Stopping smoking linked to improved mental health

The researchers say the effect sizes are equal or larger than those of antidepressant treatment for mood and anxiety disorders.It is well known that stopping smoking substantially reduces major health risks, such as the development of cancers, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. But the association between smoking and mental health is less clear cut.Many smokers want to stop but continue smoking as they believe smoking has mental health benefits. And health professionals are sometimes reluctant to deal with smoking in people with mental disorders in case stopping smoking worsens their mental health.So researchers from the universities of Birmingham, Oxford, and King’s College London set out to investigate changes in mental health after smoking cessation compared with continuing to smoke.They analysed the results of 26 studies of adults that assessed mental health before smoking cessation and at least six weeks after cessation in the general population and clinical populations (patients with chronic psychiatric and/or physical conditions).Differences in study design and quality were taken into account to minimize bias.Measures of mental health included anxiety, depression, positivity, psychological quality of life, and stress. Participants had an average age of 44, smoked around 20 cigarettes a day, and were followed up for an average of six months.The research team found consistent evidence that stopping smoking is associated with improvements in depression, anxiety, stress, psychological quality of life, and positivity compared with continuing to smoke.The strength of association was similar for both the general population and clinical populations, including those with mental health disorders. And there was no evidence that study differences could have skewed the results.Although observational data can never prove causality, “smokers can be reassured that stopping smoking is associated with mental health benefits,” say the authors.”This could overcome barriers that clinicians have toward intervening with smokers with mental health problems,” they add. “Furthermore, challenging the widely held assumption that smoking has mental health benefits could motivate smokers to stop.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by BMJ-British Medical Journal. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Genetic chip will help salmon farmers breed better fish

Atlantic salmon production could be boosted by a new technology that will help select the best fish for breeding.The development will enable salmon breeders to improve the quality of their stock and its resistance to disease.A chip loaded with hundreds of thousands of pieces of DNA — each holding a fragment of the salmon’s genetic code — will allow breeders to detect fish with the best genes.It does so by detecting variations in the genetic code of each individual fish — known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). These variations make it possible to identify genes that are linked to desirable physical traits, such as growth or resistance to problematic diseases, for example sea lice infestations.Salmon breeders will be able to carry out the test by taking a small sample of fin tissue.The chip carries over twenty times more genetic information than existing tools. Similar chips have already transformed breeding programmes for land-farmed livestock including cattle and pigs.Salmon farming contributes around half a billion pounds to the UK economy each year and provides healthy, high quality food. Worldwide, approximately 1.5 million tonnes of Atlantic salmon are produced every year.Scientists from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Edinburgh Genomics initiative developed the chip with researchers from the Universities of Stirling and Glasgow. They worked with industrial partners Affymetrix UK and Landcatch Natural Selection. The work was funded by the UK’s innovation agency — the Technology Strategy Board — and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.The chip is highlighted in a study published today in the journal BMC Genomics and it will be available to breeders and farmers from March 2014.Dr Ross Houston, of The Roslin Institute, said: “Selective breeding programmes have been used to improve salmon stocks since the 1970s. This new technology will allow the best breeding fish to be selected more efficiently and accurately, particularly those with characteristics that are difficult to measure such as resistance to disease”Dr Alan Tinch, director of genetics at Landcatch Natural Selection, said: “This development takes selective breeding programmes to a whole new level. It is an extension to the selective breeding of salmon allowing more accurate identification of the best fish to create healthier and more robust offspring.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Edinburgh. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Water discovered in remnants of extrasolar rocky world orbiting white dwarf

