Chapter 15. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress

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By Melissa Dahl It’s the fifth inning and the Tampa Bay Rays are beating the Cleveland Indians 6–2 when Cleveland’s relief pitcher Nick Hagadone steps in. Alas, Hagadone does little to turn around the Indians’ luck that day, closing out the long inning with a score of 10–2. Hagadone, apparently frustrated by his own lackluster performance, heads to the clubhouse and, on the way there, punches a door with his left fist — the fist that is, unfortunately, connected to his pitching arm. That momentary impulse would cost him dearly. Hagadone required surgery and eight months’ recovery time — and, to add insult to a literal injury, his team also relegated him to the minor leagues, a move that shrank his annual salary by more than 80 percent. When asked about what could possibly explain an action like this in a usually easy-going guy, the Indians’ team psychologist, Charlie Maher, could only offer variations on this: “He just snapped.” Unless you are also a relief pitcher in the major leagues, you will likely never be in exactly this situation. But how many times have you reacted aggressively, even violently, in a way that felt almost out of your control? You hurl your smartphone across the room, or you unleash a stream of expletives in a manner that would seem to a calmer, rational mind to be disproportionate to the situation at hand. “I just snapped” is how we explain it to ourselves and others, and then we move on. The phrase has become such a cliché that it’s easy to forget that it doesn’t really explain much of anything. What’s behind this impulsive, immediately regrettable behavior? R. Douglas Fields, a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health, sought out an explanation in his new book, Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain, which includes the Hagadone story recounted above. © 2016, New York Media LLC

Keyword: Emotions; Attention
Link ID: 21809 - Posted: 01.21.2016

By David Shultz It’s a familiar image: a group monkeys assembled in a line, picking carefully through each other’s hair, eating any treasures they might find. The grooming ritual so common in many primate species serves to both keep the monkeys healthy as well as reinforce social structures and bonds. But according to new research on vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus, seen above), the behavior may also improve a pelt’s insulation by fluffing it up like a duvet, scientists report in the American Journal of Primatology. To test the difference between groomed or ungroomed fur, the team manually combed vervet monkey pelts either with or against the grain for 50 strokes. The fluffed up “backcombed” pelts simulated a recently groomed monkey, whereas the flattened pelts simulated an ungroomed state. Using a spectrophotometer, the researchers then measured how much light was reflected by each pelt and calculated the pelt’s total insulation. They found that a thicker, fluffier coat could improve a monkey’s insulation by up to 50%, keeping the animal warmer in the cold and cooler in the heat. Thus, grooming may help the vervets maintain a constant body temperature with less effort, freeing up more energy for sex, foraging, and participating in monkey society. In the face of climate change, the authors note, such flexibility could soon become enormously important. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Emotions; Stress
Link ID: 21805 - Posted: 01.21.2016

Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent UK doctors in Sheffield say patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) are showing "remarkable" improvements after receiving a treatment usually used for cancer. About 20 patients have received bone marrow transplants using their own stem cells. Some patients who were paralysed have been able to walk again. Prof Basil Sharrack, of Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said: "To have a treatment which can potentially reverse disability is really a major achievement." Around 100,000 people in the UK have MS, an incurable neurological condition. Most patients are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s. The disease causes the immune system to attack the lining of nerves in the brain and spinal cord. The treatment - known as an autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) - aims to destroy the faulty immune system using chemotherapy. It is then rebuilt with stem cells harvested from the patient's own blood. These cells are at such an early stage they've not developed the flaws that trigger MS. Prof John Snowden, consultant haematologist at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said: "The immune system is being reset or rebooted back to a time point before it caused MS." About 20 MS patients have been treated in Sheffield in the past three years. Prof Snowden added: "It's clear we have made a big impact on patients' lives, which is gratifying." In MS the protective layer surrounding nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord - known as myelin - becomes damaged. The immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin, causing scarring or sclerosis. © 2016 BBC.

