Cognitive impairments affect the majority of patients with schizophrenia and these impairments predict poor long term psychosocial outcomes. Treatment studies aimed at cognitive impairment in patients with schizophrenia not only require demonstration of improvements on cognitive tests, but also evidence that any cognitive changes lead to clinically meaningful improvements. Measures of “functional capacity” index the extent to which individuals have the potential to perform skills required for real world functioning. Current data do not support the recommendation of any single instrument for measurement of functional capacity. The Virtual Reality Functional Capacity Assessment Tool (VRFCAT) is a novel, interactive gaming based measure of functional capacity that uses a realistic simulated environment to recreate routine activities of daily living. Studies are currently underway to evaluate and establish the VRFCAT’s sensitivity, reliability, validity, and practicality. This new measure of functional capacity is practical, relevant, easy to use, and has several features that improve validity and sensitivity of measurement of function in clinical trials of patients with CNS disorders.
19 Related JoVE Articles!
An Alternative to the Traditional Cold Pressor Test: The Cold Pressor Arm Wrap
Institutions: Marquette University.
Recently research on the relationship between stress and cognition, emotion, and behavior has greatly increased. These advances have yielded insights into important questions ranging from the nature of stress' influence on addiction1
to the role of stress in neural changes associated with alterations in decision-making2,3
. As topics being examined by the field evolve, however, so too must the methodologies involved. In this article a practical and effective alternative to a classic stress induction technique, the cold pressor test (CPT), is presented: the cold pressor arm wrap (CPAW). CPT typically involves immersion of a participant's dominant hand in ice-cold water for a period of time4
. The technique is associated with robust activation of the sympatho-adrenomedullary (SAM) axis (and release of catecholamines; e.g.
adrenaline and noradrenaline) and mild-to-moderate activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis with associated glucocorticoid (e.g.
cortisol) release. While CPT has been used in a wide range of studies, it can be impractical to apply in some research environments. For example use of water during, rather than prior to, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has the potential to damage sensitive and expensive equipment or interfere with acquisition of MRI signal. The CPAW is a practical and effective alternative to the traditional CPT. Composed of a versatile list of inexpensive and easily acquired components, CPAW makes use of MRI-safe gelpacs cooled to a temperature similar to CPT rather than actual water. Importantly CPAW is associated with levels of SAM and HPA activation comparable to CPT, and can easily be applied in a variety of research contexts. While it is important to maintain specific safety protocols when using the technique, these are easy to implement if planned for. Creation and use of the CPAW will be discussed.
Behavior, Issue 83, Sympathetic Nervous System, Glucocorticoids, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Neuroimaging, Functional Neuroimaging, Cognitive Science, Stress, Neurosciences, cold pressor, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, cortisol, sympatho-adrenomedullary axis, skin conductance
Development of an Audio-based Virtual Gaming Environment to Assist with Navigation Skills in the Blind
Institutions: Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, University of Chile .
Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES) is virtual environment software designed to improve real world navigation skills in the blind. Using only audio based cues and set within the context of a video game metaphor, users gather relevant spatial information regarding a building's layout. This allows the user to develop an accurate spatial cognitive map of a large-scale three-dimensional space that can be manipulated for the purposes of a real indoor navigation task. After game play, participants are then assessed on their ability to navigate within the target physical building represented in the game. Preliminary results suggest that early blind users were able to acquire relevant information regarding the spatial layout of a previously unfamiliar building as indexed by their performance on a series of navigation tasks. These tasks included path finding through the virtual and physical building, as well as a series of drop off tasks. We find that the immersive and highly interactive nature of the AbES software appears to greatly engage the blind user to actively explore the virtual environment. Applications of this approach may extend to larger populations of visually impaired individuals.
