Chapter 13. Memory, Learning, and Development

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Heidi Ledford Teaching parents of children with autism how to interact more effectively with their offspring brings the children benefits that linger for years, according to the largest and longest-running study of autism interventions. The training targeted parents with 2–4-year-old children with autism. Six years after the adults completed the year-long course, their children showed better social communication and reduced repetitive behaviours, and fewer were considered to have “severe” autism as compared to a control group, according to results published on 25 October in The Lancet1. “This is not a cure,” says child psychiatrist Jonathan Green of the University of Manchester, and an investigator on the study. “But it does have a sustained and substantial reduction in severity and that’s important in families.” John Constantino, a child psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, says that the results are “monumentally important”, because there has been little evidence showing that interventions for autism at an early stage are effective — even though researchers already broadly endorse the idea. "It is a rare long-term randomized controlled trial in a field in which there exists almost no data of this kind," he says. But he adds that the magnitude of the improvement was a disappointment, and that there were signs that the effects of treatment were diminishing over time. And although the therapy benefited communication skills and decreased repetitive behaviours, it did not lessen childrens' anxiety — another key symptom of autism. “Perhaps most of all, this underscores how desperately important it is that we develop higher-impact interventions,” he says. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Autism; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22791 - Posted: 10.26.2016

By Steven C. Pan A good night’s sleep can be transformative. Among its benefits are improved energy and mood, better immune system functioning and blood sugar regulation, and greater alertness and ability to concentrate. Given all of these benefits, the fact that a third of the human lifespan is spent sleeping makes evolutionary sense. However, sleep appears to have another important function: helping us learn. Across a plethora of memory tasks—involving word lists, maze locations, auditory tones, and more—going to sleep after training yields better performance than remaining awake. This has prompted many sleep researchers to reach a provocative conclusion: beyond merely supporting learning, sleep is vital, and perhaps even directly responsible, for learning itself. Recent discoveries from neuroscience provide insights into that possibility. Sleep appears to be important for long-term potentiation, a strengthening of signals between neurons that is widely regarded as a mechanism of learning and memory. Certain memories acquired during the day appear to be reactivated and “replayed” in the brain during sleep, which may help make them longer lasting. In some instances the amount of improvement that occurs on memory tasks positively correlates with the length of time spent in certain stages of sleep. These and other findings are generating great excitement among sleep researchers, as well as prompting heated debates about the degree to which sleep may or may not be involved in learning. To date, most sleep and learning research has focused on recall, which is the capacity to remember information. However, new research by Stéphanie Mazza and colleagues at the University of Lyon, recently published in the journal Psychological Science,suggests another potential benefit of sleep: improved relearning. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Sleep; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22787 - Posted: 10.26.2016

Merrit Kennedy Parents can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by keeping their child's crib in the same room, close to their bed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That's one of the key recommendations in new guidance released today aimed at preventing SIDS, which claims the lives of approximately 3,500 infants every year in the United States. That number "initially decreased in the 1990s after a national safe sleep campaign, but has plateaued in recent years," the AAP adds. The pediatricians say that children should sleep in the same room but on a separate surface from their parents for at least the first six months of their lives, and ideally the first year. They say that this can halve the risk of SIDS. It also "removes the possibility of suffocation, strangulation, and entrapment that may occur when the infant is sleeping in an adult bed," according to the recommendations. The AAP discourages sharing a bed with an infant. You can read the AAP's full guidance here. These are a few more of the pediatricians' recommendations: Infants under a year old should always sleep lying on their backs. Side sleeping "is not safe and is not advised," the AAP says. Infants should always sleep on a firm surface covered by only a flat sheet. That's because soft mattresses "could create a pocket ... and increase the chance of rebreathing or suffocation if the infant is placed in or rolls over to the prone position." Smoking — both during pregnancy and around the infant after birth — can increase the risk of SIDS. Alcohol and illicit drugs during pregnancy can also contribute to SIDS, and "parental alcohol and/or illicit drug use in combination with bed-sharing places the infant at particularly high risk of SIDS," the pediatricians say. © 2016 npr

Keyword: Sleep; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22786 - Posted: 10.25.2016

