Posts tagged with "Emory University"

Grandmothers may be more connected to grandchildren than to own offspring

November 22, 2021

They say that grandchildren are life’s greatest joy, and now the first study to examine grandmothers’ brain function has suggested that grannies may be more emotionally connected to their grandkids than to their own sons and daughters, reports The Guardian.

Since the 1960s, researchers have posited that one reason women tend to live decades past their reproductive years is that it increases the chances of their grandchildren surviving, through the physical support they often provide—the grandmother hypothesis. More recent evidence has suggested that children’s wellbeing and educational performance is also boosted by the presence of engaged grandparents.

To better understand the biological underpinnings of this connection, Professor James Rilling, an anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta, and colleagues recruited 50 women with at least one biological grandchild aged between three and 12, and used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan their brains as they looked at photos of that child, the child’s parents, and images of an unrelated child and adult.

“What really jumps out is the activation in areas of the brain associated with emotional empathy,” Rilling said. “That suggests that grandmothers are geared toward feeling what their grandchildren are feeling when they interact with them. If their grandchild is smiling, they’re feeling the child’s joy. And if their grandchild is crying, they’re feeling the child’s pain and distress.”

Rilling previously performed a similar exercise with fathers as they looked at pictures of their children. The activation seen in the grandmothers’ emotion processing areas, and in those associated with reward and motivation, was stronger, on average, than the fathers’—although there were some dads who had just as much activation in these areas.

By contrast, when the grandmothers looked at images of their adult child, slightly different brain areas tended to be activated: those associated with cognitive empathy. This could indicate that they were trying to cognitively understand their adult child, rather than experiencing this more direct emotional connection.

“Emotional empathy is when you’re able to feel what someone else is feeling, but cognitive empathy is when you understand at a cognitive level what someone else is feeling and why,” Rilling said.

This could possibly help to explain the experience many grown-up children have of their parents often seeming more excited to see their grandchildren than them. “I think that’s plausible,” said Rilling, whose findings were published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Young children have likely evolved traits to be able to manipulate not just the maternal brain, but the grand-maternal brain. An adult child doesn’t have the same cute factor, so they may not the same emotional response.”

The results support the idea that there may be a global caregiving system in the brain that is activated in mothers (who have been examined in separate studies), fathers, and grandmothers. Rilling now hopes to study grandfathers and other childcare providers to see how they compare.

Research contact: @guardian

Taking your best shot: Antibiotics appear to reduce flu vaccine effectiveness

September 10, 2019

It’s almost that time of year again, but before you roll up your sleeve for that flu shot, pay attention to a warning released on September 5 by Stanford University School of Medicine: A study conducted among healthy adults suggests that antibiotics may reduce the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.

The depletion of gut bacteria by antibiotics appears to leave the immune system less able to respond to new challenges, such as exposure to previously unencountered germs or vaccines, according to Stanford’s Bali Pulendran, Ph.D., professor of Pathology and of Microbiology and Immunology at the school.

“To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of the effects of broad-spectrum antibiotics on the immune response in humans — in this case, our response to vaccination—directly induced through the disturbance of our gut bacteria,” Pulendran said in a Stanford University news release.

The idea that the trillions of bacteria inhabiting the human gut play a role in our health is far from new, but it hasn’t been rigorously proved. Hard data in humans has been sparse, with causal evidence coming mainly from studies in mice.

The antibiotics lowered the gut-bacterial population by 10,000-fold. The resulting loss of overall diversity was detectable for up to one year after the antibiotics were taken. Still, 30 days after vaccination, vaccine-induced increases in antibodies capable of preventing influenza infection were comparable among the two groups.

But the participants in this experiment tended to have pretty high levels of those antibodies to begin with, suggesting they’d already had some exposure to the flu strains represented in the current or prior seasons’ vaccines.

 “The study indicates that when it comes to responding to vaccination against a previously encountered infectious pathogen, our immune systems are remarkably resilient even in the face of the most severe depletion of our intestinal bacteria,” Pulendran said. “But they seem to lose this resilience when confronted with a vaccine containing new pathogenic elements of which they have little or no prior memory.”

