and explore its origins (the idea we only use 10% of our brains is a premise of the film). With such tired myths, it’s easy to wonder if anybody believes them anymore. Writing this blog, I learned not to underestimate their staying power! Consider the vitriol my 10% post attracted from a neuroscience grad student at Yale. In an email dripping with disdain she told me “You … should feel ashamed for releasing such a misinformed article. … There are misinformed and uneducated people all over the internet trying to disprove this 10% notion, but that is expected. This is certainly NOT something I expected from someone allegedly as well educated as yourself.” Brain science is confusing and complicated Hardly a revelation, you might say. But writing this blog brought home to me the messy reality of neuroscience. Consider how tabloid papers like dividing the world into those activities and technologies that cause brain shrinkage and those that cause brain growth – the implicit assumption always being that growth is good and shrinkage bad.
Link ID: 20706 - Posted: 03.21.2015
A long-term study has pointed to a link between breastfeeding and intelligence. The research in Brazil traced nearly 3,500 babies, from all walks of life, and found those who had been breastfed for longer went on to score higher on IQ tests as adults. Experts say the results, while not conclusive, appear to back current advice that babies should be exclusively breastfed for six months. But they say mothers should still have a choice about whether or not to do it. Regarding the findings - published in The Lancet Global Health - they stress there are many different factors other than breastfeeding that could have an impact on intelligence, although the researchers did try to rule out the main confounders, such as mother's education, family income and birth weight. Dr Bernardo Lessa Horta, from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, said his study offers a unique insight because in the population he studied, breastfeeding was evenly distributed across social class - not something just practised by the rich and educated. Most of the babies, irrespective of social class, were breastfed - some for less than a month and others for more than a year. Those who were breastfed for longer scored higher on measures of intelligence as adults. They were also more likely to earn a higher wage and to have completed more schooling. Dr Horta believes breast milk may offer an advantage because it is a good source of long-chain saturated fatty acids which are essential for brain development. But experts say the study findings cannot confirm this and that much more research is needed to explore any possible link between breastfeeding and intelligence. © 2015 BBC.
If you missed the great dress debate of 2015 you were probably living under a rock. Staffrooms across the globe threatened to come to a standstill as teachers addressed the all-important question – was the dress white and gold or blue and black? This is just one example of how our brains interpret things differently. So, with the 20th anniversary of Brain Awareness Week from 16 to 22 March, this week we bring you a collection of ideas and resources to get students’ synapses firing. The brain is one of our most interesting organs, and advances in technology and medicine mean we now know more about it than ever before. Brain Awareness Week is a global campaign to raise awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. The organisers, the Dana Foundation, have put together an assortment of teaching materials for primary and secondary students. For children aged five to nine, the Mindboggling Workbook is a good place to start. It includes information on how the brain works, what it does and how to take care of it. There’s also a section on the nervous system, which you could turn into a fun group activity. Ask one student to lie down on a large sheet of paper while others trace around them. Add a drawing of the brain and the spinal cord. Use different coloured crayons to illustrate how neurons send messages around your body when you a) touch something hot, b) get stung on the leg by a wasp, and c) wriggle your toes after stepping in sand. Can students explain why the brain is described as being more powerful than a computer? © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Link ID: 20673 - Posted: 03.10.2015
By Neuroskeptic There is a popular view that all of the natural sciences can be arranged in a chain or ladder according to the complexity of their subjects. On this view, physics forms the base of the ladder because it deals with the simplest building-blocks of matter, atoms and subatomic particles. Chemistry is next up because it studies interacting atoms i.e. molecules. Biology studies complex collections of molecules, i.e. cells. Then comes neuroscience which deals with a complex collection of interacting cells – the brain. Psychology, perhaps, can be seen as the next level above neuroscience, because psychology studies brains interacting with each other and with the environment. So this on this model, we have a kind of Great Chain of Science, something like this: This is an appealing model. But is biology really basic to neuroscience (and psychology)? At first glance it seems like biology – most importantly cell and molecular biology – surely is basic to neuroscience. After all, brains are comprised of cells. All of the functions of brain cells, like synaptic transmission and plasticity, are products of biological machinery, i.e. proteins and ultimately genes. This doesn’t imply that neuroscience could be ‘reduced to’ biology, any more than biology will ever be reduced to pure chemistry, but it does seem to imply that biology is the foundation for neuroscience.
