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Jul 01, 2009

A virtual reality-based system integrated with fmri to study neural mechanisms of action observation-execution

A virtual reality-based system integrated with fmri to study neural mechanisms of action observation-execution: A proof of concept study.

Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2009;27(3):209-23

Authors: Adamovich SV, August K, Merians A, Tunik E

Purpose: Emerging evidence shows that interactive virtual environments (VEs) may be a promising tool for studying sensorimotor processes and for rehabilitation. However, the potential of VEs to recruit action observation-execution neural networks is largely unknown. For the first time, a functional MRI-compatible virtual reality system (VR) has been developed to provide a window into studying brain-behavior interactions. This system is capable of measuring the complex span of hand-finger movements and simultaneously streaming this kinematic data to control the motion of representations of human hands in virtual reality. Methods: In a blocked fMRI design, thirteen healthy subjects observed, with the intent to imitate (OTI), finger sequences performed by the virtual hand avatar seen in 1st person perspective and animated by pre-recorded kinematic data. Following this, subjects imitated the observed sequence while viewing the virtual hand avatar animated by their own movement in real-time. These blocks were interleaved with rest periods during which subjects viewed static virtual hand avatars and control trials in which the avatars were replaced with moving non-anthropomorphic objects. Results: We show three main findings. First, both observation with intent to imitate and imitation with real-time virtual avatar feedback, were associated with activation in a distributed frontoparietal network typically recruited for observation and execution of real-world actions. Second, we noted a time-variant increase in activation in the left insular cortex for observation with intent to imitate actions performed by the virtual avatar. Third, imitation with virtual avatar feedback (relative to the control condition) was associated with a localized recruitment of the angular gyrus, precuneus, and extrastriate body area, regions which are (along with insular cortex) associated with the sense of agency. Conclusions: Our data suggest that the virtual hand avatars may have served as disembodied training tools in the observation condition and as embodied "extensions" of the subject's own body (pseudo-tools) in the imitation. These data advance our understanding of the brain-behavior interactions when performing actions in VE and have implications in the development of observation- and imitation-based VR rehabilitation paradigms.

Jun 26, 2009

Amazing optical illusion

Optical Illusion: Monspiral

This picture appears to show green and blue spirals, but in fact the apparent green and blue are exactly the same colour.

More about this here and here.

May 06, 2009

Open Source Eye-Tracker

Via Mauro Cherubini's blog

The Gaze Group at the IT University of Copenhagen is developing an open-source eye-tracking application that will provide a low-cost alternative to commercial gaze tracking systems. The ITU Gaze Tracker is video-based and works with any videocamera or a webcam equipped with infrared nightvision

More to explore: San Agustin, J., Skovsgaard, H., Hansen, J. P., and Hansen, D. W. 2009. Low-cost gaze interaction: ready to deliver the promises. In Proceedings of the 27th international Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Boston, MA, USA, April 04 - 09, 2009). CHI EA ‘09. ACM, New York, NY, 4453-4458.



Apr 20, 2009

The Allosphere: an immersive virtual reality system to visualize scientific data

The need for computing tools that allows to visualize, explore and manipulate huge multidimensional data is becoming a key priority in several fields of science and engineering

From this perspective, an interesting possibility is the use of Immersive Virtual Reality. For example, researchers at the California NanoSystem Institute lead by Professor JoAnn Kuchera-Morin have created the AlloSphere, an interactive chamber made of two 5-meter-radius hemispheres of perforated aluminum that are designed to be optically opaque and acoustically transparent.

There are currently two projectors, mounted around the seam between the two hemispheres, approaching eye-limited resolution on the inner surface. The loudspeaker real-time sound synthesis cluster (around 500 individual speaker elements plus sub-woofers) is suspended behind the aluminum screen resulting in 3-D audio. Other clusters include simulation, sensor-array processing, effector-array processing, real-time video processing for motion-capture and visual computing, render-farm/real-time ray-tracing and radiosity cluster, and content and prototyping environments.

You can tour the Allosphere in this stunning video:


Here is an exterior photo of the AlloSphere @ the California Nanosystem Institute

The Allosphere



Feb 11, 2009

Annual Review of Cybertherapy and Telemedicine

The new open-access journal "Annual Review of Cybertherapy and Telemedicine" is online.



ARCTT is a peer-reviewed journal covering a wide variety of topics of interest to the mental health, neuroscience, and rehabilitation communities.

