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By ANAHAD O'CONNOR The nation’s largest cardiovascular health organization has a new message for Americans: Owning a dog may protect you from heart disease. The unusual message was contained in a scientific statement published on Thursday by the American Heart Association, which convened a panel of experts to review years of data on the cardiovascular benefits of owning a pet. The group concluded that owning a dog, in particular, was “probably associated” with a reduced risk of heart disease. People who own dogs certainly have more reason to get outside and take walks, and studies show that most owners form such close bonds with their pets that being in their presence blunts the owners’ reactions to stress and lowers their heart rate, said Dr. Glenn N. Levine, the head of the committee that wrote the statement. But most of the evidence is observational, which makes it impossible to rule out the prospect that people who are healthier and more active in the first place are simply more likely to bring a dog or cat into their home. “We didn’t want to make this too strong of a statement,” said Dr. Levine, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine. “But there are plausible psychological, sociological and physiological reasons to believe that pet ownership might actually have a causal role in decreasing cardiovascular risk.” Nationwide, Americans keep roughly 70 million dogs and 74 million cats as pets. 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: 18146 - Posted: 05.11.2013

By Ben Thomas Horror isn’t the only film genre that specializes in dread. War movies like Apocalypse Now, sci-fi mysteries like Brazil and Blade Runner, and dramas like Melancholia and Requiem for a Dream all masterfully evoke a less violent, more subtle and pervasive sense that something is unwell with the world – that somewhere along the line, something went deeply wrong and now normality itself is unraveling before our eyes. The director David Lynch has arguably built his entire career on directing these kinds of films. In Lynch’s universe, even the most banal moments are still somehow suffused with unnerving suspense. In films like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, disturbing surprises erupt into scene after scene of buried tension, until every ordinary conversation feels like a trap waiting to spring. And then there’s the infamous Eraserhead, where family life itself is transformed into an onslaught of surreal and nauseating images. It’s hard to come away from these movies without feeling that a little of Lynch’s unease has rubbed off on you. So when a team of researchers at the University of British Columbia set out to describe and treat an ancient biological alarm system buried deep within the human brain, they turned to Lynch’s films as an analogy for – and a set of examples of – the feeling of omnipresent yet maddeningly vague “wrongness” that seems to underlie many anxiety disorders. © 2013 Scientific American

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: 18134 - Posted: 05.09.2013

By Breanna Draxler The ruse is common in spy movies—an attractive female saunters in at a critical moment and seduces the otherwise infallible protagonist, duping him into giving up the goods. It works in Hollywood and it works in real life, too. Men tend to say yes to attractive women without really scrutinizing whether or not they are trustworthy. But scientists have shown, for the first time, that a drug may be able to overcome this “honey trap,” and help men make more rational decisions. Nearly 100 men participated in the study; half were given minocycline, an antibiotic normally used to treat acne, and half were given a placebo. After four days of this drug regimen, participants played a computerized one-on-one trust game with eight different women, based only on pictures of the female players. In each round, the male player was given $13 and shown a picture of one of the female players. The male player would choose how much money he wanted to keep and how much he wanted to give to the female player. The amount given away was then tripled, and the female player would decide whether to split the money with the man or keep it all for herself. Unbeknownst to the men, however, the women kept the money every time. The researchers also asked the men to evaluate the photos of the females to determine how trustworthy and attractive they appeared, on a scale of 0 to 10.

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: 18103 - Posted: 05.01.2013

By Scicurious Generally, I don’t think of being tickled as a particularly pleasurable or calming activity. Most people who are ticklish go immediately on the defensive and tense up, and I always got the impression that most people prefer NOT to be tickled rather than otherwise. However, that’s just us. And we’re not rats. And it turns out, you can calm a rat with tickling. Life is stressful. Whether it’s running from predators, meeting tight deadlines, or trying to keep fed, there’s a lot that seems to bring us down. What saves us from tearing our hair out? Well, the happy things in life. Tasty food, friends, hugs, puppies. You know, the good stuff. These things elicit positive feeling, and positive feeling have been linked to protecting us from stress. Of course, in humans, it’s easy to say that a positive outlook on life makes someone resistant to stress…but is it really true? They may co-occur, but do positive feelings really decrease stress? If you want to get at causes, one of the best ways is to use an animal model. But how do you come up with an animal model for…happiness? Well, you can tickle rats. As you can see in the video above, rats like to be tickled. They even respond with “laughter”! Of course, it’s not laughter as we know it, or even something we can hear. Instead, these are ultrasonic vocalizations at a specific frequency (50 kilohertz). Scientists figured they must be pleasure-sounds because rats make them when they play with other rats. And it turns out that rats make the same noise at the same frequency when they get tickled! © 2013 Scientific American

