How your brain might be secretly thwarting your New Year’s resolutions

hand with glove draws brain as medical conceptThe human brain is wired to pay attention to previously pleasing things — a finding that could help explain why it’s hard to break bad habits or stick to New Year’s resolutions.

In the new issue of Current Biology, Johns Hopkins University neuroscientists demonstrate for the first time that when people see something associated with a past reward, their brain flushes with dopamine — even if they aren’t expecting a reward and even if they don’t realize they’re paying it any attention. The results suggest we don’t have as much self-control as we might think.

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Why do some people always agree with others? The science of social conformity


New brain imaging research from the Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences (MICCN) suggests that some people experience mental distress when faced with the prospect of disagreeing with others.

The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, reveal that some individuals choose to agree most of the time with others to spare themselves feelings of discomfort.The study gives new insights into how the brain handles disagreement, with implications for understanding social conformity.

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Pinpointing loneliness in the brain

LonelyHumans, like all social animals, have a fundamental need for contact with others. This deeply ingrained instinct helps us to survive; it’s much easier to find food, shelter, and other necessities with a group than alone. Deprived of human contact, most people become lonely and emotionally distressed.

In a study appearing in the Feb. 11, 2016 issue of Cell, MIT neuroscientists have identified a brain region that represents these feelings of loneliness. This cluster of cells, located near the back of the brain in an area called the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN), is necessary for generating the increased sociability that normally occurs after a period of social isolation, the researchers found in a study of mice.

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‘Use it, or lose it’ Not a Loss After All

Rachel Wu’s work focuses on how we learn from infants to aging adulthood, and the costs and benefits of knowledge in particular.

Rachel Wu’s work focuses on how we learn from infants to aging adulthood, and the costs and benefits of knowledge in particular.

New research shows that adults don’t lose what they don’t use; it only becomes more difficult to access.

“Use it, or lose it.” It’s a phrase that has been tossed around for years, implying that humans forget information they’ve learned over the course of their lives if they don’t put it to use, or that adults cannot learn things as well as infants and children. But, according to new research by Rachel Wu, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, that is not exactly true.

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Misery of work second only to illness

The Mappiness app sends data from thousands of users to researchers at the University of Sussex and LSE who are working on mapping happiness across the UK. CREDIT: Alex Bryson/George MacKerron

The Mappiness app sends data from thousands of users to researchers at the University of Sussex and LSE who are working on mapping happiness across the UK. CREDIT: Alex Bryson/George MacKerron

British people are at their least happy while at work – except when they are sick in bed – according to researchers at the University of Sussex and the London School of Economics (LSE).

The team analysed more than a million responses uploaded to a smartphone app, called Mappiness, that sporadically asks users questions such as how they are feeling, where they are and what they are doing.

Mappiness users receive a ‘ding’ on their smartphone at random times of the day, prompting them to complete a short survey, during which they rank their wellbeing using a sliding scale.

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Loss of sleep during adolescence may be a diabetes danger

Sleepy Teen Works On ComputerHow much slow-wave sleep a teenage boy gets may predict whether he is at risk for insulin resistance and other health issues, according to Jordan Gaines, a Penn State neuroscience researcher.

Boys who experience a greater decline in slow-wave sleep as adolescents have a significantly higher chance of developing insulin resistance than those who more closely maintained their slow-wave sleep as they got older. These boys are then also at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes, increased visceral fat and impaired attention.

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Imagining positive outcomes may bring pleasure now but pain later

DaydreamingPositive fantasies about how future events will turn out can boost your mood in the here and now, but they may actually lead to increased depressive symptoms in the long run, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Our findings suggest that as pleasurable and helpful as positive fantasies are for depressive mood in the moment, they can be problematic and cumbersome over time,” says lead researcher Gabriele Oettingen of New York University.

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Put that in your e-cigarette and smoke it, or should you?

woman smoking e-cigaretteSmoking cigarettes dramatically increases a person’s risk for a host of diseases, and there’s an assumption that electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are not harmful because users do not inhale smoke full of known carcinogens. Findings from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine suggest the story is not that simple.

Ilona Jaspers, PhD, professor of pediatrics and director of the curriculum in toxicology, recently completed research showing how the chemicals in e-cigarettes can change immune responses in our airways. She will present her findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washington, D.C., February 11-16.

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Brain structure governing emotion is passed down from mother to daughter, says UCSF study

Mother & Daughter.Research is first evidence that brain structure implicated in depression may be inherited.

A study of 35 families led by a UC San Francisco psychiatric researcher showed for the first time that the structure of the brain circuitry known as the corticolimbic system is more likely to be passed down from mothers to daughters than from mothers to sons or from fathers to children of either gender. The corticolimbic system governs emotional regulation and processing and plays a role in mood disorders, including depression.

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When machines can do any job, what will humans do?

photodune-3128933-car-production-line-xsRice computer scientist Moshe Vardi: Human labor may be obsolete by 2045

Rice University computer scientist Moshe Vardi expects that within 30 years, machines will be capable of doing almost any job that a human can. In anticipation, he is asking his colleagues to consider the societal implications. Can the global economy adapt to greater than 50 percent unemployment? Will those out of work be content to live a life of leisure?

“We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task,” Vardi said. “I believe that society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: If machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?”

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