A large study shows changes in the brain scans of lonely people in the area involved in imagination, memory, and daydreaming.
- A study of 40,000 participants shows specific signatures in the brain scans of lonely people.
- Loneliness is linked to variations in grey matter volume and connections in the brain default network.
- This area of the brain is connected to the use of imagination, memory, future planning, and daydreaming.
Scientists show what loneliness looks like in the brain<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="63156dc0c87a36da00d48a02eab00822"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/wkWpqlfA_2Q?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Research shows that sparrows and other animals use plants to heal themselves.
- Researchers find that russet sparrows are among the many animals that self-medicate.
- It's not clear whether this pervasive capability is learned behavior or instinctive.
- It's likely animals have discovered some remedies we don't yet know about.
Animal pharmacists<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk0MjIwMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjU2MTA3OX0.dDunXAmY_nt9cVj7bTvR1GIblfDifR_Feodv7Fg0vVI/img.jpg?width=980" id="b6f6b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="af091db92f286d9d168da2451a442db7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: karenkh/Adobe Stock<p>In that New York Times article, Huffman tells the story of a chimp he observed named Chausiku who treated a malaise by chewing the juice from the <em>Vernonia amygdalina</em> plant. According to a local ranger, the plant contains potent medicine but is also deadly at larger doses. Chausiku somehow knew just how much juice to ingest, and she recovered her energy in a few days. She recovered with a powerful appetite, suggesting the resolution of some manner of intestinal distress. Subsequent testing of the plant revealed it has multiple compounds with strong anti-parasitic qualities.</p><p>It seems clear that this sort of medicinal savvy is widespread throughout the animal kingdom. A PNAS article was <a href="National%20Center%20for%20Biotechnology%20Information" target="_blank">shared</a> by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2014. It noted, among other examples:</p><ul><li>Reports of bears, deer, and elk consuming medical plants.</li><li>Elephants in Kenya that induce delivery of their calves by eating certain leaves.</li><li>Lizards that eat a particular anti-venom root when bit by a snake.</li><li>Red and green macaws that ingest clay that calms their digestion (dirt antacids!) and kills bacteria.</li><li>Female wooly spider monkeys in Brazil whose fertility is enhanced by eating certain plants.</li></ul><p>It may be primates who are most adept at self-medicating. Chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas are often seen swallowing rough leaves that clear their digestive tracts of parasites. Chimps with roundworms will also eat terrible-tasting plants that cure such infestations.</p><p>Numerous animals—such as the sparrows noted earlier and certain caterpillars—eat plants that kill or repel parasites.</p><p>Those russet sparrows aren't the only ones who seem to be planning head, either. There are ants that use antibacterial spruce-tree resin to keep their nests germ free. Finches and sparrow line their nests with cigarette butts that keep mites under control.</p>
Animal science, luck, and/or instinct?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk0MjIwNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNDg3MDk2OH0.92VlwYZMrIqtctCl0v23vaWlBXLzbyFicDovEBaPvWY/img.jpg?width=980" id="8fa28" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="276c7472b74b6591f8150b8bee7b5534" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="617" />
Credit: Thaut Images/Adobe Stock<p>If science is the practice of making observations, particularly of cause and effect, it may be that these animals are practicing a science of their own. As psychologist Robin Dunbar tell the Times, this method is simply how people and other living beings work out the way things work: "Science is a genuine universal, characteristic of all advanced life-forms."</p><p>An animal's source of medical knowledge may be as simple as that which comes to an individual with digestive issues who just happens to eat a plant that makes them feel better, a bit of knowledge that will come in handy when it once again gets sick. Perhaps others nearby see what's happened and learn the trick to recovering from a stomach ache themselves. Perhaps offspring learn the medicine by observing their adults. Emory University's <a href="http://www.biology.emory.edu/research/deRoode/" target="_blank">Jaap de Roode</a>, speaking with <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/04/09/176694090/on-call-in-the-wild-animals-play-doctor-too?/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NPR</a>, says that "primates are not so different from us. They can learn from each other and they can make associations between ... taking medicinal plants and feeling better."</p><p>On the other hand, it could also be natural selection at work. An animal with a natural inclination toward this kind of plant may ingest it when its tummy hurts. It then survives to reproduce while other individuals with tummy aches don't. The animal uses the plant medicinally without any particular knowledge or understanding.</p><p>"People used to believe that you had to be very smart to [self-medicate]," says de Roode, but this may not be so. He cites the example of parasite-infected monarch butterflies who will lay their eggs in anti-parasitic milkweed, given the option. "I wouldn't say it's a conscious choice, but it's a choice," he says, since healthy monarchs don't exhibit such a preference.</p><p>However this works, experts say we would be wise to keep an eye on all these non-human practitioners — there may be cures they know about that human physicians haven't yet caught onto. As de Roode says, animals "have been studying medicine much longer than we have."</p>
These tiny fish are helping scientists understand how the human brain processes sound.
