Chapter 11. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress

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Nala Rogers People who are ill often complain of changes in their sense of taste. Now, researchers report that this sensory shift may be caused by a protein that triggers inflammation. Mice that cannot produce the protein, called tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), are less sensitive to bitter flavours than normal mice, according to a study published on 21 April in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity1. People with infections, autoimmune disease or other inflammatory conditions have higher levels of TNF-α than healthy people, and the protein has been shown to reduce food intake2. To investigate the influence of TNF-α on taste, researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, used engineered mice that could not produce the protein. The researchers offered the engineered mice and normal mice water that contained different types and concentrations of flavours. The mice that could not produce TNF-α had normal reactions to sweet, sour, salty and umami flavours, but were less sensitive to bitter ones. “Normal mice will pick up [that taste] at a much lower concentration. They will know this is bitter; they will not like it,” says Hong Wang, a molecular biologist at Monell and an author of the study. “But if the TNF-α gene is not there, then the mice will only start to avoid the bitter solution at higher concentrations.” © 2015 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 20868 - Posted: 04.30.2015

Neuroscientists have discovered brain circuitry for encoding positive and negative learned associations in mice. After finding that two circuits showed opposite activity following fear and reward learning, the researchers proved that this divergent activity causes either avoidance or reward-driven behaviors. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, they used cutting-edge optical-genetic tools to pinpoint these mechanisms critical to survival, which are also implicated in mental illness. “This study exemplifies the power of new molecular tools that can push and pull on the same circuit to see what drives behavior,” explained Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “Improved understanding of how such emotional memory works holds promise for solving mysteries of brain circuit disorders in which these mechanisms are disrupted.” NIMH grantee Kay Tye, Ph.D. External Web Site Policy, Praneeth Namburi and Anna Beyeler, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, and colleagues, report their findings April 29, 2015 in the journal Nature. Prior to the new study, scientists suspected involvement of the circuits ultimately implicated, but were stumped by a seeming paradox. A crossroads of convergent circuits in an emotion hub deep in the brain, thebasolateral amygdala, seem to be involved in both fear and reward learning, but how one brain region could orchestrate such opposing behaviors – approach and avoidance – remained an enigma. How might signals find the appropriate path to follow at this fork in the road?

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Emotions
Link ID: 20866 - Posted: 04.30.2015

by Laura Sanders Here I am, fresh off of my second maternity leave ready to serve up lots of juicy fresh science about babies. And I would love to do that, if only I were sleeping more at night. With her intoxicating baby aroma, squishy face and sweet little coos, our newest little daughter is irresistible by day. Night is another story altogether. And it’s a sad one. Our tale begins and ends with her cries wrenching me from a dead sleep over and over again. Sometimes I lie in bed for a split second, deluding myself into thinking that maybe this time she’ll go back to sleep. That pause is long enough for me to notice all the ways her cries affect me: Pounding heart, sweaty hands and feet, and most importantly, a single-minded, maniacal focus on that sound. Evolution didn’t give babies many ways to communicate, but the method they have, crying, sure gets the job done. So I read with interest an April 23 study in Nature that explains one way in which baby cries sledgehammer a mother’s brain. Upon hearing a lost pup’s cries, mother mice promptly go and fetch the wayward pup by the scruff of its neck. But this behavior has to be learned — a first-time mom isn’t as attuned to the sounds of her pups’ cries. As she gets the hang of that whole mothering thing, the momma mouse’s brain gets better at picking the sound of a distant crying pup out of the background din. These pup cries bore their way into the mother’s brain in an interesting way, the researchers found. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Emotions
Link ID: 20864 - Posted: 04.30.2015

