Your brain on speed dating
By Laura Sanders
In the fraught, emotional world of speed dating,
scientific calculations don’t usually hold much
sway. But the brain runs a complex series of
computations to tally the allure of a prospective
partner in just seconds, a new study finds. And
the strength of these brain signals predicted
which speed daters would go on to score a match.
The results help explain how people evaluate
others a process that happens at lightning
speed, says neuroscientist Daniela Schiller of
Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
“It’s a gut feeling, but here, the paper dissects
it for us and tells us, ‘This is what we calculate.’”
Scientists led by Jeffrey Cooper, who conducted
the work at Trinity College Dublin and Caltech,
scanned the brains of single volunteers as they
looked at pictures of potential dating partners.
Although it’s hard to put a number on people by a
photo alone, researchers made volunteers rate on
a scale of 1 to 4 how much they’d like to go on a
date with the person in the photograph.
In contrast to many other lab-based experiments
on decision making, this exercise wasn’t just
academic: Later, the participants attended three
real speed-dating events loaded with many of the
potential partners seen in the photos. Like a
normal speed-dating scenario, volunteers’ contact
information was exchanged if both of the people
wanted to follow up. (Also like a typical
scenario, there weren’t many love connections,
says Cooper. When the scientists checked in six
weeks later, only a few couples had gone on real dates.)
© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012
What’s So Special about Mirror Neurons?
By Ben Thomas
In the early 1990s, a team of neuroscientists at
the University of Parma made a surprising
discovery: Certain groups of neurons in the
brains of macaque monkeys fired not only when a
monkey performed an action – grabbing an apple
out of a box, for instance – but also when the
monkey watched someone else performing that
action; and even when the monkey heard someone
performing the action in another room.
In short, even though these “mirror neurons” were
part of the brain’s motor system, they seemed to
be correlated not with specific movements, but with specific goals.
Over the next few decades, this “action
understanding” theory of mirror neurons blossomed
into a wide range of promising speculations.
Since most of us think of goals as more abstract
than movements, mirror neurons confront us with
the distinct possibility that those everyday
categories may be missing crucial pieces of the
puzzle – thus, some scientists propose that
mirror neurons might be involved in feelings of
empathy, while others think these cells may play
central roles in human abilities like speech.
Some doctors even say they’ve discovered new
treatments for mental disorders by reexamining
diseases through the mirror neuron lens. For
instance, UCLA’s Marco Iacoboni and others have
put forth what Iacoboni called the “broken mirror
hypothesis” of autism – the idea that
malfunctioning mirror neurons are likely
responsible for the lack of empathy and theory of
mind found in severely autistic people.
© 2012 Scientific American,
Forgetfullness in seniors tied to anxiety and insomnia drugs
Seniors who take common medications to treat
insomnia, anxiety, itching or allergies may have
symptoms of forgetfulness or trouble concentrating, a new review concludes.
About 90 per cent of people aged 65 and older
take at least one prescription medication and
almost half take five or more, studies suggest.
About 90 per cent of people aged 65 and older
take at least one prescription medication, U.S.
research suggests.About 90 per cent of people
aged 65 and older take at least one prescription
medication, U.S. research suggests. (iStock)
As people increasingly report memory and
attention problems and seek testing for early
dementia, researchers in Montreal wanted to see
how medications can induce such symptoms.
Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, research chair at the
Montreal Geriatric University Institute and her
co-authors in Montreal, Calgary, Australia and
the U.S. reviewed 162 studies on medications most
likely to affect memory, creating what's called
an amnesia effect, or affect brain functions like
attention and concentration that are called non-amnestic.
"There is a consistent body of evidence
suggesting that drug-induced mild cognitive
impairment can occur with episodic use of
medications for insomnia, anxiety, [itching] or
allergy symptoms," the study's authors concluded in the journal Drugs & Aging.
"Combined amnestic and non-amnestic deficits
occur with the use of benzodiazepine agents and
may partially underlie older adults' frequent
complaints of forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating."
© CBC 2012
Brain region found that does absolutely nothing [satire]
Neuroscientists at the University of Ingberg have
found a brain region that does absolutely
nothing. Their research, presented at the annual
Society for Neuroscience meeting, showed that a
small region of the cortex located near the
posterior section of the cingulate gyrus
responded to ‘not one of our 46 experimental manipulations’.
Dr. Ahlquist was rather surprised at the
finding. “During a pilot study we noticed that
this small section of the cortex did not show
differential activity in any of our
manipulations. Out of curiosity, we wanted to see
whether it actually did anything at all. Over the
months that followed we tried every we knew, with
over 20 different participants. IQ tests, memory
tasks, flashing lights, talking, listening,
imagining juggling, but there was no response.
