Chapter 11. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
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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.
Link ID: 17890 - Posted: 03.12.2013
By Neuroskeptic “Layered Voice Analysis” (LVA) is a controversial technology promoted as a tool for helping detect stress and other emotions by analysis of the human voice. According to the company behind the method, Nemesysco: LVA technology enables better understanding of your suspect’s mental state and emotional makeup at a given moment by detecting the emotional cues in his or her speech. The technology identifies various types of stress levels, cognitive processes, and emotional reactions that are reflected in different properties of the voice… it provides the professional user easy access to truth verification in real time or from recorded data, during face to face and over the phone, during a free or structured investigation session. Long-term Neuroskeptic readers will remember LVA and Nemesysco from way back in 2009. That was when I blogged about the company’s legal moves against two Swedish academics who had published a paper critical of LVA. That contentious article is still available online. Now, a newly published study evaluated whether LVA is an effective truth verifying tool: The Accuracy of Auditors’ and Layered Voice Analysis (LVA) Operators’ Judgments of Truth and Deception During Police Questioning. The authors, led by Michigan Professor Frank Horvath, studied 74 suspects who were interviewed by the Michigan State Police. Audio recordings of the interviews were made. Which of the suspects were being deceptive? Two investigators used LVA (after receiving the manufacturer’s recommended 40 hours of training) to try to judge deception from the records. Three other investigators just listened to the recordings, and formed an opinion based on their own intuition and experience.
Link ID: 17885 - Posted: 03.11.2013
By Marilynn Marchione, Associated Press Stress does bad things to the heart. New studies have found higher rates of cardiac problems in veterans with PTSD, New Orleans residents six years after Hurricane Katrina and Greeks struggling through that country's financial turmoil. Disasters and prolonged stress can raise "fight or flight" hormones that affect blood pressure, blood sugar and other things in ways that make heart trouble more likely, doctors say. They also provoke anger and helplessness and spur heart-harming behaviors like eating or drinking too much. "We're starting to connect emotions with cardiovascular risk markers" and the new research adds evidence of a link, said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center and an American Heart Association spokeswoman. She had no role in the studies, which were discussed Sunday at an American College of Cardiology conference in San Francisco. The largest, involving 207,954 veterans in California and Nevada ages 46 to 74, compared those with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, to those without it. They were free of major heart disease and diabetes when researchers checked their Veterans Administration medical records from 2009 and 2010. Checked again about two years later, 35 percent of those with PTSD but only 19 percent of those without it had developed insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and hardening of the arteries. © 2013 NBCNews.com
Link ID: 17884 - Posted: 03.11.2013
By JAN HOFFMAN Physically active children generally report happier moods and fewer symptoms of depression than children who are less active. Now researchers may have found a reason: by one measure, exercise seems to help children cope with stress. Finnish researchers had 258 children wear accelerometers on their wrists for at least four days that registered the quality and quantity of their physical activity. Their parents used cotton swabs to take saliva samples at various times throughout a single day, which the researchers used to assess levels of cortisol, a hormone typically induced by physical or mental stress. There was no difference in the cortisol levels at home between children who were active and those who were less active. But when the researchers gave the children a standard psychosocial stress test at a clinic involving arithmetic and storytelling challenges, they found that those who had not engaged in physical activity had raised cortisol levels. The children who had moderate or vigorous physical activity showed relatively no rise in cortisol levels. Those results indicate a more positive physiological response to stress by children who were more active, the researchers said in a study that was published this week in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The children who were least active had the highest levels. “This study shows that children who are more active throughout their day have a better hormonal response to an acute stressful situation,” said Disa Hatfield, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island, who was not involved in the study. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 17882 - Posted: 03.09.2013
By Meghan Rosen Zombies aren’t the only things that feast on brains. Immune cells called microglia gorge on neural stem cells in developing rat and monkey brains, researchers report in the March 6 Journal of Neuroscience. Chewing up neuron-spawning stem cells could help control brain size by pruning away excess growth. Scientists have previously linked abnormal human brain size to autism and schizophrenia. “It shows microglia are very important in the developing brain,” says neuroscientist Joseph Mathew Antony of the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the research. Scientists have long known that in adult brains, microglia hunt for injured cells as well as pathogens. “They mop up all the dead and dying cells,” Antony says. And when the scavengers find a dangerous intruder, they pounce. “These guys are relentless,” says study coauthor Stephen Noctor, of the University of California, Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento. “They seek and destroy bacteria — it’s really quite amazing.” Microglia also lurk in embryonic brains, but the immune cells’ role there is less well understood. Previous studies had found microglia near neural stem cells — tiny factories that pump out new neurons. When Noctor’s team examined slices of embryonic human, monkey and rodent brains, he was struck by just how many microglia crowded around the stem cells and how closely the two cell types touched. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 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
