Psychology and Neuroscience
Mirror neurons are specialised brain cells that underpin our capacity to learn and understand a myriad of behaviours. Dr Michael Hoffmann, from the University of Central Florida and the Roskamp Institute in Florida, has unravelled the profound implications of these brain cells. Beyond their role in cognition, mirror neurons could play a major role in patient rehabilitation, particularly in the context of stroke recovery.
Our vulnerability to developing diseases and conditions depends upon a complex interaction between our genes, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Alzheimer’s disease is no exception to this, and sadly, it remains without a cure. Dr Antonius VanDongen and his team from Duke University are studying the mechanisms underlying learning and memory, specifically focusing on the activity-regulated cytoskeletal memory gene Arc. Their work is driving forward our understanding of the memory problems that characterise Alzheimer’s disease.
Incarceration presents a unique set of challenges for the health of individuals, particularly when it comes to neurological conditions. In a comprehensive review, Dr Audrey Nath and Samuel Han have delved into the often-overlooked realm of neurological health. From learning disabilities to epilepsy, sleep disorders, infectious diseases, nutritional deficiencies, toxicology-related issues, and traumatic brain injuries, their review sheds important light on the complex landscape of neurological health within the prison system.
Professor Andres De Los Reyes – Professor Elizabeth Talbott | Transforming Youth Mental Health Through Evidence-based Assessment
Youth mental health in the USA is in crisis, having steadily worsened over the past ten years. To tackle this crisis, we have to understand it. Evidence-based assessment is key to this understanding. Professor Andres De Los Reyes at the University of Maryland and Professor Elizabeth Talbott at William and Mary lead the study of mental health assessment designed to advance outcomes for all children and youth.
Dr Reuven Bar-On – Dr Carina Fiedeldey-Van Dijk | Optimising Employee Talent with a Multifactor Measure of Performance
Dr Reuven Bar-On and Dr Carina Fiedeldey-Van Dijk, the co-directors of Into Performance ULC, are established experts in the psychology of human performance. For over 35 years, Dr Bar-On has examined human performance within the workplace and elsewhere. He originally developed the Bar-On Multifactor Measure of Performance (MMP), a psychometric instrument designed to study, evaluate and enhance performance and accessible via the MMP2Perform.com website. Together, Dr Fiedeldey-Van Dijk and Dr Bar-On are continuing to develop this model and evidence-based approaches to maximise employee potential in the workplace with MMP-driven business solutions.
Professor Kim McDonough – Professor Pavel Trofimovich | New Insights into Non-verbal Aspects of Second Language Learning
Although most people study a second language in school, this education alone is seldom sufficient to achieve the level of proficiency needed to live in a foreign country. But in a world where global migration is increasingly common, learning a second language has become essential for millions of people. Professors Kim McDonough and Pavel Trofimovich at Concordia University, Canada, study language learning, and in doing so, are helping those trying to become competent in the use of a second language.
Substance abuse in college students is a particular concern. Dr Susan Kennedy, Department of Psychology at Denison University in Ohio, USA, recently led a collaboration with colleagues from the Ohio State University and Kenyon College to explore alcohol and drug use in college students. More specifically, Dr Kennedy and the team wanted to identify at-risk groups and promote student well-being.
Grieving and mourning are natural and deeply personal responses to losing someone we care about. It is an experience that is known to most people and evokes a wide range of emotions ranging from sadness to anger. Often, grief is related to death, which may bring some closure. However, in some cases, people lose loved ones in ambiguous situations that do not allow for such closure. Dr Alexander Manevich at the Kinneret Academic College and the University of Haifa in Israel investigates this process in caregivers and family members of people living with cognitive decline and dementia.
Attention allows us to plan and monitor our thoughts and, thus, is a critical step in the learning process. Learning can then change the physical structure of the brain. This is the reason why a team of scientists at the University of Oregon, led by Drs Michael Posner and Cristopher Niell, are exploring the effects of attention on learning and how learning changes the brain.
Dr. Diana Arya | New Approaches to Thinking About and Assessing Reading in the Digital Age: Notes from a U.S. Scholar
Reading has become increasingly complex over the past few decades, largely due to the rapid pace of technological advancement and the increasing availability of massive amounts of information, some of which may blur the lines between fact and fiction. Identifying better practices to teach young people to read and accurately assess their reading abilities is now of pressing importance. Dr. Diana Arya, an Associate Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been exploring sociocultural and historical considerations related to how children read and understand different types of content in the digital era.
