Chapter 15. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress

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By Claire Asher If you stuck to Aesop’s fables, you might think of all ants as the ancient storyteller described them—industrious, hard-working, and always preparing for a rainy day. But not every ant has the same personality, according to a new study. Some colonies are full of adventurous risk-takers, whereas others are less aggressive about foraging for food and exploring the great outdoors. Researchers say that these group “personality types” are linked to food-collecting strategies, and they could alter our understanding of how social insects behave. Personality—consistent patterns of individual behavior—was once considered a uniquely human trait. But studies since the 1990s have shown that animals from great tits to octopuses exhibit “personality.” Even insects have personalities. Groups of cockroaches have consistently shy and bold members, whereas damselflies have shown differences in risk tolerance that stay the same from grubhood to adulthood. To determine how group behavior might vary between ant colonies, a team of researchers led by Raphaël Boulay, an entomologist at the University of Tours in France, tested the insects in a controlled laboratory environment. They collected 27 colonies of the funnel ant (Aphaenogaster senilis) and had queens rear new workers in the lab. This meant that all ants in the experiment were young and inexperienced—a clean slate to test for personality. The researchers then observed how each colony foraged for food and explored new environments. They counted the number of ants foraging, exploring, or hiding during set periods of time, and then compared the numbers to measure the boldness, adventurousness, and foraging efforts of each group. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21358 - Posted: 08.29.2015

By Felicity Muth You might have heard of serotonin as one of the ‘happy’ hormones in humans. Indeed, mood disorders like anxiety and depression are associated with low levels of serotonin. However, this neurotransmitter also has other functions. One of the more interesting ones in humans is its role in cooperation. Lowering the serotonin levels of people increases peoples’ reactions to unfairness and makes them less cooperative. On the other hand, increasing the level of serotonin in people makes people less argumentative and more communicative and cooperative. Serotonin also plays a role in peoples’ intimate relationships, for example men and women who were fed tryptophan (necessary for serotonin production) were more likely to judge photos of couples as intimate and romantic than people who had not been fed tryptophan. Humans are of course not the only animals that form intimate relationships or cooperate with each other. One of the best examples of unrelated animals cooperating comes from cleaner fish, who form relationships with ‘clients’ (visiting reef fish) where they clean their bodies, gills and even mouths. This relationship is very cooperative: the cleaner fish would rather eat the mucus from the skin of their clients than the ectoparasites (it’s yummier, apparently), but they usually keep this particular urge under control. In return, the clients don’t eat the cleaner fish, even when they are cleaning the inside of their mouths and one might think that it would be pretty tempting just to swallow one. Of course, cleaner fish do ‘cheat’ occasionally, taking a bite from the skin of a client, making the client jolt away and probably choose not to return to that particular cleaner again. © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: Depression; Aggression
Link ID: 21348 - Posted: 08.27.2015

Sara Reardon Some of the people who survived Hurricane Katrina lost loved ones, and many were made homeless by the storm. New Orleans still bears the scars of Hurricane Katrina, ten years later. More than 500,000 people fled when the storm hit, and many never returned. Large swathes of the city are sparsely populated, particularly in the poor neighbourhoods that suffered the most severe flood damage. Psychological scars linger, too. Many hurricane survivors continue to experience mental-health problems related to the storm, whether or not they returned to New Orleans, say researchers tracking Katrina’s psychological aftermath. Such work could ultimately aid people affected by future disasters, by identifying factors — such as lack of a social-support network and unstable environments for children — that seem to increase risk of mental-health trauma. “What’s unique about this disaster is the magnitude of it,” says Joy Osofsky, a clinical psychologist at Louisiana State University in New Orleans. Katrina, a category 3 hurricane when it made landfall on 29 August 2005, ultimately damaged an area the size of the United Kingdom. In New Orleans, it destroyed basic resources such as schools and health clinics to a degree unparalleled in recent US history. Osofsky saw the devastation and despair first hand. With their clinics flooded after the storm, she and other mental-health experts set up treatment centres for emergency responders on cruise ships docked nearby on the Mississippi River, and an emergency psychology unit at the city’s central command centre. Osofsky says that the centres treated thousands of displaced and traumatized people. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Stress; Depression
Link ID: 21341 - Posted: 08.26.2015