Bret Stetka Every day in the United States, millions of expectant mothers take a prenatal vitamin on the advice of their doctor. The counsel typically comes with physical health in mind: folic acid to help avoid fetal spinal cord problems; iodine to spur healthy brain development; calcium to be bound like molecular Legos into diminutive baby bones. But what about a child's future mental health? Questions about whether ADHD might arise a few years down the road or whether schizophrenia could crop up in young adulthood tend to be overshadowed by more immediate parental anxieties. As a friend with a newborn daughter recently fretted over lunch, "I'm just trying not to drop her!" Yet much as pediatricians administer childhood vaccines to guard against future infections, some psychiatrists now are thinking about how to shift their treatment-centric discipline toward one that also deals in early prevention. In 2013, University of Colorado psychiatrist Robert Freedman and colleagues recruited 100 healthy, pregnant women from greater Denver to study whether giving the B vitamin choline during pregnancy would enhance brain growth in the developing fetus. The moms-to-be were randomly given either a placebo or a form of choline called phosphatidylcholine. Choline itself is broken down by bacteria in the gut; by giving it in this related form the supplement can more effectively be absorbed into the bloodstream. © 2016 npr

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22777 - Posted: 10.22.2016

By Agata Blaszczak-Boxe Some rodents have a sweet tooth. And sometimes, you need to get crafty to reach your sugar fix. Rats have been filmed for the first time using hooked tools to get chocolate cereal – a manifestation of their critter intelligence. Akane Nagano and Kenjiro Aoyama, of Doshisha University in Kyotanabe, Japan, placed eight brown rats in a transparent box and trained them to pull small hooked tools to obtain the cereal that was otherwise beyond their reach. In one experiment they gave them two similar hooked tools, one of which worked well for the food retrieval task, and the other did not. The rats quickly learned to choose the correct tool for the job, selecting it 95 per cent of the time. The experiments showed that the rats understood the spatial arrangement between the food and the tool. The team’s study is the first to demonstrate that rats are able to use tools, says Nagano. The rats did get a little confused in the final experiment. When the team gave them a rake that looked the part but with a bottom was too soft and flimsy to move the cereal, they still tried to use it as much as the working tool that was also available. But, says Nagano, it is possible their eyesight was simply not good enough for them to tell that the flimsy tool wasn’t up to the task. The rodents’ crafty feat places them in the ever-growing club of known tool-using animals such as chimps, bearded capuchin monkeys, New Caledonian crows, alligators and even some fish. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Intelligence
Link ID: 22774 - Posted: 10.22.2016

Tina Hesman Saey VANCOUVER — Zika virus’s tricks for interfering with human brain cell development may also be the virus’s undoing. Zika infection interferes with DNA replication and repair machinery and also prevents production of some proteins needed for proper brain growth, geneticist Feiran Zhang of Emory University in Atlanta reported October 19 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. Levels of a protein called p53, which helps control cell growth and death, shot up by 80 percent in human brain cells infected with the Asian Zika virus strain responsible for the Zika epidemic in the Americas, Zhang said. The lab dish results are also reported in the Oct. 14 Nucleic Acids Research. Increased levels of the protein stop developing brain cells from growing and may cause the cells to commit suicide. A drug that inactivates p53 stopped brain cells from dying, Zhang said. Such p53 inhibitors could help protect developing brains in babies infected with Zika. But researchers would need to be careful giving such drugs because too little p53 can lead to cancer. Zika also makes small RNA molecules that interfere with production of proteins needed for DNA replication, cell growth and brain development, Zhang said. In particular, a small viral RNA called vsRNA-21 reduced the amount of microcephalin 1 protein made in human brain cells in lab dishes. The researchers confirmed the results in mouse experiments. That protein is needed for brain growth; not enough leads to the small heads seen in babies with microcephaly. Inhibitors of the viral RNAs might also be used in therapies, Zhang suggested. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22770 - Posted: 10.20.2016

