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What makes things funny?

07/12/2013 1 comment

I’m planning to write a blog post about comedy in the near future. For now, you can enjoy this interesting TED talk by Peter McGraw, one of the researchers that developed the Benign Violation Theory. You can read more about it here.

LOL cats and Neuroscience?

31/01/2013 1 comment

I never expected to see this. Using LOL cats to describe a new study? The result is surprisingly good. Maybe I’m slightly biased because I love cats.

Here’s the abstract of the newly published (31/01) Nature paper in case you want to learn more:

Stroking of the skin produces pleasant sensations that can occur during social interactions with conspecifics, such as grooming1. Despite numerous physiological studies (reviewed in ref. 2), molecularly defined sensory neurons that detect pleasant stroking of hairy skin3, 4 in vivo have not been reported. Previously, we identified a rare population of unmyelinated sensory neurons in mice that express the G-protein-coupled receptor MRGPRB4 (refs 5, 6). These neurons exclusively innervate hairy skin with large terminal arborizations7 that resemble the receptive fields of C-tactile (CT) afferents in humans8. Unlike other molecularly defined mechanosensory C-fibre subtypes9, 10, MRGPRB4+ neurons could not be detectably activated by sensory stimulation of the skin ex vivo. Therefore, we developed a preparation for calcium imaging in the spinal projections of these neurons during stimulation of the periphery in intact mice. Here we show that MRGPRB4+ neurons are activated by massage-like stroking of hairy skin, but not by noxious punctate mechanical stimulation. By contrast, a different population of C fibres expressing MRGPRD11 was activated by pinching but not by stroking, consistent with previous physiological and behavioural data10, 12. Pharmacogenetic activation of Mrgprb4-expressing neurons in freely behaving mice promoted conditioned place preference13, indicating that such activation is positively reinforcing and/or anxiolytic. These data open the way to understanding the function of MRGPRB4 neurons during natural behaviours, and provide a general approach to the functional characterization of genetically identified subsets of somatosensory neurons in vivo.

You can read the paper here (paywall alert).

PS: LOL cats seem to be popular in academia lately. Remember the LOLcat dissertation?

Joshua Walters: On being just crazy enough

A spectrum approach in mental illness is very appealing and could possibly explain why some disorders are still in the gene pool. Of course, it’s all speculative at this point but very interesting. I will try to write a bit more about this in a future blog post. For now, here is a relevant TED talk by Joshua Walters, a comedian diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Maybe no one’s really crazy. Everyone is just a little bit mad. How much depends on where you fall in the spectrum. How much depends on how lucky you are.” (Joshua Walters)

 

 

Do Doctors Really Have Bad Handwriting?

17/02/2011 12 comments

Trying to kill time and not my neighbour who enjoys listening to loud music after midnight, I found myself wondering why do most GPs have bad handwriting! Or is it a myth? Naturally, Google came up with some very interesting results including some actual studies! It seems like there are peer reviewed papers on almost any possibly topic nowadays. What a joy for bloggers and curious people.

Here’s what I found:

1) According to Sokol and Hettige (2006) doctors’ bad handwriting is still a problem in medicine.

In centuries past, doctors scribbled notes to keep a personal record of the patient’s medical history. The notes were generally seen only by the doctor. Today, doctors are no longer one-man bands. With dozens of other professionals, doctors are but one element of a large, multidisciplinary health care team. A consequence of this expansion is that illegible scrawls, hurriedly composed by rushed doctors, are now presented to colleagues with no qualifications in cryptology.

2) Rodríguez-Vera and colleagues (2002) looked at clinical histories and case notes from a Spanish general hospital. To do this, they asked two independent observers to assign legibility scores to the notes. They found that defects of legibility such that the whole was unclear were present in 18 (15%) of 117 reports. Furthermore, their findings suggest that these defects were particularly frequent in records from surgical departments…

3) A 1998 study examined the handwriting of doctors, nurses plus other medical professions, and administrative staff. The recruited staff from three main settings – the health authority headquarters, an accident and emergency department, and various departments in another hospital. They report:

This study suggests that doctors, even when asked to be as neat as possible, produce handwriting that is worse than that of other professions. This provides supportive evidence for the commonly held belief that the legibility of doctors’ handwriting is unusually poor. A small prospective study in the United States reported no difference between the legibility of doctors’ handwriting and that of other healthcare professionals,4 but this study used a subjective assessment of readability and the comparison group was confined to senior non-medical staff.

