Psychology in the News

October 6, 2014

Losers never quit

Filed under: addiction, brain wiring — Tags: , , — intro2psych @ 8:13 am

­­by Matthew Weiss

Poker night - Who's gonna win?

Poker night – Who’s gonna win? Photo by Jun

For many people around the world, gambling is a popular hobby and leisurely activity, and even a profession for some. Gambling in United States commercial casinos accounted for $37.34 billion of revenue in 2012 (Smith & Hart, 2013). However, for some people gambling can be severely addicting and detrimental to the rest of their lives. So, what makes gambling addicting? What keeps gamblers going?

A 2008 study by Clark, Lawrence, Astley-Jones, and Gray investigates “near-miss” events. Near-miss events, defined as outcomes that are unsuccessful but close to the winning outcome, can increase a gambler’s propensity to gamble in a mechanism similar to addiction (Clark, Lawrence, Astley-Jones, Gray, 2008). Clark and his colleagues set up 2 experiments to test this hypothesis.

In the first test, 40 volunteers at a university played a simple computer simulated slot machine with two reels. Whenever the two reels landed on the same icon, the test subject was awarded 50 British pence. Wins occurred one out of six plays, near misses (one icon away) occurred two out of six plays, and full misses occurred for the remaining three out of six trials. After the game is finished, subjects rated how pleased they were with results and how much they wanted to continue playing. Near misses caused unhappiness with results but increases in wanting to continue to play.

In the second experiment, 15 subjects repeated the first experiment with more trials (180 total trials). The subjects’ brains were imaged using an fMRI in the second test. An fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging, measures and maps brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow due to changes in neural activity ( When near misses occurred, significant changes in brain activity were seen in the ventral striatum and the right anterior insular cortex. The ventral striatum is a reward center in the brain that releases dopamine and makes a person feel good, but want more (Heekeren, Wartenburger, Marschner, Mell, Villringer, Reischies, 2007). The anterior insular cortex is responsible for subjective emotional feelings like happiness, sadness, and anger (Craig, 2009). (more…)

Pot party pooper

Filed under: addiction, brain damage, brain wiring, dopamine, drugs — Tags: , , — intro2psych @ 7:51 am

By Katy Walter

Around here, everyone carries a flower-pot on their head...

Around here, everyone carries a flower-pot on their head… Photo by Ed Yourdon

It is no secret that cannabis (also known marijuana) is a popular drug among young adults. Now, with the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in the states of Colorado and Washington (for those 21 and over), the drug is likely to become even more popular among teens due to the widespread belief among adolescents and adults that cannabis is a “safe” drug. (Hurd, Mihaelides, Miller & Justras-Aswad, 2013) However, scientific studies have shown that cannabis is not as harmless as it is perceived to be, especially for adolescents.

Adolescent brain structures are rapidly changing and therefore teens are more vulnerable than adults to cannabis’s negative effects. These may include mental disorders, like schizophrenia.  Also worrisome, because most young adults are in school, is the correlation found between cannabis use and poor educational performance, which may be due to cannabis-caused cognitive or motivational deficits. (Verweij, Huizink, Agrawal, Martin & Lynskey, 2013).

In a few recent studies, researchers discovered that adolescent cannabis use may have long-term influence on behaviors associated with areas in the brain that are developing and changing during adolescence. Specifically, cannabis affects the reward pathway, which is central to decision-making and motivation, and areas involved in habit formation and motor function (Hurd et al, 2013). One study (Ellgren, Spano & Hurd, 2006) administered low-to-moderate THC (the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis) to adolescent rats (during days 28-49 after birth). They found that these rats exhibited enhanced heroin self-administration behavior during adulthood. The study supports the correlation between adolescent cannabis use and an increased risk of other drug use, also known as the “gateway effect.”

