Chapter 15. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress

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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

By Gretchen Reynolds A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature. Most of us today live in cities and spend far less time outside in green, natural spaces than people did several generations ago. City dwellers also have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers, studies show. These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside. But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health? That possibility intrigued Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University, who has been studying the psychological effects of urban living. In an earlier study published last month, he and his colleagues found that volunteers who walked briefly through a lush, green portion of the Stanford campus were more attentive and happier afterward than volunteers who strolled for the same amount of time near heavy traffic. But that study did not examine the neurological mechanisms that might underlie the effects of being outside in nature. So for the new study, which was published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mr. Bratman and his collaborators decided to closely scrutinize what effect a walk might have on a person’s tendency to brood. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention; Emotions
Link ID: 21200 - Posted: 07.22.2015

By James Gallagher Health editor, BBC News website Irregular sleeping patterns have been "unequivocally" shown to lead to cancer in tests on mice, a study suggests. The report, in Current Biology, lends weight to concerns about the damaging impact of shift work on health. The researchers said women with a family risk of breast cancer should never work shifts, but cautioned that further tests in people were needed. The data also indicated the animals were 20% heavier despite eating the same amount of food. Studies in people have often suggested a higher risk of diseases such as breast cancer in shift workers and flight attendants. One argument is disrupting the body's internal rhythm - or body clock - increases the risk of disease. However, the link is uncertain because the type of person who works shifts may also be more likely to develop cancer due to factors such as social class, activity levels or the amount of vitamin D they get. Mice prone to developing breast cancer had their body clock delayed by 12 hours every week for a year. Normally they had tumours after 50 weeks - but with regular disruption to their sleeping patterns, the tumours appeared eight weeks earlier. The report said: "This is the first study that unequivocally shows a link between chronic light-dark inversions and breast cancer development." Interpreting the consequences for humans is fraught with difficulty, but the researchers guesstimated the equivalent effect could be an extra 10kg (1st 8lb) of body weight or for at-risk women getting cancer about five years earlier. "If you had a situation where a family is at risk for breast cancer, I would certainly advise those people not to work as a flight attendant or to do shift work," one of the researchers, Gijsbetus van der Horst, from the Erasmus University Medical Centre, in the Netherlands, said. © 2015 BBC.

Keyword: Sleep; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 21196 - Posted: 07.21.2015

By NANCY L. SEGAL, AARON T. GOETZ and ALBERTO C. MALDONADO SEVERAL years ago, while browsing the campus bookstore, one of us, Professor Segal, encountered a display table filled with Squirtles. A Squirtle is a plush-toy turtle manufactured by the company Russ Berrie. They were adorable and she couldn’t wait to take one home. Afterward, Professor Segal began wondering why this toy was so attractive and suspected that its large, round eyes played a major role. It’s well known that a preference for large eyes emerges in humans by 5 months of age. But the Squirtle was even more appealing than many of its big-eyed competitors. Was there something else about its eyes? Professor Segal consulted one of us, Professor Goetz, a colleague in evolutionary psychology, who suggested that because the Squirtle’s eyes were bordered in white, the cooperative eye hypothesis might have answers. This hypothesis, developed by the Japanese researchers Hiromi Kobayashi and Shiro Kohshima, holds that the opaque white outer coating of the human eye, or sclera, evolved to assist communication between people by signaling the direction of their gaze. The clear visibility of the sclera is a uniquely human characteristic. Other primates, such as the African great apes, also track the gaze direction of others, yet their sclera are pigmented or, if white, not visible. The great apes appear to use head direction more than other cues when following another’s gaze. Do humans have an instinctive preference for the whites of eyes, thus explaining the allure of the Squirtle? We conducted a study, to be published this year in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, that suggested that the answer was yes. First we had to make some stuffed animals. We used six specially designed sets of three or four animals each (three cats, three dogs, three octopuses, four elephants, four snails and four turtles). The animals within each set were identical except for the eyes, which varied with respect to the size, color and presence of sclera. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21191 - Posted: 07.20.2015