A surprising finding of our study is that the poor legibility was confined to letters of the alphabet rather than numbers. This may reflect the importance attached by doctors to the legibility of drug doses.

4) Schneider and colleagues (2006) compared doctors’ handwriting to that of engineers, accountants, and lawyers. Their results suggest that physicians’ handwriting is no better or worse than that of other professionals with comparable education. These findings provided support for an earlier study conducted by Berwick and Winickoff (1996) that found that “the handwriting of doctors was no less legible than that of non-doctors”.

5) A study by Gupta and colleagues (2003) investigating differences in handwriting between residents and medical students found that the more experienced doctors had increasingly illegible handwriting compared to their younger colleagues and to medical students. As a result, one could propose that bad handwriting is a product of the profession of medicine.

ResearchBlogging.orgSokol DK, & Hettige S (2006). Poor handwriting remains a significant problem in medicine. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99 (12), 645-6 PMID: 17139073

Rodriguez-Vera, F., Marin, Y., Sanchez, A., Borrachero, C., & Pujol, E. (2002). Illegible handwriting in medical records JRSM, 95 (11), 545-546 DOI: 10.1258/jrsm.95.11.545

Schneider KA, Murray CW, Shadduck RD, & Meyers DG (2006). Legibility of doctors’ handwriting is as good (or bad) as everyone else’s. Quality & safety in health care, 15 (6) PMID: 17142598

Berwick DM, & Winickoff DE (1996). The truth about doctors’ handwriting: a prospective study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 313 (7072), 1657-8 PMID: 8991021

Gupta AK, Cooper EA, Feldman SR, Fleischer AB Jr, & Balkrishnan R (2003). Analysis of factors associated with increased prescription illegibility: results from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 1990-1998. The American journal of managed care, 9 (8), 548-52 PMID: 12921232

A Few Facts About Laughter

28/07/2009 3 comments

laughter-limbicIt’s said that the average man laughs around 15 times a day. Laughter and humour seem to occupy a big part of our lives. Just take a look at all the comedy blockbusters and the comedy shows on TV. Laughing is something that we all take for granted, yet do we really know why we laugh? What’s the purpose of laughter?

Well, we don’t know all the answers, but here’s a bit of what we know:

  1. Do we laugh at funny things? Surprisingly, according to expert Robert R. Provine only 10%-20% of laughs are generated by anything resembling a joke. The other 80%-90% of comments are dull non-witticisms like, “I’ll see you guys later” and “It was nice meeting you, too.”. Provine suggests that it has to do with the evolutionary development of laughter.
  2. Laughter is contagious – just think of the laugh tracks of television situation comedies. British researchers played a series sounds (pleasant or unpleasant) to volunteers whilst measuring their brain’s response using an fMRI scanner. All of the sounds triggered a response in the volunteer’s brain in the premotor cortical region. However, positive sounds, such as laughter, were found to produce greater response than the negative ones. The researchers suggest that this finding may explain why we respond to laughter with an involuntary smile.
  3. Many brain parts are involved in laughter. One of them is situated in the left superior frontal gyrus. This “laughter” centre was discovered by Itzhak Fried, Charles L. Wilson, Katherine A. MacDonald & Eric J. Behnke, while mapping the brain of 16 year old epileptic girl, known as A.K. The same area is also involved in the initiation of speech. Other areas that may also participate in laughter and humour are the limbic system and the auditory and somatosensory fields primarily in the right hemisphere.
  4. Newborn infants can smile and laugh, according to Kiyobumi Kawakami and his team Holowka and Petitto showed that infants from 5 to 12 months babies open the right side of their mouth while babbling, and open the left side while smiling. They claimed that left hemisphere cerebral specialization while babbling suggests language functionsin humans are lateralized from a very early point in development. Sroufe and Waters suggest that laughter appears at about 4 months.
  5. V.S. Ramachandran suggests the false alarm hypothesis which is based upon the idea, that every humorous situation is composed of a tension-building phase, concluding in a shift, which denies the expectations of the viewer. The false alarm hypothesis assumes, that when the shift reveals the anomaly as of ’trivial consequence’, the viewer sends a loud signal –in the form of laughter – which informs those around that there’s no need to be alert, there’s no danger. That could explain the tendency that most people have to laugh when seeing people falling down. Notice that we rarely laugh when a person is seriously injured by the fall.

(picture from health.howstuffworks.com)

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