TSRI anti-heroin vaccine found effective in non-human primates

Public Release: 6-Jun-2017

 

Scripps Research Institute

 

LA JOLLA, CA – June 6, 2017 – A vaccine developed at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) to block the “high” of heroin has proven effective in non-human primates. This is the first vaccine against an opioid to pass this stage of preclinical testing.

“This validates our previous rodent data and positions our vaccine in a favorable light for anticipated clinical evaluation,” said study leader Kim Janda, the Ely R. Callaway Jr. Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI.

This research was published recently in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The primate experiments were led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The vaccine works by exposing the immune system to a part of the heroin molecule’s telltale structure. This teaches the immune system to produce antibodies against heroin and its psychoactive products. The antibodies neutralize heroin molecules, blocking them from reaching the brain to cause a feeling of euphoria.

Researchers believe that blocking the high of heroin will help eliminate the motivation for many recovering addicts to relapse into drug use. In recent years, public health officials around the world have labeled heroin use as an epidemic.

The Janda Laboratory at TSRI has been working on their heroin vaccine for over eight years; the researchers had previously tested vaccine candidates under laboratory conditions and in rodents, where the strategy proved effective for neutralizing heroin.

For the new study in rhesus monkeys, the researchers redesigned their vaccine candidate to more closely resemble heroin, with the goal of better stimulating the immune system to attack this opioid.

The researchers found that the four primates that were given three doses of this vaccine showed an effective immune response and could neutralize varying doses of heroin. This effect was most acute in the first month after vaccination but lasted for over eight months. The researchers also found no negative side effects from the vaccine.

“We believe this vaccine candidate will prove safe for human trials,” Janda said. He pointed out that the components of the vaccine have either already been approved by the FDA or have passed safety tests in previous clinical trials.

Interestingly, two of the four primates tested had been pre-vaccinated with the same vaccine candidate for a more basic pilot study seven months prior to the experiment in this study. The researchers found that these two primates showed a much higher response to the vaccine in the second round of experiments. This suggested their antibody-producing cells held an immunological “memory” of the vaccine. If this effect holds true in humans, a recovering addict would have long-term immunity to heroin.

“We were really encouraged to see the vaccine produce such lasting effects in non-human primate models,” said Bremer.

This is the first vaccine against heroin to succeed in primate models. Vaccines against other drugs of abuse have been tested in humans without first completing non-human primate trials–and failed. Bremer said the new heroin vaccine is different because the researchers took a closer look at the chemistry of the vaccine, studying how well antibodies elicited by the vaccine could bind to drug molecules. “These steps let us put our best foot forward when we went into the primate study,” Bremer said.

The researchers noted that this vaccine candidate works only against heroin and not other opioid-based pain killers or medications for treating opioid addiction or overdose, leaving those open for use in emergency medical situations and for prescription medicines and substance use disorders.

The next step in this research will be to license the vaccine to an outside company for partnering in clinical trials.

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In addition to Janda and Bremer, authors of the study, “Development of a Clinically Viable Heroin Vaccine,” were Bin Zhou of TSRI; and Joel E. Schlosburg, Matthew L. Banks, Floyd F. Steele and Justin L. Poklis of Virginia Commonwealth University.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants UH2DA041146, R01DA026625, K99DA037344 and F31DA037709) and the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology.

About The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world’s largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. An institution that evolved from the Scripps Metabolic Clinic founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924, the institute now employs more than 2,500 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists–including two Nobel laureates and 20 members of the National Academies of Science, Engineering or Medicine–work toward their next discoveries. The institute’s graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. In October 2016, TSRI announced a strategic affiliation with the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr), representing a renewed commitment to the discovery and development of new medicines to address unmet medical needs. For more information, see http://www.scripps.edu.

Study: ‘Moral enhancement’ technologies are neither feasible nor wise

Public Release: 16-May-2017

North Carolina State University

A recent study by researchers at North Carolina State University and the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM) finds that “moral enhancement technologies” — which are discussed as ways of improving human behavior – are neither feasible nor wise, based on an assessment of existing research into these technologies.

The idea behind moral enhancement technologies is to use biomedical techniques to make people more moral. For example, using drugs or surgical techniques to treat criminals who have exhibited moral defects.

“There are existing ways that people have explored to manipulate morality, but the question we address in this paper is whether manipulating morality actually improves it,” says Veljko Dubljevic, lead author of the paper and an assistant professor of philosophy at NC State who studies the ethics of neuroscience and technology.

Dubljevic and co-author Eric Racine of the IRCM reviewed the existing research on moral enhancement technologies that have been used in humans to assess the effects of these technologies and how they may apply in real-world circumstances.

Specifically, the researchers looked at four types of pharmaceutical interventions and three neurostimulation techniques:

  • Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that plays a critical role in social cognition, bonding and affiliative behaviors, sometimes called “the moral molecule”;
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed for depression, but have also been found to make people less aggressive;
  • Amphetamines, which some have argued can be used to enhance motivation to take action;
  • Beta blockers are often prescribed to treat high blood pressure, but have also been found to decrease implicit racist responses;
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a type of neurostimulation that has been used to treat depression, but has also been reported as changing the way people respond to moral dilemmas;
  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) is an experimental form of neurostimulation that has also been reported as making people more utilitarian; and
  • Deep brain stimulation is a neurosurgical intervention that some have hypothesized as having the potential to enhance motivation.

“What we found is that, yes, many of these techniques do have some effects,” Dubljevic says. “But these techniques are all blunt instruments, rather than finely tuned technologies that could be helpful. So, moral enhancement is really a bad idea.

“In short, moral enhancement is not feasible — and even if it were, history shows us that using science to in an attempt to manipulate morality is not wise,” Dubljevic says.

The researchers found different problems for each of the pharmaceutical approaches.

“Oxytocin does promote trust, but only in the in-group,” Dubljevic notes. “And it can decrease cooperation with out-group members of society, such as racial minorities, and selectively promote ethnocentrism, favoritism, and parochialism.”

The researchers also found that amphetamines boost motivation for all types of behavior, not just moral behavior. Moreover, there are significant risks of addiction associated with amphetamines. Beta blockers were found not only to decrease racism, but to blunt all emotional response which puts their usefulness into doubt. SSRIs reduce aggression, but have serious side-effects, including an increased risk of suicide.

In addition to physical side effects, the researchers also found a common problem with using either TMS or TCDS technologies.

“Even if we could find a way to make these technologies work consistently, there are significant questions about whether being more utilitarian in one’s decision-making actually makes one more moral,” Dubljevic says.

Lastly, the researchers found no evidence that deep brain stimulation had any effect whatsoever on moral behavior.

“Our goal here is to share a cautionary note with those who are discussing different techniques for moral enhancement,” Dubljevic says. “I am in favor of research that is done responsibly, but against dangerous social experiments.”

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The paper, “Moral enhancement meets normative and empirical reality: Assessing the practical feasibility of moral enhancement neurotechnologies,” is published in the journal Bioethics. This work was partially funded by the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships Programme and a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Conducting the Milgram experiment in Poland, psychologists show people still obey

Public Release: 14-Mar-2017

 

Society for Personality and Social Psychology

 

The title is direct, “Would you deliver an electric shock in 2015?” and the answer, according to the results of this replication study, is yes. Social psychologists from SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland replicated a modern version of the Milgram experiment and found results similar to studies conducted 50 years earlier.

The research appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

“Our objective was to examine how high a level of obedience we would encounter among residents of Poland,” write the authors. “It should be emphasized that tests in the Milgram paradigm have never been conducted in Central Europe. The unique history of the countries in the region made the issue of obedience towards authority seem exceptionally interesting to us.”

For those unfamiliar with the Milgram experiment, it tested people’s willingness to deliverer electric shocks to another person when encouraged by an experimenter. While no shocks were actually delivered in any of the experiments, the participants believed them to be real. The Milgram experiments demonstrated that under certain conditions of pressure from authority, people are willing to carry out commands even when it may harm someone else.

“Upon learning about Milgram’s experiments, a vast majority of people claim that ‘I would never behave in such a manner,’ says Tomasz Grzyb, a social psychologist involved in the research. “Our study has, yet again, illustrated the tremendous power of the situation the subjects are confronted with and how easily they can agree to things which they find unpleasant.”

While ethical considerations prevented a full replication of the experiments, researchers created a similar set-up with lower “shock” levels to test the level of obedience of participants.

The researchers recruited 80 participants (40 men and 40 women), with an age range from 18 to 69, for the study. Participants had up to 10 buttons to press, each a higher “shock” level. The results show that the level of participants’ obedience towards instructions is similarly high to that of the original Milgram studies.

They found that 90% of the people were willing to go to the highest level in the experiment. In terms of differences between peoples willingness to deliver shock to a man versus a woman, “It is worth remarking,” write the authors, “that although the number of people refusing to carry out the commands of the experimenter was three times greater when the student [the person receiving the “shock”] was a woman, the small sample size does not allow us to draw strong conclusions.”

In terms of how society has changed, Grzyb notes, “half a century after Milgram’s original research into obedience to authority, a striking majority of subjects are still willing to electrocute a helpless individual.”

Psychological ‘vaccine’ could help immunize public against ‘fake news’ on climate change

Public Release: 22-Jan-2017

 

University of Cambridge

 

In medicine, vaccinating against a virus involves exposing a body to a weakened version of the threat, enough to build a tolerance.

Social psychologists believe that a similar logic can be applied to help “inoculate” the public against misinformation, including the damaging influence of ‘fake news’ websites propagating myths about climate change.

A new study compared reactions to a well-known climate change fact with those to a popular misinformation campaign. When presented consecutively, the false material completely cancelled out the accurate statement in people’s minds – opinions ended up back where they started.

Researchers then added a small dose of misinformation to delivery of the climate change fact, by briefly introducing people to distortion tactics used by certain groups. This “inoculation” helped shift and hold opinions closer to the truth – despite the follow-up exposure to ‘fake news’.

The study on US attitudes found the inoculation technique shifted the climate change opinions of Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike.

Published in the journal Global Challenges, the study was conducted by researchers from the universities of Cambridge, UK, Yale and George Mason, US. It is one of the first on ‘inoculation theory’ to try and replicate a ‘real world’ scenario of conflicting information on a highly politicised subject.

“Misinformation can be sticky, spreading and replicating like a virus,” says lead author Dr Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist from the University of Cambridge and Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab.

“We wanted to see if we could find a ‘vaccine’ by pre-emptively exposing people to a small amount of the type of misinformation they might experience. A warning that helps preserve the facts.

“The idea is to provide a cognitive repertoire that helps build up resistance to misinformation, so the next time people come across it they are less susceptible.”

To find the most compelling climate change falsehood currently influencing public opinion, van der Linden and colleagues tested popular statements from corners of the internet on a nationally representative sample of US citizens, with each one rated for familiarity and persuasiveness.

The winner: the assertion that there is no consensus among scientists, apparently supported by the Oregon Global Warming Petition Project. This website claims to hold a petition signed by “over 31,000 American scientists” stating there is no evidence that human CO2 release will cause climate change.

The study also used the accurate statement that “97% of scientists agree on manmade climate change”. Prior work by van der Linden has shown this fact about scientific consensus is an effective ‘gateway’ for public acceptance of climate change.

In a disguised experiment, researchers tested the opposing statements on over 2,000 participants across the US spectrum of age, education, gender and politics using the online platform Amazon Mechanical Turk.

In order to gauge shifts in opinion, each participant was asked to estimate current levels of scientific agreement on climate change throughout the study.

Those shown only the fact about climate change consensus (in pie chart form) reported a large increase in perceived scientific agreement – an average of 20 percentage points. Those shown only misinformation (a screenshot of the Oregon petition website) dropped their belief in a scientific consensus by 9 percentage points.

Some participants were shown the accurate pie chart followed by the erroneous Oregon petition. The researchers were surprised to find the two neutralised each other (a tiny difference of 0.5 percentage points).

“It’s uncomfortable to think that misinformation is so potent in our society,” says van der Linden. “A lot of people’s attitudes toward climate change aren’t very firm. They are aware there is a debate going on, but aren’t necessarily sure what to believe. Conflicting messages can leave them feeling back at square one.”

Alongside the consensus fact, two groups in the study were randomly given ‘vaccines’:

  • A general inoculation, consisting of a warning that “some politically-motivated groups use misleading tactics to try and convince the public that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists”.
  • A detailed inoculation that picks apart the Oregon petition specifically. For example, by highlighting some of the signatories are fraudulent, such as Charles Darwin and members of the Spice Girls, and less than 1% of signatories have backgrounds in climate science.

For those ‘inoculated’ with this extra data, the misinformation that followed did not cancel out the accurate message.

The general inoculation saw an average opinion shift of 6.5 percentage points towards acceptance of the climate science consensus, despite exposure to fake news.

When the detailed inoculation was added to the general, it was almost 13 percentage points – two-thirds of the effect seen when participants were just given the consensus fact.

The research team point out that tobacco and fossil fuel companies have used psychological inoculation in the past to sow seeds of doubt, and to undermine scientific consensus in the public consciousness.

They say the latest study demonstrates that such techniques can be partially “reversed” to promote scientific consensus, and work in favour of the public good.

The researchers also analysed the results in terms of political parties. Before inoculation, the fake negated the factual for both Democrats and Independents. For Republicans, the fake actually overrode the facts by 9 percentage points.

However, following inoculation, the positive effects of the accurate information were preserved across all parties to match the average findings (around a third with just general inoculation; two-thirds with detailed).

“We found that inoculation messages were equally effective in shifting the opinions of Republicans, Independents and Democrats in a direction consistent with the conclusions of climate science,” says van der Linden.

“What’s striking is that, on average, we found no backfire effect to inoculation messages among groups predisposed to reject climate science, they didn’t seem to retreat into conspiracy theories.

“There will always be people completely resistant to change, but we tend to find there is room for most people to change their minds, even just a little.”

The current state of psychobiotics

Public Release: 25-Oct-2016

 

Cell Press

 

IMAGE

IMAGE: This is a systems level overview of psychobiotic action.

Credit: Sarkar et al./Trends in Neurosciences 2016

Now that we know that gut bacteria can speak to the brain — in ways that affect our mood, our appetite, and even our circadian rhythms — the next challenge for scientists is to control this communication. The science of psychobiotics, reviewed October 25 in Trends in Neurosciences, explores emerging strategies for planting brain-altering bacteria in the gut to provide mental benefits and the challenges ahead in understanding how such products could work for humans.

Psychobiotics is a recent term. While it’s been known for over a century that bacteria can have positive effects on physical health, only studies in the last 10-15 years have shown that there is a gut-brain connection. In mice, enhanced immune function, better reactions to stress, and even learning and memory advantages have been attributed to adding the right strain of bacteria. Human studies are more difficult to interpret because mood changes in response to probiotics are self-reported, but physiological changes, such as reduced cortical levels and inflammation, have been observed.

