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These findings were strongest among teens who scored the highest on tests of moral disengagement — the ability to convince oneself that ethical standards don’t apply to in particular situations.
“When people play violent video games, they show less self-restraint. They eat more, they cheat more,” said Dr. Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. “It isn’t just about aggression, although that also increases when people play games like Grand Theft Auto.”
The study included 172 Italian high school students, ages 13 to 19. They played either a violent video game (Grand Theft Auto III or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) or a nonviolent game (Pinball 3D or MiniGolf 3D) for 35 minutes.
During the study, a bowl of chocolate M&M’s was placed next to the teens, who were told they could freely eat the candy, but were warned that eating a lot of candy in a short time was unhealthy. Interestingly, teens who played the violent games ate more than three times as much candy as did the other teens.
“They simply showed less restraint in their eating,” Bushman said.
After playing the game, the teens worked on a 10-item logic test in which they could win one raffle ticket for each question they answered correctly. The raffle tickets could then be redeemed for prizes.
After being told how many answers they got correct, the teens were asked to take the appropriate number of raffle tickets out of an envelope — without supervision. Unbeknownst to the players, the researchers were aware of how many tickets were in the envelope so they could later determine if a player took more than he or she had earned.
Results showed that teens who played violent games cheated more than eight times more than did those who played nonviolent games.
The players were also told that they were competing with an unseen “partner” in a game in which the winner got to blast the loser with a loud noise through their headphones. (There was actually no partner.) Teens who played the violent games chose to blast partners with louder noises that lasted longer than did teens who played the nonviolent games.
“We have consistently found in a number of studies that those who play violent games act more aggressively, and this is just more evidence,” Bushman said.
The participants also completed the Moral Disengagement Scale, a measure of how well individuals hold themselves to high moral standards in all situations. One sample question was “Compared to the illegal things people do, taking some things from a store without paying for them is not very serious.”
Among teens who played the violent video games, those who scored higher in moral disengagement were more likely to cheat, eat more chocolate, and act more aggressively. There were no such differences among those who played nonviolent games.
“Very few teens were unaffected by violent video games, but this study helps us address the question of who is most likely to be affected,” Bushman said. “Those who are most morally disengaged are likely to be the ones who show less self-restraint after playing.
“One of the major risk factors for antisocial behavior is simply being male,” he said. “But even girls were more likely to eat extra chocolate and to cheat and to act aggressively when they played Grand Theft Auto versus the mini golf or pinball game. They didn’t reach the level of the boys in the study, but their behavior did change.”
The study is published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Source: Ohio State University
“One of the reasons that this is surprising has to do with how little training we did with participants, about 10 to 18 sessions,” said researcher Michael Marsiske, an associate professor of clinical and health psychology at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions.
“This would be like going to the gym for between five and 10 weeks, never going again, and still seeing positive effects a decade later.”
After receiving cognitive training, the participants, ages 65 to 96, also reported significantly less difficulty with daily living tasks, such as housework, medication management, and shopping.
“Our prior research suggested that the benefits of the training could last up to five years, or even seven years, but no one had ever reported 10-year maintenance in mental training in older adults,” said Marsiske. The study was carried out by UF Health researchers with the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly, or ACTIVE.
For the study, 2,832 seniors were divided into groups to complete 10 training sessions in the following categories: memory, reasoning, or speed of processing. ”These skills were chosen because of their importance for daily living and because there is evidence that they decline with old age,” Marsiske said.
Each session lasted for 60- to 75-minutes and was conducted over a five- to six-week period. Some seniors were randomly given booster training 11 and 35 months following the initial training. The control group received no training.
Researchers conducted outcome assessments right after the training and again two, three, five, and 10 years later.
“If we can boost these basic skills we think we can also boost everyday functioning or help people maintain their independence,” said Marsiske.
At the 10-year mark, nearly 75 percent of study participants who received reasoning training and more than 70 percent of speed of processing participants were performing at or above their baseline level compared with about 62 percent and 50 percent, respectively, of control participants.
“With the ACTIVE study I think we’ve permanently shattered the myth that old dogs, and older humans, can’t learn new tricks,” Marsiske said. “I think underlying that is a clear understanding, not just from our work, but from the work of others, that a critical thing to do as we get older is to challenge ourselves with new things.”
“Oftentimes older adults will ask ‘Should I do crossword puzzles?’ And yes, those are a wonderful thing to do. But if you’re an expert crossword puzzler, late life is the time to take on some new challenge. So play video games or learn an instrument, because learning new things seems to be the real secret to maintaining mental functioning in old age.”
The study findings appear in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society.
For their study, scientists at the University of Colorado-Boulder tested four possible explanations for the connection between shyness and delayed speech:
- shy children practice speaking less and so their speech becomes delayed;
- children with delayed speech become shy because they have difficulty talking;
- shy children understand what’s being said but are simply reticent to speak;
- shy children’s speech is actually normal while outgoing children’s speech is above average.
The research team, from CU-Boulder’s Institute for Behavioral Genetics and the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, found consistent evidence to support only one hypothesis: Shy toddlers were delayed in speaking, but not in understanding.
“Behaviorally inhibited children who may not be speaking much shouldn’t be underestimated,” said Soo Rhee, an author of the study and an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience.
“Parents and teachers should be aware that they may need to be encouraged more in their expressive language development.”
For the study, the researchers looked at data collected on 408 sets of twins at 14, 20, and 24 months of age, when language skills are rapidly expanding. The data came from parent reports and researcher observations.
