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March 21, 2007, 10:12 PM CT

On Wandering Minds

On Wandering Minds
Do your thoughts stray from your work or studies? Do you catch yourself making to-do lists when your attention should be elsewhere? Welcome to the club.

College students reported mind-wandering almost one-third of the time in their daily lives, as per a new study led by faculty and graduate students at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The study would be reported in the recent issue of Psychological Science.

The study followed 124 undergraduates, who carried personal digital assistants for a week. The PDAs signaled the students eight times a day between noon and midnight to report whether their thoughts were wandering away from what they were doing and to answer multiple-choice questions about their current activity, surroundings and state of mind.

On average, the students reported mind-wandering in about 30 percent of their responses. But individual results varied widely: One student reported no mind wandering, while another reported it in more than 90 percent of responses.

Despite being so common, mind-wandering remains little studied and poorly understood, said Dr. Michael Kane, an associate professor of psychology at UNCG, who led the study. If you want to understand peoples mental lives, this is a phenomenon we ought to be thinking about, he told the Associated Press.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 21, 2007, 5:13 AM CT

Genetic Risk for Schizophrenia

Genetic Risk for Schizophrenia
Psychiatric scientists at The Zucker Hillside Hospital campus of The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research have uncovered evidence of a new gene that appears to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, a disorder characterized by distorted thinking, hallucinations and a reduced ability to feel normal emotions.

Working in conjunction with scientists at the Harvard Medical School Partners Center for Genetics and Genomics in Boston, MA, the Zucker Hillside team utilized a cutting-edge technology called whole genome association (WGA) to search the entire human genome in 178 patients with schizophrenia and 144 healthy individuals. WGA technology was used to examine over 500,000 genetic markers in each individual, the largest number of such markers examined to date, and the first published study to utilize WGA technology in a psychiatric illness. Prior studies have been much more limited in scope, often incorporating less than 10 markers.

The study results are scheduled would be published online Tuesday in Molecular Psychiatry, which can be accessed at http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/vaop/ncurrent/index.html.

Of the 500,000 genetic markers, the scientists observed that the most significant link with schizophrenia came from a marker located in a chromosomal region called the pseudoautosomal region 1 (PAR1), which is on both the X and Y chromosomes. The marker was located adjacent to two genes, CSF2RA and IL3RA, which previously were thought to play a role in inflammation and autoimmune disorders. Those two genes produce receptors for two cytokines, GM-CSF and interleukin-3. Cytokines are involved in the body's response to infection, and may play a role in the brain's response to injury.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 19, 2007, 9:38 PM CT

Cause of Smokers' Cravings

Cause of Smokers' Cravings
Video of Jed Rose explaining the regions of the brain that control craving is available in the following formats: RealMedia, QuickTime and Windows Media Video.

DURHAM, N.C. -- Within the mind of every smoker trying to quit rages a battle between the higher-order functions of the brain wanting to break the habit and the lower-order functions screaming for another cigarette, say scientists at Duke University Medical Center. More often than not, that cigarette gets lit.

Brain scans of smokers studied by the scientists revealed three specific regions deep within the brain that appear to control dependence on nicotine and craving for cigarettes. These regions play important roles in some of the key motivations for smoking: to calm down when stressed, to achieve pleasure and to help concentration.

"If you can't calm down, can't derive pleasure and can't control yourself or concentrate, then it will be extremely difficult for you to break the habit," said lead study investigator Jed E. Rose, Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research. "These brain regions may explain why most people try to quit several times before they are successful."

Understanding how the brain responds to cigarette cravings can help doctors change nicotine cessation therapys to address all three of these components of withdrawal, Rose said. Drugs or therapies that target these regions may help smokers stave off the cravings that often spoil their attempts to quit.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 19, 2007, 5:15 AM CT

Virtual racing games linked to risk taking

Virtual racing games linked to risk taking
Psychology experts have taken the "media priming" effects of popular video console and PC-based games on the road, finding that virtual racing seems to lead to aggressive driving and a propensity for risk taking. Extending previous findings on how aggressive virtual-shooter games increase aggression-related thoughts, feelings and behaviors, scientists at Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians University and the Allianz Center for Technology observed that of 198 men and women, those who play more virtual car-racing games were more likely to report that they drive aggressively and get in accidents. Less frequent virtual racing was linked to more cautious driving.

