Thursday, July 31, 2014

Plate Color and Appetite

Do you need to drop a few pounds? What color are your dishes? The UK's Daily Telegraph recently reported on a study published in the journal Appetite Researchers have reported that eating food off red-colored plates and drinking from red cups can cut consumption by approximately 40 percent. This may be because "red" is often associated with stop signals and danger (as in red fire engines). Red dishes may trigger stop associations in the brain. Researchers initially took 41 male students, and asked them to drink tea from cups with both red and blue labels. The participants drank 44 percent less from the red-labeled vessels. Part two of the study involved 109 people, who were instructed to eat pretzels laid out on either a red, blue, or white plate. Again, participants who were given the red plates reportedly consumed less. Some have suggested that using red cups in pubs and bars might help limit patrons’ alcohol consumption, and that using red packaging in supermarkets might serve as a deterrent for purchasing unhealthy foods.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Brains and Pedophilic Behaviors, 2

Results of a study related to the brains of people who exhibit pedophilic behaviors were recently released. The research was led by Jorge Ponseti at the University of Kiel in Germany. His team analyzed the MRI scans of 56 male participants, including 13 homosexual paedophiles and 11 heterosexual paedohiles, while they were exposed to ‘highly arousing’ images of men, women, boys, and girls. Participants were asked to rate the images in terms of attractiveness. Dr. James Cantor, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine and expert on the subject pedophilia told The Daily Beast, “I have previously described pedophilia as a ‘cross-wiring’ of sexual and nurturing instincts, and this data neatly verifies that interpretation.” This study may pave the way for future work into how this knowledge can be used to test for, and hopefully rehabilitate, paedophiles before they abuse. Part 3 tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Brain and Pedophilic Behaviors, 1

Is the brain of someone who exhibits pedophilic behaviors different from the brains of those who do not? Results of a research project let by Jorge Ponseti at the University of Kiel in Germany, was recently published in the scientific journal Biology Letters. Typically, seeing the faces of children elicit feelings of caregiving from both males and females. Ponseti’s studies showed that this trend appears to be skewed in the brains of pedophiles. Their brains appear to be “abnormally tuned” to find young children sexually attractive, children’s faces eliciting sexual feelings as opposed to nurturing feelings. Is it possible that the brains of pedophiles are wired to find children sexually attractive rather than adults? Charlotte Lytton reported in The Daily Beast that the brains of “paedophiles react to images they find attractive in the same way as most people—but for some reason this reaction happens when they see images of children, rather than other adults.” Their perceptions appear to be turned upside down. Part 2 tomorrow

Monday, July 28, 2014

Memory and Belly Fat

How's your memory? How much belly fat do you have? Researchers at Rush University have reported that individuals who have high amounts of belly fat are more than three times as likely to develop memory loss and dementia later in life. t's linked to the liver's hankering for a protein that's also relished by the brain. The study, which appeared in the journal Cell Reports, reported that the liver burns belly fat with the help of a protein known as PPARalpha. Who knew? It turns out that the brain uses this same protein for memory. The liver works extra hard in individuals who have a large amount of belly fat, using up the PPARalpha. And if the liver doesn't have enough PPARalpha around it to use, it turns to other parts of the body to find more--the brain! The hippocampus, the brain's search engine, which plays a role in memory and learning, is essentially starved of PPARalpha. More research is needed to find a way to maintain normal PPARalpha levels in the brain to potentially prevent memory loss. In the meantime, exercise and eat healthy to keep belly fat in check and stay sharp mentally.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Bias vs Prejudice, 6

Enter something called implicit prejudice. It can be defined as prejudice that arises far below one’s level of consciousness; although not expressed it is capable of being understood from something else. According to an article by Chris de Morsella entitled “Implicit Prejudice Unconsciously Colors Our World, Implicit prejudice is a real and still poorly addressed problem in the workplace and society. He writes, “While the incidence of overt explicit prejudice and racism has plummeted in American society over the last decades, implicit prejudice, which is prejudice that is harbored subconsciously and is expressed inadvertently, is still widespread. Unconsciously arrived at attitudes towards race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability etc. have a profound impact on the conscious opinions we form and attitudes we adopt towards other individuals we encounter within our work and social lives.” Studies have shown that human beings can only deal effectively with what they can bring to conscious awareness, label, and describe. Therefore, it might be beneficial if every human being spent some time trying to bring implicit prejudices to conscious awareness. It reminds me of the words from the old song: “When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bias vs Prejudice, 5

