Gut inflammation and autism.Laughing or smirking? Wikipedia Words which still have the ability to furrow brows and precipitate eye rolling. Whatever your views on this topic, whether based on science or politics or both, there is no getting away from the evidence suggestive that in SOME cases of autism, issues with that deepest, darkest realm - the gut - do seem to be present.Whether based on the presence of functional bowel issues (see here and here) or something rather more fundamental (see here), research continues to discover that the so-called second brain might have quite an important role to play in SOME cases of autism. This is not new news by the way (see here); the idea for which predates a certain [retracted] paper in 1998.The recent paper from the laboratory of Paul Patterson (see here) suggesting that there may be issues with gut permeability (the so-called leaky gut) in offspring of a mouse model of maternal immune activation (MIA) during pregnancy was surprising to say the least. Whilst quite a lot of the media on this study went for the gut bacteria angle and bacteria potentially influencing behaviour (again, not necessarily new news), the forgotten angle of that paper was how immune activation in mother mice might be quite importantly linked to gut physiology of offspring.As I see it, there's an important triad emerging in this area consisting of gut bacteria, gut barrier function and immune function potentially pertinent to lots of different issues and conditions. But what do I know?It is again with mouse models and autism in mind, that I'm posting about the study from Caroline de Theije and colleagues* and their suggestion that offspring of the valproic acid (VPA) mouse model of autism might similar show 'gastrointestinal issues'. In particular: "VPA in utero- exposed male offspring showed epithelial cell loss and neutrophil infiltration in the intestinal tract".The possible connection between foetal exposure to valproate and subsequent developmental outcomes has witnessed an explosion of interest this year (2013). Of course, the very fact that science has a VPA murine model of autism is testament to the fact that for quite a few years, there have been rumblings of a potentially important connection between the two factors. The recent data however, have led to some speculation which goes well beyond just correlation as per the paper by Harden**.Back to the de Theije paper, and as follows a well-trodden research routine, it was a case of exposing pregnant mice (not, I hasten to add the usual BTBR dangermouse of autism) to either saline or more actively, valproic acid. Offspring mice were then studied both behaviourally and physiologically, upon which, intestinal issues of the inflammatory kind were detected in the VPA exposed mice. The authors conclude that: "gender-specific inflammatory conditions are present in the small intestines of VPA in utero- exposed mice and are accompanied by a disturbed serotonergic system in the brain as well as in the intestinal tract". Ergo, brain and gut seem to be implicated in the VPA murine model of autism, and boy mice seem to be the more fragile ones which some might seem as fitting in with the current data on the sex ratio of autism.Similar to the MIA work, the VPA model with the gut in mind is at present solely focused on mouse models. Mouse models, in cold, hard scientific terms, tend to be good models to work with because well, they rely on mice not humans. Therein however, lies an issue: can a condition as complex and heterogeneous as autism really be recreated in mice? I'll leave the philosophers out there to ponder that question.Bearing such a methodological issue in mind, the identification of something potentially going on gut-wise in the VPA model might actually turn out to be a useful finding. Assuming that someone is able to replicate these findings, one might begin to question what happens when said intestinal inflammation is treated in the VPA exposed offspring, and whether there may be any implications for intervention in humans for example, with autism in mind but also with conditions headed under the banner of foetal valproate syndrome***. I note in another paper from de Theije and colleagues**** there does seem to be some interest in the "gut-to-brain connection" with autism in mind so perhaps this is something already under consideration by the authors.Perhaps even more speculatively, and with the recent Hsaio paper***** in mind, I should also ask the question of whether gut bacteria might be the next research target for the VPA mouse model of autism? Oh sorry, the authors have already thought of that******(what clever people).Some music to close. I'm actually quite taken by the updated version of 'Dream a little dream' by Mr Williams & Ms Allen if the truth be known. Not that I'm implying that anyone outside of my brood should be dreaming about me...----------* de Theije CGM. et al. Intestinal inflammation in a murine model of autism spectrum disorders. Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Dec 6. pii: S0889-1591(13)00589-8.** Harden CL. In Utero Valproate Exposure and Autism: Long Suspected, Finally Proven. Epilepsy Currents. 2013; 13: 282-284.*** Kini U. Fetal valproate syndrome: a review. Paediatr Perinatal Drug Therapy. 2006; 7: 123-130.**** de Theije CGM. et al. Pathways underlying the gut-to-brain connection in autism spectrum disorders as future targets for disease management. Eur J Pharmacol. 2011 Sep;668 Suppl 1:S70-80.***** Hsiao EY. et al. Microbiota Modulate Behavioral and Physiological Abnormalities Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Cell. 2013 Dec 3. pii: S0092-8674(13)01473-6.****** de Theije CGM. et al. Altered gut microbiota and activity in a murine model of autism spectrum disorders. Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Dec 11.-----------... Read more »
