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

From Mind Wandering to Involuntary Retrieval: Age-Related Differences in Spontaneous Cognitive Processes

By David Maillet and Daniel L. Schacter | Neuropsychologia | November 23, 2015

Abstract:

The majority of studies that have investigated the effects of healthy aging on cognition have focused on age-related differences in voluntary and deliberately engaged cognitive processes. Yet many forms of cognition occur spontaneously, without any deliberate attempt at engaging them. In this article we review studies that have assessed age-related differences in four such types of spontaneous thought processes: mind-wandering, involuntary autobiographical memory, intrusive thoughts, and spontaneous prospective memory retrieval. These studies suggest that older adults exhibit a reduction in frequency of both mind-wandering and involuntary autobiographical memory, whereas findings regarding intrusive thoughts have been more mixed. Additionally, there is some preliminary evidence that spontaneous prospective memory retrieval may be relatively preserved in aging. We consider the roles of age-related differences in cognitive resources, motivation, current concerns and emotional regulation in accounting for these findings. We also consider age-related differences in the neural correlates of spontaneous cognitive processes.

Read the full article here.

Extending the ‘Cross-Disorder’ Relevance of Executive Functions to Dimensional Neuropsychiatric Traits in Youth

By Lauren M. McGrath, Ellen B. Braaten, Nathan D. Doty, Brian L. Willoughby, H. Kent Wilson, Ellen H. O’Donnell, Mary K. Colvin, Hillary L. Ditmars, Jessica E. Blais, Erin N. Hill, Aaron Metzger, Roy H. Perlis, Erik G. Willcutt, Jordan W. Smoller, Irwin D. Waldman, Stephen V. Faraone, Larry J. Seidman, and Alysa E. Doyle | The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry | September 28, 2015

Abstract:

Background

Evidence that different neuropsychiatric conditions share genetic liability has increased interest in phenotypes with ‘cross-disorder’ relevance, as they may contribute to revised models of psychopathology. Cognition is a promising construct for study; yet, evidence that the same cognitive functions are impaired across different forms of psychopathology comes primarily from separate studies of individual categorical diagnoses versus controls. Given growing support for dimensional models that cut across traditional diagnostic boundaries, we aimed to determine, within a single cohort, whether performance on measures of executive functions (EFs) predicted dimensions of different psychopathological conditions known to share genetic liability.

Methods

Data are from 393 participants, ages 8–17, consecutively enrolled in the Longitudinal Study of Genetic Influences on Cognition (LOGIC). This project is conducting deep phenotyping and genomic analyses in youth referred for neuropsychiatric evaluation. Using structural equation modeling, we examined whether EFs predicted variation in core dimensions of the autism spectrum disorder, bipolar illness, and schizophrenia (including social responsiveness, mania/emotion regulation, and positive symptoms of psychosis, respectively).

Results

We modeled three cognitive factors (working memory, shifting, and executive processing speed) that loaded on a second-order EF factor. The EF factor predicted variation in our three target traits, but not in a negative control (somatization). Moreover, this EF factor was primarily associated with the overlapping (rather than unique) variance across the three outcome measures, suggesting that it related to a general increase in psychopathology symptoms across those dimensions.

Conclusions

Findings extend support for the relevance of cognition to neuropsychiatric conditions that share underlying genetic risk. They suggest that higher-order cognition, including EFs, relates to the dimensional spectrum of each of these disorders and not just the clinical diagnoses. Moreover, results have implications for bottom-up models linking genes, cognition, and a general psychopathology liability.

Read the full article here.