Link ID: 20664 - Posted: 03.09.2015
By Michael Erard Freckle, a male rhesus monkey, was greeted warmly by his fellow monkeys at his new home in Amherst, Massachusetts, when he arrived in 2000. But he didn’t return the favor: He terrorized his cagemate by stealing his fleece blanket and nabbed each new blanket the researchers added, until he had 10 and his cagemate none. After a few months, Freckle had also acquired a new name: Ivan, short for Ivan the Terrible. Freckle/Ivan, now at Melinda Novak’s primate research lab at the University of Massachusetts, may be unusual in having two names, but all of his neighbors have at least one moniker, Novak says. “You can say, ‘Kayla and Zoe are acting out today,’ and everybody knows who Kayla and Zoe are,” Novak says. “If you say ‘ZA-56 and ZA-65 are acting up today,’ people pause.” Scientists once shied away from naming research animals, and many of the millions of mice and rats used in U.S. research today go nameless, except for special individuals. But a look at many facilities suggests that most of the other 891,161 U.S. research animals have proper names, including nonhuman primates, dogs, pigs, rabbits, cats, and sheep. Rats are Pia, Splinter, Oprah, Persimmon. Monkeys are Nyah, Nadira, Tas, Doyle. One octopus is called Nixon. Breeder pairs of mice are “Tom and Katie,” or “Brad and Angelina.” If you’re a mouse with a penchant for escape, you’ll be Mighty Mouse or Houdini. If you’re a nasty mouse, you’ll be Lucifer or Lucifina. Animals in research are named after shampoos, candy bars, whiskeys, family members, movie stars, and superheroes. They’re named after Russians (Boris, Vladimir, Sergei), colors, the Simpsons, historical figures, and even rival scientists. These unofficial names rarely appear in publications, except sometimes in field studies of primates. But they’re used daily. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20625 - Posted: 02.27.2015
By Jocelyn Kaiser The number of animals used by the top federally funded U.S. biomedical research institutions has risen 73% over 15 years, a “dramatic increase” driven mostly by more mice, concludes an animal rights group. They say researchers are not doing enough to reduce their use of mice, which are exempt from some federal animal protection laws. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which collected the data, says the analysis by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is “inappropriate.” The analysis was published online today in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Although the Animal Welfare Act requires that the U.S. Department of Agriculture track research labs’ use of cats, dogs, and nonhuman primates, smaller vertebrates—including mice, rats, fish, and birds bred for research—are exempt. To get a sense of the trends, PETA filed Freedom of Information Act requests for data from inventories that NIH-funded institutions must submit to NIH every 4 years to receive an “assurance” allowing them to do animal research. Looking at the 25 top NIH-funded institutions, PETA found these institutions housed a daily average of about 74,600 animals between 1997 and 2003; that leaped to an average of about 128,900 a day by 2008 to 2012, a 73% increase. (Because institutions don’t report at the same time, PETA combined figures over three time periods.) © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20616 - Posted: 02.26.2015
Alison Abbott German police seized documents in a raid on Tuesday on the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, as part of an investigation into alleged violations of animal-protection laws. The investigation was launched last year after a video shot by an animal-rights activist who infiltrated the institute was broadcast on television in September. An independent investigation carried out by the Max Planck Society found no systematic problems, and this month the state government of Baden-Württemberg said that, following its own investigations, it saw no reason to revoke any animal licences. A spokesperson for the Max Planck Society in Munich, who asked not to be named, told Nature that activists were carrying out an unjustified campaign against the institute, where some scientists use monkeys in their research on how the brain works. “There is an agreed consensus within society about how much research can be done with animals and in what conditions,” the spokesperson said, adding that society wants researchers to tackle diseases such as dementia — but that this cannot be done without using animals. “The work is carried out correctly in Tübingen — we have nothing to hide.” Friedrich Mülln, head of the Augsburg-based activist group SOKO Tierschutz — which last year pledged to continue actions against the institute until it stopped its monkey research — says that the Max Planck Society is lying about the animals' treatment, and that the Tübingen institute is a “black mark on an otherwise admirable organization”. He added that his group is working closely with police. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group,
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20539 - Posted: 02.02.2015
By Michael Balter Our ancestors likely had sex with Neandertals, but when and where did these encounters take place? The discovery of a 55,000-year-old partial skull of a modern human in an Israeli cave, the first sighting of Homo sapiens in this time and place, offers skeletal evidence to support the idea that Neandertals and moderns mated in the Middle East between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago. What’s more, the skull could belong to an ancestor of the modern humans who later swept across Europe and Asia and replaced the Neandertals. The find supports a raft of recent genetic studies. A 2010 analysis, for example, found that up to 2% of the genomes of today’s Europeans and Asians consist of Neandertal DNA, a clear sign of at least limited interbreeding in the past. Two years later, scientists compared ancient DNA extracted from Neandertal fossils to that of contemporary modern human populations around the world, concluding that this interbreeding took place in the Middle East, most likely between 47,000 and 65,000 years ago. And last year, a 45,000-year-old modern human found in Siberia, the oldest modern to have its genome sequenced, was revealed to have harbored a little more than 2% Neandertal DNA, allowing researchers to refine the interbreeding event to roughly 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. From the Neandertal side, this time and place make sense. That’s because numerous skeletons dated to that time period have been found in caves in Israel and other parts of the Middle East over the years, and Neandertals were still living in the region as late as 49,000 years ago. Yet the other side of this mating partnership has been conspicuously absent from the fossil record of the Middle East. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Link ID: 20532 - Posted: 01.29.2015
