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By Dina Fine Maron Don’t stress too much about cutting calories if you want to shed pounds—focus on getting more exercise. That’s the controversial message beverage giant Coca-Cola is backing in its new campaign to curb obesity. Coke is pushing this idea via a new Coke-backed nonprofit called Global Energy Balance Network, The New York Times reported on August 9. Money from Coke, the Times reported, is also financing studies that support the notion that exercise trumps diet. But is there any merit to such a stance? Not much, says Rutgers University–based diet and behavior expert Charlotte Markey. She is the author of an upcoming cover story in Scientific American MIND on this topic, and spoke about the Coke claims with Scientific American on Monday. In your fall Scientific American MIND feature you write “study after study shows that working out is not terribly effective for weight loss on its own.” Why is that? Exercise increases appetite, and most people just make up for whatever they exercised off. There’s a lot of wonderful reasons to exercise and I always suggest it to people who are trying to lose weight—some sort of exercise regimen keeps them focused on their health and doing what is good for them, and it’s psychologically healthy. But in and of itself it won’t usually help people lose weight. Two years ago there was a review study in Frontiers in Psychology that concluded dieting often actually led to weight gain. Why would that happen? When people try to diet, they try to restrict themselves, which often leads to overeating. They cut out food groups which make those food groups more desirable to them. They think too much about short-term goals and don’t think about sustainable changes. But if you are going to lose weight, you have to change your behaviors for the rest of your life or otherwise you gain it back. That’s not a sexy message because it seems daunting. © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 21285 - Posted: 08.12.2015

Sarah Schwartz In 2011, science journalist Jon Palfreman saw a doctor about a tremor in his left hand. The doctor diagnosed Palfreman, then 60, with Parkinson’s disease. The disorder, which is newly diagnosed in 60,000 Americans each year, promised a crippling future of tremors, loss of mobility, dementia and more. Palfreman decided to use his reporting expertise to investigate how Parkinson’s disease affects the body and learn about efforts to find a cure. With Brain Storms, Palfreman follows Parkinson’s history from the careful observations of 19th century physicians to today’s cutting-edge research. Palfreman relates complex research studies as gripping medical mysteries. He describes how scientists connected Parkinson’s with the dramatic loss of the brain chemical dopamine and with tenacious protein knots called Lewy bodies that are a hallmark of the disease. Palfreman also explores treatments past and present, including the widely used drug levodopa that restores motion (sometimes uncontrollably), gene therapies, brain surgeries and promising experimental antibody treatments that attack and dissolve misfolded Parkinson’s-related proteins. Ultimately, Brain Storms is about more than Parkinson’s disease; it’s about the people living with the disorder. Palfreman describes patients who must teach themselves to walk without falling over or who freeze in place. He writes about a researcher driven to search for a cure after the disease affects his own father. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 21284 - Posted: 08.12.2015

By Anahad O’Connor Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, is backing a new “science-based” solution to the obesity crisis: To maintain a healthy weight, get more exercise and worry less about cutting calories. The beverage giant has teamed up with influential scientists who are advancing this message in medical journals, at conferences and through social media. To help the scientists get the word out, Coke has provided financial and logistical support to a new nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, which promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise. “Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” the group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, says in a recent video announcing the new organization. “And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.” Health experts say this message is misleading and part of an effort by Coke to deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. They contend that the company is using the new group to convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet despite evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume. This clash over the science of obesity comes in a period of rising efforts to tax sugary drinks, remove them from schools and stop companies from marketing them to children. In the last two decades, consumption of full-calorie sodas by the average American has dropped by 25 percent. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 21283 - Posted: 08.10.2015

By Janet Davison, CBC News Maddy Huggins would binge drink as a teenager and black out, just like other kids at her high school in Kelowna, B.C. When she went backpacking during her gap year, there were more alcoholic overloads and "really risky" moments when something bad could have transpired. "Nothing too terrible happened, but there was the potential for that," says Huggins, 22, who's just about to start fourth year at the University of Saskatchewan. As she settled into university, however, Huggins did some serious thinking about alcohol in her life. "It was just a gradual progression where I was like, 'OK, enough of this.'" These days, Huggins knows her low-risk alcoholic limits and won't hesitate to order water even if her friends are going for something stronger. But other young Canadian women haven't stepped back like that. Reports suggest the percentage of young women binge drinking — defined now as having at least four drinks per occasion at least once a month — is on the rise and encompasses nearly one in four Canadian women between 20 and 34. Indeed, the trend has become so pronounced that the Paris-based Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development warned in May that binge drinking by young people, including in Canada, has become a "major public health and social concern." Looming problems It's a concern that goes beyond the headline issues like date rape and campus horrors to where health scientists are warning that because of physiology — women generally weigh less than men, have a higher percentage of body fat and smaller livers — excessive drinking by young women is setting them up for a series of health problems down the road. ©2015 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stroke
Link ID: 21282 - Posted: 08.10.2015