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: 18065 - Posted: 04.23.2013

By ELIZABETH WEIL According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, you have a happiness set point. It’s partly encoded in your genes. If something good happens, your sense of happiness rises; if something bad happens, it falls. But either way, before too long, your mood will creep back to its set point because of a really powerful and perverse phenomenon referred to in science as “hedonic adaptation.” You know, people get used to things. With her 2007 book, “The How of Happiness,” and this year’s follow-up, “The Myths of Happiness,” Dr. Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, caused ripples in her field but also drew a wider audience, cementing her place in a long chain of happiness-industry stalwarts, from M. Scott Peck with “The Road Less Traveled” to Martin E. P. Seligman and “Learned Optimism” to Daniel Gilbert and his best-selling “Stumbling on Happiness.” Dr. Lyubomirsky’s findings can be provocative and, at times, counterintuitive. Renters are happier than homeowners, she says. Interrupting positive experiences makes them more enjoyable. Acts of kindness make people feel happier, but not if you are compelled to perform the same act too frequently. (Bring your lover breakfast in bed one day, and it feels great. Bring it every day, and it feels like a chore.) Dr. Lyubomirsky — 46, Russian and expecting to give birth to her fourth child this weekend — is an unlikely mood guru. “I really hate all the smiley faces and rainbows and kittens,” she said in her office. She doesn’t often count her blessings or write gratitude letters, both of which she thinks sound hokey even though her research suggests they make people happier. © 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: 18055 - Posted: 04.22.2013

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS If you give a rat a running wheel and it decides not to use it, are genes to blame? And if so, what does that tell us about why many people skip exercise? To examine those questions, scientists at the University of Missouri in Columbia recently interbred rats to create two very distinct groups of animals, one of which loves to run. Those in the other group turn up their collective little noses at exercise, slouching idly in their cages instead. Then the scientists closely scrutinized and compared the animals’ bodies, brains and DNA. For some time, exercise scientists have suspected that the motivation to exercise — or not — must have a genetic component. When researchers have compared physical activity patterns among family members, and particularly among twins, they have found that close relations tend to work out similarly, exercising about as much or as little as their parents or siblings do, even if they grew up in different environments. These findings suggest that the desire to be active or indolent is, to some extent, inherited. But to what extent someone’s motivation to exercise is affected by genes — and what specific genes may be involved — has been hard to determine. There are only so many human twins around for study purposes, after all. And even more daunting, it’s difficult to separate the role of upbringing from that of genetics in determining whether and why some people want to exercise and others don’t. So the University of Missouri researchers decided to create their own innately avid runners or couch potatoes, provide them with similar upbringings, and see what happened next. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 18044 - Posted: 04.18.2013

By Bill Andrews In a paper sure to please lazy stand-up comics and beleaguered husbands everywhere, scientists say that men do indeed have a hard time understanding women. Recent results show that men have a significantly harder time recognizing women’s emotions than they do men’s, and that men seem to use different parts of their brain when ascribing intentions and feelings to women versus men. Previous experiments had suggested that men are naturally wired to be more intuitive toward other men’s mental states and emotions. Eager to figure out why and how this could be, the researchers studied the brains of 22 male participants as they received a version of a well-known empathy test called the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test.” (You can take a version of the test online here.) As the name suggests, the test consists of snapshots of pairs of eyes. Pairs of eyes were shown in succession to each participant, who had to determine either the gender or the emotional state of the person pictured. This all took place within an MRI machine, allowing the researchers to see which parts of the brain were active while participants made their determinations. Participants were about equally good at guessing the gender of male and female eyes, but the men did significantly worse at recognizing the emotions of the female eyes. They correctly interpreted about 87 percent of men’s eyes but only about 76 percent of women’s eyes. Participants also took longer to judge women’s emotions—about 40 milliseconds longer on average. Thus, in effect, men can “read” other men’s eyes faster and better, the researchers report in PLOS ONE.

