A small new study led by Connecticut College professor Joseph Schroeder suggests the brain responds to Oreo cookies quite like it responds to actual drugs – if you're a rat, that is. The “pleasure center” of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, apparently gets just as stimulated in response to Oreos as it does to cocaine and morphine. While the study was done in rats, the authors say it has relevance to humans as well, and could explain why people have such a hard time resisting eating an entire box of the cookies. The study also made another discovery: Rats, like humans, like to eat Oreo's creamy centre first.
To test how the animals responded to Oreos vs. drugs, the team trained rats to navigate a maze. On one side, Oreo cookies were provided, and on the other side plain rice cakes were offered. The team also compared these results to rats who were treated with morphine or cocaine rather than Oreos. They found that regardless of what “substance” the rats were offered (Oreos, cocaine, or morphine) they spent about the same amount of time on the “drug” side of the maze.
“Our research supports the theory that high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” Schroeder said. “It may explain why some people can't resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.”
The research may therefore bear some relevance to human public health issues – namely the fact that high-calorie foods are often low-priced and highly addictive.
SLEEPING BABIES CAN SENSE WHEN PARENTS ARE FIGHTING
New research suggests that the infant brain is even more impressionable than previously thought. Opening a new window into the mysterious realm of how infants respond to their surroundings, researchers have found that parental bickering appears to have a visible effect on babies' brains—even when the little ones are sleeping.
So psychologists at the University of Oregon asked mothers to fill out a standard survey gauging how often tempers flare at home, and then examined the brain activity of their 6- to 12-month-old babies using functional MRI, a type of noninvasive imaging technology designed to detect blood flow in real time. That blood flow serves as a proxy for brain activity.
Each of the 24 infants was placed in the laboratory scanner after a parent had put him or her to sleep. The babies wore headphones that delivered recordings of nonsense phrases read in neutral and angry voices—and that protected tiny ears from the machine's loud banging noise.
The brain scans turned up an intriguing difference, says Alice Graham, the graduate student who conducted the study. Babies whose parents often fought at home had a stronger neurological response to angry tones—as shown by the intensity of the colors in a computer-generated brain map—compared with babies from less conflict-ridden households.
THE UPSIDE OF BEING A PSYCHOPATH
In a new book, Oxford research psychologist Kevin Dutton argues that psychopaths are poised to perform well under pressure, they are assertive, they don't procrastinate and they tend to focus on the positive. Dutton also says that psychopaths don't take things personally; they don't beat themselves up if things go wrong, even if they're to blame. And they're pretty cool under pressure. These are some of the findings of Kevin Dutton in his new book The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success.
He wrote, “When psychologists talk about psychopaths, what we're referring to are people who have a distinct set of personality characteristics, which include things like ruthlessness, fearlessness, mental toughness, charm, persuasiveness and a lack of conscience and empathy. Imagine that you tick the box for all of those characteristics. You also happen to be violent and stupid. It's not going to be long before you smack a bottle over someone's head in a bar and get locked up for a long time in prison. But if you tick the box for all of those characteristics, and you happen to be intelligent and not naturally violent, then it's a different story altogether. Then you're more likely to make a killing in the business world rather than anywhere else.”
New Password in a Heartbeat
Pacemakers, insulin pumps, defibrillators and other implantable medical devices often have wireless capabilities that allow emergency workers to monitor patients. But these devices have a potential downside: They can be hacked.
Researchers at Rice University have come up with a secure way to dramatically cut the risk that an implanted medical device (IMD) could be altered remotely without authorization.
Their technology would use the patient's own heartbeat as a kind of password that could only be accessed through touch.
Rice electrical and computer engineer Farinaz Koushanfar and graduate student Masoud Rostami developed the technology with Ari Juels, former chief scientist at RSA Laboratories, a security company in Cambridge, Mass.
“IMDs generally lack the kind of password security found on a home Wi-Fi router because emergency medical technicians often need quick access to the information the devices store to save a life,” Rostami said. But that leaves the IMDs open to attack.
“If you have a device inside your body, a person could walk by, push a button and violate your privacy, even give you a shock," he said. "He could make (an insulin pump) inject insulin or update the software of your pacemaker. But our proposed solution forces anybody who wants to read the device to touch you."