I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

March 21, 2010

Games, cortisol, epigenetics, and behavior

Haven’t really dealt with the digital lifestyle recently (see earlier posts The Virtual Frontier and Impact of technology on kids’ thinking abilities).

The following was thought-provoking:

The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s

Also came across the following that struck me as a nice summary of both positive and negative effects of video games (and, by extension, of online games as well).

How Video Games Affect Health (from fat food)

Notes that many negative effects aren’t directly caused by games, but by an excessive amount of time spent playing them.  (Of course, that’s true of many things.)

Still, given the possibility that outside stimulation might actually affect how the brain is wired (see below), I’m certainly going to be a little more cautious.

From Maternal Care Affects Adult Stress (a little dated—though I think I’ve seen something recently about maternal behavior can effect epigenetic changes):

The studies, presented at a [2003] conference on the fetal and infant origins of adult disease, found that baby rats who were licked by their mothers a lot turned out to be less anxious and fearful as adults and produced lower levels of stress hormones than those who were groomed less.

The scientists found that the mothers’ licking caused the baby’s brain to crank up a gene involved in soothing the body in stressful situations.

The rat research was led by Michael Meaney, a professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

How the mothers’ grooming is thought to have affected their offspring’s behavior:

The brain contains receptors for stress hormones such as cortisol. The more receptors there are, the more sensitive the brain is to cortisol and the easier it is for the brain to tell the adrenal glands when to stop cranking out the hormones. The receptors set the tone for how the body responds to stress.

Meaney found that the rats who were reared with much licking had more cortisol receptors in their brains than the others and he determined why and how. He examined the DNA of about 50 rats who were licked a lot and another 50 who were not.


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