‘Dabbling’ in Hard Drugs in Middle Age Linked to Increased Risk of Death

Newswise — Young adults often experiment with hard drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines and opiates, and all but about 10 percent stop as they assume adult roles and responsibilities. Those still using hard drugs into their 50s are five times more likely to die earlier than those who do not, according to a new study by University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers published online Jan. 27, 2012, in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.4 percent of Americans ages 50-59 and 7 percent of adults ages 35-49 reported use of a drug other than marijuana sometime in the past year. The study’s lead author, Stefan Kertesz, M.D., associate professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine. and colleagues attempted to discover if lifelong hard-drug use shortens lifespan to better enable primary-care doctors to advise patients who use drugs recreationally.

“While government guidelines have not endorsed screening for drugs in primary care, many doctors are challenged when they discover patients continue to dabble with them,” Kertesz says. “In primary-care practice, we often hear from stable patients who report using some cocaine, irregularly, perhaps on weekends. It’s an underappreciated but very common situation. The typical question physicians have to ask is ‘If this patient doesn’t have addiction, what advice can I give other than noting that it’s unwise to break the law?’ After all, we are supposed to be doctors, not law enforcement.”

Kertesz and a research team from other universities looked at data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study for their analysis. CARDIA, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, is a long-term research project involving more than 5,000 black and white men and women from Birmingham, Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland, designed to examine the development and determinants of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors. Participants ages 18-30 were recruited and followed from 1985 to 2006.

The research team looked specifically at the reported use of “hard drugs” by 4,301 of the CARDIA participants. They compared people who stopped drug use early to those who continued and calculated the likelihood of premature death among these groups.

“Fourteen percent of the people in the study reported recent hard-drug use at least once, and of these, half continued using well into middle age,” Kertesz says. “But, most of the drug users in our study were not addicts. They were dabblers who used just a few days a month.”

Kertesz and his colleagues found that older hard-drug users were more likely to report being raised in economically challenged circumstances in a family that was unsupportive, abusive or neglectful. The team also found that those who were heavy drug users into young adulthood and continued at lower levels into middle age were roughly five times more likely to die than persons who didn’t use drugs.

“We can’t assume that drugs caused death, as in an overdose,” he says. “Rather what we found is that middle-age adults who continue to dabble in hard drugs represent a group that is at risk of bad outcomes — which could include death from trauma, heart disease or other causes that are not a direct result of their drug use — at a higher rate than people who stopped using drugs.”

Kertesz added that the team’s findings are a reminder that people who continue to use drugs are potentially quite vulnerable. They often have grown up under economic and psychosocial stress from childhood onward. They continue to smoke and drink and they remain at elevated risk of premature death.

“Based on the data we hope to offer better advice to primary-care doctors struggling with the rising tide of drug-taking by adults who have not left behind many of the bad habits they learned in young adulthood,” he says.

Study co-authors include Yulia Khodneva, M.D., Monika Safford, M.D., and Joseph Schumacher, Ph.D., UAB Division of Preventive Medicine; Jalie Tucker, Ph.D., UAB School of Public Health; Joshua Richman, M.D., Ph.D., UAB Department of Surgery; Bobby Jones, Ph. D., Department of Statistics, Carnegie Mellon University; and Mark J. Pletcher, M.D., departments of Epidemiology & Biostatistics and Medicine, University of California, San Francisco.

Released: 1/27/2012

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/dabbling-in-hard-drugs-in-middle-age-linked-to-increased-risk-of-death

Study of One Million Americans Shows Obesity and Pain Linked

Newswise — STONY BROOK, N.Y., January 26, 2012 – A clear association between obesity and pain – with higher rates of pain identified in the heaviest individuals – was found in a study of more than one million Americans published January 19 in the online edition of Obesity. In “Obesity and Pain Are Associated in the United States,” Stony Brook University researchers Arthur A. Stone, PhD., and Joan E. Broderick, Ph.D. report this finding based on their analysis of 1,010,762 respondents surveyed via telephone interview by the Gallop Organization between 2008 and 2010.

