University Relations

Spring 2018 - Wednesdays - 12:00 to 1:00 pm - Elliott Hall S204

January 17

We chose topics and/or themes for articles to be discussed for the spring semester.


January 24

"The neuroscience of empathy: progress, pitfalls and promise" by Zaki and Ochsner.

"Spontaneous but not explicit processing of positive sentences impaired in Asperger's syndrom: Pupillometric evidence" by Kuchinke et al.


January 31

"Responding to the emotions of others: Dissociating forms of empathy through the study of typical and psychiatric populations" by R.J.R. Blair

"Self-projection and the brain" by Buckner and Carroll.


February 7

The recommended reading is the Wikipedia entry for "empathy".


February 14

"The influence of racial embodiment on racial bias in immersive virtual environments" by Groom et al.


Increasingly, people interact with others via digital representations, or avatars, that feature indicators of race. Nonetheless, little is known about the effects of avatar race on attitudes and behaviors. We conducted a study to determine how people’s implicit racial bias is affected by the race of their avatar in an immersive virtual environment (IVE). Our results indicate that the effects of avatar race extend beyond digital spaces. People embodied by Black avatars in an IVE demonstrated greater implicit racial bias outside the IVE than people embodied by White avatars. These findings have important implications for strategies to reduce racial prejudice and provide new insights into the flexibility of racial identity and racial attitudes afforded by virtual technologies.


"An fMRI study of affective perspective taking in individuals with psychopathy: imagining another in pain does not evoke empathy" by Decety et al.


While it is well established that individuals with psychopathy have a marked deficit in affective arousal, emotional empathy, and caring for the well-being of others, the extent to which perspective taking can elicit an emotional response has not yet been studied despite its potential application in rehabilitation. In healthy individuals, affective perspective taking has proven to be an effective means to elicit empathy and concern for others. To examine neural responses in individuals who vary in psychopathy during affective perspective taking, 121 incarcerated males, classified as high (n = 37; Hare psychopathy checklist-revised, PCL-R ≥ 30), intermediate (n = 44; PCL-R between 21 and 29), and low (n = 40; PCL-R ≤ 20) psychopaths, were scanned while viewing stimuli depicting bodily injuries and adopting an imagine-self and an imagine-other perspective. During the imagine-self perspective, participants with high psychopathy showed a typical response within the network involved in empathy for pain, including the anterior insula (aINS), anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC), supplementary motor area (SMA), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), somatosensory cortex, and right amygdala. Conversely, during the imagine-other perspective, psychopaths exhibited an atypical pattern of brain activation and effective connectivity seeded in the anterior insula and amygdala with the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). The response in the amygdala and insula was inversely correlated with PCL-R Factor 1 (interpersonal/affective) during the imagine-other perspective. In high psychopaths, scores on PCL-R Factor 1 predicted the neural response in ventral striatum when imagining others in pain. These patterns of brain activation and effective connectivity associated with differential perspective-taking provide a better understanding of empathy dysfunction in psychopathy, and have the potential to inform intervention programs for this complex clinical problem.



February 21

"The safety and efficacy of ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine- assisted psychotherapy in subjects with chronic, treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder: the first randomized controlled pilot study" by M. Mithoefer et al.

"The role of psychedelics in palliative care reconsidered: A case for psilocybin" by B. Kelmendi et al.


February 28

"Unifying Theories of Psychedelic Drug Effects?" by Swanson.

How do psychedelic drugs produce their characteristic range of acute effects in perception, emotion, cognition, and sense of self? How do these effects relate to the clinical efficacy of psychedelic-assisted therapies? Efforts to understand psychedelic phenomena date back more than a century in Western science. In this article I review scientific theories of psychedelic drug effects and highlight key theoretical features which have endured over the last 125 years of psychedelic science. First, I describe the subjective phenomenology of acute psychedelic effects using the best available empirical data. Next, I review late 19th-century and early 20th-century theories–model psychoses theory, filtration theory, and psychoanalytic theory—and highlight their shared theoretical features. I then briefly review recent neuropharmacological and neurophysiological findings. Finally, I describe some recent theories of psychedelic drug effects that leverage 21st–century cognitive neuroscience frameworks–entropic brain theory, integrated information theory, and predictive processing–highlighting their shared theoretical features and pointing out how they link back to earlier theories. From this analysis a key theoretical concept is identified which cuts across many theories past and present: psychedelic drugs perturb specific brain processes which normally sustain constraints on perceptual, affective, cognitive, and self-related neural systems. While a truly unifying theory has yet to emerge, I suggest that the enduring theoretical features and formalized frameworks highlighted in this article could form a groundwork for future unifying theories of psychedelic drug effects.



March 7

"The associations of naturalistic classic psychedelic use, mystical experience, and creative problem solving" by Sweat et al.

