Chapter 13. Memory, Learning, and Development
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By James Gallagher Health editor, BBC News website The key to learning and memory in early life is a lengthy nap, say scientists. Trials with 216 babies up to 12 months old indicated they were unable to remember new tasks if they did not have a lengthy sleep soon afterwards. The University of Sheffield team suggested the best time to learn may be just before sleep and emphasised the importance of reading at bedtime. Experts said sleep may be much more important in early years than at other ages. People spend more of their time asleep as babies than at any other point in their lives. Yet the researchers, in Sheffield and Ruhr University Bochum, in Germany, say "strikingly little is known" about the role of sleep in the first year of life. Learn, sleep, repeat They taught six- to 12-month-olds three new tasks involving playing with hand puppets. Half the babies slept within four hours of learning, while the rest either had no sleep or napped for fewer than 30 minutes. The next day, the babies were encouraged to repeat what they had been taught. The results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed "sleeping like a baby" was vital for learning. On average one-and-a-half tasks could be repeated after having a substantial nap. Yet zero tasks could be repeated if there was little sleep time. Dr Jane Herbert, from the department of psychology at the University of Sheffield, told the BBC News website: "Those who sleep after learning learn well, those not sleeping don't learn at all." © 2015 BBC
by Michael Hotchkiss Forget about it. Your brain is a memory powerhouse, constantly recording experiences in long-term memory. Those memories help you find your way through the world: Who works the counter each morning at your favorite coffee shop? How do you turn on the headlights of your car? What color is your best friend's house? But then your barista leaves for law school, you finally buy a new car and your buddy spends the summer with a paint brush in hand. Suddenly, your memories are out of date. What happens next? An experiment conducted by researchers from Princeton University and the University of Texas-Austin shows that the human brain uses memories to make predictions about what it expects to find in familiar contexts. When those subconscious predictions are shown to be wrong, the related memories are weakened and are more likely to be forgotten. And the greater the error, the more likely you are to forget the memory. "This has the benefit ultimately of reducing or eliminating noisy or inaccurate memories and prioritizing those things that are more reliable and that are more accurate in terms of the current state of the world," said Nicholas Turk-Browne, an associate professor of psychology at Princeton and one of the researchers. The research was featured in an article, "Pruning of memories by context-based prediction error," that appeared in 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The other co-authors are Ghootae Kim, a Princeton graduate student; Jarrod Lewis-Peacock, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas-Austin; and Kenneth Norman, a Princeton professor of psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. © Medical Xpress 2011-2014,
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20469 - Posted: 01.10.2015
Rose Eveleth Ranking pain isn’t a simple thing. The standard scale that goes from one to 10, often accompanied by smiley faces that become increasingly distressed, has been lampooned by many as being difficult to use. What does it mean to be a five? Or a three? What is that mildly sad frowny face saying? Do you have to be crying for it to really be a 10? And for some people, it’s even harder to put a number to a subjective experience. Patients with autism, for example, often struggle to express the pain they’re feeling. “We do see many members of our community who either experience altered pain perception, or who have difficulties communicating about and reporting pain,” Julia Bascom, the director of programs at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told me in an email. “So someone might experience acid reflux not as burning pain, but as pressure in their throat, and then struggle to interpret a numerical pain scale, or not realize they should bring the issue to the attention of those around them—or what words to use to be taken seriously.” Autism can also mean a difficulty interpreting facial expressions, so the happy and sad faces wouldn't be the most helpful visual cues. And some autistic patients aren’t verbal at all. In fact, for a long time, people thought that kids with autism didn’t feel pain at all, because they often didn’t show reactions to it the same way other people do. “They might not understand the words other people use to describe pain, even if they are feeling the exact same sensation, and their outward reactions might seem to indicate much more pain than they are actually feeling,” Bascom said. © 2015 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.