The mission of ARCTT is to provide systematic, periodic examinations of scholarly advances in the field of CyberTherapy and Telemedicine through novel experimental clinical studies or critical authoritative reviews. It is directed to healthcare providers and researchers who are interested in the applications of advanced media for improving the delivery and efficacy of mental healthcare and rehabilitative services.

Sep 17, 2008

Crowdfunding for science

I and my colleague Giuseppe Riva have just published a letter in Science, where we propose crowd-funding - a form of crowdsourcing applied to finance - as a possible strategy to cope with the lack of investments in research.

The full text of the article is available here: gaggioli_riva_science08.pdf

Video (Italian only)


Apr 16, 2008

TrackFly: Virtual reality for a behavioral system analysis in free-flying fruit flies

TrackFly: Virtual reality for a behavioral system analysis in free-flying fruit flies.

J Neurosci Methods. 2008 Mar 8;

Authors: Fry SN, Rohrseitz N, Straw AD, Dickinson MH

Modern neuroscience and the interest in biomimetic control design demand increasingly sophisticated experimental techniques that can be applied in freely moving animals under realistic behavioral conditions. To explore sensorimotor flight control mechanisms in free-flying fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), we equipped a wind tunnel with a Virtual Reality (VR) display system based on standard digital hardware and a 3D path tracking system. We demonstrate the experimental power of this approach by example of a 'one-parameter open loop' testing paradigm. It provided (1) a straightforward measure of transient responses in presence of open loop visual stimulation; (2) high data throughput and standardized measurement conditions from process automation; and (3) simplified data analysis due to well-defined testing conditions. Being based on standard hardware and software techniques, our methods provide an affordable, easy to replicate and general solution for a broad range of behavioral applications in freely moving animals. Particular relevance for advanced behavioral research tools originates from the need to perform detailed behavioral analyses in genetically modified organisms and animal models for disease research.

12:33 Posted in Research tools | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mar 29, 2008

Nature Precedings

Nature Precedings is a place for researchers to share pre-publication research, unpublished manuscripts, presentations, posters, white papers, technical papers, supplementary findings, and other scientific documents. Submissions are screened by our professional curation team for relevance and quality, but are not subjected to peer review. Contributions range from biology and medicine (except clinical trials) to chemistry and the earth sciences.

13:08 Posted in Research tools | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: research tools

Mar 27, 2008

What's in your mind?

Previous 'mind-reading' studies have differentiated patterns of brain activity without understanding the underlying processes. A new study in Nature uses a model of neural encoding mechanisms to identify brain activity patterns

link (journal subscription needed to full-text access)

11:01 Posted in Research tools | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mar 03, 2008

Google: Free Database Storage for Scientists

Via Medgadget

The storage will be free to scientists and access to the data will be free for all. The project, known as Palimpsest and first previewed to the scientific community at the Science Foo camp at the Googleplex last August, missed its original launch date this week, but will debut soon.

Building on the company's acquisition of the data visualization technology, Trendalyzer, from the oft-lauded, TED presenting Gapminder team, Google will also be offering algorithms for the examination and probing of the information. The new site will have YouTube-style annotating and commenting features.

The storage would fill a major need for scientists who want to openly share their data, and would allow citizen scientists access to an unprecedented amount of data to explore. For example, two planned datasets are all 120 terabytes of Hubble Space Telescope data and the images from the Archimedes Palimpsest, the 10th century manuscript that inspired the Google dataset storage project.

23:39 Posted in Research tools | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: research tools

Allocentric memory impaired and egocentric memory intact as assessed by virtual reality in recent-onset schizophrenia

Allocentric memory impaired and egocentric memory intact as assessed by virtual reality in recent-onset schizophrenia.

Schizophr Res. 2008 Feb 12;

Authors: Weniger G, Irle E

Present evidence suggests that schizophrenia is associated with explicit memory deficits, whereas implicit memory seems to be largely preserved. Virtual reality studies on declarative allocentric memory in schizophrenia are rare, and studies on implicit egocentric memory in schizophrenia are lacking. However, virtual realities have a major advantage for the assessment of spatial navigation and memory formation, as computer-simulated first-person environments can simulate navigation in a large-scale space. Twenty-five subjects with recent-onset schizophrenia were compared with 25 healthy matched control subjects on two virtual reality tasks affording the navigation and learning of a virtual park (allocentric memory) and a virtual maze (egocentric memory). Compared with control subjects, schizophrenia subjects were significantly impaired in learning the virtual park. However, schizophrenia subjects were as able as control subjects to learn the virtual maze. Stronger disorganized symptoms of schizophrenia subjects were significantly related to more errors on the virtual maze. It is concluded that egocentric spatial learning adds to the many other implicit cognitive skills being largely preserved in schizophrenia. Possibly, the more global neural network supporting egocentric spatial learning is less affected than the declarative hippocampal memory system in early stages of schizophrenia and may offer opportunities for compensation in the presence of focal deficits.

