Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Your Questions Answered: Aphasia, Language & the Brain

Today's discussion of brain areas associated with language use sparked a lot of great questions from my students. Here, an attempt to provide some answers that I didn't have readily available:

  • First, a good primer on aphasia, including prevalence rates and types.
  • Compare this to dyslexia, another language (reading) impairment that was brought up. In considering the causes of both, dyslexia seems to have much more complicated causal factors (injury, genetics, other organic dysfunction) than aphasia, which is almost always due to injury or stroke.
  • Another interesting language-related illness: Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, which is related to abnormal electrical activity (seizures) and occurs in children. This is a much more rare condition and less is known about the causes, as only 160 cases have been reported since 1957.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Conan Describes A Concussion

Last week, Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien took a nasty tumble while filming a bit with Teri Hatcher. While running across the stage to finish a "triathalon", he slipped and fell. The resulting head injury landed him in the ER with a concussion.

On Monday's (9/28/09) show, Conan and Andy Richter discussed the experience, giving us a star-studded glimpse of the serious symptoms that accompany concussions. If our class discussions on the functions of the brain have not proven to you the importance of this organ's proper operation, this will.

(Sorry about the advertisement prior to the video; it's owned by NBC - nothing I can do)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What Would Life Be Like without a Limbic System? Ask Roger...

Recently, the blog Neuroskeptic reported on a recently released case study of a patient (called "Roger") who suffered complete destruction of his limbic system.

As we just discussed the limbic system in class, this should be perfect fodder for your musings.

Scientists Identify Brain Areas Linked to Emotion in Dead Fish?

Even if this piece of recent psych research didn't reveal such interesting principles about the use of fMRI in researching the functions of specific brain regions, it would be worth sharing just for its hilariousness.

A team of neuroscientists, led by Craig Bennett of the University of California, Santa Barbara recently conducted an fMRI on a dead fish (specifically, an Atlantic salmon) while showing it pictures of people. The result: statistically significant registers of electrical activity in the fish's tiny brain!

Whoa! The brains of dead fish respond when their unliving eyes are forced to stare at pictures of humans?! Not so fast....

The researchers are not claiming some sort of zombie-like post-mortem affection fish display toward humans. Rather, they are using this result to point out that sometimes fMRI's give false positives because of how much data they are able to report. They suggest that the cutoff for statistical significance (normally a p-value of .05) when using fMRI's may need to be lowered. In other words, the currently accepted level of risk that results occurred by sheer chance (p-value) may be too high for the amount of data being collected by these sophisticated techniques: they are likely to show statistically significant activity when, in actuality, it's not there (as in the dead fish).

My favorite part of this research? The cool title the researchers chose for their project: "Neural correlates of interspecies perspective taking in the post-mortem Atlantic salmon: An argument for multiple perspectives comparison." Nice work, fellows!

Click here to see the poster presentation on this research.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mouse Party Assignment

Today's assignment will require you to access a cute/funny/funky informational module put together by our friends at the University of Utah. It will introduce you to various psychoactive drugs and demonstrate how these drugs influence the activity of specific neurotransmitters at the synaptic level.

Complete the worksheet by working through the "Mouse Party" demonstration. For each drug, you place the labeled mouse in the chair and listen/follow along with the description of its effects by clicking "next" at the appropriate time. Although it may not be possible if you are in a public setting (e.g. library), this demo is the most fun with the sound on because you hear the narration AND the funky music.

If you get done early, why not kill the time by amusing yourself with a rousing game of Cerebral Commando?! This is a game that challenges you to maintain an optimal level of dopamine particles by adding/subtracting receptor cites and assisting in the reuptake of dopamine. Level two poses a bigger challenge with the addition of cocaine! If your supervising teacher bothers you about it, tell him/her you are just studying psychology. :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Practice Your Neuron-Building Skills!