Helen Thomson Genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations. The conclusion from a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital led by Rachel Yehuda stems from the genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war. They also analysed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda. Her team’s work is the clearest example in humans of the transmission of trauma to a child via what is called “epigenetic inheritance” - the idea that environmental influences such as smoking, diet and stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren. The idea is controversial, as scientific convention states that genes contained in DNA are the only way to transmit biological information between generations. However, our genes are modified by the environment all the time, through chemical tags that attach themselves to our DNA, switching genes on and off. Recent studies suggest that some of these tags might somehow be passed through generations, meaning our environment could have and impact on our children’s health. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Epigenetics; Stress
Link ID: 21325 - Posted: 08.22.2015

By Christian Jarrett If we’re being honest, most of us have at least some selfish aims – to make money, to win a promotion at work, and so on. But importantly, we pursue these goals while at the same time conforming to basic rules of decency. For example, if somebody helps us out, we’ll reciprocate, even if doing so costs us time or cash. Yet there is a minority of people out there who don’t play by these rules. These selfish individuals consider other people as mere tools to be leveraged in the pursuit of their aims. They think nothing of betrayal or backstabbing, and they basically believe everyone else is in it for themselves too. Psychologists call these people “Machiavellians,” and there’s a questionnaire that tests for this trait (one of the so-called “dark triad” of personality traits along with narcissism and psychopathy). People high in Machiavellianism are more likely to agree with statements like: It is wise to flatter important people and The best way to handle people is to tell them what they want to hear. Calling them Machiavellian is too kind. These people are basically jerks. Related Stories Inside the Brains of Happily Married Couples Lonely People’s Brains Work Differently Now a team of Hungarian researchers from the University of Pécs has scanned the brains of high scorers on Machiavellianism while they played a simple game of trust. Reporting their results in the journal Brain and Cognition, the researchers said they found that Machiavellians’ brains went into overdrive when they encountered a partner who exhibited signs of being fair and cooperative. Why? Tamas Bereczkei and his team say it’s because the Machiavellians are immediately figuring out how to exploit the situation for their own gain. The game involved four stages and the student participants — a mix of high and low scorers on Machiavellianism — played several times with different partners. First, the participants were given roughly $5 worth of Hungarian currency and had to decide how much to “invest” in their partner. Any money they invested was always tripled as it passed to their partner. © 2015, New York Media LLC.

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21324 - Posted: 08.22.2015

By Gretchen Reynolds Sticking to a diet requires self-control and a willingness to forgo present pleasures for future benefits. Not surprisingly, almost everyone yields to temptation at least sometimes, opting for the cookie instead of the apple. Wondering why we so often override our resolve, scientists at the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research at the University of Zurich recently considered the role of stress, which is linked to a variety of health problems, including weight gain. (There’s something to the rom-com cliché of the jilted lover eating ice cream directly from the carton.) But just how stress might drive us to sweets has not been altogether clear. It turns out that even mild stress may immediately alter the workings of our brains in ways that undermine willpower. For their study, published this month in Neuron, researchers recruited 51 young men who said they were trying to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. The men were divided into two groups, one of which served as a control, and then all were asked to skim through images of different kinds of food on a computer screen, rating them for taste and healthfulness. Next, the men in the experimental group were told to plunge a hand into a bowl of icy water for as long as they could, a test known to induce mild physiological and psychological stress. Relative to the control group, the men developed higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. After that, men from each group sat in a brain-scanning machine and watched pictures of paired foods flash across a screen. Generally, one of the two foods was more healthful than the other. The subjects were asked to click rapidly on which food they would choose to eat, knowing that at the end of the test they would actually be expected to eat one of these picks (chosen at random from all of their choices). © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Obesity; Stress
Link ID: 21320 - Posted: 08.20.2015

—By Chris Mooney It is still considered highly uncool to ascribe a person's political beliefs, even in part, to that person's biology: hormones, physiological responses, even brain structures and genes. And no wonder: Doing so raises all kinds of thorny, non-PC issues involving free will, determinism, toleration, and much else. There's just one problem: Published scientific research keeps going there, with ever increasing audacity (not to mention growing stacks of data). The past two weeks have seen not one but two studies published in scientific journals on the biological underpinnings of political ideology. And these studies go straight at the role of genes and the brain in shaping our views, and even our votes. First, in the American Journal of Political Science, a team of researchers including Peter Hatemi of Penn State University and Rose McDermott of Brown University studied the relationship between our deep-seated tendencies to experience fear—tendencies that vary from person to person, partly for reasons that seem rooted in our genes—and our political beliefs. What they found is that people who have more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative, and less tolerant of immigrants and people of races different from their own. As McDermott carefully emphasizes, that does not mean that every conservative has a high fear disposition. "It's not that conservative people are more fearful, it's that fearful people are more conservative," as she puts it. I interviewed the paper's lead author, Peter Hatemi, about his research for my 2012 book The Republican Brain. Hatemi is both a political scientist and also a microbiologist, and as he stressed to me, "nothing is all genes, or all environment." These forces combine to make us who we are, in incredibly intricate ways. ©2015 Mother Jones