Jan 14, 2008

The neuroscience of collecting

My friend and science journalist Pierangelo Garzia has written an interesting piece on the neuroscientific basis of collecting that will appear soon in the Cartier Art Magazine, "Collectors".

Here is the abstract:

Recent studies in neuroscience have demonstrated that collecting is a biological necessity even more than a psychological one. For early man collecting was a means of providing for his vital needs. For contemporary man is an important way of providing for psychological well-being.

Prehistoric man set aside the fundamental elements he needed for his survival and so do we. The refrigerator and the supermarket are the modern equivalents of cold cellars and food caches of earlier times.

Collecting is born of a basic need: survival, not only physical, but psychical well. There's not a great deal of difference between prehistoric man and urbanized third millennium beings like ourselves.


Cartier 19, 2008, Cartier Art Magazine, "Collectors" (monographic issue).

12:54 Posted in Research tools | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: research tools

Jan 05, 2008

When spiders appear suddenly

When spiders appear suddenly: Spider-phobic patients are distracted by task-irrelevant spiders.

Behav Res Ther. 2007 Nov 17;

Authors: Gerdes AB, Alpers GW, Pauli P

Fear is thought to facilitate the detection of threatening stimuli. Few studies have examined the effects of task-irrelevant phobic cues in search tasks that do not involve semantic categorization. In a combined reaction time and eye-tracking experiment we investigated whether peripheral visual cues capture initial attention and distract from the execution of goal-directed eye movements. Twenty-one spider-phobic patients and 21 control participants were instructed to search for a color singleton while ignoring task-irrelevant abrupt-onset distractors which contained either a small picture of a spider (phobic), a flower (non-phobic, but similar to spiders in shape), a mushroom (non-phobic, and not similar to spiders in shape), or no picture. As expected, patients' reaction times were longer on trials with spider distractors. However, eye movements revealed that this was not due to attentional capture by spider distractors; patients more often fixated on all distractors with pictures, but their reaction times were delayed by longer fixation durations on spider distractors. These data do not support automatic capture of attention by phobic cues but suggest that phobic patients fail to disengage attention from spiders.

17:45 Posted in Research tools | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: cybertherapy

Nov 18, 2007

The role of psychophysiology in forensic assessments: Deception detection, ERPs, and virtual reality mock crime scenarios

The role of psychophysiology in forensic assessments: Deception detection, ERPs, and virtual reality mock crime scenarios.

Psychophysiology. 2007 Nov 7;

Authors: Mertens R, Allen JJ

Few data are available to address whether the use of ERP-based deception detection alternatives have sufficient validity for applied use. The present study was designed to replicate and extend J. P. Rosenfeld, M. Soskins, G. Bosh, and A. Ryan's (2004) study by utilizing a virtual reality crime scenario to determine whether ERP-based procedures, including brain fingerprinting, can be rendered less effective by participant manipulation by employing a virtual reality crime scenario and multiple countermeasures. Bayesian and bootstrapping analytic approaches were used to classify individuals as guilty or innocent. Guilty subjects were detected significantly less frequently compared to previous studies; countermeasures further reduced the overall hit rates. Innocent participants remained protected from being falsely accused. Reaction times did not prove suitable for accurate classification. Results suggested that guilty verdicts from ERP-based deception detection approaches are likely to be accurate, but that innocent (or indeterminate) verdicts yield no useful interpretation in an applied setting.

Nov 04, 2007

As soon as the bat met the ball, I knew it was gone

"As soon as the bat met the ball, I knew it was gone": outcome prediction, hindsight bias, and the representation and control of action in expert and novice baseball players.

Psychon Bull Rev. 2007 Aug;14(4):669-75

Authors: Gray R, Beilock SL, Carr TH

A virtual-reality batting task compared novice and expert baseball players' ability to predict the outcomes of their swings as well as the susceptibility of these outcome predictions to hindsight bias--a measure of strength and resistance to distortion of memory for predicted action outcomes. During each swing the simulation stopped when the bat met the ball. Batters marked where on the field they thought the ball would land. Correct feedback was then displayed, after which batters attempted to remark the location they had indicated prior to feedback. Expert batters were more accurate than less-skilled individuals in the initial marking and showed less hindsight bias in the postfeedback marking. Furthermore, experts' number of hits in the previous block of trials was positively correlated with prediction accuracy and negatively correlated with hindsight bias. The reverse was true for novices. Thus the ability to predict the outcome of one's performance before such information is available in the environment is not only based on one's overall skill level, but how one is performing at a given moment.

