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.

Multitasking? “Digital archaeology” shows up to five projects is optimal

 

Audio: Listen to a version of this story on the Three Minute Egghead podcast.

 

 

How many projects can you work on at the same time, before losing efficiency? There are many reasons to get involved in multiple projects – impress your boss, gain personal satisfaction, help out colleagues or just because you’re interested. But at some point, there must be one project too many.

“There is a limit,” said Bogdan Vasilescu, postdoctoral researcher in the DECAL lab at the UC Davis Department of Computer Science. “Multitasking fills time that’s otherwise unused, but there is a limit at four or five projects in a week.”

“Love hormone” oxytocin, possible anxiety drug, shows different effects in male and female mice

By Kathleen Holder

Clinical trials are testing whether oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone” for its role in intimacy and social bonding, has potential as a treatment for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. New research by behavioral neuroscientists Michael Steinman, Brian Trainor and colleagues at UC Davis suggests oxytocin may have different effects in men and women—and in certain circumstances the hormone may actually trigger anxiety.

In a series of experiments at the UC Davis Department of Psychology, the team administered doses of oxytocin with a nasal spray to male and female mice. Some of the mice were bullied by an aggressive mouse, an experience that reduces motivation to associate with unfamiliar mice. Consistent with previous studies, oxytocin increased the motivation for social interaction in stressed males.

Does hunting explain why zebras are not domesticated?

By Kathleen Holder

Why do people ride horses but not their striped African cousins?

A few zebras have accepted a rider or pulled a cart, but zebras have never been truly domesticated — and for good reason: They can be aggressive, panicky and unpredictable, making them difficult to halter and saddle train. While smaller than horses, they have powerful legs that can carry them at speeds up to 35 mph, and with a kick, can break the jaw of a predator. Those Chuck Norris-like skills are useful when you have lions, cheetahs and hyenas chasing you down for lunch.

Parenting style affects young voles’ brains

“Nature versus Nurture” is an old debate. How much behavior do you inherit from your parents, and how much from the environment where you grow up? A new study from the University of California, Davis shows that the amount of parental care a prairie vole gives its offspring affects the youngster’s brain structure and connectivity – probably working by changing levels of gene expression. The work is published online in the Journal of Comparative Neurology and will appear in print in a forthcoming special issue of the journal.

The prairie vole is one of the few mammal species in which both parents care for the young. Credit: Adele Seelke

The prairie vole is one of a few mammal species in which both parents care for the young. Credit: Adele Seelke

Psychology researchers build mind map of memories evoked by music

Contributed by Alex Russell

A snatch of music can evoke powerful memories. Now a team led by UC Davis psychologist Petr Janata is working to building a map of brain regions that react to music that triggers particular memories. The results will expand our knowledge on how the brain encodes memories. It could also provide a way to improve quality of life for those suffering debilitating conditions including Alzheimer’s disease.

Map of music in the brain

Brain scans show how different regions light up in response to familiar (green), memory-evoking (red) or “pleasing” (blue) songs. (Janata lab, UC Davis)