Keyword: Multiple Sclerosis; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 21796 - Posted: 01.18.2016

Eva Emerson Chronic stress takes its toll on everyone. But it may hit women harder (or at least differently) than men, much research finds. New studies in rodents show that females remain sensitive to ongoing stress longer than males do, as Susan Gaidos reports. It remains to be seen whether such results can explain the differences in rates of depression and anxiety disorders in men and women. (Perhaps women are more likely to discuss their symptoms and be diagnosed. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, disorders which may also be related to stress.) Still, the new work offers an intriguing idea: If stress induces distinct biochemical signaling in men and women, perhaps therapies should also be tailored to each sex. Another fascinating line of research mentioned in Gaidos’ story involves altering female mice’s response to chronic stress (making it more like a male’s) by targeting DNA modifications known as epigenetic tags. Consisting of chemicals such as methyl groups, these tags are attached to DNA and influence gene activity. They seem like a perfect target for drugs. Epigenetic tags don’t change the underlying genes, just the instructions for turning those genes on or off, up or down. In the mice, scientists used enzymes to alter the chemical tags on genes involved in the response to chronic stress. It’s an exciting approach, one I’m sure many scientists will try in efforts to modulate the body’s response, not just to stress, but also to other threats to health. Maybe even to fat. A woman’s extra fat can trigger metabolic changes in a developing fetus, Laura Beil reports. Beil describes the latest research about the risks faced by children of obese moms or moms who have gained too much weight while pregnant. Neurological effects are the new twist, and a scary one, given the prevalence of obesity among women of childbearing age. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015

Keyword: Stress; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 21785 - Posted: 01.14.2016

By Gretchen Reynolds. To handle stress and adversity more effectively, we should probably pay closer attention to what is happening inside our bodies, according to a fascinating new brain study of resilience and why some people seem to have more of it than others. We live in difficult times, as readers of this newspaper know well. Worries about the state of our world, our safety, our finances, health and more can lead to a variety of physiological and psychological responses. “When faced with stress, whether it’s giving a talk in front of a hundred people or feeling pressured to get a second gold medal at the Olympics, we experience changes in our body,” said Lori Haase, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California in San Diego and lead author of the new study. Our heart rates rise, breathing grows shallow, and blood levels of adrenaline and other stress chemicals soar. While this stress response can have desirable results — “I need anxiety to motivate myself to write a grant,” Dr. Haase said — it can easily can get out of hand. Remaining in a state of heightened arousal undermines physical and mental performance, she explained. So while our bodies should respond to dangers and worries, our stress reactions also should dissipate as soon as possible afterward. This is where resilience comes in. In scientific terms, resilience is the ability to rapidly return to normal, both physically and emotionally, after a stressful event. Scientists and therapists long have known that some people are more resilient than others but had not known precisely why. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 21780 - Posted: 01.13.2016

By Virginia Morell Dog owners often say they “know” that their dog understands what they’re feeling. Now, scientists have the evidence to back this up. Researchers tested 17 adult dogs of various breeds to see whether they could recognize emotional expressions in the faces and voices of humans and other dogs—an ability that’s considered a higher cognitive talent because two different senses are involved. Each dog took part in two test sessions with 10 trials. One by one, they stood facing two screens on which the researchers projected photos of unfamiliar but happy/playful human or dog faces versus the same faces with angry/aggressive expressions (as in the photo above). At the same time, the scientists played a single vocalization—either a dog bark, or an unfamiliar human speaking in Portuguese, a language none of the dogs had previously heard, or a neutral sound. The dogs looked much longer at a face (dog or human) when the expression matched the tone of the voice, a measure that’s also been used to assess various cognitive abilities of other mammals, the scientists report online today in Biology Letters. The dogs were best at this when looking at a fellow dog, which supports another study showing that dogs preferred looking at images of other dogs rather than those of humans. It’s the first time that a species, other than humans, has been shown to be capable of interpreting the vocal and facial expressions of an entirely different species of animal—a talent that surely helps Fido survive in its ecological niche: the jungle of the human home. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21779 - Posted: 01.13.2016

Susan Gaidos Muscles tighten, the heart pounds and nausea takes hold: In the face of sudden stress, men and women respond alike. But when threats, scares or frustrations continue for days or months, differences between the sexes emerge. Scientists have long known that women are more likely than men to suffer depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders, all of which have been linked to chronic stress, says Temple University psychologist Debra Bangasser. But until recently, studies of people’s responses to such stress have focused primarily on men. Now, a growing number of scientists are studying what happens at the cellular and genetic levels in the brains of stressed-out rodents — male and female — to gain insight into the human brain. The studies are beginning to reveal differences between the sexes that may help explain the variability in their reactions and perhaps even provide much-needed insight into why stress-related disorders are more common in women than men. Recent findings reported at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held in Chicago in October, show that a common stress hormone triggers different responses in specific brain cells of male and female animals. The differences make females less able than males to adapt to chronic stress. Other studies are exploring how exposure to the same hormone influences gene expression in a part of the brain that controls mood and behavior. Still other research suggests that a different hormone, associated with trust, could render females more susceptible than males to depression, anxiety and PTSD. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.

