Monday, June 24, 2019

Over 50-fold difference between individuals in circadian melatonin sensitivity to evening light.

Phillips et al. probe how our high sensitivity to artificial light after dusk perturbs the circadian rhythm of our sleep hormone melatonin:

Electric lighting has fundamentally altered how the human circadian clock synchronizes to the day/night cycle. Exposure to light after dusk is pervasive in the modern world. We examined group-level sensitivity of the circadian system to evening light and the degree to which sensitivity varies between individuals. We found that, on average, humans are highly sensitive to evening light. Specifically, 50% suppression of melatonin occurred at less than 30 lux, which is comparable to or lower than typical indoor lighting used at night, as well as light produced by electronic devices. Significantly, there was a greater than 50-fold difference in sensitivity to evening light across individuals. Interindividual differences in light sensitivity may explain differential vulnerability to circadian disruption and subsequent impact on human health.
Before the invention of electric lighting, humans were primarily exposed to intense (>300 lux) or dim (less than 30 lux) environmental light—stimuli at extreme ends of the circadian system’s dose–response curve to light. Today, humans spend hours per day exposed to intermediate light intensities (30–300 lux), particularly in the evening. Interindividual differences in sensitivity to evening light in this intensity range could therefore represent a source of vulnerability to circadian disruption by modern lighting. We characterized individual-level dose–response curves to light-induced melatonin suppression using a within-subjects protocol. Fifty-five participants (aged 18–30) were exposed to a dim control (less than 1 lux) and a range of experimental light levels (10–2,000 lux for 5 h) in the evening. Melatonin suppression was determined for each light level, and the effective dose for 50% suppression (ED50) was computed at individual and group levels. The group-level fitted ED50 was 24.60 lux, indicating that the circadian system is highly sensitive to evening light at typical indoor levels. Light intensities of 10, 30, and 50 lux resulted in later apparent melatonin onsets by 22, 77, and 109 min, respectively. Individual-level ED50 values ranged by over an order of magnitude (6 lux in the most sensitive individual, 350 lux in the least sensitive individual), with a 26% coefficient of variation. These findings demonstrate that the same evening-light environment is registered by the circadian system very differently between individuals. This interindividual variability may be an important factor for determining the circadian clock’s role in human health and disease.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Mechanism of exercise and antioxidant stimulation of memory and new nerve cell growth

On reading this article by Yook et al. I promptly ordered a bottle of 10 mg astaxanthin capsules to add to my normal array of supplements (and exercise).

Leptin (LEP, a small protein hormone), produced and acting in the hippocampus, mediates enhancement by mild exercise (ME) of hippocampus-related memory and neurogenesis, which are further increased by an antioxidant carotenoid, astaxanthin (AX). Both are facilitated by the administration of ME or AX alone. The up-regulation of the LEP gene and LEP protein expression in the hippocampus by ME is further elevated when combined with AX. Consistently, the combined interventions increased hippocampal LEP protein. In LEP-deficient ob/ob mice, LEP replacement in the brain restored the ability of ME+AX to enhance hippocampal function. Thus, a combined lifestyle intervention based on ME, including yoga and tai chi, and specific dietary supplements that include antioxidants may together improve cognition and possibly retard cognitive decline in humans.
Regular exercise and dietary supplements with antioxidants each have the potential to improve cognitive function and attenuate cognitive decline, and, in some cases, they enhance each other. Our current results reveal that low-intensity exercise (mild exercise, ME) and the natural antioxidant carotenoid astaxanthin (AX) each have equivalent beneficial effects on hippocampal neurogenesis and memory function. We found that the enhancement by ME combined with AX in potentiating hippocampus-based plasticity and cognition is mediated by leptin (LEP) made and acting in the hippocampus. In assessing the combined effects upon wild-type (WT) mice undergoing ME with or without an AX diet for four weeks, we found that, when administrated alone, ME and AX separately enhanced neurogenesis and spatial memory, and when combined they were at least additive in their effects. DNA microarray and bioinformatics analyses revealed not only the up-regulation of an antioxidant gene, ABHD3, but also that the up-regulation of LEP gene expression in the hippocampus of WT mice with ME alone is further enhanced by AX. Together, they also increased hippocampal LEP (h-LEP) protein levels and enhanced spatial memory mediated through AKT/STAT3 signaling. AX treatment also has direct action on human neuroblastoma cell lines to increase cell viability associated with increased LEP expression. In LEP-deficient mice (ob/ob), chronic infusion of LEP into the lateral ventricles restored the synergy. Collectively, our findings suggest that not only h-LEP but also exogenous LEP mediates effects of ME on neural functions underlying memory, which is further enhanced by the antioxidant AX.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Enhancing longevity by removing deteriorated body cells.

