1. Study suggests there are genes that up insomnia risk

    June 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam press release:

    An international team of researchers has found, for the first time, seven risk genes for insomnia. With this finding the researchers have taken an important step towards the unravelling of the biological mechanisms that cause insomnia. In addition, the finding proves that insomnia is not, as is often claimed, a purely psychological condition. Today, Nature Genetics publishes the results of this research.

    Insomnia is probably the most common health complaint. Even after treatment, poor sleep remains a persistent vulnerability for many people. By having determined the risk genes, professors Danielle Posthuma (VU and VUmc) and Eus Van Someren (Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, VU and VUmc), the lead researchers of this international project, have come closer to unravelling the biological mechanisms that cause the predisposition for insomnia.

    Hope and recognition for insomniacs

    Professor Van Someren, specialized in sleep and insomnia, believes that the findings are the start of a path towards an understanding of insomnia at the level of communication within and between neurons, and thus towards finding new ways of treatment.

    He also hopes that the findings will help with the recognition of insomnia. “As compared to the severity, prevalence and risks of insomnia, only few studies targeted its causes. Insomnia is all too often dismissed as being ‘all in your head’. Our research brings a new perspective. Insomnia is also in the genes.”

    In a sample of 113,006 individuals, the researchers found 7 genes for insomnia. These genes play a role in the regulation of transcription, the process where DNA is read in order to make an RNA copy of it, and exocytosis, the release of molecules by cells in order to communicate with their environment. One of the identified genes, MEIS1, has previously been related to two other sleep disorders: Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep (PLMS) and Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). By collaborating with Konrad Oexle and colleagues from the Institute of Neurogenomics at the Helmholtz Zentrum, München, Germany, the researchers could conclude that the genetic variants in the gene seem to contribute to all three disorders. Strikingly, PLMS and RLS are characterized by restless movement and sensation, respectively, whereas insomnia is characterized mainly by a restless stream of consciousness.

    Genetic overlap with other characteristics

    The researchers also found a strong genetic overlap with other traits, such as anxiety disorders, depression and neuroticism, and low subjective wellbeing. “This is an interesting finding, because these characteristics tend to go hand in hand with insomnia. We now know that this is partly due to the shared genetic basis,” says neuroscientist Anke Hammerschlag (VU), PhD student and first author of the study.

    Different genes for men and women

    The researchers also studied whether the same genetic variants were important for men and women. “Part of the genetic variants turned out to be different. This suggests that, for some part, different biological mechanisms may lead to insomnia in men and women,” says professor Posthuma. “We also found a difference between men and women in terms of prevalence: in the sample we studied, including mainly people older than fifty years, 33% of the women reported to suffer from insomnia. For men this was 24%.”

    The risk genes could be tracked down in cohorts with the DNA and diagnoses of many thousands of people. The UK Biobank — a large cohort from England that has DNA available — did not have information as such about the diagnosis of insomnia, but they had asked their participants whether they found it difficult to fall asleep or to have an uninterrupted sleep. By making good use of information from slaapregister.nl (the Dutch Sleep Registry), the UK Biobank was able, for the first time, to determine which of them met the insomnia profile. Linking the knowledge from these two cohorts is what made the difference.


  2. Research shows how faces guide, and reflect, our social lives

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    For most of us, faces provide untold amounts of information about the people in our world. We use faces to identify someone as a friend or stranger, as approachable or hostile, as a member of our group or an outsider. We make judgments about others’ personality traits, such as their trustworthiness, based on our perceptions of their faces. And we typically make all of these determinations without ever being consciously aware that we’re doing it. There is no question: How we perceive faces plays a central role in our social lives.

    A special issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, brings together innovative research and theory in psychological science, computer science, neuroscience, and related fields, illuminating the myriad ways in which face perception infuses how we think and behave.

    In this issue, “researchers from diverse areas within the psychological sciences illustrate various cognitive processes and social consequences, extending from face perception’s basic foundations in recognition, human development, and social and economic behavior, through individual and cultural variation in face processing, to the cutting-edge application of tools in computer science,” writes psychological scientist Nicholas O. Rule of the University of Toronto in his introduction to the special issue.

    The special issue delves into the mechanisms that underlie face perception, exploring the adaptive functions that likely contribute to recognizing faces and facial expressions, the origins and developmental trajectory of face recognition across different people, and the reasons why we sometimes make errors when it comes to recognizing certain faces.

