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Thu, 30 Mar 2023
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Science of the Spirit


Experience puts the personal stamp on a place in memory

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Seeing helps map a place in the mind, but exploration and experience are vital, researchers say.

Seeing and exploring both are necessary for stability in a person's episodic memory when taking in a new experience, say University of Oregon researchers.

The human brain continuously records experiences into memory. In experiments in the UO lab of Clifford G. Kentros, researchers have been studying the components of memory by recording how neurons fire in the hippocampus of rats as they are introduced to new activities. As in humans, brain activation in rats is seen in particular locations called "place cells." It has been believed that these cells together form a mental map of the environment.

There are subtle but important differences, though, in how mapping is done, the researchers say in a paper online in advance of regular publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Rats need to directly experience a place to create a stable representation of it in their brains, researchers say. Seeing provides the big picture, but exploration burns it into memory.


Is Marriage Good for the Heart? Wedded Bliss Triples Long-Term Survival After Bypass Surgery

© Credit: J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester
Dennis Greco is enjoying life with his wife of 32 years, Susan Greco, more than a decade after undergoing bypass surgery. His secret? A happy marriage, according to a new study from the University of Rochester. The effect of marital satisfaction is “every bit as important to survival after bypass surgery as more traditional risk factors like tobacco use, obesity, and high blood pressure,” says study coauthor Harry Reis.
Giving your heart to a supportive spouse turns out to be an excellent way to stay alive, according to new research from the University of Rochester. Happily wedded people who undergo coronary bypass surgery are more than three times as likely to be alive 15 years later as their unmarried counterparts, reports a study published online August 22 in Health Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association.

"There is something in a good relationship that helps people stay on track" says Kathleen King, professor emerita from the School of Nursing at the University of Rochester and lead author on the paper.

In fact, the effect of marital satisfaction is "every bit as important to survival after bypass surgery as more traditional risk factors like tobacco use, obesity, and high blood pressure," says coauthor Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.


Carrying a baby facing forwards is 'cruel, stressful and terrifying', claims Australian expert. But is it really so?

Mothers who carry their babies facing forwards are cruel and selfish, according to a leading child health expert.

She said the same accusations could be applied to those who take babies out in pushchairs which face away from the parent.

Cathrine Fowler, a professor of child and family health nursing, claimed youngsters are frightened if they are carried in a sling or pushed in a pram looking away from their parents.

© Alamy
Cruel? Professor Catherine Fowler from Sydney's University of Technology said youngsters are terrified as they are carried looking forwards by their mothers in a busy world. Picture posed by model
'Imagine if you were strapped to someone's chest with your legs and arms flailing, heading with no control into a busy shopping centre - it would be terrifying,' said Professor Fowler.

'Outward-facing baby carriers and prams give babies a bombardment of stimulus, creating a very stressful situation.


At Last, A Reason Why Stress Causes DNA Damage

definition of stress
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For years, researchers have published papers that associate chronic stress with chromosomal damage.

Now researchers at Duke University Medical Center have discovered a mechanism that helps to explain the stress response in terms of DNA damage.

"We believe this paper is the first to propose a specific mechanism through which a hallmark of chronic stress, elevated adrenaline, could eventually cause DNA damage that is detectable," said senior author Robert J. Lefkowitz, M.D., James B. Duke Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at Duke University Medical Center.

The paper was published in the Aug. 21 online issue of Nature.

In the study, mice were infused with an adrenaline-like compound that works through a receptor called the beta adrenergic receptor that Lefkowitz has studied for many years. The scientists found that this model of chronic stress triggered certain biological pathways that ultimately resulted in accumulation of DNA damage.

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Study: Psychopaths Have "Potholed" Brains

psychopath treatment
© iStockphoto
The study may open the way to the development of treatments for dangerous psychopaths in the future
Psychopaths have faulty connections between the part of the brain dealing with emotions and that which handles impulses and decision-making, scientists have found.

In a study of psychopaths who had committed murder, manslaughter, multiple rape, strangulation and false imprisonment, the British scientists found that roads linking the two crucial brain areas had "potholes", while those of non-psychopaths were in good shape.

The study opens up the possibility of developing treatments for dangerous psychopaths in the future, says Dr Michael Craig of the Institute of Psychiatry at London's King's College Hospital, and may have profound implications for doctors, researchers and the criminal justice system.

"These were particular serious offenders with psychopathy and without any other mental illnesses," he says.


Not All Psychopaths Are Criminal

© British Psychological Society
Experts have recognised for some time that not all psychopaths are violent criminals. Many of them live inconspicuously amongst us (see item 4 here). But according to Mehmet Mahmut and his colleagues, these more benign psychopaths have been relatively uninvestigated. It's not even clear how comparable they are to their more notorious counterparts.

