Read a Huge Annotated Online Edition of Frankenstein: A Modern Way to Celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Classic Novel

Born out of evening reading of spooky stories on a rain-soaked holiday, Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein has resonated through the years into pop culture, a warning against science and technology, of how the thirst for knowledge can literally create monsters. If you’ve been binging Westworld or loved Ex Machina you are seeing Shelley’s legacy, […]

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The Encyclopedia of Women Philosophers: A New Web Site Presents the Contributions of Women Philosophers, from Ancient to Modern

In a recent conversation with Julian Baggini on why there are so few women in academic philosophy, Mary Warnock notes that “of all the humanities departments in British universities, only philosophy departments have a mere 25% women members.” That number is even lower in the US. “Why should this be?” Warnock asks. She asserts that […]

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What Makes Taxi Driver So Powerful? An In-Depth Study of Martin Scorsese’s Existential Film on the Human Condition

The field jacket, the mohawk, the “real rain” that will “wash all this scum off the streets,” the virtuoso tracking shot over the aftermath of a massacre, “You talkin’ to me?”: so many elements of Taxi Driver have found permanent places in cinematic culture, and almost as many have found permanent places in the culture, period. Thanks to […]

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The Possible Connection Between Childhood Obesity and Low IQ

Obesity is a global health burden, a serious risk factor for development of metabolic disorders, cardiovascular diseases and many other conditions. But some researchers believe that in addition to affecting physical health, obesity can damage the brain and compromise intelligence.

Brain imaging studies have documented multiple structural and functional abnormalities in the brains of obese individuals, which are already evident in adolescence.

Moreover, research findings indicate that even obesity in childhood is associated with lower intelligence scores. But this is not all. According to some investigations, there is causality in the opposite direction, meaning that lower IQ at childhood results in increased prevalence of obesity in adulthood.

Scientific studies have investigated the association of IQ and obesity in large cohorts. For instance, a group of researchers analyzed data in a prospective, longitudinal study and investigated whether becoming obese is associated with a decline in intelligence from childhood to later life. More than one thousand children were included and tracked until their fourth decade of life. Anthropometric measurements (i.e., body weight and height) were carried out at birth and at 12 occasions later in life, at the ages of 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38. The intelligence quotient (IQ) scores were assessed at the ages of 7, 9, 11, and 38. As the results demonstrated, the participants who became obese had lower IQ scores at adulthood in comparison with the participants whose body mass index (BMI) remained within the normal range. However, the obese participants did not experience a severe decline in their IQ over lifetime, meaning that they had lower IQ scores even in childhood, in comparison with normal weight controls.

Another population-based study followed babies born in the same week of 1950 in the United Kingdom for more than half a century. More than 17 thousand babies were included and their intelligence was assessed at the ages of 7, 11 and 16, while the obesity level and BMI were evaluated at 51. The results indicated negative effects of childhood intelligence on adult BMI and obesity level. In addition, it turned out that more intelligent children had healthier dietary habits and were exercising more frequently as adults.

Considering the negative association between childhood obesity and intelligence, one review study questioned the direction of this causality. After careful examination of longitudinal population based studies, this review study suggested that the direction of causality goes from having low intelligence that results in weight gain and obesity. It also claimed that excess weight gain did not cause a decline in IQ. The study found no strong evidence that obesity impairs cognitive functions or leads to cognitive decline, while it established proof that poor intelligence in childhood leads to weight gain in adulthood.

Still, not all scientists agree with these conclusions. For instance, a group of researchers investigated the impact of obesity on cognitive functions in children with sleep-disordered breathing. They included three groups of children in the study: children with obstructive sleep apnea, children with obstructive sleep apnea and obesity, and children without any of these conditions (normal control). The aim was to assess the total, verbal, and performance IQ scores in these children. The total and performance IQ scores turned out to be significantly lower in the children with obstructive sleep apnea and obesity, in comparison with the other two groups. In addition, BMI negatively influenced the total IQ score in obese children (with obstructive sleep apnea). This study clearly demonstrated that obesity can lead to higher cognitive impairments.

Since childhood IQ and obesity are linked, others investigated whether maternal pre-pregnancy obesity can impact the child’s neurological development. More than 30 thousand women were included; their pre-pregnancy BMI was calculated and the children’s IQ scores were assessed at 7 years of age. The results indicated that women with a BMI of around 20 kg/m2 had children with the highest IQ scores. In contrast, maternal obesity (BMI 30 kg/m2) was associated with lower total and verbal IQ scores. More importantly, excessive weight gain during pregnancy accelerated this association.

