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BACKGROUND: Autism is a syndrome of unknown cause, marked by abnormal development of social behavior. Attempts to link pathological features of the amygdala, which plays a key role in emotional processing, to autism have shown little consensus. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate amygdala volume in individuals with autism spectrum disorders and its relationship to laboratory measures of social behavior to examine whether variations in amygdala structure relate to symptom severity. DESIGN: We conducted 2 cross-sectional studies of amygdala volume, measured blind to diagnosis on high-resolution, anatomical magnetic resonance images. Participants were 54 males aged 8 to 25 years, including 23 with autism and 5 with Asperger syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, recruited and evaluated at an academic center for developmental disabilities and 26 age- and sex-matched community volunteers. The Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised was used to confirm diagnoses and to validate relationships with laboratory measures of social function. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Amygdala volume, judgment of facial expressions, and eye tracking. RESULTS: In study 1, individuals with autism who had small amygdalae were slowest to distinguish emotional from neutral expressions (P=.02) and showed least fixation of eye regions (P=.04). These same individuals were most socially impaired in early childhood, as reported on the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (P<.04). Study 2 showed smaller amygdalae in individuals with autism than in control subjects (P=.03) and group differences in the relation between amygdala volume and age. Study 2 also replicated findings of more gaze avoidance and childhood impairment in participants with autism with the smallest amygdalae. Across the combined sample, severity of social deficits interacted with age to predict different patterns of amygdala development in autism (P=.047). CONCLUSIONS: These findings best support a model of amygdala hyperactivity that could explain most volumetric findings in autism. Further psychophysiological and histopathological studies are indicated to confirm these findings.
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BACKGROUND: The frontal lobe has been crucially involved in the neurobiology of major depression, but inconsistencies among studies exist, in part due to a failure of considering modulatory variables such as symptom severity, comorbidity with anxiety, and distinct subtypes, as codeterminants for patterns of brain activation in depression. METHODS: Resting electroencephalogram was recorded in 38 unmedicated subjects with major depressive disorder and 18 normal comparison subjects, and analyzed with a tomographic source localization method that computes the cortical three-dimensional distribution of current density for standard electroencephalogram frequency bands. Symptom severity and anxiety were measured via self-report and melancholic features via clinical interview. RESULTS: Depressed subjects showed more excitatory (beta3, 21.5-30.0 Hz) activity in the right superior and inferior frontal lobe (Brodmann's area 9/10/11) than comparison subjects. In melancholic subjects, this effect was particularly pronounced for severe depression, and right frontal activity correlated positively with anxiety. Depressed subjects showed posterior cingulate and precuneus hypoactivity. CONCLUSIONS: While confirming prior results implicating right frontal and posterior cingulate regions, this study highlights the importance of depression severity, anxiety, and melancholic features in patterns of brain activity accompanying depression.
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Previous research indicates that lower-class individuals experience elevated negative emotions as compared with their upper-class counterparts. We examine how the environments of lower-class individuals can also promote greater compassionate responding-that is, concern for the suffering or well-being of others. In the present research, we investigate class-based differences in dispositional compassion and its activation in situations wherein others are suffering. Across studies, relative to their upper-class counterparts, lower-class individuals reported elevated dispositional compassion (Study 1), as well as greater self-reported compassion during a compassion-inducing video (Study 2) and for another person during a social interaction (Study 3). Lower-class individuals also exhibited heart rate deceleration-a physiological response associated with orienting to the social environment and engaging with others-during the compassion-inducing video (Study 2). We discuss a potential mechanism of class-based influences on compassion, whereby lower-class individuals' are more attuned to others' distress, relative to their upper-class counterparts.
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Chaotic conditions are a prevalent and threatening feature of social life. Five studies examined whether social class underlies divergent responses to perceptions of chaos in one's social environments and outcomes. The authors hypothesized that when coping with perceptions of chaos, lower class individuals tend to prioritize community, relative to upper class individuals, who instead tend to prioritize material wealth. Consistent with these predictions, when personally confronting chaos, lower class individuals were more communally oriented (Study 1), more connected with their community (Study 2), and more likely to volunteer for a community-building project (Study 3), compared to upper class individuals. In contrast, perceptions of chaos caused upper class individuals to express greater reliance on wealth (Study 4) and prefer financial gain over membership in a close-knit community (Study 5), relative to lower class individuals. These findings suggest that social class shapes how people respond to perceptions of chaos and cope with its threatening consequences.