Keyword: Stress; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 21778 - Posted: 01.12.2016

By Ralph G. Neas In mid-February of 1979, I started experiencing tingling sensations in my feet and fingers. I told myself I was only feeling some residual effects from a bout with the flu several weeks before, and I caught the afternoon plane to Minneapolis to join my new boss, U.S. Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.), for several days of political meetings. That was on Sunday. On Tuesday, midway through a presentation, I began slurring my words and I found it hard to swallow. A local doctor, on hearing I’d had the flu, told me to go to my hotel room, take a couple of aspirin and call him in the morning. I spent the night moving from the bed to the couch to the chair to the floor, seeking relief from pain that was affecting more and more of my body. Just before dawn, I noticed that the right side of my face was paralyzed. On my way to the ER, the left side became paralyzed. I wasn’t having a recurrence of the flu. A spinal tap confirmed doctors’ suspicions that I’d come down with Guillain-Barré syndrome, or GBS, a rare neurological disorder that can cause total paralysis. Within 10 days I was so weakened by the spreading paralysis in my legs and arms that I could not get out of my bed at St. Mary’s, the Minneapolis hospital where I was being treated. Within three weeks, doctors performed a tracheostomy — connecting a mechanical respirator to my windpipe — because my ability to breathe was getting so poor.

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 21777 - Posted: 01.12.2016

Answered by Anne Masten, You raise one of the most intriguing questions in modern resilience science: Can adversity be good for development? The answer appears to be yes, depending on the timing and nature of the stresses. But it is important to note that it is a person's adaptive responses to life's challenges that are beneficial, not the exposure to adversity itself. Beneficial responses have been called steeling effects, stress inoculation and post-traumatic growth. Extreme deprivation or stress can clearly cause lasting life consequences. Yet many individuals endure, recover and thrive in the aftermath of devastating events. A few, such as Malala Yousafzai, Stephen Hawking or Oprah Winfrey, even become famous. What distinguishes them? An individual's resilience can be viewed as the capacity to adapt to adversity at a given point. Resilience is not innate, nor is it fixed. It can fluctuate throughout a person's lifetime and is influenced by a complex set of adaptive processes. Many of these protective systems improve with experience or require challenges to reach their full potential. On a biological and environmental level, our capabilities to fight off infections and respond to stress are both shaped by experience. For instance, we vaccinate our children to promote immunity to dangerous pathogens. Similarly, exposure to manageable levels of psychological stress can improve future adaptation abilities. It is important to remember, however, that too much adversity can deplete the resources any child or adult needs to muster resilience. There is psychological and neurobiological evidence that prolonged or overwhelming stress can wear down our body and mind. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 21775 - Posted: 01.12.2016

By Tania Rabesandratana Here’s one trick to make yourself feel happier: Listen to your own voice—digitally manipulated to make it sound cheery. That’s one potential application of a new study, in which researchers modified the speech of volunteers as they read a short story by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. The team then altered the voice’s pitch, among other features, to make it sound happy, sad, or fearful. (Compare this normal voice with the same voice modified to sound afraid.) Listening to their own modified voices in real time through a headset, only 16 of 109 participants detected some kind of manipulation. The rest took the voice’s emotion as their own, feeling sad or happy themselves. (The result was less clear for fear.) The researchers suggest that emotions expressed through our voices are part of an ancient, unconscious primate communication system, whereas we have more conscious control over the words we utter. The voice manipulation software is available online, so anyone can experiment with it. The scientists speculate that emotion manipulation could help treat psychiatric disorders like depression. It could also change the mood of online meetings or gaming, they say, or even lend more emotional impact to singing performances. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Emotions; Language
Link ID: 21774 - Posted: 01.12.2016

