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Tue, 20 Oct 2020
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Twin Fetuses Learn How to be Social in the Womb

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© PLoS ONE
Types of movements. a, Video frame representing a self-directed movement towards the mouth. b, Video frame representing a self-directed movement towards the eye. c, Video frame representing the foetus reaching towards and “caressing” the back of the sibling. d, Video frame representing the foetus reaching towards and “caressing” the head of the sibling.
Humans have a deep-seated urge to be social, and new research on the interactions of twins in the womb suggests this begins even before babies are born.

Researchers from the University of Padova in Italy have been studying pregnancies involving twins. Leader of the team, psychologist Umberto Castiello, explained that newborns appear to be already "wired" to interact socially with other humans soon after birth, and previous research has demonstrated that within only a few hours after birth, babies can imitate gestures of people around them and make other social interactions. Studying twins in the womb made it possible to see investigate the pre-wired hypothesis and see if socialization was already apparent while still in the womb.

The study, which was published in the Public Library of Science One (PLoS One), used four-dimensional ultrasonography to make 3D videos of twins at 14 and 18 weeks of gestation. The five pairs of twins were found to be reaching for each other even at 14 weeks, and making a range of contacts including head to head, arm to head and head to arm. By the time they were at 18 weeks, they touched each other more often than they touched their own bodies, spending up to 30 percent of their time reaching out and stroking their co-twin.

People

Study Confirms: Whatever Doesn't Kill Us Can Make Us Stronger

We've all heard the adage that whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger, but until now the preponderance of scientific evidence has offered little support for it.

However, a new national multi-year longitudinal study of the effects of adverse life events on mental health has found that adverse experiences do, in fact, appear to foster subsequent adaptability and resilience, with resulting advantages for mental health and well being.

The study, "Whatever Does Not Kill Us: Cumulative Lifetime Adversity, Vulnerability and Resilience," to be published in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is available on the website of the American Psychological Association.

It examined a national sample of people who reported their lifetime history of adverse experiences and several measures of current mental health and well being.

Magnify

Is Anxiety Contagious? Scientists Study Owls and Voles to Find Out

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© American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Prof. David Eilam and Rony Izhar.
Anxiety, or the reaction to a perceived danger, is a response that differs from one animal or human to another -- or so scientists thought. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University are challenging what we know about stress, and their study has implications for helping clinicians better treat victims of terrorism or natural disasters.

Prof. David Eilam and his graduate student Rony Izhar of Tel Aviv University's Department of Zoology are spearheading a study designed to investigate the anxieties experienced by an entire social group. Using the natural predator-and-prey relationship between the barn owl and the vole, a small animal in the rodent family, researchers were able to test unified group responses to a common threat.

The results, which have been reported in the journals Behavioural Brain Research and Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, demonstrated that while anxiety levels can differ among individuals in normal circumstances, surprisingly, group members display the same level of anxiety when exposed to a common threat.

Attention

Neurons cast votes to guide decision-making

We know that casting a ballot in the voting booth involves politics, values and personalities. But before you ever push the button for your candidate, your brain has already carried out an election of its own to make that action possible. New research from Vanderbilt University reveals that our brain accumulates evidence when faced with a choice and triggers an action once that evidence reaches a tipping point.

The research was published in the October issue of Psychological Review.

"Psychological models of decision-making explain that humans gradually accumulate evidence for a particular choice over time, and execute that choice when evidence reaches a critical level. However, until recently there was little understanding of how this might actually be implemented in the brain," Braden Purcell, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology and lead author of the new study, said. "We found that certain neurons seem to represent the accumulation of evidence to a threshold and others represent the evidence itself, and that these two types of neurons interact to drive decision-making."

The researchers presented monkeys with a simple visual task of finding a target on a screen that also included distracting items. The researchers found that neurons processing visual information from the screen fed that information to the neurons responsible for movement. These movement neurons served as gatekeepers, suppressing action until the information they received from the visual neurons was sufficiently clear. When that occurred, the movement neurons then proceeded to trigger the chosen movement.

Health

The Great Illusion

According to Prof Ivor Browne, treatment of mental illness can not - and should not - be undertaken without the effort of the patient, and the power of change and recovery being firmly placed in their hands

The world is a sea of troubles and we have to adapt to these as best we can. People use all kinds of ways to manage. Some are better than others, while some are counterproductive and land us in difficulty. Mental illness is seen as a disease caused by either a disturbance in our biochemistry or by genetic influences - but this is a myth.

This view of mental illness arises from a reductionist scientific concept, where the disturbance of the whole person is seen as caused by something wrong with the parts. It's derived historically from Galileo's statement that, to make scientific progress, we must concentrate on things we can measure. But this is only half the story and it breaks down when applied to living creatures such as ourselves.

When a new whole emerges, this is a completely new reality, quite distinct from the parts that make it up. It's not explainable by simply analysing the parts. Once the new reality, for example of a person, emerges, the causal direction reverses. The new whole takes control over its parts - thus we have to take control of our behaviour, cells and biochemistry, and not the other way around.

