Posts tagged with "MRI"

Grandmothers may be more connected to grandchildren than to own offspring

November 22, 2021

They say that grandchildren are life’s greatest joy, and now the first study to examine grandmothers’ brain function has suggested that grannies may be more emotionally connected to their grandkids than to their own sons and daughters, reports The Guardian.

Since the 1960s, researchers have posited that one reason women tend to live decades past their reproductive years is that it increases the chances of their grandchildren surviving, through the physical support they often provide—the grandmother hypothesis. More recent evidence has suggested that children’s wellbeing and educational performance is also boosted by the presence of engaged grandparents.

To better understand the biological underpinnings of this connection, Professor James Rilling, an anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta, and colleagues recruited 50 women with at least one biological grandchild aged between three and 12, and used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan their brains as they looked at photos of that child, the child’s parents, and images of an unrelated child and adult.

“What really jumps out is the activation in areas of the brain associated with emotional empathy,” Rilling said. “That suggests that grandmothers are geared toward feeling what their grandchildren are feeling when they interact with them. If their grandchild is smiling, they’re feeling the child’s joy. And if their grandchild is crying, they’re feeling the child’s pain and distress.”

Rilling previously performed a similar exercise with fathers as they looked at pictures of their children. The activation seen in the grandmothers’ emotion processing areas, and in those associated with reward and motivation, was stronger, on average, than the fathers’—although there were some dads who had just as much activation in these areas.

By contrast, when the grandmothers looked at images of their adult child, slightly different brain areas tended to be activated: those associated with cognitive empathy. This could indicate that they were trying to cognitively understand their adult child, rather than experiencing this more direct emotional connection.

“Emotional empathy is when you’re able to feel what someone else is feeling, but cognitive empathy is when you understand at a cognitive level what someone else is feeling and why,” Rilling said.

This could possibly help to explain the experience many grown-up children have of their parents often seeming more excited to see their grandchildren than them. “I think that’s plausible,” said Rilling, whose findings were published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Young children have likely evolved traits to be able to manipulate not just the maternal brain, but the grand-maternal brain. An adult child doesn’t have the same cute factor, so they may not the same emotional response.”

The results support the idea that there may be a global caregiving system in the brain that is activated in mothers (who have been examined in separate studies), fathers, and grandmothers. Rilling now hopes to study grandfathers and other childcare providers to see how they compare.

Research contact: @guardian

Beyond words: Why words become harder to remember as we get older

September 14, 2021

As we age, we find it increasingly difficult to have the right words ready at the right moment—even though our vocabulary actually grows continuously over the course of our lives. Now we know a little bit more about the reasons why, Medical Xpress reports.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the University of Leipzig—both, in Germany—believe that they have identified the networks in the brain that change our communication over time, making it less efficient.

The researchers investigated these connections with the help of two groups—younger study participants between the ages of 20 and 35 and older ones between the ages of 60 and 70. Both groups were asked to name words from certain categories—among them, animals, metals, or vehicles– while they were being scanned using MRI technology.

It became clear that both age groups were good at finding words. However, the younger ones were somewhat faster. The reason for this could be the different brain activities. For one thing, not only were the language areas themselves more active in the younger participants; they also showed a more intensive exchange within two decisive networks:

The reverse was true for older people. Here, executive areas showed stronger activity, indicating that the task was more difficult for these individuals overall. In addition, the exchange within the crucial networks was less effective than in the younger people. The older group was most likely to benefit from inter-network exchange, but this is associated with losses.

“Communication within neuronal networks is more efficient and thus faster than between them,” explains Sandra Martin, Ph.D. student at MPI CBS and first author of the underlying study.

Why these activity patterns shift with age has not yet been fully explained. One theory, says Martin, is that as people age, they rely more on the linguistic knowledge they have, so exchanges between networks come into focus, while younger people rely more on their fast-working memory and cognitive control processes. “On the structural level, the loss of grey matter in the brain could also play a role, which is compensated for by the exchange between networks,” says Martin.

The research was published in Cerebral Cortex.

Research contact: @xpress_medical