de Theije CG, Koelink PJ, Korte-Bouws GA, Silva SL, Mechiel Korte S, Olivier B, Garssen J, & Kraneveld AD. (2013) Intestinal inflammation in a murine model of autism spectrum disorders. Brain Behav Immun. DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2013.12.004
The crying was associated with a sorrowful facial expression, sobbing body movements, and a voice inflected with sadness. These physical manifestations ended with the termi- nation of stimulation and the patient described feeling sad, but could not express the trigger for the sadness or crying. Results were consistent and reproducible. I have previously wondered why […]... Read more »
Burghardt T, Basha MM, Fuerst D, & Mittal S. (2013) Crying with sorrow evoked by electrocortical stimulation. Epileptic disorders : international epilepsy journal with videotape, 15(1), 72-5. PMID: 23531727
This image was provided by the CDC and the Partnership, Inc. Available at Wikimedia Commons.Studies of the spread of infectious diseases have shown that behavior plays a strong role in which individuals are more likely to be infected and which ones aren't. For example, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are more commonly diagnosed in people that have more sexual partners. But despite our understanding of how diseases are spread among people, we know very little about the spread of diseases among wild animals. Do their personalities play a role in the spread of wildlife diseases? This week at Accumulating Glitches I talk about personalities in deer mice and the role they play in the spread of hantavirus. Check it out here. And to learn more, check this out:Dizney L, & Dearing MD (2013). The role of behavioural heterogeneity on infection patterns: implications for pathogen transmission. Animal behaviour, 86 (5) PMID: 24319292 ... Read more »
Dizney L, & Dearing MD. (2013) The role of behavioural heterogeneity on infection patterns: implications for pathogen transmission. Animal behaviour, 86(5). PMID: 24319292
Health experts say we aren't eating enough fruit. Perhaps psychology can help. Try this. Picture yourself eating a portion of fruit tomorrow - an apple, say, or a couple of plums. Take your time. Focus on the colours, the consistency, the flavour. Visualise where you are at the time, and what you are doing.Do you think this simple imagery task will have increased the likelihood you will eat fruit tomorrow? A new study led by Catherine Adams attempted to find out. Over two hundred volunteers were split into three groups. One performed the fruit imagery task, another group did the same thing but for a biscuit bar of their choice (examples they were given included flapjacks, Kellogg's Elevenses and Jaffa Cake bars), and a final group did not perform an imagery task.Straight after, the participants answered questions about their food preferences, future consumption intentions, and they were offered a reward from a basket of fruits and biscuit bars. Two days later they were also asked by email whether they had any eaten fruit or a biscuit bars the day before (35 per cent of them answered this).Once the researchers controlled for background factors (such as the possibility there were more fruit lovers in one condition or the other), they found that the fruit imagery task made no difference to participants' intentions to eat fruit, no difference to their choice of fruit as a reward, nor their consumption of fruit the next day, as compared with the control group who didn't perform the imagery. For the biscuit bar group, the imagery task increased their intentions to eat biscuit bars in the future, but didn't actually alter their consumption (as compared against the no-imagery control group)."These effects suggest different effects for different visualised behaviours," the researchers said. "Further investigation is needed before recommending visualisation for increasing fruit consumption."As the researchers' acknowledged, there are some issues with the study that mean caution is needed in interpreting the results. For instance, just one brief imagery session may well be inadequate. Also, other research suggests imagery works best when combined with other strategies, such as "if-then" implementation plans (e.g. If I am hungry, then I will snack on some fruit). The response rate to the follow-up email was also disappointing, and bear in mind that participants may have felt the food they chose immediately after the imagery was a form of reward, and therefore may not reflect their usual eating choices. These issues show how difficult health behaviour research can be._________________________________ Adams C, Rennie L, Uskul AK, and Appleton KM (2013). Visualising future behaviour: Effects for snacking on biscuit bars, but no effects for snacking on fruit. Journal of health psychology PMID: 24217063 --Further reading--The Digest guide to willpowerLess is more when it comes to beating bad habitsIf-then plans help protect us from the 'to hell with it' effectThe mindbus technique for resisting chocolate - should we climb aboard?Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.
