Language recognition in the womb – Fetal rhythm-based language discrimination – study from NeuroReport

I have blogged before about on the tendency to grandiosity of neuroscience, or rather (very often) how the science media portray neuroscience. This phobia of neurohype is not the same as a suspicion of neuroscience. The ingenuity of the methodology of studies like this is staggering. I don’t have access via my usual library sources to recent issues of NeuroReport so I’m afraid that I can’t assess the study directly (in so far as as I am at a certain stage of clinical practice, and the consequent distance from what personal study of relevance I have done)


Fetal rhythm-based language discrimination: a biomagnetometry study
Minai, Utakoa; Gustafson, Kathleenb; Fiorentino, Roberta; Jongman, Allarda; Sereno, Joana

Neuroreport: 5 July 2017 – Volume 28 – Issue 10 – p 561–564

Using fetal biomagnetometry, this study measured changes in fetal heart rate to assess discrimination of two rhythmically different languages (English and Japanese). Two-minute passages in English and Japanese were read by the same female bilingual speaker. Twenty-four mother–fetus pairs (mean gestational age=35.5 weeks) participated. Fetal magnetocardiography was recorded while the participants were presented first with passage 1, a passage in English, and then, following an 18 min interval, with passage 2, either a different passage in English (English–English condition: N=12) or in Japanese (English–Japanese condition: N=12). The fetal magnetocardiogram was reconstructed following independent components analysis decomposition. The mean interbeat intervals were calculated for a 30 s baseline interval directly preceding each passage and for the first 30 s of each passage. We then subtracted the mean interbeat interval of the 30 s baseline interval from that of the first 30 s interval, yielding an interbeat interval change value for each passage. A significant interaction between condition and passage indicated that the English–Japanese condition elicited a more robust interbeat interval change for passage 2 (novelty phase) than for passage 1 (familiarity phase), reflecting a faster heart rate during passage 2, whereas the English–English condition did not. This effect indicates

that fetuses are sensitive to the change in language from English to Japanese. These findings provide the first evidence for fetal language discrimination as assessed by fetal biomagnetometry and support the hypothesis that rhythm constitutes a prenatally available building block in language acquisition.

#revScreen – Cochrane Crowd Challenges on home visiting and medical education

Previously I blogged about the addictive nature of EMBASE Screening. This is now rebranded as Cochrane Crowd, but the overall approach is unchanged – the user assesses abtracts to see if they are RCTs/CCTs or not. It it surprisingly addictive.

cochrane crowd logo


Anyhow, there are two new Cochrane tasks – screening for RCTs for two specific reviews Home visiting for socially disadvantaged mothers, and  Interventions for improving medical students’ interpersonal communication in medical consultation. 

If any readers are interested in these areas, the Cochrane Crowd process exposes one to a wide range of (at times rather tenuously related) studies and papers on the topic… I tend to get sidetracked easily.

Anyhow, here is the email:

Dear all,


We need your help!


When you next log into Cochrane Crowd you will be able to see two new ‘tasks’ in your dashboard area. One is for an update of a review entitled: Home visiting for socially disadvantaged mothers, and the other is for a new review, called: Interventions for improving medical students’ interpersonal communication in medical consultations.


The searches for each of these reviews has identified between 3000-5000 records. The core author team for each review has come toCochrane Crowd asking if this community can help. I think we can.


Before you dive in, here are some questions you might have:


What do I need to do that is different from the usual RCT screening task?

Absolutely nothing. The task is exactly the same making you very well qualified to help! We want all the randomized or quasi-randomized trials to be identified even if the trial has nothing to do with the topic of the review.


What’s in it for me?

For those who screen 250 or more records, your contribution will be acknowledged in the review for which you contributed. In addition, on one of the reviews, the home visiting review, the review team will reward authorship to the top screener. This will be based not just on the amount you screen but the accuracy of your screening.


How long will these tasks be posted for?

We’ve set the deadline for 31st March. It would be fantastic to have both sets of records screened by that date.


Who can I contact if I have any questions or queries?

You can either contact me, Anna, ( or my brilliant colleague, Emily ( and we’ll try and get back to you as quickly as possible.


Do I need to let anyone know if I plan to contribute or not?

No, you don’t need to let us know either way. If you want to contribute to either or both reviews, just log into Crowd and get cracking! We’ll know who has taken part. Likewise, if this just isn’t for you or you don’t think you’ll have the time, that’s absolutely fine; you don’t need to let us know.


When can I start?

Right now! Go and make a nice cup of tea and hop over to Cochrane Crowd ( Log in as usual and you should see the two new tasks. I think I’ll head there now myself.

If you’re a twitterer, we’ll be using #RevScreen for these two exciting pilots!


