Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, November 26, 2014
| Comments (0)
and psychologists studying human contentment have found a recurrent
pattern in countries across the world. People report that life
satisfaction declines in the first couple of decades of adulthood, hits
bottom around age 50, then rises with age, often above the levels people
felt in their 20s. The pattern, which emerges with regularity in large
data sets, is called the U-curve of happiness.
Jonathan Rauch, in a provocative article in The Atlantic,
describes recent research, interviews the social scientists who
conducted it, and presents an intriguing possibility: there may be some
underlying pattern of life satisfaction that is independent of economic
status, work and career achievement and personal relationships. He says David Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Andrew Oswald
of the University of Warwick found the U-curve in 55 of 80 countries
where people were asked about their general life satisfaction. The nadir
was, on average, age 46. Other researchers who conducted surveys in 80
countries found a similar curve and the average age of rock bottom
dissatisfaction was 50. Examining statistics from 27 European countries,
Blanchflower and Oswald found that antidepressant use peaks in the late 40s, and that being middle aged nearly doubles the likelihood that a person will take antidepressants.
Oswald and four other scientists, including two primatologists, even found a U-curve over time in the state of mind of chimpanzees and orangutans.
Zoo keepers, animal researchers and caretakers were surveyed about the
well-being of more than 500 captive primates in five countries and
reported that well-being was at its lowest in ages that would be
comparable to ages 45 to 50 in people. So biology may play some part in
middle age doldrums.
good news is the upswing on the U-curve when studies show people tend
to become more optimistic as they age. Rauch points to research by
Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen
and others who say "the peak of emotional life may not occur until well
into the seventh decade." Carstensen told Rauch that as people age,
their time horizons get shorter, they focus more on the present, and
their goals tend to be more concerned with meaning and savoring the moment. They pay less attention to regrets and unmet desires.
Rauch also interviewed Dilip V. Jeste,
a psychiatrist with multiple titles at University of California at San
Diego, who has studied the aging brain to find clues for how people age successfully
even with the onset of chronic health conditions that might be expected
to make them depressed. Jeste explains that as a native of India he
grew up in a culture steeped in respect for wisdom,
and concepts about wisdom, he says, are remarkably constant across time
and geography. The traits of the wise, Rauch summarizes, include
empathy, compassion, good social reasoning, tolerance of diverse views,
and comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity. Jeste sees wisdom as an
emergent property of many other functions, with its roots in biology and
evolution. Wisdom gives societal function to people who are no longer
fertile. He's also looking for clues in neuroscience. While the science
of wisdom is in its infancy, Jeste suspects age may change the human
brain in ways that make wisdom easier.
So if you're experiencing mid-life distress, take heart in the likelihood that the future will get better.
As Andrew Oswald observes in a New York Times story,
"It's a very encouraging fact that we can expect to be happier in our
early 80s than we were in our 20s. And it's not being driven
predominantly by things that happen in life. It's something very deep
and quite human that seems to be driving this." Read Rauch's piece here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, April 10, 2014
| Comments (0)
brain activities that give rise to thinking may be akin to the dynamics
of earthquakes, forest fires, the spread of contagious disease, the
distribution of galaxies in the universe and the sand in an hourglass.
Flip an hour glass upside down, and sand running into the bottom of the
glass forms a pile that eventually becomes so unstable that one more
grain can cause the pile to collapse into an avalanche. When that
happens, the base of the sand pile
flattens out, another pile begins, and then it too reaches a point
where it collapses. Through several avalanches of varying sizes, the
sand pile maintains overall stability. It's a process Danish-American
scientist Per Bak called "self organized criticality."
