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by Hal Hodson WHETHER striding ahead with pride or slouching sullenly, we all broadcast our emotions through body language. Now a computer has learned to interpret those unspoken cues as well as you or I. Antonio Camurri of the University of Genoa in Italy and colleagues have built a system which uses the depth-sensing, motion-capture camera in Microsoft's Kinect to determine the emotion conveyed by a person's body movements. Using computers to capture emotions has been done before, but typically focuses on facial analysis or voice recording. Reading someone's emotional state from the way they walk across a room or their posture as they sit at a desk means they don't have to speak or look into a camera. "It's a nice achievement," says Frank Pollick, professor of psychology at the University of Glasgow, UK. "Being able to use the Kinect for this is really useful." The system uses the Kinect camera to build a stick figure representation of a person that includes information on how their head, torso, hands and shoulders are moving. Software looks for body positions and movements widely recognised in psychology as indicative of certain emotional states. For example, if a person's head is bowed and their shoulders are drooping, that might indicate sadness or fear. Adding in the speed of movement – slow indicates sadness, while fast indicates fear – allows the software to determine how someone is feeling. In tests, the system correctly identified emotions in the stick figures 61.3 per cent of the time, compared with a 61.9 per cent success rate for 60 human volunteers (arXiv.org/1402.5047). Camurri is using the system to build games that teach children with autism to recognise and express emotions through full-body movements. Understanding how another person feels can be difficult for people with autism, and recognising fear is more difficult than happiness. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 19334 - Posted: 03.08.2014

Clara Moskowitz When mathematicians describe equations as beautiful, they are not lying. Brain scans show that their minds respond to beautiful equations in the same way other people respond to great paintings or masterful music. The finding could bring neuroscientists closer to understanding the neural basis of beauty, a concept that is surprisingly hard to define. In the study, researchers led by Semir Zeki of University College London asked 16 mathematicians to rate 60 equations on a scale ranging from "ugly" to "beautiful." Two weeks later, the mathematicians viewed the same equations and rated them again while lying inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. The scientists found that the more beautiful an equation was to the mathematician, the more activity his or her brain showed in an area called the A1 field of the medial orbitofrontal cortex. The orbitofrontal cortex is associated with emotion, and this particular region of it has shown in previous tests to be correlated with emotional responses to visual and musical beauty. The researchers wondered whether the trend would extend to mathematical beauty, which "has a much deeper intellectual source than visual or musical beauty, which are more 'sensible' and perceptually based," they wrote in a paper reporting their results published on 13 February in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience. Investigating mathematical beauty allowed the researchers to test the role of culture and learning in aesthetic appreciation. The scientists hypothesized that while people with no musical or artistic training can still appreciate Beethoven’s and Michelangelo's works, only those who understand the meaning behind certain mathematical formulas would find them beautiful. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 19327 - Posted: 03.06.2014

By LISA FELDMAN BARRETT CAN you detect someone’s emotional state just by looking at his face? It sure seems like it. In everyday life, you can often “read” what someone is feeling with the quickest of glances. Hundreds of scientific studies support the idea that the face is a kind of emotional beacon, clearly and universally signaling the full array of human sentiments, from fear and anger to joy and surprise. Increasingly, companies like Apple and government agencies like the Transportation Security Administration are banking on this transparency, developing software to identify consumers’ moods or training programs to gauge the intent of airline passengers. The same assumption is at work in the field of mental health, where illnesses like autism and schizophrenia are often treated in part by training patients to distinguish emotions by facial expression. But this assumption is wrong. Several recent and forthcoming research papers from the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory, which I direct, suggest that human facial expressions, viewed on their own, are not universally understood. The pioneering work in the field of “emotion recognition” was conducted in the 1960s by a team of scientists led by the psychologist Paul Ekman. Research subjects were asked to look at photographs of facial expressions (smiling, scowling and so on) and match them to a limited set of emotion words (happiness, anger and so on) or to stories with phrases like “Her husband recently died.” Most subjects, even those from faraway cultures with little contact with Western civilization, were extremely good at this task, successfully matching the photos most of the time. Over the following decades, this method of studying emotion recognition has been replicated by other scientists hundreds of times. In recent years, however, at my laboratory we began to worry that this research method was flawed. In particular, we suspected that by providing subjects with a preselected set of emotion words, these experiments had inadvertently “primed” the subjects — in effect, hinting at the answers — and thus skewed the results. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 19316 - Posted: 03.03.2014

