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New brain cells for Parkinson's and Huntington's patients? Attractants prevent nerve cell migration Medical researchers have been working toward implanting nerve precursor cells in the brains of patients with Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases. It was hoped that these cells would assume the function of the cells that have died off. However, the implanted nerve cells frequently did not migrate as hoped, rather they hardly move from the site. Scientists have now discovered an important cause of this: Attractants secreted by the precursor cells prevent the maturing nerve cells from migrating into the brain.
Andy Calder obituary My friend and colleague Andy Calder, who has died of a brain haemorrhage aged 48, was a leading social cognitive neuroscientist, a meticulous experimenter and an inspiration for those who worked alongside him.He was born in Edinburgh, where he went to St Thomas of Aquin's high school. After gaining an MA in psychology at the University of St Andrews and a PhD at Durham, he joined what is now the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge, becoming a programme leader in 2000.Andy provided some of the clearest evidence for understanding how different brain regions encode facial characteristics such as expression and personal identity. His groundbreaking research in Britain and overseas led to major new insights into the processing of social information, such as the recognition of emotions from facial expressions in conditions including autism and Huntington's disease.A passion for overseas exploration made Andy a great travelling companion and a keen guest in the laboratories of his friends and fellow scientists, including Gill Rhodes and Colin Clifford in Australia. He was wonderful company, with a passion for film and theatre, and made trips home every summer to enjoy the Edinburgh festival and spend time with his family. A gifted pianist and singer, Andy was an important figure in pantomimes and other productions in Cambridge. He made many lasting friendships with colleagues, who were delighted by his warmth, lightness of spirit and wit.He is survived by his sisters, Kath and Clare, and by his nieces and nephews – Clark, Amy, Ava, Rebecca, Cameron, Tim and Eve – to whom he was a devoted uncle. He was a fond brother-in-law to Gary, and to Tony who predeceased © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
Medicalisation of misery to blame for soaring use of antidepressants, say GPs Doctors across Europe warn limited time and resources leads many to prescribe pills for less-urgent cases of depressionDoctors across Europe are warning that the soaring use of antidepressants is down to growing pressure to "medicalise" unhappiness, complaining that a lack of time and meagre availability of other therapies meant that physicians reach for the prescription pad far too often.In response to a questionnaire devised by the Guardian and five leading European newspapers, the vast majority of almost 100 European doctors and psychiatrists who replied said there was a "prescribing culture" in their country because other help for people with depression was inadequate.Many of the doctors – from the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands – said they believed antidepressants were an effective treatment for cases of severe depression. But dozens expressed frustration that limited time and even more limited resources mean that they often feel pressured to prescribe pills in less-urgent cases."We are medicalising common situations: conflict, separation and the vicissitudes of life," said Gladys Mujica Lezcano, a Barcelona-based hospital doctor."They are prescribed much too easily," added Alain Vallée, a psychiatrist from Nantes in France. "If you take an antidepressant and it doesn't work, you don't think it's because you might not be depressed, but that you need to take a stronger one."Not everyone agreed. Ricardo Teijeiro, who practises in the Netherlands, said the Dutch system had figured out that antidepressants might not be appropriate for milder forms of depression. "Dutch family doctors prescribe very little," he said. "They have learned that mild depression is iatrogenic and prescribe pills when they encounter a severe depression."Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development more or less bears this out: in the Netherlands antidepressant usage has risen by less than 25% since 2001 and has flatlined in the past five years. In Germany, the UK and Spain, by contrast, prescriptions have doubled over the past decade.Doctors and psychiatrists say the pressures are manifold: from patients desperate for resolution and families eager for reassurance, from schedules that leave them with too many patients and not enough time and from the lack of available alternatives.Fareedoon Ahmed, a trainee psychiatrist from Essex, said the illness had long since outstripped the resources available – in the UK at least. "Depression is a common mental health problem with a large number of sufferers, of which only the most severe can be supported within this health system."But continental doctors expressed the same view."It's inadequate," said Simone Schliermann, from Erbach in Germany. "There's a lack of psychotherapy. My waiting list is one year."José Luis Ballesteros Ramos, a psychiatrist from Granada, added: "The fact that primary care physicians prescribe antidepressants is linked to the inability