By MARC SANTORA The morning after Christine Grounds gave birth to her son Nicholas, she awoke to find a neurologist examining her baby. It was summer 2006, and Nicholas was her first child. There had been no indication that anything was wrong during her pregnancy, but it was soon clear that there was a problem. “Did you know he has microcephaly?” she remembers the doctor asking matter-of-factly. Confused, she replied, “What is microcephaly?” This was before the Zika virus had spread from Brazil across South and Central America and the Caribbean and reached Florida. It was before doctors had determined that the virus could cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which children have malformed heads and severely stunted brain development. And it was before people had seen the devastating pictures of scores of newborns with the condition in Brazil and elsewhere that shocked the world this year. Ms. Grounds, a 45-year-old psychotherapist, and her husband, Jon Mir, who live in Manhattan, had no idea what microcephaly would mean for them or for their child. “We had a diagnosis but no prognosis,” recalled Mr. Mir, 44, who works in finance. The doctors could offer few answers. “We don’t know if he will walk,” the couple recalled being told. “We don’t know if he will talk. He might be in a vegetative state.” But the truth was, even the doctors did not know. As mosquito season draws to a close in much of the country, taking with it the major risk of new Zika infections, there are still more than 2,600 pregnant women who have tested positive for the virus in the United States and its territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They, and thousands more around the world, face the prospect of giving birth to a child with microcephaly. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22766 - Posted: 10.19.2016

By Gary Stix The new mantra for researchers fighting Alzheimer’s disease is “go early,” before memory loss or other pathology appears. The rationale for this approach holds that by the time dementia sets in the disease may already be destroying brain cells, placing severe limits on treatment options. Some large clinical trials are now testing drugs intended to clear up the brain’s cellular detritus—the aggregations of amyloid and tau proteins that may ultimately destroy brain cells. So far this approach has had decidedly mixed results. Some researchers are choosing a different direction. They have begun to ask what happens in the brain before the plaques and tangles of amyloid and tau appear—and to look at interventions that might work at this incipient disease stage. The Alzheimer’s Disease Drug Discovery Foundation has focused in recent years on funding new agents that do not target amyloid but are intended to address other manifestations of the disease, such as inflammation and the energy metabolism of neurons. At a meeting last month in Jersey City, N.J., neuroscientist Grace Stutzmann of the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science presented her work on restoring a basic cellular process—called calcium signaling—that goes off track in Alzheimer’s. Scientific American asked her recently about her work. © 2016 Scientific American,

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 22754 - Posted: 10.13.2016

By Smitha Mundasad Health reporter People who experience frequent drops in blood pressure or dizziness when suddenly standing up are at increased risk of dementia, scientists say. Writing in Plos Medicine they suggest that less blood reaches the brain during these moments, leading to brain cell damage over time. Dementia experts say this is a "robust study" and "plausible explanation" that needs further investigation. Charities point out that factors such as smoking carry higher risks. But they say the work adds to growing evidence that changes in blood pressure have an impact on the brain. Previous studies have linked high blood pressure to types of dementia. But in this paper scientists focused on transient periods of low blood pressure - also known as postural hypotension - which become more common in older age. These episodes can sometimes leave people feeling dizzy or give them "head rushes" when standing up suddenly. Researchers from the Erasmus Medical Center, in the Netherlands, tracked 6,000 people for an average of 15 years. They found those who suffered repeated periods of low blood pressure on standing were more likely to develop dementia in the years that followed. Researcher Dr Arfan Ikram said: "Even though the effect can be seen as subtle - with an increased risk of about 4% for people with postural hypotension compared to those without it - so many people suffer from postural hypotension as they get older that it could have a significant impact on the burden of dementia across the world." He told the BBC: "If people experience frequent episodes of dizziness on standing, particularly as they get older, they should see their GPs for advice." © 2016 BBC

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 22753 - Posted: 10.13.2016

By Gareth Cook According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 5 percent of American children suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), yet the diagnosis is given to some 15 percent of American children, many of whom are placed on powerful drugs with lifelong consequences. This is the central fact of the journalist Alan Schwarz’s new book, ADHD Nation. Explaining this fact—how it is that perhaps two thirds of the children diagnosed with ADHD do not actually suffer from the disorder—is the book’s central mystery. The result is a damning indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, and an alarming portrait of what is being done to children in the name of mental health. What prompted you to write this book? In 2011, having spent four years exposing the dangers of concussions in the National Football League and youth sports for The New York Times, I wanted another project. I had heard that high school students in my native Westchester County (just north of New York City) were snorting Adderall before the S.A.T.'s to focus during the test. I was horrified and wanted to learn more. I saw it not as a "child psychiatry" story, and not as a "drug abuse" story, but one about academic pressure and the demands our children feel they're under. When I looked deeper, it was obvious that our nationwide system of ADHD treatment was completely scattershot—basically, many doctors were merely prescribing with little thought into whether a kid really had ADHD or not, and then the pills would be bought and sold among students who had no idea what they were messing with. I asked the ADHD and child-psychiatry establishment about this, and they denied it was happening. They denied that there were many false diagnoses. They denied that teenagers were buying and selling pills. They denied that the national diagnosis rates reported by the C.D.C.—then 9.5 percent of children aged 4-17, now 11 percent and still growing—were valid. They basically denied that anything about their world was malfunctioning at all. In the end, they doth protest too much. I wrote about 10 front-page stories for The New York Times on the subject from 2012-2014. © 2016 Scientific American,