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Many investigators have hypothesized that brain response to cortisol is altered in depression. However, neural activation in response to exogenously manipulated cortisol elevations has not yet been directly examined in depressed humans. Animal research shows that glucocorticoids have robust effects on hippocampal function, and can either enhance or suppress neuroplastic events in the hippocampus depending on a number of factors. We hypothesized that depressed individuals would show 1) altered hippocampal response to exogenous administration of cortisol, and 2) altered effects of cortisol on learning. In a repeated-measures design, 19 unmedicated depressed and 41 healthy individuals completed two fMRI scans. Fifteen mg oral hydrocortisone (i.e., cortisol) or placebo (order randomized and double-blind) was administered 1 h prior to encoding of emotional and neutral words during fMRI scans. Data analysis examined the effects of cortisol administration on 1) brain activation during encoding, and 2) subsequent free recall for words. Cortisol affected subsequent recall performance in depressed but not healthy individuals. We found alterations in hippocampal response to cortisol in depressed women, but not in depressed men (who showed altered response to cortisol in other regions, including subgenual prefrontal cortex). In both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function were positively correlated with its effects on recall performance assessed days later. Our data provide evidence that in depressed compared to healthy women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function are altered. Our data also show that in both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on emotional memory formation and hippocampal function are related.
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BACKGROUND: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques were used to identify the neural circuitry underlying emotional processing in control and depressed subjects. Depressed subjects were studied before and after treatment with venlafaxine. This new technique provides a method to noninvasively image regional brain function with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution. METHOD: Echo-planar imaging was used to acquire whole brain images while subjects viewed positively and negatively valenced visual stimuli. Two control subjects and two depressed subjects who met DSM-IV criteria for major depression were scanned at baseline and 2 weeks later. Depressed subjects were treated with venlafaxine after the baseline scan. RESULTS: Preliminary results from this ongoing study revealed three interesting trends in the data. Both depressed patients demonstrated considerable symptomatic improvement at the time of the second scan. Across control and depressed subjects, the negative compared with the positive pictures elicited greater global activation. In both groups, activation induced by the negative pictures decreased from the baseline scan to the 2-week scan. This decrease in activation was also present in the control subjects when they were exposed to the positive pictures. In contrast, when the depressed subjects were presented with the positive pictures they showed no activation at baseline, whereas after 2 weeks of treatment an area of activation emerged in right secondary visual cortex. CONCLUSION: While preliminary, these results demonstrate the power of using fMRI to study emotional processes in normal and depressed subjects and to examine mechanisms of action of antidepressant drugs.
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Lower social class (or socioeconomic status) is associated with fewer resources, greater exposure to threat, and a reduced sense of personal control. Given these life circumstances, one might expect lower class individuals to engage in less prosocial behavior, prioritizing self-interest over the welfare of others. The authors hypothesized, by contrast, that lower class individuals orient to the welfare of others as a means to adapt to their more hostile environments and that this orientation gives rise to greater prosocial behavior. Across 4 studies, lower class individuals proved to be more generous (Study 1), charitable (Study 2), trusting (Study 3), and helpful (Study 4) compared with their upper class counterparts. Mediator and moderator data showed that lower class individuals acted in a more prosocial fashion because of a greater commitment to egalitarian values and feelings of compassion. Implications for social class, prosocial behavior, and economic inequality are discussed.
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Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.
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Ambivalence is widely assumed to prolong grief. To examine this hypothesis, the authors developed a measure of ambivalence based on an algorithmic combination of separate positive and negative evaluations of one's spouse. Preliminary construct validity was evidenced in relation to emotional difficulties and to facial expressions of emotion. Bereaved participants, relative to a nonbereaved comparison sample, recollected their relationships as better adjusted but were more ambivalent. Ambivalence about spouses was generally associated with increased distress and poorer perceived health but did not predict long-term grief outcome once initial outcome was controlled. In contrast, initial grief and distress predicted increased ambivalence and decreased Dyadic Adjustment Scale scores at 14 months postloss, regardless of initial scores on these measures. Limitations and implications of the findings are discussed.
