Entries in Brain Activity (6)


Study Spots Where Humor Tickles Kids' Brains

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(PALO ALTO, Calif.) -- Kids may not giggle over the awkwardness on The Office, and adults usually aren't all that tickled by Elmo, but new research shows that the same brain regions are active when both children and grown-ups find something funny.

Researchers at Stanford University have shown that the brain's network for appreciating humor develops in childhood. They studied 15 children ages 6 to 12, showing them clips from America's Funniest Home Videos, like people stumbling while skiing or running, animals doing tricks or a kid being catapulted off of an inflatable couch. To be sure the videos would be funny to kids and not just scientists, the researchers first had children of the same ages rate videos as funny or not.

While the kids were watching the videos, researchers were monitoring their brain activity using technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging.

The results, published Tuesday in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed that funny videos turned on kids' brains in two key areas -- the temporo-occipito-parietal junction, or TOPJ, an area located just above the ear, and the midbrain, an area deep inside the brain near the bottom of the skull. The fact that these areas were more active during funny videos and not just positive ones shows that these areas are distinctly part of the brain's humor network.

Dr. Allan Reiss, one of the study's authors, has researched how humor lights up adult brains, and he said the same areas that lit up when kids were laughing were also active when adults found something funny. One of the brain regions tickled by humor, the TOPJ, helps humans perceive and appreciate the unexpected things in life. Reiss said that could be one reason why humor is often cited as a major stress reliever.

"A lot of humor is setting up a joke or something funny and then giving the punch line, often going in an unexpected direction," Reiss said. "One of the reasons why a good sense of humor might serve as a means of stress reduction is that many times stress comes from incongruities in our daily lives."

The other brain region that lit up when kids viewed the funny videos, the midbrain, is the area of the brain that helps humans process rewarding feelings, which could explain why just the right joke can be a quick way to improve a bad day. The younger children in the study showed more activity in this rewarding area of the brain.

"That may well be because of the type of stimuli that we used," Reiss said. "The younger children probably found those videos funnier."

The study is the first to look at how kids' brains detect and appreciate humor. Dr. Rebecca Schrag, a child psychologist at the Healthy Steps Program at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., said the fact that the brain is hard-wired for humor gives humans an important tool for coping with life.

"Humor isn't just a casual thing you do at a dinner party. It has been shown to be a factor that can contribute to resilience," she said. "Being able to see the humor in stressful situations, to see the upside of things, to be able to laugh at yourself or things that are difficult has been shown to contribute to positive development."

Reiss said he hopes to learn more about how children develop senses of humor, and how that impacts their experiences in life.

"Humor is a ubiquitous part of our social lives. Clearly, children who have well-developed senses of humor and can use them appropriately often are quite successful," Reiss said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Brain Imaging Captures Female Orgasm in Action

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.) -- Rutgers researchers have peeked inside the brain during one of the body’s most private sensations -- orgasm.

Psychology professor Barry Komisaruk and colleagues captured the crescendo of brain activity in a series of functional magnetic resonance imaging snapshots taken over seven minutes.  They then transformed the images into a colorful animation -- the brighter the color, the more activated the brain is.

“We’re looking at the sequence of brain regions that get recruited at increasing intensity leading up to orgasm,” said Komisaruk.  “It’s such a compelling behavioral and sensory phenomenon with so many implications and so little understanding.”

The brain belongs to Nan Wise, a 54-year-old sex therapist turned Rutgers PhD student.

“When I first started grad school in the ’80s, we didn’t have these methods,” said Wise, who went back to school four years ago.  “Now we can study how the brain is recruiting these regions to create the big bang of orgasm.”

When Wise reaches orgasm, almost every area of her brain is activated.

“Secondary to an epileptic seizure, there’s no bigger brain networking event,” said Wise.  “It’s a fantastic opportunity to examine the connectivity of the brain.”

By understanding the events in the brain that lead to orgasm, Wise and Komisaruk hope to find clues about what might be going wrong in the 25 percent of women who rarely or never have one.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Brains of Volatile Preteens Might Offer Clues About Peer Pressure

BananaStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Why are some adolescents more emotional and susceptible to risky behaviors, while others remain steadfast in the face of peer pressure?

Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA medical school, raised just that question about his 14-year-old daughter. So Iacoboni and a team of researchers sought to answer what might make adolescents give in to their friends and take more risks.

"When [adolescents are] among a group of people, they to tend to follow what others do, and being able to control their own emotions and actions can be very important," said Iacoboni, who is also the director of the transcranial magnetic stimulation lab at the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at UCLA. Brain responses to emotional facial expressions would offer the first clue, he said.

Iacoboni and his colleagues took brain images of 38 adolescents over time as they were shown pictures of people expressing basic emotions, such as fear, happiness, sadness, anger, and neutrality. The researchers found that as the adolescents looked at faces expressing happiness or sadness, the area of the brain that expressed control over emotions showed increased activity. The same group of adolescents reacted less emotionally to the other expressions, and the area of the brain associated with risk-taking and pleasure seeking lit up.

