Talking therapy changes the brain

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have identified changes in the metabolic activity of a key brain region in patients successfully treated for depression with psychodynamic psychotherapy – talking therapy.

The study involved 16 patients with major depression who were offered weekly psychodynamic psychotherapy sessions. Each of the participants had unsuccessfully tried treatment for their depression with medication. Nine of the patients completed the course of psychotherapy and ‘almost all’ reported a greater than 50% reduction in their depression. Read more Talking therapy changes the brain

An overabundance of synapses and autism

Some of the symptoms of autism may be due to the brain failing to prune synapses during the early, crucial years of a child’s life. The resulting overabundance of synapses could contribute to some of the symptoms of autism and an understanding of the mechanisms behind this failure to prune may lead to future treatments for the condition.

A study by researchers from Columbia University Medical Center, reported in Neuron, found higher densities of dendritic spines in the brains of children and adolescents diagnosed with autism, compared to those without that diagnosis. Dendritic spines are those parts of the neuron where synapses are found, the connections that carry signals between neurons. According to one estimate, each neuron contains on average around 7,000 synapses. Read more An overabundance of synapses and autism

‘Stanford Prison’ and our capacity for cruelty

Maybe we’re not so bad after all.

Interesting piece from the BPS Research Digest about the Stanford Prison Experiment. That was the 1971 experiment in which a group of students was divided into jailers and inmates. The ‘jailers’ eventually became so brutal in their treatment of their ‘inmate’ peers that the experiment had to be abandoned. The lead investigator, Philip Zimbardo, used this result to argue that even good people will turn bad in certain situations.

I’d always accepted the results of this experiment at face value and it’s been used to explain, amongst other things, the atrocities at Abu Ghraib. What I hadn’t realised was the range of criticisms leveled at the experiment’s methodology and conclusions. These culminated in the 2002 BBC Prison Study, in which a similar experiment led to a far more nuanced and interesting outcome. Read more ‘Stanford Prison’ and our capacity for cruelty

Brain activity shows babies rehearsing speech months before first words

Geoff Ferguson – July 19th 2014

Brain activity in babies as young as seven months show that they are preparing to begin to speak.

Researchers from the University of Washington found that areas of the brain responsible for planning the motor movements associated with speech were activated when 7- and 11-month old babies heard speech sounds.

“Most babies babble by 7 months, but don’t utter their first words until after their first birthdays,” said lead author Patricia Kuhl, who is the co-director of the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. “Finding activation in motor areas of the brain when infants are simply listening is significant, because it means the baby brain is engaged in trying to talk back right from the start and suggests that 7-month-olds’ brains are already trying to figure out how to make the right movements that will produce words.”

Read more Brain activity shows babies rehearsing speech months before first words