- Fragile X syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by changes in a gene that scientists call the "fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1)" gene. People who have FXS or autism often struggle with sensitivity to sound.
- According to the research team, FXS is caused by the disruption of a gene. By disrupting that same gene in zebrafish larvae, they can examine the effects and begin to understand more about this disrupted gene in the human brain.
- Using the zebrafish, Dr. Constantin and the team were able to gather insights into which parts of the brain are used to process sensory information.
By disrupting a specific gene in Zebrafish, we're able to better understand the same disruption of that gene in humans with FXS or autism.
Credit: slowmotiongli on Adobe Stock<p>"Loud noises often cause sensory overload and anxiety in people with autism and Fragile X syndrome -- sensitivity to sound is common to both conditions," <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201110102527.htm" target="_blank">Dr. Constantin explained to Science Daily</a>.</p><p><strong>How do zebrafish relate to humans with autism? </strong></p><p>According to the research team, FXS is caused by the disruption of a gene. By disrupting that same gene in zebrafish larvae, they can examine the effects and begin to understand more about this disrupted gene in the human brain. </p><p>The thalamus, according to Dr. Constantin, works as a control center, relaying sensory information from around the body to different parts of the brain. The hindbrain then coordinates different behavioral responses. Using the different sound tests, the team was able to study the whole brain of the zebrafish larvae under microscopes and see the activity of each brain cell individually. </p><p>According to Dr. Constantin, the research team recorded the brain activity of zebrafish larvae while showing them movies or exposing them to bursts of sound. The movies stimulated movement, a reaction to the visual stimuli that was the same for fish with the Fragile X mutation and those without. However, when the fish were given a burst of white noise, there was a dramatic difference in the brain activity of the fish with the Fragile X mutation.<br></p><p>After seeing how the noise radically affected the fish brain, the team designed a range of 12 different volumes of sound and found the Fragile X model fish could hear much quieter volumes than the control fish. </p><p>"The fish with Fragile X mutations had more connections between different regions of their brain and their responses to the sounds were more plentiful in the hindbrain and thalamus," <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201110102527.htm" target="_blank">said Dr. Constantin</a>.</p><p>Essentially, the fish with Fragile X mutation had more connections between the regions of their brain and so their responses to the sounds were more notable. </p><p><strong>Understanding how this gene disruption works in zebrafish will give us a better understanding of sound hypersensitivity in humans with FXS or autism.</strong> </p><p>"How our neural pathways develop and respond to the stimulation of our senses gives us insights into which parts of the brain are used and how sensory information is processed," Dr. Constantin said.</p><p>Using the zebrafish, Dr. Constantin and the team were able to gather insights into which parts of the brain are used to process sensory information. </p><p>"We hope that by discovering fundamental information about how the brain processes sound, we will gain further insights into the sensory challenges faced by people with Fragile X syndrome and autism."</p>
Recent research shows that brain teasers don't make you smarter and don't belong in job interviews because they don't reflect real-world problems.
- There is little research to prove that brain games improve general cognition or slow cognitive decline. Rather they simply make you better at playing that specific brain game.
- Brain teasers are a useless tool during job interviews as they can't predict how an interviewee will perform in real world tasks relevant to the job role.