“Those studies give us confidence that gut bacteria are playing a causal role in very important biological processes, which we can then hope to exploit with psychobiotics,” says Review lead author Philip Burnet, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford. “We’re now on the search for mechanisms, mainly in animal models. The human studies are provocative and exciting, but ultimately, most have small sample sizes, so their replicability is difficult to estimate at present. As they say, we’re ‘cautiously optimistic.'”

Researchers seem to agree that the key players responsible for the bacteria-gut-brain axis — the nervous system of the intestines, the immune system, the vagus nerve, and possibly gut hormones and neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin and dopamine) — are involved. What varies is the excitement about the use of psychobiotics as methods of treatment for psychological disorders and enhancing cognition. For example, in mice we know that psychobiotics often increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is closely linked to learning and memory. At present, we have no way of knowing whether psychobiotics affect BDNF in humans, and a systematic review recently found no overall benefit of probiotic ingestion in humans.

However, probiotics are only part of the story. “Prebiotics (nutrition for gut bacteria) are another channel to alter gut bacteria,” Burnet says. “We call for an even further widening of the definition of ‘psychobiotics’ to include drugs such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, and activities such as exercise and eating, because of their effects on gut bacteria.”

For now, consumers of probiotics and prebiotics should be skeptical about products currently advertised to have psychobiotic effects. Such supplements have a lot of promise as “add-on” therapies for antidepressants or antipsychotics, but many more questions need to be answered about what strains of bacteria offer specific benefits, how they work, whether they offset other benefits, and how they will be regulated.

“Psychobiotics are a long way from their true translational potential. It’s a little boring to say that we need more studies, but that is always the case in any academic discipline,” Burnet says. “The technology and resources already exist for such investigations, so though we are enthusiastic, the enthusiasm needs to be tempered and channeled toward answering the core mechanistic questions.”

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Trends in Neurosciences, Sarkar et al.: “Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria-Brain Signals” http://www.cell.com/trends/neurosciences/fulltext/S0166-2236(16)30113-8

Trends in Neurosciences (@TrendsNeuro), published by Cell Press, is a monthly review journal that brings together research covering all disciplines of the neurosciences, allowing researchers, students and teachers to keep up with the last developments, insights, and future directions in the field Visit: http://www.cell.com/trends/neurosciences. To receive Cell Press media alerts, please contact press@cell.com.

Drinking beer helps us see happy faces faster

 

Date:

September 18, 2016

Source:

European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP)

Summary:

What does drinking beer really do? A new study has shown that drinking beer affects the way we see specific emotions and allows us to see happy faces faster. It also has surprising effects on sexual perception.

 

FULL STORY


What does drinking beer really do? A new study has shown that drinking beer affects the way we see specific emotions and allows us to see happy faces faster. It also has surprising effects on sexual perception. These results* are presented at the ECNP Conference in Vienna, with simultaneous publication in the peer-reviewed journal Psychopharmacology.

Although the vast majority of adults have direct experience of drinking alcohol, there is surprisingly little scientific data on the effects of alcohol on the processing of emotional social information or on sexual arousal, and no data on the effects of alcohol on empathy. Now researchers from the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland, have attempted to answer some of the questions around the way alcohol alters the way we relate to others, and how alcohol affects sexual arousal.

In a double-blind, random-order, cross-over study, researchers enlisted 60 healthy participants (30 men, 30 women) aged between 18 and 50.They then gave 30 of them a glass of alcoholic beer (0.5L depending on body weight and sex). This raised their blood alcohol content to around 0.4 g/L Thirty control subjects were given non-alcoholic beer.

The subjects then underwent a range of tasks, including a face recognition test, empathy test, and sexual arousal test. At the end of the tests, the subjects and controls were switched and the process repeated. The main results they found were:

· Drinking beer helps people see happy faces faster.

· It also increased the tendency to want to be with others in a happy social situation

· These effects were greater in women than in men, but were also greater in those who had previously shown some social inhibition

· It made it easier for people (especially women) to view explicit sexual images, but it didn’t seem to lead to greater sexual arousal

The researchers also found that ‘before and after’ levels of the hormone oxytocin did not change. (oxytocin is thought to mediate aspects of social cognition and is involved in bonding).

Lead researcher, Professor Matthias Liechti (University Hospital, Basel) said: “The effect of many medications and substances of abuse have been tested on various tests of emotion processing and social cognition. However, although, many people drink beer and know its effects through personal experience there is surprisingly little scientific data on its effects on the processing of emotional social information. We found that drinking a glass of beer helps people see happy faces faster, and enhances concern for positive emotional situations. Alcohol also facilitates the viewing of sexual images, consistent with disinhibition, but it does not actually enhance sexual arousal. These effects of alcohol on social cognition likely enhance sociability.”

Commenting, Professor Wim van den Brink (Amsterdam), past Chair of the ECNP Scientific Programme Committee, said: “This is an interesting study confirming conventional wisdom that alcohol is a social lubricant and that moderate use of alcohol makes people happier, more social and less inhibited when it comes to sexual engagement. The sex differences in the findings can either be explained by differences in blood alcohol concentration between males and females with the same alcohol intake, differences in tolerance due to differences in previous levels of alcohol consumption or by socio-cultural factors. It should also be recognized that different effects of alcohol can be seen according to whether your blood alcohol is increasing or decreasing, and of course how much alcohol you have taken. Finally, as Shakespeare noted**, alcohol-related emotions and cognitions as studied are not always consistent with actual behaviors.”

* See notes for editors for full conference abstract and publication information

** “It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.” (Macbeth Act 2. Scene 3) [4].

Research funded By the University Hospital Basel.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Cite This Page:

European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP). “Drinking beer helps us see happy faces faster.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 September 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160918214439.htm>.

Reading Harry Potter lowers Americans’ opinions of Donald Trump

Public Release: 20-Jul-2016

 

A new study finds that Harry Potter books, with their message of tolerance and respect for difference, make Americans less favorable to Donald Trump — and the more books read, the greater the effect.

University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communication

Harry may not be a full-on patronus against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s appeal, but reading Potter stories does appear to be a shield charm against Trump’s message.

A new study to be published in a special 2016 election issue of PS: Political Science and Politics finds that reading Harry Potter books leads Americans to take a lower opinion of Donald Trump. In fact, the more books the participants read, the greater the effect.

Even when controlling for party identification, gender, education level, age, evangelical self-identification, and social dominance orientation — all factors known to predict Americans’ attitudes toward Donald Trump — the Harry Potter effect remained.

The study, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Donald?,” was written by Professor Diana Mutz, the Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of Political Science and Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

In the nineteenth century, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was widely credited with shifting public opinion against slavery, but to date, there has been sparse evidence that fictional stories, even very popular ones, can influence political opinion. Evidence has largely come from laboratory experiments — for example, forcing people to read one of two stories — rather than observing real-world consumption of fictional stories.

Harry Potter’s popularity, with more than 450 million copies sold worldwide, made such a study possible in the public as a whole.

“Because Trump’s political views are widely viewed as opposed to the values espoused in the Harry Potter series,” Mutz writes in the study, “exposure to the Potter series may play an influential role in influencing how Americans respond to Donald Trump.”

To test that explanation for the Harry Potter effect, Mutz focused on three core themes from Harry Potter: The value of tolerance and respect for difference; opposition to violence and punitiveness; and opposition to authoritarianism.

In each case, Mutz points out, Donald Trump’s messages are opposed to the lessons conveyed in Harry Potter and closer to that of his enemy, Lord Voldemort. Examples abound throughout the series:

  • Harry and his friends advocate for oppressed house-elves and oppose Lord Voldemort’s quest for blood purity among wizards. Harry himself is of mixed wizard/muggle (non-wizard) ancestry. Trump, by contrast, has called for a temporary moratorium on Muslim immigration and made offensive comments about outgroups of all kinds, including women, Mexicans, Asians, and those with disabilities.
  • The Harry Potter series promotes non-violent means of conflict resolution; while Voldemort is willing to kill many times, the books’ protagonists consistently avoid unnecessary curses for killing, torture, or controlling others. Harry even saves the life of his Voldemort-aligned nemesis, Draco Malfoy. Trump, by contrast, has spoken widely about his fondness for waterboarding, and advocates the killing of terrorists’ families as a means of deterrence. He has praised his followers’ acts of violence against protesters at his rallies.
  • The Harry Potter protagonists work against authoritarian characters in the books. “As does Voldemort,” Mutz writes, “Trump portrays himself as a strongman who can bend others to his will, be they the Chinese government or terrorists.”

Mutz polled a nationally representative sample of 1,142 Americans in 2014, and again in 2016, asking about their Harry Potter consumption, their attitudes on issues such as waterboarding, the death penalty, the treatment of Muslims and gays, and (in 2016 only) their feelings about Donald Trump on a 0-100 scale.

Party affiliation did not affect the likelihood that a person had read the Harry Potter books, the study found; Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have all read Rowling’s books in roughly equal numbers.

The study found that each Harry Potter book read lowered respondents’ evaluations of Donald Trump by roughly 2-3 points on a 100 point scale.

“This may seem small,” Mutz acknowledges, “but for someone who has read all seven books, the total impact could lower their estimation of Trump by 18 points out of 100. The size of this effect is on par with the impact of party identification on attitudes toward gays and Muslims.”

Mutz’s data also shows that each Harry Potter book read also raised a person’s evaluations of Muslims and homosexuals, two groups chosen to gauge the respondent’s tolerance and respect for difference. Harry Potter also appeared to encourage opposition to punitive policies — gauged by responses to questions about the use of torture, killing terrorists, and support for the death penalty — though the effect size was small.

But reading Harry Potter also engendered opposition to Trump in ways that surpassed the effect of these two themes.

“It may simply be too difficult for Harry Potter readers to ignore the similarities between Trump and the power-hungry Voldemort,” she writes.

Mutz also collected data on viewership of Harry Potter movies, but found that these did not predict Trump opposition. This may be because of pre-existing partisan patterns in movie viewing whereby Republicans were less likely to see the movies than Democrats. Moreover, reading inherently requires much higher levels of attention and allows for greater nuance in characters, many of whom are neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Due to length, movies must leave out material from the full books, and they are more likely to emphasize action over the characters’ internal dilemmas and introspection.

So can Harry Potter defeat Donald Trump?

“Throughout the series, love and kindness consistently triumph over aggression and prejudice,” says Mutz. “It’s a powerful positive theme, and thus not surprising that readers understand the underlying message of this storyline, and are moved by it. These pro-unity views come through loud and clear in the storyline and have also been publicly voiced by the author of the series, J.K. Rowling, who has publicly espoused anti-Brexit and anti-Trump political views. Harry Potter’s popularity worldwide stands to make a difference not just in the U.S. election, but in elections across Europe that involve aggressive and domineering candidates worldwide.”

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About Diana Mutz

Diana C. Mutz, Ph.D., studies public opinion, political psychology and mass political behavior, with a particular emphasis on political communication. At Penn she holds the Samuel A. Stouffer Chair in Political Science and Communication, and also serves as Director of the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics.

Mutz was a recipient of a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship to study attitudes towards globalization. In 2011, she received the Murray Edelman Distinguished Career Award from the American Political Science Association. She was inducted as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.

Mutz has published several awarding-winning books including Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative versus Participative Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 1998) and most recently published In-Your-Face Politics: The Consequences of Uncivil Media (Princeton University Press, 2015), the recipient of the 2016 David O. Sears Book Award for the best book in political psychology from the International Society for Political Psychology.

What free will looks like in the brain

Public Release: 13-Jul-2016

 

Johns Hopkins University

 

IMAGE

IMAGE: An illustration of the human brain indicates where researchers found activity relating to free-will decisions.

Credit: Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University researchers are the first to glimpse the human brain making a purely voluntary decision to act.

Unlike most brain studies where scientists watch as people respond to cues or commands, Johns Hopkins researchers found a way to observe people’s brain activity as they made choices entirely on their own. The findings, which pinpoint the parts of the brain involved in decision-making and action, are now online, and due to appear in a special October issue of the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics.

“How do we peek into people’s brains and find out how we make choices entirely on our own?” asked Susan Courtney, a professor of psychological and brain sciences. “What parts of the brain are involved in free choice?”

The team devised a novel experiment to track a person’s focus of attention without using intrusive cues or commands. Participants, positioned in MRI scanners, were left alone to watch a split screen as rapid streams of colorful numbers and letters scrolled past on each side. They were asked simply to pay attention to one side for a while, then to the other side — when to switch sides was entirely up to them. Over an hour, the participants switched their attention from one side to the other dozens of times.

Researchers monitored the participants’ brains as they watched the media stream, both before and after they switched their focus.

For the first time, researchers were able to see both what happens in a human brain the moment a free choice is made, and what happens during the lead-up to that decision — how the brain behaves during the deliberation over whether to act.

The actual switching of attention from one side to the other was closely linked to activity in the parietal lobe, near the back of the brain. The activity leading up to the choice — that is, the period of deliberation — occurred in the frontal cortex, in areas involved in reasoning and movement, and in the basal ganglia, regions deep within the brain that are responsible for a variety of motor control functions including the ability to start an action. The frontal-lobe activity began earlier than it would have if participants had been told to shift attention, clearly demonstrating that the brain was preparing a purely voluntary action rather than merely following an order.

Together, the two brain regions make up the core components underlying the will to act, the authors concluded.

“What’s truly remarkable about this project,” said Leon Gmeindl, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the study, “is that by devising a way to detect brain events that are otherwise invisible — that is, a kind of high-tech ‘mind reading’ — we uncovered important information about what may be the neural underpinnings of volition, or free will.”

Now that scientists have a way to track choices made from free will, they can use the technique to determine what’s happening in the brain as people wrestle with other, more complex decisions. For instance, researchers could observe the brain as someone tried to decide between snacking on a doughnut or on an apple — watching as someone weighed short-term rewards against long-term rewards, and perhaps being able to pinpoint the tipping point between the two.

“We now have the ability to learn more about how we make decisions in the real world,” Courtney said.

The research team also included former Johns Hopkins doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows Yu-Chin Chiu, Michael S. Esterman, and Adam S. Greenberg. The paper is dedicated to the last author of the study, Steven Yantis, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences who died of cancer in 2014.

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This research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants T32EY07143, T32AG027668, F31-NS055664, R01-MH082957, and R01-DA013165.

Related video here

Brain modification can prevent Bullying

“When we artificially induced the rapid GABA neuron activation between the basal forebrain and lateral habenula, we watched in real time as the aggressive mice became docile and no longer showed bullying behavior,”

Public Release: 29-Jun-2016

Motivation to bully is regulated by brain reward circuits

The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Individual differences in the motivation to engage in or to avoid aggressive social interaction (bullying) are mediated by the basal forebrain, lateral habenula circuit in the brain, according to a study conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published June 30 in the journal Nature.

The Mount Sinai study focuses on identifying the mechanisms by which specific brain reward regions interact to modulate the motivational or rewarding component of aggressive behavior using a mouse model.

