Post List

Psychology posts

(Modify Search »)

  • October 22, 2014
  • 11:21 AM

Are All Labrador Retrievers the Same?

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

Or do show dogs and field dogs vary in temperament?Photo: c.byatt-norman / ShutterstockIt’s often said there are personality differences between Labrador Retrievers bred to show (conformation dogs) and those bred to work (field dogs). And chocolate labs have a reputation for being different than black and yellow labs. Is it true? New research by Sarah Lofgren et al (Royal (Dick) Veterinary School, University of Edinburgh) investigates.Although many Labrador Retrievers are family pets, some work as hunting dogs while others are bred for the show ring. There’s a difference in appearance between field (or working) Labradors and conformation (or show) dogs, and some people think they have different personalities too. Almost 2000 owners of Labrador Retrievers registered with the UK Kennel Club completed a demographic survey and the C-BARQ, a questionnaire that assesses canine personality. The survey included questions about exercise, and whether the dog was a family pet or a working dog used for retrieval or as a show dog.Gundogs were given higher ratings for trainability, fetching, and attention seeking than show dogs and pets. They were also rated as less likely to bark, less fearful of loud noises, and less likely to have a stereotypy (unusual behaviour). Most of these are not surprising as they fit with the requirements of a dog that has to work at retrieval in the field. For example, it’s good they are considered less fearful of loud noises since they will routinely hear gunshots as part of their work. They need to be good at retrieval, and they will spend periods of time waiting in between retrieves.The show dogs were rated as less fearful of humans, objects and noise, less aggressive to people who are not the owner, and less agitated when ignored. Again most of these fit with the requirements of a dog that will perform well in the show ring, where there are unfamiliar people and sounds, and the dog will be handled by the judge who is a stranger to them.Compared to black and yellow Labradors, chocolate Labs were given lower ratings for trainability and fear of noises, and higher ratings for unusual behaviours. Compared to black Labs, they scored lower on fetching but were more excitable and more likely to be agitated when ignored; however these were not different compared to yellow labs. It is not known if the genes for coat colour also affect behaviour in this breed. It is also possible that other genes exist by chance at greater levels in certain kinds of Labrador, particularly since some dogs were related. One of the nice things about this study is the range in the amount of daily exercise; while some dogs had less than an hour, others got more than four hours of exercise a day. In general, the dogs who got more exercise were less fearful of humans and objects, less likely to have separation anxiety, and less aggressive. The authors suggest that dogs who get less exercise may become bored and frustrated.One potential confound the researchers acknowledge is that dogs originally bred to work, who subsequently turn out not to be very good at it, may then become family pets instead. Hence it is possible that the dogs kept solely as pets include some ‘failed’ working dogs.The results are correlational and do not show causality. The differences between the two types of Labrador Retrievers could be due to genetics (being bred for a different purpose), environment (being raised and trained differently), or a combination.  In addition, the results rely on reports from owners who are likely aware of widely held beliefs about the breed.The scientists say, “This large-scale study of behavioural characteristics in Labrador Retrievers revealed a number of associations between physical, lifestyle and management characteristics of the dogs and personality traits. The explanatory factor with the largest overall effect was the Working Status of the dog, where pets showed dispositions that are generally considered less desirable than those of Gundogs and Showdogs.”The study is fascinating because it looks at personality differences within one breed, which is unusual. It also shows a relationship between exercise and temperament. The higher ratings for trainability amongst gundogs – who have received large amounts of training – make me wonder if this is a fixed trait, or if training leads to increased trainability.  Many people think Labrador Retrievers are the perfect family dog. What kind of Labrador do you prefer?ReferenceLofgren, S., Wiener, P., Blott, S., Sanchez-Molano, E., Woolliams, J., Clements, D., & Haskell, M. (2014). Management and personality in Labrador Retriever dogs Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 156, 44-53 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.04.006... Read more »

Lofgren, S., Wiener, P., Blott, S., Sanchez-Molano, E., Woolliams, J., Clements, D., & Haskell, M. (2014) Management and personality in Labrador Retriever dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 44-53. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.04.006  