T. M. Luhrmann AMERICANS are a pretty anxious people. Nearly one in five of us — 18 percent — has an anxiety disorder. We spend over $2 billion a year on anti-anxiety medications. College students are often described as more stressed than ever before. There are many explanations for these nerves: a bad job market, less cohesive communities, the constant self-comparison that is social media. In 2002 the World Mental Health Survey found that Americans were the most anxious people in the 14 countries studied, with more clinically significant levels of anxiety than people in Nigeria, Lebanon and Ukraine. To be clear, research suggests that anxiety is at least partially temperamental. A recent study of 592 rhesus monkeys found that some of them responded more anxiously than others and that as much as 30 percent of early anxiety may be inherited. Yet what is inherited is the potential for anxiety, not anxiety itself. Life events obviously play a role. Another, less obvious factor may be the way we think about the mind: as an interior place that demands careful, constant attention. Humans seem to distinguish between mind and body in all cultures, but the sharp awareness of mind as a possession, distinct from soul and body, comes from the Enlightenment. It was then, in the aftermath of the crisis of religious authority and the scientific revolution, that there were intense debates about the nature of mental events. Between 1600 and 1815, the place where mental stuff happened — the “thing that thinks,” to use Descartes’s phrase — came to seem more and more important, as George Makari, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, explains in his forthcoming book, “Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind.” From this, Mr. Makari writes, was developed the psychological mind and psychoanalysis and an expectation that personal thoughts and feelings are the central drivers of human action — not roles, not values, not personal sensation, not God. In the United States, the enormous psychotherapeutic and self-help industry teaches us that we must pay scrupulous attention to inner experience. To succeed and be happy, we are taught, we need to know what we feel. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21189 - Posted: 07.20.2015

By Claire Asher Even fish have role models. In a new study, researchers paired up inexperienced fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas, pictured) with two types of mentors: a minnow raised in an environment free of predators or a minnow raised in a dangerous one simulated by the odors of predatory pike and sturgeon. Fish from dangerous environments were fearful of the smell of both unknown and familiar predators, whereas fish that grew up in safety hid when they smelled a known predator but were curious about new smells. Both types of fish passed on their fears to their protégés: Minnows that spent time with fish raised in dangerous environments were scared of all smells they came across, but those that learned from fish raised in safety feared only specific predators and took new experiences in stride, the team reports online this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The authors say this is the first experiment to show that environment can influence the social transmission of fear and reveals how risk aversion can be learned. The researchers also suggest their study may shed light on how fear disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develop in humans, which research shows can be influenced by social environment; PTSD symptoms can be acquired from friends or family who have suffered trauma, for example. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Emotions; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 21179 - Posted: 07.18.2015

James Gorman Some animals just aren’t that social. Like octopuses. They don’t live in groups. They don’t have big chatterfests like prairie dogs. They don’t write, they don’t call. But new evidence shows that an octopus may signal its intentions when it is about to whomp another octopus. David Scheel, a biologist at Alaska Pacific University; Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher of science who has appointments at City University of New York and the University of Sydney; and Matthew Lawrence, an Australian diver, collaborated to record interactions between common Sydney octopuses off the Australian island of Tasmania. Their method was to put cameras on the sea floor in areas where there were plenty of these octopuses and then comb through hours and hours of video. They aren’t done yet, but Dr. Scheel presented some of their initial findings in Anchorage at the annual meeting last month of the Animal Behavior Society, and they have about two dozen examples of octopuses signaling their aggressive intent. He showed video of one octopus moving swiftly toward another as it made itself look taller and turned very dark. Octopuses have a remarkable ability to change their coloration to blend in with their surroundings, like chameleons. But this color change is the opposite. A darkened octopus stands out against a sandy bottom like an avenging cephalopod. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21164 - Posted: 07.13.2015