to spend more time with the patient, because they get to see 40 patients in the morning."The financial crisis has certainly squeezed health budgets across the EU, and in Germany, consultants say that the state cannot afford the appropriate treatment for the large numbers of depression patients who present."There is a payment problem for the dedicated psychiatrist," said Jí¶rg Madlener, a Frankfurt-based neurologist. "For €40 [£34] a quarter, and with the huge inrush of patients, I can only treat depression with medication."This is a frustration for many clinicians, because experience broadly shows that while antidepressants can be effective at treating symptoms of depression, it is talking therapies that will help patients understand what is happening to them – and how to avoid relapse. The chances of a recurrence of depression are far higher in people who do not have some form of psychiatric therapy than for those who do.UK-based doctor Hannah Hudson said access to talking therapies was poor unless the patient was severely depressed. "Otherwise it is scanty," she said. "There are few support groups and often the only professional who provides support is the GP."More broadly, there is concern that common human afflictions – sadness, melancholia, ennui – are being turned into medical conditions and then treated with pills. "Psychiatric care is becoming a consumer good in a society in which there is a low tolerance for frustration and adversity," said one Spain-based doctor whose identity has been verified but who wanted to remain anonymous."Trivial problems are being psychiatrized. There are people who want antidepressants because 'the boyfriend left me'."José Garcí­a-Valdecasas Campelo, a Tenerife-based psychiatrist, added: "Sadness is a normal human emotion that should not be medicalised. Social problems should be treated at a social level, and not at a psychiatric one."DepressionHealthPsychologyDrugsGPsNHSDoctorsEuropeNetherlandsGermanyItalySpainOECDMedical researchCarmen FishwickMark © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
Six Habits of Highly Grateful People I’m terrible at gratitude. How bad am I? I’m so bad at gratitude that most days, I don’t notice the sunlight on the leaves of the Berkeley oaks as I ride my bike down the street. I forget to be thankful for the guy who hand-brews that delicious cup of coffee I drink mid-way through every weekday morning. I don’t even know the dude’s name! I usually take for granted that I have legs to walk on, eyes to see with, arms I can use to hug my son. I forget my son! Well, I don’t actually forget about him, at least as a physical presence; I generally remember to pick him up from school and feed him dinner. But as I face the quotidian slings and arrows of parenthood, I forget all the time how much he’s changed my life for the better. Gratitude (and its sibling, appreciation) is the mental tool we use to remind ourselves of the good stuff. It’s a lens that helps us to see the things that don’t make it onto our lists of problems to be solved. It’s a spotlight that we shine on the people who give us the good things in life. It’s a bright red paintbrush we apply to otherwise-invisible blessings, like clean streets or health or enough food to eat. Gratitude doesn’t make problems and threats disappear. We can lose jobs, we can be attacked on the street, we can get sick. I’ve experienced all of those things. I remember those harrowing times at unexpected moments: My heart beats faster, my throat constricts. My body wants to hit something or run away, one or the other. But there’s nothing to hit, nowhere to run. The threats are indeed real, but at that moment, they exist only in memory or imagination. I am the threat; it is me who is wearing myself out with worry. That’s when I need to turn on the gratitude. If I do that enough, suggests the psychological research, gratitude might just become a habit. What will that mean for me? It means, says the research, that I increase my chances of psychologically surviving hard times, that I stand a chance to be happier in the good times. I’m not ignoring the threats; I’m appreciating the resources and people that might help me face those threats. If you’re already one of those highly grateful people, stop reading this essay—you don’t need it. Instead you should read Amie Gordon’s “Five Ways Giving Thanks Can Backfire.” But if you’re more like me, then here are some tips for how you and I can become one of those fantastically grateful people. 1. Once in a while, they think about death and loss Didn’t see that one coming, did you? I’m not just being perverse—contemplating endings really does make you more grateful for the life you currently have, according to several studies. For example, when Araceli Friasa and colleagues asked people to visualize their own deaths, their gratitude measurably increased. Similarly, when Minkyung Koo and colleagues asked people to envision the sudden disappearance of their romantic partners from their lives, they became more grateful to their partners. The same goes for imagining that some positive event, like a job promotion, never happened. This isn’t just theoretical: When you find yourself taking a good thing for granted, try giving it up for a little while. Researchers Jordi Quoidbach and Elizabeth Dunn had 55 people eat a piece of chocolate—and then the researchers told some of those people to resist chocolate for a week and others to binge on chocolate if they wanted. They left a third group to their own devices. Guess who ended up happiest, according to self-reports? The people who abstained from chocolate. And who were the least happy? The people who binged. That’s the power of gratitude! 