Rachel Martin The National Football League held its annual hall of fame induction ceremony Saturday night, in Canton, Ohio. Eight players were given football's highest honor, including a posthumous induction for Junior Seau, the former linebacker for the San Diego Chargers who killed himself in 2012. After his death, Seau's brain showed signs of chronic damage — the same kind of damage that has been found in dozens of other former NFL players. Scientific studies have shown that the kind of repeated hits NFL players take is linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease. CTE is associated with memory loss, impulse control problems, depression and eventually dementia. Some players are rethinking their careers — like up-and-coming linebacker Chris Borland, who quit after his first season with the 49ers a few months ago — for fear of head injuries. Parents are weighing the risks as well. So when someone like Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka talks, they listen. When host Bryant Gumbel asked Ditka on HBO's Real Sports earlier this year whether, if he had an 8-year-old now, he would want him to play football. "No," he answered. "That's sad. I wouldn't, and my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward." Tregg Duerson's father, Dave Duerson, a defensive back who played most of his pro football career with the Chicago Bears, killed himself in 2011 in his Miami home. Duerson was part of the legendary '85 team that won the Superbowl, and five years later helped the New York Giants win their own championship. © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 21281 - Posted: 08.10.2015

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

By John Danaher Discoveries in neuroscience, and the science of behaviour more generally, pose a challenge to the existence of free will. But this all depends on what is meant by ‘free will’. The term means different things to different people. Philosophers focus on two conditions that seem to be necessary for free will: (i) the alternativism condition, according to which having free will requires the ability to do otherwise; and (ii) the sourcehood condition, according to which having free will requires that you (your ‘self’) be the source of your actions. A scientific and deterministic worldview is often said to threaten the first condition. Does it also threaten the second? That is what Christian List and Peter Menzies article “My brain made me do it: The exclusion argument against free will and what’s wrong with it” tries to figure out. As you might guess from the title, the authors think that the scientific worldview, in particular the advances in neuroscience, do not necessarily threaten the sourcehood condition. I discussed their main argument in the previous post. To briefly recap, they critiqued an argument from physicalism against free will. According to this argument, the mental states which constitute the self do not cause our behaviour because they are epiphenomenal: they supervene on the physical brain states that do all the causal work. List and Menzies disputed this by appealing to a difference-making account of causation. This allowed for the possibility of mental states causing behaviour (being the ‘difference makers’) even if they were supervenient upon underlying physical states.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 21279 - Posted: 08.10.2015

April Dembosky Developers of a new video game for your brain say theirs is more than just another get-smarter-quick scheme. Akili, a Northern California startup, insists on taking the game through a full battery of clinical trials so it can get approval from the Food and Drug Administration — a process that will take lots of money and several years. So why would a game designer go to all that trouble when there's already a robust market of consumers ready to buy games that claim to make you smarter and improve your memory? Think about all the ads you've heard for brain games. Maybe you've even passed a store selling them. There's one at the mall in downtown San Francisco — just past the cream puff stand and across from Jamba Juice — staffed on my visit by a guy named Dominic Firpo. "I'm a brain coach here at Marbles: The Brain Store," he says. Brain coach? "Sounds better than sales person," Firpo explains. "We have to learn all 200 games in here and become great sales people so we can help enrich peoples' minds." He heads to the "Word and Memory" section of the store and points to one product that says it will improve your focus and reduce stress in just three minutes a day. "We sold out of it within the first month of when we got it," Firpo says. The market for these "brain fitness" games is worth about $1 billion and is expected to grow to $6 billion in the next five years. Game makers appeal to both the young and the older with the common claim that if you exercise your memory, you'll be able to think faster and be less forgetful. Maybe bump up your IQ a few points. "That's absurd," says psychology professor Randall Engle from the Georgia Institute of Technology. © 2015 NPR