Here I pass on both the introductory summary and concluding paragraph of van Deursen's review of efforts to enhance longevity by removing body cells that have deteriorated and become dysfunctional (SNCs).
The estimated “natural” life span of humans is ∼30 years, but improvements in working conditions, housing, sanitation, and medicine have extended this to ∼80 years in most developed countries. However, much of the population now experiences aging-associated tissue deterioration. Healthy aging is limited by a lack of natural selection, which favors genetic programs that confer fitness early in life to maximize reproductive output. There is no selection for whether these alterations have detrimental effects later in life. One such program is cellular senescence, whereby cells become unable to divide. Cellular senescence enhances reproductive success by blocking cancer cell proliferation, but it decreases the health of the old by littering tissues with dysfunctional senescent cells (SNCs). In mice, the selective elimination of SNCs (senolysis) extends median life span and prevents or attenuates age-associated diseases. This has inspired the development of targeted senolytic drugs to eliminate the SNCs that drive age-associated disease in humans.
As knowledge of the fundamental biology and vulnerabilities of SNCs expands, the rational design of targeted senolytics is expected to yield therapies to eliminate SNCs that drive degeneration and disease. This positive outlook is based on successes in oncology and because the main limitation of cancer therapies—the clonal expansion of drug-resistant cells—does not apply to SNCs. Additional confidence comes from the recent progress in bringing senolytic agents into clinical trials. The first clinical trial is testing UBX0101 for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. Another drug, UBX1967, a BCL-2 family inhibitor specifically tailored for diseases of the aging eye, is also advancing to human testing. Multiple clinical trials treating diverse diseases of aging with senolytic drugs are expected to follow soon. This includes two-step cancer treatment approaches whereby malignant cells are first forced into a senescent state by one drug and then eliminated with a senolytic agent. Success in these first clinical studies is the next critical milestone on the road to the development of treatments that can extend healthy longevity in people.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Why can we read only one word at a time?

Fascinating work from White et al.:

Because your brain has limited processing capacity, you cannot comprehend the text on this page all at once. In fact, skilled readers cannot even recognize just two words at once. We measured how the visual areas of the brain respond to pairs of words while participants attended to one word or tried to divide attention between both. We discovered that a single word-selective region in left ventral occipitotemporal cortex processes both words in parallel. The parallel streams of information then converge at a bottleneck in an adjacent, more anterior word-selective region. This result reveals the functional significance of subdivisions within the brain’s reading circuitry and offers a compelling explanation for a profound limit on human perception.
In most environments, the visual system is confronted with many relevant objects simultaneously. That is especially true during reading. However, behavioral data demonstrate that a serial bottleneck prevents recognition of more than one word at a time. We used fMRI to investigate how parallel spatial channels of visual processing converge into a serial bottleneck for word recognition. Participants viewed pairs of words presented simultaneously. We found that retinotopic cortex processed the two words in parallel spatial channels, one in each contralateral hemisphere. Responses were higher for attended than for ignored words but were not reduced when attention was divided. We then analyzed two word-selective regions along the occipitotemporal sulcus (OTS) of both hemispheres (subregions of the visual word form area, VWFA). Unlike retinotopic regions, each word-selective region responded to words on both sides of fixation. Nonetheless, a single region in the left hemisphere (posterior OTS) contained spatial channels for both hemifields that were independently modulated by selective attention. Thus, the left posterior VWFA supports parallel processing of multiple words. In contrast, activity in a more anterior word-selective region in the left hemisphere (mid OTS) was consistent with a single channel, showing (i) limited spatial selectivity, (ii) no effect of spatial attention on mean response amplitudes, and (iii) sensitivity to lexical properties of only one attended word. Therefore, the visual system can process two words in parallel up to a late stage in the ventral stream. The transition to a single channel is consistent with the observed bottleneck in behavior.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Why high-class people get away with incompetence.

Belmi et al. do four experiments suggesting that people who come from a higher social class are more likely to have an inflated sense of their skills — even when tests proved that they are average. This unmerited overconfidence is interpreted by strangers as competence. This highlights yet another way that family wealth and parents' education confers an advantage in getting ahead in life.
Understanding how socioeconomic inequalities perpetuate is a central concern among social and organizational psychologists. Drawing on a collection of findings suggesting that different social class contexts have powerful effects on people’s sense of self, we propose that social class shapes the beliefs that people hold about their abilities, and that this, in turn, has important implications for how status hierarchies perpetuate. We first hypothesize that compared with individuals with relatively low social class, individuals with relatively high social class are more overconfident. Then, drawing on research suggesting that overconfidence can confer social advantages, we further hypothesize that the overconfidence of higher class individuals can help perpetuate the existing class hierarchy: It can provide them a path to social advantage by making them appear more competent in the eyes of others. We test these ideas in four large studies with a combined sample of 152,661 individuals. Study 1, a large field study featuring small-business owners from Mexico, found evidence that individuals with relatively high social class are more overconfident compared with their lower-class counterparts. Study 2, a multiwave study in the United States, replicated this result and further shed light on the underlying mechanism: Individuals with relatively high (vs. low) social class tend to be more overconfident because they have a stronger desire to achieve high social rank. Study 3 replicated these findings in a high-powered, preregistered study and found that individuals with relatively high social class were more overconfident, even in a task in which they had no performance advantages. Study 4, a multiphase study that featured a mock job interview in the laboratory, found that compared with their lower-class counterparts, higher-class individuals were more overconfident; overconfidence, in turn, made them appear more competent and more likely to attain social rank.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Policy evaluation by randomized trials may provoke greater objections than implementing them untested.

