Posts Tagged Journal of Neuroscience

Increased Dopamine Can Reduce Impulsivity


Increased Dopamine Can Reduce ImpulsivityResearchers have discovered that elevating the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the frontal lobe of the brain can significantly decrease impulsivity in healthy adults.

The finding is important as impulsiveness is a risk factor for substance abuse.

“Impulsivity is a risk factor for addiction to many substances, and it has been suggested that people with lower dopamine levels in the frontal cortex tend to be more impulsive,” said lead author Andrew Kayser, Ph.D.

Researchers from the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco performed a double-blinded placebo study. The study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

In the research, 23 adult research participants were given either tolcapone, a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that inhibits a dopamine-degrading enzyme, or a placebo.

Investigators then gave the participants a task that measured impulsivity, asking them to make a hypothetical choice between receiving a smaller amount of money immediately (“smaller sooner”) or a larger amount at a later time (“larger later”).

Each participant was tested twice, once with tolcapone and once with placebo.

More impulse (at baseline) participants were more likely to choose the less impulsive “larger later” option after taking tolcapone than they were after taking the placebo.

Magnetic resonance imaging conducted while the participants were taking the test confirmed that regions of the frontal cortex associated with decision-making were more active in the presence of tolcapone than in the presence of placebo.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to use tolcapone to look for an effect on impulsivity,” said Kayser.

The study is a proof-in-concept investigation and was not designed to investigate the reasons that reduced dopamine is linked with impulsivity.

However, explained Kayser, scientists believe that impulsivity is associated with an imbalance in dopamine between the frontal cortex, which governs executive functions such as cognitive control and self-regulation, and the striatum, which is thought to be involved in the planning and modification of more habitual behaviors.

“Most, if not all, drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and amphetamine, directly or indirectly involve the dopamine system,” said Kayser.

“They tend to increase dopamine in the striatum, which in turn may reward impulsive behavior. In a very simplistic fashion, the striatum is saying ‘go,’ and the frontal cortex is saying ‘stop.’ If you take cocaine, you’re increasing the ‘go’ signal, and the ‘stop’ signal is not adequate to counteract it.”

Kayser and his research team plan a follow-up study of the effects of tolcapone on drinking behavior.

“Once we determine whether drinkers can safely tolerate this medication, we will see if it has any effect on how much they drink while they’re taking it,” said Kayser.

Currently, Tolcapone is approved as a medication for Parkinson’s disease — a disease in which a chronic deficit of dopamine inhibits movement.

Source: University of California – San Francisco

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Stress Hormones Impede Healthy Behavioral Change


Stress Hormones Impede Healthy Behavioral ChangeFor many people, stress is the factor that unravels diets, exercise plans and other goal-directed tasks.

European researchers believe they have discovered why stressed persons are more likely to lapse back into old habits rather than follow a goal-directed agenda.

In a study, investigators determined stress hormones shut down the activity of brain regions for goal-directed behavior, yet do not affect the brain regions responsible for habitual behavior.

Researchers from the Ruhr-Universität in Germany, together with colleagues from the University Hospital Bergmannsheil, mimicked a stress situation in the body using drugs. They then examined the brain activity using functional MRI scanning.

The scientists found that the interaction of the stress hormones hydrocortisone and noradrenaline shut down the activity of brain regions for goal-directed behavior. Yet the brain regions responsible for habitual behavior remained unaffected.

During the research on different stress hormones, the cognitive psychologists used three substances: a placebo, the stress hormone hydrocortisone and yohimbine. Yohimbine is a product which ensures that the stress hormone noradrenaline stays active longer.

Some study participants received hydrocortisone alone or just yohimbine, while other participants received both substances. A fourth group was administered a placebo. Altogether, 69 volunteers participated in the study.

During the experiment, all participants, both male and female, learned that they would receive cocoa or orange juice as a reward if they chose certain symbols on the computer.

After this learning phase, volunteers were allowed to eat as many oranges or as much chocolate pudding as they liked. “This procedure weakens the value of the reward,” said Lars Schwabe, Ph.D.

