One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1 Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23 However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g., vocabulary),5 or include a significant motor component (e.g., pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22 This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g., laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24 Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
A Dual Task Procedure Combined with Rapid Serial Visual Presentation to Test Attentional Blink for Nontargets
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
When viewers search for targets in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream, if two targets are presented within about 500 msec of each other, the first target may be easy to spot but the second is likely to be missed. This phenomenon of attentional blink (AB) has been widely studied to probe the temporal capacity of attention for detecting visual targets. However, with the typical procedure of AB experiments, it is not possible to examine how the processing of non-target items in RSVP may be affected by attention. This paper describes a novel dual task procedure combined with RSVP to test effects of AB for nontargets at varied stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs). In an exemplar experiment, a target category was first displayed, followed by a sequence of 8 nouns. If one of the nouns belonged to the target category, participants would respond ‘yes’ at the end of the sequence, otherwise participants would respond ‘no’. Two 2-alternative forced choice memory tasks followed the response to determine if participants remembered the words immediately before or after the target, as well as a random word from another part of the sequence. In a second exemplar experiment, the same design was used, except that 1) the memory task was counterbalanced into two groups with SOAs of either 120 or 240 msec and 2) three memory tasks followed the sequence and tested remembrance for nontarget nouns in the sequence that could be anywhere from 3 items prior the target noun position to 3 items following the target noun position. Representative results from a previously published study demonstrate that our procedure can be used to examine divergent effects of attention that not only enhance targets but also suppress nontargets. Here we show results from a representative participant that replicated the previous finding.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dual task, attentional blink, RSVP, target detection, recognition, visual psychophysics
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
Using Eye Movements to Evaluate the Cognitive Processes Involved in Text Comprehension
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
The present article describes how to use eye tracking methodologies to study the cognitive processes involved in text comprehension. Measuring eye movements during reading is one of the most precise methods for measuring moment-by-moment (online) processing demands during text comprehension. Cognitive processing demands are reflected by several aspects of eye movement behavior, such as fixation duration, number of fixations, and number of regressions (returning to prior parts of a text). Important properties of eye tracking equipment that researchers need to consider are described, including how frequently the eye position is measured (sampling rate), accuracy of determining eye position, how much head movement is allowed, and ease of use. Also described are properties of stimuli that influence eye movements that need to be controlled in studies of text comprehension, such as the position, frequency, and length of target words. Procedural recommendations related to preparing the participant, setting up and calibrating the equipment, and running a study are given. Representative results are presented to illustrate how data can be evaluated. Although the methodology is described in terms of reading comprehension, much of the information presented can be applied to any study in which participants read verbal stimuli.
Behavior, Issue 83, Eye movements, Eye tracking, Text comprehension, Reading, Cognition
Contextual and Cued Fear Conditioning Test Using a Video Analyzing System in Mice
Institutions: Fujita Health University, Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST), National Institutes of Natural Sciences.
The contextual and cued fear conditioning test is one of the behavioral tests that assesses the ability of mice to learn and remember an association between environmental cues and aversive experiences. In this test, mice are placed into a conditioning chamber and are given parings of a conditioned stimulus (an auditory cue) and an aversive unconditioned stimulus (an electric footshock). After a delay time, the mice are exposed to the same conditioning chamber and a differently shaped chamber with presentation of the auditory cue. Freezing behavior during the test is measured as an index of fear memory. To analyze the behavior automatically, we have developed a video analyzing system using the ImageFZ application software program, which is available as a free download at http://www.mouse-phenotype.org/. Here, to show the details of our protocol, we demonstrate our procedure for the contextual and cued fear conditioning test in C57BL/6J mice using the ImageFZ system. In addition, we validated our protocol and the video analyzing system performance by comparing freezing time measured by the ImageFZ system or a photobeam-based computer measurement system with that scored by a human observer. As shown in our representative results, the data obtained by ImageFZ were similar to those analyzed by a human observer, indicating that the behavioral analysis using the ImageFZ system is highly reliable. The present movie article provides detailed information regarding the test procedures and will promote understanding of the experimental situation.
