Memory and the hippocampus: Size may not matter as much as we thought

first_imgShare on Facebook New work by the Douglas Mental Health University Institute (CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’île-de-MontréalI) computational neuroscientist Mallar Chakravarty, PhD, and in collaboration with researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) challenges in a thrilling way the long-held belief that a larger hippocampus is directly linked to improved memory function.The size of the hippocampus, an important structure in the brain’s memory circuit, is typically measured as one method to determine the integrity of the memory circuit. However, the shape of this structure is often neglected. Using a novel algorithmic technique to map the hippocampus, Dr. Chakravarty, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry at McGill University, is shedding new light on its shape.The algorithm developed by the team identifies individuals with differently shaped hippocampi. In fact, the study has found that while stereotypic shapes exist for this structure, individuals with a broader hippocampus tend to perform better on various tests that assess memory. In the study, these shape differences were better predictors of memory function than the bulk volume of the hippocampus. LinkedIn Share Share on Twittercenter_img Email Pinterest “This exciting new finding may help us improve our understanding of how to preserve the memory circuit and its function. This work shows the value of multidisciplinary research, as it required the close collaboration of engineers, computer scientists and psychiatrists to complete this work,” says Dr. Chakravarty, senior author on the study. Chakravarty’s student Julie Winterburn notably worked on this project, and was co-first author with Dr. Aristotle Voineskos of CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute. in Toronto.Why it mattersImproving our understanding of the geometry of different structures may have significant implications in understanding neuropsychiatric disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, where memory function is significantly compromised. Given the aging demographics of Quebec and Canada, uncovering clues on how to improve memory function, one of the main impairments reported (even in healthy aging), will be critical to relieving the overwhelming burden our health care system currently faces. The results of this recent research are published in Human Brain Mapping, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.last_img read more

Study on twins suggests most people return to their normal happiness level after trauma

first_imgEmail Pinterest Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Sharecenter_img LinkedIn Misheva was interested in testing the adaptation hypothesis—in other words, can people adapt to intense emotional experiences (both positive and negative) and return to their original level of life satisfaction?Scientists collected data from 5530 pairs of twins, both fraternal and identical, and asked participants about their overall life satisfaction. 86 percent of respondents rated their lives as “good” or “excellent,” while 14 percent chose “fair” or “poor.”Twin studies “help to dispel the possibility that happiness is genetically determined,” effectively bypassing the nature-nurture debate.Respondents were also asked about major traumas they may have experienced—examples included child abuse, neglect, jail time, major accidents, assault, rape, kidnapping and witnessing an assault or murder.  They were asked twice to focus on things that happened within the last year and the last three years, respectively.“If it is indeed the case that humans do adapt to their circumstances, then we expect to find a stronger effect of more recent events,” said Misheva.Of the respondents who reported trauma, 41 percent reported physical abuse; 11 percent reported sexual abuse; 19 percent reported being involved in an accident; 23 percent reported witnessing a serious injury or murder, 10 percent reported assault, and five percent reported rape.As predicted, major events—both traumas and positive events such as marriage—had a much more significant impact on the emotional well-being of respondents if they occurred within the last year.A major limitation of the study is that it used a single self-report question to determine emotional well-being. Scientists have yet to pin down an all-inclusive measurement for this quality.“No consensus exists in social science…about the best and most complete definition of well-being,” Misheva remarked.Nevertheless, the data show that the adaptation theory holds up, at least in this case.Future studies may include better measures for well-being and more specific information about traumatic experiences in order to formulate a better plan for helping victims.“Victims of different traumatic experiences should be assisted in order to recover more quickly from their ordeals,” said Misheva. “All of these policies could contribute to a happier society.” Can people really adapt to intense experiences and return to the way they were?  Or do those experiences permanently affect their well-being?This is the question scientists sought to answer in a 2015 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.The researchers used a twin study to analyze the emotional well-being of participants after major life stressors.  Emotional well-being is “the emotional quality of everyday experiences, the positive and negative affect that makes one’s life pleasant or unpleasant,” according to Violeta Misheva, corresponding author.last_img read more