  • October 22, 2014
  • 04:26 AM

Autism, parental concerns and socioeconomic status

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I'd like to think that there are some rather important messages to be taken from the paper by Xiang Sun and colleagues [1] on level of parental concern, socioeconomic status (SES) and risk of autism. Not only did the authors conclude that: "a higher SES was not associated with the risk of having ASC [autism spectrum conditions]" they also found that: "No child met ASC criteria where parents expressed no concerns".Do you prefer "fashion victim" or "ensembly challenged"?SES - including variables such as family income, parental educational attainment(s) and parental occupation(s) - has been something of a talking point in autism research down the years and the rather mixed messages which have come out of the research literature on SES and offspring autism risk (see here). The growing appreciation that children of those positioned in a higher SES bracket don't seem to be at any significantly greater risk of autism is something rather important as per other evidence, for example, noted by Fujiwara [2]. Whether this means previous contrary findings were in error or that there has been some shift in the factors linked to the onset of contemporary autism is unknown at this time.Some of my first thoughts on the Sun SES findings were in relation to all the discussions about offspring autism potentially being associated with certain types of parental occupational choices [3]. Indeed, considering that the Sun study was both carried out in and originated from Cambridge (UK) and included Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen on the authorship team, it is coincidental that the findings could be construed as counter to such occupational links with autism (assuming that Physicists, Engineers and Mathematicians would be described as higher SES jobs).Of course I'm not saying the research on any relationship between offspring autism and parental occupation choice is all bunk; the paper from Windham and colleagues [4] and other evidence is too strong to negate (including that of occupational exposures potentially being involved). Merely that there may be much more to see than just a spectrum of 'talent' genes overlapping with autism risk genes [5] when it comes to receipt of a diagnosis on the very wide autism spectrum. Oh, and assuming you believe talent is all in the genes...The other finding from Sun et al discussing parental concern and potential diagnosis of autism in offspring also carries quite a bit of potential importance. Regular readers of this blog might already have picked up my respect for parents and carers as active agents both in terms of picking up the signs and symptoms of autism in their loved ones (see here) and also detecting and reporting other important comorbidity (see here). I see the Sun findings - "No child met ASC criteria where parents expressed no concerns" - as corroborating parents and caregivers as doing what they do best: knowing their own child. I might also suggest that the discussions on increasing autism rates solely being down to better awareness and greater diagnostic vigilance are not seemingly backed up by the Sun findings if we assume parental concerns represent the starting point of the diagnostic journey into autism.Some music to close. Gershon Kingsley and Popcorn.----------[1] Sun X. et al. Parental concerns, socioeconomic status, and the risk of autism spectrum conditions in a population-based study. Res Dev Disabil. 2014 Sep 25;35(12):3678-3688.[2] Fujiwara T. Socioeconomic status and the risk of suspected autism spectrum disorders among 18-month-old toddlers in Japan: a population-based study. J Autism Dev Disord. 2014 Jun;44(6):1323-31.[3] Baron-Cohen S. Does Autism Occur More Often in Families of Physicists, Engineers, and Mathematicians? Autism. 1998; 2: 296-301.[4] Windham GC. et al. Autism spectrum disorders in relation to parental occupation in technical fields. Autism Res. 2009 Aug;2(4):183-91.[5] Baron-Cohen S. Autism and the technical mind: children of scientists and engineers may inherit genes that not only confer intellectual talents but also predispose them to autism. Sci Am. 2012 Nov;307(5):72-5.----------Sun, X., Allison, C., Auyeung, B., Baron-Cohen, S., & Brayne, C. (2014). Parental concerns, socioeconomic status, and the risk of autism spectrum conditions in a population-based study Research in Developmental Disabilities, 35 (12), 3678-3688 DOI: 10.1016/j.ridd.2014.07.037... Read more »

  • October 21, 2014
  • 10:22 AM

The Emotions of Paranormal Belief

by Rodney Steadman in Gravity's Pull

Belief in the paranormal may have more to do with a person’s emotional state than what goes bump in the night.... Read more »

  • October 20, 2014
  • 04:21 PM

Moral Time: Does Our Internal Clock Influence Moral Judgments?

by Jalees Rehman in The Next Regeneration

Does morality depend on the time of the day? The study "The Morning Morality Effect: The Influence of Time of Day on Unethical Behavior" published in October of 2013 by Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac Smith suggested that people are more honest in the mornings, and that their ability to resist the temptation of lying and cheating wears off as the day progresses. In a series of experiments, Kouchaki and Smith found that moral awareness and self-control in their study subjects decreased in the late afternoon or early evening. The researchers also assessed the degree of "moral disengagement", i.e. the willingness to lie or cheat without feeling much personal remorse or responsibility, by asking the study subjects to respond to questions such as "Considering the ways people grossly misrepresent themselves, it's hardly a sin to inflate your own credentials a bit" or "People shouldn't be held accountable for doing questionable things when they were just doing what an authority figure told them to do" on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Interestingly, the subjects who strongly disagreed with such statements were the most susceptible to the morning morality effect. They were quite honest in the mornings but significantly more likely to cheat in the afternoons. On the other hand, moral disengagers, i.e. subjects who did not think that inflating credentials or following questionable orders was a big deal, were just as likely to cheat in the morning as they were in the afternoons.
... Read more »

  • October 20, 2014
  • 11:59 AM

Does Literary Fiction Challenge Racial Stereotypes?

by Jalees Rehman in Fragments of Truth

Reading literary fiction can be highly pleasurable, but does it also make you a better person? Conventional wisdom and intuition lead us to believe that reading can indeed improve us. However, as the philosopher Emrys Westacott has recently pointed out in his essay for 3Quarksdaily, we may overestimate the capacity of literary fiction to foster moral improvement. A slew of scientific studies have taken on the task of studying the impact of literary fiction on our emotions and thoughts. Some of the recent research has centered on the question of whether literary fiction can increase empathy. In 2013, Bal and Veltkamp published a paper in the journal PLOS One showing that subjects who read excerpts from literary texts scored higher on an empathy scale than those who had read a nonfiction text. This increase in empathy was predominantly found in the participants who felt "transported" (emotionally and cognitively involved) into the literary narrative. Another 2013 study published in the journal Science by Kidd and Castano suggested that reading literary fiction texts increased the ability to understand and relate to the thoughts and emotions of other humans when compared to reading either non-fiction or popular fiction texts.
... Read more »

Johnson, D., Huffman, B., & Jasper, D. (2014) Changing Race Boundary Perception by Reading Narrative Fiction. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 36(1), 83-90. DOI: 10.1080/01973533.2013.856791  

  • October 20, 2014
  • 07:02 AM

Morality in everyday life for the religious and the nonreligious

by Rita Handrich in The Jury Room

The researchers recruited a sample of 1,252 adults ranging in age from 18 to 68 years of age who reside in the US and Canada. Each participant completed measures of religiosity and political ideation prior to participation in the actual study. All participants had smartphones and were randomly signaled on their phone for 3 days […]

Related posts:
Should I choose the creative juror, the introvert/extravert, or the religious juror?
“Everyday liars” and “Prolific liars”
“70% of Americans see immigration as threat to American way of life”

... Read more »

Hofmann W, Wisneski DC, Brandt MJ, & Skitka LJ. (2014) Morality in everyday life. Science (New York, N.Y.), 345(6202), 1340-3. PMID: 25214626  

  • October 20, 2014
  • 04:36 AM

Reasons for visiting ER by those with autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

