1. Study looks at how couples maintain relationships

    September 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences press release:

    For some couples in romantic relationships, just staying together is good enough. But others want to see their relationship move forward — to get better and better — and are willing to put in the effort to get there.

    Family studies researchers at the University of Illinois who study the science behind maintaining romantic relationships focus their work on the central organizing unit — the relationship — rather than on the individual. Through their work, they hope to find out what works and, maybe, what doesn’t in keeping a relationship moving forward.

    “We know relationships are key,” says Brian Ogolsky, associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I. “We spend all of our time in these relationships. Whether we are at home, with our siblings, our parents, or our colleagues, these are all extremely important. And consequently we spend very little time alone with our thoughts. So it’s critical that we carefully and methodically understand what’s going on in relationships and what is unique that two individuals bring that you can’t get from studying person ‘x’ and person ‘y’ separately.”

    In a recent study published in the Journal of Family Theory and Review, Ogolsky and his research team discuss romantic relationship maintenance and the two primary motives behind a couple’s attempts at staying together: threat mitigation and relationship enhancement.

    Ogolsky calls these “macro-motives,” or the main reasons people maintain their relationships. In their study, the researchers provide a visual framework of how relationships may be maintained by staving off threats or moved forward by relationship enhancement strategies, which involve putting effort into the relationship for the pleasure of it. For the most part, relationships include a combination of both.

    “Threats to the relationship come from all kinds of different places,” he explains. “Generally, there are many threats early in relationships that can cause problems, but that is not to say that these disappear later. We know couples cheat in the long-term, people end up in new work places and in new situations where possible alternative partners show up, conflicts arise, or a lack of willingness to sacrifice time for your partner emerges.”

    Some threat mitigation tactics can actually become enhancement strategies over time, Ogolsky says, but adds that the reverse is not usually true. “We get to a place where we are pouring energy into the relationship simply because we want to keep the relationship moving forward rather than just mitigating threats.”

    In their integrative model of relationship maintenance, the researchers also illustrate individual versus interactive components of maintenance. “This question of ‘is this an individual thing or is this a couple-level thing’ often goes unanswered. But as we were doing this review, we started noticing that there are ways to maintain the relationship that we can characterize as ‘more or less in our own heads.’ We are doing something to convince ourselves that this is a good relationship and therefore it’s good for our relationship,” Ogolsky explains. “Things like positive illusions, the idea that we can believe our relationship is better than it is or that our partner is better than he or she is. We can do that without our partner.”

    Mitigating conflict, however, is something that partners must do together. “Good conflict management or forgiving our partner for doing something wrong is an interactive process. When a threat comes in, we can do one of two things: we can ditch our partner or forgive them over time.”

    The same is true of enhancement strategies: partners can do things individually or interactively. “Individually, even the act of thinking about our relationship can be enhancing. Whereas engaging in leisure activities together, talking about the state of our relationship, these are all interactive,” Ogolsky says.

    But why study relationship maintenance as a science?

    While Ogolsky rarely offers direct interventions to couples, he explains that he tends to study the positive side of relationships because of what can be learned from people who are going through what, he says, is inherently a very turbulent thing.

    “Relationships have ups and downs. I never go into my work saying people should stay together or they should break up. Relationships are individualized, a unique pairing of people that comes with a unique history. What we are talking about here are processes that exist across different kinds of couples, some of which work very well for some people, some of which may not work for some people. I am interested in understanding processes that keep relationships moving.”

    For the review, Ogolsky and his team searched for previous research, regardless of discipline, dealing with relationship maintenance. They eventually discussed about 250 studies in the paper (reviewing more than 1,100) that deal with romantic relationships and that met their criteria. Ogolsky hopes the review will bring together relationship scholars from across many disciplines.


  2. Study suggests belief in free will affects causal attributions when judging others’ behavior

    by Ashley

    From the Ghent University press release:

    Six studies demonstrate that believing in free will increases the correspondence bias and predicts prescribed punishment and reward behavior.