Another study, on humans, can perhaps offer an explanation for this effect: in this study, researchers compared the dopamine synthesis capacity (ability of the brain to send reward signals, or the pleasure you get from various experiences, such as eating your favorite food) of 19 regular cannabis users who began using cannabis in adolescence to 19 nonusers. They found that the users had lower dopamine synthesis capacity. In other words, the brains of the people who began using cannabis as young adults were unable to produce as many reward signals as the people who did not use cannabis (Bloomfield et al., 2013). The “gateway effect” could perhaps be because drugs amplify dopamine effects—potentially compensating for low dopamine synthesis capacity. However, it should be noted that genetic and environmental factors have an enormous influence on long-term negative effects of adolescent cannabis use (Hurd et al., 2013). (more…)

September 7, 2014

The depressing effects of Facebook

Filed under: computers, culture, depression — intro2psych @ 11:02 am

Feeling Sad

Feeling Sad by Justard

By 105 student

In today’s ever expanding technological world, Facebook and other social media have revolutionized the ways in which we associate with our peers. As of 2014, more than 1 billion people have subscribed to the globally integrated Facebook network, transforming interpersonal communication and relationships to computer-mediated interactions (). As this growing phenomenon takes an increasingly greater precedence in our lives, we are beginning to assess what impact, if any, Facebook and other social media usage has on our mental health. Recent studies suggest a possible link to depression and reduced subjective wellbeing, although the causation between usage and depressive symptoms is not clear.

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders, affecting approximately one in ten Americans. Those who suffer from depression are at higher risks for chronic conditions including arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Depression is also known to cause short-term disability and decreased productivity. While television viewing has been linked to depression in the last decade, a similar relationship is being explored with social media sites (Teychenne, Ball & Salmon, 2010).

A group of social psychologists (Pantic et al., 2011) at the University of Belgrade, Serbia, discovered some of the first pieces of evidence that support a detrimental effect of social networking on mental health. They measured the relationship between social networking and depression indicators in 160 Serbian high school students using an anonymous 21-question multiple choice self-report depression survey of average daily time spent on social networking sites. Following completion of the test, a ‘depression score’ was calculated according to the severity of the responses. These researchers found a strong positive correlation between time spent on social networking and depression survey scores—higher scores were congruous with increased time spent on social networking.

By contrast, Pantic et al.’s study did not measure these so-called depression indicators directly following a period of social media usage. From this study alone, we cannot accurately infer cause and effect relationship between these two target variables. Researchers at the University of Michigan used a more suggestive time sampling method, however, and had similar findings. Kross et al. (2013) measured the subjective well being of 82 Ann Arbor, Michigan residents in response to Facebook usage over a two-week period, sending them text messages 5 times per day for two weeks, questioning overall wellbeing, worry, loneliness, Facebook usage and frequency of direct human interaction since the previous interaction. They found that the more time subjects spent on Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time they were messaged. The results of this study are particularly compelling, controlling for potential ‘backwards’ correlation. They point exclusively to the effects of Facebook on depression, not vice versa.

Other studies do not rule out an effect in the opposite direction. The cause may be reversed—depressed patients show more Facebook usage after clinical diagnosis. In a study conducted by de Wit, van Straten, Lamers, Cuijpers and Penninx (2010), subjects previously diagnosed with a major depressive order were found to spend significantly more leisure time using the computer. Furthermore, the prevailing correlation highlighted by both Pantic et al. (2011) and Kross et al. (2013) could be influenced by confounding variables such as age, sex, television viewing and time slept. (more…)

September 3, 2014

The unexpected value of music lessons

Filed under: attention, brain wiring, development, music, social relations — intro2psych @ 9:49 am

by 105 student       

Student violins, by Leslie de Leeuw

It is commonly believed that music lessons enhance children intelligence and promote social behavior. As we know, learning music requires extended periods of attention, muscular coordination, interpretation of musical notations and structures, as well as memorization of scores. Could such high degree of multi-tasking contribute to the enhancement of cognitive and behavioral development in young children given their brain plasticity?

The association between music and intelligence has been a topic of interest among psychologist. Schellenberg (2004) conducted an experiment to test the hypothesis that music lessons make children smarter. In the study, 144 six-years-old children were recruited to take free weekly art lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto for one year. The students were randomly assigned to take either keyboard or voice lessons (experimental groups) or drama lessons or no lessons (control groups). Their IQs were tested before and after the year of lessons using the WISC-III. The results showed that while IQ increased somewhat for all groups, children in the two music lesson groups  had an additional increase in their IQ score of about 4 points. Schellenberg suggested that music lessons involve a multiplicity of experiences, such as concentration and practice, which could generate improvement in a wide range of abilities, and hence may explain the small but significant increase in IQ scores. Therefore, this study demonstrated that music brings children modest intellectual benefits.