All of these findings confirm that there is a link between childhood intelligence and body weight later in life. But what is the mechanism underling this phenomenon?

According to some studies, higher intelligence (IQ) in childhood predicts a better socio-economic status later in life (a higher educational level with a better income). In addition, higher educational attainment seems to reduce the risk of obesity, probably based on better dietary habits (more healthy food choices). This might partly explain how a lower IQ in childhood can lead to weight gain and obesity later in life. When it comes to the impact that excess weight gain has on intelligence, it seems that more research is needed to confirm this association and elucidate the underlying mechanisms. One of the possible explanations for this association is that hormones produced by fat cells may damage brain cells. Another possibility is that excess body weight may jeopardize cerebral blood vessels and, thus, impair brain functions.

Although the cause of obesity-lowered intelligence scores is not entirely clear, it is evident that the link exists. Since obesity is a rising global health concern, its negative effects should also be investigated in terms of its impact on cognitive functions and intelligence. This is especially important when we consider that even pre-pregnancy obesity leads to lower IQ in children.

References

Belsky, D.W., Caspi, A., Goldman-Mellor, S., Meier, M.H., Ramrakha, S., Poulton, R., Moffitt, T.E. (2013). Is obesity associated with a decline in intelligence quotient during the first half of the life course? American Journal of Epidemiology. 178(9): 1461-1468. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwt135

Kanazawa, S. (2013). Childhood intelligence and adult obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 21(3): 434-440. doi: 10.1002/oby.20018

Kanazawa, S. (2014) Intelligence and obesity: which way does the causal direction go? Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity. 21(5): 339-344. doi: 10.1097/MED.0000000000000091

Vitelli, O., Tabarrini, A., Miano, S., Rabasco, J., Pietropaoli , N., Forlani, M., Parisi, P., Villa, M.P. (2015). Impact of obesity on cognitive outcome in children with sleep-disordered breathing. Sleep Med. 2015;16(5): 625-630. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2014.12.015

Huang, L., Yu, X., Keim, S., Li, L., Zhang, L., Zhang, J. (2014). Maternal prepregnancy obesity and child neurodevelopment in the Collaborative Perinatal Project. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2014;43(3): 7837-92. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyu030

Chandola, T., Deary, I.J., Blane, D., Batty, G.D. (2006). Childhood IQ in relation to obesity and weight gain in adult life: the National Child Development (1958) Study. International Journal of Obesity. 30(9): 1422-1432. DOI: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803279

This guest article originally appeared on the award-winning health and science blog and brain-themed community, BrainBlogger: Is Childhood Obesity Linked to Lower IQ?

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Hear Meryl Streep Read Sylvia Plath’s “Morning Song,” a Poem Written After the Birth of Her Daughter

Image via Wikimedia Commons Pregnancy and parenting are “extreme experiences that stretch our understanding,” writes Lily Gurton-Wachter at the Los Angeles Review of Books. They “push us beyond comfort or even comprehension.” Women risk their own lives to give life to a stranger, a tiny human whose future is entirely uncertain. Parents live with constant […]

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How to Use Yoga Therapy for Anxiety

Anxiety can stymie our lives in so many ways. Whether it’s a debilitating panic attack, constant worry or an all pervading fear, anxiety is often an unwanted companion that seemingly only wants the worst for us. However with the right help, guidance and support, there are a variety of techniques that can help. Of course it’s important to note that we’re all different, and what works for one person may not be as effective on another, but from personal experience, my own road to recovery led me, thankfully, to yoga therapy.

After years of struggling with depression and anxiety, I moved to to South East Asia and embarked on an intense meditative practice that lasted for three years, training as a yoga teacher and becoming deeply interested in mind-body therapies. During my own personal journey, I learned that one of the challenges that so many people living with anxiety face, is the often extreme physiological response to a threat; regardless of if that threat is real, or simply perceived.

We may rationally understand that there’s nothing inherently dangerous about a given situation, and that our panic and rolling fear is just our brain’s “flight or fight” response misfiring, telling us that we’re in imminent danger — but none of this knowledge makes the fear any less real. In the middle of a panic attack applying any kind of rationality is nearly impossible, and our fear response is incredibly powerful and hard to overcome without support.