Behavior, Issue 85, Fear, Learning, Memory, ImageFZ program, Mouse, contextual fear, cued fear
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
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
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
Appetitive Associative Olfactory Learning in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Konstanz, University of Fribourg.
In the following we describe the methodological details of appetitive associative olfactory learning in Drosophila
larvae. The setup, in combination with genetic interference, provides a handle to analyze the neuronal and molecular fundamentals of specifically associative
learning in a simple larval brain.
Organisms can use past experience to adjust present behavior. Such acquisition of behavioral potential can be defined as learning, and the physical bases of these potentials as memory traces1-4
. Neuroscientists try to understand how these processes are organized in terms of molecular and neuronal changes in the brain by using a variety of methods in model organisms ranging from insects to vertebrates5,6
. For such endeavors it is helpful to use model systems that are simple and experimentally accessible. The Drosophila
larva has turned out to satisfy these demands based on the availability of robust behavioral assays, the existence of a variety of transgenic techniques and the elementary organization of the nervous system comprising only about 10,000 neurons (albeit with some concessions: cognitive limitations, few behavioral options, and richness of experience questionable)7-10
larvae can form associations between odors and appetitive gustatory reinforcement like sugar11-14
. In a standard assay, established in the lab of B. Gerber, animals receive a two-odor reciprocal training: A first group of larvae is exposed to an odor A together with a gustatory reinforcer (sugar reward) and is subsequently exposed to an odor B without reinforcement 9
. Meanwhile a second group of larvae receives reciprocal training while experiencing odor A without reinforcement and subsequently being exposed to odor B with reinforcement (sugar reward). In the following both groups are tested for their preference between the two odors. Relatively higher preferences for the rewarded odor reflect associative learning - presented as a performance index (PI). The conclusion regarding the associative nature of the performance index is compelling, because apart from the contingency between odors and tastants, other parameters, such as odor and reward exposure, passage of time and handling do not differ between the two groups9
Neuroscience, Issue 72, Developmental Biology, Neurobiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Behavior, Drosophila, fruit fly, larvae, instar, olfaction, olfactory system, odor, 1-octanol, OCT, learning, reward, sugar, feeding, animal model
Investigating the Neural Mechanisms of Aware and Unaware Fear Memory with fMRI
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Pavlovian fear conditioning is often used in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in humans to investigate the neural substrates of associative learning 1-5
. In these studies, it is important to provide behavioral evidence of conditioning to verify that differences in brain activity are learning-related and correlated with human behavior.
Fear conditioning studies often monitor autonomic responses (e.g. skin conductance response; SCR) as an index of learning and memory 6-8
. In addition, other behavioral measures can provide valuable information about the learning process and/or other cognitive functions that influence conditioning. For example, the impact unconditioned stimulus (UCS) expectancies have on the expression of the conditioned response (CR) and unconditioned response (UCR) has been a topic of interest in several recent studies 9-14
. SCR and UCS expectancy measures have recently been used in conjunction with fMRI to investigate the neural substrates of aware and unaware fear learning and memory processes 15
. Although these cognitive processes can be evaluated to some degree following the conditioning session, post-conditioning assessments cannot measure expectations on a trial-to-trial basis and are susceptible to interference and forgetting, as well as other factors that may distort results 16,17
Monitoring autonomic and behavioral responses simultaneously with fMRI provides a mechanism by which the neural substrates that mediate complex relationships between cognitive processes and behavioral/autonomic responses can be assessed. However, monitoring autonomic and behavioral responses in the MRI environment poses a number of practical problems. Specifically, 1) standard behavioral and physiological monitoring equipment is constructed of ferrous material that cannot be safely used near the MRI scanner, 2) when this equipment is placed outside of the MRI scanning chamber, the cables projecting to the subject can carry RF noise that produces artifacts in brain images, 3) artifacts can be produced within the skin conductance signal by switching gradients during scanning, 4) the fMRI signal produced by the motor demands of behavioral responses may need to be distinguished from activity related to the cognitive processes of interest. Each of these issues can be resolved with modifications to the setup of physiological monitoring equipment and additional data analysis procedures. Here we present a methodology to simultaneously monitor autonomic and behavioral responses during fMRI, and demonstrate the use of these methods to investigate aware and unaware memory processes during fear conditioning.
