Young adults reminisce about music from before their time

Sep. 9, 2013 — Music has an uncanny way of bringing us back to a specific point in time, and each generation seems to have its own opinions about which tunes will live on as classics. New research suggests that young adults today are fond of and have an emotional connection to the music that was popular for their parents’ generation.”Music transmitted from generation to generation shapes autobiographical memories, preferences, and emotional responses, a phenomenon we call cascading ‘reminiscence bumps,'” explains psychological scientist and lead researcher Carol Lynne Krumhansl of Cornell University. “These new findings point to the impact of music in childhood and likely reflect the prevalence of music in the home environment.”The study, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveals that while songs that were popular in our early 20s seem to have the greatest lasting emotional impact, music that was popular during our parents’ younger days also evokes vivid memories.To explore the connection between autobiographical memories and musical memories, Krumhansl and Justin Zupnick of the University of California, Santa Cruz asked 62 college-age participants to listen to two top Billboard hits per year from 1955 to 2009.The researchers wanted to see which periods of music were most memorable for the participants, which songs conjured up the strongest feelings, and which ones made the participants happy, sad, energized, or nostalgic. In addition, participants were asked whether they remembered listening to the song by themselves, with their parents, or amongst friends.The data revealed that participants’ personal memories associated with songs increased steadily as they got older, from birth until the present day. This finding makes sense — we recall more recent songs better, ascribe memories to them more easily, and feel a stronger emotional connection with them.But the more surprising finding — one which the researchers didn’t expect to see — was a drastic bump in memories, recognition, perceived quality, liking, and emotional connection with the music that was popular in the early 1980s, when the participants’ parents were about 20-25 years old. That is, participants seemed to demonstrate a particular affinity for the songs their parents were listening to as young adults.Previous research has shown that the music we encounter during late adolescence and early adulthood has the greatest impact on our lives. But these findings suggest that the music played throughout childhood can also leave a lasting impact.And there was another, albeit smaller, ‘reminiscence bump’ for the music of the 1960s — more than two decades before the participants were born. Krumhansl and Zupnick speculate that reminiscence for this music could have been transmitted from the participants’ grandparents, who would have been in their 20s or 30s in the 1960s.Another possibility — one that might be favored by those of the Baby Boomer generation — is that the music of the 1960s is truly of higher quality.The researchers are launching a web-based survey to explore these questions further. The survey will include a century of top hits and Krumhansl and Zupnick hope that listeners of all ages, especially older adults, will participate.”It will be fascinating to see if we can trace intergenerational influences back through more generations, better understand the ‘sixties’ bump,’ and look for effects of the vast changes in music technology that have occurred over the last century,” says Krumhansl.

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Moderate physical activity does not increase risk of knee osteoarthritis

Aug. 29, 2013 — Adults age 45 and older who engaged in moderate physical activity up to two and a half hours a week did not increase their risk of developing knee osteoarthritis over a 6-year follow-up period, a new study finds.Study participants who engaged in the highest levels of physical activity — up to 5 hours a week — did have a slightly higher risk of knee osteoarthritis, but the difference was not statistically significant.Those findings taken together are good news, said Joanne Jordan, MD, MPH, senior study author and director of the Thurston Arthritis Research Center in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.”This study shows that engaging in physical activity at these levels is not going to put you at a greater risk of knee osteoarthritis,” she said. “Furthermore, we found this held true no matter what a person’s race, sex or body weight is. There was absolutely no association between these factors and a person’s risk.”The corresponding author of the study, published online August 27 by the journal Arthritis Care & Research, is Kamil Barbour, PhD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.”Moderate physical activities are those that produce some increase in heart rate or breathing, like rapid walking,” Barbour said. “Meeting physical activity recommendations through these simple activities are a great way to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other diseases.”The results are based on an analysis of data collected from 1999 to 2010 as part of UNC’s long-running Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project, a prospective, population-based study of knee, hip, hand and spine osteoarthritis and disability in African Americans and Caucasians, aged 45 years and older. This project is funded by the CDC and the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).This new analysis included data from 1,522 study participants and tested whether or not there was an association between meeting Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidelines for 150 minutes of physical activity per week and the development of knee osteoarthritis, as confirmed both by X-rays and the presence of knee pain or other symptoms.The study’s findings support HHS recommendations and concludes that activities such as walking, conditioning exercises and household activities such as gardening or yard work that amount to moderate weekly levels of physical activity should continue to be encouraged.

