transcript of episode 21: TIME FOR A HUG, 26th November 2021

[🎶 INTRO: "Spring Swing" by Dee Yan-Kee 🎶]

welcome to the error bar: where brain vomit is verified

in this episode: how long to hug someone for, how to make many labs make the right work, an update on canada's mysterious brain disease, & three neuroscientists pass

here is the brain news on the 26th November 2021:



psychologists in London, says the Daily Mail, hugged dozens of undergraduate students in six different ways & asked them how pleasant each one was. they preferred hugs lasting five or ten seconds than the shortest one-second hugs. whether the pair's arms were crossed-over or parallel didn't matter, nor did their different heights - much.

stepping out of the laboratory & into the real world, they asked pairs of young people on campus to share a hug & recorded the results. if at least one of the pair identified as female, about half of the hugs were of the parallel neck-to-waist kind; but pairs of two males hugged with criss-crossed arms in 23 of 28 couplings.

the researchers say this information will help us study the powers of affective touch & the development of social robots.


should we hug for five seconds?

yes. this is a feel-good story.

this clear & simple study was well-reported by both the Daily Mail & the researchers. the data are clear, the analyses limited & the conclusions justified. while the data are explored a little in the report, all the conclusions focus on the two main results - that one second hugs are not liked as much as others & that male pairs prefer to hug criss-cross style. bonus: all the summary data are in the paper or its supplementaries & i'm sure they'll release the raw data in exchange for a nice hug.

my only quibble would be to say that we don't know that five-to-ten seconds is the optimal time to hug; all we really know is that, of the three times tested - one, five & ten seconds - the one-second hugs were rated much less positively than the others.


sure, why not!


the science was by Dueren et al. 2021: Acta Psychologica; reported in The Daily Mail by @jwillchad on 16/Nov/21



in April this year, we reported on a new cluster of neurological cases in New Brunswick, Canada. the symptoms were varied, but similar to Creutzfeld-Jacob & other neurological diseases. the error bar told you to 'stay tuned' & by God we meant it.

we can now report in a world non-exclusive that Dr Gerard Jansen from the University of Ottawa reported to the Canadian Association of Neuropathologists that all eight deaths from this new disease that he investigated were, in fact, mis-diagnosed, but well-known disorders.

of the 48 cases that were investigated, 46 were referred by a single neurologist, & no cases occurred outside this neurologist's catchment area.

Alzheimer’s, metastatic cancer, frontotemporal degeneration, Lewy body disease, & vascular disease were offered as alternative diagnoses.

while Dr Jansen has only submitted an abstract, patients, relatives, doctors & politicians are now arguing over the cause(s) of this cluster of disease.

the Guardian digs deeper, finding accusations of incompetence & blocking of investigations. they even cite an anonymous scientist saying that the whole thing is "rookie epidemiology".

then it gets weird. some of those seeking to show an environmental cause for the illnesses, point to increased levels of blue-green algae neurotoxins found in a local lobster.

in a local lobster.

in unrelated news, lobster fishing is a major industry in New Brunswick.

a new report into the deaths is expected next year.


is this a new disease or human error?


stay tuned


reported in The Globe and Mail by Kevin Bissett on 26/Oct/21, & The Globe and Mail by @GregMercerGlobe on 27/Oct/21, & The Guardian by @LeylandCecco on 16/Nov/21

and the brain in brief...



in a growing, & encouraging trend in modern psychology & neuroscience, two more 'ManyLabs' papers have been published.

i didn't have the time - or frankly the energy, dear listener - to read either of them, so i will just plagiarise the abstracts of the two papers for you.

#EEGManyLabs is "a large-scale international collaborative replication effort" in which dozens of authors identified 27 important studies & papers using the method of electroencephalography, or EEG - a technique for recording electrical brain signals from the heads of healthy humans. they've chosen 20 of them to replicate & the work is underway. we'll report on the results when they're out!

the second worthy collaboration study is at the other end of the analysis pipeline - "what happens when 42 groups dissect 14 white matter bundles on the same dataset?". Diffusion Tensor Imaging, or DTI, is an imaging method that allows you to trace where the brain's white matter goes - to which regions does it connect?

well, the result of many scientists using 57 different methods of finding white matter connections in the brain is, err - many different results.

many more research studies are required.


many congratulations


the science was by Pavlov et al. 2021: Cortex, & Schilling et al. 2021: NeuroImage;



the New York Times reports the death of Professor Sir Michael Rutter. Rutter was the first psychiatrist in Britain to specialise in children's mental health. he worked at the Maudsley hospital in London for 45 years, studying the genetics & neurobiology of autism & other conditions. he published work contradicting the claims - now shown to be fraudulent - that vaccines could cause autism.

another psychiatrist, Professor Aaron Beck, has also departed. the BBC names him the father of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, noting that his daughter also founded the CBT institute that bears their name. Beck's Depression Inventory - a checklist to assess depression - was published 50 years ago & has since been cited nearly 50000 times.

finally, Michael Corballis died this month, after a career in cognitive neuroscience working, amongst other things, on cerebral lateralisation - the differences between left & right sides of the brain. colleagues on twitter remembered his inspirational teaching, his kindness, brilliance, & the time he opened a keynote speech by placing a box of Jaffa Cakes on the lectern.


rest in peace


reported in The New York Times by @RichSandomir on 7/Nov/21, & The BBC on 1/Nov/21, & Twitter by @StevenDakin on 15/Nov/21

[🎶 OUTRO: "Cosmopolitan - Margarita - Bellini"by Dee Yan-Kee 🎶]

it's closing time at the error bar, but do drop in next time for more brain news, fact-checking & neuro-opinions. take care.

the error bar was devised & produced by Dr Nick Holmes from University of Birmingham's School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences. the music by Dee Yan-Kee is available from the free music archive. find us at the error bar dot com, on twitter at bar error, or email talk at the error bar dot com