Chapter 15. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress

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By Niraj Chokshi Americans are among the most stressed people on the planet, according to a new survey. And that’s just the start of it. Last year, Americans reported feeling stress, anger and worry at the highest levels in a decade, according to the survey, part of an annual Gallup poll of more than 150,000 people around the world, released on Thursday. “What really stood out for the U.S. is the increase in the negative experiences,” said Julie Ray, Gallup’s managing editor for world news. “This was kind of a surprise to us when we saw the numbers head in this direction.” For the annual poll, started in 2005, Gallup asks individuals about whether they have experienced a handful of positive or negative feelings the day before being interviewed. The data on Americans is based on responses from more than 1,000 adults. In the United States, about 55 percent of adults said they had experienced stress during “a lot of the day” prior, compared with just 35 percent globally. Statistically, that put the country on par with Greece, which had led the rankings on stress since 2012. About 45 percent of the Americans surveyed said they had felt “a lot” of worry the day before, compared with a global average of 39 percent. Meanwhile, the share of Americans who reported feeling “a lot” of anger the day before being interviewed was the same as the global average: 22 percent. When Gallup investigated the responses more closely, it found that being under 50, earning a low income and having a dim view of President Trump’s job performance were correlated with negative experiences among adults in the United States. But there still isn’t enough data to say for sure whether any of those factors were behind the feelings of stress, worry and anger. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 26172 - Posted: 04.25.2019

By Dave Philipps Post-traumatic stress disorder has long been one of the hardest mental health problems to diagnose because some patients try to hide symptoms while others exaggerate them. But a new voice analysis technique may be able to take the guesswork out of identifying the disorder using the same technology now used to dial home hands-free or order pizza on a smart speaker. A team of researchers at New York University School of Medicine, working with SRI International, the nonprofit research institute that developed the smartphone assistant Siri, has created an algorithm that can analyze patient interviews, sort through tens of thousands of variables in their speech and identify minute auditory markers of PTSD that are otherwise imperceptible to the human ear, then make a diagnosis. The results, published online on Monday in the journal Depression and Anxiety, show the algorithm was able to narrow down the 40,500 speech characteristics of a group of patients — like the tension in the larynx and the timing in the flick in the tongue — to just 18 relevant indicators that together could be used to diagnose PTSD. Based on those 18 speech clues, the algorithm was able to correctly identify patients with PTSD 89 percent of the time. “They were not the speech features we thought,” said Dr. Charles Marmar, a psychiatry professor at N.Y.U. and one of the authors of the paper. “We thought the telling features would reflect agitated speech. In point of fact, when we saw the data, the features are flatter, more atonal speech. We were capturing the numbness that is so typical of PTSD patients.” As the process is refined, speech pattern analysis could become a widely used biomarker for objectively identifying the disorder, he said. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 26164 - Posted: 04.22.2019

By Kate Murphy Let’s say you’re walking down the street and coming toward you is someone pushing a baby in a stroller. The baby looks right at you and bursts into a big, gummy grin. What do you do? If you’re like most people, you reflexively smile back and your insides just melt. The baby might react by smiling even more broadly and maybe kicking its feet with delight, which will only deepen your smile and add to the warm feeling spreading in your chest. But what if you couldn’t smile naturally, with the usual crinkles around your eyes and creases in your cheeks? There’s convincing scientific evidence that the same kind of mutual engagement and interplay — with infants, or anyone else — would be difficult to achieve. Experts say mirroring another person’s facial expressions is essential for not only recognizing emotion, but also feeling it. That’s why anything that disrupts one’s ability to emote is cause for concern, particularly in an age when Botox and other cosmetic procedures that paralyze, stretch, plump or otherwise alter the face are commonplace. Permanently pouty lips and smooth brows might be good for selfies, but research suggests they flatten your affect, disconnecting you from your feelings and the feelings of others. “People these days are constantly rearranging their facial appearance in ways that prevent engaging in facial mimicry, having no idea how much we use our faces to coordinate and manage social interactions,” said Paula Niedenthal, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has published several studies on facial mimicry and its emotional and social importance. Following the example of celebrities like the Kardashians, the use of Botox injections is up more than 800 percent since 2000, and the use of soft tissue fillers is up 300 percent. Plus, there has been the advent of so-called “mini-facelifts” whereby people can take a more incremental approach to cosmetic surgery, getting their eyes, foreheads, chins or cheeks done à la carte. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 26158 - Posted: 04.20.2019

