1. Study suggests thoughts of death tend to increase humorous creativity

    July 2, 2013 by Ashley

    From the De Gruyter press release via AlphaGalileo:

    LaughingHumor is an intrinsic part of human experience. It plays a role in every aspect of human existence, from day-to-day conversation to television shows. Yet little research has been conducted to date on the psychological function of humor.

    In human psychology, awareness of the impermanence of life is just as prevalent as humor. According to the Terror Management Theory, knowledge of one’s own impermanence creates potentially disruptive existential anxiety, which the individual brings under control with two coping mechanisms, or anxiety buffers: rigid adherence to dominant cultural values, and self-esteem bolstering.

    A new article by Christopher R. Long of Ouachita Baptist University and Dara Greenwood of Vassar College is titled Joking in the Face of Death: A Terror Management Approach to Humor Production. Appearing in the journal HUMOR, it documents research on whether the activation of thoughts concerning death influences one’s ability to creatively generate humor. As humor is useful on a fundamental level for a variety of purposes, including psychological defense against anxiety, the authors hypothesized that the activation of thoughts concerning death could facilitate the production of humor.

    For their study, Long and Greenwood subdivided 117 students into four experimental groups. These groups were confronted with the topics of pain and death while completing various tasks. Two of the test groups were exposed unconsciously to words flashed for 33 milliseconds on a computer while they completed tasks – the first to the word “pain,” the second to the word “death.” The remaining two groups were prompted in a writing task to express emotions concerning either their own death or a painful visit to the dentist. Afterward, all four groups were instructed to supply a caption to a cartoon from The New Yorker.

    These cartoon captions were presented to an independent jury who knew nothing about the experiment. The captions written by individuals who were subconsciously primed with the word death were clearly voted as funnier by the jury. By contrast, the exact opposite result was obtained for the students who consciously wrote about death: their captions were seen as less humorous.

    Based on this experiment, the researchers conclude that humor helps the individual to tolerate latent anxiety that may otherwise be destabilizing. In this connection, they point to previous studies indicating that humor is an integral component of resilience.

    In light of the finding that the activation of conscious thoughts concerning death impaired the creative generation of humor, Long and Greenwood highlight the need for additional research, not only to explore the effectiveness of humor as a coping mechanism under various circumstances, but also to identify its emotional, cognitive, and/or social benefits under conditions of adversity.


  2. Study points to benefits of “doing the right thing”

    June 28, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release via ScienceDaily:

    support_friends_resiliencyCommunities that stick together and do good for others cope better with crises and are happier for it, according to a new study by John Helliwell, from the University of British Columbia in Canada, and colleagues.

    Their work suggests that part of the reason for this greater resilience is the fact that humans are more than simply social beings, they are so-called ‘pro-social’ beings. In other words, they get happiness not just from doing things with others, but from doing things both with and for others. The paper is published online in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.

    How does the social fabric of a community or nation affect its capacity to deal with crises and to develop resources that maintain and improve people’s happiness during those difficult times? “Communities and nations with better social capital, in other words, quality social networks and social norms as well as high levels of trust, respond to crises and economic transitions more happily and effectively,” Helliwell and his team conclude.

    Their paper begins with an assessment of social capital and happiness during the recent years of economic crisis in 255 US metropolitan areas. Overall, social capital has improved the nation’s happiness during the period of economic crisis, both directly and indirectly by mitigating the impact of rising unemployment.

    Helliwell and colleagues then take a broader perspective by examining national average happiness in OECD countries after the 2008 financial crisis. They group countries according to their levels of happiness:

    · The group with rising happiness includes countries less directly affected by the crisis, with policies well chosen to enhance the well-being of their residents — as in South Korea, for example.

    · The group with falling happiness includes those countries worst hit by the original crisis, and by its subsequent spillovers in the Euro zone. In this group, social capital and other key supports for happiness were damaged during the crisis and its aftermath.

    The study also digs deeper into the relative roles of social capital and income as determinants of happiness. Evidence from countries in economic transition demonstrates the power of social trust, i.e., the belief that generally speaking, most people can be trusted. Social trust is an indicator of the quality of a country’s social capital, which increases happiness directly but also permits a softer landing in the face of external economic shocks..

    The authors wrap up with a look at the power of human nature and the suggestion that the core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans — a view articulated by Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist and the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics.