The findings, Pulendran said, imply that when next season’s flu strain comes along, you want your gut-resident microbes to be in full bloom in order for your immune system to rise to the occasion. Pulendran offered some advice. “Get your annual flu shot,” he said. “The greater your inventory of immune memory to influenza strains bearing any resemblance to the one that’s coming over the hill, the more likely you’ll be able to deal with it, even if your gut microbes are in short supply.”

The study findings were published earlier this month in the journal, Cell. Pulendran is the senior author. Lead authorship is shared by Stanford postdoctoral scholars Thomas Hagan, PhD, and Mario Cortese, PhD; and Nadine Rouphael, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and infectious disease at Emory University.

Research contact: @Stanford

Schadenfreude: Feeling good about someone else’s bad luck

October 26, 2018

Embarrassing as it is to admit, few among us have not experienced schadenfreudethe German word for the sense of pleasure that people derive from the misfortune of others. This common, yet poorly understood, emotion may provide a valuable window into the darker side of humanity, according to psychologists at Emory University in Atlanta.

In a study to be published in New Ideas in Psychology in January, and covered on October 23 in Science Daily, the Emory researchers propose that schadenfreude comprises three separable but interrelated sensibilities—aggression, rivalry, and justice—and that people who experience schadenfreude feel a sense of detachment from the subject of their glee.

Indeed, says Shengshen Wang, a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology at Emory and the lead author of the paper, “Dehumanization appears to be at the core of schadenfreude. The scenarios that elicit schadenfreude, such as intergroup conflicts, tend to also promote dehumanization.”

Dehumanization can range from subtle forms, such as assuming that someone from another ethnic group does not feel the full range of emotions as one’s in-group members do; all the way to blatant forms; such as equating sex offenders to animals.

“Our literature review strongly suggests that the propensity to experience schadenfreude isn’t entirely unique, but that it overlaps substantially with several other ‘dark’ personality traits, such as sadism, narcissism, and psychopathy,” comments co-author Philippe Rochat, who studies infant and child development, . “Moreover, different subforms of schadenfreude may relate somewhat differently to these often malevolent traits.”

“Schadenfreude is an uncanny emotion that is difficult to assimilate,” Rochat says. “It’s kind of a warm-cold experience that is associated with a sense of guilt. It can make you feel odd to experience pleasure when hearing about bad things happening to someone else.”

Psychologists view schadenfreude through the lens of three theories:

  • Envy theory focuses on a concern for self-evaluation, and a lessening of painful feelings when someone perceived as enviable gets knocked down a peg.
  • Deservingness theory links schadenfreude to a concern for social justice and the feeling that someone dealt a misfortune received what was coming to them.
  • Intergroup-conflict theory concerns social identity and the schadenfreude experienced after the defeat of members of a rival group, such as during sporting or political competitions.

The Emory research study found that infants as young as eight months demonstrate a sophisticated sense of social justice. In experiments, they showed a preference for puppets who assisted a helpful puppet, and who punished puppets that had exhibited antisocial behavior. Research on infants also points to the early roots of intergroup aggression, showing that, by nine months, infants preferred puppets who punish others who are unlike themselves.

“When you think of normal child development, you think of children becoming good-natured and sociable,” Rochat says. “But there’s a dark side to becoming socialized. You create friends and other in-groups to the exclusion of others.”

Spiteful rivalry appears by at least age five or six, when research has shown that children will sometimes opt to maximize their gain over another child, even if they have to sacrifice a resource to do so.

By the time they reach adulthood, many people have learned to hide any tendencies for making a sacrifice just for spite, but they may be more open about making sacrifices that are considered pro-social.

The review article posits a unifying, motivational theory: Concerns of self-evaluation, social identity and justice are the three motivators that drive people toward schadenfreude. What pulls people away from schadenfreude is the ability to feel empathy for others and to perceive them as fully human and to show empathy for them.

Ordinary people may temporarily lose empathy for others. But those with certain personality disorders and associated traits—such as psychopathy, narcissism, or sadism—either are less able or less motivated to put themselves in the shoes of others.

“By broadening the perspective of schadenfreude, and connecting all of the related phenomena underlying it, we hope we’ve provided a framework to gain deeper insights into this complex, multi-faceted emotion,” Wang says.