Medicine, Issue 73, Behavior, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurobiology, Ophthalmology, Psychology, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Technology, Industry, virtual environments, action video games, blind, audio, rehabilitation, indoor navigation, spatial cognitive map, Audio-based Environment Simulator, virtual reality, cognitive psychology, clinical techniques
Getting to Compliance in Forced Exercise in Rodents: A Critical Standard to Evaluate Exercise Impact in Aging-related Disorders and Disease
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
There is a major increase in the awareness of the positive impact of exercise on improving several disease states with neurobiological basis; these include improving cognitive function and physical performance. As a result, there is an increase in the number of animal studies employing exercise. It is argued that one intrinsic value of forced exercise is that the investigator has control over the factors that can influence the impact of exercise on behavioral outcomes, notably exercise frequency, duration, and intensity of the exercise regimen. However, compliance in forced exercise regimens may be an issue, particularly if potential confounds of employing foot-shock are to be avoided. It is also important to consider that since most cognitive and locomotor impairments strike in the aged individual, determining impact of exercise on these impairments should consider using aged rodents with a highest possible level of compliance to ensure minimal need for test subjects. Here, the pertinent steps and considerations necessary to achieve nearly 100% compliance to treadmill exercise in an aged rodent model will be presented and discussed. Notwithstanding the particular exercise regimen being employed by the investigator, our protocol should be of use to investigators that are particularly interested in the potential impact of forced exercise on aging-related impairments, including aging-related Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease.
Behavior, Issue 90, Exercise, locomotor, Parkinson’s disease, aging, treadmill, bradykinesia, Parkinsonism
MPI CyberMotion Simulator: Implementation of a Novel Motion Simulator to Investigate Multisensory Path Integration in Three Dimensions
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Collège de France - CNRS, Korea University.
Path integration is a process in which self-motion is integrated over time to obtain an estimate of one's current position relative to a starting point 1
. Humans can do path integration based exclusively on visual 2-3
, auditory 4
, or inertial cues 5
. However, with multiple cues present, inertial cues - particularly kinaesthetic - seem to dominate 6-7
. In the absence of vision, humans tend to overestimate short distances (<5 m) and turning angles (<30°), but underestimate longer ones 5
. Movement through physical space therefore does not seem to be accurately represented by the brain.
Extensive work has been done on evaluating path integration in the horizontal plane, but little is known about vertical movement (see 3
for virtual movement from vision alone). One reason for this is that traditional motion simulators have a small range of motion restricted mainly to the horizontal plane. Here we take advantage of a motion simulator 8-9
with a large range of motion to assess whether path integration is similar between horizontal and vertical planes. The relative contributions of inertial and visual cues for path navigation were also assessed.
16 observers sat upright in a seat mounted to the flange of a modified KUKA anthropomorphic robot arm. Sensory information was manipulated by providing visual (optic flow, limited lifetime star field), vestibular-kinaesthetic (passive self motion with eyes closed), or visual and vestibular-kinaesthetic motion cues. Movement trajectories in the horizontal, sagittal and frontal planes consisted of two segment lengths (1st: 0.4 m, 2nd: 1 m; ±0.24 m/s2
peak acceleration). The angle of the two segments was either 45° or 90°. Observers pointed back to their origin by moving an arrow that was superimposed on an avatar presented on the screen.
Observers were more likely to underestimate angle size for movement in the horizontal plane compared to the vertical planes. In the frontal plane observers were more likely to overestimate angle size while there was no such bias in the sagittal plane. Finally, observers responded slower when answering based on vestibular-kinaesthetic information alone. Human path integration based on vestibular-kinaesthetic information alone thus takes longer than when visual information is present. That pointing is consistent with underestimating and overestimating the angle one has moved through in the horizontal and vertical planes respectively, suggests that the neural representation of self-motion through space is non-symmetrical which may relate to the fact that humans experience movement mostly within the horizontal plane.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, Motion simulator, multisensory integration, path integration, space perception, vestibular, vision, robotics, cybernetics
The Trier Social Stress Test Protocol for Inducing Psychological Stress
Institutions: Northern Arizona University.
