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October 4, 2023

Psychology and Neuroscience Briefs

By Ian Yu | September 27, 2012

Research sheds light on inner workings of boredom

While everyone can easily recognize when they are bored, researchers from York Unviersity in Ontario, Canada, the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo have examined what exactly happens in a mind that feels underutilized. Publishing their results in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, the study involved various research groups spanning different fields in the psychological and cognitive sciences.

The group finds that boredom arises from a failure of a part of the brain’s attention network to be satisfied with an activity. Specific signs of boredom include having difficulty paying attention to an activity, being aware of that difficulty and blaming the surrounding environment for difficulty in paying attention. Researchers hope to apply this knowledge to better understand and address situations where boredom can have serious consequences, such as when drivers fail to pay attention to the road, or long-term problems, including overeating.


Opiod receptors only part of pill addiction story

University of Kentucky researchers have found that the addiction to tramadol, a narcotic-like pain reliever, depends on factors other than the physiological interaction of the drug with opiod receptors. Publishing their findings in the journal Psychopharmacology, the group found that the specific way that tramadol interacted with the opiod receptors, in combination with another drug, caused a “high” sensation among participants.

In a double-blind placebo study, the researchers gave study participants one of a dozen possible doses that contained combinations of tramadol, naltrexone and hydromophone, or were given a placebo. The ten participants in the study had their reactions to the drug measured by self-assessment, observer assessment and eye dilation.

However, the researchers also found that the doses required for an addiction to develop were well above the therapeutic dosages, indicated by how much the participants liked the drug and what “street value” they would ascribe to it. At these high doses, participants still suffered from the side effects of the drugs, which include general unwell feelings, gastrointestinal illness and vomiting.


Effectiveness of medication for teenage autism questioned

After reviewing 31 years of studies, Vanderbilt University researchers found little support for autism medications used in teenagers and young adults, calling into question whether the disorder can be treated with medication past childhood. The disorders, which impact males more than females by a five to one ratio, affect communication and social skills to varying degrees, depending on where an individual falls on the autism spectrum. The researchers’ findings are published in this month’s issue of Pediatrics.

Scanning through 4,500 studies published between 1980 and 2011, the researchers found that in some cases, individuals who were between the ages of 13 and 30 benefitted only minorly from medication for language and social skills. With little evaluation and follow-up, it was not always known whether there were lasting effects from the treatment.

The most consistent findings were for antipsychotic treatments that successfully reduced irritable or aggressive behavior due to autism.


Guilt and anger can be mixed together in depression

Clinically depressed individuals may mince their emotions in response to a troublesome event, according to psychologists from the University of Michigan. Publishing their results in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers see these findings as useful in improving treatments and interventions for depression, especially when self-reporting of emotions is an important aspect.

Of the 106 participants that the researchers recruited for the study, around half of them were suffering from clinical depression. Each participant carried a palm pilot and inputted their emotions at random times during the day when prompted by the device. They reported their state by ascribing a rating to seven different positive emotions and four negative emotions. If two negative or two positive emotions were given a similar rating, the researchers interpreted it as the subject having difficulty in discriminating between these emotions.

Both groups of participants had little difficulty in discerning positive emotions when they felt positive, but individuals in the depressed group would report multiple emotions when they had negative feelings. The researchers add that pinpointing specific emotions is important for the treatment of depression.


Intervention helps mothers quit smoking for good

Expectant mothers are typically able to quit their smoking habits during their pregnancy, but a large portion of moms will pick up the habit again once their child is born. This exposes the child to secondhand smoke and creates risk of long-term developmental defects. While 50 percent of pregnant women who smoke succesfully quit during their pregancies, the relapse rate among them ranges from 50 to 80 percent once they deliver their child.

However, a new intervention strategy developed by researchers at the Moffit Cancer Center can help new mothers stay off of cigarettes once their child is born. Publishing the results in the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers examined the effectiveness of a series of booklets they developed called “Forever Free for Baby and Me,” compared with a series of self-help guides.

Dividing their participant mothers into two groups and offering one of the publication series to each group, the researchers found that their publications helped 70 percent of women avoid smoking after the baby was born, while 59 percent of mothers who received the self-help guides avoided relapsing.

The difference in effectiveness was much more pronounced in lower income women, a population that has traditionally been harder to reach. The researchers point to this as a major benefit to their booklets, asserting that the low-cost intervention method has the greatest potential to treat this smoking subpopulation.

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