Oct. 10, 2013 — Astrophysicists have found the first evidence of a water-rich rocky planetary body outside our solar system in its shattered remains orbiting a white dwarf.A new study by scientists at the Universities of Warwick and Cambridge published in the journal Science analysed the dust and debris surrounding the white dwarf star GD61 170 light years away.Using observations obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope and the large Keck telescope on Hawaii, they found an excess of oxygen — a chemical signature that indicates that the debris had once been part of a bigger body originally composed of 26 per cent water by mass. By contrast, only approximately 0.023 per cent of Earth’s mass is water.Evidence for water outside our solar system has previously been found in the atmosphere of gas giants, but this study marks the first time it has been pinpointed in a rocky body, making it of significant interest in our understanding of the formation and evolution of habitable planets and life.We know from our own solar system that the dwarf planet Ceres contains ice buried beneath an outer crust, and the researchers draw a parallel between the two bodies. Scientists believe that bodies like Ceres were the source of the bulk of our own water on Earth.The researchers suggest it is most likely that the water detected around the white dwarf GD 61 came from a minor planet at least 90 km in diameter but potentially much bigger, that once orbited the parent star before it became a white dwarf.Like Ceres, the water was most likely in the form of ice below the planet’s surface. From the amount of rocks and water detected in the outer envelope of the white dwarf, the researchers estimate that the disrupted planetary body had a diameter of at least 90km.However, because their observations can only detect what is being accreted in recent history, the estimate of its mass is on the conservative side.It is likely that the object was as large as Vesta, the largest minor planet in the solar system. In its former life, GD 61 was a star somewhat bigger than our Sun, and host to a planetary system.About 200 million years ago, GD 61 entered its death throes and became a white dwarf, yet, parts of its planetary system survived. The water-rich minor planet was knocked out of its regular orbit and plunged into a very close orbit, where it was shredded by the star’s gravitational force. The researchers believe that destabilising the orbit of the minor planet requires a so far unseen, much larger planet going around the white dwarf.Professor Boris Gänsicke of the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick “At this stage in its existence, all that remains of this rocky body is simply dust and debris that has been pulled into the orbit of its dying parent star.”However this planetary graveyard swirling around the embers of its parent star is a rich source of information about its former life. “In these remnants lie chemical clues which point towards a previous existence as a water-rich terrestrial body.”Those two ingredients — a rocky surface and water — are key in the hunt for habitable planets outside our solar system so it’s very exciting to find them together for the first time outside our solar system.”Lead author Jay Farihi, from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, said: “The finding of water in a large asteroid means the building blocks of habitable planets existed — and maybe still exist — in the GD 61 system, and likely also around substantial number of similar parent stars.”These water-rich building blocks, and the terrestrial planets they build, may in fact be common — a system cannot create things as big as asteroids and avoid building planets, and GD 61 had the ingredients to deliver lots of water to their surfaces,” Farihi said.”Our results demonstrate that there was definitely potential for habitable planets in this exoplanetary system.”For their analysis , the researchers used ultraviolet spectroscopy data obtained with the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on board the Hubble Space Telescope of the white dwarf GD 61. As the atmosphere of Earth blocks the ultraviolet light, such study can only be carried out from space.Additional observations were obtained with the 10m large mirror of the W.M. …

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Extreme life forms: Life found in the sediments of an Antarctic subglacial lake for the first time

Sep. 10, 2013 — Evidence of diverse life forms dating back nearly a hundred thousand years has been found in subglacial lake sediments by a group of British scientists.The possibility that extreme life forms might exist in the cold and dark lakes hidden kilometres beneath the Antarctic ice sheet has fascinated scientists for decades.However, direct sampling of these lakes in the interior of Antarctica continues to present major technological challenges. Recognising this, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and the Universities of Northumbria and Edinburgh have been searching around the retreating margins of the ice sheet for subglacial lakes that are becoming exposed for the first time since they were buried more than 100,000 years ago.This is because parts of the ice sheet are melting and retreating at unprecedented rates as the temperature rises at the poles.The group targeted Lake Hodgson on the Antarctic Peninsula which was covered by more than 400 m of ice at the end of the last Ice Age, but is now considered to be an emerging subglacial lake, with a thin covering of just 3-4 metres of ice.Drilling through the ice they used clean coring techniques to delve into the sediments at the bottom of the lake which is 93 metres deep and approximately 1.5 km long by 1.5 km wide.The lake was thought to be a harsh environment for any form of life but the layers of mud at the bottom of the lake represent a time capsule storing the DNA of the microbes which have lived there throughout the millennia. The top few centimetres of the core contained current and recent organisms which inhabit the lake but once the core reached 3.2 m deep the microbes found most likely date back nearly 100,000 years.Lead author David Pearce, who was at BAS and is now at the University of Northumbria, says,”What was surprising was the high biomass and diversity we found. This is the first time microbes have been identified living in the sediments of a subglacial Antarctic lake and indicates that life can exist and potentially thrive in environments we would consider too extreme.”The fact these organisms have survived in such a unique environment could mean they have developed in unique ways which could lead to exciting discoveries for us. This is the early stage and we now need to do more work to further investigate these life forms.”Some of the life discovered was in the form of fossil DNA showing that many different types of bacteria live there, including a range of extremophiles which are species adapted to the most extreme environments. These use a variety of chemical methods to sustain life both with and without oxygen.One DNA sequence was related to the most ancient organisms known on Earth and parts of the DNA in twenty three percent has not been previously described. Many of the species are likely to be new to science making clean exploration of the remote lakes isolated under the deeper parts of the ice sheet even more pressing.Scientists believe organisms living in subglacial lakes could hold clues for how life might survive on other planets.Late last year a British expedition to drill into Lake Ellsworth was called off after technical difficulties. A US expedition sampled a subglacial environment near the edge of the ice sheet but has yet to report its findings, and a Russian led project has sampled ice near the surface of a subglacial lake and has reported finding signs of life.