Previous small-scale studies have shown links between obesity and pain. The Stony Brook study took a very large sample of American men and women who answered health survey questions. The researchers calculated respondents’ body mass index (BMI) based on questions regarding height and weight. Respondents answered questions about pain, including if they “experienced pain yesterday.”

“Our findings confirm and extend earlier studies about the link between obesity and pain. These findings hold true after we accounted for several common pain conditions and across gender and age,” says Dr. Stone, Distinguished Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, and an expert on patient reported measures of health, pain, and well-being.

Sixty three percent of the 1,010,762 people who responded to the survey were classified as overweight (38 percent) or obese (25 percent). Obese respondents were further classified into one of three obesity levels as defined by the World Health Organization. In comparison to individuals with low to normal weight, the overweight group reported 20 percent higher rates of pain. The percent increase of reported pain in comparison to the normal weight group grew rapidly in the obese groups: 68 percent higher for Obese 1 group, 136 percent higher for Obese 2 group, and 254 percent higher for Obese 3 group.

“We wanted to explore this relationship further by checking to see if it was due to painful diseases that cause reduced activity, which in turn causes increased weight,” says Joan E. Broderick, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science and School of Public Health at Stony Brook University, and lead investigator of a National Institutes of Health-funded study on how arthritis patients manage their own pain.

“We found that ‘pain yesterday’ was definitely more common among people with diseases that cause bodily pain. Even so, when we controlled for these specific diseases, the weight-pain relationship held up. This finding suggests that obesity alone may cause pain, aside from the presence of painful diseases,” Dr. Broderick explains.

Interestingly, the pain that obese individuals reported was not driven exclusively by musculoskeletal pain, a type of pain that individuals carrying excess weight might typically experience.

Drs. Broderick and Stone also suggest that there could be several plausible explanations for the close obesity/pain relationship. These include the possibility that having excess fat in the body triggers complex physiological processes that result in inflammation and pain; depression, often experienced by obese individuals, is also linked to pain; and medical conditions that cause pain, such as arthritis, might result in reduced levels of exercise thereby resulting in weight gain. The researchers also indicated that the study showed as people get older, excess weight is associated with even more pain, which suggests a developmental process.

Drs. Broderick and Stone believe that the study findings support the importance of metabolic investigations into the causes of pain, as well as the need for further investigation of the obesity—pain link in U.S. populations.

Released: 1/26/2012

Source:  Stony Brook University Medical Center

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/study-of-one-million-americans-shows-obesity-and-pain-linked

CT Scans for Dizziness in the ER: Worth the Cost?

Newswise — DETROIT – Performing CT scans in the emergency department for patients experiencing dizziness may not be worth the expense – an important finding from Henry Ford Hospital researchers as hospitals across the country look for ways to cut costs without sacrificing patient care.

According to the Henry Ford study, less than 1 percent of the CT scans performed in the emergency department revealed a more serious underlying cause for dizziness – intracranial bleeding or stroke – that required intervention.

The findings suggest that it may be more cost effective for hospitals to instead implement stricter guidelines for ordering in-emergency department CT scans of the brain and head for patients experiencing dizziness.

“When a patient comes into the emergency department experiencing dizziness, a physician’s first line of defense is often to order a CT scan to rule out more serious medical conditions. But in our experience it is extremely rare that brain and head imagining yields significant results,” says study author Syed F. Ahsan, M.D., a neuro-otologist in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford.

“It is our hope that our investigation into our own practices will shed light on avenues to run leaner practices within our institution, as well as serve as a model for other health systems.”

The study will be presented Jan. 26 in Miami Beach at the annual Triological Society’s Combined Sections Meeting.

The Henry Ford study was a retrospective review of 1,681 patients with dizziness or vertigo who came into a Detroit metropolitan emergency department between January 2008 and January 2011.

Of those patients, nearly half (810 patients) received a CT scan of the brain and head, but only 0.74 percent of those scans yielded clinically significant results that required intervention. In all, the total cost for the CT scans during the three-year period was $988,200.

The analysis also revealed that older patients and those with a lower income were more likely to receive a CT scan for dizziness when they came into the emergency department.

