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Wed, 02 Sep 2015   Risk of cognitive impairment in children born prematurely may be predicted using MRI after birth

School age children who are born prematurely are more likely to have low mathematical achievement, thought to be associated with reduced working memory and number skills, according to a new study.

Tue, 01 Sep 2015   Researchers develop a likely new combo treatment for the deadliest form of brain cancer

Scientists have developed a potentially promising new combination therapy for glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer. Glioblastoma, also known as grade IV glioma, is the most aggressive primary brain tumor in humans. Approximately 23,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with glioblastoma (GBM) every year.

Tue, 01 Sep 2015   Researchers help identify the neural basis of multitasking

By studying networks of activity in the brain's frontal cortex, researchers have shown that the degree to which these networks reconfigure themselves while switching from task to task predicts people's cognitive flexibility.

Tue, 01 Sep 2015   Accuracy of dementia brain imaging must improve

MRI scans and other tools to detect and diagnose dementia are helpful but not definitive. A new report evaluates how well different types of brain imaging tests work to detect Alzheimer's and predict how the disease will progress.The results show that the accuracy of brain imaging must be improved before it can be rolled out on a scale that could be useful to healthcare providers and patients.

Tue, 01 Sep 2015   Parents' views on justice affect babies' moral development

Babies' neural responses to morally charged scenarios are influenced by their parents' attitudes toward justice, new research shows. The developmental neuroscientists found that strong individual differences in the perception of prosocial and antisocial behaviors are present in children as young as 12 to 24 months old--and that these differences are predicted by their parents' sensitivity to justice. Moreover, parental cognitive empathy is linked to babies' willingness to share.

BPS Research Digest Blog

   A supposedly memory-enhancing commercial brain-stimulation device actually impairs memory

It's easy to understand why so many people have been tempted by the futuristic-looking foc.us brain stimulation headset. The manufacturers promise their product will increase brain speed and plasticity and improve mental abilities such as working memory. What's more, the device uses a technology that's usually described as "non-invasive" – transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS for short – to send currents apparently safely into your prefrontal cortex.

There is ample lab research to suggest that tDCS can have cognitive benefits (although a recent review questioned such claims). However, the foc.us device is not exactly the same as the CE-certified devices used in this past research, and experts in the field have called for more direct investigations of commercial tDCS products. Others have warned that the biological effects of the technology (altering brain cell activity) shouldn't really be considered non-invasive at all, and that the long-term effects of the devices is unknown.

Now a new study has just been published in Experimental Brain Research that directly tests the effects of the foc.us headset on participants' working memory. Note, this study was on the original foc.us headset which was on sale for several years, but which late last year the company replaced with its CE-certified version 2 product.

Laura Steenbergen and her colleagues assigned 12 participants to receive brain stimulation from the foc.us headset for 20 minutes prior to completing a working memory task; 12 others received stimulation "online", which means it was applied during the working memory task. The headset was worn precisely as the manufacturers instruct, with two electrodes placed on each side of the front of the head (see image, right). Each group conducted a genuine brain stimulation session, and also a "sham" session in which the device was only switched on for thirty seconds and then switched off. Participants couldn't tell which session was real and which was sham. 

The working memory test was a variant of the widely-used n-back task, which involved watching a stream of letters on-screen and looking out for when the current letter matched the letter shown two items earlier (in the easier version of the task), or the letter shown four items earlier (in a devilishly difficult version of the task). This is a test of working memory because it requires that participants keep track of the history of prior letters while at the same time paying attention to new letters.

The take-home finding is bad news for foc.us users and highlights the need for more research on commercially available brain stimulation products. In the active stimulation condition (online or offline), participants actually spotted fewer of the target letters in both the easier and more difficult versions of the working memory task (75 per cent accuracy versus 78 per cent, on average; a statistically significant difference). Meanwhile, reports of uncomfortable sensations such as burning at the electrode and headache were higher in the stimulation condition than in the sham condition. At least in this investigation, the brain stimulation was all pain and no gain.

