Category Archives: Human behavior

Radical cultural shift: Virginity now stigmatized


Back when esnl was a toddler, growing up in a small Kansas farm town during the Eisenhower presidency, three things earned a single woman slut shaming: Smoking, drinking alone in a bar, and premarital sex.

No more, at least for the second and third items, with smoking once again under a stigmatizing cloud after women had first “come a long way, baby” with their “torches of freedom.”

BLOG Long way

With drinking acceptable and smoking once again a taboo for both sexes, that leaves virginity.

And, low and behold, not only is premarital sex no longer a taboo, at least for other than Ted Cruz supporters, premarital virginity has, is seems, replaced it on the list of things not desired in a prospective mate.

From the Indiana University newsroom:

A recent study by researchers at the Kinsey Institute titled “Has Virginity Lost Its Virtue? Relationship Stigma Associated with Being a Sexually Inexperienced Adult” [Open access — esnl] found that people who wait to have sex are stigmatized, and also stigmatize other sexually inexperienced adults.

“While virginity prior to marriage has been historically valued, there has been a generational shift that has made premarital sexual activity the norm for young adults,” said Amanda Gesselman, a postdoctoral research fellow at Kinsey and co-author of the study. “For us, the biggest question was whether person’s level of sexual experience is it still a No. 1 value trait – something you think about when looking at a potential relationship partner? Our research shows that yes it is, but not in the same way.”

The three-part study co-authored by Gesselman, Gregory Webster at the University of Florida, and Justin Garcia, from Kinsey, was recently published in The Journal of Sex Research.

In the first part of the study, researchers asked 560 heterosexual adults ages 18 to 71 – of which, 25 percent had no sexual experience – the “normal” age for men and women to begin having sex and to express their own perceptions of how they are viewed by others based on their level of sexual experience or lack there of.

Of those surveyed, a majority indicated they regarded between the ages of 16 and 19 as the normal age for both men and women to begin having sex. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the average age of sexual debut in the U.S. is 17 for both men and women, and nearly 90 percent of people between the ages of 22 and 24 report having had sex.

According to the Kinsey study, those surveyed who were sexually inexperienced perceived themselves to be more stigmatized than those who were sexually experienced. The study did not look at people’s motivations for remaining sexually abstinent, such as moral or religious reasons or to what extent people divulge their sexual experiences.

“Typically, we tend to think negatively about ‘slutty’ girls or ‘promiscuous’ guys, but the virgins in our study thought they were stigmatized more,” Gesselman said.

In the second part of the study, researchers looked at almost 5,000, heterosexual singles, 21 years of age and older, to determine potential discrimination against sexually inexperienced adults in the form of limited dating opportunities.

The results? Single adults who were surveyed may be less likely to consider sexually inexperienced adults as committed relationship partners, should they be made aware of a prospective partner’s sexual history status. That also goes for sexually inexperienced people’s attitudes toward other sexually inexperienced people.

“That part of the study was surprising,” Gesselman said. “Not sure why, except that sometimes when people are stigmatized you internalize that and think something is wrong with you. So maybe they see other virgins and think something is wrong with them.”

In the third part of the study, researchers asked 353 college students to rank dating profiles based on sexual and relationship experience. Most people made their decisions based on their own sexual experience, and everyone gave a higher ranking to people with more romantic relationship experience.

For Gesselman, the study shows a cultural shift in how people treat sexuality.

“We’ve really seen this generational shift where people are becoming more sex-positive as a culture,” she said.

Psilocybin reduces the stress of social isolation


Yet another study reveals that a powerful psychedelic drug, the same organic compound already shown to be the longest-lasting and most effective antidepressant yet discovered, has yet another powerful therapeutic property: Relief from the overwhelming stress of social isolation.

The research is just the latest in a series of studies showing the efficiacy of psychedelics in treating a wide range of psychological afflictions.

From the University of Zurich:

Social problems are key characteristics in psychiatric disorders and are insufficiently targeted by current treatment approaches. By applying brain imaging methods, researchers at the University of Zurich now show that a small amount of psilocybin changes the processing of social conflicts in the brain. As a result, participants experienced social exclusion and social pain as less stressful. This could help to improve therapy of social problems.

Social ties are vital for mental and physical health. However, psychiatric patients in particular frequently encounter social exclusion and rejection. Furthermore, psychiatric patients often react more strongly to social rejection than healthy persons and this can have negative consequences for the development and treatment of psychiatric disorders. However, social deficits in psychiatric patients are only insufficiently targeted by current treatment approaches, in particular because so far little is known about the neuropharmacological mechanisms underlying these processes in the brain.

Social rejection is less painful after psilocybin intake

Researchers at the University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich now showed that psilocybin, the active component of the Mexican magic mushrooms, influences these processes in the brain. In particular, it stimulates specific receptors of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This results in a reduced reaction to social rejection in the associated brain areas. Consequently, participants felt less excluded after psilocybin administration than after the intake of a placebo. Furthermore, they report having experienced less social pain.