For millions on long-term opioid medications, change will be a challenge

first_imgPinterest A team of researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System recently surveyed patients to understand barriers to reducing the use of opioids to manage chronic pain. The results of those interviews are published in the current issue of the journal Pain Medicine.Millions of Americans take opioid medications daily to manage chronic pain, but there are growing concerns among health care professionals of opioid misuse and overdose. In early 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines, emphasizing a conservative approach to opioid prescribing. For patients already on long-term opioid medications, the transition away from opioid medications can be intensely unpleasant, anxiety-provoking and complex, according to the study.The research team at the CU School of Medicine and the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System conducted in-depth interviews of 24 patients across 3 health systems in metro Denver to explore the perspectives of patients on this issue. Participants in the study described experiences of decreasing or stopping opioid medications that were complicated by opioid withdrawal symptoms, fears of increased pain and confusing medication changes. However, study participants also described an improved quality of life after the transition. “While the process can be very challenging, there may be a silver lining here,” said Joseph Frank, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine and a primary care physician at the VA Medical Center in Denver. “We heard powerful stories of patients reclaiming their lives. It will be important to ensure that patients’ voices are heard in the national conversation about these medications.”Study participants also highlighted the importance of support from family and from healthcare providers. This level of intensive support may be difficult for some outpatient primary care practices, where a majority of opioid medications are prescribed. “To achieve goals of improving quality of life and preventing opioid-related harms, we need better evidence and more resources to support patients both during and after this challenging transition,” Frank said. Share on Twitter Emailcenter_img Share on Facebook LinkedIn Sharelast_img read more

Low attention control in early adolescence is a genetic risk factor for anxiety disorders

first_imgEmail University of Texas at Arlington researchers have found that low attention control in early adolescence is related to a genetic risk factor for four different anxiety disorders. Young teens who suffer from anxiety are also more vulnerable to additional problems like depression, drug dependence, suicidal behavior and educational underachievement.The National Institutes of Mental Health reports that 8 per cent of teens ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder, with anxiety-related problems often peaking during this time. Most adults diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorders also report the presence of symptoms earlier in their lives.“Appropriate and earlier intervention could really assist these patients and improve their outlooks on the long-term,” said Jeffrey Gagne, UTA assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study. “Having a visible marker like low attention control, which usually appears and can be identified before anxiety, could improve the treatment of these disorders.” Pinterest Share on Twitter Sharecenter_img Gagne and UTA graduate student Catherine Spann recently published their research as “The Shared Etiology of Attentional Control and Anxiety: An Adolescent Twin Study” in the Journal of Research on Adolescence. Deirdre O’Sullivan, Nicole Schmidt and H. Hill Goldsmith, all of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also participated in the study, which was supported by several grants from the National Institute of Mental Health including a Silvio O. Conte Center for Neuroscience grant.This research constitutes the first twin study-based examination of genetic and environmental factors that contribute to both low attention control and four distinct anxiety symptoms in early adolescence.The researchers used a combination of self-ratings and mother ratings to assess scores for obsessive, social, separation and generalized anxiety symptoms in 446 twin pairs with a mean age of 13.6 years, all enrolled in the Wisconsin Twin Project.They then explored the extent to which links between low levels of attention and anxiety symptoms are genetically and environmentally mediated in adolescence.Non-shared environmental influences were significant across attention control and all anxiety variables. Genetic correlations ranged from 36 to 47 per cent, a pattern that suggests that low attention can be considered a phenotypic and genetic risk factor for anxiety.Risk level varied, however, depending on the specific type of disorder, with the highest correlations being for generalized and separation anxieties, and the lowest for obsessive-compulsive disorder.Perry Fuchs, chair of UTA’s department of Psychology in the College of Science, emphasized the importance of this work in the context of the university’s increasing focus on health and the human condition within the Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions|Global Impact.“Adolescence is clearly an important development period,” Fuchs said. “Better assessment of teens’ ability to concentrate could facilitate the identification of those at risk of anxiety and could also inform molecular genetic studies, which would be the logical next stage for research.” LinkedIn Share on Facebooklast_img read more

