Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
The hormone oxytocin may help the social brain functioning of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a new Yale University study has found. More from The Boston Globe:
Years of research has revealed the potent effects of oxytocin, a hormone that is naturally released during childbirth and has been nicknamed the “love hormone” for the role it appears to play in pair bonding, whether between couples or mother and baby. Then researchers began to administer the hormone to people in non-romantic situations, to see whether it would change their behavior.
The results were intriguing, suggesting that it helped increase cooperation and trust. As the hormone’s ability to enhance social responses was replicated in other studies, researchers began to wonder whether oxytocin might be helpful for people with autism spectrum disorders, which are characterized by impaired social functioning.
In the new work, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Yale researchers measured what happened in the brains of 17 children with autism spectrum disorder when they inhaled the hormone or a placebo, and were then directed to perform tasks in a brain scanner that used functional MRI technology. One task was designed to use the social parts of the brain—the children were asked to intuit the emotion a person was experiencing by looking at a photo of their eyes. In another, they were simply asked to identify a vehicle.
What the researchers found was that a single spray of the hormone increased functioning in the social parts of the brain when the children were confronted with the eye-reading task, while the activity in those areas decreased during the vehicle-naming task. Their performance on the task was not different, but researchers think the brain signals indicate that oxytocin made the social stimuli more relevant and rewarding.
“What’s happening in the brain, we think, is that oxytocin is improving how well we are tuning in to social stimuli, to a social world,” said Ilanit Gordon, an experimental psychologist who did the work at the Yale Child Study Center and is now an assistant professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
Image: Smiling boy, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, August 22nd, 2013
A recent essay on TIME magazine’s website argues that schools are becoming “hostile environments for young boys.” In the aftermath of school violence in places including Newtown, Connecticut, many schools have adopted zero tolerance policies related to firearms, but those rules are sometimes interpreted very strictly, with boys as young as seven being suspended for pretending to “shoot” bad guys with pencils, or for throwing imaginary hand grenades. As a result, writer Christina Hoff Sommers worries that schools are no longer letting boys engage in the action-oriented, good-guys-versus-bad-guys play that she says comes naturally to them.
Here’s more from her essay on TIME.com:
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Across the country, schools are policing and punishing the distinctive, assertive sociability of boys. Many much-loved games have vanished from school playgrounds. At some schools, tug of war has been replaced with “tug of peace.” Since the 1990s, elimination games like dodgeball, red rover and tag have been under a cloud—too damaging to self-esteem and too violent, say certain experts. Young boys, with few exceptions, love action narratives. These usually involve heroes, bad guys, rescues and shoot-ups. As boys’ play proceeds, plots become more elaborate and the boys more transfixed. When researchers ask boys why they do it, the standard reply is, “Because it’s fun.”
According to at least one study, such play rarely escalates into real aggression—only about 1% of the time. But when two researchers, Mary Ellin Logue and Hattie Harvey, surveyed classroom practices of 98 teachers of 4-year-olds, they found that this style of play was the least tolerated. Nearly half of teachers stopped or redirected boys’ dramatic play daily or several times a week—whereas less than a third reported stopping or redirecting girls’ dramatic play weekly.
Play is a critical basis for learning. And boys’ heroic play is no exception. Logue and Harvey found that “bad guy” play improved children’s conversation and imaginative writing. Such play, say the authors, also builds moral imagination, social competence and imparts critical lessons about personal limits and self-restraint. Logue and Harvey worry that the growing intolerance for boys’ action-narrative-play choices may be undermining their early language development and weakening their attachment to school.
boys, Christina Hoff Sommers, gun violence, school, schools, social behavior, Time magazine, violence | Categories:
Education, Parenting News, Parents News Now, Trends
Thursday, December 15th, 2011
The neuroscience behind autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which affect an estimated 1 in 110 American children, will be the focus of a $26.5 million research center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Boston Globe reports that the Simons Center for the Social Brain will conduct research around social behaviors, especially including the behaviors that are associated with ASD. According to the Globe:
The new center will focus on four main areas. One program will identify the genes involved in the disorder, while another will develop models that can help scientists understand the biology and mechanisms that underlie the complicated set of symptoms. Other researchers will try to unravel the connection between behaviors and the brain, and the final program will focus on the translation of research findings into tools, therapies, and technologies that could help patients.
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