Notes were made both of the child’s ability to repeat sounds and answer questions, as well of the child’s ability to follow directions, the researchers noted.
The researchers looked for patterns in how the children’s behavior changed over time noting, for example, whether an increase in shyness followed or preceded a delay in speech.
The result — that shy toddlers understand more than they indicate through talking — is both good news and bad news, according to Rhee.
“It’s good news that the children are not delayed in language acquisition,” she said. “But not being willing to speak may still have consequences.”
“Past studies have shown that delayed speech can lead to a number of negative outcomes later in life, including poor self-regulation and social difficulties,” she noted.
The study was published in the journal Child Development.
A specific type of neuron in the amygdala performs differently in individuals with autism spectrum disorder than in those without the disorder, according to a new study by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in New York.
“The amygdala — which is critical for face recognition and processing of emotions — is thought to be one of the principal areas where dysfunction occurs, but this is the first time single neurons in the structure have been recorded and analyzed in patients with autism,” said first author Ueli Rutishauser, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery and director of Human Neurophysiology Research at Cedars-Sinai.
For the study, researchers recorded the firing activity of individual nerve cells in the amygdalae of two patients with high-functioning autism as they viewed pictures of faces expressing emotion, either fear or happiness. The patients were asked to look at the pictures and report which emotion they saw.
The researchers then compared the recordings of neurons in participants with autism to those without the disorder, which led to the discovery that a specific type of neuron performed abnormally in those with autism.
In the amygdala, which is known for its role in emotional memory, certain neurons fire when a person looks at a whole face; other types respond when viewing parts of a face or certain facial features, such as an eye or mouth. In the two patients with autism, “whole-face” neurons responded typically, but the “face-part” neurons were much more active when the patients were shown the mouth region compared to when they were shown the eyes.
“A subpopulation of neurons in these patients with autism spectrum disorder showed abnormal sensitivity to the mouth region. The amygdala neurons appeared normal from an electrical point of view, and the whole-face-sensitive neurons responded normally. Thus, the subset of face-part-sensitive neurons was specifically abnormal in autism,” Rutishauser said.
Senior author Ralph Adolphs, Ph.D., Bren Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Caltech, said the research offers new insights into mechanisms underlying the symptoms of autism and opens the door for further studies.
“Are there genetic mutations that lead to changes in this one population of neurons? Do the cell abnormalities originate in the amygdala or are they the result of processing abnormalities elsewhere in the brain? There are many questions yet to be answered, but this study points us in a specific direction that we believe will help understand autism,” he said.
The study is published in the journal Neuron.
Source: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
A new study has found that 6-month-old infants who are later diagnosed with autism not only look at faces less often than other infants, but will divert their gaze from the face of someone who is speaking.
“These results suggest that the presence of speech disrupts typical attentional processing of faces in those infants later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD),” said Dr. Frederick Shic from the Yale University School of Medicine. “This is the first study to isolate an atypical response to speech as a specific characteristic in the first half year after birth that is associated with later emerging ASD.”
“The findings indicate that infants who later develop ASD have difficulty maintaining attention to relevant social information as early as 6 months of age,” he said. “This could reduce the quality of their social interactions with others and, consequently, the trajectory of their social development,” he added.
For their study, Shic and his colleagues used eye-tracking, which involves advanced video monitoring and special software that tracks and “maps” exactly where the eyes were focused and for how long, while the infants looked at videos of a variety of faces. Some of the faces were still, some were smiling, and some were speaking.
The infants were later assessed at 3 years of age and divided into groups based on a diagnosis of ASD, other developmental delays, or typical development.
The researchers found that infants who later developed ASD not only looked at all faces less than other infants, but when shown a face that was speaking, looked away from key features such as the eyes and mouth.
“While autism typically can’t be diagnosed until at least 2 years of age, this study — along with others — confirm that abnormalities in behavior and attention can be detected as early as 6 months of age,” the researchers conclude.
The study was published in Biological Psychiatry.
Source: Biological Psychiatry
A new study has found that when people engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving or having unsafe sex, it’s probably not because their brain’s desire systems are on overdrive, but because their self-control systems are not active enough.
Researchers say this could have implications for how we treat mental illness or addiction, or how the legal system assesses the likelihood of a criminal committing another crime.
Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, UCLA, Yale, and elsewhere analyzed data from 108 people who sat in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner — which allows researchers to see brain activity in vivid, three-dimensional images — while playing a video game that simulates risk-taking.
Using specialized software, the researchers looked for patterns of brain activity that preceded making the choice between risky or safe behavior.
The scientists then “asked” the software to predict what other people would choose during the game based solely on their brain activity. The software accurately predicted people’s choices 71 percent of the time, the researchers reported.
“These patterns are reliable enough that not only can we predict what will happen in an additional test on the same person, but on people we haven’t seen before,” said Russ Poldrack, Ph.D., director of UT Austin’s Imaging Research Center and a professor of psychology and neuroscience.
When the researchers focused their software on smaller regions of the brain, they found that just analyzing the regions typically involved in executive functions, such as control, working memory and attention, was enough to predict a person’s future choices.
This led the researchers to conclude that when we make risky choices, it is primarily because of the failure of our control systems to stop us.