Keyword: ADHD; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22747 - Posted: 10.12.2016

Erin Ross The teenage brain has been characterized as a risk-taking machine, looking for quick rewards and thrills instead of acting responsibly. But these behaviors could actually make teens better than adults at certain kinds of learning. "In neuroscience, we tend to think that if healthy brains act in a certain way, there should be a reason for it," says Juliet Davidow, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University in the Affective Neuroscience and Development Lab and the lead author of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Neuron. But scientists and the public often focus on the negatives of teen behavior, so she and her colleagues set out to test the hypothesis that teenagers' drive for rewards, and the risk-taking that comes from it, exist for a reason. When it comes to what drives reward-seeking in teens, fingers have always been pointed at the striatum, a lobster-claw-shape structure in the brain. When something surprising and good happens — say, you find $20 on the street — your body produces the pleasure-related hormone dopamine, and the striatum responds. "Research shows that the teenage striatum is very active," says Davidow. This suggests that teens are hard-wired to seek immediate rewards. But, she adds, it's also shown that their prefrontal cortex, which helps with impulse control, isn't fully developed. Combined, these two things have given teens their risky rep. But the striatum isn't just involved in reward-seeking. It's also involved in learning from rewards, explains Daphna Shohamy, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University who worked on the study. She wanted to see if teenagers would be better at this type of learning than adults would. © 2016 npr

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22738 - Posted: 10.10.2016

Richard A. Friedman There’s a reason adults don’t pick up Japanese or learn how to kite surf. It’s ridiculously hard. In stark contrast, young people can learn the most difficult things relatively easily. Polynomials, Chinese, skateboarding — no problem! Neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to form new neural connections and be influenced by the environment — is greatest in childhood and adolescence, when the brain is still a work in progress. But this window of opportunity is finite. Eventually it slams shut. Or so we thought. Until recently, the conventional wisdom within the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry has been that development is a one-way street, and once a person has passed through his formative years, experiences and abilities are very hard, if not impossible, to change. What if we could turn back the clock in the brain and recapture its earlier plasticity? This possibility is the focus of recent research in animals and humans. The basic idea is that during critical periods of brain development, the neural circuits that help give rise to mental states and behaviors are being sculpted and are particularly sensitive to the effects of experience. If we can understand what starts and stops these periods, perhaps we can restart them. Think of the brain’s sensitive periods as blown glass: The molten glass is very malleable, but you have a relatively brief time before it cools and becomes crystalline. Put it back into the furnace, and it can once again change shape. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22737 - Posted: 10.10.2016

Dean Burnett Throughout history, people have always worried about new technologies. The fear that the human brain cannot cope with the onslaught of information made possible by the latest development was first voiced in response to the printing press, back in the sixteenth century. Swap “printing press” for “internet” and you have the exact same concerns today, regularly voiced in the mainstream media, and usually focused on children. But is there any legitimacy to these claims? Or are they just needless scaremongering? There are several things to bear in mind when considering how our brains deal with the internet. The human brain is always dealing with a constant stream of rich information - that’s what the real world is First, don’t forget that “the internet” is a very vague term, given that it contains so many things across so many formats. You could, for instance, develop a gambling addiction via online casinos or poker sites. This is an example of someone’s brain being negatively affected via the internet, but it would be difficult to argue that the internet is the main culprit, any more than a gambling addiction obtained via a real world casino can be blamed on “buildings”; it’s just the context in which the problem occurred. However, the internet does give us a far more direct, constant and wide ranging access to information than pretty much anything else in human history. So how could, or does, this affect us and our brains? © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22736 - Posted: 10.10.2016