by Emily Underwood No single cause has yet been discovered for schizophrenia, the devastating neuropsychiatric syndrome characterized by hallucinations, disordered thoughts, and other cognitive and emotional problems, typically beginning in early adulthood. Although schizophrenia runs in families, in many cases no genetic risk is apparent, leading many researchers to look for environmental explanations. Now, research in mice provides support for a long-held hypothesis: that the syndrome, and other neurological disorders, can emerge when multiple environmental insults such as prenatal infection and adolescent trauma combine. Environmental stressors such as infection and abuse were long ago shown to be risk factors for schizophrenia. Large studies of children whose mothers were infected with influenza during the last months of their pregnancy, for example, have a roughly twofold increase in risk of developing the syndrome compared with the general population. That doesn't explain why a few people who are exposed to an infection in the womb go on to develop schizophrenia while most don't, however, says Urs Meyer, a behavioral neurobiologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and co-author of the study reported online today in Science. One long-held hypothesis, he says, is that early infection creates a latent vulnerability to schizophrenia that is only "unmasked" by later insults, such as physical injury or psychological trauma. Such stressors are thought to be particularly damaging during critical periods of brain development such as early puberty, he says. Although the "multiple-hit" hypothesis has been prominent in the literature for some time, it is difficult to test the idea with human epidemiology studies, he says. "You need huge, huge data sets to see anything." © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By Kali Tal A few weeks ago an article in the Scientific American Twitter stream caught my eye. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) once again debuted as a “promising new treatment” for PTSD. EMDR, which has been repeatedly called “promising” over the last two decades, works only about as well for PTSD as other psychological treatment modalities with which it competes, primarily cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. These so-called trauma focused treatments (TFT) all garner similar results. TFT have large effects in clinical trials, with two important caveats: 1) the enthusiasm of their various advocates bias the study results towards the treatment the researchers prefer; and, 2) they are effective for a significant number of carefully selected PTSD patients. The sad truth, however, is that current short-term treatments are not the solution for most patients with PTSD. Trial criteria often exclude those with comorbid disorders, multiple traumas, complex PTSD, and suicidal ideation, among others. Even when they are included, comorbid patients drop out of treatment studies at a much higher rate than those with simple PTSD, a problem that has implications for clinical practice. The large majority of those with PTSD also have other psychological disorders (commonly, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety disorders) and many of these patients have complex PTSD, which is both harder to treat, and more prone to relapse (see Fig. 1). Those who suffer from both PTSD and substance abuse (64%-84% of veterans, for example) often perceive the disorders as “functionally correlated.” Similarly, depression and PTSD are mutually reinforcing; each compounds the symptoms of the other. Both substance abuse and depression are notoriously difficult to treat, and harder to treat when comorbid with PTSD. Multiple studies document the long-term failure of PTSD treatment for veterans, but there are fewer on the effectiveness of therapies in treating comorbid PTSD in civilian populations. Existing studies challenge the assumption that PTSD treatments effective for simple PTSD, are also effective for combined PTSD and substance abuse, or PTSD and depression. © 2013 Scientific American
Link ID: 17857 - Posted: 02.27.2013
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
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.
Link ID: 17841 - Posted: 02.25.2013
By ANAHAD O'CONNOR Depression may lower the effectiveness of the shingles vaccine, a new study found. The research showed that adults with untreated depression who received the vaccine mounted a relatively weak immune response. But those who were taking antidepressants showed a normal response to the vaccine, even when symptoms of depression persist. Shingles, an acute and painful rash, strikes a million Americans each year, mostly older adults. Health officials recommend that those over 60 get vaccinated against the condition, which is caused by reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox, varicella-zoster. In the new study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers followed a group of 92 older men and women for two years. Forty of the subjects had a major depressive disorder; they were matched with 52 control subjects of similar age. The researchers measured their immune responses to the shingles vaccine and a placebo shot. Compared with the control patients, those with depression were poorly protected by the vaccine. But the patients who were being treated for their depression showed a boost in immunity — what the researchers called a “normalization” of the immune response. It is unclear why that was the case. The authors of the study speculated that treatment of older people with depression might increase the effectiveness of the flu shot and other vaccines as well. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company
