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Tuesday
Jul102012

When Co-Workers are Bullied, Everyone Wants to Quit

From my friend Todd Essig's great Forbes blog Managing Mental Wealth comes a piece about research on the effects of watching co-workers get bullied in the office.  Managers should especially take note. From the piece:

Those who manage or have any responsibility for the conduct of a group or work unit already know to squash bullying behavior. It’s not the kind of thing you want in your organization. But despite such common practice, new research about the damaging organizational influence of ambient, or secondary, bullying suggests managers just may want to increase their efforts to eliminate bullying completely.

Research about to be published in the July, 2012 issue of Human Relations titled Escaping bullying: The simultaneous impact of individual and unit-level bullying on turnover intentions sampled responses from nurses at 41 different hospital units. The researchers first looked at whether people want to quit their jobs when they themselves are bullied. Then they added an interesting twist. They asked whether people form an intention to quit their job when they are in a  work environment in which others are bullied even when they themselves had not been bullied.

Read the entire piece at Managing Mental Wealth.

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Friday
Jul062012

What Are Brain Booster Drinks, And Are They Safe?

Science writer Carl Zimmerman has a great piece in Discover Magazine about the latest in performance-enhancing beverages: Brain Boosting Neuro Drinks. From the piece:

I dig a knife into a cardboard box, slit it open, and lift a plastic bottle of bright red fluid from inside. I set it down on my kitchen table, next to my coffee and eggs. The drink, called NeuroSonic, is labeled with a cartoon silhouette of a head, with a red circle where its brain should be. A jagged line—presumably the trace of an EKG—crosses the circle. And down at the very bottom of the bottle, it reads, “Mental performance in every bottle.”

My office is full of similar boxes: Dream Water (“Dream Responsibly”), Brain Toniq (“The clean and intelligent think drink”), iChill (“helps you relax, reduce stress, sleep better”), and Nawgan (“What to Drink When You Want to Think”). These products contain mixtures of neurotransmitters, hormones, and neuroactive amino acids, but you don’t need a prescription to buy them. I ordered mine on Amazon, and you can even find them in many convenience stores. I unscrew the cap from one of them and take a gulp. NeuroSonic tastes like cherry and aluminum. I wait for my neurons to light up.

Read the entire piece at Discover Magazine

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Tuesday
Jul032012

Reverse Beer Goggles: Why Drinking Makes You Think You're Hot

The BPS Reserch Digest has an interesting piece about research suggesting that alchohol doesn't just make others seem more attractive, but also makes the drinker think she/he is more attractive. From the piece:

The beer-goggle effect is well-documented - the way that being drunk makes everyone look wonderfully attractive. A new study asks whether the goggles work backwards. Does being drunk affect how we judge our own appeal?

Laurent Bègue and her team asked 19 patrons at a French bar to rate their own attractiveness and to puff into a breathalyser. The two measures correlated - the participants who were more drunk tended to rate themselves as more attractive. But maybe that was nothing to do with the effect of alcohol. Perhaps better-looking people like getting more drunk?

To find out, Bègue and her colleagues conducted a balanced placebo test with 86 Frenchmen. Half drank the equivalent of five to six shots of vodka, and in this group, half were told truthfully the minty lemon drink was alcoholic, whilst the other half were told it was a new, non-alcoholic beverage that tasted like alcohol. The remaining men drank an alcohol-free version of the minty, lemon drink - half of them were told it was alcoholic (alcohol was sprayed on the glass to make this more believable) and half were told truthfully that it was not. After a short break to allow the alcohol to work its effects, they all recorded an advertising message for the fictional beverage company that they'd been told had produced the drink. Right after, they then watched back the film they'd made and rated their own attractiveness.

Read the entire piece at the BPS Research Digest

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Sunday
Jul012012

Why Are Humans So Curious? 

Great article at BBC Future by Tom Stafford about how the brain evolved to learn, and the crucial role of curiosity in keeping that machine well-oiled. From the article:

The roots of our peculiar curiosity can be linked to a trait of the human species call neoteny. This is a term from evolutionary theory that means the "retention of juvenile characteristics". It means that as a species we are more child-like than other mammals. Being relatively hairless is one physical example. A large brain relative to body size is another. Our lifelong curiosity and playfulness is a behavioural characteristic of neoteny.

Neoteny is a short-cut taken by evolution – a route that brings about a whole bundle of changes in one go, rather than selecting for them one by one. Evolution, by making us a more juvenile species, has made us weaker than our primate cousins, but it has also given us our child's curiosity, our capacity to learn and our deep sense of attachment to each other.

And of course the lifelong capacity to learn is the reason why neoteny has worked so well for our species. Our extended childhood means we can absorb so much more from our environment, including our shared culture. Even in adulthood we can pick up new ways of doing things and new ways of thinking, allowing us to adapt to new circumstances.

Read the entire article at BBC Future

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Thursday
Jun282012

How Your Brain Might be Keeping You Overweight

Neurogenesis is a wonderful word that means our brains continue to grow new neurons throughout our lifetimes.  Not long ago, the brain was thought of as a static hunk of tissue that stopped growing after a neuronal "pruning" period early in our lives.

With time, neuroscience research uncovered two parts of the brain that evidence neurogenesis: the hippocampus, associated with memory formation, and the olfactory bulb, associated with the sense of smell.

Now, a study has uncovered a third part of the brain that, at least in mice, shows positive signs of neurogenesis: the hypothalamus, associated with body temperature, metabolism, sleep, hunger, thirst and a few other critical functions.

The news about this particular form of neurogenesis, however, isn't so wonderful.

Researchers from the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine injected mice with a chemical that incorporates itself into newly dividing cells.  They found that the chemical appeared in rapidly proliferating cells called tanycytes in the hypothalamus, and further tests confirmed that the tanycytes specifically produced new neurons and not other types 0f cells.

The research team then wanted to find out what these neurons do, so they studied the new hypothalamus neurons in mice that had been fed a high fat diet since birth. Since the hypothalamus is associated with  hunger and metabolism, the team speculated that the neurons may be linked in some way to weight gain.  Turns out, they were right.

At a very young age, the mice fed a high fat diet didn't show a difference in neurogenesis from young mice fed a normal diet. But when they became adults, the mice fed a high fat diet showed four times the neurogenesis of the normal mice, and gained significantly more weight and had much higher fat mass.

To make sure that the new neurons were actually correlating with the weight gain, the researchers killed the neurons in some of the mice with focused X-rays.  Those mice showed far lower weight gain and body fat than those fed the same high fat diet, and even lower than mice that were more active.

In other words, it's clear that these neurons have a major impact on weight regulation and fat storage in mice -- and it's altogether possible the same holds true for us.  

Further tests will have to be conducted to find out if that's the case, but from an evolutionary standpoint it would make sense.  Dr. Seth Blackshaw, the lead researcher, comments that hypothalamic neurogenesis may be a mechanism that evolved to help wild animals survive and probably also our ancestors. "Wild animals that find a rich and abundant source of food typically eat as much as possible as these foods are generally rare to find."

But in a culture with an abundance of food, that formerly life-saving advantage can turn into a distinct disadvantage. Blackshaw explains, "In the case of the lab animals and also in people in developed countries who have an almost unlimited access to food, this neurogenesis is not at all beneficial as it potentially encourages unnecessary excessive weight gain and fat storage."  In short, our diets may be training our brains to keep us fat.

On the upside, if these findings are confirmed in humans, they may eventually lead to a drug that blocks neurogenesis in the hypothalamus -- but we're a long way from there.

The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

 

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