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August 1, 2011

Beauty is only... flesh-deep?


Everyone cares about their appearance to a certain extent. Animals groom themselves while people wear makeup, get piercings, and tattoo themselves to enhance their appearance. Shows like The Swan, Nip/Tuck and Extreme Makeover convey how the use of cosmetic surgery has escalated in this country. Despite the agreement that everyone wants to look good, there is a growing concern that this drive for a certain physical appearance can stem from mental illness rather than social persuasion.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental illness in which one is obsessed with what they think is a flaw in their appearance, a flaw that is either insignificant or imagined. With BDD people seek out cosmetic surgery to change their appearance, however, some are never satisfied. About one third of those who desire rhinoplasty (a "nose job") have been found to have BDD symptoms and scarcely 2 percent need rhinoplasty for exclusively medical reasons.
One of the more disturbing forms of BDD is Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID). BIID is a condition where someone desires to have a missing limb. One man with BIID interviewed by FOXNews.com claimed that he fantasized about loosing a limb from the age of about 4 years old. Now as an older man, he has admitted to his wife and the public his curious need to "get a leg lopped off." People with BIID have indeed gotten rid of limbs and claimed they feel better and "more complete" afterwards. They say their condition is a lot like what used to be called Gender Identity Disorder (when someone is born male and they feel as if they are female, and vice versa). Surprisingly, the medical community leaves people with BIID very few options. People with BIID have been known to use prosthesis to pretend they have an amputation or will even mutilate their unwanted limbs. A popular example of this is a man who put his legs in 100 pounds of dry ice for six hours until they turned black, then went to the hospital where a surgeon had no choice but to remove the mans legs. Surgeons refuse to surgically remove limbs from people with BIID, and up until May 2011, there has been no medical treatment alternative to surgery.
The first successful long-term psychotherapy to treat BIID was done at the clinical center of the Goethe University in Frankfurt. Up until this introduction to using psychotherapy on BIID patients, there was no medication that seemed to help with the disorder and the only successful treatment for BIID known to work was removal of the limbs. During psychotherapy a 37 year-old man who wanted to amputate both his legs the origin and meaning of the desire to amputate were uncovered. The psychologists concluded that by using psychodynamic oriented therapy in conjunction with cognitive-behavioral elements, further treatment could then be developed to help with the disorder.
There is no consensus by neuroscientists as to why people have BIID, however, one possibility discussed is that something went wrong in the body-mapping regions of the cerebral cortex. One part of the cerebral cortex is the primary somatosensory cortex where sensory information of touch is relayed from the body. In front of this region is the primary motor cortex, the region involved in movement. BIID might have come from lesions or a disruption in these parts of the brain.
The drive people feel to look a certain way can develop with errors and can cause a person to reach such lengths as mutilating their own body to ease their psychological illness. Despite the fact that we should all respect other peoples desire to do what they want with their own body, the medical community should seek out and encourage alternatives that are less physically invasive.

Main article: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/05/28/cutting-desire.html
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Why Clowns Taste Funny: The Relationship between Humor and Seman


Who Likes to Laugh? I do! I do!

This semester I have come across a rare breed of Chemistry Professor, a real proponent for comic relief and silly science jokes. The majority of the joke material is a cumulative effort from the students, TA?s and the enthusiast himself. Whether it be to lighten the mood while we sit through intense lecture or right before we start our exam, any joke that invokes laughter is always welcome. Ever wonder how something as simple as ?What do you do with a dead scientist? You Barium.? can make you chuckle?

Well thanks to some fabulous researchers in Cambridge, United Kingdom, we are a few steps closer to finding out how humor evolves from neurocognitive mechanisms for routine aspects of language comprehension. The researchers published their findings in the June 29 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, Why Clowns Taste Funny: The Relationship between humor and Semantic Ambiguity. It has provided the most fascinating research on the testing of subjects listening to jokes containing ambiguous and unambiguous words to see which areas of the brain were stimulated. One of the main components of a successful joke is the use of words that can be interpreted to have multiple meanings.

