Links for Keyword: Emotions

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Janet M. Gibson Amusement and pleasant surprises – and the laughter they can trigger – add texture to the fabric of daily life. Those giggles and guffaws can seem like just silly throwaways. But laughter, in response to funny events, actually takes a lot of work, because it activates many areas of the brain: areas that control motor, emotional, cognitive and social processing. As I found when writing “An Introduction to the Psychology of Humor,” researchers now appreciate laughter’s power to enhance physical and mental well-being. People begin laughing in infancy, when it helps develop muscles and upper body strength. Laughter is not just breathing. It relies on complex combinations of facial muscles, often involving movement of the eyes, head and shoulders. Laughter – doing it or observing it – activates multiple regions of the brain: the motor cortex, which controls muscles; the frontal lobe, which helps you understand context; and the limbic system, which modulates positive emotions. Turning all these circuits on strengthens neural connections and helps a healthy brain coordinate its activity. By activating the neural pathways of emotions like joy and mirth, laughter can improve your mood and make your physical and emotional response to stress less intense. For example, laughing may help control brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, similar to what antidepressants do. By minimizing your brain’s responses to threats, it limits the release of neurotransmitters and hormones like cortisol that can wear down your cardiovascular, metabolic and immune systems over time. Laughter’s kind of like an antidote to stress, which weakens these systems and increases vulnerability to diseases. © 2010–2020, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27597 - Posted: 11.30.2020

By Bill Hathaway Our brains respond differently when talking to a person from a different socioeconomic group than during a conversation with someone of a similar background, a novel new imaging study shows. While neuroscientists have used brain imaging scans to track in great detail neural responses of individuals to a host of factors such as stress, fear, addiction, and even love and lust, new research shows what happens in the brains of two individuals engaged in a simple social interaction. The study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, reveals the distinct neurobiology of a conversation between two people of different backgrounds. “When a Yale professor talks to a homeless person, his or her frontal lobe activates a different neural network than if they were chatting with another colleague,” said senior author Joy Hirsch, the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry and professor of comparative medicine and of neuroscience. “Our brain has apparently designed a frontal lobe system that helps us deal with our diversity.” Hirsch has a joint appointment in neuroscience at the University College of London. The study is the brainchild of recent Yale graduate Olivia Descorbeth, who first proposed the research idea as a high school student. Hirsch and Descorbeth wanted to know if a person’s brain responds differently when speaking with individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Copyright © 2020 Yale University

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 15: Language and Lateralization
Link ID: 27511 - Posted: 10.07.2020

Dogs aren't biologically attuned to faces in the same way that humans are — but they work hard to read our expressions anyway, according to a new study. Researchers in Hungary found that dogs simply aren't wired to respond to faces. When shown pictures or videos of faces, their brains simply don't light up the way a human brain does. In fact, to a dog's brain, it makes no difference whether they're looking us dead in the eyes or at the back of our heads. "I wouldn't say that dogs [are] not interested in our face," the study's lead author Attila Andics told As It Happens host Carol Off. "What we say is just that they don't respond to faces stronger than to other kinds of stimuli." The study was published Monday in the Journal of Neuroscience. Dogs' brains respond most to other dogs Andics, who studies adapted animal behaviour at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, says this study is one of the first to make a direct comparison between human and dog brain imaging. The researchers put 30 humans and 20 dogs into MRI machines and showed them a series of images and videos depicting human faces, the backs of human heads, dog faces, and the backs of dog heads. The dogs in the study were all longtime family pets who were trained with positive reinforcement to sit still in the MRI machines, Andics assured. ©2020 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27509 - Posted: 10.07.2020