Previous research indicated that increased activity in the amygdala, an area deep in the brain, among preteens is associated with a higher likelihood of engaging in risky behavior, such as experimenting with drugs or sex.

"The assumption was more activity in there meant it was bad for the kids," said Iacoboni. "But we found higher activities and desires in other areas of the brain made them less prone to follow other kids."

Iacoboni and his researchers found that activity in the ventral striatum, located next to the amygdala, also increased when the adolescents were shown more emotional photos.

"We saw there's an inverse activity relationship between the amygdala and the ventral striatum," said Iacoboni. "The VS activity increased while the amygdala activity slightly decreased, so the VS regulates the amygdala."

But could a test like this predict whether a preteen is more likely to act out or succumb to peer pressure? Iacoboni said it's still too early to tell. The study didn't control for other factors in the adolescents' lives, such as socioeconomic status, current behavior and life influences that could contribute to future behavior.

The adolescents were tested twice over two years, once at age 10 and again at age 13. The researchers plan to test the group once again when they're 16.

The research so far suggests that facial expressions and emotions directed at adolescents may influence their brain response and, potentially, how they act. Perhaps parents who express -- or control -- their emotions around their preteens could influence the way they express or hold back their emotions around others, Iacoboni said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Will Your Love Last? Your Brain Might Hold the Answer

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- When you sit down to an intimate dinner with your loved one, you may perhaps take a moment to ponder whether your love will last. The answer, according to a recent study published in the online journal Social Cognitive and Effective Neuroscience, lies more in the neural patterns of your brain than in the poetry of your words.

Researchers at Stony Brook University used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of 10 women and seven men who claimed they were still "madly" in love with their spouse, even after 21 years of marriage. Each viewed a picture of his or her beloved, and control pictures, including a close friend and lesser-known acquaintances. Brain activity was measured as participants looked at the facial images.

The researchers then compared these brain scans with those of people from an earlier experiment who said they'd fallen in love within the past year. They found the scans looked a lot alike.

There were differences -- long-term romantic love lit up many more brain regions than early-stage love -- but both groups showed significant activity in the dopamine-rich ventral tegmental area. The VTA -- which is a crucial part of the brain's motivation and reward circuit -- also illuminates in response to food, money, alcohol and cocaine.

The dopamine-laden VTA had already shown activity in six previous studies of those in early-stage love -- in relationships ranging from three weeks to 17 months -- but the Stony Brook study was the first to ever associate the VTA with long-term love. Researchers take this as evidence that romantic love can endure.

"A lot of times all we hear is our relationships are painful, and we suffer," said researcher Bianca Acevedo. "But it's exciting to see there's a pattern in our brain that is associated with intense love," and that it appears in the long-in-love and the newly-in-love. "Love can last," said Acevedo." It doesn't wane. It doesn't disappear."

The researchers also believe their study offers clues as to what may be essential brain activity for couples to stay in love.

"It's a nice finding, because it shows in a way our brain is still a simple thing," said Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at UCLA medical school who was not involved in the study. "Humans are so good at using sophisticated language to dissect emotions. But if we look at the way big systems in the brain respond, they seem to be much simpler than our behavior. The responses of the brain can be quite predictable."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


MRI Scan Could Predict Ability to Quit Smoking

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(ANN ARBOR, Mich.) - Researchers may be able to predict how likely you would be to quit smoking by taking a scan of your brain, reports Discovery News.

The study, published in the journal Health Psychology, says that by performing an MRI scan, a doctor can study activity in the region of the brain tied to behavior. Researchers showed 28 heavy smokers "quit smoking" commercials and monitored activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of their brains. Those with activity in the region were "significantly linked to reductions in smoking behavior" in the following month.

"What is exciting is that by knowing what is going on in someone's brain during the ads, we can do twice as well at predicting their future behavior, compared to if we only knew their self-reported estimate of how successful they would be or their intention to quit," said lead author Emily Falk, director of the Communication Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Michigan.

Falk said the research could also help show what non-smoking ads would be most effective in getting smokers to quit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Smokers ‘Mirror’ Other Smokers

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(HANOVER, N.H.) – A new study may explain why smokers feel the need to light up when they see others smoking.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience by researchers at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical School, examined a group of nearly 35 study participants -- half of them smokers -- and measured the effects of images of smoking in movies by measuring the participants’ resultant brain activity. 

The results showed that smokers’ brain pathways that regulate the physical hand-to-mouth actions of smoking were activated while they were viewing the movie scenes.  None of this brain activity was observed in the brains of non-smokers.
The region of the brain activated in the smokers is known to contain “mirror neurons” that mirror somebody else’s movements as if they themselves were actually doing them.  This finding provides a clue into one possible reason why smokers feel the need to light up when they see someone else smoke.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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