Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Press release] Men and women process emotions differently

Men and women process emotions differently 

From the 21 January 2015 University of Basel press release

Women rate emotional images as more emotionally stimulating than men do and are more likely to remember them. However, there are no gender-related differences in emotional appraisal as far as neutral images are concerned. These were the findings of a large-scale study by a research team at the University of Basel that focused on determining the gender-dependent relationship between emotions, memory performance and brain activity. The results will be published in the latest issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

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Brain activity when viewing negative emotional images: red and yellow indicates the more active areas of the brain when images are rated as highly stimulating. Green indicates the areas that specifically become more active in women (image: MCN, University of Basel).)

It is known that women often consider emotional events to be more emotionally stimulating than men do. Earlier studies have shown that emotions influence our memory: the more emotional a situation is, the more likely we are to remember it. This raises the question as to whether women often outperform men in memory tests because of the way they process emotions. A research team from the University of Basel’s “Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences” Transfaculty Research Platform attempted to find out.

With the help of 3,398 test subjects from four sub-trials, the researchers were able to demonstrate that females rated emotional image content – especially negative content – as more emotionally stimulating than their male counterparts did. In the case of neutral images, however, there were no gender-related differences in emotional appraisal.

In a subsequent memory test, female participants could freely recall significantly more images than the male participants. Surprisingly though, women had a particular advantage over men when recalling positive images. “This would suggest that gender-dependent differences in emotional processing and memory are due to different mechanisms,” says study leader Dr Annette Milnik.

Increased brain activity
Using fMRI data from 696 test subjects, the researchers were also able to show that stronger appraisal of negative emotional image content by the female participants is linked to increased brain activity in motoric regions. “This result would support the common belief that women are more emotionally expressive than men,” explaines Dr Klara Spalek, lead author of the study.

The findings also help to provide a better understanding of gender-specific differences in information processing. This knowledge is important, because many neuropsychiatric illnesses also exhibit gender-related differences. The study is part of a research project led by professors Dominique de Quervain and Andreas Papassotiropoulos at the University of Basel, which aims to increase the understanding of neuronal and molecular mechanisms of human memory and thereby facilitate the development of new treatments.

Original source
Klara Spalek, Matthias Fastenrath, Sandra Ackermann, Bianca Auschra, XDavid Coynel, Julia Frey, Leo Gschwind, Francina Hartmann, Nadine van der Maarel, Andreas Papassotiropoulos, Dominique de Quervain and Annette Milnik
Sex-Dependent Dissociation between Emotional Appraisal and Memory: A Large-Scale Behavioral and fMRI Study
Journal of Neuroscience (2015) | doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.2384-14.2015

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Fairness is in the brain

Fairness is in the brain.

From the 20 October 2014 EurekAlert!

Ever wondered how people figure out what is fair? Look to the brain for the answer. According to a new Norwegian brain study, people appreciate fairness in much the same way as they appreciate money for themselves, and also that fairness is not necessarily that everybody gets the same income.

Economists from the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) and brain researchers from the University of Bergen (UiB) have worked together to assess the relationship between fairness, equality, work and money. Indeed, how do our brains react to how income is distributed?

More precisely, the interdisciplinary research team from the two institutions looked at the striatum; or the “reward centre” of the brain. By measuring our reaction to questions related to fairness, equality, work and money, this part of the brain may hold some answers to the issue of how we perceive distribution of income.

“The brain appreciates both own reward and fairness. Both influence the activation of the striatum,” says Professor Alexander W. Cappelen. “This may explain why a lot of people are willing to sacrifice monetary rewards when this results in a fairer balance.”

Inequality vs. fairness

Cappelen works at the Department of Economics at NHH and is co-director of the Choice Lab, which consists of researchers devoted to learning more about how people make economic and moral choices.

Along with his NHH Choice Lab colleagues Professor Bertil Tungodden and Professor Erik Ø. Sørensen, Cappelen wanted to explore how the brain’s reward system works. To help them answer this question, the NHH team got in touch with brain researchers Professor Kenneth Hugdahl, Professor Karsten Specht and Professor Tom Eichele, all from the Bergen fMRI Group and UiB’s Department of Biological and Medical Psychology.

Together, the NHH and UiB researchers set out to prove that the brain accepts inequality as long as this inequality is considered fair. The researchers published their results in the article Equity theory and fair inequality: A neuroeconomic study, which was published in the scientific journal PNAS on 13 October 2014.

People’s preferences for income distribution fundamentally affect their behaviour and contribute to shaping important social and political institutions. The study of such preferences has become a major topic in behavioural research in social psychology and economics.

“Our research showed that the striatum shows more activity to monetary rewards when the reward was judged to be fair,” says Kenneth Hugdahl.

IMAGE: Here are five of the six NHH and UiB researchers behind the new study that shows how the brain responds to questions regarding fairness and inequality. Left to right: Bertil…

Click here for more information.