|By Tori Rodriguez Coffee and tea may do more than just jolt you awake—they could also help keep your brain healthy, according to a slew of recent studies. Researchers have linked these beverages with protection from depression, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. One large study investigated the link between depression and the intake of coffee, tea and sweet drinks [see box below]by following more than a quarter of a million older adults for 10 years. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health recorded consumption of each type of beverage in 1995 and 1996 and then compared those figures with participants' self-reported diagnoses of depression after 2000. Results showed that coffee intake was associated with a slightly lower risk for depression, according to a paper published last April in PLOS ONE. The paper found little effect from tea, but other work has shown tea to be protective. A study reported in November 2013 found older Chinese adults who regularly drank any kind of tea had a significantly smaller risk for depression: 21 percent for those who drank tea between one and five days a week and 41 percent for daily drinkers. The researchers also asked about the participants' leisure activities to ensure that the tea, and not teatime socializing, provided the protective effect. Some studies suggest that coffee and tea drinkers have lower rates of cognitive decline, too, but the evidence is mixed. Research in rodents that has focused on specific compounds in coffee and tea supports the idea that some of these chemicals reduce the risk for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. In one such study, published online last June in Neurobiology of Aging, supplementing rats' diets with a component of coffee called eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide shielded the animals' brains against the pathological changes typical of Alzheimer's. © 2015 Scientific American,
by Lisa Seachrist Chiu Just before winter break, my fifth grader came home from school, opened her mouth and produced what sounded to me like a stuttering mess of gibberish. After complaining that when she spends the entire day immersed in Chinese, she sometimes can’t figure out what language to use, she carried on speaking flawless English to me and Chinese to a friend while they did their homework. Quite honestly, I had been eagerly anticipating this very day for a long time. Having worked several years to establish the Chinese language immersion elementary school my daughter attends, I could barely contain my excitement at this demonstration that she truly grasps a second language. Early language programs are hot, in no small part because, when it comes to language, kids under the age of 7 are geniuses. Like many parents, I wanted my child to be fluent in as many languages as possible so she can communicate with more people and because it gives her a prime tool to explore different cultures. Turns out, it may also benefit her brain. With the help of advanced imaging tools that reveal neural processes in specific brain structures, researchers are coalescing around the idea that fluency in more than one language heightens executive function — the ability to regulate and control cognitive processes. It’s a radical shift from just a few decades ago when psychologists routinely warned against raising children who speak two languages, lest they become confused and suffer delays in learning. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2014
Link ID: 20448 - Posted: 01.01.2015
Three-year outcomes from an ongoing clinical trial suggest that high-dose immunosuppressive therapy followed by transplantation of a person's own blood-forming stem cells may induce sustained remission in some people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). RRMS is the most common form of MS, a progressive autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord. The trial is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and conducted by the NIAID-funded Immune Tolerance Network (ITN) External Web Site Policy. Three years after the treatment, called high-dose immunosuppressive therapy and autologous hematopoietic cell transplant or HDIT/HCT, nearly 80 percent of trial participants had survived without experiencing an increase in disability, a relapse of MS symptoms or new brain lesions. Investigators observed few serious early complications or unexpected side effects, although many participants experienced expected side effects of high-dose immunosuppression, including infections and gastrointestinal problems. The three-year findings are published in the Dec. 29, 2014, online issue of JAMA Neurology. “These promising results support the need for future studies to further evaluate the benefits and risks of HDIT/HCT and directly compare this treatment strategy to current MS therapies,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “If the findings from this study are confirmed, HDIT/HCT may become a potential therapeutic option for people with this often-debilitating disease, particularly those who have not been helped by standard treatments.”