  3. Study links resilience to higher energy levels

    February 21, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Florida State University press release via Newswise:

    coworker, managerPeople with a more resilient personality profile are more likely to have greater energy levels.

    That’s one of the conclusions from a four-year research project led by Antonio Terracciano, associate professor of geriatrics at the Florida State University College of Medicine. His findings are outlined in “Personality, Metabolic Rate and Aerobic Capacity,” published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed, open access journal.

    With funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), Terracciano, College of Medicine Assistant Professor Angelina Sutin and NIA colleagues studied the relationship between personality, metabolic rate and aerobic capacity.

    Past studies have demonstrated that personality traits and cardiorespiratory fitness in older adults are reliable predictors of health and longevity. But Terracciano wanted to know more about the link between psychological traits and cardiorespiratory fitness. Could it be that certain personality traits predict the extent of a person’s cardiorespiratory fitness?

    Or, to take it a step further, are certain personality traits more desirable when it comes to leading a longer, healthier life?

    “We tested implicit assumptions that individuals with certain personality dispositions have different metabolic and energetic profiles,” Terracciano said. “For example, do those who are assertive and bold expend more energy? Do those who are depressed or emotionally vulnerable have a lower aerobic capacity and less energy? And do conscientious individuals with an active and healthy lifestyle have more energy?”

    The answer, on all counts, appears to be yes.

    The results indicate that a person’s basic rate of metabolism is mostly unrelated to their personality traits. However, a resilient personality profile makes a difference when it comes to aerobic capacity or maximal sustained energy expenditure.

    The study involved 642 participants, ages 31 to 96, all part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, an ongoing multidisciplinary study at the NIA.

    Terracciano and his team assessed personality traits to include measures of neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Lower scores on neuroticism and higher scores on the other four dimensions are thought to be a more resilient personality profile.

    Subjects were tested to measure their energy expenditure at rest and at normal and maximal sustained walking speeds. Those identified as more neurotic required a longer time to complete the walking task and had lower aerobic capacity.

    Conversely, those who scored lower for neuroticism and higher for conscientiousness, extraversion or openness had better aerobic capacity and required less energy to complete the same distance.

    “Those with a more resilient personality profile were not just faster and with greater aerobic capacity, but they were also more efficient in their energy expenditure while walking,” Terracciano said. “That is, they could go faster while using relatively less energy.

    Of the five domains of personality, we found no association with agreeableness,” Terracciano said. “This is somewhat surprising given that antagonistic individuals are likely to engage in health risk behaviors, such as smoking, and they tend to have thicker arteries and are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.”

    The results may indicate that aerobic capacity is one mechanism through which our personality traits contribute to better health and longevity. Also, greater aerobic capacity in an individual may be a factor in shaping his or her personality, especially when it comes to behaviors that require a higher level of energy, such as extraversion.

    Furthermore, the findings suggest potential pathways through which our personality is linked to health outcomes, such as obesity and longevity.

    Terracciano said the results highlight the links between personality traits and cardiorespiratory fitness in older adults.

    Both are powerful predictors of disability and mortality,” he said. “I believe this study is informative on the role of psychological traits in lifestyles that are associated with successful aging.”


  4. Study examines how repeated aggression triggers social aversion in mice

    January 25, 2013 by Sue

    From the CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange) press release via ScienceDaily:

    lab_mouseOne of the mechanisms involved in the onset of stress-induced depression has been highlighted in mice by researchers from CNRS, Inserm and UPMC (1). They have determined the role of the corticosterone (stress hormone) receptor, in the long-term behavioral change triggered by chronic stress. In mice subject to repeated aggressions, this receptor participates in the development of social aversion by controlling the release of dopamine (2), a key chemical messenger. If this receptor is blocked, the animals become “resilient”: although anxious, they overcome the trauma and no longer avoid contact with their fellow creatures.

    This work is published in Science on 18 January 2013.

    In vertebrates, stress triggers a rapid release of glucocorticoid hormones, corticosterone in rodents and cortisol in humans. This hormone modifies the expression of numerous genes in such a way that the individual can best respond to the cause of stress. However, chronic or excessive stress can lead to depression, anxiety and social behavioral difficulties. Understanding the mechanisms involved is an important challenge in the treatment of stress-related psychiatric illnesses.