“Whoever eats chocolate pudding will lose the attraction to cocoa. Whoever is satiated with oranges, has less appetite for orange juice.”

In this context, goal-directed behavior means: Whoever has previously eaten the chocolate pudding chooses the symbols leading to cocoa reward less frequently. Whoever is satiated with oranges selects less frequently the symbols associated with orange juice.

The findings show that only the combination of yohimbine and hydrocortisone attenuates or satisfies goal-directed behavior.

As expected, volunteers who took yohimbine and hydrocortisone did not behave in a goal-directed manner but according to habit. In other words, satiation with oranges or chocolate pudding had no effect.

Persons who had taken a placebo or only one medication, on the other hand, behaved goal-directed and showed a satiating effect.

The brain data revealed: The combination of yohimbine and hydrocortisone reduced the activity in the forebrain – in the so-called orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortex.

Researchers say that these areas have been previously associated with goal-directed behavior. The brain regions which are important for habitual learning, on the other hand, were similarly active for all volunteers.

Source: Ruhr-University Bochum

Brain abstract photo by shutterstock.

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Memory Connections Change from Childhood to Adulthood


Memory Connections Change from Childhood to AdulthoodIn a new area of study, researchers explore how brain mechanisms for memory retrieval differ between adults and children.

Neuroscientists from Wayne State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered that while the memory systems are the same in many ways, the aging process appears to impart important differences in how we learn and respond to education.

Noa Ofen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in WSU’s Institute of Gerontology and Department of Pediatrics, says that cognitive ability, including the ability to learn and remember new information, dramatically changes between childhood and adulthood.

This ability parallels with dramatic changes that occur in the structure and function of the brain during these periods.

In the study, Ofen and her collaborative team tested the development of neural foundations of memory from childhood to young adulthood.

Researchers did this by exposing participants to pictures of scenes and then showing them the same scenes mixed with new ones. They then and asked them to judge whether each picture was presented earlier.

Participants made retrieval judgments while researchers collected images of their brains with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Using this method, the researchers were able to see how the brain remembers. “Our results suggest that cortical regions related to attentional or strategic control show the greatest developmental changes for memory retrieval,” said Ofen.

This finding suggests that older participants use the cortical regions of the brain to retrieve past memories more so than younger participants.

“We were interested to see whether there are changes in the connectivity of regions in the brain that support memory retrieval,” Ofen added.

“We found changes in connectivity of memory-related regions. In particular, the developmental change in connectivity between regions was profound even without a developmental change in the recruitment of those regions, suggesting that functional brain connectivity is an important aspect of developmental changes in the brain.”

Researchers say this study is unique as it is the first time that the development of connectivity within memory systems in the brain has been tested.

Findings suggest the brain continues to rearrange connections to achieve adult-like performance during development.

Future studies by Ofen and her research team will focus on modeling brain network connectivity, and applying these methods to study abnormal brain development.

The team’s findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: Wayne State University

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6 Steps to Finding New Love


6 Steps to Finding New Love

by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

6 Steps to Finding New Love If your relationship has ended, you might be nervous about dipping your feet in the dating pool. Or you might worry that you’ll never find love again. Maybe you’ve even assumed that you’re just unlucky when it comes to love.

Relationship and family therapist Terri Orbuch, Ph.D, often hears people say they’ve lost hope. But she wants individuals to know that it’s absolutely possible to find a fulfilling partnership. For instance, in her 25-year study of 373 married couples, Orbuch found that 71 percent of divorced singles found love again.

Also, love has very little to do with luck. In fact, “there is a method to the love madness,” said Orbuch, who’s also author of the recently published book Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.

She believes in working from the inside out. Before pursuing a new relationship, Orbuch stresses the importance of working on your own beliefs, emotions, behaviors and sense of self. She helps readers do just that in Finding Love Again, along with offering tips on everything from first dates to building a strong relationship.

Below, Orbuch discussed her six steps for seeking and finding a great relationship.

 

1. Adjust your expectations.

“Forget everything you know about relationships,” Orbuch said. That’s because you might be holding onto certain relationship myths and unrealistic expectations, which can set you up for failure and frustration, she said. (Frustration also can eat away at your happiness, according to Orbuch.)