Maladaptive aggressive behavior is associated with a number of psychiatric disorders and is thought to partly result from inappropriate activation of brain reward systems in response to aggressive or violent social stimuli. While previous research has implicated the basal forebrain as a potentially important brain reward region for aggression-related behaviors, there had been limited functional evidence that the basal forebrain, or its projections to other brain regions, directly controls the rewarding aspects of aggression.

“Our study is the first to demonstrate that bullying behavior activates a primary brain reward circuit that makes it pleasurable to a subset of individuals,” says Scott Russo, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Furthermore, we show that manipulating activity in this circuit alters the activity of brain cells and ultimately, aggression behavior.”

To study individual differences in aggressive behavior, the current team established a mouse behavioral model that exposed adult males to a younger subordinate mouse for three minutes each day for three consecutive days, and found that 70 percent of mice exhibited aggressive behavior (AGGs) while 30 percent of mice show no aggression at all (NONs).

Using conditioned place preference, a technique commonly used in animal studies to evaluate preferences for environmental stimuli that have been associated with a positive or negative reward, study investigators research found that AGGs mice bullied/attacked the subordinate mouse and subsequently developed a conditioned place preference for the intruder-paired context, suggesting that the aggressive mice found the ability to subordinate another mouse rewarding. Conversely, NONs mice did not bully/attack the intruder mouse and subsequently developed a conditioned place aversion.

All sensations, movements, thoughts, memories and feelings are the result of signals that pass through nerve cells (neurons), the primary functional unit of the brain and central nervous system. When a signal passes from the cell body to the end of the cell axon that stretches away from the cell body, chemicals known as neurotransmitters are released into the synapse, the place where signals are exchanged between cells. The neurotransmitters then cross the synapse and attach to receptors on the neighboring cell, which can change the properties of the receiving cell. Found throughout the brain and produced by neurons, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that binds to GABA receptors, making the neighboring neuron less excitable.

The current study team investigated GABA projection neurons that can send long-range connections to inhibit neurons in other brain regions. Specifically, using electrophysiological and histological techniques, the research team found that when exposed to the opportunity to bully another individual, AGGs mice exhibit increased activity of the basal forebrain GABA projection neurons that reduce activity in the lateral habenula, an area of the brain that would normally encode an aversion to aggressive stimuli. Conversely, they found NONs exhibit reduced basal forebrain activation and a subsequent increase in lateral habenula neuronal firing, which makes the aggression stimuli aversive.

While previous research has found the lateral habenula to play a role in negative moods states and aversion across a broad range of species, including mice and humans, little was previously known about the neural mechanisms that directly regulate the motivational component of aggressive behavior.

Researchers then used optogenetic tools to directly manipulate the activity of GABA between the basal forebrain and the lateral habenula, demonstrating that stimulation or inhibition of BF-lHb projections is both sufficient and necessary to alter the inclination to engage in or avoid the opportunity to bully.

“When we artificially induced the rapid GABA neuron activation between the basal forebrain and lateral habenula, we watched in real time as the aggressive mice became docile and no longer showed bullying behavior,” says Dr. Russo. “Our study is unique in that we took information about the basal forebrain, lateral habenula projections and then actually went back and manipulated these connections within animals to conclusively show that the circuits bi-directionally control aggression behavior.”

The study findings demonstrate a previously unidentified functional role for the lateral habenula and its inputs from the basal forebrain in mediating the rewarding component of aggression and suggest that targeting shared underlying deficits in motivational circuitry may provide useful information for the development of novel therapeutic drugs for treating aggression-related neuropsychiatric disorders.

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This research was supported by US National Institute of Health grants R01 MH090264, P50 MH096890 and P50 AT008661-01 (SJR), R01 MH092306 (MHH), T32 MH087004 (MLP, MH and MF), T32 MH096678 (MLP), F30 MH100835 (MH), F31 MH105217 (MLP), NIGMS 1FI2GM117583-01 (SAG) and NSFC 81200862 (HZ).

About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is an integrated health system committed to providing distinguished care, conducting transformative research, and advancing biomedical education. Structured around seven hospital campuses and a single medical school, the Health System has an extensive ambulatory network and a range of inpatient and outpatient services–from community-based facilities to tertiary and quaternary care.

The System includes approximately 7,000 primary and specialty care physicians; 12 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 140 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and 31 affiliated community health centers. Physicians are affiliated with the renowned Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which is ranked among the highest in the nation in National Institutes of Health funding per investigator. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked as one of the nation’s top 10 hospitals in Geriatrics, Cardiology/Heart Surgery, and Gastroenterology, and is in the top 25 in five other specialties in the 2015-2016 “Best Hospitals” issue of U.S. News & World Report. Mount Sinai’s Kravis Children’s Hospital also is ranked in seven out of ten pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report. The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked 11th nationally for Ophthalmology, while Mount Sinai Beth Israel is ranked regionally.

For more information, visit http://www.mountsinai.org or find Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Consumers’ trust in online user ratings misplaced, says CU-Boulder study

Public Release: 28-Apr-2016

 

University of Colorado at Boulder

The belief that online user ratings are good indicators of product quality is largely an illusion, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study.

Yet almost all retailers provide user ratings on their websites and many consumers rely on the information when making purchase decisions, according to the paper, published this month in the Journal of Consumer Research.

For the study, researchers examined user ratings for 1,272 products across 120 product categories, such as car seats, bike helmets, sunblock, air filters, smoke alarms and blood pressure monitors. Their analyses show a very low correspondence between average user ratings of products on Amazon.com and product ratings, based on objective tests, found in consumer reports.

“The likelihood that an item with a higher user rating performs objectively better than an item with a lower user rating is only 57 percent,” said Bart de Langhe, author of the study and professor of marketing at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business. “A correspondence of 50 percent would be random, so user ratings provide very little insight about objective product performance.”

In addition, user ratings do not predict the resale value of used products, found the study.

“Products with better reliability and performance retain more of their value over time,” said de Langhe. “If average user ratings reflect objective quality, they should correlate positively with resale values. The fact that they don’t casts more doubt on the validity of user ratings.”

Philip Fernbach and Donald Lichtestein, professors of marketing at the Leeds School, co-authored the study, which also examined what information consumers rely on when judging the quality of products on Amazon.com. Consumers rely very heavily on the average user rating, which is presented front and center, according to the paper. They do this regardless of whether the average rating is based on a small or a large sample of consumers.

“This is a mistake,” said de Langhe. “Oftentimes, there are just not enough ratings for a product or there is too much disagreement among reviewers. In this case, consumers should not trust the average very much, but they do nonetheless.”

In light of their findings, the authors recommend consumers be more cautious when they make inferences about product quality based on user ratings.

“Accurately evaluating product performance is not an easy task,” said de Langhe. “Different alternatives need to be evaluated side by side under the same conditions using objective measurement instruments. You can’t assume that people follow such a scientific approach before they rate products online.”

What are the implications for marketing and branding in the age of user-generated content? Because consumers comparing two products with the same objective qualities tend to give higher ratings to the one that is more expensive or from a brand with a premium reputation, marketing still counts.

“Brand managers should not fear for their jobs just yet,” said de Langhe. “User ratings do not shield consumers from the influence of good old-fashioned advertising and price-signaling.”

Emotion detector

Public Release: 27-Apr-2016

 

Facial expression recognition to improve learning, gaming

Inderscience Publishers

A computer algorithm that can tell whether you are happy or sad, angry or expressing almost any other emotion would be a boon to the games industry. New research published in the International Journal of Computational Vision and Robotics describes such a system that is almost 99 percent accurate.

Hyung-Il Choi of the School of Media, at Soongsil University, in Seoul, Korea, working with Nhan Thi Cao and An Hoa Ton-That of Vietnam National University, in Ho Chi Minh City, explain that capturing the emotions of players could be used in interactive games for various purposes, such as transferring the player’s emotions to his or her avatar, or activating suitable actions to communicate with other players in various scenarios including educational applications.

The team has developed a simple, fast system that they have shown to be almost 99% accurate on thousands of test facial images. Fundamentally, the system uses mathematical processing to measure eyebrow position, the openness of the eyes, mouth shape and other factors in order to correlate those with basic human emotions: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise and a neutral expression. The system can work even on images of faces just 48 pixels square.

Facial expression recognition has been the focus of much research in recent years, thanks to the emergence of intelligence communication systems, data-driven animation and intelligent game applications, the team reports. “When facial expressions recognition of players is applied in an intelligent game system, the experience can become more interactive, vivid and attractive,” the team says. One might also imagine that the same system could be used to track the emotional expressions of actors voicing the characters in animated movies and other media for more realistic real-time emotional expression.

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Cao, N.T., Ton-That, A.H. and Choi, H-I. (2016) ‘An effective facial expression recognition approach for intelligent game systems’, Int. J. Computational Vision and Robotics, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp.223-234.

The first happiness genes have been located

Public Release: 25-Apr-2016

 

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam scientists have found a genetic overlap between happiness and depression

 

For the first time in history, researchers have isolated the parts of the human genome that could explain the differences in how humans experience happiness. These are the findings of a large-scale international study in over 298,000 people, conducted by VU Amsterdam professors Meike Bartels (Genetics and Wellbeing) and Philipp Koellinger (Genoeconomics). The researchers found three genetic variants for happiness, two variants that can account for differences in symptoms of depression, and eleven locations on the human genome that could account for varying degrees of neuroticism. The genetic variants for happiness are mainly expressed in the central nervous system and the adrenal glands and pancreatic system. The results were published this week, in the journal Nature Genetics.

Genetic influences on happiness

Prior twin and family research using information from the Netherlands Twin Register and other sources has shown that individual differences in happiness and well-being can be partially ascribed to genetic differences between people. Happiness and wellbeing are the topics of an increasing number of scientific studies in a variety of academic disciplines. Policy makers are increasingly focusing on wellbeing, drawing primarily on the growing body of evidence suggesting that wellbeing is a factor in mental and physical health.

VU Amsterdam professor Meike Bartels explains: “This study is both a milestone and a new beginning: A milestone because we are now certain that there is a genetic aspect to happiness and a new beginning because the three variants that we know are involved account for only a small fraction of the differences between human beings. We expect that many variants will play a part.” Locating these variants will also allow us to better study the interplay between nature and nurture, as the environment is certainly responsible — to some extent — for differences in the way people experience happiness.”

Further research is now possible

These findings, which resulted from a collaborative project with the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium, are available for follow-up research. This will create an increasingly clearer picture of what causes differences in happiness. Professor Bartels points out that “The genetic overlap with depressive symptoms that we have found is also a breakthrough. This shows that research into happiness can also offer new insights into the causes of one of the greatest medical challenges of our time: depression”. The research effort headed by professors Bartels and Koellinger is the largest ever study into the genetic variants for happiness. It was successfully completed thanks to the assistance of 181 researchers from 145 scientific institutes, including medical centres in Rotterdam, Groningen, Leiden and Utrecht, and the universities of Rotterdam and Groningen.

VU Amsterdam

Ever since it was founded in 1880, VU Amsterdam has been known for its distinctive approach to knowledge. VU is an open organization, strongly linked to people and society. We ask and expect our 23.000 students and over 4.500, researchers, PhD candidates and employees to look further — to look further than their own interests and their own field, and further than what is familiar and further than the here and now. VU is looking further.

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NOTE TO EDITORS

The research is published in Nature Genetics Genetic variants associated with subjective well-being, depressive symptoms and neuroticism identified through genome-wide analyses. For more information you can contact Meike Bartels.

Transfer of gut bacteria can induce social withdrawal behaviors

Public Release: 20-Apr-2016

Transfer of gut bacteria affects brain function and nerve fiber insulation

Researchers transferred fecal bacteria from the gut of depressed mice to genetically distinct mice exhibiting non-depressed behavior. The study showed that the transfer of microbiota was sufficient to induce social withdrawal behaviors and change the expression of myelin genes and myelin content in the brains of the recipient mice.

The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

 

Specific combinations of gut bacteria produce substances that affect myelin content and cause social avoidance behaviors in mice, according to a study conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published today in the medical journal eLife. This research suggests that targeting intestinal bacteria, or their metabolites, could be one way to treat debilitating psychiatric disorders and demyelinating diseases, like multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder characterized by damage to myelin, the insulating sheath around the axons of nerve cells that allows for faster electrical impulse conduction. Myelination is critical for everyday brain function. Damaged myelin results in altered synaptic transmission and clinical symptoms. Previous research from the Center of Excellence for Myelin Repair at The Friedman Brain Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine reported a thinning of myelin and a reduction of myelinated fibers in preclinical models of depression, thereby providing a biological insight for the high rate of depression in MS patients.

This current study led by Patrizia Casaccia, MD, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience, Genetics and Genomics, and Neurology, and Chief of the Center of Excellence for Myelin Repair, and post-doctoral fellow Mar Gacias, PhD, identifies bacteria-derived gut metabolites that can affect myelin content in the brains of mice and induce depression-like symptoms.

Researchers transferred fecal bacteria from the gut of depressed mice to genetically distinct mice exhibiting non-depressed behavior. The study showed that the transfer of microbiota was sufficient to induce social withdrawal behaviors and change the expression of myelin genes and myelin content in the brains of the recipient mice.

“Our findings will help in the understanding of microbiota in modulating multiple sclerosis,” says Dr. Casaccia. “The study provides a proof of principle that gut metabolites have the ability to affect myelin content irrespective of the genetic makeup of mice. We are hopeful these metabolites can be targeted for potential future therapies.”

In an effort to define the mechanism of gut-brain communication, researchers identified bacterial communities associated with increased levels of cresol, a substance that has the ability to pass the blood-brain barrier. When the precursors of myelin-forming cells were cultured in a dish and exposed to cresol, they lost their ability to form myelin, thereby suggesting that a gut-derived metabolite impacted myelin formation in the brain.

Further study is needed to translate these findings to humans and to identify bacterial populations with the potential to boost myelin production.

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Virginia Commonwealth University and BERG Health contributed to this study.

The National Institutes of Health (Award# R37NS042925) provided funding. This research does not represent the official views of the NIH.

About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is an integrated health system committed to providing distinguished care, conducting transformative research, and advancing biomedical education. Structured around seven hospital campuses and a single medical school, the Health System has an extensive ambulatory network and a range of inpatient and outpatient services–from community-based facilities to tertiary and quaternary care.

The System includes approximately 6,100 primary and specialty care physicians; 12 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 140 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and 31 affiliated community health centers. Physicians are affiliated with the renowned Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which is ranked among the highest in the nation in National Institutes of Health funding per investigator. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked as one of the nation’s top 10 hospitals in Geriatrics, Cardiology/Heart Surgery, and Gastroenterology, and is in the top 25 in five other specialties in the 2014-2015 “Best Hospitals” issue of U.S. News & World Report. Mount Sinai’s Kravis Children’s Hospital also is ranked in seven out of ten pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report. The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked 11th nationally for Ophthalmology, while Mount Sinai Beth Israel is ranked regionally.

