Saturday, February 9, 2008

In Which Science is Mentioned

So, cruising the ole Science Daily today and came across a few interesting articles.

First: Video Games Activate Reward Regions of Brain in Men More Than Women

Now, this article has some personal interest to me as I did research on video games for my senior thesis in undergrad (presenting on that at a conference soon). My research dealt with personality correlates, genres of games, and motivation for playing. As a senior thesis, I didn't have a huge amount of time or money, and so had to restrict myself to a male-only population and did not have access to a fMRI. Sad times.

I was worried reading the first two paragraphs (and to be honest, am still a little worried over the causative line taken in the article) with:

In a first-of-its-kind imaging study, the Stanford University School of Medicine researchers have shown that the part of the brain that generates rewarding feelings is more activated in men than women during video-game play.

'These gender differences may help explain why males are more attracted to, and more likely to become "hooked" on video games than females,' the researchers wrote in their paper, which was recently published online in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

Having this as the opening to the article, it instantly makes you worry about the old saw of "correlation is not causation." Males feel more rewarded and thus tend to become addicted or more attracted to these games. Well, that could be the case. It also could go the other way. Or there could be other variables outside of these two: i.e. a host of social factors. Let's not forget that games like Halo tend to be relatively social in nature. A lot of guys get together and play the game cooperatively or competitively, and I think this changes the experience of the game. They do come up with some good neurological basis towards the end, though:

After analyzing the imaging data for the entire group, the researchers found that the participants showed activation in the brain's mesocorticolimbic center, the region typically associated with reward and addiction. Male brains, however, showed much greater activation, and the amount of activation was correlated with how much territory they gained. (This wasn't the case with women.) Three structures within the reward circuit - the nucleus accumbens, amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex - were also shown to influence each other much more in men than in women. And the better connected this circuit was, the better males performed in the game.

The findings indicate, the researchers said, that successfully acquiring territory in a computer game format is more rewarding for men than for women. And Reiss, for one, isn't surprised. "I think it's fair to say that males tend to be more intrinsically territorial," he said. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out who historically are the conquerors and tyrants of our species-they're the males."

Okay, so, males are more wired to think naturally in terms of territory and aggression. Thus, they tend to be more competitive and receive more rewards from games that have a territorial or aggressive basis. I think this is largely in line with the popularity of genres as divided by gender. I'll say plausible.

More below the fold...

Second: Thin Bones Seen in Boys with Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Basically, the idea is that from lack of exercise and proper diet (autistic children often desire a very routine diet that meets caloric needs [or exceeds them], but is not very balanced at all; or have aversions to certain foods), autistic children (only boys participated in this study) are at risk for poor bone development. Their bones lengthen normally, but do not add more material in diameter. The researchers suggest that parents should consult a dietitian during medical checkups to make sure that their child has a balanced diet. I think this is a good idea, but there was also a note here about the dangers of the woo masters/pseudo-science quackery out there:

The researchers believe that boys with autism and ASD are at risk for poor bone development for a number of reasons. These factors are lack of exercise, a reluctance to eat a varied diet, lack of vitamin D, digestive problems, and diets that exclude casein, a protein found in milk and milk products. Dairy products provide a significant source of calcium and vitamin D. Casein-free diets are a controversial treatment thought by some to lessen the symptoms of autism.

I understand there's a huge emotional draw to anything which could possibly help a child. And I understand that this often overrides reasonable, rational responses. But here's the problem: at best they usually don't work; more often than not, they are actually harmful. This is an obvious example , as are HIV-denialists.

Guys, all the problems of the modern world are not attributable to diet. Sorry, just let me get that out there.

On a more positive side, this article made me remember a post by Afarensis, about what you can learn from bones. An excellent post. I have to agree with Afarensis on this: I was highly skeptical to begin with, but it seems like they have some good data. The article he references is itself a very good read if you get the statistics, check it out below the fold of the post.

This also reminds me of an excellent point which bears on the next article I link to: our genes often create bodily structures which are not fully predetermined. They are quite malleable to environmental influences. For example, we all have the capability of forming calluses on parts of our bodies that are exposed to repeated friction and pressure. We don't all just naturally form random calluses, however. And, callus distribution (frequency and location) can be reliably correlated to different groups. Guitar players have calluses on their fingertips, farmers tend to have calluses hands, and peoples who walk around barefoot all the time have callused feet (and apparently more robust bone structures. Nice.) This is similar to the "hard-body training" of martial arts. Repeatedly do minor fracture damage to the bones of the hands, arms, legs, and skull, and eventually, as they heal you get greater bone density (due to scarring, basically) and the ability to hit harder without fracturing an area.

That having been said, I now show you a third article: Genes and Environment Interact in First Graders to Predict Physical but not Social Aggression.

First of all, the study is a twin study. Unfortunately, they do not tell us if they are identical or fraternal twins, or if they were reared together or apart. This may be a part of the actual article (I certainly hope it is), so I'm a little upset at Science Daily for dropping the ball on this one. C'mon guys. Seriously.

Also, I'm a little skeptical that there is no genetic influence on social aggression. I'll freely admit that social aggression is much more a factor of environmental influences, but I feel that this is another case where genes load the gun, the environment pulls the trigger. We probably have genetic predispositions to both physical and social aggression, but the forms of social aggression may be much more malleable than physical aggression. That would be my basic response or "recoding" of this abstract. Of course, I'll wait till I read the full article to pass any serious responses to it.

So, lastly, a video from Alice Donut about perhaps the worst Chick Tract in existence, called Lisa. Chick has removed this one from his website and publications, but someone archived it. I mean, it's really sick. I think Alice Donut does a good job of showing how horrible it is while also sending up Chick in general. I don't think he'd like the music:

And now, back to Bonhoeffer for me, sadly. So much work to do this weekend. Ugh.

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