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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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Personal goals may facilitate or hinder older adults’ striving for exercise

Aug. 28, 2013 — Although exercise may significantly promote healthy aging, many older adults remain sedentary. Based on a study conducted in the Gerontology Research Center at the University of Jyväskylä, one reason for this may lie behind older adults’ personal goals.Share This:”We noticed that those older women who had personal goals related to their own or other people’s health, or to independent living, less frequently set exercise as one of their personal goals. Thus it seems that when life situation requires focusing goals on health issues or simply managing daily life at home, people may not have the energy to strive for exercise activity,” says doctoral student Milla Saajanaho from the Gerontology Research Center.The results of the study showed that those older women who had set exercise as one of their personal goals were more likely to exercise actively and also maintained their exercise activity higher in an eight-year follow-up. Personal goals related to cultural activities and to busying oneself around home further increased the likelihood for high exercise activity. Being generally active in life also seems to be beneficial for exercise activity.-“When we are trying to promote older adults’ exercise activity, we should always take into account their individual life situation, which may require focusing on other things in life instead of exercising. By considering all personal goals a person has, we could also find ways to include exercise into his/her life. And as so many older adults have personal goals related to health, it would be beneficial to remember that striving for exercise is also beneficial for maintaining health and functioning,” Saajanaho concludes.The study was conducted in the Gerontology Research Center, which is a joint effort between the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Tampere, and it is part of the Finnish Twin study on Ageing. In total 308 women between the ages of 66 to 79 participated in the study.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 Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland), via AlphaGalileo. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. …

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Kids born small should get moving

Aug. 8, 2013 — Female mice who were growth restricted in the womb were born at a lower birth weight, but were less active and prone to obesity as adults, said researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at BCM and Texas Children’s Hospital in a report that appears online in the International Journal of Obesity.”Given that human studies also show female-specific obesity following early growth restriction,” said Dr. Robert Waterland, associate professor of pediatrics — nutrition at BCM, and a member of the CNRC faculty, “it may be prudent to encourage parents of a low-birth-weight child to promote healthy physical activity — particularly if that child is a girl.””These findings were a bit of a surprise,” said Waterland, corresponding author of the report.Previous studyHe had already shown that genetically normal female offspring of obese female mice of a specific type (prone to obesity and marked with a yellow coat) were themselves prone to obesity and inactivity. However, he realized he also had data on the mice’s weight at birth. The birth weight data showed that the offspring of these overweight females were growth restricted in the uterus.This was surprising because babies born to obese human women tend to be larger at birth, although there is a slightly elevated risk of low birth weight as well, said Waterland. When he looked at historical reports of people who had been born in famine conditions, he found that women — but not men — who had been growth-restricted in early life were more likely to be obese.These included women born during the Dutch Hunger Winter near the end of World War II, the great famine in China from 1959 to 1961 and the Biafran famine during the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970).Catch up growthOnce it was considered important to help infants born small to “catch up and achieve a normal weight for their age,” said Waterland. “Increasingly, these and other epidemiologic data show that it might not be a good thing. It might set you up for bad outcomes in the long term.”Their studies of the growth-restricted mice show definitively that they are not prone to overeat but become obese because they are less active. (Similar changes were not seen in male mice that were growth restricted in utero.)That could make evolutionary sense, said Waterland. In times of food scarcity, it might be more important for females to be developmentally ‘programmed’ to conserve their energy for future bearing of offspring.Obesity epidemic”Millions of low birth weight babies are born every year, so this could be an important factor in the worldwide obesity epidemic,” said Waterland.Others who took part in this research include Dr. …

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Investigational malaria vaccine found safe and protective

