Thursday, July 2, 2015

Are You Blue-Eyed and Like to Drink? Uh Oh

Hey, blue eyes.  Do you like to drink?  A new study says it's more likely you'll be an alcoholic.
People with blue eyes might have a greater chance of becoming alcoholics, according to a unique new study by genetic researchers at the University of Vermont.

The work, led by Arvis Sulovari, a doctoral student in cellular, molecular and biological sciences, and Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Dawei Li, Ph.D., is the first to make a direct connection between a person’s eye color and alcohol dependence.

The authors found that primarily European Americans with light-colored eyes – including green, grey and brown in the center – had a higher incidence of alcohol dependency than those with dark brown eyes, with the strongest tendency among blue-eyed individuals, reports.

The study outlines the genetic components that determine eye color and shows that they line up along the same chromosome as the genes related to excessive alcohol use.

But, Li says, “we still don’t know the reason” and more research is needed. “These are complex disorders,” he says. “There are many genes, and there are many environmental triggers.”

From its extensive database, Li’s and Sulovari’s study filtered out the alcohol-dependent patients with European ancestry, a total of 1,263 samples. After Sulovari noticed the eye-color connection, they retested their analysis three times, arranging and rearranging the groups to compare age, gender and different ethnic or geographic backgrounds, such as southern and northern parts of the continent.

But never fear.  Scientists are still a long way off from providing definitively that this is true.  Still, I'm glad my eyes are brown!

How Close Is That Object? Depending on What You See Determines Your Emotional Closeness to Others

How far away an object seems to you may also tell how close you are to the people you love.


A new study says that the brain region that helps people tell whether an object is near or far may also guide how emotionally close they feel to others and how they rank them socially, according to a study conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, as reported at

The study focused on evidence for the existence of a “social map” in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that remembers locations in physical space and the order in which events occur. While previous studies had suggested that the hippocampus records a 3-dimensional representation of our surroundings when a key set of nerve cells fires, how the hippocampus contributes to social behavior had not been previously described.

“By quantifying the response patterns of people making decisions based on social interactions, we found that the hippocampus tracks relationships, intimacy and hierarchy within a kind of ‘social map’,” says Rita Tavares, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Schiller Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Our data suggests a common mechanism for how the brain codes for physical space, time and for social relationships.”

 Well, I can't see objects more than five feet away from me without my glasses so I hope that doesn't make me a sociopath!

Previous social psychology studies and theory had identified two main factors that define social relationships: power (competence, dominance, hierarchy) and affiliation (intimacy, trustworthiness, love). In the new study, Mount Sinai researchers gauged participants’ sense of affiliation and power using a social space model: in a role-playing game, healthy subjects were tasked with finding a new home and job through power and affiliation interactions with virtual cartoon characters.

“We found that participants who reported better social skills showed better hippocampal tracking of the movement of the game characters through that social space,” says Daniela Schiller, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Lab Director of the Schiller Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Our results suggest that the hippocampus is crucial for social cognition and imply that beyond framing physical locations, the hippocampus computes a more general, inclusive, abstract and multidimensional social map.”

Navigating through social space may be relevant to many disorders that impair social cognition, such as sociopathy, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, depression and autism. Many of these disorders are known to involve hippocampal dysfunction. The current study results predict that an impaired geometric representation of social space in the hippocampus may occur across psychiatric populations.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shopaholic? Take a Nap

Feel like shopping for shoes?  Take a nap.

That's what experts are now saying to do when we want to overcome impulses (that's me) and frustration.

I can't enter a store without heading straight to the shoe department and, most likely, buying a pair of shoes. But that doesn't mean I don't also stop at the sportswear and designer departments, too.

Now all I have to do is take a nap?  That might be a little hard at Lord & Taylor's but I guess it makes sense.  As you're starting to feel the urge, go lie down.  Of course, that's assuming we're near a bed, which, just about 24/7, I'm not.