Confidence influences eyewitness memory of crimes

first_imgPinterest Memory conformityAs Dr Thorley explains, “In 2003, 29 people witnessed the murder of the Swedish foreign minister, Anna Lindh, in a shopping mall. Afterwards these co-witnesses discussed the murder. During these discussions, one incorrectly stated that the murderer wore a camouflage-patterned jacket.“Several of the witnesses then included this incorrect information in their subsequent police statements. Consequently, the police wasted time and resources looking for someone in a camouflage-pattern jacket. Photographic evidence later revealed the murderer had worn a grey hooded sweatshirt”.Last year, Dr Thorley conducted the first study examining whether memory conformity can result in eyewitnesses blaming an innocent bystander for a crime. In that earlier study, participant eyewitnesses watched a crime video and then read a statement from a co-witness about the crime that incorrect blamed an innocent bystander for it. Just over 40% of participants who read this statement also blame the innocent bystander. This specific form of memory conformity became known as blame conformity.Blame conformityIn his most recent research, published in the latest issue of Psychology, Crime, and Law, Dr Thorley conducted two studies examining whether or not eyewitnesses are more likely to engage in blame conformity when incorrect information about a crime comes from a high-confidence, compared to a low-confidence, co-witness and when the eyewitnesses themselves are low, compared to high, in self-confidence.In both experiments participant eyewitnesses watched a video of a bag theft. They then read a co-witness statement about the theft. For some of these participants, the co-witness incorrectly stated an innocent bystander was the thief. The participant eyewitnesses were then asked who committed the theft.ConfidenceIn the first experiment, the incorrect co-witness expressed high or low confidence in her assertion that the innocent bystander was the thief. Participant eyewitnesses who read the incorrect statement by the high-confidence co-witness were at greater risk of engaging in blame conformity by also blaming the innocent bystander for the crime.In the second experiment, participants’ own self-confidence was assessed. Those who were lower self-confidence were more likely to engage in blame conformity by also blaming the innocent bystander for the crime.Interestingly, when participant eyewitnesses engaged in blame conformity in both experiments were asked how confident they were that the innocent bystander was the thief, they only expressed moderate levels of confidence. This suggests they had an awareness that their responses were potentially incorrect but engaged in blame conformity regardless.Eyewitness susceptibilityThis is the first research to examine whether or not co-witness confidence and own self-confidence can predict susceptibility to blame conformity. The findings suggest both play an important role in the effect.Dr Thorley specialises in teaching people about human memory, memory and law, research methods, and statistics. As part of his ongoing research Dr Thorley has lectured to a range of different audiences including undergraduate students, fellow academics, medical professionals, and senior police officers LinkedIn Share on Facebook New University of Liverpool research has found that co-witnesses to a crime can contaminate each other’s memory of who committed it, but that the likelihood of this contamination occurring depends upon their confidence.The research, conducted by Dr Craig Thorley from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, was inspired by real-life incidents where co-witnesses have discussed a crime, one has made a mistake during these discussions, and the others have then included this mistake in their subsequent police statements.This effect is known as memory conformity and it has the potential to derail police investigations.center_img Share Share on Twitter Emaillast_img read more

New research finds replication studies are often unwelcome in psychology journals

first_imgOnly a small minority of psychology journals encourage the submission of replication studies, according to new research.The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, provides one reason why replications may not be performed or published enough.“Science progresses through replication and contradiction. The former builds the body of evidence, the latter determines whether such a body exists,” said Professor Neil Martin, of Regent’s University London, the lead author on the study. Share on Facebook Share Email LinkedIncenter_img Pinterest Share on Twitter “We wanted to investigate whether journals specifically rejected (or did not recommend) the submission of replications. We did this by examining the aims and instructions to authors of 1,151 journals in psychology,” he added.Of the psychology journals examined, only about 3 percent (33 in total) specifically stated that replications would be accepted.Most journals (63 percent) did not state they accepted replications but did not discourage replications either. But 33 percent implicitly discouraged replication studies, with language such as: “Studies whose sole purpose is to replicate well-established developmental phenomena in different countries or (sub) cultures are not typically published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development.” Twelve journals explicitly did not accept replications for publication.In 2015, researchers attempted to reproduce 100 previously published psychological studies, but only 36 percent reached statistical significance after being conducted again. But Martin and his colleagues said there is a way for psychology to put its house in order.“We’ve suggested that all journals in psychology should state that they accept replications that are positive and negative,” Martin said. “Researchers could also submit two papers for publication when they submit original research: one which reports the original results and one replication which acts as a test of the original findings.”last_img read more

Study finds marijuana use is associated with dating violence

first_imgShare on Twitter Marijuana use is associated with an increased risk of physical violence in relationships among young people, according to study recently published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.In the USA the law regarding marijuana is changing. Over 20 states have decriminalized the use of marijuana and 35 states have made it legal for medical use. Young adults are thought to be most affected by these policy changes because they face an important stage in their development into adulthood but also have the highest reported rates of marijuana use.According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as many as 20% of 18-25 year olds report using marijuana in the past 30 days. The general concern is that as the law regarding marijuana relaxes there will be an increase in associated behavioural problems. Share on Facebook Physical dating violence (PDV) is a behavioural problem that is thought to be influenced by marijuana use. To date there is little evidence for this claim. However, there is a well established link between alcohol consumption and PDV among young people. This evidence displays how important it is to investigate the potential association between using mind-altering substances and the risk of physical violence in relationships.Renee Johnson (John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and team, investigated the current understanding of the link between marijuana use and both PDV victimization and perpetration by combining data from several studies in a meta-analysis.The results showed that there is an association between marijuana use and PDV victimization among adolescents. The association was strongest in females. The results also revealed an association between marijuana use and PDV perpetration. Again, this association was particularly observed in adolescent females.Overall the study brought together a large amount of existing data to determine the link between marijuana and PDV, providing a solid basis for further research to be carried out. The link between marijuana use and PDV is strongest amongst adolescent girls. However, several studies that were included in the meta-analysis did not provide support for an association between marijuana use and PDV. These studies had an older participant age range for example 18-27. Which suggests that the behavioural effects of marijuana have a greater impact on teenagers rather than young adults.As the laws about marijuana use change it is important to develop our understanding of the associations between marijuana use and specific public health problems. Particularly in adolescents due to their sensitive developmental stage and high level of marijuana use. Emailcenter_img Share LinkedIn Pinterestlast_img read more

