Tag Archive for Neuroscience and Behavior

Juhasz, Alumni Published in Behavior Research Methods

Associate Professor Barbara Juhaz, Yun-Hsuan Lai ’14 and Michelle Woodcock ’14 are the co-authors of a paper titled “A database of 629 English compound words: Ratings of familiarity, lexeme meaning dominance, semantic transparency, age-of-acquisition, imageability, and sensory experience,” published in Behavior Research Methods, 47(4), pages 1004-1019 in 2015.

Juhasz is associate professor of psychology, associate professor of integrative sciences, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior.

In this study, the authors collected ratings on 629 English compound words for six variables: familiarity, age of acquisition, semantic transparency, lexeme meaning dominance, imageability, and sensory experience ratings. All of the compound words selected for this study are contained within the English Lexicon Project (Balota et al., 2007), which made it possible to use a regression approach to examine the predictive power of these variables for lexical decision and word naming performance.

The database of English compound words should be beneficial to word recognition researchers who are interested in selecting items for experiments on compound words, and it will also allow researchers to conduct further analyses using the available data combined with word recognition times included in the English Lexicon Project, Juhasz explained.

Robinson Tells CNN About Addictive Foods

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Breaking news: You may be a pizza-holic.

Mike Robinson, professor of psychology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, was called on by CNN to comment on a new study examining which foods can be the most addictive. Topping the list: pizza, French fries, chocolate, chips, cookies, ice cream, cake, soda, bacon and cheese.

Although not all foods have the potential to be addictive, “it is critical to understand which ones do,” said Robinson, who was not involved in the study, told CNN.

“We are all pressed for time, and food is becoming more and more available,” but we need to think about what we are grabbing on the go, he said. Although a handful of almonds and a milkshake might have the same number of calories, they will have a different effects on your brain and your reward system, and you will be much more likely to go back to get more of the milkshake, he added.

Many of the symptoms of food addiction look like drug addiction, including that people need more and more of the food item to get the same effect. They also accept negative consequences to obtain it and feel the anxiety or agitation of withdrawal when they can’t have it. Although food withdrawal is not as intense as heroin withdrawal, neither is cocaine withdrawal. “It varies by the drug,” Robinson said.

Just like any addiction, the first step to recovery is to acknowledge there is a problem, Robinson said. “I think in the majority of cases when we have a problem with a substance, whether it’s a food or drug…we will ignore it,” he said.

Robinson suggests avoiding foods if you have trouble controlling how much of them you eat. “We are not in a situation where we will have dietary deficiencies (and) whenever possible we should be aiming to cook foods for ourselves,” he said.

Naegele Honored by Society for Neuroscience

Janice Naegele accepting the award at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting.

Janice Naegele accepting the award at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting.

During the Society for Neuroscience‘s (SfN) annual meeting Oct. 17-21, Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, received the Louise Hansen Marshall Special Recognition Award.

The Louise Hanson Marshall Special Recognition Award honors individuals who have significantly promoted the professional development of women in neuroscience through teaching, organizational leadership, public advocacy and more. Naegele shares the 2015 Louise Hansen Marshall award with Paul Greengard P’77, P’79, GP ’08, the Vincent Astor Professor at The Rockefeller University in New York.

Naegele began her career studying the characteristics of cortical neurons and more recently has performed pioneering studies of transplantation of inhibitory neurons in the brain as a potential treatment for severe epilepsy.

Wesleyan’s Film Studies Assists Sanislow’s Lab in Mood Induction Studies

Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, published findings from his laboratory titled “Ratings for Emotion Film Clips,” in Behavior Research Methods (Volume 47, Issue 3, pages 773-787) in September 2015. Co-authors included former post doc Crystal Gabert-Quillen (now on the faculty at Middlesex Community College in New Jersey); Ellen Bartolini ’11 (currently a graduate student in clinical psychology at Widener University); and Benjamin Abravanel ’13 (currently a graduate student in the clinical science program at the University of California—Berkeley).

In mood induction studies Sanislow and his students were piloting in the lab, they noticed that film clips historically used to elicit moods in prior work were not eliciting the intended moods. For instance, a film clip from Bambi had historically been used to elicit sadness, but instead, elicited anger among Wesleyan students.

They turned to students the Wesleyan’s Film Studies Department to suggest film clips of emotional scenes, and then collected normative ratings from Wesleyan students over the course of several semesters.

“From our findings, it became clear that reactions to emotional material could vary in the context of history, culture and gender,” Sanislow said.

For instance, men reacted strongly to positive film clips, whereas women reacted more strongly to negatively film clips.

“We urge researchers to pay attention to potential systematic differences. Our work resulted in a useful set of film clips for others to study emotion,” Sanislow said. “We have already had a number of researchers interested in using the clips in their own research contact us.”

Robinson, Students, Alumna Author Article on ‘Wanting,’ ‘Liking’ in Addiction

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the author of an article published Sept. 27 in Current Topics in Behavioral NeuroscienceTitled, “Roles of ‘Wanting’ and ‘Liking’ in Motivating Behavior: Gambling, Food, and Drug Addictions,” the article is co-authored by Adam Fischer, previously Robinson’s lab manager, Aarit Ahuja ’16, Hannah Maniates ’16, and Ellen Lesser ’15.