Aside from the cognitive advantage music has on children, music can also be treated as a tool in establishing social bonds and prosocial commitments. Kirschner and Tomasello (2010) performed an experiment to investigate whether joint music making will make children more helpful and sociable. The subjects were 48 pairs of four-year-old children who were randomly assigned to two conditions: musical condition (subjects sang children song and played instruments with background music), or non-musical condition (same set-up as musical condition but without music elements and only spoken language). The children were then tested with a helping test and a collaboration test. In the helping test, a situation was created in which one child had a sudden accident and the other had the choice to help, wait or continue his/her own playing activity. In the collaboration test, a game that could be played individually or cooperatively was introduced to the subject pairs. The results showed that the number of pairs of children in the musical condition who showed help to one another was 3.6 times greater than that in non-musical conditions, and twice as many children in musical condition solved the task as a team than children in non-musical condition. This study demonstrated that joint-music making enhances prosocial behavior in children. This could be explained by the fact that music creates positive collective experience among many concurrently, thus generates a sense of community and bonding. Similar results were found in college students. North, Tarrant, & Hargreaves (2004) found that uplifting music led to increase in helping behavior among university students at a gym, thus provided evidence to support the theory that prosocial effects are influenced by music. (more…)

April 17, 2014

Flipping the math stereotypes

Filed under: culture, social influence — Tags: , , — intro2psych @ 12:01 am

math testby  105 Student

A man and a woman sit down to take a challenging math test. They both want to do well, and are nervous, but the woman is especially flustered and experiences an increased heart rate, sweaty palms, and other symptoms of stress. She may not be fully aware of it, but it is possible that she is feeling an added pressure to disprove the stereotype that women do poorly in math, which may actually hurt her performance. This phenomenon, known as  “stereotype threat” ( ) is thought to decrease women’s math performance in comparison to that of men because they worry about confirming the stereotype that women are bad at math (Spencer, 1999). Past studies have consistently show that when women are reminded of their gender in some way before taking a math test they are more likely to experience negative thoughts, increased arousal and emotional processing that interferes with the area of the brain that works with math and problem solving (Krendl, Richeson, Kelley, & Heatherton, 2008) and inhibits the working memory (Schmader, Johns, & Forbes, 2008), all of which lead to a decline in math performance. Women who are not reminded of their gender before taking math tests do not experience these effects as strongly. A recent study carried out in France, however, shows that middle school students are demonstrating opposite effects.

The French study (Martinot,  & Désert, 2007) examined whether or not fourth and seventh graders were aware of the stereotype that boys are better at math than girls and how the students perceived their own math abilities. The link between these perceptions was also evaluated. One hundred and two girls and 113 boys from rural and urban schools filled out questionnaires that asked them about the value of math grades, self-esteem, and perception of their own performance. Half of the students were also questioned about gender identification to make their gender salient. As the researchers anticipated, neither age group expressed awareness of the existence of the stereotype, but it did come as a surprise that girls in both age groups perceived that girls would perform better in math than boys when gender was made salient, and seventh grade boys generally reported that they believed that girls were better at math.

These data imply that around the age of twelve, French girls start to perceive themselves as higher performers in math, and boys begin to share this belief, as well as loose confidence in their own math ability. This contrasts with research that indicates that American girls face stereotype threat and therefore believe that their math performance is inferior to that of men (Spencer, et al. 1999). This shift correlates with increasing male underachievement in France (PISA 2001, 2003), as well as increasing gender equality (Else-Quest, Hyde, & Linn, 2010) (represented through having more women present in schools, the work force, etc.). This study is limited in that it only studies a small sample of French children and does not examine whether or not these perceptions remain as students age. It does, however, indicate possible changing trends in gender perception in relation to math performance and suggests that because boys in France are beginning to lower their self-perceptions in relation to math they may need help in improving the confidence with which they approach work.

