Categorized | Featured, Psychology

Mind & Brain – Weekly Update #03 (Dec 8-14)

ScienceDaily Weekly Update #03With yet another week gone by here’s Mind & Brain – Weekly Updates #03 with the 10 articles from ScienceDaily that I found interesting.

(1) Sugar Can Be Addictive: Animal Studies Show Sugar Dependence

ScienceDaily (Dec. 11, 2008) — A Princeton University scientist will present new evidence today demonstrating that sugar can be an addictive substance, wielding its power over the brains of lab animals in a manner similar to many drugs of abuse.

Professor Bart Hoebel and his team have studied the impact sugar has on rats for years. With their latest study they have shown sugar addiction to meet all three components of addiction. Behavioral changes to accommodate (1) increased intake, (2) signs of withdrawal, and (3) craving and relapse.

Hoebel has shown that rats eating large amounts of sugar when hungry, a phenomenon he describes as sugar-binging, undergo neurochemical changes in the brain that appear to mimic those produced by substances of abuse, including cocaine, morphine and nicotine. Sugar induces behavioral changes, too. “In certain models, sugar-binging causes long-lasting effects in the brain and increases the inclination to take other drugs of abuse, such as alcohol,” Hoebel said.

This is further support that simple carbohydrates like sugar have adverse affects not only for our body but also our mental states.

Princeton University (2008, December 11). Sugar Can Be Addictive: Animal Studies Show Sugar Dependence. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from /releases/2008/12/081210090819.htm

(2) Low-carb Diets Can Affect Dieters’ Cognition Skills

ScienceDaily (Dec. 11, 2008) — A new study from the psychology department at Tufts University shows that when dieters eliminate carbohydrates from their meals, they performed more poorly on memory-based tasks than when they reduce calories, but maintain carbohydrates. When carbohydrates were reintroduced, cognition skills returned to normal.

A low-carbohydrate diet was compared to a low-calorie diet with 22 participants between the age of 22 and 55. Even after a week of carbohydrate restriction impaired memory performance when compared to the low-calorie dieters. [What they did not isolate was the important distinction between simple and complex carbohydrates.]

Tufts University (2008, December 11). Low-carb Diets Can Affect Dieters’ Cognition Skills. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from

(3) Obesity Among California’s Low-income Teens Nearly Triple That Of More Affluent Peers

ScienceDaily (Dec. 12, 2008) — California’s low-income teenagers have a lot in common: Sugary soda. Fast-food restaurants. Too much television. Not enough exercise. The result: Low-income teenagers are almost three times more likely to be obese than teens from more affluent households, according to new research from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

In California 21% of teenagers are obese in families with an incomplete of less than $19,971 compared to 8% of teenagers in families who make more than $59,913. Some of the factors aside from income are significantly more sugary sodas, more fast food, fewer family means, fewer opportunities for organized sports, less physical activities, and more television.

University of California – Los Angeles (2008, December 12). Obesity Among California’s Low-income Teens Nearly Triple That Of More Affluent Peers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from

(4) Contraceptive Methods Shape Women’s Sexual Pleasure And Satisfaction

ScienceDaily (Dec. 8, 2008) — Contraceptive methods shape women’s sexual pleasure and satisfaction. New data from The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University demonstrate that many women think condoms undermine sexual pleasure, but those who use both hormonal contraception and condoms report higher overall sexual satisfaction.

The overall sexual satisfaction, which goes beyond the immediate sexual enjoyment, was highest among women who reported using both condoms and hormonal methods. On the other hand when the same women were asked to reflect on the effect contraceptives have on their sexual enjoyment, decreased pleasure was reported with condoms alone or in combination with hormonal methods. Researchers say that the inconsistency is based on how women think about contraceptives.

  • Only 4 percent of women who relied on hormonal methods of contraception reported decreased pleasure, but hormonal users reported the lowest overall sexual satisfaction scores.
  • While 23 percent of women who used both condoms and hormonal methods reported decreased pleasure, they had the highest sexual satisfaction scores.
  • Women who used condoms alone or along with a hormonal method were six to seven times more likely to report decreased sexual enjoyment compared to those who used hormonal methods only.
  • Women with no history of a sexually transmitted infection were more than twice as likely to report that their method decreased sexual pleasure.

Indiana University (2008, December 14). Contraceptive Methods Shape Women’s Sexual Pleasure And Satisfaction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from /releases/2008/12/081208180437.htm

(5) Complex Decision? Don’t Think About It

ScienceDaily (Dec. 10, 2008) — When faced with a difficult decision, we try to come up with the best choice by carefully considering all of the options, maybe even resorting to lists and lots of sleepless nights. So it may be surprising that recent studies have suggested that the best way to deal with complex decisions is to not think about them at all—that unconscious thought will help us make the best choices.

