Politically conservative views correlated with larger amygdala, smaller anterior cingulate cortex

Scientists have found that people with conservative views have brains with larger amygdalas, almond shaped areas in the centre of the brain often associated with anxiety and emotions.
On the otherhand, they have a smaller anterior cingulate, an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life. [...]

The results, which will be published next year, back up a (different) study that showed that some people were born with a “Liberal Gene” that makes people more likely to seek out less conventional political views.
The gene, a neurotransmitter in the brain called DRD4, could even be stimulated by the novelty value of radical opinions, claimed the researchers at the University of California. (via.)

Dopamine, Fruit Flies, Masochism, and Lethargy

According to this arstechnica article fruit flies lacking (or with extremely low levels of) dopamine suffer from extreme lethargy, and a type of masochism!

Flies that apparently lack dopamine signaling manage to live just as long as their peers. They do, however, end up turning into lethargic masochists. [...]

However, they’re nowhere close to normal. Compared to their normal peers, they were very lethargic, moving relatively little through the course of their normal lives, and not expending the effort to move out of the path of a mild electric current. They spent a lot of their time in the fly equivalent of sleep, even during daylight hours, when they are normally active. Despite the lethargy, however, caffeine was still able to give them a kick start, suggesting that there’s an intact activity control that is simply not getting the sorts of cues it needs without dopamine around.

The same sorts of issues showed up when feeding and visual activity were tested. The flies that lacked dopamine ate only about a third as much as their normal peers and weren’t interested in sugar water even after having been starved. They were still able to respond to sugar and eat, however, which suggests that the animals’ brains still have a feeding capacity that ends up going unused without dopamine. The flies also had normal vision and could use it for spatial orientation, but would no longer move towards light (a phenomenon called phototaxis).

The weirdest effect, however, came when the flies were tested for learned aversion, in which an electric shock is associated with a particular odor. Instead of learning to avoid the shock, however, the dopamine-deficient Drosophila ended up being attracted to the odor, hence the authors’ use of the term “masochistic” to describe the flies’ behavior. (via.)

Growth hormone antagonist, cognition, lifespan, telomerase, and oxidative stress

A compound which acts in the opposite way as growth hormone can reverse some of the signs of aging, a research team that includes a Saint Louis University physician has shown. The finding may be counter-intuitive to some older adults who take growth hormone, thinking it will help revitalize them. [...]

The scientists studied the compound MZ-5-156, a “growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) antagonist.” They conducted their research in the SAMP8 mouse model, a strain engineered for studies of the aging process. Overall, the researchers found that MZ-5-156 had positive effects on oxidative stress in the brain, improving cognition, telomerase activity (the actions of an enzyme which protects DNA material) and life span, while decreasing tumor activity.
MZ-5-156, like many GHRH antagonists, inhibited several human cancers, including prostate, breast, brain and lung cancers. It also had positive effects on learning, and is linked to improvements in short-term memory. The antioxidant actions led to less oxidative stress, reversing cognitive impairment in the aging mouse. (via.)

Electrical Field Surrounding the Brain Serves as a Brain Feedback Loop

A new study published online July 15 in Neuron suggests that the brain’s electric field is not a passive by-product of its neural activity, as scientists once thought. The field may actively help regulate how the brain functions, especially during deep sleep. [...]

In the study, Yale University neurobiologists David McCormick and Flavio Fröhlich surrounded a still-living slice of ferret brain tissue with an electric field that mimicked the field an intact ferret brain produces during slow-wave sleep. The applied field amplified and synchronized the existing neural activity in the brain slice. These results indicate that the electric field generated by the brain facilitates the same neural firing that created the field in the first place, just as the cloud of enthusiasm that envelops a cheering crowd at a sports stadium encourages the crowd to keep cheering. In other words, the brain’s electric field is not a by-product; it is a feedback loop. (via.)

Intelligence Augmentation Through… Notebooks?

A friend of mine shared this unusual link with me:

How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought you Think

That’s the title of a book I wrote. Guess what it’s about!

It’s about how to make a complete map of every thought you think! But it has some other things in there; It talks about visual language, maps, computerized notebooks, theory of notebooks, yadda yadda yadda.

I’m afraid it’s not really written well, but if you are interested in the topic of intelligence augmentation and notebooks, I think you’ll overlook it’s obvious flaws, for an enjoyable experience.

I only took the most cursory glance at the actual content of the book which is in multiple formats. The lack of editing of the book hints at a little crazy, but of course, that just makes it that much more interesting. Probably worth a read through at some point! Check it out.

