Tuesday, July 24, 2012
ScienceDaily (July 23, 2012) — Infants are able to detect how speech communicates unobservable intentions, researchers at New York University and McGill University have found in a study that sheds new light on how early in life we can rely on language to acquire knowledge about matters that go beyond first-hand experiences.
Their findings appear in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"Much of what we know about the world does not come from our own experiences, so we have to obtain this information indirectly -- from books, the news media, and conversation," explained Athena Vouloumanos, an assistant professor at NYU and one of the study's co-authors. "Our results show infants can acquire knowledge in much the same way -- through language, or, specifically, spoken descriptions of phenomena they haven't -- or that can't be -- directly observed."
The study's other co-authors were Kristine Onishi, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Canada's McGill University, and Amanda Pogue, a former research assistant at NYU who is now a graduate student at the University of Waterloo.
Previous scholarship has established that infants seem to understand that speech can be used to categorize and communicate about observable entities such as objects and people. But no study has directly examined whether infants recognize that speech can communicate about unobservable aspects.
In the PNAS study, the researchers sought to determine if one-year-old infants could recognize that speech can communicate about one unobservable phenomenon that is crucial for understanding social interactions: a person's intentions.
To explore this question, the researchers had adults act out short scenarios for the infants. Some scenes ended predictably (that is, with an ending that is congruent with our understanding of the world) while others ended unpredictably (that is, incongruently).
The researchers employed a commonly used method to measure infants' detection of incongruent scenes: looking longer at an incongruent scene.
Infants saw an adult actor (the communicator) attempt, but fail, to stack a ring on a funnel because the funnel was just out of reach. Previous research showed that infants would interpret the actor's failed behavior as signaling the actor's underlying intention to stack the ring. The experimenters then introduced a second actor (the recipient) who was able to reach all the objects. In the key test scene, the communicator turned to the recipient and uttered either a novel word unknown to infants ("koba") or coughed.
Although infants always knew the communicator's intention (through observing her prior failed stacking attempts), the recipient only sometimes had the requisite information to accomplish the communicator's intended action-specifically, when the communicator vocalized appropriately using speech, but not when she coughed.
If infants understood that speech -- but not non-speech -- could transfer information about an intention, when the communicator used speech and the recipient responded by stacking the ring on the funnel, infants should treat this as a congruent outcome. Results confirmed this prediction. The infants looked longer when the recipient performed a different action, such as imitating the communicators' prior failed movements or stacking the ring somewhere other than on the funnel, suggesting they treated these as incongruent, or surprising, outcomes.
Because coughing doesn't communicate intentions, infants looked equally no matter what the recipient's response was.
"As adults, when we hear people speaking, we have the intuition that they're providing information to one another, even when we don't understand the language being spoken. And it's the same for infants," Onishi said. "Even when they don't understand the meaning of the specific words they hear, they realize that words -- like our nonsense word 'koba' -- can provide information in a way that coughing cannot."
"What's significant about this is it tells us that infants have access to another channel of communication that we previously didn't know they had," added Vouloumanos.
"Understanding that speech can communicate about things that are unobservable gives infants a way to learn about the world beyond what they've experienced. Infants can use this tool to gain insight into other people, helping them develop into capable social beings."
The study was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program and Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Yet another sad governmental agency story for this country! Defending surveillance
operation by a government agency in charge of our health and well being is
terribly disturbing when the scientists are their main target. Scientists who dispute
the safety of medical imaging devices are not the enemy, then, who is?
I think the FDA needs to be rehabilitated.
This is the story from:
NY TIMES, By ERIC LICHTBLAU and SCOTT SHANE
Published: July 14, 2012
Moving to quell what one memorandum called the “collaboration” of the F.D.A.’s opponents, the surveillance operation identified 21 agency employees, Congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists thought to be working together to put out negative and “defamatory” information about the agency.
F.D.A. officials defended the surveillance operation, saying that the computer monitoring was limited to the five scientists suspected of leaking confidential information about the safety and design of medical devices.
While they acknowledged that the surveillance tracked the communications that the scientists had with Congressional officials, journalists and others, they said it was never intended to impede those communications, but only to determine whether information was being improperly shared.
The agency, using so-called spy software designed to help employers monitor workers, captured screen images from the government laptops of the five scientists as they were being used at work or at home. The software tracked their keystrokes, intercepted their personal e-mails, copied the documents on their personal thumb drives and even followed their messages line by line as they were being drafted, the documents show.
The extraordinary surveillance effort grew out of a bitter dispute lasting years between the scientists and their bosses at the F.D.A. over the scientists’ claims that faulty review procedures at the agency had led to the approval of medical imaging devices for mammograms and colonoscopies that exposed patients to dangerous levels of radiation.