By Nicholas Bakalar A short nap could reduce impulsive behavior and improve the ability to withstand frustration, a small study suggests. Researchers studied 40 people aged 18 to 50. After three nights of normal sleep, the participants took computer-based tests of frustration tolerance — which consisted of trying to complete an impossible task — and completed questionnaires on sleepiness, mood and impulsivity. Then they were randomly assigned to take an hour’s nap, or to watch a nature video. At the end of the process, they were tested again. The study appears in Personality and Individual Differences. Before the nap period, everyone spent about the same amount of time on the unsolvable task, but afterward nappers, who all reported having slept at least part of the time, spent significantly more time working at it than they had before their nap, while non-nappers gave up sooner. Nappers also rated their behavior as less impulsive than non-nappers. The lead author, Jennifer R. Goldschmied, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, acknowledged that the sample is small, involved mainly college students and may not be applicable to other populations. The sleep calculations also did not use electronic devices to precisely measure sleep and wakefulness. Still, she said, “These results are valuable and have put us on the route to understanding how we can utilize naps. Now people are starting to understand how powerful short bursts of sleep can be.” © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep; Emotions
Link ID: 21156 - Posted: 07.11.2015

By Christian Jarrett We all know a narcissist or two — the often-annoying colleagues, friends, and family members who seem to be constantly talking about themselves and touting their own achievements. In some ways, these characters are a paradox. They seem to be in love with themselves — and when they’re asked in questionnaires, they claim to have very high self-esteem — but their behavior poses an obvious question: If you were genuinely happy with yourself, why would you feel the need to constantly boast and seek admiration from others? A new study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience potentially solves the mystery: Narcissists may talk and act confident, but their brains don’t lie. At a neural level, narcissists are needy. A research team led by David Chester at the University of Kentucky at Lexington recruited 50 undergrad students and had them complete a standard measure of narcissism. Participants who agreed with statements like “I think I am a special person” were allocated high narcissism scores. Next, the researchers invited the students to lie in a special kind of brain scanner that uses diffusion tensor imaging, a technology that measures the amount of connectivity between different brain areas. Such scans produce beautiful “wiring diagrams” of the brain, in contrast to structural MRI scans that show the brain’s gray matter, and functional MRI scans that measure neural activity — this allows researchers to better understand how much “conversation” there is between the brain’s various functional hubs.

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21148 - Posted: 07.09.2015

by Jessica Griggs Manoeuvring the colourful tiles of Tetris can help block flashbacks of traumatic events, even after the memory has fixed itself in your mind. Playing the game could be an easy way to reduce the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After any event, there is a window of about six hours where memories are consolidated and cemented in the mind, says Emily Holmes at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK. Sleeping on the memory strengthens it further. If an event is particularly traumatic, vivid memories of it can reoccur. These intrusive flashbacks are distressing for anyone, but in a proportion of cases they can persist and contribute to PTSD. For example, about half of people who have been raped go on to develop PTSD, as do a number of asylum seekers and people who have been tortured. About 20 per cent of people who have been in a serious car accident are affected by the condition. There are effective treatments for people who are diagnosed with PTSD, but nothing currently exists to help prevent people from developing it in the days and weeks after the initial trauma. Holmes and her colleagues think a dose of Tetris could be the answer. In 2009, they showed that playing the game four hours after being exposed to trauma reduced the number of subsequent flashbacks. But getting the game into a person's hands immediately after they have been raped, for example, won't always be practical, so the team tested whether it could still work a day later – after the memory had been consolidated and slept on. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Stress; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 21142 - Posted: 07.07.2015