By Lucy Hicks Even before they learn to talk, human infants and toddlers know how to joke: They play games such as peek-a-boo and take whatever unexpected actions get a rise from adults. Now, it appears that nonhuman apes—like gorillas and orangutans—engage in similar behaviors, according to a paper published last week in Biology Letters. Science chatted with co-author Erica Cartmill, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, about what these “playful teasing” behaviors look like in our evolutionary cousins. Q: How did you get interested in this topic? A: I was studying how orangutans communicated with one another [in captivity], and I noticed several interactions where one orangutan would have an object, and they would extend it out toward the other one. As the other one went to reach for it, they would pull it back. But rather than get annoyed, the other one would just drop their hand, and then they both would do it again. It seemed to be something that was mutually enjoyable. In a couple of cases, they would even swap roles: The orangutan that was doing this teasing behavior would get bored and drop the object, and then the other one would pick it up and start doing it. The behavior seemed very gamelike, with specific rules and structure, and resembled the kind of thing that toddlers do. Q: Are there other types of teasing behaviors? A: One is called “provocative noncompliance,” where I’m doing something that goes against what you want me to do, and I’m doing it in a way that is meant to provoke you. In human infants, for example, the mom tells the child to put on shoes, and the child takes a shoe, looks at the mom, and then puts the shoe on the top of their head. This type of behavior was observed in apes raised with humans explicitly trained to communicate with sign language or a keyboard-based system. Q: Like Koko, the gorilla taught sign language? A: In one instance, when the caregivers were interacting with Koko, they asked her “What do [we] use to clean your teeth?” Koko signed “foot.” And then they asked her “What do [we] put on your toothbrush?” Koko then signed “nose.” A completely bizarre response, but then she lifted her foot up to her nose. It’s not just that she’s produced the wrong signs, but she produced the wrong signs and then acted out this weird interaction. This relies on an understanding of the communicative symbols and the ways in which they’re supposed to be used, and then using them in unexpected ways. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27508 - Posted: 10.07.2020

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.”

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 27454 - Posted: 09.05.2020

Jordana Cepelewicz We consider the brain the very center of who we are and what we do: ruler of our senses, master of our movements; generator of thought, keeper of memory. But the brain is also rooted in a body, and the connection between the two goes both ways. If certain internal receptors indicate hunger, for instance, we’re driven to eat; if they indicate cold, we dress more warmly. However, decades of research have also shown that those sensations do much more than alert the brain to the body’s immediate concerns and needs. As the heart, lungs, gut and other organs transmit information to the brain, they affect how we perceive and interact with our environment in surprisingly profound ways. Recent studies of the heart in particular have given scientists new insights into the role that the body’s most basic processes play in defining our experience of the world. In the late 19th century, the psychologist William James and the physician Carl Lange proposed that emotional states are the brain’s perception of certain bodily changes in response to a stimulus — that a pounding heart or shallow breathing gives rise to emotions like fear or anger rather than vice versa. Researchers have since found many examples of physiological arousal leading to emotional arousal, but they wanted to delve deeper into that link. Beginning in the 1930s, scientists found that systole dampens pain and curbs startle reflexes. Further work traced this effect to the fact that during systole, pressure sensors send signals about the heart’s activity to inhibitory regions of the brain. This may be useful because, while the brain must constantly balance and integrate internal and external signals, “you cannot pay attention to everything at once,” said Ofer Perl, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Experiments even showed that people were more likely to forget words that were presented exactly at systole than words that they saw and encoded during the rest of the cardiac cycle. All Rights Reserved © 2020

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27349 - Posted: 07.08.2020

Sirin Kale Alice,* a 31-year-old director from London, has been breaking the coronavirus lockdown rules. “I almost don’t want to tell you this,” she says, lowering her voice. Her violation? Once a week, Alice, who lives alone, walks to the end of her garden to meet her best friend Lucy.* There, with the furtiveness of a street drug deal, Lucy hugs her tightly. Alice struggles to let her go. “You just get that rush of feeling better,” Alice says. “Like it’s all OK.” Aside from Lucy’s hugs, Alice hasn’t been touched by another person since March 15, which is when she went into a self-imposed lockdown, a week before the official government advice to self-isolate. “I’ve found it really hard,” she says. “I am a huggy person. You start to notice it after a while. I miss it.” She feels guilty about her surreptitious hugs. “I feel like I can’t tell my other friends about it,” Alice says. “There’s a lot of shaming going on. I know we aren’t meant to. But I am so grateful to her for checking in on me. It gives me such a lift.” Alice is experiencing the neurological phenomenon of "skin hunger," supercharged by the coronavirus pandemic. Skin hunger is the biological need for human touch. It’s why babies in neonatal intensive care units are placed on their parent’s naked chests. It’s the reason prisoners in solitary confinement often report craving human contact as ferociously as they desire their liberty. © 2020 Condé Nast.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 27240 - Posted: 05.08.2020