“We all have these desires, but whether we act on them is a function of control,” said Sarah Helfinstein, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at UT Austin and lead author of the study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
For the study, the researchers used a video game called the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART). Past research has shown that the game correlates well with self-reported risk-taking, such as drug and alcohol use, smoking, gambling, driving without a seatbelt, stealing, and engaging in unprotected sex.
While playing the game, a person sees a balloon on the screen and is asked to make either a risky choice — inflate the balloon a little and earn a few cents — or a safe choice — stop the round and “cash out,” keeping whatever money was earned up to that point. Sometimes inflating the balloon causes it to burst and the player loses all the cash earned from that round.
After each successful inflation, the game continues with the chance of earning another reward or losing an increasingly large amount.
“Many risky decisions share this same structure, such as when deciding how many alcoholic beverages to drink before driving home or how much one can experiment with drugs or cigarettes before developing an addiction,” the researchers noted.
Data for the study came from the Consortium for Neuropsychiatric Phenomics at UCLA. The group recruited adults from the Los Angeles area to examine the differences in response inhibition and working memory between healthy adults and patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“Only data collected from healthy participants was included in this study,” researchers noted.
Source: University of Texas at Austin
In new research, the University of Alberta’s Dr. Matt Johnson found that the relationship between parents and teens — however stormy or peaceful — may influence whether those children are successful in romance, even up to 15 years later.
In the study, Johnson explores the complexities of the romantic ties that bind.
“Being aware of that connection may save a lot of heartache down the road,” according to Johnson, who reviewed existing data that was gathered in the United States over a span of 15 years.
Johnson’s findings, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, revealed a “small but important link between parent-adolescent relationship quality and intimate relationships 15 years later,” Johnson said. “The effects can be long-lasting.”
Investigators discovered, perhaps not surprisingly, that good parent-teen relationships resulted in slightly higher quality of romantic relationships for those grown children years later.
However, the study also suggests a lesson in self-awareness when nurturing an intimate bond with a partner.
“People tend to compartmentalize their relationships; they tend not to see the connection between one kind, such as family relations, and another, like couple unions.
“But understanding your contribution to the relationship with your parents would be important to recognizing any tendency to replicate behavior — positive or negative — in an intimate relationship.”
“That doesn’t mean parents should be blamed for what might be wrong in a grown child’s relationship,” Johnson added.
“It is important to recognize everyone has a role to play in creating a healthy relationship, and each person needs to take responsibility for their contribution to that dynamic.”
Researchers based their findings on survey-based information from 2,970 people who were interviewed at three stages of life from adolescence to young adulthood, spanning ages 12 to 32.
The study collected data from an Internet-based survey of almost 25,000 gay and bisexual men residing in the United States who were members of online websites facilitating social or sexual interactions with other men.
Researchers at George Mason University’s Department of Global and Community Health and Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion believe the study helps to answer question such as: What does love have to do with sex? And, in particular, among gay and bisexual men in the United States?
While most research about love has been conducted among heterosexual-identified individuals or opposite sex couples, the focus of this study on same sex couples suggests experiences of love are far more similar than different, regardless of sexual orientation.
The study is published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Researchers discovered nearly all (92.6 percent) men whose most recent sexual event occurred with a relationship partner, indicated being in love with the partner at the time they had sex.
This is the first time a study has described sexual behaviors engaged in by those men who report being in love, or not, during a given sexual event with a same-sex partner.
“Given the recent political shifts around the Defense of Marriage Act and same-sex marriage in the United States, these findings highlight the prevalence and value of loving feelings within same same-sex relationships,” said lead investigator Joshua G. Rosenberger, Ph.D.
Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., one of the study co-authors, added, “This study is important because of myths and misunderstandings that separate men from love, even though the capacity to love and to want to be loved in return is a human capacity and is not limited by gender or sexual orientation.”
“Given the extent to which so much research is focused on the negative aspects of sexual behavior among gay men, particularly as it relates to HIV infection, we were interested in exploring the role of positive affect — in this case, love — during a specific sexual event,” said Rosenberger.
Additional key findings include:
- Nearly all men in the study, 91.2 percent, were “matched” when it came to their feelings of love and their perceptions of their partner’s feelings of love;
- With regard to age, having been in love with their sexual partner during their sexual event was experienced most commonly by men age 30–39 years;
- Uncertainty of love for a sexual partner was less frequent in older cohorts, with a greater proportion of young men reporting they were unsure if they loved their sexual partner or if their sexual partner loved them;
- Men in love with their partners were significantly more likely to endorse the experience as being extremely or quite a bit pleasurable, compared to sexual events in which the participant was not in love.
“We found it particularly interesting that the vast majority of men reported sex with someone they felt ‘matched’ with in terms of love, meaning that most people who were in love had sex with the person they loved, but that there were also a number of men who had sex in the absence of love,” said Herbenick, of the IU School of Public Health in Bloomington.
“Very few people had sex with someone they loved if that person didn’t love them back. This ‘matching’ aspect of love has not been well explored in previous research, regardless of sexual orientation.”
Normal aging is typically accompanied by some declines in cognitive abilities, but a new study suggests that impairment may be mitigated by a proprietary supplement including blueberries and green tea.
Physical activity and cognitive training have been found to be helpful in delaying cognitive decline, with dietary modifications and supplements recently generating additional interest.
In the study, University of South Florida researchers report that a formula of nutrients high in antioxidants and other natural components can help to boost the speed at which the brains of older adults processed information.
The USF-developed nutritional supplement includes extracts from blueberries and green tea combined with vitamin D3 and amino acids, including carnosine.
