Here is what I am reading today:

“Cornell researchers have identified for the first time the 3-D crystal structure of a protein in fruit flies (Drosophila) that also facilitates circadian rhythm functions in most higher organisms — from cyanobacteria and plants to animals, including humans.

The study appears in the Nov. 13 issue of the journal Nature.”

“This finding, reported at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Neuroscience 2011, matters because unraveling how the brain solves the complex task of reading can help in uncovering the brain basis of reading disorders, such as dyslexia, say the scientists.

“One camp of neuroscientists believes that we access both the phonology and the visual perception of a word as we read them and that the area or areas of the brain that do one, also do the other, but our study proves this isn’t the case,” says the study’s lead investigator, Laurie Glezer, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow. She works in the Laboratory for Computational Cognitive Neuroscience at GUMC, led by Maximilian Riesenhuber, Ph.D., who is a co-author.”

“In the study, 23 romantic couples were videotaped while one of the partners described a time of suffering in their lives. The other half of the couple and their physical, non-verbal reactions were the focal point of the study. Groups of complete strangers viewed the videos. The observers were asked to rate the person on traits such as how kind, trustworthy, and caring they thought the person was, based on just 20 seconds of silent video.

“Our findings suggest even slight genetic variation may have tangible impact on people’s behavior, and that these behavioral differences are quickly noticed by others,” said Aleksandr Kogan, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and the study’s lead author.”



nicoleboughton · November 15, 2011 at 10:51 am

Dr. Freberg- I noticed that I can’t comment on articles listed in May 27, 2011- but I read the article about the effects of posture and balance on people diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I’d like to comment on it here. Hopefully that’s acceptable.
I thought the observations that postural control issues could be core feature of bipolar disorder,and not just a symptom, and could provide avenues to understanding the disorder and potential new treatments were very interesting. I especially was intrigued about the connection to the specificity of issues with proprioception and the vestibular system processing information and input.
I’m curious as to what yoga and/or occupationial therapies that are focused on compression could do for bipolar patients. It’s too bad that the study was limited by patients on medication, that seems to cloud so much research and progress.

Vix · November 15, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Looks like you are getting excited about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I see.

I thought the articles on the circadian clock protein and the brain visual dictionary were interesting. I happen to read many times and it helps me not only get smarter, but also remember better then I used to. Aging is really a pain in the butt. I know it beats the alternative but I wish the technology to cure and reverse aging would arrive right now. Whenever I read the links that you post on your blog, it will give me hope that, one day, the technology to reverse aging and live forever will arrive and that I will use it.

If you don’t mind, I will continue to eat goji berries in the meantime.

giulianna.riso · November 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Wow, the “kindness of strangers” article was fascinating! I really enjoying it. People always say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but I guess in certain circumstances, you can judge a person by “their cover” just by watching them for 20 seconds. I’m looking forward to seeing where this new information will go. Who would have thought genetics would have anything to do with empathy! I think most people believe empathy to be a learned characteristic for the most part.

annieaitken · November 16, 2011 at 11:37 am

I think the study which linked a genetic variation to caring and trust rises a lot of questions. The fact that genes are responsible for the ability to receive oxytocin makes me wonder why some people evolved to have this ability while others did not, and is it a fairly new addition to the human genome? It seems our ability to empathize at the rate we do is a distinguishing characteristic of human beings. It also begs the question—is there a way to manipulate genes to make people as a whole more caring, and is that even an ethically acceptable question to consider?

Kbginger08 · November 16, 2011 at 9:49 pm

The article regarding prosocial behaviors and genes was particularly interesting. I think it is important to acknowledge that some people are genetically prone to les as caring, but at the same time remember there are also other influences. After reading this, I began to think from an evolutionary perspective and wonder if there are advantages to have the less prosocial gene.

mbise · November 18, 2011 at 8:53 pm

“The kindness of strangers” article definitely surprised me. While a genetic disposition to empathy isn’t so shocking, I discovered that I couldn’t really tell the difference between the GG genotype listeners and the non-GG genotype listeners. However, I guess that says more about my sensitivity than theirs. I really liked that, rather than a see it as a problem to be fixed, the researchers interpret their findings as a part of a large and extremely complicated issue with much more to be understood.

efutak · November 19, 2011 at 2:15 am

I found it very interesting in the “circadian clock protein” article that the cryptochromes are evolutionary related to the enzyme photolyase and are directly reactive to light. I am guessing these dCRY would be located in the SCN if the presence of light affects them. I also found it interesting theat they are linking the dCRY activity to magnetosensitivity; it would be interesting to look at Cornell’s study’s to understand how they are able to provide such a basis for that. I was never sure that organisms could sense magnetic fields.