But a new study has shown that taking a nap may be an effective strategy to counteract impulsive behavior and to boost tolerance for frustration, according to

"Our results suggest that napping may be a beneficial intervention for individuals who may be required to remain awake for long periods of time by enhancing the ability to persevere through difficult or frustrating tasks," says Goldschmied, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology.

Napping may also be a cost-efficient and easy strategy to increase workplace safety, the researchers said. Employers who add nap pods in the workplace or offer extended break time may find their employees more productive.

I've never been a nap person (I always wake up cranky and dazed), and I'm probably not going to start now.  But it's an interesting idea.  

Men Big Babies When it Comes to Pain? Here's Why

We all know men are babies when it comes to pain (sorry, guys!).  But there may be a reason for it.

A new study has revealed that the pain "circuitry" of men and women is different.  According to, new research released today reveals for the first time that pain is processed in male and female mice using different cells.

"Research has demonstrated that men and women have different sensitivity to pain and that more women suffer from chronic pain than men, but the assumption has always been that the wiring of how pain is processed is the same in both sexes,” says co-senior author Jeffrey Mogil, Ph.D., E.P. Taylor professor of pain studies at McGill University and director of the Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain.

I've been through major cancer surgery, many surgical biopsies, a c-section, eight stitches from falling and cutting my eye while running, and now am dealing with a kidney stone.  My husband, who had laser knee surgery years ago (and won't go back for any more of any kind) carried on for months afterwards.

Sorry, Larry.

 The research was conducted by teams from McGill University, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and Duke University, and looked at the longstanding theory that pain is transmitted from the site of injury or inflammation through the nervous system using an immune system cell called microglia. This new research shows that this is only true in male mice. Interfering with the function of microglia in a variety of different ways effectively blocked pain in male mice, but had no effect in female mice.

According to the researchers, a completely different type of immune cell, called T cells, appears to be responsible for sounding the pain alarm in female mice. However, exactly how this happens remains unknown.

“Understanding the pathways of pain and sex differences is absolutely essential as we design the next generation of more sophisticated, targeted pain medications,” says Michael Salter, M.D., Ph.D., Head and Senior Scientist, Neuroscience & Mental Health at SickKids and Professor at The University of Toronto, the other co-senior author. “We believe that mice have very similar nervous systems to humans, especially for a basic evolutionary function like pain, so these findings tell us there are important questions raised for human pain drug development.”

So that Tylenol works better on me than him?

That seems to be what they're saying.  

"For the past 15 years, scientists have thought that microglia controlled the volume knob on pain, but this conclusion was based on research using almost exclusively male mice,” says Mogil. “This finding is a perfect example of why this policy, and very carefully designed research, is essential if the benefits of basic science are to serve everyone.”

Monday, June 29, 2015

Do You 'Friend' Your Doc? Maybe Not

Who would have thought? "Friending" your doctor on Facebook might not be such a good thing.

For quite a while it's been an option for many physicians and patients.  I have to admit I like it.  But now a new study is saying that maybe, duh, we might want to reconsider.

That's because, obviously, it can blur the lines in your relationship.  And not surprisingly, doctors may not like seeing your dog drinking Starbucks from a paper cup flash on their Facebook screens.

The findings from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers suggest a disconnect between what patients expect and what physicians – concerned about confidentiality and being overwhelmed in off-hours – are willing to do when it comes to online dialogue.

“The medical establishment needs to figure out how best to incorporate this reality into their practice while properly ensuring security safeguards,” says study leader Joy Lee, PhD, MS, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School, at “This is an area where there is significant patient interest, but institutions and health care providers haven’t caught up.” 

Obamacare, with its mandate that health care providers must convert to electronic records or face fines, probably did more than anything to introduce docs to the Internet. But it hasn't been all a happy party.

Researchers found that 37 percent of patients had used personal email to contact their doctors or hospital within the past six months and 18 percent reported using Facebook for the same purpose.