Okay, Psychology Friends, it's time to practice those neuron-building skills! The folks at the University of Utah have created a cutesy (albeit weird) game to help you review the basic parts of a neuron.
The game allows you to be an apprentice to a "mad scientist" who is building a neural pathway. Along the way, you get quizzed on the parts of the neuron and where they go. And who said learning can't be fun?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Neural Communication PsychSim


Well, folks, since I last saw you there has been a negative turn of events in my life. :( Nothing too tragic, but it will prevent me from being with you today in class. Over the past weekend I...
  1. Apparently chipped a tooth... one of my molars. ARGH! and...
  2. Developed an unpleasant cold.

Hopefully things start looking up for me soon! But this means I will be spending Monday hoping to get in at my dentist's and trying to recover from the cold, which presently has me coughing up a storm.

However, it turns out that, of all the days I should have to be gone, Monday is not a bad choice. This is because the main task of the day was to head to the computer lab and complete a PsychSim on Neural Messages.

Here are the directions:

  1. Obtain the worksheet from my substitute. Or, if you've lost yours, click here to print another.
  2. Go to PsychSim 4.o: Neural Messages. When you get to the menu screen, click on "Neural Messages". This is an online module that gives you an introduction to the smallest parts of the nervous system: neurons!
  3. Proceed through the module by clicking "next" (on the bottom of your screen) to advance to the next part. Use the information provided to complete the worksheet.
  4. If you finish before the end of the hour, you can give the worksheet to the sub. Otherwise, I'll expect to get it from you in class tomorrow.

Good luck!

P.S. Also, don't forget to vote on the final version of our Psych Club t-shirts (see post below).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Freudicon Wins! But details remain undecided...

For those of you unable to make it to the first official psych club meeting this year, a report on our progress.

Voting on T-shirt designs resulted in the selection of the "Freudicon" design depicted at left. However, at the close of the meeting, there were still some decisions left to be made.

There was considerable disagreement about the font choice for the lettering on the back of the shirt, which reads, "Psychology Club 2009-10".

Also, we voted on a color choice for the shirt, but following the meeting during my prep period I was able to adjust the image settings so the white space on Freud's head is no longer transparent... thus opening the possibility of using a darker color of shirt without distorting the image. response to feedback from my 6th and 7th hour classes, I've come up with some new options for voting. I selected a font that I would argue is a happy medium, given the opinions expressed at the meeting. It's not simple block lettering (sort of funky), but also not so flashy as to be distracting.

Below are links to the new shirt color options. I'm including the color choice we voted on at the meeting in case there are those who wish to stick with it (despite the new options). At the bottom of this post you will find a poll where you can cast your vote for your favorite choice. The poll will close on Tuesday, September 22, so we can get the order rolling and get our shirts ASAP.

Each option would cost the same amount: $16.00 (assuming we can get an order or 25 shirts or more).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Psychology Club T-Shirt Designs

This friday during Lunch B the first Psychology Club meeting of the year will be held in rm 136. The most important item on the agenda: Club T-shirts! No self-respecting club in our school should be without a snappy t-shirt, and we in the Psych Club like to set the bar when it comes to academic apparel. This year will be no exception.

Below are links to images of the options we will vote on. Feel free to post comments in an attempt to persuade others of the correctness of your opinion and the credibility of your taste. Each listed price is the estimate for an order of 20 shirts (it may ultimately go up or down based on the size of our final order).

PsychoPath - $12.41

Rorschach Inkblot - $11.40

Freudicon - $14.71

The Placebo Effect Treatment

During our recent class discussion on experimental design, I mentioned a well-known phenomenon in psychiatric medicine: the placebo effect. This is a situation where a patient responds as they believe they should under the influence of a drug, when in actuality they are receiving a placebo (inert substance). For example, reporting a decrease in pain after taking what you thought was an aspirin (but actually was a Skittle).

Last year, a study was published in the Journal of Internal Medicine that found 45% of surveyed doctors had prescribed a placebo to a patient during clinical practice. Obviously this raises questions about the ethics of using placebos in treatment (as opposed to simply in research).

