How 4-year old children draw pictures of a child is an indicator of intelligence at age 14, according to a study by King’s College London, published today in Psychological Science. The researchers studied 7,752 pairs of identical and non-identical twins (a total of 15,504 children) from the Medical Research Council (MRC) funded Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), and found that the link between drawing and later intelligence was influenced by genes. At the age of 4, children were asked by their parents to complete a ‘Draw-a-Child’ test, i.e. draw a picture of a child. Each figure was scored between 0 and 12 depending on the presence and correct quantity of features such as head, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, body, arms etc. For example, a drawing with two legs, two arms, a body and head, but no facial features, would score 4. The children were also given verbal and non-verbal intelligence tests at ages 4 and 14. The researchers found that higher scores on the Draw-a-Child test were moderately associated with higher scores of intelligence at ages 4 and 14. The correlation between drawing and intelligence was moderate at ages 4 (0.33) and 14 (0.20). Dr Rosalind Arden, lead author of the paper from the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, says: “The Draw-a-Child test was devised in the 1920’s to assess children’s intelligence, so the fact that the test correlated with intelligence at age 4 was expected. What surprised us was that it correlated with intelligence a decade later.”
Overall, at age 4, drawings from identical twins pairs were more similar to one another than drawings from non-identical twin pairs. Therefore, the researchers concluded that differences in children’s drawings have an important genetic link. They also found that drawing at age 4 and intelligence at age 14 had a strong genetic link.
Dr Arden explains: “This does not mean that there is a drawing gene – a child’s ability to draw stems from many other abilities, such as observing, holding a pencil etc. We are a long way off understanding how genes influence all these different types of behaviour.”
EPFL researchers have decoded the mechanism by which a glucose derivative activates receptors involved in memorization. Everyone knows that neurons are the key to how the brain operates. But it turns out they aren’t the only stars in the show; neighboring cells called astrocytes are quickly gaining increasing respect for the critical role they play in memory and learning. EPFL scientists have recently outlined the molecular mechanics of this process in an article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Lactate produced by the star-shaped astrocytes accelerates the memorization process. This result, surprising until very recently, opens up new possibilities for treating cognitive and memory disorders, as well as psychiatric conditions such as depression.
Focusing their attention on the molecular mechanism, the scientists discovered that lactate provides more than just energy. It acts as a moderator of one type of glutamate receptor (NMDA receptors), the nervous system’s primary neurotransmitter. This glutamate receptor is involved in the memorization process, and the research demonstrates that lactate gives them what amounts to a turbo-boost. “Glutamate lets you drive in first gear; with lactate, you can shift into fourth and travel at 100 km/h,” says Magistretti.
Could we take lactate supplements and develop encyclopedic memory? Magistretti’s lab has just received a grant to study the effects of artificial lactate supplementation. “We have identified a series of molecules that can make astrocytes produce more lactate. Now the idea is to see in vivo if we can mitigate cognitive deficits and memory disorders.” In addition, since conditions such as depression are often accompanied by cognitive problems, “lactate could also have an antidepressant effect,” says Magistretti, who also conducts research at the National Center for Competence in Research Synapsy, dedicated to the understanding of the synaptic basis of psychiatric disease.
It sounds like science fiction, but it seems that bacteria within us—which outnumber our own cells about 100-fold—may very well be affecting both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want, and often are driving us toward obesity. In an article published this week in the journal BioEssays, researchers from UC San Francisco, Arizona State University and University of New Mexico concluded from a review of the recent scientific literature that microbes influence human eating behavior and dietary choices to favor consumption of the particular nutrients they grow best on, rather than simply passively living off whatever nutrients we choose to send their way. Bacterial species vary in the nutrients they need. Some prefer fat, and others sugar, for instance. But they not only vie with each other for food and to retain a niche within their ecosystem—our digestive tracts—they also often have different aims than we do when it comes to our own actions, according to senior author Athena Aktipis, PhD, co-founder of the Center for Evolution and Cancer with the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCSF. While it is unclear exactly how this occurs, the authors believe this diverse community of microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiome, may influence our decisions by releasing signaling molecules into our gut. Because the gut is linked to the immune system, the endocrine system and the nervous system, those signals could influence our physiologic and behavioral responses.
"Microbes have the capacity to manipulate behavior and mood through altering the neural signals in the vagus nerve, changing taste receptors, producing toxins to make us feel bad, and releasing chemical rewards to make us feel good," said Aktipis, who is currently in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology.
In mice, certain strains of bacteria increase anxious behavior. In humans, one clinical trial found that drinking a probiotic containing Lactobacillus casei improved mood in those who were feeling the lowest.
There is another you, sitting on an identical Earth, about 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 120 light years away
It’s no coincidence that, when recalling a tragedy, we ask where someone was: “Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?” Psychologists hypothesize that we lock in that memory by linking it to a where, that integrating many stimuli together helps us remember something particularly important. They call this process episodic memory formation: the locking of ideas and objects to a single place and time, to forming associations between different stimuli. Using a a new process that involves an injected virus and a chemical “remote control for the brain,” psychologists are now a little closer to understanding it better. Researchers at Dartmouth and the University of North Carolina announced Tuesday that new evidence indicates that the retrosplenial cortex—a little-studied region near the center of the brain—is important in the formation of this kind of information, called episodic memories. Specifically, they believe the retrosplenial cortex may help make sense of the burst of new stimuli in a new environment: It may be the place where the body’s senses are integrated. When you walk into someone’s office, your brain records the location of the pieces of furniture, screens, bookshelves and windows inside, said David Bucci, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth and one of the authors of the paper. Your brain may not remember the arrangement of that office if nothing important happens inside—in fact, you’ll probably forget it—but if something memorable does happen, you will commit the setup of that room to your memory. That room will be forever linked to what you learned inside it.