By DACHER KELTNER and PAUL EKMAN FIVE years ago, the writer and director Pete Docter of Pixar reached out to us to talk over an idea for a film, one that would portray how emotions work inside a person’s head and at the same time shape a person’s outer life with other people. He wanted to do this all in the mind of an 11-year-old girl as she navigated a few difficult days in her life. As scientists who have studied emotion for decades, we were delighted to be asked. We ended up serving as scientific consultants for the movie, “Inside Out,” which was recently released. Our conversations with Mr. Docter and his team were generally about the science related to questions at the heart of the film: How do emotions govern the stream of consciousness? How do emotions color our memories of the past? What is the emotional life of an 11-year-old girl like? (Studies find that the experience of positive emotions begins to drop precipitously in frequency and intensity at that age.) “Inside Out” is about how five emotions — personified as the characters Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness and Joy — grapple for control of the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley during the tumult of a move from Minnesota to San Francisco. (One of us suggested that the film include the full array of emotions now studied in science, but Mr. Docter rejected this idea for the simple reason that the story could handle only five or six characters.) Riley’s personality is principally defined by Joy, and this is fitting with what we know scientifically. Studies find that our identities are defined by specific emotions, which shape how we perceive the world, how we express ourselves and the responses we evoke in others. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21139 - Posted: 07.07.2015

By Kelly Servick How many times would you give your neighbor an electric shock to earn a few extra bucks? Your answer could be more malleable than you think. A new study finds that two common drugs—an antidepressant and a treatment for Parkinson’s disease—can influence moral decisions, a discovery that could help unravel specific mechanisms behind aggression and eventually help researchers design treatments for antisocial behavior. Previous research has linked two neurotransmitters, the brain’s signaling molecules, to our willingness to inflict harm. Serotonin appears to help keep us civil; it’s reduced in the brains of violent offenders, for example. Dopamine, meanwhile, has been shown to prompt aggression in animals, and it’s elevated in a certain part of the brain in people with psychopathic behavior. But measuring how these neurotransmitters contribute to moral decision-making is hard to do in the lab. Many studies rely on theoretical questions like the so-called trolley dilemma, which asks a person whether they would redirect an oncoming train to kill someone if it would save the lives of several others in its path. A person’s answer might not always reflect how they would behave in real life, however. So neuroscientist Molly Crockett of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and her colleagues developed a lab test with real consequences. They asked subjects to make a series of decisions about how many moderately painful electric shocks to deliver to themselves or to others. Half the questions gave volunteers a chance to earn money by inflicting self-harm. (For example: “Would you rather endure seven shocks to earn $10 or 10 shocks to earn $15?”) The other half offered the same type of decision, except that someone else stood to be shocked. At the end of the experiment, one of these choices was randomly selected and carried out: The decision-maker got paid, and either they or another person—waiting in a different room—got a series of painful zings on the wrist. Any answer could be the one with real consequences, so “people have to sort of put their money where their mouth is,” Crockett says. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21131 - Posted: 07.04.2015

By Victoria Gill Science reporter, BBC News Cat v mouse: it is probably the most famous predator-prey pairing, enshrined in idioms and a well-known cartoon. And cats, it turns out, even have chemical warfare in their anti-mouse arsenal - contained in their urine. Researchers found that when very young mice were exposed to a chemical in cat urine, they were less likely to avoid the scent of cats later in life. The findings were presented at the Society for Experimental Biology's annual meeting in Prague. The researchers, from the AN Severtov Institute of Ecology and Evolution in Moscow, had previously found that the compound - aptly named felinine - causes pregnant mice to abort. Dr Vera Voznessenskaya explained that mice have a physiological response to this cat-specific compound. Chemical-sensing mouse neurons in the mouse's brain pick up the scent, triggering a reaction which includes an increase in the levels of stress hormones. "It's something that has existed in cats and mice for thousands of years," said Dr Voznessenskaya. This new study revealed that baby mice exposed to the compound during a "critical period" in their development would, as adults, react quite differently to their arch enemy's smell. The team exposed one-month-old mice to the chemical over two weeks. When they were tested later for their reaction, they were much less likely to flee the same scent. The interaction between cats and mice has a long history "Their physical sensitivity [to the chemical] was actually actually much higher," Dr Voznessenskaya explained. "More of their receptors detect the compound and they produce higher levels of stress hormone." Despite this though, mice raised around the unmistakable scent of cat pee are less inclined to show signs of fear, or to flee when they sniff it out. © 2015 BBC.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 21128 - Posted: 07.04.2015

