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

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.

The Human Brain: Gender Differences in Intelligence and Maturity

Experts continue to research what makes individuals unique.  Is there a difference between human intelligence in males vs. females?  Ask a woman and you might get a different answer than if you ask a man?  According to Hedges, ” IQ tests, regarded by psychometricians as measures of intelligence, have shown that differences between men and women are minimal or negligible, but men are often overrepresented at extreme scores, both very high and very low.”

Rueven Bar-On, a leading expert in emotional intelligence, reported that “no differences appeared between males and females regarding overall emotional and social competence.”  That is not to say that both sexes were identical.  “Females appear to have stronger interpersonal skills than males, but the later have a higher intrapersonal capacity, are better at stress management, and are more adaptable.”

Scientists have now looked at the brains of both sexes at the age of 10, 16 and 20 to see if there truly are differences in maturity levels between the two.  WJSOnline reported “Although boys’ and girls’ brains show differences around age 10, during puberty key parts of their brains become more similar.”  By measuring the brain’s cortex and how it may change as boys and girls age, the National Institute of Mental Health Child’s Psychiatric Branch studied 284 people and found “boys’ and girls’ brains, on average, differ significantly at age 9, but by the time the participants reached 22, the brains of the two sexes grew more alike in many areas critical for learning.”

Some interesting differences in Gender Development noted in the article included:

Gender Development

Some typical milestones and when boys and girls tend to hit them:

At birth: Girls are a few weeks more mature neurologically and have more advanced hearing. Boys on average weigh half a pound more.

First words: Girls typically utter their first word at 11 or 12 months, one month ahead of boys.

Vocabulary: At 18 months, girls on average know 86.8 words, more than double boys’ 41.8 words. By 30 months, boys’ and girls’ language skills have converged, at about 500 words.

Walking: Caucasian girls and boys tend to walk around 12 months. African-Americans walk sooner, at nine to 10 months.

Potty training: Girls are fully trained by 36 months, according to one study. Boys took a bit longer, training by 38 months.

Onset of puberty: For girls, the process can start at age 9 to 10. For boys, it’s closer to 11 to 12.

Source: WSJ research

CryoPreservation: Having Your Brain Preserved After You Die

Ted Williams help to bring to light cryogenics and the procedure of freezing a human head.  While preserving parts of us after we die may seem bazaar, there may be some things we can learn from brain preservation.

According to the Brain Preservation Organization, “Due to a series of recent scientific developments, human beings may soon have an inexpensive and reliable way to preserve their brains, including the molecular features that give rise to their memories and identities, in room-temperature storage after they die. This technology is called plastination (chemopreservation), or chemical fixation and embedding in plastic, and is a distant cousin of the process seen in such exhibits as Body Worlds. Today, “perfect” plastination is routinely done for very small amounts of brain tissue (one millimeter cubed), and soon it will be attempted for whole animal and human brains. Cryopreservation (involving very low temperature storage) is another, more expensive process that also deserves to be carefully evaluated for its ability to preserve the critical structures of our brains. Today, leading-edge neuroscience is identifying the synaptic structures that store and generate our unique memories and identity, and new imaging techniques are allowing us to verify when these special structures have been successfully preserved, starting with general synaptic connectivity all the way to the signal states of individual brain proteins.”

This organization is even offering a prize of $106,000 to those teams that can actually preserve a large animal brain.  Their hope is to preserve the human wisdom and diversity that dies with us along with our brains.

As one might guess, not everyone is thrilled with this idea.  For those with objections to such a project, this site has created a page for overcoming objections.

Their mission is to, “promote scientific research and services development in the field of whole brain preservation for long-term static storage. Through outreach to appropriate scientific communities, online activities, presentations and articles, directed research grants, challenge prizes, and other methods, we seek to explore the scientific hypothesis of whether a reliable surgical procedure exists that is capable of preserving the precise neural circuitry of the human brain at nanometer scale.”

For those interested in reading more about cryopreservation, chemical preservation or scanning and circuit mapping click here for more information.

Are Humans Getting Dumber as Our Brains are Shrinking?

Did you know that our brains are actually shrinking? NPR.org reported, “Cro-Magnon man, who lived in Europe 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, had the biggest brains of any human species.  In comparison, today’s human brain is about 10 percent smaller.”

The human brain is still an enigma is many respects.  Are there differences in the human brain that cause people like Einstein to achieve so much?  Studies were completed on Einstein’s brain and they actually found he had some differences.  There is speculation that due to the way that Einstein’s brain was missing a part of a bordering region, that this enabled neurons to communicate more efficiently.  

With all of the technological inventions, one might think that people should be getting smarter. However, in the NPR article, this decreasing in brain size may have a negative impact, “The experts aren’t sure about the implications of this evolutionary trend.  Some think it might be a dumbing-down process. One cognitive scientist, David Geary, argues that as human society grows increasingly complex, individuals don’t need to be as intelligent in order to survive and reproduce.” 