The compound was tested by the USF researchers in a clinical trial enrolling 105 healthy adults, ages 65 to 85.
Researchers Paula Bickford, Ph.D., and Brent Small, Ph.D., teamed up to investigate the effects of the antioxidant-rich nutritional supplement on the cognitive performance of older adults.
The two-month study evaluated the effects of the formula, called NT-020, on the cognitive performance of these older adults, who had no diagnosed memory disorders.
Those randomized to the group of 52 volunteers receiving NT-020 demonstrated improvements in cognitive processing speed, while the 53 volunteers randomized to receive a placebo did not.
Reduced cognitive processing speed, which can slow thinking and learning, has long been associated with advancing age.
The study, in which participants from both groups took a battery of memory tests before and after the interventions, appears in the current issue of Rejuvenation Research.
“After two months, test results showed modest improvements in two measures of cognitive processing speed for those taking NT-020 compared to those taking placebo,” said Small, a professor in USF’s School of Aging Studies.
“Processing speed is most often affected early on in the course of cognitive aging. Successful performance in processing tasks often underlies more complex cognitive outcomes, such as memory and verbal ability.”
Blueberries, a major ingredient in the NT-020 formula, are rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant containing a polyphenolic, or natural phenol substructure.
“The basis for the use of polyphenol-rich nutritional supplements as a moderator of age-related cognitive decline is the age-related increase in oxidative stress and inflammation,” said study co-principal investigator Paula C. Bickford, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and Brain Repair, and senior research career scientist at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa.
“Non-vitamin polyphenols are the most abundant modulators of oxidative stress and inflammation in our diet. NT-020 is 95 percent polyphenols.”
One of the main ingredients of the supplement, called NT-20, is extracted from blueberries.
In several preclinical trials, researchers gave aging laboratory rats NT-020 to see if it boosted memory and other cognitive performance by promoting the health of neurons in the aging brain.
Those studies demonstrated that NT-020 promoted the growth of stem cells in the brain, produced an overall rejuvenating effect, benefitted animals with simulated stroke, and led to better cognitive performance.
The researchers plan future clinical trials with longer intervention periods so that the optimal time for taking the formula may be better understood.
Researchers also speculate that if the study had included participants who were less healthy cognitively, or those with memory impairments, they may have observed “more robust findings.”
“In the future, having markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as brain-based measures of functioning, may allow us to identify the manner by which this compound, as well as others, may influence functioning,” they concluded.
The NT-020 formula was patented by the University of South Florida, in partnership with the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, and licensed to Natura Therapeutics, Inc. The supplement is commercially available as NutraStem®.
The study was supported by a grant from the University of South Florida Neuroscience Collaborative to Small and Bickford. Bickford is a co-founder of Natura Therapeutics, Inc.
New research finds that the way in which partners interact and provide support to each other can dramatically influence overall cardiovascular health.
Researchers at the University of Utah discovered that the ways in which your spouse is supportive — and how you support your spouse — can actually have significant bearing on your overall cardiovascular health.
The findings reveal that when both partners perceive the support they get from each other as ambivalent — that is, sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting –- each partner’s levels of coronary artery calcification (CAC) tend to be particularly high.
These results are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
“There is a large body of epidemiological research suggesting that our relationships are predictors of mortality rates, especially from cardiovascular disease,” explains Dr. Bert Uchino, psychological scientist of the University of Utah.
“But most prior work has ignored the fact that many relationships are characterized by both positive and negative aspects — in other words, ambivalence.”
Uchino and his colleagues — Timothy Smith and Cynthia Berg — were interested in exploring how this complexity in relationships predicts cardiovascular health.
The researchers instructed 136 older couples (63 years old, on average) to fill out questionnaires measuring their overall marriage quality, as well as their perceived support from their spouse.
Specifically, they indicated how helpful or how upsetting their spouse was during times when they needed support, advice, or a favor.
The researchers found that about 30 percent of individuals viewed their partner as delivering positive support, whereas 70 percent viewed their partner as ambivalent — sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting.
Using a CT scanner to check for overall calcification in the participants’ coronary arteries, the researchers found that CAC levels were highest when both partners in the relationship viewed each other as ambivalent.
When only one partner felt this way, the risk was significantly less. The effect was independent of gender, meaning that these associations were comparable for husbands and wives.
Given that the participants were married for an average of 36 years, one might predict that overall marital satisfaction would have a significant impact on this cardiovascular risk factor — but the researchers didn’t find that to be the case.
It was the positive and negative aspects of lending support that were most significant in predicting cardiovascular health, suggesting that these factors exert their effects independently of overall marital quality.
It’s not exactly clear why this is the case, but the researchers hypothesize that when both partners perceive each other as a source of ambivalence, it changes their behavior toward one another.
“The findings suggest that couples who have more ambivalent views of each other actively interact or process relationship information in ways that increase their stress or undermine the supportive potential in the relationship,” says Uchino.
“This, in turn, may influence their cardiovascular disease risk.”
While Uchino and colleagues can’t be certain that mutual ambivalence causes higher levels of CAC, since the study didn’t follow participants over time, the results do provide the initial evidence necessary for longitudinal studies on relationship support and cardiovascular health.
In the future, researchers plan to explore the actual biological, social, and behavioral pathways linking relationship ambivalence and CAC levels, as well as ways to reduce ambivalence in important social ties.