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Adams C, Rennie L, Uskul AK, & Appleton KM. (2013) Visualising future behaviour: Effects for snacking on biscuit bars, but no effects for snacking on fruit. Journal of health psychology. PMID: 24217063
Dogs are social creatures, but while some dogs clearly love to visit dog parks, others seem less happy about it. New research by Ottenheimer Carrier et al (Memorial University of Newfoundland) investigates whether the dog park is stressful, and what dogs do there.Photo: Gerald Marella / ShutterstockDog parks are open spaces, usually fenced, where dogs can be off-leash. They are particularly useful in municipalities where leash laws mean there are few spaces for dogs to run free. The researchers recruited owners at a dog park and asked if their dogs could take part. Eleven dogs took part in the first study, in which saliva samples were collected before and after a walk, before arrival at the dog park, and after being in the dog park for about twenty minutes. Because some samples did not get enough saliva, full results were available for six dogs. The results showed that salivary cortisol levels were higher after 20 minutes in the dog park compared to before they arrived. There was no difference in levels before and after a walk.Sixty dogs aged 6 months to 15.5 years took part in the second study. 81% were spayed or neutered, and all but one were medium or large breeds because the park was for dogs over 12kg. Owners completed a questionnaire about their dog, including the frequency of visiting the park, and canine personality scales. Each dog was videoed for twenty minutes, and then a saliva sample was taken.The videos were analyzed to see how dogs spent their time. Five dogs were not included in this analysis because, during the time of the video, they were alone or one of only two in the park and hence did not have chance to interact with several other dogs. For the remaining dogs, there were typically seven dogs in the park at any one time.Forty per cent of the time was spent near to a human, either with a human alone or with a mixed group of human(s) and dogs. The size of the dog park could have had something to do with this. Dogs spent about a third of their time alone, and about a quarter with other dogs in groups or more.There was a correlation between play behaviour and mounting. There was also a correlation between stress behaviour (such as a tucked tail) and a hunched posture. Almost all of the dogs displayed a stress-related behaviour at some point, and 83% displayed at least one play signal/behaviour. Older dogs were less active, and younger dogs were more playful.The owners’ ratings of their dog’s amicability were linked to the frequency of play signals and behaviours. Ratings of extraversion linked to how much time was spent in a pair with another dog. The dogs who visited the dog park the least had the highest cortisol levels, suggesting that they found it stressful. Dogs that had already visited the park within the previous week showed fewer stress-related behaviours than dogs that had not visited as recently. So what does this mean for your dog? The scientists say “Owners of dogs showing lowered posture in the dog park might be advised to reconsider exposing their dog to this setting for welfare reasons. Most dogs, however, especially those which owners rate as physically active and friendly, appear to have overall positive experiences in the dog park, and likely benefit from the physical activity and social interactions that such a setting provides.”Does your dog like to visit the dog park?Reference:Ottenheimer Carrier, L., Cyr, A., Anderson, R.E., & Walsh, C.J. (2013). Exploring the dog park: Relationships between social behaviours, personality and cortisol in companion dogs Applied Animal Behaviour Science , 146, 96-106 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2013.04.002... Read more »
Ottenheimer Carrier, L., Cyr, A., Anderson, R.E., & Walsh, C.J. (2013) Exploring the dog park: Relationships between social behaviours, personality and cortisol in companion dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science , 96-106. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2013.04.002
Phospholipids are just one type of lipid in all cells. The fatty acids are the precursor to all kinds of lipids, but in some cases they have been modified to such a degree that they are not identifiable. The fatty acids are showing interesting functions, such as a new study showing that the levels of odd chain fatty acids can be used to monitor rumen health in cattle. The omega fatty acids are also becoming important in the treatment and prevention of depression. A new study shows that in American women, the levels of omega three acids and self-reported symptoms of depression are inversely proportional. Finally, it seems that fatty acids in lipid droplets serve as a reservoir for excess histone proteins, which can be toxic to the cell if left unsequestered. Low lipid droplet levels lead to poor development in fruit flies.... Read more »
Beydoun MA, Fanelli Kuczmarski MT, Beydoun HA, Hibbeln JR, Evans MK, & Zonderman AB. (2013) ω-3 Fatty Acid Intakes Are Inversely Related to Elevated Depressive Symptoms among United States Women. The Journal of nutrition, 143(11), 1743-52. PMID: 24005610
Li Z, Thiel K, Thul PJ, Beller M, Kühnlein RP, & Welte MA. (2012) Lipid droplets control the maternal histone supply of Drosophila embryos. Current biology : CB, 22(22), 2104-13. PMID: 23084995
Vlaeminck B, Dufour C, van Vuuren AM, Cabrita AR, Dewhurst RJ, Demeyer D, & Fievez V. (2005) Use of odd and branched-chain fatty acids in rumen contents and milk as a potential microbial marker. Journal of dairy science, 88(3), 1031-42. PMID: 15738238
by Rita Handrich in The Jury Room
It’s been a while since we’ve done an update on neurolaw in the courtroom. The idea that pretty and colorful pictures of the brain (aka fMRIs) can give us a window into motivations, intent, and the creepiness of others captures our imagination. New research though, cautions us that perhaps (like the vast over-estimations of the […]
Confused about brain scans? Welcome to the club!
