Can I Just Say…?

This week psychologists, neuroscientists and statisticians have been again prompted to reassess our methods by a widely-circulated preprint (pdf) accusing some in the field of acting like “methodological terrorists”. Thankfully, the initial urge to identify with one or other “side” (and to hit back at “opponents”) has largely given way to more thoughtful, nuanced and long overdue discussions about how research should be conducted. I am not arguing for or against one of the “sides” in this debate, but I am just sharing my perspective.

Scientists have learned that we need to continually question our beliefs about the natural world, and test them against the evidence. As Feynman put it: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” We have to question our beliefs. This applies to our beliefs about the scientific method as well as to our beliefs about the natural world. It applies to ourselves as well as the other people who we think are wrong.

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Rhythm and Memory for Speech

This post was co-written with my fellow authors Mark Hurlstone and Graham Hitch.

Today we published an important paper in Cognitive Psychology. The paper is significant because it explains a link between rhythm and memory in terms of a common mechanism that connects speech processing, verbal learning and language development to rhythmic oscillations in brain activity.

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Devil’s Advocate: Uncorrected Stats and the Trouble With fMRI

This rather technical post is a response to a recent Observer article by Vaughan Bell. In it he follows up on a recent internet discussion around the validity or otherwise of fMRI methods. A blog post by StokesBlog responded.  I must admit I hesitate to step into the fray. I think “flaws” in neuroimaging methods are sometimes overstated, but I don’t want people to think I am flawed, so perhaps I should keep my head down. Oh well, here goes…

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Identifying a Hidden Talent – Remembering Places

In previous posts, I described the science behind the Four Mountains Test, a memory test which we developed using computer generated landscapes to assess the ability to recognize places from their layout even when the viewpoint changes. The test was designed from the outset to depend on a part of the brain, the hippocampus, which is important in forming new memories of the events we experience but also in maintaining a sense of direction and keeping track of where we are as we move about. We found that patients with damage to the hippocampus had particular difficulty with the test.

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The Four Mountains Test

Think of the last time you attended a wedding. You can probably remember the room around you, the place where you sat, the other guests around you and so on. Forming this type of memory depends on the hippocampus, an ancient part of the brain that is buried deep in the temporal lobes, a few centimetres in from your ears. People with damage to the hippocampus are unable to form new long-lasting memories of events and it is also one of the first parts of the brain to be affected in Alzheimer’s Disease. Being able to test abilities that depend on a fully-functioning hippocampus could one day be useful in identifying more serious memory problems that might require further investigation and treatment.

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How do we remember places?

How do we recognize places and why do we sometimes get lost? In everyday life we use many strategies to help us keep track of where we are and get quickly and directly to an intended destination. For example, we might look out for distinctive landmarks and signs, we might consult maps. People also talk about having a sense of direction, for example, you might be able to point accurately toward some distant location which you cannot see (think of a local shop for example), and you may be able to keep track of these locations as you move about. This is the first of three posts that look at the brain basis of such skills. Based on this understanding my colleagues and I developed a test to assess them. It is called the Four Mountains test and is featured in Channel 4’s Hidden Talent show (to be shown on Tuesday 15th May at 9pm). These posts give a flavour of the scientific background to the test.

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Grid Cells

If you are at all interested in how the brain or mind works, for example if you study psychology, neuroscience or philosophy of mind, then you know should about grid cells. I know I said that already about place cells, but they are pretty amazing aren’t they? Well, as amazing as place cells are, grid cells are even more remarkable.

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