    Free will is a cornerstone of our society, and psychological research demonstrates that questioning its existence impacts social behavior. In six studies, we tested whether believing in free will is related to the correspondence bias, which reflects people’s automatic tendency to overestimate the influence of internal as compared to external factors when interpreting others’ behavior.

    All studies demonstrate a positive relationship between the strength of the belief in free will and the correspondence bias. Moreover, in two experimental studies, we showed that weakening participants’ belief in free will leads to a reduction of the correspondence bias. Finally, the last study demonstrates that believing in free will predicts prescribed punishment and reward behavior, and that this relation is mediated by the correspondence bias.

    Overall, these studies show that believing in free will impacts fundamental social-cognitive processes that are involved in the understanding of others’ behavior.


  3. Studies suggest “power poses” don’t work

    by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    The claim that holding a “power pose” can improve your life became wildly popular several years ago, fueling the second most-watched TED talk ever but also casting doubts about the science behind the assertion.

    Now comes the most definitive evidence to date — a wave of scientific studies spearheaded by a Michigan State University researcher — suggesting that power poses do not improve your life.

    “This new evidence joins an existing body of research questioning the claim by power pose advocates that making your body more physically expansive — such as standing with your legs spread and your hands on your hips — can actually make you more likely to succeed in life,” said Joseph Cesario, MSU associate professor of psychology.

    Cesario co-edits a scientific journal, Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, that recently published seven studies, all of which attempted — unsuccessfully — to replicate and extend the effects of power pose research. In other words, none of the studies showed positive effects of power poses on any behavioral measure, such as how well you perform in a job interview. The studies were even reviewed by Dana Carney, a University of California Berkeley professor who was one of the authors of the original power pose research.

    In addition, Cesario and MSU graduate student David Johnson recently published four new studies testing whether holding power poses impacted important behaviors such as how well you do in a business negotiation. The work, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, again found no evidence that making yourself expansive mattered at all.

    “There is currently little reason to continue to strongly believe,” Cesario said, “that holding these expansive poses will meaningfully affect people’s lives, especially the lives of the low-status or powerless people.”

    Led by Carney and Amy Cuddy from Harvard University, the original power pose study, in 2010, suggested that holding such poses can make you more likely to succeed in life, especially if you are “chronically powerless because of lack of resources, low hierarchical rank or membership in a low-power social group.”

    Cuddy’s June 2012 TED talk, now with more than 42 million views, argued that “power posing” — or standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — will boost feelings of confidence and will have an impact on one’s chances for success, such as in a job interview.

    When you’re alone before the interview, Cuddy recommends, hold a power pose for two minutes — whether that’s standing with hands on hips, leaning over a table with your fingertips on the surface, or perhaps seated with your feet on the table and your arms folded behind your head.

    “Share [this science] with people, because the people who can use it the most are the ones with no resources and no technology and no status and no power,” Cuddy concludes the TED talk. “Give it to them because they can do it in private. They need their bodies, privacy and two minutes, and it can significantly change the outcomes of their life.”

    But the new research stands in stark contrast to Cuddy’s claim. Cesario’s research and the findings from the journal he co-edits do find that holding power poses makes people feel more powerful, but that’s where the effect ends.

    “Feeling powerful may feel good, but on its own does not translate into powerful or effective behaviors,” Cesario said. “These new studies, with more total participants than nearly every other study on the topic, show — unequivocally — that power poses have no effects on any behavioral or cognitive measure.”

    In several of the experiments by MSU’s Cesario and Johnson, for example, participants watched Cuddy’s TED talk, held a power pose and then completed a negotiation task with another participant. The participants who held the power poses did no better than their partners.

    In addition, the seven studies that appear in a special issue of Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology also fail to replicate the power pose effects.

    “Based on the papers in the special issue, and prior replication attempts, one could conclude that the power pose effect on behavioral outcomes does not replicate,” the researchers, including Cesario and Dana Carney, write in the journal.

    Carney puts it even more bluntly in a previously posted statement on her website: “As evidence has come in over these past 2-plus years, my views have updated to reflect the evidence. As such, I do not believe that power pose effects are real.”