    The issue also shows how we use information from faces to make judgments about other people, including forming quick first impressions and determining the social groups they belong to, whether they possess certain leadership qualities, and the likelihood that they’ll cooperate or act selfishly.

    Articles in the issue illustrate how early experiences can shape face perception, leading to cultural differences in how we attend to facial features and exposure-related differences in how we process faces of different races.

    The articles also show how biases in how we recognize emotions in faces can contribute to the onset and maintenance of mood disorders like depression and aggression. Building computational models that accurately describe the processes involved in face perception could eventually help clinicians in defining, diagnosing, and treating these kinds of disorders.

    Finally, the issue explores how face perception ultimately guides our behavior towards others, influencing whether we decide to engage with someone in prosocial ways and even whether we might dehumanize and harm someone.

    “Together, this collection of brief and accessible reviews will help readers to cultivate an understanding of how humans create and extract meaning from the face, justifying why it maintains such a high priority in perception, cognition, and behavior,” Rule writes.


  3. Study suggests meditation as a possible alternative to traditional pain medication

    by Ashley

    From the Leeds Beckett University press release:

    Just ten minutes of mindfulness meditation could be used as an alternative to painkillers, according to research by Leeds Beckett University.

    Results of the study suggest that a single ten-minute mindfulness meditation session administered by a novice therapist can improve pain tolerance, pain threshold and decrease anxiety towards pain.

    The research was carried out by the School of Clinical and Applied Sciences at Leeds Beckett and used a group of 24 healthy university-aged students (12 men and 12 women). They were randomly split into a control group and a meditation group.

    A cold-pressor task was used to cause pain to the participants; they put their hand in warm water for two minutes before removing it and placing it immediately into ice water for as long as they could manage and only removed it when the pain became too much and could no longer be tolerated. They then either sat quietly for ten minutes (control group) or meditated for ten minutes before repeating the cold-pressor task.

    Five groups of data were then collected; anxiety towards pain, pain threshold, pain tolerance, pain intensity and pain unpleasantness. Pre-intervention the figures didn’t differ greatly between the control and meditation groups but following the ten-minute meditation session, the participants from the meditation group saw a significant decrease in anxiety towards pain and a significant increase in pain threshold and pain tolerance.

    Speaking about the results of the study, Dr Osama Tashani, Senior Research Fellow in Pain Studies, said: “While further research is needed to explore this in a more clinical setting on chronic pain patients, these results do show that a brief mindfulness meditation intervention can be of benefit in pain relief. The ease of application and cost effectiveness of the mindfulness meditation may also make it a viable addition to the arsenal of therapies for pain management.

    “The mindfulness mediation was led by a researcher who was a novice; so in theory clinicians could administer this with little training needed. It’s based on traditional Buddhist teachings which focuses attention and awareness on your breathing.”


  4. Study suggests people tend to become more generous as they age

    by Ashley

    From the National University of Singapore press release:

    People tend to become more generous as they age. This certainly holds true when it comes to helping strangers, according to a recent study by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS). Findings from the study showed that while the older adults treat their kin and friends the same as younger adults do, the elderly donate more to strangers than younger adults, even when their generosity is unlikely to be reciprocated.

    “Greater generosity was observed among senior citizens possibly because as people become older, their values shift away from purely personal interests to more enduring sources of meaning found in their communities,” explained Assistant Professor Yu Rongjun, who led the study. Asst Prof Yu is from the Department of Psychology at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, as well as the Singapore Institute for Neurotechnology at NUS.

    The research results were first reported online in Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences on 5 April 2017.

    Generosity towards strangers is a function of age

    Studies have shown that as people age, they are inclined to volunteer more frequently, are more attentive to ecological concerns, and are less interested in becoming rich. However, there is a lack of understanding of the core motive behind such altruistic behaviour. The team led by Asst Prof Yu sought to address this knowledge gap by looking at how social relationships with others influence how much older adults donate in comparison with younger adults.

    The study, which was conducted from March 2016 to January 2017, involved 78 adults in Singapore. 39 of them were older adults with an average age of 70, while the other 39 were younger adults who were about 23 years old.

    The NUS research team employed a framework known as social discounting to quantify generosity towards people. The framework works on the principle that people treat those they are closer with better than those whom they are more distantly acquainted, and much better than total strangers. The participants had to rate how close they were to people in their social environment, and the amount of money they would give to each respective person. Using a computational model, the NUS research team calculated the amount of money that the participants are willing to give to another person as a function of social distance.