“Our study shows that within three minutes of meeting in real life, women find more dominant, wider-faced men attractive for short-term relationships, and want to go on another date with them,” said lead researcher Katherine Valentine of Singapore Management University.
Valentine concedes there is significant academic debate about whether physical dominance is advantageous in mating — that is, actually attractive to women. At the same time, researchers have been exploring facial width-to-height ratio (fWHR) as a possible physical indicator of male dominance.
This new study, published in the journal Psychological Science, addressed both issues.
“High male fWHR has previously been associated with surviving in hand-to-hand combat, aggressiveness, self-perceived power, and CEOs’ financial success,” says Valentine.
“Our study shows it’s also a reasonably good indicator of perceived dominance — not only that, it piques women’s interest in a face-to-face speed-dating setting.”
Valentine and colleagues hypothesized that increased fWHR, due to its link with testosterone, would make men seem more dominant and more desirable as romantic interests in the short-term.
But, because facial width is also linked with undesirable traits like aggression, women would not see these men as more desirable for long-term relationships.
The researchers studied over 150 men and women, ages 18 to 32, who participated in one of several speed-dating events.
The participants were all single and they received no compensation other than the prospect of making a potential romantic match. Each speed-dating interaction lasted 3 minutes.
Male speed-daters with higher fWHR, as measured by computer software, were independently rated as more dominant. Women not only expressed more interest in short-term relationships with these men, but were also more likely to choose them for a second date. These associations held even after the researchers accounted for the men’s age and independently-rated attractiveness.
Further analyses suggest that the link between higher fWHR and greater interest in a short-term relationship could be accounted for, at least in part, by perceived dominance.
That fWHR predicted whether women wanted another date with a man came as a surprise.
“The fact that women wanted to see these men again suggests that our findings are robust –- women aren’t just saying they are interested, they’re actually willing to be contacted by these men,” Valentine said.
“Previous studies have found that women prefer more dominant men for short-term relationships, but almost all of these studies were based in the lab and did not involve an interaction that could actually lead to mating and dating.”
Valentine and colleagues plan on further investigating how these individual differences in men affect their overall attractiveness, and in what contexts.
Every year throughout the world hundreds of thousands of court cases are heard based solely on the testimony of somebody who swears that they are reproducing exactly an event that they witnessed in a more or less not too distant past.
Nevertheless, emerging research in cognitive neuroscience indicate both the strengths and weaknesses of the human brain recall.
Memory is a cognitive process which is intrinsically linked to language.
One of the fundamental tasks that the brain carries out when undertaking a linguistic activity — holding a conversation, for example — is the semantic process.
On carrying out this task, the brain compares the words it hears with those that it recalls from previous events, in order to recognize them and to unravel their meaning.
This semantic process is a fundamental task for enabling the storing of memories in our brain, helping us to recognize words and to memorize names and episodes in our mind. However, as everyone knows, this is not a process that functions perfectly all the time.
In fact, this lack of precision, on occasions, gives rise to the creation of false memories.
Two new research studies by Kepa Paz-Alonso, Ph.D., at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language (BCBL) have been published in the Journal of International Neuropsychological Society and the Schizophrenia Research scientific journals.
Researchers discovered that the semantic process linked to the subsequent recognition of such words among children as well as adult schizophrenics, is less efficient than that produced in a normal adult brain.
One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that children do not have this semantic process as automated and developed as adults.
That is, the adult brain, after making the same connections over and over again between various zones of the brain concerned with memory, has mechanized the process of semantically linking new information for its storage.
Nonetheless, according to the results of Paz-Alonso’s research, this process is more likely to generate false memories in the brain of an adult than in a child’s brain.
According to the researchers, “in reality, the same processes that produce these “false memories” amongst healthy adults are also responsible for their having better memory.
“Rather than a memory defect, this effect is an example of the price that we sometimes have to pay for the virtues or merits of our memory.”
Source: Elhuyar Fundazioa
In an article titled “Not Hardwired: The Complex Neurobiology of Sex Differences in Violence” — available free on the journal website — Dr. Debra Niehoff describes how interconnected neural networks, multiple genes, and chemical signals such as hormones and neurotransmitters can be modified by environmental factors and influenced behavior.
Brain structure, function, and connectivity can all differ between men and women, affecting how they may change on exposure to stressful or abusive triggers.
Niehoff explains the interaction of how brains, genetics, and environmental influences can interact and serve as the genesis for violent behavior.
“This holistic view of the origin of violence means that reducing violence will not be a simple fix because it does not have a single origin or cause,” says Mary Ellen O’Toole, Ph.D., the editor of Violence and Gender. ”The temptation to compare a male and female brain must be resisted because there is overlap between the two.”
Researchers believe additional investigations will provide greater insight and knowledge about the biological and environmental causes of violence.
With more knowledge will come answers; answers will lead to solutions, and with solutions will come prevention.
Source: Mary Ann Liebert
Nearly one-third of Americans suffer from chronic pain, often treated with prescription opioid painkillers. Now, a new treatment developed by University of Utah researcher Eric Garland, Ph.D., has shown to not only lower pain but also decrease prescription opioid misuse among chronic pain patients.
The study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, showed that the new treatment led to a 63 percent reduction in opioid misuse, compared to a 32 percent reduction among participants of a conventional support group.
Additionally, participants in the new treatment group experienced a 22 percent reduction in pain-related impairment, which lasted for three months after the end of treatment.
