Tag Archives: Cortex (journal)

I wish, I wish…

I’d love to be reading and writing about fascinating and largely unexplored topics in neuroscience and psychology such as superagers, super-visualisers and aphantasia, but Christmas and all the associated this and that, and the everyday business of parenting in the summer holidays and housekeeping takes up my time.

Interesting to read that aphantasia was apparently first identified by Sir Francis Galton in 1880, even though it has only recently been given the name aphantasia and come to the attention of contemporary researchers. Galton was also one of the earliest researchers to describe various varieties of synaesthesia, before they were all named as such. Galton was one hell of a scientist, back in the days when a man of means could spend his days exploring vast unknown territories of psychology. Is research so different these days? Science is now a bit more open to women researchers, and there’s still much to explore.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3541673/

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2112820-superagers-with-amazing-memories-have-alzheimers-brain-plaques/

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2104221-superagers-with-amazing-memories-have-shrink-resistant-brains/new

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-34039054

Zeman, A., Dewar, M., & Della Sala, S. Lives without imagery–Congenital aphantasia. Cortex, 3.
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Adam_Zeman/publication/279234629_Lives_without_imagery_-_Congenital_aphantasia/links/573612f208ae9f741b29cd33.pdf

 

Investigating the minds of six supers

Do you have “enhanced generalised visuo-cognitive or socio-emotional processes”, or “enhanced holistic processing”? Personal questions, I know.

I’ve got to admit I enjoy reading research reports about mental processes that work well, sound skills, the right-hand reach of the bell curve in ability, that kind of thing. There are thousands and thousands of journal papers and case studies and reviews of research on illness, disability, morbidity, insanity, disease, abnormality, impairment etc. I know it is all important, but also a bit depressing. Doesn’t it make sense that if you want to figure out how something works, you study exemplars that work really well, or perform one task really well, as well as ones that don’t? It makes sense to me.

Bobak, A. K., Bennetts, R. J., Parris, B. A., Jansari, A., & Bate, S. (2016). An In-depth Cognitive Examination of Individuals with Superior Face Recognition Skills. Cortex. In Press. Available online 15 May 2016.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945216301186

 

There is a tiny little face inside your brain (or at least there should be one)

Linda Henriksson, Marieke Mur, Nikolaus Kriegeskorte Faciotopy—A face-feature map with face-like topology in the human occipital face area. Cortex. Volume 72, Pages e1-e2, 1-178 (November 2015) p.156-167.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945215002464

 

Thomson, Helen Your face is mapped on the surface of other people’s brains. New Scientist. January 19th 2016.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2073919-your-face-is-mapped-on-the-surface-of-other-peoples-brains/

 

Your face is mapped on the surface of other people’s brains. New Scientist. Issue 3057 23 January 2016.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2073682-your-face-is-mapped-on-the-surface-of-other-peoples-brains/

 

Cortex
Volume 72, Pages e1-e2, 1-178 (November 2015)
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts Distributed circuits in visual cognition
Edited by Paolo Bartolomeo, Patrik Vuilleumier and Marlene Behrmann

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452/72/supp/C

 

Upcoming Cortex special issues look interesting

http://www.journals.elsevier.com/cortex/forthcoming-special-issues/

I’ve got my eye and my occipital lobes and other well-connected parts of my brain focused on the upcoming Cortex special issues about visual cognition and neuroplasticity, because I have a particular interest in these quite exciting areas of research.

I do hope there will be no plagiarism or any other form of scientific mischief in these special issues. In October of last year Cortex published an editorial about plagiarism and how the editors are are committed to fight it, which is a bit of a coincidence considering that it was the same month in which I made allegations of plagiarism at this blog concerning a paper that had been published the month before by another neuroscience journal, and one of the authors of that paper works in the same university department as one of the co-authors of the Cortex editorial about plagiarism. Many times since October 2013 I have wondered about the nature of chatter around the water-cooler in that university department.

