Chapter 11. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress

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By Priyanka Runwal Acorn woodpeckers are renowned food hoarders. Every fall they stash as many as thousands of acorns in holes drilled into dead tree stumps in preparation for winter. Guarding these “granary trees” against acorn theft is a fierce, familial affair. But all hell breaks loose when there are deaths in a family and newly vacant spots in prime habitat are up for grabs. The news travels fast. Nearby woodpecker groups rush to the site and fight long, gory battles until one collective wins, according to a study published Monday in Current Biology. These wars also draw woodpecker audiences, the researchers reported, who leave their own territories unattended, demonstrating the immense investment and risks the birds are willing to take in pursuit of better breeding opportunities and intelligence gathering. “I think these power struggles are major events in the birds’ social calendars,” said Sahas Barve, an avian biologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and lead author of the study. “They’re definitely trying to get social information out of it.” Acorn woodpecker societies are complex. Each family consists of up to seven adult males, often brothers, which breed with one to three females, often sisters but unrelated to the males. They live with nest helpers who are typically their offspring from previous years. Together they defend 15-acre territories, on average, encompassing one or more granaries in the oak forests along coastal Oregon down into Mexico. The helpers don’t breed, but stick around for five to six years to help raise their half-siblings until these babysitters can find a new territory to start their own families. “It’s all about biding your time and gaining indirect fitness,” Dr. Barve said. “But it’s never as good as reproducing directly.” © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression; Evolution
Link ID: 27472 - Posted: 09.14.2020

By Elizabeth Landau At dinnertime, 10-year-old Clive Rodgers used to wrap his arms around his plate because he was afraid of germs at the table. “I was really scared, and if somebody tried to move my arm, I would, like, get really angry and stuff,” says Clive, who lives in San Diego with his parents and two younger siblings. Clive is just one of many young people who have struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD affects about 1 in every 200 children and teenagers, which is similar to the prevalence of diabetes in this age group. The hallmarks of OCD are intrusive, unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors in response to those thoughts, a cycle that may cause significant anxiety and hamper daily activities. As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, it’s a tough time for any kid who has to stay home all day, studying remotely instead of going to school, unable to enjoy normal social activity with friends. Such stressors are making OCD symptoms worse in some children, even those who didn’t specifically fear germs before, doctors say. Andy Rodgers and his son, Clive, of in San Diego. Clive is just one of many youths who has struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD affects about 1 in every 200 children and teenagers, which is similar to the prevalence of diabetes in this age group. “Their rituals and obsessions are just worse because their general mental health is worse,” said Suzan Song, director of the Division of Child/Adolescent & Family Psychiatry at George Washington University. Fears of contamination and illness are generally common among people with OCD, but usually their concerns are not in line with likely threats, said Joseph McGuire, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine. With the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, there is actual danger present. He is seeing a “rekindling” of symptoms in many patients who received treatment in the past, and need a refresher.

Keyword: OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Stress
Link ID: 27471 - Posted: 09.14.2020

By Apoorva Mandavilli The coronavirus targets the lungs foremost, but also the kidneys, liver and blood vessels. Still, about half of patients report neurological symptoms, including headaches, confusion and delirium, suggesting the virus may also attack the brain. A new study offers the first clear evidence that, in some people, the coronavirus invades brain cells, hijacking them to make copies of itself. The virus also seems to suck up all of the oxygen nearby, starving neighboring cells to death. It’s unclear how the virus gets to the brain or how often it sets off this trail of destruction. Infection of the brain is likely to be rare, but some people may be susceptible because of their genetic backgrounds, a high viral load or other reasons. “If the brain does become infected, it could have a lethal consequence,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who led the work. The study was posted online on Wednesday and has not yet been vetted by experts for publication. But several researchers said it was careful and elegant, showing in multiple ways that the virus can infect brain cells. Scientists have had to rely on brain imaging and patient symptoms to infer effects on the brain, but “we hadn’t really seen much evidence that the virus can infect the brain, even though we knew it was a potential possibility,” said Dr. Michael Zandi, consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Britain. “This data just provides a little bit more evidence that it certainly can.” Dr. Zandi and his colleagues published research in July showing that some patients with Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, develop serious neurological complications, including nerve damage. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Neuroimmunology; Stroke
Link ID: 27469 - Posted: 09.12.2020

