My students are always surprised when they meet us at the grocery store! Yes, professors are people too!

Here is what I am reading today:

“Ionizing radiation is the primary environmental risk factor for developing meningioma, which is the most frequently diagnosed primary brain tumor in the United States. Dental x-rays are the most common artificial source of exposure to ionizing radiation for individuals living in this country.”

“Research by psychologists at the University at Buffalo and the University of California, Irvine, has found that at least part of the reason some people are kind and generous is because their genes nudge them toward it.

Michel Poulin, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at UB, is the principal author of the study “The Neurogenics of Niceness,” published in this month in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The study, co-authored by Anneke Buffone of UB and E. Alison Holman of the University of California, Irvine, looked at the behavior of study subjects who have versions of receptor genes for two hormones that, in laboratory and close relationship research, are associated with niceness. Previous laboratory studies have linked the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin to the way we treat one another, Poulin says.”

“The study, coming seven months after the start of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which has been aimed at addressing income inequality, was conducted by researchers from: New York University’s Wilf Family Department of Politics; the University of Toronto; the University of California, San Diego; the University of California, Davis; and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Previous scholarship has established that two areas of the brain are active when we behave in an egalitarian manner—the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the insular cortex, which are two neurological regions previously shown to be related to social preferences such as altruism, reciprocity, fairness, and aversion to inequality. Less clear, however, is how these parts of the brain may also be connected to egalitarian behavior in a group setting.”


Amir Tadros · April 11, 2012 at 9:57 am

“Frequent dental X-rays linked to most common brain tumor”
I thought that nowadays, x-ray machines were designed to be safe and protocol was in place to reduce the risk of cancer. I go to the dentist very often and can’t even remember how many x-rays I had taken, so that’s somewhat disappointing .
On the other hand, the article simply states that they are twice as likely to get cancer. Is that a great increase of the risk? Or is it like going from 0.1% to 0.2%?
Either way, it seems like everything around us is a carcinogen so I’m not going to worry about it too much.

Amir Tadros · April 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm

“The neurogenics of niceness: Study finds peoples’ relative niceness may reside in their genes”
I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions from this study. This is a strictly correlative study, so the evidence is not very strong as it does not provide a cause and effect relationship. Cells constantly insert and remove receptors from their membrane so it is possible that people’s behaviors dictate the number of oxytocin receptors available instead of the other way around.

robert05101 · April 11, 2012 at 9:23 pm

“Theories of morality” and neuroscience

While it is clear that certain brain parts are associated with decision makings that are “related to morality”, one cannot simply infer a causal relationship such that “morality is simply caused by brain activities.” In the example provided above, one possibility is that the participants’ corresponding brain parts show signs of activity in response to the thought of money. Or as we have discussed in class, the prefrontal cortex is a more “advanced” part of the brain, so it is also reasonable to conclude that signs of activities are observable simply because the decision that had to be made was a complicated one.

There are many interpretations of morality, one of which is the consideration of other people. I’m not a big fan of funtionalist, so I will have to say that I dont think that there is a specific brain part that is “in charge” of morality as a result of evolution.

robert05101 · April 12, 2012 at 8:46 pm

For me personally, it is still kinda hard to believe that there is a gene that is associated to personality traits–it almost sounds like Gall and Spurzheim’s phrenology where each part of the brain is responsible for different personality traits. Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but genes are not changeable right? So that implies that if a person is born nice, he’ll always be nice; and if he is born angry, he will also be angry. Another incident i find contradicting to this is the evidences that twin studies conclude. Some identical twins are separated at birth and they end up with completely different personality traits; but they have the same genes!

One interpretation that is easier to accept is that such gene is associated with the limbic system, and perhaps lowers the limbic system’s sensitivity so that the person perceives less threat from the world and thus becomes “nicer”.

fnmagno · April 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm

“Brain tumors and dental x-rays”
I feel that dental x-rays alone cannot be blamed for brain tumors. As these x-rays are necessary to maintain proper oral health, it is something that must be done, though dentists should take necessary precautions, including informing their patients of the increased risk for brain tumors.

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