    The researchers already suspected that the emergence of depressive symptoms caused by stress brought into play not only the stress hormone but also the dopamine neurons releasing this neurotransmitter, which is vital in controlling mood. To better understand this interdependence, the researchers subjected a group of mice to repeated attacks by stronger, aggressive congeners. After about ten days, the mice showed signs of anxiety and strong social aversion. In fact, when faced with a new congener, the aggressed mice preferred to avoid any contact. This social aversion is considered as a marker of depression.

    The researchers repeated the experiment, but this time with various mouse strains in which the corticosterone receptor was absent in certain populations of neurons. In this way, they discovered that mice without this receptor in dopamine-sensitive neurons did not develop social aversion. Although anxious following repeated attacks, they did not however avoid contact with their fellow creatures. These rodents were thus more “resilient,” in other words more resistant to stress, than “wild” mice.

    In response to an aggression, a release of dopamine is always observed. However, scientists have noticed that, in mice without the corticosterone receptor in dopamine-sensitive neurons, this release is considerably reduced. In normal mice, dopamine-sensitive neurons thus control the release of this neurotransmitter through a feedback mechanism. In order to show that this release of dopamine triggers the development of social aversion, the researchers blocked the activity of dopamine-producing neurons. As a result, interest in congeners was restored in mice subject to aggression. Dopaminergic activity is therefore crucial for the appearance of social aversion.

    This study shows the important role of the stress hormone in the onset of social aversion induced by repeated traumas. More generally, it partially reveals the neurobiological mechanisms and the cascade of reactions that underlie the onset of depression. These results could lead to new therapeutic prospects for treating depression by revealing alternative targets for medicines, particularly with regard to the dopaminergic system.

    (1) More precisely, this work was conducted by a team from the laboratory “Physiopathologie des Maladies du Système Nerveux Central” (CNRS/Inserm/UPMC), in collaboration with the laboratory “Neurobiologie des Processus Adaptatifs” (CNRS/UPMC)

    (2) Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, in other words a substance that modulates the activity of neurons in the brain.


  5. Study links resilience to more satisfaction with life

    May 23, 2012 by Sue

    From the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona press release via EurekAlert!:

    When confronted with adverse situations such as the loss of a loved one, some people never fully recover from the pain. Others, the majority, pull through and experiment how the intensity of negative emotions (e.g. anxiety, depression) grows dimmer with time until they adapt to the new situation. A third group is made up of individuals whose adversities have made them grow personally and whose life takes on new meaning, making them feel stronger than before.

    Researchers at the Basic Psychology Unit at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona analysed the responses of 254 students from the Faculty of Psychology in different questionnaires. The purpose was to evaluate their level of satisfaction with life and find connections between their resilience and their capacity of emotional recovery, one of the components of emotional intelligence which consists in the ability to control one’s emotions and those of others.

    Research data shows that students who are more resilient, 20% of those surveyed, are more satisfied with their lives and are also those who believe they have control over their emotions and their state of mind. Resilience therefore has a positive prediction effect on the level of satisfaction with one’s life.

    Some of the characteristics of being resilient can be worked on and improved, such as self-esteem and being able to regulate one’s emotions. Learning these techniques can offer people the resources needed to help them adapt and improve their quality of life“, explains Dr Joaquín T Limonero, professor of the UAB Research Group on Stress and Health at UAB and coordinator of the research.


  6. Study suggests resiliency during early teen years can protect against later alcohol, drug problems

    May 15, 2012 by Sue

    From the University of Michigan press release via EurekAlert!:

    Resiliency is a measure of a person’s ability to flexibly adapt their behaviors to fit the surroundings in which they find themselves. Low resiliency during childhood has been linked to later alcohol/drug problems during the teenage years. A new study has examined brain function and connectivity to assess linkages between resiliency and working memory, finding that higher resiliency may be protective against later alcohol/drug use.

    Results will be published in the August 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

    “Research in the 1980′s found that lower resiliency in children between three to four years old was related to subsequent adolescent drug usage,” said Barbara J. Weiland, a researcher at The University of Michigan and corresponding author for the study. “We subsequently found that low resiliency measured in preschoolers was associated with onset of alcohol use by age 14 and of drunkenness by age 17.”

    “It is well known that individuals with a family history of alcoholism are high-risk for developing problems with alcohol and other drugs, however, we know little about the factors associated with resiliency in the offspring of alcoholics,” said Peter R. Finn, professor of psychology at Indiana University, Bloomington. “This study provides very important information about the possible neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the association between low resiliency and a vulnerability to alcohol problems in the families of alcoholics.”