I feel that the description of the dCRY’s structure could have been explained a little better, but I guess that is what the release of the study is for.

megconstant · November 19, 2011 at 7:59 pm

After reading the “Kindness of strangers” article, I was very shocked. I never would thought that our genes had anything to do with how caring someone could be. I thought that life experiences and how people were raised had a lot to do with empathy and how people react to situations and how caring one would be towards other people. However, I am very interested in this finding and am curious as to where this research will go and what new findings may be discovered in the future as to how genetics play a role in empathy.

mkitselman · November 19, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I loved the article about genetics playing a role in kindness and empathy. I thought it was interesting on several levels. First of all, I think it is fascinating that people are able to make such accurate and quick judgments of others, based solely on facial expression and body position. I think our ancestors were forced to be extremely accurate in reading the personalities in others in order to steer clear of danger. The fact that we are able to make such snap judgments no doubt helps us avoid many dangerous situations as well as make smart decisions in those who we choose to surround ourselves with.

Secondly, I thought it was really interesting that traits such as empathy can be linked to genetics. After learning a lot about social psychology, I think the most common belief is that females are more empathetic than males, because of the norms imposed on males and females by society from birth. Males are socialized to withhold their emotions in order to convey a tough exterior. Typically, women are more in tune to their emotions and are therefore thought of as being more capable of empathy. I thought this article is a great way of showing that things like genetics have an impact on personality traits like empathy as well.

carlyk · November 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm

The article about the link between oxytocin receptors and the role of kindness in a person’s behavior was very interesting! I thought this was a very cool study and the results were also quite surprising. I never really took the time to consider the possibility that genetic makeup could play a role in how much empathy and kindness an individual may show and this study really opened my eyes to this. Since we have often discussed prison studies in class, I think this would also be an interesting study to conduct on a prison population. I would assume that a large percentage of them would have the genes for “less empathy” but I would definitely interested to see the actual results for this.

carlyk · November 20, 2011 at 12:26 pm

The “visual dictionary” article was a very cool read. I think this study – and the many that I’m sure will follow it – could likely have a huge impact on the methods of teaching students how to read. For students that struggle with dyslexia, perhaps a more visual approach is exactly what is needed. I’m not certain what exactly this would look like being implemented but I think it would definitely be something worthwhile. On a personal basis, I can believe that this “visual dictionary” really does work in this way. For most of us, we don’t even have to actually “read” words, instead we just see them and are able to immediately interpret them. Overall, this was a really interesting article and I’d love to hear more about the study and the impact that it will hopefully have.

mdewitt · November 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm

The article about the kindness of strangers was really interesting to me because of the concept we learned about the “Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Tom Hanks” face-type preference among women, with the “Tom Hanks” look being reportedly linked to being more caring and nurturing due to the possible lower testosterone levels in such facial types when compared to the “Arnold” facial type. It’s interesting to me that our personal preference for genes via observing phenotypes crosses over to this area of study of empathy as well.

mdewitt · November 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I thought that the article about the dCRY was very brief and uninformative, but interesting nonetheless. I suppose the reason for the articles’ briefness was due to the release of the knowledge about this protein, but it would have been more interesting if the article had included where the protein was located (I’m assuming the SCN?), and how it relates to per, tim, and clock. In any case, it’s interesting to know that researchers are still trying to seek knowledge on circadian rhythms/biological clocks.

Rssolomo · November 20, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I found the “Kindness of Strangers” article interesting yet questionable. The study discussed in the article particularly caused me to question the accuracy of the results. Was random selection used in choosing participants? How do we know there weren’t other confounding variables to how the spouse listening to their partner reacted? Maybe they just had a bad day or had already heard the story their spouse was telling. Also, how can they tell that individuals they claim have the GG genotype behave in ways that benefit another person? Regardless, Saturn’s claim that people can overcome their genes is reassuring, especially for selfish, non-emotional people. Overall, I enjoyed the article and will be non-judgmental when engaging with strangers.

Kbginger08 · November 20, 2011 at 9:02 pm

The visual dictionary article caught my attention, especially since I used to struggle with reading when I was younger. It’s interesting that the brain stores a visual image of the word and uses this to process the word quickly. Reading this article made me question if visually impaired people who use brail have a different way of recognizing words in an instant with their fingers. It appears this research will have a large impact on assisting individuals with reading disabilities. I’m curious to see if certain exercises or mental imaging practice will help improve reading skills.

mmcglinc · November 27, 2011 at 9:30 pm

The article “The kindness of strangers” caught my eye. I found it fascinating that a simple genetic variation could have an impact on behaviors associated with kindness. Also it is very interesting that strangers can notice these differences so quickly This shows how powerful non-verbal communication is and that one’s body movements can reveal a lot to others. I think it would be interesting to know my own genetic variation and the genetic variation of my friends/family. With this information I would want to compare people I know with the GG variation to people with the AA/AG. I am curious as to whether or not I would actually see a noticeable difference in their behaviors.

dlheller · November 28, 2011 at 1:22 am

The article on the kindness of strangers notes an interesting concept that I have never considered; the fact that a genetic variation via certain alleles could affect behaviors associated with kindness, caring, trust, and similar behaviors. It always seemed intuitive that these behaviors were somewhat “learned,” however, scientists here suggest that this difference in biology is significant and powerful enough to make a difference. Although I do think it is important that they recognize these genetic differences can often be overcome over time. In the video I did not notice any significant differences. Perhaps with a little more guidance on the topic I could quickly identify individuals with such particular genotypes.

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