Creativity Linked to Mental Health

Via ScienceCodex

New research shows a possible explanation for the link between mental health and creativity. By studying receptors in the brain, researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet have managed to show that the dopamine system in healthy, highly creative people is similar in some respects to that seen in people with schizophrenia.

High creative skills have been shown to be somewhat more common in people who have mental illness in the family. Creativity is also linked to a slightly higher risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Certain psychological traits, such as the ability to make unusual pr bizarre associations are also shared by schizophrenics and healthy, highly creative people. And now the correlation between creativity and mental health has scientific backing.

“We have studied the brain and the dopamine D2 receptors, and have shown that the dopamine system of healthy, highly creative people is similar to that found in people with schizophrenia,” says associate professor Fredrik Ullén from Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Women’s and Children’s Health.

Just which brain mechanisms are responsible for this correlation is still something of a mystery, but Dr Ullén conjectures that the function of systems in the brain that use dopamine is significant; for example, studies have shown that dopamine receptor genes are linked to ability for divergent thought. Dr Ullén’s study measured the creativity of healthy individuals using divergent psychological tests, in which the task was to find many different solutions to a problem.

“The study shows that highly creative people who did well on the divergent tests had a lower density of D2 receptors in the thalamus than less creative people,” says Dr Ullén. “Schizophrenics are also known to have low D2 density in this part of the brain, suggesting a cause of the link between mental illness and creativity.”

The thalamus serves as a kind of relay centre, filtering information before it reaches areas of the cortex, which is responsible, amongst other things, for cognition and reasoning.

“Fewer D2 receptors in the thalamus probably means a lower degree of signal filtering, and thus a higher flow of information from the thalamus,” says Dr Ullén, and explains that this could a possible mechanism behind the ability of healthy highly creative people to see numerous uncommon connections in a problem-solving situation and the bizarre associations found in the mentally ill.

“Thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box,” says Dr Ullén about his new findings.

Publication: ‘Thinking Outside a Less Intact Box: Thalamic Dopamine D2 Receptor Densities Are Negatively Related to Psychometric Creativity in Healthy Individuals’, Örjan de Manzano, Simon Cervenka, Anke Karabanov, Lars Farde & Fredrik Ullén, PLoS ONE, online 17 May 2010.

Physics Facts


1.If the Sun were made of bananas, it would be just as hot?

The Sun is hot, as the more astute of you will have noticed. It is hot because its enormous weight – about a billion billion billion tons – creates vast gravity, putting its core under colossal pressure. Just as a bicycle pump gets warm when you pump it, the pressure increases the temperature. Enormous pressure leads to enormous temperature.
If, instead of hydrogen, you got a billion billion billion tons of bananas and hung it in space, it would create just as much pressure, and therefore just as high a temperature. So it would make very little difference to the heat whether you made the Sun out of hydrogen, or bananas, or patio furniture.
Edit: this might be a little confusing. The heat caused by the internal pressure would be similar to that of our Sun. However, if it’s not made of hydrogen, the fusion reaction that keeps it going wouldn’t get under way: so a banana Sun would rapidly cool down from its initial heat rather than burning for billions of years. Thanks to people who pointed this out.

2.All the matter that makes up the human race could fit in a sugar cube

Atoms are 99.9999999999999 per cent empty space. As Tom Stoppard put it: “Make a fist, and if your fist is as big as the nucleus of an atom, then the atom is as big as St Paul’s, and if it happens to be a hydrogen atom, then it has a single electron flitting about like a moth in an empty cathedral, now by the dome, now by the altar.”
If you forced all the atoms together, removing the space between them, crushing them down so the all those vast empty cathedrals were compressed into the first-sized nuclei, a single teaspoon or sugar cube of the resulting mass would weigh five billion tons; about ten times the weight of all the humans who are currently alive.
Incidentally, that is exactly what has happened in a neutron star, the super-dense mass left over after a certain kind of supernova.

3.Events in the future can affect what happened in the past

The weirdness of the quantum world is well documented. The double slit experiment, showing that light behaves as both a wave and a particle, is odd enough – particularly when it is shown that observing it makes it one or the other.
But it gets stranger. According to an experiment proposed by the physicist John Wheeler in 1978 and carried out by researchers in 2007, observing a particle now can change what happened to another one – in the past.
According to the double slit experiment, if you observe which of two slits light passes through, you force it to behave like a particle. If you don’t, and observe where it lands on a screen behind the slits, it behaves like a wave.
But if you wait for it to pass through the slit, and then observe which way it came through, it will retroactively force it to have passed through one or the other. In other words, causality is working backwards: the present is affecting the past.
Of course in the lab this only has an effect over indescribably tiny fractions of a second. But Wheeler suggested that light from distant stars that has bent around a gravitational well in between could be observed in the same way: which could mean that observing something now and changing what happened thousands, or even millions, of years in the past.