  4. Young binge drinkers show altered brain activity

    by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Researchers have studied the brain activity of young binge-drinking college students in Spain, and found distinctive changes in brain activity, which may indicate delayed brain development and be an early sign of brain damage.

    For many students, college involves a lot of socializing at parties and at bars, and alcohol is a common factor in these social environments. Excessive alcohol use, in the form of binge drinking, is extremely common among college students, and one study has estimated that as many as one third of young North Americans and Europeans binge drink.

    So, what defines binge drinking? The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes a binge as drinking five or more drinks for men and four or more for women within a two-hour period, and for many college students, these limits wouldn’t equate to a particularly heavy night. Previous research has linked binge drinking to a variety of negative consequences including neurocognitive deficits, poor academic performance, and risky sexual behavior.

    While numerous studies have shown that the brains of chronic alcoholics have altered brain activity, there is also evidence that bingeing can change adolescents’ brains. Eduardo López-Caneda, of the University of Minho in Portugal, investigates this phenomenon.

    “A number of studies have assessed the effects of binge drinking in young adults during different tasks involving cognitive processes such as attention or working memory,” says López-Caneda. “However, there are hardly any studies assessing if the brains of binge drinkers show differences when they are at rest, and not focused on a task.”

    In a recent study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, López-Caneda and colleagues set out to see if the resting brains of binge-drinking college students showed any differences compared with those of their non-bingeing counterparts.

    The researchers recruited first year college students from a university in Spain, and asked them to complete a questionnaire about their drinking habits. Students that had participated in at least one binge within the previous month were considered to be binge drinkers, whereas non-bingers had never binged before. By attaching electrodes to the students’ scalps, the scientists could assess electrical activity in various brain regions.

    Compared with the non-bingers, the binge drinkers demonstrated altered brain activity at rest. They showed significantly higher measurements of specific electrophysiological parameters, known as beta and theta oscillations, in brain regions called the right temporal lobe and bilateral occipital cortex.

    Surprisingly, previous studies have found very similar alterations in the brains of adult chronic alcoholics. While the young bingers in this study might occasionally consume alcohol to excess, they did not fit the criteria for alcoholism. So, what does this mean?

    The changes might indicate a decreased ability to respond to external stimuli and potential difficulties in information processing capacity in young binge drinkers, and may represent some of the first signs of alcohol-induced brain damage.

    The brains of adolescents are still developing, meaning that they might be more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol abuse. “These features might be down to the particularly harmful effects of alcohol on young brains that are still in development, perhaps by delaying neuromaturational processes,” says López-Caneda.

    The researchers stress that they need to carry out further studies to confirm if the features they have observed in these young binge drinkers are caused by their bingeing, and if their brain development might be impaired. However, the results suggest that bingeing has tangible effects on the young brain, comparable with some of those seen in chronic alcoholics. “It would be a positive outcome if educational and health institutions used these results to try to reduce alcohol consumption in risky drinkers,” says López-Caneda.


  5. Study suggests praising kids for being smart can sometimes have side effects

    by Ashley

    From the University of California – San Diego press release:

    An international team of researchers reports that when children are praised for being smart not only are they quicker to give up in the face of obstacles they are also more likely to be dishonest and cheat. Kids as young as age 3 appear to behave differently when told “You are so smart” vs “You did very well this time.”

    The study, published in Psychological Science, is co-authored by Gail Heyman of the University of California San Diego, Kang Lee of the University of Toronto, and Lulu Chen and Li Zhao of Hangzhou Normal University in China.

    The research builds on well-known work by Stanford’s Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset,” who has shown that praising a child’s innate ability instead of the child’s effort or a specific behavior has the unintended consequence of reducing their motivation to learn and their ability to deal with setbacks.

    The present study shows there’s also a moral dimension to different kinds of praise and that it affects children at younger ages than previously known. Even the kindergarten and preschool set seem to be sensitive to subtle differences in praise.