Prejudice plays a part in many areas of life. A study by a Vanderbilt University professor of law and economics found legal immigrants in the United States with a lighter skin tone made more money than those with darker skin. Researcher Joni Hersch used data from 2,084 men and women who participated in the 2003 New Immigrant Survey. An interviewer reported the person’s skin color using an 11-point scale where 0 represented the absence of color and 10 represented the darkest possible skin color. Even when taking into consideration characteristics that might affect wages (e.g., English language proficiency, work experience and education), Hersch found immigrants with the lightest skin color earned, on average, 8 percent to 15 percent more than immigrants with the darkest skin tone. The effect of skin color even persisted among workers with the same ethnicity, race, and country of origin. After I considering a whole series of alternative interpretations and explanations, Hersh was both surprised and dismayed at how strong and persistent the skin-color effect was. She also found height played a part in salary. Taller immigrants earned more, with every inch adding an additional one percent to wages. I am an immigrant from Canada and barely five feet tall. And my skin color partly depends on how much I’ve been out in the sun. . .  Hmm-m-m.  Part 6 tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bias vs Prejudice, 4

I learned about “wild-turkey prejudice” while visiting friends in the mountains of North Carolina. Out taking my morning constitutional in this north-west corner of the State, I chanced to see a lone wild turkey. (Some of you know my sensory preference is auditory, but I also have an energy advantage in the right frontal lobe and tend to notice the unusual.) The color of this bird’s head and neck feathers were an unusual shade of vanilla-white. She was all alone, out foraging for her breakfast. I walked around looking for other wild turkeys as I was accustomed to seeing them in a group or flock of some size. Nada, zip. Back at the house I was told that this wild turkey was an outcast. My friends had named her Hagar. Turns out that birds are quite visual and Hagar’s head and neck plumage was different from all the other birds. Because of this (I assume here), she had been ousted from the flock and relegated to a solitary existence. It reminded me of a recent conversation I’d had. After offering to speak at a specific four-year college, I had been told very directly that I would never speak there because I was of a different race from the majority of students. To say I was a bit dumbfounded would be putting it mildly. I was tempted to say, “Our brains are all the same color. What difference does race make?” I held my tongue but shook my head in disbelief. Part 5 tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bias vs Prejudice, 3

Every human being is likely prejudiced about something in some way because every family script will have some prejudice in it. People can even be prejudiced against others they think are prejudiced. Research in the 1970’s began to show that prejudice tends to be based on favoritism towards one’s own groups, rather than negative feelings towards another group. According to Marilyn Brewer, prejudice "may develop not because outgroups are hated, but because positive emotions such as admiration, sympathy, and trust are reserved for the ingroup." [Brewer, Marilynn B. (1999). "The Psychology of Prejudice: Ingroup Love and Outgroup Hate?" Journal of Social Issues 55 (3): 429–44. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00126.} And apparently, prejudice is not unique among the human species only. Wild turkeys do it, too. At least the band of wild turkeys in North Carolina, do. Part 4 tomorrow.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bias vs Prejudice, 2

Prejudice can be defined in several differing ways.

  • A prejudgment before becoming aware of the relevant facts; feeling, favorable or unfavorable, toward a person or thing, prior to, or not based on, actual experience.

  • A preconceived opinion or judgment or attitude, usually unfavorable (and sometimes hostile), toward a person or group because of gender, social class, financial situation, gender, political opinion, age, disability, religion (or fractions with a religion), sexuality, race, ethnicity, culture, language, nationality, or any other supposed characteristic or belief.

As separate from bias, prejudice appears to be learned. That “learning” can be passed along in the script each human being is handed (at least metaphorically) at birth and probably passed through cellular memory, as well. It is likely strengthened by what the person observes in his or her environment, including how the individual is treated. Part 3 tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bias vs Prejudice, 1

Speaking of conflict, the word bias can be defined as a mental tendency or inclination, or a preference that inhibits impartial judgment. Studies suggest that the human brain has a built-in bias for being more comfortable around whatever is familiar, like it. Some say the fastest judgment a brain ever makes when it first sees someone or something is: “This is like me, this is familiar,” or “This is not like me, this is unfamiliar.” When I meet another human being for the first time, my brain instantly catalogs a myriad of comparisons, whether that person is:

·           Like me (female) or different (male)
·           Short like me or tall
·           Of European ancestry like me or not
·           Wearing similar clothing to me or not
·           And so on and so on…

Prejudice is a separate concept from bias. Part 2 next week.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