For instance, it’s unrealistic to think that your partner will automatically know what you want and need — even after many years of marriage, Orbuch said. In the beginning, people simply don’t know each other that well, while over the years, people naturally change, and so do their wants and needs. (Remember that no one is a mind reader. If you want or need something, Orbuch said, you have to ask for it.)

Another common myth is that there’s a specific amount of time you have to wait before you start dating. However, according to Orbuch, there’s no scientific evidence to substantiate a certain timeframe. “Everyone is different.” Some people are ready to date right after a relationship ends, while others need more time to heal, she said.

2. Start with a clean slate.

In her study, Orbuch found that divorced singles who didn’t feel anything for their ex were more likely to find love. “In order to find love again, you need to emotionally separate or detach from previous or past relationships,” she said.

Remaining emotionally attached to the past prevents you from being fully present — and trusting someone else — and keeps you trapped in a cycle of negativity, she said. Everyone has emotional baggage. The key is to make sure that your baggage isn’t too heavy, she said.

For instance, in the book, Orbuch includes a helpful quiz with questions such as: Do you still keep photos of your ex, compare others to them or visit their social media sites?

According to Orbuch, one way to become emotionally neutral is to release your emotions in healthy ways, such as engaging in physical activities and social events; volunteering; writing an honest letter to your ex (that you never send); and getting creative with activities such as painting, gardening and playing music. What also helps is to share your story with loved ones and seek their support, she said.

3. Shake up your routine.

Orbuch suggested making one small and simple change and committing to it for 21 days. In her study, she found that divorced singles who cut their work hours by at least one hour a day were more likely to find love. Changing your routine can open up new opportunities to meet people and even revise how you see yourself, according to Orbuch.

4. Discover the real you.

After your relationship ends, “you need to step back and re-examine you,” Orbuch said. Before you can determine if you’re compatible with someone, you need to know who you really are, she said.

Your past relationship probably shaped your personality and preferences in some way. You no doubt compromised, changed and accepted certain traits, she said.

As Orbuch writes in her book, “Singles who find a long-lasting, successful partnership have one trait in common: they put the focus on who they are and what they want, rather than worrying about what others will think.”

To find out who you are, define your key life values. What matters most to you? For instance, how important is faith, your job or your health?

Orbuch also suggested making a list of the qualities you’d like in your partner — and to be specific. For instance, as she writes in the book, by “funny,” do you mean you’d like your partner to have a dry sense of humor or tell jokes or something else entirely? Getting specific helps you reflect and consider the true qualities you’d like in a mate — and not waste your time, she writes.

5. Start dating.

Again, it’s important to be hopeful. The divorced singles in Orbuch’s study who were hopeful were much more likely to find love.

In the beginning of your relationship, you want to “disclose or share parts of yourself gradually,” Orbuch said. Don’t spill your guts right away. This might seem obvious, but many people do just that: They reveal everythingimmediately because they assume that if their date or partner doesn’t like what they hear, then it’s “Too bad,” and they’re on to the next person, she said.

But a lot of information is overwhelming for anyone, especially when it’s about topics like your ex, kids and finances, she said.

Don’t try to sell yourself, either, Orbuch said. Dating isn’t about winning someone’s approval; it’s about about finding out if you’re compatible.

6. Determine if you’re in the right relationship, and keep it strong.

When evaluating your relationship, Orbuch suggests considering the following: Do you think in terms of “we” or “I”? Do you trust each other? Do you share similar values? Do you handle conflict effectively?

To keep your relationship strong, “empty your pet peeves pail frequently,” she said. Small annoyances add up — and can damage your relationship — so talk to your partner about what bothers you.

Also, “make sure that you recognize and affirm each other frequently over time,” she said. It’s all too easy to put your relationship on the back burner when other people and tasks require your immediate attention, such as your kids, parents, jobs, health and finances, she said. But just a sweet phrase or small behavior can go a long way.