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Lessons from the worm: How the elderly can live an active life

Sep. 3, 2013 — When the tiny roundworm C. elegans reaches middle age — at about 2 weeks old — it can’t quite move like it did in the bloom of youth. But rather than imposing an exercise regimen to rebuild the worm’s body-wall muscles, researchers can bring the wriggle back by stimulating the animal’s neurons. And, they say, pharmaceuticals might have a similar effect in mammals.Scientists at the University of Michigan’s Life Sciences Institute and Medical School have found that the loss of motor ability associated with aging begins in neurons and spreads to muscles, and that chemically stimulating neurons could “rejuvenate” old roundworms by improving the animals’ motor function.Researchers in the lab of Shawn Xu, the Bernard W. Agranoff Collegiate Professor in the Life Sciences Institute and Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, in collaboration with Ao-Lin Hsu in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Medical School, determined that the motor decline in older worms had roots in early changes in the function of the nervous system that began long before visible deterioration in the structure of the animals’ tissues. They were able to reverse the decline in motor ability by giving the worms arecoline, an alkaloid found in the areca nut.In parts of India and Southeast Asia, where the areca palm grows, people chew the nut as a stimulant, often combined with betel leaf and other ingredients. However, the practice is associated with cancer.”The pharmacological stimulation of neurons with the chemical improved motor functions in old animals,” Xu said. “Understanding the neuron-to-muscle sequence can help find treatments for motor decline in humans. It would be ridiculous to chew areca nuts in hopes of rejuvenating muscle, of course, but the findings suggest that there’s potential to develop a drug that works in a similar way for humans.”The research is scheduled for online publication Sept. …

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New research gives answers on the relationship between chronic illness and food insecurity

Aug. 30, 2013 — Research findings provide direct evidence that people with chronic diseases are more likely to be food insecure — that is suffering from inadequate, insecure access to food as a result of financial constraints. Previous research has shown that food insecurity rates are highest among low-income households, in households reliant on social assistance, reporting Aboriginal status, renting rather than owning their dwelling, and lone-parent female-led (see recent annual report from PROOF). Even taken together though, these factors provide only a partial explanation for the vulnerability to food insecurity. New research by investigators at the Universities of Toronto and Calgary suggests that adults’ health status is another determinant of whether or not households experience food insecurity.Share This:The researchers used Statistics Canada data to examine how the health status of adults influenced the chances of their households being food insecure. Adults with chronic health problems (e.g., back problems, arthritis, migraines, diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness) were more likely than those without such health problems to live in food insecure households. The researchers found a ‘dose-response’ relationship whereby the more chronic health problems someone had the more extreme their experience of food insecurity.The researchers suggest two main reasons for these findings: 1. The additional cost of managing illness (drugs, travel to and from appointments, special dietary needs etc.) results in people having less money to buy food, and 2. Coping with chronic illness also is likely to limit people’s ability to manage with scarce resources — to shop around for bargains, to negotiate with creditors, to seek assistance from family, friends and charitable programs and employ the other tools that people have to use to try and manage the competing demands on their budget.The study gives health professionals and policymakers new information to design interventions to prevent people with chronic illnesses from experiencing food insecurity and to lessen impacts on their immediate and long-term health.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by University of Toronto, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. …