Defending the Psychopath: “His brain made him do it”
On brains, brain damage, pedophilia and other things we don’t like
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Hook CJ, & Farah MJ. (2013) Look again: effects of brain images and mind-brain dualism on lay evaluations of research. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 25(9), 1397-405. PMID: 23879877
Schweitzer NJ, Baker DA, & Risko EF. (2013) Fooled by the brain: re-examining the influence of neuroimages. Cognition, 129(3), 501-11. PMID: 24041836
Air pollution.I'm pretty sure most people are aware of all the talk about air pollution these days and how the human body is not particularly fond of air pollution in terms of potential adverse health outcomes (assuming that is, you leave things like selenium out of the equation). If you happen to live in China, I'm sure your mind was put at ease when reading about 'The Five Surprising Gains from the Smog'... or maybe not.Most people generally find it easier to accept that air pollution might show a possible connection with something like respiratory diseases for example, given that the airways are generally a first point of entry for said pollution getting access to the body (although not the only route). Mention that something like autism risk for example, might also be linked to air pollution exposure and I'm sure that a significant degree of eye-rolling begins, alongside mutterings of the old 'correlation is not the same as causation' argument. The Alchemist @ Wikipedia Personally I'm quite intrigued by the results emerging looking at something like childhood or maternal exposure to air pollution and proximity to sources of air pollution being linked to child or offspring autism risk. In these times of the autisms and various external forces implicated in autism risk (think valproate for example and the recent special reminder from the MHRA on this matter; even someone mentioning the word 'proven'  as if such a thing exists) I don't think we can rule most things out yet.You have for example, the data from Heather Volk and colleagues  which was talked about in this post compounded by the data from Tracy Ann Becerra and colleagues  (see this post) both quite recently pinpointing something of a statistical association at least. That and other studies looking at a possible association.Enter then another study by Volk and colleagues  which adds another layer of intrigue and complexity to the air pollution link by suggesting that a certain kind of genotype combined with air pollution exposure might elevate the risk of autism. There has been some media coverage of this paper (see here).I suppose the first thing to take from the latest Volk paper is it's concentration on gene x environment interactions potentially modifying the risk of something like autism. I'm sure readers are used to hearing about [variable] gene-environment interactions quite loudly proclaimed these days as accounting for the presence of autism, but to see a study looking experimentally at the issue is very refreshing.The next thing to note about the Volk paper is the specific focus on the MET receptor tyrosine kinase (MET) gene and a particular version of this gene potentially interacting with something like air pollution. In the post titled: 'I'm glad I MET you' (no prizes for the headline there) I talked about some other rather interesting findings when it came to MET and autism. Alongside all the chatter about things like synaptic development which MET has been tied to  was the suggestion that "the functional MET promoter variant rs1858830 C allele was strongly associated with the presence of an ASD-specific 37+73-kDa band pattern of maternal autoantibodies to fetal brain proteins (P=0.003)" as per the paper from Heuer and colleagues . Maternal autoantibodies, as regular readers might know, are an upcoming area with autism risk in mind (see here).It is then perhaps no surprise that the MET rs1858830 genotype, same as that one looked at with maternal autoantibodies in mind, was also the focus on the recent Volk paper and in particular the 'CC' genotype (see here for some information on zygosity). This genotype seems to be one which is more commonly noted in relation to cases of autism . Indeed, based on an analysis of participants involved with the CHARGE initiative (beincharge!) the authors suggested: "Subjects with both MET rs1858830 CC genotype and high air pollutant exposures were at increased risk of autism spectrum disorder compared with subjects who had both the CG/GG genotypes and lower air pollutant exposures". Big words, I'm sure you'll agree.These results are obviously crying out for replication for starters. The focus of this study was (a) on one gene, one specific variant of one gene, in our entire genome (b) looking at structural issues with said gene not necessarily gene function as per that rising star which is epigenetics for example might have on gene expression, and (c) based on air pollution exposure estimates from "local traffic-related sources and regional sources (particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone)". With those factors in mind, caution still needs to be applied to these results before anyone goes and tries to for example, market any sort of genetic test for air pollution related autism or anything similar... Oh and 'steering clear of cities' is probably not a realistic option for most people either. Indeed, even residing in the countryside has been linked to autism risk (see here).But still I'm interested in these results and indeed, the next question of biological processes from genes to environment to development and behaviour.--------- Harden CL. In Utero Valproate Exposure and Autism: Long Suspected, Finally Proven. Epilepsy Currents 2013; November/December 2013: 13; 282-284. Volk HE. et al. Traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter, and autism. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013 Jan;70(1):71-7. Becerra TA. et al. Ambient air pollution and autism in Los Angeles county, California. Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Mar;121(3):380-6. Volk HE. et al. Autism Spectrum Disorder: Interaction of Air Pollution with the MET Receptor Tyrosine Kinase Gene. Epidemiology. 2013 Nov 14. Judson MC. et al. A new synaptic player leading to autism risk: Met receptor tyrosine kinase. J Neurodev Disord. 2011 Sep;3(3):282-92. Heuer L. et al. Association of a MET genetic variant with autism-associated maternal autoan... Read more »