Study finds a woman’s marital surname choice influences perceptions of her husband

first_imgShare on Twitter Share on Facebook LinkedIn Share Pinterestcenter_img Email The pending nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have royal watchers brushing up on royal naming practices and asking ‘what’s in a name?’A new study led by a UNLV psychology professor shows that a wife’s choice of surnames may influence perceptions of her husband’s personality and the distribution of power in the marriage.In a three-part study conducted in the U.S. and the U.K., Rachael Robnett and her coauthors concluded that men whose wives retain their own surnames after marriage are seen as submissive and less powerful in the relationship. The study, published on Nov. 21, is the first to examine whether perceptions of a man’s personality vary depending on whether his wife takes his name or retains her own.“The marital surname tradition is more than just a tradition. It reflects subtle gender-role norms and ideologies that often remain unquestioned despite privileging men,” said Robnett, an assistant professor of psychology at UNLV.Using a variety of research methods, researchers found a connection between gender-typed personality traits and perceived power dynamics. Traditionally, instrumentality or aggressive and dominant traits are associated with higher status and power and are often ascribed to men. Expressivity or more loving and nurturing traits tend to be associated with lower status and power and are often ascribed to women. However, findings in Robnett’s study show perceptions of these gender norms change based on a woman’s surname choices.“Our findings indicate that people extrapolate from marital surname choices to make more general inferences about a couple’s gender-typed personality traits,” she said.In study 1, the researchers surveyed U.S. undergraduates and asked them to characterize a man whose wife retains her surname after marriage. Respondents described the man using expressive traits and commented that he was “caring,” “understanding,” “timid,” and “submissive.”In study 2, participants in southeast England read a vignette about a fictional engaged couple and took a survey about their perceptions of the woman’s surname choices. Respondents perceived the man as higher in expressive traits and lower in instrumental traits when the woman retained her own surname.In study 3, also conducted with U.S. undergraduates, the researchers examined whether hostile sexism, or an antagonistic attitude toward women, helps to explain individual differences in participants’ responses to questions of power in a fictional marriage. Respondents who held firmly to traditional gender roles and can be described as hostile sexists perceived a man whose wife retained her surname as being disempowered.“We know from prior research that people high in hostile sexism respond negatively to women who violate traditional gender roles,” Robnett said. “Our findings show that they also apply stereotypes to nontraditional women’s husbands.”last_img read more

Friends and romantic partners might make a significant difference in how shy individuals feel about themselves

first_imgPinterest Share Share on Facebook LinkedIn Share on Twittercenter_img Email “Peer relationships can be beneficial to individuals generally and some work even suggests that peer relationships may be especially helpful to shy children and adolescents. Thus, we wanted to test this notion with socially withdrawn emerging adults.”The researchers surveyed 519 college students from four universities across the United States regarding their social withdrawal, relationship quality, and self-worth.Shyness and avoidance were both related to lower self-worth overall. Shy individuals desire to interact with others but experience fear and anxiety in social situations. Avoidant individuals, on the other hand, do not like to be around other people in general.Clifford and his colleagues found that having high-quality relationships with friends and romantic partners made a significant difference in how shy individuals felt about themselves. But this was not true for avoidant individuals.“There are a few takeaways from this study. First, the familiar lyric from Bill Withers’ song ‘Lean on Me’ rings true for shy emerging adults. Indeed, these individuals could use a best-friend or romantic partner as somebody to lean on,” Clifford told PsyPost.“Specifically, when these individuals have a high-quality relationship with either a best-friend or romantic partner, they tend to report higher feelings of self-worth compared to others who report lower quality relationships.”“Second, this finding does not ring true for avoidant emerging adults. These contrasting findings reinforce the notion that social withdrawal is a multifaceted construct. For example, the term ‘shyness’ need not apply to all individuals who spend time alone while in the presence of others (i.e., social withdrawal),” Clifford said.The study — like all research — includes some caveats.“Additional work is needed before we can infer causal relations amongst these constructs. However, now that these findings are present in child, adolescent, and emerging adult samples, the next step is to examine this question longitudinally. This step would help answer the question of how peer relationships impact shy individual’s feelings of self-worth over time,” Clifford said.The study, “Somebody to Lean On: The Moderating Effect of Relationships on Links Between Social Withdrawal and Self-Worth“, was authored by Brandon N. Clifford and Larry J. Nelson. Shy emerging adults appear to benefit from having a high-quality relationship with a best friend or romantic partner, according to a new study published in the Journal of Relationships Research.But the research also indicates that not all socially withdrawn individuals benefit from these types of relationships.“Much of my interest in this topic stemmed from the question of what conditions best help socially withdrawn individuals avoid difficulties that they frequently experience (i.e., increased anxiety, depression, peer problems, lower self-concept),” said study author Brandon N. Clifford of Arizona State University.last_img read more