    “It’s common and natural to tell children how smart they are,” said co-author Gail Heyman, a development psychologist at UC San Diego. “Even when parents and educators know that it harms kids’ achievement motivation, it’s still easy to do. What our study shows is that the harm can go beyond motivation and extend to the moral domain. It makes a child more willing to cheat in order to do well.”

    For their study the researchers asked 300 children in Eastern China to play a guessing game using number cards. In total, there were 150 3-year-olds and 150 5-year-olds. The children were either praised for being smart or for their performance. A control group got no praise at all. After praising the children and getting them to promise not to cheat, the researcher left the room for a minute in the middle of the game. The kids’ subsequent behavior was monitored by a hidden camera, which recorded who got out of their seat or leaned over to get a peek at the numbers.

    Results suggest that both the 3- and 5-year-olds who’d been praised for being smart were more likely to act dishonestly than the ones praised for how well they did or those who got no praise at all. The results were the same for boys and girls.

    In another study, published recently in Developmental Science, the same co-authors show that the consequences are similar even when children are not directly praised for their smarts but are merely told that they have a reputation for being smart.

    Why? The researchers believe that praising ability is tied to performance pressure in a way that praising behavior isn’t. When children are praised for being smart or are told that they have reputation for it, said co-author Li Zhao of Hangzhou Normal University, “they feel pressure to perform well in order to live up to others’ expectations, even if they need to cheat to do so.”

    Co-author Kang Lee, of the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, emphasized the take-away for the adults in kids’ lives: “We want to encourage children. We want them to feel good about themselves. But these studies show we must learn to give children the right kinds of praise, such as praising specific behavior. Only in this way will praise have the intended positive outcomes.”


  6. Study suggests the bilingual brain calculates differently depending on the language used

    September 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Luxembourg press release:

    People can intuitively recognise small numbers up to four; however, when calculating they depend on the assistance of language. In this respect, the fascinating research question ensues: how do multilingual people solve arithmetical tasks presented to them in different languages of which they have a very good command? The question will gain in importance in the future, as an increasingly globalised job market and accelerated migration will mean that ever more people seek work and study outside of the linguistic area of their home countries.

    This question was investigated by a research team led by Dr Amandine Van Rinsveld and Professor Dr Christine Schiltz from the Cognitive Science and Assessment Institute (COSA) at the University of Luxembourg. For the purpose of the study, the researchers recruited subjects with Luxembourgish as their mother tongue, who successfully completed their schooling in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and continued their academic studies in francophone universities in Belgium. Thus, the study subjects mastered both the German and French languages perfectly. As Luxembourger students, they took maths classes in primary schools in German and then in secondary schools in French.

    In two separate test situations, the study participants had to solve very simple and a bit more complex addition tasks, both in German and French. In the tests it became evident that the subjects were able to solve simple addition tasks equally well in both languages. However, for complex addition in French, they required more time than with an identical task in German. Moreover, they made more errors when attempting to solve tasks in French.

    During the tests, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to measure the brain activity of the subjects. This demonstrated that, depending on the language used, different brain regions were activated. With addition tasks in German, a small speech region in the left temporal lobe was activated. When solving complex calculatory tasks in French, additional parts of the subjects’ brains responsible for processing visual information, were involved. However, during the complex calculations in French, the subjects additionally fell back on figurative thinking. The experiments do not provide any evidence that the subjects translated the tasks they were confronted with from French into German, in order to solve the problem. While the test subjects were able to solve German tasks on the basis of the classic, familiar numerical-verbal brain areas, this system proved not to be sufficiently viable in the second language of instruction, in this case French. To solve the arithmetic tasks in French, the test subjects had to systematically fall back on other thought processes, not observed so far in monolingual persons.

    The study documents for the first time, with the help of brain activity measurements and imaging techniques, the demonstrable cognitive “extra effort” required for solving arithmetic tasks in the second language of instruction. The research results clearly show that calculatory processes are directly affected by language.