Keyword: ADHD; Intelligence
Link ID: 21278 - Posted: 08.10.2015

Nell Greenfieldboyce Take a close look at a house cat's eyes and you'll see pupils that look like vertical slits. But a tiger has round pupils — like humans do. And the eyes of other animals, like goats and horses, have slits that are horizontal. Scientists have now done the first comprehensive study of these three kinds of pupils. The shape of the animal's pupil, it turns out, is closely related to the animal's size and whether it's a predator or prey. The pupil is the hole that lets light in, and it comes in lots of different shapes. "There are some weird ones out there," says Martin Banks, a vision scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. Cuttlefish have pupils that look like the letter "W," and dolphins have pupils shaped like crescents. Some frogs have heart-shaped pupils, while geckos have pupils that look like pinholes arranged in a vertical line. Needless to say, scientists want to know why all these different shapes evolved. "It's been an active point of debate for quite some time," says Banks, "because it's something you obviously observe. It's the first thing you see about an animal — where their eye is located and what the pupil shape is." For their recent study, Banks and his colleagues decided to keep things simple. They looked at just land animals, and just three kinds of pupils. "We restricted ourselves to just pupils that are elongated or not," Banks explains. "So they're either vertical, horizontal or round." © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Vision; Evolution
Link ID: 21277 - Posted: 08.08.2015

By John Danaher Consider the following passage from Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement. It concerns one of the novel’s characters (Briony) as she philosophically reflects on the mystery of human action: She raised one hand and flexed its fingers and wondered, as she had sometimes done before, how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be hers, entirely at her command. Or did it have some little life of its own? She bent her finger and straightened it. The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when her intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking. If she could only find herself at the crest, she thought, she might find the secret of herself, that part of her that was really in charge. Is Briony’s quest forlorn? Will she ever find herself at the crest of the wave? The contemporary scientific understanding of human action seems to cast this into some doubt. A variety of studies in the neuroscience of action paint an increasingly mechanistic and subconscious picture of human behaviour. According to these studies, our behaviour is not the product of our intentions or desires or anything like that. It is the product of our neural networks and systems, a complex soup of electrochemical interactions, oftentimes operating beneath our conscious awareness. In other words, our brains control our actions; our selves (in the philosophically important sense of the word ‘self’) do not. This discovery — that our brains ‘make us do it’ and that ‘we’ don’t — is thought to have a number of significant social implications, particularly for our practices of blame and punishment.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 21276 - Posted: 08.08.2015

By Ariana Eunjung Cha Everyone knows that a diet full of white bread, pasta and rice is bad for your waistline. Now scientists say these types of refined carbs could also impact your mind — putting post-menopausal women at higher risk for depression. In a new study published in the the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers looked at data from more than 70,000 women who participated in the National Institutes of Health's women's health initiative between 1994 and 1998. They found that the more women consumed added sugars and refined grains and the higher their score on the glycemic index (GI) — a measure of the rate carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed by the body — the more they were at risk of new-onset depression. Those who had a different sort of diet — one with more dietary fiber, whole grains, vegetables and non-juice fruits — had a decreased risk. "This suggests that dietary interventions could serve as treatments and preventive measures for depression," wrote James Gangswisch, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, and his co-authors. The researchers explained that refined foods trigger a hormonal response in the body to reduce blood sugar levels. That is believed to lead to the "sugar high" and subsequent "crash" some people say they feel after eating such foods. This can lead to mood changes, fatigue and other symptoms of depression.

Keyword: Depression; Obesity
Link ID: 21275 - Posted: 08.08.2015

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 SAM ROBERTS Dr. Louis Sokoloff, who pioneered the PET scan technique for measuring human brain function and diagnosing disorders, died on July 30 in Washington. He was 93. His death was confirmed by his daughter, Ann, his only immediate survivor. Dr. Sokoloff, who headed the brain metabolism laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., received the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 1981 for his role in developing the vivid color images that map brain function. The technique measures the metabolism of its primary fuel, glucose, through a radioactive substitute that, unlike glucose, lingers long enough to undergo chemical analysis. “The Sokoloff method,” the Lasker Foundation said, “has facilitated the diagnosis, understanding and possible future treatment of such disorders of the brain as schizophrenia, epilepsy, brain changes due to drug addiction and senile dementia.” As early as the mid-1940s, when he was practicing psychotherapy in the Army as chief of neuropsychiatry at Camp Lee, Va. (now Fort Lee), he believed there was a physiological and biochemical component to mental illness. “Of course, the psychoanalysts said it had nothing to do with the brain; it had to do with the mind — it could have been anywhere, it could have been in the big toe,” he said in an interview in 2005, shortly after he officially retired from the institute. “For me, mind and brain were inextricably linked,” he wrote in an autobiographical essay published in 1996, “a linkage that was irrelevant to psychiatry at that time.” © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 21273 - Posted: 08.08.2015