One hundred university students completed a self-report measure of psychopathy that probed four key areas - lack of empathy, grandiosity, impulsivity and delinquency. The top 33 per cent and bottom 33 per cent of scorers subsequently formed high and low psychopathy groups. The low and high psychopathy groups then completed the kinds of neuropsychological tests that have often been used on research with criminal psychopaths.

The high psychopathy students, as well as recording low empathy on the self-report test, also scored poorly on the Iowa Card Gambling task (relative to the low psychopathy students), reflecting the same kind of performance seen in criminal psychopaths. This gambling task is thought to measure functioning in a specific frontal region of the brain called orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), which is known to be involved in emotion and decision-making.


Psychopaths' Brains Wired to Seek Rewards, No Matter the Consequences

psychopathic brain
© Gregory R.Samanez-Larkin and Joshua W. Buckholtz
Abnormalities in how the nucleus accumbens, highlighted here, processes dopamine have been found in individuals with psychopathic traits and may be linked to violent, criminal behavior.
The brains of psychopaths appear to be wired to keep seeking a reward at any cost, new research from Vanderbilt University finds. The research uncovers the role of the brain's reward system in psychopathy and opens a new area of study for understanding what drives these individuals.

"This study underscores the importance of neurological research as it relates to behavior," Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said. "The findings may help us find new ways to intervene before a personality trait becomes antisocial behavior."

The results were published March 14, 2010, in Nature Neuroscience.

"Psychopaths are often thought of as cold-blooded criminals who take what they want without thinking about consequences," Joshua Buckholtz, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology and lead author of the new study, said. "We found that a hyper-reactive dopamine reward system may be the foundation for some of the most problematic behaviors associated with psychopathy, such as violent crime, recidivism and substance abuse."


A Radical New Definition of Addiction Creates a Big Storm

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A sweeping new definition of addiction stakes out controversial positions that many, including the powerful psychiatric lobby, are likely to argue with.

If you think addiction is all about booze, drugs, sex, gambling, food and other irresistible vices, think again. And if you believe that a person has a choice whether or not to indulge in an addictive behavior, get over it. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) blew the whistle on these deeply held notions with its official release of a new document defining addiction as a chronic neurological disorder involving many brain functions, most notably a devastating imbalance in the so-called reward circuitry. This fundamental impairment in the experience of pleasure literally compels the addict to chase the chemical highs produced by substances like drugs and alcohol and obsessive behaviors like sex, food and gambling.

The definition, a result of a four-year process involving more than 80 leading experts in addiction and neurology, emphasizes that addiction is a primary illness - in other words, it's not caused by mental health issues such as mood or personality disorders, putting to rest the popular notion that addictive behaviors are a form of "self-medication" to, say, ease the pain of depression or anxiety.


Less depression for working moms who expect that they 'can't do it all'

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Working moms have lower rates of depression than their stay-at-home counterparts, but buying into the supermom myth could put working mothers at greater risk for depression.

A new study shows that working mothers who expressed a supermom attitude that work and home lives can be blended with relative ease showed more depression symptoms than working moms who expected that they would have to forego some aspects of their career or parenting to achieve a work-life balance.

"Women are sold a story that they can do it all, but most workplaces are still designed for employees without child-care responsibilities," said Katrina Leupp, a University of Washington sociology graduate student who led the study. In reality, juggling home and work lives requires some sacrifice, she said, such as cutting back on work hours and getting husbands to help more.

"You can happily combine child rearing and a career, if you're willing to let some things slide," Leupp said. She will present her study Aug. 21 at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in Las Vegas, Nev.

Leupp analyzed survey responses from 1,600 women, all 40 years old and married, across the United States. The respondents, a mix of stay-at-home moms and working mothers, were participating in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor.


Psychopaths and Big Money - It All Adds Up

psycho coin in cup
© Thinkstock
Commerce students returned 'significantly higher primary psychopathy scores than science or arts majors'.
Psychopaths prefer commerce degrees - that's the finding of a world-first study examining university students' personalities and course preferences.

Victoria University students with higher scores for psychopathy traits tended to opt to study commerce, with law next most popular.

The study of 903 undergraduates found that significantly fewer with high psychopathy scores chose science and fewer still went for arts.

The paper - "Greed is Good? Student Disciplinary Choice and Self-Reported Psychopathy" - published this month in the international Journal of Personality and Individual Differences was sparked by fallout of the world financial crisis.

The role of high-profile financiers in the global recession made the idea of the psychopath in organisations increasingly relevant, said Victoria University associate professor of psychology Marc Wilson, who conducted the research with colleague Karena McCarthy.