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New Research Uses Imaging to Show Serotonin’s Link to Anger

 

Article first published as New Research Uses Imaging to Show Serotonin’s Link to Anger on Technorati.

The University of Cambridge recently published study in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry that provides insight into why some people are more aggressive. Scientists have known that when people haven’t eaten or are overly stressed, they have a harder time controlling their anger. Scientists now have the ability to use technology to scan the brain and visualize the connection between serotonin and the ability to handle emotions.

According to The University of Cambridge News, “Although reduced serotonin levels have previously been implicated in aggression, this is the first study which has shown how this chemical helps regulate behavior in the brain as well as why some individuals may be more prone to aggression.”

Healthy volunteers had their serotonin levels altered through diet manipulation. Their brains were then scanned with a function magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as researchers measured their reactions to images of faces showing anger, happiness or neutral expressions. The findings suggested that when the serotonin was low, the prefrontal cortex had a more difficult time controlling emotional responses.

According to author Dr. Molly Crockett, “We’ve known for decades that serotonin plays a key role in aggression, but it’s only very recently that we’ve had the technology to look into the brain and examine just how serotonin helps us regulate our emotional impulses. By combining a long tradition in behavioral research with new technology, we were finally able to uncover a mechanism for how serotonin might influence aggression.”

Serotonin has been the subject of many psychological studies.  In 2003 a popular study indicated that there was a gene responsible for people to be more receptive to becoming depressed.  However, in 2009, a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association that analyzed data from 14 studies found that this serotonin gene was not linked to depression.

How serotonin affects depression and aggression will continue to be studied. Currently, the most widely prescribed antidepressants are serotonin enhancers.  The researchers from the Cambridge study hope that this new discovery can help pave the way to new treatments of psychiatric disorders.

WebMD offers a 9-question quiz to help sufferers recognize the symptoms of depression caused by low serotonin.

Famous Computer Geniuses with Asperger’s

 

 

In a recent TED.com talk by Misha Glenny, titled Hire the Hackers,Glenny noted at the end of his talk that many famous computer hackers have characteristics that are consistent with Asperger’s Syndrome.  He mentioned he discussed this with Professor of Development Psychopathology at Cambridge, Simon Baron-Cohen, who “confirmed Gary McKinnon who is wanted by the United States for hacking into the Pentagon suffers from Asperger’s.  Cohen explained that certain disabilities can manifest themselves in the hacking computer world as tremendous skills.”

 

This is not the first time that there has been mention of famous hackers having this disorder.  Adrian Lamo, once hunted by the FBI, was institutionalized and diagnosed with Asperger’s.  Cnet News recently reported, “Ryan Cleary, the 19-year-old charged in the U.K. on five counts of computer hacking activity, has Asperger’s syndrome.”

According to Wired.com, “There are no reliable figures on how many people have Asperger’s, but anecdotally a lot of them are drawn into the computer field, particularly the logic-heavy world of coding. BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen has diagnosed himself with the disorder, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates is frequently speculated to have it.” According to Businessweek, Bram Cohen’s disorder is, “a condition that keeps him rooted in the world of objects and patterns, puzzles and computers, but leaves him floating, disoriented, in the everyday swirl of human interactions.” In the movie The Social Network, some of the mannerisms that the Mark Zuckerberg character displayed may have implied he had Asperger’s as well.

Some other famous minds that have been noted as having Asperger’s include Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.  The article, The Potential Genius of Asperger’s contains a long list of famous people who have been thought to have this disorder.

Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen developed an AQ test that measures the Autism Spectrum Quotient.  “In the first major trial using the test, the average score in the control group was 16.4. Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher. The test is not a means for making a diagnosis, however, and many who score above 32 and even meet the diagnostic criteria for mild autism or Asperger’s report no difficulty functioning in their everyday lives.” To take the Asperger’s test, click here.

The following is Misha Glenny’s talk from TED:

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Scary Things Doctors Do: New Investigative Tool for Patients

 

Most doctors do wonderful things. They take care of their patients and work very hard. I’m married to a fantastic doctor, so I know they exist.  However, having spent 15 years as a pharmaceutical representative, I saw some scary things out there.  It’s important to keep in mind that someone had to graduate last in their class.  Here is a list of things that I actually saw occur in doctors’ offices while I was in the field.

  1. Illegal drug use in doctor’s office – There was one office where the receptionist actually had her boyfriend shoot something (I assume heroine) into her arm while I talked to her through the glass partition that separated the waiting room from the doctor’s area.  The reaction she got from the medication made it clear it was some form of illegal substance.  The doctor walked right by and had no reaction.
  2. Doctors popping pills – There was one doctor I called on who would take Prozac while he chatted, bragging, “I take these things to lose weight.”  This same guy was always popping some form of pill, usually for an off-label use.
  3. Doctors committing fraud – Another doctor in my territory was arrested for charging the government for testing blood that he never actually tested.
  4. Doctors not using best medications to save money – I called on a doctor who once told me that he would not prescribe a drug that he thought he was good for his patients because, as he put it, “that comes out of my budget  . . . if they go to the ER, someone else pays for it.”  He had no problem telling me that he didn’t mind if his patients suffered if it meant he could make a few more bucks from the HMO.
  5. Doctors getting paid by pharmaceutical companies – It is not unusual for a doctor to get paid to speak for certain pharmaceutical companies.  I remember calling on a particular doctor who made it very clear that he not only spoke for a particular company but also had a great deal of stock in that company. Because of this relationship, he had no intention of using competitive products even if they were better.