Aug. 8, 2013 — An investigational malaria vaccine has been found to be safe, to generate an immune system response, and to offer protection against malaria infection in healthy adults, according to the results of an early-stage clinical trial published Aug. 8 in the journal Science.The vaccine, known as PfSPZ Vaccine, was developed by scientists at Sanaria Inc., of Rockville, Md. The clinical evaluation was conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and their collaborators at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the Naval Medical Research Center, both in Silver Spring, Md.Malaria is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. After the bite occurs, infectious malaria parasites in the immature, sporozoite stage of their life cycle first travel to the liver, where they multiply, and then spread through the bloodstream, at which time symptoms develop.The PfSPZ Vaccine is composed of live but weakened sporozoites of the species Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly of the malaria-causing parasites.”The global burden of malaria is extraordinary and unacceptable,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “Scientists and health care providers have made significant gains in characterizing, treating and preventing malaria; however, a vaccine has remained an elusive goal. We are encouraged by this important step forward.”The Phase I trial, which took place at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, received informed consent from and enrolled 57 healthy adult volunteers ages 18 to 45 years who never had malaria. Of these, 40 participants received the vaccine and 17 did not. To evaluate the vaccine’s safety, vaccinees were split into groups receiving two to six intravenous doses of PfSPZ Vaccine at increasing dosages. …

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Young vs. old: Who performs more consistently?

Aug. 5, 2013 — Sometimes it’s just not your day: First you can’t remember where you put your car keys, then you forget about an important meeting at work. On days like that, our memory seems to let us down. But are there actually “good” and “bad” days for cognitive performance? And does age make a difference in the day-to-day variability in cognitive performance?Florian Schmiedek, Martin Lövdén, and Ulman Lindenberger examined these questions using data from the COGITO Study, an investigation conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Their results are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.The new findings reveal that while variability in cognitive performance does indeed exist, our personal impression that a whole day is either good or bad is often wrong. Rather, most performance fluctuations occur within shorter periods of time.”True variability from day to day is relatively low,” says Schmiedek.The data suggest that both day-to-day and within-day variability in cognitive performance are particularly low in older adults when compared to younger adults.Testing over 200 younger (ages 20-31) and older (ages 65-80) adults on twelve different tasks revealed significant age differences. These tasks — testing perceptual speed, episodic memory, and working memory — were repeated across 100 days, enabling researchers to assess the participants’ learning improvements as well as their day-to-day performance fluctuations.In all nine cognitive tasks assessed, the older group actually showed less performance variability from day to day than the younger group. The older adults’ cognitive performance was thus more consistent across days, and this picture remained unaltered when differences in average performance favoring the young were taken into account.”Further analyses indicate that the older adults’ higher consistency is due to learned strategies to solve the task, a constantly high motivation level, as well as a balanced daily routine and stable mood,” explains Schmiedek.The findings are of importance for the debate about older people’s potential in the workplace.”One of our studies in the car production industry has shown that serious errors that are expensive to resolve are much less likely to be committed by older staff members than by their younger colleagues,” says Axel Börsch-Supan, another researcher studying productivity of the labor force in aging societies at the Max Planck Institute. “Likewise, in other branches of industry that we have studied, one does not observe higher productivity among the younger relative to the older workers.””On balance, older employees’ productivity and reliability is higher than that of their younger colleagues,” concludes Börsch-Supan.This research was supported by the Max Planck Society and an award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation donated by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

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Young cannabis-smokers aware of the health risks

July 29, 2013 — 91 percent of on average 20-year-old Swiss men drink alcohol, almost half of whom drink six beverages or more in a row and are thus at-risk consumers. 44 percent of Swiss men smoke tobacco, the majority of whom are at-risk consumers — they smoke at least once a day. 36 percent of young adults smoke cannabis, whereby over half are at-risk consumers, using the drug at least twice a week. Researchers from the University of Zurich’s Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine investigated whether these young Swiss men read up on addictive substances such as alcohol, tobacco, cannabis or other drugs and are aware and understand the risks of their consumption by conducting a survey of 12,000 men under a national cohort study as they were recruited for national service.Share This:Those who consume more likely to seek information16 percent of the young Swiss men surveyed had used electronic media in the last 12 months to actively find out more about addictive substances. 20 percent of at-risk consumers of alcohol or tobacco did so, along with 38 percent of at-risk consumers of cannabis. Moreover, at-risk consumers of alcohol or tobacco seek information two and a half times more frequently than abstainers. Cannabis-consumers research addictive substances four times more frequently and the at-risk consumers among them even five times more frequently than those who don’t smoke cannabis. “The search for information greatly depends on the substance consumed. Generally, consumers of addictive substances are more likely to seek information on addictive substances compared to abstainers,” explains Meichun Mohler-Kuo, a lecturer at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine.Over 70 percent of the men surveyed who consume addictive substances and especially the at-risk consumers rate their knowledge of the health consequences of alcohol, tobacco or cannabis consumption as very good, thereby reporting their knowledge as better than abstainers in this respect. Men from the Suisse romande (French-speaking Switzerland) and high school graduates rate their knowledge of the health risks of excessive consumption as slightly better than German-speaking Swiss and men with a lower level of education.Information as prevention comes up shortPrevention campaigns that are designed to open young people’s eyes to the risks of addictive substances and deter them are normally based on providing information. …