    “Other researchers had proposed that resiliency may depend on maturation of frontal neural circuits that help in self-regulation,” said Weiland. “Neuroimaging studies of how the brain performs working-memory tasks have found involvement of some of the same regions involved in self-regulation, including the basal ganglia, anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex. It was this overlap that made us suspect that resiliency and working memory might be linked through common brain regions.”

    The researchers probed working memory in 67 (43 men, 24 women) 18-to-22 year olds from a larger community study of alcoholism through use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, and investigated functional connectivity between task-related regions with psychophysiological interaction analysis. Resiliency had been measured during the participants’ early teen years and for this study was compared to early-adulthood measures of drinking/drug use, task activation and connectivity. The study authors also examined relationships with other risk factors such as family history, age of drinking onset, and various alcohol problems.

    “Our findings show that high resiliency in early adolescence may be a protective factor against substance use in later teen and early adult years, which extends the period of influence of this personality trait,” said Weiland. “We also found that higher resiliency is related to better performance on a working memory task, and that resiliency may have a neural link with working memory through functioning of the basal ganglia. We suspect that the complex tasks involved in working memory are supported by similar brain processes involved in decisions about risky substance use, and resiliency may be a personality trait that influences these processes.”

    “The link, or association, between low resiliency during childhood and later alcohol problems is relatively modest in this study,” said Finn. “However, since not all offspring of alcoholics are truly vulnerable and there are numerous factors that are associated with vulnerability, the relatively modest association between low resiliency and alcohol problems is still quite significant. Furthermore, the link between low resiliency, low working memory capacity, and differences in activation level in specific brain areas is a very important and valuable finding because it tells us a little about where the problem may lie, and, possibly where one might target prevention or interventions. For instance, recent research suggests that cognitive training can have an impact on reducing risk for alcohol problems.”

    “Our work suggests that a key basal ganglia structure called the STN causes one to make slower and more accurate choices through proactive inhibition of impulsive responses, therefore allowing the prefrontal cortex to focus and control actions,” said Weiland. “In other words, perhaps this is the brain mechanism that makes resiliency a protective trait.”

    “The current study builds upon our research by identifying a specific neurocognitive mechanism that may explain aspects of the associations that we have observed,” added Finn. “The results are very interesting and are sure to inspire some of our future investigations into the neurocognitive processes that mediate vulnerability to substance use disorders.”

    “During adolescence, youth are often in situations which test their self-control, adaptability, and decision making,” noted Weiland. “Working memory is one measure of executive function that involves multiple, complex tasks such as storing information, evaluating options, making and acting on decisions. These results suggest that interventions for children or adolescents at risk for substance abuse might focus on boosting resilient behaviors such as learning to deal with uncertainty or unfamiliar situations.”

    “Any extreme in behavior, whether it involves consistent out-of-control behavior or overly inhibited behavior, should be a signal that one’s child is not adapting well to different contexts,” said Finn. “It is important to pay attention to such a child and encourage more flexibility in behavior in different situations. This may involve altering the situations, providing more support to one’s child to foster greater flexibility, or working with the key agents in the different situations, such as teachers. The best rule of thumb is to pay attention, provide positive support, and don’t panic. The causes of behavior are complex and differ widely across children. It might be comforting to know that even in cases where there apparently is low resilience, many such children do not develop problems.”


  7. Study looks at factors that promote positive body image in women

    May 9, 2012 by Sue

    From the Springer Select press release:

    Women with high family support and limited pressure to achieve the ‘thin and beautiful’ ideal have a more positive body image. That’s according to a new study looking at five factors that may help young women to be more positive about their bodies, in the context of a society where discontent with appearance is common among women. The work by Dr. Shannon Snapp, from the University of Arizona in the US, and colleagues is published online in Springer’s journal, Sex Roles.

    Many women in contemporary Western cultures are dissatisfied with their bodies, a risk factor for eating problems. Snapp and team examined factors that make women more resilient when it comes to their body image, in a bid to help those women at risk of eating disorders. They focussed on young college women who are likely to experience self-consciousness as they compare themselves with peers and become involved in social groups and organizations that place a high value on appearance.

