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Showing posts from 2008

Self Control and Belief in God

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December 30, 2008
Findings
For Good Self-Control, Try Getting Religious About It
By JOHN TIERNEY

NEW YORK TIMES

...In a new paper [in the upcoming issue of the Psychological Bulletin], Miami psychologists surveyed the literature to test the proposition that religion gives people internal strength.

“We simply asked if there was good evidence that people who are more religious have more self-control,” Dr. McCullough. “For a long time it wasn’t cool for social scientists to study religion, but some researchers were quietly chugging along for decades. When you add it all up, it turns out there are remarkably consistent findings that religiosity correlates with higher self-control.”

As early as the 1920s, researchers found that students who spent more time in Sunday school did better at laboratory tests measuring their self-discipline. Subsequent studies showed that religiously devout children were rated relatively low in impulsiveness by both parents and teachers, and that religiosity repeatedly…

Why Darwin Would Have Loved Botox

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[excerpt]
By Karl Zimmer
Discover Magazinehttp://discovermagazine.com/2008/nov/15-why-darwin-would-have-loved-botox/article_view?b_start:int=0&-C=

...When humans mimic others’ faces, in other words, we don’t just go through the motions. We also go through the emotions. Recently Bernhard Haslinger at the Technical University of Munich realized that he could test the facial feedback theory in a new way. He could temporarily paralyze facial muscles and then scan people’s brains as they tried to make faces. To block facial feedback, Haslinger used Dysport, a Botox-like drug available in Europe. Botox and Dysport are brand names of a toxin made by the spore-forming bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Botulinum docks on the surface of neurons, blocking the release of a transmitter called acetylcholine. In small amounts botulinum can be fatal. In far, far smaller amounts, it can simply paralyze a small patch of muscles for a few weeks. Haslinger has used Dysport in people with movement disorde…

Risk and reward compete in brain

Imaging study reveals battle between lure of reward and fear of failure.

That familiar pull between the promise of victory and the dread of defeat – whether in money, love or sport – is rooted in the brain's architecture, according to a new imaging study.

Neuroscientists at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute have identified distinct brain regions with competing responses to risk.

Both regions are located in the prefrontal cortex, an area behind the forehead involved in analysis and planning.

By giving volunteers a task that measures risk tolerance and observing their reactions with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers found that activity in one region identified risk-averse volunteers, while activity in a different region was greater in those with an appetite for risk.

The study appeared online Oct. 8 in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

"We can see risk as a battle between two forces," said Antoine Bechara, professor of psychology at USC. "There …

As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen

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New York Times
September 9, 2008
Findings

By JOHN TIERNEY


When men and women take personality tests, some of the old Mars-Venus stereotypes keep reappearing. On average, women are more cooperative, nurturing, cautious and emotionally responsive. Men tend to be more competitive, assertive, reckless and emotionally flat. Clear differences appear in early childhood and never disappear.

What's not clear is the origin of these differences. Evolutionary psychologists contend that these are innate traits inherited from ancient hunters and gatherers. Another school of psychologists asserts that both sexes’ personalities have been shaped by traditional social roles, and that personality differences will shrink as women spend less time nurturing children and more time in jobs outside the home.

To test these hypotheses, a series of research teams have repeatedly analyzed personality tests taken by men and women in more than 60 countries around the world. For evolutionary psychologists, the bad n…

Swedish Researchers Say 40 Percent Of Men Possess Gene Linked To Infidelity Among Voles

Male infidelity may be in genes
Genetic variant keys marital ill
By Shankar Vedantam
The Washington Post
Article Last Updated: 09/02/2008 11:20:52 PM MDT


Men are more likely to be devoted and loyal husbands when they lack a particular variant of a gene that influences brain activity, researchers announced this week — the first time that science has shown a direct link between a man's genes and his aptitude for monogamy.

The finding is striking because it not only links the gene variant — which is present in two of every five men — with the risk of marital discord and divorce, but also appears to predict whether women involved with these men are likely to say their partners are emotionally close and available, or distant and disagreeable. The presence of the gene variant, or allele, also seems predictive of whether men get married or live with women without getting married.

