Public Release: 

SPR Annual Meeting features newsworthy discoveries

Association for Psychological Science

The 43rd annual meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR) will be October 29 - November 2, 2003 in Chicago, Illinois. The meeting is being held at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 East Wacker Drive.

SPR's annual meeting is widely regarded as a leading forum for presentations on cutting-edge research on the connections between the physiological and psychological aspects of behavior. The program features original research in behavioral genetics, neuroscience, visual and audio perception, emotion, cognition, personality, human development, and psychopathology, to name just some of the areas that will be represented. Approximately 400 scientists are expected to attend.

The hallmark of this highly international, highly interdisciplinary meeting is research aimed at increasing our scientific understanding of such issues as: the physical symptoms of stress; gender differences; parent-child relationships; the origins and manifestations of mental illness; how people think, learn and remember; and the links between social and biological development, among other topics.

To further illustrate the range of issues that will be discussed and the relevance of this research to everyday life, a list of selected presentations appears at the end of this press release. Please contact SPR if you are interested in receiving further information on these topics, or if you would like to interview the scientists who will be presenting their research. Abstracts of all presentations at the meeting are published in the August supplement of the journal Psychophysiology, available through the SPR office. Media representatives receive complimentary registration. For copies of the Psychophysiology supplement or to register, please contact the SPR office at (202) 393-4810.

Founded in 1960, SPR is an international scientific society with worldwide membership. The purpose of the Society is to foster research on the interrelationships between the physiological and psychological aspects of behavior. To promote this purpose, the Society publishes scientific literature, including the journal Psychophysiology, and holds annual meetings for presentation and discussion of original theory and research, instrumentation and methodology, and new directions and standards in the field.

Additional information on SPR and the upcoming meeting is available online at

Selected Presentations from the Upcoming SPR Annual Meeting

The Status of the Thought-Translation-Device (TTD)
-- Niels Birbaumer & Jonathan R. Wolpaw

A "Thought Translation Device" is making it possible for people completely paralyzed by Lou Gehrig's disease to communicate with the outside world. The disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, slowly robs patients of all motor control while leaving their minds unscathed. Patients often end up "locked in" to their bodies, a nightmarish state in which they are unable to control so much as an eye blink and, until recently, making it nearly impossible to communicate their thoughts or needs. The Thought-Translation-Device (TDD) uses a web-accessible computer platform allowing patients to communicate directly with a computer by controlling their brain-wave patterns. Over the last eight years, 11 patients with ALS have learned to communicate directly to the computer by learning to control their brain-wave output. Researchers have found that patients who learned to do this could then apply this skill to operate a computer program that allows patients to communicate. Patients who learned to communicate this way before becoming "locked-in," were still able to communicate once they had completely lost motor control.

The Effects of Stimulant Medications on Children with ADHD and Excess Beta Activity in their EEG
-- Adam Clarke, Robert Barry, Rory McCarthy, Mark Selikowitz, Donna Clarke, Rodney Croft, & Stewart Johnstone

Despite what you might think, the brains of children with attention deficit disorder aren't racing at a million miles a minute. In fact, brain recordings taken from children with ADHD show that they have more slow wave brain activity than children without ADHD. Drugs like Ritalin are actually stimulants, similar in effect to caffeine and cause a decrease in slow wave activity which, paradoxically, helps these children calm own. However, a small group of children with ADHD have been identified who are thought to run counter to this pattern, and may, in fact have hyperaroused brains. These finds suggest that not all case of ADHD are the same and perhaps ought to be treated differently.

Improved detection of magnetic fetal brain responses by combination of physiological and anatomical measurements
-- Hubert Preissl, Christoph Braun, Hari Eswaran, James D. Wilson, Pam Murphy, Jiri Vrba, Steve Robinson, Niels Birbaumer, & Curtis L. Lowery

What could be more exciting than seeing the first ultrasound of your unborn child? How about witnessing the first stirrings of your tot's brain activity? For sometime now, researchers have been fairly confident they could record fetal brain signals with unwieldy sounding devices called superconducting quantum interference detectors, or SQUIDs for short. SQUIDs are able to record the magnetic fields generated by living brain tissue but, when it came to fetal brain activity, researchers couldn't rule out the possibility that they may have simply been picking up interference signals created by the heart-beats of mother and child. Researchers have recently developed a way of ensuring that they are in fact recording fetal brain activity and not cardiac "noise" by combining the fetus' anatomical information--in the form of ultrasound images--with data from SQUID scans. This means studying the brain from conception to birth is now a real possibility.

Processing the Nightly News: How shot and story length affect effort, arousal, and encoding
-- Samuel D. Bradley, Mija Shin, Zheng Wang, Seungjo Lee, & Annie Lang

Television networks looking to secure future viewers for their nightly newscasts ought to start paying attention to what college students want. Researchers studying what makes news stories interesting and memorable have found younger adults to be a finicky bunch. It turns out that how long a story is and how short the camera shots that make it up are important factors in securing viewership. While older adults show a similar preference for both short and long stories and don't seem to care how long the camera clips are, college students clearly prefer longer stories made up of short clips.

Adult sex-related P300 differences during the perception of emotional prosody and facial affect
-- D. Erik Everhart, Michael D. Carpenter, Joseph E. Carmona, Amy J. Ethridge, & Heath A. Demaree

There might be something to that stereotype of the uncaring male. Adding fodder to the war of the sexes are recent findings that men's and women's brains respond differently when they hear emotionally laden statements. Researchers recorded electrical brain activity in both sexes while subjects listened to spoken sentences that sounded either happy or fearful. While both men and women tended to be right-hemisphere dominant when it came to processing the emotional utterances, measures of electrical brain activity showed that men took longer to do the task. Interestingly, when men and women were shown happy and fearful faces, both sexes were equally quick at the task.