The findings related to Facebook are particularly interesting, Lee and her co-authors note, because “most institutions actively discourage social media contact with individual patients.” Nevertheless, the researchers predict that the percentage of patients using Facebook as a means of contacting their doctors “might grow as the average age of Facebook users rises and familiarity with Facebook grows.”

The team cites earlier studies from 2009, 2011 and 2012 indicating that a significant number of patients are interested in using the social media platform as a means of contacting their health care providers.

 Not surprisingly, patients between the ages of 25 and 44 were most likely to use email or Facebook to contact their doctors, with 49 percent of patients surveyed in that age group indicating that they had used these tools for this purpose within the past six months. By contrast, 34 percent of patients aged 45-64 and 26 percent of patients aged 65 or older reported the same.

But health care provider organizations discourage this kind of contact, the study finds.  I'm not so sure I'd want to see my doc's dog drinking coffee, either.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Are Lying Kids More Intelligent?

It probably should come as no surprise but kids with good memories are better liars.

Or, as some people think, more intelligent.

Say what?

Turns out the higher a child’s verbal working memory -- the ability to process information -- the better their ability to process the verbal information necessary to tell a believable lie.

Verbal working memory contributes to complex social interactions, like lying, because children need to juggle multiple pieces of information while keeping the lie in mind.

Sadly, my son is a good liar.  He doesn't do it often but he's so good at it, I don't usually know he's doing it.  Maybe it's because I trust him (too much?).

I have to admit, I have a good kid.  So when he does something wrong, I don't always see it.  It started out small in elementary school, where we'd ask if he had homework, he would say no, and then we'd find out (in fifth grade) that he never turned in a final paper.  Actually, now that I think about it, it was more a lie of omission.  We didn't know about the assignment until the teacher told us what happened.

We attributed it to "senioritis" (it was his last assignment in grade school), but we took note of it.   I tried to think of another instance, but couldn't. No, I don't have a perfect kid.  He just doesn't lie that much!  (But then, would I know?!)

“Some do it to get out of trouble, others do it because other people might feel bad and they feel bad, and still others might do it just because they think it’s fun to pull the wool over somebody’s eyes,” says Dr. Robyn Silverman, a child development specialist, at “There’s different lies. Some are socially acceptable and we say, Thank goodness you’re lying about that sweater that Grandma got you’, and others, we wish they would tell the truth.” 

"We already know that adults lie in approximately a fifth of their social exchanges lasting 10 or more minutes, so it’s interesting to know why some children are able to tell better lies than others," said Dr. Elena Hoika, a professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield at

Another researcher remarked that this is the first time it has been shown that verbal working memory in particular has strong links to lying, not just any working memory. Said Dr. Tracy Alloway, a UNF associate professor of psychology and one of the lead researchers, “Parents may sometimes become frustrated when their child lies about sticking their hand in a cookie jar, but we can take heart that the more believable the explanation for the crumbs around their mouth, the more intelligent they are."

How Many Does It Take to Stop a Bully?

Think about this.  If you saw someone in a crowd being bullied, would you try to stop it? 

The startling truth is that, the more people who witness the act, the more likely it is no one will stop it. 

A new study sheds light on the behavior of “bystanders” who “witness” cyberbullying.

According to, "The higher the number of 'bystanders,' the less likely intervention would occur during a cyberbullying incident."

The perceived anonymity of “bystanders” also reduced the likelihood of intervention. However, the closeness that a particular “bystander” felt toward the victim was most consistently related to his or her decision to intervene.

That's why cyberbullying is such a threat.  The perceived “invisibility” offered by digital communication allows for less adherence to societal standards (who hasn't blown the horn from the safety of your car at someone who turns unexpectedly without signalling, yet would never confront someone who doesn't hold the door for you?).

It's probably impossible to stamp out all bullying.  But the findings of this study might be used to educate schools, colleges, and even parents about the nature of interventions and how they can be cultivated to disrupt episodes of cyberbullying. Such steps could have an impact on reducing the practice, or at least the impact, of cyberbullying.