George Johnson Training a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell would have seemed pretty stupid to Ivan Pavlov. He was after much bigger things. Using instruments like metronomes and harmoniums, he demonstrated that a dog could make astonishingly fine discriminations — distinguishing between a rhythm of 96 and 104 beats a minute or an ascending and a descending musical scale. But what he really wanted to know was what his animals were thinking. His dream was a grand theory of the mind. He couldn’t put his subjects on a couch like his colleague Freud and ask them to free-associate, so he gauged their reactions to a variety of stimuli, meticulously counting their “psychic secretions,” those droplets of drool. He knew he was pricking at the skin of something deeper. “It would be stupid,” he said, “to reject the subjective world.” This is not the Pavlov most people think they know. In an excellent new biography, “Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science,” Daniel P. Todes, a medical historian, describes a man whose laboratory in pre-Soviet Russia was like an early-20th-century version of the White House Brain Initiative, with its aim “to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind.” That was also Pavlov’s goal: to build a science that would “brightly illuminate our mysterious nature” and “our consciousness and its torments.” He spoke those words 111 years ago and spent his life pursuing his goal. Yet when we hear his name, we reflexively think of a drooling dog and a clanging bell. Our brains have been conditioned with the myth. © 2014 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20439 - Posted: 12.23.2014
By James Gallagher Health editor, BBC News website A link between autism and air pollution exposure during pregnancy has been suggested by scientists. The Harvard School of Public Health team said high levels of pollution had been linked to a doubling of autism in their study of 1,767 children. They said tiny particulate matter, which can pass from the lungs to the bloodstream, may be to blame. Experts said pregnant women should minimise their exposure, although the link had still to be proven. Air pollution is definitely damaging. The World Health Organization estimates it causes 3.7 million deaths each year. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, investigated any possible link with autism. It analysed 245 children with autism and 1,522 without. By looking at estimated pollution exposure during pregnancy, based on the mother's home address, the scientists concluded high levels of pollution were more common in children with autism. The strongest link was with fine particulate matter - invisible specks of mineral dust, carbon and other chemicals - that enter the bloodstream and cause damage throughout the body. Yet, the research is unable to conclusively say that pollution causes autism as there could be other factors that were not accounted for in the study. Consistent pattern There is a large inherited component to autism, but lead researcher Dr Marc Weisskopf said there was mounting evidence that air pollution may play a role too. BBC © 2014
by Helen Thomson HAVE you read this before? A 23-year-old man from the UK almost certainly feels like he has – he's the first person to report persistent déjà vu stemming from anxiety rather than any obvious neurological disorder. Nobody knows exactly how or why déjà vu happens, but for most of us it is rare. Some people experience it more often, as a side effect associated with epileptic seizures or dementia. Now, researchers have discovered the first person with what they call "psychogenic déjà vu" – where the cause appears to be psychological. The man's episodes began just after he started university, a period when he felt anxious and was also experiencing obsessive compulsions. As time went on, his déjà vu became more and more prolonged, and then fairly continuous after he tried LSD. Now, he avoids television and radio, and finds newspapers distressing as the content feels familiar. There are different theories as to what is going on, says Christine Wells at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, who has written a paper on the man's experiences. "The general theory is that there's a misfiring of neurons in the temporal lobes – which deal with recollection and familiarity. That misfiring during the process of recollection means we interpret a moment in time as something that has already been experienced," she says. Surprisingly, when Wells gave the man a standard recall test, he scored more similarly to people of his own age without the condition than those with epilepsy-related déjà vu. An MRI and an EEG scan of his brain activity also showed no abnormalities. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
|By Marissa Fessenden Songbirds stutter, babble when young, become mute if parts of their brains are damaged, learn how to sing from their elders and can even be "bilingual"—in other words, songbirds' vocalizations share a lot of traits with human speech. However, that similarity goes beyond behavior, researchers have found. Even though humans and birds are separated by millions of years of evolution, the genes that give us our ability to learn speech have much in common with those that lend birds their warble. A four-year long effort involving more than 100 researchers around the world put the power of nine supercomputers into analyzing the genomes of 48 species of birds. The results, published this week in a package of eight articles in Science and 20 papers in other journals, provides the most complete picture of the bird family tree thus far. The project has also uncovered genetic signatures in song-learning bird brains that have surprising similarities to the genetics of speech in humans, a finding that could help scientists study human speech. The analysis suggests that most modern birds arose in an impressive speciation event, a "big bang" of avian diversification, in the 10 million years immediately following the extinction of dinosaurs. This period is more recent than posited in previous genetic analyses, but it lines up with the fossil record. By delving deeper into the rich data set, research groups identified when birds lost their teeth, investigated the relatively slow evolution of crocodiles and outlined the similarities between birds' and humans' vocal learning ability, among other findings. © 2014 Scientific American,
By Candy Schulman My mother’s greatest fear was Alzheimer’s. She got Lewy body dementia, or LBD, instead. This little known, oddly named, debilitating illness afflicts an estimated 1.3 million Americans, the actor and comedian Robin Williams possibly among them. It is often misdiagnosed because its signs, such as hallucinations and body rigidity, do not seem like those of dementia, but in the end it robs people of themselves even more painfully. I first noticed my mother’s cognitive difficulties when she was 88. Until then, she’d led an extraordinarily active life: She was a competitive golfer with a bureau full of trophies, a painter and a sculptor. Every Hanukkah she hosted a lively feast for her eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. This time, though, she needed my help planning, shopping and cooking. She was having difficulty with the guest list, trying to write every family member’s name on a piece of paper, adding up the numbers to see how many potatoes to buy for latkes. Her concentration became frayed and she kept ripping it up and starting again, close to tears. Several months before that, she had sent me a Mother’s Day card that was illustrated with childlike prose, colorful illustrations and glitter hearts. The poem on the cover was printed in a playful purple font: “For you, Mom. For kissing my boo-boos, for wiping my face. . . . For calming my fears with your loving embrace.” On Mother’s Day and the rest of the year, Mom added in a shaky script, “thanks.”