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5 mind-bending facts about dreams


sleep

sleep (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

5 mind-bending facts about dreams

By Jeanna Bryner

LiveScience

When your head hits the pillow, for many it’s lights out for the conscious part of you. But the cells firing in your brain are very much awake, sparking enough energy to produce the sometimes vivid and sometimes downright haunted dreams that take place during the rapid-eye-movement stage of your sleep.

Why do some people have nightmares while others really spend their nights in bliss? Like sleep, dreams are mysterious phenomena. But as scientists are able to probe deeper into our minds, they are finding some of those answers.

Here’s some of what we know about what goes on in dreamland.

1. Violent dreams can be a warning sign

As if nightmares weren’t bad enough, a rare sleep disorder — called REM sleep behavior disorder — causes people to act out their dreams, sometimes with violent thrashes, kicks and screams. Such violent dreams may be an early sign of brain disorders down the line, including Parkinson’s disease and dementia, according to research published online July 28, 2010, in the journal Neurology. The results suggest the incipient stages of these neurodegenerative disorders might begin decades before a person, or doctor, knows it.

2. Night owls have more nightmares

Staying up late has its perks, but whimsical dreaming is not one of them. Research published in 2011 in the journal Sleep and Biological Rhythms, revealed that night owls are more likely than their early-bird counterparts to experience nightmares.

In the study 264 university students rated how often they experienced nightmares on a scale from 0 to 4, never to always, respectively. The stay-up-late types scored, on average, a 2.10, compared with the morning types who averaged a 1.23. The researchers said the difference was a significant one, however, they aren’t sure what’s causing a link between sleep habits and nightmares. Among their ideas is the stress hormone cortisol, which peaks in the morning right before we wake up, a time when people are more prone to be in REM, or dream, sleep. If you’re still sleeping at that time, the cortisol rise could trigger vivid dreams or nightmares, the researchers speculate. [ Top 10 Spooky Sleep Disorders ]

3. Men dream about sex

As in their wake hours, men also dream about sex more than women do. And comparing notes in the morning may not be a turn-on for either guys or gals, as women are more likely to have experienced nightmares, suggests doctoral research reported in 2009 by psychologist Jennie Parker of the University of the West of England.

She found women’s dreams/nightmares could be grouped into three categories: fearful dreams (being chased or having their life threatened); dreams involving the loss of a loved one; or confused dreams.

4. You can control your dreams

If you’re interested in lucid dreaming, you may want to take up video gaming. The link? Both represent alternate realities, said Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada.

“If you’re spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it’s practice,” Gackenbach told LiveScience in 2010. “Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams.” Her past research has shown that people who frequently play video games are more likely than non-gamers to have lucid dreams where they view themselves from outside their bodies; they were also better able to influence their dream worlds, as if controlling a video-game character.

That level of control may also help gamers turn a bloodcurdling nightmare into a carefree dream, she found in a 2008 study. This ability could help war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Gackenbach reasoned.

5. Why we dream

Scientists have long wondered why we dream, with answers ranging from Sigmund Freud’s idea that dreams fulfill our wishes to the speculation that these wistful journeys are just a side effect of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. Turns out, at least part of the reason may be critical thinking, suggests Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett who presented her theory in 2010 at the Association for Psychological Science meeting in Boston.

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Her research revealed that our slumbering hours may help us solve puzzles that have plagued us during daylight hours. The visual and often illogical aspects of dreams make them perfect for the out-of-the-box thinking that is necessary to solve some problems, she speculates.

So while dreams may have originally evolved for another purpose, they have likely been refined over time for multiple tasks, including helping the brain reboot and helping us solve problems, she said.

via 5 mind-bending facts about dreams – Vitals.

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In Adolescence, Girls React Differently Than Boys To Peers’ Judgments


English: Sagittal MRI slice with highlighting ...

English: Sagittal MRI slice with highlighting (red) indicating the nucleus accumbens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The study, by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and Georgia State University, appears in the July/August 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.

The researchers looked at mostly White psychiatrically healthy Americans ages 9 to 17 to determine what happens in the brains of preteens and teens at a time of significant change in social behavior. The youths looked at photos of peers and rated their interest in interacting with each one. Then they underwent a brain scan while reviewing the pictures and rated how much each young person in the picture might want to interact with them in return. The youths were told they would be matched with a peer for a chat after the scan.