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Outgoing people lead happier lives

July 17, 2013 — Research from the University of Southampton has shown that young adults, who are more outgoing or more emotionally stable, are happier in later life than their more introverted or less emotionally stable peers.In the study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, Dr Catharine Gale from the Medical Research Council’s Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton and a team from the University of Edinburgh and University College London, examined the effects of neuroticism and extraversion at ages 16 and 26 years on mental wellbeing and life satisfaction at age 60 to 64 and explored the mediating roles of psychological and physical health.They found that personality dispositions by the time of early adulthood have an enduring influence on well-being decades later.Dr Gale, Reader in Epidemiology, comments: “Few studies have examined the long-term influence of personality traits in youth on happiness and life satisfaction later in life. We found that extroversion in youth had direct, positive effects on wellbeing and life satisfaction in later life. Neuroticism, in contrast, had a negative impact, largely because it tends to make people more susceptible to feelings of anxiety and depression and to physical health problems. “The study examined data on 4,583 people who are members of the National Survey for Health and Development, conducted by the Medical Research Council. All were born in 1946; they completed a short personality inventory at age 16, and again at age 26.Extroversion was assessed by questions about their sociability, energy, and activity orientation. Neuroticism was assessed by questions about their emotional stability, mood, and distractibility.Decades later, when the participants were 60 to 64-years-old, 2,529 of them answered a series of questions measuring well-being and their level of satisfaction with life. They also reported on their mental and physical health.. Their answers point to a distinct pattern.Specifically, greater extroversion, as assessed in young adulthood, was directly associated with higher scores for well-being and for satisfaction with life. Neuroticism, in contrast, predicted poorer levels of wellbeing, but it did so indirectly. People higher in neuroticism as young adults were more susceptible to psychological distress later in life and to a lesser extent, poorer physical health.Dr Gale adds: “Understanding what determines how happy people feel in later life is of particular interest because there is good evidence that happier people tend to live longer. …

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Not so blue? Study suggests many Americans less depressed

July 10, 2013 — Fewer Americans may be feeling the blues, with rates of depression in people over 50 on the decline, according to a new University of Michigan Health System study.Between 1998 and 2008, rates of severe depression fell among the majority of older adults, especially the elderly, who have historically been a higher risk group for depression, new findings show. Meanwhile, late middle agers between ages 55-59 appeared to experience increased depression over the 10 year period.The nationally representative study appears in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.”Over that decade, we saw a significant decrease in depression among older adults, and we need further studies to explore whether this is the result of improved treatment,” says lead author Kara Zivin, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry in the U-M Medical School and research investigator at the VA Center for Clinical Management Research. “Even with signs of progress, however, a significant percent of our population is still experiencing severe symptoms of depression, and we need to do more to ensure all of these groups have proper access to treatment.”Late-life depression has been a major area of concern among health providers, with studies showing increased depression at a time when many face death of loved ones, isolation, medical problems or changes in economic status. The new study, however, suggests improvements in this trend, with the most pronounced drop in depressive symptoms in people in the 80-84 age group.Increases in depression rates were concentrated among people in late middle age between ages 55-59 — a group that hasn’t traditionally been focused on as an at-risk group.”It’s unclear whether this shift is an indication of a sicker population not being treated adequately, a burden on people of that age at that particular time or something else, which is why we need to do more research to better understand these patterns,” Zivin says.Researchers used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally-representative sample of older Americans that is conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research on behalf of the National Institute of Aging.”We were pleased to see that there appears to be an overall improvement in depressive symptoms in the US, which is most likely related to better recognition and treatment. We are hopeful that our findings highlight the importance of depression diagnosis and treatment, and that we continue to make progress in developing better ways to systematically improve the outcomes of patients with depression,” says senior author Sandeep Vijan, M.D., M.S., associate professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School and a research scientist at the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System.Zivin is a member of the U-M Depression Center and the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. Vijan is a member of the latter as well.Additional authors: Paul A. Pirraglia, M.D.; Ryan J. McCammon, A.B.; Kenneth M. Langa, M.D., Ph.D.Funding: National Institute on Aging (P01 AG031098 and U01 AG09740) and the Department of Veteran Affairs, Health Services and Development (CD2 07-206-1 and VA IIR 10-176-3).