Oct 27, 2007

Pocket Supercomputer

Researchers at Accenture Technology Labs in France have developed the "Pocket Supercomputer," which automatically identifies objects in a video, using any ordinary 3G cellphone equipped with a video camera

15:21 Posted in Research tools | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: data mining

Oct 20, 2007

A wrist-mounted instrument for measuring psychosocial stress

Via AATP Interactive 










Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh are investigating psychosocial stress exposure during the course of daily life using an instrument called eWatch, a multisensor package about the size of a large wristwatch. The eWatch can sense sound, motion, ambient light, skin temperature and other factors that provide clues about the wearer’s location, health status and current activity. 

From the news release

Every 45 minutes over the course of five days, the eWatch will prompt wearers to take part in a 2-to-3-minute interview. The instrument will record their response to questions about their current activities, such as “Working hard?” and “Working fast?” By the end of the study, several hundred people will have tested the eWatch.

Previous research has shown that responses to such interviews help predict who will show higher rates of plaque development in the arteries, a risk factor for heart attack or stroke. Using interviews in real time allows researchers to quantify how stressors affect one’s daily life, as well as to pinpoint when these effects begin and when they end.

Use of the eWatch technology should assist researchers in finding the optimal method for responding to such interviews during daily activities, whether by pressing a button, moving the wrist or speaking into a wireless ear bug device. Environmental data collected by the eWatch also may assist the researchers in characterizing the types of environments people find most stressful, so that their location, such as home or work, may be recorded automatically.

“We want to capture a slice of life in people’s daily routine,” says Kamarck. “We hope that these new tools will allow us to do so while minimizing disruptions imposed by the act of measurement.”


Oct 14, 2007


Nature, in partnership with The Dana Foundation, has launched Neuropod, a podcast on neuroscience research. This month's topics include the relationship between cognitive enhancement and warfare, how stress contributes to memory formation, learning from brain imaging, and why chili peppers might have a future in anesthesiology.
To have the podcast delivered to your desktop paste this link in your media player

17:55 Posted in Research tools | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: neuroscience

Aug 07, 2007

Experimental evidence for mixed reality states

Via Science Daily

I was fashinated by this physics experiment, which is the first attempt to create a linked virtual/real system.  Vadas Gintautas and Alfred Hübler of the Center for Complex Systems Research at the University of Illinios achieved this result by coupling a real-world pendulum with a virtual version that moved under time-tested equations of motion. In their "mixed reality" system, the two pendulums swing as one. To get the two pendulums to communicate, the physicists fed data about the real pendulum to the virtual one, and information from the virtual pendulum is transferred to a motor that affects the motion of the real pendulum.

cradle pendulums











Mixed reality can occur only when the two systems are sufficiently similar, but a system having unknown parameters could be coupled to a virtual system whose parameters are set by the experimenters. The unknown variables in the real system could then be determined by adjusting the virtual system until the two systems shift from dual reality to mixed reality, enabling good estimates for the values of the unknown parameters.

Here is the study abstract: 


Experimental evidence for mixed reality states in an interreality system.

Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2007 May;75(5-2):057201

Authors: Gintautas V, Hübler AW

We present experimental data on the limiting behavior of an interreality system comprising a virtual horizontally driven pendulum coupled to its real-world counterpart, where the interaction time scale is much shorter than the time scale of the dynamical system. We present experimental evidence that, if the physical parameters of the simplified virtual system match those of the real system within a certain tolerance, there is a transition from an uncorrelated dual reality state to a mixed reality state of the system in which the motion of the two pendula is highly correlated. The region in parameter space for stable solutions has an Arnold tongue structure for both the experimental data and a numerical simulation. As virtual systems better approximate real ones, even weak coupling in other interreality systems may produce sudden changes to mixed reality states.

19:05 Posted in Research tools | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: mixed reality

Aug 03, 2007


thanks to Nicholas Nova (Pasta & Vinegar) for his latest post, which has opened me the doors of the crazy world of the International Chindogu Society, an organization that collects (almost) useless objects (the chindogus) 

To be a Chindogu, an object must meet a key set of criteria. Here are some examples of Chindogu inventions:


Back Scratcher's T-Shirt





Automated Noodle Cooler





see them all HERE




14:21 Posted in Research tools | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: chindogu