  7. Study suggests music can alter evaluation of male faces’ attractiveness

    by Ashley

    From the University of Vienna press release:

    Music is a worldwide phenomenon and part of every culture, but the origin of music remains a longstanding puzzle. Why do people invest so much energy, time and money in music? Various theories have been proposed, some of which emphasize the biological and social aspects of music. For instance, Charles Darwin said, within the framework of his theory of evolution that music has developed through sexual selection. The motor and cognitive abilities necessary for making music serve as an indicator for good genes and thus increase the reproductive success. This is similar to the singing of birds in the mating season. “There are currently few empirical findings that support Darwin’s theory on the origin of music. We wanted to use a new experimental paradigm to investigate the role of music in choosing a mating partner” says Manuela Marin, the leader of the study and former associate of the Institute for Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods at the University of Vienna.

    In the current study, Marin and her colleagues investigated the impact of musical exposure on the subjective evaluations of opposite-sex faces. “Facial attractiveness is one of the most important physical characteristics that can influence the choice of a partner. We wanted to find out how music can alter the perception of this feature” says Helmut Leder from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Vienna. Since music, especially before the advent of modern technology, has always been experienced in the here and now, and mostly in a social context, it is plausible to assume that music could positively influence the visual perception of faces. “There is some evidence in the psychological literature that so-called arousal transfer effects can occur if two stimuli are processed consecutively. The processing of the first stimulus produces internal arousal, i.e. increased physiological activity, which is then attributed to the second stimulus. This mostly unconscious mechanism can then influence our actions, in this case, the choice of a partner” explains Manuela Marin.

    In their experiment, the scientists presented heterosexual participants with instrumental musical excerpts that varied in their emotional content, followed by a photograph of a face from the opposite sex with a neutral facial expression. The face was assessed in terms of its attractiveness on a scale. In addition, participants were asked to rate whether they would date the person pictured. In the control condition only faces without music were presented. There were three groups of participants: women in the fertile phase of their cycle, women in the nonfertile phase of their cycle, and men. These groups were similar in their musical preferences and musical training, as well as in their mood before the experiment and in their relationship status. The results showed that female participants rated the male faces as more attractive and were more willing to date the men pictured when previously exposed to music. The fertility cycle did not have a large influence on the ratings. Overall, highly stimulating and complex music led to the greatest effect compared to the control condition. This effect was not present among male participants.

    These results are promising and open up new possibilities to investigate the role of music in partner selection in connection with aspects of physical attractiveness. “Our goal is to replicate these results in a larger sample and to modify some aspects of the experiment. For example, we would like to clarify whether musical abilities and creativity can compensate partially for deficiencies in terms of physical appearance and fitness” says Bruno Gingras from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Innsbruck. Helmut Leder adds: “Our results also recall the well-known Capilano Suspension Bridge experiment of Dutton and Aaron from the early 1970s. In that case, male participants crossed either a suspension bridge or a sturdy bridge and were then interviewed by an attractive female confederate who gave them her phone number. Participants who walked over the suspension bridge were much more likely to contact her later. We are planning similar experiments with music in a social context.”

    These results could have broad implications: “There is an increasing number of empirical findings showing that music has the power to influence human behavior with regard to partner selection. But how can Darwin’s theory be reconciled with other biological and social theories on the genesis of music? Music can promote social cohesion, and it also plays a role in the mother-child relationship. Until we understand these connections, there will be a long way to go” concluded Manuela Marin.


  8. Study suggests sportspeople can face retirement identity crisis

    by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    New research shows how top-level sportspeople can struggle to adjust to life after retirement, with their identities continuing to be defined by their former careers.

    The research, published in the journal Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, illustrates how some athletes struggle to adjust socially and psychologically following retirement. Previous studies have shown that in the most extreme cases it can lead to depression, eating disorders and substance abuse.

    The study was led by Dr Francesca Cavallerio of Anglia Ruskin University, who worked alongside Dr Chris Wagstaff of the University of Portsmouth and Dr Ross Wadey of St Mary’s University.

    Dr Wagstaff said: “Adapting to retirement is difficult for many people in society and this is particularly the case in elite sport. Such environments are characterised by very clear social and cultural expectations. In order to be successful, athletes typically conform to and associate success with these cultural norms.