Although there is a higher presence of women in the work force and more females are currently enrolled in higher education than males it does not appear that this transition is taking place in the U.S., as studies conducted in America show that girls as young as five demonstrate growing awareness of the stereotype held against women in math, which may contribute to why more advanced degrees in mathematical fields are still awarded to men (Cavanagh, 2008).


Cavanagh, S. (2008, Aug 27). Stereotype of mathematical inferiority still plagues girls. Education Week, 28(1), 9-9.

Else-Quest, N. M.,  Hyde, J. S., &  Linn, M. C.  (2010, January). Cross-national patterns of gender differences in mathematics: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Vol. 136(1), 103-127.

Krendl, A.C.,  Richeson, J.A., Kelley, W.M., &  Heatherton, T.F. (2008, February). The Negative Consequences of Threat: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Investigation of the Neural Mechanisms Underlying Women’s Underperformance in Math. Psychological Science. Vol. 19 No. 2 168-175.

Martinot, D., & Désert, M. (2007). Awareness of a gender stereotype, personal beliefs and self-perceptions regarding math ability: When boys do not surpass girls. Social Psychology of Education, 10(4), 455-471.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Programme for International Student Assessment (OECD PISA) (2001 and 2003).

Schmader, T., Johns, M., & Forbes, C. (2008). An integrated process model of stereotype threat effects on performance. Psychological Review, 115(2), 336-356.

Spencer, S., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Under suspicion of inability: Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4–28.

Steele, Claude M. (1997, June). A Threat in the Air: How Stereotypes Shape Intellectual Identity and Performance. American Psychologist. Volume 52(6), p. 613-629.

February 28, 2014

Can music help you study?

Filed under: Uncategorized — intro2psych @ 1:01 am

Photo by osseous

By 105 Student

Getting ready to studying for tomorrow’s midterm? Trying to put the finishing touch on that science project? Cramming some last minute studying for the SAT? What is the first thing you do: pull out your notes, grab a coffee, buy a snack, and of course find your headphones. I can almost bet that if you asked any student from middle to high school if they listening to music while working, their answer would almost always be yes. It might be Blake Shelton, or the Swedish House Mafia, or maybe even Mozart. Regardless of what is playing, the real question is: does listening to music help or hinder your memory performance? Could listening to your favorite song while studying really be the reason that on your last test or paper you did not get the perfect score?  Is listening to music why you didn’t get that first place trophy in the science fair?

When you flipping through those flash cards trying to memorize those French vocabulary words, the part of the brain that is at work is the cerebral cortex, especially the temporal lobe. This is also where music is processed.  So does music help or hinder the memory process?

This question of how music affects a person’s memory has been a topic of many psychology experiments. In an early study in 1975, researchers wanted to see if a music or non-music setting would facilitate the best memory recall in college students (Etaugh & Michals, 1975). Sixteen males and sixteen females were tested individually and asked to bring in their favorite album. Each subject was read a passage with the music playing in the background and another in complete silence. This study found that males performed equally as well in the quiet environment as in the music environment while the females’ performance dropped significantly with the presence of music.  However, when asked at the end of the study how often they studied with music: frequently, occasionally, or never, the majority of the females reported they never listened to music while only five males reported the same (Etaugh & Michals, 1975). Therefore, this study raised the idea that unfamiliar sounds are more distracting than familiar ones.

Etaugh went on to perform another experiment that again supported the idea that background music does not pose a distraction when the subject is used to having those sounds playing while studying (Etaugh & Ptasnik, 1982). In this study, researchers tested the effects of study in silence vs. the effects of studying with familiar music as well as the effects of relaxing or participating in an activity after studying. The subjects were randomly divided into two groups: music or no music, and then each group studied a passage from a Law School Admission Test booklet for 10 minutes either with or without music (Etaugh & Ptasnik, 1982). Following the test, one group had 10 minutes of relaxation while the other group read an article from Newsweek. Finally, the subjects were given a five-question multiple-choice test. Overall, the study found that the subjects did better in the silence as well as with the post studying relaxation condition. However, individually, those subjects who were used to having background music while studying did better with the music than in silence.