This is why, in dealing with emotional problems, there is no therapy the psychiatrist or therapist can apply to the person to bring about real change. The person has to do the work of changing themselves, with the support and guidance of a therapist.

Heart - Black

The Playground Gets Even Tougher

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© Anat Even Or
Scarlett made for a good target. The daughter of a Williamsburg artist, she wore funky clothing to her East Village school, had a mild learning disability and was generally timid and insecure. Lila, the resident "mean girl" in Scarlett's kindergarten class, started in immediately.

Scarlett, she sneered, couldn't read. Her Payless and Gap shoes weren't good enough. She wasn't "allowed" to play with certain girls. Lila was forming a band, and Scarlett couldn't be a part. One girl threatened to physically hurt her. During recess, Lila would loom over Scarlett, arms crossed, and say, "I'm watching you."

"I was in middle school before things got as awful as they did for Scarlett," said Scarlett's mother, Annelizabeth, who asked that her last name not be used to protect her daughter. "I understand that children are maturing much faster, but to see such hostility at this young age, wow. It was really shocking."

Robot

Technology May Be Eating Our Minds

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© Unknown
Professor Susan Greenfield shows off Albert Einstein's preserved brain; she fears there will be fewer Einsteins in future
Oxford University professor Susan Greenfield is worried, very worried. As a leading -- and controversial -- neuroscientist and commentator on society and modern technology, she warns that society is facing the prospect of being robbed of its future Albert Einsteins and Isaac Newtons. Why? Today's brainiacs spend too much time fiddling with their iPhones or updating their Facebook pages.

Greenfield -- a regular visitor to Australia and former South Australian Thinker in Residence -- has written several books on the subject. She speaks widely, arguing that future generations are at risk of everything from desocialisation and autism to damaged cognitive functions such as the ability to think deeply and even read.

"Everyone knows that the human brain is sensitive to the environment," she tells Weekend Health. "Therefore, if the environment is now unprecedented and different, how can the brain stay the same?"

But what's the hard evidence that today's swarms of computers and gadgets, incessantly bleeping and buzzing with communication and information, are causing what Greenfield calls "mind change"?

Sheeple

Depressed, repressed, objectified: Are men the new women?

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© Chris Moore/Getty Images/Catwalking
They're less fertile, more weight-obsessed and 'non-essential to parenting'. No wonder men are confused about modern masculinity.

If recent research is anything to go by, 21st century man is in a desperate muddle.

In June, men discovered that their libidos are in freefall, prompting a 40 per cent increase in males seeking counselling for impotence problems. Their existential angst worsened in July, when British men discovered that they have the most unequal paternity rights in Europe. According to Nicola Brewer, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, fathers in the UK are seen as 'not essential for parenting'. The same month saw the publication of a medical study that proved the quality of men's sperm declines to such an extent after they hit 45 that the chances of a partner's miscarriage are doubled.

Magnify

How Meditation Affects the Gray Matter of the Brain

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© Meditation Guidance
I like to meditate. It makes me feel at ease and I am convinced that the sense of calm it produces helps me to handle the daily challenges of my life. There are, of course, times when I don't keep up my daily practice of sitting quietly for 10 or 15 minutes, but these are the times in my life when I experience more stress.

Stress affects everyone. I don't know a single person who doesn't get stressed. But unfortunately, it plays a major role in illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in fact, up to 90 percent of doctor visits in the U.S. may be stress-related. Meditation is an antidote to stress, just as an aspirin can counter a headache. A regular practice can be a major boost to health.

It calms the nervous system. It's good for the immune system. It's also good for the heart; it helps produce nitric oxide (not nitrous oxide -- that's laughing gas!) in the arteries, dilating them and reducing blood pressure. It also smooths heart rhythms.

But thanks to an explosion of brain research we now know that it also physically impacts our gray matter.

Comment: Another form of meditation to reduce stress is to practice Éiriú Eolas Breathing and Meditation Program and can be found here.


Info

Psychology beyond the Brain

The brain has long enjoyed a privileged status as psychology's favorite body organ. This is, of course, unsurprising given that the brain instantiates virtually all mental operations, from understanding language, to learning that fire is dangerous, to recalling the name of one's kindergarten teacher, to categorizing fruits and vegetables, to predicting the future. Arguing for the importance of the brain in psychology is like arguing for the importance of money in economics.

More surprising, however, is the role of the entire body in psychology and the capacity for body parts inside and out to influence and regulate the most intimate operations of emotional and social life. The stomach's gastric activity , for example, corresponds to how intensely people experience feelings such as happiness and disgust. The hands' manipulation of objects that vary in temperature and texture influences judgments of how "warm" or "rough" people are. And the ovaries and testes' production of progesterone and testosterone shapes behavior ranging from financial risk-taking to shopping preferences.