Researchers Influence Learning with Electrical Stimulation News Roundup: March 2013 1st Edition

Researchers at the Diabetes agency in Italy have undertaken a meta-analysis of longitudinal studies looking at the risk of Diabetes in people with Depression. The researchers looked at 1898 longitudinal studies and after excluding irrelevant studies were left with 23. These 23 studies included 424,557 subjects who were followed up on average for just over eight years. After adjusting for other risk factors the researchers found that people with Diabetes were 1.38 times more likely to develop incident Diabetes (new Diabetes) than people without Diabetes. The 95% confidence interval was 1.23 to 1.55 (P was less than 0.001). The adjusted risk of Diabetes in people with untreated depression was 1.56 although the confidence interval was wide and included values under one. The researchers suggest that this information can be used to help improve the health of people with Depression.

WHO Video on Depression

Neuroscience

There is an interesting small study from a team in Italy. The researchers were investigating the cerebellum’s role in procedural learning. Procedural learning is a type of learning that results in the development of skills. For instance learning to ride a bike would be an example of procedural learning. Success in procedural learning is usually considered to be the ability to automatically complete the learnt activity. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the cerebellum plays a central role in procedural learning.

The cerebellum is located underneath the cerebral cortex. The cerebellum plays a key role in movement. Transcranial direct current stimulation is a technique which involves the application of electrical current directly to brain areas. In this study the researchers wanted to generate currents in the cerebellum and see how this influences procedural learning. The researchers compared direct current stimulation with a sham application. In other words people in the study who received sham treatment were not receiving direct current stimulation. This was a small study and the subjects were aged between 20 and 49 years of age.

The learning task involved presenting subjects with visual stimuli which they needed to respond to by pressing a key. Success on this task was measured by the response time. The shorter the response time the better the score.The researchers found that stimulating the cerebellum improved the response times for this particular task. The researchers suggest that this approach might be useful for improving procedural learning. However it should be noted that this was a small study and it will be useful to see the results of further replication studies. Transcranial direct current stimulation isn’t yet used routinely in clinical practice. There are a number of research studies that have investigated the use of this approach in different conditions. This study adds to the evidence base suggesting that Transcranial direct current stimulation may have many useful applications.

Scientific American has an interesting write-up about consciousness which also features a link to the video of Joseph Ledoux interviewing Prof Ned Block about the nature of consciousness. The interview covers a broad range of issues about the nature of consciousness and the responses are thought-provoking.

Evolutionary Psychiatry

Professor Wray Herbert has another good write-up this time on memory. He reports on research by one group who are looking at the evolutionary basis of memory. Human memory has many characteristics including biases in the way that we remember information. The researchers suggested that the way we remember animate and inanimate objects may differ as our responses to these two types of objects will determine our ability to respond appropriately to the environment and to adapt as necessary. The researchers in the study found that people were better able to remember words for and at rather than inanimate objects.

Appendix

News Round-Up 2008-2011

News Round-Up 2012

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

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