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Gene found responsible for susceptibility to panic disorder A study published points, for the first time, to the gene trkC as a factor in susceptibility to a panic disorder. The researchers define the specific mechanism for the formation of fear memories which will help in the development of new pharmacological and cognitive treatments.
Happiness: the silver lining of economic stagnation? | Julian Baggini A study suggests that national wellbeing peaks at £22k average income. But that doesn't mean there's no point in pushing for wealthIt's time to rewrite the story of the financial crisis. Far from being a disaster movie, it was in fact a tale of salvation. As for the green shoots of recovery we are now seeing, they are virulent weeds to be stamped out.That would seem to be the conclusion to draw from a new study that suggests ever-rising national wealth is the source of decreased life satisfaction. Looking at data from around the world, Warwick University's Eugenio Proto and Aldo Rustichini of University of Minnesota conclude that average wellbeing rises with average income only up to around £22k per head per annum. After that, it slips back again. Britain is more or less at that sweet spot, which suggests economic stagnation may be an excellent way of avoiding the problems of poverty without acquiring the problems of wealth.You may well be sceptical. Even the authors acknowledge that many people "still prefer to live in richer countries, even if this would result in a decreased level of life satisfaction". In other words, people are overall more satisfied by less life satisfaction, which suggests we should take the whole concept of "life satisfaction" with a pinch of salt.Any attempt to measure wellbeing in a robust way is fraught with problems. One of the most obvious is that people naturally rank their contentment relative to what appears to be a reasonable expectation, and that varies with time and place. That's why, when offered to rank their life satisfaction a scale of one to 10, most choose around seven or eight, irrespective of era or nation.Even setting aside these doubts, there are more important reasons to be cautious about how we interpret the data. What it does appear to show, and which almost all studies support, is that having a low income is more of a problem that having a high one is a benefit. From a public policy point of view, that suggests the priority should continue to be raising the life chances of the worst off, not those of the better off, or even the "squeezed middle".If we achieved that, is it really the case that there would be no point in then increasing wealth even more? Not so fast. We have to ask what explains the levelling-off in perceived quality of life. Proto and Rustichini suggest that the key is "higher GDP leads to higher aspirations ... driven by the existence of more opportunities or by comparison with the Joneses". But this "sets up a race between aspiration and realisation; when realisation is lower than aspiration, the psychological cost paid is disappointment". Worse, this creates a feedback loop, as the let-down further widens the aspiration-realisation gap.What should be clear is that this is not an inevitable consequence of greater wealth. Some individuals learn to treat their material comfort as a blessing and are not concerned by the prospect that they could have yet more, or that others already do. The materialist treadmill is not one we are obliged to get on once we reach a certain level of income.In short, the problem is explained by the familiar idea that money is not valuable in itself, but only for what it can do. The failure of western societies to convert greater wealth into greater wellbeing is in essence a failure to use our wealth wisely. This should not surprise us. The majority of people alive today and throughout history have not been accustomed to plenty. Humanity is on a steep learning curve and many of the lessons we need to learn go against our natural tendency to acquire first and ask questions later.That's why the debate about the relative merits of increased GDP and "gross domestic happiness" are misguided. They are not mutually exclusive options. The optimal strategy would be one in which we grew wealth but harnessed it better to enable people to really flourish, rather than just have more stuff. What we should be afraid of is the pointless march of a narrow materialism, not the resumption of economic growth in itself. A richer world in which the money was well spent is something with which we should all be well satisfied.Happiness indicesHealth & wellbeingEconomic growth (GDP)EconomicsPayFamily financesPsychologyJulian © 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
Crossing continents "” where we drive affects how we drive According to the International Transport Forum, Malaysia has one of the highest death rates from road traffic accidents in the world. While the number of road deaths continues to rise in Malaysia the number in the United Kingdom is much lower and experiencing a downward trend. 
Mobility explains association between social activity, mortality risk in older people Social activity and health correlate in old age, but less is known about what explains this association. The results of a study showed that part of the association between social activity and mortality was mediated by mobility among older men and women. Of other potential mediators, having less depressive symptoms and better cognitive functioning are merely prerequisites for social activity.
Data mining social media opinions A European collaboration has analyzed thousands of microblogging updates to help them develop an opinion detector for data mining the social media lode and extracting nuggets of information that could be gold dust for policy makers, marketing departments and others looking for emerging trends and attitudes.
The questionable science of Boris Johnson Dean Burnett: Boris Johnson's recent speech has raised a few eyebrows, but several of his statements are on shaky scientific groundsDean Burnett
Are teens under pressure to be sexting? New research studying the pressures of sexting on adolescents has found that friends and romantic partners are the main source of social pressure, outweighing adolescents' own attitudes. This research examines the principal drivers of sexting, and suggests areas for educators to focus upon in order to highlight the potential risks involved in sexting.
Good news on the Alzheimer's epidemic: Risk for older adults declining Improvements in education levels, health care and lifestyle credited for decline in dementia risk.