2. They take the time to smell the roses And they also smell the coffee, the bread baking in the oven, the aroma of a new car—whatever gives them pleasure. Loyola University psychologist Fred Bryant finds that savoring positive experiences makes them stickier in your brain, and increases their benefits to your psyche—and the key, he argues, is expressing gratitude for the experience. That’s one of the ways appreciation and gratitude go hand in hand. You might also consider adding some little ritual to how you experience the pleasures of the body: A study published this year in Psychological Science finds that rituals like prayer or even just shaking a sugar packet “make people pay more attention to food, and paying attention makes food taste better,” as Emily Nauman reports in her Greater Good article about the research. This brand of mindfulness makes intuitive sense—but how does it work with the first habit above? Well, we humans are astoundingly adaptive creatures, and we will adapt even to the good things. When we do, their subjective value starts to drop; we start to take them for granted. That’s the point at which we might give them up for a while—be it chocolate, sex, or even something like sunlight—and then take the time to really savor them when we allow them back into our lives. That goes for people, too, and that goes back to the first habit: If you’re taking someone for granted, take a step back—and imagine your life without them. Then try savoring their presence, just like you would a rose. Or a new car. Whatever! The point is, absence may just make the heart grow grateful. 3. They take the good things as gifts, not birthrights What’s the opposite of gratitude? Entitlement—the attitude that people owe you something just because you’re so very special. “In all its manifestations, a preoccupation with the self can cause us to forget our benefits and our benefactors or to feel that we are owed things from others and therefore have no reason to feel thankful,” writes Robert Emmons, co-director of the GGSC’s Gratitude project. “Counting blessings will be ineffective because grievances will always outnumber gifts.” The antidote to entitlement, argues Emmons, is to see that we did not create ourselves—we were created, if not by evolution, then by God; or if not by God, then by our parents. Likewise, we are never truly self-sufficient. Humans need other people to grow our food and heal our injuries; we need love, and for that we need family, partners, friends, and pets. “Seeing with grateful eyes requires that we see the web of interconnection in which we alternate between being givers and receivers,” writes Emmons. “The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.” 4. They’re grateful to people, not just things At the start of this piece, I mentioned gratitude for sunlight and trees. That’s great for me—and it may have good effects, like leading me to think about my impact on the environment—but the trees just don’t care. Likewise, the sun doesn’t know I exist; that big ball of flaming gas isn’t even aware of its own existence, as far as we know. My gratitude doesn’t make it burn any brighter. That’s not true of people—people will glow in gratitude. Saying thanks to my son might make him happier and it can strengthen our emotional bond. Thanking the guy who makes my coffee can strengthen social bonds—in part by deepening our understanding of how we’re interconnected with other people. My colleague Emiliana Simon-Thomas, the GGSC’s science director and another co-director of our Expanding Gratitude project, puts it this way: Experiences that heighten meaningful connections with others—like noticing how another person has helped you, acknowledging the effort it took, and savoring how you benefitted from it—engage biological systems for trust and affection, alongside circuits for pleasure and reward. This provides a synergistic and enduring boost to the positive experience. Saying ‘thank you’ to a person, your brain registers that something good has happened and that you are more richly enmeshed in a meaningful social community. 5. They mention the pancakes Grateful people are habitually specific. They don’t say, “I love you because you’re just so wonderfully wonderful, you!” Instead, the really skilled grateful person will say: “I love you for the pancakes you make when you see I’m hungry and the way you massage my feet after work even when you’re really tired and how you give me hugs when I’m sad so that I’ll feel better!” The reason for this is pretty simple: It makes the expression of gratitude feel more authentic, for it reveals that the thanker was genuinely paying attention and isn’t just going through the motions. The richest thank you’s will acknowledge intentions (“the pancakes you make when you see I’m hungry”) and costs (“you massage my feet after work even when you’re really tired”), and they’ll describe the value of benefits received (“you give me hugs when I’m sad so that I’ll feel better”). When Amie Gordon and colleagues studied gratitude in couples, they found that spouses signal grateful feelings through more caring and attentive behavior. They ask clarifying questions; they respond to trouble with hugs and to good news with smiles. “These gestures,” Gordon writes, “can have profound effects: Participants who were better listeners during those conversations in the lab had partners who reported feeling more appreciated by them.” Remember: Gratitude thrives on specificity! 