Meyer et al. find that experiments comparing two unobjectionable policies or treatments can generate more objections than simply proceeding to implement them.

Randomized experiments—long the gold standard in medicine—are increasingly used throughout the social sciences and professions to evaluate business products and services, government programs, education and health policies, and global aid. We find robust evidence—across 16 studies of 5,873 participants from three populations spanning nine domains—that people often approve of untested policies or treatments (A or B) being universally implemented but disapprove of randomized experiments (A/B tests) to determine which of those policies or treatments is superior. This effect persists even when there is no reason to prefer A to B and even when recipients are treated unequally and randomly in all conditions (A, B, and A/B). This experimentation aversion may be an important barrier to evidence-based practice.
Randomized experiments have enormous potential to improve human welfare in many domains, including healthcare, education, finance, and public policy. However, such “A/B tests” are often criticized on ethical grounds even as similar, untested interventions are implemented without objection. We find robust evidence across 16 studies of 5,873 participants from three diverse populations spanning nine domains—from healthcare to autonomous vehicle design to poverty reduction—that people frequently rate A/B tests designed to establish the comparative effectiveness of two policies or treatments as inappropriate even when universally implementing either A or B, untested, is seen as appropriate. This “A/B effect” is as strong among those with higher educational attainment and science literacy and among relevant professionals. It persists even when there is no reason to prefer A to B and even when recipients are treated unequally and randomly in all conditions (A, B, and A/B). Several remaining explanations for the effect—a belief that consent is required to impose a policy on half of a population but not on the entire population; an aversion to controlled but not to uncontrolled experiments; and a proxy form of the illusion of knowledge (according to which randomized evaluations are unnecessary because experts already do or should know “what works”)—appear to contribute to the effect, but none dominates or fully accounts for it. We conclude that rigorously evaluating policies or treatments via pragmatic randomized trials may provoke greater objection than simply implementing those same policies or treatments untested.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Is technology really reshaping our consciousness?

My first reaction on reading a recent Op-Ed piece by David Brooks "When Trolls and Crybullies Rule the Earth" was to say 'Yes!', and think I should immediately fire off some selected clips in a MindBlog post. I'm glad I waited a bit, because as I look at it again I feel he has erred on the side of being an alarmist drama queen to grab our attention. The article begins with:
Over the past several years, teenage suicide rates have spiked horrifically....What's going on?
Several sources show an increasing rate from 2010 to 2017, but a look at Centers for Disease Control data shows higher rates for the late 1980's and early 1990's. He continues:
My answer starts with technology but is really about the sort of consciousness online life induces.
Brooks then describes transformations of human consciousness as if they have replaced, rather than adding to and enhancing, older forms of consciousness:  the shift from an oral to a printed culture centuries ago and the current shift from printed to electronic communication.
Attention and affection have gone from being private bonds to being publicly traded goods...up until recently most of the attention a person received came from family and friends and was pretty stable. But now most of the attention a person receives can come from far and wide and is tremendously volatile...your online post can go viral and get massively admired or ridiculed, while other times your post can leave you alone and completely ignored. Communication itself, once mostly collaborative, is now often competitive, with bids for affection and attention. It is also more manipulative — gestures designed to generate a response.
But... were not the old fashioned kinds of attention exchanged personally or in crowds of people, rather than electronically, labile and competitive with constant bids for affection and attention? Electronics may have amplified what was happening, but it didn't fundamentally transform it. Vicious gossip can be exchanged in old fashioned personal or newer less personal electronic ways. Online platforms may be an amplifier of our traits, but they don't basically transform them. Trolls and crybullies have always been with us. Still, Brooks makes good points, even if a bit exaggerated:
The internet has become a place where people communicate out of their competitive ego: I’m more fabulous than you (a lot of Instagram). You’re dumber than me (much of Twitter). It’s not a place where people share from their hearts and souls.
Of course, people enmeshed in such a climate are more likely to feel depressed, to suffer from mental health problems. Of course, they are more likely to see human relationship through the abuser/victim frame, and to be acutely sensitive to any power imbalance. Imagine you’re 17 and people you barely know are saying nice or nasty things about your unformed self. It creates existential anxiety and hence fanaticism.

Friday, June 07, 2019

The wisdom of partisan crowds.