If this is true, the movie Idiocracy may be foreshadowing some frightening possibilities.  The movie displays what life would be like if people continue on their current path of finding entertainment in reality shows, tattooing, partying and enjoying other less than useful activities.  This movie seemed to play off of studies done by Lentz in 1927 that claimed the intelligent people were having fewer children than the less intelligent people.  This would lead to a society of less intelligent people.  The Examiner claims Lentz’s work has merit, stating “This conjecture has been confirmed by studies like that of Hernstein and Murray (1994), who demonstrated that in the U.S. females with an average IQ of 111 had 1.6 children, whereas females with an average IQ of 81 had 2.6 children.”

The Examiner claims that there is hope for improvements, though, due to something called the Flynn effect. “Even if genotypic IQ is heading towards a decline across the world, there is still phenotypic intelligence that has increased over the last few generations. This phenomenon, also known as Flynn effect, is attributable to advancements in nutrition, education, and a more intellectually stimulating environment. The Flynn effect has led to gains of 7.5 IQ points a generation, much greater than .43 IQ points decline in genotypic IQ.”
There is something called Spearman’s g that refers to one’s general intelligence that was postulated in 1904 by Charles Spearman.  g, written in lower case like, now refers to general intelligence. A neuroscientist named John Duncan explained Spearman’s work in his book How Intelligence Happens.  The Wall Street Journal explained, “Mr. Duncan makes a convincing case that these brain areas constitute a special circuit that is crucial for both Spearman’s “g” and for intelligent behavior more generally. But his book elides the question of whether this circuit is also the source of IQ differences. That is, do people who score high on IQ tests use the frontal and parietal areas of their brains differently from people who score lower? The answer, discovered by other researchers, turns out to be yes.”

It appears that our brains are decreasing in size, more people with lower IQ scores are having children, but we can increase our education and nutrition.  We can also learn more about how our frontal and parietal areas can be improved.  There is hope that we are not necessarily headed for an Idiocracy-like future.

What is Ugly Meter? New APP Analyzes How “Ugly” You Are

 

Jo Overline, co-creator of the Ugly Meter app for iPhones, shows a scan. The app snaps a picture of a subject's face, analyzes the image for symmetry, ranks one's ugliness and flings an insult or compliment.

Image via azcentral.com

There is a new app available for Iphones that will allow you to take a picture of someone and then have it run a facial recognition, analyzing whether the person is attractive or not.  The app then makes a comment about their appearance . . . good or bad.

The app is very popular but it is causing debate as to whether this is a good thing to do.  Some see it as harmless fun, while others think it can be causing bullying, leading to psychological distress. 

The app, only 99 cents,  will assign a score from 0-10.  Ten being the least attractive.

How popular is this app? According to azcentral.com “About two months after its release, Ugly Meter has generated over 100,000 downloads, peaking at No. 3 on the most popular chart.”

How did a beauty like Angelina Jolie rate on their test?  How about Brad Pitt? Check out the results by clicking here.

The Ugly Meter iPhone App

image via dailymail.co.uk

What is Lumosity and How Can It Help Your Mind?

Lumosity is a website designed to help improve your cognitive abilities.  According to their site, “The capacity of the human brain to make new associations and acquire new knowledge has been appreciated for hundreds of years. However, the brain’s ability to fundamentally reorganize itself when confronted with new challenges is a relatively recent discovery. In response to these challenges, the brain will adapt and change. Given the right kind of exercise, it will reshape itself to be more efficient and effective. This power of reshaping is referred to as neuroplasticity. Lumosity has adapted this cutting edge research in neuroscience and cognition to an accessible, enjoyable training program which will stimulate the brain and lead to improved cognitive ability and health.”

In less than 10 minutes a day, they claim you can improve your memory and attention.  Think of it as exercising your mind.  You can even give a membership to lumosity as a gift.  It’s free for 7 days and the exercises are a lot of fun.  They also provide feedback and detailed improvement tracking. 

What are people saying about it?

Los Angeles Times said, “Lumosity presents a wide range of exercises that target different mental processes.”

New York Times said, “We can indeed form new brain cells, despite a century of being told it is impossible.”

It is popular because it makes learning fun.  There is a lumosity scholar section that is specifically targeted to students.  It is shown to improve standardized testing scores.  Other sections are specifically targeted for certain areas such as those with ADHD, traumatic brain injury (TBI) or special math needs.

After a week, if you decide you want to stay with the program, you can join for under $7/month or buy a lifetime membership for $299.95. 

Their users have claimed to have the following benefits:

  • Clearer and quicker thinking
  • Improved memory for names, numbers, directions, etc.
  • Increased alertness and awareness
  • Elevated mood
  • Better concentration at work or while driving