Monday, April 23, 2012

Anxious/depressed Moms seek comfort from child!

The following study is about infant sleep and Mom's need for comfort.  But sleep is not the only issue with this form of dependency.  I have witnessed hundreds of adult children who were recruited to become the "comforting agent" from early infancy. In other words, becoming their mom's mom.  This role reversal is devastating to the  developing child who 's psychobiological process is purely dependent on the unconditionally consistent & on demand comforting response of their primary attachment figure.

Brain Freeze? Do you know why?

Changes in Brain’s Blood Flow Could Cause ‘Brain Freeze’
Findings may eventually lead to new treatments for other types of headache
"Findings showed that one particular artery, called the anterior cerebral artery, dilated rapidly and flooded the brain with blood in conjunction to when the volunteers felt pain. Soon after this dilation occurred, the same vessel constricted as the volunteers’ pain receded."

SAN DIEGO— ‘Brain freeze’ is a nearly universal experience—almost everyone has felt the near-instantaneous headache brought on by a bite of ice cream or slurp of ice-cold soda on the upper palate. However, scientists are still at a loss to explain this phenomenon. Since migraine sufferers are more likely to experience brain freeze than people who don’t have this often-debilitating condition, brain freeze may share a common mechanism with other types of headaches, including those brought on by the trauma of blast-related combat injuries in soldiers. One possible link between brain freeze and other headache types is local changes in brain blood flow.
In a new study, Melissa Mary Blatt, Michael Falvo, and Jessica Jasien of the Department of Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System, Brian Deegan and Gearold O Laighin of the National University of Ireland Galway, and Jorge Serrador of Harvard Medical School and the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center of the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System use brain freeze as a proxy for other types of headaches. By bringing on brain freeze in the lab in volunteers and studying blood flow in their brains, the researchers show that the sudden headache seems to be triggered by an abrupt increase in blood flow in the anterior cerebral artery and disappears when this artery constricts. The findings could eventually lead to new treatments for a variety of different headache types.
An abstract of their study entitled, “Cerebral Vascular Blood Flow Changes During ‘Brain Freeze,’” will be discussed at the meeting Experimental Biology 2012 being held April 21-25 at the San Diego Convention Center. The abstract is sponsored by the American Physiological Society (APS), one of six scientific societies sponsoring the conference, which last year attracted some 14,000 attendees.
Bringing on Brain Freeze
According to study leader Serrador, previous studies meant to assess what physiological changes might prompt headaches have mainly relied on various drugs, or brought in patients already in the throes of a migraine to the lab. However, both methods have their limitations. Pharmacological agents can induce other effects that can make research results misleading, he says, and since researchers can’t wait for migraine sufferers to experience a migraine in the lab, those studies miss the crucial period of headache formation that occurs sometimes hours before scientists were able to study these patients.
To induce headache inside the lab and study it from start to finish, Serrador explains, brain freeze is a perfect fit. It’s easy to bring on and resolves quickly without expensive or complicated equipment or drugs.
In this study, Serrador and his colleague recruited 13 healthy adults. The researchers monitored the volunteers’ blood flow in several brain arteries using transcranial Doppler while they first sipped ice water with the straw pressed against their upper palate—ideal conditions for bringing on brain freeze—and then while sipping the same amount of water at room temperature. The volunteers raised their hand once they felt the pain of a brain freeze, then raised it again once the pain dissipated. Findings showed that one particular artery, called the anterior cerebral artery, dilated rapidly and flooded the brain with blood in conjunction to when the volunteers felt pain. Soon after this dilation occurred, the same vessel constricted as the volunteers’ pain receded.
Changing the Course of Headaches
Serrador and his colleagues speculate that the dilation, then quick constriction, may be a type of self-defense for the brain. “The brain is one of the relatively important organs in the body, and it needs to be working all the time,” he explains. “It’s fairly sensitive to temperature, so vasodilation might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm.” But because the skull is a closed structure, Serrador adds, the sudden influx of blood could raise pressure and induce pain. The following vasoconstriction may be a way to bring pressure down in the brain before it reaches dangerous levels.
He notes that similar alterations in blood flow could be at work in migraines, posttraumatic headaches, and other headache types. If further research confirms these suspicions, then finding ways to control blood flow could offer new treatments for these conditions. Drugs that block sudden vasodilation or target channels involved specifically in the vasodilation of headaches could be one way of changing headaches’ course.   

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Just CUDDLE as often as you can!

