Saturday, July 25, 2015

Brains, Schools and a Vicious Cycle of Poverty

Research spotlights the grim effect of poverty on education

An ‘income achievement gap’ is widening: Low-income children do much worse in school than higher-income children.
A fifth or more of American children grow up in poverty, with the situation worsening since 2000, according to census data. At the same time, as education researcher Sean Reardon has pointed out, an “income achievement gap” is widening: Low-income children do much worse in school than higher-income children.
Since education plays an ever bigger role in how much we earn, a cycle of poverty is trapping more American children. It’s hard to think of a more important project than understanding how this cycle works and trying to end it.
Neuroscience can contribute to this project. In a new study in Psychological Science, John Gabrieli at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues used imaging techniques to measure the brains of 58 14-year-old public school students. Twenty-three of the children qualified for free or reduced-price lunch; the other 35 were middle-class.
The scientists found consistent brain differences between the two groups. The researchers measured the thickness of the cortex—the brain’s outer layer—in different brain areas. The low-income children had developed thinner cortices than the high-income children.

Aggression in Children Makes Sense—Sometimes

Does a strategy of opposing traits explain humanity’s success?

In studying aggression in children, researchers consider orchids and dandelions to describe types of children.

Walk into any preschool classroom and you’ll see that some 4-year-olds are always getting into fights—while others seldom do, no matter the provocation. Even siblings can differ dramatically—remember Cain and Abel. Is it nature or nurture that causes these deep differences in aggression?
The new techniques of genomics—mapping an organism’s DNA and analyzing how it works—initially led people to think that we might find a gene for undesirable individual traits like aggression. But from an evolutionary point of view, the very idea that a gene can explain traits that vary so dramatically is paradoxical: If aggression is advantageous, why didn’t the gene for aggression spread more widely? If it’s harmful, why would the gene have survived at all?

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Testosterone – the hormone of aggression?

testosterone and aggression

Testosterone deserves a special approach. Studies on the impact of this hormone on the aggressive behavior are being carried out for centuries. It is well known that, in animal world, for example in birds, the individuals who have a higher level of testosterone behave more aggressively and they can even attack their brothers; they are more combative, more sexually active and bolder in claiming or searching for food [Müller et al., 2014].

When it comes to human species, the important role of testosterone in forming the aggressive and dominating character, especially in men, has been proved [Mazur, Lamb, 1980; Mazur, Booth, 1998; Archer, 2006]. In one of the studies, it has been found that the level of testosterone in delinquents that have been convicted for crimes that implied unprovoked violence is higher than in those who have been convicted for nonviolent crimes, and this trait is characteristic both for men and women [Kreuz, Rose, 1972; Dabbs et al., 1988].

As regarding the impact of testosterone on the induction of a deviant behavior, the Evolutionary Neuroandrogenic Theory has been proposed, which states that the masculine sexual hormones (androgenes), testosterone in the first place, have a specific influence on neural processes, are responsible for a competitive behavior and create a predisposition towards criminality. These types of behavior have evolved especially in men, in order to boost their ability to obtain resources, social status and sexual partners [Ellis, 2003, 2004]. It is why the usage of medical or sportive drugs that contain testosterone (Anabolic Androgenic Steroids) could develop a higher aggressiveness among men, which leads to the fact that they get engaged more often in violent acts [Pope et al., 2000; Beaver et al., 2008].