In this study they used MRI to delve deeper into the partnership between semantic ambiguity and humor and recent neuroimaging studies have showed us that jokes, funny TV shows, and visual all increase the brain activity in the left inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior lobe. So, when testing jokes there was an increased activity in a network of the amygdala, ventral striatum, and the midbrain and all of these subcortical regions have been associated with experiencing positive reward. The distinction between jokes that don?t depend on ambiguity may be designed differently for selective amusement. The left inferior temporal gyrus and left inferior frontal gyrus is involved in the semantic aspects of understanding language and both have been shown to be activated in response to the unfunny semantic sentences used during the gathering of data.

Some have said that humor is a "cognitive cleanup" and that laughter is the public display of cleaning up your messy mind. Just a brief moment with a clean slate, some fresh endorphins, and a decrease of stress. If I could bottle up that feeling I would, but what if start to know too much? Do you think comedians would slowly increase their newly realized power over the mind? So let end with a humorus word... Mirth. A gladness or gaiety as shown by or accompanied by laughter and also quite a silly sounding word if I can say so myself. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mirth)
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The Growing Field of Non-Invasive Magnetic Stimulation


According to an article by Mark Hallet published through the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is becoming an increasingly popular non-invasive tool for studying the human brain. Magnetic stimulation is administered through the use of a coil placed above the scalp. A magnetic field is created through horizontal lines of flux on the coil. This field is then used to induce weak electric currents to the brain.

The stimulation can be used to evoke or inhibit various parts of the brain, by either inducing depolarization or hyperpolarization, respectively. Many researchers have used this tool to study parts of the brain. We can use this method to observe which parts of our brain are important for various tasks. For example, scientists can give patients simple eye tests under normal circumstances. Then, they can use TMS to inhibit areas of the brain, such as the occipital cortex. The researchers then repeat the eye tests, observing the effects. This method is powerful today as we try to ?tease apart specialized processing mechanisms.? Aside from the interruption of brain activity, this technique is also used in the growing research of brain plasticity. Single pulse TMS can be used along with functional neuroimaging (PET scans and fMRIs) in the continued research of human physiology.

Single pulse TMS is the safest and most common method, but repetitive TMS (rTMS) can be used to treat a number of disorders?including migraines, strokes, Parkinson's disease, dystonia, tinnitus, depression and auditory hallucinations. By exciting various parts of the brain, we can uncover complications in the brains of unhealthy individuals, and sometimes, researchers can quantify physiological effects of various damaged mechanisms. rTMS is used therapeutically because, unlike single pulse TMS, it has been shown to have lasting effects on the human brain, even after the magnetic stimulation ends. By varying the frequency of the stimulation, parts of the brain?s function can be enhanced or depressed (fast rTMS=enhancing, slow rTMS=depressing).

Therapeutic use was more recently brought to light by the observation of rTMS in some Parkinson?s patients. In some studies, the patients? responses were sped up by the stimulation. With disorders such as dystonia, rTMS actually works to inhibit parts of the primary motor cortex in an effort to improve performance in patients with this neurological movement disorder. Research is continuing to grow as we experiment with the idea of TMS treatment of people with mood disorders. Thus far, high-rate stimulation to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and low-rate stimulation to the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex have been shown to be helpful.

Unlike single pulse, rTMS has had some negative effects, such as seizure and syncope in healthy individuals. With few cases of negative side effects, the risk is considered to be fairly low. However, the benefits of TMS (in therapeutic scenarios) have not always been promising?the research is spotty: sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. If scientists can solidify their findings, TMS could definitely be used in a regular clinical setting.

main article: http://www.psicomag.com/biblioteca/2000/hallet_00.pdf
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Making the Mind Spotless


In the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the average person in the not-too-distant future has the option to erase unwanted memories with ease. The film takes a bizarre trip through Impenetrable Symbolism Lane after the initial setup, but the idea was ultimately painted as residing in an ethical gray area. In that story, a man was forgotten by an ex-girlfriend, but it was implied that the same technology was being used to treat PTSD and help people forget highly secretive information as well. A recent pilot study by University of Montreal researchers at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress has suggested that, while such specific deletion of memories is a pipe dream at best, the dream of removing painful memories with an accessible treatment may not be so far from our grasp.