The good news is that the Internet allows for patients investigate issues with their doctors.  According to the article, How To Find Out if Your Doctor and Drugmakers Are In A Relationship, “The nonprofit investigative journalism outfit ProPublica has a tool you can use to see how much money your doctor has received from drug companies.”  To find out if your doctor is profiting from drug companies, click here to go to the ProPublica site.

 

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Famous People Capitalizing on Manic Depression

Manic depression or bipolar disorder is a mood disorder where people experience abnormal levels of high energy or depressive states. While generally thought of as a disorder, there are many examples of people who have this disorder and used it to their advantage.

In the article Manic Depression: The CEO’s Disease, the author points out that many leaders can be successful due to the mania involved.  They also may not even realize they have the disorder.  “On average, it takes 10 years from the onset of the illness for a manic depressive to receive a correct diagnosis. In the interim, some of them do very well in business. And as more and more such sufferers come forward, many psychiatrists are convinced that their good fortune is at least partly a result of their illness. Dr. Sagar Parikh, head of the Bipolar Clinic at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto, says 10% of those who have manic depression actually perform better in their jobs than a “healthy” individual. “[Manic depression] gives them that extra bit of panache to do the big deal,” says Parikh.”

In Joshua Walters’ Ted.com video, he points out the importance of being just crazy enough. He explains that as a performer, the crazier he is on stage, the more entertaining the audience finds his act.   He decided to embrace his illness and now walks the line between what he calls mental illness and mental skillness.  He points out that there is a movement to reframe the hypomanic part of the illness and to look at it is a positive.  He refers to John Gartner’s book The Hypomanic Edge where Gartner writes about how this edge allows people to compete.  Walters explains that being this way maybe doesn’t mean you are crazy, but that you are more sensitive to what others can’t see or feel. 

In the New York Times article Just Manic Enough:  Seeking Perfect Entrepreneurs, author David Segal explained how people could take advantage of being in the bipolar spectrum.  Segal noted, “The attributes that make great entrepreneurs, the experts say, are common in certain manias, though in milder forms and harnessed in ways that are hugely productive. Instead of recklessness, the entrepreneur loves risk. Instead of delusions, the entrepreneur imagines a product that sounds so compelling that it inspires people to bet their careers, or a lot of money, on something that doesn’t exist and may never sell.”

Tom Wooten, author founder of the Bipolar Advantage, has made it his “mission to help people with mental conditions shift their thinking and behavior so that they can lead extraordinary lives.” He sees it as being bipolar without requiring the word disorder.

The following is a list of famous successful people who have been labeled as having manic depression:

Ted Turner Manic Depression

Jim Carey Manic Depression

Abraham Lincoln Manic Depression

Vincent Van Gogh Manic Depression

Christopher Columbus Manic Depression

Edgar Allen Poe Manic Depression

Steve Jobs Manic Depression

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Manic Depression

Ludwig van Beethoven Manic Depression

Robin Williams Manic Depression

For a more complete list of famous people with manic depression, click here.

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Facebook Making People More Empathetic

Several studies have shown that online communication has facilitated friendships, honesty and sense of belonging.  New research is showing that Facebook time may actually improve people’s empathy as well. The Wall Street Journal reported that, “The more time on Facebook subjects in a recent study spent, the more empathy they said they felt online and off.”

This information may come as a surprise with the number of reported cyber bullying cases. Internet Solutions for Kids reported that 17% of 13- to 18-year-olds were bullied online in the past year. However, this is low compared to the reported 40% in-person bullying.   

Fear of dealing with social settings has led many to online platforms like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Some newer studies have shown that this form of online communication can be helpful for those who are shy or introverted and who may normally find social settings stressful.  The WSJ article noted, “In a study of New York University students who described themselves as either socially anxious or non-anxious, participants were randomly assigned to interact in groups of three, either in-person or through an Internet chat room.  Anxious students reported greatest shyness and discomfort than non-anxious students in face-to-face groups.  In the chat room, however, they said they felt significantly less shy, more comfortable and better accepted by their peers.”

The American Psychological Association (APA) reported some results at a Washington, DC conference this year from 1,283 people aged 18-30.  This group was asked about their time spent online and its impact on how much empathy they felt toward their online and offline friends.  The participants reported “a significant amount of empathy online, and that the more time college students spent on Facebook, the more empathy they expressed online and in real life.”