While dizziness may signal intracranial bleeding or stroke, it is more likely that the cause is due to dehydration, anemia, a drop in blood pressure with standing (orthostatic hypotension), problems or inflammation in the inner ear such as benign paroxysmal postional vertigo, labyrinthitis or meniere’s disease, or vestibular neuritis.

And, Dr. Ahsan notes, in previous studies it has been well documented that CT scans are not very effective in detecting stroke or intracranial bleeding in the acute (emergency room) setting.

Ultimately, the study shows that there is potential for cost savings by creating and implementing stronger guidelines to determine when it is medically necessary for patients with dizziness to undergo CT imaging in the emergency department.

Funding: Henry Ford Hospital

Along with Dr. Ahsan, Henry Ford study co-authors are Mausumi N. Syamal, M.D., and Kathleen Yaremchuk, M.D.

Released:  1/26/2012

Source: Henry Ford Health System

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/ct-scans-for-dizziness-in-the-er-worth-the-cost

Take a Big Fat Break this Mardi Gras Because Carnival Means “So long” to Meat

– Meatless Monday campaign offers delicious recipes for the lean days ahead-

Mardi Gras, also called Carnival, celebrates the last day of indulgence before the start of the Lenten season. During Lent, millions of households will cut back on meat and other rich foods. Meatless Monday offers recipes with photos to help observers through the “lean” weeks of Lent and beyond. With the simplicity of Meatless Monday, reducing meat in our diets is easier than you think and the health benefits can be huge.

Newswise — For centuries, Mardi Gras – or Fat Tuesday, also called Carnival – has celebrated the last day of indulgence before the start of the Lenten season. During Lent, millions of households will cut back on meat and other rich foods during this period of purification. The word Carnival itself stems from the Latin carne vale, or “farewell to flesh.”

Today, there are more reasons than ever to take the occasional break from meat. Reducing the amount of meat in our diets can benefit our personal health, the environment and even our wallets. Meatless Monday, a public health initiative produced in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future, advises foregoing meat just one day a week as one way to reap these benefits. “It’s easier than you think and the payoff can be huge,” says Robert Lawrence, MD, director of the Center for a Livable Future. “Eating less meat not only helps lower cholesterol and decrease cancer risks; it reduces your carbon footprint and helps conserve water. Plus, plant-based meals cost less, an added bonus during these economically tough times.”

Many Americans are heeding the call for a healthier diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that we will be eating about 12% less meat in 2012 than we did five years ago.

The simplicity of Meatless Monday has turned the initiative into a global movement. The campaign is now flourishing in 22 countries and counts among its followers such celebrities as film director James Cameron; co-host of ABC’s The Chew, chef Mario Batali; hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons; and former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney.

A poll conducted by FGI Research for The Monday Campaigns found that more than 50% of Americans were aware of the Meatless Monday movement, with 27% of those aware actively participating.

Meatless Monday offers hundreds of recipes in its online database to help observers through the “lean” weeks of Lent and beyond, including Smothered Mushrooms (http://www.meatlessmonday.com/smothered-mushrooms) and Spicy Rice with Kale (http://www.meatlessmonday.com/spicy-rice-with-kale).

Released: 1/25/2012          Source: The Monday Campaigns

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/take-a-big-fat-break-this-mardi-gras-because-carnival-means-so-long-to-meat

People Lie More When Texting

Wichita State University professor David Xu said people are less likely to lie via video chat than when in person.

Newswise — Sending a text message leads people to lie more often than in other forms of communication, according to new research by David Xu, assistant professor in the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University.

Xu is lead author of the paper, which compares the level of deceit people will use in a variety of media, from text messages to face-to-face interactions.

The study will appear in the March edition of the Journal of Business Ethics. The other co-authors are professor Karl Aquino and associate professor Ronald Cenfetelli with the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.

How the study worked

The study involved 170 students from the Sauder School performing mock stock transactions in one of four ways: face-to-face, or by video, audio or text chatting.

Researchers promised cash awards of up to $50 to increase participants’ involvement in the role play. “Brokers” were promised increased cash rewards for more stock sales, while “buyers” were told their cash reward would depend on the yet-to-be-determined value of the stock.