A confidential government review in May by the Office of Special Counsel, which deals with the grievances of government workers, found that the scientists’ medical claims were valid enough to warrant a full investigation into what it termed “a substantial and specific danger to public safety.”
The documents captured in the surveillance effort — including confidential letters to at least a half-dozen Congressional offices and oversight committees, drafts of legal filings and grievances, and personal e-mails — were posted on a public Web site, apparently by mistake, by a private document-handling contractor that works for the F.D.A. The New York Times reviewed the records and their day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour accounting of the scientists’ communications.
With the documents from the surveillance cataloged in 66 huge directories, many Congressional staff members regarded as sympathetic to the scientists each got their own files containing all their e-mails to or from the whistle-blowers. Drafts and final copies of letters the scientists sent to Mr. Obama about their safety concerns were also included.
Last year, the scientists found that a few dozen of their e-mails had been intercepted by the agency. They filed a lawsuit over the issue in September, after four of the scientists had been let go, and The Washington Post first disclosed the monitoring in January. But the wide scope of the F.D.A. surveillance operation, its broad range of targets across Washington, and the huge volume of computer information that it generated were not previously known, even to some of the targets.
F.D.A. officials said that in monitoring the communication of the five scientists, their e-mails “were collected without regard to the identity of the individuals with whom the user may have been corresponding.” While the F.D.A. memo described the Congressional officials and other “actors” as collaborating in the scientists’ effort to attract negative publicity, the F.D.A. said that those outside the agency were never targets of the surveillance operation, but were suspected of receiving confidential information.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
A question we have all been pondering for a while.! Our brain functions are so complex that after decades of scientific discovery, still, developing a diagnostic psychiatric test seems very far away.
By Dr. Allen Frances*
*Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University, chaired the task force for the Diagnostic Manual, DSM-IV.
"Sadly, progress has been much slower than anyone expected, with many exciting findings turning out to be no more than dead ends. The vast research funding has indeed provided a basic science revolution, but so far its discoveries have had no impact whatever on clinical diagnosis. Even the most promising candidates—biological tests for the accurate diagnosis of dementia—are several years away. And, for the rest of psychiatry, there is no immediate prospect that our rich basic science knowledge base and powerful investigative tools will contribute to clinical practice any time soon."
When the third edition of psychiatry’s manual of mental illness, the DSM-III, was published 30 years ago, there was great optimism it would soon be the willing victim of its own success, achieving a kind of planned obsolescence. Surely, the combining of a reasonably reliable system of descriptive diagnosis with the revolutionary new tools of neuroscience would quickly yield a deep and broad understanding of psychopathology. And just as surely this would translate into standardized biological tests that would replace the cookbook listing of subjective symptoms and subjectively evaluated behaviors that comprised the DSM-III criteria sets.We have learned a great deal in the past 30 years, but perhaps the most important lesson is that the brain is ineluctably complex and reveals its secrets only slowly and in very small packages. There has been no low hanging fruit. The expectation that there would be simple gene or neurotransmitter or circuitry explanations for schizophrenia or bipolar or obsessive-compulsive disorder has turned out to be naïve and illusory. The problem of teasing out heterogeneous clinical presentations in psychiatry is compounded by the fact that they also have heterogeneous underlying mechanisms. There will not be one pathway to schizophrenia; there may be dozens, perhaps hundreds. Biological tests that appear to be associated with schizophrenia are never useful for making the diagnosis because they always show more variability within the category than between categories. And seemingly intriguing findings usually don’t replicate.
Most troubling is the fact that the overwhelming majority of prescriptions for psychotropic medicines are written by primary care physicians who often have little training in psychiatry; little time to perform an adequate diagnostic evaluation; a tendency to depend on tests rather than talking to patients; and too great a susceptibility to quick trigger diagnosis and poorly chosen pill solutions (fostered by aggressive and misleading drug company marketing). The lack of precise and easily available biological tests in psychiatry permits much loose diagnosing and cowboy prescribing..
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Does Facebook Turn People Into Narcissists?THE WELL COLUMN | By TARA PARKER-POPE | May 17, 2012, 4:15 PM 255 Comments
Recently I tried to persuade a friend, a professional woman in her 40s, to create a Facebook account. Like many people, I’m a regular user, usually to post photos and updates of my daughter’s sports and academic accomplishments — and to keep track of friends and family. But my friend believed Facebook would drain her time. She said that if she couldn’t maintain friendships in the real world, she wasn’t interested in keeping up with the small details of people’s lives.