By Jennifer Couzin-Frankel Science's COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center. Among the many surprises of the new coronavirus is one that seems to defy basic biology: infected patients with extraordinarily low blood-oxygen levels, or hypoxia, scrolling on their phones, chatting with doctors, and generally describing themselves as comfortable. Clinicians call them happy hypoxics. “There is a mismatch [between] what we see on the monitor and what the patient looks like in front of us,” says Reuben Strayer, an emergency physician at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. Speaking from home while recovering from COVID-19 himself, Strayer says he was first struck by the phenomenon in March as patients streamed into his emergency room. He and other doctors are keen to understand this hypoxia, and when and how to treat it. A normal blood-oxygen saturation is at least 95%. In most lung diseases, such as pneumonia, falling saturations accompany other changes, including stiff or fluid-filled lungs, or rising levels of carbon dioxide because the lungs can’t expel it efficiently. It’s these features that leave us feeling short of breath—not, counterintuitively, low oxygen saturation itself, says Paul Davenport, a respiratory physiologist at the University of Florida. “The brain is tuned to monitoring the carbon dioxide with various sensors,” Davenport explains. “We don’t sense our oxygen levels.” In serious cases of COVID-19, patients struggle to breathe with damaged lungs, but early in the disease, low saturation isn’t always coupled with obvious respiratory difficulties. Carbon dioxide levels can be normal and breathing deeply is comfortable—“the lung is inflating so they feel OK,” says Elnara Marcia Negri, a pulmonologist at Hospital Sírio-Libanês in São Paulo. But oxygen saturation, measured by a device clipped to a finger and in many cases confirmed with blood tests, can be in the 70s, 60s, or 50s. Or even lower. Although mountain climbers can have similar readings, here the slide downward, some doctors believe, is potentially “ominous,” says Nicholas Caputo, an emergency physician at New York City Health + Hospitals/Lincoln. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27221 - Posted: 04.29.2020

Ruth Williams If a mouse is in a lot of pain, an experienced handler may see it in the animal’s facial expression—its narrowed eyes and bulging cheeks. But, subtler facial expressions may be more difficult to match to their moods. So researchers developed an unbiased machine learning approach to study hundreds of videos of mice and, as a result, have now catalogued a range of emotion-specific facial expressions. These expressions, the researchers show, can serve as handy readouts for studying the neural basis of emotions. “It’s a tour de force in terms of techniques,” says neuroscientist Sheena Josselyn of the University of Toronto who was not involved in the research. “Using the techniques . . . they are really beginning to give [emotion] a scientific definition, which I think is really important.” “The results provide an important advance by adding quantitative analysis of facial motor patterns to the repertoire of ‘emotional’ behaviors that can be measured in mice,” David Anderson, a neuroscientist at Caltech, writes in an email to The Scientist. That’s important, he adds, because “facial expressions have been considered as key indicators of emotion state in mammals, but have previously been measured in rodents only in a more qualitative, subjective manner.” Anderson, who studies the neurobiology of emotional behaviors, was also not involved in the project. Previous investigations of facial expressions in mice and other animals not only lacked objectivity, they tended to focus on just one or two emotions, says Nadine Gogolla of the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology. “None of those studies looked at a whole spectrum [of emotions] and whether they can be distinguished from each other.” © 1986–2020 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27170 - Posted: 04.04.2020

By Laura Sanders Although it’s tricky for us humans to see, mouse feelings are written all over their furry little faces. With machine learning tools, researchers reliably spotted mice’s expressions of joy, fear, pain and other basic emotions. The results, published in the April 3 Science, provide a field guide for scientists seeking to understand how emotions such as joy, regret and empathy work in animals other than humans (SN: 11/10/16; SN: 6/9/14; SN: 12/8/11). Using machine learning to reveal mice’s expressions is “an extraordinarily exciting direction,” says Kay Tye, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. The findings “lay the foundation for what I expect will be a game changer for neuroscience research on emotional states.” Neuroscientist Nadine Gogolla of the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried, Germany, and colleagues gave mice experiences designed to elicit distinct emotions. Sugar water evoked pleasure, a shock to the tail triggered pain, bitter quinine water created disgust, an injection of lithium chloride evoked a nauseated malaise, and a place where shocks previously had been delivered sparked fear. For each setup, high-speed video cameras captured subtle movements in the mice’s ears, noses, whiskers and other parts of the face. Observers can generally see that something is happening on the mouse’s face, Gogolla says. But translating those subtle clues into emotions is really hard, “especially for an untrained human being,” she says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27168 - Posted: 04.03.2020