For more information, visit http://www.mountsinai.org/, or find Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Curiosity leads us to seek out unpleasant, painful outcomes

Public Release: 8-Apr-2016

 

Association for Psychological Science

Curiosity is a powerful motivator, leading us to make important discoveries and explore the unknown. But new research shows that our curiosity is sometimes so powerful that it leads us to choose potentially painful and unpleasant outcomes that have no apparent benefits, even when we have the ability to avoid these outcomes altogether.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Just as curiosity drove Pandora to open the box despite being warned of its pernicious contents, curiosity can lure humans–like you and me–to seek information with predictably ominous consequences,” explains study author Bowen Ruan of the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Previous research had shown that curiosity drives people to seek out miserable experiences, including watching horrible scenes and exploring dangerous terrain. Ruan and co-author Christopher Hsee at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business hypothesized that this curiosity stems from humans’ deep-seated desire to resolve uncertainty regardless of the harm it may bring.

To test this hypothesis, the researchers designed a series of experiments that exposed participants to a variety of particularly unpleasant outcomes.

In one study, 54 college student participants came to the lab and were shown electric-shock pens that were supposedly left over from a previous experiment; they were told that they could click the pens to kill time while they waited for the “real” study task to begin.

For some of the participants, the pens were color coded according to whether they would deliver a shock–five pens that would shock had a red sticker and five pens that wouldn’t shock had a green sticker–meaning that the students knew with certainty what would happen when they clicked a given pen.

Other participants, however, saw 10 pens that all bore yellow stickers and were told that some of the pens had batteries while others didn’t. In this case, the outcome of clicking each pen was uncertain.

The results were clear: Students in the uncertain condition clicked noticeably more pens. On average, those who didn’t know what the outcome would be clicked about five pens, while those who knew the outcome clicked about one green pen and two red pens.

A second study, in which students were shown 10 pens of each color, confirmed these results. Once again, students clicked more of the uncertain outcome pens than the pens that were clearly identified.

To find out whether the findings would hold under other conditions and whether resolving curiosity would indeed make participants feel worse, the researchers designed a third study involving exposure to pleasant and unpleasant sounds. Participants saw a computer display of 48 buttons, each of which played a sound when clicked. Buttons labeled “nails” would play a sound of nails on a chalkboard, buttons labeled “water” played a sound of running water, and buttons labeled “?” had an equal chance of playing either sound.

On average, students who saw mostly uncertain buttons clicked about 39 buttons, while those who saw mostly identified buttons clicked only about 28.

Interestingly, the results also showed that participants who clicked more buttons reported feeling worse afterward, and those who faced mostly uncertain outcomes reported being less happy than those who faced mostly certain outcomes.

Additional findings suggest that asking people to predict the consequences of their choices might dampen the power of their curiosity. Participants in an online study were presented with obscured pictures of unpleasant-looking insects–such as centipedes, cockroaches, and silverfish–and they could click on image to reveal the insect.

As in the previous studies, participants faced with uncertain outcomes clicked on more pictures (and felt worse overall); but when they had to predict how they would feel about their choice first, they clicked on relatively fewer pens (and felt happier overall).

Together, the findings from this series of simple experiments make a big point: While curiosity is often seen as a human blessing, it can also be a human curse. Many times, we seek out information to satisfy our curiosity without considering what will happen when we do.

“Curious people do not always perform consequentialist cost-benefit analyses and may be tempted to seek the missing information even when the outcome is expectedly harmful,” Ruan and Hsee write in their paper.

“We hope this research draws attention to the risk of information seeking in our epoch, the epoch of information,” Ruan concludes.

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For more information about this study, please contact: Bowen Ruan at bruan@wisc.edu.

The article press release abstract is available online: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/03/21/0956797616631733.abstract

For a copy of the article “The Pandora Effect: The Power and Peril of Curiosity” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

Boost fundraising with something simple: Sandpaper

Public Release: 25-Mar-2016

 

Society for Consumer Psychology

Not getting enough charitable donations? Try having people to touch sandpaper before you ask for money. A new study shows that touching rough surfaces triggers the emotion of empathy, which motivates people to donate to non-profit organizations.

“We found that when people were experiencing mild discomfort as a result of touching a rough surface, they were more aware of discomfort in their immediate environment,” said Chen Wang, an assistant marketing professor at Drexel University in Pennsylvania. “They could better empathize with individuals who were suffering.”

Their findings are available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. In one experiment, the team tested brain activity when participants viewed painful versus neutral images. In some trials the participants held an object wrapped in sandpaper — known as haptic roughness — while they saw the pictures. In other trials they held an object wrapped in smooth paper. The participants showed more brain activity when touching the sandpaper than the smooth paper, particularly when viewing the painful images.

In another experiment the researchers asked one group of participants to wash their hands with a smooth soap and the other with a rough, exfoliating solution. Then each group filled out questionnaires rating their willingness to donate to a charity. The group that had used the rough hand wash was more willing than the soft soap group to donate to a lesser-known foundation that supports people who suffer from Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease in which the white blood cells attack the moisture-producing glands.

This difference between the groups did not occur when participants rated their willingness to give to the well-known National Breast Cancer Foundation. Familiarity with a charity overrode the effect of haptic roughness, Wang said.

The findings could have significant implications for less well-known charities that are trying to raise money, according to the study.

“Often smaller charities invest a lot of money in advertising to build awareness, but our data suggests that introducing haptic roughness into outreach materials could be an innovative and cost-effective approach,” she said.

Wang suggested that these organizations could include rough-textured material in mailers or wrap clipboards in sandpaper. This strategy could improve donation levels for the 30 percent of smaller non-profits nationwide that raise less than $100,000 in donations annually, according to the Urban Institute.

“The goal of our work is to make a social impact,” Wang said. “It’s critical to identify novel approaches to meet the massive humanitarian needs in our complex, modern world, and I hope we have done that.”

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See more at: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-consumer-psychology/forthcoming-articles/experiencing-haptic-roughness-promotes-empathy/

The study will appear in the July issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

For more information, contact:

Chen Wang, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Marketing
Drexel University
Tel: 215-571-3546
Email: chen.wang635@drexel.edu

Tracing the scent of fear

“a new technique that uses specially-engineered viruses to uncover the nerve pathway involved”

Public Release: 21-Mar-2016

Study identifies neurons, brain region involved in rodent stress response

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

SEATTLE – The odor of bobcat urine, if you ever get a chance to take a whiff, is unforgettable — like rotten meat combined with sweat, with something indescribably feral underlying it. To humans, it’s just nose-wrinklingly disgusting.

But to mice, it smells like one thing: fear.

Rodents respond instinctually to this trace of their natural predator. Even those mice raised in the lab, which have never been exposed to bobcats — or cats of any sort — respond to it.

For mice, this instinctual reaction can be lifesaving. The fear response triggers a surge of stress hormones which sends the mice into hyper-preparedness, helping them to respond and flee quickly from hungry predators. Although humans and mice have different stress triggers, this response is reminiscent of our physiological responses to fear and stress.

Now, a study has identified nerve cells and a region of the brain behind this innate fear response. With a new technique that uses specially-engineered viruses to uncover the nerve pathway involved, a research team led by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center biologist and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Linda Buck has pinpointed a tiny area of the mouse brain responsible for this scent-induced reaction.

It’s known as the “amygdalo-piriform transition area,” or AmPir for short; the researchers were surprised to find that the fear response was so concentrated in this one small region of the olfactory cortex, a part of the brain responsible for perceiving odors.

Although humans do not show innate fear to predator odors, studying how mice respond to predator cues can help us learn about our own innate emotions and responses, Buck said. On a general level, the rodent stress response looks a lot like our own.

“Understanding the neural circuitry underlying fear and stress of various sorts is very important, not just to understand the basic biology and functions of the brain, but also for potentially finding evolutionarily conserved neural circuits and genes that play an important role in humans,” said Buck.

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Buck and her team describe their findings in a paper published online March 21 in the journal Nature. Their study was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

UVA scientists use synthetic gene and magnets to alter behavior of mice, fish

Public Release: 7-Mar-2016

 

University of Virginia

University of Virginia scientists have demonstrated that neurons in the brain that have been supplemented with a synthetic gene can be remotely manipulated by a magnetic field. The finding has implications for possible future treatment of a range of neurological diseases, such as schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease.

“We may have discovered a major step toward developing a ‘dream tool’ for remotely controlling neural circuits, by manipulating specific cells using engineered gene products that respond to magnets,” said Ali Deniz Güler, a UVA biology professor who led the study in his neuroscience lab.

The finding is published online this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Güler and UVA neuroscience Ph.D. candidate Michael Wheeler engineered a gene that can make a cell sense the presence of a magnetic field. They coupled a gene that senses cellular stretch with another gene that functions as a nanomagnet. This synthetic combination turns on only when in the presence of a magnetic field, allowing them to control neuronal activity in the brain.

“We wanted to activate with magnetism a specific set of neurons in the brain responsible for pleasure,” Güler said.

Using gene therapy to insert the gene, they expressed the synthetic gene in adult mice or in zebrafish embryos, and witnessed remote activation of neurons in the presence of a magnetic field through the altered behavior of the animals.

“We have validated that we can turn on cells in the brain with simple magnets, something that has not been achieved before,” Güler said. “We are actually magnetically evoking behavioral responses in animals by creating a cell that can sense magnetic fields. This could pave the way toward eventually treating neurological diseases through magnetism. It is precise and noninvasive.”

Güler and Wheeler call their synthetic gene “Magneto,” after a Marvel Comics cartoon character who can alter magnetic fields.

In a series of tests on mice that had the Magneto gene used to express comfort or pleasure, the mice voluntarily went to a chamber of their cage where the magnetic field was present, similar to going there as if food was present. Likewise, when the magnetic field was turned off, the mice did not display any particular preference for that area of the cage. But when the magnetic field was turned back on, they again moved to that area of the cage.

Mice without the Magneto gene did not display any behavioral changes in the presence of magnets.

“The mice were hanging out in the magnetic chamber because they were experiencing some pleasure there, since we were remotely turning on the neurons that signal reward,” Wheeler said.

In the team’s studies on zebrafish embryos, the embryos responded to a magnetic field by twirling, which they generally do in response to pressures in the water. When the magnetic field was removed, the embryos greatly reduced their twirling behavior.

“These response behaviors, in two separate species of animals, validate that the cells containing the synthetic gene turn on in a magnetic field,” Wheeler noted. “This field can penetrate the brain regardless of tissue density – like MRI – and can turn on specific circuits at a specific time, whenever the test subject is within the magnetic field.”

Güler added, “If we can use gene therapy to exert control over neurons, the potential exists to modify or eliminate the effects of certain neurological diseases by controlling ill-firing neural networks. Our method may be one possible approach.”

He emphasized, however, that at present the method is being used to better understand brain development, function and pathology.

Scientists map roots of premeditated, violent ‘intent’ in animal brain

“targeting this part of the human brain with treatments meant to curb aggression remains “only a distant possibility, even if related ethical and legal issues could be resolved,”

Public Release: 7-Mar-2016

 

NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine

The bad intentions that often precede violence originate in a specific brain region, according to a study in mice led by researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center and published in Nature Neuroscience online March 7.

The work is the first, say the study authors, to tie warning signs of premeditated violence — stalking, bullying, and possibly sexual aggression — to a distinct part of the hypothalamus, the brain region that also controls body temperature, hunger and sleep in mammals. The structure is anatomically known as the ventrolateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamus, or VMHvl, because of its central location inside the brain on the underside of the hypothalamus.

“Our study pinpoints the brain circuits essential to the aggressive motivations that build up as animals prepare to attack,” says study senior investigator Dayu Lin, PhD, an assistant professor at the Neuroscience Institute at NYU Langone.

The new study builds on Lin’s ongoing research effort to better understand aggressive motivation, along with related brain biomarkers and biochemical pathways. Its clinical implications are potentially widespread: If the field can learn how to control aggressive motivation, it could lead to better control of these behaviors without the need for sedation. Lin also last month published the results of a mouse study on the origins of rage in the journal Current Biology.

Despite these results in mice, which share many brain structures with humans, targeting this part of the human brain with treatments meant to curb aggression remains “only a distant possibility, even if related ethical and legal issues could be resolved,” says Lin. “That said, our results argue that the ventrolateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamus should be studied further as part of future efforts seeking to correct behaviors from bullying to sexual predation.”

For the current study, male mice trained to attack weaker male mice were monitored to see how aggressively they tried to gain access to and bully another mouse. One measure was the number of attempts made by aggressive mice to poke their noses through holes that led to another mouse entering their space, and which they could then attack.

While past studies by the team had linked aggressive actions to this part of the brain, the current study specifically tracked the premeditated, motivational aspect of the behavior to the VMHvl.

By using sets of probes that measured nerve activity before, during, and after mice planned to attack, the research team found that nerve cell activity in the VMHvl routinely peaked just before mice began to hole poke, even when the aggressive mice could not yet smell or see their target.

Nerve cell activity in the VMHvl also increased by as much as tenfold during the initial seconds after the weaker target mice appeared. Genetically stopping VMHvl activity ceased nearly all aggressive motivations in mice, says Lin, but did not inhibit other learned behaviors, such as nose poking for access to a treat.

Lin says her laboratory next plans to investigate which specific nerve cells and circuits in the VMHvl are involved in motivating and carrying out aggression.

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Funding support for the studies was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant RO1-MH101377. Additional funding support was provided by the Ester A. and Joseph Klingenstein Fund, Whitehall Foundation, Sloan Foundation, and McKnight Foundation.

Besides Lin, Annegret Faulkner, PhD, also at NYU Langone, served as study lead investigator for the latest research, which took three years to complete.

Media Inquiries:

David March
Phone: 212-404-3528
david.march@nyumc.org

It’s easy to get people to do bad things — this might be why

Public Release: 18-Feb-2016

 

Cell Press

In the 1960s, psychologist Stanley Milgram famously conducted experiments in a Yale University basement showing that people will apparently inflict pain on another person simply because someone in a position of authority told them to. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on Feb. 18, 2016 have taken those classic experiments one step further, providing new evidence that might help to explain why people are so easily coerced.

According to the new work by researchers at University College London and Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, when someone gives us an order, we actually feel less responsible for our actions and their painful consequences.

“Maybe some basic feeling of responsibility really is reduced when we are coerced into doing something,” says Patrick Haggard of University College London. “People often claim reduced responsibility because they were ‘only obeying orders.’ But are they just saying that to avoid punishment, or do orders really change the basic experience of responsibility?”

Haggard and his colleagues sought to answer this question by measuring a phenomenon called “sense of agency.” This is the feeling that one’s actions have caused some external event. For instance, Haggard has explained, if you flip a light switch and a light comes on, you often experience those events as being nearly simultaneous, even if there’s a lag.

Haggard’s team has already shown that people feel reduced sense of agency when their actions produce a negative versus a positive outcome. In other words, people literally perceive a longer lapse in time between an action (in this case, presses of a computer key) and its outcome when the end result is negative compared to when it is positive.

