Jul 13, 2014

An atomic view of brain activity

Jun 29, 2014

Impact, funding, and Nasruddin's key

Cybersightings, Sept. 2013

In his Science editorial (A perverted view of 'impact,' Science, 2013 Jun 14, p. 1265), cell biologist and biochemist Marc Kirschner warns against National Institute of Health's recent introduction of ''impact and significance'' as an explicit criterion to funding decisions.

According to Kirschner, overemphasis on short-term impact (especially in fundamental research) can lead applicants to overstate potential benefits of their proposals. Moreover, as Kirschner notes, scientists working in fundamental research can rarely anticipate future applications of their eventual discoveries. A further risk related to the introduction of this criterion is that increasing investments in areas that are considered impactful will in-evitably decrease resources for other fields. As a result, diversity in science will be reduced as well as productivity.

Although I tend to resonate with Kirschner's general argument, I also believe that there are compelling reasons in favor of introducing (maintaining) impact as a criterion in funding decisions.

First, at least some scientists, if not all of them, might have a clear view about the significance of their research.

Second, resources for science are scarce. Since choices need to be made, concentrating funding on research that has more promising applications is meaningful. As in the popular Nasruddin's tale, no matter where we may have lost the key, we all prefer to begin under the street light where we can see—and so it is for funding bodies.

Third, however, this strategy does not prevent the fact that some resources are dedicated to high risk/high impact projects; see, as an example, the European Commission Future and Emerging Technologies Flagships' initiatives.

Fourth, the growing gap between science and the public could be reduced if researchers would better explain the significance of their work for society. This is especially true in times of economic depression: early evidence suggests that citizens of regions more affected by crisis are more likely to express support for increases in government investments in research (L. Sanz-Menéndez, G. G. Van Ryzin, Economic crisis and public attitudes toward science: a study of regional differences in Spain. Public Underst Sci. 2013 Jun 21).

We are aware that impact and significance are ill-defined concepts. However, researchers are good at measuring things. They could put more effort in trying to define better indicators for these issues, making impact review a less arbitrary system.


Apr 06, 2014

Measuring the effects through time of the influence of visuomotor and visuotactile synchronous stimulation on a virtual body ownership illusion

Measuring the effects through time of the influence of visuomotor and visuotactile synchronous stimulation on a virtual body ownership illusion.

Perception. 2014;43(1):43-58

Authors: Kokkinara E, Slater M

Abstract. Previous studies have examined the experience of owning a virtual surrogate body or body part through specific combinations of cross-modal multisensory stimulation. Both visuomotor (VM) and visuotactile (VT) synchronous stimulation have been shown to be important for inducing a body ownership illusion, each tested separately or both in combination. In this study we compared the relative importance of these two cross-modal correlations, when both are provided in the same immersive virtual reality setup and the same experiment. We systematically manipulated VT and VM contingencies in order to assess their relative role and mutual interaction. Moreover, we present a new method for measuring the induced body ownership illusion through time, by recording reports of breaks in the illusion of ownership ('breaks') throughout the experimental phase. The balance of the evidence, from both questionnaires and analysis of the breaks, suggests that while VM synchronous stimulation contributes the greatest to the attainment of the illusion, a disruption of either (through asynchronous stimulation) contributes equally to the probability of a break in the illusion.

Stick-on electronic patches for health monitoring

flex patch Flexible Skin Worn Patch Monitors EEG, ECG, Sends Recorded Data via Wireless (VIDEO)

Researchers at at John A. Rogers’ lab at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have incorporated off-the-shelf chips into fexible electronic patches to allow for high quality ECG and EEG monitoring.

Here is the video:

Feb 09, 2014

A high-fidelity virtual environment for the study of paranoia

A high-fidelity virtual environment for the study of paranoia.