Despite the large literature studying preferences for income distribution, there has so far been no direct neuronal evidence of how the brain responds to income distributions when people have made different contributions in terms of work effort.

Inspired by an article in Nature

The background for the joint study between the NHH and UiB researchers was an article in Nature in February 2010, where an interdisciplinary team of American researchers found evidence that people’s brains react negatively to inequality. The American researchers reached their conclusion by studying how the striatum responded to different levels of inequality in a situation where everyone had made the same contribution….

Website of The Choice lab, Norwegian School of Economics: http://blogg.nhh.no/thechoicelab/

Website of the The Bergen fMRI Group, University of Bergen: http://fmri.uib.no/

October 21, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release]Do brain connections help shape religious beliefs?

Do brain connections help shape religious beliefs?.

From the 27 January 2014 press release at EurekAlert 

 IMAGE: Brain Connectivity is the journal of record for researchers and clinicians interested in all aspects of brain connectivity.

Click here for more information. 

New Rochelle, NY, January 27, 2014—Building on previous evidence showing that religious belief involves cognitive activity that can be mapped to specific brain regions, a new study has found that causal, directional connections between these brain networks can be linked to differences in religious thought. The article “Brain Networks Shaping Religious Belief” is published in Brain Connectivity, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers, and is available free on the Brain Connectivity website at http://www.liebertpub.com/brain.

Dimitrios Kapogiannis and colleagues from the National Institute on Aging (National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD) and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, IL, analyzed data collected from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies to evaluate the flow of brain activity when religious and non-religious individuals discussed their religious beliefs. The authors determined causal pathways linking brain networks related to “supernatural agents,” fear regulation, imagery, and affect, all of which may be involved in cognitive processing of religious beliefs.

“When the brain contemplates a religious belief,” says Dr. Kapogiannis, “it is activating three distinct networks that are trying to answer three distinct questions: 1) is there a supernatural agent involved (such as God) and, if so, what are his or her intentions; 2) is the supernatural agent to be feared; and 3) how does this belief relate to prior life experiences and to doctrines?”

“Are there brain networks uniquely devoted to religious belief? Prior research has indicated the answer is a resolute no,” continues study co-author Jordan Grafman, Director, Brain Injury Research and Chief, Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. “But this study demonstrates that important brain networks devoted to various kinds of reasoning about others, emotional processing, knowledge representation, and memory are called into action when thinking about religious beliefs. The use of these basic networks for religious practice indicates how basic networks evolved to mediate much more complex beliefs like those contained in religious practice.”

 

 

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February 1, 2014 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , | Leave a comment

Listening To Music Lights Up The Whole Brain

From the 6 December 2011 Medical News Today article

Finnish researchers have developed a groundbreaking new method that allows to study how the brain processes different aspects of music, such as rhythm, tonality and timbre (sound color) in a realistic listening situation. The study is pioneering in that it for the first time reveals how wide networks in the brain, including areas responsible for motor actions, emotions, and creativity, are activated during music listening. The new method helps us understand better the complex dynamics of brain networks and the way music affects us….

The researchers found that music listening recruits not only the auditory areas of the brain, but also employs large-scale neural networks. For instance, they discovered that the processing of musical pulse recruits motor areas in the brain, supporting the idea that music and movement are closely intertwined. Limbic areas of the brain, known to be associated with emotions, were found to be involved in rhythm and tonality processing. Processing of timbre was associated with activations in the so-called default mode network, which is assumed to be associated with mind-wandering and creativity.

December 6, 2011 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | 1 Comment

Brain imaging provides window into consciousness

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in o...

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Brain imaging provides window into consciousness

Study uses fMRI scans to attempt communication with severely brain-injured patients, suggests cognitive functioning may not be recognized at bedside

[Editors note: My great uncle was in a coma for 10 years. His wife insisted that he was aware of his surroundings to some degree and could hear her.
We all just smiled and yes, Aunt Jenny…even though we agreed amongst ourselves that she was mistaken..Now I think she was probably right to a great degree]

From the February 25, 2011 Eureka news alert

NEW YORK (Feb. 25, 2011) — Using a sophisticated imaging test to probe for higher-level cognitive functioning in severely brain-injured patients provides a window into consciousness — but the view it presents is one that is blurred in fascinating ways, say researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in the Feb. 25 online edition of the journal Brain.

In a novel study of six patients ranging in their function from minimally conscious state to the locked-in syndrome (normal cognitive function with severe motor impairment), the researchers looked at how the brains of these patients respond to a set of commands and questions while being scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

They found there was a wide, and largely unpredictable, variation in the ability of patients to respond to a simple command (such as “imagine swimming — now stop”) and then using that same command to answer simple yes/no or multiple-choice questions. This variation was apparent when compared with their ability to interact at the bedside using voice or gesture.

Some patients unable to communicate by gestures or voice were unable to do the mental tests, while others unable to communicate by gestures or voice were intermittently able to answer the researchers’ questions using mental imagery. And, intriguingly, some patients with the ability to communicate through gestures or voice were unable to do the mental tasks.