By Rachel E. Gross “By being a guy’s best first move … Axe is designed to keep guys a step ahead in the dating game,” boasts Unilever, the company that sells Axe products. Of course, if you don’t happen to be a gullible 13-year-old boy, you probably don’t believe that body spray or deodorant is a magic elixir with the power to turn nice girls naughty. But what if it were possible to change a person’s mood with just a scent? The idea may not be that far-fetched, according to a new study in the journal Psychological Science—reporting work that was funded by Unilever. The study found that it might be possible to subconsciously trigger a state of happiness using the scent of—deep breath now—human sweat. People send all kinds of secret messages through their secretions. When smelling chemicals in male sweat, women become more alert, and they can even tell whether that sweat was made by a guy who was particularly turned on. (Cautions the New York Times: “No man should imagine that based on these conclusions he can improve his sex life by refraining from bathing.”) But until now, most sweat studies have focused on sexual arousal or negative emotions like fear. For obvious reasons, these emotions are crucial to survival and evolutionary success. If your friend spots a puma, it may be helpful for you to be able to sniff out instant cues to be on the alert or flee for cover. Being able to transmit positive emotions may also have a profound social impact, says Gün Semin, a psychologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and lead researcher on the study. After all, “the pursuit of happiness is not an individual enterprise,” as he and his fellow researchers write rather eloquently in the new study. So Semin’s team decided to test whether people could communicate happiness via sweat.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Emotions
Link ID: 20863 - Posted: 04.30.2015

Children who were often bullied by their peers may experience more anxiety and depression than children who were abused by adults, a finding that U.S. and British researchers say highlights an "imbalance" in school services to tackle bullying. Researchers followed the mental health of more than 4,000 children in Avon, south west England from birth to age 18 and 1,400 others in North Carolina from age nine up to age 26 through parent questionnaires and clinical interviews. In the Avon study, maltreatment was defined as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or "maladaptive parenting" such as hitting, shouting and hostility. Children were interviewed about the frequency of bullying, which included overt threats, physical violence and nasty names as well as social exclusion or spreading lies or rumours. The results consistently showed an increased risk of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal tendencies in children who were bullied, whether or not they had a history of abuse by adults, Prof. William Copeland, a clinical psychologist at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C. and his co-authors concluded in Tuesday's issue of Lancet Psychiatry. "What was a surprise was to see [the results] were as significant and pervasive as what we see for children that are physically abused, sexually abused or neglected," Copeland said. Government policies have focused almost exclusively on providing services for child abuse but much less attention and resources are devoted to bullying, the researchers said. Copeland's previous research showed long-term repercussions from bullying persist — and that includes impacts on physical health, dropping out of school and trouble with authorities. ©2015 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Stress; Depression
Link ID: 20861 - Posted: 04.29.2015

By Nicholas Bakalar Many people consume sweets in response to stress. Now researchers may have discovered why. Sugar reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Scientists recruited 19 female volunteers. For 12 days, eight of them consumed beverages sweetened with aspartame, an artificial sweetener. The rest drank an identical beverage containing 25 percent sucrose, or table sugar. Before and after the experiment, researchers measured the volunteers’ saliva cortisol levels and performed functional M.R.I. scans while they took arithmetic tests designed to be just beyond their abilities — a procedure known to increase cortisol levels. The study, in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found no differences in the tests between the two groups before the 12-day diet. But in tests afterward, cortisol levels were lower in the sugar consumers and higher in the aspartame group. The post-diet M.R.I. showed increased activity in the areas of the brain controlling fear and stress in the sugar group. The aspartame group showed decreased activity in those areas. The senior author, Kevin D. Laugero, a nutritionist with the federal Department of Agriculture, said no one should conclude that sugar should be used as a stress reducer. But, he said, “the finding is intriguing because it suggests that there is a metabolic pathway sensitive to sugar outside the brain that may expose new targets for treating neurobehavioral and stress-related conditions.” © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress; Obesity
Link ID: 20842 - Posted: 04.25.2015

