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March 25, 2008, 10:21 PM CT

Seeing may be believing -- but is it the same as looking?

Seeing may be believing -- but is it the same as looking?
If you see something, its because youre looking at it, right? A recently published study examined this question and established that while people do tend to notice objects within their gaze, it is the assumptions they make about their environment that affects their perceptions. This study gives insight into how the brain and the eye work together to interpret everyday observations.

The study If I saw it, it probably wasnt far from where I was looking, reflects the work of a group of scientists led by E.M. Brenner, PhD of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The article recently appeared in the Journal of Vision (http://www.journalofvision.org/8/2), published by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

Previous studies have confirmed that peoples familiarity with the world around them allows them to make credible assumptions about what they see. This study sought to discover how people would visually interpret a constantly changing or uncertain environment in the absence of common visual assumptions.

Eight subjects participated in two experiments to identify the location of a jumping target (a circular green cursor). In the first session, the target jumped to different locations within five concentric circles (arranged around a fixation point) every 250 milliseconds. The subjects had to position a mouse cursor at the location where the target had been at the moment of a flash. The second session mimicked the first except a tone replaced the flash. Each session continued until subjects made 250 responses.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 18, 2008, 9:11 PM CT

Does stress damage the brain?

Does stress damage the brain?
Individuals who experience military combat obviously endure extreme stress, and this exposure leaves a number of diagnosed with the psychiatric condition of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD is linked to several abnormalities in brain structure and function. However, as researcher Roger Pitman explains, Eventhough it is tempting to conclude that these abnormalities were caused by the traumatic event, it is also possible that they were pre-existing risk factors that increased the risk of developing PTSD upon the traumatic events occurrence. Drs. Kasai and Yamasue along with their colleagues sought to examine this association in a new study reported in the March 15th issue of Biological Psychiatry.

The authors measured the gray matter density of the brains of combat-exposed Vietnam veterans, some with and some without PTSD, and their combat-unexposed identical twins using a technology called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The detailed images provided by the MRI scans then allowed the researchers to compare specific brain regions of the siblings. They observed that the gray matter density of the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain involved in emotional functioning, was reduced in veterans with PTSD, but not in their twins who had not experienced combat. As per Dr. Pitman, this finding supports the conclusion that the psychological stress resulting from the traumatic stressor may damage this brain region, with deleterious emotional consequences.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 18, 2008, 8:30 PM CT

Spring training for parents?

Spring training for parents?
As cries of play ball ring out this spring, they undoubtedly will be followed by complaints of anxiety and stress from young athletes wanting to quit sports.

Parents and coaches can make youth sports a fun, learning experience or a nightmare, as per sport psychology experts at the University of Washington. But to achieve the former, sports officials and organizations must provide more training programs, particularly for parents, as per Frank Smoll and Ron Smith, who have been studying the youth sport experience and designing programs to improve it for a quarter of a century.

There is no problem in getting coaches to attend educational workshops. The challenge is convincing organizations to offer parent workshops and getting parents to come, said Smoll. A number of youth sport organizations are saying, Yes, we are interested in offering these programs, but thats it. They are not delivering them to parents.

There has been a drive in the last 20 years to teach coaches how to create a healthy psychological environment for young athletes. A culture has been created and there is an expectation that coaches will receive training. Unfortunately, too a number of moms and pops are all too willing to assume they dont have a role in youth sports. However, they should support what trained coaches are trying to do. Parents and coaches working together are a powerful combination, he said.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 18, 2008, 5:09 AM CT

Pycnogenol improves memory in elderly

Pycnogenol improves memory in elderly
New research accepted for publication in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, demonstrates Pycnogenol, (pic-noj-en-all), an antioxidant plant extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree, improves the memory of senior citizens.

The study results revealed Pycnogenol improved both numerical working memory as well as spatial working memory using a computerized testing system. The research was presented last week at the Oxygen Club of California 2008 World Congress on Oxidants and Antioxidants in Biology in Santa Barbara, CA.

These results support research from a range of disciplines that suggest that antioxidants may have an effect in preserving or enhancing specific mental functions, said Dr. Con Stough, lead researcher of the study. Cognitive research in this area specifically indicates that the putative benefits linked to antioxidant supplementation are linked to memory.