ER - Emergency Room - or as we call it here in Blighty Accident & Emergency (A & E), is never a particularly desirable place to visit given the emphasis on illness or injury of yourself or loved one. That being said, staff there do a sterling job sometimes under very stressful circumstances, responding to all-manner of complaints, some of which are life-threatening.The paper by Dorothea Iannuzzi and colleagues [1] sought to identify some of the medical reasons why ER visits were made by people on the autism spectrum. They concluded that, depending on age, epilepsy or seizure-type disorders and "psychiatric conditions" were well represented in cases of autism based on data derived from the US 2010 National Emergency Department database.Realising that epilepsy / seizure-type disorders seem to have more than a passing connection to quite a few cases of autism (see here) and can, in some cases, lead to that most extreme of outcomes (see here), I'm not going to focus any further on this part of the Iannuzzi findings. Rather the finding that: "Psychiatric conditions were primary among ASD individuals aged 12-15 years, accounting for more than 11 % of all visits" merits some further analysis.The findings reported by Kalb and colleagues [2] documenting that: "Thirteen percent of visits among children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] were due to a psychiatric problem, as compared with 2% of all visits by youths without ASD" provides further evidence for the extent of the Iannuzzi finding. Whilst treading carefully in this area of autism research, one detail stuck out from the Kalb report, whereby ER visits due to psychotic disorders seemed to be increased in likelihood compared to visits by asymptomatic children/youths. This seemed to tie in well with my recent discussions on the observations of Maibing and colleagues [3] and the risk/onset of schizophrenia spectrum disorders following a previous child or adolescent psychiatric diagnosis.Unfortunately, my discussions on the research literature on ER visits and autism do not get any happier as I turn to the body of work looking at suicide attempts and autism, and as per the conclusion from Kato and colleagues [4], "ASDs should always be a consideration when dealing with suicide attempts in adults at the emergency room". Again, I've covered the very sensitive topic of suicide (ideation and attempts) and autism previously on this blog (see here and see here) and as we speak further research has emerged pertinent to this topic [5]. Though sometimes quite uncomfortable to discuss, this collected work emphasises how we all really need to be talking a lot more about this issue and what can be done to divert people away from this most extreme type of behaviour. Admission to the ER - which will often be the first point of contact after such behaviour - could be a good place to start having those discussions.In amongst the literature talking about the ER and autism, there are other details which provide a rather more positive discussion about this topic. Take for example, the paper by Giarelli and colleagues [5] looking at the ways and means ER might be made more comfortable to [some of] those on the autism spectrum. Similarly, the guidance supplied by McGonigle and colleagues [6] talking about ways of managing agitation in the ER for those on the autism spectrum might also be better referenced in this clinical setting. Oh, and a bit more knowledge about medical comorbidities potentially affecting people with autism would probably not go amiss more generally.I should conclude that whilst I've focused on some of the more frequently reported reasons why people with autism might present to the ER, one shouldn't forget that all the other reasons why the general population go to the ER are similarly as pertinent to those on the spectrum. That being said, I very much doubt that "help with removing false nails" would feature on most people's reasons to attend hospital...----------[1] Iannuzzi DA. et al. Brief Report: Emergency Department Utilization by Individuals with Autism. J Autism Dev Disord. 2014 Sep 27.[2] Kalb LG. et al. Psychiatric-related emergency department visits among children with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2012 Dec;28(12):1269-76.[3] Maibing CF. et al. Risk of Schizophrenia Increases After All Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Disorders: A Nationwide Study. Schizophr Bull. 2014 Sep 5. pii: sbu119.[4] Kato K. et al. Clinical features of suicide attempts in adults with autism spectrum disorders. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2013 Jan-Feb;35(1):50-3.[5] Takar K. & Kondo T. Comorbid atypical autistic traits as a potential risk factor for suicide attempts among adult depressed patients: a case–control study. Annals of General Psychiatry 2014, 13:33.[6] Giarelli E. et al. Sensory stimuli as obstacles to emergency care for children with autism spectrum disorder. Adv Emerg Nurs J. 2014 Apr-Jun;36(2):145-63.[7] McGonigle JJ. et al. Management of agitation in individuals with autism spectrum disorders in the emergency department. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2014 Jan;23(1):83-95.----------Iannuzzi DA, Cheng ER, Broder-Fingert S, & Bauman ML (2014). Brief Report: Emergency Department Utilization by Individuals with Autism. Journal of autism and developmental disorders PMID: 25261249... Read more »

Iannuzzi DA, Cheng ER, Broder-Fingert S, & Bauman ML. (2014) Brief Report: Emergency Department Utilization by Individuals with Autism. Journal of autism and developmental disorders. PMID: 25261249  

  • October 19, 2014
  • 06:39 PM

Pain is not a "Thing"

by Bronwyn Thompson in Healthskills: Skills for Healthy Living
I’m reading some fascinating books at the moment. I’m such a pain geek I take pain books away with me on holiday! Anyway, the two books to hit me between the eyeballs recently are The Pain Chronicles by Melanie Thernstrom (published 2010), and The Story of Pain by Joanna Bourke (published 2014). What makes both of these books fascinating is that these both look at the history of pain and pain management, and explore the “what it is like” to be in pain. Reading them, I’m forcefully reminded that the ways in which we conceptualise pain is an incredibly social process. ... Read more »

Ashton-James, C., Richardson, D., Williams, A., Bianchi-Berthouze, N., & Dekker, P. (2014) Impact of pain behaviors on evaluations of warmth and competence. PAIN®. DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2014.09.031  

  • October 18, 2014
  • 09:34 AM

Merit’s Liquidity

by nooffensebut in The Unsilenced Science

The latest SAT and ACT data suggest that America’s cognitive elite have been enjoying new geographic mobility, but difficult economic times push them out of the elite strata, contrary to a prediction of The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray.... Read more »

nooffensebut. (2014) Parents’ Income is a Poor Predictor of SAT Score. Open Differential Psychology, 1-19. info:other/