The increased processing of and reactivity to social exclusion and social pain can increase the risk of patients withdrawing from social life and therefore experience less support. “Increased activity in brain areas such as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is associated with an increased experience of social pain. This has been shown to be present in different psychiatric disorders. Psilocybin seems to influence these particular brain areas”, says Katrin Preller, first author of the study. The researchers applied functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate these processes. Using a second imaging technique, magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), they additionally showed that a further metabolite is involved in the experience of social pain: aspartate.

New approaches for the treatment of social problems

“These new results could be groundbreaking for the illumination of the neuropharmacological mechanisms of social interaction and may help to develop new treatments”, emphasizes Franz Vollenweider, director of the Neuropsychopharmacology and Brain Imaging Unit. On the one hand, the results can help to develop more effective medication to treat psychiatric disorders which are characterized by an increased reactivity to social rejection, such as depression or borderline personality disorder. “On the other hand”, Vollenweider adds, “the reduction of psychological pain and fear can facilitate the therapist-patient relationship and therefore the psychotherapeutic treatment of formative negative social experiences.”

Literature:

Katrin H. Preller, Thomas Pokorny, Andreas Hock, Rainer Kraehenmann, Philipp Stämpfli, Erich Seifritz, Milan Scheidegger, Franz X. Vollenweider. Effects of serotonin 2A/1A receptor stimulation on social exclusion processing [$10 paywall — esnl]. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. April 18, 2016. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1524187113

Coping with the inevitability of climate change


Given that global climate change is already happening, and the reality that political leaders lack the will or ability to implement measures to head off imminent impacts, what then?

That’s the subject of How To Let Go of the World -and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, the new documentary from Josh Fox, direct of the award-winning 2010 documentary Gasland.

Here’s how the reviewer for the New York Times sums up the film:

The film’s title will use up many of the allotted words for this review, so it’s best to be terse when critiquing “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change.” Hence, a one-word assessment of this documentary: Tough. As in, tough to watch. Tough to consider. Tough to ignore.

But beneath the despair Fox conveys a certain optimism in this discussion with Chris Hedges for the latest installment of Days of Revolt, Hedges’ weekly series for teleSUR English.

The optimism lies not in any conviction Fox has that quick, massive response may avert the worst impacts — he has none. Rather, his optimism stems from the ability of the human spirit to craft emotional responses that foster a spirit of community, responses mediated by song, dance, and the other arts.

From Days of Revolt:

Days of Revolt: Letting Go of the World

From the transcript:

HEDGES: I just want to interrupt–you in the film point out that it’s not like we stop at 2 degrees. That becomes essentially, once we hit 2 degrees, it just begins to accelerate.

FOX: The problem is we’ve already warmed the Earth by about a degree Celsius over pre-industrial times. We have enough heat and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and methane in the atmosphere now to bring us to definitely 1.5 degrees and perhaps beyond. Some of the projections for this year even bring us to 1.3 degrees, and we’re talking Celsius. Doesn’t sound like so much. But if you think about your freezer at home, if you take it from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 34 degrees Fahrenheit, everything starts to melt and everything starts to spoil, which is what’s happening on the planet Earth right now. Everything that?s supposed to stay frozen is melting and that has created feedback loops and all the things we know will continue to accelerate.

HEDGES: Explain feedback loops.

FOX: So at the top of the Earth and at the bottom of the Earth, there are these poles which have white snow and ice, and white reflects heat and light and black absorbs it, right? So that heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space, because it’s reflecting off of the poles. As the poles shrink as we melt them, then all of a sudden there’s even less reflectivity. So that’s one feedback loop. Another feedback loop is that as we melt the permafrost, there’s all sort of methane trapped inside the permafrost that creates even greater greenhouse gas emissions. These things start to accelerate and spiral.

HEDGES: You also talk about the animal agriculture industry, which many people avoid, but is a major contributor to climate change.

FOX: Of course, there’s so many contributors. Not just oil and gas and coal but yes, animal agriculture and deforestation is another major cause because trees basically bring carbon into them and exhale oxygen which we need to survive. So the more we cut down the forest, you get less oxygen and you get more carbon dioxide. What was most startling to me is the sea level rise projections. When you 5-9 meters of sea level rise, that’s basically say goodbye to Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., Baltimore.

HEDGES: You show in the film what it will look like. What these cities will look like when huge sections of these cities are gone.