The drug metyrapone, a drug that inhibits the production of the so-called "stress hormone" cortisol and is used in the treatment of hypercortisolism, was given to 22 men, with half receiving double the dose given to the other and another 11 men receiving a placebo. The men were administered the drug four days after being shown "a slide show having neutral and emotional segments," according to the paper published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, and asked to recall parts of the sequence. The study found a statistically significant decrease in the ability of those with the highest dose of the drug to recall those portions of the slide show which were most "emotional," while the more "neutral" parts were easily recalled by all three groups. This suggests a possible use for the drug in the treatment of PTSD.

Yes, sample size was tiny, and I would argue that the experimental design is rife with subjectivity, but the idea is founded on good science. It's fairly well established that cortisol has a significant effect on how our brains process and store memories. Typically, higher levels of cortisol impair accurate memory recall while also causing powerful emotional associations with memories being stored. The idea that we can specifically target and inhibit the recall of these emotional aspects of bad memories, without destroying memories of an event outright, is an intriguing and enticing one. While many may raise concerns over tampering with our memories in this way, the availability of such an option to those struggling with truly agonizing emotional memories would be almost entirely positive, and the effects may well be more permanent than with drugs many use to cope with negative emotions (like alcohol). The truly interesting issue to me is that it is this easy to mess with memories at all.

It's already well established that the ability to process and store memories can be removed by removing certain parts of the brain. It's also well established that certain drugs can inhibit memory recall. This preliminary study hints at the possibility of removing certain associations in the brain with pharmaceuticals. That memories are as beholden to peculiarities of biochemistry as any other biological process is not surprising, but it suggests that the scenario portrayed in Eternal Sunshine isn't very far fetched, or far-off. It's difficult to argue that such a world would be better or worse than the one we have now, but it would be radically different. Imagine being able to purchase this drug over the counter (it has relatively minor side effects) when you lose a loved one, and dramatically cutting down on grieving time. Such a world may well be a more efficient, more callous world, but perhaps callousness is worth having a "cure" for PTSD.

Science Daily article summarizing the paper:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110526064802.htm
Original paper:
http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/early/2011/05/18/jc.2011-0226
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Better learning based on animal learning!


How many of us have gone through at least 12 years of education if not more in order to get a basic understanding of our future and to be able to carry on to the next portion of our life? Education is a very important aspect of life and as society progresses so does the demand for better education.

In order to understand how neuroscience can help with education a basic understanding of the brain must be used as a foundation. It is important to know that scientists have already found the basic size of the brain (including the average amount of nerve cells that make up the brain) as well as the makeup of a nerve cell. These findings are clearly important in order to truly understand how the brain is functioning and therefore what is actually occurring in the brain while learning is taking place. For now I want to step away from such things because it isn't the main focus of this article. In the article Neuroscience and Education: What can brain science contribute to teaching and learning? By John Hall the idea of neuroscience is used in order to determine if education and learning can be studied in a new way allowing education to increase.

As Hall explains there are three different areas of study that are involved in Neuroscience as explained below.
1) Where scientists are concerned with the inner most mechanisms of the brain, in which they look at the structure organization and the development of the brain.
2) Known as the 'black box' level in which scientists will look at the behavioral impact of input that will be applied in specific contexts.
3) Scientists will look at the application of knowledge about human behavior, this is used in order to help with learning and teaching.

The hope is that scientists will be able to bridge the gap between all three levels in order to help make advances in teaching as well how kids are able to learn based on the findings in the first level of study (the development/organization of the brain).
Some methodological and practical difficulties that Hall expresses within his article come from a report from OECD in which the difficulty of forming these connections that scientists are seeking is examined.