With best wishes to all and happy citation screening,



Anna and Emily


Cochrane Crowd


Sexual Dimorphism in Temporal Discrimination.

While EMBASE screening, one comes across abstracts of interest. I was a little struck by the following abstract. I am sure all sorts of hilarious one-liners suggest themselves relating to this study, but right now I can’t think of any:

The temporal discrimination threshold (TDT) is the shortest time interval at which two sensory stimuli presented sequentially are detected as asynchronous by the observer. TDTs are known to increase with age. Having previously observed shorter thresholds in young women than in men, in this work we sought to systematically examine the effect of sex and age on temporal discrimination. The aims of this study were to examine, in a large group of men and women aged 20-65 years, the distribution of TDTs with an analysis of the individual participant’s responses, assessing the “point of subjective equality” and the “just noticeable difference” (JND). These respectively assess sensitivity and accuracy of an individual’s response. In 175 participants (88 women) aged 20-65 years, temporal discrimination was faster in women than in men under the age of 40 years by a mean of approximately 13 ms. However, age-related decline in temporal discrimination was three times faster in women so that, in the age group of 40-65 years, the female superiority was reversed. The point of subjective equality showed a similar advantage in younger women and more marked age-related decline in women than men, as the TDT. JND values declined equally in both sexes, showing no sexual dimorphism. This observed sexual dimorphism in temporal discrimination is important for both (a) future clinical research assessing disordered mid-brain covert attention in basal-ganglia disorders, and (b) understanding the biology of this sexual dimorphism which may be genetic or hormonal.

Via the magic of Google ripping off the veil of anonymity which the abstracts are presented with on Embase is simplicity itself, and imagine my surprise when it turns out this paper came from a centre very familiar to me indeed. Go SVUH!

I have finished Evidence Based Medicine (for a while)

This evening, I logged on to do some Embase screening:


Noting that there were a mere 100 records to screen, I worked away for a while, until:



With bated breath I screen the one remaining record (naturally enough, a Reject verdict), and after a bit of deliberation clicked on “Save and Exit”, to discover that :



Of course, I know that a gigantic batch of records will no doubt be delivered to Embase for screening, if it hasn’t already (and I am probably misunderstanding something even more basic) but, for the moment, there is a pleasing sensation of having reached the ultimate extreme of human knowledge (only mild hyperbole here!)

Great moments in personality research: Study of the personality of patients with spontaneous pneumothorax

If it wasn’t for EMBASE screening, I would never have come across this gem:


Study of the personality of patients with spontaneous pneumothorax

Martín Martín M1, Cuesta Serrahima L, Rami Porta R, Soler Insa P, Mateu Navarro M.

Medical psychology has contributed to a greater understanding of many diseases that are predominantly medical and has also helped to improve prognosis. This study explores a surgical entity, namely spontaneous pneumothorax.
The aim was to compare the personality, depression, anxiety and type-A behavior pattern in a group of 34 patients with spontaneous pneumothorax to a group of 33 control patients admitted for a variety of minor surgical procedures.
The following objective assessment instruments were used: Trait Anxiety Inventory, Beck Depression Inventory, Jenkins Activity Inventory, Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. The questionnaires were administered before the intervention of the surgeon and after an informative interview.
The rate of type-A behavior was statistically different in the two groups. No differences were seen for personality, depression or anxiety.
We conclude that type-A behavior patterns should be reduced in patients who suffer spontaneous pneumothorax in order to improve outcome.

I love that sweeping conclusion “type-A behaviour patterns should be reduced” – just like that! – but also admire the researchers choice of an apparently unpromising area to research. I will try, if I have time, to read the original paper.

My struggle against EMBASE Screening addiction

Ok, the headline is a little glib, and I don’t want to make fun of any actual addiction – but since discovering EMBASE screening at a HRB TMRN event on systematic reviews on Thursday last, I’ve been hooked.
EMBASE screening is very simple – as the Cochrane Collaboration Community Page on the project states “The project’s purpose is to identify reports of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs from EMBASE for publication in the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL)” Put simply , “The EMBASE project provides an opportunity for new and potential contributors to get involved with Cochrane work by diving into a task that needs doing. No prior experience is necessary as the task supports a ‘learn as you do’ approach. ”


Basically the screener is presented with a title and abstract (occasionally just a title) and has to decide if this is an RCT/quasi-RCT, definitely not an RCT/quasi-RCT, or impossible to tell. There are lots of checks and balances so one shouldn’t worry about making a mistake. The interface is very simple and a good, clear training module is provided before you get stuck it.

This is a much better way of passing a few minutes with a smart phone than checking news sites again or again, or whatever your poison is…. and along the way I have come across some intriguing abstracts such as this and this (neither of which is a RCT)