Long-term Solitary Confinement As A Type of Torture

Long-term solitary confinement is a form of torture, or at least a recent Slate article seems to suggest quite convincingly. The article details the story of inmates, and the impacts prolonged isolation in super-max prisons have on the population. In some cases prolonged stays in isolation can cause hallucination, catatonia, and ultimately damages the minds of inmates — inmates, who at some point in the future, often will be reintroduced in to the public.

Many of the people who may not see solitary confinement as particularly useful in long stretches continue to use it despite the possibility of change for fear of being blackballed as “weak on crime” by a public that has little real understanding of the effects of said confinement, and the reality that the use of said practices actually does damage to society as a whole when stretched out on a longer time line.

Check out the article in the New Yorker: The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?

Children of Depressed Mothers Have Reduced Muscle Tone at 2 weeks

At two weeks old, researchers found that the children of depressed mothers had decreased muscle tone compared to those born to mothers who weren’t depressed, yet they adjusted more quickly to stimuli like a bell, rattle or light — a sign of neurological maturity.

“It’s difficult to say to what extent these differences are good or bad, or what impact they might have over a longer time frame,” says the study’s lead author, Sheila Marcus, M.D., clinical director of U-M’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Section.

“We’re just beginning to look at these differences as part of a whole collection of data points that could be risk markers. These in turn would identify women who need attention during pregnancy or mother/infant pairs who might benefit from postpartum programs known to support healthy infant development through mom/baby relationships.” (via.)

Kleine-Levin Syndrome: Sleep 10 days at a time? You might have it.

“I was hallucinating and after that I don’t remember anything. All of a sudden it just went blank and I just slept for 10 days. I woke up and I was fine again.” [...]

“I was hallucinating and after that I don’t remember anything. All of a sudden it just went blank and I just slept for 10 days. I woke up and I was fine again.” [...]

Louisa is unusual as KLS usually affects teenage boys, who can also exhibit hypersexuality and inappropriate behaviour.

As well as excessive sleeping, symptoms include behaviour changes, irritability, feeling in a dream-like state and binge eating, symptoms that can be mistaken for normal teenage behaviour. [...]

The change in behaviour before and during a sleep episode is one of the most upsetting things for Louisa’s parents, who take it in turns to remain with her. Doctors have told the family it’s crucial to wake Louisa once a day to feed her and get her to the bathroom.

But Lottie admits it can take a while to get her to come round. “I’ve tried before to literally force her to wake up but she just starts swearing and gets so agitated and aggressive.” [...]

Many sufferers have abnormalities in their temporal lobe, the area of the brain involved in behaviour and memory. A scan of Louisa’s brain function revealed she does have abnormalities in her frontal lobe but there are no signs that this has affected her behaviour or memory. (via.)

Social component key to link between happiness & religiosity

According to the study, 33 percent of people who attend religious services every week and have three to five close friends in their congregation report that they are “extremely satisfied” with their lives. “Extremely satisfied” is defined as a 10 on a scale ranging from 1 to 10.

In comparison, only 19 percent of people who attend religious services weekly, but who have no close friends in their congregation report that they are extremely satisfied. On the other hand, 23 percent of people who attend religious services only several times a year, but who have three to five close friends in their congregation are extremely satisfied with their lives. (via.)

Season of Birth Leaves Imprint on Circaedian Rhythm

The season in which babies are born can have a dramatic and persistent effect or “imprint” on how their biological clocks function.

The imprinting effect, which was found in baby mice, may help explain the fact that people born in winter months have a higher risk of a number of neurological disorders including seasonal affective disorder (winter depression), bipolar depression and schizophrenia. [...]

In the experiment, groups of mouse pups were raised from birth to weaning in artificial winter or summer light cycles. After they were weaned, they were maintained in either the same cycle or the opposite cycle for 28 days. Once they were mature, the mice were placed in constant darkness and their activity patterns were observed.

The winter-born mice showed a consistent slowing of their daily activity period, regardless of whether they had been maintained on a winter light cycle, or had been shifted to summer cycle after weaning. When the scientists examined the master biological clocks in the mouse brains, using a gene that makes the clock cells glow green when active, they found a similar pattern: slowing of the gene clocks in winter-born mice compared to those born on a summer light cycle. [...]

“The mice raised in the winter cycle show an exaggerated response to a change in season that is strikingly similar to that of human patients suffering from seasonal affective disorder,” McMahon commented.


Also check out: Neonatal Vitamin D Levels Influence Schizophrenia Risk