Keyword: Emotions; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 21313 - Posted: 08.19.2015

By Zoe Kleinman Technology reporter, BBC News More than 200 academics have signed an open letter criticising controversial new research suggesting a link between violent video games and aggression. The findings were released by the American Psychological Association. It set up a taskforce that reviewed hundreds of studies and papers published between 2005 and 2013. The American Psychological Association concluded while there was "no single risk factor" to blame for aggression, violent video games did contribute. "The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behaviour, empathy and sensitivity to aggression," said the report. "It is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behaviour. The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor." However, a large group of academics said they felt the methodology of the research was deeply flawed as a significant part of material included in the study had not been subjected to peer review. "I fully acknowledge that exposure to repeated violence may have short-term effects - you would be a fool to deny that - but the long-term consequences of crime and actual violent behaviour, there is just no evidence linking violent video games with that," Dr Mark Coulson, associate professor of psychology at Middlesex University and one of the signatories of the letter told the BBC. "If you play three hours of Call of Duty you might feel a little bit pumped, but you are not going to go out and mug someone." © 2015 BBC

Keyword: Aggression
Link ID: 21310 - Posted: 08.19.2015

John von Radowitz , Press Association Psychologists have confirmed that playing violent video games is linked to aggressive and callous behaviour. A review of almost a decade of studies found that exposure to violent video games was a "risk factor" for increased aggression. But the same team of experts said there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the influence of games such as Call Of Duty and Grand Theft Auto led to criminal acts. The findings have prompted a call for more parental control over violent scenes in video games from the American Psychological Association (APA). The original version of Doom, released in 1993, was widely controversial for its unprecedented levels of graphic violence A report from the APA task force on violent media concludes: "The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behaviour, empathy and sensitivity to aggression." The report said no single influence led a person to act aggressively or violently. Rather, it was an "accumulation of risk factors" that resulted in such behaviour. It added: "The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor." The APA has urged game creators to increase levels of parental control over the amount of violence video games contain.

Keyword: Aggression
Link ID: 21301 - Posted: 08.17.2015

By PAUL GLIMCHER and MICHAEL A. LIVERMORE THE United States government recently announced an $18.7 billion settlement of claims against the oil giant BP in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in April 2010, which dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Though some of the settlement funds are to compensate the region for economic harm, most will go to environmental restoration in affected states. Is BP getting off easy, or being unfairly penalized? This is not easy to answer. Assigning a monetary value to environmental harm is notoriously tricky. There is, after all, no market for intact ecosystems or endangered species. We don’t reveal how much we value these things in a consumer context, as goods or services for which we will or won’t pay a certain amount. Instead, we value them for their mere existence. And it is not obvious how to put a price tag on that. In an attempt to do so, economists and policy makers often rely on a technique called “contingent valuation,” which amounts to asking individuals survey questions about their willingness to pay to protect natural resources. The values generated by contingent valuation studies are frequently used to inform public policy and litigation. (If the government had gone to trial with BP, it most likely would have relied on such studies to argue for a large judgment against the company.) Contingent valuation has always aroused skepticism. Oil companies, unsurprisingly, have criticized the technique. But many economists have also been skeptical, worrying that hypothetical questions posed to ordinary citizens may not really capture their genuine sense of environmental value. Even the Obama administration seems to discount contingent valuation, choosing to exclude data from this technique in 2014 when issuing a new rule to reduce the number of fish killed by power plants. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention; Emotions
Link ID: 21280 - Posted: 08.10.2015

