Laughter gene identified; infant brains develop faster than was thought

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 June, 2015, 6:14am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 June, 2015, 6:14am

Quick to laugh or smile? It may be in your genes: A new study links a gene to positive emotional expressions such as smiling and laughing, suggesting that emotional reactivity may lie in a person's DNA. Published in the journal Emotion, the study consists of three different experiments involving a total of 336 participants. It was found that people with a certain genetic variant - those with short alleles of the gene 5-HTTLPR - smiled or laughed more while watching cartoons or subtly amusing film clips than people with long alleles. The gene is involved in the regulation of serotonin, a neurotransmitter implicated in depression and anxiety. "People with short alleles may flourish in a positive environment and suffer in a negative one, while people with long alleles are less sensitive to environmental conditions," says researcher Claudia Haase, an assistant professor at Northwestern University in Illinois.


Infant brains more advanced than we thought: The ability to perceive faces was thought to develop as infants learn to read, but a new study from the University of Louvain in Belgium shows it is highly evolved in babies as young as four months. We perceive faces using the right hemisphere of the brain. Researchers used a cap fitted with electrodes to monitor the brain activity of 15 babies as they sat on their mothers' laps and watched a rapid succession of images over 20 seconds. They were shown 48 images of faces that differed in viewpoint, colour, lighting, and background, interspersed with 200 images of animals, plants, and man-made objects. Similar to adult studies, each image was shown for 166 milliseconds. Compared to other images, the appearance of a face coincided with a specific spike in stimulation of the brain's right hemisphere. The difference between the right and the left hemisphere was even more pronounced than in the same study with adults.


Western diet may increase risk of death after prostate cancer diagnosis: After a prostate cancer diagnosis, eating a Western diet may lead to a significantly higher risk of both prostate-cancer-related death and overall mortality compared with eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, whole grains, and healthy oils. This is the finding of new study from Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, which tracked for an average of 14 years the health and diet data of 926 men diagnosed with prostate cancer . A Western diet is higher in red and processed meat, high-fat dairy foods and refined grains. Men who ate mostly a Western diet had 2½ times the risk of prostate cancer-related death - and a 67 per cent increased risk of death from any cause - than those who ate mostly a "prudent" diet (higher consumption of vegetables, fruits, fish, legumes, and wholegrains).