When he died in 2002, The New York Times described Dr. Bak
as an "intellectually pugnacious physicist who sought to understand how
complexity arises in the world," and how the simple particles that make
up the universe could be transformed into the extraordinarily intricate
order found in nature. A story by Jennifer Ouellette in Quanta Magazine and reprinted in the Scientific American,
explains that Dr. Bak found an answer in phase transition, the process
in which materials pass from one state to another. The phase change of
water to steam, for example, depends only on temperature and air
pressure. Ouellette explains Dr. Bak proposed phase change in which
local interactions among many elements of a complex system could
spontaneously self organize to reach the tipping point he called
criticality. In a 1987 paper in Physical Review Letters,
Dr. Bak and coauthors described self organized criticality as the
underlying mechanism behind the flow of rivers, the luminosity of stars,
and what happens in sand piles and other dynamical systems. His book How Nature Works expands on the idea.
didn't immediately embrace Dr. Bak's idea on brain function when he
proposed it 15 years ago. In the last decade, however, EEG recordings of
the interactions among individual brain neurons, large scale studies
comparing computer model predictions and fMRI images, and examinations
of slides of cortical tissue, have produced evidence that the brain
exhibits properties of criticality. Neurophysiologist Dante Chialvo,
from the University of California at Los Angeles, is among the renowned
scientists who now think self organized criticality could explain brain
activity. The idea is also being explored by national and international
Getting back to the hour glass. Ouellette explains that when the sand
pile-a complex system with millions of tiny elements-reaches the
critical point, there is no way to predict which next grain will cause
the avalanche, how big any avalanche will be, or how many there will be
before all the sand is in the bottom of the glass. The things you can
predict are that the falling of one extremely tiny grain can have a big
impact; and that while overall stability of the system is
maintained-there's still a pile-and there will be more small avalanches
than big ones, in line with what mathematicians call power laws.
exact moment of transition in a phase change is the critical point when
the system is half way between one phase and the next. Each of the tens
of billions of neurons in our brains, their connections and their
interactions, produce "the emergent process we call thinking," the Quanta
article says. It goes on to say that Dr. Bak's idea "implies that most
of the time, the brain teeters on the edge of a phase transition,
hovering between order and disorder."
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, April 3, 2014
| Comments (0)
What is happening in that mysterious space between people who discover they have fine interpersonal chemistry?
Suzanne Dikker, a cognitive neuroscientist at New York University,
hopes dancing holds clues. She is using dance to investigate human
brainwave synchronization and learn how it can happen. "NeuroTango" was hosted recently by the Greater New York City Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience as part of its Brain Awareness Week. It was also an opportunity for Dikker to get pairs of tango dancers to wear EEG headsets to measure their brain waves as they danced and thought about dancing. A Scientist.com story by Eli Chen describes Dikker's experiment.
who were experienced dancing partners danced to music as they usually
would. They then switched partners, so they were dancing with a new
partner or someone less familiar. Next, they stood still with their
original partners and imagined dancing. Dikker projected graphics onto
the walls, showing when dancers' brains were in sync, and not. Other
studies have shown that experienced dancers coordinate their movement
differently from novices, and that both dancing and mentally rehearsing
the dance stimulate similar brain activity.
Dikker said she is using the tango
because the dancers perform fast, intricate movements that require
exceptional coordination and the need to anticipate each other's every
step, sway and twirl. In addition, leaders and followers have different
mental tasks. She also hopes to learn whether the EEG can reliably
measure brain activities of people who are moving. The Scientist story
says Dikker had worked with Marina Abramovic on "Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze,"
at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow in 2011. In
that event, designed to examine empathy and nonverbal communication,
Amramovic and volunteers sitting opposite her gazed into each other's
eyes while EEG headsets captured their brain activities. In that case,
the subjects were stationary.
Lawrence Parsons, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Sheffield, did a neuroimaging study of dancers in 2008. An article he co-authored for the Scientific American says coordinated dancing may not occur anywhere in the animal kingdom except among humans. "Our
talent for unconscious entrainment lies at the core of dance, a
confluence of movement, rhythm and gestural representation," the article
says. "By far the most synchronized group practice, dance demands a
type of interpersonal coordination in space and time that is almost
nonexistent in other social contexts."
Lewis Hou, a research associate at the University of Edinburgh, is studying what happens in the brains of Scottish folk dancers
as they perform. He praises NeuroTango as excellent science
communication and a good way to engage the public in neuroscience. Hou
will be participating in a science festival this April in Edinburgh where the dance performances will be partnered with scientific explorations.