Neuroscience, Issue 56, fMRI, conditioning, learning, memory, fear, contingency awareness, neuroscience, skin conductance
Shallow Water (Paddling) Variants of Water Maze Tests in Mice
Institutions: University of Oxford.
When Richard Morris devised his water maze in 19817
, most behavioral work was done in rats. However, the greater understanding of mouse genetics led to the mouse becoming increasingly important. But researchers found that some strains of mutant mice were prone to problems like passively floating or diving when they were tested in the Morris water maze11
. This was unsurprising considering their natural habitat; rats swim naturally (classically, the "sewer rat"), whereas mice evolved in the dry areas of central Asia.
To overcome these problems, it was considered whether shallow water would be a sufficient stimulus to provide escape motivation for mice. This would also avoid the problems of drying the small creatures with a towel and then putting them in a heated recovery chamber to avoid hypothermia, which is a much more serious problem than with rats; the large ratio of surface area to volume of a mouse makes it particularly vulnerable to rapid heat loss.
Another consideration was whether a more natural escape strategy could be used, to facilitate learning. Since animals that fall into water and swim away from the safety of the shore are unlikely to pass on their genes, animals have evolved a natural tendency to swim to the edge of a body of water. The Morris water maze, however, requires them to swim to a hidden platform towards the center of the maze - exactly opposite to their evolved behavior. Therefore the paddling maze should incorporate escape to the edge of the apparatus. This feature, coupled with the use of relatively non-aversive shallow water, embodies the "Refinement" aspect of the "3 Rs" of Russell and Burch8
Various types of maze design were tried; the common feature was that the water was always shallow (2 cm deep) and escape was via a tube piercing the transparent wall of the apparatus. Other tubes ("false exits") were also placed around the walls but these were blocked off. From the inside of the maze all false exits and the single true exit looked the same. Currently a dodecagonal (12-sided) maze is in use in Oxford, with 12 true/false exits set in the corners. In a recent development a transparent paddling Y-maze has been tested successfully.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Medicine, Psychology, Mice, hippocampus, paddling pool, Alzheimer's, welfare, 3Rs, Morris water maze, paddling Y-maze, Barnes maze, animal model
Combining Computer Game-Based Behavioural Experiments With High-Density EEG and Infrared Gaze Tracking
Institutions: Cornell University, University of Chicago, Manesar, India.
Experimental paradigms are valuable insofar as the timing and other parameters of their stimuli are well specified and controlled, and insofar as they yield data relevant to the cognitive processing that occurs under ecologically valid conditions. These two goals often are at odds, since well controlled stimuli often are too repetitive to sustain subjects' motivation. Studies employing electroencephalography (EEG) are often especially sensitive to this dilemma between ecological validity and experimental control: attaining sufficient signal-to-noise in physiological averages demands large numbers of repeated trials within lengthy recording sessions, limiting the subject pool to individuals with the ability and patience to perform a set task over and over again. This constraint severely limits researchers' ability to investigate younger populations as well as clinical populations associated with heightened anxiety or attentional abnormalities. Even adult, non-clinical subjects may not be able to achieve their typical levels of performance or cognitive engagement: an unmotivated subject for whom an experimental task is little more than a chore is not the same, behaviourally, cognitively, or neurally, as a subject who is intrinsically motivated and engaged with the task. A growing body of literature demonstrates that embedding experiments within video games may provide a way between the horns of this dilemma between experimental control and ecological validity. The narrative of a game provides a more realistic context in which tasks occur, enhancing their ecological validity (Chaytor & Schmitter-Edgecombe, 2003). Moreover, this context provides motivation to complete tasks. In our game, subjects perform various missions to collect resources, fend off pirates, intercept communications or facilitate diplomatic relations. In so doing, they also perform an array of cognitive tasks, including a Posner attention-shifting paradigm (Posner, 1980), a go/no-go test of motor inhibition, a psychophysical motion coherence threshold task, the Embedded Figures Test (Witkin, 1950, 1954) and a theory-of-mind (Wimmer & Perner, 1983) task. The game software automatically registers game stimuli and subjects' actions and responses in a log file, and sends event codes to synchronise with physiological data recorders. Thus the game can be combined with physiological measures such as EEG or fMRI, and with moment-to-moment tracking of gaze. Gaze tracking can verify subjects' compliance with behavioural tasks (e.g. fixation) and overt attention to experimental stimuli, and also physiological arousal as reflected in pupil dilation (Bradley et al.