Current research methods in cognitive neuroscience
necessarily limit the types of questions that are addressed.
For example, questions such as 'How do individuals learn to
recognise written words?' are more tractable than 'How do
individuals compare the themes of different stories?'. This is
because the first question leads to studies where the stimuli
and responses can be easily controlled and contrasted with
another task. As such, it becomes understandable in reference
to known cognitive models. The second question involves too
many factors that cannot be successfully separated during
experimental testing. For this reason, the type of educational
tasks favoured by society will remain more complex than the
ones that might suit cognitive neuroscience.
(OECD, 2002)

One of the mains concerns that arise with the use of neuroscience is the basic from of studying the brain. It seems like common sense that humans think, learn, behave and process things differently than say a rodent. So it therefore becomes a concern for most that time and money are being spent on the study of other animals when it is evident that humans are in a completely different league. A common problem in educations is seen in the distress of the 'children' (assuming we are speaking of education at a younger state), such as when a child experiences a loss in the immediate family, or if parents' divorce or even if the child undergoes some other form of traumatic experience. As most people know the child's learning does suffer due to the experience. I don't know about most people but I don't often seen cats undergoing intense education to even have it be impacted by the loss of family, or for that matter one doesn't often seen their cat learn at a slower pace because it no longer has its mother (since it is a common practice for animals to be separated from its parents). Now to bring this back to the main point, how much can be learned from neuroscience testing on animals when clearly they have a very different way or living as well as learning and don't often experience the same 'emotions' that humans do.

Another common issue in which Hall addresses is that it is difficult to make generalization's in order to form a concrete hypothesis in order to apply neuroscience to learning.
Now, making a jump to leaning it has be found that the brain will continue to change as a result of learning (due to environmental changes) which is known as Plasticity, is most commonly seen in early years however it is not localized to this time. Thus it goes back to an old saying "it's never too late to learn" and therefore rules out the idea that "old dogs can never learn new tricks". Hall does however explain that recent studies have concluded that there are certain times within one's life that make learning certain things easier (ie playing an instrument or learning a new language are easier to learn when under the age of 13). Another aspect to learning that has been developed not only in animals but also that human's experience every day that learning new things is a "use it or lose it" thing. Have you ever wondered why you never forget how to talk, walk, eat, write or do our basic day to day activities, well that's it right there we don't forget because we do it every day, however you may forget how to do calculus or historical facts because you never use it once you are finished with that class.

Although Hall explains all these findings very well it seems questionable to from a meaningful study in order to connect all the factors that lie within learning to how the brain functions for these ideas. How is it possible that a scientist can look at how one human learns certain things and compare it to another when all the outside factors are completely different. Although neuroscience is a great idea on paper and is helping to understand so many things about humans it doesn't seem like a realistic practice to cross over into education. Neuroscience is such a new area of science in relation to other areas and since the human brain is such a complex unit it doesn't seem like it can be used to help people with learning anytime soon. I believe that although neuroscience will make ground breaking discoveries it wont be able to truly change the way we learn or better the education system because it is such a complex field that has too many factors for scans and neuro-imaging to truly understand.




Main Article: http://www.pre-online.co.uk/feature_pdfs/spotlight92.pdf
Posted by      Cherie T. at 12:21 AM MDT

Depression: a never ending circle?


Have you ever heard the phrase ?seeing the world through rose-colored glasses?; where everything in life seems to be going your way and the world is wonderful? Well, what about the opposite; Arnold, et. al. of the Netherlands suggests that those with or recovering from depression may see the world through black-colored glasses.

If you are like most Americans, you have probably felt depressed in your life. Recovering from this depression is hard, your entire outlook on life is noticeably negative, even positive experiences are underestimated. These feelings are caused by changes in your brain due to having been depressed, and this outlook can possibly lead to further depression.