6. They thank outside the box But let’s get real: Pancakes, massages, hugs? Boring! Most of my examples so far are easy and clichéd. But here’s who the really tough-minded grateful person thanks: the boyfriend who dumped her, the homeless person who asked for change, the boss who laid him off. We’re graduating from Basic to Advanced Gratitude, so pay attention. And since I myself am still working on Basic, I’ll turn once again to Dr. Emmons for guidance: “It’s easy to feel grateful for the good things. No one ‘feels’ grateful that he or she has lost a job or a home or good health or has taken a devastating hit on his or her retirement portfolio.” In such moments, he says, gratitude becomes a critical cognitive process—a way of thinking about the world that can help us turn disaster into a stepping stone. If we’re willing and able to look, he argues, we can find a reason to feel grateful even to people who have harmed us. We can thank that boyfriend for being brave enough to end a relationship that wasn’t working; the homeless person for reminding us of our advantages and vulnerability; the boss, for forcing us to face new challenges. “Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth,” writes Emmons in his Greater Good article “How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times.” He continues: So telling people simply to buck up, count their blessings, and remember how much they still have to be grateful for can certainly do much harm. Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity. It is not a form of superficial happiology. Instead, it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity. It means reframing a loss into a potential gain, recasting negativity into positive channels for gratitude. That’s what truly, fantastically grateful people do. Can you? For more reasons to practice gratitude, check out this infographic created by Here’s My Chance.
Recessions in mid-life linked to higher risk of cognitive decline People who live through economic recessions in early to mid-life may be at higher risk of cognitive decline in later life, suggests research published.
PTSD raises risk for obesity in women Women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) gain weight more rapidly and are more likely to be overweight or obese than women without the disorder, find researchers. It is the first study to look at the relationship between PTSD and obesity over time.
Brain still injured from concussion after symptoms fade After a mild concussion, special brain scans show evidence of brain abnormalities four months later, when symptoms from the concussion have mostly dissipated, according to research published.
Connections in children's brains strengthen during sleep While young children sleep, connections between the left and the right hemispheres of their brain strengthen, which may help brain functions mature, according to a new study.
Variant forms of protein impact risk of Alzheimer's disease Investigators have shown that even low levels of the Alzheimer's-associated APOE4 protein can increase the number and density of amyloid brain plaques, related neuronal damage, and the amount of soluble amyloid within the brain in mouse models of the disease. APOE2, a rare variant that has been associated with protection from Alzheimer's of actually reduced A-beta deposition, retention and neurotoxicity, suggesting the potential for gene-therapy-based treatment.
Differences in brains of children with nonverbal learning disability A researcher has discovered the first anatomical evidence that the brains of children with a nonverbal learning disability -- long considered a "pseudo" diagnosis -- may develop differently than the brains of other children.
Neurons in 'face recognition center' respond differently in autistic brain Certain neurons in the brain's "face-recognition center" perform differently in patients who have autism. In what are believed to be the first studies of their kind, researchers recording the real-time firing of individual nerve cells in the brain found that a specific type of neuron in a structure called the amygdala performed differently in people who suffer from autism spectrum disorder than in those who do not.
A Society Without Marriage? The Mosuo people of south west China do not marry and fathers do not live with, or support, children. Do the Mosuo anticipate a global future where no one marries?read more
Rare disease yields clues about broader brain pathology Alexander disease is a devastating brain disease that almost nobody has heard of "” unless someone in the family is afflicted with it. Alexander disease strikes young or old, and in children destroys white matter in the front of the brain. Many patients, especially those with early onset, have significant intellectual disabilities.
How to Teach Children to Share Don't force them: when given a choice, children's sharing behaviour increases in the future.→ Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick"
Size, connectivity of brain region linked to anxiety level in young children Researchers have shown that by measuring the size and connectivity of a part of the brain associated with processing emotion -- the amygdala -- they can predict the degree of anxiety a young child is experiencing in daily life.