The findings are reported in the recent issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

Linking media priming effects the way virtual aggression can lead to the real thing -- to behavior, a second study observed that men who played even one virtual racing game subsequently took significantly higher risks in critical traffic situations on a computer simulator than did men who played a neutral game. Sixty-eight men were in this study.

Finally, the scientists assigned 83 men to play either typical racing or neutral games on a Sony Playstation. In the racing games, say the authors, "To win, participants had to massively violate traffic rules (e.g., drive on the sidewalk, crash into other cards, drive at high speed)." Those who raced subsequently reported a significantly higher accessibility of thoughts and feelings associated with risk-taking than did those who played a neutral game.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 15, 2007, 6:28 PM CT

Video Games Improve Vision

Video Games Improve Vision
As per a new study from the University of Rochester, playing action video games sharpens vision. In tests of visual acuity that assess the ability to see objects accurately in a cluttered space, game players scored higher than their non-playing peers.

"Action video game play changes the way our brains process visual information," says Daphne Bavelier, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. "After just 30 hours of training, people who normally don't play video games showed a substantial increase in the spatial resolution of their vision, meaning they could see small, closely packed letters more clearly."

Most of the factors that affect a normal person's ability to read an eye-chart are optical (size of the eye, the shape/thickness of the cornea and lens) and video games will not change those factors. However, there are some types of visual deficits that aren't optical in nature but are instead neural. "It is our hope that video game training can help these people," says Bavelier.

Only certain games create this effect; first-person action games. Shooting games, such as Unreal Tournament, improved vision. More sedate games, such as the puzzle game Tetris, showed no effect. "When people play action games, they're changing the brain's pathway responsible for visual processing," says Bavelier. "These games push the human visual system to the limits and the brain adapts to it. That learning carries over into other activities and possibly everyday life".........

Posted by: Mike      Read more         Source


March 13, 2007, 9:43 PM CT

Sleep Disorders Can Impair Children's IQs

Sleep Disorders Can Impair Children's IQs
Three decades ago, medical researchers began sounding the alarm about how lead exposure causes IQ deficits in children. Today, scientists at the University of Virginia Health System say children with sleep disorders can face similar risks of intellectual impairment.

UVa scientists have been studying sleep disturbances in children with enlarged tonsils and adenoids for the past seven years. In a recent study, they discovered that youngsters who snore nightly scored significantly lower on vocabulary tests than those who snore less often.

"Vocabulary scores are known to be the best single predictor of a child's IQ and the strongest predictor of academic success," explains Dr. Paul M. Suratt, a pulmonologist who directs the UVa Sleep Laboratory.

As per Dr. Suratt, the vocabulary differences linked to nightly snoring are equivalent to the IQ dissimilarities attributed to lead exposure. "Studies show that, even at nontoxic levels, lead exposure can reduce a child's IQ by more than seven points," he notes.

Sleep disorders can be intellectually and behaviorally detrimental to children because they interrupt the deep sleep patterns needed for healthy development. At night, children with sleep disorders can be observed snoring, snorting, gasping, tossing and turning. During the day, these children can be irritable, hyperactive and unable to concentrate.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 11, 2007, 8:35 PM CT

Hormone Activity Explains Adolescent Mood Swings

Hormone Activity Explains Adolescent Mood Swings
The "raging hormones" of puberty are known to produce mood swings and stress for most teenagers, making it difficult to cope with this period of life. Until now, the specific causes of pubertal anxiety have not been identified, making it harder to understand and treat adolescent angst.

In the current edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists led by Sheryl S. Smith, PhD, professor of physiology and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, report findings demonstrating that a hormone normally released in response to stress, THP, actually reverses its effect at puberty, when it increases anxiety.

This hormone normally acts like a tranquilizer, acting at sites in the brain that "calm" brain activity. In the adult, this stress hormone helps the individual adapt to stress, with a calming effect produced half an hour after the event.

Specifically, the GABA-A receptor is the target for steroids, such as THP (or allopregnanolone), which reduce anxiety. GABA-A receptors calm activity in the brain. As such, they are the targets for most sedative, tranquilizing drugs.