The brokers were given inside knowledge that the stock was rigged to lose half of its value. Buyers were only informed of this fact after the mock sales transaction and were asked to report whether the brokers had employed deceit to sell their stock.

The authors then analyzed which forms of communication led to more deception. They found that buyers who received information via text messages were 95 percent more likely to report deception than if they had interacted via video, 31 percent more likely to report deception when compared to face-to-face, and 18 percent more likely if the interaction was via audio chat.

The fact that people were less likely to lie via video than in person was surprising, Xu said, but makes sense given the so-called “spotlight” effect, where a person feels they’re being watched more closely on video than face-to-face.

Xu said this kind of research has implications for consumers to avoid problems such as online fraud, and for businesses looking to promote trust and build a good image, Xu said.

Released: 1/25/2012

Source: Wichita State University

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/people-lie-more-when-texting

To Turn Up the Heat in Chilies, Just Add Water!

Newswise — Biologists have learned in recent years that wild chilies develop their trademark pungency, or heat, as a defense against a fungus that could destroy their seeds. But that doesn’t explain why some chilies are hot and others are not.

New research provides an answer: Hot chilies growing in dry areas need more water to produce as many seeds as non-pungent plants, but the Fusarium fungus is less of a threat in dryer environments so chilies in those areas are less likely to turn up the heat. In wetter regions, where Fusarium thrives, wild chilies build up their reserves of spicy capsaicin in self-defense.

“Despite the reduced benefit of pungency in dry environments, hot plants still occur there, as does the deadly fungus. That suggests that the greater presence of non-pungent plants that produce substantially more seeds is the result of a fitness-based tradeoff,” said David Haak, lead author of a paper describing the research published Wednesday (Dec. 21) inProceedings of the Royal Society B. The Royal Society is the United Kingdom’s academy of science.

Haak, a post-doctoral researcher at Indiana University, conducted the research as part of his doctoral work at the University of Washington. Co-authors of the paper are Leslie McGinnis of the University of Michigan, who did the work while a UW undergraduate; Douglas Levey of the University of Florida and Joshua Tewksbury, a UW biology professor who leads the research group.

The scientists examined pungency differences by comparing the proportion of pungent plants with that of non-pungent plants in 12 populations of wild chilies in southeastern Bolivia along a 185-mile line that gradually progressed from a relatively dry region to a wetter region. They conducted plant censuses in focal populations five times between 2002 and 2009, and tagged plants in each census so they could determine new seedlings the next time.

They found that, starting in the dryer northeast part of the section, 15 to 20 percent of the plants had pungent fruit, and pungency increased along the line toward the wetter southwest, where they never found a single plant that did not produce pungent fruit.

They also selected three populations of chili plants that each produced both pungent and non-pungent fruit and spanned the range of rainfall and pungency differences. They then grew seeds from those plants in the UW Botany Greenhouse to examine what affect water availability had on pungency.

The 330 plants that resulted from those seeds were grown under identical conditions until they reached their first flowering, then were separated into two groups – one that received plenty of water and one that was stressed by receiving only the amount of water available to plants in the driest area of Bolivia from which seeds were taken.

The scientists found that under water-stressed conditions, non-pungent plants produced twice as many seeds as pungent plants. That suggests the pungent plants trade some level of fitness for protection from the Fusarium fungus, Haak said.

The researchers determined the pungent plants have developed a reduced efficiency in water use, so in dryer areas they produce fewer seeds and are more limited in reproduction. In wetter areas, non-pungent plants are at a reproductive disadvantage because they are much more likely to have their seeds attacked by the fungus.

“It surprised us to find that the tradeoff to produce capsaicin in pungent plants would involve this major physiological process of water-use efficiency,” Haak said.

He noted that over the entire range, 90 to 95 percent of the chili fruits had some level of fungal infection, and pungent plants were better able to defend themselves.

The research was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation; the National Geographic Society; Sigma Xi, the scientific research society; and the UW Department of Biology.

Released: 12/20/2011

Source: University of Washington

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/to-turn-up-the-heat-in-chilies-just-add-water

New Findings…Group Settings Can Diminish Expressions of Intelligence

Research led by scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute found that small-group dynamics — such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions, and cocktail parties — can alter the expression of IQ in some susceptible people. “You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well,” said Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, who led the study.