Maanvi Singh People coping with psychological trauma have a heightened risk of developing cardiovascular disease, a large-scale study finds. Researchers used national health registers to identify 136,637 Swedish patients with no history of cardiovascular disease who were diagnosed with a stress-related disorder — a cluster of mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, triggered by acute trauma — from 1987 to 2013. The team compared each of these patients with siblings and with unrelated people of the same age and sex, both of whom had a clear bill of mental and heart health. In the patients’ first year after being diagnosed, those with a stress-related disorder had a 64 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than their siblings without a mental health diagnosis, and a 70 percent higher risk than unrelated patients, the scientists report. The cardiovascular disease accounted for included heart failure, arrhythmia, stroke, hypertension and heart attack. The study found that those with a stress-related disorder were most vulnerable in the year following their mental health diagnosis: They had four times the relative risk of heart failure compared with their siblings. After one year, the patients with a stress diagnosis had a 29 percent higher risk for all cardiovascular disease than their siblings. Over the course of 27 years, 10.5 percent of patients with stress-related disorders developed cardiovascular disease — compared with 8.4 percent of the sibling group and 6.9 percent of the general population group. The study, published April 10 in the British Medical Journal, builds on a growing body of research linking mental health with heart disease. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019.

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 26143 - Posted: 04.16.2019

/ By Dan Falk It’s been 30 years since Bobby McFerrin urged us, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” But it’s not so easy, is it? In the modern world, there’s plenty that you could worry about — but what should you worry about? If you worry about everything, you end up paralyzed with fear; if, on the other hand, you never worry about anything, you’re likely to end up falling victim to circumstances that you could have prevented. We should only worry about things that are likely to happen, and which are likely to cause serious harm if they do happen — and which you can take reasonable measures to prevent from happening. Lise Johnson and Eric Chudler have written a new book to help you navigate the worrysphere. Johnson is a biomedical engineer and a science writer and Chudler is a neuroscientist, and together they lead us on a tour of 58 things that one might potentially worry about, and try to assess how much those things are actually worth worrying about. The authors shine a spotlight on everything from caffeine, fluoride, and the Ebola virus to bees, snakes, public restrooms, and cruise ships. If it were only a list, I suspect they’d have had trouble getting a book deal — but fortunately it’s more than that. The authors have found a nifty way of presenting the variables in graphic form (what they call a “worry index”), displaying each worry-item as a circle on a Cartesian graph: Likelihood is plotted on the x-axis, and preventability on the y-axis; meanwhile, the size of the circle reflects the consequences, or the severity, of the issue. For example, a flesh-eating infection gets a pretty big circle — the disease can be fatal if left untreated. Fortunately, your chances of getting it are very low, so the circle is placed on the far left-hand-side of the graph; and it’s also highly preventable (with good hygiene and prompt medical treatment), so the circle sits high up on the y-axis. In contrast, although “medical errors” get a similar-sized circle, it falls in the lower-right quadrant: Doctors and nurses make mistakes more often than we might imagine, and there’s not much you can do to prevent such errors from happening. Copyright 2019 Undark

Keyword: Stress; Emotions
Link ID: 26140 - Posted: 04.15.2019

By Heather Murphy An article this week about Jo Cameron, who has lived for 71 years without experiencing pain or anxiety because she has a rare genetic mutation, prompted questions from New York Times readers. The notion that the same gene could be responsible for the way a person processes physical and psychological pain left many perplexed: Aren’t they totally different? Or does her story hint that sensitivity to one type of pain might be intertwined with sensitivity to another? Childbirth, Ms. Cameron said, felt like “a tickle.” She often relies on her husband to alert her when she is bleeding, bruised or burned because nothing hurts. When someone close to her has died, she said, she has felt sad but “I don’t go to pieces.” She cannot recall ever having been riled by anything — even a recent car crash. On an anxiety disorder questionnaire, she scored zero out of 21. “I drive people mad by being cheerful,” she said. Here’s a bit about what’s known: Do those who live without pain also live without anxiety? No. Before encountering Ms. Cameron, the scientists who studied her case worked with other patients who did not experience pain. “Reduced anxiety has not really been noted before in the other pain insensitivity disorders we work on,” said Dr. James Cox, a senior lecturer from the Molecular Nociception Group at University College London. He also said that given Ms. Cameron had gone more than six decades without realizing just how unusual she was, there could be others like her. A number of such individuals contacted The Times after the article was published. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Emotions
Link ID: 26100 - Posted: 04.01.2019