By Monica Schoch-Spana The novel coronavirus has touched off another stealthy and growing public health crisis that calls for an equally matched emergency response. Like other pandemics and emerging disease outbreaks, COVID-19 is creating immense psychosocial disturbances. The disease involves an unfamiliar threat that is difficult to detect and challenging to distinguish from more benign illnesses. Protracted and dynamic pandemic conditions will draw out the anxiety. Things will get worse before they get better. Absent a vaccine, nonpharmaceutical interventions are the only way to prevent infections, and they dramatically upset everyday bodily habits, social interactions and economic exchanges. Recent grocery store runs are a sign of concern in the community. Personal actions to avoid infection such as stockpiling hand sanitizer also confer a sense of control over an uncertain danger. Improvements to current risk communication can alleviate widespread distress. Top elected officials and health authorities should empathize with people’s fear, normalize stress reactions, provide clear guidance on recommended health behaviors, instruct in concrete protections including those for mental health and share solidarity and resilience messages. Advertisement However, more interventions are essential because specific groups are at a higher risk of both acute and lingering emotional distress. Health care workers on the epidemic front lines face compounding stressors: the prospect of more and longer shifts, the need to improvise childcare coverage, finite supplies of personal protective equipment, fear of bringing infection home, witnessing co-workers becoming ill, and making tough allocation decisions about scarce, lifesaving resources like mechanical ventilators. © 2020 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 15: Language and Lateralization
Link ID: 27131 - Posted: 03.21.2020

By Judson A. Brewer, M.D. Anxiety is a strange beast. As a psychiatrist, I have learned that anxiety and its close cousin, panic, are both born from fear. As a behavioral neuroscientist, I know that fear’s main evolutionary function is helping us survive. In fact, fear is the oldest survival mechanism we have. Fear helps us learn to avoid dangerous situations in the future through a process called negative reinforcement. For example, if we step out into a busy street, turn our head and see a car coming right at us, we instinctively jump back onto the safety of the sidewalk. Evolution made this really simple for us. So simple that we only need three elements in situations like this to learn: an environmental cue, a behavior and a result. In this case, walking up to a busy street cues us to look both ways before crossing. The result of not getting killed helps us remember to repeat the action again in the future. Sometime in the last million years, humans evolved a new layer on top of our more primitive survival brain, called the prefrontal cortex. Involved in creativity and planning, the prefrontal cortex helps us think and plan for the future. It predicts what will happen in the future based on past experience. If information is lacking, our prefrontal cortex lays out different scenarios about what might happen, and guesses which will be most likely. It does this by running simulations based on previous events that are most similar. Defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome,” anxiety comes up when our prefrontal cortexes don’t have enough information to accurately predict the future. We see this right now with coronavirus. Without accurate information, it is easy for our brains to spin stories of fear and dread. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27117 - Posted: 03.14.2020

By Michael Price Every Fourth of July, the thunderous crack of my neighbors’ fireworks is quickly followed by the wailing chorus of frightened dogs, including my own two mixed-breed pups. New research suggests Pico’s and Winnie’s sensitivity to noise, especially fireworks, is the most common form of anxiety in pet dogs. The study—the largest ever on canine temperaments—also finds that some breeds are prone to certain anxious behaviors, including aggression, separation anxiety, and fear. The results could help uncover new ways to tackle these traits. Anecdotes on dog behavior abound, but reliable scientific data are lacking, says Hannes Lohi, a canine geneticist at the University of Helsinki. That’s particularly an issue when looking at problem behaviors that can put dogs at higher risk of being euthanized or winding up in shelters. So Lohi and colleagues contacted Finnish dog breed clubs and reached out to dog owners around the world through social media, asking owners to rate their dogs’ behavior on seven different anxiety-related traits: noise sensitivity, general fear, fear of heights and surfaces (like reflective tiles), inattention, compulsive behaviors (like relentless chewing or tail chasing), aggression, and separation anxiety. They received more than 13,700 responses representing 264 breeds. To make reliable comparisons, the researchers limited themselves to the 14 breeds with 200 or more surveyed dogs. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 27099 - Posted: 03.06.2020

Douglas Heaven Human faces pop up on a screen, hundreds of them, one after another. Some have their eyes stretched wide, others show lips clenched. Some have eyes squeezed shut, cheeks lifted and mouths agape. For each one, you must answer this simple question: is this the face of someone having an orgasm or experiencing sudden pain? Psychologist Rachael Jack and her colleagues recruited 80 people to take this test as part of a study1 in 2018. The team, at the University of Glasgow, UK, enlisted participants from Western and East Asian cultures to explore a long-standing and highly charged question: do facial expressions reliably communicate emotions? Researchers have been asking people what emotions they perceive in faces for decades. They have questioned adults and children in different countries and Indigenous populations in remote parts of the world. Influential observations in the 1960s and 1970s by US psychologist Paul Ekman suggested that, around the world, humans could reliably infer emotional states from expressions on faces — implying that emotional expressions are universal2,3. These ideas stood largely unchallenged for a generation. But a new cohort of psychologists and cognitive scientists has been revisiting those data and questioning the conclusions. Many researchers now think that the picture is a lot more complicated, and that facial expressions vary widely between contexts and cultures. Jack’s study, for instance, found that although Westerners and East Asians had similar concepts of how faces display pain, they had different ideas about expressions of pleasure. © 2020 Springer Nature Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27079 - Posted: 02.27.2020