Schizophr Res Treatment. 2013;2013:538185

Authors: Broome MR, Zányi E, Hamborg T, Selmanovic E, Czanner S, Birchwood M, Chalmers A, Singh SP

Abstract. Psychotic disorders carry social and economic costs for sufferers and society. Recent evidence highlights the risk posed by urban upbringing and social deprivation in the genesis of paranoia and psychosis. Evidence based psychological interventions are often not offered because of a lack of therapists. Virtual reality (VR) environments have been used to treat mental health problems. VR may be a way of understanding the aetiological processes in psychosis and increasing psychotherapeutic resources for its treatment. We developed a high-fidelity virtual reality scenario of an urban street scene to test the hypothesis that virtual urban exposure is able to generate paranoia to a comparable or greater extent than scenarios using indoor scenes. Participants (n = 32) entered the VR scenario for four minutes, after which time their degree of paranoid ideation was assessed. We demonstrated that the virtual reality scenario was able to elicit paranoia in a nonclinical, healthy group and that an urban scene was more likely to lead to higher levels of paranoia than a virtual indoor environment. We suggest that this study offers evidence to support the role of exposure to factors in the urban environment in the genesis and maintenance of psychotic experiences and symptoms. The realistic high-fidelity street scene scenario may offer a useful tool for therapists.

Bodily maps of emotions

Via KurzweilAI.net

Bodily topography of basic (Upper) and nonbasic (Lower) emotions associated with words. The body maps show regions whose activation increased (warm colors) or decreased (cool colors) when feeling each emotion. (Credit: Lauri Nummenmaa et al./PNAS)

Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have compiled maps of emotional feelings associated with culturally universal bodily sensations, which could be at the core of emotional experience.

The researchers found that the most common emotions trigger strong bodily sensations, and the bodily maps of these sensations were topographically different for different emotions. The sensation patterns were, however, consistent across different West European and East Asian cultures, highlighting that emotions and their corresponding bodily sensation patterns have a biological basis.

The research was carried out on line, and over 700 individuals from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan took part in the study. The researchers induced different emotional states in their Finnish and Taiwanese participants. Subsequently the participants were shown pictures of human bodies on a computer, and asked to color the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing.

“Unraveling the subjective bodily sensations associated with human emotions may help us to better understand mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, which are accompanied by altered emotional processing, autonomic nervous system activity, and somatosensation (body sensations),” the researchers said in an open-access paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “These topographical changes in emotion-triggered sensations in the body could provide a novel biomarker for emotional disorders.”

Abstract of PNAS paper

Lauri Nummenmaa at al., Bodily maps of emotions, PNAS, 646–651, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1321664111 (open access)

Emotions are often felt in the body, and somatosensory feedback has been proposed to trigger conscious emotional experiences. Here we reveal maps of bodily sensations associated with different emotions using a unique topographical self-report method. In five experiments, participants (n = 701) were shown two silhouettes of bodies alongside emotional words, stories, movies, or facial expressions. They were asked to color the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing while viewing each stimulus. Different emotions were consistently associated with statistically separable bodily sensation maps across experiments. These maps were concordant across West European and East Asian samples. Statistical classifiers distinguished emotion-specific activation maps accurately, confirming independence of topographies across emotions. We propose that emotions are represented in the somatosensory system as culturally universal categorical somatotopic maps. Perception of these emotion-triggered bodily changes may play a key role in generating consciously felt emotions.


Feb 02, 2014

Effect of Meditation on Cognitive Functions in Context of Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases

Effect of Meditation on Cognitive Functions in Context of Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Front Behav Neurosci. 2014;8:17