Safety signals are learned cues that predict the non-occurrence of an aversive event and are effective in inhibiting fear and maintaining fear-motivated behaviours in anxious individuals. However, the role of inhibitory learning mechanisms in producing ‘conditioned inhibitors’ in response to safety signals has received little attention. The need to better understand this has become more pressing given the increased levels of health anxiety and safety behaviours resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor Helen Cassaday at the University of Nottingham and colleague Dr Meghan Thurston have evaluated the role that safety learning plays in anxiety, inhibitory learning and concerns about COVID-19.
To face new challenges and societal changes, organisations must be able to adapt their practices swiftly and effectively. But all too often, efforts to change organisations fail to achieve the desired results. Dr Michael Beer, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School, devised a new approach to organisational change informed by his extensive experience as a researcher and management consultant. His approach centres on the development of honest, collective, and open conversations between senior management teams and key people below the top.
Social and moral values can inspire change and positive action, yet they can also prompt divisions in society, conflicts and violence. Dr Jean Decety, a Professor at the University of Chicago, recently started investigating the mental and neural mechanisms associated with strong moral convictions and the support for violent acts. His work examines the dark side of morality, pinpointing the brain processes underlying moralisation and its adverse consequences.
Psychologist Dr David Sperbeck | The Halstead Category Test: Assessing the Impact of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure
Children who have been exposed to alcohol while still in the womb often show impairment in executive function – the cognitive domain underpinning diverse skills including attention, memory, learning and self-control. Psychologist Dr David Sperbeck, PhD, has investigated whether a commonly used neuropsychological assessment – the Halstead Category Test – can effectively measure cognitive impairment in this vulnerable group of children. His findings confirm the utility of the measure and also offer important hope for children affected by alcohol prenatally.
While international students are common at universities in the English-speaking world, it is unclear how much the language skills of these students and their ethno-racial backgrounds affect their educational and social experiences. Professor Kim McDonough from Concordia University, Canada, and Professor Masatoshi Sato from Universidad Andres Bello, Chile, conducted research with colleagues which resulted in some very surprising findings.
Child labour is a major social problem that contributes to poor physical health and lower educational achievement. Professor Alberto Posso (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) worked with Professor Simon Feeny (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), Dr Ahmed Skali (University of Groningen), Professor Amalendu Jyotishi (Azim Premji University), Dr Shyam Nath (Amrita University) and Dr P. K. Viswanathan (Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham) to address important gaps in the literature by conducting a large-scale study of children in rural areas of India. This work confirms the hugely negative impact of child labour on psychosocial well-being and opens up important implications for policy, practice and future research.
Worldwide, people are living longer lives. One outcome of this is that the prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases whereby the cells in the brain stop working or even die, is also increasing. Based in KU Leuven’s Department of Biology, Belgium, Professor Lieve Moons has been working to better understand how the central nervous system can regrow and repair, with a particular focus on ageing. Her work has important implications for identifying new therapeutic targets for neurorepair in elderly humans.
Professor Gregory S. Anderson | Professor R. Nicholas Carleton – Building Resilience in Public Safety Personnel
While it is impossible to imagine a stress-free working environment, border services personnel, correctional workers, firefighters, operational and intelligence personnel, paramedics, police, public safety communicators, and search and rescue personnel are regularly exposed to dramatic, potentially psychologically traumatic experiences. Unsurprisingly, people working in these professions suffer from mental health challenges more often than the general population. The research of Professors Anderson and Carleton focuses on improving the well-being of these key workers in Canada.
A stimulating and nurturing early childhood experience is critical to achieving better educational outcomes in later life. But what are the best childcare arrangements? Is it better to be looked after by family members or a nanny at home, or would care provided by qualified carers in a more structured environment bring additional benefits? A large study by Dr Gabrielle Garon-Carrier, from the Université de Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, sought to find answers to these burning questions.
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that affects tens of millions of people globally. Although we can modestly improve the quality of life of patients, there is currently no cure, largely because the underlying biological mechanisms of the disease are poorly defined. Understanding the abnormal molecular characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease is the focus of Dr. Erin Norris’s research at The Rockefeller University. By studying the dysfunction of the plasma contact system, which may result in abnormal coagulation and inflammation that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Norris and her colleagues have uncovered novel biomarkers, paving the way for exciting new therapeutics.
Dr Vanessa van Ast from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is driving forward understanding of how and why our emotional memories change over time. As well as elucidating how our memories of specific events and emotions influence behaviour, her most recent work is unveiling the impact that different contexts may have on the storage and recall of memories.
Dr Teresa Silva at Mid Sweden University has turned her focus from investigating individual risk factors towards understanding how society is contributing to behavioural problems and mental health issues. She is currently undertaking research in a number of critical areas including child protection and domestic abuse against males. This work is providing vital evidence to support the development of interventions and policies that are more effective.