The study found that in older girls (as compared to younger girls), brain regions (the nucleus accumbens, insula, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala) associated with social rewards and motivation, processing emotions, hormonal changes, and social memory responded differently when they thought about being judged by their peers, especially peers with whom they wanted to interact. These differences were not evident between younger and older boys.

“The findings offer a fresh perspective on how changes in the brain relate to changes in the way young people think and feel about how their peers view them,” according to Amanda E. Guyer, a research fellow at NIMH, who led the study. “They are relevant for parents, teachers, and clinicians who are trying to help teens adjust socially during adolescence. They may be especially relevant for girls, who are more likely than boys to feel anxious and depressed at this time.”

via In Adolescence, Girls React Differently Than Boys To Peers’ Judgments.

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Stress may delay brain development in early years


There has been a lot of work in animals linking both acute and chronic stress to changes in a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in complex cognitive abilities like holding on to important information for quick recall and use,” says Jamie Hanson, a UW-Madison psychology graduate student. “We have now found similar associations in humans, and found that more exposure to stress is related to more issues with certain kinds of cognitive processes.”

Children who had experienced more intense and lasting stressful events in their lives posted lower scores on tests of what the researchers refer to as spatial working memory. They had more trouble navigating tests of short-term memory such as finding a token in a series of boxes, according to the study, which will be published in the June 6 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Brain scans revealed that the anterior cingulate, a portion of the prefrontal cortex believed to play key roles in spatial working memory, takes up less space in children with greater exposure to very stressful situations.

“These are subtle differences, but differences related to important cognitive abilities” Hanson says.

But they maybe not irreversible differences.

“We’re not trying to argue that stress permanently scars your brain. We don’t know if and how it is that stress affects the brain,” Hanson says. “We only have a snapshot — one MRI scan of each subject — and at this point we don’t understand whether this is just a delay in development or a lasting difference. It could be that, because the brains is very plastic, very able to change, that children who have experienced a great deal of stress catch up in these areas.”

The researchers determined stress levels through interviews with children ages 9 to 14 and their parents. The research team, which included UW-Madison psychology professors Richard Davidson and Seth Pollak and their labs, collected expansive biographies of stressful events from slight to severe.

“Instead of focusing in on one specific type of stress, we tried to look at a range of stressors,” Hanson says. “We wanted to know as much as we could, and then use all this information to later to get an idea of how challenging and chronic and intense each experience was for the child.”

Interestingly, there was little correlation between cumulative life stress and age. That is, children who had several more years of life in which to experience stressful episodes were no more likely than their younger peers to have accumulated a length stress resume. Puberty, on the other hand, typically went hand-in-hand with heavier doses of stress.

The researchers, whose work was funded by the National Institutes of Health, also took note of changes in brain tissue known as white matter and gray matter. In the important brain areas that varied in volume with stress, the white and gray matter volumes were lower in tandem.

White matter, Hanson explained, is like the long-distance wiring of the brain. It connects separated parts of the brain so that they can share information. Gray matter “does the math,” Hanson says. “It takes care of the processing, using the information that gets shared along the white matter connections.”

Gray matter early in development appears to enable flexibility; children can play and excel at many different activities. But as kids age and specialize, gray matter thins. It begins to be “pruned” after puberty, while the amount of white matter grows into adulthood.

“For both gray and white matter, we actually see smaller volumes associated with high stress,” Hanson says. “Those kinds of effects across different kinds of tissue, those are the things we would like to study over longer periods of time. Understanding how these areas change can give you a better picture of whether this is just a delay in development or more lasting.”

More study could also show the researchers how to help children who have experienced an inordinate amount of stress.

“There are groups around the country doing working memory interventions to try to train or retrain people on this particular cognitive ability and improve performance,” Hanson says. “Understanding if and how stress affects these processes could help us know whether there may be similar interventions that could aid children living in stressful conditions, and how this may affect the brain.”

via Stress may delay brain development in early years.

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