New paper about study of face processing in developmental prosopagnosia on oxytocin

The paper is open access, so you don’t need to pay to read the whole thing. Is “face processing” the same thing as “face memory” or “face recognition”? When I’ve got more time I’ll have a good look at this study and see. I have noted that this is a quite small study (10 DPs, 10 controls), so let’s not get too excited about the findings.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945213002086

Two bits of interesting information about the Cambridge Face Memory Test can be found within this paper.  The authors advise that some people with developmental prosopagnosia can achieve a normal score on the CFMT by using “effective compensatory strategies”. I’m curious about how that is done, because I thought the CFMT was pretty much cheat proof. It is also revealed that two new versions of the CFMT were created for this study.

I plan to write more about this paper but right now my garden requires attention. And after that the turquoise coastline lined with fine white sand near where we live will require attention.

Don’t forget the parietal lobe – the connections are interesting

If you have been reading this blog for a long time you’d know I’ve been trying to figure out which parts of my brain are responsible for my synaesthesia and related experiences. I’ve found that the right fusiform gyrus is a part of the brain that comes up over and over again, in relation to synaesthesia and also face recognition I experience many types of synaesthesia and also have achieved scores in face recognition tests consistent with being a super-recognizer, so this combination seems significant, and despite a lack of any evidence from other case studies linking synaesthesia with superior ability in face recognition, I still think it is a possible relationship that should be scientifically investigated, especially in light of a pattern of associations which I believe suggests that synaesthesia might be a neuropsychological condition that could be seen as the opposite of Benson’s syndrome, which is a type of dementia that involves a loss of visual perception, apparently including a loss of face recognition ability. While synesthesia is generally an inborn developmental condition, and Benson’s or PCA a neurodegenerative condition with a typical onset late in life, I’ve still got to wonder whether inborn factors contribute towards Benson’s. While Benson’s is considered to be a variant of Alzheimer’s, I don’t think anyone knows why it causes deterioration in different areas of the brain as are affected by Alzheimer’s, apparently the same parts of the brain (at the rear) that appear to be enhanced or hyperactive in my brain, and I also doubt that anyone knows why Benson’s has an onset earlier than Alzheimer’s disease. I’m sceptical of the idea that Benson’s is just Alzheimer’s of the back-end of the brain. I suspect that immune system elements microglia and complement might be central to an explanation for Benson’s syndrome. Reading Dr B. Croisile’s paper about Benson’s I’m struck by the many very strange effects of Benson’s on perception, and I wonder at the ways in which a study of it might inform science about  the workings of the brain. I think it is at least as interesting as synaesthesia, which attracts a lot of attention from researchers. Apparently people with Benson’s cannot imitate movements. Does this mean that the mirror-neuron system which so many neuroscientists have gotten so excited about is located at the rear of the brain? I note that the inferior parietal cortex is one of the parts of the brain that are thought to house mirror neurons.

When I set out to write this post I had actually planned to write about a fairly recent review journal paper focusing on recent research about the most common and well-known types of synaesthesia: coloured hearing, coloured graphemes and time units in space synaesthesia. I really like the paper cited below by Professor Karsten Specht from the University of Bergen in Norway, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about the latest knowledge about synaesthesia from just one paper. I only have a couple of gripes about he paper. I wouldn’t describe synaesthesia as “rare” as Specht does. Ward, Sagiv and Butterworth wrote in 2009 that around 12% of the population have number forms, and that estimate doesn’t surprise me. Synaesthesia in general can’t be rare if it includes one type that isn’t rare. Time-space synaesthesia or number forms is one type of synaesthesia which the synaesthete can have but not suspect that it is synesthesia, or anything out of the ordinary, so I’d guess it could be very much under-reported and under-estimated. My other gripe with Professor Specht’s paper is this bit; “In recent years, several studies have attempted to investigate whether synaesthesia is primarily a perceptual or conceptual phenomenon.” I think Specht is here presenting the reader with a false dichotomy. In some of the types of synaesthesia and related phenomena which I experience sensory perception, memory and conceptual thinking are connected with synaesthesthetic linkages, so I doubt that there is much point in trying to characterise synaesthesia as one or another type of phenomenon. I was very excited when I read the book Beyond Human Nature by philosopher Jesse Prinz. Professor Prinz argued that we think in mental images rather than in language. He wrote that “It used to be thought that the back part of the brain is used for perceiving and the front is used for thinking. But we now know that the back part of the brain, where most of the senses are located, is very active when people think. Moreover, we know that the front part of the brain does not work on its own, but rather coordinates and reactivates sensory patterns in the back. Recent evidence from Linda Chao and Alex Martin has shown that reading activates the same areas as looking at pictures, suggesting that we visualize what we read.” In a post that I wrote a while ago I described involuntarily “seeing” in my mind’s eye visual images of landscapes and building interiors from imagination and memory while listening to an autobiographical audio-book. I thought it was probably related to synaesthesia, but it appears that everyone’s brain illustrates text with images when reading. Perhaps synaesthetes do this to a greater degree or in a way that is more available to conscious awareness.