By Gretchen Reynolds Exercise makes it easier to bounce back from too much stress, according to a fascinating new study with mice. It finds that regular exercise increases the levels of a chemical in the animals’ brains that helps them remain psychologically resilient and plucky, even when their lives seem suddenly strange, intimidating and filled with threats. The study involved mice, but it is likely to have implications for our species, too, as we face the stress and discombobulation of the ongoing pandemic and today’s political and social disruptions. Stress can, of course, be our ally. Emergencies and perils require immediate responses, and stress results in a fast, helpful flood of hormones and other chemicals that prime our bodies to act. “If a tiger jumps out at you, you should run,” says David Weinshenker, a professor of human genetics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and the senior author of the new study. The stress response, in that situation, is appropriate and valuable. But if, afterward, we “jump at every little noise” and shrink from shadows, we are overreacting to the original stress, Dr. Weinshenker continues. Our response has become maladaptive, because we no longer react with appropriate dread to dreadful things but with twitchy anxiety to the quotidian. We lack stress resilience. In interesting past research, scientists have shown that exercise seems to build and amplify stress resilience. Rats that run on wheels for several weeks, for instance, and then experience stress through light shocks to their paws, respond later to unfamiliar — but safe — terrain with less trepidation than sedentary rats that also experience shocks. But the physiological underpinnings of the animals’ relative buoyancy after exercise remain somewhat mysterious. And, rats are just one species. Finding similar relationships between physical activity and resilience in other animals would bolster the possibility that a similar link exists in people. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 27461 - Posted: 09.09.2020

By Linda Searing A growing number of U.S. adults are struggling with mental health issues linked to worry and stress over the novel coronavirus, increasing from 32 percent in March to 53 percent in July, according to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Those experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, for example, reached 40 percent this summer, up from 11 percent a year ago. In addition, a similar assessment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, by late June, 13 percent of adults had started or increased alcohol consumption or drug use to help cope with pandemic-related woes, and 11 percent had seriously considered suicide in the past month — a number that reached 25 percent among those ages 18 to 24. Social isolation, loneliness, job loss and economic worries as well as fear of contracting the virus are among factors cited as contributing to people’s mental health problems. Kaiser researchers found that 59 percent of those who have lost income because of the pandemic experienced at least one adverse effect on their mental health and well-being, as did 62 percent of those with higher-than-average risk for covid-19 because of such chronic conditions as lung disease, asthma, diabetes or serious heart disease. Overall, both reports found that negative mental health effects from the stress of coronavirus were more common among women than men. Suicidal ideation, however, was more common among men. Also, the CDC report says that people described as “unpaid caregivers,” meaning they care for other adults at home, are considerably more likely than others to start or increase substance use to cope with coronavirus-related stress or to have suicidal thoughts.

