Females, Dominance, and Social Exclusion Tactics

Many studies have suggested that males tend to be more physically and verbally aggressive than females. According to a new study, to be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, it may not be the case that women are less competitive than men—they may just be using a different strategy to come out ahead. Specifically, women may rely more on indirect forms of aggression, such as social exclusion. [...]

“As their primary competitive strategy to combat any social threat, females may attempt to form an exclusionary alliance, whereas males may endeavor to unilaterally and directly dominate an opponent,” the authors write. Women may be more sensitive than men to social exclusion, and when they feel threatened by the prospect of being left out, a woman’s first response may be to socially exclude a third party.

Preemptive social exclusion appears to be a valuable strategy for women because it allows them to protect their relationships by keeping an outsider at bay. Benenson points out that this may require a re-evaluation of presumed sex differences in competitiveness. She comments, “The same-sex social worlds of boys and girls and men and women then differ in that females have to worry about alienating others, whereas males worry about getting beaten up.” (via.)

Basically, their conclusions came from a game that men and women both played. Follow the via link for more information.

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.)

Anabolic steroids, depression, BDNF & morning corticosterone levels

Abuse of anabolic androgenic steroids (AASs) is frequently associated with changes in mood, including depression. [...] We used male adult rats injected for 4 weeks with either nandrolone or stanozolol at daily doses (5 mg/kg, s.c.) that are considered equivalent to those abused by humans [...] AAS treatment reduced levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, reduced the expression of low-affinity glucocorticoid receptors in the hippocampus, and increased morning trough basal plasma corticosterone levels. All these changes have been related to the pathophysiology of major depressive disorder. Accordingly, rats treated with nandrolone or stanozolol showed an increased immobility time in the forced swim test, which is widely used for the screening of antidepressant drugs. All effects produced by AASs were prevented by co-administration with the classical antidepressant, chlorimipramine. (via.)

East & Western Cultural Values: Honesty, Dominance & Submission

When an American thinks about whether he is honest, his brain activity looks very different than when he thinks about whether another person is honest, even a close relative. That’s not true for Chinese people. When a Chinese man evaluates whether he is honest, his brain activity looks almost identical to when he is thinking about whether his mother is honest.

That finding — that American and Chinese brains function differently when considering traits of themselves versus traits of others (Neuroimage, Vol. 34, No. 3) — supports behavioral studies that have found that people from collectivist cultures, such as China, think of themselves as deeply connected to other people in their lives, while Americans adhere to a strong sense of individuality.

Different study, but from the same article:

Ambady’s group based the study on historical data showing that East-Asian cultures value submissiveness, while Western cultures value dominance. In fact, they found, they could see this cultural distinction in the way the brain responds to visual input. When Americans viewed dominant silhouettes, but not submissive ones, reward circuitry fired in the brain’s limbic system. The opposite happened among Japanese participants; their reward circuitry fired in response to submissive, but not dominant, silhouettes.

… same article:

Most recently, a study by Park’s group, in press in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience demonstrated that Westerners process human faces more actively than East Asians, consistent with the Western focus on individuality.

… last interesting tidbit:

The researchers sought to find a biological explanation for past research showing that people from collectivist cultures relate more strongly to contextual self-descriptions, such as “When I’m with my mother, I’m honest.” People from already defined individualistic cultures relate more strongly to general self-descriptions such as “I’m honest.”

When Chiao and her colleagues compared participants along ethnic lines, they saw no difference in brain activity. Differences appeared only after they grouped people based on how strongly they valued collectivism or individualism: Regardless of ethnicity, the medial prefrontal cortex was most active when individualists read general self-descriptions and when collectivists read contextual self-descriptions.


A tilt of the head influences perceived attractiveness

“A gap in our knowledge, however, is the evolutionary origin of what is considered masculine and feminine about facial features. Our research investigated if looking at the face from different perspectives as a result of the height differential between men and women influenced perceived masculinity or femininity. The research found the way we angle our faces affects our attractiveness to the opposite sex.”

Men, typically taller than women, view a woman’s face from above; and women view men’s faces from below. [...]

The research found that female faces are judged to be more feminine and more attractive when tilted forwards (simulating viewing from above), and less feminine when tilted backwards (simulating viewing from below). Conversely, male faces are judged more masculine when tilted backwards and less masculine when tilted forwards. (via.)

Geometry skillz for enhanced sexual attractiveness, baby. If that isn’t weird I’m not really sure what is.

