Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Friday, December 14, 2012

Smurfs, Talking Bears & Souls

Ask yourself the following questions:

Do you believe smurfs exist?  If not, why not?  So..can you prove they do not exist?
Do you believe there are talking bears in Alaska?  There have been numerous eye-witness accounts of these bears speaking with each other in the wilderness of Alaska. The eyewitnesses who have reported seeing these bears are honest, intelligent, hard working citizens.  Why would they lie?
You probably think that asking whether or not one believes in smurfs or talking bears is absurd.  There isn’t a shred of evidence for either.  However, ask yourself if you can prove there are no smurfs or talking bears?  You cannot prove they do not exist.  Knowing what you know about the natural world (thanks to scientific processes) you know it is very unlikely that either smurfs or talking bears exist.  What if someone whom you respect and trust tells you they have seen smurfs, or they just have a feeling that they exist-  They Know They Are Real ?
What about the extremely evasive Immaterial Soul or as it is sometimes referred the Immaterial Mind?  Many people believe the soul is very real, even though there isn’t an angstrom (one hundred- millionth of a centimeter) of evidence that it exists.
"My fundamental premise about the brain is that its workings- what we sometimes call “mind”- are a consequence of its anatomy and physiology, and nothing more.  “Mind” may be a consequence of the action of the components of the brain severally or collectively.  Some processes may be a function the brain as a whole."
Carl Sagan
"… mind and brain are inseparable.  The brain is a complex biological organ of great computational capability that constructs our sensory experiences, regulates our thoughts and emotions, and controls our actions.  The brain is responsible not only for relatively simple motor behaviors, such as running and eating, but also for complex acts that we consider quintessentially human, such as thinking, speaking, and creating works of art.  Looked at from this perspective, mind is a set of operations carried out by the brain, much as walking is a set of operations carried out by the legs, except dramatically more complex."
Eric Kandel, Nobel Laureate
History of the Soul: Brief
Plato, who repudiated observations and experiments believed the only reason that we can think about ourselves and our mortal body is that we have an immaterial, immortal soul.  Subsequently, in the thirteenth century St. Thomas Aquinas incorporated the soul into Christian thought.  Aquinas and later religious thinkers believed that the soul is of divine nature.   In the seventeenth century, Rene Descartes constructed the idea that humans have a dual nature: they have a body made up of material substance, and  a mind, which originates from the spiritual nature of the soul.  Gilbert Ryle (Philosopher of Science) referred to the soul as “the ghost in the machine.”  
Can we overload our brains- Steven Pinker discusses the mind-brain myth

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why we prefer All Natural?

Is all natural food and medicine safer, and more effective?  Should we stick to all-natural products when possible?  The belief that all natural is inherently better reflects Epistemic Irrationality.

Would you be surprised to learn that the world’s most dangerous toxins are all natural? They include ricin, abrin, botulinum, and strychnine—highly evolved chemical weapons used by organisms for self-defense and territorial expansion. Indeed, every plant and microbe carries a variety of mostly uncharacterized, more or less toxic attack chemicals, and synthetic chemicals are no more likely to be toxic than natural ones. (Silver, 2006)

The Preference for “Natural”

By Jamie Hale

It will probably come as no surprise that many Americans prefer “natural” to “artificial” when it comes to food and medicine. Even when the two are chemically identical and show no difference in their effectiveness or safety rating, most people in the U.S. show preference for the natural product. Read more

Organic Food: The Real Story!
By Jamie Hale

Over the past two decades the sale of organic foods has increased annually nearly 20%. Today’s organic food system includes a combination of small and large food producers, local and global distribution networks, and a wide variety of products including processed foods, fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy (1). Recent food crises such as mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth disease may have decreased consumer confidence in conventional foods and swayed their buying tendencies to what they perceive as safer foods – Organic, All Natural Foods. In one survey the reasons people consumed organic foods were avoidance of pesticides (70%), freshness (68%), for health and nutrition (67%), and to avoid genetically modified foods (55%) (2). The majority of Organic Food Advocates I have spoken to eat organic foods because they feel organic foods are safer
Read more

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Ultimate Goal of Science

The ultimate goal of science is explaining cause and effect relationships.  Only true experiments allow us to determine cause and effect relationships.  However, even when using true experiments we can only suggest cause and effect relationships  in terms of probability.  Scientific information is not absolute and it is tentative in nature (subject to change). 