Authors: Marciniak R, Sheardova K, Cermáková P, Hudeček D, Sumec R, Hort J

Abstract. Effect of different meditation practices on various aspects of mental and physical health is receiving growing attention. The present paper reviews evidence on the effects of several mediation practices on cognitive functions in the context of aging and neurodegenerative diseases. The effect of meditation in this area is still poorly explored. Seven studies were detected through the databases search, which explores the effect of meditation on attention, memory, executive functions, and other miscellaneous measures of cognition in a sample of older people and people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. Overall, reviewed studies suggested a positive effect of meditation techniques, particularly in the area of attention, as well as memory, verbal fluency, and cognitive flexibility. These findings are discussed in the context of MRI studies suggesting structural correlates of the effects. Meditation can be a potentially suitable non-pharmacological intervention aimed at the prevention of cognitive decline in the elderly. However, the conclusions of these studies are limited by their methodological flaws and differences of various types of meditation techniques. Further research in this direction could help to verify the validity of the findings and clarify the problematic aspects.

Dec 24, 2013

The Creative Link: Investigating the Relationship Between Social Network Indices, Creative Performance and Flow in Blended Teams

The Creative Link: Investigating the Relationship Between Social Network Indices, Creative Performance and Flow in Blended Teams

Andrea Gaggioli, Elvis Mazzoni, Luca Milani, Giuseppe Riva

Computers in Human Behavior. 01/2014; Forthcoming publication. DOI:10.1016/j.chb.2013.12.003

This study presents findings of an exploratory study, which has investigated the relationship between indices of social network structure, flow and creative performance in students collaborating in blended setting. Thirty undergraduate students enrolled in a Media Psychology course were included in five groups, which were tasked with designing a new technology-based psychological application. Team members collaborated over a twelve-week period using two main modalities: face-to-face meeting sessions in the classroom (once a week) and virtually using a groupware tool. Social network indicators of group interaction and presence indices were extracted from communication logs, whereas flow and product creativity were assessed through survey measures. Findings showed that specific social network indices (in particular those measuring decentralization and neighbor interaction) were positively related with flow experience. More broadly, results indicated that selected social network indicators can offer useful insight into the creative collaboration process. Theoretical and methodological implications of these results are drawn.

Nov 23, 2013

Overwhelming technology disrupting life and causing stress new study shows

A new study shows that over one third of people feel overwhelmed by technology today and are more likely to feel less satisfied with their life as a whole.

The study, conducted by the University of Cambridge and sponsored by BT, surveyed 1,269 people including in-depth interviews with families in the UK, also found that people who felt in control of their use of communications technology were more likely to be more satisfied with life.

Read the full story

18:06 Posted in Research tools | Permalink | Comments (0)

Oct 31, 2013

Brain Decoding


Neuroscientists are starting to decipher what a person is seeing, remembering and even dreaming just by looking at their brain activity. They call it brain decoding.  

In this Nature Video, we see three different uses of brain decoding, including a virtual reality experiment that could use brain activity to figure out whether someone has been to the scene of a crime.

Mobile EEG and its potential to promote the theory and application of imagery-based motor rehabilitation

Mobile EEG and its potential to promote the theory and application of imagery-based motor rehabilitation.

Int J Psychophysiol. 2013 Oct 18;

Authors: Kranczioch C, Zich C, Schierholz I, Sterr A

Abstract. Studying the brain in its natural state remains a major challenge for neuroscience. Solving this challenge would not only enable the refinement of cognitive theory, but also provide a better understanding of cognitive function in the type of complex and unpredictable situations that constitute daily life, and which are often disturbed in clinical populations. With mobile EEG, researchers now have access to a tool that can help address these issues. In this paper we present an overview of technical advancements in mobile EEG systems and associated analysis tools, and explore the benefits of this new technology. Using the example of motor imagery (MI) we will examine the translational potential of MI-based neurofeedback training for neurological rehabilitation and applied research.

Sep 10, 2013

BITalino: Do More!

BITalino is a low-cost toolkit that allows anyone from students to professional developers to create projects and applications with physiological sensors. Out of the box, BITalino already integrates easy to use software & hardware blocks with sensors for electrocardiography (ECG), electromyography (EMG), electrodermal activity (EDA), an accelerometer, & ambient light. Imagination is the limit; each individual block can be snapped off and combined to prototype anything you want. You can connect others sensors, including your own custom designs.