By Veronique Greenwood The sun bears were making faces at each other. And that was a bit of a surprise. Comparative psychologists have been studying the facial expressions of primates like orangutans and gorillas for years. They have evolved in complex societies and thus need to be able to convey their joy, anger, and other emotions to their companions. But nobody had thought to look at creatures like sun bears, who live mostly solitary lives. Marina Davila-Ross, a primatologist at the University of Portsmouth in England, and her colleagues learned that a handful of the Southeast Asian bears, which primarily live alone in the wild, were in a rehabilitation center near the orangutan center in Malaysia where Dr. Davila-Ross was doing research. Curious about whether facial communication was more common in the animal kingdom that people thought, they deployed cameras to capture hours of footage of the bears interacting with each other. In a study published Thursday in Scientific Reports, they say that sun bears do use facial expressions to communicate, suggesting that the capacity to do so may be widespread, and that social creatures do not have a monopoly on expressing themselves this way. Sun bears are exceedingly solitary. A female’s one or two cubs will live with her for about two years, and then set off for lives on their own. Adults seem to rarely meet, except for mating. At the center, bears that cannot be released back into the wild live in enclosures in groups of five or six. For the bears, it was an unnatural setup — but it was perfect for the scientists. In their footage of 22 bears going about their daily lives, the scientists zeroed in on moments when the animals were playing, batting at each other and grappling good-humoredly. They watched for moments where the playing bears were looking into each other’s faces, and then they looked for certain facial expressions, like opening one’s mouth wide and showing teeth. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions; Evolution
Link ID: 26067 - Posted: 03.23.2019

Terry Gross When Frans de Waal started studying nonhuman primates, in the Netherlands more than 40 years ago, he was told not to consider the emotions of the animals he was observing. "Thoughts and feelings — the mental processes basically — were off limits," he says. "We were told not to talk about them, because they were considered by many scientists as 'inner states' and you only were allowed to talk about 'outer states.' " But over the course of his career, de Waal became convinced that primates and other animals express emotions similar to human emotions. He's now the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, where his office window looks out on a colony of chimps. "I am now at the point that I think emotions are more like organs," he says. "All my organs are present in a rat's body, and the same way, I think, all my emotions are probably present in the rat." De Waal writes about primate empathy, rivalry, bonding, sex and murder in his new book, Mama's Last Hug. The title of the book was inspired by a tender interaction between a dying 59-year-old chimp named Mama and de Waal's mentor, Jan van Hooff, who had known Mama for more than 40 years. "People were surprised [by] how humanlike the expression of Mama was and how humanlike her gestures were," de Waal says of the interaction. "I thought, 'Well, everyone knows that chimps are our closest relative, so why wouldn't the way they express their emotions be extremely similar to ours?' But people were surprised by that." © 2019 npr