4.Almost all of the Universe is missing

There are probably more than 100 billion galaxies in the cosmos. Each of those galaxies has between 10 million and a trillion stars in it. Our sun, a rather small and feeble star (a “yellow dwarf”, indeed), weighs around a billion billion billion tons, and most are much bigger. There is an awful lot of visible matter in the Universe.
But it only accounts for about two per cent of its mass.
We know there is more, because it has gravity. Despite the huge amount of visible matter, it is nowhere near enough to account for the gravitational pull we can see exerted on other galaxies. The other stuff is called “dark matter”, and there seems to be around six times as much as ordinary matter.
To make matters even more confusing, the rest is something else called “dark energy”, which is needed to explain the apparent expansion of the Universe. Nobody knows what dark matter or dark energy is.

5.Things can travel faster than light; and light doesn’t always travel very fast

The speed of light in a vacuum is a constant: 300,000km a second. However, light does not always travel through a vacuum. In water, for example, photons travel at around three-quarters that speed.
In nuclear reactors, some particles are forced up to very high speeds, often within a fraction of the speed of light. If they are passing through an insulating medium that slows light down, they can actually travel faster than the light around them.
When this happens, they cause a blue glow, known as “Cherenkov radiation ”, which is (sort of) comparable to a sonic boom but with light. This is why nuclear reactors glow in the dark.
Incidentally, the slowest light has ever been recorded travelling was 17 meters per second – about 38 miles an hour – through rubidium cooled to almost absolute zero, when it forms a strange state of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate.
Light has also been brought to a complete stop in the same fashion, but since that wasn’t moving at all, we didn’t feel we could describe that as “the slowest it has been recorded travelling”.

6.There are an infinite number of mes writing this, and an infinite number of yous reading it

According to the current standard model of cosmology, the observable universe – containing all the billions of galaxies and trillions upon trillions of stars mentioned above – is just one of an infinite number of universes existing side-by-side, like soap bubbles in a foam.
Because they are infinite, every possible history must have played out. But more than that, the number of possible histories is finite, because there have been a finite number of events with a finite number of outcomes. The number is huge, but it is finite. So this exact event, where this author writes these words and you read them, must have happened an infinite number of times.
Even more amazingly, we can work out how far away our nearest doppelganger is. It is, to put it mildly, a large distance: 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 28 meters. That number, in case you were wondering, is one followed by 10 billion billion billion zeroes

7.Black holes aren’t black

They’re very dark, sure, but they aren’t black. They glow, slightly, giving off light across the whole spectrum, including visible light.
This radiation is called “Hawking radiation”, after the former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University Stephen Hawking, who first proposed its existence. Because they are constantly giving this off, and therefore losing mass, black holes will eventually evaporate altogether if they don’t have another source of mass to sustain them; for example interstellar gas or light.
Smaller black holes are expected to emit radiation faster compared to their mass than larger ones, so if – as some theories predict – the Large Hadron Collider creates minuscule holes through particle collisions, they will evaporate almost immediately. Scientists would then be able to observe their decay through the radiation.

8.The fundamental description of the universe does not account for a past, present or future

According to the special theory of relativity, there is no such thing as a present, or a future, or a past. Time frames are relative: I have one, you have one, the third planet of Gliese 581 has one. Ours are similar because we are moving at similar speeds.
If we were moving at very different speeds, we would find that one of us aged quicker than the other. Similarly, if one of us was closer than the other to a major gravity well like the Earth, we would age slower than someone who wasn’t.
GPS satellites, of course, are both moving quickly and at significant distances from Earth. So their internal clocks show a different time to the receivers on the ground. A lot of computing power has to go into making your sat-nav work around the theory of special relativity.