In the new study, the researchers measured sense of agency in the same way to explore changes in perception when someone delivered a mild electric shock to another person, either on orders or by their own choice. In other experiments, the harm inflicted on the other person was a financial penalty instead of a minor pain.

When the participants chose freely, they were encouraged along with the promise of a small financial gain. They also knew exactly what kind of harm they were inflicting because pairs of participants traded places with each other. Those who delivered shocks or suffered financial losses in some trial sessions received the same treatment in others.

The researchers report that coercion led to a small but significant increase in the perceived time interval between action and outcome in comparison to situations in which participants freely chose to inflict the same harms. Interestingly, coercion also reduced the neural processing of the outcomes of one’s own action. The researchers concluded that claims of reduced responsibility under coercion could indeed correspond to a change in basic feelings of responsibility–not just attempts to avoid social punishment.

“When you feel a sense of agency — you feel responsible for an outcome — you get changes in experience of time where what you do and the outcome you produce seem closer together,” Haggard says.

Haggard says it would now be interesting to find out whether some people more readily experience a reduced sense of agency under coercion than others. “Fortunately for society, there have always been some people who stand up to coercion,” he says.

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The authors were supported by the FRS-F.N.R.S, the AHRC, the ERC, and the ESRC.

Current Biology, Caspar et al.: “Coercion Changes the Sense of Agency in the Human Brain” http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.12.067

Current Biology (@CurrentBiology), published by Cell Press, is a bimonthly journal that features papers across all areas of biology. Current Biology strives to foster communication across fields of biology, both by publishing important findings of general interest and through highly accessible front matter for non-specialists. For more information please visit http://www.cell.com/current-biology. To receive Cell Press media alerts, contact press@cell.com.

The human brain uses several frequency bands for the flow of information between lower and higher areas

Public Release: 28-Jan-2016

The brain communicates on several channels

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

IMAGE

Caption

The human brain ‘fires’ on different channels: nerve cells are active in alpha, beta and gamma channels with different frequencies. This ensures that information can be exchanged between differing brain areas — also, in opposite directions, without the information streams getting mixed up.

Credit: ESI/ G. Michalareas

In the brain, the visual cortex processes visual information and passes it from lower to higher areas of the brain. However, information also flows in the opposite direction, e.g. to direct attention to particular stimuli. But how does the brain know which path the information should take? Researchers at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute (ESI) for Neuroscience in Frankfurt in Cooperation with Max Planck Society have now demonstrated that the visual cortex of human subjects uses different frequency channels depending on the direction in which information is being transported. Their findings were only possible thanks to previous research with macaque monkeys. They might help to understand the cause of psychiatric illnesses in which the two channels appear to be mixed up.

The terms “bottom-up” and “top-down” refer to processes by which the human brain processes information. “In the visual system, bottom-up communication occurs when information enters through the eyes and flows from lower to higher visual areas, i.e. from bottom to top,” explains Pascal Fries from the Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience.

As soon as a person observes the environment, sensory input is continuously processed using the bottom-up principle. But how do we know that one piece of information is more important than another? Fries: “The top-down principle helps us to do this. The brain uses previous experiences to organize information in the present context and to make predictions on this basis.” The top-down flow therefore influences the bottom-up flow and steers our attention towards things that are important in the current situation. This can happen automatically, for example due to the sudden appearance of a threatening stimulus, as well as through attention, for example when we are looking for something or following instructions. “Many of our cognitive capabilities can only be explained by invoking this principle,” says Fries.

For the top-down principle to work, the brain requires mechanisms that pass information from higher to lower areas of the brain. The anatomical connections in the top-down direction are known for a long time, but how the information is sent through these connections has remained elusive.

Macaque monkeys helped Fries and his colleagues to get on the right track. First, they examined the bottom-up flow in the brains of those animals and found that it uses a particular frequency band of rhythmic neuronal activity, known as the gamma band, around 60 Hertz. Information flows from bottom to top, when rhythmic oscillatory activity of lower brain areas entrains the rhythm of the next higher area.

Subsequently, the neuroscientists discovered the channel for top-down information flow, namely the so-called alpha and beta frequency rhythms, between 10 and 20 Hertz. Thus, in essence, the hierarchically arranged areas of visual cortex use a separate frequency channel to send information from higher to lower areas. In their present work, the researchers show that a very similar principle is at work in the human brain. “We knew the rhythms and wanted to look for them in the human brain,” explains Fries. To do this, they used a technique known as magnetoencephalography (MEG). MEG uses sensors outside the head to record the magnetic fields, which result from the electric currents of active nerve cells. The measurements allow conclusions to be drawn about the activity in certain areas of the brain. “In the raw MEG data, signals from several brain areas are mixed and have to be separated as well as possible using advanced mathematical methods,” says Fries.

This is one of the reasons why the investigations into the macaque brain were so important. As macaques have a very similar brain to humans, scientific insights obtained on macaques can often be transferred to humans. It was thanks to the previous work on the animals that the researchers were able to interpret the MEG measurements correctly.

In their experiments, the researchers demonstrate that the human brain also uses different frequency ranges for bottom-up and top-down signalling. Furthermore, the neurophysiologists were able to describe the hierarchical positioning of additional areas, some of which only present in the human brain. A total of 26 areas were investigated in the human brain.

The new findings might help us to better understand the causes of some psychiatric illnesses to one day be able to treat them. In some mental illnesses, the top-down and bottom-up flow seem to get mixed up. There are indications that in individuals with schizophrenia, the top-down flow does not interact with the bottom-up flow in a normal way. “A healthy person can distinguish between sensory inputs and their interpretation produced in higher areas. For example, they can see facial features in a cloud without thinking that the cloud is a face. Schizophrenic patients may think the face is real, potentially taking the top-down interpretation for a bottom-up sensation,” explains Fries.

Original paper Georgios Michalareas, Julien Vezoli, Stan van Pelt, Jan-Mathijs Schoffelen, Henry Kennedy, and Pascal Fries Alpha-beta and gamma rhythms subserve feedback and feedforward influences among human visual cortical areas. Neuron, 20 January 2016

Flashing lights and music turn rats into problem gamblers

Public Release: 20-Jan-2016

University of British Columbia

Credit: University of British Columbia

Adding flashing lights and music to gambling encourages risky decision-making — even if you’re a rat.

In research published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, scientists at UBC discovered rats behaved like problem gamblers when sound and light cues were added to a “rat casino” model. What’s more, the researchers were able to correct the behaviour by blocking the action of a specific dopamine receptor, laying the groundwork for possible treatment of gambling addiction in humans.

The rats, who gambled for sugary treats, normally learn how to avoid the risky options. But that all changed when the scientists added flashing lights and sounds.

“It seemed, at the time, like a stupid thing to do, because it didn’t seem like adding lights and sound would have much of an impact. But when we ran the study, the effect was enormous,” said Catharine Winstanley, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. “Anyone who’s ever designed a casino game or played a gambling game will tell you that of course sound and light cues keep you more engaged, but now we can show it scientifically.”

When the scientists gave the rats a drug that blocked the action of a specific dopamine receptor that has been linked to addiction, the rats no longer acted like problem gamblers. But the dopamine blockers had minimal effect on rats who gambled without the flashing lights and sound cues.

“This brain receptor is also really important to drug addiction, so our findings help support the idea that risky behaviour across different vices might have a common biological cause,” said lead author Michael Barrus, a PhD candidate in the UBC Department of Psychology.

“I often feel that scientific models are decades behind the casinos,” added Winstanley. “I don’t think it’s an accident that casinos are filled with lights and noise.”

The study, Dopamine D3 receptors modulate the ability of win-paired cues to increase risky choice in a rat gambling task, was published in the Journal of Neuroscience today.

VIDEO: https://youtu.be/6PxGnk62wGA

Brain waves may be spread by weak electrical field

Public Release: 14-Jan-2016

 

Mechanism tied to waves associated with epilepsy

Case Western Reserve University

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University may have found a new way information is communicated throughout the brain.

Their discovery could lead to identifying possible new targets to investigate brain waves associated with memory and epilepsy and better understand healthy physiology.

They recorded neural spikes traveling at a speed too slow for known mechanisms to circulate throughout the brain. The only explanation, the scientists say, is the wave is spread by a mild electrical field they could detect. Computer modeling and in-vitro testing support their theory.

“Others have been working on such phenomena for decades, but no one has ever made these connections,” said Steven J. Schiff, director of the Center for Neural Engineering at Penn State University, who was not involved in the study. “The implications are that such directed fields can be used to modulate both pathological activities, such as seizures, and to interact with cognitive rhythms that help regulate a variety of processes in the brain.”

Scientists Dominique Durand, Elmer Lincoln Lindseth Professor in Biomedical Engineering at Case School of Engineering and leader of the research, former graduate student Chen Sui and current PhD students Rajat Shivacharan and Mingming Zhang, report their findings in The Journal of Neuroscience.

“Researchers have thought that the brain’s endogenous electrical fields are too weak to propagate wave transmission,” Durand said. “But it appears the brain may be using the fields to communicate without synaptic transmissions, gap junctions or diffusion.”

How the fields may work

Computer modeling and testing on mouse hippocampi (the central part of the brain associated with memory and spatial navigation) in the lab indicate the field begins in one cell or group of cells.

Although the electrical field is of low amplitude, the field excites and activates immediate neighbors, which, in turn, excite and activate immediate neighbors, and so on across the brain at a rate of about 0.1 meter per second.

Blocking the endogenous electrical field in the mouse hippocampus and increasing the distance between cells in the computer model and in-vitro both slowed the speed of the wave.

These results, the researchers say, confirm that the propagation mechanism for the activity is consistent with the electrical field.

Because sleep waves and theta waves–which are associated with forming memories during sleep–and epileptic seizure waves travel at about 1 meter per second, the researchers are now investigating whether the electrical fields play a role in normal physiology and in epilepsy.

If so, they will try to discern what information the fields may be carrying. Durand’s lab is also investigating where the endogenous spikes come from.

Magnetism and Thought Control ?

Public Release: 14-Oct-2015

“people in whom the targeted brain region was temporarily shut down reported 32.8% less belief in God, angels, or heaven. They were also 28.5% more positive in their feelings toward an immigrant who criticised their country.”

Research that is simply beyond belief

University of York

New research involving a psychologist from the University of York has revealed for the first time that both belief in God and prejudice towards immigrants can be reduced by directing magnetic energy into the brain.

Dr Keise Izuma collaborated with a team from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), to carry out an innovative experiment using transcranial magnetic stimulation, a safe way of temporarily shutting down specific regions of the brain.

The researchers targeted the posterior medial frontal cortex, a part of the brain located near the surface and roughly a few inches up from the forehead that is associated with detecting problems and triggering responses that address them.

In the study, half of the participants received a low-level “sham” procedure that did not affect their brains, and half received enough energy to lower activity in the target brain area. Next, all of the participants were first asked to think about death, and then were asked questions about their religious beliefs and their feelings about immigrants.

The findings, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, reveal that people in whom the targeted brain region was temporarily shut down reported 32.8% less belief in God, angels, or heaven. They were also 28.5% more positive in their feelings toward an immigrant who criticised their country.

Dr Izuma, from the University’s Department of Psychology, said: “People often turn to ideology when they are confronted by problems. We wanted to find out whether a brain region that is linked with solving concrete problems, like deciding how to move one’s body to overcome an obstacle, is also involved in solving abstract problems addressed by ideology.”

This interest in the brain basis of ideology led the team to focus on religion and nationalism.

Dr Izuma added: “We decided to remind people of death because previous research has shown that people turn to religion for comfort in the face of death. As expected, we found that when we experimentally turned down the posterior medial frontal cortex, people were less inclined to reach for comforting religious ideas despite having been reminded of death.”

The investigators asked participants to respond to both negative and positive emotional aspects of religion and of nationalism. Specifically, they rated belief in the Devil, demons, and Hell, in addition to God, angels, and heaven. All potential participants were pre-screened to make sure that they held religious convictions before beginning the experiment.

With regard to nationalistic ideology, the participants read two essays ostensibly written by recent immigrants. One essay was extremely complimentary toward the United States, and the other essay was extremely critical.

The investigators found that the magnetic stimulation had the greatest effect on reactions to the critical author.

“We think that hearing criticisms of your group’s values, perhaps especially from a person you perceive as an outsider, is processed as an ideological sort of threat,” said Dr Izuma.

“One way to respond to such threats is to ‘double down’ on your group values, increasing your investment in them, and reacting more negatively to the critic,” he continued.

“When we disrupted the brain region that usually helps detect and respond to threats, we saw a less negative, less ideologically motivated reaction to the critical author and his opinions.”

Dr Colin Holbrook, from UCLA and the lead author of the paper, added: “These findings are very striking, and consistent with the idea that brain mechanisms that evolved for relatively basic threat-response functions are repurposed to also produce ideological reactions. However, more research is needed to understand exactly how and why religious beliefs and ethnocentric attitudes were reduced in this experiment.”

The scientists say that whether we’re trying to clamber over a fallen tree that we find in our path, find solace in religion, or resolve issues related to immigration, our brains are using the same basic mental machinery.

Sixth sense: How do we sense electric fields?

Public Release: 12-Oct-2015

 

University of California – Davis

A variety of animals are able to sense and react to electric fields, and living human cells will move along an electric field, for example in wound healing. Now a team lead by Min Zhao at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures has found the first actual “sensor mechanism” that allows a living cell detect an electric field. The work is published Oct. 9 in the journal Nature Communications.

“We believe there are several types of sensing mechanisms, and none of them are known. We now provide experimental evidence to suggest one which has not been even hypothesized before, a two-molecule sensing mechanism,” Zhao said.

Zhao and colleagues have been studying these “electric senses” in cells from both larger animals (fish skin cells, human cell lines) and in the soil-dwelling amoeba Dictyostelium. By knocking out some genes in Dictyostelium, they previously identified some of the genes and proteins that allow the amoeba to move in a certain direction when exposed to an electric field.

In the new work, carried out in a human cell line, they found that two elements, a protein called Kir4.2 (made by gene KCNJ15) and molecules within the cell called polyamines, were needed for signaling to occur. Kir4.2 is a potassium channel – it forms a pore through the cell membrane that allows potassium ions to enter the cell. Such ion channels are often involved in transmitting signals into cells. Polyamines are molecules within the cell that carry a positive charge.

Zhao and colleagues found that when the cells were in an electric field, the positively-charged polyamines tend to accumulate at the side of the cell near the negative electrode. The polyamines bind to the Kir4.2 potassium channel, and regulate its activity.

He cautioned that they do not yet have definitive evidence of how “switching” of the potassium channel by polyamines translates into directional movement by the cell.