While my own recovery led me to yoga therapy, it’s by no means a cure-all. It would be unrealistic to expect to feel constantly blissful all of the time, but both science and individuals have given credence to yoga’s efficacy as a method for reducing and managing anxiety, and with the right guidance, yoga therapy is a tool we can all use as part of a wider strategy to combat our anxiety. However as with most things in life, a little bit of research can go a long way, and there are some areas to consider before exploring yoga therapy further.

Choosing a Yoga Therapist

Yoga is, in and of itself, a therapeutic practice. However, if you suffer from anxiety you may benefit from the specialized advice and teaching that a yoga therapist can offer you. Yoga therapists are trained across a variety of disciplines, blending the wisdom of the Yogic and Buddhist traditions with detailed medical knowledge, neuroscience and psychology.

It’s this foundation and multidisciplinary approach that can be used to successfully apply the principles of yoga therapy to anxiety, but it’s also important you choose a yoga therapist that you feel comfortable with. Typically, a yoga therapist will discuss your unique circumstances with you, and it’s important that you feel an affinity with them. Compassion and empathy are two very important considerations, and as with talking therapy, you may even need to see a few yoga therapists before you find someone you feel is most able to help you.

In the initial discussion, don’t be afraid to assert your boundaries and explain the full extent of your anxiety. Many of us can feel like we need to put on a public face, even downplaying our symptoms to doctors and healthcare practitioners — but the point of yoga therapy is that it is designed around you. We’re all beautifully complex and unique, and being open and honest about your own challenges is often the first step towards a successful outcome.

Using Yoga Alongside Other Treatment

Complementary and alternative medicine is nothing new, and has been in practice in some parts of the world, such as China and India, for hundreds of years. As a complimentary form of treatment, yoga therapy does not have to be used in isolation — in fact, it works well in conjunction with a variety of other treatments. For example, medication and pharmaceuticals are valuable treatment paths in particular circumstances, and can be especially helpful in extreme situations.

In more recent times you may have also heard the term “Integrative medicine”, a term recently adopted by a number of government and educational organizations, intended to highlight the use of multiple therapy and treatment approaches in order to achieve the best outcomes for mind-body wellbeing. From a very simplistic perspective, this could be viewed as the combination of Eastern and Western medical practices, and both can, and arguably should, be used in tandem whenever necessary.

Who Is Yoga Therapy Suitable For?

Put simply, yoga therapy is suitable for everyone. Yoga therapy is therapeutic in nature, and importantly, designed uniquely for the individual in question. For example, with lower back pain, there are very specific yoga positions and postures for strengthening and supporting the back. Similarly, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are gentle, specialized ways of regulating the nervous system, and in autism spectrum disorders, specific yoga postures can be used to reduce heightened sensory arousal and promote emotional regulation.

For anyone suffering from anxiety, this is an important point. Yoga therapy is never about who’s the strongest or most flexible, but what’s best for you. If that involves sitting in a chair conducting simple yoga postures, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Everything should be conducted in a supportive and therapeutic environment where compassion and understanding become the core tenants.

Whatever your age, body shape or fitness level, you can apply yoga therapy to your own self-care routine, addressing mind, body and soul in order to help manage and treat the symptoms of anxiety. Recovery from anxiety isn’t an easy task, and we often experience setbacks, but incorporating yoga therapy into our daily lives can give us the tools we need to manage our anxiety — and maybe, one day, overcome it.

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Carl Sagan Returns to His Old Sixth-Grade Classroom to Turn a New Generation of Kids On To Science

All throughout his career, Carl Sagan cited the events in his formative years that set him on the road to becoming, well, Carl Sagan: the introduction to ”skepticism and wonder” provided by his parents; his visit to the 1939 New York World’s Fair; his first trips to the public library, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Hayden Planetarium; […]

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Autistic Teens Prone to Depressive Symptoms – Especially if Bullied

Researchers have discovered that teenagers with difficulties in social communication, including autism, have higher rates of depressive symptoms, especially if they are being bullied.

Investigators from the University of Bristol used questionnaires along with clinical and genetic information to study 6,091 young people from the Children of the 90s longitudinal study. They found children with autism and those with autistic traits had more symptoms of depression when they were 10 years old than their peers and that this continued at least up to the age of 18.

Children with difficulties in social communication were also more likely to have a diagnosis of depression at 18 and the findings suggest an increased risk for those who suffered from bullying.