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New mouse model reveals a mystery of Duchenne muscular dystrophy

July 7, 2013 — Children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy often die as young adults from heart and breathing complications. However, scientists have been puzzled for decades by the fact that laboratory mice bearing the same genetic mutation responsible for the disease in humans display only mild symptoms and no cardiac involvement.Now, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have developed a mouse model that accurately mimics the course of the disease in humans. The study is the first to demonstrate a molecular basis for the cardiac defect that is the primary killer of people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Furthermore, the study provides evidence for a potential treatment to help prolong heart function. The mouse model also will allow researchers and clinicians to test a variety of therapies for the inherited condition.”Until now, scientists had no animal model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy that manifests the symptoms of the cardiac disease that kills children and young adults with the condition,” said Helen Blau, PhD, the Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Professor at Stanford and director of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology. “This has been a conundrum for three decades. We found that mice with moderately shortened telomeres and the Duchenne mutation exhibit profound cardiac defects and die at a young age, just like human patients.”Blau, who is also a member of the Stanford University Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and a professor of microbiology and immunology, is the senior author of the study, which will be published July 7 in Nature Cell Biology. Foteini Mourkioti, PhD, an instructor at the Baxter Laboratory, is the lead author of the study.The investigators found that the reason humans suffer more serious symptoms than mice has to do with the length of the protective caps, called telomeres, on the ends of chromosomes: Mice have telomeres about 40 kilobases in length, while human telomeres range from around 5 to 15 kilobases (a kilobase is 1,000 nucleotides). …

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The power of imitation: Already in infancy, imitation promotes a general pro-social orientation toward others

June 27, 2013 — Being mimicked increases pro-social behaviour in adults, yet little is known about its social effect on children. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now investigated whether the fact of being imitated had an influence on infants’ pro-social behaviour and on young children’s trust in another person.In one study, eighteen-month-old infants were either mimicked or not by an experimenter. Later, when this experimenter or a different adult needed help, infants who had been imitated were more likely to help spontaneously. In a second study, five- to six-year-olds interacted with one experimenter who mimicked their choices and another experimenter who made independent choices. The researchers found that the children were more likely to trust the preferences and factual claims of the experimenter who had mimicked them before. These results demonstrate that already in infancy mimicry promotes a general pro-social orientation toward others and that in young children imitation is a powerful means of social influence in development.Imitation is not only a means by which we learn from others. As adults, we routinely and automatically copy each other’s movements, postures, and facial expressions, and this has a variety of positive social consequences. After being mimicked, we behave more helpfully and generously toward others, from picking up others’ dropped belongings to giving more money to charity. Much less is known, however, about the social effects of imitation on infants and young children.Focusing on the social side of imitation, the researchers tested in a first study whether being mimicked increased pro-social behaviour in infants, as it does in adults. To this end, 48 eighteen-month-old infants were either mimicked or not by an experimenter: In the mimic condition, the experimenter immediately copied everything she saw or heard infants do. …

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Medical marijuana not the answer for teens with chronic pain, doctors say

