Supertaskers, The Act of Doing Nothing, and Other Recent Papers of Interest

There are a few fascinating papers to come out recently that I won't have time to cover in detail, but which people may find interesting. References and abstracts after the jump:

Watson & Strayer (2010). Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability. Psychon Bull Rev.

Abstract: Theory suggests that driving should be impaired for any motorist who is concurrently talking on a cell phone. But is everybody impaired by this dual-task combination? We tested 200 participants in a high-fidelity driving simulator in both single- and dual-task conditions. The dual task involved driving while performing a demanding auditory version of the operation span (OSPAN) task. Whereas the vast majority of participants showed significant performance decrements in dual-task conditions (compared with single-task conditions for either driving or OSPAN tasks), 2.5% of the sample showed absolutely no performance decrements with respect to performing single and dual tasks. In single-task conditions, these "supertaskers" scored in the top quartile on all dependent measures associated with driving and OSPAN tasks, and Monte Carlo simulations indicated that the frequency of supertaskers was significantly greater than chance. These individual differences help to sharpen our theoretical understanding of attention and cognitive control in naturalistic settings.

Kuhn & Brass, in press, The cognitive representation of intending not to act: Evidence for specific non-action-effect binding. Cognition.

Abstract: The question how we represent voluntary action on a cognitive level has recently become of increasing interest to researchers studying motor control. However, so far it has been neglected how we represent the voluntary omission of an action. In our attempt to investigate the representation of voluntary non-actions we demonstrated binding effects between voluntary non-actions and subsequent action effects (Kühn, Elsner, Prinz, & Brass, 2009). That study, however, only distinguished between acting or not acting, and did not address the question of whether non-actions are coded as general omissions or whether they can be encoded specifically as the actual negation of the action in question (''notright" or ''not-left"). Our current study provides first evidence for the specificity of representations of intentional non-actions. Additionally, we compare two ways in which the specific non-actions might be represented: an ironic representation account implying that negations are prone to be omitted and a reformulated representation account assuming that the negated action is suppressed and/or the alternative action is facilitated. Our results suggest that the representation of non-actions contains a facilitation of the alternative action rather than a suppression of the action in question.

Kühn S, Bodammer NC, Brass M. (in press). Dissociating mental states related to doing nothing by means of fMRI pattern classification. Neuroimage. 2010

Abstract: Most juridical systems recognize intentional non-actions - the failure to render assistance - as intentional acts by regarding them as in principle culpable. This raises the fundamental question whether intentional non-actions can be distinguished from simply not doing anything. Classical GLM analysis on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data reveals that not doing anything is associated with resting state brain areas whereas intentionally non-acting is associated with brain activity in left inferior parietal lobe and left dorsal premotor cortex. By means of pattern classification we quantify the accuracy with which we can distinguish these two mental states on the basis of brain activity. In order to identify brain regions that harbour a distributed, overlapping representation of voluntary non-actions and the decision not to act we performed pattern classification on brain areas that did not appear in the GLM contrasts. The prediction rate is not reduced and we show that the prediction relies mostly on brain areas that have been associated with action production and motor imagery as supplementary motor area, right inferior frontal gyrus and right middle temporal area (V5/MT). Hence our data support the implicit assumption of legal practice that voluntary non-action shares important features with overt voluntary action.

Fonov V, Evans AC, Botteron K, Almli CR, McKinstry RC, Collins DL (in press). Unbiased average age-appropriate atlases for pediatric studies. Neuroimage. 2010.

Abstract: Spatial normalization, registration, and segmentation techniques for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) often use a target or template volume to facilitate processing, take advantage of prior information, and define a common coordinate system for analysis. In the neuroimaging literature, the MNI305 Talairach-like coordinate system is often used as a standard template. However, when studying pediatric populations, variation from the adult brain makes the MNI305 suboptimal for processing brain images of children. Morphological changes occurring during development render the use of age-appropriate templates desirable to reduce potential errors and minimize bias during processing of pediatric data. This paper presents the methods used to create unbiased, age-appropriate MRI atlas templates for pediatric studies that represent the average anatomy for the age range of 4.5-18.5years, while maintaining a high level of anatomical detail and contrast. The creation of anatomical T1-weighted, T2-weighted, and proton density-weighted templates for specific developmentally important age-ranges, used data derived from the largest epidemiological, representative (healthy and normal) sample of the U.S. population, where each subject was carefully screened for medical and psychiatric factors and characterized using established neuropsychological and behavioral assessments. Use of these age-specific templates was evaluated by computing average tissue maps for gray matter, white matter, and cerebrospinal fluid for each specific age range, and by conducting an exemplar voxel-wise deformation-based morphometry study using 66 young (4.5-6.9years) participants to demonstrate the benefits of using the age-appropriate templates. The public availability of these atlases/templates will facilitate analysis of pediatric MRI data and enable comparison of results between studies in a common standardized space specific to pediatric research.

Spencer & Samuelson (2010). Biased feedback in spatial recall yields a violation of delta rule learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Abstract: This study investigates whether inductive processes influencing spatial memory performance generalize to supervised learning scenarios with differential feedback. After providing a location memory response in a spatial recall task, participants received visual feedback showing the target location. In critical blocks, feedback was systematically biased either 4° toward the vertical axis (toward condition) or 4° farther away from the vertical axis (away condition). Results showed that the weaker teaching signal (i.e., a smaller difference between the remembered location and the feedback location) produced a stronger experience-dependent change over blocks in the away condition than in the toward condition. This violates delta rule learning. Subsequent simulations of the dynamic field theory of spatial cognition provide a theoretically unified account of these results.

Yusuf Tufail, Alexei Matyushov, Nathan Baldwin, Monica L. Tauchmann, Joseph Georges, Anna Yoshihiro, Stephen I. Helms Tillery, William J. Tyler. Transcranial Pulsed Ultrasound Stimulates Intact Brain Circuits. Neuron, Volume 66, Issue 5, 681-694, 10 June 2010.

Abstract: Electromagnetic-based methods of stimulating brain activity require invasive procedures or have other limitations. Deep-brain stimulation requires surgically implanted electrodes. Transcranial magnetic stimulation does not require surgery, but suffers from low spatial resolution. Optogenetic-based approaches have unrivaled spatial precision, but require genetic manipulation. In search of a potential solution to these limitations, we began investigating the influence of transcranial pulsed ultrasound on neuronal activity in the intact mouse brain. In motor cortex, ultrasound-stimulated neuronal activity was sufficient to evoke motor behaviors. Deeper in subcortical circuits, we used targeted transcranial ultrasound to stimulate neuronal activity and synchronous oscillations in the intact hippocampus. We found that ultrasound triggers TTX-sensitive neuronal activity in the absence of a rise in brain temperature (


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