    The results revealed that both younger and older adults are equally generous to people who are close to them, such as family members or close friends. However, senior citizens are more generous to those who are more socially distant, such as total strangers, and the seniors’ level of generosity does not decrease with distance as quickly as that of the younger adults. In addition, older adults are more likely to forgo their resources to strangers even when their generosity is unlikely to be reciprocated.

    Dr Narun Pornpattananangkul, the first author of the research paper, said, “In psychology, the motivation to contribute to the greater good is known as an “ego-transcending” motivation. In our earlier work, we found that there is an enhancement of this motivation after people received oxytocin, a hormone related to maternal love and trust. In this study, we found a similar pattern of an ego-transcending motivation among the older adults, as if the older adults received oxytocin to boost their generosity. We speculate that age-related changes at the neurobiological level may account for this change in generosity.” Dr Pornpattananangkul is a research fellow from the Department of Psychology at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

    Asst Prof Yu added, “Our findings shed light on the age-related changes among the elderly, and provide an understanding of why they are more inclined to lend a helping hand to strangers. Providing older adults with more opportunities to help others is not only beneficial to our society, but it might also be a boon to the well-being of older adults themselves. Future studies with direct well-being measures should further examine this hypothesis.”

    Future studies to examine neural mechanisms involved in decision making

    To further their understanding on how decision making shifts among the elderly, Asst Prof Yu and his team at NUS are embarking on studies to examine the neural mechanisms underlying the changes in decision making by using brain-imaging technologies. Research findings from these studies have the potential to be translated into effective intervention programmes to promote healthy ageing, and may help tackle age-related conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, which are often characterised by deficits in decision making.


  5. Spouses’ daily responses to partners’ pain linked with later functioning

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    The dynamics of spouses’ daily interactions may influence whether an ill partner’s physical functioning improves over time, according to new findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “We found that osteoarthritis patients whose spouses were more empathically responsive in daily interactions fared better in terms of their physical function than patients whose spouses were less responsive,” says Ohio State researcher Stephanie J. Wilson, lead author on the study who completed the work as part of her dissertation at Penn State. “Their performance on an objective test improved over time: They were better able to stand from a chair unassisted, maintained better balance, and could walk more quickly.”

    “Other research suggests that people who perform better on these tasks also are more likely to remain independent and to live longer,” Wilson explains. “Thus, our findings have direct clinical implications for chronic pain patients.”

    The idea that our social environment affects our health in incremental ways – through the ups and downs of everyday life – forms the basis of various conceptual frameworks, but Wilson and Penn State professors Lynn M. Martire and Martin J. Sliwinski noted that few studies had actually managed to capture these daily dynamics.

    To address this gap in the literature, senior researcher and thesis adviser Lynn Martire designed a novel study and collected data combining daily diary assessments taken over a short term with physical function measurements taken over longer intervals. Specifically, the team examined the association between spouses’ daily responsiveness to their partners with osteoarthritis and changes in the partners’ physical function over the following 18 months.

    The researchers hypothesized that the degree to which spouses showed empathic, solicitous, and punishing responses in response to their partners’ pain would be associated with the partners’ physical well-being over time. Specifically, partners whose spouses provided emotional support, affection, and attention (empathic behaviors) would show improvement in functioning, while those whose spouses took over tasks and encouraged rest (solicitous behaviors) and those whose spouses acted frustrated and appeared irritated (punishing behaviors) would show diminished functioning over time.

    The study included a total of 152 osteoarthritis patients, all of whom were over 50 years old and married or living with a partner. Participants completed short surveys in the evening every day over the 22-day daily diary period. Spouses rated the degree to which their partners had expressed feeling pain; patients rated the degree to which spouses responded to their pain expression with a variety of behaviors. The researchers measured the patients’ physical function — including balance, gait, speed, and ability to rise from a chair — at the beginning of the study, 6 months later, and 18 months later.

    The results showed that patients with spouses who responded to their expressions of pain with empathic behaviors on a daily basis showed improved physical function 6 and 18 months later relative to patients with less empathic spouses. However, the data did not indicate that either solicitous responses or punishing responses were linked with changes in patients’ physical function.

    “Based on previous work, we expected that patients whose spouses were more solicitously responsive — that is, provided more instrumental help such as retrieving medication and taking over chores — would decline in their physical function over time, but this did not hold,” explains Wilson.

    The findings are novel in that they specifically link patterns in couples’ day-to-day interactions to objective clinical measures, capturing the dynamic nature of how spouses influence each other.

