AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Psychology

How Fruit Flies Changed Humans’ Understanding of ADHD and Autism

Think about driving on the highway. There may be music blaring on the radio, a friend chatting away in the passengers’ seat, birds flying over head, and hundreds of shiny multicolored cars whizzing by. Still, you focus on the road ahead of you and all the levers you must pull and pedals you must press to complete your drive. Your brain’s ability to focus solely on the task at hand is what scientists refer to as the phenomenon of habituation. Habituation is a when an organism is introduced to stimulus like a sight or sound so many times that the brain can begin to filter it out and no longer respond to it as strongly or at all. This concept of habituation has been known to scientists for years, but poorly understood until now. A study conducted and published recently in the journal, PLOS Genetics, by scientists at the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, India, may finally explain this phenomenon.

Led by scientist and scholar Runa Hamid, the team utilized fruit flies to study how these tiny organisms could learn to tune out specific scents and only focus on the ones they wanted and needed. Fruit flies, also known by their scientific name of Drosophila, are commonly used in scientific experiments as their DNA is shockingly similar to that of humans. For their tests, the team exposed wildtype larvae to certain chemical odors like Ethyl acetate. At first exposure, the flies flocked to this odor. After just 5 minutes, the flies began to avoid this odor and search for other sources of food! However, some flies took longer to become habituated than the rest and some became hypersensitive instead, seemingly being more fixated on the odor the more that they were exposed to it.

The researchers then tested the brain activity of the flies. They found that flies that took longer to tune out the scents and/or became even more sensitive to them had fewer choline transporters in their brains. Produced in the liver, choline is an essential nutrient which helps compose Acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter which binds as a ligand to the receptor protein to Acetylcholine receptor pathways. As we learned in AP Bio, neurons in the brain release neurotransmitters to diffuse across a “synapse”, the small gap between the signaling cell and the target cell. In this specific case, the Acetylcholine binds to the receptor protein site embedded in the membrane of brain cells and opens the ligand-gated ion channel. However, to make these neurotransmitters, the neurons need transport proteins to bring nutrients like choline into the cell. Without choline, neurons cannot produce Acetylcholine and the cell signaling pathways which Acetylcholine stimulates will not be signaled, or yield a response.

In short, flies with a sufficient amount of choline receptors in the brain produced the neurotransmitters needed to signal the Acetylcholine receptor pathway; These flies were able to quickly adapt to the stimulus provided. The flies that struggled to focus and tune out the scent were proven to have fewer choline receptors, meaning their brains did not produce adequate amounts of Acetylcholine. This helped the scientists conclude that Acetylcholine, specifically the molecules that allow for its thorough production, are necessary components of the phenomenon of habituation.

As the behaviors of poor focus and/or hypersensitivity to stimuli are traits of ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders in humans, the scientists believe there is a link between the biochemistry of the fruit flies and humans with these disorders; They concluded that reduced choline transport proteins in the brain of humans are a likely cause of the attention related symptoms of ADHD and Autism. Although further studies will need to be conducted, the high levels of shared DNA in humans and fruits flies mean that our biochemistry is likely wired in similar mechanisms to that of the flies. Thanks to the work of these scientists to understand one poorly understood biological phenomenon, they have opened the door into further research and understanding of another.

Who’s Smarter: Girls vs. Boys?

According to the legendary myth, boys are smarter in science, technology, engineering and mathematic fields due to biological deficiencies in math aptitude. Recent studies show that this is not true. A study, by Jessica Cantlon at Carnegie Mellon University, evaluates 104 young children by scanning their brain activity while watching an educational video. When the scans were compared, it showed that both groups were equally engaged while watching the videos and there was no difference in how boys and girls processed math skills. To further this study, researchers compared brain maturity in connection to skill, by using brain scans of adults who watched the same educational video. Which concluded that the brains scans in adults and children -of both genders-  were statistically equivalent. This study confirmed the idea that math activities, in both genders, take place in the intraparietal suclus, which is the area of the brain involved in processing numbers, addition and subtraction, and estimating.

