Chapter 11. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress

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By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS Mice do not, so far as we know, practice meditation. But in order to study how that activity affects human brains at the cellular level, researchers at the University of Oregon managed to put murine brains into a somewhat equivalent state. Their experiments, reported in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest new ways of investigating how a person’s brain can constantly reshape itself. Past studies have suggested that people who meditate tend to have more white matter in and around the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain involved in regulating emotions. Meditation also seems to intensify theta-wave activity, a type of rhythmic electrical pulsation often associated with a state of calm. Psychologists at Oregon speculated that the surge in theta waves stimulated the production of cells in the white matter. But they needed to develop an animal model of this activity; they obviously couldn’t examine the living brain tissue in meditating humans. So the psychologists asked colleagues in the university’s neuroscience department if they could increase theta-wave activity in mice, which were already being used to study brain states and neural plasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire itself. Could the neuroscientists create a comparable effect in mice? Yes, it turned out, using a brain-research technique known as optogenetics, which uses light to turn on and off neurons, and mice that have been bred with specific genes responsive to light. The Oregon group, by pulsing the light at the same frequency found in human theta waves (eight hertz), were able to switch on the neurons in the anterior cingulate cortexes of the mice. They also exposed some mice to light at higher and lower frequencies and left others alone. Each treated mouse received 30 minutes of light therapy for 20 days, in an attempt to mimic the amount of meditation done in earlier human studies. Afterward, those mice exposed to the eight-hertz, thetalike light waves proved to be relatively calm in behavioral tests: they lingered in lighted portions of a special cage, while their twitchier counterparts ran for the shadows. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 23646 - Posted: 05.22.2017

By LISA SANDERS, M.D. The woman woke to the sound of her 57-year-old husband sobbing. They’d been married for 30 years, and she had never heard him cry before. “I hurt so much,” he wailed. “I have to go back to the hospital.” The symptoms started two weeks earlier. One afternoon, coming home from his job as a carpenter, he felt hot and tired. He shook with shivers even though the day was warm. He drank a cup of tea and went to bed. The next day he felt fine, until the end of the day, when he felt overwhelmed by the heat and chills again. The day after that was the same. When he woke one morning and saw that his body was covered with pale pink dots — his arms, his face, his chest and thighs — he started to worry. His wife took him to the Griffin Hospital emergency room in Derby, Conn. The first doctor who saw him thought he probably had Lyme disease. Summer had just started, and he’d already seen a lot of cases. He sent the patient home with an antibiotic and steroid pills for the rash. The man took the medications but didn’t get any better. Soon everything started to hurt. His muscles, his joints and his back felt as if he’d been beaten. He dragged himself back to the E.R. He was given pain pills. A few days later, he went to the E.R. a third time and was given more pain meds. After waking up crying, he went yet again, and this time, the doctors admitted him. By then the patient had had several blood tests, which showed no sign of Lyme or other tick-borne diseases. A CT scan was equally uninformative. The next day, the man was walking to the bathroom when his legs gave out and he fell down. The doctor in charge of his care came and examined him once again. The man looked fit and healthy, despite the now-bright-red rash, but his legs were extremely weak. If the doctor applied even light pressure to the raised leg, it sagged back down to the bed. And his feet felt numb. He had a sensation of tingling in his hands, as if they had gone to sleep. That was how the weakness and numbness in his legs started, he told the doctor. And the next day, his hands were so weak he had to use both just to drink a cup of water. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 23644 - Posted: 05.22.2017

Jon Hamilton It took an explosion and 13 pounds of iron to usher in the modern era of neuroscience. In 1848, a 25-year-old railroad worker named Phineas Gage was blowing up rocks to clear the way for a new rail line in Cavendish, Vt. He would drill a hole, place an explosive charge, then pack in sand using a 13-pound metal bar known as a tamping iron. But in this instance, the metal bar created a spark that touched off the charge. That, in turn, "drove this tamping iron up and out of the hole, through his left cheek, behind his eye socket, and out of the top of his head," says Jack Van Horn, an associate professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Gage didn't die. But the tamping iron destroyed much of his brain's left frontal lobe, and Gage's once even-tempered personality changed dramatically. "He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity, which was not previously his custom," wrote John Martyn Harlow, the physician who treated Gage after the accident. This sudden personality transformation is why Gage shows up in so many medical textbooks, says Malcolm Macmillan, an honorary professor at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences and the author of An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage. "He was the first case where you could say fairly definitely that injury to the brain produced some kind of change in personality," Macmillan says. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Attention; Emotions
Link ID: 23643 - Posted: 05.22.2017

