By placing dogs in an MRI scanner, researchers from Hungary found that the canine brain reacts to voices in the same way that the human brain does. Emotionally charged sounds, such as crying or laughter, also prompted similar responses, perhaps explaining why dogs are attuned to human emotions.
Eleven pet dogs took part in the study; training them took some time. “We used positive reinforcement strategies – lots of praise,” said Dr Andics. “There were 12 sessions of preparatory training, then seven sessions in the scanner room, then these dogs were able to lie motionless for as long as eight minutes. Once they were trained, they were so happy, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it.”
Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence,” the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle once said. But how does one reach this goal? According to a new study by researchers from Japan, a person’s happiness may depend on the size of a specific brain region.
Researchers found people who were happier had larger gray matter volume in the precuneus region of the brain.
Study leader Dr. Wataru Sato, of Kyoto University in Japan, and colleagues publish their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.
The definition of happiness has been debated for centuries. In recent years, psychologists have suggested that happiness is a combination of life satisfaction and the experience of more positive than negative emotions – collectively deemed “subjective well-being.”
But according to Dr. Sato and his colleagues, the neurological mechanisms behind a person’s happiness were unclear.
“To date, no structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) investigation of the construct has been conducted,” they note.
“Identification of the neural substrates underlying subjective happiness may provide a complementary objective measure for this subjective construct and insight into its information-processing mechanism.”
Meditation may boost happiness by targeting precuneus brain region
To address this research gap, the team used MRI to scan the brains of 51 study participants.
After the scans, subjects were asked to complete three short questionnaires that asked them how satisfied they are with their lives, how happy they are and how intensely they feel positive and negative emotions.
The researchers found that individuals who had higher happiness scores had larger gray matter volume in the precuneus of the brain – a region in the medial parietal lobe that plays a role in self-reflection and certain aspects of consciousness – than their unhappy counterparts.
What is more, the researchers found that one’s happiness may be driven by a combination of greater life satisfaction and intensity of positive emotion – supporting the theory of subjective well-being.
“These results indicate that the widely accepted psychological model postulating emotional and cognitive components of subjective happiness may be applicable at the level of neural structure,” they add.
These findings, the researchers say, indicate that individuals may be able to boost their happiness through practices that target the precuneus, such as meditation:
“Previous structural neuroimaging studies have shown that training in psychological activities, such as meditation, changed the structure of the precuneus gray matter.
Together with these findings, our results suggest that psychological training that effectively increases gray matter volume in the precuneus may enhance subjective happiness.”
Dr. Sato adds that, while further research is required, these current findings may be useful for developing psychological programs that boost a person’s happiness
Plants are able to “remember” and “react” to information contained in light, according to researchers.
Plants, scientists say, transmit information about light intensity and quality from leaf to leaf in a very similar way to our own nervous systems.
These “electro-chemical signals” are carried by cells that act as “nerves” of the plants.
In their experiment, the scientists showed that light shone on to one leaf caused the whole plant to respond.
And the response, which took the form of light-induced chemical reactions in the leaves, continued in the dark.
This showed, they said, that the plant “remembered” the information encoded in light.
“We shone the light only on the bottom of the plant and we observed changes in the upper part,” explained Professor Stanislaw Karpinski from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Poland, who led this research.
He presented the findings at the Society for Experimental Biology’s annual meeting in Prague, Czech Republic.
“And the changes proceeded when the light was off… This was a complete surprise.”
In previous work, Professor Karpinski found that chemical signals could be passed throughout whole plants – allowing them to respond to and survive changes and stresses in their environment.
But in this new study, he and his colleagues discovered that when light stimulated a chemical reaction in one leaf cell, this caused a “cascade” of events and that this was immediately signalled to the rest of the plant via a specific type of cell called a “bundle sheath cell”.
The scientists measured the electrical signals from these cells, which are present in every leaf. They likened the discovery to finding the plants’ “nervous system”.
What was even more peculiar, Professor Karpinski said, was that the plants’ responses changed depending on the colour of the light that was being shone on them.
“There were characteristic [changes] for red, blue and white light,” he explained.
He suspected that the plants might use the information encoded in the light to stimulate protective chemical reactions. He and his colleagues examined this more closely by looking at the effect of different colours of light on the plants’ immunity to disease.
“When we shone the light for on the plant for one hour and then infected it [with a virus or with bacteria] 24 hours after that light exposure, it resisted the infection,” he explained.
“But when we infected the plant before shining the light, it could not build up resistance.
“[So the plant] has a specific memory for the light which builds its immunity against pathogens, and it can adjust to varying light conditions.”
He said that plants used information encrypted in the light to immunise themselves against seasonal pathogens.
“Every day or week of the season has… a characteristic light quality,” Professor Karpinski explained.
“So the plants perform a sort of biological light computation, using information contained in the light to immunise themselves against diseases that are prevalent during that season.”
Professor Christine Foyer, a plant scientist from the University of Leeds, said the study “took our thinking one step forward”.
“Plants have to survive stresses, such as drought or cold, and live through it and keep growing,” she told BBC News.
“This requires an appraisal of the situation and an appropriate response – that’s a form of intelligence.
“What this study has done is link two signalling pathways together… and the electrical signalling pathway is incredibly rapid, so the whole plant could respond immediately to high [levels of] light.
Men’s health may be compromised by weight stigma, finds the latest research from the University of Connecticut.
As many as 40% of men report experiencing weight stigma, but little is known about how this stigma affects their health. This study found that men experiencing weight stigma have more depressive symptoms, are more likely to binge eat, and have lower self-rated health. Read More at Science Daily
A small study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise is one of the first to look at whether hot yoga offers any more bang for your buck than traditional yoga. The study recruited 20 healthy men and women between 19 and 44, each of whom took a 60-minute yoga class in both a room heated to 21 C and one heated to 31 C. The classes were taken 24 hours apart and were led by the same instructor and featured the same poses.
Each subject wore a heart-rate monitor and swallowed an ingestible core body temperature sensor before taking part in the class. Core body temperature was recorded five minutes before the class, every five minutes during the class and five minutes after the class.
Heart rate was recorded every minute, with subjects also ranking their perceived rate of exertion on a scale from 6 to 20.
In the end, the researchers, who hailed from the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, noted very little difference in the core temperature and heart rate of the participants despite the difference in temperature between the two classes. Core temperature for the hot yoga participants was 37.6 C versus 37.4 C for the cooler studio.
As for the intensity of the workouts, both yoga practices would be classified as “light exercise,” with heart rate averaging about 56 per cent of maximum during the regular yoga class as compared to 57 per cent of maximum heart rate during the hot yoga class. Read the entire article here.