Keyword: Stress; Depression
Link ID: 27456 - Posted: 09.07.2020

Adam Piore archive page Long before the world had ever heard of covid-19, Kay Tye set out to answer a question that has taken on new resonance in the age of social distancing: When people feel lonely, do they crave social interactions in the same way a hungry person craves food? And could she and her colleagues detect and measure this “hunger” in the neural circuits of the brain? “Loneliness is a universal thing. If I were to ask people on the street, ‘Do you know what it means to be lonely?’ probably 99 or 100% of people would say yes,” explains Tye, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute of Biological Sciences. “It seems reasonable to argue that it should be a concept in neuroscience. It’s just that nobody ever found a way to test it and localize it to specific cells. That’s what we are trying to do.” In recent years, a vast scientific literature has emerged linking loneliness to depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and drug abuse. There is even a growing body of epidemiological work showing that loneliness makes you more likely to fall ill: it seems to prompt the chronic release of hormones that suppress healthy immune function. Biochemical changes from loneliness can accelerate the spread of cancer, hasten heart disease and Alzheimer’s, or simply drain the most vital among us of the will to go on. The ability to measure and detect it could help identify those at risk and pave the way for new kinds of interventions. In the months ahead, many are warning, we’re likely to see the mental-health impacts of covid-19 play out on a global scale. Psychiatrists are already worried about rising rates of suicide and drug overdoses in the US, and social isolation, along with anxiety and chronic stress, is one likely cause. “The recognition of the impact of social isolation on the rest of mental health is going to hit everyone really soon,” Tye says. “I think the impact on mental health will be pretty intense and pretty immediate.”

Keyword: Emotions; Depression
Link ID: 27454 - Posted: 09.05.2020

A line of elephants trundles across a dusty landscape in northern Botswana, ears flapping and trunks occasionally brushing the ground. As they pass a motion-activated camera hidden in low shrubbery, photos record the presence of each elephant. What's special about this group? It's only males. Female elephants are known to form tight family groups led by experienced matriarchs. Males were long assumed to be loners, because they leave their mother's herd when they reach 10 to 20 years of age. A new study shows that teenage males aren't anti-social after all. Younger male elephants were seen tagging along behind older males as they travel from place to place. It's more evidence in an emerging body of research that shows older males — like their female counterparts — play an important role in elephants' complex society. For the study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers analyzed photos of 1,264 sightings of male African savannah elephants travelling toward the Boteti River in 2017 and 2018. They found that younger males seldom travelled alone and older males most often led groups of mixed ages. "Mature male elephants often take a position at the front of the line when they are leading the group" to streams or seasonal grazing grounds, said Diana Reiss, director of the Animal Behavior and Conservation Program at Hunter College, who was not involved in the new study. "In human societies, grandparents are valued because they make really important contributions — helping with childcare and passing down knowledge gained over decades," she said. "We're now learning this pattern is also true for some other long-lived mammals, including dolphins, whales and elephants." Photos of 1,264 sightings of male African savannah elephants travelling toward the Boteti River in 2017 and 2018 showed that younger males seldom travelled alone and older males most often led groups of mixed ages. (Connie Allen) ©2020 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 27452 - Posted: 09.05.2020

By Jenny Marder In May, a 15-year-old boy set up a socially distanced visit with a friend. They met on opposite sides of a sidewalk — a full six feet apart — and talked. But when the teenager returned home, he brought with him a new set of Covid-19 fears, according to John Duffy, the boy’s therapist and a child psychologist in Chicago. How could he be sure six feet was a safe distance?, the teenager wanted to know. He began washing his hands more frequently. He stopped touching countertops. And he hasn’t wanted to see friends since. The pandemic has understandably intensified our need for good hygiene and safety precautions. But for some children and teens, these precautions have crossed the line from careful to compulsive. And for parents, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between a reasonable reaction to a very real threat and something more concerning. There’s little data available yet on the toll the pandemic has taken on the mental health of children. But Eric Storch, an expert on obsessive-compulsive disorder and a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, said calls to the university’s O.C.D. program have jumped significantly, by about 25 percent, since March. He attributed it in part to telemedicine improving access, and in part to worsening mental health concerns. Dr. Duffy said the number of his patients experiencing O.C.D.-like symptoms has tripled during this time. About 500,000 children and teens in the United States have obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to the International OCD Foundation. Obsessive-compulsive disorder has two main components. Obsessions take the form of uncontrollable thoughts, urges, feelings or uncomfortable sensations. Compulsions are behaviors repeated over and over. These can include excessive handwashing, showering or sanitizing, but also checking things, putting things in order, tapping, touching, seeking reassurance or asking the same question repeatedly. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Stress
Link ID: 27445 - Posted: 09.02.2020