By Anna Azvolinsky _The human cerebral cortex experiences a burst of growth late in fetal development thanks to the expansion and migration of progenitor cells that ultimately form excitatory neurons. For a fully functional brain, in addition to excitatory neurons, inhibitory ones (called interneurons) are also necessary. Yet scientists have not been able to account for the increase in inhibitory neurons that occurs after birth. Now, in a paper published today (October 6) in Science, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), have shown that there is a reserve of young neurons that continue to migrate and integrate into the frontal lobes of infants. “It was thought previously that addition of new neurons to the human cortex [mostly] happens only during fetal development. This new study shows that young neurons continue to migrate on a large scale into the cerebral cortex of infants,” Benedikt Berninger, who studies brain development at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany, and was not involved in the work, wrote in an email to The Scientist. “This implies that experience during the first few months could affect this migration and thereby contribute to brain plasticity.” Aside from the migration of neurons into the olfactory bulb in infants, “this is the first time anyone has been able to catch neurons in the act of moving into the cortex,” said New York University neuroscientist Gord Fishell who penned an accompanying editorial but was not involved in the work. “We kept expecting these interneurons to be new cells but, in fact, they are immature ones hanging around and taking the long road from the bottom of the brain to the cortex.” © 1986-2016 The Scientist

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Neurogenesis
Link ID: 22734 - Posted: 10.08.2016

/ By Seth Mnookin When Henry Molaison died at a Connecticut nursing home in 2008, at the age of 82, a front-page obituary in The New York Times called him “the most important patient in the history of brain science.” It was no exaggeration: Much of what we know about how memory works is derived from experiments on Molaison, a patient with severe epilepsy who in 1953 had undergone an operation that left him without medial temporal lobes and the ability to form new memories. The operation didn’t completely stop Molaison’s seizures — the surgeon, William Beecher Scoville, had done little more than guess at the locus of his affliction — but by chance, it rendered him a near-perfect research subject. Not only could postoperative changes in his behavior be attributed to the precise area of his brain that had been removed, but the fact that he couldn’t remember what had happened 30 seconds earlier made him endlessly patient and eternally willing to endure all manner of experiments. It didn’t take long for those experiments to upend our understanding of the human brain. By the mid-1950s, studies on Molaison (known until his death only as Patient H.M.) had shown that, contrary to popular belief, memories were created not in the brain as a whole, but in specific regions — and that different types of memories were formed in different ways. Molaison remained a research subject until his death, and for the last 41 years of his life, the person who controlled access to him, and was involved in virtually all the research on him, was an MIT neuroscientist named Suzanne Corkin. Copyright 2016 Undark

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22729 - Posted: 10.05.2016

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS A single concussion experienced by a child or teenager may have lasting repercussions on mental health and intellectual and physical functioning throughout adulthood, and multiple head injuries increase the risks of later problems, according to one of the largest, most elaborate studies to date of the impacts of head trauma on the young. You cannot be an athlete, parent of an athlete, sports fan or reader of this newspaper and not be aware that concussions appear to be both more common — and more dangerous — than most of us once thought. According to a report released last week by the health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield, based on data from medical claims nationwide, the incidence of diagnosed concussions among people under the age of 20 climbed 71 percent between 2010 and 2015. The rates rose most steeply among girls, with the incidence soaring by 119 percent during that time, although almost twice as many concussions over all were diagnosed in boys. The report acknowledges that the startling increase may partly reflect a growing awareness of the injury among parents, sports officials and physicians, which has led to more diagnoses. But the sheer numbers also suggest that more young people, particularly young athletes, are experiencing head injuries than in the past. Similar increases have been noted among young people in other nations. But the consequences, if any, for their health during adulthood have largely remained unknown. So for the new study, which was funded primarily by the Wellcome Trust and published in August in PLOS Medicine, scientists from Oxford University, Indiana University, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and other universities turned to an extensive trove of data about the health of people in Sweden. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22728 - Posted: 10.05.2016