What do you think? Is it okay for doctors to be prescribing placebos (and thus, in some ways, deceiving their patients)?

And, speaking of fake drugs, check out these:

FDA Approves Depressant for Annoyingly Cheerful (caution: strong language)

Progenitorivox: Best Drug Ever (just watch the side effects)

Panexa: Ask Your Doctor for a Reason to Take It

Thanks to MindHacks for the links.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Psychology's Top 100

I had a good time hearing about your rankings of Psychology's Top 25 minds today in class, students.

For anyone who's interested in how those rankings were created, here's link to the published article. It describes how the researchers from Western Kentucky University and Arkansas State University gathered their data and completed the complicated process they used to create the rankings.

Want to know who else is on the list? I only asked you to take a look at the top 25 for your assignment. The list they generated actually ranks the Top 100 ("Most Eminent") Psychologists of the 20th Century. If your favorite didn't make the top 25, maybe he/she still made the top 100.

Credit for AP Exam Results

If you are curious as to how your college/university of choice awards credit based on AP Exam scores, check out this AP Credit Policy Info page from the College Board.

Although the general rule is that a score of 3 or better on the AP Psych Exam is "passing," some schools require a 4. Others award credit differently based on your score. It might be worth knowing as you submit applications this fall and make your preparations for college.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Psychology's Top 25

Tomorrow in class you will be getting an assignment called "Psychology's Top 25". To assist your search to uncover the major accomplishments of those great-looking gentlemen, here are some web links:

  • Famous Figures in Psychology
  • History of Psychology
  • People and History in Psychology
  • Psychology Biographies
  • I would avoid Wikipedia, simply because I've checked out some psychology-related entries on that site and have found strange information on them...

    Remember, there is no point in attempting to match the APA's ranking of these folks: you don't earn points for having a similar list. I'll post their rankings next week. For now, I want to know what YOU think. :)

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Great Example of Case Study: The Woman Who Had No Sense of Personal Space

    If, by now, you are into the reading for Chapter 1 (don't worry, I'll post some cool stuff for the Prologue soon), you'll have come across one particular type of research method in psych: the case study.
    Though limited in the conclusions you can draw from them, case studies are a great way to study one individual, often with a weird (i.e. rare) condition, in depth.
    My latest favorite case study comes to us via the blog of the British Psychological Society and involves a women, called S.M., who apparently has no sense of personal space. This is a great example of the kind of questions that can (and cannot) be answered via case studies.

    Optional Study Guide to Accompany Textbook

    One topic of discussion in my AP Psych classes today was the textbook-companion study guide that is available for (optional) purchase. As I mentioned, the school does not provide these for students because they are consumable (you write in them) and not all students would elect to use them. However, many students do find them quite useful in preparing for quizzes and tests.

    Personally, I think it's a good choice. I used one in my Intro Psych class in college and found it useful. But not everyone does, and that's why it's up to you.

    If you choose to buy one, I would recommend shopping at a used-textbook website since you can get them dirt cheap (though this will require help of a parent or someone with a credit/debit card, generally). A quick glance at some of the usual sources revealed that there are a lot out there, costing anywhere from .75 (used) to $28 (for a new one).

    Here are some links to copies for sale through the indicated online seller:

    Be sure to note the condition of a used study guide before buying it! The seller should tell you if there is any damage or if there is writing in it.
    If you wish to search for the study guide through any other service, it helps to have the ISBN handy: 0-7167-5288-3 . Also, I have one copy in my classroom if you would like to take a look at it before purchasing.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Focusing on how little time you have left can make you happier : Cognitive Daily

    Check out this blog post from the Cognitive Daily. It's a review of some recently published research that could shed light on why vacations and other time-limited activities seem to be so enjoyable. An interesting premise.

    Link: Focusing on how little time you have left can make you happier : Cognitive Daily

    Assuming this theory is correct (which, I would add, is not completely clear based soley on this single piece of research), remember: you only have 179 days of school left this year! Soak it up. :)

    Posted using ShareThis