The researchers say these findings suggest that no exam yet exists that can accurately assess the higher-level functioning that may be, and certainly seems to be, occurring in a number of severely brain-injured patients — but that progress is being made. [editors emphasis]

“We have to abandon the idea that we can rely on a bedside exam in our assessment of some severe brain injuries. These results demonstrate that patients who show very limited responses at the bedside may have higher cognitive function revealed through fMRI,” says the study’s corresponding author, Dr. Nicholas D. Schiff, professor of neurology and neuroscience and professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College and a neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

While progress has been made in elucidating the range of brain function in those who are severely injured, Dr. Schiff urges caution. “Although everyone wants to use a tool like this, fMRI is not yet capable of making clear measurements of cognitive performance. There will be a range of possible responses reflecting different capabilities in these patients that we have to further explore and understand,” he says.

The new study tested three levels of communication in steps that required increasing cognitive capacity, says Dr. Henning Voss, who is the study’s senior investigator and associate professor of physics in radiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “While we could not unambiguously establish communication in these brain-injured patients, our research is helping us identifying problems specific to this patient population,” Dr. Voss says. “We got a clear picture about where and how to look for this kind of brain activity in response to certain commands.”

Ethical Imperative

“Thousands of people suffer debilitating brain injuries every year, and there is a clear ethical imperative to learn as much as possible about their ability to communicate,” says the study’s lead author, Jonathan Bardin, a third-year neuroscience graduate student at Weill Cornell Medical College.

“These findings caution us against giving too much weight to negative results and open our eyes to the diversity of responses one might expect from the wide-ranging group of severely brain-injured people,” he says.

The potential implications of these kinds of consciousness studies are significant, says co-author Dr. Joseph Fins, the E. William Davis, Jr., M.D. Professor of Medical Ethics, chief of the Division of Medical Ethics, and professor of medicine, professor of public health, and professor of medicine in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Beyond facilitating communication with these patients, these studies should communicate to society at large this population is worthy of our collective attention.

“A vast majority of severely brain injured patients around the country are receiving substandard care because they are improperly diagnosed, not given adequate rehabilitation, and often end up in nursing homes. We all want this to change,” adds Dr. Fins, who is also director of medical ethics and chairman of the ethics committee at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

fMRI Reveals Consciousness’s Complexity

The Weill Cornell study is a continuation of research into how fMRI can establish a line of communication with brain-injured patients in order to understand if they can benefit from rehabilitation, and to gauge their level of pain and other clinical parameters that would improve care and quality of life.

Research collaborators in Cambridge, England, and Liege, Belgium, published earlier demonstrations in 2006 and 2010 that severely brain-injured patients could respond to commands or questions. The present studies extend the earlier findings and represent an important confirmation of such measurements by independent scientists.

In the current study, the dissociations observed and the wide range of communication capacities in the patient subjects studied provide unique insights. In the first step, the six patients, as well as 14 control participants, were asked a command that formed the basis for further communication. The control volunteers were asked to imagine performing their favorite sports, the patients to imagine themselves swimming.

Then, in the three patients who could do this, and in all of the controls, the researchers asked them to use the same imagined activity to respond to one or two options in a simple two-part question. In the third multiple-choice task, they were shown a face card from a deck of playing cards, then asked to respond when either the face or suit of the card was named.

The scans showed a number of “dissociations” in these patients — “surprising instances in which patients’ imaging responses diverged from their behavior,” Bardin says.

One patient could generate the mental imagery but not use it to answer questions — although he could communicate accurately with gestures. Another patient, who can speak, could not carry out the mental imagery task. A third patient who could imagine swimming on command showed dramatically varied brain response patterns when tested over time.

“The patients participating in this study often have multiple or widespread brain injuries affecting not only local brain areas but the whole brain network on a wide scale,” Dr. Voss says. “Even if we knew precisely all the injuries involved in a subject, our still-limited understanding of the brain networks involved in communication makes it impossible to accurately predict remaining cognitive and communicative skills in many cases. If there is no normal communication possible, fMRI can reveal cognitive capacities on several levels.”

“This is a reality check, in essence, because there is a wide range of cognitive abilities in these patients, and the implications on the extreme ends of the spectrum are important,” Dr. Schiff says. “There are people whose personal autonomy is abridged because they don’t have a good motor channel to express themselves despite their clear mind and opinions and desires about themselves and the world. And there are people who are without cognitive capacity, but because there is a misinterpretation of what is possible, there is a willingness to hold out hope.

“Not all minimally conscious patients are the same, and not all patients with locked-in syndrome are the same,” Dr. Schiff says.

Going forward, the research group, along with others in the field, is planning a major multicenter trial of fMRI along with European and Canadian colleagues supported by The James S. McDonnell Foundation to better understand both its promise and limitation in gauging cognitive abilities in severely brain-injured patients.

 

 

 

 

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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