How money shapes the brain; weighty issues in America; and more

January 14, 2009 at 3:37 am Leave a comment

Roundup of news and such…

** Income affects brain development: In a soon-to-be-published article in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, researchers have shown that brain physiology patterns of kids from low-income backgrounds are similar to adults with brain damage. Kids from high-income backgrounds, on the other hand, have normal frontal lobe activity. 

“This is a wake-up call,” says Berkeley psychology professor Robert Knight. “It’s not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums.”

Adds Silvia Bunge, a colleague of Knight’s at Berkeley who is leading the intervention studies on prefrontal cortex development in youth using fMRI, “The study is suggestive and a little bit frightening that environmental conditions have such a strong impact on brain development.”

More information about this research can be found here.

**  Obese Americans now outweigh the merely overweight: 34 percent of American adults — more than 72 million people over the age of 18 —  are obese, another 33 percent are overweight, and 6 percent are morbidly obese. 

Earlier this year, it was reported that 32 percent of American children were overweight, 16 percent were obese, and 11 percent were morbidly obese.

Obesity and overweight are calculated using a formula called body mass index. BMI is equal to weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. Someone with a BMI of 25 to 29 is classified as overweight, 30 to 40 counts as obese and people with BMIs of 40 or more are morbidly obese.

A person 5 feet 5 inches tall becomes overweight at 150 pounds (68 kg) and obese at 180 pounds (82 kg). The U.S. National Institutes of Health has an online BMI calculator at www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi.

** Sudoku over Seinfeld. Feeling antsy, restless, or overcome with anxiety? Don’t zone-out. Instead, actively engage the mind.

New research has found that “brain-sharpening activities – rather than mind-numbing ones – can rein in a restless psyche by activating the region of the brain that commands logical reasoning and concentration.” 

“If anything, hard tasks can keep anxious people from being sidetracked and can help them stay on task,” said Sonia Bishop, a UC Berkeley psychologist and lead author of the brain imaging study, published online by Nature Neuroscience yesterday on Dec. 14.

Bishop’s study shows that people who are overly anxious have a hard time concentrating on mundane tasks such as ironing and filing paperwork, even when they are not imagining worst-case scenarios. This is because, when distracted, anxious people struggle to activate the prefrontal region of the brain needed to focus on the task at hand.

These findings break new ground in understanding the brain circuitry of anxiety because previous anxiety investigations have focused on an overactive amygdala, or fight-or-flight reflex, which alerts the body to protect itself in times of danger. The new findings suggest that poor concentration in anxious people is as much due to a slow response in the prefrontal cortex when they are engaged in undemanding pastimes or chores. More info here.

** In Defense of Teasing.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood 

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Visualizing GDP Building the Wikipedia for academic research

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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