, 2008). At great enough sampling frequencies, gaze tracking may also help assess covert attention as reflected in microsaccades - eye movements that are too small to foveate a new object, but are as rapid in onset and have the same relationship between angular distance and peak velocity as do saccades that traverse greater distances. The distribution of directions of microsaccades correlates with the (otherwise) covert direction of attention (Hafed & Clark, 2002).
Neuroscience, Issue 46, High-density EEG, ERP, ICA, gaze tracking, computer game, ecological validity
Low-stress Route Learning Using the Lashley III Maze in Mice
Institutions: Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
Many behavior tests designed to assess learning and memory in rodents, particularly mice, rely on visual cues, food and/or water deprivation, or other aversive stimuli to motivate task acquisition. As animals age, sensory modalities deteriorate. For example, many strains of mice develop hearing deficits or cataracts. Changes in the sensory systems required to guide mice during task acquisition present potential confounds in interpreting learning changes in aging animals. Moreover, the use of aversive stimuli to motivate animals to learn tasks is potentially confounding when comparing mice with differential sensitivities to stress. To minimize these types of confounding effects, we have implemented a modified version of the Lashley III maze. This maze relies on route learning, whereby mice learn to navigate a maze via repeated exposure under low stress conditions, e.g. dark phase, no food/water deprivation, until they navigate a path from the start location to a pseudo-home cage with 0 or 1 error(s) on two consecutive trials. We classify this as a low-stress behavior test because it does not rely on aversive stimuli to encourage exploration of the maze and learning of the task. The apparatus consists of a modular start box, a 4-arm maze body, and a goal box. At the end of the goal box is a pseudo-home cage that contains bedding similar to that found in the animal’s home cage and is specific to each animal for the duration of maze testing. It has been demonstrated previously that this pseudo-home cage provides sufficient reward to motivate mice to learn to navigate the maze1
. Here, we present the visualization of the Lashley III maze procedure in the context of evaluating age-related differences in learning and memory in mice along with a comparison of learning behavior in two different background strains of mice. We hope that other investigators interested in evaluating the effects of aging or stress vulnerability in mice will consider this maze an attractive alternative to behavioral tests that involve more stressful learning tasks and/or visual cues.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, mouse, behavior testing, learning, memory, neuroscience, phenotyping, aging
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
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
Using Learning Outcome Measures to assess Doctoral Nursing Education
Institutions: Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Texas Christian University.
Education programs at all levels must be able to demonstrate successful program outcomes. Grades alone do not represent a comprehensive measurement methodology for assessing student learning outcomes at either the course or program level. The development and application of assessment rubrics provides an unequivocal measurement methodology to ensure a quality learning experience by providing a foundation for improvement based on qualitative and quantitatively measurable, aggregate course and program outcomes. Learning outcomes are the embodiment of the total learning experience and should incorporate assessment of both qualitative and quantitative program outcomes. The assessment of qualitative measures represents a challenge for educators in any level of a learning program. Nursing provides a unique challenge and opportunity as it is the application of science through the art of caring. Quantification of desired student learning outcomes may be enhanced through the development of assessment rubrics designed to measure quantitative and qualitative aspects of the nursing education and learning process. They provide a mechanism for uniform assessment by nursing faculty of concepts and constructs that are otherwise difficult to describe and measure. A protocol is presented and applied to a doctoral nursing education program with recommendations for application and transformation of the assessment rubric to other education programs. Through application of these specially designed rubrics, all aspects of an education program can be adequately assessed to provide information for program assessment that facilitates the closure of the gap between desired and actual student learning outcomes for any desired educational competency.
Medicine, Issue 40, learning, outcomes, measurement, program, assessment, rubric
Quantifying Cognitive Decrements Caused by Cranial Radiotherapy
Institutions: University of California Irvine .