Fascinating and counterintuitive findings from Becker et al., who find that the wisdom of crowds is robust to partisan bias:

Normative theories of deliberative democracy are based on the premise that social information processing can improve group beliefs. Research on the “wisdom of crowds” has found that information exchange can increase belief accuracy in many cases, but theories of political polarization imply that groups will become more extreme—and less accurate—when beliefs are motivated by partisan political bias. While this risk is not expected to emerge in politically heterogeneous networks, homogeneous social networks are expected to amplify partisan bias when people communicate only with members of their own political party. However, we find that the wisdom of crowds is robust to partisan bias. Social influence not only increases accuracy but also decreases polarization without between-group network ties.
Theories in favor of deliberative democracy are based on the premise that social information processing can improve group beliefs. While research on the “wisdom of crowds” has found that information exchange can increase belief accuracy on noncontroversial factual matters, theories of political polarization imply that groups will become more extreme—and less accurate—when beliefs are motivated by partisan political bias. A primary concern is that partisan biases are associated not only with more extreme beliefs, but also with a diminished response to social information. While bipartisan networks containing both Democrats and Republicans are expected to promote accurate belief formation, politically homogeneous networks are expected to amplify partisan bias and reduce belief accuracy. To test whether the wisdom of crowds is robust to partisan bias, we conducted two web-based experiments in which individuals answered factual questions known to elicit partisan bias before and after observing the estimates of peers in a politically homogeneous social network. In contrast to polarization theories, we found that social information exchange in homogeneous networks not only increased accuracy but also reduced polarization. Our results help generalize collective intelligence research to political domains.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Inequality brokered

Public opinion about sexual minorities has improved dramatically in recent years, but Sun and Gao do an analysis showing that discriminatory behavior in lending practices has been ongoing and gone unchecked.

We propose a method to infer people’s sexual orientation indirectly through gender disclosure of the borrower and coborrower in a mortgage. Furthermore, we examine lending practices toward same-sex borrowers and its spillover effects. We attempt to extend the research on race/gender discrimination by systematically investigating the potentially different lending treatment toward same-sex borrowers. The data reveal that, compared with otherwise similar different-sex applicants, same-sex applicants are 73.12% more likely to be denied, and they tend to be charged up to 0.2% higher fees/interest. Furthermore, neighborhoods’ higher same-sex population density adversely affects both same-sex and different-sex borrowers’ lending experiences. Our method might approximately measure the US homosexual population distribution up to the census tract level annually over decades.
Using massive US mortgage lending data, we propose a method to infer a borrower’s sexual orientation indirectly without a self-identification requirement and demonstrate the method’s potential to approximately measure the sexual orientation of the US population at the local level annually over decades. We continue to examine the lending practices to same-sex borrowers and its spillover effects. The persistent results since 1990 reveal that, in contrast with otherwise comparable different-sex loan applicants, the approval rate for same-sex applicants is ∼3–8% lower. Furthermore, conditional on approval, lenders, on average, charge about 0.02–0.2% higher interest to same-sex borrowers, which is equivalent to an annual total of $8.6 million to $86 million in additional interest/fees nationwide. Meanwhile, we find that same-sex borrowers are less risky overall, as they exhibit similar default risk but lower prepayment risk. Finally, we document findings of spillover effects. That is, when the share of a neighborhood’s same-sex population increases, both same-sex and different-sex borrowers seem to experience more unfavorable lending outcomes overall. The findings should raise enough concerns to warrant further investigations.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Blueprint - Nicholas Christakis' new book on evolutionary origins of a good society

This opinion piece by Frank Bruni in the NYTimes motivated me to download and read Nicholas Christakis' Magnum Opus “Blueprint” (very much in the 'everything you need to know about humans' spirit of Sapolsky's "Behave" and Harari's "Sapiens," and "Homo Deus," and "21 Lessons," all books that I have made the subject of previous posts.). It echoes Pinker's emphasis on the more positive aspects of human nature and progress. It is a very engaging read, and not amenable to a simple summary, but here is a bit from his introduction:
How can people be so different from—even go to war with—one another and yet also be so similar? The fundamental reason is that we each carry within us an evolutionary blueprint for making a good society.
Genes do amazing things inside our bodies, but even more amazing to me is what they do outside of them. Genes affect not only the structure and function of our bodies; not only the structure and function of our minds and, hence, our behaviors; but also the structure and function of our societies. This is what we recognize when we look at people around the world. This is the source of our common humanity.
Natural selection has shaped our lives as social animals, guiding the evolution of what I call a “social suite” of features priming our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, learning, and even our ability to recognize the uniqueness of other individuals. Despite all the trappings and artifacts of modern invention—our tools, agriculture, cities, nations—we carry within us innate proclivities that reflect our natural social state, a state that is, as it turns out, primarily good, practically and even morally. Humans can no more make a society that is inconsistent with these positive urges than ants can suddenly make beehives.
I believe that we come to this sort of goodness just as naturally as we come to our bloodier inclinations. We cannot help it. We feel great when we help others. Our good deeds are not just the products of Enlightenment values. They have a deeper and prehistoric origin. The ancient tendencies that form the social suite work together to bind communities, specify their boundaries, identify their members, and allow people to achieve individual and collective objectives while at the same time minimizing hatred and violence. For too long, in my opinion, the scientific community has been overly focused on the dark side of our biological heritage: our capacity for tribalism, violence, selfishness, and cruelty. The bright side has been denied the attention it deserves.