In this paper, the authors argue that two separate but interconnected subcortical and unconscious processes direct motivation: “wanting” and “liking.” These two processes work together but can become disassociated, especially in cases of addiction. For example, in drug addiction, repeated consumption of drugs sensitizes the mesolimbic dopamine system–the primary component of the “wanting” system–resulting in excessive “wanting” for drugs and their cues. This long-lasting change occurs independently of the “liking” system, which typically remains unchanged or may develop a blunted pleasure response to the drug. This results in excessive drug-taking despite minimal pleasure and intense cue-triggered craving that may promote relapse long after detoxification.

The authors describe the roles of “wanting” and “liking” in general motivation and review recent evidence for a dissociation of “liking” and “wanting” in drug addiction, known as the incentive sensitization theory. They also make the case that sensitization of the “wanting” system and the resulting dissociation of “liking” and “wanting” occurs in both gambling disorder and food addiction.

Loui’s Study of Chill-Inducing Music Featured in BBC

Psyche Loui is assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior.

Psyche Loui is assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior.

When Psyche Loui first heard Rachmaninov’s Piano Concert No. 2 on the radio as a college student, she still remembers the chill that went down her spine, the fluttering in her stomach and the racing heart. Now an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience and behavior at Wesleyan, Loui studies this phenomenon–which she refers to as “frissons” or “skin orgasms”–in her lab. She recently co-authored a paper with Luke Harrison ’14 in Frontiers in Psychology reviewing the evidence and theories in this area, and spoke to the BBC about their findings.

Loui, also an accomplished pianist and violinist, points out that the sensations associated with music can be as varied as trembling, flushing and sweating, and sexual arousal. People can often pick out particular measures in a song that trigger such sensations, allowing researchers to pinpoint specific features that are most likely to trigger the sensations in listeners.

Sudden changes in harmony, dynamic leaps (from soft to loud), and melodic appoggiaturas (dissonant notes that clash with the main melody, like you’ll find in Adele’s Someone Like You) seem to be particularly powerful. “Musical frisson elicit a physiological change that’s locked to a particular point in the music,” says Loui.

Researchers have been able to use fMRI scans to map out the regions of the brain that respond to music, and chart the mechanisms that correspond to this phenomenon.

One major component seems to be the way the brain monitors our expectations, says Loui. From the moment we are born (and possibly before), we begin to learn certain rules that characterise the way songs are composed. If a song follows the conventions too closely, it is bland and fails to capture our attention; if it breaks the patterns too much, it sounds like noise. But when composers straddle the boundary between the familiar and unfamiliar, playing with your expectations using unpredictable flourishes (like appoggiaturas or sweeping harmonic changes), they hit a sweet spot that pleasantly teases the brain, and this may produce a frisson.

For instance, violated expectations seem to startle (albeit gently) the automatic nervous system, in its most primitive region, the brain stem – producing the racing heart, the breathlessness, the flush that can signal the onset of a frisson. What’s more, the anticipation, violation, and resolution of our expectations triggers the release of dopamine in two key regions – the caudate and the nucleus accumbens, shortly before and just after the frisson. You see a similar response when people take drugs or have sex, which may explain why we find shiver-inducing songs so addictive, says Loui.

Mathew ’18 Participates in Summer Session’s Biology Institute

Christine "Cj" Mathew '18 is taking two intensive science classes this summer that equate to an entire year's worth of credits.

Christine “Cj” Mathew ’18 is taking two intensive science classes this summer that equate to an entire year’s worth of credits. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

In this News @ Wesleyan story, we speak with Christine “Cj” Mathew from the Class of 2018.

Q: Cj, have you chosen a major?

A: I’m a prospective neuroscience and behavior major.

Mathew's second Summer Session class began June 29.

Mathew’s second Summer Session class, Principles of Biology II, began June 29.

Q: This summer, you are enrolled in the new Biology Institute, which is held as part of the Wesleyan Summer Session, and includes intensive Principles of Biology I and II Lecture and Lab. Why did you decide to participate in the institute?

A: For my major requirements and pre-med requirements, there are tons of science classes that I have to take, and I didn’t want to feel too overwhelmed by taking more than one science class in a year.

Q: How many students were in your Bio I class? Do you enjoy the more intimate learning atmosphere?

A: There were 11 people in the class, and I absolutely love having a small class. This class is pretty fast paced, so it’s really helpful to have more individual attention. We spend a lot of time together between class and labs; by the second week of class, it was like we’d all known each other for a long time!

Q: When are you in class? Also, have you done any interesting lab experiments?

A: We’re in class every day from 9-10:40 a.m. and the lab meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1:30-4:20 p.m., but most of the labs don’t take that long so we’re let out earlier. In Bio I, we’ve done some pretty cool labs including genetic engineering, where we transformed bacteria. One of my personal favorites was when we looked at what proteins are found in milk and how much protein is found in milk. This one was particularly interesting because so many people are lactose intolerant because of these proteins.