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Milky Way gas cloud causes multiple images of distant quasar

Aug. 28, 2013 — For the first time, astronomers have seen the image of a distant quasar split into multiple images by the effects of a cloud of ionized gas in our own Milky Way Galaxy. Such events were predicted as early as 1970, but the first evidence for one now has come from the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio telescope system.The scientists observed the quasar 2023+335, nearly 3 billion light-years from Earth, as part of a long-term study of ongoing changes in some 300 quasars. When they examined a series of images of 2023+335, they noted dramatic differences. The differences, they said, are caused by the radio waves from the quasar being bent as they pass through the Milky Way gas cloud, which moved through our line of sight to the quasar.”This event, obviously rare, gives us a new way to learn some of the properties of the turbulent gas that makes up a significant part of our Galaxy,” said Matt Lister, of Purdue University.The scientists added 2023+335 to their list of observing targets in 2008. Their targets are quasars and other galaxies with supermassive black holes at their cores. The gravitational energy of the black holes powers “jets” of material propelled to nearly the speed of light. The quasar 2023+335 initially showed a typical structure for such an object, with a bright core and a jet. In 2009, however, the object’s appearance changed significantly, showing what looked like a line of bright, new radio-emitting spots.”We’ve never seen this type of behavior before, either among the hundreds of quasars in our own observing program or among those observed in other studies,” Lister said.The multiple-imaging event came as other telescopes detected variations in the radio brightness of the quasar, caused, the astronomers said, by scattering of the waves.The scientists’ analysis indicates that the quasar’s radio waves were bent by a turbulent cloud of charged gas nearly 5,000 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Cygnus. The cloud’s size is roughly comparable to the distance between the Sun and Mercury, and the cloud is moving through space at about 56 kilometers per second.Monitoring of 2023+335 over time may yield more such events, the scientists said, allowing them to learn additional details both about the process by which the waves are scattered and about the gas that does the scattering. …

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Do academic rankings create inequality?

Aug. 14, 2013 — A study led by a Michigan State University scholar questions whether higher education ranking systems are creating competition simply for the sake of competition at a time when universities are struggling financially.Global rankings that emphasize science and technology research — such as the Academic Rankings of World Universities by Shanghai Jiao Tong University — have become increasingly popular and influential during the past decade, said Brendan Cantwell, lead author and assistant professor of educational administration.As a result, researchers have begun to examine whether the rankings are creating increased inequality between and within universities. Cantwell’s study suggests higher education policies to achieve “world class” status are channeling more state and federal money to a select group of large research universities and away from efforts such as President’s Obama’s college completion agenda that aim to make a college degree achievable for all Americans.”Both of those policy agendas are occurring simultaneously: the push to have top-notch universities and a system of open access that allows students from all backgrounds to get an education,” Cantwell said. “I’m not saying those are incompatible, but you have finite resources and how you choose to allocate those resources affects one or the other of those goals.”The trend of universities competing for elite status on global ranking systems has become deeply entrenched in the United States and is now occurring worldwide, including in China, Germany, Netherlands and other countries, Cantwell said.In the study, Cantwell and Barrett Taylor, assistant professor of counseling and higher education at the University of North Texas, found that U.S. universities receiving more federal research money and awarding more doctorate degrees in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) tend to score higher in the Shanghai rankings.Cantwell said the rankings appear to be influencing policymakers to funnel research money to a small number of universities and, within those universities, to programs in the fields of science and technology.The study, which appears in the research journal Minerva, says a high global ranking does not necessarily translate to economic growth or jobs for students at a university. The “high status of a few universities,” it adds, “does not necessarily indicate social or economic benefits.””Given the deep fiscal constraints in the United States and much of Europe and the enormous challenges universities in less economically developed countries face in attaining ‘world class’ status, one questions the wisdom of investments in forms of competition that seem to produce only additional competition,” the study says.