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Dozens of studies in different nations have revealed that socioeconomic status only weakly predicts an individual's subjective well-being (SWB). These results imply that although the pursuit of social status is a fundamental human motivation, achieving high status has little impact on one's SWB. However, we propose that sociometric status-the respect and admiration one has in face-to-face groups (e.g., among friends or coworkers)-has a stronger effect on SWB than does socioeconomic status. Using correlational, experimental, and longitudinal methodologies, four studies found consistent evidence for a local-ladder effect: Sociometric status significantly predicted satisfaction with life and the experience of positive and negative emotions. Longitudinally, as sociometric status rose or fell, SWB rose or fell accordingly. Furthermore, these effects were driven by feelings of power and social acceptance. Overall, individuals' sociometric status matters more to their SWB than does their socioeconomic status.
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INTRODUCTION: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is characterized by cognitive biases in attention, memory and language use. Language use biases often parallel depression symptoms, and contain over-representations of both negative emotive and death words as well as low levels of positive emotive words. This study further explores cognitive biases in depression by comparing the effect of current depression status to cumulative depression history on an elaborated verbal recall of emotional photographs. METHODS: Following a negative mood induction, fifty-two individuals (42 women) with partially-remitted depression viewed - then recalled and verbally described - slides from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). Descriptions were transcribed and frequency of depression-related word use (positive emotion, negative emotion, sex, ingestion and death) was analyzed using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count program (LIWC). RESULTS: Contrary to expectations and previous findings, current depression status did not affect word use in any categories of interest. However, individuals with more than 5 years of previous depression used fewer words related to positive emotion (t(50) = 2.10, p = .04, (d = 0.57)), and sex (t(48) = 2.50, p = .013 (d = 0.81)), and there was also a trend for these individuals to use fewer ingestion words (t(50) = 1.95, p = .057 (d = 0.58)), suggesting a deficit in appetitive processing. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that depression duration affects appetitive information processing and that appetitive word use may be a behavioral marker for duration related brain changes which may be used to inform treatment.
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The high likelihood of recurrence in depression is linked to a progressive increase in emotional reactivity to stress (stress sensitization). Mindfulness-based therapies teach mindfulness skills designed to decrease emotional reactivity in the face of negative affect-producing stressors. The primary aim of the current study was to assess whether Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is efficacious in reducing emotional reactivity to social evaluative threat in a clinical sample with recurrent depression. A secondary aim was to assess whether improvement in emotional reactivity mediates improvements in depressive symptoms. Fifty-two individuals with partially remitted depression were randomized into an 8-week MBCT course or a waitlist control condition. All participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) before and after the 8-week trial period. Emotional reactivity to stress was assessed with the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory at several time points before, during, and after the stressor. MBCT was associated with decreased emotional reactivity to social stress, specifically during the recovery (post-stressor) phase of the TSST. Waitlist controls showed an increase in anticipatory (pre-stressor) anxiety that was absent in the MBCT group. Improvements in emotional reactivity partially mediated improvements in depressive symptoms. Limitations include small sample size, lack of objective or treatment adherence measures, and non-generalizability to more severely depressed populations. Given that emotional reactivity to stress is an important psychopathological process underlying the chronic and recurrent nature of depression, these findings suggest that mindfulness skills are important in adaptive emotion regulation when coping with stress.
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BACKGROUND: Many antidepressant medications (ADM) are associated with disruptions in sleep continuity that can compromise medication adherence and impede successful treatment. The present study investigated whether mindfulness meditation (MM) training could improve self-reported and objectively measured polysomnographic (PSG) sleep profiles in depressed individuals who had achieved at least partial remission with ADM, but still had residual sleep complaints. METHODS: Twenty-three ADM users with sleep complaints were randomized into an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course or a waitlist control condition. Pre-post measurements included PSG sleep studies and subjectively reported sleep, residual depression symptoms. RESULTS: Compared to controls, the MBCT participants improved on both PSG and subjective measures of sleep. They showed a pattern of decreased wake time and increased sleep efficiency. Sleep depth, as measured by stage 1 and slow-wave sleep, did not change as a result of mindfulness training. CONCLUSIONS: MM is associated with increases in both objectively and subjectively measured sleep continuity in ADM users. MM training may serve as more desirable and cost-effective alternative to discontinuation or supplementation with hypnotics, and may contribute to a more sustainable recovery from depression.