"Men with two copies of the allele had twice the risk of experiencing marital dysfunction, with a threat of …

Why Jamaican Runners did so well in the Olympics: the 'T' Factor

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Excerpted from "The Athletic Prowesss of Jamaicans" by William Aiken,M.D., Jamaica Gleaner, November 22, 2006

"I wish to propose a hypothesis that addresses not only the aspect of Jamaica's raw athletic talent, but also encompasses an explanation of seemingly diverse phenomena as our high incidence of prostate cancer (one study found it to be by far the highest in the world at 304 / 100,000 men / year), our high crime rate (murder capital of the world status earlier this year), our high road traffic accident and fatality rate, and our alleged high levels of promiscuity.

What do these seemingly disparate phenomena, characteristic of Jamaican life, have in common? On close examination these phenomena are manifestations of high levels of aggressiveness and drive, high libidos, highly efficient muscles from persons of lean body mass and black ethnicity. On closer scrutiny all of these phenomena are either related to high circulating levels of testosterone or alternative…

Feminism and Freedom

Thomas Carlyle has ascribed the insights of genius to "cooperation with the tendency of the world."

“It is time to leave the question of the role of women in society up to Mother Nature--a difficult lady to fool. You have only to give women the same opportunities as men, and you will soon find out what is or is not in their nature. What is in women's nature to do they will do, and you won't be able to stop them. But you will also find, and so will they, that what is not in their nature, even if they are given every opportunity, they will not do, and you won't be able to make them do it.”

-Clare Boothe Luce, a conservative feminist who in her heyday in the 1940s was a popular playwright and a member of the U.S. Congress,

We know from common observation that women are markedly more nurturing and empathetic than men. The female tendency to be empathic and caring shows up very early in life. Female infants, for example, show greater distress and concern than male infant…

A New Frontier for Title IX: Science

July 15, 2008
Findings
New York Times
By JOHN TIERNEY

Until recently, the impact of Title IX, the law forbidding sexual discrimination in education, has been limited mostly to sports. But now, under pressure from Congress, some federal agencies have quietly picked a new target: science.

The National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Energy have set up programs to look for sexual discrimination at universities receiving federal grants. Investigators have been taking inventories of lab space and interviewing faculty members and students in physics and engineering departments at schools like Columbia, the University of Wisconsin, M.I.T. and the University of Maryland.

So far, these Title IX compliance reviews haven’t had much visible impact on campuses beyond inspiring a few complaints from faculty members. (The journal Science quoted Amber Miller, a physicist at Columbia, as calling her interview “a complete waste of time.”) But some critics fear that the process could lead to a …

Study Finds Genetic Link to Violence, Delinquency

By Maggie Fox
Health and Science Editor ~ Yahoo News
Mon Jul 14, 2:16 PM ET

Three genes may play a strong role in determining why some young men raised in rough neighborhoods or deprived families become violent criminals, while others do not, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

One gene called MAOA that played an especially strong role has been shown in other studies to affect antisocial behavior -- and it was disturbingly common, the team at the University of North Carolina reported.

People with a particular variation of the MAOA gene called 2R were very prone to criminal and delinquent behavior, said sociology professor Guang Guo, who led the study.

"I don't want to say it is a crime gene, but 1 percent of people have it and scored very high in violence and delinquency," Guo said in a telephone interview.

His team, which studied only boys, used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a U.S. nationally representative sample of about 20,000 adolescents …

Gay Men and Heterosexual Women Have Similarly Shaped Brains, Research Shows

Lesbians and heterosexual men show same pattern· Findings may throw light on depression and autism

Ian Sample, science correspondent
The Guardian

Tuesday June 17 2008

Striking similarities between the brains of gay men and straight women have been discovered by neuroscientists, offering fresh evidence that sexual orientation is hardwired into our neural circuitry.

Scans reveal homosexual men and heterosexual women have symmetrical brains, with the right and left hemispheres almost exactly the same size. Conversely, lesbians and straight men have asymmetrical brains, with the right hemisphere significantly larger than the left.

Scientists at the prestigious Stockholm Brain Institute in Sweden also found certain brain circuits linked to emotional responses were the same in gay men and straight women.