By Gretchen Vogel The 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic left a troubling legacy in Europe: More than 1300 people who received a vaccine to prevent the flu developed narcolepsy, an incurable, debilitating condition that causes overpowering daytime sleepiness, sometimes accompanied by a sudden muscle weakness in response to strong emotions such as laughter or anger. The manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), has acknowledged the link, and some patients and their families have already been awarded cpmpensation. But how the vaccine might have triggered the condition has been unclear. In a paper in Science Translational Medicine (STM) this week, researchers offer a possible explanation. They show that the vaccine, called Pandemrix, triggers antibodies that can also bind to a receptor in brain cells that help regulate sleepiness. The work strongly suggests that Pandemrix, which was given to more than 30 million Europeans, triggered an autoimmune re action that led to narcolepsy in some people who are genetically at risk. “They put together quite a convincing picture and provide a plausible explanation for what has happened,” says Pasi Penttinen, who heads the influenza program at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm. “It’s really the kind of work we’ve been waiting for for 5 years.” But the results still need to be confirmed in a larger study, the authors and other narcolepsy researchers say. A 2013 paper in STM by another group, documenting a different type of vaccine-triggered autoimmune re action, was retracted after the results proved irreproducible (Science, 1 August 2014, p. 498). © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Sleep; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 21124 - Posted: 07.02.2015

by Andy Coghlan "I was completely revitalised," says Karen. "Suddenly, I could be sociable again. I would go to work, go home, eat dinner and feel restless." Karen (not her real name) experienced this relief from chronic fatigue syndrome while taking a drug that is usually used to treat the blood cancer lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis (see "Karen's experience", below). She was one of 18 people with CFS who reported improvements after taking rituximab as part of a small trial in Bergen, Norway. The results could lead to new treatments for the condition, which can leave people exhausted and housebound. Finding a cause for CFS has been difficult. Four years ago, claims that a mouse virus was to blame proved to be unfounded, and some have suggested the disease is psychosomatic. The latest study implicates the immune system, at least in some cases. Rituximab wipes out most of the body's B-cells, which are the white blood cells that make antibodies. Øystein Fluge and Olav Mella of the Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen noticed its effect on CFS symptoms in 2004, when they used the drug to treat lymphoma in a person who happened to also have CFS. Several months later, the person's CFS symptoms had disappeared. A small, one-year trial in 2011 found that two-thirds of those who received rituximab experienced relief, compared with none of the control group. The latest study, involving 29 people with CFS, shows that repeated rituximab infusions can keep symptoms at bay for years. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Keyword: Depression; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 21123 - Posted: 07.02.2015

Vaughan Bell Marketing has discovered neuroscience and the shiny new product has plenty of style but very little substance. “Neuromarketing” is lighting up the eyes of advertising executives and lightening the wallets of public relations companies. It promises to target the unconscious desires of consumers, which are supposedly revealed by measuring the brain. The more successful agencies have some of the world’s biggest brands on their books and these mega-corporations are happy to trumpet their use of brain science in targeting their key markets. The holy grail of neuromarketing is to predict which ads will lead to most sales before they’ve been released but the reality is a mixture of bad science, bullshit and hope. First, it’s important to realise that the concept of neuroscience is used in different ways in marketing. Sometimes, it’s just an empty ploy aimed at consumers – the equivalent of putting a bikini-clad body next to your product for people who believe they’re above the bikini ploy. A recent Porsche advert apparently showed a neuroscience experiment suggesting that the brain reacts in a similar way to driving their car and flying a fighter jet, but it was all glitter and no gold. The images were computer-generated, the measurements impossible, and the scientist an actor. In complete contrast, neuromarketing is also a serious research area. This is a scientifically sound, genuinely interesting field in cognitive science, where the response to products and consumer decision-making is understood on the level of body and mind. This might involve looking at how familiar brand logos engage the memory systems in the brain, or examining whether the direction of eye gaze of people in ads affects how attention-grabbing they are, or testing whether the brain’s electrical activity varies when watching subtly different ads. Like most of cognitive neuroscience, the studies are abstract, ultra-focused and a long way from everyday experience. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21105 - Posted: 06.29.2015