This article demonstrates a psychological stress protocol for use in a laboratory setting. Protocols that allow researchers to study the biological pathways of the stress response in health and disease are fundamental to the progress of research in stress and anxiety.1
Although numerous protocols exist for inducing stress response in the laboratory, many neglect to provide a naturalistic context or to incorporate aspects of social and psychological stress. Of psychological stress protocols, meta-analysis suggests that the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) is the most useful and appropriate standardized protocol for studies of stress hormone reactivity.2
In the original description of the TSST, researchers sought to design and evaluate a procedure capable of inducing a reliable stress response in the majority of healthy volunteers.3
These researchers found elevations in heart rate, blood pressure and several endocrine stress markers in response to the TSST (a psychological stressor) compared to a saline injection (a physical stressor).3
Although the TSST has been modified to meet the needs of various research groups, it generally consists of a waiting period upon arrival, anticipatory speech preparation, speech performance, and verbal arithmetic performance periods, followed by one or more recovery periods. The TSST requires participants to prepare and deliver a speech, and verbally respond to a challenging arithmetic problem in the presence of a socially evaluative audience.3
Social evaluation and uncontrollability have been identified as key components of stress induction by the TSST.4
In use for over a decade, the goal of the TSST is to systematically induce a stress response in order to measure differences in reactivity, anxiety and activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) or sympathetic-adrenal-medullary (SAM) axis during the task.1
Researchers generally assess changes in self-reported anxiety, physiological measures (e.g. heart rate), and/or neuroendocrine indices (e.g. the stress hormone cortisol) in response to the TSST. Many investigators have adopted salivary sampling for stress markers such as cortisol and alpha-amylase (a marker of autonomic nervous system activation) as an alternative to blood sampling to reduce the confounding stress of blood-collection techniques. In addition to changes experienced by an individual completing the TSST, researchers can compare changes between different treatment groups (e.g. clinical versus healthy control samples) or the effectiveness of stress-reducing interventions.1
Medicine, Issue 56, Stress, anxiety, laboratory stressor, cortisol, physiological response, psychological stressor
Yeast Luminometric and Xenopus Oocyte Electrophysiological Examinations of the Molecular Mechanosensitivity of TRPV4
Institutions: University of Wisconsin – Madison, University of Wisconsin – Madison.
TRPV4 (Transient Receptor Potentials, vanilloid family, type 4) is widely expressed in vertebrate tissues and is activated by several stimuli, including by mechanical forces. Certain TRPV4 mutations cause complex hereditary bone or neuronal pathologies in human. Wild-type or mutant TRPV4 transgenes are commonly expressed in cultured mammalian cells and examined by Fura-2 fluorometry and by electrodes. In terms of the mechanism of mechanosensitivity and the molecular bases of the diseases, the current literature is confusing and controversial. To complement existing methods, we describe two additional methods to examine the molecular properties of TRPV4. (1) Rat TRPV4 and an aequorin transgene are transformed into budding yeast. A hypo-osmtic shock of the transformant population yields a luminometric signal due to the combination of aequorin with Ca2+
, released through the TRPV4 channel. Here TRPV4 is isolated from its usual mammalian partner proteins and reveals its own mechanosensitivity. (2) cRNA of TRPV4 is injected into Xenopus oocytes. After a suitable period of incubation, the macroscopic TRPV4 current is examined with a two-electrode voltage clamp. The current rise upon removal of inert osmoticum from the oocyte bath is indicative of mechanosensitivity. The microAmpere (10-6
A) currents from oocytes are much larger than the subnano- to nanoAmpere (10-10
A) currents from cultured cells, yielding clearer quantifications and more confident assessments. Microscopic currents reflecting the activities of individual channel proteins can also be directly registered under a patch clamp, in on-cell or excised mode. The same oocyte provides multiple patch samples, allowing better data replication. Suctions applied to the patches can activate TRPV4 to directly assess mechanosensitivity. These methods should also be useful in the study of other types of TRP channels.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Life Sciences (General), Mechanosensation, Ion channels, Lipids, patch clamp, Xenopus Oocytes, yeast, luminometry, force sensing, voltage clamp, TRPV4, electrophysiology
Assessment of Age-related Changes in Cognitive Functions Using EmoCogMeter, a Novel Tablet-computer Based Approach
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin, Charité Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich.
The main goal of this study was to assess the usability of a tablet-computer-based application (EmoCogMeter) in investigating the effects of age on cognitive functions across the lifespan in a sample of 378 healthy subjects (age range 18-89 years). Consistent with previous findings we found an age-related cognitive decline across a wide range of neuropsychological domains (memory, attention, executive functions), thereby proving the usability of our tablet-based application. Regardless of prior computer experience, subjects of all age groups were able to perform the tasks without instruction or feedback from an experimenter. Increased motivation and compliance proved to be beneficial for task performance, thereby potentially increasing the validity of the results. Our promising findings underline the great clinical and practical potential of a tablet-based application for detection and monitoring of cognitive dysfunction.