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
From "Among School Children" by William Butler Yeats
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, January 9, 2014
| Comments (0)
Woodpeckers bang their heads into the hard wood of trees thousands of
times a day, and yet there is no evidence they get concussions. Long
horn rams bash their heads together in frequent rituals that involve
collisions at speeds of 20 to 40 miles an hour, and they don't seem to
suffer brain damage either. Do these animals offer clues about
protecting the brains of athletes?
The incidence of concussions among high school athletes has grown, and
concern about safety has been fueled by continuing revelations from
retired professional football players who suffered repeated head
injuries before onset of the degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates as many as 3.8
million people a year suffer from sports related traumatic brain
Materials scientist Ainissa G. Ramirez, PhD, coauthor of Newton's Football: The Science Behind America's Game, quotes materials scientist and MIT Professor Lorna Gibson in a Huffington Post piece
about woodpecker brains. Gibson, who has studied woodpeckers, explains,
"It's a scaling phenomenon." A woodpecker brain is only about two
grams-the mass of two paperclips, compared with a human brain, which
averages about 1,400 grams. The lighter the brain, the better it will
survive impact, Ramirez writes. She adds by way of explanation that if
you drop a cell phone on the floor it will probably not be damaged, but a
lap top dropped from the same height may need serious repair. Further,
woodpecker brains are oriented at a 90 degree angle so that head-on
force is widely distributed, and they fit snugly inside the skull with
little room to slosh around.
LiveScience writer Stephanie Pappas
gives even more detail. Researchers have found woodpeckers have thick
neck muscles that diffuse blows, and a third inner eyelid that prevents
the birds' eyes from popping out during repetitious hammering. The thick
spongy bone surrounding the woodpecker brain has tiny projections that
form a mineral mesh, Pappas writes, suggesting a microstructure that may
act as armor for the brain. And she reports Chinese researchers have
found the woodpecker's beak may have a microstructure designed to absorb
impact rather than transferring it toward the brain.
Rams are big animals with big brains. What makes their head butting benign? Ramirez got some clues from Dr. Andrew Farke,
a paleontologist who has studied dinosaurs. Ram's horn is porous bone
covered with keratin, an elastic protein material that allows horns to
give a little under impact. In addition to distributing the impact of
the force, the flexible horn also lengthens the duration of the impact,
which lessens the force. Writing in The New York Times, Gregory D. Meyer,
PhD, director of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital
Medical Center, says big horn sheep also have mechanisms that slow the
return of blood from the head to the body, increasing the blood volume
that fills their brains' vascular tree. In effect, both woodpeckers and
rams have brains protected by the physiological equivalent of Bubble
brains don't fill our skulls, we risk concussions when our brains smack
up against our skulls during sudden stops, starts and the collisions of
contact sports. Meyers writes that football helmets have reduced
fractured skulls, but haven't prevented concussions, because they don't
protect what happens inside the skull. Ramirez suggests more research on
how materials absorb force could make helmets better. Temperature
studies also suggest new possibilities.
Meyers and colleagues at the Colorado School of Public Health
found that high school football players who played at higher altitudes
had 30 percent fewer concussions. The researchers studied records of
athletes in multiple sports from 497 high schools where altitude ranged
from seven feet to 6,903 feet, and found all athletes who played at
altitudes over 600 feet had 31 percent fewer concussions. "We
hypothesize that higher altitude increased the volume of the cerebral
venous system, a natural Bubble Wrap that surrounds the brain," and
gives it a tighter fit inside the skull, Meyers wrote in The Times.
While athletes can't play every game in Denver, he wrote, improved
brain safety may come from more research on the biomechanics animals
already have in use.
Photo credits: Sid Hamm
and National Wildlife Federation
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Friday, October 25, 2013
| Comments (0)
people say their hearts are broken and their feelings are hurt, their
expressions may be more than metaphor. Scientists have discovered that
social pain is just as real as physical pain, and in fact can be eased by painkillers.