9.A particle here can affect one on the other side of the universe, instantaneously

When an electron meets its antimatter twin, a positron, the two are annihilated in a tiny flash of energy. Two photons fly away from the blast.
Subatomic particles like photons and quarks have a quality known as “spin”. It’s not that they’re really spinning – it’s not clear that would even mean anything at that level – but they behave as if they do. When two are created simultaneously the direction of their spin has to cancel each other out: one doing the opposite of the other.
Due to the unpredictability of quantum behaviour, it is impossible to say in advance which will go “anticlockwise” and the other “clockwise”. More than that, until the spin of one is observed, they are both doing both.
It gets weirder, however. When you do observe one, it will suddenly be going clockwise or anticlockwise. And whichever way it is going, its twin will start spinning the other way, instantly, even if it is on the other side of the universe. This has actually been shown to happen in experiment (albeit on the other side of a laboratory, not a universe).

10.The faster you move, the heavier you get

If you run really fast, you gain weight. Not permanently, or it would make a mockery of diet and exercise plans, but momentarily, and only a tiny amount.
Light speed is the speed limit of the universe. So if something is travelling close to the speed of light, and you give it a push, it can’t go very much faster. But you’ve given it extra energy, and that energy has to go somewhere.
Where it goes is mass. According to relativity, mass and energy are equivalent. So the more energy you put in, the greater the mass becomes. This is negligible at human speeds – Usain Bolt is not noticeably heavier when running than when still – but once you reach an appreciable fraction of the speed of light, your mass starts to increase rapidly.

New Neurons Help Us Remember Fear

Via UC Berkeley News Center

BERKELEY — Fear burns memories into our brain, and new research by University of California, Berkeley, neuroscientists explains how.

Scientists have long known that fear and other highly emotional experiences lead to incredibly strong memories. In a study appearing online today (Tuesday, June 14) in advance of publication in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, UC Berkeley’s Daniela Kaufer and colleagues report a new way for emotions to affect memory: The brain’s emotional center, the amygdala, induces the hippocampus, a relay hub for memory, to generate new neurons.

The figure shows newly born nerve cells (green) colocalizing with a neuronal marker which indicates immature nerve cells (red). Astrocytes are labelled in blue.

The figure shows newly born nerve cells (green) colocalizing with a neuronal marker which indicates immature nerve cells (red). Astrocytes are labelled in blue.

In a fearful situation, these newborn neurons get activated by the amygdala and may provide a “blank slate” on which the new fearful memory can be strongly imprinted, she said. In evolutionary terms, it means new neurons are likely helping you to remember the lion that nearly killed you.

“We remember emotional events much more strongly than daily experiences, and for a long time we have known that connections between the amygdala and hippocampus help to encode this emotional information,” said Kaufer, an assistant professor of integrative biology and a member of UC Berkeley’s Wills Neuroscience Institute. “Our research shows that amygdala input actually pushes the hippocampus to make new neurons from a unique population of neural stem cells. This provides completely new cells that get activated in response to emotional input.”

The finding has implications for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other problems caused by faulty regulation of emotional memory.

“Many affective disorders involve disordered emotional memories like PTSD, depression and anxiety. We think that newborn neurons may play a role in creating these emotional memories,” she said.

The finding comes a year after brain researcher Fred Gage at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., showed that the formation of new memories is associated with increased activation of two-week-old newborn nerve cells in the hippocampus that are derived from adult neural stem cells. Adult stem cells appear to differentiate continually into new nerve cells – nearly 100 each day – yet half of those newborn neurons are slated for death within four weeks after their birth. If they are highly activated, however – such as in learning new complex information – many more of them will survive and presumably help in establishing new memories in the brain.

Kaufer, who conducts research on the effects of stress on the brain, knew that many types of positive and negative experiences, such as exercise and stress, affect the rate of neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Along with graduate students Elizabeth Kirby, the lead author of the study, and Aaron Friedman, she was intrigued by the idea that emotions might affect neurogenesis in the hippocampus, since the brain’s clearinghouse for emotions, the amygdala, is connected to the hippocampus via multiple neural circuits. To test this, Kirby focused on the basolateral amygdala, the region of the almond-shaped structure that handles negative emotions, including stress, anxiety and fear.

Using rats, Kirby surgically destroyed the basolateral amygdala and discovered that the production of new nerve cells in the hippocampus decreased. To make sure that the cell damage created when the amygdala was surgically destroyed was not affecting the experiment, the researchers borrowed a gene therapy technique from Robert Sapolsky’s lab at Stanford University to genetically introduce potassium channels into the amygdala, which shut down the activity of the nerve cells without causing injury. This also decreased neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

They next tested Gage’s theory that new neurons are especially sensitive to input two weeks after they form. Kirby and Kaufer labeled hippocampal cells created over a three-day period in a group of rats, and then conditioned a fear response in these rats two weeks later. They then confronted the rats with the same fearful situation or a neutral yet novel context the next day. When they examined the brains, they found that the newborn neurons had been specifically activated by the fearful situation. However, when they destroyed the basolateral amygdala, new neurons were no longer activated in response to the fearful memory.