    And the results have implications for a particularly broad audience: “One in five adults is diagnosed with some kind of persistent pain in their lives, and osteoarthritis is among the most common conditions that emerge as we get older,” Wilson notes. “It will be important for future studies to examine whether the empathic responsiveness pattern also bodes well for people with other chronic conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.”


  6. Study suggests wisdom of crowds may prevail over group with a single influential leader

    by Ashley

    From the University of Pennsylvania press release:

    Anyone following forecasting polls leading up to the 2016 election likely believed Hillary Clinton would become the 45th president of the United States. Although this opinion was the consensus among most political-opinion leaders and media, something clearly went wrong with these prediction tools.

    Though it may never be known for certain the reasons for the discrepancy between public perception and the electoral reality, new findings from the University of Pennsylvania’s Damon Centola may offer a clue: the wisdom of a crowd is in the network.

    The classic “wisdom of crowds” theory goes like this: If we ask a group of people to guess an outcome, the group’s guess will be better than any individual expert. Thus, when a group tries to make a decision, in this case, predicting the outcome of an election, the group does a better job than experts. For market predictions, geopolitical forecasting and crowdsourcing product ideas, the wisdom of crowds has been shown to even outperform industry experts.

    That is true — as long as people don’t talk to each other. When people start sharing their opinions, their conversations can lead to social influences that produce “groupthink” and destroy the wisdom of the crowd. So says the classic theory.

    But Centola, an associate professor in Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication and School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Network Dynamics Group, discovered the opposite. When people talk to each other, the crowd can get smarter. Centola, along with Ph.D. candidate Joshua Becker and recent Ph.D. graduate Devon Brackbill, published the findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “The classic theory says that if you let people talk to each other groups go astray. But,” said Centola, “we find that even if people are not particularly accurate, when they talk to each other, they help to make each other smarter. Whether things get better or worse depends on the networks.

    “In egalitarian networks,” he said, “where everyone has equal influence, we find a strong social-learning effect, which improves the quality of everyone’s judgements. When people exchange ideas, everyone gets smarter. But this can all go haywire if there are opinion leaders in the group.”

    An influential opinion leader can hijack the process, leading the entire group astray. While opinion leaders may be knowledgeable on some topics, Centola found that, when the conversation moved away from their expertise, they still remained just as influential. As a result, they ruined the group’s judgment.

    “On average,” he said, “opinion leaders were more likely to lead the group astray than to improve it.”

    The online study included more than 1,300 participants, who were placed into one of three experimental conditions. Some were placed into one of the “egalitarian” networks, where everyone had an equal number of contacts and everyone had equal influence. Others were placed into one of the “centralized” networks, in which a single opinion leader was connected to everyone, giving that person much more influence in the group. Each of the networks contained 40 participants. Finally, Centola had several hundred subjects participate in a “control” group, without any social networks.

    In the study, all of the participants were given a series of estimation challenges, such as guessing the number of calories in a plate of food. They were given three tries to get the right answer. Everyone first gave a gut response.

    Then, participants who were in social networks could see the guesses made by their social contacts and could use that information to revise an answer. They could then see their contacts’ revisions and revise their answers again. But this time it was their final answer. Participants were awarded as much as $10 based on the accuracy of their final guess. In the control group, participants did the same thing, but they were not given any social information between each revision.

    “Everyone’s goal was to make a good guess. They weren’t paid for showing up,” Centola said, “only for being accurate.”

    Patterns began to emerge. The control groups initially showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but did not improve as people revised their answers. Indeed, if anything, they got slightly worse. By contrast, the egalitarian networks also showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but then saw a dramatic increase in accuracy. Across the board, in network after network, the final answers in these groups were consistently far more accurate than the initial “wisdom of the crowd.”

    “In a situation where everyone is equally influential,” Centola said, “people can help to correct each other’s mistakes. This makes each person a little more accurate than they were initially. Overall, this creates a striking improvement in the intelligence of the group. The result is even better than the traditional wisdom of the crowd! But, as soon as you have opinion leaders, social influence becomes really dangerous.”

    In the centralized networks, Centola found that, when the opinion leaders were very accurate, they could improve the performance of the group. But even the most accurate opinion leaders were consistently wrong some of the time.

    “Thus,” Centola said, “while opinion leaders can sometimes improve things, they were statistically more likely to make the group worse off than to help it.