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: 18028 - Posted: 04.13.2013

Steve Connor Fear may be felt in the heart as well as the head, according to a study that has found a link between the cycles of a beating heart and the likelihood of someone taking fright. Tests on healthy volunteers found that they were more likely to feel a sense of fear at the moment when their hearts are contracting and pumping blood around their bodies, compared with the point when the heartbeat is relaxed. Scientists say the results suggest that the heart is able to influence how the brain responds to a fearful event, depending on which point it is at in its regular cycle of contraction and relaxation. Sarah Garfinkel, a researcher at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, said: “We demonstrate for the first time that the way in which we process fear is different dependent on when we see fearful images in relation to our heart.” The study, to be presented today at the British Neuroscience Association Festival in London, tested the fear response of 20 healthy volunteers as they were shown images of fearful faces while connected to heart monitors. “Our results show that if we see a fearful face during systole – when the heart is pumping – then we judge this fearful face as more intense than if we see the very same fearful face during diastole – when the heart is relaxed,” Dr Garfinkel said. “From previous research, we know that if we present images very fast then we have trouble detecting them, but if an image is particularly emotional then it can ‘pop’ out and be seen. © independent.co.uk

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 17999 - Posted: 04.08.2013

By Scicurious Much as we all like to think we’re modest, most of us really aren’t. We might try to be humble and say “we’re just some guy, you know?“, but most often, we actually think we’re better than average. Maybe we think we’re smarter, or better looking, or nicer, or maybe even all of the above. And it turns out that thinking we’re above average (even though, statistically, only half of us CAN be above average) is actually good for us. People who suffer from depression usually show a symptom called “depressive realism”. They actually see themselves MORE REALISTICALLY than other people do. And seeing yourself in the harsh light of reality…well it’s pretty depressing (you don’t really want to know how average you are in a sea of over 6 billion people. You don’t). Thinking that you are better than you actually are is sometimes called the Dunning-Kruger effect (though that usually refers specifically to how competent you think you are…when really you’re not), but in psychology it’s called the Superiority Illusion: the belief that you are better than average in any particular metric. But where does the superiority illusion come from? How do our brains give us this optimism bias? The authors of this study wanted to look at how our brain might give us the idea that we are better than the other guy. They were particularly interested in the connection between two areas of the brain, the frontal cortex, and the striatum. The frontal cortex does a lot of higher processing (things like sense of self), while the striatum is involved in things like feelings of reward. The connection between these two areas is called the fronto-striatal circuit. And the strength of that connection may mean something for how you think of yourself. While people who think well of themselves have relatively low connectivity in this circuit, people with depression have higher levels of connectivity. The two areas are MORE connected. © 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: 17976 - Posted: 04.02.2013

by Lizzie Wade Believe it or not, the gelada monkeys (Theropithecus gelada) on the right may be sharing a good laugh—and possibly the emotions that go along with it. Previously, only humans and orangutans had been shown to quickly and involuntarily mimic the facial expressions of their companions, an ability that seems to be linked to empathy. After spending months observing every playful interaction among the gelada population at Germany's NaturZoo, scientists are ready to add another, more distantly related species to that list. Geladas of all ages were more likely to mimic the play faces of their companions within 1 second of seeing them than they were to respond with a different kind of expression, according to a paper published by the team this week in Scientific Reports. What's more, the fastest and most frequent mimicry responses occurred between mothers and their infant offspring, like the pair pictured on the left. More research is required to determine if geladas are sharing emotional states in addition to facial expressions, but the team suggests that studying the quantity and quality of these mother-child interactions could provide a way forward. © 2010 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: 17968 - Posted: 03.30.2013