Changing the channel on what TV children watch could improve their behaviour, but watching too much regular programming may have harmful long-term consequences, new research suggests. In Monday's issue of the journal Pediatrics, researchers reported that preschoolers spent less time watching violent programming when they were randomly assigned to participate in a program that encouraged aggression-filled shows to be replaced with educational or empathy-building viewing compared with a control group. Muppets Bert, left, and Ernie, from the children's program Sesame Street, were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves, which builds empathy. "We demonstrated that an intervention to modify the viewing habits of preschool-aged children can significantly enhance their overall social and emotional competence and that low-income boys may derive the greatest benefit," Dr. Dimitri Christakis of Seattle Children's Research Institute and his co-authors concluded. "Although television is frequently implicated as a cause of many problems in children, our research indicates that it may also be part of the solution." There was no difference in total viewing time between the 820 families involved in the study. The educational or "prosocial" programs included Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer and Super Why. A second category of shows also promoted co-operative problem-solving and non-violent conflict resolution but inconsistently, such as on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. © CBC 2013
By Laura Sanders An element of surprise may be the key to whitewashing a painful memory. People who encountered something unexpected were better able to shake a troubling association, a new laboratory study finds. The results, published in the Feb. 15 Science, bring scientists closer to being able to weaken traumatic memories with help from a drug. Understanding how the brain forms and reforms traumatic memories might lead to treatments that would help people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders. “The idea that an original memory could have the sting taken out of it — that’s been very appealing,” says psychiatrist Roger Pitman of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, who was not involved in the research. Memories are not written in neural stone. Recent results in animals and humans have shown that once called to mind, painful memories’ emotional edges can be blunted. Experiments have used certain drugs to weaken associations between a memory and a negative response. But the details of how and why those drugs work haven’t been clear. The new result may have uncovered a previously underappreciated step in that weakening process: In order for the emotional response tied to a memory to wither, something unexpected must happen while the person is recalling the memory. This mismatch between what a person expects and what actually happens — called a prediction error — puts a memory into a wobbly, vulnerable form that can be washed out, says study coauthor Merel Kindt of the University of Amsterdam. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013
By BENEDICT CAREY The young men who opened fire at Columbine High School, at the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and in other massacres had this in common: they were video gamers who seemed to be acting out some dark digital fantasy. It was as if all that exposure to computerized violence gave them the idea to go on a rampage — or at least fueled their urges. Social scientists have been studying and debating the effects of media violence on behavior since the 1950s, and video games in particular since the 1980s. The issue is especially relevant today, because the games are more realistic and bloodier than ever, and because most American boys play them at some point. Girls play at lower rates and are significantly less likely to play violent games. A burst of new research has begun to clarify what can and cannot be said about the effects of violent gaming. Playing the games can and does stir hostile urges and mildly aggressive behavior in the short term. Moreover, youngsters who develop a gaming habit can become slightly more aggressive — as measured by clashes with peers, for instance — at least over a period of a year or two. Yet it is not at all clear whether, over longer periods, such a habit increases the likelihood that a person will commit a violent crime, like murder, rape, or assault, much less a Newtown-like massacre. (Such calculated rampages are too rare to study in any rigorous way, researchers agree.) “I don’t know that a psychological study can ever answer that question definitively,” said Michael R. Ward, an economist at the University of Texas, Arlington. “We are left to glean what we can from the data and research on video game use that we have.” © 2013 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 17795 - Posted: 02.13.2013
Nearly 400 years after William Shakespeare asked, "What is love?," brain imaging studies are allowing scientists to give at least a partial answer. As our calendars get closer to Feb. 14, a day when passion is deeply associated with the heart, love will in fact be in the mind. A recent study shows love is a complex emotion triggered by 12 specific areas of the brain — the network of love. Love is in the mind, not in the heart © 1996-2013 The Washington Post
By Laura Sanders Immune cells that help heal injuries in the adult brain may have a second job early in life, a study in mice reveals. The brain crusaders unexpectedly moonlight as sculptors, shaping a region of the brain into a male-specific form. The cells, called microglia, are mobile garbage disposals that travel around the brain and gobble up damaged cells and infectious agents. But the new study, published in the Feb. 13 Journal of Neuroscience, emphasizes that these cells have diverse functions, says neuroscientist Jean Harry of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C., who was not involved in the work. Earlier results hinted that parts of the immune system have a role in building sex differences into the brain, so Kathryn Lenz and her colleagues at the University of Maryland, Baltimore decided to test whether microglia are pulling double duty. The team focused on the preoptic area of the mouse brain—“a place where you see a ton of sex differences,” Lenz says. Early in life, this brain area gets shaped by sex hormones including molecules called estradiol and prostaglandin E2, which work on the male mouse brain. In males, the preoptic area is larger, and the cells there have more elaborate shapes than in females. Scientists think those brain differences drive mating behaviors. Lenz and her colleagues found another difference in the preoptic area between males and females: Young males had about twice as many active microglia as females did. What’s more, a dose of estradiol or prostaglandin E2 in the first few days of life caused female animals to produce the male number of active microglia. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013