So, why are mathematic and computer science fields predominantly males? Well, it could be for the held stereotype that women and girls are biologically inferior at mathematics. This conventional image could also be linked to the fact that females were prevented from pursuing higher education until the 19th century. To show this unconscious bias, an Implicit Association Test was taken by employers. This test reveals an unconscious bias by forcing you to quickly group various words together. If the word man was immediately linked to math, then an implicit bias is shown. This study unveiled the prejudice that men were twice as likely to be hired for a simple math job since, men and women employers displayed a prejudice against women for a perceived lack of mathematical skill.

Malevolent Personality Traits Come in a Package

Credit: emeraldschell from Flickr

Nearly a century ago, Charles Spearman found that “people who score highly in one type of intelligence test typically also score highly in other types of intelligence tests.” As a result, he concluded that there is a “general factor of intelligence.” Based on new research from “Ingo Zettler, Professor of Psychology at the University of Copenhagen, and two German colleagues, Morten Moshagen from Ulm University and Benjamin E. Hilbig from the University of Koblenz-Landau,” a similar “general factor” can be used when measuring a person’s “dark core of personality.”

The “dark personality” traits that the researches studied are egoism, machiavellianism, moral disengagement, narcissism, psychological entitlement, psychopathy, sadism, self-interest, spitefulness. To carry out their study, the researches asked more than 2,500 people to what extent they disagreed or agreed with statements such as ‘It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.,’ or ‘It is sometimes worth a little suffering on my part to see others receive the punishment they deserve.’ The study’s results painted a clear picture.

The research showed that the aforementioned “dark personality” traits are all based upon the same tendency. Therefore, a person with one “dark personality” trait will be more likely to also possesses many others. This “common denominator of all dark traits” is dubbed the “D-factor.” More specifically, the “D-factor” is “the general tendency to maximize one’s individual utility — disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others — , accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications.”

In the future, an assessment one’s “D-factor” may come in handy for everyone from therapists treating patients, to school teachers handling young children, to employers hiring for jobs.

Credit : affen ajlfe from Flickr

Predetermined diagnosis of PTSD and Depression can lead to prevention of psychological disorders

According to Science Dailyquestions that tests the psychological attributes that deal with coping ability, adaptability, and optimism. The questions are used to identify high-risk individuals and provide them with psychological and social resources to help them cope with the troubles dealing with deployment.

Researchers created an individual score that composites the soldier’s risk using baseline psychological attributes and demographic information such as martial status, gender, race, education and military occupation group.They found out of those whose score classified them as being at highest risk for psychological health disorders , which is at the top 5% of the score, 31% screened positive for depression, while 27% screened positive for PTSD after return from deployment.

 Professor Yu-Chu Shen, lead author of the study said: “We found that soldiers who had the worst pre-military psychological health attribute scores — those in the bottom 5% of scores — carried much higher odds of screening positive for depression and PTSD after returning home than the top 95%. Soldiers who score worst before deployment might be more susceptible to developing debilitating mental health disorders when they are later exposed to combat environments.”

The results suggest that psychological screening before deployment can be helpful in identifying the individuals who carry significant risk for psychological health disorders. Being aware of this risk could enable interventions to improve soldiers’ psychological health prior to exposing them to combat.


Science Proven Fact: The Older Sibling is the Best

As it is very clear to see, I am the alpha sibling. I am better than my brother in all ways. I always knew this, but now I can prove it with science!

Exhibit A: My parents just love me the most.

The main difference in the upbringing of an older sibling and a younger sibling is the quality of parental investment. With their first child, parents (on average) put a greater effort into reading with their child, playing music/listening to music, or taking them places. However, with next child, parents decrease the level of cognitive stimulation. The Home Observation Measure of the Environment, used to assess the quality of a child’s learning environment, shows that the first-born child has higher quality cognitive stimulation from the parents compared to the younger siblings.

Zach Chisolm,


Exhibit B: The Birth Order Effect

The Birth Order Effect is when earlier-born children make higher wages and have better occupations as adults than their younger siblings. The more years between the birth of the first child and the birth of the second child, the more benefit to the older sibling. This is because as parents have more children, they need to divide up their time and resources among more offspring. Although as time passes, parents generally make more money and gain experience, their attention must be divided among all of their children.