Seemed promising, right? For years, it appeared like music while studying posed no harm to memory recall. However, in recent years, differing results have appeared. Angel, Polzella & Elvers (2010) performed an experiment in which fifty-six undergraduate students (28 men, 28 women) were randomly divided in half with an equal number of women and men in each group and asked to perform a spatial or linguistic processing task. For the spatial processing task, subjects looked at a screen with letter pairs for a certain amount of time (1 second for low-level task and 1.5 seconds for medium-level task). They then classified the pairs as the same or different based on size or physical letter match. For the linguistic processing task, subjects were shown two histograms for 3 seconds varying in height and angle rotation. The subjects had to decide whether or not the two histograms were the same in 1.5 seconds for low-level condition and 3.5 second for high-level condition. It was found that for both processing tasks, the subjects performed better with the background music, suggesting that the music was positively facilitating their memory.


February 20, 2014

Does caffeine really help you study?

Filed under: addiction, drugs, learning, memory — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 12:00 am
Coffee picture

Photo by femme run

By Nicholas S. Graham

Caffeine is widely used by individuals hoping to get a mental or physiological boost.  Caffeine is a drug that is classified as a stimulant; however, it is not regulated by most governments.  This lack of regulation, combined with its stimulating properties, means that caffeine is widely used and overused by the north American population.  Another reason for this overuse is that caffeine acts as a nootropic,  which is a drug that acts as a mental cognition booster.

Caffeine is widely used because of its efficiency as a mental and physiological performance enhancer (Smith, Christopher & Sutherland,  2013).  A study based on reaction time, encoding, and attention show that there is a significant difference between non-caffeine boosted performance on a test and caffeine boosted performance on the same test.  This study started with a complete purge of the caffeine from the system of the caffeine control group.  A second non-consuming caffeine group was also tested for their reaction times and attentiveness. The caffeine consumers were purged of caffeine over a seven-day period where they were not allowed to consume caffeine.  The saliva of the participants was tested on each day to make sure that the participants were being true to the study.  The participants were also given enough decaffeinated tea to be drunk during the time of the study to control the intake of caffeine on the participants.   The reaction times and alertness of the participants were measured with three simple tests: a repeated-the-digits task, a category search task, and a focused attention task.   Each task tested both reaction times (speed) and attentiveness, and was carried out for a full five minutes.  The tests were carried out three times once after a day of no caffeine a second time at the end of the 7-day purge period.  After the week of no caffeine, half the subjects were given a caffeine beverage, and half were give decaf.    The caffeine was administered through a double blind procedure so neither the participant nor the administrator knew if the contents of the drink were caffeinated.

The results of this study are that caffeine can significantly enhance performance. However, it requires a rather large change in the average dosage that is being consumed on a daily basis.  The large change in caffeine consumption is needed to boost performance because the participants of this study went from no caffeine to 2mg/kg, which is a lot of caffeine to be brought into the system.  For example in the US if a person weighing roughly 170 pounds were to take that dosage it would be equivalent to about 150g of caffeine.  And for reference that would be about two bottles of a 20 oz. Pepsi cola drink. The attention and encoding boost that is derived from caffeine intake is most likely why college and high school students  use it, if not abuse it; because they understand that caffeine is a stimulant with very little drawbacks. Specifically, they abuse the drug on test days to be one hundred percent alert and focused for the test. They would also be able to abuse the drug leading up to the test, to get the maximum efficacy out of their study period.


January 22, 2014

What are cartoons doing to children’s brains?

Filed under: ADHD, brain wiring — Tags: , , , , , , — intro2psych @ 11:59 pm

Spongebob SquarepantsBy David Bang

Cartoon shows were a delight back in my childhood days. I remember when I used to spend hours upon hours watching popular classics and channels, Power Rangers, Dexter’s Laboratory, Pokemon, etc. Even after the episode ended, I would escape my present life and enter theirs.  My parents told me that as a child I would wander around the house taking on personas of various kinds. Their world was a little more intense than mine, faster-paced. It was difficult for me to separate myself from my fantasies. Boredom easily crept in and paying attention became difficult.

In a recent study (Lillard & Peterson, 2011)  scientists explored the effects of fast-paced television cartoons on the executive function of young children. Executive functions allow the frontal cortex of the brain to control and coordinate other brain areas.  They include planning, focusing, attention, and inhibition of impulses.