June 17, 2013 — Adolescents can have chronic pain, just like adults. It can interfere with normal development, making it difficult for teens to attend school, socialize or be physically active, the cause may be hard to find, and medications are sometimes tried without success. As patients, their parents and physicians search for solutions, there is one increasingly available option they should avoid, Mayo Clinic researchers say: medical marijuana.Their commentary appears in the July issue of the medical journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.There are few studies on the risks and benefits of marijuana use to treat chronic pain in adults, and even less data on the pros and cons of using it to ease chronic pain in adolescents, the researchers say. They recommend that physicians screen teen chronic pain patients for marijuana use. While medical marijuana may help some specific conditions, its adverse effects, even with short-term use, can include fatigue, impaired concentration and slower reaction times, they say.”The consequences may be very, very severe, particularly for adolescents who may get rid of their pain — or not — at the expense of the rest of their life,” says co-author J. Michael Bostwick, M.D., a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist.The researchers describe the cases of three high school-age patients at Mayo Clinic’s pediatric chronic pain clinic who said they used marijuana regularly. Pain worsened for all three despite their marijuana use. None attended school full time; they reported impaired functioning and difficulty becoming more socially active.Excessive doses of marijuana may induce symptoms that many chronic pain patients already experience, including dizziness, anxiety, sedation, fatigue, decreased reflexes, confusion, difficulty concentrating and a lack of motivation, the researchers note. Marijuana use before age 16 has been linked to earlier development of psychosis in susceptible patients; smoking marijuana more than once a week has been connected to persistent cognitive damage in adolescents, the authors say. An estimated 1 in 10 marijuana users becomes addicted, and people under 25 are more susceptible to that, Dr. …

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‘Spiritual’ young people more likely to commit crimes than ‘religious’ ones

June 12, 2013 — Young adults who deem themselves “spiritual but not religious” are more likely to commit property crimes — and to a lesser extent, violent ones — than those who identify themselves as either “religious and spiritual” or “religious but not spiritual,” according to Baylor University researchers.The sociologists’ study, published in the journal Criminology, also showed that those in a fourth category — who say they are neither spiritual nor religious — are less likely to commit property crimes than the “spiritual but not religious” individuals. But no difference was found between the two groups when it came to violent crimes.”The notion of being spiritual but not associated with any organized religion has become increasingly popular, and our question is how that is different from being religious, whether you call yourself ‘spiritual’ or not,” said Sung Joon Jang, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. He is lead author of the study, “Is Being ‘Spiritual’ Enough Without Being Religious? A Study of Violent and Property Crimes Among Emerging Adults.”He noted that until the 20th century, the terms “religious” and “spiritual” were treated as interchangeable.Previous research indicated that people who say they are religious show lower levels of crime and deviance, which refers to norm-violating behavior.The researchers analyzed data from a sample of 14,322 individuals from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. They ranged in age from 18 to 28, with an average age of 21.8.In the confidential survey, participants were asked how often they had committed crimes in the previous 12 months — including violent crimes such as physical fights or armed robbery — while property crimes included vandalism, theft and burglary.Past research shows that people who report themselves as spiritual make up about 10 percent of the general population, Jang said.”Calling oneself ‘spiritual but not religious’ turned out to more of an antisocial characteristic, unlike identifying oneself as religious,” said Baylor researcher Aaron Franzen, a doctoral candidate and study co-author.In their study, the Baylor researchers hypothesized that those who are spiritual but not religious would be less conventional than the religious group — but could be either more or less conventional than the “neither” group.”We were thinking that religious people would have an institutional and communal attachment and investment, while the spiritual people would have more of an independent identity,” Franzen said.Theories for why religious people are less likely to commit crime are that they fear “supernatural sanctions” as well as criminal punishment and feel shame about deviance; are bonded to conventional society; exercise high self-control in part because of parents who also are likely to be religious; and associate with peers who reinforce their behavior and beliefs.Significantly, people who are spiritual but not religious tend to have lower self-control than those who are religious. They also are more likely to experience such strains as criminal victimization and such negative emotions as depression and anxiety. They also are more likely to have peers who use and abuse alcohol, Franzen said. Those factors are predictors of criminal behavior.”It’s a challenge in terms of research to know what that actually means to be spiritual, because they self-identify,” he said. “But they are different in some way, as our study shows.”In their research, sociologists included four categories based on how the young adults reported themselves. Those categories and percentages were:• Spiritual but not religious, 11.5 percent• Religious but not spiritual, 6.8 percent• Both spiritual and religious, 37.9 percent• Neither spiritual nor religious, 43.8 percent