BACKGROUND: Many antidepressant medications (ADM) are associated with disruptions in sleep continuity that can compromise medication adherence and impede successful treatment. The present study investigated whether mindfulness meditation (MM) training could improve self-reported and objectively measured polysomnographic (PSG) sleep profiles in depressed individuals who had achieved at least partial remission with ADM, but still had residual sleep complaints. METHODS: Twenty-three ADM users with sleep complaints were randomized into an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course or a waitlist control condition. Pre-post measurements included PSG sleep studies and subjectively reported sleep, residual depression symptoms. RESULTS: Compared to controls, the MBCT participants improved on both PSG and subjective measures of sleep. They showed a pattern of decreased wake time and increased sleep efficiency. Sleep depth, as measured by stage 1 and slow-wave sleep, did not change as a result of mindfulness training. CONCLUSIONS: MM is associated with increases in both objectively and subjectively measured sleep continuity in ADM users. MM training may serve as more desirable and cost-effective alternative to discontinuation or supplementation with hypnotics, and may contribute to a more sustainable recovery from depression.
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OBJECTIVES: The objectives of this study were to assess the general acceptability and to assess domains of potential effect of a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected and at-risk urban youth. METHODS: Thirteen-to twenty-one-year-old youth were recruited from the pediatric primary care clinic of an urban tertiary care hospital to participate in 4 MBSR groups. Each MBSR group consisted of nine weekly sessions of MBSR instruction. This mixed-methods evaluation consisted of quantitative data--attendance, psychologic symptoms (Symptom Checklist 90-Revised), and quality of life (Child Health and Illness Profile-Adolescent Edition)--and qualitative data--in-depth individual interviews conducted in a convenience sample of participants until interview themes were saturated. Analysis involved comparison of pre- and postintervention surveys and content analysis of interviews. RESULTS: Thirty-three (33) youth attended at least one MBSR session. Of the 33 who attended any sessions, 26 youth (79%) attended the majority of the MBSR sessions and were considered "program completers." Among program completers, 11 were HIV-infected, 77% were female, all were African American, and the average age was 16.8 years. Quantitative data show that following the MBSR program, participants had a significant reduction in hostility (p = 0.02), general discomfort (p = 0.01), and emotional discomfort (p = 0.02). Qualitative data (n = 10) show perceived improvements in interpersonal relationships (including less conflict), school achievement, physical health, and reduced stress. CONCLUSIONS: The data suggest that MBSR instruction for urban youth may have a positive effect in domains related to hostility, interpersonal relationships, school achievement, and physical health. However, because of the small sample size and lack of control group, it cannot be distinguished whether the changes observed are due to MBSR or to nonspecific group effects. Further controlled trials should include assessment of the MBSR program's efficacy in these domains.

OBJECTIVES: To examine whether mindfulness meditation (MM) was associated with changes in objectively measured polysomnographic (PSG) sleep profiles and to relate changes in PSG sleep to subjectively reported changes in sleep and depression within the context of a randomized controlled trial. Previous studies have indicated that mindfulness and other forms of meditation training are associated with improvements in sleep quality. However, none of these studies used objective PSG sleep recordings within longitudinal randomized controlled trials of naïve subjects. METHODS: Twenty-six individuals with partially remitted depression were randomized into an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course or a waitlist control condition. Pre-post measurements included PSG sleep studies and subjectively reported sleep and depression symptoms. RESULTS: According to PSG sleep, MM practice was associated with several indices of increased cortical arousal, including more awakenings and stage 1 sleep and less slow-wave sleep relative to controls, in proportion to amount of MM practice. According to sleep diaries, subjectively reported sleep improved post MBCT but not above and beyond controls. Beck Depression Inventory scores decreased more in the MBCT group than controls. Improvements in depression were associated with increased subjective sleep continuity and increased PSG arousal. CONCLUSIONS: MM is associated with increases in objectively measured arousal during sleep with simultaneous improvements in subjectively reported sleep quality and mood disturbance. This pattern is similar to the profiles of positive responders to common antidepressant medications.