  • October 18, 2014
  • 05:30 AM

More epigenetics, EN-2 and autism... the plot thickens

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I don't mind admitting that I was to some extent 'winging it' with my previous post on epigenetics and Engrailed-2 (EN-2) as a consequence of the findings reported by Jill James and colleagues [1] with autism in mind. Although an avid follower of the science of epigenetics when (cautiously) applied to autism, I am by no means any authority on the subject matter particularly when it comes to the nitty-gritty details. You can probably therefore expect similar things in my latest discussions on yet more work from this research group which appeared recently [2].I have only one rule. Everybody fights, no one quits.And so, with that pinch of salt at the ready...The final conclusion made in the most recent James article boils down to the suggestion that "persistent postnatal overexpression of EN-2 suggests that the closing of this programed developmental window may have been missed in some individuals with autism because of epigenetic abnormalities". That being said I think we have quite a way to come before we can substantiate this finding particularly when the main protagonist in the latest article is something called 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) and results which show "that elevated 5-hmC in the EN-2 promoter is associated with a significant decrease in repressive MeCP2 and histone H3K27me3 that appear to over-ride 5-mC hypermethylation". The H3K27me3 bit comes from their previous findings by the way.To most readers that probably sounds as complicated as it first did to me so I will try and explain more.EN-2 as I've talked about in that post on the previous James work, has been linked to cases of autism as per the example of the study by Wang and colleagues [3] linking mutations in this gene to cases of autism. The idea being that mice bred without the gene (the homeobox domain of EN2) show some of the [mouse] signs and symptoms of autism alongside issues with the cerebellum and a reduction in the number of Purkinje cells which have been previously noted in cases of autism [4]. The previous James results in this area reported on hypermethylation of the EN-2 promoter region which would normally equate as gene silencing in epigenetic terms, in line with the more structural genomic issues seen in autism that I've just talked about. But, and it is an important point, when they looked at EN-2 expression and protein levels - function and products of the gene - they actually found that levels were increased in their autism samples despite the methylation mark and its 'stop talking' properties. They noted on that occasion that "transcriptional upregulation by other epigenetic mechanisms predominated over the repressive tendencies of DNA cytosine methylation".Their latest foray into this area sought to further clarify just what might be going on specifically with EN-2 gene-specific DNA hypermethylation previously reported. To do this they focused on both measuring 5-hmC and also 5-methylcytosine (5-mC) among other things based on the same tissue samples (post-mortem cerebellum samples) detailed in their previous study. 5-hmC is apparently an oxidation product of 5-mC mediated via something called TETs.What they found, far from answering the question of a discrepancy between epigenetic gene silencing of EN-2 but increased gene function and products, actually makes the whole thing a lot more complicated. So they observed "a significant increase in both 5-mC and 5-hmC in the autism cerebellum relative to the control samples". Further that there was "a significant increase in 5-hmC content within the upstream EN-2 promoter region" and "a highly significant positive correlation... was found between 5-hmC content and EN-2 gene expression in the 5’ promoter CpG island in autism but not in control samples". They note that: "that 5-hmC accumulation is mechanistically related to gene upregulation" something which I think ties into other work hinting at the demethylating role for 5-hmC [5].Insofar as my mention of MeCP2 and histone H3K27me3 from the latest and previous James reports, I can't really say too much more aside from noting again: "reduced MeCP2-mediated gene repression may have contributed to persistent EN-2 gene overexpression in the autism samples". Actually the authors speculate that MeCP2 binding and histone H3K27 trimethylation might work together in a "repressive" manner but when reduced as they were "may contribute to aberrant overexpression of EN-2 in the autism cerebellum" as per their findings.I have to say that I struggled with getting my head around these findings and I'd quite understand if readers also struggled with my interpretation of them ("If you can't explain something to a six-year-old/granny, you really don't understand it yourself"). I understand that we don't all walk around with our genes stuck in the 'on' or 'off' position and that particularly during foetal and the early post-natal periods, genes are being switched on and off at a surprising rate for many, many different important reasons. I also understand that DNA methylation is an important part of the whole genes switched on or off thing but not the only way that this process can happen as per the authors mention of chromatin and some previous text in this area [6]. With my very limited knowledge of this area, I am however not yet convinced that we have the full story here; specifically in terms of why the original finding of hypermethylation of the EN-2 promotor region (gene silencing) yet increased expression and protein levels were reported. I wonder if indeed we might be able to learn more from a two-hit approach whereby hypermethylation of only one gene allele leaves the other still working?Just before I finish I'd like to also draw your attention to another paper which has started to ask similar questions about 5-hmC and might be contrasted with the recent James paper. Zhubi and colleagues [7] (open-access here) looked at 5-hmC with a couple of other potentially important genes linked to cases of autism (RELN and GAD1) in mind. They reported: "a significant increase in TET1 expression and an enrichment in the level of 5-hmC... at the promoters of GAD1 and RELN in ASD when compared with CON [controls]". Further that their data are: "consistent with the hypothesis that an increase of 5-hmC (relative to 5-mC) at specific gene domains enhances the binding of MeCP2 to 5-hmC and reduces expression of the corresponding target genes... Read more »

  • October 17, 2014
  • 08:55 AM

People Are More Swayed by Things That Look Sciencey

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Anyone who’s paged through a women’s magazine will recognize this strategy: to make a product seem better, surround it with a scientific glow. “Clinical trials show lashes grow up to 400% fuller!” “27% reduction of dark spots in 10 weeks!” “Ceramides!” Does this actually help convince people to hand over their cash? A study using […]The post People Are More Swayed by Things That Look Sciencey appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