Researchers have found that cruel words and social rejection registers in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the same brain region where physical pain is processed. For Matthew Lieberman, PhD, a professor of psychology and director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at UCLA, that's a strong indication that our need for social connection is ancient and hard-wired.
"The existence of social pain is a sign that evolution has treated social connection like a necessity, not a luxury," he says. In a Scientific American interview with Gareth Cook,
Lieberman emphasizes that because of the way social pain and pleasure
are "wired into our operating systems," the need to connect with others
is urgent and compelling. Studies of mammals, from small rodents to
humans, show that social connections shape us and that we suffer
seriously when our social bonds are threatened or broken.
research has direct implications for the way we structure
organizations, institutions, and businesses, and the way we raise and
educate children, Lieberman says.
says fMRI studies show the brain has two distinct networks that support
social and non social thinking. They operate like a neural seesaw, he
explains, with one network quieting down as the other intensifies. When
we finish with a non-social thought process, such as solving a math
problem, the social thinking network is instantly reactivated as a
default. That's the network operating when we're trying to understand
the thoughts, feelings and goals of other people, and not just their
observes business leaders should realize that praise and an environment
free from physical threats are powerful incentives just as money and
material benefits are. "It is social comfort that allows us to make the
most of our environment," he says: when we care, we work harder,
complement each other's strengths and weaknesses more, and use our
natural capacities better.
Brain science also offers new clues for education, Lieberman says. As he explains in a webinar on the Social Brain and Its Superpowers, experiments have shown that affirmation and rejection have profound
consequences. When two groups of participants experienced either
affirmation or rejection and then took IQ and GRE tests, those rejected
had dramatically lower scores. Some 40 percent of kids say they have
endured bullying-physical, verbal or cyber-he observes, and the impact
can linger. "A kid who broke his leg on the playground wouldn't be
expected to return to class and do math," he says, "but a kid who has
been bullied is expected to be able to set that feeling aside." He
thinks mindfulness training, and learning how to engage the brain's self
control mechanisms, may build resilience to social pain.
at the Lieberman Lab shows that we learn best with the social parts of
our brains, not with the parts activated to memorize, he says. The
social brain network is in play when we take in new information, and
some research has shown that our brains light up when we absorb information that we think will interest others. As he puts it, we like to be Information DJs. Lieberman
wants more research on the use of learning in order to teach. "We ought
to be doing much more peer learning," he told Scientific American. "My
ideal situation would be a 14-year-old who has trouble in the classroom
being assigned to teach a 12-year-old. The teacher then becomes a coach
helping to teach the 12-year-old and the 14-year-old will reap the
benefits of pro-social learning." Lieberman is the author of the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Access his webinar and the Scientific American story here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, October 3, 2013
| Comments (0)
you smell the roses? Lilacs in spring rain? The alarming odors of
things burning or rotting? The answer may be more important than you
think. Scientists are discovering that an impaired sense of smell is one
of the earliest signs of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and other
Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology has
endorsed smell testing as an aid to the diagnoses of these diseases,
writes Richard L. Doty, though such testing is still not routinely performed in neurology clinics. In an article in The Scientist, Doty, director of the Smell and Taste Center
at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine,
describes recent research that shows difficulty smelling - a condition
called hyposmia - is often an important early warning signal. He cites a pioneering study
by Amy Bornstein Graves and colleagues at the University of South
Florida who administered smell tests to 1,604 senior citizens who had no
symptoms of dementia. Overall, people who had no sense of smell
and one genetic risk factor for dementia were five times more likely to
develop cognitive decline in the next two years than people whose sense
of smell was not impaired. Further, Doty notes, the smell test was more
predictive than cognitive test scores.
who has developed smell and taste tests, writes that olfactory test
results can help doctors with diagnosis and treatment. Alzheimer's and
Parkinson's diseases (AD and PD) are often misdiagnosed in patients
suffering from other afflictions, including severe depression or supranuclear palsy,
which are not accompanied by loss of smell and are not helped by drugs
used to treat AD and PD. In some patients with mild AD, he adds, smell
tests can indicate responsiveness to a drug that does improve cognitive
function in some patients.
olfactory dysfunction the result of damage that comes with
neurodegenerative diseases, or does loss of smell precede the damage?