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Contributors to the paper are: Ken-ichi Nakajima, Kan Zhu, Yao-Hui Sun, Yoshihiro Izumiya, Bence Hegyi, Qunli Zeng, Christopher Murphy, J. Victor Small, Ye Chen-Izu, and Josef Penninger, with affiliations at the UC Davis Departments of Dermatology, Ophthalmology, Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Zhejiang University, Hanzhou, China; and the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, Austria.

The work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, NSF, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Research to Prevent Blindness Inc., and the University of California.

Researchers profile 4 types of non-vaccinators

Editors Note: Report generalizes that the benefits will may always outweigh the risk. I am posting this research, as an excellent example of groupthink. Those striving for safer or cleaner vaccines are defaulted to being misguided and or misinformed.

Public Release: 1-Oct-2015

SAGE Publications

 

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Credit: Betsch et al

Los Angeles, CA (October 1, 2015) While scientists are continuously improving vaccinations to stop the spread of disease, many people continue to opt out. In a new review of the literature, researchers identified four types of people who decide not to vaccinate due to issues of complacency, convenience, confidence, and calculation, and offer strategies to address these issues. This study is published today in the new issue of Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS) journal published by SAGE.

Analyzing factors that influence decisions to vaccinate and issues that impede vaccinations, researchers Betsch et al. put decision-makers into four broad categories:

Complacent: Individuals who do not care about immunization

  • Researchers recommend changes in relaying information, such as campaigns that increase awareness about the likelihood of infection, strengthen positive attitudes toward vaccinations, stress the social benefit of vaccines, position vaccination as the norm, and debunk vaccination myths, such as the myth about the link between vaccination and autism. Strong recommendations to vaccinate, such as those coming from doctors, may also be an effective way to motivate this type. Additional strategies include changes to vaccination policy, such as changing from opt-in systems to opt-out systems or making vaccination mandatory. Adding incentives, such as fines for non-vaccination and cash rewards for vaccination uptake, may also be influential for this type.

Convenience: Individuals who lack the willpower to vaccinate or face the inconvenience of cost and travel

  • Researchers recommend changes to the decision structure that facilitate the act of vaccination. Further, doctor recommendations to vaccinate as well as other interventions that support self-control and follow through can be effective with this type, such as asking individuals to pre-commit to vaccination and issuing phone and SMS appointment reminders.

Confidence: Individuals who possess incorrect knowledge that distorts their perceived risk of vaccination and weakens their trust in vaccinations

  • Researchers recommend exposure to information that debunks vaccination myths and that comes from trustworthy sources, like doctors.

Calculation: Individuals who weigh potential pros and cons of vaccination, and may not vaccinate when information is contradictory

  • Researchers recommend debunking myths, increasing awareness about the likelihood of infection, and stressing the social benefits of vaccines, which will provide calculating individuals with correct information to aid their decision making. For this type, contradictory information can result in inaction, so providing additional information in support of vaccination can be effective. Incentives may also be influential for calculating individuals.

The researchers assume confident individuals to be the hardest to persuade, and that attempts to do so may have negative effects, such as increasing their resistance to vaccination.

“Efforts should be concentrated on motivating the complacent, removing barriers for those for whom vaccination is inconvenient, and adding incentives and additional utility for the calculating,” the researchers wrote. “These strategies might be more promising, economic and effective than convincing those who lack confidence in vaccination.”

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Find out more by reading the full article, “Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Vaccination Policy Effectiveness.” For an embargoed version of the full text, please email camille.gamboa@sagepub.com.

SAGE Founded 50 years ago by Sara Miller McCune to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community, SAGE publishes more than 850 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. A growing selection of library products includes archives, data and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence. Principal offices are located in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC. http://www.sagepub.com

Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences is an annual publication of the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS) that presents original research and scientific reviews relevant to public policy. This annual will allow scientists to share research that can help build sound policies, allow policymakers to provide feedback to the scientific community regarding research that could address societal challenges, and encourage the scientific community to build models that seriously consider implementation to address the needs of society. http://bbs.sagepub.com/

Study 329 – Reanalysis of antidepressant trial finds popular drug ineffective & unsafe for adolescents

Public Release: 16-Sep-2015

Results contradict original findings and have important implications for research and practice

BMJ

The widely used antidepressant paroxetine is neither safe nor effective for adolescents with depression, concludes a reanalysis of an influential study originally published in 2001.

The new results, published by The BMJ today, contradict the original research findings that portrayed paroxetine as an effective and safe treatment for children and adolescents with major depression.

It is the first trial to be reanalysed and published by The BMJ under an initiative called RIAT (Restoring Invisible and Abandoned Trials), which encourages abandoned or misreported studies to be published or formally corrected to ensure doctors and patients have complete and accurate information to make treatment decisions.

In 2001 SmithKline Beecham, now GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), funded a study (known as Study 329) to compare the effectiveness and safety of the antidepressant drugs paroxetine and imipramine with placebo for adolescents diagnosed with major depression.

It reported that paroxetine was safe and effective for adolescents and was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) in 2001.

The study was criticised by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002. Yet, that year, over two million prescriptions were written for children and adolescents in the United States.

In 2012 GSK was fined a record $3bn in part for fraudulently promoting paroxetine.

The RIAT team, led by Professor Jon Jureidini at the University of Adelaide, identified this study as an example of a misreported trial in need of restoration.

Using previously confidential trial documents, they reanalysed the original data and found that neither paroxetine nor high dose imipramine was more effective than placebo in the treatment of major depression in adolescents. The authors considered the increase in harms with both drugs to be clinically significant.

They conclude that “paroxetine was ineffective and unsafe in this study.”

The reanalysis of Study 329 “illustrates the necessity of making primary trial data and protocols available to increase the rigour of the evidence base,” say the authors.

In an accompanying article, Peter Doshi, Associate Editor for The BMJ says the new paper “has reignited calls for retraction of the original study and put additional pressure on academic and professional institutions to publicly address the many allegations of wrongdoing.”

He points out that the original manuscript was not written by any of the 22 named authors but by an outside medical writer hired by GSK. And that the paper’s lead author – Brown University’s chief of psychiatry, Martin Keller – had been the focus of a front page investigation in the Boston Globe in 1999 that documented his under-reporting of financial ties to drug companies.

Doshi also details the refusal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry to intervene and retract the paper, and Brown University’s silence over its faculty’s involvement in Study 329.

“It is often said that science self corrects. But for those who have been calling for a retraction of the Keller paper for many years, the system has failed,” argues Doshi.

Dr Fiona Godlee, The BMJ Editor-in-Chief says publication of the reanalysed data from Study 329 “sets the record straight” and “shows the extent to which drug regulation is failing us.” It also shows that the public and clinicians do not have the unbiased information they need to make informed decisions.

She calls for independent clinical trials rather than trials funded and managed by industry, as well as legislation “to ensure that the results of all clinical trials are made fully available and the individual patient data are available for legitimate independent third party scrutiny.”

Liberating the data from clinical trials has the potential to benefit patients, prevent harm, and correct misleading research, writes Professor David Henry at the University of Toronto, in an accompanying editorial.

Data sharing is not without its risks, he says, but the pay-off from a systematic effort to reactivate important clinical trials will be high and will further justify the original huge investments of time and money, he concludes

Children on an antidepressant were 11 times more likely to harm themselves over a placebo. The criminal cover up of Study 329

Public Release: 16-Sep-2015

University of Adelaide

A University of Adelaide led study has found that a psychiatric drug claimed to be a safe and effective treatment for depression in adolescents is actually ineffective and associated with serious side effects.

Professor Jon Jureidini, from the University of Adelaide’s newly created Critical and Ethical Mental Health Research Group (CEMH) at the Robinson Research Institute, led a team of international researchers who re-examined Study 329, a randomised controlled trial which evaluated the efficacy and safety of paroxetine (Aropax, Paxil, Seroxat) compared with a placebo for adolescents diagnosed with major depression.

Study 329, which was funded by SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline), was reported in 2001 as having found that paroxetine was effective and safe for depression in adolescents. However, Professor Jureidini’s reanalysis showed no advantages associated with taking paroxetine and demonstrated worrying adverse effects.

“Although concerns had already been raised about Study 329, and the way it was reported, the data was not previously made available so researchers and clinicians weren’t able to identify all of the errors in the published report,” says Professor Jureidini.

“It wasn’t until the data was made available for re-examination that it became apparent that paroxetine was linked to serious adverse reactions, with 11 of the patients taking paroxetine engaging in suicidal or self-harming behaviours compared to only one person in the group of patients who took the placebo,” he says. “Our study also revealed that paroxetine was no more effective at relieving the symptoms of depression than a placebo.”

“This is highly concerning because prescribing this drug may have put young patients at unnecessary risk from a treatment that was supposed to help them,” he says.

Professor Jureidini says it is important that research data and protocols are accessible so they can be reviewed and scrutinised.

“In 2013, an international researcher consortium called for undisclosed outcomes of trials to be published and for misleading publications to be corrected. This initiative was called restoring invisible and abandoned trials (RIAT),” says Professor Jureidini.

“Study 329 was one of the trials identified as in need of restoration, and because the original funder was not interested in revisiting the trial, our research group took on the task.

“Our reanalysis of Study 329 came to very different conclusions to those in the original paper,” he says. “We also learnt a lot about incorrect reporting and the considerable fall out that can be associated with distorted data.”

“Regulatory research authorities should mandate that all data and protocols are accessible,” he says. “Although concerns about patient confidentiality and ‘commercial in confidence’ issues are important, the reanalysis of Study 329 illustrates the necessity of making primary trial data available to increase the rigour of evidence-based research,” he says.

Professor Jureidini’s study was published in the leading medical journal BMJ today.

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CEMH is committed to undertaking and promoting critical and ethical appraisal of evidence, to help improve decision-making in mental health policy and practice.

Changing behavior through synaptic engineering

Public Release: 8-Sep-2015

University of Massachusetts Medical School

WORCESTER, MA — Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School are the first to show that it’s possible to reverse the behavior of an animal by flipping a switch in neuronal communication. The research, published in PLOS Biology, provides a new approach for studying the neural circuits that govern behavior and has important implications for how scientists think about neural connectomes.

New technologies have fueled the quest to map all the neural connections in the brain to understand how these networks processes information and control behavior. The human brain consists of 1011 neurons that make 1015 connections. The total length of neuronal processes in the human brain is approximately 4 million miles long, similar in length to the total number of roads in the U.S. Along these networks neurons communicate with each other through excitatory and inhibitory synapses that turn neurons on or off.

The neuronal roadmap, or connectome, however, doesn’t include information about the activity of neurons or the signals they transmit. How stable are these neural circuits in the brain? Does their wiring constrain the flow of information or the behaviors they control? The complexity of the human brain makes it almost impossible to address these questions.

Mark Alkema, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology at UMass Medical School turned to the nematode C. elegans to find answers. A tiny worm with only 302 neurons, it is the only animal for which its neural road map has been completely defined.

In this study, Alkema and colleagues sought to determine if flipping the sign of a synapse from inhibitory to excitatory in the worm’s brain was enough to reverse a behavior. To do this, they analyzed nematode touch response which C. elegans employ to escape from carnivorous fungi that use hyphal nooses to catch nematodes. During this response neurotransmitters are released that activate an inhibitory ion channel. This causes the worm to relax its head and quickly reverse direction away from the predator.

Jenn Pirri, a doctoral student in the Alkema lab and Diego Rayes, PhD, a former post-doctoral fellow now at the Instituto de Investigaciones Bioquímicas de Bahía Blanca in Argentina, replaced the inhibitory ion channel with an excitatory version of the channel in a live nematode.

“Surprisingly, the engineered channel does not affect development of and is properly incorporated into the neural circuits of the worm brain,” said Dr. Alkema. “Cells that are normally inhibited in the brain now get activated.

“What was most striking is that we were able to completely reverse behavior by simply switching the sign of a synapse in the neural network,” explained Alkema. “Now the animal contracts its head and tends to move forward in response to touch. This suggests that the neural wiring diagram is remarkably stable and allows these types of changes.

“Our studies indicate that switching the sign of a synapse not only provides a novel synthetic mechanism to flip behavioral output but could even be an evolutionary mechanism to change behavior,” said Alkema. “As we start to unravel the complexity and design of the neural network, it holds great promise as a novel mechanism to test circuit function or even design new neural circuits in vivo.”

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About the University of Massachusetts Medical School

The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research. The Medical School attracts more than $240 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. The mission of the Medical School is to advance the health and well-being of the people of the commonwealth and the world through pioneering education, research, public service and health care delivery with its clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care. For more information, visit http://www.umassmed.edu.

How music alters the teenage brain

Public Release: 20-Jul-2015

Music training initiated during high school might hone brain development

Northwestern University

  • Music enhances the teenage brain’s response to sound; sharpens language skills
  • Band class had larger effect on brain than fitness-based ROTC training
  • Results highlight music’s place in the high school curriculum
  • Kraus: ‘Music may engender what educators refer to as learning to learn’

EVANSTON, Ill. — Music training, begun as late as high school, may help improve the teenage brain’s responses to sound and sharpen hearing and language skills, suggests a new Northwestern University study.

The research, to be published the week of July 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), indicates that music instruction helps enhance skills that are critical for academic success.

The gains were seen during group music classes included in the schools’ curriculum, suggesting in-school training accelerates neurodevelopment.

Continue reading “How music alters the teenage brain”

The sleep-deprived brain can mistake friends for foes

Public Release: 14-Jul-2015

If you can’t tell a smile from a scowl, you’re probably not getting enough sleep

University of California – Berkeley

If you can’t tell a smile from a scowl, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.

A new UC Berkeley study shows that sleep deprivation dulls our ability to accurately read facial expressions. This deficit can have serious consequences, such as not noticing that a child is sick or in pain, or that a potential mugger or violent predator is approaching.

“Recognizing the emotional expressions of someone else changes everything about whether or not you decide to interact with them, and in return, whether they interact with you,” said study senior author Matthew Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley. The findings were published today in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Continue reading “The sleep-deprived brain can mistake friends for foes”

Time spent on smartphone and GPS location sensor data detect depression

Public Release: 15-Jul-2015

Your phone knows if you’re depressed

Northwestern University

CHICAGO — You can fake a smile, but your phone knows the truth. Depression can be detected from your smartphone sensor data by tracking the number of minutes you use the phone and your daily geographical locations, reports a small Northwestern Medicine study.

The more time you spend using your phone, the more likely you are depressed. The average daily usage for depressed individuals was about 68 minutes, while for non-depressed individuals it was about 17 minutes.

Spending most of your time at home and most of your time in fewer locations — as measured by GPS tracking — also are linked to depression. And, having a less regular day-to-day schedule, leaving your house and going to work at different times each day, for example, also is linked to depression.