The double-blind, placebo controlled, matched pairs study, which was held at the Centre for Neuropsychology at Swinburne University, Melbourne Australia, examined the effects of Pycnogenol on a range of cognitive and biochemical measures in 101 senior individuals aged 60-85 years old. The study also examined the oxidative stress hypothesis of ageing and neurological degeneration as it relates to normal changes in cognition in elderly individuals. Participant screening for the study included medical history and cognitive assessment. Participants consumed a daily dose of 150mg of Pycnogenol for a three-month therapy period and were assessed at baseline then at one, two and three months of the therapy. The control and Pycnogenol groups were matched by age, sex, BMI, micronutrient intake and intelligence. The cognitive tasks comprised measures of attention, working memory, episodic memory and psycho-motor performance.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source


March 17, 2008, 10:13 PM CT

Curbing teen drinking difficult in urban areas

Curbing teen drinking difficult in urban areas
Keeping middle schoolers from alcohol is a tougher task in the inner city than in rural areas, even for experts armed with the best prevention programs, a new University of Florida study shows.

A three-year, three-pronged prevention program did little to keep Chicago middle schoolers from drinking or using drugs, despite its previous success in rural Minnesota, where the program reduced alcohol use 20 to 30 percent, UF and University of Minnesota scientists recently published in the online edition of the journal Addiction.

The intervention found to be effective in rural areas was not effective here, which really surprised us, said Kelli A. Komro, a UF associate professor of epidemiology in the UF College of Medicine and the studys lead author. This is an important finding to realize this program was not enough. The bottom line is this: Low-income children in urban areas need more, long-term intensive efforts.

Adolescents who drink by age 15 -- about half of teens -- are more likely to struggle in school, abuse alcohol during the later part of life, smoke cigarettes and use other drugs than those who dont. Even worse, exposure to alcohol at a young age may damage the developing brain, as per a 2007 U.S. Surgeon General report.

Almost any problem kids might have, alcohol increases that risk, Komro said.........

Posted by: Janet      Read more         Source


March 13, 2008, 8:48 PM CT

Memory on Trial

Memory on Trial
Research says verbatim trace, i.e. memories of what actually happened, may reduce false memories.
The U.S. legal system has long assumed that all testimony is not equally credible, that some witnesses are more reliable than others. In tough cases with child witnesses, it assumes adult witnesses to be more reliable. But what if the legal system had it wrong?

Scientists Valerie Reyna, human development professor, and Chuck Brainerd, human development and law school professor--both from Cornell University--argue that like the two-headed Roman god Janus, memory is of two minds--that is, memories are captured and recorded separately and differently in two distinct parts of the mind.

They say children depend more heavily on a part of the mind that records, "what actually happened," while adults depend more on another part of the mind that records, "the meaning of what happened." As a result, they say, adults are more susceptible to false memories, which can be extremely problematic in court cases.

Reyna's and Brainerd's research, funded by the National Science Foundation, Arlington, Va., sparked more than 30 follow-up memory studies, a number of of them also funded by NSF. The scientists review the follow-on studies in an upcoming issue of Psychological Bulletin.

Tis research shows that meaning-based memories are largely responsible for false memories, particularly in adult witnesses. Because the ability to extract meaning from experience develops slowly, children are less likely to produce these false memories than adults, and are more likely to give accurate testimony when properly questioned.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 9, 2008, 6:03 PM CT

Brain network linked to contemplation

Brain network linked to contemplation
A brain network associated with introspective tasks -- such as forming the self-image or understanding the motivations of others -- is less intricate and well-connected in children, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have learned. They also showed that the network establishes firmer connections between various brain regions as an individual matures.

The researchers are working to establish a picture of how these connections and other brain networks normally develop and interact. They want to use that picture to conduct more detailed assessments of the effects of aging, brain injuries and conditions such as autism on brain function.

"Having this information will not only help us understand what's going wrong in these patients, it will also allow us to better assess whether and how future interventions are providing those patients with effective therapy," says senior author Bradley L. Schlaggar, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics, radiology, neurology and anatomy and neurobiology.