By Jane E. Brody Orthostatic hypotension — to many people those are unfamiliar words for a relatively common but often unrecognized medical problem that can have devastating consequences, especially for older adults. It refers to a brief but precipitous drop in blood pressure that causes lightheadedness or dizziness when standing up after lying down or sitting, and sometimes even after standing, for a prolonged period. The problem is likely to be familiar to people of all ages who may have been confined to bed for a long time by an injury, illness or surgery. It also often occurs during pregnancy. But middle-aged and older adults are most frequently affected. A significant number of falls and fractures, particularly among the elderly, are likely to result from orthostatic hypotension — literally, low blood pressure upon standing. Many an older person has fallen and broken a hip when getting out of bed in the morning or during the night to use the bathroom, precipitating a decline in health and loss of independence as a result of this blood pressure failure. Orthostatic hypotension is also a risk factor for strokes and heart attacks and even motor vehicle accidents. It can be an early warning sign of a serious underlying cardiovascular or neurological disorder, like a heart valve problem, the course of which might be altered if detected soon enough. But as one team of specialists noted, although orthostatic hypotension is a “highly prevalent” disorder, it is “frequently unrecognized until late in the clinical course.” Under normal circumstances, when we stand up, gravity temporarily causes blood to pool in the lower half of the body; then, within 20 or 30 seconds, receptors in the heart and carotid arteries in the neck trigger a compensating mechanism called the baroreflex that raises the heart rate and constricts blood vessels to increase blood pressure and provide the brain with an adequate supply of blood. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 27442 - Posted: 09.02.2020

By Esther Landhuis A researcher slips stickers under some colored cups on a lazy Susan, then gives the tray a whirl. When the spinning stops, a preschooler must find the hidden stickers. Most children remember where the stickers are, but a few have to check every single cup. The game tests working memory, which is among the set of mental skills known as executive function that can be impaired in children who faced trauma early in life. Adversity wreaks havoc, and from there, “you have a system that responds differently,” says Megan Gunnar, a developmental psychobiologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis who has spent two decades studying the impact of early-life adversity in adopted children. The focus of this work is extreme adversity, such as being orphaned, rather than everyday challenges, which might teach beneficial resilience. A childhood characterized by hardship, negligence or abuse can also alter the neuroendocrine system that regulates how the body responds to stress. Problems in the stress response can set kids on a path toward behavior struggles along with increased risk for depression, diabetes and a host of other health problems. But recent studies offer hints that such a difficult future may not be inevitable. As Gunnar and others have shown, impaired stress responses can return to normal during puberty, raising the possibility that imbalances created by early trauma can be erased. The research is prompting a new view of puberty as an opportunity — a chance for people who had a shaky start to reset their physiological responses to stress. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Keyword: Stress; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27441 - Posted: 08.29.2020

by Jonathan Moens Conversations between an autistic and a typical person involve less smiling and more mismatched facial expressions than do interactions between two typical people, a new study suggests1. People engaged in conversation tend to unconsciously mimic each other’s behavior, which may help create and reinforce social bonds. But this synchrony can break down between autistic people and their neurotypical peers, research shows. And throughout an autistic person’s life, these disconnects can lead to fewer opportunities to meet people and maintain relationships. Previous studies have looked at autistic people’s facial expressions as they react to images of social scenes on a computer screen2. The new work, by contrast, is one of a growing number of experiments to capture how facial expressions unfold during ordinary conversation. Changes in facial expressions are easy to observe but notoriously hard to measure, says lead investigator John Herrington, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. He and his colleagues devised a new method to quantify these changes over time in an automated and granular way using machine-learning techniques. Atypical facial expressions are in part a manifestation of difficulties with social coordination, Herrington says. So tracking alterations in facial expression may be a useful way to monitor whether interventions targeting these traits are effective. The new study included 20 autistic people and 16 typical controls, aged 9 to 16 years and matched for their scores on intelligence and verbal fluency. Each participant engaged in two 10-minute conversations — first with their mother and then with a research assistant — to plan a hypothetical two-week trip. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Emotions
Link ID: 27440 - Posted: 08.29.2020