Volk HE, Kerin T, Lurmann F, Hertz-Picciotto I, McConnell R, & Campbell DB. (2013) Autism Spectrum Disorder: Interaction of Air Pollution with the MET Receptor Tyrosine Kinase Gene. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.). PMID: 24240654
Myself (Miles Bore), Don Munro and David Powis have spent the last 15 years developing and testing personality questionnaires and ability tests for use in the selection of medical students. While much of the focus of our research has been the use of these tests in Australia and the UK, we have also had opportunities to trial the tests in countries where English is not the first language such as Sweden, Israel, Japan, Taiwan, Nepal and Fiji. Recently we were approached by Saharnaz Nedjat from Tehran University of Medical Sciences asking if we would be interested in running the Personal Qualities Assessment tests with her in Iran. We leapt at the chance of course!We emailed three tests to Tehran for translation into Persian: the Mental Agility Test (a 48-item high powered IQ test), the Mojac Moral Orientation Scale and our Self-Appraisal Inventory which measures the personality traits of Involvement (being empathic, confident with others and not aloof or narcissistic), Resilience (being emotionally stable and not neurotic) and Self-Control (being conscientious and not disorderly). The tests were then back-translated into English so we could check that all 240 questions in the battery, not to mention the instructions for each test, had maintained their original meaning: quite a detailed job! After checking back and forth with Saharnez on a handful of questions that were proving difficult to translate we finally had it all sorted. The real test of this was whether the tests actually worked when given to applicants in Tehran.The tests were administered to a cohort of medical students at Tehran and the findings reported in a recently published article for the journal Medical Teacher. While the article presents only basic analysis (mean differences between students who entered directly from secondary education compared to those who entered with a tertiary degree) it is the finding that the tests performed reliably when translated into Persian that pleased us most. More detail on that and other cross-cultural comparisons are for another paper.For more details, please see the following journal article:Nedjat, S., Bore, M., Majdzadeh, R., Rashidian, A., Munro, D., Powis, D., Karbakhsh, M., & Keshavarz, H. (2013). Comparing the cognitive, personality and moral characteristics of high school and graduate medical entrants to the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran Medical Teacher, 35 (12), 1632-1637 DOI: 10.3109/0142159X.2013.826791Further information can be found at the Personal Qualities Assessment website: http://www.pqa.net.au/... Read more »
Nedjat, S., Bore, M., Majdzadeh, R., Rashidian, A., Munro, D., Powis, D., Karbakhsh, M., . (2013) Comparing the cognitive, personality and moral characteristics of high school and graduate medical entrants to the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran. Medical Teacher, 35(12), 1632-1637. DOI: 10.3109/0142159X.2013.826791
I'm self-employed and often need to get work done in a variety of locations. In theory, I should be most productive at home, with everything at my fingertips, but sometimes the exact reverse is true (which explains why I'm writing this from a cafe). So it was a treat to read a recent article by Mona Mustafa and Michael Gold on managing 'temporal and physical boundaries among self-employed teleworkers.' The article reports on a number of practices that may be useful to anyone in this situation.The researchers interviewed 20 self-employed teleworkers – people who work outside a formal office and engaged in non face-to-face work - from France, the US and UK. Most respondents regarded having a clear separate physical location for work as necessary even though in the main no-one else was in the house when work took place. Respondents who began only quasi-separated soon became dissatisfied: for instance, one interviewee ended up introducing a room divider into her bedroom-work space: 'I did not want to be trying to go to sleep and kind of looking at my work, I wanted to have some kind of physical separation of work from sleep...' The paper references Alan Felstead's continuum used to describe how work-life and home-life interrelate. At one extreme, these are totally detached and invisible to one another, and at the other they are fully assimilated. Mustafa and Gold found their interviewees’ insights suggest that this continuum might exist for three different features of the work-home divide: equipment, activity, and ambience. For example, a work area may be decorated distinctly from the rest of the house, and all work equipment may be restricted to that area - keeping these areas detached - yet the worker might use the area for chats with a visitor or to go through household accounts, thus blending activities.Without a remote manager providing external pressure, many of the interviewees found it hard to get it across to family and friends that their hours were sacrosanct and that they were 'really' working. Separating space was important for creating boundaries, essentially consecrating a corner of home as not-Home-but-Work. A more insidious danger was a self-inflicted one: use of mobile technology. We've reported on how this can undermine work-home distinctions in remote working employees, but the problems are compounded for the self-employed, who rely on client requests to get revenue and so may be reluctant to switch off in the fear of missing the call for a piece of work. Mobile technology therefore breaks down the boundaries that the self-employed may dearly depend on.Mustafa and Gold conclude that the lack of strong temporal boundaries for the self-employed – working beyond 9 to 5; commissions potentially coming in at any time – makes it all the more vital to get the physical ones in place. They emphasise that a range of strategies may be workable, but that it is important to recognise that your workspace is defined – or left defined – by how you manage equipment, ambience/design, and how disciplined you are in assigning work and non-work to the appropriate locations. Just as their respondents do, 'make choices, experiment and adapt to the environment' that you have to make work, to do your work.Mona Mustafa, & Michael Gold (2013). ‘Chained to my work’? Strategies to manage temporal and physical boundaries among self-employed teleworkers Human Resource Management Journal, 23 (4), 413-429Further reading:Felstead, A., Jewson, N. and Walters, S. (2005). Changing Places of Work, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ... Read more »