The study Rose or black-colored glasses? Altered neural processing of positive events during memory formation is a trait marker of depression published in The Journal of Affective Disorders shows that depression can induce a type of negative veil surrounding your cognitive processes. Specifically, this study was interested in what type of words were remembered ? or forgotten within the trials. Two groups of women, one with no previous diagnosis of depression and another with previous cases of depression were asked to memorize sets of words. The women were all similar in age, intelligence, life events, etc. except the factor of depression. They were given words chose from a separate, independent study of students, where over 1000 Dutch words were rated by their perceived emotional ties and were raked as either positive, neutral or negative. Using these words, the women were presented with small groups of these words for 120, 80 or 40 second intervals with our without distractions. Afterwards, the women were asked to repeat the words they were asked to memorize.

On average, the group of women with previous depression remembered negative words better than the control group. However, the control group remembered positive words significantly more than the women with depressive episodes. While it may not seem impressive that a history of depression makes you much better at remembering words with negative associations than those with positive, this has significant implications. If one is better at remembering negative things, this can also pertain to memories and feelings, leading to a never ending circle.

Well, does depression lead to depressing thoughts only lead to more depression? ?The answer is possibly. All of the women from the experimental group were recovering from depression, and obviously would have a higher outlook on life as opposed to someone who is in the midst of an acute depressive episode. While the outlook may be somewhat bleak due to the fact that your brain has a higher affinity for negative feelings when either depressed or in a post-depressive state, there is still a large number of positive words that were remembered by the experimental group of women. This means that there is still the possibility that your brain will remember positive things such as memories that can help in your recovery.

If you are recovering from depression, it is important to keep positive things in mind, because while they may not stick out quite as well as some negative thoughts, they will still be remembered.
Posted by      Rachel N. at 12:02 AM MDT

olypost


Apparently having sex can facilitate an increased growth of new dendritic spines in the hippocampus (so memory formation is more readily done). This occurred ?despite? an increase in corticosteroid levels. Ultimately these rats have to remember that event by growing the dendritic spines that they?ve learned facilitate reproduction with their female counterparts. I take interest in this study, because it seems to be especially geared to the short-lived and shallow attentions of a quick Google flick of the wrist. One reader might take only one short apparent fact from this article: ?sex leads to better memory? so sex is good! Let?s have more sex!? Even as I finish reading the title of this article, I find myself making this brief aside as a joke to my comrade and companion. It is important to grasp the truest motives of the Neuroscientists behind this research: that these quick memory upgrades only last the moments of time surrounding the sexual experiences, and that this must be occurring because sex is an evolutionarily advantageous engagement for a mammal (and every other animal on this planet). So, we will remember better the days preceding a more sexy night than the days surrounding a more abstinent night.
I like the motive of this article, and I like the way it catches your attention with its pertinence to our current society, but I think that a follow-up should ensue concerning the sociological components of an everyman?s sexual habit. One what days do most Americans have sex? Does this differ among people with different Socioeconomic Status?? This would be the study of an entirely different realm of science, so it is not included in the discussion of this article. Another study that is very relatable is perhaps a study of the difference in corticosterone levels of the female rats versus the male rats, in the hours surrounding their sexual encounter. Measurements of the hippocampal growth of dendritic spines after sex could also be compared between males and females. This study too, is not specific enough to be combined with the article in question. Instead, the study in question has been specifically catered to get through to the mind of the fast-stimulus-oriented reader, right down to its very title, ?Sexual Experience Promotes Adult Neurogenesis??
This article, along with many other of the front covers of science, suggests to me that this realm of the scientific field is just as short-attention?d, high-socioeconomic-status?d, American, and male-oriented as the other predominant structures in our society (i.e. entertainment, art, religion, politics, media, etc.). This is truly nothing to be ashamed of, however, since we are simply responding to the societal pressures that be ? like molecules in an organism. We may become aware of it though, with the aid of some increased responsibility for our actions that comes with some awareness thereof. Since we scientists are facing similar challenges to the Christian Right and the Mexican Immigrant and the African Indigenous, etc. etc. and we have a similar God who expects similar things of us ? cannot we empathize and thus come together on this situation.
My argument is that the writers of articles such as the one I?ve referenced should not neglect that other 90% of their society in their analyses, though they do indeed feel compelled to by the natural competitive environment of the free market. They mustn?t neglect their own hypermasculinity and quick paced neglect of other social realms than that of the white human. We must try to include the understandings of the rat, in their context, as well as every other domain of species on earth. Also, expressing the article in other languages like Spanish and French would take in consideration the other 90% of the human world (audience) in a more comprehensive and co-aware article. The articles and documentaries and speeches which do tend to bring all the data together do exist in our society, but they are much fewer in number and much less frequently emphasized in our Westernized education. We have extended the silos of scientific knowledge deep into ourselves into understandings of the neutrinos and way out into space to view the large conglomerates of space dust and dark matter. Now, many are claiming, it is time to build bridges between the silos. Perhaps this can be done via a search engine that pairs the article we just discussed with others that are similar to it. Perhaps a sentence here and there to qualify the article or film or other piece of art (as it is done more often in non-western cultures). Fundamentally, what needs to occur in order for this article and many others to become more comprehensively representative of an ideal society is the cohesion of ideas ? relating them to other ideas from other fields, (including even a fair dispersal of those of religious symbolisms and sociopolitical ideologies). Maybe the opposing parties in politics will follow our example.
Posted by      Oliver Y. at 12:01 AM MDT

