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Does extra virgin olive oil prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

12 Jan

Sound too good to be true? It probably is. Here is a post on the topic by Joy Victory:

To deconstruct how this went off the rails, let’s start with the university news release sent to journalists: “Temple study: Extra-virgin olive oil preserves memory & protects brain against Alzheimer’s.”

That’s a headline that surely got journalists’ attention. It’s not until after two very long opening paragraphs extolling the virtues of the nearly magical powers of extra virgin olive oil that we find out who, exactly this was tested on.


Andrew Gelman gives his take:

I looked briefly at the published research article and am concerned about forking paths, type M errors, and type S errors. Put briefly, I doubt such strong results would show up in a replication of this study.

Psychology podcast on children’s imaginary friends

10 Jan

An InExact Science is a podcast sponsored by the Association for Psychological Science. I just listened to this episode about children’s imaginary friends and I highly recommend it.

How good are you at estimating the passage of time?

5 Jan

I found this pretty interesting. Some researchers have suggested that the ability to count inhales and exhales might be a good measure of mindfulness.

[Hap tip to BoingBoing]

Is Alzheimer’s caused by brain atherosclerosis?

3 Jan

Please  understand that this explanation if one of a number of competing hypotheses. Dr. Greger makes his case here:

Another year of meditation!

1 Jan

So today I have completed another 365 days of meditation. My Insight Time app says I have completed 733 consecutive days of meditation and a total of 1,794 days with at least one session. The number of consecutive days would have been greater, but I fell out of sync when I traveled to India two years ago and crossed the International Date Line.

Over the year my practice has shifted towards non-directive meditation.

Happy New Year!

Nelson Enterprises

29 Dec

I am the proud owner of a large collection of magic books. Perhaps, my most prized book is a copy of a Nelson Enterprises catalog from the 1960s.

Nelson Enterprises was a magic store located in downtown Columbus that specialized in mentalism, magic that mimics psychic phenomenon. Just reading the catalog will make you skeptical about paranormal claims.

For sometime, I had thought about scanning my copy and putting it online, but now I find the public library in Columbus has beat me to it. Read and be amazed!

You can read about Robert Nelson here.

Does music or chess enhance cognitive skills?

27 Dec

The idea that playing chess and studying music improves cognition in other domains, such as math, is called far transfer. It is a very seductive idea with a strong intuitive appeal. “Teach the kids chess and it will improve their academic performance.”

A recent meta-analysis published in Current Directions of Psychological Science, casts doubt on this popular belief. The paper is both persuasive and well written and I encourage educators to read it. Here is the abstract:

Chess masters and expert musicians appear to be, on average, more intelligent than the general population. Some researchers have thus claimed that playing chess or learning music enhances children’s cognitive abilities and academic attainment. We here present two meta-analyses assessing the effect of chess and music instruction on children’s cognitive and academic skills. A third meta-analysis evaluated the effects of working memory training—a cognitive skill correlated with music and chess expertise—on the same variables. The results show small to moderate effects. However, the effect sizes are inversely related to the quality of the experimental design (e.g., presence of active control groups). This pattern of results casts serious doubts on the effectiveness of chess, music, and working memory training. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings; extend the debate to other types of training such as spatial training, brain training, and video games; and conclude that far transfer of learning rarely occurs.

In an era of scarce educational resources, teachers in fields like art and music often defend their place in the curriculum by using far transfer arguments. Music we are told will improve math scores. This research calls into question these kinds of claims.

Art and music belong in the curriculum because they are valuable in their own right. Not everything needs to justified by how it affects math scores.

Happy Holidays!

25 Dec

“Aging impairs slow wave-spindle coupling, leading to overnight forgetting”

20 Dec

This story was covered on NPR, but they did not provide a link to the original paper. Unfortunately only the summary is available on line:

The coupled interaction between slow-wave oscillations and sleep spindles during non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep has been proposed to support memory consolidation. However, little evidence in humans supports this theory. Moreover, whether such dynamic coupling is impaired as a consequence of brain aging in later life, contributing to cognitive and memory decline, is unknown. Combining electroencephalography (EEG), structural MRI, and sleep-dependent memory assessment, we addressed these questions in cognitively normal young and older adults. Directional cross-frequency coupling analyses demonstrated that the slow wave governs a precise temporal coordination of sleep spindles, the quality of which predicts overnight memory retention. Moreover, selective atrophy within the medial frontal cortex in older adults predicted a temporal dispersion of this slow wave-spindle coupling, impairing overnight memory consolidation and leading to forgetting. Prefrontal-dependent deficits in the spatiotemporal coordination of NREM sleep oscillations therefore represent one pathway explaining age-related memory decline.




Autonomic nervous system activity and memory consolidation during sleep

18 Dec

According to a paper published in PNAS, “ autonomic nervous system (ANS) plays a role in associative memory consolidation during sleep.” Here is the abstract:

Throughout history, psychologists and philosophers have proposed that good sleep benefits memory, yet current studies focusing on the relationship between traditionally reported sleep features (e.g., minutes in sleep stages) and changes in memory performance show contradictory findings. This discrepancy suggests that there are events occurring during sleep that have not yet been considered. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) shows strong variation across sleep stages. Also, increases in ANS activity during waking, as measured by heart rate variability (HRV), have been correlated with memory improvement. However, the role of ANS in sleep-dependent memory consolidation has never been examined. Here, we examined whether changes in cardiac ANS activity (HRV) during a daytime nap were related to performance on two memory conditions (Primed and Repeated) and a nonmemory control condition on the Remote Associates Test. In line with prior studies, we found sleep-dependent improvement in the Primed condition compared with the Quiet Wake control condition. Using regression analyses, we compared the proportion of variance in performance associated with traditionally reported sleep features (model 1) vs. sleep features and HRV during sleep (model 2). For both the Primed and Repeated conditions, model 2 (sleep + HRV) predicted performance significantly better (73% and 58% of variance explained, respectively) compared with model 1 (sleep only, 46% and 26% of variance explained, respectively). These findings present the first evidence, to our knowledge, that ANS activity may be one potential mechanism driving sleep-dependent plasticity.

When I read this it occurred to me that there is evidence that older people experience higher levels of autonomic nervous system dysfunction and that this might be related to age related memory problems.

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