Anyway, back to Specht’s paper. Having read it I now suspect that the parts of my brain that are bigger or better connected or more active or something are: the right fusiform gyrus (including the FFA), the left parietal lobe including the left intraparietal sulcus, the right inferior parietal lobe, the hippocampus (I’m sure is involved with IMLM) and the parahippocampal gyrus. I’d guess that these are the places where interesting things are happening. It appears that the role of the parietal lobe in synaesthesia has been understated in the past. It is now thought that synaesthesia does not solely involve the cross-activation of two different sensory areas (as if it was ever that simple!), but it also requires a “binding” process to happen in the parietal lobe. There is no underestimating the importance of this binding.

If you are as interested in synaesthesia and bits of the brain as I am, you might also like to read a much longer journal paper by Rouw, Scholte and Colizoli that was published last year. It is available in full text at no cost, but I don’t think it covers non-colour types of synaesthesia. Details can be found below. One part of the parietal lobe mentioned in that paper, which is cited by a few studies as involved with synaesthesia is the inferior parietal lobule (IPL, Brodmann areas 39 and 40). It is also known as Geschwind’s territory because the neurologist Geschwind predicted in the 1960s that the parietal lobe played a role in language, and was proven right when the IPL was found to include a second connection between Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, which are of central importance in language. The IPL is very interesting as a part of the brain involved in synaesthesia because according to a 2004 article in New Scientist magazine the IPL matures at a late age, between the ages of five and seven years, which just happens to be time in life when children typically learn the ability to read and write, and it is also the age range in which some children develop grapheme-colour synaesthesia. I find this very interesting because in my family we have at least three closely related grapheme-colour synaesthetes who are unusually high achievers in reading and writing in testing and academic achievement. Two of these synaesthetes were early readers and also talented at language learning. What’s the betting that some gene that alters the development of the IPL is behind this? The author of the most interesting little science magazine article that brought me this news, Alison Motluk, is herself a synaesthete. Is it just a coincidence that a journalist with a well-connected brain has pointed out a number of interestingly related facts that are connected around the conceptual hub of the inferior parietal lobule?

Specht, Karsten Synaesthesia: cross activations, high interconnectivity, and a parietal hub. Translational Neuroscience. Volume 3 Number 1 (2012), 15-21, DOI: 10.2478/s13380-012-0007-z
http://www.springerlink.com/content/512306132j162437/

Croisile, Bernard Benson’s syndrome or Posterior Cortical Atrophy. Orphanet. September 2004. http://www.orpha.net/data/patho/GB/uk-Benson.pdf

Ward, Jamie, Sagiv, Noam and Butterworth, Brian The impact of visuo-spatial number forms on simple arithmetic. Cortex. Volume 45 Issue 10Pages 1261-1265 (November 2009). http://www.cortexjournal.net/article/S0010-9452(09)00213-5/abstract

Rouw, Romke, Scholte, H. Steven, Colizoli, Olympia Brain areas involved in synaesthesia: A review. Journal of Neuropsychology. Special Issue: Synaesthesia. September 2011 Volume 5 Issue 2 p.214-242. Article first published online: 16 SEP 2011 DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-6653.2011.02006.x  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-6653.2011.02006.x/full

Motluk, Alison Two links good for kids’ language comphrehension. New Scientist. Issue 2478. December 18th 2004. p.12. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18424784.300-second-link-discovered-in-human-language-circuit.html

Amusia or tone-deafness can be tested for and diagnosed in childhood

Amusia can be diagnosed using a battery of tests, the Montreal Battery for the Evaluation of Amusia (MBEA; Peretz, 2003). The first documented case of congenital amusia in childhood is described in the paper listed below. Amusia is one of a number of disorders of perception that I have written about in this blog, including prosopagnosia and agnosia for scenes, that have been theorized as being caused by a lack of connections in the brain, which could be seen as the opposite of synaesthesia. I guess that amusia, a difficulty in perceiving music, could be seen as the opposite of perfect pitch, which is an ability that appears to be associated with synaesthesia and autism.