Upgrading your brain: A critique of Transhumanism


Have you ever wanted to be smarter or have a better memory, say, in the middle of taking an exam? For most of us, these desires seem unrealistic and we accept that our mental abilities have set limits that can?t be changed. However, there are some people who believe in Transhumanism, a philosophy that advocates the use of technology to enhance mental ability. In Future Minds: Transhumanism, Cognitive Enhancement and the Nature of Persons, Susan Schneider, a philosopher at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses the bioethics of the Transhumanist position. In particular, she examines whether mental enhancement is desirable from the viewpoint of personal identity. She believes that given the possibility that radical enhancement of an individual could result in the creation of a new entity that is no longer the same person, enhancement would not be ethical.
The basic tenets of Transhumanism are laid out in the Transhumanist Declaration that was written by members of the World Transhumanist Association. The tenets include:
(1) Humanity will be radically changed by technology in the future. We foresee the
feasibility of redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the
inevitability of aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet earth.
and
(4) Transhumanists advocate the moral right for those who so wish to use technology to
extend their mental and physical (including reproductive) capacities and to improve their control over their own lives. We seek personal growth beyond our current biological limitations.
Dr. Schneider believes that Transhumanism should be taken seriously given that many of the technologies that would allow for radical enhancement are in early development now. She provides a possible future scenario hoped for by many Transhumanists. In 2025, people become cyborgs by receiving eye implants connected to the internet and brain implants to improve memory. Life extension through nanotechnology becomes available by 2040. Human beings continue to modify themselves until they become posthumans by 2060. The Transhumanist Frequently Asked Questions by Nick Bostrom describes a posthuman as a being ?whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards?. In this scenario, there is no difference between radically modified human beings and super-intelligent artificial intelligences by 2600 other than origin.
Philosophers have long debated the nature of the person and find many of the scenarios envisioned by Transhumanist to be metaphysically problematic in regards to the continuity of identity. Dr. Schneider argues that the enhancements endorsed by Transhumanism could lead to undesirable results because someone who undergoes more and more mental enhancements would eventually cease to exist. In that light, radical mental enhancement would be unethical being a form of suicide. She then examines the viewpoint on this issue held by many Transhumanists, that of Patternism in which ?enhancements can alter the material substrate but must preserve your memories and your overall psychological configuration.? Several case studies are given which indicate that Transhumanists have a lot of work to do to show that identity can be preserved after mental enhancement.
This article is of interest because it raises the possibility that mental enhancement could be a form of suicide. However, the issue was discussed only in terms of philosophy and did not include much of our current understanding of the brain. Any future brain enhancements would arise from basic neuroscience research and debates of this nature must include specifics regarding the structure of the brain. Hopefully, this article will challenge neuroscientists to address issues regarding identity brought about by radical brain enhancement.
Posted by      David J. at 12:00 AM MDT

July 31, 2011

Subjective Diagnosis


As the teacher speaks in front of the class, the majority of the students are attentive and taking notes. But there is one student in the classroom looking out the window daydreaming about being outside and able to run around, free, not trapped in his chair. He has attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD). More and more students are being diagnosed with this disorder. Why? Does it have to do with our genes, the environment? Is this just a reflection on our society always needing an answer and diagnosis for why we are different or is it the doctors wanting more money?