The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how the brain processes information about social status in small groups and how perceptions of that status affect expressions of cognitive capacity.

“We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ,” said Montague. “Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect.”

“Our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning,” said lead author Kenneth Kishida, a research scientist with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “And, through neuroimaging, we were able to document the very strong neural responses that those social cues can elicit.”

The researchers recruited subjects from two universities and administered a standard test to establish baseline IQ. The results were not viewed until after a series of ranked group IQ tasks, during which test takers, in groups of five, received information about how their performances compared to those of the other group members.

Although the test subjects had similar baseline IQ scores — a mean of 126, compared to the national average of 100 — they showed a range of test performance results after the ranked group IQ tasks, revealing that some individuals’ expressed IQ was affected by signals about their status within a small group.

The researchers wanted to know what was happening in the brain during the observed changes in IQ expression. The subjects were divided into two groups based on the results of their final rank — the high performers, who scored above the median, and the low performers, who scored at or below the median. Two of every group of five subjects had their brains scanned using fMRI while they participated in the task.

Among the researchers’ findings:

1. Dynamic responses occurred in multiple brain regions, especially the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex, and the nucleus accumbens — regions believed to be involved in emotional processing, problem solving, and reward and pleasure, respectively.

2. All subjects had an initial increase in amygdala activation and diminished activity in the prefrontal cortex, both of which corresponded with a lower problem-solving ability.

3. By the end of the task, the high-performing group showed a decreased amygdala activation and an increased prefrontal cortex activation, both of which were associated with an increased ability to solve more difficult problems.

4. Positive changes in rank were associated with greater activity in the bilateral nucleus accumbens, which has traditionally been linked to learning and has been shown to respond to rewards and pleasure.

5. Negative changes in rank corresponded with greater activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, consistent with a response to conflicting information.

6. Neither age nor ethnicity showed a significant correlation with performance or brain responses. A significant pattern did emerge along gender lines, however. Although male and female participants had the same baseline IQ, significantly fewer women (3 of 13) were in the high-performing group and significantly more (10 of 13) fell into the low-performing group.

“We don’t know how much these effects are present in real-world settings,” Kishida said. “But given the potentially harmful effects of social-status assignments and the correlation with specific neural signals, future research should be devoted to what, exactly, society is selecting for in competitive learning and workplace environments. By placing an emphasis on competition, for example, are we missing a large segment of the talent pool? Further brain imaging research may also offer avenues for developing strategies for people who are susceptible to these kinds of social pressures.”

“This study tells us the idea that IQ is something we can reliably measure in isolation without considering how it interacts with social context is essentially flawed,” said coauthor Steven Quartz, a professor of philosophy in the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory of Caltech. “Furthermore, this suggests that the idea of a division between social and cognitive processing in the brain is really pretty artificial. The two deeply interact with each other.”

“So much of our society is organized around small-group interactions,” said Kishida. “Understanding how our brains respond to dynamic social interactions is an important area of future research. We need to remember that social dynamics affect not just educational and workplace environments, but also national and international policy-making bodies, such as the U.S. Congress and the United Nations.”

The research appears in the Jan. 23, 2012 issue of the journalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B in the article, “Implicit signals in small group settings and their impact on the expression of cognitive capacity and associated brain responses,” by Kenneth Kishida; Dongni Yang, a former postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine; Karen Hunter Quartz, a director of research in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies of the University of California, Los Angeles; Steven Quartz; and Read Montague, corresponding author, who is also a professor of physics at Virginia Tech. The research was supported by grants from the Wellcome Trust and the Kane Family Foundation to Montague and the National Institutes of Health to Montague and Kishida. The article is online athttp://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/367/1589/704.abstract?sid=5fc88e56-8a71-4a9b-be8d-ad3fa88c631e

Released: January 22, 2012

Source: Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/group-settings-can-diminish-expressions-of-intelligence

Cohabitating Valentines Are Happier Than Wedded Couples

Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. — When it comes to the well-being of married versus cohabitating Valentines, wedded couples experience few advantages in psychological well-being and social ties, according to a new study at Cornell University.