By Everyday Einstein Sabrina Stierwalt People from all cultures laugh, although we may laugh at different things. (I once interviewed for a job in the Netherlands and none of my jokes landed. I didn’t get that job.) Apes also laugh. We know this because there are scientists whose job it is to tickle animals. I’m not even kidding. What a life! Advertisement Humans start laughing as early as 3 months into life, even before we can speak. This is true even for babies who are deaf or blind. Peekaboo, it turns out, is particularly a global crowd-pleaser. And we know this because studying baby laughter is an actual job, too. So, the ubiquitous nature of laughter suggests that it must serve a purpose, but what? Why do we laugh? Here are a few scientific reasons Laughter clearly serves a social function. It is a way for us to signal to another person that we wish to connect with them. In fact, in a study of thousands of examples of laughter, the speakers in a conversation were found to be 46 percent more likely to laugh than the listeners. We’re also 30 times more likely to laugh in a group. Young children between the ages of 2.5 and 4 were found to be eight times more likely to laugh at a cartoon when they watched it with another child even though they were just as likely to report that the cartoon was funny whether alone or not. Evolutionarily speaking, this signal of connection likely played an important role in survival. Upon meeting a stranger, we want to know: What are your intentions with me? And who else are you aligned with? © 2020 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27029 - Posted: 02.10.2020

By Elizabeth Pennisi It’s been a bad couple of weeks for behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt—the holder of one of the prestigious Canada 150 Research Chairs—and it may get a lot worse. What began with questions about data in one of Pruitt’s papers has flared into a social media–fueled scandal in the small field of animal personality research, with dozens of papers on spiders and other invertebrates being scrutinized by scores of students, postdocs, and other co-authors for problematic data. Already, two papers co-authored by Pruitt, now at McMaster University, have been retracted for data anomalies; Biology Letters is expected to expunge a third within days. And the more Pruitt’s co-authors look, the more potential data problems they find. All papers using data collected or curated by Pruitt, a highly productive researcher who specialized in social spiders, are coming under scrutiny and those in his field predict there will be many retractions. The furor has even earned a Twitter hashtag—#PruittData. Yet even one of the researchers who initially probed Pruitt’s data cautions that what has happened remains unclear. “There is no hard evidence that [Pruitt’s] data are fabricated,” says behavioral ecologists Niels Dingemanse of Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU). © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Language and Lateralization
Link ID: 27012 - Posted: 02.01.2020

By Theodor Schaarschmidt A 51-year-old man I will call “Mr. Pinocchio” had a strange problem. When he tried to tell a lie, he often passed out and had convulsions. In essence, he became a kind of Pinocchio, the fictional puppet whose nose grew with every fib. For the patient, the consequences were all too real: he was a high-ranking official in the European Economic Community (since replaced by the European Union), and his negotiating partners could tell immediately when he was bending the truth. His condition, a symptom of a rare form of epilepsy, was not only dangerous, it was bad for his career. Doctors at the University Hospitals of Strasbourg in France discovered that the root of the problem was a tumor about the size of a walnut. The tumor was probably increasing the excitability of a brain region involved in emotions; when Mr. Pinocchio lied, this excitability caused a structure called the amygdala to trigger seizures. Once the tumor was removed, the fits stopped, and he was able to resume his duties. The doctors, who described the case in 1993, dubbed the condition the “Pinocchio syndrome.” Mr. Pinocchio’s plight demonstrates the far-reaching consequences of even minor changes in the structure of the brain. But perhaps just as important, it shows that lying is a major component of the human behavioral repertoire; without it, we would have a hard time coping. When people speak unvarnished truth all the time—as can happen when Parkinson’s disease or certain injuries to the brain’s frontal lobe disrupt people’s ability to lie—they tend to be judged tactless and hurtful. In everyday life, we tell little white lies all the time, if only out of politeness: Your homemade pie is awesome (it’s awful). No, Grandma, you’re not interrupting anything (she is). A little bit of pretense seems to smooth out human relationships without doing lasting harm. © 2020 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 27006 - Posted: 01.29.2020