Continue reading “Time spent on smartphone and GPS location sensor data detect depression”

Memory-loss man case ‘like nothing we have ever seen before’

Public Release: 14-Jul-2015

University of Leicester clinical psychologist publishes study of astonishing case of man left with 90 minute memory and feeling that it is the same day every day

University of Leicester

  • University of Leicester psychologist describes unique case as new to science
  • 38-year-old fit and healthy man suffered memory loss after local anaesthetic and root-canal treatment at dentist
  • For the past decade he can only remember up to 90 minutes
  • And he awakes each day thinking it is the same day he went to the dentist
  • Symptoms are akin to those depicted in movies such as Groundhog Day and Memento
  • There is no evidence that the treatment at the dentist can be blamed for his condition

“One of our reasons for writing up this individual’s case was that we had never seen anything like this before in our assessment clinics, and we do not know what to make of it. We had never seen anything like it before.” – Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, Dr Gerald Burgess, University of Leicester

A University of Leicester clinical psychologist has described treating an individual with a ‘Groundhog Day/Memento’- style memory loss as ‘like nothing we have ever seen before’.

Continue reading “Memory-loss man case ‘like nothing we have ever seen before’”

Statins linked to lower aggression in men, but higher in women

“One early hypothesis was that lower levels of cholesterol may reduce brain serotonin. (The connection between low brain serotonin activity and violence has been viewed as one of the most consistent findings in biological psychiatry.) “

 

Public Release: 1-Jul-2015

University of California – San Diego

Statins are a hugely popular drug class used to manage blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Previous studies had raised questions about adverse behavioral changes with statins, such as irritability or violence, but findings with statins have been inconsistent. In the first randomized trial to look at statin effects on behavior, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report that aggressive behavior typically declined among men placed on statins (compared to placebo), but typically increased among women placed on statins.

The findings are published July 1 in the online issue of PLOS ONE.

“Many studies have linked low cholesterol to increased risk of violent actions and death from violence, defined as death from suicide, accident and homicide,” said lead author Beatrice A. Golomb, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine. “There have been reports of some individuals reproducibly developing irritability or aggression when placed on statins. Yet in contrast to pre-statin lipid-lowering approaches, clinical trials and meta-analyses of statin use (in which most study participants were male) had not shown an overall tendency toward increased violent death. We wanted to better understand whether and how statins might affect aggression.”

Researchers randomly assigned more than 1,000 adult men and postmenopausal women to either a statin (simvastatin or pravastatin) or a placebo for six months. Neither researchers nor trial participants knew who was receiving the drug or the placebo. Behavioral aggression was measured using a weighted tally of actual aggressive acts against others, self or objects in the prior week.

Other measurements taken included testosterone levels and reported sleep problems. Simvastatin is known to affect both measures, said Golomb, and both testosterone and sleep can affect aggression.

The male and female study cohorts were separately randomized, and analyzed separately since it was shown that statin use affected the genders differently.

For postmenopausal women, said the scientists, the typical effect was increased aggression. The effect was significant for postmenopausal women older than age 45. The increase in aggression (compared to placebo) appeared stronger in women who began with lower aggression at baseline.

For men, the picture was more complex. Three male participants who took statins (and no one on placebo) displayed very large increases in aggression. When these were included in analysis, there was no average effect. When these “outliers” were removed from the analysis, a decline in aggressive behavior for male statin users was significant. It was stronger among younger men who tend to be more aggressive. “But actually the effect was most evident in less aggressive men,” said Golomb.

Examination revealed statin effects on testosterone and sleep contributed to bidirectional effects. “Changes in testosterone and in sleep problems on simvastatin each significantly predicted changes in aggression. A larger drop in testosterone on simvastatin was linked, on average, to a greater drop in aggression. A greater rise in sleep problems on simvastatin was significantly linked to a greater rise in aggression. The sleep finding also helped account for the outliers: The two men with the biggest aggression increases were both on simvastatin, and both had developed ‘much worse’ sleep problems on the statin.”

The full set of biological explanations linking statins to behavior remains a work-in-progress. One early hypothesis was that lower levels of cholesterol may reduce brain serotonin. (The connection between low brain serotonin activity and violence has been viewed as one of the most consistent findings in biological psychiatry.) Whole blood serotonin — which can relate inversely to brain serotonin — was not a predictor in this study. However, testosterone and sleep were, for those on simvastatin. Golomb postulates that other factors, such as oxidative stress and cell energy, may play a role. She noted that the findings help clarify seeming inconsistencies in the scientific literature.

“The data reprise the finding that statins don’t affect all people equally — effects differ in men versus women and younger versus older. Female sex and older age have predicted less favorable effects of statins on a number of other outcomes as well, including survival.”

Bottom line, said Golomb: “Either men or women can experience increased aggression on statins, but in men the typical effect is reduction.”

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Co-authors include Joel E. Dimsdale, Hayley J. Koslik, Steven Rossi, Paul J. Mills, Halbert L. White, and Michael H. Criqui, UCSD; Marcella A. Evans, UCSD and UC Irvine; and Xun Lu, UCSD and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

This research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health (RO1 HL63055-05 and M01 RR00827).

Individuals with social phobia have too much serotonin — not too little

Public Release: 17-Jun-2015

Uppsala University

Previous studies have led researchers to believe that individuals with social anxiety disorder/ social phobia have too low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. A new study carried out at Uppsala University, however, shows that the situation is exactly the opposite. Individuals with social phobia make too much serotonin. The more serotonin they produce, the more anxious they are in social situations.

Many people feel anxious if they have to speak in front of an audience or socialise with others. If the anxiety becomes a disability, it may mean that the person suffers from social phobia which is a psychiatric disorder.

Social phobia is commonly medicated using SSRI compounds. These change the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Based on previous studies, it was believed that individuals with social phobia had too little serotonin and that SSRIs increased the amount of available serotonin. In a new study published in the scientific journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers from the Department of Psychology at Uppsala University show that individuals with social phobia make too much serotonin.

Continue reading “Individuals with social phobia have too much serotonin — not too little”

Common Medications associated with Homicide

The newly published study analysed the pre-crime use of prescription drugs among all persons convicted of a homicide in Finland between 2003 and 2011

“Benzodiazepines can weaken impulse control, and earlier research has found that painkillers affect emotional processing.

1. Anti-psychotics was not associated with a significantly
increased risk of committing a homicide
2. Anti-depressants was associated with a slightly elevated risk (+31%)
3. Benzodiazepines (drugs used to treat anxiety and insomnia)
with a significantly elevated risk (+45%).
4. Opiate painkillers was associated with risk of committing
a homicide (+92%)
5. Anti-inflammatory painkillers were associated with risk of committing a homicide by an incredible (+206%)
6. In persons under 26 years of age, the highest increase in the risk of committing a homicide was associated with benzodiazepines (+95%) and opiate painkillers (+223%)

In order to properly study the link between drug use and the risk of committing a crime, the following criteria must be fulfilled: the sample needs to be representative, the reason for using the drug needs to be taken into consideration, and the effect needs to be controlled for. Furthermore, the effects of any other drugs and intox-icants used simultaneously also need to be considered. No other studies like the present one have been pub-lished thus far

Psychotropic drugs and homicide: a prospective cohort study from Finland. World Psychiatry 2015, Epub June 1, 2015. DOI 10.1002/wps.20220

Prescription drugs associated with an increased risk of committing a Homicide

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Prescription drugs associated with an increased risk of committing a Homicide

Anti-depressants were associated with a slightly elevated risk (+31%),

Benzodiazepines (drugs used to treat anxiety and insomnia) with a significantly elevated risk (+45%).

Opiate painkillers (+92%)

Anti-inflammatory painkillers (+206%).

In persons under 26 years of age, the highest increase in the risk of commit-ting a homicide was associated with opiate painkillers (+223%)

Public Release: 1-Jun-2015

Finnish-Swedish study analyzes link between psychotropic drugs and homicide risk

University of Eastern Finland

A study analysing the Finnish homicide and prescription drug databases discovered that the use of certain drugs that affect the central nervous system are associated with an increased risk of committing a homicide. The greatest risk was associated with the use of painkillers and tranquillizing benzodiazepines, while anti-depressants were linked only to a slightly elevated risk. The study is the first one of its kind in the world.

Continue reading “Prescription drugs associated with an increased risk of committing a Homicide”

Obese teens’ brains unusually susceptible to food commercials, Dartmouth study finds

Public Release: 21-May-2015

– TV food commercials activated overweight adolescents’ brain region that controls their mouths

Dartmouth College

IMAGE

IMAGE: The most surprising finding of a new Dartmouth College study was that TV food commercials activated overweight adolescents’ brain region that controls their mouths, suggesting they mentally simulate unhealthy eating habits.

Credit: Kristina Rapuano

HANOVER, N.H. — A Dartmouth study finds that TV food commercials disproportionately stimulate the brains of overweight teen-agers, including the regions that control pleasure, taste and — most surprisingly — the mouth, suggesting they mentally simulate unhealthy eating habits.

The findings suggest such habits may make it difficult to lose weight later in life, and that dieting efforts should not only target the initial desire to eat tempting food, but the subsequent thinking about actually tasting and eating it – in other words, you should picture yourself munching a salad rather than a cheeseburger.

The study appears in the journal Cerebral Cortex. A PDF is available on request. The study included researchers from Dartmouth College’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.

The prevalence of food advertising and adolescent obesity has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, and research has linked the number of television shows viewed during childhood with greater risk for obesity. In particular, considerable evidence suggests that exposure to food marketing promotes eating habits that contribute to obesity.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the Dartmouth researchers examined brain responses to two dozen fast food commercials and non-food commercials in overweight and healthy-weight adolescents ages 12-16. The commercials were embedded within an age-appropriate show, “The Big Bang Theory,” so the participants were unaware of the study’s purpose.

The results show that in all the adolescents, the brain regions involved in attention and focus (occipital lobe, precuneus, superior temporal gyri and right insula) and in processing rewards (nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex) were more strongly active while viewing food commercials than non-food commercials. Also, adolescents with higher body fat showed greater reward-related activity than healthy weight teens in the orbitofrontal cortex and in regions associated with taste perception. The most surprising finding was that the food commercials also activated the overweight adolescents’ brain region that controls their mouths. This region is part of the larger sensory system that is important for observational learning.

“This finding suggests the intriguing possibility that overweight adolescents mentally simulate eating while watching food commercials,” says lead author Kristina Rapuano, a graduate student in Dartmouth’s Brain Imaging Lab. “These brain responses may demonstrate one factor whereby unhealthy eating behaviors become reinforced and turned into habits that potentially hamper a person’s ability lose weight later in life.”

Although previous studies have shown heightened brain reward responses to viewing appetizing food in general, the Dartmouth study is one of the first to extend this relationship to real world food cues — for example, TV commercials for McDonald’s and Burger King — that adolescents encounter regularly. The brain’s reward circuitry involves the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitter chemicals that give pleasure and may lead to addictive behavior.

Children and adolescents see an average of 13 food commercials per day, so it isn’t surprising they show a strong reward response to food commercials. But the new findings that these heightened reward responses are coupled with bodily movements that indicate simulated eating offer a clue into a potential mechanism on how unhealthy eating habits are developed.

“Unhealthy eating is thought to involve both an initial desire to eat a tempting food, such as a piece of cake, and a motor plan to enact the behavior, or eating it,” Rapuano says. “Diet intervention strategies largely focus on minimizing or inhibiting the desire to eat the tempting food, with the logic being that if one does not desire, then one won’t enact. Our findings suggest a second point of intervention may be the somatomotor simulation of eating behavior that follows from the desire to eat. Interventions that target this system, either to minimize the simulation of unhealthy eating or to promote the simulation of healthy eating, may ultimately prove to be more useful than trying to suppress the desire to eat.”

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Available to comment are lead author Kristina Rapuano at Kristina.M.Rapuano.GR@dartmouth.edu and senior author William Kelley, a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, at william.m.kelley@dartmouth.edu.

Broadcast studios: Dartmouth has TV and radio studios available for interviews. For more information, visit: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~opa/radio-tv-studios/

Three universities using $1.55M NIH grant to track vaccine attitudes via Twitter

UGA using NIH grant to track vaccine attitudes with Twitter

May 1, 2015

developed to study vaccination attitudes and behaviors through social media could change the way researchers conduct public health surveillance.

Researchers from the University of Georgia, George Washington University and Johns Hopkins University are using the social media platform Twitter to study why people refuse vaccinations. The study is being funded by a five-year, $1.55 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.

“This study is exciting because it is unlike any social media research done before,” said Karen Hilyard, an assistant professor of health promotion and behavior in the UGA College of Public Health and a co-principal investigator on the project. “We are developing a new methodology that will be faster and cheaper than current survey methods but just as reliable and rigorous. In the process, we will also gather critical information that can help improve public health.”

Continue reading “Three universities using $1.55M NIH grant to track vaccine attitudes via Twitter”

A ‘cingular’ strategy for attack and defense

Public Release: 20-Apr-2015

RIKEN

IMAGE

IMAGE: Attack value was associated with the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), defense value with the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), and the difference in value with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC).

Credit: RIKEN

We often make quick strategic decisions to attack an opponent or defend our position, yet how we make them is not well understood. Now, researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan have pinpointed specific brain regions related to this process by examining neural activity in people playing shogi, a Japanese form of chess. Published in Nature Neuroscience, the study shows that two different regions within the cingulate cortex–one toward the front of the brain and the other toward the back–separately encode the values of defensive and offensive strategies.

Continue reading “A ‘cingular’ strategy for attack and defense”

Your pain reliever blunts positive emotions

Public Release: 13-Apr-2015

Acetaminophen reduces both pain and pleasure, study finds

Ohio State University

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Researchers studying the commonly used pain reliever acetaminophen found it has a previously unknown side effect: It blunts positive emotions.

In the study, participants who took acetaminophen reported less strong emotions when they saw both very pleasant and very disturbing photos, when compared to those who took placebos.

Acetaminophen, the main ingredient in the over-the-counter pain reliever Tylenol, has been in use for more than 70 years in the United States, but this is the first time that this side effect has been documented.

Previous research had shown that acetaminophen works not only on physical pain, but also on psychological pain. This study takes those results one step further by showing that it also reduces how much users actually feel positive emotions, said Geoffrey Durso, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in social psychology at The Ohio State University.

Continue reading “Your pain reliever blunts positive emotions”

Change in Human Social Behavior in Response to a Common Vaccine

– Human social behavior does, indeed, change with exposure

– Compared to the 48 hours preexposure, participants interacted with significantly more people, and in significantly larger groups, during the 48 hours immediately post-exposure.

– However, social behavior at the 4-week follow-up was lower than pre-immunization rather than higher

Ann Epidemiol. 2010 Oct;20(10):729-33. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2010.06.014

CHRIS REIBER, PHD, MPH, ERIC C. SHATTUCK, MS, SEAN FIORE, MS, PAULINE ALPERIN, MS,

VANESSA DAVIS, MS, AND JANICE MOORE, PHD

Full PDF: Change in human social behavior in response to a common vaccine

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that exposure to a directly transmitted human pathogen flu virus increases human social behavior presymptomatically. This hypothesis is grounded in empirical evidence that animals infected with pathogens rarely behave like uninfected animals, and in evolutionary theory as applied to infectious disease. Such behavioral changes have the potential to increase parasite transmission and/or host solicitation of care.