Sara Reardon The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has modified the way a controversial lab studies stress in monkeys in response to criticism by animal-rights activists and members of Congress who say that the research is inhumane. At issue are experiments led by Stephen Suomi, a psychologist at the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in Poolesville, Maryland. Suomi’s lab studies how removing newborn rhesus macaques from their mothers affects biological processes such as brain activity and gene expression, and behaviours such as alcohol consumption in the infants. He has performed similar experiments for about three decades, and has received roughly US$30 million over the past seven years for the work, according to the activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which obtained documents and videos from the lab through a freedom-of-information request. In September, PETA began posting ads in the subway station near NIH’s Bethesda, Maryland, campus, and in newspapers condemning the experiments as “cruel and archaic”, and arguing that they yielded results that were not relevant to human health. The group also posted video of NIH monkey experiments on its website. PETA’s campaign drew the attention of Congress. In December, four Democratic members of the House of Representatives wrote to the NIH, demanding that the agency’s Bioethics Commission investigate the Suomi lab’s practices and the justification for the experiments. “We know what the impact is when children are taken from their parents,” says one of the lawmakers, Lucille Roybal-Allard (Democrat, California). “While [animal] research is necessary in many cases, we can’t just do it without evaluation and having a clear purpose.” © 2015 Nature Publishing Group
By Elizabeth Pennisi In the animal kingdom, humans are known for our big brains. But not all brains are created equal, and now we have new clues as to why that is. Researchers have uncovered eight genetic variations that help determine the size of key brain regions. These variants may represent “the genetic essence of humanity,” says Stephan Sanders, a geneticist and pediatrician at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the study. These results are among the first to come out of the ENIGMA (Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis) collaboration, involving some 300 scientists from 33 countries. They contributed MRI scans of more than 30,000 people, along with genetic and other information, most of which had been collected for other reasons. “This paper represents a herculean effort,” Sanders says. Only by pooling their efforts could the researchers track down subtle genetic influences on brain size that would have eluded discovery in smaller studies. “We were surprised we found anything at all,” says Paul Thompson, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. But in the end, “we were able to identify hot points in the genome that help build the brain.” For the analyses, Thompson and his colleagues looked for single-letter (nucleotide base) changes in DNA that correspond to the sizes of key brain regions. One region, the hippocampus, stores memories and helps one learn. Another, called the caudate nucleus, makes it possible to ride a bike, play an instrument, or drive a car without really thinking about it. A third is the putamen, which is involved in running, walking, and moving the body as well as in motivation. The researchers did not try to examine the neocortex, the part of the brain that helps us think and is proportionally much bigger in humans than in other animals. The neocortex has crevices on its surface that look so different from one individual to the next that it’s really hard to measure consistently across labs. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
John Markoff MENLO PARK, CALIF. — Ann Lam delicately places a laboratory slide holding a slice of brain from a living human onto a small platform in a room the size of a walk-in refrigerator. She closes a heavy door and turns to a row of computers to monitor her experiments. She is using one of the world’s most sophisticated and powerful microscopes, the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, to learn about the distribution of metals in the brains of epilepsy patients. But she has another reason for being here as well. Traditional techniques for staining brain tissue produce byproducts and waste that are hazardous to the environment. And often, this sort of research is performed on animals, something Dr. Lam insists on avoiding. The radiation that illuminates the Stanford microscope was once a waste product produced by the particle accelerators. Now that it has been harnessed — recycled, in a sense — she is able to use it to examine tissue removed from living human patients, not animals. For Dr. Lam, those are important considerations. Indeed, scientists like her worry that neuroscience has become a dirty business. Too often, they say, labs are stocked with toxic chemicals, dangerous instruments and hapless animal subjects. Funding often comes from the military, and some neuroscientists fear their findings may soon be applied in ways that they never intended, raising moral questions that are seldom addressed. In 2012, Dr. Lam and Dr. Elan Ohayon, her husband, founded the Green Neuroscience Laboratory in a former industrial building in the Convoy District, an up-and-coming San Diego neighborhood. Solar panels rest on the roof, and a garden is lovingly tended on the second floor. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Alison Abbott Activists calling for an end to research using non-human primates have stepped up activities in Germany and Italy. An estimated 800 animal-rights activists demonstrated in front of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, on 20 December, calling for an end to the research with monkeys that takes place there. A smaller group maintained an all-night vigil. Friedrich Mülln, head of the activist group SOKO Tierschutz, which organized the action, told Nature that the group would continue actions against the institute next year “until the department that does this research is closed down.” In September, SOKO Tierschutz, which is based in Augsburg, Germany, posted a video on its website that included material filmed secretly in the institute by a former animal carer. The footage was used in a television report that claimed malpractice in the laboratory, but a preliminary investigation commissioned in response by the Max Planck Society did not reveal systematic problems in animal welfare. The society says that the Tübingen scientists contribute importantly to global research efforts to understand the human brain. In a similar undercover operation, an anonymous person took smartphone footage of caged monkeys in a primate laboratory at the Sapienza University of Rome. The popular show Striscia la Notizia, which mixes exposé with entertainment, used the footage in an 18 December report which claimed that scientists at the university conducted their work in secret and without oversight. The TV report also said that its producers contacted the Italian ministry of health and the local health office, and that neither was able to explain what the lab's experiments are about. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20437 - Posted: 12.23.2014
By Gail Sullivan Chemicals found in food and common household products have been linked to lower IQ in kids exposed to high levels during pregnancy. Previous research linked higher exposure to chemicals called "phthalates" to poor mental and motor development in preschoolers. This study was said to be the first to report a link between prenatal exposure to the chemicals and childhood development. Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health studied exposure to five types of phthalates, which are sometimes referred to as “hormone disruptors” or “endocrine disruptors.” Among these, di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) is used in shower curtains, raincoats, hairspray, food wraps, vinyl and pill coating, among other things — but according to the EPA, the largest source of exposure may be seafood. Di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP) and Butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP) are added to plastics to make them flexible. These chemicals may also used in makeup, nail polish, lacquer and explosives. The researchers linked prenatal exposure to phthalates to a more than six-point drop in IQ score compared with kids with less exposure. The study, “Persistent Associations between Maternal Prenatal Exposure to Phthalates on Child IQ at Age 7 Years," was published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One. "The magnitude of these IQ differences is troubling," one of the study’s authors, Robin Whyatt, said in a press release. "A six- or seven-point decline in IQ may have substantial consequences for academic achievement and occupational potential."
By Anna North The idea that poverty can change the brain has gotten significant attention recently, and not just from those lay readers (a minority, according to recent research) who spend a lot of time thinking about neuroscience. Policy makers and others have begun to apply neuroscientific principles to their thinking about poverty — and some say this could end up harming poor people rather than helping. At The Conversation, the sociologist Susan Sered takes issue with “news reports with headlines like this one: ‘Can Brain Science Help Lift People Out Of Poverty?’” She’s referring to a June story by Rachel Zimmerman at WBUR, about a nonprofit called Crittenton Women’s Union that aims to use neuroscience to help get people out of poverty. Elisabeth Babcock, Crittenton’s chief executive, tells Ms. Zimmerman: “What the new brain science says is that the stresses created by living in poverty often work against us, make it harder for our brains to find the best solutions to our problems. This is a part of the reason why poverty is so ‘sticky.’” And, she adds: “If we’ve been raised in poverty under all this stress, our executive functioning wiring, the actual neurology of our brains, is built differently than if we’re not raised in poverty. It is built to react quickly to danger and threats and not built as much to plan or execute strategies for how we want things to be in the future because the future is so uncertain and planning is so pointless that this wiring isn’t as called for.” Dr. Sered, however, says that applying neuroscience to problems like poverty can sometimes lead to trouble: “Studies showing that trauma and poverty change people’s brains can too easily be read as scientific proof that poor people (albeit through no fault of their own) have inferior brains or that women who have been raped are now brain-damaged.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
By Neuroskeptic An attempt to replicate the results of some recent neuroscience papers that claimed to find correlations between human brain structure and behavior has drawn a blank. The new paper is by University of Amsterdam researchers Wouter Boekel and colleagues and it’s in press now at Cortex. You can download it here from the webpage of one of the authors, Eric-Jan Wagenmakers. Neuroskeptic readers will know Wagenmakers as a critic of statistical fallacies in psychology and a leading advocate of preregistration, which is something I never tire of promoting either. Boekel et al. attempted to replicate five different papers which, together, reported 17 distinct positive results in the form of structural brain-behavior (‘SBB’) correlations. An SBB correlation is an association between the size (usually) of a particular brain area and a particular behavioral trait. For instance, one of the claims was that the amount of grey matter in the amygdala is correlated with the number of Facebook friends you have. To attempt to reproduce these 17 findings, Boekel et al. took 36 students whose brains were scanned with two methods, structural MRI and DWI. The students then completed a set of questionnaires and psychological tests, identical to ones used in the five papers that were up for replication. The methods and statistical analyses were fully preregistered (back in June 2012); Boekel et al. therefore had no scope for ‘fishing’ for positive (or negative) results by tinkering with the methodology. So what did they find? Nothing much. None of the 17 brain-behavior correlations were significant in the replication sample.
Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 20330 - Posted: 11.20.2014