By PETER ANDREY SMITH Eighteen vials were rocking back and forth on a squeaky mechanical device the shape of a butcher scale, and Mark Lyte was beside himself with excitement. ‘‘We actually got some fresh yesterday — freshly frozen,’’ Lyte said to a lab technician. Each vial contained a tiny nugget of monkey feces that were collected at the Harlow primate lab near Madison, Wis., the day before and shipped to Lyte’s lab on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus in Abilene, Tex. Lyte’s interest was not in the feces per se but in the hidden form of life they harbor. The digestive tube of a monkey, like that of all vertebrates, contains vast quantities of what biologists call gut microbiota. The genetic material of these trillions of microbes, as well as others living elsewhere in and on the body, is collectively known as the microbiome. Taken together, these bacteria can weigh as much as six pounds, and they make up a sort of organ whose functions have only begun to reveal themselves to science. Lyte has spent his career trying to prove that gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain. Inside a closet-size room at his lab that afternoon, Lyte hunched over to inspect the vials, whose samples had been spun down in a centrifuge to a radiant, golden broth. Lyte, 60, spoke fast and emphatically. ‘‘You wouldn’t believe what we’re extracting out of poop,’’ he told me. ‘‘We found that the guys here in the gut make neurochemicals. We didn’t know that. Now, if they make this stuff here, does it have an influence there? Guess what? We make the same stuff. Maybe all this communication has an influence on our behavior.’’ Since 2007, when scientists announced plans for a Human Microbiome Project to catalog the micro-organisms living in our body, the profound appreciation for the influence of such organisms has grown rapidly with each passing year. Bacteria in the gut produce vitamins and break down our food; their presence or absence has been linked to obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and the toxic side effects of prescription drugs. Biologists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on microbial activity. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions; Obesity
Link ID: 21088 - Posted: 06.23.2015

Helen Shen Boosting activity in neurons that have stored happy memories might help to treat depression — at least according to results in mice. In a study published today (17 June) in Nature, neuroscientist Susumu Tonegawa and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge report how they reversed a depression-like state in rodents by using light to stimulate clusters of brain cells believed to have stored memories of a positive experience1. The findings are preliminary, but they hint that areas of the brain involved in storing memories could one day be a target to treat mental disorders in humans, says Tonegawa. “I want to be very careful not to give false expectations to patients. We are doing very basic science,” he adds. “This is exactly the type of work that psychiatry needs right now,” says Robert Malenka, a behavioural scientist at Stanford University in California. “This is an elegant paper.” The work has grown out of studies by Tonegawa’s lab and others that aimed to locate the memory ‘engram’ — the physical trace of a memory, thought to be encoded in an ensemble of neurons2–6. In 2012, Tonegawa and his team provided one of the clearest demonstrations of an engram. They engineered mice with light-sensitive proteins that were expressed when neurons fired. As a result, they could track any neurons that activated while the mice were given a fearful memory by being trained with repeated electric shocks to be scared of a cage3. The researchers later used blue flashes of light to make the same neurons fire again — a technique known as optogenetics — and found that they could make the animals freeze up, presumably because the fearful memory had been reawoken. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Depression
Link ID: 21073 - Posted: 06.18.2015