By DAVE PHILIPPS Three-fifths of troops discharged from the military for misconduct in recent years had a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or another associated condition, according to a report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office. The report, mandated by Congress, for the first time combined military medical and staffing data, as well as data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, to show that tens of thousands of wounded troops were kicked out of the armed forces and severed from benefits designed to ease their transition from service in war. “It is everything many of us believed for years” said Kristopher Goldsmith, a veteran who served in Iraq and was discharged for misconduct after a suicide attempt. He is now an assistant director for policy at Vietnam Veterans of America, a veterans advocacy group based in Washington. “Many people didn’t believe that the problem could be this big. Now I hope Congress will direct the resources to making it right.” From 2011 to 2015, according to the report, nearly 92,000 troops were discharged for misconduct — the military equivalent of being fired. Troops can be discharged for reasons like testing positive for drugs or repeatedly showing up late. And in recent years, as the military was downsized, misconduct discharges surged. Of those discharged, 57,000 had a diagnosis of PTSD, traumatic brain injury (known as T.B.I.) or a related condition. About 9,000 were found to have PTSD or T.B.I. But a majority had a personality disorder or an adjustment disorder — diagnoses that count as pre-existing conditions, not war wounds. Critics of the military’s handling of mental health have long accused the military of using such diagnoses to sidestep safeguards put in place for troops with PTSD. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Stress
Link ID: 23626 - Posted: 05.17.2017

Aimee Cunningham For black adults, moving out of a racially segregated neighborhood is linked to a drop in blood pressure, according to a new study. The finding adds to growing evidence of an association between a lack of resources in many predominately black neighborhoods and adverse health conditions among their residents, such as diabetes and obesity. Systolic blood pressure — the pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats — of black adults who left their highly segregated communities decreased just over 1 millimeter of mercury on average, researchers report online May 15 in JAMA Internal Medicine. This decline, though small, could reduce the overall incidence of heart failure and coronary heart disease. “It’s the social conditions, not the segregation itself, that’s driving the relationship between segregation and blood pressure,” says Thomas LaVeist, a medical sociologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved with the study. “Maybe hypertension is not so much a matter of being genetically predisposed.” That’s important, LaVeist adds, because it means that racial health disparity “can be fixed. It’s not necessarily contained in our DNA; it’s contained in the social DNA.” Racial segregation can impact a neighborhood’s school quality, employment opportunities or even whether there is a full-service grocery store nearby. Social policies that improve residents’ access to education, employment and fresh foods can “have spillover effects in health,” says Kiarri Kershaw, an epidemiologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 23617 - Posted: 05.16.2017

Michelle Trudeau Bears do it; bats do it. So do guinea pigs, dogs and humans. They all yawn. It's a common animal behavior, but one that is something of a mystery. There's still no consensus on the purpose of a yawn, says Robert Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Provine has studied what he calls "yawn science" since the early 1980s, and he's published dozens of research articles on it. He says the simple yawn is not so simple. "Yawning may have the dubious distinction of being the least understood common human behavior," Provine says. There are many causes for yawning. Boredom, sleepiness, hunger, anxiety and stress — all cause changes in brain chemistry, which can trigger a spontaneous yawn. But it's not clear what the yawn accomplishes. One possibility is the yawn perks you up by increasing heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory function. "[Yawning] stirs up our physiology and it plays an important role in shifting from one state to another," Provine says. When violinists get ready to go on stage to play a concerto, they often yawn, says Provine. So do Olympians right before a competition, or paratroopers getting ready to do their first jump. One study found that yawning has a similar impact on the brain as a dose of caffeine. But not all yawn researchers agree with this theory. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 23613 - Posted: 05.15.2017

By Sandra Lamb Each night before “Greg” goes to bed he brushes and flosses his teeth. Then he double-checks the instructions on the dark brown bottle his nurse gave him before he unscrews the cap and tips five drops of a light-amber, oily liquid onto a spoon. The brew, glistening from the light of the bathroom fixture, is tasteless and has no odor he can detect. But it’s chock-full of bacteria. He sloshes the substance around in his mouth and swallows. Greg hopes that while he sleeps the foreign microbes will wage war with other organisms in his gut, changing that environment to ultimately help him manage some of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that cloud his mind and riddle his days and nights with nightmares, flashbacks, thoughts of suicide and irrational responses to stressful events. The bacteria he is swallowing, his doctors tell him, “may help reduce symptoms of stress.” Each drop of Greg's brew is filled with millions of Lactobacillus reuteri, a bacterium isolated and derived from human breast milk. The Denver VA Hospital orders the substance and prescribes it as part of a PTSD clinical trial involving 40 veterans who either receive the bacteria or a placebo mix of sunflower oil and other inactive substances. (The bacterium is also currently used to treat a dental condition called chronic periodontitis because it has been shown to help fight inflammation.) © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Stress; Obesity
Link ID: 23600 - Posted: 05.10.2017