  • October 17, 2014
  • 05:22 AM

Altered ghrelin levels in boys with autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Honey, it's the '90s, remember?"Saudi Arabia and autism research? It must be at least one author from the research tag-team that is Mostafa and Al-Ayadhi.Indeed, in today's post it is Laila Al-Ayadhi featured on the paper by Felwah S. Al-Zaid and colleagues [1] (open-access) who concluded on: "a potential role for the hormone ghrelin in the pathogenesis of autism".Ghrelin, by the way, is often called the 'hunger hormone' as a result of its effects in relation to energy homoeostasis. Alongside another hormone called leptin (which has also been implicated in cases of autism) the long-and-short of food intake regulation seem to be covered by these hormones [2].The Al-Zaid paper is open-access but I'll direct you to a few important points...A case-control study, authors looked at various measures for 31 boys diagnosed with autism compared with 28 age- and sex-matched controls.Alongside various anthropometric measures, plasma and serum levels of "acyl ghrelin (AG), des-acyl ghrelin (DG), total testosterone (TT), free testosterone (FT), leptin and growth hormone (GH)" were measured. These were single spot measures with samples taken "after an overnight fast". Results: the autism group were on average heavier than controls but aside from that, no other physical measure was significantly different (mean height was greater in the autism group but just escaped significance). Both acyl ghrelin and des-acyl ghrelin levels were significantly lower in the autism group. By contrast, leptin levels were higher in the autism group (as per other independent findings) and free and total testosterone levels were significantly elevated compared to controls. Taking into account the effect of weight and it's link to adiposity, authors also showed that an analysis of a smaller subgroup (autism, n=27; controls, n=28) where mean weight was controlled for, found a similar trend in hormone levels (see this link to Table 3 of the paper) bearing in mind how body fat can influence the parameters.Various correlational analyses were completed on the data but given the relatively small participant groups and the use of spot samples I'm not particularly minded to read too much into these findings at this time.The authors conclude that their study: "contributes significantly to the understanding of hormonal dysregulation in the pathophysiology of autism, as it provides baseline data regarding hormonal profiles in autism and substantiates potential clinical interventions".Small participants numbers and a "lack of female subjects with autism" kinda prohibit me from reading too much into these findings as they stand. I've already made mention of the research trend when it comes to elevated leptin levels and autism (see the paper from Rodrigues and colleagues [3] as one example). Likewise, testosterone levels and autism have received quite a bit of autism research attention down the years (see here). Indeed, elevations in testosterone levels not described in-utero with some potential relationship to foetal programming, has been the stuff of controversy in autism research circles [4].Going back to the primary ghrelin findings and the observations of lower levels detected in their autism group, the authors speculate on some of the hows and whys of their findings. Gastrointestinal (GI) issues get a call-out and how some of the variety of GI issues noted in cases of autism "could affect the gastric mucosa and interfere with the normal function of ghrelin-secreting cells". although no particulars about GI issues are included in their descriptions of their cohort. One additional issue that I would perhaps add to the whole inflammation, dysbiosis et al discussions would be how ghrelin seems to play some role in GI motility [5] too. That being said, 'wide-ranging' is perhaps the best way to describe what biological processes ghrelin might impact on [6].I was a touch surprised that the more usual role for ghrelin in terms of hunger and energy homoeostasis was not given more prominence in the Al-Zaid article on autism. Food and feeding patterns are important topics when it comes to autism as per discussions on the extremes sometimes noted in cases of autism (see here) and the increasingly important issue of weight (see here) (which also seemed to be picked up in the authors' findings). One might speculate that hunger and signals linked to hunger might be similarly tied into at least some of the feeding issues reported in autism?As I seem to do in many discussions these days, I'll reiterate that there is quite a bit more to see and do in research terms on the relationship between ghrelin and related hormones and autism. The additional suggestion from Ghanizadeh [7] about the ghrelin being a "promising therapeutic target for co-occurring autism and epilepsy" might also be worthy of greater inspection.Music to close. Iggy Pop and Lust for Life.----------[1] Al-Zaid FS. et al. Altered ghrelin levels in boys with autism: a novel finding associated with hormonal dysregulation. Sci Rep. 2014 Sep 26;4:6478.[2] Klok MD. et al. The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obes Rev. 2007 Jan;8(1):21-34.[3] Rodrigues DH. et al. Changes in Adipokine Levels in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Neuropsychobiology 2014;69:6-10[4] Geier DA. & Geier MR. A prospective assessment of androgen levels in patients with autistic spectrum disorders: biochemical underpinnings and suggested therapies. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2007 Oct;28(5):565-73.[5] Greenwood-Van Meerveld B. et al. Ghrelin as a target for gastrointestinal motility disorders. Peptides. 2011 Nov;32(11):2352-6.[6] Delporte C. Structure and physiological actions of ghrelin. Scientifica (Cairo). 2013;2013:518909.[7] Ghanizadeh A. Ghrelin as a promising therapeutic target for co-occurring autism and epilepsy. Epilepsy Behav. 2011 Feb;20(2):420-1.-----------... Read more »

  • October 16, 2014
  • 04:18 PM

Inherited Memories: Too Good To Be True?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In December last year, researchers Brian Dias and Kerry Ressler made a splash with a paper seeming to show that memories can be inherited. This article, published in Nature Neuroscience, reported that if adult mice are taught to be afraid of a particular smell, then their children will also fear it. Which is pretty wild. […]The post Inherited Memories: Too Good To Be True? appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