By Emily Underwood As long as she can remember, 53-year-old Rosa Sundquist has tallied the number of days per month when her head explodes with pain. The migraines started in childhood and have gotten worse as she’s grown older. Since 2008, they have incapacitated her at least 15 days per month, year-round. Head-splitting pain isn’t the worst of Sundquist’s symptoms. Nausea, vomiting, and an intense sensitivity to light, sound, and smell make it impossible for her to work—she used to be an office manager—or often even to leave her light-proofed home in Dumfries, Virginia. On the rare occasions when she does go out to dinner or a movie with her husband and two college-aged children, she wears sunglasses and noise-canceling headphones. A short trip to the grocery store can turn into a full-blown attack “on a dime,” she says. Every 10 weeks, Sundquist gets 32 bee sting–like injections of the nerve-numbing botulism toxin into her face and neck. She also visits a neurologist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who gives her a continuous intravenous infusion of the anesthetic lidocaine over 7 days. The lidocaine makes Sundquist hallucinate, but it can reduce her attacks, she says—she recently counted 20 migraine days per month instead of 30. Sundquist can also sometimes ward off an attack with triptans, the only drugs specifically designed to interrupt migraines after they start. Millions of others similarly dread the onset of a migraine, although many are not afflicted as severely as Sundquist. Worldwide, migraines strike roughly 12% of people at least once per year, with women roughly three times as likely as men to have an attack. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 21764 - Posted: 01.08.2016

By Erin Blakemore Despite all that neurotic clucking and scratching, domestic chickens are pretty unflappable. After all, we’ve bred them to be that way, preferring chill chicks to freaked-out fowl. But the behaviors of more anxious chickens could do more than ruffle a bunch of feathers: New research suggests that studying the genome of flustered birds could shed light on human mental disorders. In a new study published in the journal Genetics, evolutionary biologist Dominic Wright and his team looked at whether there’s a genetic connection between anxious behavior in chickens, mice and humans. Despite the compact size of the chicken genome — it’s just a third of the size of a human’s — the birds’ genes share surprising similarity to those of people. There's another reason why chickens are so great for genetic research. Because there are both wild and domesticated chickens, researchers can observe their contrasting behaviors and easily pin them to genetic differences. Wright bred wild red junglefowl chickens with their calmer cousins, white leghorn chickens, for the experiment. After eight generations, his team was able to run open field tests — experiments during which the birds were put in a brightly-lit arena and assessed for how much time they spent cowering on the periphery instead of strutting through the room. These behavioral tests helped the team identify brave and anxious birds, then narrow down areas of the genome related to variations in anxiety. They identified 10 candidate genes in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain which helps regulate anxiety.

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Emotions
Link ID: 21763 - Posted: 01.08.2016

Blocking the production of new immune cells in the brain could reduce memory problems seen in Alzheimer's disease, a study suggests. University of Southampton researchers said their findings added weight to evidence that inflammation in the brain is what drives the disease. A drug used to block the production of these microglia cells in the brains of mice had a positive effect. Experts said the results were exciting and could lead to new treatments. Up until now, most drugs used to treat dementia have targeted amyloid plaques in the brain which are a characteristic of people with the Alzheimer's disease. But this latest study, published in the journal Brain, suggests that in fact targeting inflammation in the brain, caused by a build-up of immune cells called microglia, could halt progression of the disease. Researchers found increased numbers of microglia in the post-mortem brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. Previous studies have also suggested that these cells could play an important role. Dr Diego Gomez-Nicola, lead study author from the university, said: "These findings are as close to evidence as we can get to show that this particular pathway is active in the development of Alzheimer's disease. "The next step is to work closely with our partners in industry to find a safe and suitable drug that can be tested to see if it works in humans." © 2016 BBC

Keyword: Alzheimers; Glia
Link ID: 21762 - Posted: 01.08.2016

By Melinda Wenner Moyer There's a reason your mother told you to look people in the eye when you talk to them: eye contact conveys important social cues. Yet when someone holds your gaze for more than a few seconds, the experience can take on a different tenor. New work elucidates the factors that affect whether we like or loathe locking eyes for a lengthy period. Researchers have long known that eye contact is an important social signal. Our recognition of its import may even be hardwired. One study found that five-day-old babies prefer looking at faces that make direct eye contact compared with faces that have an averted gaze. “Eye contact provides some of the strongest information during a social interaction,” explains James Wirth, a social psychologist now at Ohio State University at Newark, because it conveys details about emotions and intentions. (Lack of eye contact is one of the early signs of autism in infants and toddlers.) The power of eye contact is so great that, according to a 2010 study co-authored by Wirth, if someone avoids your gaze for even a short period, you may feel ostracized. But what determines how we feel about prolonged eye contact? One recent study explored this question. In research presented in May 2015 at the Vision Sciences Society conference, psychologist Alan Johnston and his colleagues at University College London collected information from more than 400 volunteers about their personalities. Then the subjects indicated their comfort level while watching video clips of actors who appeared to be looking directly at them for varying lengths of time. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism; Emotions
Link ID: 21746 - Posted: 01.04.2016