Differences in the social and physical development of children as a result of the Birth Order Effect can arise even before the age of three. These differences become more apparent as the children grow older, and can be seen in verbal, reading, math, and comprehension tests.


Exhibit C: Oprah is an older sibling. You get a car!


Disclaimer: Regardless of birth order, parents generally put in the same amount of effort for each child to ensure appropriate emotional development. So don’t worry! There is hope for my brother and all of the younger siblings out there!





How to stick with your New Years Resolutions


bicycling  In Tracy Cutchlow’s article “How to Trick Yourself into Exercising” she talks about the difficulty of sticking to your new years resolutions.  Year after year peoplecreate resolutionsthat involve things such as consistent exercise, but they struggle to actually act on their resolution.  So Tracy spoke with a psychologist about possible techniques that would enable her to “trick herself into exercising.”  The psychologist’s technique involved a relatively simple three step procedure.  The first step is to create a “ridiculously realistic goal.”  For example, rather than say you are going to exercise everyday, start off with three days a week.  The next step involves accountability.  This could mean writing notes in your phone or putting a calendar up on the fridge to remind you about your resolution and to help you keep track of your progress.  The final, and most important step, is to create a “painful consequence.”  For Tracy this meant that if she ever failed to maintain her three days a week resolution, she would have to give $500 dollars to an organization that she “hates” (Comcast).  The purpose of the painful consequence is to essentially make breaking your resolution so unappealing that it eventually becomes a rule.  In his book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, author Paul Tough describes thegeneral science behind how creating rules for yourself is an effective method for maintaining discipline. He writes, “When you’re making rules for yourself, you’re enlisting the prefrontal cortex as your partner against the more reflexive parts of your brain. … Rules are a metacognitive substitute for willpower. By making yourself a rule (“I never eat fried dumplings”), you can sidestep the painful internal conflict between your desire for fried foods and your willful determination to resist them.”  So Tracy Cutchlow’s article provides a means through which we can create rules for ourselves and in turn, successfully adhere to our resolutions.

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OUCH! : Why some people may be more sensitive to pain than others.

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Have you ever noticed that some people are more “sensitive” to pain than others? Many may wonder if a person’s sensitivity pain could be simply psychological or if there is a true genetic disposition to be more prone to pain. New research suggests that it IS a biological disposition that causes people to feel more pain than others!

In the study, researchers asked 116 perfectly healthy people to rate the pain they felt when a small area of their skin was heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. After a few days of testing the subjects were placed in MRI machines. The findings of the MRIs, to the surprise of the researchers did indeed show a link between a persons sensitivity to pain and the thickness of a persons brain cortex, an area previously linked to attention control and introspection.  What researchers discovered was that the thinner the cortex of these areas, the more sensitive people were to painful stimuli.

According to Nichole Emerson, a graduate student at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, “Subjects with higher pain intensity ratings had less gray matter in brain regions that contribute to internal thoughts and control of attention”.

These findings can not only explain the cause of pain, but also may lead to breakthrough in how doctors in the near and distant future treat patients suffering from chronic pain.

The areas identified in the new study have been previously associated with resting or daydreaming; often referred to as “default mode”. This may explain why people with less gray matter area are more sensitive to pain. Default mode activity may compete with the brain activity that generates an experience of pain. In simpler terms, People who spend more time daydreaming may be less sensitive to pain.

In addition to the grey matter of the brain, researchers also associated pain with the posterior parietal cortex (PPC). The PPC also plays an important role in how people maintain attention. People who can best keep their attention focused may also be best at keeping pain under control.





But I Studied!

Night Before Test: Oh, I studied sooo much, I think I’m ready for the test tomorrow.

Right Before Test: Yes, I’m going to ace this thing!

During the Test: …..

After the Test: What the @#$%?

Taken by Yasmin Kibria

Some of us may not have the best studying techniques, but it’s not just us who tend to undermine the power of repeated studying.  A recent study by UCLA shows that “students not only underestimate the power of continual study and repetition, but that they tend to overestimate their knowledge of material.”