True Experiment:  A research method, using random assignment of participants to different groups,  that allows researchers to determine cause and effect relationships through manipulation of a variable / variables and control of a situation. 

So, in addition to describing and predicting phenomena in the observable universe only true experiments allow explanations of cause and effect relationships.

For Causation: Key implications
- Cause occurs before effect
- Cause present - effect more likely to occur
- Cause absent - effect less likely to occur

Confound:  an uncontrolled extraneous variable or flaw in an experiment. 

Confound is term often used when discussing research. There are a couple of key ways to reduce confounds when conducting true experiments:
- Randomly assign participants to groups so individual differences within groups average out
- Treat each group exactly the same except for the differences in the level of the independent variable

Recommended Article!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Who's Rational?

More evidence that we need to promote and teach Rational thinking. As Stanovich and others have pointed out there is a distinciton between Intelligence and Rationality. High levels of intelligence do not predict Rationality (across many tasks).
I finished collecting data earlier this week for my experimental study - Critical Thinking and Environmental Factors.  The critical thinking tasks actually were a cover. The primary concern of the study was expectation and food liking.

In regards to the crit.. thinking tasks (3 tasks ) the performances were not good. No one correctly answered all three of the problems and many participants missed all three. The tasks used were similar to the ones often used by Stanovich and Kahneman.
24 ps answered 0 correctly
19..................... 1 correctly
4....................... 2 correctly
total of 19% correctly answered
Articles on Rationality
Video-  What IQ Tests Miss

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Neuroscience of Expectations

It is important to recognize that different expectations lead to different activations in the brain.   From a neuroscientific perspective expecting a future outcome involves several brain mechanisms aimed at preparing the body for an up-coming future event (Benedetti, 2009; Scott, Stohler, Egnatuk, Wang, Koeppe, & Zubieta, 2007).  As an example, the expectation of a future positive outcome may lessen anxiety and / or activate brain circuits that are involved with reward mechanisms. The reward mechanisms are mediated by specific neuronal circuits that link motor, cognitive, and emotional responses.  These mechanisms are typically studied in the context of natural rewards.   However, a negative expectation may lead to increases in anxiety, and activation of brain areas involved with negative experiences.  It follows, that different expectations related to food may lead to different brain activity, thus affecting outcomes (responses / reactions).  

Scott et al. (2007) examined the role of the nucleus accumbens (NAC), a region of the brain involved with reward expectation, in the formation of expectancy effects (placebo effects).   Using functional molecular imaging, activation of NAC dopamine (DA) release was observed during placebo administration and related to its anticipated effects and placebo effect development. In additional functional MRI studies, the expectation of monetary gain increased NAC synaptic activity proportional to placebo- induced DA release.  This research demonstrates strong support for the magnitude of expectation in relation to brain reward mechanisms.

Volkow et al. (2003) investigated how expectation affects the response to the stimulant drug methylphenidate in 25 cocaine abusers. The effects of the drug on brain glucose metabolism and on its reinforcing effects (self-reports of drug effects) were evaluated in four conditions: (1) expecting placebo and receiving placebo; (2) expecting placebo and receiving the drug; (3) expecting the drug  and receiving the drug methylphenidate; (4) expecting the drug and receiving placebo.  The results indicated increases in metabolism were 50% larger when methylphenidate was expected than when it was not.  These differences were significant in cerebellum (vermis) and thalamus. In contrast, unexpected methylphenidate showed larger increases in left lateral orbitofrontal cortex than when it was expected.  Drug-induced increases in self-reports of being high were also 50% greater when subjects expected to receive it than when they did not.  Self-reports of being high were significantly correlated with the metabolic increases in thalamus but not in cerebellum.  A key finding in this study is that expectation heightens the effects of methylphenidate in the brain and its reinforcing effects.  

