Neuroimaging technique may help predict autism among high-risk infants

Brain patterns precede behavioral symptoms of autism, NIH-funded study suggests



Functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI) may predict which high-risk, 6-month old infants will develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 2 years, according to a study funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), two components of the National Institutes of Health. The study is published in the June 7, 2017, issue of Science Translational Medicine.
Autism affects roughly 1 out of every 68( children in the United States. Siblings of children diagnosed with autism are at higher risk of developing the disorder. Although early diagnosis and intervention can help improve outcomes for children with autism, there currently is no method to diagnose the disease before children show symptoms.
“Previous findings( suggest that brain-related changes occur in autism before behavioural symptoms emerge,” said Diana Bianchi, M.D., NICHD Director. “If future studies confirm these results, detecting brain differences may enable physicians to diagnose and treat autism earlier than they do today.”
In the current study, a research team led by NIH-funded investigators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis focused on the brain’s functional connectivity—how regions of the brain work together during different tasks and during rest. Using fcMRI, the researchers scanned 59 high-risk, 6-month-old infants while they slept naturally. The children were deemed high-risk because they have older siblings with autism. At age 2 years, 11 of the 59 infants in this group were diagnosed with autism.
The researchers used a computer-based technology called machine learning, which trains itself to look for differences that can separate the neuroimaging results into two groups — autism or non-autism — and predict future diagnoses. One analysis predicted each infant’s future diagnosis by using the other 58 infants’ data to train the computer program. This method identified 82 percent of the infants who would go on to have autism (9 out of 11), and it correctly identified all of the infants who did not develop autism. In another analysis that tested how well the results could apply to other cases, the computer program predicted diagnoses for groups of 10 infants, at an accuracy rate of 93 percent.
“Although the findings are early-stage, the study suggests that in the future, neuroimaging may be a useful tool to diagnose autism or help health care providers evaluate a child’s risk of developing the disorder,” said Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., NIMH Director.
Overall, the team found 974 functional connections in the brains of 6-month-olds that were associated with autism-related behaviors. The authors propose that a single neuroimaging scan may accurately predict autism among high-risk infants, but caution that the findings need to be replicated in a larger group.


Functional MRI scans identified differences in brain connectivity related to ASD. Red indicates connections linked to repetitive behaviors that were weaker in infants with ASD; blue indicates stronger connectivity linked to repetitive behaviors. Source: Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at UNC

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Functional neuroimaging of high-risk 6-month-old infants predicts a diagnosis of autism at 24 months of age.  Emerson RW, Adams C, Nishino T, Hazlett HC, Wolff JJ, Zwaigenbaum L, Constantino JN, Shen MD, Swanson MR, Elison JT, Kandala S, Estes AM, Botteron KN, Collins L, Dager SR, Evans AC, Gerig G, Gu H, McKinstry RC, Paterson S, Schultz RT, Styner M; IBIS Network, Schlaggar BL, Pruett JR Jr, Piven J. Sci Transl Med. 2017 Jun 7;9(393). pii: eaag2882. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aag2882. PMID:28592562

VR study reveals how your brain manipulates your visual perception when you move your hand

New research provides evidence that the brain actively suppresses visual perception in the area of the visual field where a person’s own hand movement is predicted to occur.
This manipulation of our visual perception is, of course, not something we consciously experience. But thanks to the growth of virtual reality technology, researchers from the University of Tartu were able to examine whether the movement of our own hand is suppressed from our visual field. Their findings were published in the journal Neuroscience of Consciousness .
“Our research is driven by the question of how the brain works on a computational level,” one of the researchers, Madis Vasser, explained to PsyPost. “When we sense the outside world through our eyes, ears and other organs, we are constantly bombarded by a huge amount of information. Processing all of it is neither possible nor useful. So the brain must optimize its computations somehow.”
“One contemporary theory about such operations is the predictive coding paradigm. In essence, instead of constantly sampling the world and making sense of it all, it’s far more efficient for the brain to already predict the next sensory input and then just check if it the sensory info corresponds or should the model be modified. One nice example of this phenomena is the inability of people to tickle themselves, as the sensory stimulation is predicted and thus not surprising or ticklish.”
“We wanted to validate another outcome of the predictive coding theory, which postulates that in order to move your arm at all, the brain needs to inhibit the part of the visual field where the arm is moving,” Vasser continued. “Otherwise moving your arm would produce a massive prediction error. Basically, in order to move your arm, the brain does not want to know where the hand is at the moment. This brings us to the experiment under discussion.”
The researchers used an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset along with a Leap Motion hand tracking device for their experiments, which were conducted with a total of 60 participants.
The virtual reality environment consisted of oscillating spheres in an otherwise empty space. Participants were tasked with monitoring either the motion or the color of the spheres while performing a pre-trained hand movement. They were told to react as fast as possible — by clicking a mouse button — once they had found their target. The moving hand of the participant, however, was completely invisible in the VR environment.
Sometimes the target appeared behind the participant’s physical location of the participant’s hand, while other times it appeared elsewhere.
“The participants definitely all left with a new sensation of having had an invisible hand!” Vasser remarked.
The researchers found that the reaction times were slower when the target was behind the invisible hand, suggesting that the brain does in fact suppress perception in the area of the visual field where the hand movement is predicted to occur.
“Looking at the results, we can confirm that it does seem that the brain attenuates the attention in the area where the own hand is moving,” Vasser explained. “The effects are not massive, so direct takeaways to everyday life should be made with caution. A general comment would be that this effect is not a bug, it’s a feature – our attention is limited, so the more the brain can predict or do on autopilot, the more available resources it has for unpredictable situations.”
Vasser and his colleagues are planning to do more research on this topic.
“In the current paper we measured visual perception through a proxy measure, using reaction time,” he told PsyPost. “Our next experiment will probe visual perception much more directly, looking at the perception of contrast with similar methodology. As we are already using virtual reality for our experiments, we also plan to generate more ecologically valid environments to conduct the experiments.”
“It’s always important to remember the end goal. We think our work is important no matter if we get positive or negative results. In the end, this helps us to validate or reject theories about the fundamental computations in the brain. When we arrive on parsimonious model that is able to explain and predict both the normal and abnormal brain functioning, this will have a big impact on areas such as education, mental health and artificial intelligence.”
The study, “Attention is withdrawn from the area of the visual field where the own hand is currently moving “, was also co-authored by Kristjan-Julius Laak, Oliver Jared Uibopuu, and Jaan Aru.