|By Lila Stanners Beauty seems mysterious and subjective. Scientists have long attempted to explain why the same object can strike some individuals as breathtaking and others as repulsive. Now a study finds that applying stimulation to a certain brain area enhances people's aesthetic appreciation of visual images. First, participants viewed 70 abstract paintings and sketches and 80 representational (realistic) paintings and photographs and rated how much they liked each one. Then they rated a similar set of images after receiving transcranial direct-current stimulation or sham stimulation. Transcranial direct-current stimulation sends small electrical impulses to the brain through electrodes attached to the head. The technique is noninvasive and cannot be felt, so subjects in the trials were not aware when they received real stimulation. The researchers aimed the impulses at the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area just behind the brow that is known to be a region critical for emotional processing. They found that the stimulation increased participants' appreciation of representational images, according to the study published online in October 2013 inSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. The scientists believe the stimulation facilitated a shift from object recognition to aesthetic appraisal for the figurative images; the abstract art was probably being processed by a different area of the brain. This study is one of many recent successful attempts at subtly altering cognition with noninvasive brain stimulation. Some experiments have found that stimulating certain areas allows people to solve math problems or puzzles that formerly had them stumped. Other work suggests these techniques can enhance motor learning, helping athletes or musicians improve at a new sport or a new instrument more rapidly. Experts are quick to point out, however, that these effects are modest enhancements at best—thought induction remains firmly in the realm of science fiction. © 2014 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 19295 - Posted: 02.26.2014

If you ever feel like your emotions are getting the best of you, you may want to try dimming the lights. According to researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough, bright light can make us more emotional — for better or for worse — making us experience both positive and negative feelings more intensely. The findings seem to contradict commonly held notions that people feel happier and more optimistic on bright, sunny days and gloomier on dark, cloudy days. In fact, the idea for the study was spurred by findings that suicide rates peak in the late spring and summer, when sunshine is most abundant. “I was very surprised by this,” study author Alison Jing Xu told CBC News. Xu is an assistant professor of management at UTSC and the Rotman School of Management. “Normally I would say if brighter days generally increase people’s affect, then suicide rates should peak in winter — but actually it does not,” she said. Xu, along with the study’s co-author Aparna Labroo of Northwestern University in the U.S., conducted six experiments to explore the relationship between light and emotion. Their paper is published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Participants in each case were divided into two groups: Some were placed in a brightly lit room where fluorescent ceiling lights were turned on, while others were placed in a dimly lit room where the only light came from computer monitors. © CBC 2014

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 14: Biological Rhythms, Sleep, and Dreaming
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 10: Biological Rhythms and Sleep
Link ID: 19279 - Posted: 02.22.2014

When you hear a friend’s voice, you immediately picture her, even if you can’t see her. And from the tone of her speech, you quickly gauge if she’s happy or sad. You can do all of this because your human brain has a “voice area.” Now, scientists using brain scanners and a crew of eager dogs have discovered that dog brains, too, have dedicated voice areas. The finding helps explain how canines can be so attuned to their owners’ feelings. “It’s absolutely brilliant, groundbreaking research,” says Pascal Belin, a neuroscientist at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, who was part of the team that identified the voice areas in the human brain in 2000. “They’ve made the first comparative study using nonhuman primates of the cerebral processing of voices, and they’ve done it with a noninvasive technique by training dogs to lie in a scanner.” The scientists behind the discovery had previously shown that humans can readily distinguish between dogs’ happy and sad barks. “Dogs and humans share a similar social environment,” says Attila Andics, a neuroscientist in a research group at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest and the lead author of the new study. “So we wondered if dogs also get some social information from human voices.” To find out, Andics and his colleagues decided to scan the canine brain to see how it processes different types of sounds, including voices, barks, and natural noises. In humans, the voice area is activated when we hear others speak, helping us recognize a speaker’s identity and pick up on the emotional content in her voice. If dogs had voice areas, it could mean that these abilities aren’t limited to humans and other primates. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 19278 - Posted: 02.22.2014