By Scicurious When it comes down to it, most humans are pretty optimistic. Yeah, we know the Titanic sank, but our boat is better. We know that driving a car is really pretty dangerous, but we’re more careful, it won’t happen to us. This is not just a cultural thing, we generally tend to place more importance on positive information about something than on negative. We’re more optimistic than we should be on everything, from the future of our current relationship to the stock market. But what is it that makes us so optimistic? And what happens when it goes wrong? Because not everyone is optimistic. People with major depressive disorder, for example, are more pessimistic (sometimes they are just pessimistic enough to be realistic, but they can also be unrealistically pessimistic). What is it that determines how optimistic we are? It’s time to take another look at dopamine. I often talk about the neurotransmitter dopamine in the context of addiction. But dopamine is a much more subtle signal than just the “reward” or “pleasure” you see thrown around in the media. Dopamine is extremely important in detecting prediction errors: when you’ve made the wrong choice. Basically, dopamine can spike in the presence of reward, and can spike when a reward is expected. Conversely, you often see decreases in dopamine when something unexpected happens and you fail to get your reward, like with a Rickroll. That’s a prediction error, you predicted a reward and it didn’t happen. © 2013 Scientific American
By JAMES DAO Over the past decade, about half a million veterans have received diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. Thousands have received both. Yet underlying the growing numbers lies a disconcerting question: How many of those diagnoses are definitive? And how many more have been missed? A series of articles and videos chronicling the experiences of military veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan but continue to confront the medical and psychological scars of battle. No one can say. Though PTSD is hardly new, diagnoses still largely rely on self-reported symptoms. And while severe brain injuries are often clearly diagnosable, finding evidence of mild T.B.I.’s, particularly older ones, can be all but impossible. It means that for a soldier who, five years after duty in Iraq, still feels “not right,” with symptoms from headaches to sleeping problems to irritability, doctors can only guess at the cause. Maybe PTSD. Maybe T.B.I. Maybe both. Now, in one of the largest studies of its kind, a team of researchers based out of New York University’s medical school have begun a five-year study to find biological signals, known as biomarkers, that could provide reliable, objective evidence of those so-called invisible injuries of war. © 2013 The New York Times Company
By Breanna Draxler Brain differences between the 23 participants were quantified at each surface vertex. Values below the global mean are shown in cool colors while values above this average are shown in warm colors. Image courtesy of Sophia Mueller et al. Every person thinks and acts a little differently than the other 7 billion on the planet. Scientists now say that variations in brain connections account for much of this individuality, and they’ve narrowed it down to a few specific regions of the brain. This might help us better understand the evolution of the human brain as well as its development in individuals. Each human brain has a unique connectome—the network of neural pathways that tie all of its parts together. Like a fingerprint, every person’s connectome is unique. To find out where these individual connectomes differed the most, researchers used an MRI scanning technique to take cross-sectional pictures of 23 people’s brains at rest. Researchers found very little variation in the areas of the participants’ brains responsible for basic senses and motor skills. It’s a pretty straight shot from the finger to the part of the brain that registers touch, for example, or from the eye to the vision center. Thus we apparently all sense the world in more or less the same way. The real variety arose in the parts of the brain associated with personality, like the frontoparietal lobe. This multipurpose area in the brain curates sensory data into complex thoughts, feelings or actions and allows us to interpret the things we sense (i.e., we recognize a red, round object as an apple). Because there are many ways to get from sensation to reaction, and many different ways to react to what we sense, each individual’s brain blazes its own paths.
By Ian Chant Stress and neglect at home take an obvious toll on kids as they grow up. Many decades of research have documented the psychological consequences in adulthood, including struggles with depression and difficulties maintaining relationships. Now studies are finding that a troubled home life has profound effects on neural development. Kids' brains are exquisitely sensitive. Even sleeping infants are affected by family arguments, a new study concludes. Researchers at the University of Oregon showed with functional MRI scans that infants from families who reported more than the usual levels of conflict in the home were more sensitive to aggressive or angry voices. While asleep, these babies had an uptick in brain activity in response to sentences read in an angry tone of voice, with most of the activity clustered in the parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and stress. “Infants are constantly absorbing and learning things, not just when we think we're teaching them,” says Alice Graham, a doctoral student who led the study, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science. “We should expect that what's going on in the environment is literally shaping the physical connections in their brains.” As with family fighting, neglect leaves no external marks but powerfully affects the architecture of the brain. A Yale University study of teenagers found evidence using MRI scans that neglect and emotional abuse during childhood reduces the density of cells in emotion-regulating regions of the brain later on. The teens in the study did not meet the criteria for full-blown psychiatric disorders, according to the paper published in 2011 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, yet many experienced emotional problems such as impulsive behavior and risk taking. © 2013 Scientific American,