The study, “Reexamining the Case for Marriage: Union Formation and Changes in Well-being,” is being published in the February issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family(available online: http://bit.ly/xL4t9U).

“We found that differences between marriage and cohabitation tend to be small and dissipate after a honeymoon period. Also while married couples experienced health gains – likely linked to the formal benefits of marriage such as shared health care plans – cohabiting couples experienced greater gains in happiness and self-esteem. For some, cohabitation may come with fewer unwanted obligations than marriage and allow for more flexibility, autonomy and personal growth,” said Kelly Musick, associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, who co-authored the study with sociologist Larry Bumpass of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Marriage has long been an important social institution, but in recent decades western societies have experienced increases in cohabitation, before or instead of marriage, and increases in children born outside of marriage,” said Musick. “These changes have blurred the boundaries of marriage, leading to questions about what difference marriage makes in comparison to alternatives.”

Previous research has sought to prove a link between marriage and well-being, but many studies compared marriage to being single, or compared marriages and cohabitations at a single point in time.

This study compares marriage to cohabitation while using a fixed-effects approach that focuses on what changes occur when single men and women move into marriage or cohabitation and the extent to which any effects of marriage and cohabitation persist over time.

The researchers used a sample from the National Survey of Families and Households of 2,737 single men and women, 896 of whom married or moved in with a partner over the course of six years. The study focused on key areas of well-being, considering questions on happiness, levels of depression, health and social ties.

“Compared to most industrial countries, America continues to value marriage above other family forms,” concluded Musick. “However our research shows that marriage is by no means unique in promoting well-being and that other forms of romantic relationships can provide many of the same benefits.”

The study was funded in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

Released: 1/24/2012

Source:  Cornell University

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/cohabitating-valentines-are-happier-than-wedded-couples-finds-study

Museum to Visitors: Please Do Touch, for Scientific Purposes

Photo Credit: The Walters Art Museum, Modest Venus, or Venus Pudica, a 10.5-inch bronze statuette cast around 1500 by an anonymous Italian artist, is one of the pieces replicated for museum goers to caress for science at an exhibition in Baltimore.

Newswise — It’s the first rule at any art museum: Do not touch the artifacts. Except at this museum and at this one time.

At the “Touch and the Enjoyment of Sculpture: Exploring the Appeal of Renaissance Statuettes” exhibition — at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore through April 15 — visitors are invited to disregard that decree and to hold, stroke and even caress the pieces.

In fact, handling the objects d’arts — replicas of famous 16th century statuettes held by the Walters — is one of the reasons for the exhibition, explains neuroscientist Steven Hsiao, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute. The institute is partnering with the Walters on the show, the fourth in a series of projects between the museum and Johns Hopkins.

“We’re challenging people to think about why physical contact with works of art can be so satisfying,” says Hsiao, whose work includes exploring many aspects of humans’ sense of touch. “In fact, as people browse the exhibition, we will be asking them to react to what they are seeing and feeling.”

The installation incorporates 12 works of art from the Walters collection, along with 22 replicas for visitors to touch and rate, providing data for ongoing research.

The project melds the research interests of Hsiao, who specializes in many facets of touch, and those of Joaneath Spicer, the Walters’ curator of Renaissance and Baroque art, who studies the Renaissance penchant for collecting and commissioning small statuettes and other luxury goods that were satisfying to touch and handle.

But the special appeal of this exhibition lies in the opportunity to join in comparative experiments with the statuettes (well, the replicas, actually).

“We’ll be asking visitors to handle them and to tell us what sculptures they prefer and to rate how they like sculptures that have been modified in their shape and texture. This exhibition allows us to dissect why some objects feel better than others” Hsiao says.

Visitors will register these preferences, and other reactions, on Apple iPads, and visitors will be able to see a dynamic display of their responses. The data will be used in Hsaio’s and Spicer’s research on tactile aesthetics. (Visitors will not be handling the original 16th century artwork; they will only be permitted to touch replica art exclusively fashioned for the show.)

The Walters Art Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays and is located at 600 North Charles St. in Baltimore.