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS Watching participants in slopestyle and half-pipe skiing and snowboarding flip, curl, cartwheel and otherwise contort themselves in the air during the Winter Olympics competition, many of us have probably wondered not only how the athletes managed to perform such feats but also why. Helpfully, a recent study of the genetics of risk-taking intimates that their behavior may be motivated, at least in part, by their DNA. For some time, scientists and many parents have suspected that certain children are born needing greater physical stimulation than others, suggesting that sensation seeking, as this urge is known in psychological terms, has a genetic component. A thought-provoking 2006 study of twins, for instance, concluded that risk-taking behavior was shared by the pairs to a much greater extent than could be accounted for solely by environmental factors. If one twin sought out risks, the other was likely to do so as well. But finding which genes or, more specifically, which tiny snippets of DNA within genes, might be influencing the desire to huck oneself off of a snow-covered slope has proven to be troublesome. In recent years, scientists zeroed in on various sections of genes that affect the brain’s levels of or response to the neurotransmitter dopamine, a substance that is known to influence our feelings of pleasure, reward and gratification. People who engage in and enjoy extreme, daredevil conduct, researchers presumed, would likely process dopamine differently than those of us content to watch. But the results of some early genetic studies comparing dopamine-related portions of genes with sensation seeking were inconsistent. Some found that people with certain variations within genes, including a gene called DRD4 that is believed to be closely involved in the development and function of dopamine receptors in our brain, gravitated toward risky behavior. Others, though, found no such links. But most of these studies focused on so-called deviant risk-taking, such as gambling and drug addiction. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 19268 - Posted: 02.19.2014

Elephants, both African and Asian, have long been considered empathetic animals. They help baby elephants stuck in mud holes, use their trunks to lift other elephants that are injured or dying, and even reportedly reassure distressed individual elephants with a gentle touch of their trunk. But it’s one thing to witness something that looks like consolation, and another to prove that this is what elephants are doing. Now, scientists have shown that African elephants do indeed get distressed when they see others in trouble, and they reach out to console them—just as we do when we see someone suffering. Elephants, thus, join a short list of other animals, including great apes, canines, and some birds, that scientists have shown to reassure others. The study “is the first to investigate responses to distress by Asian elephants,” which “is inherently difficult to assess because one has to wait for opportunities to arise spontaneously,” says Shermin de Silva, an behavioral ecologist at the Uda Walawe Elephant Research Project in Sri Lanka. It would not be ethical to intentionally create stressful situations for the animals as a test, she notes—which is why, until now, researchers have had to rely on well-documented, but anecdotal observations of wild and captive elephants to back up claims that they reassure each other. Joshua Plotnik, a behavioral ecologist at Mahidol University in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, and Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, got around this problem by comparing Asian elephants’ behaviors during times of stress to periods when little upset them. For one to two weeks every month for nearly a year, Plotnik spent 30 to 180 minutes daily watching and recording 26 captive Asian elephants. The animals ranged in age from 3 to 60 years old and lived at the 30-acre Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand. Most of the elephants, aside from mother-juvenile pairs, were unrelated, and did not live in family groups as wild elephants do. Instead, the park’s Mahouts, or keepers, organized them into six groups which they then guided through a daily routine—bathing and feeding them in the morning, and tethering them at night. But during the day, the elephants were left alone to roam and graze at will. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 19263 - Posted: 02.18.2014