“The research suggests that newborn neurons play a role not only in the formation of memory, but also in helping to create the emotional context of memory,” Kirby said. It also suggests that the basolateral amygdala drives the ability of new neurons to be part of an emotional memory.

The team now plans to see whether other negative stimuli, such as stress and anxiety, similarly cooperate with amygdala activity to alter neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

The coauthors of the paper with Kaufer, Kirby and Friedman are UC Berkeley graduate student David Covarrubias and undergraduates Carl Ying and Wayne G. Sun; Ki Ann Goosens, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Stanford’s Sapolsky.

Kaufer’s work is funded by a 2010 BRAINS (Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists) award from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health and a young investigator award from The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, formerly the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD). Kirby is supported by a California Institute for Regenerative Medicine pre-doctoral fellowship and a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Research fellowship from the U. S. Department of Defense.

This cross section of a rat brain shows how emotional information from the amygdala promotes the generation of new nerve cells from adult neural stem cells in the hippocampus (left). These neurons can be activated by fear during a critical 2-4 week period after birth, helping to imprint a memory of the fearful situation. Without input from the amygdala (right), the hippocampus produces fewer new neurons.

For more information:

The Ostrich – a joke

A man walks into a restaurant with a full-grown ostrich behind him. The waitress asks them for their orders.
The man says, “A hamburger, fries and a coke,” and turns to the ostrich, “What do you want?”


“I’ll have the same,” says the ostrich.


A short time later the waitress returns with their orders.


“That will be $9.40 please.”

The man reaches into his pocket and pulls out the exact change for payment.


The next day, the man and the ostrich come again and the man orders a hamburger, fries and a coke. 


The ostrich says, “I’ll have the same.”


Again the man reaches into his pocket and pays with exact change.


This becomes routine until the two enter again.


“The usual?” asks the waitress.


“No, this is Friday night, so I will have a steak, baked potato and a salad,” says the man.


“Same,” says the ostrich.


Shortly the waitress brings the order and says, “That will be $32.62.”


Once again the man pulls the exact change out of his pocket and places it on the table.


The waitress cannot hold back her curiosity any longer.


“Excuse me, sir. How do you manage to always come up with the exact change in your pocket every time?”


“Well,” says the man, “several years ago I was cleaning the attic and found an old lamp. When I rubbed it, a Genie appeared and offered me two wishes. My first wish was that if I ever had to pay for anything I would just put my hand in my pocket and the right amount of money would always be there.”


“That’s brilliant!” says the waitress. “Most people would ask for a million dollars or something, but you’ll always be as rich as you want for as long as you live!”


“That’s right…Whether it’s a gallon of milk or a Rolls Royce, the exact money is always there,” says the man.


The waitress asks, “What’s with the ostrich?”


The man sighs, pauses and answers, “My second wish was for a tall chick with a big ass and long legs who agrees with everything I say..”

Placebo – “Pierrot the Clown”

Leave me dreaming on the bed
See you right back here tomorrow for the next round
Keep this scene inside your head
As the bruises turn to yellow
The swelling goes down

And if you’re ever around
In the city or the suburbs of this town
Be sure to come around
I’ll be wallowing in sorrow
Wearing a frown
Like Pierrot the Clown

Saw you crashing round the bay
Never seen you act so shallow
Or look so brown
Remember all the things you’d say
How your promises rang hollow
As you threw me to the ground

And if you’re ever around
In the backstreets or the alleys of this town
Be sure to come around
I’ll be wallowing in pity
And wearing a frown
Like Pierrot the Clown

When I dream I dream of your lips
When I dream I dream of your kiss
When I dream I dream of your fists
Your fists… Your fists

Leave me bleeding on the bed
See you right back here tomorrow for the next round
Keep this scene inside your head
As the bruises turn to yellow
The swelling goes down

And if you’re ever around
In the city or the suburbs of this town
Be sure to come around
I’ll be wallowing in sorrow
And wearing a frown
Like Pierrot the Clown
Like Pierrot the Clown
Like Pierrot the Clown
Like Pierrot the Clown
Like Pierrot the Clown