There has been a lot of scholarship devoted to the study of Facebook, sparking debate about the mental health and personality traits of frequent users. Most recently, research from Western Illinois University suggested, like other studies before it, that Facebook appeals to our most narcissistic tendencies. The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, asked 292 people to answer questions aimed at measuring how self-involved they were.
Those who frequently updated their Facebook status, tagged themselves in photos and had large numbers of virtual friends, were more likely to exhibit narcissistic traits, the study found. Another study found that people with high levels of narcissism were more likely to spend more than an hour a day on Facebook, and they were also more likely to post digitally enhanced personal photos. But what the research doesn’t answer is whether Facebook attracts narcissists or turns us into them.
Last month, a study of 233 Facebook-using college students by researchers at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and the University of Hartford took a different approach. Were the students primarily writing self-promoting status updates? Or were they interested in others, clicking “likes” and posting comments on friends’ pages? How many Facebook friends did they collect?
In addition to measuring narcissism (Do you like being the center of attention or blending in with the crowd?), the researchers also measured a student’s sense of privacy. (Do you share information with a wide circle of friends or value your privacy?) The researchers found, to their surprise, that frequency of Facebook use, whether it was for personal status updates or to connect with friends, was not associated with narcissism. Narcissism per se was associated with only one type of Facebook user — those who amassed unrealistically large numbers of Facebook friends.
Instead, frequent Facebook users were more likely to score high on “openness” and were less concerned about privacy. So what seems like self-promoting behavior may just reflect a generation growing up in the digital age, where information — including details about personal lives — flows freely and connects us.
“It’s a huge oversimplification to say Facebook is for narcissists,” said Lynne Kelly, director of the school of communication at the University of Hartford and one of the study’s authors. “You share information about yourself on Facebook as a way to maintain relationships.”
The social medium of choice for the self-absorbed appears to be Twitter. The researchers found an association between tweeting about oneself and high narcissism scores. That finding alone, I think, is worth tweeting about.
Some strange scientific facts. Could not help myself. Now back to work.
- Only humans have ability to sleep on their backs.
- Surprisingly enough little mosquito has 47 teeth.
- Egyptians were first to use many thing including contraceptives. Condoms made of cloth! This happened some 1850 before Christ.
Are Two Heads Really Better Than One?
"The Cost of Collaboration: Why Joint Decision Making Exacerbates Rejection of Outside Information"
This study suggests that collaborating with others on a project might actually weaken our reasoning and problem solving skills. Researchers assigned participants to work on a task individually or in pairs, then measured their confidence in their work, the accuracy of their answers, and their willingness to revise their judgments. Participants working in pairs were slightly more accurate at first than those working independently, but they were also less willing to consider outside advice due to greater confidence in their answers. Once all participants were given a chance to revise their answers, the individuals’ final answers were just as accurate as those of the teams. The authors argue that managers should think twice about having people work in teams, since collaboration is more time consuming and group members’ reluctance to accept outside input critically impairs the quality of their work. —Brylyn Stacy
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
“Our paper says that a big part of thriving involves accepting yourself as you are, imperfect but responsible and capable to do better, working towards goals, getting along with others,” he says. “It’s not such a sexy message. In fact, it’s quite an old one:
Aristotle would not have been surprised, neither would Ben Franklin.”
Research from positive psychology has suggested that as much of half of it is. However, research hasn’t zeroed in on what this really means. Is there a single happy gene? Do happy people share the same genetic makeup?
While scientists are still years away from answering these questions, researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland recently started to tackle them, finding that the components of happiness are controlled by different genetic influences.
The study participants completed a scale that measures a person’s happiness based on six factors: their self-acceptance, feelings of autonomy, personal growth, positive relationships, pursuit of goals, and sense of control over their lives. The questions on the scale asked participants to rate how strongly they agree or disagree with different statements, such as “I have confidence in my opinions, even when they are contrary to the general consensus,” and “I like most aspects of my personality.”The researchers studied more than 830 pairs of adult twins, identical and fraternal, which enabled them to explore how a person’s genetic makeup and environment affect his or her well-being.
The results, to be published in the Journal of Personality, suggest that genetics plays a large role in all six components of happiness, but these different components do not seem to be influenced by the same genetic factors.
Researchers have long understood that our genes play a significant role in our happiness, but this study suggests that happiness can be understood as the sum of different genetic contributions.
In other words, there is not just one genetic pathway that determines happiness, and there is not just one personal characteristic that defines happiness. Instead, true psychological well-being is composed of several parts, which are influenced by different aspects of our biology. (This study didn’t pinpoint which biological mechanisms are most important to different aspects of happiness.)