By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News Brain scans show a complex string of numbers and letters in mathematical formulae can evoke the same sense of beauty as artistic masterpieces and music from the greatest composers. Mathematicians were shown "ugly" and "beautiful" equations while in a brain scanner at University College London. The same emotional brain centres used to appreciate art were being activated by "beautiful" maths. The researchers suggest there may be a neurobiological basis to beauty. The likes of Euler's identity or the Pythagorean identity are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the best of Mozart, Shakespeare and Van Gogh. The study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience gave 15 mathematicians 60 formula to rate. One of the researchers, Prof Semir Zeki, told the BBC: "A large number of areas of the brain are involved when viewing equations, but when one looks at a formula rated as beautiful it activates the emotional brain - the medial orbito-frontal cortex - like looking at a great painting or listening to a piece of music." The more beautiful they rated the formula, the greater the surge in activity detected during the fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans. "Neuroscience can't tell you what beauty is, but if you find it beautiful the medial orbito-frontal cortex is likely to be involved, you can find beauty in anything," he said. To the the untrained eye there may not be much beauty in Euler's identify, but in the study it was the formula of choice for mathematicians. BBC © 2014

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 19246 - Posted: 02.13.2014

It seems simple: People are more likely to cooperate if everyone plays fair. But a new study suggests that fairness itself arises from an unlikely source: spite. Researchers made a mathematical model based on the so-called ultimatum game. In it, two players are offered a reward, and the first player makes an offer for how it should be split up. If the second player agrees, then they divide it accordingly. But if the second player refuses, then neither gets the reward. As shown in the image above, depending on the interaction of the players, the outcome can be classified as altruism, cooperation, selfishness, or spite. Previous experiments have shown that, over multiple rounds of the game, a culture of cooperation evolves where everyone makes fair offers. But the new study, published online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, finds that when players start out using multiple different strategies, by making fair or unfair offers, and rejecting or accepting unfair offers, some will act out of spite. These spiteful players deny the first player the reward at a cost to himself. The calculations further show that the antisocial behavior will eventually cause fairness to become the most successful option, because there is no reason to reject a fair offer. In essence, fairness evolves in spite of spite, when players start out using different strategies. Though they warn against generalizing to humans, the researchers point out that if fairness is the basis for a moral society, then paradoxically, spite may have played a role in the evolution of morality. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 19239 - Posted: 02.12.2014

Alice Roberts Just how special do you think you are? How different do you think you are from other animals? Do you think of yourself as an animal or do you see yourself, and your fellow humans, as somehow set apart from the rest of the animal kingdom? Most of us – and I would unashamedly label us as the sensible majority of the population – accept that evolution is the best explanation for the pattern of life that we observe on the planet, both living and fossilised. However much creationists bang on about evolution being "just a theory", it beautifully explains all the evidence we have to hand (and there's masses of that: anatomical, genetic, palaeontological, embryological), without a single piece of evidence having turned up that threatens to bring the whole edifice tumbling down around our ears. So, I'm hoping you're a sensible sort of person and that you consider evolution to be as true as the spherical nature of the Earth, or the fact that the Earth orbits the sun and not vice versa. But just how comfortable are you with the idea of being a product of evolution? I think it's still, even among the most enlightened of us, really hard to come to terms with the idea that we are just another animal. A naked ape. The third chimpanzee, even. You have to admit, science has done a very good job at bringing us down a peg or two, at knocking us off the pedestal of our own construction. We can no longer view ourselves as a special creation, something created in the image of a deity and close to angels (whatever they are or look like). We can no longer see ourselves as the ultimate destination, as the pinnacle of evolution, either. Our species is just a tiny twig on the massive, dense tree of life. But that's so difficult to stomach! © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 19198 - Posted: 02.04.2014