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Over-produced autism gene alters synapses, affects learning and behavior in mice

June 5, 2013 — A gene linked to autism spectrum disorders that was manipulated in two lines of transgenic mice produced mature adults with irreversible deficits affecting either learning or social interaction.The findings, published in the May 29 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, have implications for potential gene therapies but they also suggest that there may be narrow windows of opportunity to be effective, says principal investigator Philip Washbourne, a professor of biology and member of the University of Oregon’s Institute of Neuroscience.The research, reported by an 11-member team from three universities, targeted the impacts of alterations in the gene neuroligin 1 — one of many genes implicated in human autism spectrum disorders — to neuronal synapses in the altered mice during postnatal development and as they entered adulthood. One group over-expressed the normal gene, the other a mutated version.Mice with higher-than-normal levels of the normal gene after a month had skewed synapses at maturity. Many were larger, appearing more mature, than normal. In these mice, Washbourne said, there were clear cognitive problems. “Behavior was just not normal. They didn’t learn very well, and they were slower to learn, but their social behavior was not impacted.”Mice over-producing a mutated version of the gene reached adulthood with structurally immature synapses. “They were held back in development and behavior — the way they behave in terms of learning and memory, in terms of social interaction,” he said. “These were adult mice, three months old, but they behaved like normal mice at four weeks old. We saw arrested development. Learning is a little bit better, they are more flexible just like young mice, they learn faster, but their social interaction is off. …

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Surgical procedure appears to enhance smiles in children with facial paralysis

May 17, 2011 — Transferring a segment of muscle from the thigh appears to help restore the ability to smile in children with facial paralysis just as it does in adults, according to a report in the May issue of Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. The article is part of a theme issue focusing on facial plastic surgery in the pediatric population.

Facial paralysis often disrupts the ability to smile. In pediatric patients, this can be especially problematic, according to background information in the article. Surgery to repair the affected area may generate failure rates as high as 30 percent. But not acting can also harm children, the authors write: “The inability to express oneself via facial movement can have serious social consequences because it is the dominant nonverbal expression of happiness and contentment. The additional functional and esthetic issues associated with facial paralysis can be devastating to a child’s development, or to their recovery following treatment for a central nervous system (CNS) tumor resulting in facial paralysis.”

Tessa A. Hadlock, M.D., and colleagues from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston , evaluated pediatric patients undergoing free gracilis transfer (an operation in which part of the gracilis muscle in the thigh is transplanted into facial muscles). They compared 17 children with facial paralysis who had a total of 19 surgeries to 17 adults who also had 19 of the same surgeries. The authors explain that they wanted to determine failure rates in children, discover how much smiles and quality of life (QOL) improved after the operation, and examine whether these patients’ experiences differed from those of adults. “These data were sought under the hypothesis that establishing a QOL benefit would help clinicians and families make more insightful decisions regarding surgery.”

The main measure of smile improvement was the extent of commissure excursion (movement of the corners of the mouth). The average change in pediatric patients was 8.8 mm, which is similar to the change that adults experienced. The researchers determined that the surgery failed in two of the pediatric patients (11%) versus in four of the adults (21 percent). Thirteen children completed both a pre-operative and a post-operative QOL measure, the Facial Clinimetric Evaluation (FaCE); the results show a statistically significant QOL improvement after the free gracilis transfer.

“In conclusion,” the authors write, “free gracilis for smile reanimation in children carries an acceptable failure rate, significantly improves smiling, and seems to improve QOL with respect to facial function.” They add, “Early facial reanimation provides the advantage of permitting children to express themselves nonverbally through smiling and may in fact lead to fewer negative social consequences as they interact with peers.”

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Brain can be trained in compassion, study shows

May 22, 2013 — Until now, little was scientifically known about the human potential to cultivate compassion — the emotional state of caring for people who are suffering in a way that motivates altruistic behavior.

A new study by researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that adults can be trained to be more compassionate. The report, published Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, investigates whether training adults in compassion can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion.