  • October 16, 2014
  • 04:59 AM

MicroRNAs and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"No one User wrote me! I'm worth millions of their man-years!"Not so long ago I posted an entry talking about microRNAs and autism (see here). As well as including some rather interesting, if preliminary findings, that particular piece of work also served to introduce yet another layer of complexity to our genome and its expression: microRNAs.I was therefore always going to be more than a little intrigued by the results published by Ekua Brenu and colleagues [1] and their observations on circulating microRNAs (miRNAs) in a small participant group diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). Indeed their conclusion that "three differentially expressed circulating miRNAs in CFS/ME patients" might have potential biomarker qualities invites quite a bit of further study in this area.The Brenu paper is open-access but a few details are worthwhile reiterating:The name of the game was "high-throughput sequencing (HTS) to globally profile circulating miRNA expression" in a small participant group diagnosed with CFS/ME (n=20) compared with non-fatigue controls (n=20). "This was followed by confirmative reverse transcription-quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) to determine differential miRNA expression in CFS/ME".Actually, when it came down to it: "The six CFS/ME patients and six non-fatigued controls with the highest abundance of small RNA were used for HTS".Results: 19 miRNAs were reported as being significantly 'dysregulated' in CFS/ME compared to controls. Sixteen of these were subsequently dropped from the analysis as a result of being considered "low in abundance" from a detection point of view.Three miRNAs were left - hsa-miR127-3p, hsa-miR-142-5p and hsa-miR-143-3p - and were confirmed by RT-qPCR. All were up-regulated in CFS/ME cases and considered: "potential plasma biomarkers for CFS/ME diagnosis".Obviously there is a long, long way to go before these findings translate into anything like a biomarker for CFS/ME. As per the authors' discussions, there are quite a few other conditions / biological processes which are seemingly impacted by these miRNAs; as one example: "Over-expression of miR-142-5p has been observed in most cancer-related and immunological disorders". So exclusivity to CFS/ME is unlikely to be seen. That and the fact that like quite a few conditions described these days, CFS/ME is likely not to just be one unified condition...I note also that this is not the first time that this research group have ventured into the whole "microRNAs as prospective biomarkers" of CFS/ME as per some work a few years earlier [2]. On that particular occasions, drawing on an equally small participant group, the authors reported findings implicating other miRNAs. Specifically: "There was a significant reduction in the expression levels of miR-21, in both the NK [Natural Killer] and CD8(+)T cells in the CFS/ME sufferers". The immune system link with CFS/ME is interesting but again there's a lot more work needed in this area.Music, music, music... D.I.Y from Heaton & Abbott.----------[1] Brenu EW. et al. High-Throughput Sequencing of Plasma MicroRNA in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. PLoS One. 2014 Sep 19;9(9):e102783.[2] Brenu EW. et al. Cytotoxic lymphocyte microRNAs as prospective biomarkers for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. J Affect Disord. 2012 Dec 10;141(2-3):261-9.----------Brenu EW, Ashton KJ, Batovska J, Staines DR, & Marshall-Gradisnik SM (2014). High-Throughput Sequencing of Plasma MicroRNA in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. PloS one, 9 (9) PMID: 25238588... Read more »

  • October 16, 2014
  • 02:03 AM

JUST PUBLISHED: Resilience and Responses to Persistent Pain

by Mark Rubin in The University of Newcastle's School of Psychology Newsline

The concept of resilience is of considerable interest in clinical practice.  The resilient person shows relatively speedy recovery from a disturbance and an ability to resume their former work practices, habits and normal life.  In addition, they are able to maintain that recovery over the long-term.The maintenance of recovery is of particular interest in patients suffering from chronic pain, since the presence of persistent pain leads to a raft of behavioural and cognitive changes all aimed at coping with the pain.  And since the pain is persistent, the adaptations are chronic, be they beneficial or not.In a recently published study, Christie Mason, Toby Newton-John and Mick Hunter interviewed 101 patients attending a pain clinic and administered a range of self-report and assessment scales.  The scales covered areas of perceived pain intensity; attitudes to the pain; functional disability; mental health and wellbeing and available social support, as well as measures of resilience and self-reliance.The results showed clear association between greater pain intensity and poor coping scores.  The measures of coping (scores showing fear of movement and of re-injury, evidence of catastrophising, depression and disability) were negatively associated with measures of resilience and self-efficacy.  Importantly, for this group, there was a significant positive relationship between resilience and the likelihood of the patient attending work.  However, the very strong relationship between pain intensity and depression, which explained much of the variance in a hierarchical regression of the variables, illustrates the difficulties faced by clinicians in treating these patients.For further information, please see the following article:Newton-John TR, Mason C, & Hunter M (2014). The role of resilience in adjustment and coping with chronic pain. Rehabilitation psychology, 59 (3), 360-5 PMID: 25019306 ***Our hearty congratulations go to Christie Mason on her recent graduation with a Clinical Doctorate.***... Read more »

Newton-John TR, Mason C, & Hunter M. (2014) The role of resilience in adjustment and coping with chronic pain. Rehabilitation psychology, 59(3), 360-5. PMID: 25019306  

  • October 15, 2014
  • 02:22 PM

You can tell [my mood] by the way I walk

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Ever see a guy walking down the street and know he’s depressed? Or how about someone happy, with a little bounce in their step? The way we walk says a lot and by some estimates roughly 90% of what we are telling people isn’t coming out our mouth, it’s all body language. Our walk says a lot about the kind of mood we are in, but in the question of what came first our mood or our walk, researchers have now shown that it works both ways.... Read more »