The upper-class and empathy

One experiment used volunteers who worked at a university. Some had graduated from college and others had not; researchers used educational level as a proxy for social class. The volunteers did a test of emotion perception, in which they were instructed to look at pictures of faces and indicate which emotions each face was displaying. People with more education performed worse on the task than people with less education. In another study, university students who were of higher social standing (determined from each student’s self-reported perceptions of his or her family’s socioeconomic status) had a more difficult time accurately reading the emotions of a stranger during a group job interview.

These results suggest that people of upper-class status aren’t very good at recognizing the emotions other people are feeling. The researchers speculate that this is because they can solve their problems, like the daycare example, without relying on others—they aren’t as dependent on the people around them.

A final experiment found that, when people were made to feel that they were at a lower social class than they actually were, they got better at reading emotions. This shows that “it’s not something ingrained in the individual,” Kraus says. “It’s the cultural context leading to these differences.” He says this work helps show that stereotypes about the classes are wrong. (via.)

“Exhaustion Syndrome” & Depression

Certain personality traits heighten susceptibility to psychiatric disorders. Therefore a research team at Umeå University wanted to study whether this patient group had any susceptibility factors that could explain the development of their disorder. The patient group is distinguished by being anxious and pessimistic, with a weak sense of self, which is common in many psychiatric disorders. What was special about this group was that they stood out as persistent, ambitious, and pedantic individuals.

Being ambitious, fastidious, and overachieving also appears to make a person more prone to exhaustion syndrome. According to Agneta Sandström’s dissertation, individuals with exhaustion syndrome demonstrate impaired memory and attention capacity as well as reduced brain activity in parts of the frontal lobes. Regulation of the stress hormone cortisol is also impacted in the group, with altered sensitivity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). [...]

The HPA axis in the patient group shows reduced sensitivity in the pituitary, with less secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) following stimulation with corticotropin (CRH), as well as heightened sensitivity in the adrenal cortex, with increased release of cortisol in relation to the amount of ACTH secreted. There is also a difference in the diurnal rhythm of cortisol, with the patients presenting a flatter secretion curve than the other two groups. The researchers could not detect any reduction in the volume of the hippocampus in the patient group. The proportion of individuals with measurable levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin 1 is higher in the patient group. (via.)

Atypical Brain Functioning in Siblings of Autistics

Relative to the other groups, there was reduced activity in specific brain regions in children with ASD when they were watching biological motion compared with scrambled motion.

These included the right amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, areas which other research has identified as having changed activity in adults with ASD.

The researchers found additional brain regions that showed reduced activity in both the siblings group and the ASD group, relative to the typically developing group.

They interpreted this result as a reflection of the underlying genetic vulnerability that the siblings group might have to ASD.

The scientists also found what they called “compensatory activity” in the siblings group – brain regions that were working harder than normal and might be helping the children overcome their increased genetic risk of ASD.

These included the right posterior temporal sulcus and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which have been implicated in social perception and social cognition. [...]

“More controversially, the authors also propose that other brain regions are under-responsive to biological motion in siblings of children with autism, as well as in those with autism.”

“Yet other regions are reported to be overactive in the siblings, and this is interpreted as compensatory activity.
“Since these siblings had no subclinical symptoms of autism, and were selected to have no other relatives with any autistic features, they are unlikely to constitute a group with strong genetic risk for autism, and so this aspect of the results is puzzling and it would be important to replicate it in another sample.” (via.)

It’s interesting that while autistics show below normal activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, that their siblings showed above normal activation in the same region while viewing “biological motion.”

It’ll be interesting to see what mysteries of the human mind will be revealed as the diagnostic criteria for what exactly defines the autistic spectrum becomes more refined. Supposedly these autistic children didn’t have any other relatives showing symptoms of autism, however, wouldn’t it be interesting to find out whether their relatives show this same abnormal overactivation in said regions.

Orchid: S-allele “Depression-Risk Gene” and Potential Cognitive/Social Benefits

The reclamation of the “depression gene” proceeds apace: In a paper titled “Looking on the Bright Side of Serotonin Transporter Gene Variation,” two researchers who helped establish the “depression risk-gene” view of depression assert quite strongly that the genetic variant in question — the s-allele of the serotonin transporter gene, HTTLPR — possess greater social sensitivity than people without this variant, and have some significant cognitive advantages as well. (via.)