An event-related fMRI study was used to measure the effects of cognitive (semantic) priming on the neural responses to a delivery of odors (de Araujo, Rolls, Velazco, Margot, Cayeux, 2005).      Odors were presented with descriptors on a screen.  A test odor was labeled on different trials as “cheddar cheese” or “body odor.”  The same labels were paired with delivery of clean air in different trials.    Alpha-ionone (pleasant, labeled “flowers”) and Octanol (unpleasant, labeled “burned plastic”) were used as references for pleasant and unpleasant stimuli for the psychophysics and neuroimaging.  The participants rated the test odor as significantly more unpleasant when labeled “body odor” than when labeled “cheddar cheese.”  The fMRI showed that the rostral anterior cingulate cortex / medial orbitofrontal cortex was significantly more activated by the test stimulus and by clean air when labeled “cheddar cheese” than when labeled “body odor.”   Recent neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that pleasant odors preferentially activate medial orbitofrontal regions, while unpleasant odors activate lateral regions.  The findings of this study suggest expectation of odor may have an influence on flavor perception, as smell is a key component involved with flavor perception.
References available upon request

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dr. Gottlob from the NSF

Big thanks to Dr. Gottlob for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with Knowledge Summit

What is the general process for considering whether or not to fund research proposals?
We only have enough money to fund about 12 percent of the proposals we receive. First, we send all proposals out for external (adhoc) review by experts in the field. After we get those reviews back, we hold a review panel with about 15 experts from the US and Canada, here at NSF. Those panelists sort the proposals into A B and C categories according to external reviews and their own assessments of the proposals' merits. Their sorting serves as a recommendation to the program officer, who then makes his/her own decision on what to recommend for funding.
We consider many factors in deciding what gets funded, including the quality of the proposal, the theoretical importance of the work, the experience and capability of the investigators, and other factors such as geographic and institutional diversity, and portfolio balance.
What is the strangest proposal you have seen since you have been at the NSF?
For reasons of confidentiality, I cannot comment on proposals that were not funded. But there have been some odd ones, as well as some that are really far-reaching and innovative, but maybe just not ready for prime time.
What does a typical day look like for you- morning until bedtime?
I ride my bicycle into work by 9 in the morning, catch up on emails, meet with colleagues about proposals that they are interested in funding, have phone conferences with investigators and potential investigators, attend training sessions, attend departmental meetings and brownbag talks, and try to shoehorn in some reading on my own interests, which are in embodied cognition, attention, and (lately) Bayesian statistics. My primary work activities involve reading proposals, writing justifications for proposal declines and awards, soliciting adhoc reviewers, and running review panels for my program (Perception Action & Cognition) and other programs.
After work, I take a bicycle ride on a local canal path or trail, or go out to dinner with colleagues and other people I know in the area. Washington DC has a lot to see and do.
Will you return to the University of Kentucky after your three year assignment at the NSF?
Yes. My main challenge will be to resume my research program, and to leverage my experience at NSF into some kinds of activities that will help UK be more competitive in getting federal funding.
Has working at the NSF changed your view on science and how it is administered at the governmental level?
Yes, very much so. I have had a couple of federal grants (NIH and NSF) but knew almost nothing about things work in DC. I've also learned a lot about the political process; NSF is an independent branch of the federal government. At the science level, I have been exposed to so much new stuff in Cognitive Science and other behavioral sciences, including economics, geography, and anthropology. I've gained a real appreciation for other ways of seeing the world. Academics tend to get compartmentalized into their own subfields, so this has been great exposure. 

About Lawrence Gottlob
Dr. Lawrence Gottlob is a program director at the NSF in the area of Perception, Action & Cognition . He is an experimental psychologist who studies visual attention and cognitive aging. He has been at UK since 2001 and is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology.   His PhD is from Arizona State and he did a postdoc at Duke University.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Conscious & Unconscious Placebo / Nocebo Effects

The placebo and nocebo effect is believed to be mediated by both cognitive ( expectations) and conditioning mechanisms. Little is known about their role in different circumstances. In a study conducted by Benedetti et al. (2003), the effects of opposing verbal suggestions on experimental ischemic arm pain in healthy volunteers and on motor performance in Parkinsonian patients was analyzed. It was found that verbally induced expectations of analgesia/hyperalgesia and motor improvement/worsening antagonized completely the effects of a conditioning procedure. The researchers also measured the effects of opposing verbal suggestions on hormonal secretion and found that verbally induced expectations of increase/decrease of growth hormone (GH) and cortisol did not have any effect on the secretion of these hormones. However, if a preconditioning was performed with sumatriptan, a 5-HT1B/1D agonist that stimulates GH and inhibits cortisol secretion, a significant increase of GH and decrease of cortisol plasma concentrations were found after placebo administration, although opposite verbal suggestions were given. These findings indicate that verbally induced expectations have no effect on hormonal secretion, whereas they affect pain and motor performance. This suggests that placebo effects are mediated by conditioning when unconscious physiological functions such as hormonal secretion are involved, whereas they are mediated by expectation when conscious physiological processes such as pain and motor performance come into play, even though a conditioning procedure is performed.