Heidi Ledford An experimental antibody drug aimed at protecting nerves from the ravages of multiple sclerosis offers hope for a new way to combat the neurological disease — if researchers can definitively show that it works. The antibody, anti-LINGO-1, is intended to stimulate regrowth of the myelin sheath, the fatty protective covering on nerve cells that is damaged by multiple sclerosis. Its developer, Biogen of Cambridge, Massachusetts, will present results from a small clinical trial at an American Academy of Neurology meeting this week in Washington DC. If the initial promising results from the trial are confirmed, it will be the first such myelin-regeneration therapy. Other researchers are racing to find more targets and compounds that act similarly. “Once we get a positive result, the field will move very quickly,” says Jack Antel, a neurologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. But that excitement is tempered by practical hurdles: there is as yet no proven way to measure remyelination of nerve cells in living humans. Myelin sheaths insulate and support axons, the fibres that transmit signals between nerve cells. In multiple sclerosis, immune attack destroys these sheaths. Stripped of this protective coating, the axons gradually wither away, causing the numbness and muscle spasms that are characteristic of the disease. The 12 drugs approved in the United States to treat multiple sclerosis slow this immune attack — although sometimes with dangerous side effects. But none stops it, says Bruce Trapp, a neuroscientist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Multiple Sclerosis; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 20830 - Posted: 04.22.2015

By Smitha Mundasad Health reporter, BBC News A mindfulness-based therapy could offer a "new choice for millions of people" with recurrent depression, a Lancet report suggests. Scientists tested it against anti-depressant pills for people at risk of relapse and found it worked just as well. The therapy trains people to focus their minds and understand that negative thoughts may come and go. In England and Wales doctors are already encouraged to offer it. Patients who have had recurrent clinical depression are often prescribed long-term anti-depressant drugs to help prevent further episodes. And experts stress that drug therapy is still essential for many. In this study, UK scientists enrolled 212 people who were at risk of further depression on a course of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) while carefully reducing their medication. Patients took part in group sessions where they learned guided meditation and mindfulness skills. The therapy aimed to help people focus on the present, recognise any early warning signs of depression and respond to them in ways that did not trigger further reoccurrences. Researchers compared these results to 212 people who continued to take a full course of medication over two years. By the end of the study, a similar proportion of people had relapsed in both groups. And many in the MBCT group had been tapered off their medication. Scientists say these findings suggest MBCT could provide a much-needed alternative for people who cannot or do not wish to take long-term drugs. In their report, they conclude it "may be a new choice for millions of people with recurrent depression on repeat prescriptions." © 2015 BBC

Keyword: Depression; Stress
Link ID: 20826 - Posted: 04.21.2015

Two drugs already on the market — an antifungal and a steroid — may potentially take on new roles as treatments for multiple sclerosis. According to a study published in Nature today, researchers discovered that these drugs may activate stem cells in the brain to stimulate myelin producing cells and repair white matter, which is damaged in multiple sclerosis. The study was partially funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health. Specialized cells called oligodendrocytes lay down multiple layers of a fatty white substance known as myelin around axons, the long “wires” that connect brain cells. Myelin acts as an insulator and enables fast communication between brain cells. In multiple sclerosis there is breakdown of myelin and this deterioration leads to muscle weakness, numbness and problems with vision, coordination and balance. “To replace damaged cells, the scientific field has focused on direct transplantation of stem cell-derived tissues for regenerative medicine, and that approach is likely to provide enormous benefit down the road. We asked if we could find a faster and less invasive approach by using drugs to activate native nervous system stem cells and direct them to form new myelin. Our ultimate goal was to enhance the body’s ability to repair itself,” said Paul J. Tesar, Ph.D., associate professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, and senior author of the study. It is unknown how myelin-producing cells are damaged, but research suggests they may be targeted by malfunctioning immune cells and that multiple sclerosis may start as an autoimmune disorder. Current therapies for multiple sclerosis include anti-inflammatory drugs, which help prevent the episodic relapses common in multiple sclerosis, but are less effective at preventing long-term disability. Scientists believe that therapies that promote myelin repair might improve neurologic disability in people with multiple sclerosis.