By Daniel Shalev Maddie* couldn't stop crying. The first few days after her stroke, it had made sense. She had led a charmed retirement, with annual trips across the country, time with family and an active life. Now everything was in flux. A week before, Maddie, who was in her late 70s, had woken up unable to use half of her body. Her husband called an ambulance, and a diagnosis was reached within hours. Maddie had suffered a blockage in the blood vessels supplying her brain stem, affecting the pons, a region that conducts messages from higher centers of control and consciousness down to her body. At the hospital, she began to undergo a rush of frightening tests to evaluate the cause of her stroke and the risk of having another. She figured it made sense to cry. A few days later, when Maddie was transferred from the stroke unit to the rehabilitation service, she was feeling more hopeful. Her risk of further strokes had been minimized with drugs to regulate her blood pressure, cholesterol and clotting. She could hear that her speech, initially slurred, returning to clarity. On the stroke unit, the emphasis had been on stabilization, but in rehabilitation, the goal was improvement. Maddie felt ready to work on her recovery. Even with the hope of rehabilitation, though, the tears continued. Maddie cried when her husband came in and when he left. She cried during therapy meetings and medical updates. She cried through eating and bathing. The only time she did not weep was while she slept. Most oddly, Maddie cried even when she did not feel sad. On the stroke unit, the crying had been annoying. In rehabilitation, it was downright disruptive. Maddie's therapy sessions were impeded by bouts of sobbing that invariably led the befuddled therapists to cut short their work with her. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 23595 - Posted: 05.09.2017

By Elizabeth Preston A common parasite that lives in fish eyeballs seems to be a driver behind the fish’s behaviour, pulling the strings from inside its eyes. When the parasite is young, it helps its host stay safe from predators. But once the parasite matures, it does everything it can to get that fish eaten by a bird and so continue its life cycle. The eye fluke Diplostomum pseudospathaceum has a life cycle that takes place in three different types of animal. First, parasites mate in a bird’s digestive tract, shedding their eggs in its faeces. The eggs hatch in the water into larvae that seek out freshwater snails to infect. They grow and multiply inside the snails before being released into the water, ready to track down their next host, fish. The parasites then penetrate the skin of fish, and travel to the lens of the eye to hide out and grow. The fish then get eaten by a bird – and the cycle starts again. Many parasites can change an animal’s behaviour to fit their own needs. Mice infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, for example, lose their fear of cats – the animal the parasite needs to reproduce inside. In a 2015 study, Mikhail Gopko at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution in Moscow and his colleagues showed that fish infected with immature fluke larvae swam less actively than usual – making themselves less visible to predators – and were harder to catch with a net than uninfected controls. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 23587 - Posted: 05.08.2017

Hannah Devlin An “emotional chatting machine” has been developed by scientists, signalling the approach of an era in which human-robot interactions are seamless and go beyond the purely functional. The chatbot, developed by a Chinese team, is seen as a significant step towards the goal of developing emotionally sophisticated robots. The ECM, as it is known for short, was able to produce factually coherent answers whilst also imbuing its conversation with emotions such as happiness, sadness or disgust. Prof Björn Schuller, a computer scientist at Imperial College London who was not involved in the latest advance, described the work as “an important step” towards personal assistants that could read the emotional undercurrent of a conversation and respond with something akin to empathy. “This will be the next generation of intelligence to be met in daily experience, sooner rather than later,” he said. The paper found that 61% of humans who tested the machine favoured the emotional versions to the neutral chatbot. Similar results have been found in so-called “Wizard of Oz” studies in which a human typing responses masquerades as advanced AI. “It is not a question whether they are desirable – they clearly are – but in which applications they make sense and where they don’t,” said Schuller. Minlie Huang, a computer scientist at Tsinghua University, Beijing and co-author, said: “We’re still far away from a machine that can fully understand the user’s emotion. This is just the first attempt at this problem.” © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Emotions; Robotics
Link ID: 23584 - Posted: 05.06.2017