At least two main findings emerge from this study. First, analgesic and motor placebo responses appear to be mediated by verbally induced expectations. Although the subjects' expectations were not directly measured, many studies shows verbal suggestions affect expectations. Opposite verbal suggestions modulated pain in contradictory directions and most important, even after a pharmacological analgesic preconditioning, a significant hyperalgesic effect occurred when suggestion of pain increase was given This indicates that the placebo effect of was caused by expectation of analgesia and not by the pharmacological preconditioning per se. This can also be seen in Parkinsonian patients, whose motor worsening appears to depend on verbally induced expectation; in fact, the opposite verbal suggestion was enough to reverse this effect. The second important finding is that verbally induced expectations of hormonal increase and decrease had no effect on hormonal plasma concentrations. However, placebo administration after sumatriptan preconditioning mimicked the effects of the sumatriptan itself. It is important to point out that these sumatriptan-like effects occurred regardless of whether verbal suggestions were given for GH increase or decrease. Thus verbal manipulations that are likely to affect expectations did not influence hormonal secretion.
“[I]n the present study, conditioning appears to play a crucial role in the placebo responses of human unconscious physiological functions, whereas expectations replace conditioning when conscious perception is involved (e.g., pain and motor performance).” Benedetti et al., 2003
The two key mechanisms underpinning placebo effects and nocebo effects are expectations, and conditioning (Pavlovian, Classical Conditioning). The mechanism explaining the placebo or nocebo effect depends on the context. In some cases conditioning and expectations may contribute to the effect, while in others one or the other may be involved. However, some have pointed out the conditioning is a form of expectation. Thus, if this is the case conditioning always involves expectation, whereas the reverse may not be true.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What are placebos?

Originally, placebos were thought of as inert pills or medications that were presented by physicians in the medical context or by researchers in clinical or experimental studies. Today, the term has a broader definition and it is used in a variety of settings. Placebos are present in our everyday lives, and sometimes have profound impacts on behaviors, and experiences (different types of placebo effects). The word Placebo is derived from a Latin phrase meaning “to please”.
“A placebo is a substance or procedure that has no inherent power to produce an effect that is sought or expected.” (Williams & Podd, 2004)
In general terms, when considering placebo, the entire ritual surrounding the administration of the substance or procedure is considered. Placebos are context specific. What might be a placebo in one condition may actually serve as a nocebo (opposite placebo, negative outcome) in another context. Also, a placebo in one context may serve as an active treatment (substance, procedure) in another context. Learning and cultural influences play a large role in determining whether a substance or procedure serve as a placebo. The study of placebos has advanced substantially over the past few years, and has provided important information in regards to neurobiology, and various other biological mechanisms. Coming Soon The Amazing World of Placebo Effects: The Neurobiology of Placebo Effects

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Investigating Placebo Effects 2- Sham Knee Surgery

Mosley et al. (2002) conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy of arthroscopy for osteoarthritis of the knee. Patients were assigned to receive an arthroscopic debridement, arthroscopic lavage or placebo surgery. Patients and assessors of outcome were blinded to which condition the patients were in. Outcomes were assessed at multiple points over a 24-month period. Five self-reported scores and one objective test of walking and stair climbing was used as measures. Neither of the intervention groups reported less pain or better function than the group receiving the sham surgery. In fact, at two weeks participants that received the sham surgery performed better on an objective walking and stair climbing measure than those in the debridement group. This was also found at one year and the debridement group showed a trend towards worse functioning at two years. However, it is not clear if this outcome occurred due to a placebo (via expectation) effect or natural history.

Placebo Effects- Sham Knee Surgery (video)

Coming Soon! The Amazing World of Placebo Effects

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Investigating Placebo Effects

This is the first in a series of articles that will investigate
placebo and nocebo effects. Currently, there is some exciting
research being done in these areas. This series will explore
placebo and placebo - related effects in many different areas.