    A total of 301 first-year college women, from two universities in the US, completed questionnaires based on the Choate theoretical model. This model hypothesizes that family support and low levels of pressure to attain the thin ideal are related to the rejection of the superwoman ideal, positive views of physical competence, and effective stress-busting strategies. These factors are associated with well-being, which in turn is linked to positive body image in women. The researchers put this model to the test in a ‘real life’ situation.

    They found that young women with high family support and low levels of perceived socio-cultural pressure from family, friends and the media regarding the importance of achieving a ‘thin and beautiful’ ideal had a more positive body image. These same women also rejected the superwoman ideal, had a positive physical self-concept, and were armed with skills to deal with stress.

    Practical recommendations for prevention programs aimed at young women at risk of eating disorders include helping women to evaluate and become comfortable with the multiple and often contradictory expectations placed upon them in today’s society; teaching them to use effective coping skills; fostering a positive view of their physical competence through exercise and health; and promoting holistic well-being and balance in their lives.

    The authors conclude: “It is particularly important for women to develop a sense of self-worth that is not solely based on appearance, and to build resilience to pressures they may receive from family, friends and the media.”

    Reference

    Snapp S et al (2012). A body image resilience model for first-year college women. Sex Roles; 10.1007/s11199-012-0163-1


  8. Study looks at ways to counteract the deleterious health effects of low socioeconomic status

    March 21, 2012 by Sue

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Poverty is bad for your health. Poor people are much more likely to have heart disease, stroke, and cancer than wealthy people, and have a lower life expectancy, too. Children who grow up poor are more likely to have health problems as adults.

    But despite these depressing statistics, many children who grow up poor have good health. In a new article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Edith Chen and Gregory E. Miller of the University of British Columbia suggest a possible reason: some children have role models who teach them to cope with stress.

    “Who are these bright spots who, despite a lot of adversity, make it through and do well?” Chen asked. She suspects the answer has to do with stress. Growing up poor can be stressful, and stress increases the risk of developing chronic diseases. Poor children are less likely to have a predictable routine and a stable home; their parents may have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet and may not be able to afford to fix a leaky roof, for example. Poor children are also more likely to experience violence. One study found that nearly 50% of low income youth had witnessed a murder.

    In the face of this stress, Miller and Chen propose a strategy that may work to reduce stress and improve health. They call it “shift-and-persist.” The first part, “shift,” means reappraising things that are stressful. For example, if you get fired from a job, you can feel miserable and lash out at people around you—or you can reassess the situation to find the bright side. “You think, ‘I wouldn’t choose this, but maybe it’s an opportunity to end up in a better job down the line,’” Chen says. Research on children growing up in adversity has found that children do well if they can self-regulate like this.

    But it’s not enough to accept stressful situations. The second part, “persist,” has to do with staying positive in the longer term—“holding out hope and finding a broader meaning in your life,” Chen says. Shifting perspective on a particular situation helps in the short term, but, she says, “You have to do that with the idea that there’s a broader goal in mind.” Many studies have found that finding meaning helps people get through difficult situations, like spinal injuries or collective traumatic experiences like the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

    The way most children learn “shift-and-persist” may be through positive role models, Chen says. Parents, teachers, aunts, and other adults can model healthy ways of dealing with stress and also teach children a sense of optimism about the world.

    The goal, of course, is to extend this help to other children. There are some hints that it may be possible to use community leaders to improve health, Chen says. “For example, in kids with asthma, if you get people in the community to serve as lay coaches for the parents, that can be beneficial to the kids,” she says. It may also be possible to use role models in the community to teach more children to reappraise their stress and think positively about the future.


  9. Study suggests caregiver personality traits can affect health

    February 15, 2012 by Sue

    From the Cornell press release via MedicalXPress:

    Taking care of an aging or disabled loved one can be hazardous to your health. But certain personality traits appear to reduce caregivers’ risk for health problems, reports a new Cornell study.

    Personality accounted for about a quarter of the variance in caregivers’ mental health and about 10 percent of the variance in their physical health,” said lead author Corinna Loeckenhoff, assistant professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

    The study, published in Psychology and Aging (26:3), was co-authored with Paul Duberstein and Bruce Friedman of the University of Rochester and Paul Costa Jr. of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

    To better understand what puts some caregivers at greater risk or makes them more resilient, the authors analyzed data on more than 500 informal caregivers of older adults with multiple impairments in New York, Ohio and West Virginia. Of the caregivers, 98 percent were white and 72 percent were female; their mean age was 63.