Keyword: Emotions; Evolution
Link ID: 26054 - Posted: 03.20.2019

By Matt Richtel Should you pick your nose? Don’t laugh. Scientifically, it’s an interesting question. Should your children pick their noses? Should your children eat dirt? Maybe: Your body needs to know what immune challenges lurk in the immediate environment. Should you use antibacterial soap or hand sanitizers? No. Are we taking too many antibiotics? Yes. “I tell people, when they drop food on the floor, please pick it up and eat it,” said Dr. Meg Lemon, a dermatologist in Denver who treats people with allergies and autoimmune disorders. Advertisement “Get rid of the antibacterial soap. Immunize! If a new vaccine comes out, run and get it. I immunized the living hell out of my children. And it’s O.K. if they eat dirt.” Dr. Lemon’s prescription for a better immune system doesn’t end there. “You should not only pick your nose, you should eat it,” she said. She’s referring, with a facetious touch, to the fact our immune system can become disrupted if it doesn’t have regular interactions with the natural world. “Our immune system needs a job,” Dr. Lemon said. “We evolved over millions of years to have our immune systems under constant assault. Now they don’t have anything to do.” She isn’t alone. Leading physicians and immunologists are reconsidering the antiseptic, at times hysterical, ways in which we interact with our environment. Sign up for Science Times We’ll bring you stories that capture the wonders of the human body, nature and the cosmos. Why? Let us turn to 19th-century London. The British Journal of Homeopathy, volume 29, published in 1872, included a startlingly prescient observation: “Hay fever is said to be an aristocratic disease, and there can be no doubt that, if it is not almost wholly confined to the upper classes of society, it is rarely, if ever, met with but among the educated.” Hay fever is a catchall term for seasonal allergies to pollen and other airborne irritants. With this idea that hay fever was an aristocratic disease, British scientists were on to something. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 26027 - Posted: 03.13.2019

Aimee Cunningham How active a person’s immune system is soon after a stroke may be tied to later mental declines, a new study finds. Researchers took blood samples from 24 stroke patients up to nine times over the course of a year. Twelve of the patients also completed a mental-skills test at four points during that time. Patients who had highly active immune cells on the second day after a stroke were more likely to see their test scores decline a year later, researchers report online March 12 in Brain. “The people who either got better on the task or stayed the same had less of an immune response at day 2 [after the stroke], and the people who had more of an immune response at day 2 were more likely to decline and do worse later,” says study coauthor Marion Buckwalter, a neuroscientist at Stanford University School of Medicine. A stroke occurs when the brain loses oxygen, due to a blocked or burst blood vessel. Buckwalter and her colleagues used a technique called mass cytometry that analyzes thousands of immune cells and their signaling molecules — which indicate how active a cell is — from blood samples of patients who had suffered a stroke. The researchers also tested patients’ memory, concentration, language skills and other thinking skills using the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. It’s unclear why some patients have a more active immune response than others in the days after a stroke. But with more research, it’s possible that the response may be a way to predict which patients will fare worse after a stroke, the researchers say. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019

Keyword: Stroke; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 26026 - Posted: 03.13.2019

By Karen Weintraub For decades researchers have focused their attacks against Alzheimer’s on two proteins, amyloid beta and tau. Their buildup in the brain often serves as a defining indicator of the disease. Get rid of the amyloid and tau, and patients should do better, the thinking goes. But drug trial after drug trial has failed to improve patients’ memory, agitation and anxiety. One trial of a drug that removes amyloid even seemed to make some patients worse. The failures suggest researchers were missing something. A series of observations and recently published research findings have hinted at a somewhat different path for progression of Alzheimer’s, offering new ways to attack a disease that robs memories and devastates the lives of 5.7 million Americans and their families. One clue hinting at the need to look further afield was a close inspection of the 1918 worldwide flu pandemic, which left survivors with a higher chance of later developing Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. A second inkling came from the discovery that the amyloid of Alzheimer’s and the alpha-synuclein protein that characterizes Parkinson’s are antimicrobials, which help the immune system fight off invaders. The third piece of evidence was the finding in recent years, as more genes involved in Alzheimer’s have been identified, that traces nearly all of them to the immune system. Finally, neuroscientists have paid attention to cells that had been seen as ancillary—“helper” or “nursemaid” cells. They have come to recognize these brain cells, called microglia and astrocytes, play a central role in brain function—and one intimately related to the immune system. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Alzheimers; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 26007 - Posted: 03.05.2019