References

Marie-Andrée Lebrun, Patricia Moreau, Andréane McNally-Gagnon, Geneviève Mignault Goulet & Isabelle Peretz Congenital amusia in childhood: A case study. Cortex. (article in press) doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2011.02.018   http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B8JH1-529MVTS-1&_user=10&_coverDate=03/04/2011&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1726989201&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=43fef257d6f2b1bfce00e36d3badb560&searchtype=a

Lauren Stewart Congenital amusia (quick guide) Current Biology. Volume 16 Issue 21 7 November 2006. Pages R904-R906.    doi:10.1016/j.cub.2006.09.054  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VRT-4M8WTCF-7&_user=10&_coverDate=11%2F07%2F2006&_rdoc=20&_fmt=high&_orig=browse&_origin=browse&_zone=rslt_list_item&_srch=doc-info(%23toc%236243%232006%23999839978%23636547%23FLA%23display%23Volume)&_cdi=6243&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=32&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=7d8218bc925dd41d5cb5c44a89ac76b4&searchtype=a

Delosis Research Technology Musical Listening Test http://www.delosis.com/listening/home.html

Prevalence rates of some interesting neurological conditions and disorders

Number form synaesthesia   ~12% (Ward, Sagiv & Butterworth 2009)

Dyslexia   5-10% English-speakers (Mitchell Feb 2011)

Dyscalculia   5-6% (Mitchell Feb 2011)

Congenital amusia (tone deafness)   4% (Mitchell Jan 2011) (Mitchell Feb 2011)

Day of the week -> colour synaesthesia   2.8% (Banissy et al 2009)

Prosopagnosia   1-2% (Mitchell Feb 2011)

Congenital prosopagnosia 2.5% (Mitchell Jan 2100) (This figure is inconsistent with the above figure as people with congenital prosopagnosia should be a sub-set of all people who have prosopagnosia)

Mirror-touch synaesthesia   1.6% (Banissy et al 2009)

Grapheme -> colour synaesthesia   1.4% (Banissy et al 2009)

ASD including autism   ~0.6% (Wikipedia)

So this means that, if the disorders besides autism listed above do not overlap in the people they affect, possibly almost a quarter of the population either can’t read, can’t do maths, can’t comprehend music normally, or can’t recognize faces adequately, while diagnosable autism is thought to only be found in less than a percent of people. So why so much hysteria and research funding about autism and so little funding for research into all the other issues?

The total number of synaesthetes in the population cannot be calculated by simply adding up the different types of synaesthesia listed above, because we know that individual synaesthetes often have a number of different types. Regardless, it is clear that synaesthetes make up a sizeable proportion of the population, and synaesthesia isn’t rare at all. So why is it that most teachers that I have spoken to have never heard of synaesthesia, a neurological condition (not disorder) that can directly affect learning (positively and on occassion negatively) and can affect the student’s sensory experience in the classroom?

References

Banissy, Michael J, Kadosh, Roi Cohen, Maus, Gerrit W, Walsh, Vincent, Ward, Jamie Prevalence, characteristics and a neurocognitive model of mirror-touch synaesthesia. Experimental Brain Research. (2009) 198:261–272. Published online: 3 May 2009. DOI 10.1007/s00221-009-1810-9 http://www.springerlink.com/content/26mh37152110617x/fulltext.pdf

Mitchell, Kevin The Neuroscience of Tone Deafness: The strange connection between people who can’t sing a tune and people who are “face blind”. Scientific American. January 18th 2011. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-neuroscience-of-tone

Mitchell, K. J. Curiouser and curiouser: genetic disorders of cortical specialization.Current Opinion in Genetics & Development. 2011 Feb 4. [Epub ahead of print] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21296568

Ward, Jamie, Sagiv, Noam and Butterworth, Brian The impact of visuo-spatial number forms on simple arithmetic. Cortex. Volume 45 Issue 10 Pages 1261-1265 (November 2009). http://www.cortexjournal.net/article/S0010-9452(09)00213-5/abstract