Susanne Ahmari Some 40 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders. In Anxious, Joseph LeDoux presents a rigorous, in-depth guide to the history, philosophy and scientific exploration of this widespread emotional state. An eminent neuroscientist and author of The Emotional Brain (Simon & Schuster, 1996) and The Synaptic Self (Viking, 2002), he offers a magisterial review of the role of mind and brain in the generation of both unconscious defensive responses and consciously expressed anxiety. LeDoux looks first at how our understanding of anxiety has evolved. He starts with ancient etymology (the Greek angh signified constriction) and moves on to Sigmund Freud's view of anxiety as the “root of most if not all mental maladies”, and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard's perspective on it as existential, evolving from the dread that stems from freedom of choice. He then lays out the core distinction between fear and anxiety. Fear he defines as anticipation of danger from a physically present threat (a grizzly bear in front of you); anxiety, as anticipation of an uncertain threat (potential predators roaming outside your tent). But although 'fear' and 'anxiety' are excellent descriptors of conscious feelings, LeDoux shows, they should not be used to describe the unconscious mental processes and neural circuits associated with these emotions. Instead of thinking of those processes as “fear stimuli activate a fear system to produce fear responses”, he proposes conceptualizing them as “threat stimuli elicit defense responses via activation of a defensive system”. This is a subtle distinction, and LeDoux makes an excellent case that it is an important foundation for rigorous research into the neural underpinnings of the conscious and unconscious processes that subserve anxiety. © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited.

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21274 - Posted: 08.08.2015

By Kristin Leutwyler Ozelli Researchers are just now beginning to discover how different biological malfunctions can give rise to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—insight that might one day lead to more targeted treatments. In the meantime they are also exploring the use of biomarkers—hallmark variations in hormones, genes, enzymes and brain function—to apply existing therapies more effectively. “Trauma exposure can result in enduring biological changes that depend on an individual’s life history, age, gender and a host of other factors,” says Rachel Yehuda, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “We must capitalize on this heterogeneity in the service of individualizing treatment approaches rather than insisting that one size fits all.” Indeed, not all patients get well by way of the most popular forms of therapy. One widely recommended treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), typically helps only half of the patients who try it. In 2008 Richard Bryant, a professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, and his colleagues attempted to identify that half up front. Before CBT they took brain scans using functional MRI of 14 subjects while showing them photographs of frightening faces. Seven people—the same who later failed to improve—showed greater than normal activity in brain regions associated with experiencing fear: the amygdala and the ventral anterior cingulate cortex. In another study Bryant found that the people who did benefit from CBT began treatment with larger rostral anterior cingulate cortices. Both animal and human studies have linked this brain area to “extinction,” the psychological process by which we unlearn conditioned responses, including fear. © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: Depression; Stress
Link ID: 21268 - Posted: 08.05.2015

By LISA FELDMAN BARRETT OUR senses appear to show us the world the way it truly is, but they are easily deceived. For example, if you listen to a recorded symphony through stereo speakers that are placed exactly right, the orchestra will sound like it’s inside your head. Obviously that isn’t the case. But suppose you completely trusted your senses. You might find yourself asking well-meaning but preposterous scientific questions like “Where in the brain is the woodwinds section located?” A more reasonable approach is not to ask a where question but a how question: How does the brain construct this experience of hearing the orchestra in your head? I have just set the stage to dispel a major misconception about emotions. Most people, including many scientists, believe that emotions are distinct, locatable entities inside us — but they’re not. Searching for emotions in this form is as misguided as looking for cerebral clarinets and oboes. Of course, we experience anger, happiness, surprise and other emotions as clear and identifiable states of being. This seems to imply that each emotion has an underlying property or “essence” in the brain or body. Perhaps an annoying co-worker triggers your “anger neurons,” so your blood pressure rises; you scowl, yell and feel the heat of fury. Or the loss of a loved one triggers your “sadness neurons,” so your stomach aches; you pout, feel despair and cry. Or an alarming news story triggers your “fear neurons,” so your heart races; you freeze and feel a flash of dread. Such characteristics are thought to be the unique biological “fingerprints” of each emotion. Scientists and technology companies spend enormous amounts of time and money trying to locate these fingerprints. They hope someday to identify your emotions from your facial muscle movements, your body changes and your brain’s electrical signals. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21254 - Posted: 08.02.2015