The intervention is called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement, or MORE, and is designed to train people to respond differently to pain, stress, and opioid-related cues.
MORE targets the underlying processes involved in chronic pain and opioid misuse by combining three therapeutic components: mindfulness training, reappraisal, and savoring.
- Mindfulness involves training the mind to increase awareness, gain control over one’s attention, and regulate automatic habits;
- Reappraisal is the process of reframing the meaning of a stressful or adverse event in such a way as to see it as purposeful or growth promoting;
- Savoring is the process of learning to focus attention on positive events to increase one’s sensitivity to naturally rewarding experiences, such as enjoying a beautiful nature scene or experiencing a sense of connection with a loved one.
“Mental interventions can address physical problems, like pain, on both psychological and biological levels because the mind and body are interconnected,” Garland said. “Anything that happens in the brain happens in the body — so by changing brain functioning, you alter the functioning of the body.”
To test the treatment, 115 chronic pain patients were randomly assigned to eight weeks of either MORE or conventional support group therapy, and outcomes were measured through questionnaires at pre- and post-treatment, and again at a three-month follow-up.
Nearly three-quarters of the group misused opioid painkillers before starting the program by taking higher doses than prescribed, using opioids to alleviate stress and anxiety or another method of unauthorized self-medication with opioids.
Among the skills taught by MORE were a daily 15-minute mindfulness practice session guided by a CD and three minutes of mindful breathing prior to taking opioid medication. This practice was intended to increase awareness of opioid craving — helping participants clarify whether opioid use was driven by urges versus a legitimate need for pain relief.
“People who are in chronic pain need relief, and opioids are medically appropriate for many individuals,” Garland said. “However, a new option is needed because existing treatments may not adequately alleviate pain while avoiding the problems that stem from chronic opioid use.”
MORE is currently being tested in a pilot brain imaging trial as a smoking cessation treatment, and there are plans to test the intervention with people suffering from mental health problems who also have alcohol addiction. Further testing on active-duty soldiers with chronic pain and a larger trial among civilians is planned.
If studies continue to demonstrate positive outcomes, MORE could be prescribed by doctors as an adjunct to traditional pain management services.
Source: University of Utah
In a new study, investigators followed 230 patients with bipolar I disorder whose symptoms were severe enough to warrant admission to a Rhode Island psychiatric hospital.
Additionally, many individuals were taking additional medicines for other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease or metabolic disorders. In total, the average patient admitted to a hospital is on six different drugs.
“The study quantifies a difficult outcome for many patients with this difficult-to-treat disorder,” said study lead author Lauren Weinstock, Ph.D.
Weinstock found bipolar patients accrue a high burden of prescriptions each with their own side effects, with often unknown interactions, and with a complexity that can result in not taking the medications as prescribed.
This medication burden also includes high overall cost to patients and the healthcare system.
“Yet for those patients who’ve needed to come to the hospital, these complex combinations of drugs haven’t proven sufficiently effective,” Weinstock said.
The study, published online in the journal Psychiatry Research, also reports the likelihood of a high medication burden was significantly greater for women than men.
“The high rate of complex polypharmacy reflects the enormous challenge of symptom management that we currently face for bipolar disorder,” said Weinstock, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown.
“Without many treatment alternatives, this is where we are as a field. It is important for us to advance science and treatment of bipolar disorder so that this medication burden can be minimized for our patients.”
Weinstock, who studies psychotherapy as a complement to medical treatment, said she and her colleagues became motivated to quantify the pharmacological burden for those with biploar disorder after witnessing it anecdotally among patients.
Weinstock and her co-authors therefore compiled data from patients’ hospital admission records in the calendar year 2010. The only inclusion criteria were being 18 or older, and having a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder at hospital admission and discharge.
“The data aren’t confounded by someone’s active participation in a research study,” Weinstock said. “We wanted to measure what was happening in routine community practice.”
What they found is that when they came to the hospital, patients were taking an average of 3.3 psychotropic drugs and an average of 5.9 drugs overall. Nearly one in five patients weren’t on any psychotropic drugs, but more than half were taking 3 or more and more than a third were taking four or more, meeting the definition of “complex polypharmacy.”
“The complex polypharmacy rate of 36 percent is higher than in a few previous studies that looked at bipolar patients,” Weinstock said, “because those studies did not always include all psychotropic medications, such as the commonly prescribed antianxiety medications.”
Weinstock noted that because no clinical trial of bipolar medications has ever tested more than two drugs in combination, prescribing three or four exceeds practices supported by the field.
“By definition that’s not evidence-based treatment,” she said.
“No prior studies had looked at the total medication burden, rather than just that of pyschotropics. It’s important to do so,” Weinstock said, “because cardiometabolic diseases, in particular, are often concurrent with bipolar disorder. Among the 230 patients in the study, for example, about half had such medical problems.”
In addition, researchers discovered the pharmacy burden was greater for women. “Women were more likely to be on an antidepressant, antianxiety medication, and on stimulants, all of which which remain somewhat controversial in bipolar disorder treatment,” Weinstock said.
The proportion of women taking an antidepressant (43 percent) was nearly twice that of men (23 percent). The significance of the gender disparities in the study endured even after statistically controlling for depressive symptoms in their diagnosis.
“Women weren’t prescribed more medications just because they were more likely to be depressed,” Weinstock said. “This finding raises the question of what other factors may influence higher rates of polypharmacy among female patients, such as patient or provider characteristics.”