The researchers did not find any link between having higher genetic tendencies towards autism and depressive symptoms.

Dr. Dheeraj Rai, a senior lecturer in Psychiatry at the Centre for Academic Mental Health, said, “We still know very little about why mental health problems are common in autism and what could be done to address them.

“Thanks to the wealth of data collected within the Children of the 90s study, we tracked the development of depressive symptoms in children with autism and autistic features up to the age of 18 years.

“We found that these children have more depressive symptoms than their peers at age 10 and these continue through adolescence to age 18, especially in children who reported being bullied.

“More research needs to be done to understand other pathways contributing to the risk of depression in autism across the life course. The findings suggest that focusing on the role of traumatic experiences such as bullying and interventions targeting these, could be important and may have the potential to make a real difference to the wellbeing of autistic people.”

Dr. Alan Emond, Professor of Child Health at the University of Bristol added: “Bullying can be detrimental to anyone’s mental health, but young people with social communication difficulties and other autistic traits seem to be particularly vulnerable.

“To protect autistic children and young people a whole school approach is needed to prevent bullying, coupled with targeted support for vulnerable individuals.”

Dr. James Cusack, director of science at Autistica, the charity for autism research, said: “Autistic people and families have told us that mental health is their top priority for research. This is not surprising as we know autistic people experience high rates of chronic mental health problems which lead to tragically high rates of suicide. Yet, our knowledge of autism and depression has remained poor.

“This excellent study tells us that symptoms of depression are elevated in autistic adolescents. The authors found that it was bullying rather than genetic differences which drove an increase in depressive symptoms in autistic people.”

Source: University of Bristol/EurekAlert

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Why Being Left-Handed May Affect Brain-Based Treatments

Mental health treatments that involve electrical or magnetic stimulation to the brain could be ineffective or even harmful to psychiatric patients who are not strongly right-handed, according to a new model of human emotion demonstrated by researcher Dr. Daniel Casasanto from Cornell University.

The study is published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Since the 1970s, hundreds of studies have suggested that specific emotions are housed in either the right or left side of the brain. Emotions associated with approaching and engaging with the world, like happiness, pride and anger, are in the left side of the brain, while emotions linked to avoidance like disgust and fear are housed in the right.

But those studies were done almost exclusively on right-handed people. This has given us a skewed understanding of how emotion works in the brain, according to Casasanto, an associate professor of human development and psychology at Cornell University in New York.

He suggests that this long-standing model is, in fact, reversed in left-handed people, whose outward emotions such as alertness and determination are housed in the right side of their brains. In fact, the new model shows that the location of a person’s neural systems for emotion depends on whether they are left-handed, right-handed or somewhere in between.

The new theory is called the “sword and shield hypothesis.” It posits that, based on the way we perform actions with our hands determines how emotions are organized in our brains. For example, sword fighters of old would wield their swords in their dominant hand to attack the enemy — an approach action — and raise their shields with their non-dominant hand to fend off attack — an avoidance action.

Consistent with these action habits, the study findings show that approach emotions rely on the hemisphere of the brain that controls the dominant “sword” hand, while avoidance emotions depend on the hemisphere that controls the non-dominant “shield” hand.

The findings have significant implications for neural therapy used for hard-to-treat anxiety and depression. It involves a mild electrical stimulation or a magnetic stimulation to the left side of the brain, to encourage approach-related emotions.

But Casasanto’s work suggests that this treatment could be harmful for left-handers. Specifically, stimulation on the left would reduce life-affirming approach emotions.

“If you give left-handers the standard treatment, you’re probably going to make them worse,” Casasanto said. “And because many people are neither strongly right- nor left-handed, the stimulation won’t make any difference for them, because their approach emotions are distributed across both hemispheres.”

“This suggests strong righties should get the normal treatment, but they make up only 50 percent of the population. Strong lefties should get the opposite treatment, and people in the middle shouldn’t get the treatment at all.”

Since the study focused on healthy participants only, more research is needed to extend these findings to a clinical setting, researchers said.

Source: Cornell University

 

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Barack Obama Shares a List of Enlightening Books Worth Reading

Photo by Pete Souza via obamawhitehouse.archive.gov Whatever historians have to say about his political legacy, Barack Obama will be remembered as charming, diplomatic, thoughtful, and very well-read. He honed these personal qualities not only as a politician but as a scholar, writer, and teacher, roles that require intellectual curiosity and openness to other points of […]

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