Related links:
Steven Hsiao:
http://neuroscience.jhu.edu/StevenHsiao.php

The Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute:
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/brainscience/

The Walters Art Museum:
http://thewalters.org/eventscalendar/eventdetails.aspx?e=2207

Released: Released: 1/23/20

Source: Johns Hopkins

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/museum-to-visitors-please-do-touch-for-scientific-purposes

Sleep Preserves and Enhances Bad Emotional Memories

Photo Credit: UMass Amherst, Based on a recent study that included polysomnography, neuroscientists at UMass Amherst suggest that emotional memories are protected by the brain during sleep.

Newswise — AMHERST, Mass. – A recent study by sleep researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the first to suggest that a person’s emotional response after witnessing an unsettling picture or traumatic event is greatly reduced if the person stays awake afterward, and that sleep strongly “protects” the negative emotional response. Further, if the unsettling picture is viewed again or a flashback memory occurs, it will be just as upsetting as the first time for those who have slept after viewing compared to those who have not.

UMass Amherst neuroscientists Rebecca Spencer, Bengi Baran and colleagues say this response could make sense from an evolutionary point of view, because it would provide survival value to our ancestors by preserving very negative emotions and memories of life-threatening situations and offer a strong incentive to avoid similar occasions in the future.

“Today, our findings have significance for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, or those asked to give eye-witness testimony in court cases,” Spencer says.

“We found that if you see something disturbing, let’s say an accident scene, and then you have a flashback or you’re asked to look at a picture of the same scene later, your emotional response is greatly reduced, that is you’ll find the scene far less upsetting, if you stayed awake after the original event than if you slept. It’s interesting to note that it is common to be sleep-deprived after witnessing a traumatic scene, almost as if your brain doesn’t want to sleep on it.” The study is reported in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

In their experiments involving 68 healthy female and 38 male (total 106) young adults between 18 and 30 years old, Spencer and colleagues set out to explore, among other ideas, an assumption that the well-known enhancement of memory that occurs during sleep is tied to a change in emotional response to the memory.

Further, in a subset of subjects the neuroscientists used a polysomnograph with electrodes attached to subjects’ scalps as they slept, to investigate whether dreaming or other brain processes that occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep periods may play a role in the processing of emotions.

In the two-phase experiment, participants were shown pictures on a computer screen and asked to rate each one as sad or happy as well as their own response as calm or excited to each, on a scale of 1-9. The researchers counted sad-happy ratings and calm-excited of 1-3 as negative images and 4-6 as neutral, so each participant’s overall “emotional value” score was unique.

Twelve hours later, participants were shown a mix of new and already viewed pictures and asked whether they had ever seen the picture before and to rate each again on the two scales. They all kept a sleep diary and took a sleep quality index test, as well.

Session timing was arranged so that 82 subjects were assigned either to a Sleep group who saw the first set of pictures late in the day and the second group of pictures after they had slept overnight or to a Wake group, who saw the first set of pictures in the morning and the second set later the same day. To rule out a possible circadian effect on attention, 24 different subjects followed the same routine but with only a 45-minute break between the two phases. Polysomnography data were collected from 25 participants in the Sleep group in their own homes overnight.

Spencer and colleagues found that sleep had significant effects on participants’ memories and feelings. Recognition memory for the pictures was better following sleep compared with wake.

Importantly, the researchers found that contrary to previous assumptions that sleep might soften negative emotional effects of a disturbing event, a period of sleep was associated with participants’ maintaining the strength of their initial negative feelings compared to a period of wakefulness. This suggests that sleep’s effect on memory and emotion are independent, the authors state.

The researchers found no significant relationship between REM sleep time and participants’ accuracy in recalling whether they had seen a picture in both the first and second phases of the study. As such, how sleep protects the emotional response and the emotional memory are unanswered questions. “Sleep may, in fact, be protective of the emotional salience of a stimulus just as sleep protects the emotional memory,” the authors point out.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the UMass Amherst Commonwealth Honors College.

Released: 1/16/2012

Source:  University of Massachusetts Amherst

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/sleep-preserves-and-enhances-bad-emotional-memories

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