Make mine a triple

Posted 29 July 2011 by David Johnson

In response to a couple of question about the implications of long-term caffeine intake, I’d thought I’d throw out a couple of findings. I recently wrote about a study that localized the receptors underlying the arousing effects of caffeine. (A2a receptors, in cells located in the shell of the nucleus accumbens). It’s only natural then to wonder what effect chronic caffeine intake might have on these receptors (and elsehwere in the brain). That study didn’t look at chronic effects. But... Read more

Why caffeine jacks you up

Posted 25 July 2011 by David Johnson

Have you ever wondered why, and exactly where in the brain, coffee (or any caffeinated product, for that matter) is able to exert its arousing effects? Well, wonder no longer, because an international team of researchers from Japan, China and the US, have located the primary neurons upon which caffeine works its magic (Lazarus 2011). It was previously known that caffeine wakes you up through inhibiting activity at adenosine A2a receptors (adenosine is an inhibitory neuromodulator involved in regulating the... Read more

The birth of a bad meme

Posted 20 July 2011 by David Johnson

My wife, who has been blogging for about a year, told me that this was a phase that a lot of newbie bloggers go through. That is the somewhat pathological obsession that I was quickly developing for checking my blog stats. I’d been blogging for a few weeks, promoting through the usual channels, when I started getting a wee bit of traffic. It was quite rewarding to know that people out there were somehow making it to the site, even... Read more

Smoker, regard thyself

Posted 28 June 2011 by David Johnson

As many a former smoker will probably attest, quitting cigarettes ranks high in the hard-to-kick category. I made several unsuccessful attempts before finally kicking the habit after a 10 year pack-a-day run. Ultimately what worked for me was to go cold turkey, but there were perhaps other alternatives which I might have tried. In a paper from Nature Neuroscience, researchers from University of Michigan provided participants with interventions involving individually tailored messages* designed to encourage quitting and found that participants’... Read more

Drugging and Driving

Posted 2 June 2011 by David Johnson

There are many reasons why one might find it preferable not to drive an automobile: For one, it’s expensive (gas, insurance, repairs, and tickets). It pollutes the environment. And it’s dangerous. Based on data from the Federal Highway Administration, there are over 6 million auto accidents in the United States every year on average. And around 40, 000 of those accidents result in people being killed by people driving under the influence of alcohol. A new review from Australian researchers... Read more

Impulsivity and teen smoking

Posted 23 May 2011 by David Johnson

It’s one of the truisms of human life that teenagers often do silly, stupid and/or dangerous things. We certainly don’t need science to tell us that. One reason this seems to be the case is that, on average, teens have trouble optimally weighing risk vs. reward. I’m not excluding myself from this characterization. In fact, I sometimes marvel that I survived my teen years intact, if at all. One stupid thing I and many of my friends did as teenagers... Read more

The case of the man who couldn’t find the beat

Posted 17 May 2011 by David Johnson

The ability to dance to music comes naturally to most members of the human species, and even exists in some species of bird, most famously a cockatoo and YouTube celebrity named Snowball. But it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Researchers from McGill University and the University of Montreal (Phillips-Silver, 2011) have recently published a case study of a student named Matthieu, who not only can’t dance to the beat, but also can’t tell when someone else is dancing asyncronously, although... Read more

Oxytocin and Borderline Personality Disorder

Posted 11 May 2011 by David Johnson

Often referred to as the “love drug” or “love hormone”, oxytocin has attracted increasing interest from researchers in recent years. It was originally shown to modulate aspects of social attachment and pair bonding in animals such as the female prairie vole, whose monogamous nature is dependent on oxytocin. Recent research in humans has shown that oxytocin increases trust behavior in economic exchanges and increases perception of trustworthiness in human faces, as well as promoting emotion recognition and altruism. This evidence... Read more

Social cognitive deficits in autism spectrum disorder

Posted 7 May 2011 by David Johnson

One of the hallmarks of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an impairment in social cognitive skills. This manifests in individuals with ADS having trouble orienting their attention towards people. Accordingly, they also show deficits orienting their attention in response to social cues from others, such as eye gaze, head turns and pointing gestures. Understanding the social cognitive impairments associated with ASD has been challenging in that studies set in naturalistic settings often reveal the deficit but lab experiments performed on... Read more

The neural correlates of (some abstract cognitive process)

Posted 3 May 2011 by David Johnson

For the most part, fMRI studies attempt to localize cognitive processes to specific regions in the brain. Popular media often introduce these studies with headlines that tout the discovery of “the brain region” for memory, language, empathy, moral reasoning, loving weiner schnitzel and so on. These headlines can be terribly misleading, as they’re often misinterpreted to suggest a specific brain region is dedicated to a single function, when, in fact, any given function maps on to a network of regions... Read more