METHODS: We carried out a prospective, longitudinal study that followed participants across a known point-source exposure to a form of influenza virus (immunizations), and compared social behavior before and after exposure using each participant as his/her own control.

Continue reading “Change in Human Social Behavior in Response to a Common Vaccine”

Child with autism improves with antibiotic; prompts new investigations into autism

Public Release: 24-Mar-2015

Surprising observation leads parent to collaboration with researchers to organize first scientific conference and special issue of scientific journal on the role of gut bacteria in autism

N of One: Autism Research Foundation

Dallas, TX (March 24, 2015) – John Rodakis, the parent of a child with autism was not looking to launch an international investigation into the microbiome (the collection of microorganisms that live on and in us) and autism, but, as he describes in his newly published article in the scientific journal Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, when his young son’s autism unexpectedly and dramatically improved while taking an antibiotic for strep throat, he began a quest to understand why.

Following the surprise improvement, Mr. Rodakis, who in addition to being a parent is also a medical venture capitalist with a background in molecular biology and a Harvard MBA, began to examine the medical literature where he found a lone study from 1999 conducted at Chicago Rush Children’s hospital that documented a similar phenomenon in autistic children. After speaking with other parents and clinicians he discovered that improvements on antibiotics such the one his son experienced were frequently observed, but not well studied. “I was determined to understand what was happening in the hope of helping both my son and millions of other children with autism.”

Continue reading “Child with autism improves with antibiotic; prompts new investigations into autism”

Leaders and their followers tick in sync

Public Release: 24-Mar-2015

Leaders of a group synchronize their brain activity with that of their followers during communication

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

Great leaders are often good communicators. In the process of communication, the relationship between leaders and their followers develops spontaneously according to new research from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning and IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research in Beijing. When a member becomes the group leader, the leader’s brain activity in the left temporo-parietal junction, known as representing others’ mental states, begins to synchronize with that in the same area of their followers. Based on interpersonal neural synchronization, the researchers were even able to predict who would emerge as leader of a group, and when. The findings also suggest that interpersonal neural synchronization is more likely due to the communication skills of the leader and less likely due to how much they speak. Thus, in a group of peers, the individual who says the right things at the right time usually emerges as the leader.

Virtually no human society exists without leaders. Even in the smallest of groups, a leader emerges after a short time. While the leader benefits from this status through valuable privileges and advantages, the group followers also benefit by receiving help in obtaining vital resources. In addition, the leader holds the group together. Ideally, leaders and followers cooperate with each other, and the mutual benefits outweigh any negative effects suffered by competition. Although researchers have theoretically suggested that neural synchronization between leaders and followers is important for leader emergence, there is little empirical evidence supporting this perspective.

Continue reading “Leaders and their followers tick in sync”

Drug that makes us more sensitive to inequality

Public Release: 19-Mar-2015

“giving a drug that changes the neurochemical balance in the prefrontal cortex of the brain causes a greater willingness to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as ensuring that resources are divided more equally.”

 

Altering brain chemistry makes us more sensitive to inequality

Study finds that prolonging dopamine’s effects in the brain boosts compassion

University of California – Berkeley

What if there were a pill that made you more compassionate and more likely to give spare change to someone less fortunate? UC Berkeley scientists have taken a big step in that direction.

A new study by UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco researchers finds that giving a drug that changes the neurochemical balance in the prefrontal cortex of the brain causes a greater willingness to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as ensuring that resources are divided more equally.

The researchers also say that future research may lead to a better understanding of the interaction between altered dopamine-brain mechanisms and mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or addiction, and potentially light the way to possible diagnostic tools or treatments for these disorders.

Continue reading “Drug that makes us more sensitive to inequality”

Moral decisions can be influenced by eye tracking

Public Release: 18-Mar-2015

Lund University

Our opinions are affected by what our eyes are focusing on in the same instant we make moral decisions. Researchers at Lund University and other institutions have managed to influence people’s responses to questions such as “is murder defensible?” by tracking their eye movements. When the participants had looked at a randomly pre-selected response long enough, they were asked for an immediate answer. Fifty-eight per cent chose that answer as their moral position.

The study shows that our moral decisions can be influenced by what we are looking at when we make the decision. Using a new experimental method, the researchers tracked participants’ eye movements and demanded an answer when their eye rested on a randomly pre-selected answer.

The researchers, from the Division of Cognitive Science at Lund University, University College London (UCL) and the University of California, Merced, studied in real time how people deliberate with themselves in difficult moral dilemmas. The participants had no idea that the researchers were carefully monitoring how their gaze moved in order to demand an answer at the right moment. The results showed that the responses were systematically influenced by what the eye saw at the moment an answer was demanded.

Continue reading “Moral decisions can be influenced by eye tracking”

Screen name matters in the online dating game

Public Release: 12-Feb-2015

The BMJ
Choosing a screen name with a letter starting in the top half of the alphabet is as important as an attractive photo and a fluent headline in the online dating game, reveals an analysis of the best ways of finding love in the digital world, and published online in the journal Evidence Based Medicine.

The researchers wanted to find out what approaches would maximise the chances of converting online contact between men and women into that all-important first face to face meeting, using published research on the art of attraction and persuasion.

They therefore carried out an extensive search of relevant studies in the fields of psychology and sociology, as well as computer, behavioural, and neurocognitive sciences.

Out of almost 4000 studies, 86 met their inclusion criteria. The study findings were pooled and synthesised to come up with a list of dos and don’ts for online dating, from creating a profile to making an approach.

They found that the screen name chosen for an online profile is important. The lovelorn should avoid names with negative associations, such as ‘Little’ or ‘Bug’, and aim for something more playful, such as ‘Fun2bwith’ as this type of name is universally attractive. Continue reading “Screen name matters in the online dating game”

1 in 3 people would risk shorter life rather than take daily pill to avoid heart disease

Public Release: 3-Feb-2015

American Heart Association Rapid Access Journal Report

American Heart Association

One in three people say they would risk living a shorter life instead of taking a daily pill to prevent cardiovascular disease, according to new research in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surveyed 1,000 people (average age 50) via the Internet hypothetically asking how much time they were willing to forfeit at the end of their lives to avoid taking daily medication. They were also asked the amount of money they would pay and the hypothetical risk of death they were willing to accept to avoid taking medications to prevent cardiovascular disease.

The survey showed:
•More than 8 percent of participants were willing to trade as much as two years of life to avoid taking daily medication for cardiovascular disease; while roughly 21 percent would trade between one week and a year of their lives.
•About 70 percent said they wouldn’t trade any weeks of their lives to avoid taking a CVD pill daily
•About 13 percent of participants said they would accept minimal risk of death to avoid taking a pill daily; 9 percent said they’d risk a 10 percent chance; and about 62 percent weren’t willing to gamble any risk of immediate death. Continue reading “1 in 3 people would risk shorter life rather than take daily pill to avoid heart disease”

Study finds our thoughts are susceptible to external influence — even against our will

Public Release: 3-Feb-2015

San Francisco State University

For a recent San Francisco State University study, participants were asked to look at a commonplace image but avoid thinking of the word that corresponds with the image or how many letters are in that word. The task may seem simple, but the study found that when presented with ?, for example, nearly 80 percent of people will automatically conjure up the word “sun” and about half will quietly count to three.

This nifty little cognitive trick is not only amusing — the study also reveals that the stream of consciousness is more susceptible to external stimuli than had previously been proven. This research is the first demonstration of two thoughts in the stream of consciousness being controlled externally and against participants’ will.

“Our conscious thoughts seem protected from our surroundings, but we found that they are much more tightly linked to the external environment than we might realize, and that we have less control of what we will think of next,” said Ezequiel Morsella, associate professor of psychology and co-author of the study.

Morsella and his team showed the study’s participants 52 black-and-white images corresponding to familiar words of varying lengths — basic drawings including a fox, heart and bicycle. Participants were instructed not to subvocalize (speak in the mind) each word or how many letters the word had. On average, 73 percent subvocalized a word, and 33 percent counted its letters.

“We triggered with our experiment not one but two different kinds of unintentional thoughts, and each thought required a substantial amount of processing,” Morsella said. “We think that this effect reflects the machinery of the brain that gives rise to conscious thoughts. When you activate the machinery — and it can be activated even by being told not to do something — the machinery cannot help but deliver a certain output into consciousness.” Continue reading “Study finds our thoughts are susceptible to external influence — even against our will”

Rubella vaccine used in experiments to induce depression and behavior problems in young children

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000;917:478-87.
Illness, cytokines, and depression

EEV: Full study is currently on evesdrift.com. It will have four of the missing graphs added to it later on today..

Based on analysis of levels of antibodies to rubella, subjects were divided into two groups: an experimental group, consisting of subjects who were initially seronegative and were infected following vaccination; and a control group, consisting of subjects who were already immune to rubella before vaccination. Compared to control subjects and to their own baseline, subjects from low, but not middle or high, socioeconomic status (SES) within the experimental group exhibited more severe depressed mood, as well as more social and attention problems and delinquent behavior (see FIGURE 1).13 The particular vulnerability to immunization-induced depression may be associated with several characteristics of low SES, including higher incidence of stressful life events and fewer sources of social support, which modulate the responsiveness to immune challenges. Thus, even a mild viral infection can produce a prolonged increase in depressive symptomatology in vulnerable individuals.
          rub2                                         

Illness, Cytokines, and Depression

  1. YIRMIYA,a,b Y. POLLAK,a M. MORAG,a A. REICHENBERG,a O. BARAK,a
  2. AVITSUR,a Y. SHAVIT,a H. OVADIA,c J. WEIDENFELD,c A. MORAG,d

M.E. NEWMAN,e AND T. POLLMÄCHERf

Departments of aPsychology, cNeurology, dClinical Virology, and ePsychiatry, The Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem, Israel fMax Planck Institute for Psychiatry, Munich, Germany

ABSTRACT: Various medical conditions that involve activation of the immune system are associated with psychological and neuroendocrine changes that resemble the characteristics of depression. In this review we present our recent studies, designed to investigate the relationship between the behavioral effects of immune activation and depressive symptomatology. In the first set of experiments, we used a double-blind prospective design to investigate the psychological consequences of illness in two models: (1) vaccination of teenage girls with live attenuated rubella virus, and (2) lipopolysaccharide (LPS) administration in healthy male volunteers. In the rubella study, we demonstrated that, compared to control group subjects and to their own baseline, a subgroup of vulnerable individuals (girls from low socioeconomic status) showed a significant virus-induced increase in depressed mood up to 10 weeks after vaccination. In an ongoing study on the effects of LPS, we demonstrated significant LPSinduced elevation in the levels of depression and anxiety as well as memory deficits. These psychological effects were highly correlated with the levels of LPS-induced cytokine secretion. In parallel experiments, we demonstrated in rodents that immune activation with various acute and chronic immune challenges induces a depressive-like syndrome, characterized by anhedonia, anorexia, body weight loss, and reduced locomotor, exploratory, and social behavior. Chronic treatment with antidepressants (imipramine or fluoxetine) attenuated many of the behavioral effects of LPS, as well as LPS-induced changes in body temperature, adrenocortical activation, hypothalamic serotonin release, and the expression of splenic TNF- mRNA. Taken together, these findings suggest that cytokines are involved in the etiology and symptomatology of illness-associated depression.

INTRODUCTION

Depression is a common, disturbing concomitant of medical conditions. The reported prevalence of major depression episodes in physically ill patients varies from 5% to more than 40%. However, because depression is often unrecognized and undertreated in sick patients, the prevalence reported in most studies is probably underestimated.1 The high prevalence of depression in various medical conditions is

bAddress for correspondence: Professor Raz Yirmiya, Department of Psychology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel. Voice: 972-25883695; fax: 972-2-5881159. msrazy@mscc.huji.ac.il

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reflected by the special psychiatric diagnostic entity “depression due to a general medical condition.”2 To make a diagnosis of this condition “the clinician should establish the presence of a general medical condition, and determine that the depression is etiologically related to the general medical condition through a physiological mechanism” (see Ref. 2, p. 367). Several lines of evidence suggest that this physiological mechanism involves the immune system—that is, the depression associated with various medical conditions is not merely a reaction to the incapacitation, pain, and losses that accompany the physical disease process, but may be directly caused by activation of the immune system.3

The physiological and psychological effects of immune activation (collectively termed sickness behavior) are mediated by cytokines derived from activated immune and other cells.4–6 Most immune challenges produce their initial effects in the periphery, but information regarding their presence is almost immediately transmitted to the brain, in a sensory-like process. Within the brain, this immune-related information activates several areas, and induces glia cells and neurons to release cytokines, such as interleukin (IL)-1 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), which serve as neurotransmitters and neuroregulators.4,5 The aim of the present review is to present the current knowledge on the role of cytokines in mediating the depressive-like symptoms that accompany various medical conditions in humans and experimental models of these conditions in animals.

DEPRESSION ASSOCIATED WITH INFECTIOUS AND NONINFECTIOUS DISEASES IN HUMANS

Infectious illnesses are often associated with a range of depressive symptoms, including fatigue, psychomotor retardation, anorexia, somnolence, lethargy, muscle aches, cognitive disturbances, and depressed mood.7 The evidence for these alterations is mainly anecdotal, and only few studies examined these symptoms systematically. Experimentally induced viral infections (e.g., common cold, influenza),8,9 as well as natural occurrence of upper respiratory tract illness or influenza,10–12 produce depressed mood and other depressive symptoms, as well as various neuropsychological impairments. Similar disturbances have also been reported following chronic infections with herpesvirus, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, gastroenteritis, Borna disease virus and HIV.

Many noninfectious conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, stroke, trauma, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, are also associated with chronic activation of the immune system and secretion of cytokines. High incidence of depression has been demonstrated in patients afflicted with many of these conditions, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, allergy, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.3,6 When studied, immune dysregulation was found to precede the development of depression, suggesting that rather than being a psychological reaction to the medical condition per se, illness-associated depression is causally related to immune activation.

We have recently used a double-blind prospective design to investigate the immediate and prolonged psychological and physiological effects of a specific viral infection in humans.13 Subjects were teenage girls who were vaccinated with live Continue reading “Rubella vaccine used in experiments to induce depression and behavior problems in young children”

Lavender aroma increases trust in anyone


Lavender aroma increases trust in anyone
– Inexpensive way to increase trust -Test persons gave significantly more money to the other person when they were exposed to the aroma of lavender, compared to persons who had been exposed to the fragrance of peppermint.
– “Our results might have various serious implications for a broad range of situations in which interpersonal trust is an essential element. Smelling the aroma of lavender may help a seller to establish more easily a trusting negotiation to sell a car, or in a grocery store it may induce consumers to spend more money buying products.
* . Article title: A question of scent: lavender aroma promotes interpersonal trust Journal: Frontiers in Psychology DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01486 Continue reading “Lavender aroma increases trust in anyone”