Q: The Biology II course began June 29. How do you feel about jumping right into another class?

A: Luckily, there was a small, five-day break in between the two sessions. But, it’s not too bad. Since we’re only taking one class, not all of our time is consumed with class, so it’s manageable.

Q: After Bio II, do you have any summer plans?

A: Maybe a little traveling!

Q: Where are you from and why did you choose Wesleyan?

A: I’m from Long Island, N.Y. I chose Wesleyan because I knew I wanted a small school, and I loved the fact that Wesleyan has a lot of flexibility when it comes to choosing classes.

Q: Are you involved in any extracurricular activities on campus? What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I’m part of Women in Science and I enjoy playing tennis.

Loui Receives $200K Grant from Imagination Institute

Psyche Loui is assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior.

Psyche Loui is assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior.

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, was awarded a $200,000 grant from the Imagination Institute’s Advancing the Science of Imagination: Toward an “Imagination Quotient” initiative. She will use the grant for the first longitudinal neuroscience study on the development of aesthetic creativity through jazz improvisation.

Loui’s was one of 16 projects to receive funding, out of an initial pool of 251 who expressed interest.

Learn more in this press release.

Koplin-Green ’15 Studied Alpha Neurofeedback to Treat Anxiety

Matan Koplin-Green '15 wrote a thesis at the intersection of his interests in neuroscience, technology and music. (Photo by Laurie Kenney)

Matan Koplin-Green ’15 wrote a thesis at the intersection of his interests in neuroscience, technology and music. (Photo by Laurie Kenney)

#THISISWHY
In this issue of News @ Wesleyan, we speak with Matan Koplin-Green from the Class of 2015.

Q: Matan, what is your major and what was the title of your thesis?

A: I’m a neuroscience and behavior major. I wrote my thesis on “Application of Alpha Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders.”

Q: Let’s back up. How did your interest in neuroscience and behavior develop?

A: I came to Wesleyan not knowing exactly what I wanted to study. I was interested in cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind, but also had a lifelong love of music. I took a year off between high school and college to play in a band in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wis., and read a lot about cognitive psychology. Once at Wesleyan, I took classes ranging from computer science to experimental music, but I was also very interested in being part of the fast-growing neuroscience major. Then in 2013, Psyche Loui (assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior) came to Wesleyan. I took her intro class and discovered that she teaches at the intersection of all my interests—neuroscience, technology and music. I decided I had to get involved. I applied to be in her lab, and was accepted.

Wesleyan Faculty Organize, Speak at StemCONN 2015

Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, spoke at StemCONN 2015 in April.

Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, spoke at StemCONN 2015 in April.

Wesleyan faculty members played key roles in StemCONN 2015, Connecticut’s stem cell and regenerative medicine conference, held April 27 in Hartford, Conn.

Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, director of the Center for Faculty Career Development, served on the conference’s organizing committee for the second time this year.

Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, spoke at the conference on “Investigating how transplants reduce seizures: brain slice electrophysiology and ontogenetic stimulation of transplanted cells.” He discussed the collaborative work being done by his lab and those of Naegele and Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, which aims to heal damaged areas of the brain that are the source of seizures in temporal lobe epilepsy by providing newborn neurons to those areas. The goal is for the newborn neurons to replace dead neurons and repair broken neuronal circuits that are thought to be a cause of temporal lobe epilepsy.

Nearly 500 scientists, business leaders and students attended the event, which is held every two years. The event was also attended by many Connecticut officials, including Gov. Dannel Malloy, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut State Rep. Lonnie Reed, and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra. The conference was sponsored by Wesleyan, as well as Yale University, the University of Connecticut, the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, Yale-New Haven Hospital, the City of Hartford, and other companies and non-profit organizations.

Students Present Research at Neuroscience and Behavior Symposium

On May 1, the Neuroscience and Behavior Program held its second annual undergraduate research symposium. Arranged in the format of a professional scientific conference, seniors in the program presented their research done in faculty labs, while students and faculty in attendance enjoyed dinner at Daniel Family Commons. Five seniors spoke and seven other students presented posters on topics ranging from sonification of measures of electrical activity in the brain to the study of characteristics of neuronal membranes. About 50 junior and senior neuroscience and behavior students attended, in addition to the NSB faculty. (Photos by Dat Vu ’15.)

Matan Koplin-Green '15 spoke about his research on alpha neurofeedback training for the purpose of reducing anxiety levels.

Matan Koplin-Green ’15 spoke about his research on alpha neurofeedback training for the purpose of reducing anxiety levels.

Sanislow Co-authors Paper on Personality Disorders, Suicide Risk

Chuck Sanislow

Chuck Sanislow

Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the co-author of a new paper published in the journal Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and TreatmentThe paper is titled “Personality Disorder Risk Factors for Suicide Attempts over 10 Years of Follow-Up.

The findings in the paper are from the Collaborative Longitudinal Personality Disorders Study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), on which Sanislow has been an investigator since it began in 1996.