Friday, May 31, 2019

After brief music training 8-10 year old kids show less hyperactivity and better inhibitory control.

Fasano et al. show that only three months of orchestral music training improves inhibitory control and reduces hyperactivity in 8-10 year old children. From the Science Magazine summary of Tamela Hines:
Play your notes and nothing extra. Wait during your measures of rest. Watch the conductor and synchronize with your neighbors. Such attention and sensorimotor skills are key to performing music as part of a group, whether orchestral or choral or a marching band. Not everyone, however, has the time and interest to become a professional musician. Fasano et al. tested the effect of a short orchestral training program, spanning 10 sessions over 3 months, on a group of psychologically normal schoolchildren in Italy. Children in this brief program improved on measures of inhibitory control and hyperactivity. The results suggest new, and fun, ways to help children manage their own hyperactive behaviors.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Happily ever after....

Sure enough, as soon as I do yesterday's post on aging, I run into, and will pass on in this post, a sane article in the Guardian that is basically a listicle of 25 ways to live well into old age. An explanatory paragraph accompanies each item in the list.

-Look to your ancestors for answers
-Enjoy coffee
-Walk faster
-Exercise in green space
-Fast every day
-Build muscle
-Read books
-Work longer
-Keep learning
-Take a nap
-Clean out your medicine cabinet
-Only spend on vitamin D and zinc
-Avoid pollution
-Use olive oil
-Build bone density
-Cultivate friendships
-Support Immunity (dark leafy greens, brassicas like cabbage and broccoli, alliums like garlic, leeks and onions, and mushrooms.)
-Change how you eat, particularly in the evening
-Add tumeric
-Eat more fiber
-Avoid blue light in the evenings
-Look after your eyes
-Walk a dog
-Cultivate optimism