Tina Hesman Saey BALTIMORE — Some police dogs may smell fear, and that could be bad news for finding missing people whose genetic makeup leaves them more prone to stress. Trained police dogs couldn’t recognize stressed-out people with a particular version of a gene that’s involved in stress management, geneticist Francesco Sessa reported February 22 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. The dogs had no trouble identifying the men and women volunteers when the people weren’t under stress. The study may help explain why dogs can perform flawlessly in training, but have difficulty tracking people in real-world situations. Sessa, of the University of Foggia in Italy, and colleagues wondered whether fear could change a person’s normal scent and throw off dogs’ ability to find missing people. The researchers also investigated whether people’s genes might make some individuals easier or harder for dogs to pick out of a lineup. Previous studies already had linked different versions of the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 to stress management. People with the long version of the gene tend to handle stress better than people with the short version, Sessa said. He and colleagues recruited four volunteers — a man and a woman who each have the long version of the gene and a man and a woman with the short version. Each of the participants wore a scarf for a couple of hours a day to imprint their scent on the garment. Then the researchers brought the volunteers into the lab. In the first session, the volunteers wore a T-shirt and weren’t subjected to any stressors. The team then created two lineups of T-shirts, one with those of the men and another for the women. After sniffing the scarves, two trained police dogs had no trouble identifying any of the volunteers in a lineup of 10 T-shirts. The canine units identified each of the volunteers in three out of three attempts. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 25993 - Posted: 02.28.2019

By Achim Peters Although our brain accounts for just 2 percent of our body weight, the organ consumes half of our daily carbohydrate requirements—and glucose is its most important fuel. Under acute stress the brain requires some 12 percent more energy, leading many to reach for sugary snacks. Carbohydrates provide the body with the quickest source of energy. In fact, in cognitive tests subjects who were stressed performed poorly prior to eating. Their performance, however, went back to normal after consuming food. When we are hungry, a whole network of brain regions activates. At the center are the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) and the lateral hypothalamus. These two regions in the upper brain stem are involved in regulating metabolism, feeding behavior and digestive functions. There is, however, an upstream gatekeeper, the nucleus arcuatus (ARH) in the hypothalamus. If it registers that the brain itself lacks glucose, this gatekeeper blocks information from the rest of the body. That’s why we resort to carbohydrates as soon as the brain indicates a need for energy, even if the rest of the body is well supplied. To further understand the relationship between the brain and carbohydrates, we examined 40 subjects over two sessions. In one, we asked study participants to give a 10-minute speech in front of strangers. In the other session they were not required to give a speech. At the end of each session, we measured the concentrations of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in participants’ blood. We also provided them with a food buffet for an hour. When the participants gave a speech before the buffet, they were more stressed, and on average consumed an additional 34 grams of carbohydrates, than when they did not give a speech. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Stress; Obesity
Link ID: 25987 - Posted: 02.27.2019

Erin Wayman During the last few weeks of her life, Mama, an elderly chimpanzee at a zoo in the Netherlands, received a special visitor. As Mama lay curled up on a mound of straw, biologist Jan van Hooff entered her enclosure. Van Hooff, who had known Mama for more than 40 years, knelt down and stroked the arm of the listless chimp. When Mama looked up, her vacant face erupted into a smile. She reached out to van Hooff, calling out as she patted his face and neck. For primatologist Frans de Waal, this touching scene isn’t difficult to interpret: Mama was happy to see her old friend. But such an interpretation has been taboo among many behavioral scientists, who have claimed nonhuman animals are like unthinking, emotionless machines that react to situations with preprogrammed instincts. In the thought-provoking Mama’s Last Hug, de Waal dismantles that view. He presents piles of evidence that animals are emotional beings. The book is a companion to Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, in which he explored animal intelligence (SN: 12/24/16 & 1/7/17, p. 40). Emotions, de Waal writes, “are bodily and mental states — from anger and fear to sexual desire and affection and seeking the upper hand — that drive behavior.” On page after page, he tells of depressed fish, empathetic rats, envious monkeys and other emotional creatures. More than a collection of fascinating anecdotes, Mama’s Last Hug weaves together formal observations of animals in the wild and in captivity, behavioral experiments and neuroscience research. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019.