  • October 15, 2014
  • 01:52 PM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.Photo: everst / ShutterstockResearch by Michelle Lem et al (University of Guelph) asks homeless young people (aged 18-24) what their pet means to them. Previous studies have focussed on the benefits to homeless people of owning a dog or cat. The aim of this study was to get a balanced picture of both the advantages and disadvantages. Ten homeless young people took part in in-depth interviews about their pet. 8 of them had a dog, and 2 had a cat but had previously had a dog whilst homeless. Most lived on the street or in a vulnerable housing situation (squatting/couch-surfing), and three had found stable housing. The main theme to emerge was that of putting the animal first. Everyone in the study said they put their pet first, even if this meant suffering hardship themselves. For example, they would not take up housing if they could not bring the animal with them. This shows the value they place on the companionship they get. The authors point out that for some youth their relationship with their pet is the most meaningful relationship they have, and potentially the only loving relationship in their life. For example, one youth said, “My relationship with MacKenzie [the dog]… is the best I ever had.”Some young men described sleeping on the street because they were unable to find a shelter that would allow pets. Another had become homeless because the dog was not allowed at the relative’s apartment where he had been living. One man described how he had a job, but with no home he had nowhere to leave his dog while he went to work. At first he found someone to mind the dog for him during the day, but they were not reliable which meant that sometimes he could not go to work, and so he lost the job.Pets helped people in several ways, such as providing motivation to find housing that would allow pets, so that the dog would have a roof over its head. For example, one said, “I love him and I get a place for him. Really, like, if it wasn’t for him, I’d be on the streets.” Some participants said the pet helped them to stay out of trouble with the police and to use less drugs. (Some participants did not mention drug use).There were different views about begging, with some saying it was wrong to take an animal begging, and others liking to because it meant they made more money.There were stresses associated with looking after an animal. One young woman said, “It’s really hard taking care of them because I can’t always get them food… I’m worried that something might happen to them.” Several people had lost an animal, in one case when it was run over, and in two cases when it was taken in by animal control (following arrest/being sent to jail) and subsequently euthanized.The authors say, “Companion animals appear to serve as a vehicle for youth to learn about unconditional love, trust, and constancy in a relationship. With such strength of attachment, it is not surprising that youth consistently choose to forego opportunities for shelter, housing and employment in order to be with their companion animals. Although these choices may be to the detriment of their own health and success in getting off the street, for some youth this “Pet before self” theme may be a driver for reducing their use of drugs and hence number of arrests, as well as beneficially affect their daily activities by creating structure and routine.”The research took place in Toronto and Ottawa, and involved very detailed interviews with a small number of people. The advantage is a rich dataset, but it is not possible to generalize from such a small sample and so more research is needed. The recommendations will be especially helpful to organizations that cater to homeless people. Suggestions include allowing pets in some shelters, schemes to make pet food and veterinary care available to the homeless, and even dog daycare at shelters to help people transition into employment.Some organizations have programs to assist with pet food and vet care for homeless and low income people. For example, the BC SPCA has an outreach program called Charlie's Food Bank, which goes to Vancouver's DownTown East Side every Thursday morning.The importance of housing does not only apply to people who are homeless – lack of suitable housing is a very common reason for companion animals to be surrendered to humane societies. Making more pet-friendly housing available would benefit both people and their pets.ReferenceLem, M., Coe, J.B., Haley, D.B., Stone, E., & O'Grady, W. (2013). Effects of companion animal ownership among Canadian street-involved youth: A qualitative analysis Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, XL (4), 285-304... Read more »

Lem, M., Coe, J.B., Haley, D.B., Stone, E., & O'Grady, W. (2013) Effects of companion animal ownership among Canadian street-involved youth: A qualitative analysis. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, XL(4), 285-304. info:/

  • October 15, 2014
  • 10:00 AM

Trauma research needs to be more global and accessible

by Eva Alisic in Trauma Recovery

Imagine a 7-year old boy living in India. One day, his father gets drunk and kills his mother. The boy is a witness to the homicide, and develops a high fever as a response. Imagine you’re the mental health professional who is called to support the boy. Some of the things you would want to know are how children in India respond to severe trauma, what words they use, and what helps them to recover.

Unfortunately, that information is virtually nonexistent. T... Read more »

Fodor, K., Unterhitzenberger, J., Chou, C., Kartal, D., Leistner, S., Milosavljevic, M., Nocon, A., Soler, L., White, J., Yoo, S.... (2014) Is traumatic stress research global? A bibliometric analysis. European Journal of Psychotraumatology. DOI: 10.3402/ejpt.v5.23269  

  • October 15, 2014
  • 04:38 AM

How You Feel About People is Related to How You Feel About Cities

by Mark Rubin in Mark Rubin's Social Psychology Research Blog

There are numerous structural factors that influence people’s attitudes towards cities. However, these factors may be constituents of broader sociocultural “questions” that people ask about their cities.  For example, residents’ concern about the transport and entertainment venues of a city might form part of a broader social psychological concern about the potential for the city to accommodate their need to meet friends and socialize with others. Alternatively, people might focus on a city’s economy and job opportunities because they are concerned about the ability of the city to meet their needs for personal income and wealth.Hong Kong - Why Would You Want to Live There?In some recently published research, Dr Tessa Morrison and I predicted that individual differences in individualism and collectivism operate as important predictors of people's city needs and goals. Individualism and collectivism are sociocultural orientations towards treating the self and others as individuals or group members respectively: Individualists see themselves and others as being self-reliant, autonomous, and independent, whereas collectivists are more interdependent and concerned about their social groups, including their family, friends, and community. We predicted that these dispositional orientations towards the self and others might also influence how people feel about cities.To test our predictions, we asked 148 psychology undergraduate students to take virtual guided tours around one of four Utopian historical cities - cities that had never been built and were unfamiliar to our participants. YouTube videos of the four guided tours can be viewed here: Christianopolis, City of the Sun, New Harmony, and Victoria, and the picture below shows a scene from one of the tours. Participants then evaluated the cities’ liveability and environmental quality and completed measures of individualism and collectivism.Consistent with our predictions, people with a strong sense of self-responsibility (a form of individualism) tended to evaluate the virtual cities in terms of their potential to meet the goal of acquiring resources, income, and wealth, whereas people with a strong sense of collectivism tended to evaluate the cities in terms of their potential to provide community and a sense of connection with others.Scene from a virtual tour around the Utopian city of VictoriaTo paraphrase Calvino (1978), city evaluation may be based on the answers that cities provide to our questions. However, our research suggests that different types of people have different types of questions. Individualists appear to ask: “can this city enhance my personal wealth?” whereas collectivists appear to ask: “can this city enhance my group’s community?”These findings are important because they can help us to understand why some people choose to move into certain cities and others choose to leave. However, a key limitation of our work is that it lacked ecological validity because it involved nonresidents evaluating novel, historical, virtual, and unpopulated cities. In our future research, we intend to measure residents’ evaluations of more familiar, modern, real-world, populated cities.For further information, please see the following journal article:Rubin, M., & Morrison, T. (2014). Individual Differences in Individualism and Collectivism Predict Ratings of Virtual Cities’ Liveability and Environmental Quality The Journal of General Psychology, 141 (4), 348-372 DOI: 10.1080/00221309.2014.938721  A self-archived version of this journal article is available here.... Read more »