Mona Mustafa, & Michael Gold. (2013) ‘Chained to my work’? Strategies to manage temporal and physical boundaries among self-employed teleworkers . Human Resource Management Journal, 23(4), 413-429. info:/
For some it's lying on a sun-drenched beach sipping sangria, for others it's wallowing in a cosy cocoon munching on chocolate and playing video games. Many people will admit that these or other immediate indulgences are what makes them happy. And yet, even given the freedom and resources to live a life of hedonism, many of us find it's not enough - we want to have meaning in our lives too.Unfortunately, what we mean by "meaning" has largely been neglected by psychologists. But now Roy Baumeister and his colleagues have conducted an in-depth online survey with 397 adults (68 per cent female; average age 36) and a follow-up with 124 students (45 per cent female; average age 21). The researchers tapped the participants' happiness levels, and their feelings of having a meaningful life, three times over a month. They also asked them a raft of other questions with the aim of identifying factors that were related to happiness but not meaningfulness, or vice versa.Although happiness and meaningfulness tend to go together (they correlated at .63 and .70 where 1 would be a perfect match), Baumeister's team made some thought-provoking discoveries about ways they differ. People who rated their lives as easier, who had good health, enough money to buy what they wanted, were more short-term oriented, felt connected to others, and experienced low stress and worry, also tended to rate themselves as happier. Yet these same factors had either no association with meaningfulness or the opposite association.In contrast to the findings for happiness, people who described their lives as having more meaning tended to say: that they spent more time thinking about the past and future; that they had experienced more negative events in their lives; expected to do a lot of deep thinking; engaged in activities that were true to themselves; and they reported more stress, anxiety and worry.Some of the results were particularly telling. Being more of a taker was related to greater happiness but less meaningfulness, whereas being more of a giver was linked with less happiness but more meaningfulness. Related to that, spending time with one's children was linked with more meaningfulness but had no correlation with happiness. Arguing, if it was seen as reflecting oneself, was linked to less happiness but more meaningfulness. In fact, pursuing any activities that reflect the self was linked to more meaningfulness but not happiness. Feeling socially connected was linked with happiness and meaningfulness, but time spent with loved ones was only relevant to meaningfulness (perhaps, the researchers surmised, because "loved ones can be difficult at times.")Baumeister's team concluded that the highly meaningful but relatively unhappy life has "received relatively little attention and even less respect" to date. "But people who sacrifice their personal pleasures in order to participate constructively in society may make substantial contributions. Cultivating and encouraging such people despite their unhappiness could be a goal worthy of positive psychology."The researchers admitted their "tentative" study has limitations - they were not able to explore the causal roots of happiness and meaningfulness, and by studying so many possible factors there was a significant risk of associations appearing purely by chance. We could also add that the findings are culturally specific to North America, and they are based on the participants' subjective interpretation of what happiness and meaningfulness mean. It also seemed a shame that there was no cross reference to Daniel Kahneman's distinction between the "remembering self" and the "experiencing self". Nonetheless, this study certainly makes a useful starting point for discussion and future investigation. "This project was intended to generate ideas," the researchers said, "and future work would be desirable to verify and build on them."_________________________________ Roy F. Baumeister, Kathleen D. Vohs, Jennifer L. Aaker, and Emily N. Garbinsky (2013). Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. Journal of Positive Psychology DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2013.830764 --Further reading--The Digest guide to happiness.Meet the super-humane professor.Do you want a meaningful life or a happy one?Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.Image European Commission DG ECHO | Flickr
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Roy F. Baumeister, Kathleen D. Vohs, Jennifer L. Aaker, & Emily N. Garbinsky. (2013) Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2013.830764
“But, right now, do you think I made you stronger or weaker?” “I felt the flash and as we talked through it… it made me stronger.” I can trace my interest in neuroscience quite directly to when I was nine and my teacher showed us a video of the famous Penfield Experiments (see above, I’m pretty sure […]... Read more »
Parvizi J, Rangarajan V, Shirer W, Desai N, & Greicius MD. (2013) The Will to Persevere Induced by Electrical Stimulation of the Human Cingulate Gyrus. Neuron. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.10.057
Implicit gut feelings of newlyweds predict the succes of a marriage, new research suggests. ... Read more »
McNulty, J.K, Olson, M.A., Meltzer, A.L. . (2013) Though they may be unaware, newlyweds implicitly know whether their marriage will be satisfying. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1243140
We believe the negative press on the Millennials (our 20-somethings and early 30-somethings) is simply what happens to all of our young people as they are judged (and found wanting) by older generations. And mostly we eventually grow up, mature, and become something different than we started out as–at least when viewed through the eyes […]
Generation X: Active, balanced and happy. Seriously?
If your jurors are happy, will they blame the victim less?