Currently the only way to diagnose this disorder is through a series of physiological tests and accounts from your teachers and parents. These methods are very subjective and may be leading to over diagnosis of children and overmedicating (2). These students may just need to learn discipline and learn how to motivate themselves to sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture or study for an exam. Just like many other psychological disorders the most logical answer to this is to study the differences between the brain structures of those with ADHD and those without.

In a recent study (1), the researchers were after the answer to see if there is a significant difference in the adolescent brain with ADHD with and without medication and without ADHD. The researchers wanted to determine if using an MRI of a child's brain would lead to better diagnosis of ADHD. The researchers studied the participants for ten years and took a total of four MRI's for each child. The researchers concluded that there is a significant difference in brain volume and specifically the white matter and the caudate nucleus. These two differences were seen to be developed at a young age due to genetics or environment and the growth of the brain paralleled the control participants. This means that as a child you have ADHD and do not generally develop it later in life.

According to the results even though there are differences in the anatomical brain structure, this still is not a clear answer to whether or not an MRI will be able to diagnose anyone with ADHD any time soon. The limitations to the study are the participants themselves. They are unable to keep still for the MRI and many of the images had to be thrown out because of movement. Also the lack of twin and sibling studies in the topic cause us to not be able to determine how much of the differences are die to environmental or genetic influences or if it is merely a correlation.

Similarly to other imaging discussions about the validity of the images and what they tell us we are unable to definitively say. At this point much more research needs to be done on the topic of ADHD and how brain imaging can enhance one's ability to be diagnosed with ADHD and allow the subjective tests to be replaced by a more concrete method of diagnosis.

1. http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/288/14/1740.full.pdf+html
2. http://www.hs-zigr.de/~wirsing/ASH%20Sozialmedizin09/ABPapersPDF/ADHD1%20Kopie.pdf
Posted by      Jayme N. at 11:38 PM MDT
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Trust Me. It'll Feel Good.


Trustworthiness has always been a revered personality trait. So much so that most of us are willing to look past any number of distasteful attributes if somebody proves to be 'trustworthy.' Ask the next person you see what they're looking for in a partner, plumber, or political candidate and they're guaranteed to put trust near the top of the list.

Trust is an emotion that's difficult for most people to define; like love. People just know when they feel it. No doubt, most of us would include words like 'truthful,' 'ethical, and 'dependable' in our definitions of what it means to be trustworthy. Such words, though, are themselves abstractions that don't define what it means to trust another person.

How is it, then, that we know when we can trust somebody? What do people do that earns them the distinction of being trustworthy? Why is it that some people are awash with trust, and others reserve the emotion for only a few, select people? And what is it about trust that makes it such an exalted trait?

Like so many other neuropsychological questions, the answers appear to lie within our good friend, dopamine: the ever-present, ever-pervasive, and always welcomed neurotransmitter that provides its host with a strong sense of reward and pleasure. It's the magic brain-gravy that's responsible for things like our desire to eat high-calorie foods and our motivation to perform self-benefiting tasks. According to some recent research, though, dopamine may also be responsible for the establishment of trust between two people.

A team of neuroscientists, Brooks King-Casas and Read Montague, et. al., designed an experiment that centered on a simple economic game in which receiving a reward required participants to trust one another with their money. If a player was feeling a bit greedy, he or she could steal from the pot at any time and, in doing so, erase the trust that had been established. By using a technique called 'hyper-scanning,' researchers were able to monitor subjects' brains as they interacted with other subjects in separate fMRI scanners. It wasn't long before the scientists were able to predict whether or not a player would steal from the pot several seconds before the theft actually took place. The secret to the researchers' clairvoyance was found in imaging of the caudate nucleus during gameplay.

