Archive for July, 2009

Dear all,

We are currently running a survey on people’s attitudes towards neuromarketing and related topics. We hope that you will all take this survey, as well as shard this link to as many people as you like. We hope to get as many people’s opinion as possible, and report the results through appropriate channels (i.e. journal paper, Master’s paper, and online here)

The original text and link goes as follows:


We would like to invite you to take part to this survey. Your answers will help to gather information about the perceptions and thoughts about the use of brain science methods in non-medical settings.


Any information that you provide will be confidential. All participants will be anonymous such that no personal information concerning you or your company will be made public either during, or after the completion and release of this study. The questionnaire should take about 10 minutes of your time. If you wish to receive a summary of the results (that you can pass on to your home company) please indicate at the end of this questionnaire and include your e-mail address. We will not use this e-mail for other purposes than for sending you the summary.


My name is Matteo Bellisario, and I am completing my final report for my Master Degree in Strategic Market Creation at the Copenhagen Business School, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

My academic supervisor for this research is Dr. Thomas Z. Ramsøy, head of the Decision Neuroscience Research Group at the Copenhagen Business School and Danish Research Centre for Magnetic Resonance at Copenhagen University Hospital.

The results will be part of my Master Thesis, and may, if suitable, be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.




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Where’s the voodoo?

I just love this title: Independence in ROI analysis: where is the voodoo? by Russel Poldrack and Jeanette Mumford. Lately, there has been much fuzz about so-called voodoo correlations in social neuroscience, and questions have been raised about the legitimacy of the claims put forward by Vul et al. (PDF of in press manuscript) and see criticism from Tania Singer and other colleagues here (PDF). Crucial to the criticism by Vul et al. is that the correlations between behavioural/social data and brain activation data show a correlation level that is highly improbable, or as Vul et al. put it:

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging studies of emotion, personality, and social cognition have drawn much attention in recent years, with high-profile studies frequently reporting extremely high (e.g., >.8) correlations between behavioral and self-report measures of personality or emotion and measures of brain activation.  We show that these correlations often exceed what is statistically possible assuming the (evidently rather limited) reliability of both fMRI and personality/emotion measures.  The implausibly high correlations are all the more puzzling because method sections rarely contain sufficient detail to ascertain how these correlations were obtained.

In the recent paper in SCAN, Poldrack and Mumford add to the criticism of Vul et al.:

We outline the problem of non-independence, and use a previously published dataset to examine the effects of non-independence. These analyses show that very strong correlations (exceeding 0.8) can occur even when the ROI is completely independent of the data being analyzed, suggesting that the claims of Vul et al. regarding the implausibility of these high correlations are incorrect.

I am not going to give you the details of the whole voodoo story here, since it has been covered nicely in the blogosphere. But what is interesting is that this discussion demonstrates just how easy it is to get pre-publication media and blogosphere coverage for researchers criticising brain research, much in the same vein as we saw in the case of criticism of neuroeconomics by Gul and Pesendorfer’s neo-conservative “A case agains mindless economics” (PDF), long before the article actually appeared… I guess in the end that as neuroscience and neuroimaging in particular becomes even more popular, it will always have the extremists of either side, saying either that it shows nothing/too much/fake information, or the wholesale version that lets people get away with anything, as long as they point to a brain…


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I just love the way that YouTube is developing these days. If you just spend some time searching this wonderful site, you can get access to so many different teaching resources for psychology, neuroscience and philosophy that you could ever dream of. Seeing an interview with the younger Michael Gazzaniga speaking about the callosotomy procedure, BF Skinner speaking, even an item on Pavlov, just just blows my mind.

Below is just a few examples:

Gazzaniga on the split-brain procedure (good thing it’s not in colour)

And here is a thing on split-brain mind-blowing behaviour:

BF Skinner on operant conditioning

Or how about giving a demo of how patients with unilateral neglect actually behave (I’ve seen this many time when I was working clinically, but it’s like “what are you doing?”)


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Picture 1Here is a heads up for a recent study demonstrating – again – that the amygdala is not merely a “fear centre” in the brain. I have previously blogged about the amygdala, first not being a single structure, and that it is not only involved in fear.