Behavior, Issue 84, Neuropsychological Testing, cognitive decline, age, tablet-computer, memory, attention, executive functions
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Measuring Attentional Biases for Threat in Children and Adults
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Investigators have long been interested in the human propensity for the rapid detection of threatening stimuli. However, until recently, research in this domain has focused almost exclusively on adult participants, completely ignoring the topic of threat detection over the course of development. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of developmental work in this area is likely the absence of a reliable paradigm that can measure perceptual biases for threat in children. To address this issue, we recently designed a modified visual search paradigm similar to the standard adult paradigm that is appropriate for studying threat detection in preschool-aged participants. Here we describe this new procedure. In the general paradigm, we present participants with matrices of color photographs, and ask them to find and touch a target on the screen. Latency to touch the target is recorded. Using a touch-screen monitor makes the procedure simple and easy, allowing us to collect data in participants ranging from 3 years of age to adults. Thus far, the paradigm has consistently shown that both adults and children detect threatening stimuli (e.g.,
snakes, spiders, angry/fearful faces) more quickly than neutral stimuli (e.g.,
flowers, mushrooms, happy/neutral faces). Altogether, this procedure provides an important new tool for researchers interested in studying the development of attentional biases for threat.
Behavior, Issue 92, Detection, threat, attention, attentional bias, anxiety, visual search
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Investigating Causal Brain-behavioral Relationships and their Time Course
Institutions: University College London.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a safe, non-invasive brain stimulation technique that uses a strong electromagnet in order to temporarily disrupt information processing in a brain region, generating a short-lived “virtual lesion.” Stimulation that interferes with task performance indicates that the affected brain region is necessary to perform the task normally. In other words, unlike neuroimaging methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that indicate correlations between brain and behavior, TMS can be used to demonstrate causal brain-behavior relations. Furthermore, by varying the duration and onset of the virtual lesion, TMS can also reveal the time course of normal processing. As a result, TMS has become an important tool in cognitive neuroscience. Advantages of the technique over lesion-deficit studies include better spatial-temporal precision of the disruption effect, the ability to use participants as their own control subjects, and the accessibility of participants. Limitations include concurrent auditory and somatosensory stimulation that may influence task performance, limited access to structures more than a few centimeters from the surface of the scalp, and the relatively large space of free parameters that need to be optimized in order for the experiment to work. Experimental designs that give careful consideration to appropriate control conditions help to address these concerns. This article illustrates these issues with TMS results that investigate the spatial and temporal contributions of the left supramarginal gyrus (SMG) to reading.
Behavior, Issue 89,
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, virtual lesion, chronometric, cognition, brain, behavior
Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e.
, “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g.
, neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g
., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91,
Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
Flat-floored Air-lifted Platform: A New Method for Combining Behavior with Microscopy or Electrophysiology on Awake Freely Moving Rodents
Institutions: University of Helsinki, Neurotar LTD, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of general anesthetics can undermine the relevance of electrophysiological or microscopical data obtained from a living animal’s brain. Moreover, the lengthy recovery from anesthesia limits the frequency of repeated recording/imaging episodes in longitudinal studies. Hence, new methods that would allow stable recordings from non-anesthetized behaving mice are expected to advance the fields of cellular and cognitive neurosciences. Existing solutions range from mere physical restraint to more sophisticated approaches, such as linear and spherical treadmills used in combination with computer-generated virtual reality. Here, a novel method is described where a head-fixed mouse can move around an air-lifted mobile homecage and explore its environment under stress-free conditions. This method allows researchers to perform behavioral tests (e.g.
, learning, habituation or novel object recognition) simultaneously with two-photon microscopic imaging and/or patch-clamp recordings, all combined in a single experiment. This video-article describes the use of the awake animal head fixation device (mobile homecage), demonstrates the procedures of animal habituation, and exemplifies a number of possible applications of the method.
Empty Value, Issue 88, awake, in vivo two-photon microscopy, blood vessels, dendrites, dendritic spines, Ca2+ imaging, intrinsic optical imaging, patch-clamp
Quantitative Autonomic Testing
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Disorders associated with dysfunction of autonomic nervous system are quite common yet frequently unrecognized. Quantitative autonomic testing can be invaluable tool for evaluation of these disorders, both in clinic and research. There are number of autonomic tests, however, only few were validated clinically or are quantitative. Here, fully quantitative and clinically validated protocol for testing of autonomic functions is presented. As a bare minimum the clinical autonomic laboratory should have a tilt table, ECG monitor, continuous noninvasive blood pressure monitor, respiratory monitor and a mean for evaluation of sudomotor domain. The software for recording and evaluation of autonomic tests is critical for correct evaluation of data. The presented protocol evaluates 3 major autonomic domains: cardiovagal, adrenergic and sudomotor. The tests include deep breathing, Valsalva maneuver, head-up tilt, and quantitative sudomotor axon test (QSART). The severity and distribution of dysautonomia is quantitated using Composite Autonomic Severity Scores (CASS). Detailed protocol is provided highlighting essential aspects of testing with emphasis on proper data acquisition, obtaining the relevant parameters and unbiased evaluation of autonomic signals. The normative data and CASS algorithm for interpretation of results are provided as well.