The c-shaped caudate nuclei - found in both of the brain's hemispheres - play key roles in memory formation and the processing of external feedback. They are also heavily innervated by dopamine neurons. As each player participated in the game, it was the caudate nuclei that monitored the actions of the other players.

Initially, the caudate didn't activate until the subjects actually trusted one-another. It was then that each player received their dopamine reward and the caudate nuclei came alive. However, the caudate began to expect those rewards and started firing long before the player received any money from the other participants. The bonds of trust would then strengthen every time the player received their money; reassuring them that they weren't going to be let down.

These findings suggest that trust may not be such a noble trait after all. It appears that the highly regarded emotion may be little more than a gluttonous system designed to satisfy our primitive dopaminergic needs. When I say that someone is trustworthy, I'm really saying that they reliably satisfy some need I have. If you show that you are willing to satisfy that need - thereby flooding all the right parts of my brain with happy juice - I will trust you. And trust me, it feels good.

Main Article: http://www.hnl.bcm.tmc.edu/articles/Read/Getting_TO_Know_You2005.pdf
Posted by      Nicholas M. at 11:30 PM MDT

Is Altruism Really Selfless?


It has long been assumed that altruism is something that we humans posses that other animals don?t. That our capacity for empathy applies only to us because we have such an overdeveloped cortex capable of higher-level processing. However, what if this is not true? What if primates, our evolutionary predecessors also had this capacity? What does this mean about our sense of selflessness and morality? The ideas presented by Frans De Waal in his article Putting the Altruism Back into Altruism: The Evolution of Empathy could have larger societal implications than just an explanation for morality. The ideas in this article question religious ideas and bring us one step closer to primates by suggesting that empathy evolved from primates. Instead of thinking of our ideas of altruism and morality as being handed down to us from up above (like religious ideas claim) maybe we should think of them as being passed up from below.

Frans De Waal is the director of a primate research institute in Atlanta Georgia. He argues that his primates regularly display altruistic behavior and therefore there has to be some sort of mechanism in the brain that is already wired to create altruistic behavior or is in place to learn altruistic behavior. In a radio interview Dr. De Waal tells stories of chimpanzees sharing treats so that everyone in the pack gets a little. He also cites instances where children have fallen into gorilla enclosures and the female gorillas have comforted the children and brought them to areas where they could be rescued by zookeepers as empathetic behavior. In his article, De Waal introduces some cognitive models of empathy. He proposes the ?Perception Action Mechanism? where motor neurons in a subject mirror the state of an object. And the ?Russian Doll Model? where empathy is a result of our higher-level cognition that uses a hard-wired basis to create empathy. Frans De Waal argues that being altruistic could have had evolutionary advantages that caused the trait to be selected for. A simple explanation would be if a primate was part of a pack and they hurt other members they would be ostracized and die without reproducing. But those who were good and able to work as a unit as opposed to as an individual would be kept under the protection of the pack. The mechanisms suggested above are the biological mechanism by which these traits are passed on evolutionarily.

De Waals points are intriguing but what really intrigues me is the social implications this article has. First of all, it is one more example of how similar we are to primates. The larger implication is that not only are we more similar, but we are more similar in a behavioral aspect that we humans had previously thought was part of our higher-level cognition: we thought empathy and altruistic thoughts were too complex for primates. Along with this implication comes a fear. If in fact there is a specific mechanism in the brain that controls altruistic behaviors what could happen if we were able to identify it? People could be tested to see if this area was underdeveloped, or abnormal in some way that would make them a hazard to society. Could we start condemning people to horrible, immoral acts before they happen based on their brain makeup? And, if we could, would this be a moral thing to do?

De Waal, Frans B.M. "Putting the Altruism Back into Altruism: The Evolution of Empathy." Annual Review of Psychology 59.1 (2008): 279-300. PubMed. Web. 31 July 2011. .

http://www.radiolab.org/2007/aug/13/
Posted by      Eileen E. at 11:15 PM MDT




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