    The egalitarian network was reliable because the people who were more accurate tended to make smaller revisions, while people who were less accurate revised their answers more. The result is that the entire crowd moved toward the more accurate people, while, at the same time, the more accurate people also made small adjustments that improved their score.”

    These findings on the wisdom of crowds have startling real-world implications in areas such as climate-change science, financial forecasting, medical decision-making and organizational design.

    For example, while engineers have been trying to design ways to keep people from talking to each other when making important decisions in an attempt to avoid groupthink, Centola’s findings suggest that what matters most is the network. A group of equally influential scientists talking to one another will likely lead to smarter judgments than might arise from keeping them independent.

    He is currently working on implementing these findings to improve physicians’ decision-making. By designing a social network technology for use in hospital settings, it may be possible to reduce implicit bias in physicians’ clinical judgments and to improve the quality of care that they can offer.

    Whether new technologies are needed to improve the way the groups talk to each other, or whether we just need to be cautious about the danger of opinion leaders, Centola said it’s time to rethink the idea of the wisdom of crowds.

    “It’s much better to have people talk to each other and argue for their points of view than to have opinion leaders rule the crowd,” he said. “By designing informational systems where everyone’s voices can be heard, we can improve the judgment of the entire group. It’s as important for science as it is for democracy.”


  7. Study looks at psychological effect of washing one’s hands

    June 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management press release:

    Handwipes aren’t just for germs anymore. Their uses may extend to more flexible thinking and reorienting one’s priorities.

    A pair of researchers at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management has found the physicality of cleaning one’s hands acts to shift goal pursuit, making prior goals less important and subsequent goals more important.

    The researchers’ four experiments each began by bringing participants’ attention to particular goals through word games or a short survey, a process called “priming.” The participants were then asked to either merely evaluate or actually use a handwipe. Those who were asked to use the wipe became less likely to think of the previously primed goal, less likely to make behavioral choices consistent with it, and less likely to find it important. Furthermore, their focus was more easily reoriented towards a subsequently primed goal.

    “For people who were primed with a health goal, for example, using the handwipe reduced their subsequent tendency to behave in a healthy manner — they were more likely to choose a chocolate bar over a granola bar,” says Ping Dong, a PhD student in marketing who conducted the research with Spike W. S. Lee, an assistant professor of marketing.

    Previous work has already shown that physical cleansing reduces the impact of previous psychological experiences, such as guilt arising from immoral behaviour. The current research unpacks the underlying mental process: cleansing embodies a psychological procedure of separation. Wiping away dirt serves as a physical proxy for mentally separating ideas that linger from previous experience, hence preparing a “clean slate” for focusing on new ones.

    This research examined cleansing’s short-term rather than long-term impact on goal pursuit, points out Ms. Dong, who will join the faculty at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management later this year. While it may be premature to suggest that people intent on achieving goals should significantly alter their personal hygiene routines, the findings do suggest that when it comes to finding practical tricks for redirecting one’s thinking away from old fruitless pursuits towards new and better ones, an antiseptic wipe may come in handy.

    The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.


  8. Irregular sleeping patterns linked to poorer academic performance in college students

    by Ashley

    From the Brigham and Women’s Hospital press release:

    Previous research has analyzed variations in sleep patterns including number of hours slept, quality of sleep, and sleep-wake times, and found an association with cognitive impairments, health and performance; however, few studies have considered or accurately quantified the effects of regular sleep patterns. In a new study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, researchers objectively measured sleep and circadian rhythms, and the association to academic performance in college students, finding that irregular patterns of sleep and wakefulness correlated with lower grade point average, delayed sleep/wake timing, and delayed release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. The results are published in Scientific Reports on June 12, 2017.

    Researchers studied 61 full-time undergraduates from Harvard College for 30 days using sleep diaries. They quantified sleep regularity using the sleep regularity index (SRI), a newly devised metric. Researchers examined the relationship between the SRI, sleep duration, distribution of sleep across the day, and academic performance during one semester.

    “Our results indicate that going to sleep and waking up at approximately the same time is as important as the number of hours one sleeps,” stated Andrew J. K. Phillips, PhD, biophysicist at the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and lead author on the paper. “Sleep regularity is a potentially important and modifiable factor independent from sleep duration,” Phillips said.

    Students with more regular sleep patterns had better school grades on average. Researchers found no significant difference in average sleep duration between most students with irregular sleep patterns and most regular sleepers.