Link ID: 20422 - Posted: 12.16.2014
|By Emilie Reas If you carried a gene that doubled your likelihood of getting Alzheimer's disease, would you want to know? What if there was a simple lifestyle change that virtually abolished that elevated risk? People with a gene known as APOE e4 have a higher risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in old age. Even before behavioral symptoms appear, their brains show reduced metabolism, altered activity and more deterioration than those without the high-risk gene. Yet accumulating research is showing that carrying this gene is not necessarily a sentence for memory loss and confusion—if you know how to work it to your advantage with exercise. Scientists have long known that exercise can help stave off cognitive decline. Over the past decade evidence has mounted suggesting that this benefit is even greater for those at higher genetic risk for Alzheimer's. For example, two studies by a team in Finland and Sweden found that exercising at least twice a week in midlife lowers one's chance of getting dementia more than 20 years later, and this protective effect is stronger in people with the APOE e4 gene. Several others reported that frequent exercise—at least three times a week in some studies; up to more than an hour a day in others—can slow cognitive decline only in those carrying the high-risk gene. Furthermore, for those who carry the gene, being sedentary is associated with increased brain accumulation of the toxic protein beta-amyloid, a hallmark of Alzheimer's. More recent studies, including a 2012 paper published in Alzheimer's & Dementia and a 2011 paper in NeuroImage, found that high-risk individuals who exercise have greater brain activity and glucose uptake during a memory task compared with their less active counterparts or with those at low genetic risk. © 2014 Scientific American
By Nicholas Bakalar Poor sleep in older adults may be linked to brain changes associated with dementia, a new study has found. Researchers studied 167 men who underwent sleep tests in 1999 and died by 2010. The study, in Neurology, recorded sleep duration, periods of waking up and episodes of apnea, and used pulse oximetry to measure oxygen saturation of their blood. On autopsy, they found that those in the highest one-quarter for duration of sleep at oxygen saturation of less than 95 percent were almost four times as likely to have higher levels microinfarcts, small areas of dead tissue caused by deprivation of blood supply, as those in the lowest one-quarter. Compared with those in the lowest 25 percent for duration of slow-wave (deep) sleep, those in the highest one-quarter were about a third as likely to have moderate or high levels of generalized brain atrophy. “Prior studies have shown an association between certain types of sleep disturbance and dementia,” said the lead author, Dr. Rebecca P. Gelber, an epidemiologist with the Veterans Administration in Hawaii. “These lesions may help explain the association.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
By David Noonan It was the day before Christmas, and the normally busy MIT laboratory on Vassar Street in Cambridge was quiet. But creatures were definitely stirring, including a mouse that would soon be world famous. Steve Ramirez, a 24-year-old doctoral student at the time, placed the mouse in a small metal box with a black plastic floor. Instead of curiously sniffing around, though, the animal instantly froze in terror, recalling the experience of receiving a foot shock in that same box. It was a textbook fear response, and if anything, the mouse’s posture was more rigid than Ramirez had expected. Its memory of the trauma must have been quite vivid. Which was amazing, because the memory was bogus: The mouse had never received an electric shock in that box. Rather, it was reacting to a false memory that Ramirez and his MIT colleague Xu Liu had planted in its brain. “Merry Freaking Christmas,” read the subject line of the email Ramirez shot off to Liu, who was spending the 2012 holiday in Yosemite National Park. The observation culminated more than two years of a long-shot research effort and supported an extraordinary hypothesis: Not only was it possible to identify brain cells involved in the encoding of a single memory, but those specific cells could be manipulated to create a whole new “memory” of an event that never happened. “It’s a fantastic feat,” says Howard Eichenbaum, a leading memory researcher and director of the Center for Neuroscience at Boston University, where Ramirez did his undergraduate work. “It’s a real breakthrough that shows the power of these techniques to address fundamental questions about how the brain works.” In a neuroscience breakthrough, the duo implanted a false memory in a mouse