The findings, published tomorrow in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest the biological factors that influence sexual orientation - such as exposure to testoster…

Testosterone and paternal investment

As modern humans moved north into environments with longer winters, women were less able to feed themselves and their children through food gathering. They thus became more dependent on food from their male partners. For men, this greatly increased the cost of having a wife and children, thus making polygyny prohibitively expensive for all but the ablest hunters.

Initially, this situation came about by men and women pushing their respective envelopes of behavioral plasticity. It may not have been the happiest of situations, but circumstances left no other choice.Over time, however, natural selection should have improved things by favoring men who were less predisposed to polygyny and more predisposed to provide for their wives and children.

How? Apparently, by lowering testosterone levels in men once they've entered a pair bond. This has been shown by findings recently presented at this year's annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. According to S…

Respecting - And Recognizing - American D.N.A.

By Michael Medved
http://townhall.com/Columnists/MichaelMedved/2008/05/14/respecting_-_and_recognizing_-_american_dna

...[T]wo respected professors of psychiatry have recently come out with challenging books that contend that those who chose to settle this country in every generation possessed crucial common traits that they passed on to their descendents. In “American Mania,” Peter C. Whybrow of U.C.L.A. argues that even in grim epochs of starvation and persecution, only a small minority ever chooses to abandon its native land and to venture across forbidding oceans to pursue the elusive dream of a better life. The tiny percentage making that choice (perhaps only 2%, even in most periods of mass immigration) represents the very essence of a self-selecting group. Compared to the Irish or Germans or Italians or Chinese or Mexicans who remained behind in the “Old Country,” the newcomers to America would naturally display a propensity for risk-taking, for restlessness, for exuberance and s…

Genes, bad parenting keys to violence

From correspondents in London
April 10, 2008 04:00am WHETHER a criminal teenager turns into a violent adult or grows out of crime, may be related to how low his ears are set or the types of food he was given as a child. International research shows antisocial behaviour in young adults can be written into their genetic code, and made worse by bad parenting. Indicators that an antisocial child may turn into a life-long violent criminal can be picked up in kindergarten, according to research summarised in this week's New Scientist magazine. Of the 535 males and 502 females born in New Zealand in 1972 and 1973 who were signed up at birth to the University of Dunedin's Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, those who dabbled in crime as a teenager can be divided into two clear groups, Terrie Moffitt from the Institute of Psychiatry in London said.The more common type took up petty crime in adolescence keen to impress "badass" friends, she said. But the mo…

Negligent, attentive mouse mothers show biological differences

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Photo: Jeff Miller

In mice, child neglect is a product of both nature and nurture, according to a new study. Writing in the journal PLoS ONE on April 9, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison describe a strain of mice that exhibit unusually high rates of maternal neglect, with approximately one out of every five females failing to care for her offspring.

By comparing the good mothers to their less attentive relatives, the group has found that negligent parenting seems to have both genetic and non-genetic influences, and may be linked to dysregulation of the brain signaling chemical dopamine.

As a possible model for human child neglect, these mice offer a valuable opportunity to investigate the biological and behavioral bases of naturally occurring maternal neglect, say UW-Madison zoology professor Stephen Gammie, who led the study, and co-author psychology professor Anthony Auger.

Good mouse mothers suckle, groom, and protect their pups, while their neglectful s…

Culture Can Change our Genes

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http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_11.html#christakis

NICHOLAS A. CHRISTAKIS
Physician and social scientist, Harvard

I work in a borderland between social science and medicine, and I
therefore often find myself trying to reconcile conflicting facts and
perspectives about human biology and behavior. There are fellow
travelers at this border, of course, heading in both directions, or
just dawdling, but the border is both sparsely populated and
chaotic. The border is also, strangely, well patrolled, and it is
often quite hard to get authorities on both sides to coordinate
activities. Once in a while, however, I find that my passport (never
quite in order, according to officials) has acquired a new visa. For
me, this past year, I acquired the conviction that human evolution
may proceed much faster than I had thought, and that humans
themselves may be responsible.