Jon Hamilton Want to be smarter? More focused? Free of memory problems as you age? If so, don't count on brain games to help you. That's the conclusion of an exhaustive evaluation of the scientific literature on brain training games and programs. It was published Monday in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. "It's disappointing that the evidence isn't stronger," says Daniel Simons, an author of the article and a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "It would be really nice if you could play some games and have it radically change your cognitive abilities," Simons says. "But the studies don't show that on objectively measured real-world outcomes." The evaluation, done by a team of seven scientists, is a response to a very public disagreement about the effectiveness of brain games, Simons says. In October 2014, more than 70 scientists published an open letter objecting to marketing claims made by brain training companies. Pretty soon, another group, with more than 100 scientists, published a rebuttal saying brain training has a solid scientific base. "So you had two consensus statements, each signed by many, many people, that came to essentially opposite conclusions," Simons says. © 2016 npr

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22727 - Posted: 10.05.2016

By Rebecca Robbins, In the months before his death, Robin Williams was besieged by paranoia and so confused he couldn’t remember his lines while filming a movie, as his brain was ambushed by what doctors later identified as an unusually severe case of Lewy body dementia. “Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it. Can you imagine the pain he felt as he experienced himself disintegrating?” the actor’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, wrote in a wrenching editorial published this week in the journal Neurology. The title of her piece: “The terrorist inside my husband’s brain.” Susan Williams addressed the editorial to neurologists, writing that she hoped husband’s story would “help you understand your patients along with their spouses and caregivers a little more.” Susan Williams has previously blamed Lewy body dementia for her husband’s death by suicide in 2014. About 1.3 million Americans have the disease, which is caused by protein deposits in the brain. Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a few months before he died; the telltale signs of Lewy body dementia in his brain were not discovered until an autopsy. The editorial chronicles Williams’s desperation as he sought to understand a bewildering array of symptoms that started with insomnia, constipation, and an impaired sense of smell and soon spiraled into extreme anxiety, tremors, and difficulty reasoning. © 2016 Scientific American,

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 22721 - Posted: 10.02.2016

Mia Persson Dogs may look to humans for help in solving impossible tasks thanks to some genes previously linked to social disorders in people. Beagles with particular variants in a gene associated with autism were more likely to sidle up to and make physical contact with a human stranger, researchers report September 29 in Scientific Reports. That gene, SEZ6L, is one of five genes in a particular stretch of beagle DNA associated with sociability in the dogs, animal behaviorist Per Jensen and colleagues at Linköping University in Sweden say. Versions of four of those five genes have been linked to human social disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and aggression. “What we figure has been going on here is that there are genetic variants that tend to make dogs more sociable and these variants have been selected during domestication,” Jensen says. But other researchers say the results are preliminary and need to be confirmed by looking at other dog breeds. Previous genetic studies of dog domestication have not implicated these genes. But, says evolutionary geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt of Princeton University, genes that influence sociability are “not an unlikely target for domestication — as humans, we would be most interested in a protodog that was interested in spending time with humans.” |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.

Keyword: Autism; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 22716 - Posted: 09.30.2016

By Deborah R. Glasofer, Joanna Steinglass Every day on the dot of noon, Jane* would eat her 150-calorie lunch: nonfat yogurt and a handful of berries. To eat earlier, she felt, would be “gluttonous.” To eat later would disrupt the dinner ritual. Jane's eating initially became more restrictive in adolescence, when she worried about the changes her body was undergoing in the natural course of puberty. When she first settled on her lunchtime foods and routine—using a child-size spoon to “make the yogurt last” and sipping water between each bite—she felt accomplished. Jane enjoyed her friends' compliments about her “incredible willpower.” In behavioral science terms, her actions were goal-directed, motivated by achieving a particular outcome. In relatively short order, she got the result she really wanted: weight loss. Years later Jane, now in her 30s and a newspaper reporter, continued to eat the same lunch in the same way. Huddled over her desk in the newsroom, she tried to avoid unwanted attention and feared anything that might interfere with the routine. She no longer felt proud of her behavior. Her friends stopped complimenting her “self-control” years ago, when her weight plummeted perilously low. So low that she has had to be hospitalized on more than one occasion. The longed-for weight loss did not make her feel better about herself or her appearance. Jane's curly hair, once shiny and thick, dulled and thinned; her skin and eyes lost their brightness. There were other costs as well—to her relationships, to her career. Instead of dreaming about a great romance, Jane would dream of the cupcakes she could not let herself have at her niece's birthday party. Instead of thinking about the best lead for her next story, she obsessed over calories and exercise. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Anorexia & Bulimia; Attention
Link ID: 22713 - Posted: 09.30.2016