  • October 15, 2014
  • 04:36 AM

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Mid-Cingulate Cortex

by The Neurocritic in The Neurocritic

What happens in the brain during a highly immersive reading experience? According to the fiction feeling hypothesis (Jacobs, 2014), narratives with highly emotional content cause a deeper sense of immersion by engaging the affective empathy network to a greater extent than neutral narratives. Emotional empathy – in this case, the ability to identify with a fictional character via grounded metarepresentations of ‘global emotional moments’ (Hsu et al., 2014) – relies on  a number of brain regions, including ventromedial prefrontal cortex (PFC), dorsomedial PFC, anterior insula (especially in the right hemisphere), right temporal pole, left and right posterior temporal lobes, inferior frontal gyrus, and midcingulate cortex.A group of researchers in Germany used text passages from the Harry Potter series to test the fiction feeling hypothesis, specifically that readers will experience a greater sense of empathy for and identification with the protagonists when the content is suspenseful and scary (Hsu et al., 2014). This would be accompanied by greater activations in specific brain regions during an fMRI scan.The experimental stimuli were 80 passages from the Harry Potter novels. The authors selected 40 ‘fear-inducing’ and 40 ‘neutral’ passages, each about 4 lines long. 1  These were screened and rated by a set of independent participants. Unfortunately, the authors did not provide any examples, so I'm going to have to improvise here.Given that I've not read any of the Harry Potter books (or seen the movies), I'm not the best person to run a popular blog serial on NeuroReport's Harry Potter and the _______ books.  Or to to launch an academic publishing franchise on fMRI studies of epic fantasy novels. 2 But here's a sampler anyway, based on Ayn Rand’s Harry Potter and the Prisoners of Collectivism: 3He felt the unnatural cold begin to steal over the street. Light was sucked from the environment right up to the stars, which vanished. The cold was biting deeper and deeper into Harry’s flesh [and lighting up his pain matrix in an eerie glow against the dark and lonely night].Then, around the corner, gliding noiselessly, came Dementors, ten or more of them, visible because they were of a denser darkness than their surroundings, with their black cloaks and their scabbed and rotting hands. Could they sense fear [and an overactive amygdala] in the vicinity? ...Suddenly he heard them: Marxists.. . .“Only together, collectively, can we achieve anything of lasting significance,” he heard one of them say. Harry moaned in pain [his anterior cingulate and insular cortices writhing from such cognitive dissonance and social exclusion].“The fortunate owe it to society to contribute to those who cannot work,” another chanted. Harry closed his eyes and collapsed [his ventral posteriorlateral thalamic nuclei and somatosensory cortex no longer able to endure the intolerable battering].My poorly written additions in maroon prefigure the focus of the study – empathy for pain. I'm not exactly sure why this was so (for either literary or scientific reasons). At any rate, Hsu et al. (2014) made the following predictions:we expected (i) higher immersion ratings for fear-inducing passages, which often describe pain or personal distress, as compared with neutral passages, and (ii) significant correlations of immersion ratings with activity in the affective empathy network, particularly AI [anterior insula] and mCC [mid-cingulate cortex], associated with pain empathy for fear-inducing, but not for neutral, passages.AI and mCC have been implicated in the affective component of personally felt pain, as well as in empathy for another person's pain (Jackson et al., 2006). So the expected result would be greater activations in AI and mCC for the Fearful vs. Neutral comparison. They didn't do this exact contrast, but they did look for differential correlations between “immersion ratings” and BOLD responses for Fear > fixation (a low-level control condition) and Neutral > fixation.A separate group of individuals (not the ones who were scanned) rated the Fearful and Neutral passages for immersion by rating their subjective experience, ‘I forgot the world around me while reading’ on a scale from 1 (totally untrue) to 7 (totally true). Although the difference between Fear (mean = 3.75) and Neutral (mean = 3.18) was statistically significant, the level of immersion wasn't all that impressive, being below the midpoint even for the scary texts.The major fMRI result was a cluster in the mid-cingulate cortex (corrected cluster-level P = 0.037) that showed a higher correlation between immersion ratings and BOLD for Fear than for Neutral.Fig. 1B (modified from Hsu et al., (2014). The mid-cingulate gyrus showing a significant correlation difference between passage immersion ratings and BOLD response in the Fear versus Neutral conditions, cross-hair highlighting the peak voxel [8 14 39].No such relation was observed in the anterior insula, which was explained by postulating that “motor affective empathy” was more prominent than “sensory affective empathy”:Craig [12] considered mCC to be the limbic motor cortex and the site of emotional behavioural initiation, whereas AI is the sensory counterpart. With respect to our stimuli from Harry Potter series, in which behavioural aspects of emotion are particularly vividly described, the motor component of affective empathy (i.e. mCC) might predominate during emotional involvement, and facilitate immersive experience.This is obviously a post-hoc explanation, one that's hard to judge in the absence of actual exemplars of the experimental stimuli. Although the results were a bit underwhelming, I was happy the authors did not venture out on a rickety and hyperbolic limb, as the NYT did (gasp!) in ... Read more »

join us!

Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

If you don't have a blog, you can still use our site to learn about fascinating developments in cutting-edge research from around the world.

Register Now

Research Blogging is powered by SMG Technology.

To learn more, visit