Previously, I wrote about new SFN data on the role for newborn neurons in regulating emotion. The second half of the SFN meeting rounded out the story because the bulk of the functional presentations focussed on the role of new neurons in that other, classic function of the hippocampus: memory. Spanning synaptic plasticity, circuit function, and then linking it all to behavior, we have quite a complete story here.
Memory manipulation has become one of the most hotly pursued topics in neuroscience. After all, much or of who are is based on what we’ve learned, including memories that we can consciously recall as well as acquired desires and habits that can lead to problems like addiction. In rodents, we’ve known for decades that damage to the hippocampus can erase recently-formed memories. Studies of reconsolidation have shown us that when a memory is retrieved it becomes labile and allows for new information to be added, thereby creating an updated version. More recently we (humans) have been able to identify the neurons involved in memory formation and show that killing them, and only them, results in memory erasure. Bringing us even closer to the stuff of movies, studies by Garner et al. in Science and Liu et al. in Nature have now artificially controlled memory formation and recall. We’re essentially talking about reactivating memory by pushing a button. Yes – you can say “dude, whoah” now
Laughter may not exactly be the best medicine. But a cheerful outlook on life may be good for your heart. So concludes new research on the impact of happiness and optimism on cardiovascular health.
Scientists have known about the reverse relationship between psychological health and heart health for some time; studies show that depression and anxiety can worsen outcomes for heart patients. But the findings on happiness and its medical impact over the years have not been as consistent.
In a new analysis, researchers at Harvard sought a more definitive conclusion by reviewing the results of more than 200 studies looking at cardiovascular risks and emotional state, making this the largest report on the subject to date. Over all, the researchers found that traits like optimism and hope, and higher levels of happiness and satisfaction with one’s life, were linked with reductions in the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Optimism and happiness are associated with lower cardiovascular risk, but whether a positive outlook directly protects health is still under investigation.
Heavy backpacks don’t just sap children of energy that might be better used doing schoolwork or playing sports. Lugging them can also lead to chronic back pain, accidents and possibly lifelong orthopedic damage.
Among the risks described by Dr. Pierre D’Hemecourt, a sports medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston, are stress fractures in the back, inflammation of growth cartilage, back and neck strain, and nerve damage in the neck and shoulders.
The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission calculated that carrying a 12-pound backpack to and from school and lifting it 10 times a day for an entire school year puts a cumulative load on youngsters’ bodies of 21,600 pounds — the equivalent of six mid-sized cars.
Digital Textbooks May Help Ease Backpack Burden
However there’s a remaining impediment: Will e-textbooks permit students who once complained that “the dog ate my homework” to find a new ream of excuses?
“The battery died, and I couldn’t charge it.” “My iPad got wet in the rain/a puddle/the bathtub.”
Or even: “My little brother hammered it to death.”
A little wine or beer may make you more creative. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) found that moderate alcohol consumption can reduce people’s ability to pay attention (as anyone who’s ever been drunk can attest), which frees them up for creative problem-solving tasks. In other words, after a few beers you might not be able to solve a math problem, but you may be able to answer a riddle.
So the next time you get drunk, don’t apologize for acting stupid. Just tell everyone you’re being creative.