by Traci Watson You say you want to be alone? Think again. Researchers have found that older people with fewer human contacts are more likely to die—even if they're happy in their solitude—than are people with richer social lives. The study adds to the debate over whether loneliness, social isolation, or some combination of the two leads to higher mortality. Social isolation is an objective condition in which people have little interaction with others. Loneliness, on the other hand, is an emotional state felt by people who are dissatisfied with their social connections. "Someone who's socially isolated is likely to be lonely, and vice versa, but that's not completely the case," says epidemiologist and lead author Andrew Steptoe of University College London. To tease apart the effects of being alone versus just feeling lonely, Steptoe and his colleagues examined data from 6500 Britons aged 50 and up who had filled out questionnaires assessing their levels of loneliness. The researchers also tabulated the subjects' contacts with friends, family, religious groups, and other organizations to gauge their social connections. Then they counted how many subjects died over a 7-year period. The most socially isolated subjects had a 26% greater risk of dying, even when sex, age, and other factors linked to survival were accounted for, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They then tweaked their model to determine whether the connection to death was due to the fact that isolated people are often lonely. It wasn't. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 17951 - Posted: 03.26.2013

Philip Ball No one with even a passing interest in scientific trends will have failed to notice that the brain is the next big thing. It has been said for at least a decade, but now it’s getting serious — with, for example, the recent award by the European Commission of €500 million (US$646 million) to the Human Brain Project to build a new “infrastructure for future neuroscience” and a $1-billion initiative endorsed by President Obama. Having failed to ‘find ourselves’ in our genome, we’re starting a search in the grey matter. It’s a reasonable objective, but only if we have a clear idea of what we hope and expect to find. Some neuroscientists have grand visions, such as that adduced by Semir Zeki of University College London: “It is only by understanding the neural laws that dictate human activity in all spheres — in law, morality, religion and even economics and politics, no less than in art — that we can ever hope to achieve a more proper understanding of the nature of man.” Zeki heads the UCL Institute of Neuroesthetics. This is one of many fields that attaches ‘neuro’ to some human trait with the implication that the techniques of neuroscience, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, will explain it. We have neurotheology, neuroethics, neurocriminology and so on. Meanwhile, in popular media, a rash of books and articles proclaim (in a profoundly ugly trope) that “this is your brain on drugs/music/religion/sport”. It seems unlikely that studies of the brain will ever be able to wholly explain how we respond to art. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 10: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 7: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Link ID: 17940 - Posted: 03.23.2013

Joshua P. Johansen Anxiety does not arise from a single neural circuit. An interplay between neighbouring, yet opposing, circuits produces anxiety, and outputs from these circuits regulate specific anxiety responses. We all know anxiety. We might have experienced it while waiting to hear about a promotion at work, or on our way to see the doctor because she wants to talk about test results in person. A diffuse uneasiness, sometimes accompanied by perspiration and subtle changes in breathing, anxiety ebbs and flows depending on life's circumstances, and can even occur for no apparent reason. The condition can be healthy and adaptive, but research in the United States1 shows that, for roughly one-third of people, anxiety is a debilitating disorder at some point in their lives. Nevertheless, answers to important questions — such as how different neuronal populations represent anxiety, and how the various components of the anxious state are constructed and represented in neural circuits — remain elusive. In two papers published on Nature's website today, Jennings et al.2 and Kim et al.3 address these questions using optogenetics to manipulate distinct neuronal subpopulations in mice and so dissect out the contribution of intermixed but functionally distinct cell groups. Both teams analysed a large, diffuse brain region called the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). Previous studies4, 5, 6, 7 have found that lesions of the BNST reduce anxiety and fear of specific environments. Other work has discovered8, 9 distinct subregions and subpopulations of BNST neurons, and has found that the region has connections with several other brain areas that are involved in motivated behaviour and stress responses. However, the functions of the various BNST subpopulations and subregions, as well as the significance of these connections, have remained unclear. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group,

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: 17936 - Posted: 03.23.2013