"foc.us is just one example of a device that can easily be purchased and, without any control or expert knowledge, used by anyone," the researchers said. "The results of our study are straightforward in showing that the claims made by companies manufacturing such devices need to be validated."
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  ResearchBlogging.orgSteenbergen, L., Sellaro, R., Hommel, B., Lindenberger, U., Kühn, S., & Colzato, L. (2015). “Unfocus” on foc.us: commercial tDCS headset impairs working memory Experimental Brain Research DOI: 10.1007/s00221-015-4391-9

--further reading--
The trouble with tDCS? Electrical brain stimulation may not work after all
It's shocking - How the press are hyping the benefits of electrical brain stimulation
Read this before zapping your brain

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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2015-08-29   Link feast

Our editor's pick of the week's 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:

How Reliable Are Psychology Studies? [short of time? check out our coverage of this story]
Findings from the Reproducibility Project have sent shockwaves through psychology. At The Atlantic, Ed Yong provides commentary and reflection.

OCD: A Monster in My Mind (TV show)
There are 28 days left to watch this BBC Two documentary in which Professor Uta Frith meets the people living with OCD, looks at the therapy available and asks what neuroscience can offer by way of a cure.

Why Do We "Like" Social Media?
Writing for The Psychologist, Ciarán Mc Mahon considers the psychology behind Facebook and more.

Facebook Q&A with Organisational Psychologist Adam Grant
The Wharton School Professor and author of Give and Take took questions on work and psychology.

Yes, Men’s and Women’s Brains Do Function Differently — But It’s a Tiny Difference
A new study claims to have found a link between sex differences in mental performance and sex differences in neural function. I took a look at the evidence, over at New York's Science of Us.

On My Radar: Steven Pinker’s Cultural Highlights
The psychologist and popular science author on data graphics, spectacular planet photography and the ambitious comedy of Amy Schumer.

Dos and Don'ts to Preserve Your Brainpower
From changing your diet to partying like you’re 21, David Robson at BBC Future provides six tips for protecting your brain from the ravages of time.

Psychology of Family
Psychology Press has gathered together 150 articles on this topic from its journals and made them free to access.

How Neuroscience Is Helping Answer the Question ‘Who Am I?’
Simon Worrall at the National Geographic interviews Anil Ananthaswamy author of The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations Into the Strange New Science of the Self.

The Science of Forgiveness: “When you don’t forgive you release all the chemicals of the stress response
"Researchers are studying how we can let go of our grievances and live a healthier life," says Megan Bettencourt at Salon. "Here's how it works".
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Post compiled by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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2015-08-27   This is what happened when psychologists tried to replicate 100 previously published findings

While 97 per cent of the original results showed a statistically significant
effect, this was reproduced in only 36 per cent of the replications 
After some high-profile and at times acrimonious failures to replicate past landmark findings, psychology as a discipline and scientific community has led the way in trying to find out more about why some scientific findings reproduce and others don't, including instituting reporting practices to improve the reliability of future results. Much of this endevour is thanks to the Center for Open Science, co-founded by the University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek.

Today, the Center has published its latest large-scale project: an attempt by 270 psychologists to replicate findings from 100 psychology studies published in 2008 in three prestigious journals that cover cognitive and social psychology: Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

The Reproducibility Project is designed to estimate the "reproducibility" of psychological findings and complements the Many Labs Replication Project which published its initial results last year. The new effort aimed to replicate many different prior results to try to establish the distinguishing features of replicable versus unreliable findings: in this sense it was broad and shallow and looking for general rules that apply across the fields studied. By contrast, the Many Labs Project involved many different teams all attempting to replicate a smaller number of past findings – in that sense it was narrow and deep, providing more detailed insights into specific psychological phenomena.

The headline result from the new Reproducibility Project report is that whereas 97 per cent of the original results showed a statistically significant effect, this was reproduced in only 36 per cent of the replication attempts. Some replications found the opposite effect to the one they were trying to recreate. This is despite the fact that the Project went to incredible lengths to make the replication attempts true to the original studies, including consulting with the original authors.