A Double-Edged Hormone

Testosterone may spur both benevolent acts and aggressive ones.

Popularly associated with blunt male aggression, testosterone may in fact operate more like the titular boss in The Godfather—inducing us to reward people who toe the line and to lash out at those who cross it.

study by researchers at Dublin’s Trinity College and St. James’s Hospital provides a fresh look at the hormone’s social sway. Forty men were injected with either testosterone or a placebo and took part in several rounds of an experimental game. Each received an offer from another player to split a sum of money, and he could either accept the terms or reject the money altogether (if, for example, he felt his share was too small). After each exchange, the participant was given the power to respond to the other player’s kindness (or lack thereof) with a bonus or a fine.

Compared with the placebo group, the men who received testosterone were more likely to inflict financial punishment on players who had made unfair offers, but they were also more likely to reward players who had made generous proposals. These results help flesh out the idea, first posited decades ago, that testosterone might serve less to boost aggression than to encourage status-enhancement. “In a lot of nonhuman animal species, that’s done through aggressive means, but humans have more nuanced and complex ways of determining status,” says Pranjal Mehta, a psychologist at the University of Oregon.

Reacting aggressively to perceived slights may raise your profile, but so can showing others that you are fair-minded. In a 2013 study with female participants, Mehta and colleagues found that a dose of testosterone predicted greater reciprocation of trust. Other researchers have reported evidence that men treated with testosterone are less likely to lie. Larger studies are needed, but these experiments suggest that the influence of the hormone on a person’s actions may hinge on the demands of the social environment.

                                                       By  Matt Huston

The effect of smartphone on relationships

The majority of our relationships are in shambles.The U.S. divorce rate hovers at 40 percent , but that’s not the whole story. Many intact relationships are on life support. According to a survey by the National Opinion Research Center, 60 percent of people in a relationship say they’re not very satisfied. There are some familiar culprits: money problems , bad sex and having kids .But there’s a new relationship buster: the smartphone.

Meredith David and James A. Roberts recently conducted a study that explored just how detrimental smartphones can be to relationships.

They zeroed in on measuring something called “phubbing” (a fusion of “phone” and “snubbing”). It’s how often your romantic partner is distracted by his or her smartphone in your presence. With more and more people using the attention-siphoning devices – the typical American checks his or her smartphone once every six-and-a-half minutes , or roughly 150 times each day – phubbing has emerged as a real source of conflict. For example, in one study , 70 percent of participants said that phubbing hurt their ability to interact with their romantic partners.

Most know what it’s like to be phubbed: You’re in the middle of a passionate screed only to realize that your partner’s attention is elsewhere. But you’ve probably also been a perpetrator, finding yourself drifting away from a conversation as you scroll through your Facebook feed.

In a study that wanted to know the implications of this interference. David and Roberts surveyed 175 adults in romantic relationships from across the United States and had them fill out our questionnaire. They had them complete a nine-item Partner Phubbing Scale that measured how often some felt “phubbed” by his or her partner’s smartphone use. Sample questions included “My partner places his or her smartphone where they can see it when we are together” and “my partner uses his or her smartphone when we are out together.”

Survey participants also completed a scale that measured how much smartphone use was a source of conflict in their relationships. Participants also completed a scale that measured how satisfied they were with their current relationship, how satisfied they were with their lives and if they were depressed. They found that smartphones are real relationship downers – up there with money, sex and kids.

People who reported being at the receiving end of phubbing also reported higher levels of conflict over smartphone use than those who reported less phubbing. Not surprisingly, higher levels of smartphone-related conflict reduced levels of relationship She phubbs me, she phubbs me not: Smartphones could be ruining your love life satisfaction.