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Tweet all about it — Twitter can’t replace newswires, study shows

July 5, 2013 — News agencies continue to have an edge over Twitter in being first with the news, a study found.Research into reporting of news events by Twitter and newswire services has found that while Twitter can sometimes break news before newswires, for major events there is little evidence that it can replace traditional news outlets.Twitter’s main benefits for news are bringing additional coverage of events, and for sharing news items of interest to niche audiences or with a short lifespan, such as local sports results.Scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow developed a software algorithm to track Twitter activity. They used it to study 51 million tweets over 11 weeks in summer 2011 and compared these with output from news outlets for the same period. Newswires tracked included the BBC, CNN, Reuters and the New York Times, which seek to set the news agenda and break news stories ahead of one another.Scientists were able to examine Twitter messages relating to major news items. They also identified a large amount of minor news items that had featured on Twitter but had been ignored by the mainstream media.Neither Twitter nor newswires was regularly faster than the other in breaking high-profile news, but when Twitter outperformed newswires for speed, it was for mainly for sport and disaster-related events, their findings showed.The study, supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is to be presented at the 7th International AAAI Conference On Weblogs And Social Media, in Boston, US, next week.Dr Miles Osborne, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, who led the study, said: “Twitter and traditional news outlets each have their strengths in terms of delivering news. However, Twitter can bring added value by spreading the word on events that we might not otherwise hear about, and for bringing local perspectives on major news items.”

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Lithium reduces risk of suicide in people with mood disorders, review finds

June 27, 2013 — The drug lithium is an effective treatment for reducing the risk of suicide and possibly deliberate self harm in people with mood disorders, finds an evidence review published today on bmj.com.The authors say the drug “seems to reduce the risk of death and suicide by more than 60% compared with placebo” and suggest this review “reinforces lithium as an effective agent to reduce the risk of suicide in people with mood disorders.”Mood disorders are a leading cause of global disability. The two main types are unipolar disorder (often called clinical depression) and bipolar disorder (often called manic depression). Both are serious, long term conditions involving extreme mood swings, but people with bipolar depression also experience episodes of mania or hypomania.People with a mood disorder have a 30 times greater risk of suicide than the general population. Treatment with mood stabilising drugs like lithium, anticonvulsants or antipsychotics can help keep mood within normal limits, but their role in suicide prevention is still uncertain.So a team of researchers from the universities of Oxford, UK and Verona, Italy set out to assess whether lithium has a specific preventive effect for suicide and self harm in people with unipolar and bipolar mood disorders.They reviewed and analysed the results of 48 randomised controlled trials involving 6,674 participants. The trials compared lithium with either placebo or active drugs in long term treatment for mood disorders.Lithium was more effective than placebo in reducing the number of suicides and deaths from any cause, but no clear benefits were seen for lithium compared with placebo in preventing deliberate self harm.When lithium was compared with each active individual treatment, a statistically significant difference was found only with carbamazepine for deliberate self harm. Overall, lithium tended to be generally better than the other active treatments, with small statistical variation between the results.”This updated systematic review reinforces lithium as an effective agent to reduce the risk of suicide in people with mood disorders,” say the authors.They suggest that lithium may exert its anti-suicidal effects “by reducing relapse of mood disorder,” but add “there is some evidence that lithium decreases aggression and possibly impulsivity, which might be another mechanism mediating the anti-suicidal effect.”They acknowledge that lithium has several side effects, but say clinicians “need to take a balanced view of the likely benefits and harm of lithium in the individual patient.” And they conclude: “Understanding the mechanism by which lithium acts to decrease suicidal behaviour could lead to a better understanding of the neurobiology of suicide.”

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Possible record-setting deadzone for Gulf of Mexico predicted