By Rachel Feltman Ever wondered what the world looks like to nonhuman animals? Scientists do, too. It can actually be a really important question. Sometimes humans can't see things -- like skin markings designed to attract mates or flower colors meant to draw pollinators -- that are incredibly important in the life and behavior of an animal. That's why researchers at the University of Exeter have developed a software that converts photos to "animal vision." The software, which is available for free online, is described in a recent paper in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Its creators have already used it extensively themselves to perform studies on animals who see light outside the spectrum visible to humans. They've also used it to track imperceptible color changes that occur in women's faces during ovulation. The software works by integrating photos taken using ultraviolet filters with those taken using regular color filters, a process that scientists used to have to dial in manually for whatever species they were studying. By meshing the visible light spectrum with information from a full-spectrum image, the software can replicate the visual experience of animals who see more colors than humans, including light in the ultraviolet range.

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 21272 - Posted: 08.08.2015

Tina Hesman Saey Memory Transfer Seen — Experiments with rats, showing how chemicals from one rat brain influence the memory of an untrained animal, indicate that tinkering with the brain of humans is also possible. In the rat tests, brain material from an animal trained to go for food either at a light flash or at a sound signal was injected into an untrained rat. The injected animals then "remembered" whether light or sound meant food. — Science News Letter, August 21, 1965 Update: After this report, scientists from eight labs attempted to repeat the memory transplants. They failed, as they reported in Science in 1966. Science fiction authors and futurists often predict that a person’s memories might be transferred to another person or a computer, but the idea is likely to remain speculation, says neuroscientist Eric Kandel, who won a Nobel Prize in 2000 for his work on memory. Brain wiring is too intricate and complicated to be exactly replicated, and scientists are still learning about how memories are made, stored and retrieved. W. L. Byrne et al. Technical Comments: Memory Transfer. Science Vol. 153, August 5, 1966, p. 658. doi:10.1126/science.153.3736.658 © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 21271 - Posted: 08.08.2015

A dipstick inserted into the brain can check its energy levels, just like checking oil levels in a car. The dipstick is already available and can save lives, according to some neuroscientists. “The goal is to save brain tissue,” says Elham Rostami of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Last month, Rostami and 47 others published guidelines about how and when to use the technique, known as brain microdialysis, in the hope of encouraging more hospitals to adopt it. The approach involves inserting a slim, 1-centimetre-long probe directly into the brain. It measures levels of chemicals in the fluid that bathes brain cells, including glucose, the brain’s main energy source. When used to monitor the brains of people in intensive care after a stroke or head injury, it warns doctors if glucose starts to dip – which can cause brain damage. The probe can theoretically monitor almost any molecule, but Rostami says the most useful parameters are glucose, which shows if there is a good blood supply, and lactate and pyruvate, two metabolites that indicate if brain cells are using the glucose to release energy. Although widely available, the device has so far mainly been used as a research tool rather than to guide treatment. Rostami believes her use of the probe helped save a woman’s life last year. The woman was in intensive care after a stroke involving bleeding on the surface of her brain. The probe revealed that although the bleeding had stopped, the woman’s brain glucose levels had fallen, probably caused by other blood vessels constricting. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Stroke; Brain imaging
Link ID: 21270 - Posted: 08.05.2015

By Mitch Leslie If you need to lose a lot of weight, surgeons have a drastic option: They can reroute and sometimes remove parts of your stomach, making it smaller. But instead of limiting the amount of food you can eat, the surgery may work by triggering long-term changes in the types of microbes that inhabit your intestines, a new study suggests. If so, altering the kinds of microbes that live in your gut may be a simpler—and safer—route to weight loss. The research provides “some of the best evidence in humans so far” that bariatric surgery works “in part by changing the bacteria in your gut,” says David Cummings, an endocrinologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, who was not involved with the work. Weight loss isn’t the only benefit of so-called bariatric surgery. If a patient has diabetes, for instance, it will usually disappear. The surgery alters metabolism and digestive system functions in several ways, and researchers are still trying to pin down why it’s effective. “This is not about making your stomach small,” says Randy Seeley, an obesity and diabetes researcher at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who wasn’t connected to the study. One way that bariatric surgery might trigger its effects is through its influence on the microbiota, the swarms of microbes that dwell in our intestines and help us digest food. Studies have found that bariatric surgery dramatically alters the microbiota’s makeup in mice and humans. Two years ago, scientists put mice through a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass—a type of bariatric surgery that involves reducing the stomach to a small pouch and stitching it to the middle part of the small intestine—and then transplanted microbes from the slimmed down animals into mice that lacked intestinal bacteria. The recipient rodents lost 5% of their body weight in 2 weeks. But these studies only checked for short-term changes. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 21269 - Posted: 08.05.2015