By Scicurious I think we can all say that we prefer praise. I’d much rather be told that I was peerless and perspicacious than that I was a pathetic peripatetic. But whether we get praise or censure, as social humans we receive a lot of social feedback. People are always telling us, either directly or indirectly, how we are ‘doing’ socially, and how we are perceived. But getting that information, and what you do with it, are very different things indeed. And while we all like to think that we see our own good and bad points for what they are and take in criticism as well as praise….well, it turns out we’re a little biased in our own favor. When most studies want to look at things like social feedback or social processing, they often do fMRI studies with “games” that you play with other “people” (who aren’t real people, just a computer, but you don’t know that). But this has several disadvantages. First, you can’t rate people on various personality traits, you only know if you get socially accepted or rejected. And secondly, you can’t really get good social feedback from a computer. So to look at social feedback, the authors of this study had people meet each other in PERSON. On the first day, a group of five people who had never met before met in the lab to play an hour or so of Monopoly (hopefully if you’re only in the first hour you avoid a lot of the social rancor that I associate with my family’s Monopoly games). © 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: 17903 - Posted: 03.15.2013

by John Bohannon Every day, millions of people click on Facebook "Like" buttons, boldly declaring their preferences for a variety of things, such as books, movies, and cat videos. But those "likes" may reveal more than they intend, such as sexual orientation, drug use, and religious affiliation, according to a study that analyzed the online behavior of thousands of volunteers. Your preferences define you. Researchers have known for decades that people's personal attributes—gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, and personality type—correlate with their choice of products, concepts, and activities. Just consider the different populations at an opera and a NASCAR race. This is why companies are so eager to gather personal information about their consumers: Advertising is far more effective when it is targeted to groups of people who are more likely to be interested in a product. The only aspect that has changed is the increasing proportion of personal information that is available as digital data on the Internet. And Facebook has become a major hub for such data through its like button. A team led by Michal Kosinski, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom as well as at Microsoft Research, wondered just how much people's likes reveal about them. The Likes data are public information. The hard part was getting the data on intelligence and other such attributes to compare with the likes. For that, Kosinski and his Cambridge colleague David Stillwell created a Facebook app called myPersonality. After agreeing to volunteer as a research subject, users of the myPersonality app answer survey questions and take a series of psychological tests that measure things such as intelligence, competitiveness, extraversion versus introversion, and general satisfaction with life. Kosinski and Stillwell not only get those data but also data from the user's Facebook profile and friends network. In return, users get a peek at their own information. More than 4 million people have volunteered already. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 17890 - Posted: 03.12.2013

By Helen Shen When does a monkey turn down a free treat? When it is offered by a selfish person, apparently. Given the choice between accepting goodies from helpful, neutral or unhelpful people, capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) tend to avoid individuals who refuse aid to others, according to a study published today in Nature Communications. “Humans can build up an impression about somebody just based on what we see,” says author James Anderson, a comparative psychologist at the University of Stirling, UK. The capuchin results suggest that this skill “probably extends to other species”, he says. Anderson chose to study capuchins because of their highly social and cooperative instincts. Monkeys in the study watched as a person either agreed or refused to help another person to open a jar containing a toy. Afterwards, both people offered a food pellet to the animal. The monkey was allowed to accept food from only one. When help was given, the capuchins showed little preference between the person requesting help and the one providing aid. But when help was denied, the seven monkeys tended to accept food less often from the unhelpful person than from the requester. To try to understand the monkeys’ motivations, Anderson and his team tested different scenarios. The animals showed no bias against people who failed to help because they were busy opening their own jar. But they tended to avoid people who were available to help but did not do so. © 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: 17871 - Posted: 03.07.2013

By Stephanie Pappas, People infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, have a harder time than healthy individuals recognizing fear in the faces of others. This trouble with emotional recognition may reveal subtle cognitive deficits caused by the disease, researchers wrote today (Feb. 26) in the open-access journal BMC Psychology. Previous studies have found that HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is linked with abnormalities in the frontostriatal region of the brain, communications corridors that link the frontal lobes to deeper brain structures. "Frontostriatal structures are involved in facial emotion recognition, so we expected that HIV-positive subjects were impaired in facial emotion recognition tasks," said study researcher Eleonora Baldonero of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome. Baldonero and her colleagues recruited 49 HIV-positive adults from a clinic, making sure that none of the volunteers had a history of psychiatric or neurological disorders. HIV itself can affect the brain, Baldonero told LiveScience, but better drug therapies have made neurological problems less of an issue. Nevertheless, the team wanted to find out if there were any subtle deficits in the brains of patients. [The 10 Most Stigmatized Health Disorders] For comparison, the researchers also recruited 20 healthy adults chosen to be similar to the 49 HIV patients in age, gender and education. Both groups underwent a battery of neurological tests, including a facial emotion recognition task. In this test, patients saw male and female faces displaying disgust, anger, fear, happiness, surprise and sadness and had to match the name of the emotion to the face. © 2013 Yahoo! Inc