Keyword: Emotions; Evolution
Link ID: 25982 - Posted: 02.26.2019

By Roni Caryn Rabin Q. Is there a purpose to a yawn? I know it means you’re sleepy, but is the body trying to accomplish something by the act of yawning? A. People yawn when they’re tired, but also when they wake from a night’s sleep. We yawn when we’re bored, but also when we’re anxious, or hungry, or about to start a new activity. Yawning is contagious — we often start yawning the minute someone near us starts. “There are so many triggers. People who sky-dive say they tend to yawn before jumping. Police officers say they yawn before they enter a difficult situation,” said Adrian Guggisberg, a professor of clinical neuroscience at the University of Geneva. Reading about yawning makes people yawn. You are probably yawning right now. But the physiological purpose of a yawn remains a mystery. “The real answer so far is we don’t really know why we yawn,” Dr. Guggisberg said. “No physiological effect of yawning has been observed so far, and that’s why we speculate. It’s possible yawning doesn’t really have a physiological effect.” Until about 30 years ago, scientists explained yawning as a way for the body to take in a large amount of air in order to increase oxygen levels in the blood in response to oxygen deprivation. But the oxygenation hypothesis was discarded after being disproved by a series of experiments published in 1987. One current theory is that yawning is a brain cooling mechanism “that functions to promote arousal and alertness,” according to Andrew Gallup, an assistant professor of psychology at the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute in Utica, who has published studies on the topic. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 25980 - Posted: 02.22.2019

By Emily Underwood Alert! “Cats Can Literally Make You Crazy.” Wait! “Cats Don't Cause Mental Illness.” The news headlines are as alarming as they are contradictory. All refer to Toxoplasma gondii, a brain parasite carried by our feline companions that infects roughly one in three people. Scientists have long hypothesized that T. gondii plays a role in mental illness, including schizophrenia. But though more than 100 studies have found a correlation, none has shown that the parasite actually causes mental illness. So what’s really going on? Here’s what you need to know: T. gondii is not a bacterium or a virus, but a single-celled microscopic organism distantly related to the parasite that causes malaria. Cats get T. gondii and the disease it causes, toxoplasmosis, by eating infected rodents, birds, and other animals. Estimates suggest about 40% of cats in the United States are infected; most don’t show any symptoms, but they can develop jaundice or blindness and experience personality changes if the parasite spreads to the liver or nervous system. In the first few weeks after infection, a cat can shed millions of hardy egg pods called oocysts into its litterbox each day. Although some people get toxoplasmosis from direct contact with domestic cats and cat feces, many more are infected when oocysts shed by cats make it into the soil and water, where they can survive for a year or longer. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 25968 - Posted: 02.15.2019

By Meredith Wadman BethAnn McLaughlin has no time for James Watson, especially not when the 90-year-old geneticist is peering out from a photo on the wall of her guest room at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Banbury Center. “I don’t need him staring at me when I’m trying to go to sleep,” McLaughlin told a December 2018 gathering at the storied New York meeting center as she projected a photo of her redecorating job: She had hung a washcloth over the image of Watson, who co-discovered DNA’s structure, directed the lab for decades—and is well-known for racist and sexist statements. The washcloth image was part of McLaughlin’s unconventional presentation—by turns sobering, hilarious, passionate, and profane—to two dozen experts who had gathered to wrestle with how to end gender discrimination in the biosciences. McLaughlin, a 51-year-old neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in Nashville, displayed the names of current members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) who have been sanctioned for sexual harassment. She urged other NAS members—several of whom sat in the room—to resign in protest, “as one does.” She chided institutions for passing along “harassholes” to other universities. “The only other places that do this are the Catholic Church and the military,” she said. In the past 9 months, McLaughlin has exploded into view as the public face of the #MeToo movement in science, wielding her irreverent, sometimes wickedly funny Twitter presence, @McLNeuro, as part cudgel, part cheerleader’s megaphone. In June 2018, she created a website,, where scores of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have posted mostly anonymous, often harrowing tales of their own harassment. In just 2 days that month, she convinced the widely used website to remove its “red hot chili pepper” rating for “hotness.” And after launching an online petition, she succeeded last fall in spurring AAAS, which publishes Science, to adopt a policy allowing proven sexual harassers to be stripped of AAAS honors. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 25961 - Posted: 02.13.2019