DNA Ancestry, 7

Based on DNA testing, my patrilineal ancestry reportedly goes back to one African male known as “Y-Chromosomal Adam.” Two initial descendants from this male were the Haplogroup A and the Haplogroup BR. Other mutations occurred that were split into Haplogroup F, Haplogroup P, and eventually Haplogroup R (distinguishable by its M207 mutation). And the Y-chromosome results are aligned with a section of this group known as Haplogroup R1b, reportedly related to a man in Iberia (modern day Spain) now known as ‘the Patriarch, who carried the genetic marker that designates the Haplogroup R1b. My cousin Tim is seeing what he can find about my father’s generational line, because it appears they came to Canada from either Ireland (100% of the male population in Western Ireland belongs to Haplogroup R1b) or from England (70% of the male population in southern Britain belongs to Haplogroup R1b). Anyway, if we could go back far enough, it appears that all of us are related to all of us. Interesting concept, especially in light of all the existing conflicts, locally and globally.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

DNA Ancestry, 6

I told my one-and-only brother about my venture into DNA testing for maternal mitochondria, and he graciously agreed to send in some of his white blood cells so we could find out more about the Y-chromosomes of our ancestors. On my father’s side, the markers show alignment with Haplogroup R1b, a Western European lineage that is now the most prevalent Haplogroup worldwide. Although the Y-chromosome is much smaller than the X-Chromosome, there are more markers from the Y-chromosome ancestry test. Go figure! I’ll list those number below, too. Part 7 tomorrow.

DYS 391
DYS 3891
DYS 439
DYS 38911
DYS 438
DYS 437
DYS 19
DYS 392
DYS 393
DYS 390
DYS 385

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

DNA Ancestry, 5

According to DNASolutions Pty. Ltd., my common female ancestor is known as Mitochondrial Eve. Four initial groups of descendants known as Haplogroups Lo-L3 are related to Mitochondrial Eve. Group Lo apparently is now extinct, but Group L-3 divided into two subtypes: M and N. A DNA marker at position 10875T of my mitochondrial DNA, shows that I am a descendent of Haplogroup N. Of course, there were more branchings and a woman classified as “Helena” (meaning light in Greek) marked the beginning of my mitochondrial type: Haplogroup H. One of the most famous of my Haplogroup H ancestors (that can be traced back to Bertha Von Putelendorf who died 1190) is reported to be the French queen Marie Antoinette—who, unfortunately, “lost her head.” Because that family was quite prolific, some others in Haplogroup H include Marie-Louise of Austria (Napoleon’s wife), the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna (wife of the last Russian tsar Nicolas II), and Britain’s Queen Victoria. Part 6 tomorrow.

Monday, July 14, 2014

DNA Ancestry, 4

Unlike chromosomal DNA that is inherited from both parents, you get all your mitochondrial DNA from your mother. Mutations accumulate in mitochondrial DNA more quickly than in chromosomal DNA, so it's possible to trace your maternal ancestry way back beyond any relatives you may know by name—simply by tracking the inheritance of mutations in mitochondrial DNA. Back to where I started a few days ago: I decided to bite the bullet and send in some of my white blood cells to be analyzed for mitochondrial DNA. In due time the results came back. Apparently the markers that DNA Solutions identified show  I am part of “Haplogroup H,” the most common Haplogroup in Europe, occurring in 40%-60^ of the population. I’ll list my numbers below just in case I may be related to some of you. Part 5 tomorrow.


Friday, July 11, 2014

DNA Ancestry, 3

A mutation is a change in the spelling of a DNA sequence (think of your body having a spell-check for DNA sequences and that for some reason or other, it fails). Your DNA contains mutations that typically are quite harmless. Some, however, are harmful and may be responsible for triggering abnormal conditions and specific diseases. For example, sickle cell anemia can be caused by a change in one single gene! Although 99% of your DNA is located in your chromosomes, the remaining 1% of your DNA is located in the mitochondria. The mitochondria in human cells are the energy factories that produce the energy-rich molecule known as ATP or adenosine triphosphate. Scientists are linking mitochondrial DNA defects with a wide range of age-related diseases including neurodegenerative disorders, some forms of heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers. Part 4 next week.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

DNA Ancestry, 2

According to Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos, University of Washington, associate professor of genome sciences and of medicine, for over forty years it has been assumed that DNA changes affecting the genetic code solely impacted how proteins were made—now it appears that this basic assumption about reading the human genome missed half of the picture. New findings highlight that DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device, which nature has fully exploited in unexpected ways. About 15% of the 64-letter (codon) alphabet are dual-use letters known as duons. They simultaneously specify both amino acids and something called transcription factor (TF) sequences. This means that many DNA changes that appear to alter protein sequences may actually cause disease by disrupting gene control programs or even both mechanisms simultaneously. Part 3 tomorrow.   

