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Top 10 NeuroScientistNews Stories of 2014

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It has been a busy year for the team at NeuroScientistNews. Since our launch in early 2014, we’ve covered the most exciting breakthroughs and discoveries in research and clinical neuroscience. In case you missed our most popular stories the first time around, here they are again:

♦ 10 ♦ Why do people with autism see faces differently?

The way people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) gather information - not the judgement process itself - might explain why they gain different perceptions from peoples' faces, according to a study from Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies and the University of Montreal. "The evaluation of an individual's face is a rapid process that influences our future relationship with the individual," said Baudouin Forgeot d'Arc, lead author of the study. "By studying these judgments, we wanted to better understand how people with ASD use facial features as cues. Do they need more cues to be able to make the same judgment?"

♦ 9 ♦ Link found between depression and abnormal brain response to visceral pain in patients with IBS

High rates of anxiety and depression amongst patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have led many researchers to believe there could be a causal relationship between psychological factors and IBS symptoms. Scientists in Germany have found clear evidence that patients with IBS process pain signals from the gut abnormally, and that disturbed brain responses to pain are particularly pronounced in patients with more depression symptoms.

♦ 8 ♦ How the brain pays attention: Identifying regions of the brain dealing with object-based, spatial attention

Picking out a face in the crowd is a complicated task: Your brain has to retrieve the memory of the face you're seeking, then hold it in place while scanning the crowd, paying special attention to finding a match. A study by MIT neuroscientists reveals how the brain achieves this type of focused attention on faces or other objects: A part of the prefrontal cortex known as the inferior frontal junction (IFJ) controls visual processing areas that are tuned to recognize a specific category of objects.

♦ 7 ♦ Brain representations of social thoughts accurately predict autism diagnosis

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have created brain-reading techniques to use neural representations of social thoughts to predict autism diagnoses with 97% accuracy. This establishes the first biologically based diagnostic tool that measures a person's thoughts to detect the disorder that affects many children and adults worldwide.

♦ 6 ♦ Common anesthetic procedure dramatically improves well being of veterans with PTSD

A single application of a common anesthetic procedure could be the answer to alleviating anxiety, depression and psychological pain in those suffering from chronic, extreme post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the study, researchers followed 12 patients with PTSD who had undergone a simple anesthetic procedure called a stellate ganglion block (SGB). “While it doesn’t cure the problem, we found that SGB appears to be a fast-acting and effective long-term treatment for chronic, extreme PTSD in veterans,” said Michael T. Alkire, M.D., staff anesthesiologist at the Long Beach VA Healthcare System in California.

♦ 5 ♦ Impressions shaped by facial appearance foster biased decisions

People rely on subtle and arbitrary facial traits to make important decisions, from voting for a political candidate to convicting a suspect for a crime, according to an article in Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Referring to this systemic bias as "face-ism," the authors present its real-world consequences and discuss potential ways of overcoming it.

♦ 4 ♦ Positive, negative thinkers' brains revealed

The ability to stay positive when times get tough -- and, conversely, of being negative -- may be hardwired in the brain, finds research led by a Michigan State University psychologist. The study is the first to provide biological evidence validating the idea that there are, in fact, positive and negative people in the world.

♦ 3 ♦ Myth-conceptions: How myths about the brain are hampering teaching

Researchers presented teachers in the UK, Holland, Turkey, Greece and China with seven so-called ‘neuromyths’ and asked whether they believe them to be true. The report blames wishfulness, anxiety and a bias towards simple explanations as typical factors that distort neuroscientific fact into neuromyth. Such factors also appear to be hampering recent efforts of neuroscientists to communicate the true meaning of their work to educators.

♦ 2 ♦ Mindfulness treatment as effective as CBT for depression and anxiety

Group mindfulness treatment is as effective as individual cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in patients with depression and anxiety, according to a study from Lund University in Sweden and Region Skåne. This is the first randomized study to compare group mindfulness treatment and individual cognitive behavioral therapy in patients with depression and anxiety in primary health care.

♦ 1 ♦ A new test measures analytical thinking linked to depression, fueling the idea that depression may be a form of adaptation

A group of researchers studying the roots of depression has developed a test to measure analytical thinking and rumination that are hallmarks of the condition, leading them closer to the idea that depression may actually be an adaptation meant to help people cope with complex problems such as chronic illnesses or marriage breakups.