By James Gorman If you want to know what makes hummingbirds tick, it’s best to avoid most poetry about them. Bird-beam of the summer day, — Whither on your sunny way? Whither? Probably off to have a bloodcurdling fight, that’s whither. John Vance Cheney wrote that verse, but let’s not point fingers. He has plenty of poetic company, all seduced by the color, beauty and teeny tininess of the hummingbird but failed to notice the ferocity burning in its rapidly beating heart. The Aztecs weren’t fooled. Their god of war, Huitzilopochtli, was a hummingbird. The Aztecs loved war, and they loved the beauty of the birds as well. It seems they didn’t find any contradiction in the marriage of beauty and bloodthirsty aggression. Scientists understood that aggression was a deep and pervasive part of hummingbird life. But they, too, have had their blind spots. The seemingly perfect match of nectar-bearing flowers to slender nectar-sipping beaks clearly showed that hummingbirds were shaped by co-evolution. It seemed clear that, evolutionarily, plants were in charge. Their need for reliable pollinators produced flowers with a shape that demanded a long slender bill. Hummingbird evolution obliged. But hummingbirds also heard the call of battle, which demanded a different evolutionary course. Some of those slender, delicate beaks have been reshaped into strong, sharp and dangerous weapons. In a recent paper organizing and summing up 10 years of research, Alejandro Rico-Guevara and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, shared evidence gathered by high-speed video about how the deadly beaks are deployed in male-to-male conflict. Like the horns of bighorn sheep or the giant mandibles of stag beetles, hummingbird beaks are used to fight off rivals for mates. This is sexual selection, a narrow part of natural selection, in which the improvement of mating chances is the dominant force. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression; Evolution
Link ID: 25937 - Posted: 02.06.2019

Jonathan Lambert It's cold outside, you're sick and all you want to do is curl up under the covers until you feel better. In fact, the need for sleep can be so strong when we're sick that this may be all we can do. Scientists don't fully understand how this excessive sleepiness is different from your normal, everyday tiredness. Previous work in nematodes found a gene that dampens activity of wakefulness neurons in response to infection. Other research in mammals suggests elements of the immune response can influence behavior. Overall, scientists still have a lot to learn about what makes us feel sleepy, when we're healthy or sick. Some genes have been identified that seem to affect sleep, but none that actively induce sleepiness when turned on. But a study, published Thursday in the journal Science, finds one potential piece of the puzzle — in fruit flies. Scientists discovered a single protein that both puts flies to sleep when they're sick and also has antimicrobial properties. "This is a very interesting finding," says Dragana Rogulja, a sleep neurobiologist at Harvard who wasn't involved in the study. "It's pretty clear that infection or something that requires an immune response does lead to sleep, and this gene seems to do that." Neuroscientist Amita Sehgal led the study at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. She didn't set out to find a gene linked to both sleep and immunity. Instead, her lab was interested in understanding the molecular triggers of sleep. © 2019 npr

Keyword: Sleep; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 25924 - Posted: 02.01.2019

By Roni Caryn Rabin A sudden shortage of one of the safest anti-anxiety drugs on the market has spread alarm among people who rely on the medication, buspirone, to get through the day without debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. Physicians are also expressing concern, because there is no information about when the supply will resume, making it difficult to manage patients. Shelby Vittek, a 27-year-old writer in New Jersey, fruitlessly called dozens of drugstores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in an attempt to locate the medication after her pharmacist told her the drug was on back-order with no end in sight. She ended up weaning herself off the drug, spreading her last three pills over six days to avoid having to go “cold turkey” before starting a difficult transition to an antidepressant. “I pretty much lost over a month of work, and have just started to feel like myself again,” she said. A 34-year-old New York woman who couldn’t get her buspirone refilled in January said she couldn’t sleep and had such severe panic attacks that she had to use Klonopin, a drug she dislikes because it is addictive. “I’m trying to take care of my anxiety, and it’s giving me a panic attack,” said the woman, a sexual assault survivor who asked not to be identified. A Pennsylvania medical school student received her mail-order shipment of medication last week with no buspirone in it and no explanation, so she scrounged around the house and dug up old pills from missed doses. Last weekend, the student, who asked not to be identified, was so anxious she could not leave the house. “This is potentially messing with people’s clinical stability,” said Dr. Dennis Glick, a psychiatrist in Greenbelt, Md. “When you have a patient with a complicated and balanced regimen, you really don’t want to just arbitrarily have someone come off the medicine.” Dr. Glick said he has been in practice for 34 years “and I honestly don’t recall issues like this interfering with care until maybe a couple of years ago.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 25921 - Posted: 02.01.2019