Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Mothers who have specific fears and anxieties may inadvertently pass them along to their days-old newborns through an unlikely method–smell. A new study published in the journal Proceedings National Academy of Sciences tested the role of smell in fear transfer by exposing rats to mild shocks while they were in an environment scented with peppermint oil. Later, the same rats gave birth, and the pups’ fear responses were tested, measuring the activity of the part of the brain called the amygdala, when they were exposed to the same scent. The pups, the study found, showed a fear reaction at the mere whiff of peppermint.
Newsweek has more:
“It was really surprising to us that…it could be so early and could be so lasting,” said [psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and lead researcher Jacek] Debiec, pointing out that infants generally do not form lasting memories unless experiences are repeated during the first few days of life, a concept called infantile amnesia. “Here it was a single exposure and it was enough for these newborn pups to create lasting memories,” added Debiec.
When researchers gave pups a substance that blocked activity in the amygdala, according to the study, the baby rats did not learn the fear of peppermint smell from their mothers. This could help mental health experts find ways to prevent children from learning certain fear responses from their mothers.
“Infants can learn from their mothers about potential environmental threats before their sensory and motor development allows them a comprehensive exploration of the surrounding environment,” says the six-page study.
Some mother rats tried to plug the tubing so that the smell wouldn’t come through, a behavior that Debiec found interesting and wants to study further.
Image: Boy smells something bad, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
American children are exposed to at least double the levels of chemicals that are known to affect the brain in ways that are linked with disorders including autism, ADHD, and dyslexia–all disorders that have been on the rise in recent years. Time.com reports on new research that has found radical changes in chemical exposure since 2006:
In 2006, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified five industrial chemicals responsible for causing harm to the brain — lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in electric transformers, motors and capacitors), arsenic (found in soil and water as well as in wood preservatives and pesticides) and toluene (used in processing gasoline as well as in paint thinner, fingernail polish and leather tanning). Exposure to these neurotoxins was associated with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.
Now the same researchers have reviewed the literature and found six additional industrial chemicals that can hamper normal brain development. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese, they say, is found in drinking water and can contribute to lower math scores and heightened hyperactivity, while exposure to high levels of fluoride from drinking water can contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ on average. The remaining chemicals, which are found in solvents and pesticides, have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors.
The research team acknowledges that there isn’t a causal connection between exposure to any single chemical and behavioral or neurological problems — it’s too challenging to isolate the effects of each chemical to come to such conclusions. But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent.
“The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” they write in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.
They point to two barriers to protecting children from such exposures — not enough testing of industrial chemicals and their potential effect on brain development before they are put into widespread use, and the enormous amount of proof that regulatory agencies require in order to put restrictions or limitations on chemicals.
Image: Chemical pesticides, via Shutterstock
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ADHD, Autism, brain chemistry, chemicals, dyslexia, fluoride, pesticides, toxic chemicals | Categories:
Child Health, Must Read, New Research, Trends
Thursday, January 16th, 2014
Babies as young as 9 months old may have a grasp of the social world that could be described as comprehension of the concept of “friendship,” a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General shows. More from LiveScience:
“Nine-month-old infants are paying attention to other people’s relationships,” said study co-author Amanda Woodward, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago. “Infants are able to watch two strangers interact in the movie and then make inferences about whether those two people are likely to be friends,” said Woodward, referring to a movie showed to the babies during the experiment….
The researchers had 64 nine-month-olds watch two videos of two actors eating a mystery food from two differently colored containers. Sometimes the actors smiled and said, “Ooh, I like it,” or made faces of disgust and said, “Eww, I don’t like that.” (The team chose to use food, because it plays a central role in many social gatherings with family and friends.)
The two actors either had similar food preferences or opposing ones.
Afterward, the tots watched a video of the two people meeting and either being friendly to one another or giving each other the cold shoulder.
Though infants can’t say what they’re thinking, they reveal their thoughts by what they pay attention to, Woodward told LiveScience. “When they see events that are inconsistent or unexpected, they tend to look at them longer,” she said.
The youngsters stared longer at videos of people with opposing views who were friendly to each other, suggesting the babies expected the two people who disagreed on food to be foes. Infants also stared longer at unfriendly people who still liked the same foods.
The findings suggest that even at a young age, babies expect people with similar likes and dislikes to be friends, and those who disagree to be unfriendly.
Babies may be wired to expect this behavior, Woodward said.
In their short lives, “babies probably didn’t learn this expectation from experience,” Woodward said. “It’s some expectation that they are in some way prepared to have.”
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Image: Two babies, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, September 26th, 2013
As anyone who has ever inhaled the fuzzy crown of an infant’s head can attest, there’s something magical about that “new baby” smell. Now, scientists have published a study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology reporting that the aroma is actually a powerful trigger that forms a bond between mother and baby at the brain chemistry level. NBC News has more:
The scent of a newborn baby really does tap right into the pleasure centers of a woman’s brain, whether the smell comes from her own baby or someone else’s, scientists have discovered. The new findings have been described in a study just published in Frontiers in Psychology.
“These are the areas of the brain that are activated if you are very hungry and you finally get something to eat or if you are a drug addict and you finally get the drug you were craving,” says study co-author Johannes Frasnelli, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in the department of psychology at the University of Montreal.
“Apparently nature has provided us with a tool that helps with the bonding between a mother and her newborn child. It’s very strong.”
To look at how a newborn’s smell affects the brain, an international team of scientists rounded up 30 women, 15 of whom had given birth three to six weeks earlier. The other 15 had never had a baby.
While the women were in a brain scanner, the scientists presented them with either the scent of a newborn baby or just fresh air. The researchers captured ‘essence of newborn’ by taking t-shirts that babies had worn for two days and then freezing them in plastic bags until the scent was needed for the experiment.
While all the women reported that the newborn scent was pleasant, there was a difference on the brain scans between the new moms and the women who had never had a baby: as soon as the newborn scent was detected, the pleasure centers of the all the women sparked, but in the new moms they lit much brighter.
We’ve most likely evolved to respond that way because the birth of a baby shakes up the world of any new parent, Frasnelli says. The helpless baby needs some way to make grownups care.
“A mother with her first child goes from living life in a couple to all of a sudden having to care for a little human being who cries whenever it wants and whom you have to clean up after. It’s a big, big disturbance. It could be seen as something unpleasant, and yet most parents get pleasure from it.”
The researchers haven’t looked at the impact of newborn scent on dads, but Frasnelli suspects fathers’ brains will also react.
Image: Mother and newborn, via Shutterstock
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