Mo Costandi When we say that we are “in pain”, we usually mean that an injured body part is hurting us. But the phenomenon we call pain consists of more than just physical sensations, and often has mental and emotional aspects, too. Pain signals entering the black box of the brain can be subjected further processing, and these hidden thought processes can alter the way we perceive them. We still know very little about these non-physical aspects of pain, or about the brain processes responsible for them. We do know, however, that learning and mental imagery can both diminish and enhance the experience of felt pain. Two new studies now extend these findings – one shows that subliminal learning can also alter pain responses, and the other explains how mental imagery can do so. It’s well known that simple associative learning procedures can alter responses to pain. For example, newborn babies who have diabetic mothers and are repeatedly exposed to heel pricks in the first few days of life exhibit larger pain responses during subsequent blood tests than healthy infants. Learning also appears to explain the placebo effect, and why it is often so variable. Several years ago, Karin Jensen, who is now at Harvard Medical School, and her colleagues showed that subliminal cues can reactivate consciously-learned associations to either enhance or diminish pain responses. In their latest study, the researchers set out to determine the extent to which this type of learning can occur non-consciously. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Emotions
Link ID: 21247 - Posted: 08.01.2015

By Bret Stetka The brain is extraordinarily good at alerting us to threats. Loud noises, noxious smells, approaching predators: they all send electrical impulses buzzing down our sensory neurons, pinging our brain’s fear circuitry and, in some cases, causing us to fight or flee. The brain is also adept at knowing when an initially threatening or startling stimulus turns out to be harmless or resolved. But sometimes this system fails and unpleasant associations stick around, a malfunction thought to be at the root of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). New research has identified a neuronal circuit responsible for the brain’s ability to purge bad memories, findings that could have implications for treating PTSD and other anxiety disorders. Like most emotions, fear is neurologically complicated. But previous work has consistently implicated two specific areas of the brain as contributing to and regulating fear responses. The amygdala, two small arcs of brain tissue deep beneath our temples, is involved in emotional reactions, and it flares with activity when we are scared. If a particular threat turns out to be harmless, a brain region behind the forehead called the prefrontal cortex steps in and the fright subsides. Our ability to extinguish painful memories is known to involve some sort of coordinated effort between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. The new study, led by Andrew Holmes at the National Institutes of Health, however, confirms that a working connection between the two brain regions is necessary to do away with fear. Normally mice that repeatedly listen to a sound previously associated with a mild foot shock will learn that on its own the tone is harmless, and they will stop being afraid. Using optogenetic stimulation technology, or controlling specific neurons and animal behavior using light, the authors found that disrupting the amygdala–prefrontal cortex connection prevents mice from overcoming the negative association with the benign tone. In neurobiology speak, memory “extinction” fails to occur. They also found that the opposite is true—that stimulating the circuit results in increased extinction of fearful memories. © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Stress
Link ID: 21243 - Posted: 08.01.2015

By Emily Underwood My childhood hamster, Hamlet, seemed pretty depressed. He didn’t seem to enjoy his colorful cage, complete with a tunnel, wheel, and ramp. The only thing he did with zest was gnaw at the plastic, trying to escape, which he eventually did. A few days later, my mother found him lying on the bathroom floor, dead. I have wondered ever since: Was Hamlet suicidal? Or was he simply displaying normal hamster behavior? Now, a new study suggests a scientific method for gauging hamsters’ emotional states. Hamster emotions don’t just baffle pet owners; they also bedevil scientists who use the fluffballs as subjects in their experiments. One of the most frustrating things about trying to study animal emotion in general is that you can’t take behaviors at face value. If a hamster runs madly on its wheel all night, for example, how do you know if it is running out of joy, or boredom? (Or just for the heck of it.) To bypass that problem, the researchers decided to measure something called judgment bias—essentially, the way that mood affects behavior and decision-making. As humans, our decisions are influenced by our emotions all the time—witness stress-eating, or revenge-shopping. Similar biases have been found in primates, rats, mice, and many other animals, but never before in hamsters. In the experiment, researchers split 30 Syrian hamsters into two groups. One group lived the high life, in cages bedecked with extra toys, ramps, bedding, and hammocks. The second group had the minimum in hamster hospitality, with some light bedding and a wheel. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21234 - Posted: 07.29.2015