This was determined by performing a study using a large group of college students where they were shown a list of word pairs, and were asked to give an estimate of how well they knew the material and how well they would test if they studied the material regularly.  A a majority of the volunteers overestimated their abilities, but underestimated the fact that they’d do better if givern time and repeated exercise.

This study is also supported by current research by Nate Kornell, an assistant professor of psychology at Williams College and Robert Bjork of the University of California, Los Angeles.  In their paper they write: “To manage one’s own conditions of learning effectively requires gaining an understanding of the activities and processes that do and do not support learning.”

In psychology, this thinking about thinking is called metacognition.  Performing a similar experiment, Kornell and Bjork found again, that poeple are under confident in their learning abilities and overconfident in their memories.

Just as we’re getting ready to go to college (!!!), it’s important to note the power of studying on a regular basis.

Finding Motivation Amongst Senioritis

It’s the time of year when senioritis really hits–second semester of senior year! Although most students have already found out about where they’ll e spending the next four years, there are some of us who are still suffering through the “wonderful” college process.

Whatever our situation may be at the moment, we all want the same thing: success. Success can be defined in hundreds of ways, but what contributes to attaining what we define as success? According the the research of Dr. Anders Ericsson, a professor from Florida State University, “motivation is the most significant predictor of success.” Whether it be in sports, music, business or education, those who succeed and become experts are usually those who put in the most hours and effort into their area of interest.

Research has shown that the longer someone is in a career, the less important innate ability, like knowledge becomes, and the more important motivation becomes. Why? “Because high motivation will ensure total preparation, which will, in turn, ensure maximum performance and results.

So why is it that some people are more motivated than others? There are asic biological forces that contribute to the existing difference, but some others seem to be a bit more abstract. There are a few major theories of motivation, one being the Drive Reduction Theory.  According to Clark Hull, humans have the internal need which motivates us to perform in certain ways. There are needs within us that drive us to act in ways to satisfy what what we want–when we’re hungry, we’re driven to eat. According to this, we’re driven to reduce drives so that we maintain a feeling of personal calmness and satisfaction.

Perhaps the most well know theory of motivation is the Humanistic Theory which states that humans are driven to achieve their maximum potential and will always try to do so unless there are obstacles in their way. According to the Hierarchy Pyramid developed by Abraham Maslow, we always strive to reach the top: the need for self actualization, or the need to realize our fullest potential, and right below that is the need for achievement, education, competence and respect. According to Maslow, no one has ever reached the absolute top of the pyramid–we all may strive for it, but no one has ever actually achieved full self-actualization. Self actualization being a complete understanding of who you are, a sense of completeness, and of being the best person you could possibly be.

So where does that leave us if we know that no one has ever reached the top of the pyramid? Well, we should strive even more to get as close as possible to the top.

What do you do if you’ve already become a victim of senioritis?

Well, believe it or not, it is possible to change!

The impact of motivation is actually quite string. It’s so important because it impacts every aspect of your efforts at change–it allows for preparation to make changes, provides patience in giving

Edited by Yasmin Kibria

yourself time for changes to actually occur, allows for perseverance in overcoming obstacles and setbacks and eventually develops a lifestyle that supports change which leads to ultimate achievement of the desired changes.

We’re not all the same, so there’s obviously different motivations that drive us to our goals. There are two parts to the “motivation matrix:” internal vs. external and positive vs. negative.

Internal-positive=challenge, desire, passion, satisfaction (Probable outcome? Successful change and fulfillment)

External-positive=recognition and appreciation from others, financial rewards. (Probable outcome? Some change, but dependent on others for continued change)

Internal-negative=fear of failure, inadequacy. (Probable outcome? SOme change, but possible relapse)

External-negative=unstable life, insufficient respect from others, fear of loss of job or relationship. (Probable outcome? some success, but very high risk of relapse)

Finding it the Motivation Within You

It means maintaining your efforts, especially in times when it’d be easy t ogive up. It includes doing everything possible to attain your goals.

There are three Ds that lead to change in motivation:

Direction: You need to know where you can go.

Decision: You need to know where you want to go.

Dedication: It’s kind of obvious.

Second semester is here…now you decide where you want to go.

If you want to read the rest of the article, feel free to do so:

Here are some more articles on the psychology of motivation:

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