In 2007, a team of French researchers demonstrated that direct stimulation of the amygdala did evoke emotional responses, but that there was a difference between which hemisphere was stimulated. Right amygdala stimulations induced aversive responses, in particular fear and sadness. In contrast, left hemisphere stimulation induced either positive (happiness) or negative emotions (fear, anxiety, sadness). As the abstract reads:

Very few studies in humans have quantified the effect obtained after direct electrical stimulation of the amygdala, in terms of both emotional and physiological responses. We tested patients with drug-resistant partial epilepsies who were explored with intracerebral electrodes in the setting of presurgical evaluation. We assessed the effects of direct electric stimulations in either the right or the left amygdala on verbally self-reported emotions (Izard scale) and on psychophysiological markers of emotions by recording skin conductance responses (SCRs) and by measuring the electromyographic responses of the corrugator supercilii (EMGc). According to responses on Izard scales, electrical stimulations of the right amygdala induced negative emotions, especially fear and sadness. In contrast, stimulations of the left amygdala were able to induce either pleasant (happiness) or unpleasant (fear, anxiety, sadness) emotions. Unpleasant states induced by electrical stimulations were accompanied by an increase in EMGc activity. In addition, when emotional changes were reported after electrical stimulation, SCR amplitude for the positively valenced emotions was larger than for the negative ones. These findings provide direct in vivo evidence that the human amygdala is involved in emotional experiences and strengthen the hypothesis of a functional asymmetry of the amygdala for valence and arousal processing.

Interestingly, there is more to say about this study. First, it may be that there is a systematic bias introduced by the way the researchers did the study. By using high-frequency (50 Hz) stimulation in 1 second, they might have induced one characteristic response of the amygdala. This structure is often seen as having quick “on-off” responses. Thus, one second pulse trains is actually a long duration for the amygdala. So a pulse of 20 milliseconds could be hypothesised to produce different responses. Also, the researchers found that GSR responses were actually larger for positive emotions, when they were reported. As the amygdala has often been implicated in unconscious emotional responses (mostly aversive responses) one may speculate that the left-hemisphere amygdala involvement in positive emotions may be related to conscious emotions.

As always, new findings leads to numerous novel questions, ideas and hypotheses. Which is why science is so much fun. But it is important to note the change we see today the role of the amygdala in emotional responses. We are moving away from the LeDouxian paradigmatic focus on fear (and some aversion)as the sole emotion of the brain, and more towards a balanced view towards a similar focus on positive emotions and (hopefully) more complex human emotions. Through this development, we can see that novel findings are breaking down the old ideas of neo-phrenology, breaking single structures into smaller parts, and into parts of a larger network of convergence and divergence structures. Keep your eyes open, more is on the way.


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We highly recommend this interesting conference, and please note that the deadline for registration is tomorrow (!!!). So get this out to all and everybody, and see to that you register. Sounds like a good spot, too, for holding a conference 😀

ESF-COST Conference


In the past two decades, the field of Neuroscience has made significant progress in understanding the human brain. Many expect that this research will make further strides over the next decade. And many suggest that this knowledge could have a profound impact on the future of our legal system and legal practice. There has been much speculation over whether developments in neuroscience will overturn legal paradigms (e.g., by shattering the concept of free will). This conference will sidestep such speculations to address empirical evidence and current research on the likely impacts of neuroscience on legal practice, with a specific focus on European legal systems.

Chaired by

London School of Economics and Political ScienceDepartment of SociologyBIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and SocietyLondonUnited Kingdom


Programme committee

Mr.Berry J.BonenkampE-Mail
Netherlands Organisation for Scientific ResearchSocial SciencesThe HagueNetherlands

London School of Economics and Political ScienceDepartment of SociologyBIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and SocietyLondonUnited Kingdom

London School of Economics and Political ScienceBIOSLondonUnited Kingdom

University of BergenDepartment of Biological and Medical PsychologyBergenNorway

Science Officer – EUROCORES Coordination

COST OfficeBrusselsBelgium

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