Nothing. We got more desperate, so we tried
pictures of faces, TMS, pictures of cats,
pictures of sex, pictures of violence and even
sexy violence, but nothing happened! Not even a
decrease. No connectivity to anywhere else, not
even a voodoo correlation. 46 voxels of wasted
space. I know dead salmons that are more
responsive. It’s an evolutionary disgrace, that’s what it is.”
Some neuroscientists are disappointed by the
regions’ lack of response: ‘This is exactly the
type of cortical behavior that leads to this
popular science nonsense about using only 10% of
our brain. Frankly, I am outraged by this lazy
piece of brain. It’s the cortical equivalent of a
spare tyre. If anyone wants to have it
lobotomized, I am happy to break out the
orbitoclast and help them out. That’ll teach it.”
Exercise And Depression Revisited
Danish researchers Krogh and colleagues randomly
115 assigned depressed people to one of two
exercise programs. One was a strenuous aerobic
workout - cycling for 30 minutes, 3 times per
week, for 3 months. The other was various stretching exercises.
The idea was that stretching was a kind of
placebo control group on the grounds that, while
it is an intervention, it's not the kind of
exercise that gets you fit. It doesn't burn many
calories, it doesn't improve your cardiovascular
system, etc. Aerobic exercise is the kind that's
most commonly been proposed as having an antidepressant effect.
So what happened? Not much. Both groups got less
depressed but there was zero difference between
the two conditions. The cyclists did get
physically fitter than the stretchers, losing
more weight and improving on other measures. But they didn't feel any better.
If this is true, it might mean that the
antidepressant effects of aerobic exercise are
psychological rather than physical - it's about
the idea of 'exercising', not the process of becoming fitter.
While many trials have found modest beneficial
effects of exercise vs a "control condition", the
control condition was often just doing nothing
much - such as being put on a waiting-list. So
the placebo effect or the motivational benefits
of 'doing something', rather than the effects of
exercise per se, could be behind it. In the
current study though the stretching avoided that problem.
Depression May Be Caused By 'Allergy' to Stress
By Stephanie Pappas,
An over-excited immune system may explain why
some people are susceptible to depression, according to new research on mice.
Mice whose immune systems responded to stress by
overproducing an inflammatory compound called
Interleukin-6 were more likely to become the
mousy versions of depressed than mice with
non-overactive immune systems, the research
found. This same compound is elevated in
depressed humans, said study researcher Georgia
Hodes, suggesting hope for new depression treatments.
"There's probably a subset of people with
depression who have this over-sensitive
inflammatory response to stress and that this is
leading to the symptoms of depression," Hodes, a
postdoctoral researcher at the Mount Sinai
Medical Center in New York, told LiveScience.
Hodes added that stress could be thought of as an
allergen, like pet dander, with the over-reactive
immune system making you depressed rather than giving you runny nose.
"In some ways, it is an analogy to an allergy,"
Hodes said. "You have something that is not
really dangerous, but your body thinks it is, so
you have this massive immune response. In this
case, the stressor is what they're having this massive immune response to."
Some of the symptoms of depression lack of
energy, loss of appetite mirror the body's
response to physical illness, Hodes noted.
© 2012 Yahoo! Inc.
It’s not the stress that counts, it’s whether you can control it
Stress is generally not a good thing. Most of us
who live stressful lives (which, I suppose, would
be all of us), are well aware of this. We try to
reduce our stress, or even stress about how
stressed we are. Traumatic stress increases the
risk for all sorts of psychiatric disorders,
including major depressive disorder, anxiety, and
post traumatic stress disorder. But not all
stresses are created equal, even the traumatic
ones. And it turns out that it’s not the stress
itself that is important…it’s whether or not you have any control over it.
A stress that you can control is a very different
one from a stress that you can’t. I usually think
of a stress you cannot control as something like
the illness of a family member, as compared to a
stress you can control, say, the stress involved
in training for and running a marathon (which is
definitely a physical stressor). These are both
stresses, but they aren’t alike. While the stress
that you cannot control is often a very traumatic
experience, and can predispose people to
psychiatric disorders, a controllable stress is
actually a good event. Not only does it blunt the
impact of the stressor itself, it can be
protective against the detriments of future
uncontrolled stresses. Scientists call this
“behavioral immunization” against future stress.
Behavioral immunization involves the recruitment
of very specific brain regions, especially the
medial prefrontal cortex of the brain.
After exposure to a controllable stress, there is
increased activity in the medial prefrontal
cortex, and it is thought that the increase in
activity is important for the development of
behavioral immunization. If you stop this
increased activity from taking place during
controllable stress, you can prevent behavioral immunization.
© 2012 Scientific American