Brain Experiments May Mislead, and Other News

Yellow bird perched on a tree branchResearchers often use animal experiments of brain function to draw conclusions about human brains and behavior. One common procedure involves manipulating an animal’s brain, then reporting on how the change affects the animal’s behavior or health. But a new study published in Nature calls this approach into question, suggesting it may create inaccurate impressions of how the brain works and how brain damage affects behavior.

The study shows the long-term effects of brain damage look much different from the short-term effects. Thus people who hear that a certain brain manipulation changes behavior might mistakenly believe the change is more dramatic and long-lasting than it actually is. Because brain regions are closely connected and highly innervated, researchers say, it is challenging to tell what region specifically causes changes in behavior. Moreover, the brain can change in response to environmental changes, including by altering neural circuits in response to brain damage.

For the study, researchers tested the long-term and short-term effects of brain damage in both rats and songbirds. In one trial, the rats and birds received a drug injection that temporarily deactivated neurons. A second group of rats and birds underwent permanent brain damage in the form of a surgically induced brain lesion.

When researchers tested the ability of the songbirds to sing a mating song, those with the temporary damage could not produce songs. Those with long-term damage, though, could sing again just two days after the brain damage. Rats were tested on a lever-pushing task. Those with temporary damage did not perform the task well, and those with long-term damage could not learn the task. Rats that learned the task before the brain damage were able to retain that knowledge.

Psychiatric Drug—Not Antibiotic—Messes With Gut Microbes, Spurs Obesity

A study of mice suggests risperidone, an antipsychotic drug, can cause mice to burn fewer calories while resting, leading to weight gain. The drug’s role in weight gain, insulin resistance, and metabolic issues in people is already well established. The latest study suggests the mechanism behind these issues is a disruption in gut microbes.

Brain Regions of PTSD Patients Show Differences During Fear Responses

Some regions of the brain in people with posttraumatic stress function differently than in people without PTSD. According to a study that compared 32 military veterans with PTSD to 35 without PTSD, the brains of people with PTSD cause them to treat non-threatening events as if they were similar to the original trauma. For example, a veteran with PTSD might react to fireworks as if they were gunfire, due to the brain’s generalization of loud stimuli.

Horror Films Really Can Curdle Your Blood

Horror films might actually curdle your blood, according to a small study of 24 healthy young adults. One group watched a horror movie for 15 minutes, while a control group did not. At the end of the study, participants who watched the scary movie had higher levels of a blood clotting factor known as coagulant factor VII.

So Lonely It Hurts

Loneliness is associated with a number of health problems, including an increased risk of premature death. According to a new study, lonely people’s brains are more reactive to words related to isolation such as “detached” and “excluded.” These people’s brains also react less strongly to positive terms. Previous research has found an overabundance of stress-related chemicals in the bodies of lonely people. This, taken in conjunction with the latest study, suggests loneliness can be physically painful.

The Psychology of Radicalization: How Terrorist Groups Attract Young Followers

Researchers are increasingly interested in the psychological tactics terrorist groups such as ISIL/ISIS use to attract followers, and this report from National Public Radio sheds light on some of these methods, which include connecting the problems young people face to the problems terrorists say they fight.

‘Novel, Amazing, Innovative’: Positive Words On the Rise in Science Papers

A new review suggests hyperbolic positive terms in scientific papers increased nine-fold between 1974 and 2014. This, researchers say, reflects an increase in overly hyped studies rather than a surge in innovation.

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  • Gabby


    December 18th, 2015 at 1:13 PM

    I really do hate to have to watch a scary movie. I am never quite sure of the appeal of all of the blood and gore? There are plenty enough things that scare me in real life without subjecting myself to all of that.

  • Debbie


    December 18th, 2015 at 5:16 PM

    I suffered a brain injury in 2008. I’ve found that stress really affects my health now, and will put me to bed. Also all of my senses are heightened (except taste). My hearing, it’s like the volume was turned up. I went to my dentist last week, and had to have a cavity filled. I was very much numb. But when the dentist began drilling on a very small cavity (surface)..the pain I felt was excruciating. There was no explanation to why I felt the sharp pain. We surmised that the vibrations of the drill sent signals to the brain of pain. I truly felt the pain, but it wasn’t there. My brain perceived the vibrations as pain, therefore that is what I felt! My dentist is working with me so I have a pain free experience. He won’t give up on me, and won’t let me push thru it. He said it’s real to you! We WILL get a solution. :)

  • Evan


    December 21st, 2015 at 2:48 PM

    I do not get how some group so evil like ISIS has such great results with recruiting others into their terrorist network. It is remarkable to me that kids form seemingly good and normal homes would ever even think to be sucked into this.

  • Gracie


    December 22nd, 2015 at 2:45 PM

    I don’t trust anything that says novel and creative without trying it myself first!

  • tara f

    tara f

    December 25th, 2015 at 4:48 AM

    These young people who are becoming radicalized and wanting to join the Islamic state for their cause are looking for a way to belong to something and that feeling of being a part of something big is what they are missing in their lives. I do not condone that behavior and think that there are far more positive thing to be a part of but I do think that in many instances this is their line of thinking. And I think that the radical groups do a good job of making them feel important, special, that they could change the world and there are kids from everywhere that are buying into this wholeheartedly.

  • Joy


    December 26th, 2015 at 1:41 PM

    Please… this is all about people with inflated egos just trying to beef up their research when they know that it could be lacking

  • tate


    December 27th, 2015 at 3:59 PM

    If the animal experiments are misleading then I am not sure where else we should go? I mean, it is not like it is always feasible to do experiments on living humans, that’s a little unethical don’t you think? So that means that much of what we learn has to come from experimentation with animals.

  • jeri


    December 28th, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    My uncle has PTSD from his experiences in Vietnam and he cannot even be in the room with any conversation about that war. Any little thing just brings up too many bad memories and emotions for him.

  • Britt


    December 28th, 2015 at 5:30 PM

    Nothing hurts quite as much as feeling alone and abandoned, and yes, those feelings can make you feel like you have a great deal of physical pain.

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