By Jane E. Brody My husband and I were psychological opposites. I’ve always seen the glass as half-full; to him it was half-empty. That difference, research findings suggest, is likely why I pursue good health habits with a vengeance while he was far less inclined to follow the health-promoting lifestyle I advocated. I’m no cockeyed optimist, but I’ve long believed that how I eat and exercise, as well as how I view the world, can benefit my mental and physical well-being. An increasing number of recent long-term studies have linked greater optimism to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments and to fostering “exceptional longevity,” a category one team of researchers used for people who live to 85 and beyond. Admittedly, the relationship between optimism and better health and a longer life is still only a correlation that doesn’t prove cause and effect. But there is also now biological evidence to suggest that optimism can have a direct impact on health, which should encourage both the medical profession and individuals to do more to foster optimism as a potential health benefit. According to Dr. Alan Rozanski, one of the field’s primary researchers, “It’s never too early and it’s never too late to foster optimism. From teenagers to people in their 90s, all have better outcomes if they’re optimistic.” Dr. Rozanski is a cardiologist at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York who became interested in optimism while working in a cardiac rehabilitation program early in his career. In an interview, he explained, “Many heart-attack patients who had long been sedentary would come into the gym and say ‘I can’t do that!’ But I would put them on the treadmill, start off slowly and gradually build them up. Their attitude improved, they became more confident. One woman in her 70s said her heart attack may have been the best thing that had happened to her because it transformed what she thought she could do.” © 2020 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 26995 - Posted: 01.27.2020

By Laura Sanders A parasite common in cats can eliminate infected mice’s fear of felines — a brain hijack that leads to a potentially fatal attraction. But this cat-related boldness (SN: 9/18/13) isn’t the whole story. Once in the brain, the single-celled parasite Toxoplasma gondii makes mice reckless in all sorts of dangerous scenarios, researchers write January 14 in Cell Reports. Infected mice spent more time in areas that were out in the open, exposed places that uninfected mice usually avoid. Infected mice also prodded an experimenter’s hand inside a cage — an intrusion that drove uninfected mice to the other side of the cage. T. gondii–infected mice were even unfazed by an anesthetized rat, a mouse predator, the researchers from the University of Geneva and colleagues found. And infected mice spent more time than uninfected mice exploring the scents of foxes and relatively harmless guinea pigs. The extent of mice’s infections, measured by the load of parasite cysts in the brain, seemed to track with the behavior changes, the researchers report. Toxoplasma gondiiToxoplasma gondii, tweaked to glow green, was isolated from the brain of an infected mouse.Pierre-Mehdi Hammoudi, Damien Jacot The parasite needs to get into the guts of cats to sexually reproduce. Other animals can become infected by ingesting T. gondii through direct or indirect contact with cat feces. The parasite can then spread throughout the body and ultimately form cysts in the brain. People can become infected with T. gondii, though usually not as severely as mice. Some studies have hinted, however, at links between the parasite and human behaviors such as inattention and suicide, as well as mental disorders such as schizophrenia. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 26963 - Posted: 01.15.2020

Nell Greenfieldboyce Parrots can perform impressive feats of intelligence, and a new study suggests that some of these "feathered apes" may also practice acts of kindness. African grey parrots voluntarily helped a partner get a food reward by giving the other bird a valuable metal token that could be exchanged for a walnut, according to a newly published report in the journal Current Biology. "This was really surprising that they did this so spontaneously and so readily," says Désirée Brucks, a biologist at ETH Zürich in Switzerland who is interested in the evolution of altruism. Children as young as 1 seem highly motivated to help others, and scientists used to think this kind of prosocial behavior was uniquely human. More recent research has explored "helping" behavior in other species, everything from nonhuman primates to rats and bats. To see whether intelligent birds might help out a feathered pal, Brucks and Auguste von Bayern of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany tested African grey parrots. They used parrots that had previously been trained to understand that specific tokens, in the form of small metal rings, could be traded for a food treat through an exchange window. In their experiment, this exchange window was covered up and closed on one bird's cage, making it impossible for that bird to trade. The bird had a pile of tokens in its cage but no way to use them. Meanwhile, its neighbor in an adjacent cage had an open exchange window — but no tokens for food. © 2020 npr

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 26948 - Posted: 01.10.2020