Nicolas Rohleder — ISPNE 2011 Curt P. Richter Award

Nicolas Rohleder, of the Department of Psychology, Brandeis University, is the recipient of the 2011 Curt P. Richter Award of the International Society for Psychoneuroendocrinology (ISPNE) for his original manuscript entitled “Acute and chronic stress induced changes in sensitivity of peripheral inflammatory pathways to the signals of multiple stress systems”. The award, which has been given by the ISPNE for over 25 years to a distinguished line of young investigators in the field of psychoneuroendocrinology, consists of an honorarium, an award certificate and plaque, a travel grant of up to $ 1,000 to attend the Society’s annual meeting, the publication of the manuscript in the society’s journal ‘Psychoneuroendocrinology‘, and well as a year’s complimentary access to ScienceDirect and Scopus.  Dr. Rohleder will receive the award, and make a presentation of his research findings, at the ISPNE annual meeting to be held in Berlin, Germany on August 4-6.

  • Rohleder N. Acute and chronic stress induced changes in sensitivity of peripheral inflammatory pathways to the signals of multiple stress systems – 2011 Curt Richter Award Winner. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012

Hey – Fred ate that and lived to tell the tale

Don Katz discusses the interactions between taste, smell, and learning in a new story on BrandeisNOW.

“Rats learn what food that they like from smelling the breath of other rats,” says Katz, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience. “A rat will essentially say, ‘Hey – Fred ate that and lived to tell the tale’ so later, when that rat is offered a choice, he will gravitate toward the food that he smelled on the other rat’s breath.”

How to tell what a rat likes: look at his face.

Strom receives 2011 Verna Regan Award

Michael Strom, a year 5 PhD student, is the recipient of the 2011 Verna Regan Award for the Outstanding Teaching Fellow in Psychology.

The award is given annually to the PhD student who was unusually helpful to professors in carrying out his or her duties as a teaching fellow, who has demonstrated exceptional abilities to communicate information and to teach undergraduate students, and who showed a high level of responsiveness in addressing the needs of those students.

Mike, who was selected from a field of other qualified and worthy candidates, will be among twenty-two outstanding teaching fellows to be honored at a reception to be held by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences on Friday, May 6th, where he will be presented with a certificate and honorarium.

Older Adults are Better at Spotting Fake Smiles

Studies of aging and the ability to recognize others’ emotional states tend to show that older adults are worse than younger adults at recognizing facial expressions of emotion, a pattern that parallels findings on non-social types of perception. Most of the previous research focused on the recognition of negative emotions such as anger and fear. In a study “Recognition of Posed and Spontaneous Dynamic Smiles in Young and Older Adults” recently published in Psychology and Aging, Derek Isaacowitz’s Emotion Laboratory set out to investigate possible aging effects in recognizing positive emotions; specifically, the ability to discriminate between posed or “fake” smiles and genuine smiles. They video-recorded different types of smiles (posed and genuine) from younger adults (mean age = 22) and older adults (mean age = 70). Then we showed those smiles to participants who judged whether the smiles were posed or genuine.

Across two studies, older adults were actually better at discriminating between posed and genuine smiles compared to younger adults. This is one of the only findings in the social perception literature suggesting an age difference favoring older individuals. One plausible reason why older adults may be better at distinguishing posed and spontaneous smiles is due to their greater experience in making these nuanced social judgments across the life span; this may then be a case where life experience can offset the effects of negative age-related change in cognition and perception.

This was the first known study to present younger and older adult videotaped smiles to both younger and older adult participants; using dynamic stimuli provides a more ecologically valid method of assessing social perception than using static pictures of faces. The findings are exciting because they suggest that while older adults may lose some ability to recognize the negative emotions of others, their ability to discriminate posed and genuine positive emotions may remain intact, or even improve.

The Emotion Laboratory is located in the Volen Center at Brandeis. First author Dr. Nora Murphy (now Assistant Professor of Psychology at Loyola Marymount University) conducted the research as a postdoctoral research fellow, under the supervision of Dr. Isaacowitz, and second author Jonathan Lehrfeld (Brandeis class of 2008) completed his Psychology senior honors thesis as part of the project. The research was funded by the National Institute of Aging.

What are best friends for? Insights from 10 million friendships

Why do people have best friends? Why do we think of some individuals as “better” friends than other individuals? Why rank friends at all? And what is so special about the apex of the ranking, our “best” friend?

Peter DeScioli, a Kay Fellow at Brandeis University, and colleagues recently shed light on these questions by collecting a dataset of over 10 million people’s friendship decisions from the MySpace social network. The results support the “alliance hypothesis” which is based on the idea that people depend on their friends in conflicts. The findings were recently published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

MySpace has a feature that allows users to rank their “Top Friends,” providing a unique data source for testing how well different variables explain people’s rankings of friends. The alliance hypothesis predicts that people will feel closest to friends who rank them higher than others. Here’s why: If you need your friend to take your side in an argument, then they will have to side against someone else—which is unlikely if they are better friends with your adversary. The fewer people ranked above you, the more you can rely on your friend to take your side. According to the theory, people unconsciously track this strategic information and it shapes how we feel about our friends.

It turns out that the importance of friend rank was highly significant. Comparing first- and second-ranked friends, 69% chose for first-rank the individual who ranked them better. This was a considerably larger effect than the next best predictor, geographic proximity. The effects of sex, age, and popularity were small by comparison. Moreover, friend rank increased in strength when the analysis was extended to first- versus third- through eighth-ranked friends. In short, we now have 10 million more reasons to wonder if human friendship might be more strategic than it seems.

Other comment:

http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-02-friendships-built-alliances.html

http://www.epjournal.net/blog/2011/02/who-is-your-best-friend%E2%80%99s-best-friend/

GSA 2010: an eye-opening experience

What happens when you organize a conference based on a population rather than a field of study? Everybody gets an eye-opening experience! At the end of November, members of Brandeis Psychology and Neuroscience community presented research at the 63rd annual Gerontological Society of America conference. Members from Art Wingfield’s Memory and Cognition Lab, Derek Isaacowitz’s Emotion Lab, and Margie Lachman’s Lifespan Developmental Psychology Lab all presented research at this conference.
This conference includes research on a wide area of aging topics from many different disciplines: behavioral and social sciences, health sciences, biological sciences, and social policy and practice.

To give an idea of the variety of ideas discussed at the conference, here is a sampling of session titles:

  • “Introduction to medicare part d data for research”
  • “Differences in Stroke Care Settings: Findings from the Patient Preference for Stroke Study”
  • “Age-related Differences and Similarities in Learning and Memory”
  • “Followed to extinction: Predictors of exceptional Survival in Very Long Term Cohort Studies”
  • “Composition Changes and Muscle Function: Targets for Preserving Health and Function”

This conference allowed members of the Brandeis scientific community to share their research with peers in their field and members of their academic family, as well as scientists and professionals from other fields. Although sharing research with your peers is always a productive experience, interacting with those from completely other fields also proved to be an invaluable exercise. It allowed attendees to be reminded of the assumptions that are made within any given discipline or paradigm, and allowed practice in communicating results to a broader audience.

All of this took place in the great city of New Orleans. The Cajun was music and food was enjoyed by many, and a great great time was had by all!

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