By Michelle Konstantinovsky Rosey has lived with bulimia for more than a decade. The 31-year-old resident of Melbourne, Australia, started therapy for her eating disorder six years ago. Although she says she had never considered herself “cured,” she had reached a point in her recovery that felt hopeful and manageable. Then along came the novel coronavirus. When mandatory COVID-19 lockdowns began in Australia in March, Rosey’s anxiety went into overdrive. “I’m single, I live alone, my family lives in another state, and I’m not able to see friends,” she says, adding that her need for control—something she has now lost in almost every area of her life—has played a major role in the resurgence of symptoms: “To have everything I knew and had control over, including how I managed my illness, ripped away has been one of the hardest things.” Rosey is living an experience that may be familiar to anyone dealing with an eating disorder while weathering the unexpected storms of 2020. Recent research indicates that pandemic-related stay-at-home orders have ramped up anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder symptoms. A study published last month in the International Journal of Eating Disorders revealed that during the first few months of the pandemic, many individuals with anorexia reported restricting their eating more. Meanwhile others with bulimia and binge-eating disorder reported more bingeing urges and episodes. Respondents also noted increased anxiety and concern about COVID-19’s impact on their mental health. More than one third of the 1,021 participants (511 in the U.S. and 510 in the Netherlands) said their eating disorder had worsened—and they attributed this change to issues such as a lack of structure, a triggering environment, the absence of social support and an inability to obtain foods that fit their meal plans. © 2020 Scientific American,

Keyword: Anorexia & Bulimia; Stress
Link ID: 27439 - Posted: 08.29.2020

By Carolyn Wilke Female hyenas may be out for cubs’ blood — even within their own clans. New research suggests that infanticide may be part of a strategy females use to maintain their social standing. “It’s not that these events are weird one-off things … this is actually a pretty significant source of mortality,” says Eli Strauss, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Strauss and his colleagues scoured three decades of data on spotted hyena populations in Kenya to study deaths of cubs less than a year old (SN: 4/23/02). Of 99 observed deaths, 21 could be attributed to infanticide, always by female killers. Starvation and lions also took many young cubs’ lives. The infanticide observations made the team wonder why hyenas kill within their own group. It “seems sort of counterintuitive if animals benefit from living socially,” Strauss says. Though hyenas spend much of their time alone, group living allows them to defend their turf against rival hyena clans and to gang up against threatening lions, he says. Hyena mothers give birth in an isolated den. But typically within a few weeks, they move their cubs to a communal den. Such dens shelter little ones from large predators that can’t enter the sanctuary’s small access holes, says Ally Brown, an environmental biology student at Michigan State University in East Lansing. But the communal den presents other risks — all the cases of infanticide occurred in its vicinity, documented by researchers who either found the dead cubs or observed the clans from cars that serve as mobile blinds (SN: 4/23/02). © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Keyword: Aggression; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27436 - Posted: 08.26.2020

By Apoorva Mandavilli The coronavirus may infect anyone, young or old, but older men are up to twice as likely to become severely sick and to die as women of the same age. Why? The first study to look at immune response by sex has turned up a clue: Men produce a weaker immune response to the virus than do women, the researchers concluded. The findings, published on Wednesday in Nature, suggest that men, particularly those over age 60, may need to depend more on vaccines to protect against the infection. “Natural infection is clearly failing” to spark adequate immune responses in men, said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who led the work. The results are consistent with what’s known about sex differences following various challenges to the immune system. Women mount faster and stronger immune responses, perhaps because their bodies are rigged to fight pathogens that threaten unborn or newborn children. But over time, an immune system in a constant state of high alert can be harmful. Most autoimmune diseases — characterized by an overly strong immune response — are much more prevalent in women than in men, for example. “We are looking at two sides of the same coin,” said Dr. Marcus Altfeld, an immunologist at the Heinrich Pette Institute and at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany. The findings underscore the need for companies pursing coronavirus vaccines to parse their data by sex and may influence decisions about dosing, Dr. Altfeld and other experts said. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 27435 - Posted: 08.26.2020