Medicine, Issue 53, Deep breathing, Valsalva maneuver, tilt test, sudomotor testing, Composite Autonomic Severity Score, CASS
The Resident-intruder Paradigm: A Standardized Test for Aggression, Violence and Social Stress
Institutions: University Groningen, Radboud University Nijmegen.
This video publication explains in detail the experimental protocol of the resident-intruder paradigm in rats. This test is a standardized method to measure offensive aggression and defensive behavior in a semi natural setting. The most important behavioral elements performed by the resident and the intruder are demonstrated in the video and illustrated using artistic drawings. The use of the resident intruder paradigm for acute and chronic social stress experiments is explained as well. Finally, some brief tests and criteria are presented to distinguish aggression from its more violent and pathological forms.
Behavior, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Basic Protocols, Psychology, offensive aggression, defensive behavior, aggressive behavior, pathological, violence, social stress, rat, Wistar rat, animal model
The Successive Alleys Test of Anxiety in Mice and Rats
Institutions: University of Oxford.
The plus-maze was derived from the early work of Montgomery. He observed that rats tended to avoid the open arms of a maze, preferring the enclosed ones. Handley, Mithani and File et al.
performed the first studies on the plus-maze design we use today, and in 1987 Lister published a design for use with mice.
Time spent on, and entries into, the open arms are an index of anxiety; the lower these indices, the more anxious the mouse is. Alternatively, a mouse that spends most of its time in the closed arms is classed as anxious.
One of the problems of the plus-maze is that, while time spent on, and entries into, the open arms is a fairly unambiguous measure of anxiety, time in the central area is more difficult to interpret, although time spent here has been classified as “decision making”. In many tests central area time is a considerable part of the total test time.
Shepherd et al.
produced an ingenious design to eliminate the central area, which they called the “zero maze”. However, although used by several groups, it has never been as widely adopted as the plus-maze.
In the present article I describe a modification of the plus-maze design that not only eliminates the central area but also incorporates elements from other anxiety tests, such as the light-dark box and emergence tests. It is a linear series of four alleys, each having increasing anxiogenic properties. It has given similar results to the plus-maze in general. Although it may not be more sensitive than the plus-maze (more data is needed before a firm conclusion can be reached on this point), it provides a useful confirmation of plus-maze results which would be useful when, for example, only a single example of a mutant mouse was available, as, for example, in ENU-based mutagenesis programs.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Medicine, Psychology, Mice, rats, anxiety-like behaviour, plus-maze, behaviour, prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, medial septum, successive alleys, animal model
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Observing Virtual Social Interactions
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Illinois, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The ability to gauge social interactions is crucial in the assessment of others’ intentions. Factors such as facial expressions and body language affect our decisions in personal and professional life alike 1
. These "friend or foe
" judgements are often based on first impressions, which in turn may affect our decisions to "approach or avoid
". Previous studies investigating the neural correlates of social cognition tended to use static facial stimuli 2
. Here, we illustrate an experimental design in which whole-body animated characters were used in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recordings. Fifteen participants were presented with short movie-clips of guest-host interactions in a business setting, while fMRI data were recorded; at the end of each movie, participants also provided ratings of the host behaviour. This design mimics more closely real-life situations, and hence may contribute to better understanding of the neural mechanisms of social interactions in healthy behaviour, and to gaining insight into possible causes of deficits in social behaviour in such clinical conditions as social anxiety and autism 3
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Social Perception, Social Knowledge, Social Cognition Network, Non-Verbal Communication, Decision-Making, Event-Related fMRI
Hyponeophagia: A Measure of Anxiety in the Mouse
Institutions: University of Oxford.