Can damage to the olfactory system induce disease in those disposed to
neurodegenerative disorders? Doty says further research is needed to
answer those questions, and further an understanding of the relationship
between smell and health. Watch Doty's slide presentation on the sense of smell. He begins it with a picture of a Lady and the Unicorn tapestry showing the lady weaving a garland of carnations to illustrate the sense of smell. Five of the fifteenth century tapestries depict the five senses and a sixth is believe to represent love or understanding.
Doty's article is one of several in The Scientist issue devoted to examining our sense of smell. Another by Ron Yu discusses pheromones.
These elusive molecules, and the scents associated with them, are known
to influence mating and other behavior in insects and some mammals.
When it comes to human behavior, there's disagreement. If pheromones do
exist in humans, the molecular machinery that would make them work is
not clear. There is also evidence that smells can leave afterimages in the brain, even after the stimulus is no longer present, that influence memory. Marcel Proust, remembering the madeleines of his childhood, wrote that tastes and smells of the past "remain poised a long time, like souls, ..."
"Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived." Helen Keller
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, July 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, July 8, 2013
| Comments (0)
traumatic experiences of our own past and even the adversities and
deprivations of ancestors can leave inheritable molecular scars that
negatively influence behavior, personality and physical health
later in life, many scientists believe.
A story by Dan Hurley in Discover Magazine, describes research by Moshe Szyf, molecular biologist, pharmacologist and geneticist at McGill University and Michael Meaney, a McGill neurobiologist. Their new findings in behavioral epigenetics
not only hold promise for unraveling the impact of the past, but
suggest profound new possibilities for treatments to heal the damage
done by both recent and ancient suffering.
have found what seems to be evidence of a chain of connection from
experience to changes in gene expression in the brain to behavior. Behavioral epigenetics is a new but fast-growing field that has generated some skepticism. See a story by Lizzie Buchen in Nature.com
for a range of views. Szyf says a different mindset in neuroscience is
needed-a focus on molecular modification in the cell molecules rather
than on inter-neural circuitry and anatomy. While genes are inherited
and stay the same throughout life, Szyf explains, outside factors such
as diet, toxins, and social factors such as abuse, stress and extreme poverty
can set off chemical changes in the nucleus of cells that changes the
way genes are expressed. When stimulated, an arrangement of molecules
called a methyl group attaches itself to the control center of the
gene and turns it off. The gene function changes, but the DNA doesn't.
Szyf has spent years studying DNA methylation.
He and Meaney studied the brains of rats raised by attentive mother
rats who groomed them frequently, and neglectful rat mothers who didn't.
In the brains of badly-mothered rats, the genes regulating reaction to
stress were highly methylated, and the rats were nervous wrecks. And
when those pups grew up, they too were inattentive to their babies.
In the offspring of good mother rats, those genes were rarely
methylated, and the rats were calm. In a second experiment, to show the
changes were behaviorally induced, the rat pups born to bad mothers were
given to the good mother rats to raise, and those born to good mother
given to bad moms. The well raised rats with the biochemical capacity to
manage stress were calm and brave. The poorly raised rats were
behaviorally difficult. With no changes to their genetic code, the
neglected rats had gained inheritable changes-the addition of methyl
groups that alter brain function-solely because of their childhood
another extraordinary experiment, Szyf and Meaney infused the brains of
badly raised rats with a drug that removes methyl groups, and the
animals then showed none of the behavioral deficits typical of their
of living people can't be sampled, but blood samples are common. Szyf
looked for epigenetic markers of methylated genes in the blood of 40
male study participants who were either very rich or very poor. Szyf
studied the methylation state of some 20,000 human genes, and found
6,176 varied significantly based on poverty or wealth. He found
methylation changes were most likely when poverty had occurred in early
In an interview with the McGill Reporter,
Szyf says: "My work bridges the humanities and sciences by showing how
the nonphysical environment effects our genes. It also emphasizes we
cannot understand biology and medicine without taking into account the
social, economic and perhaps even the political environment. Is cancer
just a cellular disease? A problem with bad genes? Humans cannot be
reduced to a single cell, and we can't separate people from their
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, January 3, 2013
| Comments (0)
research suggests we don't actually perceive separate objects and
actions. We understand them in terms of how we have processed their
relationships and associations with other objects and actions.