But the study does not provide information that could reveal why that is.
Still, combined with other studies and epidemiological data, the study points to a trend that needs improving, Weinstock and her co-authors wrote: “This increased reliance on polypharmacy does not appear to be contributing to decreased rates of illness chronicity or functional impairment in BD.”
University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers discovered that although childhood obesity rates in the U.S. have tripled during the past 30 years, more than half of parents do not recognize that their child is overweight.
Alyssa Lundahl and her adviser, Dr. Timothy Nelson, an assistant professor of psychology, sought a clear answer on when and whether parents realize their children are overweight.
To do this, Lundahl combined and analyzed data from 69 studies conducted worldwide between 1990 and 2012, involving children aged 2 to 18.
As found in an article published online in the journal Pediatrics, Lundahl found that more than 50 percent of parents underestimate the weight of their overweight or obese child.
“This is a topic that has a lot of implications for children and their weight,” Lundahl said.
“Parents who underestimate their children’s weight may not encourage healthy eating and physical activities that can optimize their children’s health and reduce their risk of obesity.”
“Surprisingly, parents’ perceptions about whether their children are overweight have not changed as childhood obesity rates increased,” Lundahl noted.
Nor are they influenced by obesity rates in the place where they live.
“No matter where you are and no matter what the rate of obesity is in that area, parents are still underestimating the weight of their overweight children,” she said.
Parents of younger children, ages 2 to 5, are less likely to perceive their children as overweight or obese.
“Perceptions grow more accurate with age,” Lundahl said. “Parents realize it’s not just baby fat any more and they’re not going to grow out of it.”
Parents also are less accurate in judging the size of their sons, believing that normal weight sons are actually underweight.
“There is a belief that boys are supposed to be big and strong,” she said. “”If they’re not a little bit bigger, they’re seen as being too small.”
Parents who are overweight were also found to underestimate their children’s weight.
“The study has important implications for pediatricians,” Nelson said. “Overweight 2- to 5-year-olds are five times more likely than their non-overweight counterparts to be overweight at 12 years of age.”
Obesity in adolescence is highly predictive of adult weight problems.
“The cases that are missed by parents are actually really unfortunate because those are the cases where early intervention can have some good effects,” Nelson said.
“If pediatricians recognize that many parents don’t accurately judge whether their child has a weight problem, they can help parents improve their children’s health by encouraging healthy eating and physical activity,” Lundahl said.
Investigators found that nearly one-third of US adolescents consume high-caffeine energy drinks or “shots.”
Researchers believe the same characteristics that attract young people to consume energy drinks — such as being “sensation-seeking or risk-oriented” — may make them more likely to use other substances as well.
Yvonne M. Terry-McElrath, M.S.A., and colleagues analyzed nationally representative data on nearly 22,000 US secondary school students (eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders).
The teens were participants in the University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
As reported in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, researchers administered a survey and discovered about 30 percent of teens reported using caffeine-containing energy drinks or shots.
More than 40 percent said they drank regular soft drinks every day, while 20 percent drank diet soft drinks daily.
Boys were more likely to use energy drinks than girls. Use was also higher for teens without two parents at home and those whose parents were less educated.
Perhaps surprisingly, the youngest teens (eighth graders) were most likely to use energy drinks/shots.
Students who used energy drinks/shots were also more likely to report recent use of alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs.
Across age groups and with adjustment for other factors, teens who used energy drinks/shots were two or three times more likely to report other types of substance use, compared to those who didn’t use energy drinks.
Soft drink consumption was also related to substance use. However, the associations were much stronger for energy drinks/shots.
Energy drinks and shots are products containing high doses of caffeine, marketed as aids to increasing energy, concentration, or alertness. Studies in young adults suggest that consumption of energy drinks is associated with increased use of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco.
In young adults, energy drinks have been linked to behavioral patterns of “sensation-seeking or risk orientation.”
Energy drinks are often used together with alcohol, which may “mask” the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
The new study is one of the first to look at consumption of energy drinks by U.S adolescents, and how they may be related to other types of substance use.
“The current study indicates that adolescent consumption of energy drinks/shots is widespread and that energy drink users also report heightened risk for substance use,” Terry-McElrath and colleagues write.
They emphasize that their study provides no cause-and-effect data showing that energy drinks lead to substance abuse in teens.
However, the researchers believe that the findings linking energy drinks to substance use in young adults are likely relevant to adolescents as well.
They write, “[E]ducation for parents and prevention efforts among adolescents should include education on the masking effects of caffeine in energy drinks on alcohol- and other substance-related impairments, and recognition that some groups (such as high sensation–seeking youth) may be particularly likely to consume energy drinks and to be substance users.”
Even without the possible link to substance use, Terry-McElrath and coauthors note that, with their high caffeine and sugar content, energy drinks and shots aren’t a good dietary choice for teens.
They cite a recent American Academy of Pediatrics report stating that “[C]affeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.”
Source: Wolters Kluwer Health
Psychological researchers believe their finding, which appears in the journal Psychological Review, helps to clarify a long-standing debate in psychology about the capacity of our “working memory.”
That is, are the limits on the amount of information we can remember for a short period, such as a phone number or a snapshot of a traffic situation, best understood as a cap on the total number of memories we can store or, rather, as a limitation on their quality?
“Our findings show that we don’t simply store a set number of items and then recall them near-perfectly,” said Dr. Weiji Ma, an associate professor at New York University, and the study’s senior author.