June 18, 2013 — Scientists are expecting a very large “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico and a smaller than average hypoxic level in the Chesapeake Bay this year, based on several NOAA-supported forecast models.NOAA-supported modelers at the University of Michigan, Louisiana State University, and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium are forecasting that this year’s Gulf of Mexico hypoxic “dead” zone will be between 7,286 and 8,561 square miles which could place it among the ten largest recorded. That would range from an area the size of Connecticut, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia combined on the low end to the New Jersey on the upper end. The high estimate would exceed the largest ever reported 8,481 square miles in 2002 .Hypoxic (very low oxygen) and anoxic (no oxygen) zones are caused by excessive nutrient pollution, often from human activities such as agriculture, which results in insufficient oxygen to support most marine life in near-bottom waters. Aspects of weather, including wind speed, wind direction, precipitation and temperature, also impact the size of dead zones.The Gulf estimate is based on the assumption of no significant tropical storms in the two weeks preceding or during the official measurement survey cruise scheduled from July 25-August 3 2013. If a storm does occur the size estimate could drop to a low of 5344 square miles, slightly smaller than the size of Connecticut.This year’s prediction for the Gulf reflect flood conditions in the Midwest that caused large amounts of nutrients to be transported from the Mississippi watershed to the Gulf. Last year’s dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was the fourth smallest on record due to drought conditions, covering an area of approximately 2,889 square miles, an area slightly larger than the state of Delaware. The overall average between 1995-2012 is 5,960 square miles, an area about the size of Connecticut.A second NOAA-funded forecast, for the Chesapeake Bay, calls for a smaller than average dead zone in the nation’s largest estuary. The forecasts from researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the University of Michigan has three parts: a prediction for the mid-summer volume of the low-oxygen hypoxic zone, one for the mid-summer oxygen-free anoxic zone, and a third that is an average value for the entire summer season.The forecasts call for a mid-summer hypoxic zone of 1.46 cubic miles, a mid-summer anoxic zone of 0.26 to 0.38 cubic miles, and a summer average hypoxia of 1.108 cubic miles, all at the low end of previously recorded zones. Last year the final mid-summer hypoxic zone was 1.45 cubic miles.This is the seventh year for the Bay outlook which, because of the shallow nature of large areas of the estuary, focuses on water volume or cubic miles, instead of square mileage as used in the Gulf. The history of hypoxia in the Chesapeake Bay since 1985 can be found at the EcoCheck website.Both forecasts are based on nutrient run-off and river stream data from the U.S. …

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People can ‘beat’ guilt detection tests by suppressing incriminating memories

May 29, 2013 — New research published by an international team of psychologists has shown that people can suppress incriminating memories and thereby avoid detection in brain activity guilt detection tests.

Such tests, which are commercially available in the USA and are used by law enforcement agencies in several countries, including Japan and India, are based on the logic that criminals will have specific memories of their crime stored in their brain. Once presented with reminders of their crime in a guilt detection test, it is assumed that their brain will automatically and uncontrollably recognise these details, with the test recording the brain’s ‘guilty’ response.

However, research by psychologists at the universities of Kent, Magdeburg and Cambridge, and the Medical Research Council, has shown that, contrary to this core assumption, some people can intentionally and voluntarily suppress unwanted memories — in other words, control their brain activity, thereby abolishing brain activity related to remembering. This was demonstrated through experiments in which people who conducted a mock crime were later tested on their crime recognition while having their electrical brain activity measured. Critically, when asked to suppress their crime memories, a significant proportion of people managed to reduce their brain’s recognition response and appear innocent.

This finding has major implications for brain activity guilt detection tests, among the most important being that those using memory detection tests should not assume that brain activity is outside voluntary control, and any conclusions drawn on the basis of these tests need to acknowledge that it might be possible for suspects to intentionally suppress their memories of a crime and evade detection.

Dr Zara Bergstrom, Lecturer in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Kent and principal investigator on the research, said: ‘Brain activity guilt detection tests are promoted as accurate and reliable measures for establishing criminal culpability. Our research has shown that this assumption is not always justified. Using these types of tests to say that someone is innocent of a crime is not valid because it could just be the case that the suspect has managed to hide their crime memories.’

Dr Michael Anderson, Senior Scientist at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, commented: ‘Interestingly, not everyone was able to suppress their memories of the crime well enough to beat the system. Clearly, more research is needed to identify why some people were much more effective than others.’

Dr Anderson’s group is presently trying to understand such individual differences with brain imaging.

Dr Jon Simons, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, added: ‘Our findings would suggest that the use of most brain activity guilt detection tests in legal settings could be of limited value. Of course, there could be situations where it is impossible to beat a memory detection test, and we are not saying that all tests are flawed, just that the tests are not necessarily as good as some people claim. More research is also needed to understand whether the results of this research work in real life crime detection.’

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