Discovering the Secrets of Long-Term Love

A survey reveals many American couples are still "intensely in love" even after a decade together--and hints at the reasons why

What makes passion endure?Image: iStock/Jacob Wackerhausen

During America's most popular TV event, the Superbowl, one much-anticipated advertisement featuring supermodel Adriana Lima painted a pretty sad state of affairs with regards to love.
In an ad for Kia cars, a married couple sleeps side by side and we are given a glimpse into their dreams. While the woman dreams of being swept away by a long-haired hunk on a horse, her husband is speeding down a racetrack in a car while Lima and a horde of bikini-clad women cheer him on. Although the dream eventually ends with the couple meeting exchanging weak smiles and going for a drive in the Kia (this is family television after all), the peak moments are clearly the fantasies. The deadened couple compensates for lack of love with wild dreams and a Kia car purchase.
Is this the inevitable end point of a long-term relationship?
Think again! A recent study by Daniel O’Leary and colleagues at Stony Brook University suggests that a large percentage of couples stay intensely in love even after a decade of marriage. The findings may also reveal the secrets to keeping intense love alive.
O’Leary and his team surveyed a nationally representative sample of 274 couples married ten years or more on the state of their love life. When they first collected the data, the researchers were dumbfounded by the large percentage of people who claimed to still be intensely in love. The couples answered the question "how in love are you with your partner?" on a scale of 1 to 7 from "not at all in love" to "very intensely in love." To the researchers’ surprise, the most frequent response was "very intensely in love" for both men and women. Forty six percent of women and 49 percent of men reported being "very intensely in love," according to the report, which was published in this month’s Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science.
What are the secrets of intense love over the long term? Not surprisingly, the list was topped by physically affectionate behaviors such as hugging and kissing. The survey couldn’t determine cause and effect, but oxytocin, sometimes called the “cuddle hormone,” goes coursing through our bodies when we receive hugs or make love. We then feel closer to our partner and long-term bonding ensues. Decades of psychological research shows that social connection is a fundamental human need and essential for our physical and mental well-being. Affection is such an important element of love that the couples in the study who did not report any physical affection also reported a loveless relationship.
The researchers found that frequency of sex was also strongly associated with intensity in love, but that, interestingly, it was not always a requirement: 25 percent of those who had not had sex in the last month still reported being intensely in love.
Physical affection is so powerful that, even if a relationship doesn't always seem perfect (and what relationship always does?), it may help make up for the negatives. Certain couples, for example, reported low marital satisfaction due, presumably, to some of the common challenges couples face (e.g. differences in parenting styles, financial stress, divisions of responsibility). However, if their levels of physical affection remained high, the couple still reported intense love.
Thinking positively about one’s partner is another common element of couples intensely in love, according to the findings. When people see each other every day, they can sometimes take each other for granted and stop noticing the characteristics they used to appreciate about their mate. However, a little awareness and gratitude may go a long way in countering this tendency. When we get to know someone well, we naturally learn about both their strengths and their weaknesses but it is really up to us whether we choose to focus one side or the other. By focusing on what we appreciate and admire in our partner and being grateful for the value and gifts that our partner brings into our lives, we cannot but think positively and may feel more intense love as a consequence.
Love may also be cultivated in shared experiences. Couples intensely in love reported participating in novel, engaging, and challenging activities together. Some of the greatest moments of intimacy in a relationship come from the simple joys of cooking or exercising together, exchanging intellectual ideas over common readings, learning a new and challenging skill like skiing, sharing spirituality by attending church or meditating, and going on travel adventures. That togetherness may create a shared thread of life experience and memories.
What of happiness? Can a relationship lead to happiness? Certainly, it can. Yet the survey suggests that taking care of your own happiness may also be important. Personal happiness was associated with intensity of love, especially for women. In other words, one may think that tending to one’s own well-being through a night out with friends or time at the gym is selfish, but taking responsibility for one’s own happiness has the potential to drastically improve the quality of our relationship. Of course, being intensely in love may also be contributing to the happiness observed.
No matter what message Kia ads and marketing specialists may try to send you, long-term love is here to stay and has absolutely nothing to do with material goods. Surveys such as this one give us a far more accurate picture of how to maintain the flames of love. Sharing affection, thinking positively and with gratitude about our partner’s qualities, engaging in shared activities and being happy independently of the relationship may all be important features of an intensely loving relationship.

We are all mortal beings. Important to remember!

How Thinking About Death Can Lead to a Good Life

ScienceDaily (Apr. 19, 2012) — Thinking about death can actually be a good thing. An awareness of mortality can improve physical health and help us re-prioritize our goals and values, according to a new analysis of recent scientific studies. Even non-conscious thinking about death -- say walking by a cemetery -- could prompt positive changes and promote helping others.

