Did YOU know – Social Laughter Triggers Endogenous Opioid Release in Humans

You don’t need to pick fleas off your partner, fluff their fur, hold hands or hug to boost your own pain threshold, with a hit of opioids.

Social contacts are of prime importance to humans. The size of human social networks significantly exceeds the network that can be maintained by social grooming or touching in other primates.

“You don’t need to believe me, read this”:

Positron emission tomography (PET) was used “to show that endogenous opioid release following social laughter may provide a neurochemical mechanism supporting long-term relationships in humans.”

Participants were scanned twice; following 30-minute social laughter session, and after spending 30 minutes alone in the testing room (baseline). Endogenous opioid release was stronger following laughter versus baseline scan. Opioid receptor density in the frontal cortex predicted social laughter rates.

Modulation of the opioidergic activity by social laughter may be an important neurochemical mechanism reinforcing and maintaining social bonds between humans.

B”orrrrrrrrring.  Researchers need to get a sense of humor.”


PAUSEitively Tuesday: Ride ’em Cowboy

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body,
but rather to slide in broadside in a cloud of smoke,
thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming –

Wow! What a Ride!’

Hunter S. Thompson, author

Balloon designed by Sally Heinrich

How to retain new information & improve memory

Researchers from the University of Waterloo found that even if people weren’t good at it, drawing, as a method to help retain new information, was better than re-writing notes, visualization exercises or passively looking at images.

Older adults who take up drawing could enhance their memory.

“We found that drawing enhanced memory in older adults more than other known study techniques,” said Melissa Meade, PhD candidate in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo. “We’re really encouraged by these results and are looking into ways that it can be used to help people with dementia, who experience rapid declines in memory and language function.”

The researchers believe that drawing led to better memory when compared with other study techniques because it incorporated multiple ways of representing the information–visual, spatial, verbal, semantic and motoric.

As part of a series of studies, the researchers asked both young people and older adults to do a variety of memory-encoding techniques and then tested their recall.

Different types of memory techniques were compared in aiding retention of a set of words, in a group of undergraduate students and a group of senior citizens. Participants would either encode each word by:

  • Writing it out
  • Drawing it
  • or Listing physical attributes related to each item.

Later on after performing each task, memory was assessed. Both groups showed better retention when they used drawing rather than writing to encode the new information, and this effect was especially large in older adults.

Retention of new information typically declines as people age, due to deterioration of critical brain structures involved in memory such as the hippocampus and frontal lobes.

In contrast, we know that visuospatial processing regions of the brain, involved in representing images and pictures, are mostly intact in normal aging, and in dementia.

“We think that drawing is particularly relevant for people with dementia because it makes better use of brain regions that are still preserved, and could help people experiencing cognitive impairment with memory function,” said Meade. “Our findings have exciting implications for therapeutic interventions to help dementia patients hold on to valuable episodic memories throughout the progression of their disease”


Source: Matthew Grant – University of Waterloo
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.

Original Research: Abstract for “Drawing as an Encoding Tool: Memorial Benefits in Younger and Older Adults” by Melissa E. Meade, Jeffrey D. Wammes & Myra A. Fernandes in Experimental Aging and Research. Published October 9 2018.



My Sense of Smell is making me Fat

Having an exceptionally keen sense of smell would seem to be a blessing: It can provide early warning of dangers (fire, gas leaks), detect the presence of an attractive mate (George Clooney), and enhance the gustatory delight of a delicious meal.

“But when you’re a mouse (or, perhaps, a human) and fattening food is all around, a new study finds that those with little or no ability to detect odors may have a key advantage. While mice with an intact sense of smell grow obese on a steady diet of high-fat chow, their littermates who have had their sense of smell expunged can eat the same food yet remain trim.”

“Mice with an impaired sense of smell did not eat less of the high-fat chow than did their peers with normal olfaction. Nor did they move around more in their cages, or expel more of their food before extracting its nutrients.”

“Instead, a report in the journal Cell Metabolism underscores that our sense of smell is lashed together with a broad range of seemingly unrelated basic functions, including metabolism and stress response.”

“Mice stripped of their sense of smell burn fat differently — more intensively — than do mice whose olfaction is normal. They typically have higher levels of adrenaline — the “go” signal in the body’s fight-or-flight system — than do mice with an intact sense of smell. And even when all they eat is high-fat chow, they don’t appear as likely as capable smellers to develop such afflictions as fatty liver or the kind of dangerous fat deposits that settle around the midsection.”