Something as seemingly innocent as using a smartphone in the presence of a romantic partner undermined the quality of the relationship. This can create a domino effect: As the study also showed, when we’re not happily in love, we are also less likely to be satisfied, overall, with life. We’re also more likely to report that we are depressed.

Why, might you ask, does partner phubbing wreak such havoc between romantic partners?

At least two possible explanations for such relationship tumult exist. The “Displacement Hypothesis” suggests that time spent on smartphones displaces (or reduces) more meaningful interactions with your lover, weakening the relationship. Roberts call a second theory “Smartphone Conflict Theory .” Simply put, the device is a source of conflict and leads to fighting. Fights, of course, can only serve to undermine your satisfaction with your partner and the relationship.

So what can we take away from all of this? Even if we act like it’s no big deal, it still stings whenever we’re phubbed by our romantic partner. In a sense, our romantic partners are choosing their phone over us.

We probably feel a little less important and the relationship feels a little less secure.


…whatever belief you hold in your subconscious mind will become your reality; whatever you hold predominantly at the back of your subconscious mind, you are attracted to in life.

Since time immemorial, people have been bewildered by the workings of the mind. Great scholars from different fields of study and religious practitioners have done so much work in unravelling the nature and the workings of the mind. Meg Selig defined the mind as ‘…a mysterious and elusive thing…no one knows exactly what the mind is and how the brain creates it’. As a result of the controversies on the nature of the mind, I would say the mind is an enigmatic entity.

You know, it is weird that the mind even exists. How does ‘something as sublime as and unsubstantial as thoughts or consciousness…emerge from 3 pounds of gelatinous pudding inside the skull?’ No one knows. Many people say the mind is created by the brain, even though the mind can operate with some independence from the brain. In fact, the mind can actually change the brain.

Let’s look at how powerful your mind is, let’s compare it with the most sophisticated man-made device ever created; THE COMPUTER. An average computer can hold about 250 000 pictures, 20 000 songs and hundreds of full length videos. Let’s compare this to your mind. Your mind can perform an estimated 10 quadrillion operations per second without us even knowing it. Wild! Ask yourself right now what is making blood flow through your veins with the perfect amount of pressure to keep you alive; what’s making your heart beat right now? Are you consciously commanding your hear to beat right now? No is the answer! What’s doing 6 trillion things to your 60 trillion cells every single second? It is something called the subconscious mind. This is the basic power house to who you are. But of all the things your mind can do, it can’t do one thing and this thing can help you attract good things into your life or can absolutely demolish your health. What is that one thing your mind can’t do? It can’t distinguish between a real event and something you merely think about. Sounds absolutely ridiculous right? What happens when you have a nightmare? You wake up and your heart is pounding, you are sweating and you become anxious beyond words. The nightmare existed in your mind, you weren’t in any real danger at all but your mind didn’t know that. You physiologically reacted as if the nightmare actually took place in reality.

There was a study conducted where a doctor hooked up a lead athlete, a professional skier to a device that measured the athlete’s muscle fibers. He told the skier to merely think about skiing down the hill without moving a muscle. The act of thinking about skiing down the hill actually made the same muscle fibers that would actually fire off if the athlete was skiing fire off; from thought! This has been demonstrated time after time with the PLACEBO EFFECT. Group A suffering from a particular illness gets prescribed a pharmaceutical drugs specifically designed to treat that illness. Group B suffering from the same illness ate sugar pills thinking it was real medication. Both groups got cured. In fact, researchers are suggesting that a minimum of 1/3 of medical treatment including surgery is due to the belief that the surgery is going to be a success, the placebo effect!

Most people don’t realize that there is something called NOCEBO EFFECT. It is practically the opposite of placebo effect. The mind instead of curing illness contributes to illness; that is hypochondriasis- the belief that you are going to develop a disease actually causes them to experience the symptoms of it. Bottom line, whatever belief you hold in your subconscious mind will become your reality; whatever you hold predominantly at the back of your subconscious mind, you are attracted to in life.

So if what you are holding back in your subconscious mind shapes your reality, what shapes your subconscious mind? Practically everything you are exposed to. Everything you see, hear, smell, taste and feel shapes your subconscious mind. What do you listen to on your radio, iPod, phone et cetera? Every single word or thought you hold in your mind has a particular vibrational frequency. Negative word/thought have lower vibrational frequencies and positive words have higher vibrational frequencies.

Our thoughts create us, we have to be extremely careful with what we are feeding our minds. Music can be beautiful and beneficial but can also have a negative impact on your health. Choose wisely! We have an average of 60 000 thoughts a day and the reality is, not only are most of these thoughts the same thoughts we had yesterday but they are negative thoughts. You are either dwelling on something bad in the past or fearing something bad that could happen in the future. The second we have these negative thought, the second we release CORTISOL (stress hormone) into our blood stream. OUR THOUGHTS CREATE US! YOUR THOUGHTS CONTROL YOUR LIFE, YOU ARE THE CREATOR OF EVERYTHING. CHOOSE WISELY!


Jeremy Bennet

‘…gelatinous pudding’. Schwartz, J.M and Begley, S. (2002). The Mind and the Brain. NY: Harper Collins, p.21

‘…a mysterious and elusive thing…’ Meg Selig.