Chris Woolston Signs of depression among graduate students in the United States have apparently doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey that drew responses from more than 15,000 graduate and 30,000 undergraduate students at 9 US research universities. The survey, conducted by the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium — a collaboration between the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in Minneapolis — found that indications of anxiety among graduate students rose by 50% this year compared with last year. “It’s very alarming that so many students are suffering from mental-health issues,” says Igor Chirikov, director of SERU and a senior researcher in higher education with the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley. “The pandemic has obviously had a big impact.” The survey, which ran from 18 May to 20 July, used simple two-item questionnaires — the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-2 and Patient Health Questionnaire-2 — to screen for symptoms of anxiety disorders and major depression. Thirty-nine per cent of graduate students (a group that includes law- and medical-school students) screened positive for anxiety, and 32% screened positive for depression. When the same screening questions were asked in March to July 2019, 26% of graduate students had signs of anxiety and 15% showed depression symptoms. © 2020 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Depression; Stress
Link ID: 27427 - Posted: 08.20.2020

Sharks have more complex social lives than previously known, as shown by a study finding that gray reef sharks in the Pacific Ocean cultivate surprising social networks with one another and develop bonds that can endure for years. The research focused on the social behavior of 41 reef sharks around the Palmyra Atoll, about 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, using acoustic transmitters to track them and camera tags to gain greater clarity into their interactions. Far from being solitary creatures, the sharks formed social communities that remained rather stable over time, with some of the same individuals remaining together during the four years of the study. The researchers documented a daily pattern, with sharks spending mornings together in groups of sometimes close to 20 individuals in the same part of the reef, dispersing throughout the day and into the night, and reconvening the next morning. “Sharks are incredible animals and still quite misunderstood,” said Florida International University marine biologist Yannis Papastamatiou, lead author of the research published last week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society. “I like to talk about their ‘secret social lives’ not because they want it to be a secret, but because only recently have we developed the tools to start seeing and understanding their social lives,” Papastamatiou said. “Not all sharks are social and some are likely solitary.” The reef shark is medium-sized, reaching about six feet long. Its sociality bore similarities in terms of stability over time to certain birds and mammals but differed in that it did not involve nesting, mating, making vocalizations or friendly interactions.

Keyword: Aggression
Link ID: 27424 - Posted: 08.18.2020

By Jan Hoffman The collateral damage from the pandemic continues: Young adults, as well as Black and Latino people of all ages, describe rising levels of anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts, and increased substance abuse, according to findings reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a research survey, U.S. residents reported signs of eroding mental health in reaction to the toll of coronavirus illnesses and deaths, and to the life-altering restrictions imposed by lockdowns. The researchers argue that the results point to an urgent need for expanded and culturally sensitive services for mental health and substance abuse, including telehealth counseling. In the online survey completed by some 5,400 people in late June, the prevalence of anxiety symptoms was three times as high as those reported in the second quarter of 2019, and depression was four times as high. The effects of the coronavirus outbreaks were felt most keenly by young adults ages 18 to 24. According to Mark Czeisler, a psychology researcher at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, nearly 63 percent had symptoms of anxiety or depression that they attributed to the pandemic and nearly a quarter had started or increased their abuse of substances, including alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs, to cope with their emotions. “It’s ironic that young adults who are at lower risk than older adults of severe illness caused by Covid-19 are experiencing worse mental health symptoms,” said Mr. Czeisler. A survey of about 5,000 people done in April, during the earlier days of the pandemic, Mr. Czeisler said, suggested that tremors in the mental health firmament were beginning to surface. Already in April, high percentages of respondents reported they were spending more time on screens and less time outside than before the pandemic, which translated into more virtual interactions and far fewer in person. They noted upheavals to family, school, exercise and work routines, and to their sleeping patterns. All of these are factors that can contribute to the robustness of mental health. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 27421 - Posted: 08.15.2020