|By Ajai Raj As the climate heats up, tempers may follow suit, according to a study published in August 2013 in Nature. Analyzing 60 quantitative studies across fields as disparate as archaeology, criminology, economics, geography, history, political science and psychology, University of California researchers found that throughout history and across the world, higher temperatures, less rainfall and more drought were consistently linked to increased violence. The correlation held true for aggression between individuals, such as domestic abuse and assault, but was even more pronounced for conflict between groups [see timeline]. “We didn't expect for there to be nearly so many convergent findings among so many different researchers,” says economist Solomon Hsiang, now at U.C. Berkeley, who led the study. “We were actually really stunned by the level of consistency in the findings that were out there and by the size of the effects we were observing.” The researchers used statistical modeling to show that aggression scales with a combination of temperature, place and time—for example, if one U.S. county is three degrees Celsius warmer for three months or one African country is 0.6 degree C warmer for a year, statistics reveal an uptick in crime, violence and revolutionary fervor. The reasons behind the climate-violence link are complex and not fully understood, although anyone who has lived through a heat wave can attest to one simple fact: “When people are hot, it makes them cranky,” says Brian Lickel, a social psychologist who is on the faculty of the Psychology of Peace and Violence program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and who was not involved in the study. “It makes people more prone to anger, it makes people more frustrated, and it makes decision making more impulsive. And that can lead to altercations that escalate to more extreme levels of aggression.” © 2014 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 19161 - Posted: 01.25.2014

By Meeri Kim, Rats, like humans, will show kindness to strangers, but only if the rats in distress are of a familiar type, a new study has found. Neurobiologists from the University of Chicago have discovered that rats display empathy-like behavior toward other rats, but the basis of that empathy is environmental, rather than genetic. The creatures aren’t born with an innate motivation to help rats of their own kind, but instead those with whom they are socially familiar. “Rats choose to help according to which rats they’ve had a positive social experience with in the past,” said study author and postdoctoral researcher Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal. As part of what Bartal calls the “Mowgli experiment” — a reference to the boy raised by wolves in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” — researchers plucked albino pups from their mothers on the day they were born and transferred them to a group of black-patched rats. As adults, the albinos refused to help other albinos but readily freed black-patched rats. “There’s no mirror in nature,” said study author and neurobiologist Peggy Mason. “They are not born with an idea of who they are, and therefore, who they should help.” The study was published online Tuesday in the journal eLife. © 1996-2014 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 19141 - Posted: 01.16.2014

By Arthur Allen, Cognitive psychologist Mary Czerwinski and her boyfriend were having a vigorous argument as they drove to Vancouver, B.C., from Seattle, where she works at Microsoft Research. She can’t remember the subject, but she does recall that suddenly, his phone went off, and he read out the text message: “Your friend Mary isn’t feeling well. You might want to give her a call.” At the time, Czerwinski was wearing on her wrist a wireless device intended to monitor her emotional ups and downs. Similar to the technology used in lie detector tests, it interprets signals such as heart rate and electrical changes in the skin. The argument may have been trivial, but Czerwinski’s internal response was not. That prompted the device to send a distress message to her cellphone, which broadcast it to a network of her friends. Including the one with whom she was arguing, right beside her. Czerwinski is working in affective computing, which emerged in 2000 from the laboratory of Rosalind Picard at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Picard and her colleagues dreamed of creating caring robots. As a first step, they decided to make machines that could detect and help us cope with our sometimes hidden emotions. One of Picard’s early projects involved helping autistic children. Because her devices were often better than the children themselves at communicating their feelings, she designed ways of feeding information from a wrist sensor to the cellphones of parents and other caretakers so they could know about the stress their children were under and respond accordingly. © 1996-2014 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 19134 - Posted: 01.15.2014