Baby Boomers see COVID-19 as less of a threat than other generations but are more likely to engage in social distancing

first_imgLinkedIn Share on Twitter Pinterest A study published in PLOS One found that 65% of Americans were partaking in social distancing during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The generational group most likely to be social distancing was Baby Boomers.Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, public health recommendations for social distancing have not been followed by all citizens, and the authors of the new study wanted to explore why.“I research vaccine hesitancy, and initially I was interested in the correlation of beliefs about vaccines and beliefs about social distancing and wearing masks. Around the time we did the study, there was a lot of news about younger adults not taking COVID-19 seriously, and so we wanted to empirically see if there was a difference between the actions of younger adults and the actions of older adults,” said study author Abram L. Wagner, a research assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. Share on Facebookcenter_img Given that older individuals are at increased risk of severe symptoms from the virus, the researchers conducted a study to see how age relates to adherence to social distancing measures.A sample of 713 adults living in the US was recruited between March 20 and March 22, 2020. Depending on year of birth, the subjects were divided into the generational categories of Gen Z (1997-2012), Millennials (1981-1996), Gen X (1965-1980), and Baby Boomers (1946-1964).In an online survey, the participants were asked to indicate their perceived risk of contracting the virus in the next 30 days, on a scale from 0% to 100%. Respondents were also asked whether or not they had started physically distancing themselves from others (by six feet) since the onset of the pandemic, and whether their behaviors had changed regarding “going into work/school, having meetings with colleagues/classmates, meeting with friends, going to a club/bar, going to a restaurant, or going outside with a child.”An analysis showed that perceived risk of infection from COVID-19 was lowest in the Baby Boomer cohort with an average perceived risk score of 30%, followed by the Gen X group at 34%. Millennials perceived a 41% risk of contracting the virus, and Gen Z reported a 40% perceived risk.Interestingly, while the Baby Boomers perceived the lowest risk of infection out of the generational cohorts, they showed the highest compliance with social distancing with 73% reporting social distancing. This number was significantly higher than among Millennials, where 62% reported distancing. There were no significant differences when it came to the other generations. In general, as age increased, so did the likelihood of social distancing.“Overall, there was a shift in behaviors, most people were socially distancing at least a bit more compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, behaviors did vary across ages. More older adults were socially distancing than younger adults. Basically we need a better way to change behaviors, but socially distancing may be more difficult among younger adults because they are more likely to not be retired,” Wagner told PsyPost.The authors discuss possible explanations for these generational differences. “For example,” they speculate, “it could be that, even before stay-at-home orders were issued, Baby Boomers responded to initial reports of a high case burden of older adults in long-term care facilities. On the other hand, Millennials had a higher perceived risk of infection, but did not practice as many social distancing behaviors, potentially due to other barriers such as jobs, childcare, or housing insecurity, or a lack of understanding of the term ‘social distancing’.”As the authors point out, their study suggests that while a majority of Americans (65%) were social distancing at the onset of the pandemic, a considerable percentage (35%) were not.Interestingly, political affiliation was not found to influence adherence to social distancing recommendations, with people of all parties trending towards social distancing — something researchers call, “a heartening indication of behavioral compliance.” Still, the sample was not nationally representative and cannot be generalized to the entire US population.“So much is changing in regards to the COVID-19 response. We need additional polls to see what changes and what has not changed,” Wagner said.The study, “Social distancing in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States”, was authored by Nina B. Masters, Shu-Fang Shih, Allen Bukoff, Kaitlyn B. Akel, Lindsay C. Kobayashi, Alison L. Miller, Harapan Harapan, Yihan Lu, and Abram L. Wagner.(Image by rottonara from Pixabay) Share Emaillast_img read more