Douglas Fox Six times a day, Katrin pauses whatever she's doing, removes a small magnet from her pocket and touches it to a raised patch of skin just below her collar bone. For 60 seconds, she feels a soft vibration in her throat. Her voice quavers if she talks. Then, the sensation subsides. The magnet switches on an implanted device that emits a series of electrical pulses — each about a milliamp, similar to the current drawn by a typical hearing aid. These pulses stimulate her vagus nerve, a tract of fibres that runs down the neck from the brainstem to several major organs, including the heart and gut. The technique, called vagus-nerve stimulation, has been used since the 1990s to treat epilepsy, and since the early 2000s to treat depression. But Katrin, a 70-year-old fitness instructor in Amsterdam, who asked that her name be changed for this story, uses it to control rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that results in the destruction of cartilage around joints and other tissues. A clinical trial in which she enrolled five years ago is the first of its kind in humans, and it represents the culmination of two decades of research looking into the connection between the nervous and immune systems. For Kevin Tracey, a neurosurgeon at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, the vagus nerve is a major component of that connection, and he says that electrical stimulation could represent a better way to treat autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, Crohn's disease and more. Several pharmaceutical companies are investing in 'electroceuticals' — devices that can modulate nerves — to treat cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. But Tracey's goal of controlling inflammation with such a device would represent a major leap forward, if it succeeds. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Keyword: Neuroimmunology; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 23573 - Posted: 05.04.2017

Kevin Davis When his criminal trial begins next week, attorneys for Andres “Andy” Avalos, a Florida man charged with murdering his wife, a neighbor and a local pastor, will mount an insanity defense on behalf of their client because, as they announced last summer, a PET scan revealed that Avalos has a severely abnormal brain. In March, shortly after an Israeli American teenager was arrested on suspicion that he made bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the U.S. and abroad, his lawyer declared that the teenager had a brain tumor that might have affected his behavior. Both cases are part of a growing movement in which attorneys use brain damage in service of a legal defense. To support such claims in court, lawyers are turning to neuroscience. The defense brings in hired guns to testify that brain scans can identify areas of dysfunction linked to antisocial behavior, poor decision-making and lack of impulse control. The prosecution calls their own expert witnesses to argue that what a scientist might observe in brain scans shows nothing about that person’s state of mind or past actions. The truth is that even the most sophisticated brain scans cannot show direct correlations between brain dysfunction and specific criminal behavior, nor can they prove whether someone is legally insane. What neuroscience can show is that a person’s decision to commit a crime — or to do anything in life for that matter — is triggered by a series of chemical and electrical interactions in the brain. It can also show approximately where those interactions are occurring.

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 23572 - Posted: 05.04.2017

By Elizabeth Pennisi When, 6 years ago, divers captured on video a cuckolding attempt among squidlike animals called cuttlefish, experts were stunned. “The violence was beyond anything we had ever seen in the laboratory,” says Roger Hanlon, an ecologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who had been studying captive cuttlefish for years. Now, by carefully analyzing the behavior of the two males involved, he and his colleagues suggest the stepwise escalation of their fight likely required more brainpower than many researchers thought invertebrates had, they report this week in American Naturalist. The video (above) first shows a common European male cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) mating with a female. While he escorts her to where she will lay her eggs, a second male suddenly appears and chases him away. But the first male doesn’t give up, and as his rival starts to get fresh with the female, the scuffle gets ever more intense. The rivals squirt ink at each other and jet about. Then, their dark markings turn even darker, and they engage in a quick battle of biting, grappling, and cork-screwing that soon sends the intruder scurrying off. Now that the scientists know how such explosive situations come about, they hope to recreate those circumstances in the lab to study male rivalries more systematically. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science. A

Keyword: Aggression; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23564 - Posted: 05.04.2017

Amy Maxmen Psychedelic drugs could soon help people, including soldiers, who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder with the pain of recalling traumatic memories. Psychologists have occasionally given people psychedelic drugs such as LSD or magic mushrooms to induce altered states, in an attempt to treat mental illness. Today, many of those drugs are illegal, but if clinical trials testing their efficacy yield positive results, a handful could become prescription medicines in the next decade. The furthest along in this process is MDMA — a drug sold illegally as ecstasy or Molly — which is showing promise in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Last week, at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland, California, researchers presented unpublished results from phase II trials involving a total of 107 people diagnosed with PTSD. The trial treatment involved a combination of psychotherapy and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine). The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed these data in November, which were not released to the public at the time. The agency recommended that the researchers move forward with phase III trials, the final stage before potential approval of the drug. At the conference, researchers affiliated with the non-profit organization that is sponsoring the trials, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in Santa Cruz, California, presented some of their latest resutls. They used a cinically validated scale that assesses PTSD symptoms such as frequency of nightmares and anxiety levels. More than one year after two or three sessions of MDMA-assisted therapy, about 67% of participants no longer had the illness, according to that scale. About 23% of the control group — who received psychotherapy and a placebo drug — experienced the same benefit. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stress
Link ID: 23554 - Posted: 04.29.2017