FOX: In New York it’s always interesting because whenever we show that map to people in New York, you see the Lower Eastside get eaten, you see Williamsburg, Red Hook and The Rockaways. And people always go, ‘Well, I live over here in Park Slope. I’m on a hill.’ I’m like ‘Okay that’s cool. Yeah you’re right, you know. The Brooklyn Bridge won’t be under water but the onramp will be.’ Now you won’t be able to take the subway. It’s so funny how we think these things aren’t going to happen to us and yet, that is extraordinarily startling.

So what does this mean, this 2 degrees? Basically what it means is if we’re already for all intents and purposes are at 1.5 or beyond, there is no scenario in which New York, Baltimore or D.C., Miami, New Orleans stays above water if we continue to develop and drill for more fossil fuels. And just today, the oil and gas industry had a huge auction in the SuperDome in New Orleans to ten more years of oil and gas drilling offshore. We’re talking about frack gas expanding. We have proposals right now for 300 frack gas power plants throughout the United States and people are battling them every single place we go. They’re battling the pipelines, they’re battling the power plants. Hillary Clinton speaks of natural gas as a bridge fuel. So does Barack Obama, by the way. What that bridge means is 30-40 more years of dependence on fossil fuel, the worst fossil fuel that there is for climate change. That’s not responsible action, that’s not what is says in the Paris Accords. You have an incredible contradiction right now among this administration that saying, ‘We wanna take on climate change. We wanna keep climate change well below 2 degrees,’ is what they said in Paris. And yet you have FERC permitting all these pipelines.

Chart of the day: But it’s not what it seems


From the Los Angeles Times, a graphic image of the American Independent Party’s rapid growth in California:

BLOG Party

But when the Times investigated, they found that more than half of those who had checked the party’s box on their registration forms — including actors Emma Stone, Kaley Cuoco, and Demi Moore, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, and the spouse of Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor — had thought they were signing up as independent voters, and not as partisans of the extreme right wing political machine founded in by then-rabid segregationist and former Alabama Gov. George Corley Wallace.

Child concussions trouble parental relationships


A fascinating study leads to a troubling but logical conclusion, one that’s logical given that brain plasticity is at its post-natal peak in the years covered by researchers.

It’s a subject of personal interest, because we sustained just such an injury at age four or five when we leaned over the edge of a basement staircase and landed head-first on a concrete floor. That was back in the days when doctors made house calls, and we regained consciousness twenty minutes later lying in our own bed and a doctors opthalomoscope glaring in our right eye.

From the University of Montreal:

The incidence of concussion is particularly high in the preschool years – up to around 2% of children aged 0 to 5 years per year. A study by researchers at CHU Sainte-Justine mother-child research hospital (affiliated with the University of Montreal), recently published in the Journal of Neuropsychology, reveals the adverse effects of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) on the quality parent-child relationships.

“The young brain is particularly vulnerable to injury because the skull is still thin and malleable. In the months following the injury, one of the first visible signs of social difficulties in young children is a decline in their relationship with their parents,” said Miriam Beauchamp a researcher at Sainte-Justine, professor of psychology at the University of Montreal and senior author of the study.

Knowing that good parent-child relationships are synonymous with better social skills later in life, the researchers stress the importance for parents to monitor behaviour changes in their child in the weeks that follow the trauma and adjust accordingly during this period.

Given the relatively limited social and cognitive skills of preschoolers, a concussion at this age can slow the development of new abilities, for example, certain communication skills. “Very little data exists about the first signs of socialization problems in preschoolers after a concussion.  Parent–child relationships represent the center of young children’s social environments and are therefore ideal contexts for studying the potential effects of mTBI on children’s social functioning,” said Gabrielle Lalonde, BSc, a doctoral student and first author of the study.

The laboratory recruited a group of 130 children aged between 18 months and 60 months, divided into three categories: children with concussion, children with orthopedic injury (usually a fracture or sprain of the arm or leg) but no concussion, and a control group of non-injured children. The aim of the study was to assess the quality of parent-child interactions six months post-injury.

“We asked parents to fill out a questionnaire so they could evaluate their relationship with their child. At the same time, they participated in a filmed evaluation session in the laboratory in which they and their children took part in typical daily activities – such as free play and snack time – allowing the researchers to measure the quality of their communication, cooperation, and the emotional atmosphere,” said Miriam Beauchamp. “The quality of parent-child interactions following concussion was significantly reduced compared to non-injured children.”

There’s more after the jump. . . Continue reading

This is your brain on LSD: More integrated


 The areas that contributed to vision were more active under LSD, which was linked to hallucinations


The areas that contributed to vision were more active
under LSD, which was linked to hallucinations

As brain researchers are finding more evidence that the so-called hallucinogenic drugs are the most powerful antidepressants known [previously] and may be effective in reducing spousal abuse, other studies using the latest imaging techniques are offering an understand of just why that’s so.

From Imperial College London:

Researchers from Imperial College London, working with the Beckley Foundation, have for the first time visualised the effects of LSD on the brain.