    “We found that the body clock was shifted nearly three hours later in students with irregular schedules as compared to those who slept at more consistent times each night, stated Charles A. Czeisler, PhD, MD, Director of the Sleep Health Institute at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and senior author on the paper. “For the students whose sleep and wake times were inconsistent, classes and exams that were scheduled for 9 a.m. were therefore occurring at 6am according to their body clock, at a time when performance is impaired. Ironically, they didn’t save any time because in the end they slept just as much as those on a more regular schedule.”

    By measuring the timing of melatonin release at sleep onset, the researchers were able to assess the timing of circadian rhythms. On average, melatonin was released 2.6 hours later in students with the most irregular sleep patterns, compared to students with more regular sleep patterns.

    “Using a mathematical model of the circadian clock, we were able to demonstrate that the difference in circadian timing between students with the most irregular sleep patterns and students with regular sleep patterns was consistent with their different patterns of daily light exposure,” stated Phillips. “In particular, regular sleepers got significantly higher light levels during the daytime, and significantly lower light levels at night than irregular sleepers who slept more during daytime hours and less during nighttime hours.”

    Researchers note that the circadian clock takes time to adjust to schedule changes, and is highly sensitive to patterns of light exposure. Irregular sleepers, who frequently changed the pattern of when they slept and consequently their pattern of light-dark exposure, experienced misalignment between the circadian system and the sleep-wake cycle.

    Researchers conclude that light based interventions, including increased exposure to daytime light and less exposure to electronic light-emitting devices before bedtime, may be effective in improving sleep regularity.


  9. Study suggests people whose minds wander are less likely to stick to long-term goals

    by Ashley

    From the University of Waterloo press release:

    People whose minds tend to wander are less likely to stick to their long-term goals, according to new research led by the University of Waterloo.

    The research found that those who could sustain focus in day-to-day life were more likely to report maintaining perseverance and passion in their long-term objectives.

    “Those who often can’t keep their minds on their tasks — such as thinking about weekend plans instead of listening to the lecturer in class — tend to have more fleeting aspirations,” said Brandon Ralph, the study’s lead author and a PhD candidate in psychology at Waterloo. “We’ve shown that maintaining concentration over hours and days predicts passion over longer periods.”

    The researchers’ findings resulted from three separate studies. In the first two studies, surveys measured the mind wandering, inattention and grittiness of 280 participants. In the third study, 105 post-secondary students were asked to report on their mind-wandering habits during class and then fill out questionnaires to measure their grittiness.

    Grit is a personality trait involving sustained interest and effort toward long-term goals and is purported to predict success in careers and education independent of other traits, including intelligence.

    Next steps in the research involve determining if people who would like to mitigate the impacts of mind wandering can do so with mindfulness training exercises, such as meditation.

    “It’s clear that mind wandering is related to the ability to focus in the moment as well as on long-term goals,” said Ralph. “As we move forward in this work, we’d like to see if practices such as meditation can assist people in achieving their goals.”

    The study, done in cooperation with researchers at Sheridan College, appears in the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology.


  10. Drinking during adolescence can alter brain cell nerve growth

    by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    The developmental period from adolescence to adulthood is accompanied by a greater vulnerability to addictions — including alcohol use disorders — than is seen in other periods of life. This increased risk may be due to genetic predisposition, poor impulse control, or heightened sensitivity of the still-developing brain to drug-related toxicity. This report describes a study in mice of the neurobehavioral impact of chronic, intermittent alcohol-vapor exposure during adolescence, in an effort to model periodic heavy drinking and compare it with similar drinking behavior during adulthood.

    Researchers conducted two parallel tests in adult male mice following their exposure to alcohol vapors during adolescence (4-6 weeks old) or adulthood (8-10 weeks old). First, they tested the adult mice for changes in the density and structure of dendritic spines (nerve endings) in the infralimbic cortex (IL), prelimbic cortex (PL) and basolateral amygdala (BLA) regions of the brain. Second, they tested the adult mice for alcohol drinking, sensitivity to alcohol intoxication, blood-alcohol clearance, and measures of response to food reward.

    Chronic exposure to alcohol vapors during adolescence produced significant, persistent, and strong regional-specific alterations in neuronal dendritic spine density in IL and BLA neurons, accompanied by a limited set of behavioral alterations. Comparable effects were not seen in the mice exposed to alcohol only during adulthood. Together, these data demonstrate that specific key brain circuits are vulnerable to alcohol’s effects during adolescence, with lasting and potentially detrimental consequences for behavior.