Developing methods for improving creativity is of broad interest. Classic psychedelics may enhance creativity; however, the underlying mechanisms of action are unknown. This study was designed to assess whether a relationship exists between naturalistic classic psychedelic use and heightened creative problem-solving ability and if so, whether this is mediated by lifetime mystical experience. Participants (N = 68) completed a survey battery assessing lifetime mystical experience and circumstances surrounding the most memorable experience. They were then administered a functional fixedness task in which faster completion times indicate greater creative problem-solving ability. Participants reporting classic psychedelic use concurrent with mystical experience (n = 11) exhibited significantly faster times on the functional fixedness task (Cohen's d = -.87; large effect) and significantly greater lifetime mystical experience (Cohen's d = .93; large effect) than participants not reporting classic psychedelic use concurrent with mystical experience. However, lifetime mystical experience was unrelated to completion times on the functional fixedness task (standardized β = -.06), and was therefore not a significant mediator. Classic psychedelic use may increase creativity independent of its effects on mystical experience. Maximizing the likelihood of mystical experience may need not be a goal of psychedelic interventions designed to boost creativity.



March 21

"An Architecture-Oriented Design Method for Human-Computer Interaction Systems" by Yang et al.

In this paper, we propose an architecture-oriented design method for human-computer interaction systems. This design method adopts the structure-behavior coalescence (SBC) architecture as a systems model. SBC architecture design method starts from the preparation phase and then goes through the creative thinking, concept, preliminary design, and detailed design phases of SBC architecture construction. SBC architecture design method uses six fundamental diagrams to formally design the essence of a human-computer interaction system and its details at the same time. In the concept phase, architecture hierarchy diagram and framework diagram are used. In the preliminary design phase, component operation diagram and component connection diagram are used. In the detailed design phase, structure-behavior coalescence diagram and interaction flow diagram are used. With the above six diagrams, we then can effectively design the structure, behavior, and information of human-computer interaction systems; resolve uncertainties and risks caused by those non-architecture-oriented design methods.


"Design-oriented Human-Computer Interaction" by Fallman.

We argue that HCI has emerged as a design-oriented field of research, directed at large towards innovation, design, and construction of new kinds of information and interaction technology. But the understanding of such an attitude to research in terms of philosophical, theoretical, and methodological underpinnings seems however relatively poor within the field. This paper intends to specifically address what design 'is' and how it is related to HCI. First, three candidate accounts from design theory of what design 'is' are introduced; the conservative, the romantic, and the pragmatic. By examining the role of sketching in design, it is found that the designer becomes involved in a necessary dialogue, from which the design problem and its solution are worked out simultaneously as a closely coupled pair. In conclusion, it is proposed that we need to acknowledge, first, the role of design in HCI conduct, and second, the difference between the knowledge-generating Design-oriented Research and the artifact-generating conduct of Research-oriented Design.



March 28 - "The entropic brain - Revisited" by Carhart-Harris.


The entropic brain hypothesis proposes that within upper and lower limits, after which consciousness may be lost, the entropy of spontaneous brain activity indexes the informational richness of conscious states. Here the hypothesis is revisited four years on from its original publication. It is shown that the principle that the entropy of brain activity is elevated in the psychedelic state is increasingly well supported by separate and independent studies and analyses, and evidence for greater brain criticality under psychedelics is also highlighted. It is argued that heightened brain criticality enables the brain to be more sensitive to intrinsic and extrinsic perturbations which may translate as a heightened susceptibility to “set” and “setting”. This updated version of the original entropic brain hypothesis now offers more concrete information on specific measures of brain entropy and suggests new studies to scrutinise it further, as well as examine its utility for describing and informing the treatment of psychiatric and neurological conditions such as depression and disorders of consciousness.


April 18

"Tripping up addiction: the use of psychedelic drugs in the treatment of problematic drug and alcohol use" by Morgan et al.


April 25

"Tactile information improves visual object discrimination in kea, Nestor notabilis, and capuchin monkeys, Sapajus spp." by Carducci et al.

In comparative visual cognition research, the influence of information acquired by nonvisual senses has received little attention. Systematic studies focusing on how the integration of information from sight and touch can affect animal perception are sparse. Here, we investigated whether tactile input improves visual discrimination ability of a bird, the kea, and capuchin monkeys, two species with acute vision, and known for their tendency to handle objects. To this end, we assessed whether, at the attainment of a criterion, accuracy and/or learning speed in the visual modality were enhanced by haptic (i.e. active tactile) exploration of an object. Subjects were trained to select the positive stimulus between two cylinders of the same shape and size, but with different surface structures. In the Sight condition, one pair of cylinders was inserted into transparent Plexiglas tubes. This prevented animals from haptically perceiving the objects' surfaces. In the Sight and Touch condition, one pair of cylinders was not inserted into transparent Plexiglas tubes. This allowed the subjects to perceive the objects' surfaces both visually and haptically. We found that both kea and capuchins (1) showed comparable levels of accuracy at the attainment of the learning criterion in both conditions, but (2) required fewer trials to achieve the criterion in the Sight and Touch condition. Moreover, this study showed that both kea and capuchins can integrate information acquired by the visual and tactile modalities. To our knowledge, this represents the first evidence of visuotactile integration in a bird species. Overall, our findings demonstrate that the acquisition of tactile information while manipulating objects facilitates visual discrimination of objects in two phylogenetically distant species.



Updated May 3, 2018