- Exercise, nutrition, socialization, and meditation are probably better brain boosters.
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Better brain boosters<p>The science on brain training games and teasers is a mixed bag. However, if you're looking for more effective ways to boost your cognition or prevent cognitive decline, here are some that are better backed by research:</p><ul><li><strong>Run or walk.</strong> Several studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that govern thinking and memory are greater in volume in individuals who regularly exercise as opposed to those who don't. What's more, some research has found that engaging in regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months to a year is correlated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions. Most of this research has focused on aerobic exercise.<br><br> </li><li><strong>Meditate.</strong> Multiple studies have shown that regular mindfulness meditation increases grey matter in the brain, which equates with more neuronal activity and better performance, in certain areas. Research has also found that mindfulness meditation <a href="http://jtoomim.org/brain-training/Zeidan2010_Mindfulness_Meditation.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">improves cognition</a>.<br><br> </li><li><strong>Socialize. </strong>Frequent social activity may help to <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/the-health-benefits-of-strong-relationships" target="_blank">delay cognitive decline</a> in old age and boost current cognition. This is because social situations and the development of relationships requires our minds to engage multiple neural networks that are relevant to healthy daily function.<br><br> </li><li><strong>Prioritize nutrition.</strong> "Brain-boosting" foods like fish, dark chocolate, antioxidant-rich berries, and foods with B vitamins like eggs can help build and repair brain cells. </li></ul>
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause neurological damage in some patients.
- The study examined data of cognitive performance collected from more than 84,000 people, more than 12,000 of whom had likely contracted and recovered from COVID-19.
- Compared to healthy participants, the COVID-19 group performed significantly worse on cognitive tests.
- Mental decline in the worst cases were the equivalent of ageing by 10 years.
The effect size of cognitive deficits varied across three cognitive domains, which were estimated by applying principal component analysis with varimax rotation to the nine test summary scores.
Hampshire et al.<p>Participants who suffered the most severe cases of COVID-19, and had to be put on a respirator, showed cognitive "equivalent to the average 10-year decline in global performance between the ages of 20 to 70." For comparison, the study notes that the difference in cognitive performance between this group and the control "equates to an 8.5-point difference in IQ."<br></p><p>The COVID-19 group scored particularly low on tests measuring semantic problem solving and visual selective attention.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"People who have recovered from COVID-19 infection show particularly pronounced problems in multiple aspects of higher cognitive or 'executive' function, an observation that accords with preliminary reports of executive dysfunction in some patients at hospital discharge," the researchers wrote.</p><p>Considering that all participants had recovered from the disease when they completed the cognitive tests, the results suggest that "COVID-19 infection likely has consequences for cognitive function that persist into the recovery phase," the researchers wrote.</p><p>Still, it's unclear whether these deficits (if indeed caused by COVID-19) are permanent, or how long they may last. But there is evidence suggesting that severe respiratory conditions can cause neurological damage. A <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s13054-019-2626-z" target="_blank">2011 study</a>, for example, found that people who'd been hospitalized with acute respiratory distress syndrome can suffer cognitive deficits that persist up to five years after discharge.</p>
The Block Rearrange test [featured in the Great British Intelligence Test] measures spatial problem solving.
Credit: Hampshire et al.<p>It's worth noting the study is limited, mainly because it didn't compare before-and-after cognitive performance of the COVID-19 group. Another possible limitation: People with lower cognitive abilities may be more likely to contract COVID-19 because they're more likely to put themselves in harm's way.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We consider such a relationship plausible; however, it would not explain why the observed deficits varied in scale with respiratory symptom severity," the researchers wrote. "We also note that the large and socioeconomically diverse nature of the cohort enabled us to include many potentially confounding variables in our analysis."</p>
San Diego-area hospitals treat coronavirus patients during COVID-19 pandemic
Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>Only time and further research will tell whether COVID-19 leaves people with lasting cognitive deficits. Scientists are already establishing long-term research projects to answer these questions, such as the <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">COVID-19 Brain Study</a>, which aims to monitor the long-term health of 50,000 participants who have tested positive for the disease.</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>