“Our fundamental question was, ‘Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?'” says Helen Weng, lead author of the study and a graduate student in clinical psychology. “Our evidence points to yes.”

In the study, the investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering. In the meditation, participants envisioned a time when someone has suffered and then practiced wishing that his or her suffering was relieved. They repeated phrases to help them focus on compassion such as, “May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease.”

Participants practiced with different categories of people, first starting with a loved one, someone whom they easily felt compassion for, like a friend or family member. Then, they practiced compassion for themselves and, then, a stranger. Finally, they practiced compassion for someone they actively had conflict with called the “difficult person,” such as a troublesome coworker or roommate.

“It’s kind of like weight training,” Weng says. “Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”

Compassion training was compared to a control group that learned cognitive reappraisal, a technique where people learn to reframe their thoughts to feel less negative. Both groups listened to guided audio instructions over the Internet for 30 minutes per day for two weeks. “We wanted to investigate whether people could begin to change their emotional habits in a relatively short period of time,” says Weng.

The real test of whether compassion could be trained was to see if people would be willing to be more altruistic — even helping people they had never met. The research tested this by asking the participants to play a game in which they were given the opportunity to spend their own money to respond to someone in need (called the “Redistribution Game”). They played the game over the Internet with two anonymous players, the “Dictator” and the “Victim.” They watched as the Dictator shared an unfair amount of money (only $1 out of $10) with the Victim. They then decided how much of their own money to spend (out of $5) in order to equalize the unfair split and redistribute funds from the Dictator to the Victim.

“We found that people trained in compassion were more likely to spend their own money altruistically to help someone who was treated unfairly than those who were trained in cognitive reappraisal,” Weng says.

“We wanted to see what changed inside the brains of people who gave more to someone in need. How are they responding to suffering differently now?” asks Weng. The study measured changes in brain responses using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before and after training. In the MRI scanner, participants viewed images depicting human suffering, such as a crying child or a burn victim, and generated feelings of compassion towards the people using their practiced skills. The control group was exposed to the same images, and asked to recast them in a more positive light as in reappraisal.

The researchers measured how much brain activity had changed from the beginning to the end of the training, and found that the people who were the most altruistic after compassion training were the ones who showed the most brain changes when viewing human suffering. They found that activity was increased in the inferior parietal cortex, a region involved in empathy and understanding others. Compassion training also increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the extent to which it communicated with the nucleus accumbens, brain regions involved in emotion regulation and positive emotions.

“People seem to become more sensitive to other people’s suffering, but this is challenging emotionally. They learn to regulate their emotions so that they approach people’s suffering with caring and wanting to help rather than turning away,” explains Weng.

Compassion, like physical and academic skills, appears to be something that is not fixed, but rather can be enhanced with training and practice. “The fact that alterations in brain function were observed after just a total of seven hours of training is remarkable,” explains UW-Madison psychology and psychiatry professor Richard J. Davidson, founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and senior author of the article.

“There are many possible applications of this type of training,” Davidson says. “Compassion and kindness training in schools can help children learn to be attuned to their own emotions as well as those of others, which may decrease bullying. Compassion training also may benefit people who have social challenges such as social anxiety or antisocial behavior.”

Weng is also excited about how compassion training can help the general population. “We studied the effects of this training with healthy participants, which demonstrated that this can help the average person. I would love for more people to access the training and try it for a week or two — what changes do they see in their own lives?”

Both compassion and reappraisal trainings are available on the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds’ website. “I think we are only scratching the surface of how compassion can transform people’s lives,” says Weng.

Other authors on the paper were Andrew S. Fox, Alexander J. Shackman, Diane E. Stodola, Jessica Z. K. Caldwell, Matthew C. Olson, and Gregory M. Rogers.

The work was supported by funds from the National Institutes of Health; a Hertz Award to the UW-Madison Department of Psychology; the Fetzer Institute; The John Templeton Foundation; the Impact Foundation; the J. W. Kluge Foundation; the Mental Insight Foundation; the Mind and Life Institute; and gifts from Bryant Wanguard, Ralph Robinson, and Keith and Arlene Bronstein.

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