Is the Millennial Generation beginning to differentiate? Maybe!
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Roy F. Baumeister, Kathleen D. Voh, Jennifer L. Aaker, & Emily N. Garbinsky. (2013) Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. . The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(6), 505-516. DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2168436
I'd like to begin with a quote from the paper by Hedvall and colleagues* who reported findings based on a study of developmental trajectory for 208 preschoolers diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition: "Changes in developmental profiles during preschool years are common in children with ASD".Seasons: Autumn @ Wikipedia Their naturalistic study suggested that the very early years of autism, at least some autism, and its presentation are characterised by "considerable change over time" and the requirement for "follow-up assessments" in order to more accurately measure where the sands of autism have settled prior to the start of school.Their reporting that intellectual disability (ID) also might have a maturational aspect to its appearance alongside cases of autism (i.e. not common in early diagnosis but present in about 50% of cases at follow-up) also provides some food for thought in terms of whether this reflects a specific comorbidity or indeed, something more central to specific types of autism (yes, the autisms), though carrying a different timescale of presentation.I'm not altogether sure but I think we might have seen the Hedvall cohort used in another study by Fernell and colleagues** during their study looking at early intervention and autism. In that paper, the same number of preschoolers with autism (N=208) were followed "in a naturalistic fashion" and their various experiences of an ABA (applied behaviour analysis) program recorded. If it is one and same cohort, it's likely then that we are probably not talking about developmental changes occurring just spontaneously in some sort of intervention vacuum. Sort of what happens in real-life.I've talked before on this blog about diagnostic stability and instability when it comes to autism (see here). Whilst accepting that 'universals' when it comes to autism are generally few and far between outside of the almighty diagnostic criteria, the conclusion reached on that post was that stability with regards to a diagnosis of autism is surprisingly, quite an unstable thing. When particularly applied to the early years and their growing importance when it comes to autism (see here) one might speculate that such instability presents its own issues particularly in these times when chatter about really early autism diagnosis is becoming more frequent and louder and louder. Discussion about the important issue of regression which might also interfere with any notion of a universal prenatal or early autism diagnostic test is also worth noting. That also different children on the autism spectrum might present with different developmental trajectories is an important point to emphasise, particularly in these times of optimal outcomers for example (see here).Whilst the Hedvall data provides a cautionary tale that we should be mindful of how dynamic autism might be in the early years (and perhaps even beyond), I'd like to think that it won't be used as an excuse for delaying assessment and diagnosis too much and the subsequent impact that can have....----------* Hedvall A. et al. Autism and developmental profiles in preschoolers: stability and change over time. Acta Paediatr. 2013 Oct 8. doi: 10.1111/apa.12455.** Fernell E. et al. Early intervention in 208 Swedish preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder. A prospective naturalistic study. Res Dev Disabil. 2011 Nov-Dec;32(6):2092-101.----------Hedvall A, Westerlund J, Fernell E, Holm A, Gillberg C, & Billstedt E (2013). Autism and developmental profiles in preschoolers: stability and change over time. Acta paediatrica (Oslo, Norway : 1992) PMID: 24237479... Read more »
Hedvall A, Westerlund J, Fernell E, Holm A, Gillberg C, & Billstedt E. (2013) Autism and developmental profiles in preschoolers: stability and change over time. Acta paediatrica (Oslo, Norway : 1992). PMID: 24237479
Researchers have found that meditation can change our body at molecular level resulting in useful gene expression changes.
Gene expression refers to the process of getting information from a gene used in the synthesis of a functional gene product such as proteins.
Researchers have found that eight hours of mindfulness/calmness of mind practice, i.e. meditation, results in a range of many genetic expression and molecular differences such as changed levels of gene-regulating machinery and decreased levels of pro-inflammatory genes; RIPK2 and COX2 as well as several histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes, helping in faster recovery from a stressful situation.
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice," noted study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs," added Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS), where the molecular analyses were conducted.
"Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions," Kaliman said.