Keyword: Multiple Sclerosis; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 20825 - Posted: 04.21.2015

By Sandra G. Boodman A Braced by her partner, Suzanne Tobin shuffled back to her car parked in the cavernous garage at Johns Hopkins Hospital late on the evening of Oct. 22, 2013, distraught about what might happen next. Tobin, then 60, had been driven by her partner, James Rapp, from their Germantown home to the Hopkins ER in hopes that doctors there could determine what was causing her relentless deterioration. Three months earlier, Tobin had held a full-time job as a copy editor at AARP in the District. She spent an hour before work striding around the Mall for exercise. Now she could no longer walk unassisted, her speech was nearly unintelligible and her left hand was so weak she could no longer hold a book. Doctors in suburban Maryland had diagnosed a stroke — or possibly a series of strokes — but were unable to explain why Tobin kept getting worse by the week. Her neurologist counseled patience and offered to prescribe antidepressants, drugs that Tobin had told him she had taken for years. An occupational therapist she’d been seeing had expressed alarm; stroke patients tended to plateau or even improve over time, not to experience a steady downward spiral. “You need to get a new neurologist,” she advised Tobin. Tobin and Rapp decided their best bet was to head to Hopkins in Baltimore. But after 12 hours and a battery of tests, including a CT, MRI and other scans, emergency physicians sent Tobin home. They found no new stroke — an earlier MRI that Rapp had brought along appeared to show an old one — nor any other problem that would require immediate hospitalization. They advised her to follow up with her regular doctors.

Keyword: Stroke; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 20823 - Posted: 04.21.2015

By LISA FELDMAN BARRETT and JOLIE WORMWOOD THE Justice Department recently analyzed eight years of shootings by Philadelphia police officers. Its report contained two sobering statistics: Fifteen percent of those shot were unarmed; and in half of these cases, an officer reportedly misidentified a “nonthreatening object (e.g., a cellphone) or movement (e.g., tugging at the waistband)” as a weapon. Many factors presumably contribute to such shootings, ranging from carelessness to unconscious bias to explicit racism, all of which have received considerable attention of late, and deservedly so. But there is a lesser-known psychological phenomenon that might also explain some of these shootings. It’s called “affective realism”: the tendency of your feelings to influence what you see — not what you think you see, but the actual content of your perceptual experience. Affective realism illustrates a common misconception about the working of the human brain. In everyday life, your brain seems to be a reactive organ. You stroll past a round red object in the produce section of a supermarket and react by reaching for an apple. A police officer sees a weapon and reacts by raising his gun. Stimulus is followed by response. But the brain doesn’t really work this way. The brain is a predictive organ. A majority of your brain activity consists of predictions about the world — thousands of them at a time — based on your past experience. These predictions are not deliberate prognostications like “the Red Sox will win the World Series,” but unconscious anticipations of every sight, sound and other sensation you might encounter in every instant. These neural “guesses” largely shape what you see, hear and otherwise perceive. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Vision; Emotions
Link ID: 20819 - Posted: 04.20.2015

By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN Most newly stylish coinages carry with them some evidence of grammatical trauma. Consider “affluencer,” “selfie,” “impactful.” Notes of cynicism and cutesiness come through. But every now and then a bright exception to this dispiriting routine appears. A rookie word makes its big-league debut, a stadium of pedants prepares to peg it with tomatoes and — nothing. A halfhearted heckle. The new word looks only passably pathetic. Maddeningly, it has heft. “Mindfulness” may be that hefty word now, one that can’t readily be dismissed as trivia or propaganda. Yes, it’s current among jaw-grinding Fortune 500 executives who take sleeping pills and have “leadership coaches,” as well as with the moneyed earnest, who shop at Whole Foods, where Mindful magazine is on the newsstand alongside glossies about woodworking and the environment. It looks like nothing more than the noun form of “mindful” — the proper attitude toward the London subway’s gaps — but “mindfulness” has more exotic origins. In the late 19th century, the heyday of both the British Empire and Victorian Orientalism, a British magistrate in Galle, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), with the formidable name of Thomas William Rhys Davids, found himself charged with adjudicating Buddhist ecclesiastical disputes. He set out to learn Pali, a Middle Indo-Aryan tongue and the liturgical language of Theravada, an early branch of Buddhism. In 1881, he thus pulled out “mindfulness” — a synonym for “attention” from 1530 — as an approximate translation of the Buddhist concept of sati. The translation was indeed rough. Sati, which Buddhists consider the first of seven factors of enlightenment, means, more nearly, “memory of the present,” which didn’t track in tense-preoccupied English. “Mindfulness” stuck — but may have saddled the subtle sati with false-note connotations of Victorian caution, or even obedience. (“Mind your manners!”) © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 20818 - Posted: 04.20.2015