One sub-type, GABA-A receptors containing the delta subunit, such as alpha4-beta2-delta, has the highest sensitivity to steroids. In order to study its role in puberty, the scientists used a mouse model that reliably predicts the human condition. In this rodent model, the alpha4-beta2-delta receptor normally has very low expression, but increases dramatically at the onset of puberty in the part of the brain that regulates emotion. Paradoxically, THP reduced the inhibition produced by these alpha4-beta2-delta GABA-A receptors, increasing brain activity to produce a state of increased anxiety. Stress also increased anxiety at puberty, due to the paradoxical effects of this hormone that is released by stress.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 6, 2007, 3:31 PM CT

Receptor For Alcohol Pleasure And Problems

Receptor For Alcohol Pleasure And Problems
A genetic variant of a receptor in the brains reward circuitry heightens the stimulating effects of early exposures to alcohol and increases alcohol consumption, as per a new study by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Conducted in rhesus monkeys, the study extends prior research that suggests an important role for a similar brain receptor variant in the development of human alcohol use disorders. A report of the findings is reported in the March, 2007 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

"Eventhough the pathway to alcoholism is influenced by a number of factors, our findings affirm that individuals who possess this receptor variant may experience enhanced pleasurable effects from alcohol that could increase their risk for developing alcohol abuse and dependence," notes Markus Heilig, M.D., Ph.D., NIAAA Clinical Director and the studys senior author.

Molecules known as opioid peptides bind to opioid receptors in the brain to signal experiences of reward and reinforcement, as well as the euphoria and other positive subjective effects produced by alcohol. Prior studies have shown that, among the brains various subtypes of opioid receptors, the mu-subtype is most likely responsible for transmitting alcohols positive effects.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 6, 2007, 4:57 AM CT

Who is happy?

Who is happy?
Psychology experts have been fond of stating in recent years that human happiness, or what psychology experts call subjective well-being, is largely independent of our life circumstances. The wealthy arent much happier than the middle class, married people arent much happier than single people, healthy people arent much happier than sick people, and so on.

One might reasonably conclude, therefore, that changes in life circumstances would not have long-term effects on our happiness. This indeed has been the dominant model of subjective well-being: People adapt to major life events, both positive and negative, and our happiness pretty much stays constant through our lives, even if it is occasionally perturbed. Winning the lottery wont make you happier in the long run (goes the theory), and while a divorce or even a major illness will throw your life into upheaval for a while, your happiness level will eventually return to where it was at beforethat is, its set point.

But new research, and reexamination of old research, is challenging some of the claims of set-point theory.

In the recent issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, Richard E. Lucas of Michigan State University and the German Institute for Economic Research, reviews some recent studies suggesting that adaptation to changing life circumstances only goes so far. "Happiness levels do change, adaptation is not inevitable, and life events do matter," Lucas asserts.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 5, 2007, 5:07 AM CT

Severe PTSD damages children's brains

Severe PTSD damages children's brains
Severe stress can damage a child's brain, say scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. The scientists observed that children with post-traumatic stress disorder and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol were likely to experience a decrease in the size of the hippocampus - a brain structure important in memory processing and emotion.

Eventhough similar effects have been seen in animal studies, this is the first time the findings have been replicated in children. The scientists focused on kids in extreme situations to better understand how stress affects brain development.

"We're not talking about the stress of doing your homework or fighting with your dad," said Packard Children's child psychiatry expert Victor Carrion, MD. "We're talking about traumatic stress. These kids feel like they're stuck in the middle of a street with a truck barreling down at them".

Carrion, assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the medical school and director of Stanford's early life stress research program, and his collaborators speculate that cognitive deficits arising from stress hormones interfere with psychiatric treatment and prolong symptoms.

The children in the study were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as a result of undergoing physical, emotional or sexual abuse, witnessing violence or experiencing lasting separation and loss. This type of developmental trauma often impairs the child's ability to reach social, emotional and academic milestones.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source



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Did you know?
Too little evidence exists to recommend or rule out estrogen as a treatment for schizophrenia in women, a new review of studies finds.People diagnosed with schizophrenia suffer distorted perceptions of reality and hallucinations. Today, estrogen is strictly an experimental therapy for the psychotic symptoms associated with the mental illness.

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