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Bigger isn’t better: Why a smaller engagement ring may signify a longer marriage

September 21, 2018

When you are trying to “size up” a woman’s relationship, don’t calculate in the size of her diamond ring. Recent research shows that couples who spend shrewdly and realistically on their engagement ring and wedding reception are more likely to have long-lasting marriages, according to a report by NBC News.

The ‘“A Diamond Is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales” study—co-authored by Andrew Francis-Tan, a visiting associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and Hugo M. Mialon, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Economics at Emory University— examined the association between wedding spending and marriage duration using data from a survey of over 3,000 “ever-married adults” in the United States.

The researchers said that their goal was to establish whether spending a fortune on a ring and a wedding, (as we’re frequently inclined to do, often to our own regret) impacts the longevity of a marriage.

“Wedding industry advertising has fueled the norm that spending large amounts on the engagement ring and wedding is an indication of commitment or is helpful for a marriage to be successful,” Mialon told NBC News. “In either case, the general message [put out by the wedding industry and eagerly accepted by couples worldwide] is that wedding spending and marriage duration are positively correlated.”

But that’s not the case. In fact, there’s a sweet spot for how much a ring should—or shouldn’t—cost.  Through their research, Francis-Tan and Mialon found that men who spent between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring had a higher rate of divorce (of about 1.3 times) than men who spent between $500 and $2,000.

But the pendulum swings the other way, too. Spending less than $500 on an engagement ring was found to be associated with higher divorce rates in the sample of women surveyed.

However, the academics assert that these findings  “[do]not prove that high expenses on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony cause divorce;  only that high expenses on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony are positively correlated with divorce, holding constant a number of demographic and relationship characteristics, including income.

Their overall recommendation: It’s not about the price tag; it’s about what you can afford, NBC News reports. Do not spend your whole bank account on one day in your life, no matter how special. Your focus should be on the long-term health and vitality of your relationship.

“What could explain the observed negative association between wedding expenses and marriage duration? Perhaps those couples who tend to have lavish weddings are simply those couples who tend not to be the best match for each other,” Mialon told NBC.

“On the other hand,” he points out, “it is also possible that having an expensive wedding burdens [a couple] financially in a way that may later strain their marriage”

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Throwing some shade: Parasols are back in fashion

July 3, 2018

There are more than a few ways to “take the heat,” including sunscreen, protective clothing, large hats—and our personal favorite, staying inside in the air conditioning. But women in Asia and the Middle East—including up to 45% of women in China—have for many centuries used parasols to block the skin-scorching effects of ultraviolet (UV) light.

Indeed, the word, parasol, is derived from Latin, with para meaning ward off or shelter; and sol, meaning the sun. And the handheld umbrella was standard outdoor attire for U.S. women on sunny days during the 18th and 19th centuries, before other types of sun block were invented.

They still continue to be an extremely effective way of blocking rays—and they are reappearing in some of the nation’s largest cities, including New York, in stylish designs that are trendy and sought-after. In line with the current fashion fever, New York Magazine recommended five paper, fabric and crocheted versions—most under $20—for reader use this summer.

And it doesn’t have to be your standard parasol. According to findings of a U.S. study published in 2013 by JAMA Dermatology, any fully functioning handheld umbrella can block more than three-quarters of UV light on a sunny day. Black ones do even better—blocking at least 90% of rays.

“The umbrellas blocked between 77% and 99% of UV radiation,” wrote Suephy Chen and colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta, who conducted the study. They collected 22 standard umbrellas and one travel sun umbrella—no fabric tears allowed—from people at their medical school. On a sunny morning, they used UV devices to measure radiation just under each umbrella’s fabric, and by the nose of the person using it; and then compared this to umbrella-less radiation readings.

The sun umbrella blocked more than 99% of UV rays. Regular umbrellas worked well too, blocking at least 77% of UV light—and even more, if the umbrella was dark-colored.

The New York Magazine writer, Alison Freer, says she is hooked—carrying one for every outfit during the summer months. However, Freer says, beginners take note: “Parasols may seem hard to pull off in real life, but really, the only rule to follow when carrying one is to avoid clocking passersby with it. I’ve got a parasol on deck for every summer outfit and social occasion — these are the five in my current rotation, many of which I buy in multiples.”