Alex Huth, a doctoral student in neuroscience at the University of California at Berkeley and a team of colleagues at the university's Gallant Lab
wanted to learn how the brain makes sense of the thousands of visual
images we see every day. Their findings appear to refute the long-held
view that each category of objects and actions is represented in a
separate part of the brain. Instead, it seems we create complex,
intricately related and overlapping groupings represented in what the
researchers call "a continuous semantic space."
Posted on December 21, 2012 by Zachary Urbina in Neuroscience
Researchers have even mapped how we organize things.
Our brains create semantic neighborhoods, populated with things we see
things as living and nonliving; moving, like cars and motorcycles, and
stationary, like buildings and the sky, and we group things we
understand social, such as people and verbs. Listen to Huth's
explanation of this extraordinary research here, and find an interactive brain map here. Categories that activate the same brain area are shown in similar colors.
A Berkeley news story by Yasmin Anwar
says new insights into brain organization can help with diagnosis and
treatment of brain disorders, and further creation of brain-machine
interfaces. It may also be useful for facial and image recognition
recorded brain function of five volunteers using functional Magnetic
Resonance Imaging fMRI as they watched hours of movie clips. The story
explains they built a model of how 30,000 locations in the cortex
responded to each of 1,700 categories of objects and actions seen in the
movies. Then they used principal components analysis (CPA) a
statistical method that can summarize large data sets, to find the
"semantic space" common to the brains of all subjects.
A thoughtful Scientific American blog by Ben Thomas
observes the research shows we are skilled at relating our visual input
to "other chunks of reality to which our brains have assigned certain
characteristics." And he raises a profound question: If our brains use
association to define what an object or action is, does that suggest
"meaning" itself is just another word for "association?" He thinks more
understanding of semantic coding is needed to answer that question. But
whatever the answer, he writes, the research shows "even our most
abstract concepts depend on our own real-world experiences."
The paper by Huth and colleagues, "A continuous semantic space describes the representation of thousands of object and action categories across the human brain," appears in the December 2012 issue of the magazine Neuron.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, December 20, 2012
| Comments (0)
treatments can have real physiological impact, changing heart rate,
blood pressure, chemical reactions in the brain, and influencing how we
experience depression, anxiety, fatigue, pain and even some Parkinson's
symptoms. Researchers are beginning to learn why, and new findings shed
light on the importance of doctor-patient interactions.
Ted Kaptchuk and colleagues at the Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter (PiPS), the
only multi-disciplinary institute devoted to studying placebos, are
studying what makes an intervention work when there is no active drug
ingredient involved. The researchers, all from the Harvard-affiliated
hospitals that created PiPS, are identifying the mechanisms in our
brains and bodies that produce the physiological responses. A story by Cara Feinberg in Harvard Magazine tells how Kaptchuk, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard and an acupuncturist with a degree in Chinese medicine
from an institute in Macao, has spent years studying the way people are
affected placebos and their delivery. That includes the physical
surroundings and the characteristics of the treatment room, the behavior
of the doctor, and method of treatment, whether it comes in the form of
a pill or needle.
turns out the placebo effect is actually many effects woven together.
For years, placebos have been studied in comparison with real drugs. New
research compares different placebos delivered differently. In one
study, Kaptchuk divided 270 subjects suffering arm pain into two groups.
One group was told that their pain pills might cause nasty side
effects, from which they then truly suffered. The other group received
acupuncture, and they reported greater pain relief. The unusual element
in this study was that both treatments were fake. The pills were
cornstarch, and the faux acupuncture needles never punctured the skin.