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Live younger longer

New Yorker Magazine writer and polymath Adam Gopnik does an excellent article describing studies on our increased longevity that aim to enhance its quality, not its duration. He also describes anti-aging research directed at increasing longevity.  I suggest you read the article. Here are a few clips, mainly from the first part of the article describing the experience of aging:
Over the past century, we’ve created the greatest gift in the history of humanity—thirty extra years of life—and we don’t know what to do with it! Now that we’re living longer, how do we plan for what we’re going to do?
To get a sense of what it would be like to have the slow process of aging become a fast process, you can go to the AgeLab, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, and put on agnes (for Age Gain Now Empathy System). agnes, or the “sudden aging” suit, as Joseph Coughlin, the founder and director of the AgeLab describes it, includes yellow glasses, which convey a sense of the yellowing of the ocular lens that comes with age; a boxer’s neck harness, which mimics the diminished mobility of the cervical spine; bands around the elbows, wrists, and knees to simulate stiffness; boots with foam padding to produce a loss of tactile feedback; and special gloves to “reduce tactile acuity while adding resistance to finger movements.”
Slowly pulling on the aging suit and then standing up—it looks a bit like one of the spacesuits that the Russian cosmonauts wore—you’re at first conscious merely of a little extra weight, a little loss of feeling, a small encumbrance or two at the extremities. Soon, though, it’s actively infuriating. The suit bends you. It slows you. You come to realize what makes it a powerful instrument of emotional empathy: every small task becomes effortful. “Reach up to the top shelf and pick up that mug,” ...requires more attention than you expected. You reach for the mug instead of just getting it. Your emotional cast, as focussed task piles on focussed task, becomes one of annoyance; you acquire the same set-mouthed, unhappy, watchful look you see on certain elderly people on the subway. The concentration that each act requires disrupts the flow of life, which you suddenly become aware is the happiness of life, the ceaseless flow of simple action and responses, choices all made simultaneously and mostly without effort. Happiness is absorption, and absorption is the opposite of willful attention.
The AgeLab is designed to alleviate this progression. It exists to encourage and incubate new technologies and products and services for an ever-larger market of aging people....the AgeLab swiftly discovered that engineering and promoting new products and services specially designed for the expanding market of the aged is a good way of going out of business. Old people will not buy anything that reminds them that they are old. They are a market that cannot be marketed to. In effect, to accept help in getting out of the suit is to accept that we’re in the suit for life. We would rather suffer because we’re old than accept that we’re old and suffer less.
The AgeLab has rediscovered the eternal truth that identity matters to us far more than utility. The most effective way of comforting the aged, the researchers there find, is through a kind of comical convergence of products designed by and supposedly for impatient millennials, which secretly better suit the needs of irascible boomers. The best hearing aids look the most like earbuds. The most effective PERS (personal-emergency-response system) device is an iPhone or an Apple Watch app.
It’s the failure of industry and engineering to address the actual problems of aging—the problems summed up by the aggravations of the agnes suit—that makes Coughlin impatient with scientific speculations about extending life. “We’ve already extended life! What we need is not to put off death a little longer but to write a new narrative of aging as it could be.”
The second section of the article describes several approaches that contest the classic explanation of why we age:
Once we have passed reproductive age, the genes can get sloppy about copying, allowing mutations to accumulate, because natural selection no longer cares. And so things fall apart. The second law of thermodynamics gets us all in the end. The car or the Cuisinart works for a decade, breaks down, and can’t be fixed; rust never sleeps, and we do.
Contra this view: certain genetic labs at Harvard, the chairs and seals and exaptated services of the AgeLab are regarded as mere Band-Aids on the problem to be solved. Here, there are whispers of undying yeast, tales of eternally young mice, rumors of rejuvenated dogs, and scientists who stubbornly insist that age is an illness to be treated like any other...Perhaps aging is not a condition to be managed but a mistake to be fixed.
To pass from the Harvard rejuvenators to the laboratory of Patrick Hof, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in Manhattan, is to sober up a little. Here, there is talk not of imminent innovation but of discouragingly minute work proceeding on many slow-moving fronts over decades. Where the Harvard crowd see quick fixes in the near future, Hof, an expert on the neuronal underpinnings of aging and Alzheimer’s, sees the exposure of ever more confounding complexity.
In conclusion...
As you take off the agnes suit—piece by piece; the boots and then the wrist weights and the impeding gloves—the feeling is disconcerting. It’s the return of flow, the feeling of choice and possibility as you begin to move again through the world, that makes you recall that what it is to be young is not to be in a state of ecstasy but merely to be unimpeded, to be in the world without having undue consciousness of your own muscle and bone within it. It’s the same thing we experience when we remove a splinter from our foot; what we get is not happiness in a positive sense but a return to not having to think about the prison and the fact of our flesh. We forget our insides, and fold ourselves back out.
The true condition of youth is the physical ability to forget ourselves. A friend who is still creative in his eighties points out what he calls the geriatric possessive: people past eighty, he says, are expected to say, “I’m going to take my bath,” “I’m going to take my walk.” We can counterpoise that to the pediatric possessive: “You’re going to take your bath,” “It’s time for your nap.” Only in midlife do we feel secure enough to enumerate actions as existing individually outside our possession of them: “I’m going to take a bath,” “I’m going to take a nap.” A bath and a nap exist, briefly, outside our possession of them—they’re just around for the taking, we suppose, and always will be.
We may indeed already be converging as a population — irascible millennials who feel dated at twenty-five and determinedly upbeat boomers who insist on feeling young at seventy — on a single American age, a kind of shared perpetual middleness, where we will dye our hair and take our pills and suddenly collapse in the midst of the dance. Right now, we live well, and then we don’t live well, and then we die. The most that science seems to offer us is this: We’ll live well, and then we’ll die.

Monday, May 27, 2019

With the rise of Trump, the fall of racial prejudice?

Stanley-Becker points to a fascinating study by Hopkins and Washington. Their abstract:
In his campaign and first few years in office, Donald Trump consistently defied contemporary norms by using explicit, negative rhetoric targeting ethnic/racial minorities. Did this rhetoric lead white Americans to express more prejudiced views of African Americans or Hispanics, whether through the normalization of prejudice or other mechanisms? We assess that question using a 13-wave panel conducted with a population-based sample of Americans between 2008 and 2018. We find that via most measures, white Americans' expressed anti-Black and anti-Hispanic prejudice declined after the 2016 campaign and election, and we can rule out even small increases in the expression of prejudice. These results suggest the limits of racially charged rhetoric's capacity to heighten prejudice among white Americans overall. They also indicate that prejudice can behave like an issue attitude: rather than being a fixed predisposition, prejudice can respond thermostatically to changing presidential rhetoric and policy positions.
Stanley-Becker quotes Hopkins:’s quite conceivable that Trump has simultaneously galvanized a small number of highly prejudiced white Americans while also pushing millions more to affirm that they are not as prejudiced.
Hopkins said his discovery is not out of step with other assessments. In fact, his conclusions are in line with recent scholarship suggesting that bias, both implicit and explicit, has declined when it comes to race and sexual orientation, though prejudice has remained steady regarding people with disabilities and actually increased regarding obesity.
The recent scholarship Hopkins references is work from Banaji's group:
Using 4.4 million tests of implicit and explicit attitudes measured continuously from an Internet population of U.S. respondents over 13 years, we conducted the first comparative analysis using time-series models to examine patterns of long-term change in six social-group attitudes: sexual orientation, race, skin tone, age, disability, and body weight. Even within just a decade, all explicit responses showed change toward attitude neutrality. Parallel implicit responses also showed change toward neutrality for sexual orientation, race, and skin-tone attitudes but revealed stability over time for age and disability attitudes and change away from neutrality for body-weight attitudes. These data provide previously unavailable evidence for long-term implicit attitude change and stability across multiple social groups; the data can be used to generate and test theoretical predictions as well as construct forecasts of future attitudes.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Blame the liberals for unlivable cities!