Expressing Gratitude Can Make You Sexier! Research suggests that gratitude can improve your love life and make you more appealing as a romantic partner! Fortunately, you can learn to be more grateful. This article talks about gratitude's positive effects on relationships, health and happiness. It also offers concrete steps you can take to become more grateful, and thus sexier! read more
This Is Your Brain on Oreos, Or Is It? A neuroscientist at Connecticut College has data showing greater neuronal response to cookies over addictive drugs like morphine and cocaine. Yet, not being published did not stop a press release from being written and disseminated widely through the more
Study connects dots between genes, human behavior Establishing links between genes, the brain and human behavior is a central issue in cognitive neuroscience research, but studying how genes influence cognitive abilities and behavior as the brain develops from childhood to adulthood has proven difficult. Now, an international team of scientists has made inroads to understanding how genes influence brain structure and cognitive abilities and how neural circuits produce language.
Buildup of amyloid in brain blood vessels promotes early cognitive impairment A team of researchers has discovered in a model of Alzheimer's disease that early accumulation of a small protein, known as amyloid β, in the blood vessels of the brain can drive early cognitive impairment.
Surviving survival In the largest study of its kind, researchers have investigated the caregivers of 186 mothers to childhood brain tumor survivors aged 14-40 whose care needs last long into adulthood. They discovered that a complex interaction among the health of the caregivers, the demands experienced by the caregiver, the caregiver's perceptions about the health of the survivor, and the family's support interact to explain how the caregiver assesses herself in her role.
Happiness study finds that UK is passing point of peak life satisfaction Economists say that per capita incomes above UK's adjusted level of $37,000 make people less contentedThe latest addition to the burgeoning field of "happiness economics" has a sobering message for Britain: this is as good as it gets.For years, economists have debated if there is a cut-off point beyond which growth adds nothing to wellbeing. Now – in a study published on Thursday, the day that official figures show the fastest growth for three years – two economists have gone a step further and estimated that "sweet spot" with some precision. And the UK has reached it.According to Eugenio Proto of Warwick University and Aldo Rustichini of University of Minnesota, life satisfaction peaks when incomes per head – adjusted so that money buys the same basket of goods and services worldwide – reach $36,000 (£22,000) a year. Per capita incomes in the UK on this basis are $37,000. Beyond this point, they say, we get richer but less contented.Proto said: "Our new analysis has one very surprising finding which has not been reported before – that life satisfaction appears to dip beyond a certain level of wealth. In our study we see evidence that this is down to changes in the aspiration levels of people living in the richest countries."As countries get richer, higher levels of GDP lead to higher aspiration. There is a sense of keeping up with the Joneses as people see wealth and opportunity all around them and aspire to having more. But this aspiration gap – the difference between actual income and the income we would like – eats away at life satisfaction levels."In other words, what we aspire to becomes a moving target and one which moves away faster in the richest countries, causing the dip in happiness we see in our analysis."Using a mixture of survey evidence and GDP data, the study found a strong link between rising incomes and happiness for poor countries.Nations with a GDP per head below $6,700 were 12% less likely to report the highest level of life satisfaction than countries with a figure of about $18,000.But at about $20,000 GDP per capita, the link becomes less obvious, with people only 2% less likely to attain the highest levels of life satisfaction than in countries with the highest average incomes ($54,000). After $36,000, happiness falls slightly.The study used a combination of survey evidence, adjusted to reflect cultural differences, and GDP data to judge if higher incomes make people happier.Some economists are sceptical about this approach, saying life satisfaction does rise as incomes go up.Philip Booth, editorial director at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: "There are well-known problems in using happiness data in studies such as these, though the most comprehensive evidence suggests wellbeing does continue to rise with income."However, there are simple solutions if people feel happier on lower incomes – they can work less or they can migrate from countries such as the US to countries such as Greece or South Korea. Neither of these things seem to be happening."Happiness indicesHealth & wellbeingEconomic growth (GDP)EconomicsPsychologyLarry © 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
New clues to memory formation may help better treat dementia Do fruit flies hold the key to treating dementia? Biologists have taken a significant step forward in unraveling the mechanisms of Pavlovian conditioning. Their work will help them understand how memories form and, ultimately, provide better treatments to improve memory in all ages.
Genetic mutation increases risk of Parkinson's disease from pesticides Study uses patient-derived stem cells to show that a mutation in the α-synuclein gene causes increased vulnerability to pesticides, leading to Parkinson's disease.
Big brains are all in the genes Scientists have moved a step closer to understanding genetic changes that permitted humans and other mammals to develop such big brains.
Speech recovery after stroke Scientists investigate how speech is anchored in the brain, focusing their research on the difference between left- and right-handed people.
Sex Without Babies Results of a new, large British sex survey have just been published. In an accompanying "Comment" piece, researchers suggest that sex "is not primarily, or even necessarily, about reproduction." Let's unpack that perspective. read more
Drug reduces brain changes, motor deficits of Huntington's disease A drug that acts like a growth-promoting protein in the brain reduces degeneration and motor deficits associated with Huntington's disease in two mouse models of the disorder, according to a study. The findings add to a growing body of evidence that protecting or boosting neurotrophins -- the molecules that support the survival and function of nerve cells -- may slow the progression of Huntington's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.