In a series of experiments, scientists have gained a glimpse into how the psychedelic compound affects brain activity. The team administered LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) to 20 healthy volunteers in a specialist research centre and used various leading-edge and complementary brain scanning techniques to visualise how LSD alters the way the brain works.

The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), reveal what happens in the brain when people experience the complex visual hallucinations that are often associated with LSD state. They also shed light on the brain changes that underlie the profound altered state of consciousness the drug can produce.

A major finding of the research is the discovery of what happens in the brain when people experience complex dreamlike hallucinations under LSD. Under normal conditions, information from our eyes is processed in a part of the brain at the back of the head called the visual cortex. However, when the volunteers took LSD, many additional brain areas – not just the visual cortex – contributed to visual processing.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, who led the research, explained: “We observed brain changes under LSD that suggested our volunteers were ‘seeing with their eyes shut’ – albeit they were seeing things from their imagination rather than from the outside world.  We saw that many more areas of the brain than normal were contributing to visual processing under LSD – even though the volunteers’ eyes were closed. Furthermore, the size of this effect correlated with volunteers’ ratings of complex, dreamlike visions. ”

The study also revealed what happens in the brain when people report a fundamental change in the quality of their consciousness under LSD.

Dr Carhart-Harris explained: “Normally our brain consists of independent networks that perform separate specialised functions, such as vision, movement and hearing – as well as more complex things like attention. However, under LSD the separateness of these networks breaks down and instead you see a more integrated or unified brain.

“Our results suggest that this effect underlies the profound altered state of consciousness that people often describe during an LSD experience. It is also related to what people sometimes call ‘ego-dissolution’, which means the normal sense of self is broken down and replaced by a sense of reconnection with themselves, others and the natural world. This experience is sometimes framed in a religious or spiritual way – and seems to be associated with improvements in well-being after the drug’s effects have subsided.”

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Drugs to treat opiate addicts treat sugar addicts?


Ever notice how many of our colloquialisms for a hunger for something sweet mirror those used by narcotic and nicotine addicts in search of another dose?

Some examples we’ve heard include “I need a sugar fix” and “I’m jonesin’ for something sweet.” And how many time have you heard folks refer to their sugar addiction?

Well, it turns out that our words may betray more than we think.

According to new research from Australia, sugar impacts the same areas of the brain targeted by narcotics and nicotine, and the same drugs used to treat those addictions may also work on folks hooked on sugar.

From the Queensland University of Technology:

With obesity rates on the rise worldwide and excess sugar consumption considered a direct contributor, the search has been on for treatments to reverse the trend. Now a world-first study led by QUT may have the answer.

Neuroscientist Professor Selena Bartlett from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation  said the study, which has just been published by international research journal PLOS ONE, shows drugs used to treat nicotine addiction could be used to treat sugar addiction in animals.

The publication coincides with another paper by the team – Prolonged Consumption of Sucrose in a Binge-Like Manner, Alters the Morphology of Medium Spiny Neurons in the Nucleus Accumbens Shell – being published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. It shows that long chronic sugar intake can cause eating disorders and impact on behaviour.

“The latest World Health Organisation figures tell us 1.9 billion people worldwide are overweight, with 600 million considered obese,” said Professor Bartlett who is based at the Translational Research Institute.

“Excess sugar consumption has been proven to contribute directly to weight gain. It has also been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels which control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres in a way that is similar to many drugs of abuse including tobacco, cocaine and morphine.

“After long-term consumption, this leads to the opposite, a reduction in dopamine levels. This leads to higher consumption of sugar to get the same level of reward.

“We have also found that as well as an increased risk of weight gain, animals that maintain high sugar consumption and binge eating into adulthood may also face neurological and psychiatric consequences affecting mood and motivation.

“Our study found that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs like varenicline, a prescription medication trading as Champix which treats nicotine addiction, can work the same way when it comes to sugar cravings.”

PhD researcher Masroor Shariff said the study also put artificial sweeteners under the spotlight.

“Interestingly, our study also found that artificial sweeteners such as saccharin could produce effects similar to those we  obtained with table sugar, highlighting the importance of reevaluating our relationship with sweetened food per se,” said Mr Shariff.

Professor Bartlett said varenicline acted as a neuronal nicotinic receptor modulator (nAChR) and similar results were observed with other such drugs including mecamylamine and cytisine.

“Like other drugs of abuse, withdrawal from chronic sucrose exposure can result in an imbalance in dopamine levels and be as difficult as going ‘cold turkey’ from them,” she said.

“Further studies are required but our results do suggest that current FDA-approved nAChR drugs may represent a novel new treatment strategy to tackle the obesity epidemic.”

The full Neuronal Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Modulators Reduce Sugar Intake paper can be read on PLOS ONE.

QUT is part of a national collaborative group of five major Australian universities that form the ATN (Australian Technology Network of Universities).