Friday, July 30, 2010

Feel like I-dosing?

A few months ago my facebook friends in the US started mentioning it. Only a few weeks later it appeared in the news in Europe, generating a lot of noise in Belgium last week when I-dosing or ‘binaural beats’ were condemned as a form of narcotics.

The phenomenon of ‘binaural beats’ was first described in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove. It is the sensation of hearing interference beats when two slightly different frequencies are played separately to each ear. The rate of the ‘perceived’ beats were claimed to modulate ones brain waves. However, little or no evidence has been brought forward since then. The few studies that seriously studied the effect could not support this claim (e.g., Owens et al., 1998), except that that it might have some effect on attention and arousal. Quite understandable, if you listen to one of the examples (see link).

The recent media attention for this phenomenon seems to be successfully bootstrapped by a new company selling mp3’s with titles like ‘Quick Hit Simulations’ describing their product with statements like ‘binaural beats will synchronize your brainwaves and help you achieve a quick hitting simulated drug simulation.’ Prices around twenty dollar. This one's for free :-)

ResearchBlogging.orgOwens, J. et al. (1998). Binaural Auditory Beats Affect Vigilance Performance and Mood. Physiology & Behavior, 63 (2), 249-252. DOI: 10.1016/S0031-9384(97)00436-8.

ResearchBlogging.orgDunning, Brian. "Binaural Beats: Digital Drugs." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 31 Mar 2009. Web. 31 Jul 2010. link.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Looking for a PhD position in Music Cognition?

This week a brief entry to announce a job opportunity at the University of Amsterdam. See for detailed information and how to apply here. Deadline for applications: 1 September 2010.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Standardization cause of poor reproducibility?

In the last few years Web-based experiments have become an attractive alternative to lab-based experiments. Next to the advantages of versatility and the ecological validity of the results, Web-based experiments can potentially reach a much larger, more varied and intrinsically motivated participant pool. Especially in the domain of music perception and cognition it is important to probe a wide variety of participants, with different levels of training and cultural backgrounds.

Nevertheless, to get research published that takes advantage of the Internet is not straightforward. An important reason for the conservatism held by some journals in publishing results obtained with Web-based experiments is the issue of replicability. Especially in the fields of experimental psychology and psychophysics there are serious concerns about the (apparent) lack of control one has in Web experiments as opposed to those performed in the laboratory. Where in the lab most relevant factors, including all technical issues, are under control of the experimenter (i.e. have a high internal validity) it is argued that Web experiments lack this important foundation of experimental psychology. As a result of the first issue, it often proves to be problematic to convince University Review Panels to give permission when there is little insight in the environment in which participants tend to do these experiments. As a result of the second issue, some high-impact journals made it a policy decision not to publish Web-based studies, as such discouraging Web experiments to be performed (cf. Honing & Ladinig, 2008; Honing & Reips, 2008). Nevertheless, it is important to stress that if an effect is found - despite the limited control in Web-based experiments over the home environment and the technological variance caused by the Internet - then the argument for that effect and its generalizability is even stronger.

The latter issue was recently discussed in an issue of Nature Methods by researchers from the Universities of Giessen and Münster, Germany (see reference below and [modified] figure above). In fact, the authors make the opposite argument! They argue that standardization should be seen as a cause of, rather than a cure for, poor reproducibility of experimental outcomes. Their study showed that environmental standardization can contribute to spurious and conflicting findings in the literature. Würbel and colleagues conclude that to generate results that are most likely going to be reproducible in other laboratories, the strategies to standardize environmental conditions in an experiment should be minimized.

As such the variance caused by Web-based setups (as discussed above) might actually amount to experimental results with a much higher external validity than thought before. Richter, S., Garner, J., Auer, C., Kunert, J., & Würbel, H. (2010). Systematic variation improves reproducibility of animal experiments. Nature Methods, 7 (3), 167-168. 10.1038/nmeth0310-167 Honing, H., & Reips, U.-D. (2008). Web-based versus lab-based studies: a response to Kendall (2008). Empirical Musicology Review, 3 (2), 73-77. Honing, H., & Ladinig, O. (2008). The potential of the Internet for music perception research: A comment on lab-based versus Web-based studies. Empirical Musicology Review, 3 (1), 4-7.