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 17853 - Posted: 02.27.2013

—By Chris Mooney It is still considered highly uncool to ascribe a person's political beliefs, even in part, to that person's biology: hormones, physiological responses, even brain structures and genes. And no wonder: Doing so raises all kinds of thorny, non-PC issues involving free will, determinism, toleration, and much else. There's just one problem: Published scientific research keeps going there, with ever increasing audacity (not to mention growing stacks of data). The past two weeks have seen not one but two studies published in scientific journals on the biological underpinnings of political ideology. And these studies go straight at the role of genes and the brain in shaping our views, and even our votes. First, in the American Journal of Political Science, a team of researchers including Peter Hatemi of Penn State University and Rose McDermott of Brown University studied the relationship between our deep-seated tendencies to experience fear—tendencies that vary from person to person, partly for reasons that seem rooted in our genes—and our political beliefs. What they found is that people who have more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative, and less tolerant of immigrants and people of races different from their own. As McDermott carefully emphasizes, that does not mean that every conservative has a high fear disposition. "It's not that conservative people are more fearful, it's that fearful people are more conservative," as she puts it.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 17841 - Posted: 02.25.2013

by Emily Underwood BOSTON—Dude, check out these European perch. After swimming in water laced with a common antianxiety medication, the red-finned fish lose their inhibitions and gobble up prey at a much faster rate, according to a new study presented here today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of ScienceNOW). The animals act strangely even after being exposed to low concentrations of the medication found in rivers worldwide, suggesting that the drug and others like it could affect fish behavior and ecology even in small doses. Hundreds of different pharmaceuticals are able to slip past conventional wastewater treatment plants and into our waterways, says Jerker Fick, a toxicologist at Umeå University in Sweden and co-author of the new study. "They don't mysteriously go away after we excrete them." Scientists have known for a long time that many pharmaceuticals can persist in rivers and streams, and have behavioral effects on aquatic species in high doses, he says; however, determining whether more dilute concentrations have an effect is harder to establish. Several years ago, Fick and his colleagues discovered a common psychoactive medication called oxazepam in water samples from the River Fyris, which flows through Uppsala, the fourth largest city in Sweden. Oxazepam belongs to a class of drugs that make neurons less excitable and slower to transmit signals throughout the brain and is an "essential" treatment for panic attacks and other severe anxiety disorders, Fick says. Although the authors describe the concentration of the drug—0.58 micrograms per liter-1—as "unusually high," they also say it is comparable to levels found in rivers in other countries; however, there isn't enough research to know for sure how widespread the drug is. "This is not a particularly Swedish problem," says lead author Tomas Brodin of Umeå University. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 17811 - Posted: 02.16.2013

By Laura Sanders Not all fear is the same. A woman who laughs at horror movies, grabs dangerous snakes and calmly deals with knife-wielding men nonetheless surrenders to terror at a single puff of suffocating carbon dioxide. This woman, known as SM, has a disease that damaged her amygdala, a brain structure implicated in fear. But the new results involving her and two others with the same disease, published online February 3 in Nature Neuroscience, show that a certain kind of danger signal can bypass the amygdala, hitting the panic button in other parts of the brain. The need to breathe is one of the most fundamental requirements for survival. Clinical neuropsychologist Justin Feinstein of the University of Iowa in Iowa City believes that the instinct to get air might tap into a brain system that’s more primal than the amygdala. Feinstein and colleagues work with SM and other patients who suffer from a rare genetic disorder called Urbach-Wiethe disease. In late childhood, this disease destroys the amygdala, a pair of almond-shaped structures deep in the brain. SM shows no fear when confronted with haunted houses, ominous spiders and scary movies (SN: 1/15/11, p/ 14). Now, the scientists have found something that does scare her. A breath of gas that is 35 percent carbon dioxide can immediately provoke a strong, panicky fear. (By contrast, normal air is less than one percent carbon dioxide.) When the gas hits the body, specialized proteins sense that something is amiss and send an urgent “must have air, now” message to the brain. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 17753 - Posted: 02.04.2013