In one of three experiments researchers disabled the specialized olfactory brain cells of mice who were made fat on a diet of high-fat chow. The effect was rapid and robust: Those mice lost roughly a third of their body weight. And the weight they lost was virtually all from fat.

“I was shocked — the effect was so robust,” said UC Berkeley stem cell biologist and geneticist Andrew Dillin, the study’s senior author. “I was convinced they were just eating less. When it became clear they weren’t, I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredibly interesting.’”

In another experiment, researchers created “super-smellers” — mice with an exceptionally acute sense of smell — by disabling a specialized receptor in the brain’s olfactory system. Even when the smells the mice were tested on were “social,” such as the scent of an unknown member of the opposite sex, the champion smellers were at greater risk for weight gain and impaired metabolism than were mice with normal or low olfactory acuity.

“Indeed, all kinds of hormonal signals, including many that play a role in appetite and fat storage, get dialed differently in mice with an impaired sense of smell, the researchers found.”

“Adrenaline, for instance, plays a role in an animal’s response not only to threats but to stresses such as cold. In mice with low-functioning olfactory neurons, higher adrenaline levels appeared to activate special stores of energy-intensive “brown fat” to burn white fat as fuel, and to convert some white fat stores to brown fat.”

The collective effect of those differing signals was consistently to protect the smell-impaired mouse from the unhealthy effects of overconsumption, the researchers discovered.

“The new study is a far cry from establishing that all the same dynamics are at play in humans. But while mice probably rely on their sense of smell more than humans, they can tell us a lot about human obesity, Dillin said. And these findings do suggest an intriguing way to help those with obesity lose some weight and improve their metabolic function without having to change what, or how much, they eat, he added.”

  • “Researchers know that when people lose their sense of smell — an effect seen in certain strokes, brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases — their appetites wane, they eat less, and (no surprise) they lose weight.
  • It’s also well known that the acuity of our sense of smell rises and falls depending on circumstance: It’s at its zenith when we haven’t eaten in several hours, and plummets just after we’ve had a meal.”
  • “The first observation suggests that smell piques or sustains interest in eating directly. The second suggests that smell may set off a host of signals about the body’s energy needs that work indirectly to affect metabolic function. That side of the equation is a lot less obvious, and has been studied far less.”

“The new research suggests that reducing olfactory cues might do more than help overweight people shed pounds. It may also right some of the metabolic and hormonal signals that get pushed out of whack as a person accumulates too much fat.”

“The potential of modulating olfactory signals in the context of the metabolic syndrome or diabetes is attractive,” write the authors of the new study. “Even relatively short-term loss of smell improves metabolic health and weight loss, despite the negative consequences of being on a high-fat diet.”

“Dillin said there are a number of directions in which this research could be taken next. Researchers could look at broad populations of people, testing the acuity of their olfactory sense and, over time, measuring how that tracks with their propensity toward weight gain or metabolic abnormality.”

“As for human trials of impaired olfaction, Dillin said a clothes pin on the nose won’t work: Our mouths also admit olfactory information. But some chemical agents, including one currently used as a pesticide, are known to knock out humans’ sense of smell temporarily. If such compounds could be used safely on humans, it might be possible to gauge how weight and metabolism are affected when olfaction is altered.”

“In the meantime, study first author Celine Riera, a post-doctoral fellow in Dillin’s lab, plans to tease out the role that the brain’s hypothalamus — a master regulator of everything from involuntary bodily functions to sleep and emotional response — may play in translating smells into fat-burning commands.”



Although this research was specific to MS* there is reason to believe that cocoa which contains anti-inflammatory components could be generalized to fatigue from other causes.

“Daily use of mugs of cocoa may help people suffering from the common symptom in multiple sclerosis. We are talking about extreme fatigue. Cocoa contains flavonoids, and observation of patients showed that consumption of this drink daily for 6 weeks reduces the level of fatigue and pain. British researchers believe that to thank for this you need the cocoa flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory properties.”

“A new study found that cocoa may be one means of combating fatigue. The researchers divided 40 patients who had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis into two groups. The first used a Cup of cocoa with high levels of flavonoids along with rice milk every day for 6 weeks and the second group is the same drink but with a low amount of flavonoids. Assessment of the level of fatigue showed that it was in the first group, the efficiency of cocoa was the highest.”