The individual's mind, emotions, and beliefs play a central role
in any treatment or therapy (procedure, protocol). Placebo effects
are mediated by many molecules in the brain which may affect the
course of a disease or response to treatment. Many misconceptions
exist regarding placebo effects- in the lay public and scientific
community. Probably, the most common misconception is in how
the words 'placebo effect' and 'placebo response' are defined.
Commonly the words refer to outcomes in placebo groups, without
consideration that a variety of factors are responsible for the
reduction of a symptom when taking a placebo or receiving a placebo
-related treatment. The reduction of the symptom could be due to:

Spontaneous remission
Regression to the mean
Effects of co-intervention
Real placebo response (Neurobiological& various physiological responses)

Another common misconception is that there is only one placebo effect. There is not one, but many (various mechanisms underlie placebo effects). It is more appropriate to think in terms of effects not effect.

Placebo effects have been shown in many different areas in science. Sometimes placebo effects have been shown to mimic or even exceed effects produced by active treatments (such as therapies or medications).

The content featured in this series of articles will be the same type of content featured in my new book - The Amazing World of Placebo Effects.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sports Performance & Over-thinking

Sports Performance & Over-thinking

Sometimes athletes over-think the situation while performing. Why does over-thinking in high level athletes often lead to decreased athletic performance? Dr. Adam Lawson, Cognitive Neuroscientist, offers the following explanation.

Much of the brain can be divided into conscious controlled and automatic systems, with conscious controlled systems being focused on handling new or unusual challenges while automatic systems are best able to quickly and efficiently act on well learned acts. Practice, whether a sport or an intellectual ability, allows for the transfer of tasks from conscious controlled to automatic systems. The advantage of utilizing these automatic systems is that they are very good at repeating an action over and over again. Sometimes, our conscious and automatic systems become a hindrance, however, because two systems trying to control one body does not work very well. In the case of intellectual tasks, our conscious awareness of two competing thoughts (one automatic and one conscious controlled) can lead to the indecisiveness we call over-thinking.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Choosing a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Recently someone suggested I look at a site called Medical Malpractice Lawyers. When I first heard about the site I wasn't really interested. However, once I looked at the site I was very impressed with the information and also with the reasons given for starting the site. I highly recommend this site, especially if you are thinking about hiring a Medical Malpractice lawyer. The site is also a great source for anyone interested in learning more about different types of medical malpractice cases.

Baby Brain Damage – Brain damage in infants is mostly caused by factors like a lack of oxygen to the brain, an unhealthy placenta, being prematurely separated from the placenta, a squashed umbilical cord, and too high or too low blood pressure in the infant. Brain damage can also be worse in infants that are born premature. Because of this damage, babies that have it are prone to several disabilities, including defective eye sight and neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy. Once they reach childhood, they may experience difficulty with speech and learning and could develop other problems such as attention deficit disorder.

Nursing Home Abuse – This term refers to any physical, sexual, psychological, verbal, or financial abuse inflicted upon residents of a nursing home facility. Such abuse continues to be a growing issue in our country; however, many cases go unreported because the victims involved are too scared or ashamed to come forward. Typically, nursing home abuse is experienced by the female residents of the facility, though some males have reportedly been victims, as well. To learn more about nursing home abuse and what you can do to help prevent it, visit Nursing Home Abuse.net.

The site lists 25 different types of cases. The site also features articles:
10 Questions to Ask an Attorney Before Retaining Their Services
The owners of the site do not accept advertising or recommend specific medical malpractice attorneys. They have purposely chosen to remain anonymous in order to eliminate the potential appearance of a conflict of interest wherein they would receive additional clients through this website.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stats Made Ez: Stats and Public Understanding

Recently I asked Dr. Jonathan Gore the following question- Why is a basic understanding of stats important for the public?

My answer to why stats is important is that pretty much everything operates based on probability. Even some of the "hard" sciences are starting to realize that phenomena that used to only require a basic equation are now having to factor in probability to account for all that they observe. To understand events that occur in our daily lives, including understanding other people’s behaviors, the economy, and health, we have to address probabilities rather than basic equations. When I talk with religious people about the importance of statistics, and they question its relevance, I say, "Statistics is the best tool for humans to understand how God’s creation works." We may never know the complete picture, but statistics give us the best possible estimate.

Pretty much everything, including science operates based on probability. One of the biggest roadblocks to the dissemination of science and stats is that people have a strong need for absolute certainty. Science is not about absolutes.