    “This study showed that, unfortunately, when athletes retire many struggle to identify with anything other than their sport, which for many, has been the principal focus of their life for many years. Therefore, sport organisations must do more to support the non-sport lives of their athletes.”

    Dr Cavallerio, a Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University, interviewed female gymnasts who had retired from elite-level competition and found that their stories followed one of three narratives or storylines: Entangled, Going forward and Making sense.

    For instance, some former gymnasts who were identified as entangled had their identities completely defined by their former athletic self and the values instilled in them when they competed. They struggled to adapt to life after gymnastics and suffered from low confidence, low self-esteem, and a lack of drive towards new goals and experiences.

    The going forward former athletes were able to develop different identities to that of a gymnast at the same time as they were competing at a high level. Once their gymnastics careers were over, they were able to make the most of what they had learnt in sport to help their future development.

    Those in the making sense group fell somewhere in between, not confident enough to be going forward but struggling not to remain entangled in their former life. Future experiences were likely to decide whether they would more closely follow the going forward or entangled narratives.

    Dr Cavallerio said: “Sport continues to embrace the early identification and development of talented athletes. In many sports, the age at which people begin training at a professional level is getting younger.

    “Our study shows that how athletes are treated and influenced at a young age can have an effect on how they deal with retirement.

    “The issues we observed should be of interest to clubs and governing bodies across a range of sports. On a practical level they should be encouraging young athletes to develop a non-sporting identity at the same time as a sporting identity, and have a range of interests and friendships outside of their sport.”


  9. Systems analysis points to links between Toxoplasma infection and common brain diseases

    by Ashley

    From the University of Chicago Medical Center press release:

    More than 2 billion people — nearly one out of every three humans on earth, including about 60 million people in the United States — have a lifelong infection with the brain-dwelling parasite Toxoplasma gondii.

    In the September 13, 2017, issue of Scientific Reports, 32 researchers from 16 institutions describe efforts to learn how infection with this parasite may alter, and in some cases amplify, several brain disorders, including epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as well as some cancers.

    When a woman gets infected with T. gondii during pregnancy and passes the parasite on to her unborn child, the consequences can be profound, including devastating damage to the brain, nervous system and eyes.

    There is growing evidence, however, that acquiring this infection later in life may be far from harmless. So the researchers began looking for connections between this chronic but seemingly dormant infection and its potential to alter the course of common neurologic disorders.

    “We wanted to understand how this parasite, which lives in the brain, might contribute to and shed light on pathogenesis of other, brain diseases,” said Rima McLeod, MD, professor of ophthalmology & visual science and pediatrics and medical director of the Toxoplasmosis Center at the University of Chicago.

    “We suspect it involves multiple factors,” she said. “At the core is alignment of characteristics of the parasite itself, the genes it expresses in the infected brain, susceptibility genes that could limit the host’s ability to prevent infection, and genes that control susceptibility to other diseases present in the human host. Other factors may include pregnancy, stress, additional infections, and a deficient microbiome. We hypothesized that when there is confluence of these factors, disease may occur.”

    For more than a decade, researchers have noted subtle behavior manipulations associated with a latent T. gondii infection. Rats and mice that harbor this parasite, for example, lose their aversion to the smell of cat urine. This is perilous for a rodent, making it easier for cats to catch and eat them. But it benefits cats, who gain a meal, as well as the parasites, who gain a new host, who will distribute them widely into the environment. An acutely infected cat can excrete up to 500 million oocysts in a few weeks’ time. Even one oocyst, which can remain in soil or water for up to a year, is infectious.

    A more recent study found a similar connection involving primates. Infected chimpanzees lose their aversion to the scent of urine of their natural predator, leopards.

    The research team decided to search for similar effects in people. They focused on what they call the human “infectome” — plausible links between the parasite’s secreted proteins, expressed human microRNAs, the neural chemistry of the human host, and the multiple pathways that are perturbed by host-parasite interactions.