In the study, 60 preschoolers were divided and placed into three different categories. For 9 minutes the children participated in activities respective to their assigned groups. One group of children watched a fast-paced cartoon (Spongebob Squarepants), another watched a slower-paced educational cartoon, and finally the last group was free to draw at their own pace. After the time ended the children were tested. The children were asked to perform different tasks that tested their executive function in specific, problem solving skills, attention, and memory. Some of the tasks included solving a challenging puzzle, reciting number sequences, playing physical games, and many more.

The children who watched Spongebob Squarepants performed worse than their counterparts in all measures. After a sparse 9 minute viewing session, they were worse at a puzzle task, a delayed gratification task and other executive function “games.” This says something about how television affects short term brain functioning.

The children displayed higher levels of distractibility, hyperactivity, and impulse compared to the other children. These are symptoms of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD). In recent years, more children have been afflicted with ADD/ADHD. Data provided by the Centers for Disease Control estimates that the rate of ADHD diagnosis has been growing on average 3% per year from 1996 to 2007, and an astounding 5.5% from 2003 to 2007. Children have actually increased television viewing by 38 min per day from 1999 to 2009. Entertainment television has evolved to further capture our attention. Could fast-paced programs be the cause of the recent rise in ADD/ADHD in the United States?


Too much banging is bad for the brain

Filed under: brain damage — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 1:00 pm

By Colin White-Dzuro

Junior Seau

Junior Seau courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

On February 17, 2011, ex-Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson commit suicide via gunshot wound to the chest. In the final note to his family, Duerson requested that his brain be donated to Boston University, where they are conducting research into various concussion-related diseases. Months later, neurologists confirmed that the hard-hitting safety suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative neurological disease that is a precursor to dementia and is heavily linked to concussions. Unfortunately, Duerson isn’t the only athlete to have been debilitated from receiving multiple concussions. Junior Seau, Terry Long, Ray Easterling, and Tom McHale are all football players whose brains have tested positive for dementia post-mortem, diagnosed after their deaths via suicide or reckless behavior (Garcia-Roberts, 2012). In a sad turn, the same tough play and fearless attitude that immortalized them to fans and teammates alike would be the underlying cause of their deaths.

A concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury, and is often defined as a brain injury brought on by a sudden blow to the head. When the human head is struck with force, the brain can move inside of the skull. If trauma to the head is so great that it causes the brain to hit the inner skull, it is called a concussion. Symptoms of a concussion vary greatly on a case-to-case basis, and are known to include headaches, nausea, memory loss, emotional swings, loss of appetite, and/or fatigue (Sports Concussion Institute, 2012). While a single concussion in itself isn’t often too concerning (depending on its severity), the biggest trouble lies in receiving multiple concussions in a lifetime, which can severely damage brain tissue and seriously alter a human’s brain function.

In an effort to determine the effect of concussions on long-term mental disorders like depression, researchers at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill compared depression diagnoses in athletes who have experienced at least multiple concussions versus athletes who have experienced none. They discovered that the “9-year risk” for having depressive episodes increased with the number of concussions, from 3.0% in the “0 concussions” group to 26.8% in the “10-100 concussions” group. Their data overwhelmingly supports the idea that those who have had concussions are at a much higher risk for depression than those who have had no concussions (Kerr, Marshall, Harding, & Guskiewicz, 2012). Furthermore, researchers have noted that multiple mild concussions are associated with a high risk of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which results in a progressive decline of memory and cognition, suicidal behavior, impulse control, aggressiveness, and can lead to Parkinson’s Disease (Stern, 2011, Shively, Scher, Perl, & Diaz-Arrastia, 2012).