By Nicholas Bakalar Psychotherapy is effective in easing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, researchers have found, even after therapy has ended. Irritable bowel syndrome can cause diarrhea, cramping, fever and sometimes rectal bleeding. The chronic ailment affects up to 11 percent of the population, and there is no cure or completely effective treatment. The study, in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, used data from 41 clinical trials that included 1,183 people assigned to psychotherapy and 1,107 controls. The approach was usually cognitive therapy, but some studies tested hypnotherapy, mindfulness, behavioral therapy or dynamic psychotherapy. The studies all used questionnaires at the start and end of the treatment, asking about severity and frequency of symptoms. Over all, the researchers found that 12 months after the end of treatment, 75 percent of the treatment group had greater symptom relief than the average member of the control group, although the benefits were modest. “I.B.S. is notoriously difficult to treat,” said the lead author, Kelsey T. Laird, a doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University, “so the fact that these effects are just as strong six to 12 months later is very exciting — a significant effect, which did not decrease over time.” Whether a given individual will benefit from psychotherapy is still unknown, Ms. Laird said. But, she added, “We do know that this seems to be one of the best treatments out there. So I would recommend it.” © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 21740 - Posted: 01.02.2016

By Diana Kwon Pupils are a rich source of social information. Although changes in pupil size are automatic and uncontrollable, they can convey interest, arousal, helpful or harmful intentions, and a variety of emotions. According to a new study published in Psychological Science, we even synchronize our pupil size with others—and doing so influences social decisions. Mariska Kret, a psychologist now at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and her colleagues recruited 69 Dutch university students to take part in an investment game. Each participant decided whether to transfer zero or five euros to a virtual partner after viewing a video of their eyes for four seconds. The invested money is tripled, and the receiver chooses how much to give back to the donor—so subjects had to make quick decisions about how trustworthy each virtual partner seemed. Using an eye tracker, the investigators found that the participants' pupils tended to mimic the changes in the partners' pupils, whether they dilated, constricted or remained static. As expected, subjects were more likely to give more money to partners with dilating pupils, a well-established signal of nonthreatening intentions. The more a subject mirrored the dilating pupils of a partner, the more likely he or she was to invest—but only if they were of the same race. The Caucasian participants trusted Caucasian eyes more than Asian eyes—which suggests that group membership is important when interpreting these subtle signals. © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention; Emotions
Link ID: 21735 - Posted: 12.30.2015

By JOSEPH LEDOUX IN this age of terror, we struggle to figure out how to protect ourselves — especially, of late, from active shooters. One suggestion, promoted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security, and now widely disseminated, is “run, hide, fight.” The idea is: Run if you can; hide if you can’t run; and fight if all else fails. This three-step program appeals to common sense, but whether it makes scientific sense is another question. Underlying the idea of “run, hide, fight” is the presumption that volitional choices are readily available in situations of danger. But the fact is, when you are in danger, whether it is a bicyclist speeding at you or a shooter locked and loaded, you may well find yourself frozen, unable to act and think clearly. Freezing is not a choice. It is a built-in impulse controlled by ancient circuits in the brain involving the amygdala and its neural partners, and is automatically set into motion by external threats. By contrast, the kinds of intentional actions implied by “run, hide, fight” require newer circuits in the neocortex. Contemporary science has refined the old “fight or flight” concept — the idea that those are the two hard-wired options when in mortal danger — to the updated “freeze, flee, fight.” While “freeze, flee, fight” is superficially similar to “run, hide, fight,” the two expressions make fundamentally different assumptions about how and why we do what we do, when in danger. Why do we freeze? It’s part of a predatory defense system that is wired to keep the organism alive. Not only do we do it, but so do other mammals and other vertebrates. Even invertebrates — like flies — freeze. If you are freezing, you are less likely to be detected if the predator is far away, and if the predator is close by, you can postpone the attack (movement by the prey is a trigger for attack). © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions; Attention
Link ID: 21714 - Posted: 12.19.2015