Before the present day, when fast-acting and potent rodenticides such as alpha-chloralose were not yet in use, the work of pest controllers was often hampered by a phenomenon known as "bait shyness". Mice and rats cannot vomit, due to the tightness of the cardiac sphincter of the stomach, so to overcome the problem of potential food toxicity they have evolved a strategy of first ingesting only very small amounts of novel substances. The amounts ingested then gradually increase until the animal has determined whether the substance is safe and nutritious. So the old rat-catchers would first put a palatable substance such as oatmeal, which was to be the vehicle for the toxin, in the infested area. Only when large amounts were being readily consumed would they then add the poison, in amounts calculated not to affect the taste of the vehicle. The poisoned bait, which the animals were now readily eating in large amounts, would then swiftly perform its function.
Bait shyness is now used in the behavioural laboratory as a way of measuring anxiety. A highly palatable but novel substance, such as sweet corn, nuts or sweetened condensed milk, is offered to the mice (or rats) in a novel situation, such as a new cage. The latency to consume a defined amount of the new food is then measured.
Robert M.J. Deacon can be reach at email@example.com
Neuroscience, Issue 51, Anxiety, hyponeophagia, bait shyness, mice, hippocampus, strain differences, plus-maze
Human Fear Conditioning Conducted in Full Immersion 3-Dimensional Virtual Reality
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
Fear conditioning is a widely used paradigm in non-human animal research to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying fear and anxiety. A major challenge in conducting conditioning studies in humans is the ability to strongly manipulate or simulate the environmental contexts that are associated with conditioned emotional behaviors. In this regard, virtual reality (VR) technology is a promising tool. Yet, adapting this technology to meet experimental constraints requires special accommodations. Here we address the methodological issues involved when conducting fear conditioning in a fully immersive 6-sided VR environment and present fear conditioning data.
In the real world, traumatic events occur in complex environments that are made up of many cues, engaging all of our sensory modalities. For example, cues that form the environmental configuration include not only visual elements, but aural, olfactory, and even tactile. In rodent studies of fear conditioning animals are fully immersed in a context that is rich with novel visual, tactile and olfactory cues. However, standard laboratory tests of fear conditioning in humans are typically conducted in a nondescript room in front of a flat or 2D computer screen and do not replicate the complexity of real world experiences. On the other hand, a major limitation of clinical studies aimed at reducing (extinguishing) fear and preventing relapse in anxiety disorders is that treatment occurs after participants have acquired a fear in an uncontrolled and largely unknown context. Thus the experimenters are left without information about the duration of exposure, the true nature of the stimulus, and associated background cues in the environment1
. In the absence of this information it can be difficult to truly extinguish a fear that is both cue and context-dependent. Virtual reality environments address these issues by providing the complexity of the real world, and at the same time allowing experimenters to constrain fear conditioning and extinction parameters to yield empirical data that can suggest better treatment options and/or analyze mechanistic hypotheses.
In order to test the hypothesis that fear conditioning may be richly encoded and context specific when conducted in a fully immersive environment, we developed distinct virtual reality 3-D contexts in which participants experienced fear conditioning to virtual snakes or spiders. Auditory cues co-occurred with the CS in order to further evoke orienting responses and a feeling of "presence" in subjects 2
. Skin conductance response served as the dependent measure of fear acquisition, memory retention and extinction.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 42, fear conditioning, virtual reality, human memory, skin conductance response, context learning
The use of Biofeedback in Clinical Virtual Reality: The INTREPID Project
Institutions: Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a constant and unspecific anxiety that interferes with daily-life activities. Its high prevalence in general population and the severe limitations it causes, point out the necessity to find new efficient strategies to treat it. Together with the cognitive-behavioral treatments, relaxation represents a useful approach for the treatment of GAD, but it has the limitation that it is hard to be learned. The INTREPID project is aimed to implement a new instrument to treat anxiety-related disorders and to test its clinical efficacy in reducing anxiety-related symptoms. The innovation of this approach is the combination of virtual reality and biofeedback, so that the first one is directly modified by the output of the second one. In this way, the patient is made aware of his or her reactions through the modification of some features of the VR environment in real time. Using mental exercises the patient learns to control these physiological parameters and using the feedback provided by the virtual environment is able to gauge his or her success. The supplemental use of portable devices, such as PDA or smart-phones, allows the patient to perform at home, individually and autonomously, the same exercises experienced in therapist's office. The goal is to anchor the learned protocol in a real life context, so enhancing the patients' ability to deal with their symptoms. The expected result is a better and faster learning of relaxation techniques, and thus an increased effectiveness of the treatment if compared with traditional clinical protocols.
Neuroscience, Issue 33, virtual reality, biofeedback, generalized anxiety disorder, Intrepid, cybertherapy, cyberpsychology