Concussions have also shown to negatively impact cognitive and motor function. Studies conducted at the University of Montreal looked at retired athletes in their late 50s/early 60s and separated them into two groups: those with a history of concussions and those without a history of concussions. Within those groups, various tests were employed to assess motor cortex excitability. Their results showed that the former athletes with a history of concussions had both lower performances on neuropsychological tests of episodic memory and response inhibition as well as significant bradykinesia (reduced movement velocity) (De Beaumont, Thoret, Mongeon, Messier, Leclerc, Tremblay, Ellemberg, Lassonde, 2009). A similar study performed at the University of Western Ontario found that Long-Evans rats who were given 1 or more mild concussions displayed noticeable short-term cognitive impairment, and those rats who were given multiple mild concussions showed significantly worse short- and long-term cognitive impairment. Furthermore, those rats who were given 5 mild concussions showed increased anxiety- and depression-like behaviors (Shultz, Bao, Omana, Chiu, Brown, & Cain, 2012).

The evidence suggesting that concussions can be debilitating towards long-term health is staggering and keeps mounting everyday, forcing society to take notice. Fortunately, athletics programs worldwide are beginning to introduce policies in order to ensure that those who suffer from a concussion receive proper treatment and recovery time to allow for a full recovery. These policies will protect both young children and current athletes from the long-term dangers of concussions and prevent more unnecessary deaths. It’s a legacy that men like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson can be proud of.


January 21, 2014

How yawning spreads from brain to brain

Filed under: brain wiring, social influence — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 12:03 pm

By 105 Student

Two ironing women, by Edgar Degas

Two ironing women, by Edgar Degas

People witness at an early age the phenomenon of contagious yawning. When one person in a crowded room yawns, it seems to trigger a chain reaction. Often times, friends will jokingly blame one another for passing on their yawn, like a contagion. For some reason, observing another person yawn makes you yawn. This same effect occurs when you see a person smiling or hear him laughing. Even subconsciously, you also will begin to smile. Yawning and laughing are both catching.

The premotor cortex initiates a person’s inadvertent reaction of laughing after hearing laughter. More specifically, a part of this area of the brain, called the PMVc area, helps trigger motor function in response to visual and auditory stimuli. It could also be the mechanism that makes you yawn when seeing others do it.

Researchers at the University College of London conducted a study to measure responses in the premotor cortex to certain sounds. Some sounds were considered negative, like the sounds of “retching,” while others were considered positive, like laughter. The researchers played the series of sounds for volunteers while observing their brains with an fMRI scanner. The premotor cortex showed stronger activity in response to the positive stimuli than to the negatively associated noises. Laughter is often shared between friends, and it helps people to form bonds with one another. It establishes emotional closeness, even if just for a moment. These aspects of laugher could explain its positive association.

Yawning has also been linked to emotional closeness. In a study published in 2011, the yawning patterns between people who were considered to have a close social bond (as friends or family) and between people who were strangers. Participants were observed for a time period between 6 minutes to 2 hours, and each yawning episode was recorded. All circumstantial aspects were noted, and the responses of others who sensed the yawn were recorded. Those who were related responded to the other person’s yawn (by yawning) much more quickly and more often than they did responding to a stranger’s.

A simple “mirroring” action could explain the contagious effects of laughter and yawning. Humans and animals are actually hardwired to demonstrate this mirroring effect. Mirror neurons are found in parts of the human brain designated to motor function, like the premotor cortex, and are the neurons that trigger responses in the premotor cortex to stimuli. They are known as the human Mirror Neuron System (hMNS).

Mirror neurons were first discovered in Monkeys. In the 1981 study, these cells showed strong signs of activity both when the monkey itself was acting and when observing a peer mimic the same action. Mimicking an action is the brain’s way of trying to understand the physical action itself through replication, and can help people relate to one another’s behavior.

Van Overwalle and Baetens assert there is yet another brain system involved in contagious laughter and yawning. The mentalizing system in the prefrontal cortex works with the mirroring system to process why the behavior is taking place. This is crucial to human interaction because it helps to establish empathy and encourage social bonding, which also promotes the mirroring effect (

The premotor cortex, hMNS, and mentalizing system are all linked in responding to visual and auditory stimuli. Their responses are more strongly triggered in the premotor cortex when a person interacts with someone he or she is close to. It may be instinct to mirror someone’s yawn or laugh due to the hMNS, but when two people have an emotional tie, the mentalizing system factors in to facilitate understanding and improve the relationship between them. Next time a friend tries to point a finger at you for spreading the yawning bug, know he or she is really just an affectionate fool for you.


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