Most weeks, I publish a "Week in Review" for our students and alumni where I summarize exciting new developments in psychology and neuroscience. Here are six of the most interesting items from recent weeks:
How good sleep habits may lead to a longer life
"Negative lifespan genes - those involved in energy metabolism and inflammation - are controlled by circadian networks. That is, their expression is limited to a particular time of day, which may help limit the overall expression of the genes in long-lived species." Unhealthy sleep schedules and exposure to light at night may increase the expression of the negative lifespan genes."
During sleep, your brain replays your activities during the day
While we sleep, the brain replays what we have been doing during the day. This is how the brain consolidates learnings. Most of the replay detected in the study occurred during slow-wave, deep, sleep, not REM sleep which is most commonly associated with dreaming.
Merely expecting to feel stressed has a negative effect on our mood!
Why is society so polarized? It may be because harming outgroup members is rewarding
In this study, "participants who were more aggressive against outgroup members versus ingroup members exhibited greater activity in core regions of the brain’s reward circuit—the nucleus accumbens and ventromedial prefrontal cortex—while they decided how aggressive to be."
"The findings suggest that harming outgroup members is especially rewarding and associated with the experience of positive emotions. Such psychological reinforcement mechanisms may help explain why humans seem so prone to intergroup conflict."
To maintain brain health with age, engage in aerobic exercise
"White matter (connections between brain neurons) deterioration is associated with cognitive impairment in healthy aging and Alzheimer's disease." White matter connects neurons to each other. Older healthy adults who followed an aerobic walking or dance program for six months increased their white matter integrity and episodic memory. Adults who only followed flexibility, strength, and balance training, while important, found that their white matter integrity decreased.
To give life more meaning, appreciate the small things
"Think about the first butterfly you stop to admire after a long winter or imagine the scenery atop a hill after a fresh hike." For me, it's the first time I hear a cardinal's song in spring. When asked to rate coping strategies during the early stages of the COVID pandemic, "people who managed stress by focusing on their appreciation for life’s beauty also reported experiencing life as highly meaningful." That's why gratitude journals can be so powerful. "We should slow down, let life surprise us and embrace the significance in the everyday."
Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash