Precise control of brain circuit alters mood

MoodsBy combining super-fine electrodes and tiny amounts of a very specific drug, Duke University researchers have singled out a circuit in mouse brains and taken control of it to dial an animal’s mood up and down.

Stress-susceptible animals that behaved as if they were depressed or anxious were restored to relatively normal behavior by tweaking the system, according to a study appearing in the July 20 issue of Neuron.

“If you ‘turn the volume up’ on animals that hadn’t experienced stress, they start normal and then they have a problem,” said lead researcher Kafui Dzirasa, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and neurobiology. “But in the animals that had experienced stress and didn’t do well with it, you had to turn their volume up to get them back to normal. It looked like stress had turned the volume down.”

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Fitness bands undervalue your effort

photodune-10001852-activity-fitness-tracker--xsPopular wrist-worn fitness monitors underestimate energy expenditure with variances of more than 40 per cent, University of Queensland researchers have found.

Supervised by Professor Jeff Coombes of UQ’s School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, PhD student Matthew Wallen and collaborators tested four common devices.

“We determined the accuracy of the Apple Watch, Fitbit Charge HR, Samsung Gear S and Mio Alpha,” Mr Wallen said.

“None of the devices proved to be consistently more accurate overall and the percentage error for energy expenditure was between nine and 43 per cent.

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How can a family function better? Get outside together

Family outdoorsGetting out in nature, even for just a 20-minute walk, can go a long way toward restoring your attention. But does it have the same effect when you make it a family activity?

Family studies researchers at the University of Illinois have looked at the benefits of spending time in nature as a family, and theorize that families who regularly get outside together tend to function better.

“When your attention is restored, you’re able to pick up on social cues more easily, you feel less irritable, and you have more self-control. All of these are variables that can help you get along better with others,” explains Dina Izenstark, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I, and lead author of a recent study published in the Journal of Family Theory and Review.

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Need to remember something? Exercise 4 hours later!

People chatting in gym on exercise bicyclesA new study suggests an intriguing strategy to boost memory for what you’ve just learned: hit the gym four hours later.

The findings reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on June 16 show that physical exercise after learning improves memory and memory traces, but only if the exercise is done in a specific time window and not immediately after learning.

“It shows that we can improve memory consolidation by doing sports after learning,” says Guillén Fernández of the Donders Institute at the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

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Ten simple rules to use statistics effectively

StatisticsUnder growing pressure to report accurate findings as they interpret increasingly larger amounts of data, researchers are finding it more important than ever to follow sound statistical practices.

For that reason, a team of statisticians including Carnegie Mellon University’s Robert E. Kass wrote “Ten Simple Rules for Effective Statistical Practice.” Published in PLOS Computational Biology for the journal’s popular “Ten Simple Rules” series, the guidelines are designed to help the research community — particularly scientists who aren’t statistical experts or without a dedicated statistician as part of their team — understand how to avoid the pitfalls of well-intended, but inaccurate statistical reasoning.

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Shorter time in bed may protect against chronic insomnia

Insomnia

Now, preliminary findings from a Penn Medicine study (abstract #0508) presented at SLEEP 2016, the 30th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC, suggest that what may prevent 70 to 80 percent of individuals with new onset insomnia (acute insomnia) from developing chronic insomnia is a natural tendency to self-restrict time in bed (TIB). For example, if someone goes to sleep at 11 p.m. and wakes up at 5 a.m. (versus an intended 7:30 a.m.), they start their day, rather than lie awake in bed.

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A simple numbers game seems to make kids better at math

Although math skills are considered notoriously hard to improve, Johns Hopkins University researchers boosted kindergarteners’ arithmetic performance simply by exercising their intuitive number sense with a quick computer game.

“Math ability is not static–it’s not the case that if you’re bad at math, you’re bad at it the rest of your life. It’s not only changeable, it can be changeable in a very short period of time,” saidJinjing “Jenny” Wang, a graduate student in the Krieger School of Arts and Science’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “We used a five-minute game to change kids’ math performance.”

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How do your parenting methods affect your child’s future?

ParentingA research group led by NISHIMURA Kazuo (Project Professor at the Kobe University Center for Social Systems Innovation) and YAGI Tadashi (Professor at the Doshisha University Faculty of Economics) have released survey results showing that children who receive positive attention and care from their parents have high incomes, high happiness levels, academic success, and a strong sense of morality.

These findings will be presented as a discussion paper at the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI, a Japanese policy think tank).

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Cannabis use during pregnancy may affect brain development in offspring

Cannabis use during pregnancy is associated with abnormal brain structure in children, according to a new study in Biological Psychiatry.

Compared with unexposed children, those who were prenatally exposed to cannabis had a thicker prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved in complex cognition, decision-making, and working memory.

Author of the study Dr. Hanan El Marroun, of Erasmus University Medical Center in The Netherlands, said: “this study is important because cannabis use during pregnancy is relatively common and we know very little about the potential consequences of cannabis exposure during pregnancy and brain development later in life.”

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Two in five formerly depressed adults are happy and flourishing

happy adult coupleA new study reports that approximately two in five adults (39%) who have experienced major depression are able to achieve complete mental health.

Researchers consider complete mental health as occurring when people achieve almost daily happiness or life satisfaction, positive social and psychological well-being, and are also free of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse for at least one full year.

“This research provides a hopeful message to patients struggling with depression, their families and health professionals. A large number of formerly depressed individuals recover and go on to reach optimal well-being” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, lead author of the study and Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and the Institute for Life Course and Aging.

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