Research contact: @AlisonVFreer

In focus group, only agreement is on Mueller

April 18, 2018

Donald Trump’s Republican base does not want the POTUS to fire Robert Mueller; but they will not protect the special counsel if the president does decide to boot him, based on findings of a focus group conducted as part of Emory University’s “Dialogue with America” by Peter D. Hart, a longtime Democratic pollster.

During the two-hour discussion among a dozen men and women—covered by The Washington Post— the Trump supporters in the group were adamant that they still agreed with Trump that the Russia investigation is “a witch hunt.”

However, both supporters and critics of the administration believed he should not axe the special counsel.

The Trump supporters had a variety of reasons, but they all thought that public perception of the president would tank if he tried to stop the investigation.

People would be suspicious,” Betsy Novak, 55, a greenhouse worker who voted for Trump said to the group, according to the Post.

It [would be] hiding something,” said Curt Hetzel, 48, a shipping and receiving manager who also voted for Trump.

Politically, it would be a terrible idea,” said yet another Trump backer, Sam Goldner, 25, a warehouse manager.

The focus group was held in  just outside Milwaukee, which the Post characterized as “ a perennial suburban swing area in a state that helped propel Trump to a surprise victory and is home to competitive Senate and gubernatorial contests this fall.”

Aside from the opinions on the Russia investigation, thoughts on the administration were split along political lines. “Partisan America is alive and well in Wisconsin,” Hart said, adding, “I felt that people are pretty frozen in place. The one thing they agreed with was Robert Mueller should not be fired. That’s about as close as they get to a unified position.”

Research contact: @PhilipRucker

Why pet owners will risk their own lives to save Rover’s

March 2, 2018

It’s a scenario that played out recently on the NBC-TV series, This Is Us: Having heroically saved his family from a fire that was quickly engulfing their home, Jack Pearson ran back into the blaze to save his daughter’s dog. He later died at the hospital from a cardiac arrest brought on by smoke inhalation.

In real life, this episode plays out fairly often, Yahoo Lifestyle reports: This past November, a 61-year-old Florida man was hit by an Amtrak train, after running onto the tracks to save his beloved dog, Astrid.

One month earlier, a California woman succumbed to a wildfire while trying to rescue her border collie from a car. And in September, after Hurricane Harvey, a 25-year-old Texan was electrocuted after trying to save his sister’s cat from her flooded home.

Why do people take these chances for their pets? A Harris poll has found that 95% of pet owners consider their animals to be family members.

In a New York Times opinion piece, Dogs Are People, Too, written in October 2013, Professor of Neuroeconomics at Emory University Gregory Burns explained that this may be truer than most of us think.

“For the past two years, my colleagues and I have been training dogs to go in an MRI scanner—completely awake and unrestrained. Our goal has been to determine how dogs’ brains work and, even more important, what they think of us humans,” Burns said. “Now, after training and scanning a dozen dogs, my one inescapable conclusion is this: Dogs are people too.”

Of course, Yahoo points out, Burns wasn’t suggesting that dogs are actual humans, but rather that the activity in one specific area of the brain where enjoyment is felt suggests that they are more emotionally intelligent than we give them credit for.

“The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child,” Burns concludes.

This theory, as well as research into our co-evolution with dogs, might help explain why 40% of men who responded to a study by Georgia Regents University and Cape Fear Community College would save the life of their own dog over that of a foreign tourist. That number is higher for women, at about 45%, a story in the Huffington Post reported.

Dogs may not just feel like family; in an evolutionary sense, they truly are family. Yahoo reports that our close genetic ties to dogs also might explain why scientists find an increase in oxytocin (the love hormone) when owners gaze into their dogs’ eyes—the same hormone that increases when a mother looks at her baby.

Indeed, in a 2006 study conducted by the Fritz Institute, 44% of those who had chosen not to evacuate from a recent hurricane said it was because they didn’t want to leave their pets behind.

According to Yahoo, this finding served as a wake-up call for the federal government, which passed a law authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to include pets as a part of its rescue plan.

The law may save many households during upcoming natural disasters: According to the American Pet Products Association’s latest survey, 68% of U.S. households own a pet—a number that hovers around 85 million American homes nationwide.

Research contact: @abbyhaglage