With the exception of survival, cognitive impairment stemming from the clinical management of cancer is a major factor dictating therapeutic outcome. For many patients afflicted with CNS and non-CNS malignancies, radiotherapy and chemotherapy offer the best options for disease control. These treatments however come at a cost, and nearly all cancer survivors (~11 million in the US alone as of 2006) incur some risk for developing cognitive dysfunction, with the most severe cases found in patients subjected to cranial radiotherapy (~200,000/yr) for the control of primary and metastatic brain tumors1
. Particularly problematic are pediatric cases, whose long-term survival plagued with marked cognitive decrements results in significant socioeconomic burdens2
. To date, there are still no satisfactory solutions to this significant clinical problem.
We have addressed this serious health concern using transplanted stem cells to combat radiation-induced cognitive decline in athymic rats subjected to cranial irradiation3
. Details of the stereotaxic irradiation and the in vitro culturing and transplantation of human neural stem cells (hNSCs) can be found in our companion paper (Acharya et al., JoVE reference). Following irradiation and transplantation surgery, rats are then assessed for changes in cognition, grafted cell survival and expression of differentiation-specific markers 1 and 4-months after irradiation. To critically evaluate the success or failure of any potential intervention designed to ameliorate radiation-induced cognitive sequelae, a rigorous series of quantitative cognitive tasks must be performed. To accomplish this, we subject our animals to a suite of cognitive testing paradigms including novel place recognition, water maze, elevated plus maze and fear conditioning, in order to quantify hippocampal and non-hippocampal learning and memory. We have demonstrated the utility of these tests for quantifying specific types of cognitive decrements in irradiated animals, and used them to show that animals engrafted with hNSCs exhibit significant improvements in cognitive function3
The cognitive benefits derived from engrafted human stem cells suggest that similar strategies may one day provide much needed clinical recourse to cancer survivors suffering from impaired cognition. Accordingly, we have provided written and visual documentation of the critical steps used in our cognitive testing paradigms to facilitate the translation of our promising results into the clinic.
Medicine, Issue 56, neuroscience, radiotherapy, cognitive dysfunction, hippocampus, novel place recognition, elevated plus maze, fear conditioning, water maze
Demonstration of Cutaneous Allodynia in Association with Chronic Pelvic Pain
Institutions: University of Calgary.
Pelvic pain is a common condition that is associated with dysmenorrhea and endometriosis. In some women the severe episodes of cyclic pain change and the resultant pain becomes continuous and this condition becomes known as Chronic Pelvic Pain. This state can be present even after the appropriate medical or surgical therapy has been instituted. It can be associated with pain and tenderness in the muscles of the abdomen wall and intra-pelvic muscles leading to severe dyspareunia. Additional symptoms of irritable bowel and interstitial cystitis are common. A common sign of the development of this state is the emergence of cutaneous allodynia
which emerges from the so-called viscero-somatic reflex. A simple bedside test for the presence of cutaneous allodynia
is presented that does not require excessive time or special equipment. This test builds on previous work associated with changes in sensation related to gall bladder function and the viscera-somatic reflex(1;2).
The test is undertaken with the subject s permission after an explanation of how the test will be performed. Allodynia
refers to a condition in which a stimulus that is not normally painful is interpreted by the subject as painful. In this instance the light touch associated with a cotton-tipped applicator would not be expected to be painful. A positive test is however noted by the woman as suddenly painful or suddenly sharp. The patterns of this sensation are usually in a discrete pattern of a dermatome of the nerves that innervate the pelvis.
The underlying pathology is now interpreted as evidence of neuroplasticity as a consequence of severe and repeating pain with changes in the functions of the dorsal horns of the spinal cord that results in altered function of visceral tissues and resultant somatic symptoms(3).
The importance of recognizing the condition lies in an awareness that this process may present coincidentally with the initiating condition or after it has been treated. It also permits the clinician to evaluate the situation from the perspective that alternative explanations for the pain may be present that may not require additional surgery.
Medicine, Issue 28, Chronic pelvic pain, cutaneous allodynia, trigger points, dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, dyspareunia