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

DNA Ancestry, 1

One fine day (after watching a TV program about descendants of President Thomas Jefferson) I  decided to bite the bullet and send in some of my white blood cells to be analyzed for maternal mitochondrial DNA. Before I go into that, a bit of background. As you probably already know, your complete set of genetic information is encoded within 23 pairs of chromosomes in the nucleus of your cells. (Not all cells have a nucleus, however. Red-blood cells, for instance, have no nucleus.)  A chromosome is a single piece of coiled DNA, a bio-molecule that holds the blueprint for how living organisms are built. About 99% of all DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in your body is found in your chromosomes. DNA consists of a 64-letter (codon) alphabet that spells out your genetic code. The letters or codons are organized into words and sentences called genes―a segment of DNA passed down from parents to child that confers a trait to the offspring. Humans have 25,000-30,000 genes, usually in pairs (one from each parent). Part 2 tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Blink of an Eye, 2

A study by MIT neuroscientists provides evidence that feedforward processing—the flow of information in only one direction, from retina through visual processing centers in the brain—is sufficient for the brain to identify concepts without having to do any further feedback processing. It also suggests that while the images are seen for only thirteen milliseconds before the next image appears, part of the brain continues to process those images for longer than that, senior author Mary Potter explained, because in some cases subjects weren’t asked whether a specified image was present until after they had seen the sequence. “If images were wiped out after 13 milliseconds, people would never be able to respond positively after the sequence. There has to be something in the brain that has maintained that information at least that long,” she says. This ability to identify images seen so briefly may help the brain as it decides where to focus the eyes, which dart from point to point in brief movements called fixations about three times per second. Deciding where to move the eyes can take 100 to 140 milliseconds, so very high-speed understanding must occur before that.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Blink of an Eye

It’s hard to keep up with the rapid advances of brain research. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, MIT neuroscientists found that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds—the first evidence of such rapid processing speed—which works out to seventy-five frames per second. This is far faster than the 100 milliseconds suggested by previous studies. In the new study, which appears in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, researchers asked subjects to look for a particular type of image, such as “picnic” or “smiling couple,” as they viewed a series of six or twelve images, each presented for between thirteen  and eighty milliseconds. “The fact that you can do that at these high speeds indicates to us that what vision does is find concepts. That’s what the brain is doing all day long — trying to understand what we’re looking at,” says Mary Potter, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences and senior author of the study.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy National Day

According to Wikipedia, the National Day is a designated date on which celebrations mark the nationhood of a non-sovereign country. This nationhood can be symbolized by the date of becoming a republic, of becoming independent, or a significant date for a patron saint or a ruler. The day is not always called by the name National Day but can be considered as one. Often it is also a national holiday. Some countries have more than one National Day. Pakistan has three, for example, none of which is named the National Day. In the United States of America, its Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is the country's National Day and is a federal holiday. It commemorates the approval and adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, when the then colonies declared independence from the United Kingdom. In a remarkable coincidence, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as US Presidents, died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. Whatever your plans, have a happy day and relish your freedom.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Casual Pot Use and Brain Changes, 3

Study results (recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience related to recreational use of marijuana and brain changes in the amygdala and nucleus accumbens) fit with animal studies that show when rats are given tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the mind-altering ingredient contained in marijuana—their brains rewire to form many new connections. In animals, these new connections indicate the brain is adapting to the unnatural level of reward and stimulation from marijuana. The result of these new connections is to make other natural rewards less satisfying. Lead author Jodi Gilman said, “It may be that we’re seeing a type of drug learning in the brain. “We think when people are in the process of becoming addicted, their brains form these new connections.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Casual Pot Use and Brain Changes, 2

An article was published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience related to abnormal changes in the brain associated with the recreational use of marijuana. The degree of brain abnormalities in these regions is directly related to the number of joints a person smoked per week. The more joints a person smoked, the more abnormal the shape, volume and density of the brain regions. According to Dr. Breiter, this study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with negative consequences. Some of the participants “used marijuana to get high once or twice a week. People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem if someone is doing okay with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.” Part 3 tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Casual Pot Use and Brain Changes

The results of research led by Hans Breiter, MD, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a psychiatrist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, was recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Lead author Jodi Gilman, a researcher in the Massachusetts General Center for Addiction Medicine and an instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School, indicated this is the first study to show that the casual use of marijuana is related to major brain changes in two areas: the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala. Both these regions play a major role in emotion and motivation. Co-senior study author Anne Blood, director of the Mood and Motor Control Laboratory at Massachusetts General and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said that these brain areas form the basis for how you assess positive and negative features about things in the environment and make decisions about them. Part 2 tomorrow.