The results appear online this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Neuroresearchers including co-author Marcus E. Raichle, M.D., professor of radiology, of anatomy and neurobiology and of neurology first identified the network, which is called the default network, in 1996. Since then, researchers have linked it to many inward-looking activities, including the creation of the "autobiographical self," a person's internal narrative of their life story; and "mentalizing," the ability to analyze the mental states of others and use those insights to adjust the self's behavior appropriately.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 9, 2008, 5:08 PM CT

Profound Impact Of Our Unconscious On Reaching Goals

Profound Impact Of Our Unconscious On Reaching Goals
Whether you are a habitual list maker, or you prefer to keep your tasks in your head, everyone pursues their goals in this ever changing, chaotic environment. We are often aware of our conscious decisions that bring us closer to reaching our goals, however to what extent can we count on our unconscious processes to pilot us toward our destined future?

People can learn rather complex structures of the environment and do so implicitly, or without intention. Could this unconscious learning be better if we really wanted it to?.

Hebrew University psychology experts, Baruch Eitam, Ran Hassin and Yaacov Schul, examined the benefit of non-conscious goal pursuit (moving toward a desired goal without being aware of doing so) in new environments. Existing theory suggests that non-conscious goal pursuit only reproduces formerly learned actions, therefore ineffective in mastering a new skill. Eitam and his colleagues argue the opposite: that non-conscious goal pursuit can help people achieve their goals, even in a new environment, in which they have no previous experience.

In the first of two experiments, Eitam and his colleagues had participants complete a word search task. One half of the participants' puzzles included words linked to achievement (e.g. strive, succeed, first, and win), while the other half performed a motivationally neutral puzzle including words such as, carpet, diamond and hat. Then participants performed a computerized simulation of running a sugar factory. Their goal in the simulation was to produce a specific amount of sugar. They were only told that they could change the number of employees in the factory. Eventhough participants were not told about the complex relationship that existed between the number of employees and past production levels (and could not verbalize it after the experiment had ended); they gradually grew better in controlling the factory.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 7, 2008, 5:33 AM CT

Curbing college drinking problems

Curbing college drinking problems
Parental monitoring can reduce high-school drinking and, as a result, have a protective effect on students drinking at college, says research published this week in the online open access journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy.

The findings strengthen the idea that certain parental practices throughout high school and perhaps college could be used to curb high-risk drinking in older adolescents. Underage drinking is associated with many negative outcomes in this group, including suicide, high-risk sexual activity and an increased chance of alcohol dependence.

Scientists from the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland College Park, Maryland, USA interviewed over 1,200 students for the research, which forms part of the College Life Study. This is an ongoing, longitudinal, prospective investigation of health-risk behaviors in college students, including alcohol and other drug use.

The team assessed parental monitoring and student alcohol consumption (in drinks per day) in high school using surveys in the summer before the students attended a large public university in the mid-Atlantic. Students were followed up with a personal interview in their first college year to assess their alcohol consumption over the past year.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


March 5, 2008, 9:23 PM CT

Chemistry of Mother-daughter conflict

Chemistry of Mother-daughter conflict
A combination of negative mother-daughter relationships and low blood levels of serotonin, an important brain chemical for mood stability, may be lethal for adolescent girls, leaving them vulnerable to engage in self-harming behaviors such as cutting themselves.

New University of Washington research indicates that these two factors in combination account for 64 percent of the difference among adolescents, primarily girls, who engage in self-harming behaviors and those who do not.

Girls who engage in self harm are at high risk for attempting suicide, and some of them are dying, said Theodore Beauchaine, a UW associate professor of psychology and co-author of a new study. There is no better predictor of suicide than prior suicide attempts.

The paper, co-authored by Sheila Crowell, one of his doctoral students, appears in the current issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Beauchaine said the relationship between the level of mother-daughter conflict and self-harming behavior was not strong. There was a stronger relationship between serotonin levels and self-harming behavior. But when both factors were considered together, the relationship to self-harming behaviors was very strong.

Most people think in terms of biology or environment rather than biology and environment working together, he said. Having a low level of serotonin is a biological vulnerability for self-harming behavior and that vulnerability increases remarkably when it is paired with maternal conflict.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source



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Did you know?
Too little evidence exists to recommend or rule out estrogen as a treatment for schizophrenia in women, a new review of studies finds.People diagnosed with schizophrenia suffer distorted perceptions of reality and hallucinations. Today, estrogen is strictly an experimental therapy for the psychotic symptoms associated with the mental illness.

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