Study reveals gene expression changes with meditation - UW-Madison (http://goo.gl/2q9dbH)
Perla Kaliman et al. (2013). Rapid changes in histone deacetylases and inflammatory gene expression in expert meditators Psychoneuroendocrinology DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.11.004... Read more »
Perla Kaliman et al. (2013) Rapid changes in histone deacetylases and inflammatory gene expression in expert meditators. Psychoneuroendocrinology. DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.11.004
This is a thorough review of everything stupid ever said about the warrior gene, MAOA.... Read more »
Byrd AL, & Manuck SB. (2013) MAOA, Childhood Maltreatment, and Antisocial Behavior: Meta-analysis of a Gene-Environment Interaction. Biological psychiatry. PMID: 23786983
Oxytocin is hot. There are now hundreds of studies looking at the effect of this hormone on the human brain. A dose of oxytocin, delivered in the form of a nasal spray, can make people nicer towards the ostracised, reduce marijuana cravings, and ‘enhance brain function’ in autistic children – and much more, if you believe […]The post Does Nasal Oxytocin Enter The Brain? appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »
Striepens N, Kendrick KM, Hanking V, Landgraf R, Wüllner U, Maier W, & Hurlemann R. (2013) Elevated cerebrospinal fluid and blood concentrations of oxytocin following its intranasal administration in humans. Scientific reports, 3440. PMID: 24310737
Baby's gaze may signal autism, study finds. That was the headline in the New York Times. The BBC declared that Autism signs present in first months of life. Turning the hype up to 11, a Canadian website boldly announced that Researchers prove that autism can be diagnosed right at the infant stage and that intervention is possible.Nature, the journal that published the study, ran with Autism symptoms seen in babies, summarising the findings thus:Children with autism make less eye contact than others of the same age, an indicator that is used to diagnose the developmental disorder after the age of two years. But a paper published today in Nature reports that infants as young as two months can display signs of this condition, the earliest detection of autism symptoms yet.Certainly, being able to identify infants who were likely to develop autism would be a ground breaking advance, opening up the possibility of very early diagnosis and intervention. It would also allow researchers to study the very earliest stages of autism development.But, as with many studies that receive the full media treatment, there are caveats a-plenty. In fact, it could be argued that the results show the exact opposite of what the authors and the media coverage has suggested.The study was conducted by Warren Jones and Ami Klin from Emory University. Back in 2002, Klin and colleagues published a study showing that adolescents with autism spent less time looking at the eyes of people in a movie clip than did typically developing adolescents. Although, like all things autism, this seems to be true of some but not all people with a diagnosis.Since then, Klin and Jones have reported similar results in two-year-old children with autism. Their new study was an attempt to push that all the way back to the very earliest months of life.Jones and Klin began with a sample of 64 infant boys, 38 of whom had an older sibling with autism, putting them at increased risk of having autism themselves . They also tested 46 girls but later excluded all of them from the analyses .At various time points between the ages of 2 months and 2 years, the infants were eye-tracked as they viewed short video clips of a female caregiver’s face and upper body.Sample scanpaths for a baby later diagnosed with autism (red) and a typically developing control (blue). Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: NATURE, doi:10.1038/nature12715, copyright 2013Then, at 3 years of age, the by-now toddlers were assessed for autism . 11 boys (10 from the high risk group) were identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They were then compared with the remaining 25 typically developing (TD) boys from the low-risk group. The 64 boys were divided into 4 groups at their 3-year assessment: ASD; low risk typically developing (TD); high-risk with some autism symptoms (BAP); and high-risk with no autism symptoms (no-Dx). Forty-six girls were also tested but were not included in the reported analyses.Jones and Klin began their analyses by building developmental trajectories for the two groups, similar to the growth charts that doctors use to tell, for example, whether a baby is putting on sufficient weight or not. Except here, what mattered was the percentage of time the babies were looking at the eyes in the video.What they found was that the ASD boys showed a steady decline in eye gaze across time. However, there were no significant differences between the trajectories of the two groups until the final test session at 24 months .Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: NATURE, doi:10.1038/nature12715, copyright 2013The obvious interpretation of these data is that, in fact, eye gaze in infancy does not predict which infants will go on to develop autism (at least using Jones and Klin's set-up). Both from a practical and a theoretical point of view, that's an important finding. So how do we end up with "Baby's eye gaze signals autism"?Having failed to find evidence for reduced eye gaze in ASD infants, Jones and Klin looked instead at the slopes of the developmental trajectories. In other words, not the amount of eye gaze at a particular time but the change in eye gaze relative to earlier and later time points. Here, they did find significant differences throughout the early months.Reprinted by permission fromMacmillan Publishers Ltd: NATURE, doi:10.1038/nature12715copyright 2013When the analyses were restricted to the data from 2 to 6 months, the boys who developed autism showed a negative slope (declining eye gaze) while the low-risk boys had a positive slope (increasing eye gaze).This, in essence, is what all the excitement is about. The study suggests that if you measure a baby's eye gaze at multiple time points before the age of 6 months and notice a decline over time, then that baby is at heightened risk for developing autism. It doesn't matter how awkward the data collection process or convoluted the analysis, there's information about autism in a babies' eye gaze.However, there was always something about this stor... Read more »
Jones W, & Klin A. (2013) Attention to eyes is present but in decline in 2-6-month-old infants later diagnosed with autism. Nature. PMID: 24196715
When you see a red blob on an fMRI activity map, what do you think? We all know fMRI doesn’t directly measure neural activity, yet an increased BOLD (blood oxygen level dependent) response is commonly used as a proxy for elevated “brain activity”. This interpretation is, in fact, strongly supported by studies identifying a relationship […]... Read more »
Reas ET, & Brewer JB. (2013) Imbalance of incidental encoding across tasks: An explanation for non-memory-related hippocampal activations?. Journal of experimental psychology. General, 142(4), 1171-9. PMID: 23773160
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