Participants were faced with a choice and then (a) given a specific amount of time to come to a decision, (b) as much time as they wanted, or (c) distracted and then asked to decide. They basically found that there are instances when being faced with a choice, distracted, and then asked to make a decision (option c) was as good as when participants were given as much time as they wanted (option b). The first option (a) was always the worst, it gave participants too much time.

The study does warn of limitation and in fact self-paced timing (option b) to come to a decision is generally better. Nevertheless it is interesting that there are times when we make an equally good decision after not having engaged in conscious decision making. To call it unconscious decision-making might be a stretch because it could simple be a form of thin-slicing or snap (blink) judgment.

Association for Psychological Science (2008, December 10). Complex Decision? Don’t Think About It. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from /releases/2008/12/081209154941.htm

(6) Thinking Like A President: How Power Affects Complex Decision Making

ScienceDaily (Dec. 10, 2008) — Presidential scholars have written volumes trying to understand the presidential mind. How can anyone juggle so many complicated decisions? Do those seeking office have a unique approach to decision making? Studies have suggested that power changes not only a person’s responsibilities, but also the way they think.

In this study there were two groups one “powerless” and the other “powerful” who recalled when they had power over other people before the experiment.  Both groups were asked to pick the best among four cars based on 12 given attributes with one of the cars (in not obvious ways) outperforming the other three. Of each group some spend some conscious decision making time to choose and others were instead distracted before asked to make a decision. The results showed no difference for participants in the “powerful” group whereas participants in the “powerless” group made better decisions when distracted then when consciously deciding which car to choose.

[An alternative explanation could be that imagining a time when one had power over others illicites positive affect/emotions and if the participants in the “powerless” group would have been asked to imagine something else positive (then when they had power over others) they might have also done equally well in both conscious decision making or when distracted. Yet another factor could be that participants were not actually engaging in “unconscious” decision making in the traditional sense but maybe in thin-slicing or snap (blink) judgments.]

Association for Psychological Science (2008, December 10). Thinking Like A President: How Power Affects Complex Decision Making.ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from

(7) Inside The Consumer Mind: Brain Scans Reveal Choice Mechanism

ScienceDaily (Dec. 14, 2008) — That gorgeous sweater has your name written on it. But, those red suede pumps are calling your name too. What goes through your mind as you consider these choices? During normal economic times, you might indulge in a whole new wardrobe. But now, with considerably tighter budgets, consumers don’t have the luxury of saying “It’s the holidays — I’ll just buy both!” What happens in buyers’ brains as they consider difficult choices? What can retailers do to make the choice process easier for consumers?

Researchers performed brain scans (fMRI) on while volunteers were making choices between two equally appealing options and then also with a third less attractive option. The results showed that volunteers’ brains showed irritation when presented with two equally appealing options but relatively more pleasurable with a third less attractive option.

University of Minnesota (2008, December 14). Inside The Consumer Mind: Brain Scans Reveal Choice Mechanism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from /releases/2008/12/081211141846.htm

(8) E-learning Can Have Positive Effect On Classroom Learning, Scholar Says

ScienceDaily (Dec. 9, 2008) — Traditional classroom teaching in higher education could learn a thing or two from online teaching, otherwise known as e-learning, according to a University of Illinois professor who studies computer-mediated communication, information exchange and the Internet.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2008, December 9). E-learning Can Have Positive Effect On Classroom Learning, Scholar Says. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from

(9) Medical Terms Worry More People Than Lay Terms, Study Finds

ScienceDaily (Dec. 9, 2008) — The label used to identify a disease – whether it is common language or medical terminology – can influence how serious people think the condition is, according to new research from McMaster University, the second part of a larger study on how people understand and interpret disease.

University of California – Los Angeles (2008, December 3). Nearly 5 Percent Of U.S. Population Suffers From Persistent Depression Or Anxiety. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from

(10) Why Do We Believe in Santa?

ScienceDaily (Dec. 8, 2008) — Having kids believe there’s a jolly man in a red suit who visits on Christmas Eve isn’t detrimental, although some parents can feel they’re outright lying to their children, according to a new analysis by Serge Larivée.

The study reported that in 1896 22% of children were disappointed, 2% felt betrayed, and 25% found out from their parents compared to 39% disappointed in 1979,6% betrayed, and 40% told by their parents. Overall the study found that children in general, through observation, discover on their own that Santa is a myth.

In 1896, 54 percent of parents said they perpetuated the myth of Santa since it made their children happy; compared with 73 percent in 1979 and 80 percent in 2000.

University of Montreal (2008, December 8). Why Do We Believe in Santa?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2008, from /releases/2008/12/081208180345.htm


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