An excellent article by Farhad Manjoo, focusing on San Francisco's affordable housing crisis. Some clips:
Just look at San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi’s city. One of every 11,600 residents is a billionaire, and the annual household income necessary to buy a median-priced home now tops $320,000. Yet the streets there are a plague of garbage and needles and feces, and every morning brings fresh horror stories from a “Black Mirror” hellscape: Homeless veterans are surviving on an economy of trash from billionaires’ mansions. Wealthy homeowners are crowdfunding a legal effort arguing that a proposed homeless shelter is an environmental hazard.
And there is no end in sight to such crushing success. At every level of government, our representatives, nearly all of them Democrats, prove inadequate and unresponsive to the challenges at hand. Witness last week’s embarrassment, when California lawmakers used a sketchy parliamentary maneuver to knife Senate Bill 50, an ambitious effort to undo restrictive local zoning rules and increase the supply of housing.
It was another chapter in a dismal saga of Nimbyist urban mismanagement that is crushing American cities. Not-in-my-backyardism is a bipartisan sentiment, but because the largest American cities are populated and run by Democrats — many in states under complete Democratic control — this sort of nakedly exclusionary urban restrictionism is a particular shame of the left.
Democrats on the 2020 presidential trail rarely mention their ideas for housing affordability, an issue eating American cities alive.
What Republicans want to do with I.C.E. and border walls, wealthy progressive Democrats are doing with zoning and Nimbyism. Preserving “local character,” maintaining “local control,” keeping housing scarce and inaccessible — the goals of both sides are really the same: to keep people out.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Educating liberals about white privilege doesn't make them more empathetic.

Cooley et al. find that people with socially liberal views on the major political issues are actually less likely to empathize with a poor white person’s plight after being given a reading on white privilege (see also the article by Jilani that points to this work):
White privilege lessons are sometimes used to increase awareness of racism. However, little research has investigated the consequences of these lessons. Across 2 studies (N = 1,189), we hypothesized that White privilege lessons may both highlight structural privilege based on race, and simultaneously decrease sympathy for other challenges some White people endure (e.g., poverty)—especially among social liberals who may be particularly receptive to structural explanations of inequality. Indeed, both studies revealed that while social liberals were overall more sympathetic to poor people than social conservatives, reading about White privilege decreased their sympathy for a poor White (vs. Black) person. Moreover, these shifts in sympathy were associated with greater punishment/blame and fewer external attributions for a poor White person’s plight. We conclude that, among social liberals, White privilege lessons may increase beliefs that poor White people have failed to take advantage of their racial privilege—leading to negative social evaluations.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Benefits of a period of exercise persist after 10 years.

Gretchen Reynolds points to a study by Johnson et al. showing long term effects of an experiment conducted from 1998 to 2003, in which overweight volunteers between 40 and 60 were divided into control (inactive), moderate walking), and vigorous (jogging) exercise groups that completed three sessions of their assigned workout each week for eight months. Health markers (aerobic fitness, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and waist circumference) improved in the exercise but not the control groups. Experimenters were able to get in touch with many subjects 10 years later and found:
Most of the men and women from the control group, who had not exercised 10 years before, had larger waistlines now, while the exercisers displayed little if any middle-aged spread compared to their decade-earlier selves.
Those from the control group also were less fit now. Most had lost about 10 percent of their aerobic capacity, which is typical of the declines seen after about age 40, when most of us will lose about 1 percent of our fitness annually.
But those men and women who had exercised vigorously for eight months during the original experiment retained substantially more fitness. On average, their aerobic capacity had fallen by only about 5 percent, compared to when they had joined the Strride study, and those few who reported still exercising at least four times a week were more fit now than they had been a decade before.
Interestingly, those earlier experimental volunteers who had walked — meaning their exercise had been moderate, not intense — did not seem to have enjoyed the same lasting fitness benefits as those who had exercised more vigorously. Most of them had shed about 10 percent of their aerobic capacity during the past decade, much like the controls.
On the other hand, they showed surprisingly persistent improvements in their metabolic health, more so than among the intense exercisers. The walkers from 10 years ago still had healthier blood pressures and insulin sensitivity than they had had before joining the earlier experiment, even if they rarely exercised now. They had also had relatively healthier metabolisms than the men and women who had exercised intensely all those years before.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Sunday Afternoon Musicale - Bridges and Mendelssohn

This post falls in the 'random curious stuff' of the MindBlog title above. I want to share some of my current musical efforts with MindBlog readers. When MindBlog began in 2016 I started to share with readers some of the videos made at Sunday afternoon musical/social events at my 1860 schoolhouse/residence in Madison Wisconsin. I'm now living full time in Austin Texas, and have been fortunate to be able form a piano trio with two accomplished musicians, violinist Andrea Gore and Cellist Karen Foster Cason. Andrea hosted a Musicale this past Sunday at her beautiful home built on the banks of a creek running into Lake Travis. The pictures show our trio, and the natural grotto photographed from the deck of the house. I embed a rehearsal video of the Mendelssohn Allegro and give links to rehearsal videos of the rest of the program (I wish I had recorded the coherence and precision of the event itself). The Mendelssohn Allegro and Finale are the most pyrotechnical of the offerings.