|By Julie Hecht Unlike porcupines, dogs are a relatively hands-on (actually, paws-on) species, both with one another and with us. YouTube has numerous videos of dogs essentially saying, “Just keep petting me, please. Yes, that’s it…more.” But this relationship is not one-sided. Many studies find that positive interactions between people and dogs can be beneficial for both species. Increases in β-endorphin (beta-endorphin), oxytocin and dopamine—neurochemicals associated with positive feelings and bonding—have been observed in both dogs and people after enjoyable interactions like petting, play and talking. Essentially, interacting with a dog, particularly a known dog, can have some of the same psychophysiological markers as when two emotionally attached people spend time together. But do certain types of interactions have an outsized impact? Dogs are incredibly attentive to human faces and, in some cases, even specific facial expressions. This seemingly routine, benign behavior—your dog turning to gaze on your beautiful face as you do his or hers—could actually hold a very important piece of the puzzle in our relationship with dogs, suggests a study published this week in Science. The new study, by Miho Nagasawa of Azabu University in Japan and colleagues, builds on Nagasawa’s previous work, published in Hormones and Behavior in 2009, that found owners and dogs sharing a long mutual gaze had higher levels of oxytocin in their urine than owners of dogs giving a shorter gaze. (Oxytocin, a humble peptide of nine amino acids that is sometimes called the “cuddle hormone,” has been implicated in social bonding and is instrumental to the cascade of hormonal changes leading up to and following birth.) Nagasawa and her colleagues concluded that their finding was “a manifestation of attachment behavior.” © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Emotions
Link ID: 20816 - Posted: 04.18.2015

Angus Chen A common pain medication might make you go from "so cute!" to "so what?" when you look at a photo of an adorable kitten. And it might make you less sensitive to horrifying things too. It's acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. Researchers say the drug might be taking the edge off emotions – not just pain. "It seems to take off the highs of your daily highs and the lows off your daily lows," says Baldwin Way, a psychologist at Ohio State University and the principal investigator on the study, "It kind of flattens out the vicissitudes of your life." The idea that over-the-counter pain pills might affect emotions has been circulating since 2010, when two psychologists, Naomi Eisenberger and Nathan DeWall, led a study showing that acetaminophen seemed to be having both a psychological and a neurological effect on people. They asked volunteers to play a rigged game that simulated social rejection. Not only did the acetaminophen appear to be deflecting social anxieties, it also seemed to be dimming activity in the insula, a region of the brain involved in processing emotional pain. A brain that can let other thoughts bubble up despite being in pain might help its owner benefit from meditation or other cognitive therapies. "But [the insula] is a portion of the brain that seems to be involved in a lot of things," Way says. In older studies, scientists saw that people with damage in their insula didn't react as strongly to either negative or positive images. So Way and one of his students, Geoffrey Durso, figured that if acetaminophen is doing something to the insula, then it might be having a wider effect, too. © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Emotions; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 20807 - Posted: 04.16.2015

By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN Most newly stylish coinages carry with them some evidence of grammatical trauma. Consider “affluencer,” “selfie,” “impactful.” Notes of cynicism and cutesiness come through. But every now and then a bright exception to this dispiriting routine appears. A rookie word makes its big-league debut, a stadium of pedants prepares to peg it with tomatoes and — nothing. A halfhearted heckle. The new word looks only passably pathetic. Maddeningly, it has heft. “Mindfulness” may be that hefty word now, one that can’t readily be dismissed as trivia or propaganda. Yes, it’s current among jaw-grinding Fortune 500 executives who take sleeping pills and have “leadership coaches,” as well as with the moneyed earnest, who shop at Whole Foods, where Mindful magazine is on the newsstand alongside glossies about woodworking and the environment. It looks like nothing more than the noun form of “mindful” — the proper attitude toward the London subway’s gaps — but “mindfulness” has more exotic origins. In the late 19th century, the heyday of both the British Empire and Victorian Orientalism, a British magistrate in Galle, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), with the formidable name of Thomas William Rhys Davids, found himself charged with adjudicating Buddhist ecclesiastical disputes. He set out to learn Pali, a Middle Indo-Aryan tongue and the liturgical language of Theravada, an early branch of Buddhism. In 1881, he thus pulled out “mindfulness” — a synonym for “attention” from 1530 — as an approximate translation of the Buddhist concept of sati. The translation was indeed rough. Sati, which Buddhists consider the first of seven factors of enlightenment, means, more nearly, “memory of the present,” which didn’t track in tense-preoccupied English. “Mindfulness” stuck — but may have saddled the subtle sati with false-note connotations of Victorian caution, or even obedience. (“Mind your manners!”) © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 20797 - Posted: 04.14.2015