    Using data collected from the National Collaborative Chicago-Based Congenital Toxoplasmosis Study, which has diagnosed, treated and followed 246 congenitally infected persons and their families since 1981, they performed a “comprehensive systems analysis,” looking at a range of parasite-generated biomarkers and assessing their probable impact.

    Working with the J Craig Venter Institute and the Institute of Systems Biology Scientists, they looked at the effect of infections of primary neuronal stem cells from the human brain in tissue culture, focusing on gene expression and proteins perturbed. Part of the team, including Huan Ngo from Northwestern University, Hernan Lorenzi at the J Craig Venter Institute, Kai Wang and Taek-Kyun Kim at the Institute for Systems Biology and McLeod, integrated host genetics, proteomics, transcriptomics and circulating microRNA datasets to build a model of these effects on the human brain.

    Using what they called a “reconstruction and deconvolution,” approach, the researchers identified perturbed pathways associated with neurodegenerative diseases as well as connections between toxoplasmosis, human brain disorders and some cancers.

    They also found that:

    • Small regulatory biomarkers — bits of microRNA or proteins found in children with severe toxoplasmosis — matched those found in patients with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
    • The parasite was able to manipulate 12 human olfactory receptors in ways that mimicked the cat-mouse or the chimp-leopard exchange.
    • Evidence that T. gondii could increase the risk of epilepsy, “possibly by altering GABAergic signaling.”
    • T. gondii infection was associated with a network of 1,178 human genes, many of which are modified in various cancers.

    “Our results provide insights into mechanisms whereby this parasite could cause these associated diseases under some circumstances,” the authors wrote. “This work provides a systems roadmap to design medicines and vaccines to repair and prevent neuropathological effects of T. gondii on the human brain.”

    “This study is a paradigm shifter,” said co-author Dennis Steinler, PhD, director of the Neuroscience and Aging Lab at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. “We now have to insert infectious disease into the equation of neurodegenerative diseases, epilepsy and neural cancers.”

    “At the same time,” he added, “we have to translate aspects of this study into preventive treatments that include everything from drugs to diet to life style, in order to delay disease onset and progression.”


  10. Open communication and emotional closeness linked to fewer low sexual interest problems

    by Ashley

    From the University of Southampton press release:

    British women living with a partner are more than twice as likely to lack interest in sex compared to men living with a partner, according to a new study published in the BMJ Open.

    Women in relationships lasting more than a year are more likely to report lacking interest in sex than those in relationships lasting one year or less.

    The findings come from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) which is the largest scientific study of sexual health lifestyles in Britain.

    Natsal-3 was carried out by researchers at University College London, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and NatCen Social Research. The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, with support from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department of Health.

    The nationally representative survey interviewed 6,669 women and 4,839 men aged between 16 and 74 who reported at least one sexual partner in the past year. Overall, 34 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men reported lacking interest in sex. Half of these people – 62 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men – said that they were distressed by their lack of interest in sex.

    Those who found it always easy to talk about sex with their partner were less likely to report lacking interest. This was true for men as well as women.

    Professor Cynthia Graham, of the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton and lead author on the paper, said: “Our findings show us the importance of the relational context in understanding low sexual interest in both men and women. For women in particular, the quality and length of relationship and communication with their partners are important in their experience of sexual interest. It highlights the need to assess and – if necessary – treat sexual interest problems in a holistic and relationship-, as well as gender-specific way.”

    The study also revealed other things linked to low interest in sex in men and women:

    • Reporting an STI in the last year
    • Ever experiencing sex against your will
    • Poor mental and physical health
    • Not feeling emotionally close to partner during sex

    It also found things linked to low interest in sex among women only:

    • Having three or more partners in the past year
    • Having children under five years old in the household
    • Not sharing the same sexual likes and dislikes as partner

    Co-author Dr Kirstin Mitchell, at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, commented: “The findings on the strong association between open sexual communication and a reduced likelihood of sexual interest problems emphasise the importance of providing a broad sexual and relationships education rather than limiting attention only to adverse consequences of sex and how to prevent them.”