Program for the Sunday, May 19, 1:00 Musicale at Awalt

Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
Miniatures for Violin, Violoncello, & Piano
4. Romance
5. Intermezzo
6. Saltarello

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) Piano Trio No. 2 in D minor, Op. 66
1. Allegro energico e con fuoco
2. Andante espressivo
3. Scherzo: Molto allegro quasi presto
4. Finale: Allegro appassionato

Andrea Gore, Violin
Karen Foster Cason, Cello
Deric Bownds, Piano

Monday, May 20, 2019

Are rich people really less generous than poor people?

Here is a ‘fact’ (that rich people are less generous than poor people) that I had locked into mind that turns out to be wrong. They are not less generous, contra the findings of an often cited 2015 landmark study. From Schmukle et al.:

Are the rich less generous than the poor? Results of studies on this topic have been inconsistent. Recent research that has received widespread academic and media attention has provided evidence that higher income individuals are less generous than poorer individuals only if they reside in a US state with comparatively large economic inequality. However, in large representative datasets from the United States (study 1), Germany (study 2), and 30 countries (study 3), we did not find any evidence for such an effect. Instead, our results suggest that the rich are not less generous than the poor, even when economic inequality is large. This result has implications for contemporary debates on what increasing inequality in resource distributions means for modern societies.
A landmark study published in PNAS [Côté S, House J, Willer R (2015) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112:15838–15843] showed that higher income individuals are less generous than poorer individuals only if they reside in a US state with comparatively large economic inequality. This finding might serve to reconcile inconsistent findings on the effect of social class on generosity by highlighting the moderating role of economic inequality. On the basis of the importance of replicating a major finding before readily accepting it as evidence, we analyzed the effect of the interaction between income and inequality on generosity in three large representative datasets. We analyzed the donating behavior of 27,714 US households (study 1), the generosity of 1,334 German individuals in an economic game (study 2), and volunteering to participate in charitable activities in 30,985 participants from 30 countries (study 3). We found no evidence for the postulated moderation effect in any study. This result is especially remarkable because (i) our samples were very large, leading to high power to detect effects that exist, and (ii) the cross-country analysis employed in study 3 led to much greater variability in economic inequality. These findings indicate that the moderation effect might be rather specific and cannot be easily generalized. Consequently, economic inequality might not be a plausible explanation for the heterogeneous results on the effect of social class on prosociality.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Like the emperor’s new clothes, DNA kits are a tailored illusion

I recommend reading this article by George Estreich. Here are a few clips:
Most people remember the emperor: a vain ruler, swindled into paying for a nonexistent magical garment, parades in public, only to be embarrassed by a little boy. To me, the story is really about the swindling tailors. Audacious, imaginative, their true product is a persuasive illusion, one keyed to the vulnerabilities of their target audience. In contemporary terms, the story is about marketing; and as such, the tale is tailor-made for an examination of genetic ancestry tests, because these too are sold with expert persuasion, with promises woven from our hopes, our fears, and the golden thread of DNA.
With these new tests, as in Hans Christian Andersen’s 19th-century tale, a gap yawns between the promise and the reality – and now and then, as in the story, someone says so in the public square. For example, when Phil Rogers, a reporter in Chicago, tried out home DNA test kits from competing companies last year, he discovered contradictory results. So did the Canadian reporter Charlsie Agro and her twin sister Carly, who mailed spit samples to 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage and LivingDNA. As with Rogers, the companies gave different histories – Balkan ancestry, for example, ranged from 14 to 61 per cent – but 23andMe actually reported different scores for each twin. (According to the company, Charlsie has French and German ancestors, while Carly does not.)
The tests are sold with variations on a single pitch: find your story. The companies don’t mention that the story might shade into fiction, or that stories can conflict. The evolutionary geneticist Mark Thomas at University College London has dismissed ancestry testing as ‘genetic astrology’, but it could be as useful to think of it as genetic gossip: a rumoured past that, like most rumours, is at least partly true.
Chasing his dreams of status and power, the emperor misses the swindle: the ‘weavers’ make off with tangible wealth, while the emperor receives nothing. The entire performance is a masterful misdirection, a distraction from the truth of the exchange. In the same way, the promises of discovering identity and the genealogical past are a misdirection: the real exchange takes place offstage, with drug companies and others paying for access to the data that customers actually pay to give. Once it’s given, customers are vulnerable to future data breaches (and you can’t, at this date at least, change your genome), and they aren’t guaranteed compensation for any profits the data might lead to.