By Lucy Hicks “Social distancing” has become one of the buzz phrases of the year. But it turns out humans aren’t the only animals that put some space between themselves and others to reduce the transmission of disease. Wildlife—from finches to mandrills—use similar tactics, according to a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Science chatted with two of the study’s authors—Andrea Townsend, a behavioral ecologist at Hamilton College, and Dana Hawley, a biologist at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University—about how self-isolating works throughout the animal kingdom. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Q: How do animals know when they need to socially distance? Andrea Townsend: COVID-19 has so many symptoms that it’s hard to know when someone is sick. But some animals like house finches use very general behavioral cues, such as lethargy, to assess potential infections and avoid certain individuals. Dana Hawley: In other cases, animals have evolved fairly complex cues to induce social distancing. The Caribbean spiny lobster [a social lobster that normally lives in groups] has evolved to detect a chemical cue in the urine of sick lobsters and avoid areas that these sick lobsters occupy. Another example is in mandrills. Researchers took the feces of animals that did or did not have parasites and basically put a tiny amount on the side of a tree. They found that the primates were much more strongly drawn to the feces of unparasitized animals than those that were parasitized. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 27420 - Posted: 08.15.2020

Elizabeth Landau Carmen Sandi recalls the skepticism she faced at first. A behavioral neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, she had followed a hunch that something going on inside critical neural circuits could explain anxious behavior, something beyond brain cells and the synaptic connections between them. The experiments she began in 2013 showed that neurons involved in anxiety-related behaviors showed abnormalities: Their mitochondria, the organelles often described as cellular power plants, didn’t work well — they produced curiously low levels of energy. Those results suggested that mitochondria might be involved in stress-related symptoms in the animals. But that idea ran contrary to the “synapto-centric” vision of the brain held by many neuroscientists at the time. Her colleagues found it hard to believe Sandi’s evidence that in anxious individuals — at least in rats — mitochondria inside key neurons might be important. “Whenever I presented the data, they told me, ‘It’s very interesting, but you got it wrong,’” Sandi said. Yet a growing number of scientists have joined her during the past decade or so in wondering whether mitochondria might be fundamental not just to our general physical well-being but specifically to our mental health. In particular, they have explored whether mitochondria affect how we respond to stress and conditions like anxiety and depression. Carmen Sandi, a behavioral neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, suspected that a deficit in cellular energy might explain the lack of motivation that anxiety-prone people experience. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Stress; Depression
Link ID: 27414 - Posted: 08.11.2020

Abby Carney Shortly after relocating to Texas from California three years ago, Cheryl Webster started hosting a game night at her home as a way of meeting new people. They stopped meeting due to Covid-19, and Webster has only heard from one person in the group in the months since they were able to play. Eventually, she decided to pick up the phone herself – but nobody called back. “I think that’s the hardest part about loneliness,” she said. “Is it my fault? Am I not a very nice person? Or is there something wrong with me?” End of the office: the quiet, grinding loneliness of working from home Read more Webster, 65, is a proactive doer who volunteers regularly and has even helped finance the education of several friends’ children. She sits on the board of the Austin housing authority and the chamber of commerce, and is sure the Christian business leaders’ group she meets with monthly would say flattering things about her. Though divorced and childless, Webster is not a Havisham spinster – putting herself “out there” comes naturally. And so she supposes many people in her life would be surprised to learn that she’s lonely. Despite following the advice of experts to ward off the feeling, her heart still aches. Advertisement Webster is not alone. A growing number of people share her affliction – so much so that some governments are incorporating loneliness into their health public policy. To help people like her, a number of scientists are researching medical solutions, such as pills and nasal sprays. But will treating loneliness like a disease, rather than an existential question, work to ease their pain? © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 27405 - Posted: 08.06.2020