Aug 07, 2013

On Phenomenal Consciousness

A recent introductory talk on the problem that consciousness and qualia presents to physicalism by Frank C. Jackson.

Welcome to wonderland: the influence of the size and shape of a virtual hand on the perceived size and shape of virtual objects

Welcome to wonderland: the influence of the size and shape of a virtual hand on the perceived size and shape of virtual objects.

PLoS One. 2013;8(7):e68594

Authors: Linkenauger SA, Leyrer M, Bülthoff HH, Mohler BJ

The notion of body-based scaling suggests that our body and its action capabilities are used to scale the spatial layout of the environment. Here we present four studies supporting this perspective by showing that the hand acts as a metric which individuals use to scale the apparent sizes of objects in the environment. However to test this, one must be able to manipulate the size and/or dimensions of the perceiver's hand which is difficult in the real world due to impliability of hand dimensions. To overcome this limitation, we used virtual reality to manipulate dimensions of participants' fully-tracked, virtual hands to investigate its influence on the perceived size and shape of virtual objects. In a series of experiments, using several measures, we show that individuals' estimations of the sizes of virtual objects differ depending on the size of their virtual hand in the direction consistent with the body-based scaling hypothesis. Additionally, we found that these effects were specific to participants' virtual hands rather than another avatar's hands or a salient familiar-sized object. While these studies provide support for a body-based approach to the scaling of the spatial layout, they also demonstrate the influence of virtual bodies on perception of virtual environments.

What Color is My Arm? Changes in Skin Color of an Embodied Virtual Arm Modulates Pain Threshold

What Color is My Arm? Changes in Skin Color of an Embodied Virtual Arm Modulates Pain Threshold.

Front Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:438

Authors: Martini M, Perez-Marcos D, Sanchez-Vives MV

It has been demonstrated that visual inputs can modulate pain. However, the influence of skin color on pain perception is unknown. Red skin is associated to inflamed, hot and more sensitive skin, while blue is associated to cyanotic, cold skin. We aimed to test whether the color of the skin would alter the heat pain threshold. To this end, we used an immersive virtual environment where we induced embodiment of a virtual arm that was co-located with the real one and seen from a first-person perspective. Virtual reality allowed us to dynamically modify the color of the skin of the virtual arm. In order to test pain threshold, increasing ramps of heat stimulation applied on the participants' arm were delivered concomitantly with the gradual intensification of different colors on the embodied avatar's arm. We found that a reddened arm significantly decreased the pain threshold compared with normal and bluish skin. This effect was specific when red was seen on the arm, while seeing red in a spot outside the arm did not decrease pain threshold. These results demonstrate an influence of skin color on pain perception. This top-down modulation of pain through visual input suggests a potential use of embodied virtual bodies for pain therapy.

Full text open access

What Color Is Your Night Light? It May Affect Your Mood

When it comes to some of the health hazards of light at night, a new study suggests that the color of the light can make a big difference.

Read full story on Science Daily

Detecting delay in visual feedback of an action as a monitor of self recognition

Detecting delay in visual feedback of an action as a monitor of self recognition.