"This tendency for TMT research to primarily deal with negative attitudes and harmful behaviors has become so deeply entrenched in our field that some have recently suggested that death awareness is simply a bleak force of social destruction," says Kenneth Vail of the University of Missouri, lead author of the new study in the online edition ofPersonality and Social Psychology Review this month. "There has been very little integrative understanding of how subtle, day-to-day, death awareness might be capable of motivating attitudes and behaviors that can minimize harm to oneself and others, and can promote well-being."
Past research suggests that thinking about death is destructive and dangerous, fueling everything from prejudice and greed to violence. Such studies related to terror management theory (TMT), which posits that we uphold certain cultural beliefs to manage our feelings of mortality, have rarely explored the potential benefits of death awareness.
In constructing a new model for how we think about our own mortality, Vail and colleagues performed an extensive review of recent studies on the topic. They found numerous examples of experiments both in the lab and field that suggest a positive side to natural reminders about mortality.
For example, Vail points to a study by Matthew Gailliot and colleagues in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2008 that tested how just being physically near a cemetery affects how willing people are to help a stranger. "Researchers hypothesized that if the cultural value of helping was made important to people, then the heightened awareness of death would motivate an increase in helping behaviors," Vail says.
The researchers observed people who were either passing through a cemetery or were one block away, out of sight of the cemetery. Actors at each location talked near the participants about either the value of helping others or a control topic, and then some moments later, another actor dropped her notebook. The researchers then tested in each condition how many people helped the stranger.
"When the value of helping was made salient, the number of participants who helped the second confederate with her notebook was 40% greater at the cemetery than a block away from the cemetery," Vail says. "Other field experiments and tightly controlled laboratory experiments have replicated these and similar findings, showing that the awareness of death can motivate increased expressions of tolerance, egalitarianism, compassion, empathy, and pacifism."
For example, a 2010 study by Immo Fritsche of the University of Leipzig and co-authors revealed how increased death awareness can motivate sustainable behaviors when pro-environmental norms are made salient. And a study by Zachary Rothschild of the University of Kansas and co-workers in 2009 showed how an increased awareness of death can motivate American and Iranian religious fundamentalists to display peaceful compassion toward members of other groups when religious texts make such values more important.
Thinking about death can also promote better health. Recent studies have shown that when reminded of death people may opt for better health choices, such as using more sunscreen, smoking less, or increasing levels of exercise. A 2011 study by D.P. Cooper and co-authors found that death reminders increased intentions to perform breast self-exams when women were exposed to information that linked the behavior to self-empowerment.
One major implication of this body of work, Vail says, is that we should "turn attention and research efforts toward better understanding of how the motivations triggered by death awareness can actually improve people's lives, rather than how it can cause malady and social strife." Write the authors: "The dance with death can be a delicate but potentially elegant stride toward living the good life."

A new way to pose!?

Your Left Side Is Your Best Side: Our Left Cheek Shows More Emotion, Which Observers Find More Aesthetically Pleasing

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2012) — Your best side may be your left cheek, according to a new study by Kelsey Blackburn and James Schirillo from Wake Forest University in the US. Their work shows that images of the left side of the face are perceived and rated as more pleasant than pictures of the right side of the face, possibly due to the fact that we present a greater intensity of emotion on the left side of our face.

Their work is published online in Springer's journal Experimental Brain Research.
Others can judge human emotions in large part from facial expressions. Our highly specialized facial muscles are capable of expressing many unique emotions. Research suggests that the left side of the face is more intense and active during emotional expression. It is also noteworthy that Western artists' portraits predominantly present subjects' left profile.
Blackburn and Schirillo investigated whether there are differences in the perception of the left and right sides of the face in real-life photographs of individuals.
The authors explain: "Our results suggest that posers' left cheeks tend to exhibit a greater intensity of emotion, which observers find more aesthetically pleasing. Our findings provide support for a number of concepts -- the notions of lateralized emotion and right hemispheric dominance with the right side of the brain controlling the left side of the face during emotional expression.
"Participants were asked to rate the pleasantness of both sides of male and female faces on gray-scale photographs. The researchers presented both original photographs and mirror-reversed images, so that an original right-cheek image appeared to be a left-cheek image and vice versa.They found a strong preference for left-sided portraits, regardless of whether the pictures were originally taken of the left side, or mirror-reversed. The left side of the face was rated as more aesthetically pleasing for both male and female posers.
These aesthetic preferences were also confirmed by measurements of pupil size, a reliable unconscious measurement of interest. Indeed, pupils dilate in response to more interesting stimuli -- here more pleasant-looking faces, and constrict when looking at unpleasant images. In the experiment, pupil size increased with pleasantness ratings

Friday, April 20, 2012

Self Awareness & Self Control

How to Gain Self-Control

New research finds a relatively simple method to increase your capacity for self-control. Christie Nicholson reports
We’ve all had that moment: you wanna punch some jerk right in the face. So, what stops us? Well, simply put, self-control.