The findings also reinforce the fundamentals to living a good life, says Timothy Bates, one of the study’s authors and a professor of psychology at the University of Edinburgh.
“Our paper says that a big part of thriving involves accepting yourself as you are, imperfect but responsible and capable to do better, working towards goals, getting along with others,” he says. “It’s not such a sexy message. In fact, it’s quite an old one: Aristotle would not have been surprised, neither would Ben Franklin.”
Monday, July 9, 2012
|Gladstone Scientists Reprogram Skin Cells into Brain Cells|
Innovative technique lays groundwork for novel stem cell therapies
|SAN FRANCISCO, CA—June 7, 2012—Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes have for the first time transformed skin cells—with a single genetic factor—into cells that develop on their own into an interconnected, functional network of brain cells. The research offers new hope in the fight against many neurological conditions because scientists expect that such a transformation—or reprogramming—of cells may lead to better models for testing drugs for devastating neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.|
This research comes at a time of renewed focus on Alzheimer's disease, which currently afflicts 5.4 million people in the United States alone—a figure expected to nearly triple by 2050. Yet there are no approved medications to prevent or reverse the progression of this debilitating disease.
In findings appearing online today in Cell Stem Cell, researchers in the laboratory of Gladstone Investigator Yadong Huang, MD, PhD, describe how they transferred a single gene called Sox2 into both mouse and human skin cells. Within days the skin cells transformed into early-stage brain stem cells, also called induced neural stem cells (iNSCs). These iNSCs began to self-renew, soon maturing into neurons capable of transmitting electrical signals. Within a month, the neurons had developed into neural networks.
“Many drug candidates—especially those developed for neurodegenerative diseases—fail in clinical trials because current models don't accurately predict the drug's effects on the human brain,” said Dr. Huang, who is also an associate professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), with which Gladstone is affiliated. “Human neurons—derived from reengineered skin cells—could help assess the efficacy and safety of these drugs, thereby reducing risks and resources associated with human trials.”
Dr. Huang's findings build on the work of other Gladstone scientists, starting with Gladstone Investigator, Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD. In 2007, Dr. Yamanaka used four genetic factors to turn adult human skin cells into cells that act like embryonic stem cells—called induced pluripotent stem cells.
Also known as iPS cells, these cells can become virtually any cell type in the human body—just like embryonic stem cells. Then last year, Gladstone Senior Investigator Sheng Ding, PhD, announced that he had used a combination of small molecules and genetic factors to transform skin cells directly into neural stem cells. Today, Dr. Huang takes a new tack by using one genetic factor—Sox2—to directly reprogram one cell type into another without reverting to the pluripotent state.
Avoiding the pluripotent state as Drs. Ding and Huang have done is one approach to avoiding the potential danger that “rogue” iPS cells might develop into a tumor if used to replace or repair damaged organs or tissue.
“We wanted to see whether these newly generated neurons could result in tumor growth after transplanting them into mouse brains,” said Karen Ring, UCSF Biomedical Sciences graduate student and the paper's lead author. “Instead we saw the reprogrammed cells integrate into the mouse's brain—and not a single tumor developed.”
This research, which was performed at the Roddenberry Center for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine at Gladstone, has also revealed the precise role of Sox2 as a master regulator that controls the identity of neural stem cells. In the future, Dr. Huang and his team hope to identify similar regulators that guide the development of specific neural progenitors and subtypes of neurons in the brain.
“If we can pinpoint which genes control the development of each neuron type, we can generate them in the petri dish from a single sample of human skin cells,” said Dr. Huang. “We could then test drugs that affect different neuron types—such as those involved in Parkinson's disease—helping us to put drug development for neurodegenerative diseases on the fast track.”
Others who participated in this research at Gladstone include Leslie Tong, Maureen Balestra, Robyn Javier, Yaisa Andrews-Zwilling, PhD, Gang Li, PhD, David Walker, William Zhang and Anatol Kreitzer, PhD. Funding came from a variety of sources including the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Tau Consortium, The Roddenberry Foundation and the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.
Friday, July 6, 2012
Yet again we have further reinforcement that it is quality attachment & relating that provides a rich arena for the development of human intelligence and creativity. Tradition, culture, personal involvement, continuous learning, exploration and team work along with learning about others enhance the inner world of imagination. I am a firm believer that limited gratification also helps trigger the need for parent child interactive reciprocity. Together, they activate the desire to create images, formulate thoughts, design objects, and create circumstances to satisfy the endless flow of a child's curiosity.
The pleasure is mutual and so it goes on.