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 Christian Jarrett One of the saddest things about loneliness is that it leads to what psychologists call a “negative spiral.” People who feel isolated come to dread bad social experiences and they lose faith that it’s possible to enjoy good company. The usual result, as Melissa Dahl recently noted, is more loneliness. This hardly seems adaptive, but experts say it’s because we’ve evolved to enter a self-preservation mode when we’re alone. Without the backup of friends and family, our brains become alert to threat, especially the potential danger posed by strangers. Until now, much of the evidence to support this account has come from behavioral studies. For example, when shown a video depicting a social scene, lonely people spend more time than others looking at signs of social threat, such as a person being ignored by their friends or one person turning their back on another. Unpublished work also shows that lonely people’s attention seems to be grabbed more quickly by words that pertain to social threat, such as rejected or unwanted. Now the University of Chicago’s husband-and-wife research team of Stephanie and John Cacioppo — leading authorities on the psychology and neuroscience of loneliness — have teamed up with their colleague, Stephen Balogh, to provide the first evidence that lonely people’s brains, compared to the non-lonely, are exquisitely alert to the difference between social and nonsocial threats. The finding, reported online in the journal Cortex, supports their broader theory that, for evolutionary reasons, loneliness triggers a cascade of brain-related changes that put us into a socially nervous, vigilant mode. The researchers used a loneliness questionnaire to recruit 38 very lonely people and 32 people who didn’t feel lonely (note that loneliness was defined here as the subjective feeling of isolation, as opposed to the number of friends or close relatives one has). Next, the researchers placed an electrode array of 128 sensors on each of the participants’ heads, allowing them to record the participants’ brain waves using an established technique known as electro-encephalography (EEG) that’s particularly suited to measuring brain activity changes over very short time periods. © 2015, New York Media LLC.

Keyword: Depression; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 21267 - Posted: 08.05.2015

By Julie Scelfo This week, I wrote about the pressures college students face and the related risk for depression and suicide. The article, “Suicide on Campus and the Pressure for Perfection,” generated numerous comments, and readers also raised important questions about other aspects of mental health. Q.Your story seemed to focus on women. Do boys and men experience the same kinds of pressure? A.Yes, male college students experience the same kind of pressure and commit suicide at significantly higher rates than their female counterparts. The rate of suicide among 15 to 24-year-old males in the United States was 17.3 per 100,000 in 2013, compared with 4.5 among females of the same age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, men of all ages are far more likely to commit suicide than women. Q.If men are more likely to commit suicide, why did the story focus on a female student? A. There is still tremendous stigma surrounding mental illness, and not everyone who experiences depression is willing to talk about it. The young woman I profiled, Kathryn DeWitt, offered a rare opportunity to hear from someone who had gone all the way down to the depths of despair but — thankfully — was still alive to talk about it (and could do so articulately). Male depression is a significant concern, and a topic I have written about in the past. More information and resources are available from The National Alliance on Mental Illness. Q.Why didn’t you talk about high rates of suicide among Asian-American students? A.While suicide among Asian-American students is a significant concern, data from the C.D.C. shows the racial/ethnic group with the highest suicide rate is actually American-Indian/Alaskan Native. According to the C.D.C, the rate of suicide in that group for 15 to 24-year-olds is 9.4 for females and a staggering 29.1 for males. Q.Are parents to blame for suicide? A. The cause of any individual suicide is complex, and it would be a mistake to assume parents are to blame if a child attempts suicide. Gregory Eels, the director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Cornell, who has worked in higher education for 20 years and says he has seen “too many” student deaths, describes it this way: “The causes of a completed suicide are never a single thing. It’s a combination of thousands of things.” © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 21266 - Posted: 08.05.2015