#WSF19: Risk-Taking in Extreme Sports

When we mere mortals watch extreme-sports athletes, many of us wonder: Is the risk worth the reward? What drives these risk-takers to put their lives in danger? Are we wired differently, or is it the culture one grows up in, or both? At Friday night’s World Science Festival event, “Risky-Business: the Evolution of Dangerous Behavior,” the panelists set out to answer these and other questions about human risk-taking.

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From left: David Sloan Wilson, Omer Mei-Dan, Cynthia Thomson, Abigail Marsh, and Bill Weir. Photo courtesy of World Science Festival.

Risk is subjective, agreed the panelists. If an athlete goes through the right training, then the act becomes less risky, said panelist Omer Mei-Dan, an orthopedic surgeon—and BASE jumper (wingsuit flying or parachuting from a fixed structure, often a cliff).

Take Alex Hunnold of the documentary “Free Solo” fame. Hunnold trained for two years before he scaled Yosemite’s 3,000-foot wall of El Capitan without ropes, said Mei-Dan. Now that certainly doesn’t guarantee success, but it did cement a familiarity with the terrain and establish a sense of confidence, he added. Continue reading

From the Archives: The Promise of Ketamine

promiseofketamine.jpgThis month, the FDA approved the use of esketamine, a nasal spray based on the old anesthetic and once-popular club drug ketamine, to treat people with severe depression that has not responded to other treatments. It’s costly and entails visiting the doctor for four hours a week for four weeks, but it’s the first treatment in decades that works in a new way in the brain. That means it might reach the large number of people with depression who are not helped by drugs that target other brain functions.

Last March, Ronald S. Duman, Ph.D., wrote for Cerebrum on “The Dazzling Promise of Ketamine,” exploring how the drug was validated as an antidepressant, how it works, and what it could mean for development of other drugs: Continue reading

The Power to Overcome Challenges

We all experience different forms of adversity in our lives, some more severe than others. But why do some people seem to crumble when faced with those challenges, while others remain optimistic and persevere? Do genetics play a role? Scientists are looking at the biological underpinnings of resilience for answers.

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Heather Berlin, Ph.D.

Diving into this subject, the Rubin Museum of Art welcomed three experts to the stage for the latest 2019 Brainwave program, “The Power to Overcome Challenges.” Heather Berlin, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist who spoke at the Rubin for a past Brainwave event and worked with her husband on a theatrical show about consciousness, sat between Sharlee Jeter, president of the Turn 2 Foundation, which was founded by her brother, baseball legend Derek Jeter, and Sampson Davis, M.D., an emergency room physician and co-founder of the Three Doctors Foundation. Together, Sampson and Jeter co-authored a book all about “the stuff”—two words that came up often as the group discussed trauma and resilience throughout the evening. Continue reading

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Feb. 25-Mar. 3

Today marks the first day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, an observance created by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) in order to spread awareness about eating disorders and support for those dealing with them. According to NEDA, approximately 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Different studies show varying degrees of prevalence of what is classified as a mental illness, but the fact remains that eating disorders are common and, while not always thought to be the case, profoundly dangerous. Although they may not be considered to be one of the more “serious” mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness, with anorexia nervosa being the deadliest among them all.

Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., founding director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, which has recently been designated as the National Center of Excellence by SAMHSA. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Bulik.

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Pediatricians’ Group Says Spanking is Ineffective, Potentially Harmful

Guest blog by Brenda Patoine

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Photo: Shutterstock

It’s official: spanking is out. Time-outs are in.

That’s the lead message of a new policy statement from the largest pediatricians’ group, in its strongest warning yet against the use of spanking or other harsh punishments–ever–by parents and others charged with caring for children. It’s the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) first update to its policy guideline on discipline since 1998, when it discouraged but did not specifically proscribe spanking. This time, the message is clear: spanking doesn’t work and may cause harm. Ditto for harsh verbal reprimand that shames or humiliates.

The policy, which is intended to guide clinicians in their interactions with parents, cites 20 years of scientific research it says overwhelmingly demonstrates that corporal punishment is not only ineffective as a disciplinary measure, but may be harmful. Spanking in and of itself is associated with adverse outcomes that are similar to those seen in physical child abuse. Continue reading

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