Exp Brain Res. 2012 Oct;222(4):389-97

Authors: Hoover AE, Harris LR

Abstract. How do we distinguish "self" from "other"? The correlation between willing an action and seeing it occur is an important cue. We exploited the fact that this correlation needs to occur within a restricted temporal window in order to obtain a quantitative assessment of when a body part is identified as "self". We measured the threshold and sensitivity (d') for detecting a delay between movements of the finger (of both the dominant and non-dominant hands) and visual feedback as seen from four visual perspectives (the natural view, and mirror-reversed and/or inverted views). Each trial consisted of one presentation with minimum delay and another with a delay of between 33 and 150 ms. Participants indicated which presentation contained the delayed view. We varied the amount of efference copy available for this task by comparing performances for discrete movements and continuous movements. Discrete movements are associated with a stronger efference copy. Sensitivity to detect asynchrony between visual and proprioceptive information was significantly higher when movements were viewed from a "plausible" self perspective compared with when the view was reversed or inverted. Further, we found differences in performance between dominant and non-dominant hand finger movements across the continuous and single movements. Performance varied with the viewpoint from which the visual feedback was presented and on the efferent component such that optimal performance was obtained when the presentation was in the normal natural orientation and clear efferent information was available. Variations in sensitivity to visual/non-visual temporal incongruence with the viewpoint in which a movement is seen may help determine the arrangement of the underlying visual representation of the body.

Jul 23, 2013

A mobile data collection platform for mental health research

A mobile data collection platform for mental health research

Personal and Ubiquitous Computing (2013), Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 241-251.
A. Gaggioli, G. Pioggia, G. Tartarisco, G. Baldus, D. Corda, P. Cipresso, G. Riva
Ubiquitous computing technologies offer exciting new possibilities for monitoring and analyzing user’s experience in real time. In this paper, we describe the design and development of Psychlog, a mobile phone platform designed to collect users’ psychological, physiological, and activity information for mental health research. The tool allows administering self-report questionnaires at specific times or randomly within a day. The system also permits to collect heart rate and activity information from a wireless electrocardiogram equipped with a three-axial accelerometer. By combining self-reports with heart rate and activity data, the application makes it possible to investigate the relationship between psychological, physiological, and behavioral variables, as well as to monitor their fluctuations over time. The software runs on Windows mobile operative system and is available as open source (http://sourceforge.net/projects/psychlog/).
Read the full text.

Illusory ownership of a virtual child body causes overestimation of object sizes and implicit attitude changes

Illusory ownership of a virtual child body causes overestimation of object sizes and implicit attitude changes.

Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2013 Jul 15;

Authors: Banakou D, Groten R, Slater M

Abstract. An illusory sensation of ownership over a surrogate limb or whole body can be induced through specific forms of multisensory stimulation, such as synchronous visuotactile tapping on the hidden real and visible rubber hand in the rubber hand illusion. Such methods have been used to induce ownership over a manikin and a virtual body that substitute the real body, as seen from first-person perspective, through a head-mounted display. However, the perceptual and behavioral consequences of such transformed body ownership have hardly been explored. In Exp. 1, immersive virtual reality was used to embody 30 adults as a 4-y-old child (condition C), and as an adult body scaled to the same height as the child (condition A), experienced from the first-person perspective, and with virtual and real body movements synchronized. The result was a strong body-ownership illusion equally for C and A. Moreover there was an overestimation of the sizes of objects compared with a nonembodied baseline, which was significantly greater for C compared with A. An implicit association test showed that C resulted in significantly faster reaction times for the classification of self with child-like compared with adult-like attributes. Exp. 2 with an additional 16 participants extinguished the ownership illusion by using visuomotor asynchrony, with all else equal. The size-estimation and implicit association test differences between C and A were also extinguished. We conclude that there are perceptual and probably behavioral correlates of body-ownership illusions that occur as a function of the type of body in which embodiment occurs.

The Size of Electronic Consumer Devices Affects Our Behavior

Re-blogged from Textually.org


What are our devices doing to us? We already know they're snuffing our creativity - but new research suggests they're also stifling our drive. How so? Because fussing with them on average 58 minutes a day leads to bad posture, FastCompany reports.


The body posture inherent in operating everyday gadgets affects not only your back, but your demeanor, reports a new experimental study entitled iPosture: The Size of Electronic Consumer Devices Affects Our Behavior. It turns out that working on a relatively large machine (like a desktop computer) causes users to act more assertively than working on a small one (like an iPad).

That poor posture, Harvard Business School researchers Maarten Bos and Amy Cuddy find, undermines our assertiveness.

Read more.

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