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BACKGROUND: Increasingly, researchers attend to both positive and negative aspects of mental health. Such distinctions call for clarification of whether psychological well-being and ill-being comprise opposite ends of a bipolar continuum, or are best construed as separate, independent dimensions of mental health. Biology can help resolve this query--bipolarity predicts 'mirrored' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being correlate similarly with biomarkers, but show opposite directional signs), whereas independence predicts 'distinct' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being have different biological signatures). METHODS: Multiple aspects of psychological well-being (eudaimonic, hedonic) and ill-being (depression, anxiety, anger) were assessed in a sample of aging women (n = 135, mean age = 74) on whom diverse neuroendocrine (salivary cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA-S) and cardiovascular factors (weight, waist-hip ratio, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total/HDL cholesterol, glycosylated hemoglobin) were also measured. RESULTS: Measures of psychological well-being and ill-being were significantly linked with numerous biomarkers, with some associations being more strongly evident for respondents aged 75+. Outcomes for seven biomarkers supported the distinct hypothesis, while findings for only two biomarkers supported the mirrored hypothesis. CONCLUSION: This research adds to the growing literature on how psychological well-being and mental maladjustment are instantiated in biology. Population-based inquiries and challenge studies constitute important future directions.
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BACKGROUND: Anhedonia, a reduced ability to experience pleasure, is a chief symptom of major depressive disorder and is related to reduced frontostriatal connectivity when attempting to upregulate positive emotion. The present study examined another facet of positive emotion regulation associated with anhedonia-namely, the downregulation of positive affect-and its relation to prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity. METHODS: Neuroimaging data were collected from 27 individuals meeting criteria for major depressive disorder as they attempted to suppress positive emotion during a positive emotion regulation task. Their PFC activation pattern was compared with the PFC activation pattern exhibited by 19 healthy control subjects during the same task. Anhedonia scores were collected at three time points: at baseline (time 1), 8 weeks after time 1 (i.e., time 2), and 6 months after time 1 (i.e., time 3). Prefrontal cortex activity at time 1 was used to predict change in anhedonia over time. Analyses were conducted utilizing hierarchical linear modeling software. RESULTS: Depressed individuals who could not inhibit positive emotion-evinced by reduced right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activity during attempts to dampen their experience of positive emotion in response to positive visual stimuli-exhibited a steeper anhedonia reduction slope between baseline and 8 weeks of treatment with antidepressant medication (p < .05). Control subjects showed a similar trend between baseline and time 3. CONCLUSIONS: To reduce anhedonia, it may be necessary to teach individuals how to counteract the functioning of an overactive pleasure-dampening prefrontal inhibitory system.
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OBJECTIVE Deficits in positive affect and their neural bases have been associated with major depression. However, whether reductions in positive affect result solely from an overall reduction in nucleus accumbens activity and fronto-striatal connectivity or the additional inability to sustain engagement of this network over time is unknown. The authors sought to determine whether treatment-induced changes in the ability to sustain nucleus accumbens activity and fronto-striatal connectivity during the regulation of positive affect are associated with gains in positive affect. METHOD Using fMRI, the authors assessed the ability to sustain activity in reward-related networks when attempting to increase positive emotion during performance of an emotion regulation paradigm in 21 depressed patients before and after 2 months of antidepressant treatment. Over the same interval, 14 healthy comparison subjects underwent scanning as well. RESULTS After 2 months of treatment, self-reported positive affect increased. The patients who demonstrated the largest increases in sustained nucleus accumbens activity over the 2 months were those who demonstrated the largest increases in positive affect. In addition, the patients who demonstrated the largest increases in sustained fronto-striatal connectivity were also those who demonstrated the largest increases in positive affect when controlling for negative affect. None of these associations were observed in healthy comparison subjects. CONCLUSIONS Treatment-induced change in the sustained engagement of fronto-striatal circuitry tracks the experience of positive emotion in daily life. Studies examining reduced positive affect in a variety of psychiatric disorders might benefit from examining the temporal dynamics of brain activity when attempting to understand changes in daily positive affect.