“Rather, we try to memorize all relevant objects, but the quality of these recollections is uneven and gets worse as we have to remember more.”
Working memory (WM) has a similar function as random access memory (RAM) in computers, but its mechanisms are not nearly as well understood. In recent years, psychology researchers have come to contrasting conclusions on the limits of working memory.
Some have posited that there a fixed number of memories we can store in there — for example, we may be able to store the positions of only four different cars in our working memory at any one time.
However, others have maintained that working memory’s storage is not defined by the number of items it can hold; rather, these scholars see its limits as better defined by the quality of memories.
For instance, in recalling the colors in a painting, we may remember seeing light blue in the work when, in fact, the actual color was teal. In other words, working memory’s bounds are a matter of precision rather than quantity.
In an effort to resolve this debate, Ma and colleagues examined data from 10 previously conducted experiments across six different laboratories, in total consisting of more than 130,000 subject responses.
In a typical experiment, subjects were asked to recall one of up to eight colors they had seen a few seconds ago — a well-established measurement for gauging memory. This allowed the researchers to test different models that explained the capacity of our working memory — that is, is it a function of quality or quantity?
“This is the first study in this area that uses this much data, and we hope that our data set can serve as a benchmark for future studies,” Ma said.
Their analysis showed that working memory capacity is best explained in terms of the quality of memories. Investigators discovered the quality of the memories gradually diminished as subjects were asked to recall more and more colors.
Contrary to what many textbooks claim, memory performance could not be explained by a fixed number of memories.
Ma does add a caveat, “Our results certainly does not mean that you always remember everything that matters. However, ‘remembering everything a little bit’ seems much closer to the truth than ‘remembering a few things perfectly and others not at all’.”
Ma points to how we navigate traffic in illustrating how quality matters in working memory. When driving, we may store the positions of cars and pedestrians, the colors of the street signs, and the distance to the next traffic light. However, quality of some of these memories may be quite high (e.g., the positions of other cars) while for others it may be poor (e.g., the color of the street signs).
Jesse C. Stewart, Ph.D., of the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, says the research is the first to discover the potential cardiac benefit of depression care.
“Previous studies we and others have conducted indicate that depression is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But past depression treatment studies involving cardiac patients have not shown the anticipated cardiovascular benefits.
“So we asked ourselves, what if we treated depression before the onset of cardiovascular disease? Could that cut the risk of heart attack and stroke? Our results suggest that the answer is yes,” said Stewart.
The researchers followed 235 older, clinically depressed patients who were randomly assigned to standard care or to a collaborative care program involving antidepressants and psychotherapy.
Among the 168 patients with no cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, those who received collaborative care to treat their depression had a 48 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke over the next eight years than did patients who received standard care for their depression.
In contrast, collaborative care was not associated with a lower risk of a heart attack or stroke among the 67 patients with preexisting cardiovascular disease.
These findings suggest that depression treatment may need to be initiated before the onset of cardiovascular disease if cardiovascular benefits are desired.
“Lifestyle changes — such as stopping smoking — and blood pressure and cholesterol medications are important approaches to decreasing risk of heart attacks and strokes. Our findings, if confirmed in a larger clinical trial, could provide an important new approach — depression treatment — to preventing cardiovascular events,” said Dr. Stewart.
He and his collaborators are seeking funding to conduct a larger randomized controlled trial to verify that treating depression earlier in the natural history of cardiovascular disease reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Depression affects more than 6.5 million Americans age 65 years or older, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.
“In the near future, depression treatment may play an important role in reducing disability and death due to cardiovascular disease,” said Stewart.
The study appears in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
New research finds women with schizophrenia are nearly twice as likely to experience pre-eclampsia, pre-term birth, and other serious pregnancy and delivery complications as women without the condition.
The study by UK researchers, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, is the first to report high birth weights, and increased rates of hypertension and blood clots in pregnant women with schizophrenia.
“Traditionally, women with schizophrenia have had low fertility rates, and little attention was paid to their reproductive health,” said Dr. Simon Vigod, lead author of the study.
“But recently, with fertility rates on the rise among these women, we must now turn our attention to ensuring their reproductive health and that of their babies.”
The population-based study of women aged 15 to 49 who gave birth to a live or stillborn infant in Ontario from 2002 to 2011 also found that:
- Prior to pregnancy, women with schizophrenia were three times more likely to have diabetes mellitus (3.9 percent vs. 1.2 percent), chronic hypertension (3.7 percent vs. 1.9 percent) and thromboembolic disease (1.7 percent vs. 0.5 percent) than women without the condition;
- Women with schizophrenia required more intensive hospital resources, including operative delivery and maternal ICU admission, paralleled by higher neonatal morbidity;
- Women with schizophrenia were more likely to experience placental abruption and septic shock, require labor induction and caesarean section, to be transferred to an intensive care unit and readmitted to hospital after discharge;
- Women with schizophrenia also had more than five times the risk of death one year after giving birth.
- Infants born to mothers diagnosed with schizophrenia were at increased risk of preterm birth, and tended to be abnormally small or large in weight, compared to infants of unaffected mothers.
“This study gives us the information and tools to begin to look at what interventions we can put in place to help reduce the risk of pregnancy and delivery complications for women with schizophrenia,” added Vigod.
“That might include providing better education so that these women can make informed reproductive decisions, and ensuring the best medical care possible before, during, and after pregnancy.”
Source: Women’s College Hospital