Who are you looking at? Why women recognise more faces than men Numerous studies have reported that women outperform men when it comes to face recognition faces, but most have focused on assessing innate biases in favor of race, gender, and age. Now a major literature review concludes that, in the majority of tests, women are better at face recognition than men, irrespective of all other factors.
Why we need more male primary school teachers Some argue that boys have become the "˜new disadvantaged' as the result of efforts to eradicate female disadvantage in a historically male biased education system. A widely accepted solution is more male teachers /role models in schools for boys. 
When bye bye becomes buy buy: How homophones affect consumer behavior It is possible to affect how someone will think or act simply by priming that person with just a single word, according to a new study that examines the use of homophones in written advertising.
Drug use, decision-making and the blunders of Rob Ford The embattled mayor of Toronto's bad decision-making has all the signs of problem drug and alcohol use, though it could just be incompetenceToronto mayor Rob Ford has had a rough couple of months. He has recently confessed to using crack cocaine "in a drunken stupor", been caught on video making drunken death threats, and commented to reporters about his cunnilingus skills. He has also previously been charged with drink-driving, and admitted on separate occasions to buying illegal drugs and "smoking a lot of marijuana". Other allegations from former staff members include physical assault, making racist and sexist remarks, and sexual harassment.Needless to say, the man has made some questionable choices recently. While Mayor Ford has vehemently denied all accusations of drug or alcohol dependence, this pattern of poor decision-making is reflective of impairments in self-control and impulsivity that are often seen in problem drug and alcohol users.Anecdotally, examples of needle sharing, unsafe sex and driving under the influence are used to demonstrate instances of poor or risky decision-making that seem to be increased in heavy drug users.However, examples such as these can be difficult to empirically measure. So scientists have created behavioural tasks that can be used to objectively quantify poor decision-making in an attempt to determine if such traits really are higher in dependent individuals.Say someone (reliable) offers you a choice: you can either have £10 today, or you can have £20 if you wait another two weeks. Which would you choose, the small immediate payout or the larger delayed reward?In this classic example of a delay-discounting task, individuals who are dependent on alcohol, cocaine or heroin consistently show a preference for the smaller sooner option, even though rationally you should wait for the later greater reward. This is indicative of an increase in impulsivity and difficulty with waiting, perhaps representative of the choice to use drugs now rather than enjoy a healthier life later on.Another test of decision-making involves your penchant for risk. In a mock gambling task, participants can choose between four decks of cards and are instructed to make as much money as they can. Two of the decks give you a smaller payout but also have a smaller risk for loss, resulting in an overall gain, while the other two decks give out large rewards but can also hit you with heavy fines, resulting in an overall loss.Dependent drug users again show impairment on the task, consistently going for those risky decks, even after punishments of up to £1,000. This tendency to consistently gamble on a risky option, hoping to get away with that big reward without experiencing the negative consequences, might help to explain the decision to continue using drugs even in the face of potential punishments, like getting arrested or losing your job.Both of these tasks tap into a part of your brain that is involved in self-control and executive functioning. This area, the prefrontal cortex, is also a region that is known to be smaller in dependent drug users, and activation in this area is often impaired during performance of these tasks. These brain changes are largely thought to be the consequence of long-term drug use, although there is also evidence that differences in this area may predate heavy drug-taking in dependent individuals.As for Mayor Ford, his gaffes do not appear to be one-off errors of judgment, but rather a pattern of faulty decision-making, consistently choosing to do or say the wrong thing.However, it's important to keep in mind that there is no evidence that Mayor Ford is dependent on drugs or alcohol, and he claims to have only smoked crack once. Additionally, by no means does everyone who uses drugs become dependent upon them. In fact, it is estimated that only one in six individuals who try cocaine will ever develop an addiction.Instead, his actions may be more indicative of his apparent "incompetence", rather than having anything to do with his drug use.At least Mayor Ford is in good company. Marion Barry, the former mayor of Washington DC, was also caught using crack cocaine in a sting operation not so long ago, and he went on to be re-elected a couple years later.DrugsRob FordCanadaAmericasAlcoholismHealthAlcoholDrugsNeurosciencePsychologyDana © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
Why I hate neurons | Pete Etchells Pete Etchells: Who inspired your original spark of interest in science? For me, it was my Dad. Strangely, he also gave me an irrational hatred for one of the basic building blocks of the brain.Pete Etchells