In short, I have changed my mind about how people come literally to
embody the social world around them. I once thought that we
internalized cultural…

Lizards Undergo Rapid Evolution after Introduction to a New Home

In 1971, biologists moved five adult pairs of Italian wall lizards from their home island of Pod Kopiste, in the South Adriatic Sea, to the neighboring island of Pod Mrcaru. Now, an international team of researchers has shown that introducing these small, green-backed lizards, Podarcis sicula, to a new environment caused them to undergo rapid and large-scale evolutionary changes.

"Striking differences in head size and shape, increased bite strength and the development of new structures in the lizard's digestive tracts were noted after only 36 years, which is an extremely short time scale," says Duncan Irschick, a professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "These physical changes have occurred side-by-side with dramatic changes in population density and social structure." Results of the study were published March 25 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers returned to the islands twice a year for three years…

The bioecological model

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An email sent to Kristin Jacobson, Assistant Professor, University of Chicago Medical School

Dear Prof. Jacobson,

I was just leafing through my University of Chicago Magazine this evening when I came across the article summarizing your new grant. I have to say I was amazed. Though the author tiptoed around the area under investigation, you are entering some very choppy waters. The attempt to identify the genetic and biological contributions to anti social behavior and cognition is normally considered taboo, since it inevitably ventures into racial variables. Though I am familiar with some work reported in press releases and abstracts of journals, as you can see from my weblog, most researchers, considering the downside, tend to avoid such studies, even with the best of intentions.

I can't help be reminded of the unfortunate lesson of Chicago's Dr. Bruce Lahn, with whom you undoubtedly have discussed your research interests. As was noted several years ago in the Wall Street Jou…

"...the biological pressures that whisper within men."

Do you Want a Man.... or a Worm?

Los Angeles Times
Among mammals, expecting monogamy tends to run against the grain of nature. By David P. Barash
March 12, 2008 As an evolutionary biologist, I look at New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's now-public sexual indiscretions and feel justified in saying, "I told you so."

One of the most startling discoveries of the last 15 years has been the extent of sexual infidelity (scientists call it "extra-pair copulations" or EPCs) among animals long thought to be monogamous. It's clear that social monogamy -- physical association and child rearing between a male and a female -- and sexual monogamy are very different things. The former is common; the latter is rare.

At one point in the movie "Heartburn," Nora Ephron's barely fictionalized account of her marriage to reporter Carl Bernstein, the heroine tearfully tells her father about her husband's infidelities, only to be advised, "You want monogamy? M…

Impulsive Aggressive Behavior

Nature or nurture - why do some of us see red?
University of Manchester researchers are investigating why some people remain calm in the face of life's niggles, while others 'flip' with little provocation.

Recent studies using new brain-imaging technology have discovered that a change in the brain's neurochemical activity may be related to increased impulsive aggression (when someone unexpectedly reacts violently with little provocation, as opposed to someone deliberately 'looking for trouble'). Now psychologist Angela Rylands wants to deploy the University's world-leading HRRT PET brain scanner, based at its Wolfson Molecular Imaging Centre (WMIC), as part of a project to find out more.

Angela said: "Positron emission tomography (PET) scanning has revealed that a deficit in brain serotonin neurotransmission may leave some people more prone to aggression and impulse control disorders. I want to establish to what extent such behaviours are root…

Hormones, Genes and the Corner Office

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March 9, 2008

By EMILY BAZELON
THE SEXUAL PARADOX Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap. By Susan Pinker. 340 pp. Scribner. $26. Why do girls on average lead boys for all their years in the classroom, only to fall behind in the workplace? Do girls grow up and lose their edge, while boys mature and gain theirs? Ten years ago, no one would have thought to ask. The assumption that boys dominated at school as well as at work, while girls were silenced or ignored, seemed beyond dispute. But in her new book, “The Sexual Paradox,” a ringing salvo in the sex-difference wars, Susan Pinker stacks up the evidence of boys’ classroom woes and girls’ triumphs. “In the United States, boys are three times as likely to be placed in special education classes, twice as likely to repeat a grade and a third more likely to drop out of high school,” she writes. Tests of 15-year-olds in 30 European countries show girls far outstripping boys in reading and writing and holding their own in math. Boys are…