    The researchers examined the links among caregivers’ personality traits; self-reported health; two factors thought to affect health — caregiver strain (feeling overloaded, worried) and self-efficacy (feeling confident in one’s abilities); and the physical and mental impairment of the care recipients.

    They measured five basic personality traits to assess the caregivers’ tendency to be negative/anxious (neuroticism), energetic/outgoing (extraversion), inventive/curious (openness), friendly/compassionate (agreeableness) and efficient/organized (conscientiousness).

    As expected, the team found personality-health links. Extraversion was positively associated with mental and physical health, for example, whereas neuroticism was negatively associated with mental and physical health. The researchers also found that both caregiver strain and self-efficacy played a role in this association between personality and health.

    “We expected that self-efficacy would play an important role for subjective health, but we were surprised to see that it was much more important than caregiver strain,” said Loeckenhoff. “In fact, it mediated every single significant association between personality traits and subjective health that we observed.”

    The authors suggest that one reason why personality traits affect health is that these traits powerfully influence caregivers’ perceptions of their ability to successfully manage the daily challenges they face.

    “Our findings tie in with the recent literature on resilience,” said Loeckenhoff. “To understand how people deal with a challenge, it’s not sufficient to focus on the sources of stress and strain. It is also critical to examine the resources that people can draw on.

    “Our findings suggest that initiatives to assist caregivers could usefully include measures of personality traits to identify caregiver strengths and weaknesses and those most at risk. Interventions might also target self-efficacy beliefs because while personality traits are relatively stable over time, self-efficacy beliefs can change as a result of verbal instruction, personal experience and observing role models.


  10. Mouse study suggests presence of genetic predisposition to resilience

    February 1, 2012 by Sue

    From the Rutgers press release:

    Rutgers scientists have uncovered genetic clues as to why some mice no longer in danger are still fearful while others are resilient to traumatic experience – knowledge that could help those suffering with crippling anxiety and PTSD.

    “Our work with mice demonstrates how genes play a role in developing and extinguishing pathological fear like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” says Gleb Shumyatsky, an associate professor in the Department of Genetics in the School of Arts and Sciences. “It is clear that previous life experiences are not the only cause of PTSD – genetic predispositions may make some people more sensitive and others more resilient to PTSD.”

    Since humans and animals register fear in the brain similarly, the discovery being reported today in the journal PLoS ONE, is an important step to understanding how genes work in the brain to control learning and memory as well as reactions to fearful and traumatic experiences.

    In the study, mice bred missing either one of the two fear memory-related genes were trained to be afraid of the cage and a tone associated with a mild shock.  Next, by repeatedly putting the mice in the training cage or presenting them with the tone – but now without the shock – the scientists taught them not to be afraid, a process called fear memory extinction.  When extinction was performed using the fearful context, a training cage, the knockout mice behaved normally, similar to wild type control mice.

    These same mutant mice acted quite differently, however, when they heard a quiet, fear-evoking tone that had previously been followed by the same shock.  Mice bred without the gastrin-related peptide receptor (GRPR) gene were more fearful of the tone and froze up more often than normal mice, despite no longer being in danger of receiving a shock. By contrast, mice bred without the stathmin gene forgot that they had been afraid of the dangerous tones and stopped freezing.

    Next, the scientists analyzed the neural activities of portions of the brain that deal with fear and anxiety in humans – the amygdala, hippocampus, and medial prefrontal cortex.  What they discovered: Genetic evidence of a connection between the amygdala – the portion of the brain where unconscious fears are stored – and the prefrontal cortex, the area that enables animals and humans to inhibit excessive fear and allows them to react better to potential danger .

    The “fearless” stathmin-deficient mice exhibited an increase in brain activity in the prefrontal cortex and a decrease in the amygdala.  The opposite occurred in the timid, GRPR deficient mice that were overly afraid in spite of the fact that they were no longer in danger.

    Shumyatsky says scientists need to continue identifying molecules involved in the neural circuits of the brain responsible for specific memories and behaviors in order to develop psychotherapeutic, pharmacological and genetic therapies to treat disabling anxiety disorders like PTSD which is estimated to affect 30 percent of combat veterans.

    “The research suggests that there are different types of PTSD and that different medical treatments could be applied to treat the cue-related versus the context-related PTSD symptoms, Shumyatsky says.