*”Multiple sclerosis is one of the most common neurological disorders, often causing disability. Thinning of the myelin sheath of the nerves through which the brain sends signals to the body, leads to a gradual loss of control over the movements. Many patients after a while are confined to a wheelchair. However, each case of multiple sclerosis is different and for some patients it progresses slowly over decades and others it develops very fast. It is known that this disorder is two times more common in women than in men.”

What A Bug Can Teach Us About Adapting To Stress

“What if we told you that you could learn a lot about handling adversity from the life of a bug? In their explorations of humans and how we interact with the world around us, the team that makes NPR’s Invisibilia, stumbled on a surprising fact about the insect world — one that could inspire a new way of looking at ourselves.”

“The epic destruction wrought by swarms of locusts is downright biblical. Exodus tells of a plague that left nothing green in all of Egypt and we’ve seen these harbingers of destruction at work in modern-day Australia, Argentina, and Israel, just to name a few. But for centuries, one essential piece of information about these strange insects eluded scientists: Where do they come from?”

“These massive swarms just seemed to pop up out of nowhere, decimate everything, and then vanish.”

“And then finally, in 1921, a scientist named Sir Boris Uvarov made a breakthrough about the source of the swarms. It turned out the horrible locusts were actually common grasshoppers that had undergone a biological metamorphosis.”

At first, scientists were skeptical because grasshoppers are known for being shy, solitary creatures. If they see another grasshopper for instance, “They actually run away from them,” says scientist Michael Anstey.

But under stressful conditions, such as a drought for instance, the grasshoppers all have to crowd together to share the limited resources. As they’re trying to grab for the last bits of food their big hind legs rub up against each other . . . The rubbing together fuels the release of serotonin in their nervous system, which sets several things in motion.

“There’s little stimuli, little hairs, on the hind legs which get triggered and that then starts this domino cascade of the behavioral change from the solitary [grasshopper] into the notorious swarming form,” says Anstey, who published research on desert locusts, one species that goes through these changes.”

“Their wings grow bigger and they start flying around like crazy, they turn from green to black and yellow. They get aggressive and fearless, and incredibly social. In fact, according to Anstey, they are actively attracted to other locusts. And that’s how the swarms build.”

But why did it literally take centuries to figure out that these two creatures were actually the same creature? And why, even after the theory was proposed, did scientists resist it? Why was that such a hard idea to swallow?

“Maybe it’s because we can’t see that in ourselves. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychology professor from Northeastern University, says people can be “experientially blind” when faced with a new image of themselves.They just can’t take it in.”

She says we often have such a rigid sense of self, that when we’re presented with new concepts about ourselves — like, you think of yourself as a generous person and then someone tells you they actually think you’re kind of selfish — and our reaction is usually to reject it.

“People will defend themselves or dig their heels in, keep their concepts intact. Or they’ll ignore,” she says.

We like to think that we know who we are, and that we are one thing — one unified true self. But according to Barrett, social psychology research has shown that it’s not like that.

“Who you are in a given moment is very much determined by the situation that you’re in,” says Barrett.

“So when you’re trying to handle some frank criticism or you’re struggling with something hard — or just really want to make a change in your life — Barrett says, you might want to embrace a more flexible self image.”

“If you see yourself in a certain way and that way is inflexible, then you will go to great lengths to make sure that you and everybody else sees you in that way,” she says. “And in the end, you’ll be stressed more frequently, you will work harder to try to please people… to keep that view of yourself intact.”

“If you are struggling in one role in life, your professional life for instance, you don’t pin your whole identity, your whole sense of self on that role, she says. Instead, it helps to have “multiple views of yourself,” Barrett says.”

“So if somebody criticizes you as a teacher, well, you have other ways to think about yourself. You could think about yourself as a friend in that moment, you could think about yourself as a mother. You think about yourself as a terrific gardener.”

“Realizing that you have “a vocabulary of selves” you can become, Barrett says, can be empowering. “It doesn’t allow other people to define who you are. You get to be the author of who you are. Your brain is the one that’s making the choices.”

“According to Barrett, “You aren’t who you are all the time. You are who you are in a given situation.” You might be a locust in one setting. And a grasshopper in another.”

“The locusts by the way, have embraced the idea. As soon as the drought is over, they go back to their own corners as their shy, solitary bright green selves.”