Cerebral correlates of phantom sensation and phantom pain
-- Herta Flor, Christoph Christmann, Caroline Köppe, Mathias Ruf, & Dieter F. Braus

How can a person with an arm that's been amputated at the shoulder feel intense pain in their missing hand? As if amputation wasn't bad enough, people who lose a limb often continue to feel it as though it was still attached. What's more, this phantom limb can cause the patient intense pain, even years after the amputation. This perplexing malady is known as "phantom pain" and researchers have been trying to find where in the brain this mysterious pain is represented. Recently, subjects with non-painful phantom limb syndrome--people who could still feel their missing limb, but who weren't in discomfort--were tested by applying very mild electrical current to the stump of the amputated limb while their brains were scanned. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, researchers were able to see which parts of the brain were active during the electrical stimulation. It turns out that the brain region responsible for processing touch information, the primary somatosensory region, was not involved in phantom limb sensation. Instead, the study concluded, two brain regions thought to be involved with body image were implicated.

How many more "butterflies" are trapped in passive bodies?
-- Y. Marchand, J.F. Connolly, D. Bernier, C. Striemer, S. Rahey, & R.C.N. D'Arcy

In December 1995, at the age of 43, Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a sudden stroke in his brain stem and emerged from a coma several weeks later to find himself in a rare condition called "locked-in syndrome." In this state, Bauby was completely paralyzed with the exception of his left eyelid with which he dictated his poignant autobiography, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Although his mind--"the butterfly"--was intact, he was trapped inside an immobile body--"the diving bell." The frightening question remains; how many more "butterflies" are trapped inside the passive bodies of brain damaged patients? In an attempt to answer this question, researchers have recently tested four patients each with severe brain injuries. By all traditional measures, these patients were thought to be without cognitive function. However, when the electrical brain activity of these patients was recorded, they showed signs of understanding spoken language. Researchers have previously pin-pointed brain waves (called N400s) that result when we hear a sentence that doesn't make sense. When brain-damaged patients were presented with non-sense sentences, they too showed these brain waves, suggesting that they, like Bauby, were trapped in a sort of living rigor mortis. These findings suggest that perhaps all "vegetative" brain-damaged patients ought to be tested in a similar fashion.

Emotion and gender: Functional activity in visual cortex
Tobias Flaisch, Margaret M. Bradley, Dean Sabatinelli, & Peter J. Lang

There might be a scientific explanation as to why men seem to go for pornography far more than women. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, researchers have been able to pin-point those brain areas that light up when we see emotional pictures. Both men and women had their brains scanned while they were presented with various images. Some of the pictures had low emotional content, like pictures of families or angry faces, and some had high emotional content, like pictures of attack or erotica, while others were simply neutral. Both men and women showed similar activation patterns in an area of the brain called the visual association cortex when they were shown the images. There was one slight difference though. As you might have guessed, men showed slightly more brain activity in this area when they were shown erotica.

Differential Conditioning of Fear to Ingroup and Outgroup Faces
Leah R. Zinner, Eddie Harmon-Jones, Patricia G. Devine, & David M. Amodio

An new study has shown just how deep racial prejudice can be. Based on the cultural stereotype that many whites hold--that black people are violent or hostile--researchers studied the fear responses in white people when they were shown pictures of people from both races. In one stage of the study, subjects were presented with pictures of black and white people while at the same time getting a mild electrical shock. After a while, the subjects developed an eye-blink reflex when either type of picture was shown. Once the study subjects were conditioned in this way, they continued to be shown both types of pictures but without the electrical shock. Interestingly enough, subjects stopped showing the startle response to photos of white people before they stopped showing it when presented with photos of black people. Researchers believe that this has to do with the fact that we process people who look more like us--what researchers refer to as an "ingroup"--differently from people who seem different--the "outgroup". It's likely that regardless of race, we pay particular attention to people we feel are different.

P3 amplitude as an index of severity in impulsive aggressive behavior
-- Matthew S. Stanford, Sarah M. Conklin, & Laura E. Helfritz

Scientists may have figured out what happens in Bruce Banner's brain when he turns green with rage and transforms into the Incredible Hulk. A recent study shows that people who have trouble controlling their aggression have a unique brainwave signature. Researchers recorded the brain electrical activity of people with so-called impulsive aggressive behavior. This study showed that a particular component of the brain electrical activity (called P3) was less intense in people with impulsive aggression than it is in normal, non-aggressive people. This finding may give researchers a tool that helps them assess the severity of the aggression disorder.

The Detection of Deception using Event-related Potentials in a Highly Realistic Mock-Crime Scenario
-- Ralf Mertens, John Allen, Nicholas Culp, & Lauren Crawford

With tensions running high around issues of homeland security, any edge in the fight against terrorism is a welcome tool. Scientists have recently started looking into the possibility of recording the brain's electrical activity as a means of detecting lies and assessing memory--in essence trying to read the criminal mind.. Investigators have used similar, albeit simpler, techniques for decades. Standard lie-detectors record the heart rate and electrical activity of the skin which fluctuates under stress. Interpreting the complex tangle of electrical brain patterns though, is a different and possibly superior method.


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