By JULIE SCELFO Kathryn DeWitt conquered high school like a gold-medal decathlete. She ran track, represented her school at a statewide girls’ leadership program and took eight Advanced Placement tests, including one for which she independently prepared, forgoing the class. Expectations were high. Every day at 5 p.m. test scores and updated grades were posted online. Her mother would be the first to comment should her grade go down. “I would get home from track and she would say, ‘I see your grade dropped.’ I would say, ‘Mom, I think it’s a mistake.’ And she would say, ‘That’s what I thought.’ ” (The reason turned out to be typing errors. Ms. DeWitt graduated with straight A’s.) In her first two weeks on the University of Pennsylvania campus, she hustled. She joined a coed fraternity, signed up to tutor elementary school students and joined the same Christian group her parents had joined at their alma mater, Stanford. But having gained admittance off the wait list and surrounded by people with seemingly greater drive and ability, she had her first taste of self-doubt. “One friend was a world-class figure skater. Another was a winner of the Intel science competition. Everyone around me was so spectacular and so amazing and I wanted to be just as amazing as they are.” Classmates seemed to have it all together. Every morning, the administration sent out an email blast highlighting faculty and student accomplishments. Some women attended class wearing full makeup. Ms. DeWitt had acne. They talked about their fantastic internships. She was still focused on the week’s homework. Friends’ lives, as told through selfies, showed them having more fun, making more friends and going to better parties. Even the meals they posted to Instagram looked more delicious. Her confidence took another hit when she glanced at the cellphone screen of a male student sitting next to her who was texting that he would “rather jump out of a plane” than talk to his seatmate. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression; Stress
Link ID: 21233 - Posted: 07.29.2015

By Ariana Eunjung Cha The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funds a lot of weird stuff, and in recent years more and more of it has been about the brain. Its signature work in this field is in brain-computer interfaces and goes back several decades to its Biocybernetics program, which sought to enable direct communication between humans and machines. In 2013, DARPA made headlines when it announced that it intended to spend more than $70 million over five years to take its research to the next level by developing an implant that could help restore function or memory in people with neuropsychiatric issues. Less known is DARPA's Narrative Networks (or N2) project which aims to better understand how stories — or narratives — influence human behavior and to develop a set of tools that can help facilitate faster and better communication of information. "Narratives exert a powerful influence on human thoughts, emotions and behavior and can be particularly important in security contexts," DARPA researchers explained in a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience Methods in April. They added that "in conflict resolution and counterterrorism scenarios, detecting the neural response underlying empathy induced by stories is of critical importance." This is where the work on the Hitchcock movies comes in. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology recruited undergraduates to be hooked up to MRI machines and watch movie clips that were roughly three minutes long. The excerpts all featured a character facing a potential negative outcome and were taken from suspenseful movies, including three Alfred Hitchcock flicks as well as "Alien," "Misery," "Munich" and "Cliffhanger," among others.

Keyword: Emotions; Attention
Link ID: 21231 - Posted: 07.29.2015

By Claire Asher City folk have a reputation for being less friendly than their rural counterparts, and the same appears to be true for garden birds. Urban song sparrows (Melospiza melodia, pictured) are more aggressive toward their neighbors than are sparrows out in the country, researchers report this month in Behavioral Ecology. But whereras the temperament of human city-dwellers is often attributed to the sheer density of people, this isn’t the case for sparrows. The team measured birds’ responses to recordings of another male’s song, noting how often males approached or attacked the speakers, and found that aggression depended not on the density of sparrows, but on the availability of food in the environment. Counterintuitively, male sparrows responded more aggressively in the city, where there tends to be more food, and rural birds became more aggressive when provided with food supplements. The authors explain that the sparrows defend food-rich, high-quality territories more aggressively, but it isn’t clear whether this is an offensive or a defensive strategy; city birds may be more aggressive because a territory with more food is more valuable to them, or because their abundant resources attract more thieves. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Aggression
Link ID: 21221 - Posted: 07.27.2015

Sara Reardon After years of disappointment, clinical-trial results released on 22 July suggest that antibody treatments may produce small improvements in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The drugs — Eli Lilly’s solanezumab and Biogen’s aducanumab — target the amyloid-β protein that accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Many researchers question whether the findings will hold up, given that antibody drugs against amyloid have failed in every previous test against the disease. Details of the results were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Washington DC. Lilly, of Indianapolis, Indiana, says that in a trial with 440 participants, solanezumab seemed to slow the cognitive decline of people with mild Alzheimer’s by about 30%. The loss of mental acuity in these patients over 18 months was equivalent to the deterioration that participants with a similar level of Alzheimer's disease in a placebo group experienced in just 12 months. Lilly snatched this small victory from the jaws of defeat. In 2012, the company reported no difference between patients who had taken solanezumab for 18 months and those who had received a placebo. But when the company reanalyzed that trial it found a slight improvement in participants whose symptoms were mild when the trial began. Lilly continued the test for six months and began giving solanezumab to the 440-member control group, whose disease was by then more advanced. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group,

Keyword: Alzheimers; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 21212 - Posted: 07.23.2015