By STEVEN QUARTZ and ANETTE ASP THE gaping inequality of America’s first Gilded Age generated strong emotions. It produced social reformers like Jane Addams, anarchist agitators like Emma Goldman, labor leaders like Eugene V. Debs and Progressive politicians like Theodore Roosevelt. By the 1920s, sweeping legislation regulating food and drugs and breaking up corrupt trusts had been passed. The road to the New Deal was paved. But our current Gilded Age has been greeted with relative complacency. Despite soaring inequality, worsened by the Great Recession, and recent grumbling about the 1 percent, Americans remain fairly happy. All of the wage gains since the downturn ended in 2009 have essentially gone to the top 1 percent, yet the proportion of Americans who say they are “thriving” has actually increased. So-called happiness inequality — the proportion of Americans who are either especially miserable or especially joyful — hit a 40-year low in 2010 by some measures. Men have historically been less happy than women, but that gap has disappeared. Whites have historically been happier than nonwhites, but that gap has narrowed, too. In fact, American happiness has not only stayed steady, but converged, since wages began stagnating in the mid-1970s. This is puzzling. It does not conform with economic theories that compare happiness to envy, and emphasize the impact of relative income for happiness — how we compare with the Joneses. A new neuroscience of consumer behavior reinforces our argument. In one experiment, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to understand our brains’ reaction to perceived coolness. We selected students from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and asked them to rate, from uncool to cool, hundreds of images from the following categories: bottled water, shoes, perfumes, handbags, watches, cars, chairs, personal electronics and sunglasses. We also included images of celebrities (actors and musicians). The cooler objects typically weren’t the more expensive ones: our subjects rated a Kia hatchback above a Buick sedan, for example. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 20790 - Posted: 04.13.2015

By MALIA WOLLAN “A polygraph is nothing more than a psychological billy club used to coerce and intimidate people,” says Doug Williams, a former Oklahoma City police detective and polygraph examiner who for 36 years has trained people to pass the lie-detector test. The first step is not to be intimidated. Most tests include two types of questions: relevant ones about a specific incident (“Did you leak classified information to The New York Times?”) and broader so-called control questions (“Have you ever lied to anyone who trusted you?”). The test assumes that an innocent person telling the truth will have a stronger reaction to the control questions than to the relevant ones. Before your test, practice deciphering between the two question types. “Go to the beach” when you hear a relevant question, Williams says. Calm yourself before answering by imagining gentle waves and warm sand. When you get a control question, which is more general, envision the scariest thing you can in order to trigger physiological distress; the polygraph’s tubes around your chest measure breathing, the arm cuff monitors heart rate and electrodes attached to you fingertips detect perspiration. What is your greatest fear? Falling? Drowning? Being buried alive? “Picture that,” Williams says. He used to advise trainees to clench their anus but has since concluded that terrifying mental imagery works better. Williams, who is 69, may be among the more vitriolic critics of polygraphs, which he refers to as “insidious Orwellian instruments of torture,” but their reliability has long been questioned elsewhere, too. Federal legislation prohibits most private employers from using polygraphs. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that lower courts can ban them as evidence, and the scientific community has repeatedly raised concerns about their ability to accurately detect lies. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 20789 - Posted: 04.13.2015