Dr Y. Peng Loh – Discovery of Neurotrophic Factor-α1 Reveals New Treatment Strategies for Stress-induced Neurodegenerative Diseases and Depression
Stress produces numerous negative effects on the human body. Lying deep within the brain, one particularly sensitive area is the hippocampus, where chronic exposure to stress hormones can lead to the degeneration and death of neurons. Thankfully, the brain holds defence mechanisms that block some of these negative effects. Deciphering these mechanisms with the aim of better treating neurodegenerative diseases and depression is Dr Y. Peng Loh from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in the USA.
The human brain is wonderfully complex. Billions of neuron cells connect in unique ways to create networks that determine each individual’s brain function and consequent behaviour. Given the expanse and complexity of these networks, it is not surprising that they are not yet fully mapped out or understood. Bringing innovative new and exciting ideas to this field of neurobiology is Dr Martin Schwarz from the Institute for Experimental Epileptology and Cognition Research and the Life & Brain Center at the University of Bonn Medical Center in Germany.
There are many situations where large volumes of data are collected over time, and processes can be greatly improved by gleaning insights from that data. For example, hospitals and healthcare authorities collect data on patient outcomes following treatment or surgery. By better analysing such data, patterns can be revealed and process changes can be implemented to improve patient outcomes. Professor Stefan Steiner and his colleagues at the University of Waterloo develop new models and statistical methods that can obtain such insights across a wide array of sectors, from improving healthcare to reducing road accidents.
Our DNA codes for proteins that are essential for the normal structure and function of our cells, tissues and organs. These proteins are folded in specific ways to facilitate these functions, but in disease states, this folding can go wrong. Dr. David Westaway from the University of Alberta in Canada investigates how and why protein misfolding occurs and how strains of misfolded proteins result in neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. His research is paving the way for novel therapies for these currently incurable and devasting conditions.
Stroke can impair a person’s ability to communicate, resulting in a disorder known as aphasia. To facilitate recovery, scientists must understand how language is processed normally as well as how a stroke may impact the language system in the brain. Dr Cynthia K. Thompson, Ralph and Jean Sundin Professor of Communication Science and Professor of Neurology at Northwestern University, has been researching normal and disordered language for over thirty years. Her focus is on understanding and supporting the recovery of language processes when the brain has been damaged.
Dr. Robert Trestman, at the Carilion Clinic and Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, has co-developed START NOW, a successful group psychotherapy intervention specifically targeting mental health issues in prisoners. It combines elements of cognitive behavioral therapy to form skills-based learning. Furthermore, START NOW is easily accessible, cost-effective, and designed for use in settings with limited resources. Due to its success within correctional institutions, START NOW is being adapted for use in fields such as adolescent conduct issues and opioid misuse.
Glioblastoma multiforme is an aggressive and life-threatening form of brain cancer. Although some treatments are available to provide comfort and prolong life, it remains an incurable and devastating disease. With the goal of advancing diagnostics and treatments for glioblastoma, Dr Hernando Lopez-Bertoni is carrying out exciting research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Taking on board the cancer stem cell hypothesis, Dr Lopez-Bertoni has made fascinating discoveries into how miRNA genetic material can be utilised and how it could be delivered to the brain via nanoparticles.
Dr Lakshmi Mahadevan – Mental Health First Aid: Bridging the Gap between Rural Communities and Access to Care
In the USA, poor mental health and opioid addiction are prominent and widespread. With a lack of understanding and resources in many rural areas in Texas, many people facing mental health and addiction challenges do not know where to turn. Dr Lakshmi Mahadevan at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is helping to train up rural communities in Mental Health First Aid (MFHA) so that they can provide better care for those in need.
Dr Francesca Lawson from Brigham Young University has spent the last few decades researching the relationship between music and language. She has looked beyond Western culture and conducted many studies in the People’s Republic of China, focusing on music- and speech-based performance. Dr Lawson’s most recent work demonstrates how musicality is important in underpinning our communication, highlighting that when attitudes align, speech becomes rhythmically and musically coordinated.
An abundance of evidence converges to suggest that humans are not the only species to create culture. Field and laboratory studies in animals have demonstrated that social learning and the transmission of the traditions that make up a culture can be found across many different species including primates, birds, fish and even insects, and in many different contexts. Professor Andrew Whiten at the University of St Andrews and his extensive network of collaborators are pioneering conceptual and methodological frameworks to promote the conservation and welfare of animals from a scientifically rigorous perspective.