Markers of Cellular Aging Improve During Insight Meditation Retreat

By Anahita Hamidi

Telomeres are repetitive nucleotide sequences that act as protective “caps” at the end of DNA strands. As cells age, either as a function of time or as a result of stress and poor health, telomeres tend to shorten. As such, telomere length can be used as a crude biological marker of health and well-being.

Telomeres are caps at the end of a chromosome. They become shorter with aging. (Getty Images)

A recent study by researchers at the University of California Davis, Center for Mind and Brain, measured changes in telomere length, telomerase (the enzyme which replenishes telomeres), and telomere-regulating genes in a group of individuals who participated in a month-long Insight meditation retreat.

Pay Attention: $2.7 Million Grant to Map Brain’s Attention Network

By Becky Oskin

From moment to moment, the brain processes millions of pieces of information. When people need to focus on a critical task, special circuits in the brain’s attention network kick in to filter the information firehose.

A new project with UC Davis neuroscientists and bioengineers from the University of Florida will explore the brain circuits that allow us to focus our attention.

Anxiety and Children with Fragile X Syndrome

By Kathleen Holder

Anxiety is a common problem for children and adults with fragile X syndrome, magnifying their struggles living with an inherited intellectual disability. New UC Davis research could lead to new ways to identify and treat their anxiety at a young age—even in infancy.

The study led by developmental psychologists Jessica Burris and Susan Rivera found that infants and young children with fragile X syndrome, unlike typically developing children, tend to have their attention specifically captured by angry faces rather than happy ones. That sort of “attentional bias” toward angry faces is a pattern associated with anxiety.

Podcast: Visual Attention and Meaning

In this episode of the Three Minute Egghead podcast, I talk to John Henderson of the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain about a new paper from his lab that overturns current thinking about visual attention.

It’s usually thought that our eyes are drawn to objects that are salient or “stand out” from the background. But this “magpie theory” of attention is wrong, Henderson says. He and postdoc Taylor Hayes show instead that our eyes are drawn by parts of a scene that have “meaning.”

Listen here.

 

More information

Visual Attention Drawn to Meaning, not What Stands Out (news release)

Podcast: Monkey See, Monkey Learn, Monkey Do

South American capuchin monkeys are curious animals that readily learn new skills. UC Davis graduate student Brendan Barrett talks about studying learning in these monkeys in this episode of the Three Minute Egghead podcast.

https://soundcloud.com/andy-fell/monkey-see-monkey-learn

Capuchin monkeys can learn new skills by watching each other. (Brendan Barrett/UC Davis)

Read the original story here.

 

For Better Or Worse: Links Between Genetics And Stress

By Diane Nelson

Our genes can influence how we respond to stress. Science shows that some people are more genetically predisposed than others to develop depression and anxiety in response to stressful situations.

UC Davis psychologists Johnna Swartz (left) and Jay Belsky.

UC Davis psychologists Johnna Swartz (left) and Jay Belsky have found that genetic traits that make people vulnerable to stress-related mental health problems, are also those best equipped to respond to positive interventions.

What’s more, researchers say that chronic exposure to stressful conditions—such as poverty, family discord, and poor nutrition—can alter the way genes behave in children and adolescents, making them more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and other negative effects of stress.

Video Games a Viable Treatment for Depression

People play more often when they receive reminders, study finds

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Video games and “brain training” applications are increasingly touted as an effective treatment for depression. A new UC Davis study carries it a step further, though, finding that when the video game users were messaged reminders, they played the game more often and in some cases increased the time spent playing.

“Through the use of carefully designed persuasive message prompts … mental health video games can be perceived and used as a more viable and less attrition-ridden treatment option,” according to the study.

People’s Romantic Choices Share Characteristics, But for Different Reasons

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Ever wondered what your exes have in common, and how they differ from people you never dated?

The people one dates share many similarities – both physically and personality-wise — a new UC Davis study has found.

For observable qualities like attractiveness, similarity emerges because attractive people seduce other attractive people. But, researchers said, for qualities that vary greatly depending on where you live (like education or religion) similarity emerges because educated or religious people tend to meet each other, not because educated or religious people actively select each other.

Sperm Donor Identity: Who Wants To Know?

By Karen Nikos-Rose

More Than a Third Of Donor-Conceived Adults Seek Sperm Donor’s Identity, UC Davis Study Finds

When it comes to seeking out a sperm donor’s identity, more than a third of adult offspring at a well-established California sperm bank want that information – if only to know more about him and his characteristics – or “get a complete picture,” a newly published study has found.

The findings come from an article published Feb. 1 in the leading American journal of reproductive medicine, Fertility and Sterility. And the data show that the move to open-identity sperm donation is feasible, said the study’s primary author, Joanna Scheib, associate adjunct professor of psychology at UC Davis.

Brain areas responsible for “learning by watching” identified

By Nicole Gelfand

Children imitate our every action- from their very first words to even the most miniscule of habits they acquire from their parents. Children are a firsthand example of how human learning often takes place by observing other individuals, a term referred to as observational learning.  From a young age human brains associate observed actions with the rewards and consequences that follow, to subsequently “learn by watching” and change behavior.