By JAN HOFFMAN Just in time to protect patients from the dangers of holiday cheer, a new scholarly review from a British medical journal describes many harmful effects wrought by laughter. Among the alarms it sounds: The force of laughing can dislocate jaws, prompt asthma attacks, cause headaches, make hernias protrude. It can provoke cardiac arrhythmia, syncope or even emphysema (this last, according to a clinical lecturer in 1892). Laughter can trigger the rare but possibly grievous Pilgaard-Dahl and Boerhaave’s syndromes (see explanation below). And ponder, briefly, the mortifying impact of sustained laughter on the urinary tract (detailed in a 1982 The Lancet paper entitled “Giggle Incontinence”). At the very least, the new review could be considered an affirmation for the perpetually dour. If 2013 was the year of the worried well, the authors imply that 2014 is poised to be the year of the humorless healthy. The analysis, “Laughter and MIRTH (Methodical Investigation of Risibility, Therapeutic and Harmful),” was drawn from about 5,000 studies. It appears in BMJ, formerly known as The British Medical Journal, which for more than 30 years has traditionally featured rigorously researched but lighthearted articles in its Christmas issue. A deputy editor, Dr. Tony Delamothe, said that the MIRTH study was indeed peer-reviewed — presumably by a doctor with a carefully managed sense or humor (or humour). This year, companion studies in the issue include “Were James Bond’s drinks shaken because of alcohol induced tremor?” , “The survival time of chocolates on hospital wards: covert observational study,” and “Operating room safety: the 10 point plan to safe flinging” (among the cautions: “Before flinging, identify your target and the area beyond it” and “Never fling an instrument straight up into the air”). Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 19059 - Posted: 12.21.2013

Jo Marchant When Steve Cole was a postdoc, he had an unusual hobby: matching art buyers with artists that they might like. The task made looking at art, something he had always loved, even more enjoyable. “There was an extra layer of purpose. I loved the ability to help artists I thought were great to find an appreciative audience,” he says. At the time, it was nothing more than a quirky sideline. But his latest findings have caused Cole — now a professor at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the University of California, Los Angeles — to wonder whether the exhilaration and sense of purpose that he felt during that period might have done more than help him to find homes for unloved pieces of art. It might have benefited his immune system too. At one time, most self-respecting molecular biologists would have scoffed at the idea. Today, evidence from many studies suggests that mental states such as stress can influence health. Still, it has proved difficult to explain how this happens at the molecular level — how subjective moods connect with the vastly complex physiology of the nervous and immune systems. The field that searches for these explanations, known as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), is often criticized as lacking rigour. Cole's stated aim is to fix that, and his tool of choice is genome-wide transcriptional analysis: looking at broad patterns of gene expression in cells. “My job is to be a hard-core tracker,” he says. “How do these mental states get out into the rest of the body?” With his colleagues, Cole has published a string of studies suggesting that negative mental states such as stress and loneliness guide immune responses by driving broad programs of gene expression, shaping our ability to fight disease. If he is right, the way people see the world could affect everything from their risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease to the progression of conditions such as HIV and cancer. Now Cole has switched tack, moving from negative moods into the even more murky territory of happiness. It is a risky strategy; his work has already been criticized as wishful thinking and moralizing. But the pay-off is nothing less than finding a healthier way to live. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18988 - Posted: 11.30.2013

Regina Nuzzo The gut may know better than the head whether a marriage will be smooth sailing or will hit the rocks after the honeymoon fades, according to research published today in Science1. Researchers have long known that new love can be blind, and that those in the midst of it can harbour positive illusions about their sweetheart and their future. Studies show that new couples rate their partner particularly generously, forgetting his or her bad qualities, and generally view their relationship as more likely to succeed than average2. But newlyweds are also under a lot of conscious pressure to be happy — or, at least, to think they are. Now a four-year study of 135 young couples has found that split-second, 'visceral' reactions about their partner are important, too. The results show that these automatic attitudes, which aren’t nearly as rosy as the more deliberate ones, can predict eventual changes in people’s marital happiness, perhaps even more so than the details that people consciously admit. The researchers, led by psychologist James McNulty of Florida State University in Tallahassee, tapped into these implicit attitudes by seeing how fast newlyweds could correctly classify positively and negatively themed words after being primed by a photo of their spouse for a fraction of a second. If seeing a blink-of-the-eye flash of a partner’s face conjures up immediate, positive gut-level associations, for example, the participant will be quicker to report that 'awesome' is a positive word and slower to report that 'awful' is a negative one. Researchers used the difference between these two reaction times as a measurement of a participant’s automatic reaction. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 18985 - Posted: 11.30.2013