By Gail Sullivan Chemicals found in food and common household products have been linked to lower IQ in kids exposed to high levels during pregnancy. Previous research linked higher exposure to chemicals called "phthalates" to poor mental and motor development in preschoolers. This study was said to be the first to report a link between prenatal exposure to the chemicals and childhood development. Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health studied exposure to five types of phthalates, which are sometimes referred to as “hormone disruptors” or “endocrine disruptors.” Among these, di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) is used in shower curtains, raincoats, hairspray, food wraps, vinyl and pill coating, among other things — but according to the EPA, the largest source of exposure may be seafood. Di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP) and Butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP) are added to plastics to make them flexible. These chemicals may also used in makeup, nail polish, lacquer and explosives. The researchers linked prenatal exposure to phthalates to a more than six-point drop in IQ score compared with kids with less exposure. The study, “Persistent Associations between Maternal Prenatal Exposure to Phthalates on Child IQ at Age 7 Years," was published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One. "The magnitude of these IQ differences is troubling," one of the study’s authors, Robin Whyatt, said in a press release. "A six- or seven-point decline in IQ may have substantial consequences for academic achievement and occupational potential."
By Gary Stix Our site recently ran a great story about how brain training really doesn’t endow you instantly with genius IQ. The games you play just make you better at playing those same games. They aren’t a direct route to a Mensa membership. Just a few days before that story came out—Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—published a report that suggested that playing action video games, Call of Duty: Black Ops II and the like—actually lets gamers learn the essentials of a particular visual task (the orientation of a Gabor signal—don’t ask) more rapidly than non-gamers, a skill that has real-world relevance beyond the confines of the artificial reality of the game itself. As psychologists say, it has “transfer effects.” Gamers appear to have learned how to do stuff like home in quickly on a target or multitask better than those who inhabit the non-gaming world. Their skills might, in theory, make them great pilots or laparoscopic surgeons, not just high scorers among their peers. Action video games are not billed as brain training, but both Call of Duty and nominally accredited training programs like Lumosity are both structured as computer games. So that leads to the question of what’s going on here? Every new finding about brain training as B.S. appears to be contradicted by another that points to the promise of cognitive exercise, if that’s what you call a session with Call of Duty. It may boil down to a realization that the whole story about exercising your neurons to keep the brain supple may be a lot less simple than proponents make it out to be. © 2014 Scientific American
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20409 - Posted: 12.13.2014
by Helen Thomson Zapping your brain might make you better at maths tests – or worse. It depends how anxious you are about taking the test in the first place. A recent surge of studies has shown that brain stimulation can make people more creative and better at maths, and can even improve memory, but these studies tend to neglect individual differences. Now, Roi Cohen Kadosh at the University of Oxford and his colleagues have shown that brain stimulation can have completely opposite effects depending on your personality. Previous research has shown that a type of non-invasive brain stimulation called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) – which enhances brain activity using an electric current – can improve mathematical ability when applied to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area involved in regulating emotion. To test whether personality traits might affect this result, Kadosh's team tried the technique on 25 people who find mental arithmetic highly stressful, and 20 people who do not. They found that participants with high maths anxiety made correct responses more quickly and, after the test, showed lower levels of cortisol, an indicator of stress. On the other hand, individuals with low maths anxiety performed worse after tDCS. "It is hard to believe that all people would benefit similarly [from] brain stimulation," says Cohen Kadosh. He says that further research could shed light on how to optimise the technology and help to discover who is most likely to benefit from stimulation. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Ian Sample, science editor Electrical brain stimulation equipment – which can boost cognitive performance and is easy to buy online – can have bad effects, impairing brain functioning, research from scientists at Oxford University has shown. A steady stream of reports of stimulators being able to boost brain performance, coupled with the simplicity of the devices, has led to a rise in DIY enthusiasts who cobble the equipment together themselves, or buy it assembled on the web, then zap themselves at home. In science laboratories brain stimulators have long been used to explore cognition. The equipment uses electrodes to pass gentle electric pulses through the brain, to stimulate activity in specific regions of the organ. Roi Cohen Kadosh, who led the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, said: “It’s not something people should be doing at home at this stage. I do not recommend people buy this equipment. At the moment it’s not therapy, it’s an experimental tool.” The Oxford scientists used a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to stimulate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in students as they did simple sums. The results of the test were surprising. Students who became anxious when confronted with sums became calmer and solved the problems faster than when they had sham stimulation (the stimulation itself lasted only 30 seconds of the half hour study). The shock was that the students who did not fear maths performed worse with the same stimulation.
Kelly Servick* Anesthesiologists and surgeons who operate on children have been dogged by a growing fear—that being under anesthesia can permanently damage the developing brain. Although the few studies of children knocked out for surgeries have been inconclusive, evidence of impaired development in nematodes, zebrafish, rats, guinea pigs, pigs, and monkeys given common anesthetics has piled up in recent years. Now, the alarm is reaching a tipping point. “Anything that goes from [the roundworm] C. elegans to nonhuman primates, I've got to worry about,” Maria Freire, co-chair of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) science advisory board, told attendees at a meeting the agency convened here last month to discuss the issue. The gathering came as anesthesia researchers and regulators consider several moves to address the concerns: a clinical trial of anesthetics in children, a consensus statement about their possible risks, and an FDA warning label on certain drugs. But each step stirs debate. Many involved in the issue are reluctant to make recommendations to parents and physicians based on animal data alone. At the same time, more direct studies of anesthesia's risks in children are plagued by confounding factors, lack of funding, and ethical issues. “We have to generate—very quickly—an action item, because I don't think the status quo is acceptable,” Freire said at the 19 November meeting. “Generating an action item without having the data is where things become very, very tricky.” © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science
|By Bret Stetka When University of Bonn psychologist Monika Eckstein designed her latest published study, the goal was simple: administer a hormone into the noses of 62 men in hopes that their fear would go away. And for the most part, it did. The hormone was oxytocin, often called our “love hormone” due to its crucial role in mother-child relationships, social bonding, and intimacy (levels soar during sex). But it also seems to have a significant antianxiety effect. Give oxytocin to people with certain anxiety disorders, and activity in the amygdala—the primary fear center in human and other mammalian brains, two almond-shaped bits of brain tissue sitting deep beneath our temples—falls. The amygdala normally buzzes with activity in response to potentially threatening stimuli. When an organism repeatedly encounters a stimulus that at first seemed frightening but turns out to be benign—like, say, a balloon popping—a brain region called the prefrontal cortex inhibits amygdala activity. But in cases of repeated presentations of an actual threat, or in people with anxiety who continually perceive a stimulus as threatening, amygdala activity doesn’t subside and fear memories are more easily formed. To study the effects of oxytocin on the development of these fear memories, Eckstein and her colleagues first subjected study participants to Pavlovian fear conditioning, in which neutral stimuli (photographs of faces and houses) were sometimes paired with electric shocks. Subjects were then randomly assigned to receive either a single intranasal dose of oxytocin or a placebo. Thirty minutes later they received functional MRI scans while undergoing simultaneous fear extinction therapy, a standard approach to anxiety disorders in which patients are continually exposed to an anxiety-producing stimulus until they no longer find it stressful. In this case they were again exposed to images of faces and houses, but this time minus the electric shocks. © 2014 Scientific American