Bret Stetka In June of 2001 musician Peter Gabriel flew to Atlanta to make music with two apes. The jam went surprisingly well. At each session Gabriel, a known dabbler in experimental music and a founding member of the band Genesis, would riff with a small group of musicians. The bonobos – one named Panbanisha, the other Kanzi — were trained to play in response on keyboards and showed a surprising, if rudimentary, awareness of melody and rhythm. Since then Gabriel has been working with scientists to help better understand animal cognition, including musical perception. Plenty of related research has explored whether or not animals other than humans can recognize what we consider to be music – whether they can they find coherence in a series of sounds that could otherwise transmit as noise. Many do, to a degree. And it's not just apes that respond to song. Parrots reportedly demonstrate some degree of "entrainment," or the syncing up of brainwave patterns with an external rhythm; dolphins may — and I stress may — respond to Radiohead; and certain styles of music reportedly influence dog behavior (Wagner supposedly honed his operas based on the response of his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel). But most researchers agree that fully appreciating what we create and recognize as music is a primarily human phenomenon. Recent research hints at how the human brain is uniquely able to recognize and enjoy music — how we render simple ripples of vibrating air into visceral, emotional experiences. It turns out, the answer has a lot to do with timing. The work also reveals why your musician friends are sometimes more tolerant of really boring music. © 2015 npr

Keyword: Hearing; Emotions
Link ID: 21713 - Posted: 12.19.2015

By Geoffrey S. Holtzman In November 1834, a 9-year-old boy named Major Mitchell was tried in Maine on one charge of maiming and one charge of felonious assault with intent to maim. He had lured an 8-year-old classmate into a field, beaten him with sticks, attempted to drown him in a stream, and castrated him with a piece of tin. Yet what makes this case so remarkable is neither the age of the defendant nor the violence of his crime, but the nature of his trial. Mitchell’s case marks the first time in U.S. history that a defendant’s attorney sought leniency from a jury on account of there being something wrong with the defendant’s brain. More recently, there has been an explosion in the number of criminals who have sought leniency on similar grounds. While the evidence presented by Mitchell’s defense was long ago debunked as pseudoscience (and was rightly dismissed by the judge), the case for exculpating Major Mitchell may actually be stronger today than it was 181 years ago. In a curious historical coincidence, recent advances in neuroscience suggest that there really might have been something wrong with Major Mitchell’s brain and that neurological deficits really could have contributed to his violent behavior. The case provides a unique window through which to view the relationship between 19th-century phrenology—the pseudoscientific study of the skull as an index of mental faculties—and 21st-century neuroscience. As you might expect, there is a world of difference between the two, but maintaining that difference depends crucially on the responsible use of neuroscience. Major Mitchell’s story cautions against overlooking neuroscience’s limitations, as well as its ability to be exploited for suspect purposes. © 2015 The Slate Group LLC.

Keyword: Emotions; Attention
Link ID: 21706 - Posted: 12.16.2015

Call it the optimism fallacy. It’s widely thought that staying happy and stress-free helps keep you healthy. But a massive study on the link between mood and mortality suggests that happiness actually has no effect on death rates. Other research that has found the opposite must have been mixing up cause and effect, says epidemiologist Richard Peto of the University of Oxford. “It’s likely that being ill makes you unhappy, rather than the other way round.” The power of positive thinking has passed into folklore, helping to fuel a large self-help industry – not to mention people who like to post “inspirational” quotes on social media. Some cancer bloggers complain that common advice to “fight” their illness by staying cheerful can be unhelpful. “Forcing optimism may have its own negative consequences,” says Gayle Sulik, who writes the “Pink Ribbon Blues” blog. “The emotional work to display optimism when a person does not feel it may add to stress.” To find out if there is indeed a link, Peto’s team conducted surveys with more than 700,000 UK women. At the start, they were asked questions about their health and how happy and relaxed they felt. A year later, the questionnaire was resent to a random sample of the women. Their responses suggested that most still felt the same as they did the year before. Ten years later, after allowing for any initial disparities in health, there turned out to be no difference in death rates between those who saw their glass as half-full or half-empty. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Emotions; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 21693 - Posted: 12.12.2015