News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Zen & the Brain Revisited: Living Zen Remindfully

On Friday, June 24, 2016, at McLean Hospital, CLBB will co-sponsor a talk by James H. Austin, MD, Emeritus Professor of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, and author of the new book, Living Zen Remindfully (MIT Press, 2016).

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COMT Val158Met Genotype is Associated with Reward Learning: A Replication Study and Meta-Analysis

By N. S. Corral-Frías, D. A. Pizzagalli, J. M. Carré, L. J. Michalski, Y. S. Nikolova, R. H. Perlis, J. Fagerness, M. R. Lee, E. Drabant Conley, T. M. Lancaster, S. Haddad, A. Wolf, J. W. Smoller, A. R. Hariri, and R. Bogdan | Genes, Brain, and Behavior | June 1, 2016

Abstract:

Identifying mechanisms through which individual differences in reward learning emerge offers an opportunity to understand both a fundamental form of adaptive responding as well as etiological pathways through which aberrant reward learning may contribute to maladaptive behaviors and psychopathology. One candidate mechanism through which individual differences in reward learning may emerge is variability in dopaminergic reinforcement signaling. A common functional polymorphism within the catechol-O-methyl transferase gene (COMT; rs4680, Val158Met) has been linked to reward learning, where homozygosity for the Met allele (linked to heightened prefrontal dopamine function and decreased dopamine synthesis in the midbrain) has been associated with relatively increased reward learning. Here, we used a probabilistic reward learning task to asses response bias, a behavioral form of reward learning, across three separate samples that were combined for analyses (age: 21.80 ± 3.95; n = 392; 268 female; European-American: n = 208). We replicate prior reports that COMTrs4680 Met allele homozygosity is associated with increased reward learning in European-American participants (β = 0.20, t = 2.75, P < 0.01; ΔR2 = 0.04). Moreover, a meta-analysis of 4 studies, including the current one, confirmed the association between COMT rs4680 genotype and reward learning (95% CI −0.11 to −0.03; z = 3.2; P < 0.01). These results suggest that variability in dopamine signaling associated withCOMT rs4680 influences individual differences in reward which may potentially contribute to psychopathology characterized by reward dysfunction.

Read the full article here.

When the Mind Wanders: Distinguishing Stimulus-Dependent from Stimulus-Independent Thoughts During Incidental Encoding in Young and Older Adults

By David Maillet and Daniel L. Schacter | Psychology and Aging | June 2016

Abstract:

In recent years, several studies have indicated that healthy older adults exhibit a reduction in mind-wandering compared with young adults. However, relatively little research has examined the extent to which ongoing thoughts in young and older adults are dependent on environmental stimuli. In the current study, we assessed age-related differences in frequency of stimulus-dependent thoughts (SDTs) and stimulus-independent thoughts (SITs) during a slow-paced incidental encoding task. Based on previous research suggesting that older adults rely on external information to a greater extent than young adults, we hypothesized that ongoing thoughts in older adults may be more stimulus-dependent than in young adults. We found that although older adults reported overall fewer thoughts compared to young adults, they exhibited a reduction in proportion of SITs and an increase in proportion of SDTs. In both age groups, SDTs were more frequently about the past compared with SITs, while SITs were more frequently about the future. Finally, the extent to which both young and older adults reported SDTs, but not SITs, at encoding was positively correlated with how often they reported remembering thoughts at retrieval, and SDT frequency was positively correlated with overall performance on the memory task in older adults. Our results provide evidence that ongoing thoughts in older adults may be more dependent on environmental stimuli than young adults, and that these thoughts may impact performance in recognition tasks.

Read the full article here.

Pain in an Era of Armed Conflicts: Prevention and Treatment for Warfighters and Civilian Casualties

By  E. George, I. Elman, L. Becerra, Sheri Berg, and D. Borsook | Progress in Neurobiology | June 2016

Abstract:

Chronic pain is a common squealae of military- and terror-related injuries. While its pathophysiology has not yet been fully elucidated, it may be potentially related to premorbid neuropsychobiological status, as well as to the type of injury and to the neural alterations that it may evoke. Accordingly, optimized approaches for wounded individuals should integrate primary, secondary and tertiary prevention in the form of thorough evaluation of risk factors along with specific interventions to contravene and mitigate the ensuing chronicity. Thus, Premorbid Events phase may encompass assessments of psychological and neurobiological vulnerability factors in conjunction with fostering preparedness and resilience in both military and civilian populations at risk. Injuries per se phase calls for immediate treatment of acute pain in the field by pharmacological agents that spare and even enhance coping and adaptive capabilities. The key objective of the Post Injury Events is to prevent and/or reverse maladaptive peripheral- and central neural system’s processes that mediate transformation of acute to chronic pain and to incorporate timely interventions for concomitant mental health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction. We suggest that the proposed continuum of care may avert more disability and suffering than the currently employed less integrated strategies. While the requirements of the armed forces present a pressing need for this integrated continuum and a framework in which it can be most readily implemented, this approach may be also instrumental for the care of civilian casualties.

Read the full article here.

Are You in Despair? That’s Good

By Lisa Feldman Barrett | The New York Times | June 3, 2016

WHEN the world gets you down, do you feel just generally “bad”? Or do you have more precise emotional experiences, such as grief or despair or gloom?

In psychology, people with finely tuned feelings are said to exhibit “emotional granularity.When reading about the abuses of the Islamic State, for example, you might experience creeping horror or fury, rather than general awfulness. When learning about climate change, you could feel alarm tinged with sorrow and regret for species facing extinction. Confronted with this year’s presidential campaign, you might feel astonished, exasperated or even embarrassed on behalf of the candidates — an emotion known in Mexico as “pena ajena.”

Emotional granularity isn’t just about having a rich vocabulary; it’s about experiencing the world, and yourself, more precisely. This can make a difference in your life. In fact, there is growing scientific evidence that precisely tailored emotional experiences are good for you, even if those experiences are negative. Continue reading »