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Real-time brain feedback can help people overcome anxiety

This image from the study shows changes in degree of connectivity in the feedback group. Increases are shown in red/yellow and decreases in blue/purple. Decreases in connectivity are seen in limbic areas, and increases are seen in prefrontal regions.

People provided with a real-time readout of activity in specific regions of their brains can learn to control that activity and lessen their anxiety, according to new findings published online in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Yale researchers displayed the activity of the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region just above the eyes, to subjects while they lay in a brain scanner.

Through a process of trial and error, these subjects were gradually able to learn to control their brain activity. This led both to changes in brain connectivity and to increased control over anxiety. These changes were still present several days after the training.

Extreme anxiety associated with worries about dirt and germs is characteristic of many patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Hyperactivity in the orbitofrontal cortex is seen in many of these individuals.

fMRI-driven neurofeedback has been used before in a few contexts, but it has never been applied to the treatment of anxiety. The findings raise the possibility that real-time fMRI feedback may provide a novel and effective form of treatment for OCD.

Michelle Hampson, assistant professor of diagnostic radiology, is senior author. Dustin Scheinost, a graduate student in the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science, is lead author. Other Yale authors include Teodora Stoica, John Saksa, Xenophon Papademetris, R. Todd Constable, and Christopher Pittenger.

Text via Yale News. Read the study at Translational Psychiatry.

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Medical Stereograms (Crossview)

Images based on CT and MRI data, to be viewed in crossview technique. See entire gallery HERE

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Monks in MRI Scanners

Stanford neuroeconomist Brian Knutson is an expert in the pleasure center of the brain that works in tandem with our financial decisions – the biology behind why we bypass the kitchen coffeemaker to buy the $4 Starbucks coffee every day.

He can hook you up to a brain scanner, take you on a simulated shopping spree and tell by looking at your nucleus accumbens – an area deep inside your brain associated with fight, flight, eating and fornicating – how you process risk and reward, whether you’re a spendthrift or a tightwad.

So when his colleagues saw him putting Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns into the MRI machine in the basement of the Stanford psychology building, he drew a few double-takes.

Knutson is still interested in the nucleus accumbens, which receives a dopamine hit when a person anticipates something pleasant, like winning at blackjack.

Excerpt of an article written by Meredith May, SFGate. Continue HERE

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Brain imaging study finds evidence of basis for caregiving impulse

Distinct patterns of activity– which may indicate a predisposition to care for infants — appear in the brains of adults who view an image of an infant face — even when the child is not theirs, according to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and in Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Seeing images of infant faces appeared to activate in the adult’s brains circuits that reflect preparation for movement and speech as well as feelings of reward.

The findings raise the possibility that studying this activity will yield insights into care giving behavior, but also in cases of child neglect or abuse.

“These adults have no children of their own. Yet images of a baby’s face triggered what we think might be a deeply embedded response to reach out and care for that child,” said senior author Marc H. Bornstein, Ph.D., head of the Child and Family Research Section of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute that collaborated on the study.

Continue article HERE