Human Creativity May Have Evolved as a
Way for Parents to Bond With Their Children
— Evidence from Disneyland suggests that human creativity may have evolved not in response to sexual selection as some scientists believe but as a way to help parents bond with their children and to pass on traditions and cultural knowledge, a new study published in the inaugural issue of the International Journal of Tourism Anthropology suggests.
Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico has suggested that human creativity, storytelling, humor, wit, music, fantasy, and morality, all evolved as forms of courtship behavior. He used evidence drawn from the Southern California tourist industry to underpin his argument. The work offers an explanation as to why the human brain is so much bigger relative to body size than that of other apes -- sexual selection for greater intellect. Intriguingly, Miller has referred to the mind as "amusement park."
The researchers do concede that some tourism is related to courtship, and not just "honeymoon" tourism and that it often involves art, creativity, storytelling, humor, wit, music, fantasy, and morality as part of the attractions. The team argues, however, that "The brain circuitry involved in both the generation of, and response to, these traits was selected for because it enabled parents to increase their fitness by increasing their ability to influence their offspring." The human brain increased in size through evolution as cultural traditions accumulated over numerous generations. "Traditions can last much longer than a generation or two and that the massive accumulation of traditional behavior is unique to our species as is the large brain," the team concludes.
ScienceDaily (Nov. 15, 2010)
New Brain Receptor for Drug 'Fantasy' Identified
ScienceDaily (July 2, 2012) — Researchers are closer to understanding the biology behind GHB, a transmitter substance in the brain, best known in its synthetic form as the illegal drug fantasy.
In the 1960s, gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) was first discovered as a naturally occurring substance in the brain. Since then it has been manufactured as a drug with a clinical application and has also developed a reputation as the illegal drug fantasy and as a date rape drug. Its physiological function is still unknown.
Now a team of researchers at the Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology at the University of Copenhagen has shown for the first time exactly where the transmitter substance binds in the brain under physiologically relevant conditions. The results have recently been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"We have discovered that GHB binds to a special protein in the brain -- more specifically a GABAA-receptor. The binding is strong even at very low dosage. This suggests that we have found the natural receptor, which opens new and exciting research opportunities, in that we have identified an important unknown that can provide the basis for a full explanation of the biological significance of the transmitter," says Laura Friis Eghorn, PhD student.
Illegal use and possible antidote
Fantasy is also used as a so-called date rape drug, because in moderate amounts it has sedative, sexually stimulating and soporific effects. The compound is also abused for its euphoric effect, but in combination with alcohol, for example, it is a deadly cocktail that can lead to a state of deep unconsciousness or coma.
"GHB is registered for use as a drug to treat alcoholism and certain types of sleep disorders, but the risk of abuse presents difficulties. In the long-term, understanding how GHB works will enable us to develop new and better pharmaceuticals with a targeted effect in the brain, without the dangerous side-effects of fantasy," explains Laura Friis Eghorn, Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology.
Fantasy is an extremely toxic euphoriant, because the difference between a normal intoxicating dose and a fatal dose is so small. A better understanding of the biological mechanisms behind GHB-binding in the brain will benefit research into a life-saving antidote for this drug. Today there is no known antidote.
Statistics from Denmark in 2010 show that 8-10 percent of young people who frequent night clubs have had experience with Fantasy. However, since the drug is often also used in private for its sedative effect, it is difficult to estimate the extent of abuse.
Researchers on a targeted fishing expedition
The new research findings are the result of a collaboration between researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia and medicinal chemists at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences:
"Our chemist colleagues designed and produced special ligands -- that are mimics of GHB in several variations. This enabled us to go on a targeted fishing expedition in the brain. We have slowly found our way to the receptor, which we have also been able to test pharmacologically. In itself, it is not unusual to find new receptors in the brain for known compounds. However, when we find a natural match rooted in the brain's transmitter system, the biological implications are extremely interesting," explains Petrine Wellendorph, associate professor and head of the responsible research group that produced the pioneering results.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Happy birthday America, I woke up in your arms again this morning, I am concerned about you, you are trembling a bit, I am worried about the land of the free and the home of the brave. She requires attention desperately, she needs tender loving care as any home does, ongoing care taking, retrofitting for earthquakes and floods, planning for disasters and for debt service, those jobs a good parent would do.. Particularly now in this mud slinging and money wasting political atmosphere. What are we doing about the foundation of our home while the ones in charge and the ones fighting to be in charge in the future are mostly driven by personal power, greed and ego gratification? Supported by money given to them in exchange for shady promises. Freedom and independence have to be treasured as gems, protected and nourished or they cannot breathe and flourish. Tumbling down into a dangerously comatose state is a frightening possibility.