By Diana Kwon Most of us will laugh at a good joke, but we also laugh when we are not actually amused. Fake chuckles are common in social situations—such as during an important interview or a promising first date. “Laughter is really interesting because we observe it across all human cultures and in other species,” says Carolyn McGettigan, a cognitive neuroscientist at Royal Holloway, University of London. “It's an incredibly important social signal.” In a 2013 study, McGettigan, then a postdoctoral researcher at University College London, and her colleagues scanned the brains of 21 participants while they passively listened to clips of laughter elicited by funny YouTube videos or produced on command (with instructions to sound as natural as possible). Subjects whose medial prefrontal cortex “lit up” more when hearing the posed laughter were better at detecting whether laughs were genuine or not in a subsequent test. (This brain region is involved in understanding the viewpoint of others.) “If you hear a laugh that seems ambiguous in terms of what the person means,” McGettigan explains, “it makes sense that you're going to try to work out why this person sounds like this.” In a follow-up study in 2016, McGettigan and her colleagues recruited a fresh set of participants to rate the laugh tracks on various qualities, such as authenticity and positivity. They compared these findings with the original brain data and found that the activity in the medial prefrontal cortex was negatively correlated with the genuineness of the laughs. Their analyses also revealed that both types of laughter engaged the auditory cortices, although activity in these brain regions increased as the laughs became happier, more energetic and more authentic. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 23528 - Posted: 04.24.2017

By Emily Langer Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist who helped reveal the emotional lives of animals by tickling rats and listening to their ultrasonic laughter in experiments that upended his field and opened new possibilities for the treatment of depression and other forms of mental illness, died April 18 at his home in Bowling Green, Ohio. He was 73. The cause was cancer, said his wife, Anesa Miller. For much of his career, Dr. Panksepp was brushed aside by colleagues who accepted the prevailing notion that emotions were uniquely human experiences. Dr. Panksepp — along with many pet owners — suspected otherwise, and he sought to prove his intuition through the rigors of science. “People don’t have a monopoly on emotion,” he once said. “Rather, despair, joy and love are ancient, elemental responses that have helped all sorts of creatures survive and thrive in the natural world.” He was long associated with Bowling Green State University where, in the late 1990s, he conducted the experiments with lab rats that would vault him to national renown. He recalled walking into the laboratory one day and remarking to an assistant, “Let’s go tickle some rats.” He credited a graduate student with repurposing a bat detector — a tool capable of recording high-pitched sounds — as the instrument they would use to listen into the rats’ laughterlike chirps. “Lo and behold,” he told the Toledo Blade in 1998, “it sounded like a playground!” © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 23521 - Posted: 04.22.2017

By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS Halfway through February, I could no longer sleep through the night. At 2 a.m., I’d find myself chugging milk from the carton to extinguish a fire at the top of my rib cage. The gnawing feeling high in my stomach alternated with nausea so arresting I kept a bucket next to my laptop and considered taking a pregnancy test, even though I was 99 percent sure I wasn’t expecting. One day on the subway platform, I doubled over and let out a groan so pathetic it prompted a complete stranger to ask, “Are you all right?” Then I knew it was time to seek medical attention. New Yorkers don’t address strangers on the subway, I told myself. It’s like breaking the fourth wall. The next day, my primary care doctor told me I probably had an ulcer, a raw spot or sore in the lining of the stomach or small intestine. Here are some of the things I learned about ulcers during the odyssey that followed. ■ Anyone Can Get an Ulcer. Back in the 1980s, when doctors and most everyone else thought psychological stress or spicy foods led to ulcers, two Australian scientists discovered that the main culprit was actually a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. That discovery eventually won them a Nobel Prize in 2005, and ushered in an era of using antibiotics to cure ulcers. But that didn’t wipe out ulcers altogether. Far from it. Indeed, my tribe of fellow sufferers are legion. Nearly 16 million adults nationwide reported having an ulcer in 2014,according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The largest group, roughly 6.2 million, were 45 to 64 years old. Those 18 to 44 accounted for 4.6 million, 65- to 74-year-olds for 2.6 million, and those 75 and older for 2.4 million. I got a blood test to see if I was infected with H. pylori; the test came back negative, so I didn’t need antibiotics. Regular use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen or aspirin, can also lead to an ulcer, but I wasn’t taking those medicines. My ulcer turned out to be “idiopathic,” which is a fancy way of saying that doctors have no idea why it happened. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 23490 - Posted: 04.14.2017