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Recent research suggests that lower-class individuals favor explanations of personal and political outcomes that are oriented to features of the external environment. We extended this work by testing the hypothesis that, as a result, individuals of a lower social class are more empathically accurate in judging the emotions of other people. In three studies, lower-class individuals (compared with upper-class individuals) received higher scores on a test of empathic accuracy (Study 1), judged the emotions of an interaction partner more accurately (Study 2), and made more accurate inferences about emotion from static images of muscle movements in the eyes (Study 3). Moreover, the association between social class and empathic accuracy was explained by the tendency for lower-class individuals to explain social events in terms of features of the external environment. The implications of class-based patterns in empathic accuracy for well-being and relationship outcomes are discussed.
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Social class is shaped by an individual's material resources as well as perceptions of rank vis-à-vis others in society, and in this article, we examine how class influences behavior. Diminished resources and lower rank create contexts that constrain social outcomes for lower-class individuals and enhance contextualist tendencies--that is, a focus on external, uncontrollable social forces and other individuals who influence one's life outcomes. In contrast, abundant resources and elevated rank create contexts that enhance the personal freedoms of upper-class individuals and give rise to solipsistic social cognitive tendencies--that is, an individualistic focus on one's own internal states, goals, motivations, and emotions. Guided by this framework, we detail 9 hypotheses and relevant empirical evidence concerning how class-based contextualist and solipsistic tendencies shape the self, perceptions of the social environment, and relationships to other individuals. Novel predictions and implications for research in other socio-political contexts are considered.
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OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that socioeconomic status (SES) would be associated with sleep quality measured objectively, even after controlling for related covariates (health status, psychosocial characteristics). Epidemiological studies linking SES and sleep quality have traditionally relied on self-reported assessments of sleep. METHODS: Ninety-four women, 61 to 90 years of age, participated in this study. SES was determined by pretax household income and years of education. Objective and subjective assessments of sleep quality were obtained using the NightCap sleep system and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), respectively. Health status was determined by subjective health ratings and objective measures of recent and chronic illnesses. Depressive symptoms and neuroticism were quantified using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale and the Neuroticism subscale of the NEO Personality Inventory, respectively. RESULTS: Household income significantly predicted sleep latency and sleep efficiency even after adjusting for demographic factors, health status, and psychosocial characteristics. Income also predicted PSQI scores, although this association was significantly attenuated by inclusion of neuroticism in multivariate analyses. Education predicted both sleep latency and sleep efficiency, but the latter association was partially reduced after health status and psychosocial measures were included in analyses. Education predicted PSQI sleep efficiency component scores, but not global scores. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that SES is robustly linked to both subjective and objective sleep quality, and that health status and psychosocial characteristics partially explain these associations.
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We used fMRI to examine amygdala activation in response to fearful facial expressions, measured over multiple scanning sessions. 15 human subjects underwent three scanning sessions, at 0, 2 and 8 weeks. During each session, functional brain images centered about the amygdala were acquired continuously while participants were shown alternating blocks of fearful, neutral and happy facial expressions. Intraclass correlation coefficients calculated across the sessions indicated stability of response in left amygdala to fearful faces (as a change from baseline), but considerably less left amygdala stability in responses to neutral expressions and for fear versus neutral contrasts. The results demonstrate that the measurement of fMRI BOLD responses in amygdala to fearful facial expressions might be usefully employed as an index of amygdala reactivity over extended periods. While signal change to fearful facial expressions appears robust, the experimental design employed here has yielded variable responsivity within baseline or comparison conditions. Future studies might manipulate the experimental design to either amplify or attenuate this variability, according to the goals of the research.
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BACKGROUND: EEG alpha power has been demonstrated to be inversely related to mental activity and has subsequently been used as an indirect measure of brain activation. The hypothesis that the thalamus serves as a neuronal oscillator of alpha rhythms has been supported by studies in animals, but only minimally by studies in humans. METHODS: In the current study, PET-derived measures of regional glucose metabolism, EEG, and structural MRI were obtained from each participant to assess the relation between thalamic metabolic activity and alpha power in depressed patients and healthy controls. The thalamus was identified and drawn on each subject's MRI. The MRI was then co-registered to the corresponding PET scan and metabolic activity from the thalamus extracted. Thalamic activity was then correlated with a 30-min aggregated average of alpha EEG power. RESULTS: Robust inverse correlations were observed in the control data, indicating that greater thalamic metabolism is correlated with decreased alpha power. No relation was found in the depressed patient data. CONCLUSIONS: The results are discussed in the context of a possible abnormality in thalamocortical circuitry associated with depression.
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