By Victoria Stern A trolley is hurtling down a track, and if nobody intervenes it will hit and kill five people. Psychologists use variations on this hypothetical situation to gauge people's gut reactions about morality. Here are three scenarios: The driver could switch the train to another track, on which one man stands. Should the driver reroute the trolley? Now suppose the trolley is driverless and you are a bystander. Should you hit a switch to divert the trolley so it hits the lone man? You are standing above the tracks on a bridge. You could stop the trolley and save the five people by pushing a large man to his death in front of the trolley. Would you push him? Most people say that the driver should reroute the train and that they would reroute the train with the switch but that they would not push the man to his death. This typical decision is associated with increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (green), which indicates a strong negative emotional reaction, as well as activity in the amygdala (red), which is involved in processing emotions and stressful events. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 18882 - Posted: 11.07.2013

By Jesse Bering Disgust, in its most familiar form, is our response to something vile in the world—spoiled food, a dirty floor or rats cavorting in the subway. It is a contamination-avoidance mechanism that evolved to help us make biologically adaptive decisions in the heat of the moment. Yet disgust has also come to have powerful symbolic elements. When left unchecked, these symbolic qualities can have devastating impacts on our mental states. Consider, for example, the often dramatized, heartbreaking image of a woman crouched in the corner of a shower and frantically trying to scrub her body clean after being raped. Empirical evidence supports the characterization. Seventy percent of female victims of sexual assault report a strong impulse to wash afterward, and a quarter of these continue to wash excessively up to three months later. For women, simply imagining an unwanted advance can turn on this moral-cleansing effect. Psychiatrist Nichole Fairbrother of the University of British Columbia Hospital and her colleagues looked more closely at the phenomenon of mental pollution in a study published in 2005. Two groups of female participants were told to close their eyes and picture being kissed. The members of one group were instructed to imagine being aggressively cornered and kissed against their will. The members of the other group were asked to envision themselves in a consensual embrace. Only those women in the coercive condition chose to wash up after the study. In many cases, it seems as though a person's sense of self has become contaminated. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18811 - Posted: 10.19.2013

by Bruce Bower Thomas Jefferson defended the right to pursue happiness in the Declaration of Independence. But that’s so 237 years ago. Many modern societies champion everyone’s right to be happy pretty much all the time. Good luck with that, says psychologist Joseph Forgas of the University of New South Wales in Sydney. A lack of close friends, unfulfilled financial dreams and other harsh realities leave many people feeling lonely and forlorn a lot of the time. But there’s a mental and social upside to occasional downers that often goes unappreciated. “Bad moods are seen in our happiness-focused culture as representing a problem, but we need to be aware that temporary, mild negative feelings have important benefits,” Forgas says. Growing evidence suggests that gloomy moods improve key types of thinking and behavior, Forgas asserts in a new review paper aptly titled “Don’t worry, be sad!” For good evolutionary reasons, positive and negative moods subtly recruit thinking styles suited to either benign or troubling situations, he says. Each way of dealing with current circumstances generally works well, if imperfectly. New and recent studies described by Forgas in the June Current Directions in Psychological Science illustrate some of the ways in which periods of sadness spontaneously recruit a detail-oriented, analytical thinking style. Morose moods have evolved as early-warning signs of problematic or dangerous situations that demand close attention, these reports suggest. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 18810 - Posted: 10.19.2013