Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Seat of Envy

Scientists have identified the region of the brain that they say is responsible for fealings of jealousy. Surprisingly, it is also the same region of the brain that detects physical pain. So, if you feel like your guts are being ripped out when your love falls madly for another, it may be that the two pains are not that distinct.

On this picture, the region of the frontal lobe that causes feelings of jealousy is lit up.

Monday, September 8, 2008

SAD and Serotonin Studies

As summer ends and days get shorter, many people will suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. The shortened hours of sunlight can affect mood and even cause depression in some people.

New research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada may have discovered the reason. The researchers at CAMH have discovered greater levels of serotonin transporter in the brain during winter than in the summer.

Serotonin is involved in regulating physical functions such as eating and energy balance, and emotional functions like mood and energy levels. The scientific team at CAMH believes that more serotonin is transported during the fall/winter than in the spring/summer.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Meyer this is “an important lead in understanding how season changes serotonin levels. This offers an explanation for why some healthy people experience low mood and energy in the winter, and why there is a regular reoccurrence of depressive episodes in fall and winter in some vulnerable individuals. The next steps will be to understand what causes this change and how to interfere with it.”

More at The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Data Chunks Easier to Remember

Many people say they aren't good at remembering long number sequences, but the very fact that we remember telephone numbers shows that humans can and do remember long strings of information, but there's a trick to it. We break up such information into smaller chunks.

Telephone numbers, for instance are broken up into sequences of 3 and 4 numbers. Not everyone knows their credit card numbers by heart, but these 16-digit strings are made easier to memorize by being set out in groups of four.

A study conducted with 14-month-old children demonstrated that this technique of remembering information in smaller chunks by showing the children toys, which were later hid in a box. During the study, two of the toys were placed in the box while the other two were hidden elsewhere. Researchers wanted to see how much longer children would search for the two missing toys.

They found that when the toys were in groups of two, such as two toy cats and two toy dogs, and one of each was removed, that children seemed to remember the fact that there were two of each and continued searching the box for the missing items.

Perhaps this type of research could change the way we teach information and affect our approach to information that we want to remember.

You can read more about the story at the Johns Hopkins website.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Deep Brain Stimulation Used to Treat Psychiatric Disorders

A procedure approved for the treatment of Parkinson's Disease may soon be used to treat certain psychiatric disorders.

Deep brain stimulation, or DBS has been used to quell tremors in Parkinson's patients. The procedure involves the neurosurgeon drilling one or two dime-size holes in the skull and inserting one or two electrodes about four inches into the brain. A connecting wire from the electrode runs under the skin to a battery implanted near the collarbone.

Dr. Douglas Anderson of Loyola University Health Systems has also used DBS to treat patients with debilitating headaches, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and body dysmorphic disorder.
DBS is also being currently studied for possible treatment of depression. Dr. Anderson reports successfully treating a patient with OCD and a patient with body dysmorphic disorder. Body dymorphic disorder is an excessive preoccupation with perceived flaws in the patient's body. These flaws may be minor or even imaginary.

For more information on DBS and the case studies mentioned, see the press release at Loyola University Health System.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Smelling the Coffee

Do you need that morning cup of coffee to stimulate your brain and get you going? Does the warm aroma of brewing coffee draw you from your bed? There may be a good reason for the old saying "wake up and smell the coffee". Scientists now report that simply inhaling the aroma of coffee alters activity of some genes in the brain.

Experiments with laboratory rats showed that when exposed to coffee aroma, changes in the activity and expression of genes and protiens helped reduce the stress of sleep derivation.

As odor deals with sense and emotion in the brain, it was reasoned that by examining molecular (mRNA expression and protein levels)responses in the brain of rat exposed to coffee bean aroma, we might get insight on the aroma-induced changes associated with brain function. Especially, as coffee is also considered a stress
reliever , we incorporated a stress condition via sleep
deprivation of 24 h in our experimental design with or without the presence of coffee bean aroma to see whether coffee can counteract the effects of stress at the level of gene/protein expression.

Results from the present study demonstrate the influence of coffee bean aroma on the rat’s brain functions at both genome and proteome levels, and the paper discusses these differentially expressed genes and proteins. This study is the first effort to elucidate the effects of coffee bean aroma on the sleep deprivation-induced stress of the rat brain.

We all know that cup of coffee gives us the jolt we need to overcome our natural inclinations to sleep when tired, and now there's proof that just smelling the coffee is enough to help us "wake up".

The study can be found here

Monday, June 2, 2008

Repressed Memories

According to the Stanford Research Institute, a person has between 90,000 and 150,000 thoughts per day. But a study at Stanford also indicates that we have some control over which thoughts we have and which we suppress.

The question of repressed memories has caused controversy, especially with reports of psychotherapists encouraging patients to "remember" events that, in reality, never happened. But research shows that the brain does have a biological mechanism for blocking out unwanted memories and that if these memories are blocked over and over for a long enough period of time, they cannot be recalled, not even at will.

A study using fMRI and memory exercises on words showed that when people were asked to purposely try not to remember one word of a pair of words they were shown, they did remember them less well than ones they were trying to remember, even when exposed to those words for a longer period of time.

The brain imaging scans showed that controlling unwanted memories was associated with increased activation of the left and right frontal cortex (the part of the brain used to repress memory), which in turn led to reduced activation of the hippocampus (the part of the brain used to remember experiences).

If we are actively choosing to forget certain memories, are they still lurking and ready to be called up under hypnosis or does the brain dispose of them as unwanted and unnecessary?

It does appear that repressed memories may be recalled years later when triggered by some event or sensory experience and events like this have been recorded. There have been many cases where those memories called up under hypnosis have not withstood the test of evidence.

The existence of repressed memories is still not fully accepted by mainstream psychology. There are experts in the field who believe that no evidence exists for the theory while others speculate that repression may be a method used by individuals to survive traumatic experiences. As research continues, perhaps science will find the key to all memory.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Being Multi-lingual Improves Mental Fitness

Knowing and speaking a second or third language may protect the brain against the cognitive decline associated with aging.

A study conducted by Dr. Gitit Kavé from the Herczeg Institute on Aging at Tel Aviv University concludes that seniors who are multi-lingual do better on cognitive functioning tests. Dr. Kavé is a clinical neuro-psychologist.

Previous research has indicated that education plays a large role in preserving mental fitness as we age, but it appears that speaking two or more languages has even a greater impact than education.

Why would language have such an impact? Speaking another language could be like exercise for the brain , strengthening it. It may create new links in the brain, increasing its plasticity.

But whether or not being multilingual was the main reason for the results, Dr. Kavé thinks that learning a new language is always a positive experience.

While the controversy continues as to whether or not parents should introduce their young children to a second language, Kavé thinks that learning a new language is only a good thing, even if it isn’t intended to stave off mental decline in old age.

“In my professional opinion, learning a new language can only do good things,” she believes. “Other languages are good for you at any age. They allow for a flexibility of thought and a channel for understanding another culture better, as well as your own,” says Kavé.

TAU Study Finds Connection Between Mental Fitness and Multi-Lingualism