Robin McKie, science editor A smile is the universal welcome, the writer Max Eastman once remarked. But how sure can we be that a person’s smile is genuine? The answer is the empathy test, created by psychologist Richard Wiseman, which probes our ability to appreciate the feelings of others – from their appearance. A photographer asks a subject to imagine meeting an individual they don’t like and to put on a fake smile. Later the subject sits with a real friend and as they converse, the photographer records their genuine smile. Thus two versions of their smile are recorded. The question is: how easy is it to tell the difference? “If you lack empathy, you are very bad at differentiating between the two photographs,” says Wiseman, who teaches at the University of Hertfordshire. But how do professions differ in their ability to spot a fake? And in particular, how do scientists and journalists score? Neither are particularly renowned for their empathy, after all. Last month’s Scientists Meet the Media party, for which the Observer is the media sponsor, gave Wiseman a perfect opportunity to compare the two professions. At the party, hosted by the Science Museum in London, some of Britain’s top researchers mingled with UK science journalists. About 150 guests were shown photographs of subjects with fake and genuine smiles. Guests were then asked to spot the false and the true. The results were intriguing. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 20785 - Posted: 04.11.2015

By Emily Underwood A splashy headline appeared on the websites of many U.K. newspapers this morning, claiming that men whose brothers or fathers have been convicted of a sex offense are “five times more likely to commit sex crimes than the average male” and that this increased risk of committing rape or molesting a child “may run in a family’s male genes.” The study, published online today in the International Journal of Epidemiology, analyzed data from 21,566 male sex offenders convicted in Sweden between 1973 and 2009 and concluded that genetics may account for at least 40% of the likelihood of committing a sex crime. (Women, who commit less than 1% of Sweden’s sexual offenses, were omitted from the analysis.) The scientists have suggested that the new research could be used to help identify potential offenders and target high-risk families for early intervention efforts. But independent experts—and even the researchers who led the work, to a certain degree—warn that the study has some serious limitations. Here are a few reasons to take its conclusions, and the headlines, with a generous dash of salt. Alternate explanations: Most studies point to early life experiences, such as childhood abuse, as the most important risk factor for becoming a perpetrator of abuse in adulthood. The new study, however, did not include any detail about the convicted sex criminals’ early life exposure to abuse. Instead, by comparing fathers with sons, and full brothers and half-brothers reared together or apart, the scientists attempted to tease out the relative contributions of shared environment and shared genes to the risk of sexual offending. Based on their analyses, the researchers concluded that shared environment accounted for just 2% of the risk of sexual offense, while genetics accounted for roughly 40%. Although there is likely some genetic contribution to sexual offending—perhaps related to impulsivity or sex drive—the group “may be overestimating the role of genes” because their assumptions were inaccurate, says Fred Berlin, a psychiatrist and sexologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Aggression; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 20779 - Posted: 04.10.2015

By ERICA GOODE He was described, in the immediate aftermath of the Germanwings crash, as a cheerful and careful pilot, a young man who had dreamed of flying since boyhood. But in the days since, it has seemed increasingly clear that Andreas Lubitz, 27, the plane’s co-pilot, was something far more sinister: the perpetrator of one of the worst mass murder-suicides in history. If what researchers have learned about such crimes is any indication, this notoriety may have been just what Mr. Lubitz wanted. The actions now attributed to Mr. Lubitz — taking 149 unsuspecting people with him to a horrifying death — seem in some ways unfathomable, and his full motives may never be fully understood. But studies over the last decades have begun to piece together characteristics that many who carry out such violence seem to share, among them a towering narcissism, a strong sense of grievance and a desire for infamy. Adam Lankford, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, said that in his research on mass killers who also took their own lives, he has found “a significant number of cases where they mention a desire for fame, glory or attention as a motive.” Before Adam Lanza, 20, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, killed 20 children, six adults and himself in 2012, he wrote in an online forum, “Just look at how many fans you can find for all different types of mass murderers.” Robert Hawkins, 19, who committed suicide after killing eight people at a shopping mall in Omaha in 2007, left a note saying “I’m gonna be famous,” punctuating the sentence with an expletive. And Dylan Klebold, 17, of Columbine High School fame, bragged that the goal was to cause “the most deaths in U.S. history…we’re hoping. We’re hoping.” “Directors will be fighting over this story,” Mr. Klebold said in a video made before the massacre. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression; Depression
Link ID: 20766 - Posted: 04.07.2015