But people thought acupuncture might really help, and they thought those
miserable pill side effects would happen.
another study, Kaptchuk examined the role of doctor-patient
interactions in placebo effects. A group of 262 patients with irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS) were divided into three groups - one told they were
awaiting treatment, one given fake acupuncture with little attention
from the practitioner, and a third showered with a doctor's attention as
they were given fake acupuncture. The well-tended group experienced the
greatest relief. Russell Phillips, director of the Center for Primary Care at Harvard Medical School,
says the research points to the importance of the "ritual of medicine"
in patient care, and he says that's one finding from the research that
doctors can use immediately in their practices.
doesn't recommend placebos for infections and tumors and he doesn't
suggest placebo treatments are ready for clinical application. His
interest in the placebo effect was sparked years ago when his
acupuncture patients experienced relief even before he started treating
them, and he suspected his interactions with them were having something
to do with that. His recent researched, published in PlosOne, showed
that even patients who knew they were getting placebo IBS treatment
experienced twice as much relief as a control group of IBS patients who
were not treated. Neuro-imaging of patients' brains has
shown that some placebo treatments activate the same brain chemicals
that influence sensations of pleasure and reward. The story reports
neuroscientist Fabrizio Benedetti from
the University of Turin found changes in the electric and metabolic
activity in many regions of the brains of depressed patients who
received placebos. Researchers have also discovered a genetic component in the susceptibility to placebos, which can be important in designing real drug trials.
one has fully studied the role that "ritual of medicine" plays in
patient care and healing, and Kaptchuk and his team are providing
insights on that. The team recently devised an experiment in which fMRIs
of physicians brains were recorded as they treated patients.
"Doctors give subtle clues to their patients that neither maybe aware of," Kaptchuk said in the Harvard Magazine
story. "They are a key ingredient to the ritual of medicine."
Ultimately, he added, the goal is to "transform the art of medicine into
the science of care." Read the Harvard Magazine story here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, February 15, 2011
| Comments (0)
The American physicist John Archibald Wheeler observed that time is what prevents everything from happening at once. Researchers are now beginning to suspect that impaired time perception is important in a wide range of psychological ills.
A June 10 New Scientist story by Andy Coghlan reports that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have a hard time with time. He cites a study by Katya Rubia at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London who suspected time perception might influence the short attention spans and impulsive behavior of children with ADHD. Researchers used MRI scans on 12 boys who had ADHD, and discovered below normal activity in the frontal lobe, basal ganglia, and cerebellum, brain areas thought to be critical for time perception. Those boys were also less adept at estimating time than 12 boys without ADHD. Interestingly, their time estimates improved after getting Ritalin, which boosts dopamine levels in the brain and is a drug commonly used to treat ADHD. The research is published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.
For a child with ADHD, a few minutes of sitting still can seem like endless torment. Unusual and risky behavior stimulates dopamine, scientists say, and Rubia thinks that when kids with ADHD engage in hyper and disruptive behavior, they may actually be self medicating.
Some scientists have divided our time-keeping abilities into three domains, according to a livecience.com story by Robert Roy Britt, "The Human Brain Seen as a Master of Time.” The circadian clock keeps us in sync with a 24 hour night and day cycle. Another clock operating on a millisecond level controls movement and speech and other vital functions we don’t consciously think about. Neuroscientists think a lesser known middle mode "interval timing” clock helps us manage functions that require seconds, minutes and longer periods of concentration.
Duke University neuroscientists Warren Meck and Catalin Buhusi, who is now with the Medical University of South Carolina, found that interval timing ability seems to be faulty in non-medicated Parkinson’s patients. They note that people who have Huntington’s disease, depression or mania also have been found to have impaired time perception. In addition, researchers have found faulty time perception in persons with schizophrenia. Researchers think drugs to influence the neurochemistry of time have potential to treat many disorders.
But our own thoughts, too, influence our understanding of time. Just think of the old sayings: time flies when you’re having fun and a watched pot never boils. And stress is a factor: One study showed smokers and non smokers were equally accurate in estimating time in an experimental setting. But when the smokers went cold turkey for 24 hours, their estimates deteriorated.
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.
Delmore Schwartz, "Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day"