Sallie Baxendale, Temporal lobe epilepsy—a common form of epilepsy characterized by seizures that begin in the memory-regulating temporal lobe—does appear to influence personality, though not in the way many may think and certainly not in the way people have believed throughout history. The idea of the epileptic personality is an ancient one. Thousands of years ago people with epilepsy were thought to be possessed by either divine beings or demons. In fact, the notion that a seizure represents a kind of communion with another spiritual realm still holds sway in some societies today. In more recent history, Westerners largely perceived epilepsy as a punishment for morally lax behavior. In one 1892 paper, the author claimed that debauchery and excessive lust frequently led to epilepsy and that a person could trigger a seizure by listening to love songs and eating chocolate. More recently, scientists began investigating whether epilepsy, in fact, altered personality. In 1975 neurologists Stephen Waxman and Norman Geschwind, both then at Harvard University, published an analysis based on observations of their patients with temporal lobe epilepsy in which they reported that many patients had a tendency toward religiosity, intense emotions, detailed thoughts, and a compulsion to write or draw. This cluster of characteristics became known as the epileptic personality. Over the next decade other researchers added hostility, aggression, lack of humor and obsessiveness to the list of personality traits supposedly associated with the condition. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Epilepsy; Emotions
Link ID: 23464 - Posted: 04.08.2017

By Gareth Cook The carnivore needs no introduction: fearsome, cold and brutal. But G. A. Bradshaw, known for her psychological work with elephants, asks readers to reconsider. In “Carnivore Minds,” she argues that predators are none of these things. She uses the orca for a case study in the evolution of morals; to explore emotional intelligence, her main example is the crocodile. Through “trans-species psychology,” Bradshaw asks us to consider the many ways that the animals we fear are far more similar to us than we might like to think. She answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook. What first lead you to explore the minds of carnivores? Carnivores are a natural counterpoint to the herbivorous elephant, the subject of my previous book, Elephants on the Edge. There certainly are differences between white sharks and elephants, but the similarities are much greater. We know this because of what neuroscience has discovered — mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles (and now, it appears, invertebrates like bees and octopi) share common brain structures and processes that govern thinking and feeling. The scientific model used to explore human minds applies to other animals. This trans-species psychology allows us to see, even experience, the worlds of carnivores as they might — from the inside-out. White sharks, coyotes, and wolves not only have comparable mental and emotional capacities as humans, they are equally vulnerable to psychological trauma. This is what I discovered with the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in wild elephants. When elephants lose their homes and families, are subjected to mass killing, and are captured and incarcerated in zoos, they breakdown mentally and culturally and exhibit symptoms found in human prisoners and victims of genocide. As a result of hunting and persecution, pumas are showing symptoms of complex PTSD. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Aggression
Link ID: 23449 - Posted: 04.05.2017

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS For generations, mothers have encouraged children to take long, slow breaths to fight anxiety. A long tradition of meditation likewise uses controlled breathing to induce tranquillity. Now scientists at Stanford University may have uncovered for the first time why taking deep breaths can be so calming. The research, on a tiny group of neurons deep within the brains of mice, also underscores just how intricate and pervasive the links are within our body between breathing, thinking, behaving and feeling. Breathing is one of the body’s most essential and elastic processes. Our breaths occur constantly and rhythmically, much like our hearts’ steady beating. But while we generally cannot change our hearts’ rhythm by choice, we can alter how we breathe, in some cases consciously, as in holding our breath, or with little volition, such as sighing, gasping or yawning. But how the mind and body regulate breathing and vice versa at the cellular level has remained largely mysterious. More than 25 years ago, researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles first discovered a small bundle of about 3,000 interlinked neurons inside the brainstems of animals, including people, that seem to control most aspects of breathing. They dubbed these neurons the breathing pacemaker. But recently, a group of scientists at Stanford and other universities, including some of the U.C.L.A. researchers, began using sophisticated new genetics techniques to study individual neurons in the pacemaker. By microscopically tracking different proteins produced by the genes in each cell, the scientists could group the neurons into “types.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 23447 - Posted: 04.05.2017