But it turns out each of us has a limited quantity of self-control. Past studies have shown, for example, that stopping yourself from taking a cookie for about an hour is likely to increase your aggression later that day.

And there are tricks to increase our stash of control. A new study shows you can practice it, as one would practice any new skill,

For two weeks researchers had subjects use their non-dominant hand for daily tasks: navigating a computer mouse, drinking coffee, etcetera. The tasks require constant self-control, because they were restraining their natural inclinations.  

And the scientists found that for those who practiced their self-control skills also controlled their aggression better than others who had not participated in the exercise. The study is in the journalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science.

So we can increase our capacity for self-control. And the way we do that doesn’t have to be as drastic as using your non-dominant hand. The researchers say even committing to keeping your posture straight can also keep you from punching out that jerk.

—Christie Nicholson

Science and Technology Rock, so much is just around the corner, WOW

A Neuroscientist's Quest to Reverse Engineer the Human Brain

M.I.T. scientist Sebastian Seung describes the audacious plan to find the connectome--a map of every single neuron in the brain. Here, he says, is the secret of human identity

MIT, Sebastian Seung, brain, neuroscience, engineer brainSEBASTIAN SEUNG
What makes us who we are? Where is our personal history recorded, or our hopes? What explains autism or schiziphrenia or remarkable genius? Sebastian Seung argues that it’s all in the connections our neurons make. In his new book, Connectome , he argues that technology has now reached a point where it is conceivable to start mapping at least portions of the connectome. It’s a daunting task, he says, but without it, neuroscience will be stuck. He answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.  
Cook: Mapping the connectome seems like an almost impossibly difficult challenge. Critics say that you will may never succeed, or that if you do it will take decades, and we can't put neuroscience on hold for that long.

Seung: Indeed, mapping an entire human connectome is one of the greatest technological challenges of all time. Just imaging all of a human brain with electron microscopes would be difficult enough.  This would yield about one zettabyte of data, which roughly equals the world's current volume of digital content.  Then analyzing the images to extract the connectome would be even more demanding. Yet I believe that we will eventually prevail. Success will not come with a sudden bang but rather through sustained growth over time. I imagine that the speed of mapping connectomes will double every year or two. If so, then it will become possible to map an entire human connectome within a few decades.  There are similar success stories for other technologies.  Computers have improved at this rate for the past half century.  DNA sequencing has advanced similarly for the past forty years, and accelerated even further over the past decade.

That being said, such speculation about the far future is just for fun, and is actually beside the point. Even if we never succeed in mapping an entire human connectome, we will learn a tremendous amount by mapping connections in small chunks of human or animal brains.  This trend has already begun. Exciting developments in connectomics are happening right now; we don't have to sit around waiting for the future.
Cook:  Is there any way the research can be accelerated?  
Seung: We invite the public to visit a web site called EyeWire, where you can help map the connectome of the retina, the sheet of neural tissue at the back of the eye.  You don't need specialized training to participate, because EyeWire is like a virtual coloring book with pages that are images of the retina.  (The images were taken with an electron microscope in the laboratory of our German collaborator, Winfried Denk.) Your task is to color in neurons, and you already know how to do this: just stay inside the boundaries. In this way, you will trace the "wires" of the retina, the branches of its neurons.  This is the most laborious task required for mapping a connectome. (Another important task is identifying synapses, the tiny junctions at which neurons communicate with each other.)  
EyeWire's coloring book is so vast that no single person could live long enough to manually color the neurons.  We have sped up the process in two ways. First, artificial intelligence (AI) does most of the coloring automatically. You just have to guide the AI by a few mouse clicks here and there. Second, the coloring game is fun or even addictive to some people. Perhaps it's because the organic forms of neurons are mesmerizing.  Or maybe it's because the game is challenging; at some image locations it can be difficult to decide whether there is a boundary between two neurons, i.e., whether to continue coloring or to stop. EyeWire users tend to improve with practice at such decisions, because they gradually learn from experience how neurons are shaped.