Just because a finding doesn't replicate doesn't mean the original result was false – there are many possible reasons for a replication failure, including unknown or unavoidable deviations from the original methodology. Overall, however, the results of the Project are likely indicative of the biases that researchers and journals show towards producing and publishing positive findings. For example, a survey published a few years ago revealed the questionable practices many researchers use to achieve positive results, and it's well known that journals are less likely to publish negative results.

The Project found that studies that initially reported weaker or more surprising results were less likely to replicate. In contrast, the expertise of the original research team or replication research team were not related to the chances of replication success. Meanwhile, social psychology replications were less than half as likely to achieve a significant finding compared with cognitive psychology replication attempts, but in terms of declines in size of effect, both fields showed the same average reduction from original study to replication attempt, to less than half (cognitive psychology studies started out with larger effects and this is why more of the replications in this area retained statistical significance).

Among the studies that failed to replicate was research on loneliness increasing supernatural beliefs; conceptual fluency increasing a preference for concrete descriptions (e.g. if I prime you with the name of a city, that increases your conceptual fluency for the city, which supposedly makes you prefer concrete descriptions of that city); and research on links between people's racial prejudice and their response times to pictures showing people from different ethnic groups alongside guns. A full list of the findings that the researchers attempted to replicate can be found on the Reproducibility Project website (as can all the data and replication analyses).

This may sound like a disappointing day for psychology, but in fact really the opposite is true. Through the Reproducibility Project, psychology and psychologists are blazing a trail, helping shed light on a problem that afflicts all of science, not just psychology. The Project, which was backed by the Association for Psychological Science (publisher of the journal Psychological Science), is a model of constructive collaboration showing how original authors and the authors of replication attempts can work together to further their field. In fact, some investigators on the Project were in the position of being both an original author and a replication researcher.

"The present results suggest there is room to improve reproducibility in psychology," the authors of the Reproducibility Project concluded. But they added: "Any temptation to interpret these results as a defeat for psychology, or science more generally, must contend with the fact that this project demonstrates science behaving as it should" – that is, being constantly sceptical of its own explanatory claims and striving for improvement. "This isn't a pessimistic story", added Brian Nosek in a press conference for the new results. "The project shows science demonstrating an essential quality, self-correction – a community of researchers volunteered their time to contribute to a large project for which they would receive little individual credit."
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  ResearchBlogging.orgOpen Science Collaboration (2015). Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science Science

--further reading--
How did it feel to be part of the Reproducibility Project?
A replication tour de force
Do psychology findings replicate outside the lab?
A recipe for (attempting to) replicate existing findings in psychology
A special issue of The Psychologist on issues surrounding replication in psychology.
Serious power failure threatens the entire field of neuroscience 

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Our free fortnightly email will keep you up-to-date with all the psychology research we digest: Sign up!





Cognitive Daily

Wed, 20 Jan 2010   Cognitive Daily Closes Shop after a Fantastic Five-Year Run

Five years ago today, we made the first post that would eventually make its way onto a blog called Cognitive Daily. We thought we were keeping notes for a book, but in reality we were helping build a network that represented a new way of sharing psychology with the world. Cognitive Daily wasn’t the first…

Wed, 20 Jan 2010   Both musicians and non-musicians can perceive bitonality

Take a listen to this brief audio clip of “Unforgettable.” Aside from the fact that it’s a computer-generated MIDI performance, do you hear anything unusual? If you’re a non-musician like me, you might not have noticed anything. It sounds basically like the familiar song, even though the synthesized sax isn’t nearly as pleasing as the…

Thu, 14 Jan 2010   Synesthesia and the McGurk effect

We’ve discussed synesthesia many times before on Cognitive Daily — it’s the seemingly bizarre phenomenon when one stimulus (e.g. a sight or a sound) is experienced in multiple modalities (e.g. taste, vision, or colors). For example, a person might experience a particular smell whenever a given word or letter is seen or heard. Sometimes particular…

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