Scientists discover brain's method of suppressing distractions
Psychologists at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia have identified certain brain mechanisms humans use to avoid distractions, which researchers say may “revolutionize” the way in which doctors treat attention-deficit disorders.
The discovery was made by John Gaspar—a doctoral student of associate professor of psychology and Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience John McDonald—during his master’s thesis research. As part of his research, Gaspar analyzed the performance of 47 students with an average age of 21 as they performed an attention-demanding visual search task—similar to playing Where’s Waldo. Researchers recorded the participants’ electrical brain signals, which provided data related to attention, distraction and suppression.
Gaspar found that when the students tried to focus on the task at hand, their brains helped them avoid distractions from irrelevant information by relying on a specific active suppression mechanism. This study is the first to reveal such findings–previous research has mostly focused on how the brain helps us pick out relevant information but not how it suppresses irrelevant material.
The study’s findings—published in the Journal of Neuroscience and authored by Gaspar and McDonald—may have important implications for people with attention deficits, such as ADHD and schizophrenia. The researchers said that they now plan to examine factors that may inhibit people from suppressing distracting objects and information.
Effects of childhood bullying could last into mid-life
The negative effects of bullying during childhood may still be evident 40 years later, according to a new study that is the first to examine the effects of bullying beyond early adulthood.
Scientists from King’s College London collected data on more than 7,500 children born in England, Scotland and Wales. The children’s parents provided information about exposure to bullying between ages 7 and 11, and researchers continued to follow up with them until the age of 50.
The researchers found that the children who were bullied either occasionally or frequently were more likely at age 50 to have poorer physical and psychological health and cognitive functioning than those who were not bullied as children. The children who were bullied frequently—about 15 percent of the study’s participants—had an increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders and suicidal thoughts. Additionally, those that were bullied were found to be less likely to be in a relationship, have good social support and reported a lower quality of life and life satisfaction.
The study’s findings, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, suggest that childhood bullying may have long-term effects on social, physical and mental health. Experts said that the study highlights the importance of programs to stop bullying.
First hit workout video: April 24, 1982
A new video, titled “Jane Fonda’s Workout” is released and no one, particularly its star, thinks it will amount to much. Fonda had been convinced to create a video version of her best-selling “Jane Fonda’s Workout Book” by a friend who made home improvement videos. But she didn’t think many people would buy it. For starters, she didn’t know anyone who owned a video cassette player. And she worried that it would be bad for her acting career.
But Fonda had gone ahead, thinking it might make a little money for a political organization run by her then husband, Tom Hayden. Fonda had written the script herself while sitting on the floor of a hotel room during a ski vacation. The shooting had been done with only one camera and Fonda had handled her own hair and makeup.
The workout, set to music, had been based on an aerobic exercise routine Fonda had learned from a Los Angeles fitness instructor and taught to the cast and crew of the movie “The Electric Horseman," when she was filming it in Utah. Before then, Fonda’s daily choice of exercise had been ballet, but she switched to aerobics after breaking her foot while filming “The China Syndrome.”
It didn’t take long for the new workout video to hit the mainstream of pop culture, along with two of Fonda’s favorite motivational phrases, “Feel the burn” and “No pain, no gain.” Its popularity was said to spark sales of video cassette players, as women saw the video as great way to exercise in private and on their own schedules. Within a few years, more than a million copies of the video were sold. Ultimately, people bought more than 17 million copies of “Jane Fonda’s Workout.”
Over the next 13 years, Fonda cranked out 26 more exercise videos. In recent years, Fonda had hip and knee replacement surgery, but said that it was due to the osteoarthritis that runs in her family, and was not a result of all the exercise pounding her body has taken.
In 2012, at the age of 75, Fonda released her latest exercise DVD. This one was much kinder and gentler than her original workout video. It’s built around yoga.
More history slices
Gene variant raises cancer risk from processed meat
People with a particular gene may have an increased risk of colorectal cancer from consuming processed meat, according to new research.
Scientists from the University of Southern California conducted a study of more than 18,000 people from the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe—approximately half of whom had colorectal cancer and half without cancer. The researchers analyzed data on genetic variants and dietary patterns that may help explain risk factors for colorectal cancer. After analyzing 2.7 million genetic variants, they found a significant link between a particular genetic variant and processed meat in the participants with colorectal cancer. This particular gene, researchers said, affects approximately one in three people.
Previous studies have identified about 30 genetic variants in people with colorectal cancer but have not examined how specific foods may affect the activity of those genes. The findings, published in PLOS Genetics, suggest that the mechanisms by which diet may modify genetic variants and disease risk may be an important new area of research when it comes to disease development. The researchers said they hope that their findings will lead to the development of new targeted cancer prevention strategies.
FDA approves new ragweed allergy pill
Just in time for allergy season the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new oral medication to treat ragweed allergy.
The new medication, called Ragwitek, was tested in a study of 1,700 adults who were either given the drug or a placebo. Instructions for the drug entail placing the tablet once a day underneath the tongue, where it dissolves. Researchers found that during one allergy season, the participants who took Ragwitek experienced 26 percent less allergy symptoms than did those who were given the placebo.
The approval of the new drug offers millions of adults who have ragweed pollen allergies an alternative to allergy shots and other treatments, the FDA said. Ragweed allergy—also called hay fever—is one of the more common seasonal allergies. The symptomsm which can be particularly bad in the late summer and early fall, include itchy throat, trouble breathing and sneezing.
In the study, some participants did experience side effects from Ragwitek, including itching and irritation in the mouth, ears and throat. According to the FDA, the Prescribing Information includes a warning that severe allergic reactions, some of which can be life-threatening, can occur. The first dose contains some extract from the ragweed plant and must be taken in a health care professional’s office so that the patient can be observed for at least 30 minutes to ensure there are no adverse reactions. After that, patients can take Ragwitek at home, starting 12 weeks before the start of ragweed pollen season and continuing throughout the season, according to the FDA.
Chronic pain may be genetic
The risk of developing chronic pain may depend partially on genetics, according to new research.
In the study, scientists recruited 2,721 patients with chronic pain—defined as persistent pain continuing to occur for weeks, months or years. The patients, who were all taking prescribed opioid pain medications, were asked to rate the intensity of their pain on a scale of 0 to 10. Participants who chose 0-3 were classified as having “low pain perception,” while those who chose 4-6 had “moderate pain perception,” and 7-10 had “high pain perception.”
The researchers then examined each group of participants separately in order to identify similar genetic variants. They found a specific gene to be prominent in each group; the genetic variant DRD2 was 25 percent more likely to be present in the high pain group than in the moderate pain group, while two genetic variants—COMT and OPRK—were 25 percent and 19 percent, respectively, more likely to be present in the moderate pain group than in the high pain group. There was also a gene called DRD1 that was found to be 33 percent more common in the low pain group than in the high pain group.
The findings, which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Philadelphia this week. may help doctors better understand their patients’ perception of pain, researchers said. Currently, people with chronic pain—which can range from headaches and low back pain to chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia—are commonly treated with oral medications, acupuncture, brain stimulation or surgery. Researchers of the new study said that identifying genes that play a role in pain could provide a target for developing more effective individualized therapies.