Jun 152012
 

By Jonah Lehrer (NewYorker.com) The perceptual ambiguity of wine helps explain why contextual influences—say, the look of a label, or the price tag on the bottle—can profoundly influence expert judgment. This was nicely demonstrated in a mischievous 2001 experiment led by Frédéric Brochet at the University of Bordeaux. In the first test, Brochet invited fifty-seven wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn’t stop the experts from describing the “red” wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its “jamminess,” while another enjoyed its “crushed red fruit.”

The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle bore the label of a fancy grand cru, the other of an ordinary vin de table. Although they were being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the bottles nearly opposite descriptions. The grand cru was summarized as being “agreeable,” “woody,” “complex,” “balanced,” and “rounded,” while the most popular adjectives for the vin de table included “weak,” “short,” “light,” “flat,” and “faulty.”

via Does Wine from New Jersey Taste the Same as Wine from France? : The New Yorker.

 June 15, 2012  Posted by at 7:59 pm Comments Off
Mar 092012
 

By Arran Frood (Nature) The powerful hallucinogen LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) has potential as a treatment for alcoholism, according to a retrospective analysis of studies published in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The study1, by neuroscientist Teri Krebs and clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, is the first-ever quantitative meta-analysis of LSD–alcoholism clinical trials. The researchers sifted through thousands of records to collect data from randomized, double-blind trials that compared one dose of LSD to a placebo.

Of 536 participants in six trials, 59% of people receiving LSD reported lower levels of alcohol misuse, compared to 38% of people who received a placebo. “We were surprised that the effect was so clear and consistent,” says Krebs. She says that the problem with most studies done at that time was that there were too few participants, which limited statistical power. “But when you combine the data in a meta-analysis, we have more than 500 patients and there is definitely an effect,” she says. In general, the reported benefits lasted three to six months. Their findings are published today in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Psychedelics were promoted by psychiatrists in the 1950s as having a range of medical uses — to treat conditions such as schizophrenia, for example — before political pressures in the United States and elsewhere largely ended the work. “Alcoholism was considered one of the most promising clinical applications for LSD,” says Johansen.

via LSD helps to treat alcoholism : Nature News & Comment.

 March 9, 2012  Posted by at 8:26 am Comments Off
Apr 122011
 

(University of Texas, Austin) Drinking alcohol primes certain areas of our brain to learn and remember better, says a new study from the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research at The University of Texas at Austin.

The common view that drinking is bad for learning and memory isn’t wrong, says neurobiologist Hitoshi Morikawa, but it highlights only one side of what ethanol consumption does to the brain.

“Usually, when we talk about learning and memory, we’re talking about conscious memory,” says Morikawa, whose results were published last month in The Journal of Neuroscience. “Alcohol diminishes our ability to hold on to pieces of information like your colleague’s name, or the definition of a word, or where you parked your car this morning. But our subconscious is learning and remembering too, and alcohol may actually increase our capacity to learn, or ‘conditionability,’ at that level.”

Morikawa’s study, which found that repeated ethanol exposure enhances synaptic plasticity in a key area in the brain, is further evidence toward an emerging consensus in the neuroscience community that drug and alcohol addiction is fundamentally a learning and memory disorder.

When we drink alcohol (or shoot up heroin, or snort cocaine, or take methamphetamines), our subconscious is learning to consume more. But it doesn’t stop there. We become more receptive to forming subsconscious memories and habits with respect to food, music, even people and social situations.

In an important sense, says Morikawa, alcoholics aren’t addicted to the experience of pleasure or relief they get from drinking alcohol. They’re addicted to the constellation of environmental, behavioral and physiological cues that are reinforced when alcohol triggers the release of dopamine in the brain.

“People commonly think of dopamine as a happy transmitter, or a pleasure transmitter, but more accurately it’s a learning transmitter,” says Morikawa. “It strengthens those synapses that are active when dopamine is released.”

Alcohol, in this model, is the enabler. It hijacks the dopaminergic system, and it tells our brain that what we’re doing at that moment is rewarding (and thus worth repeating).

Among the things we learn is that drinking alcohol is rewarding. We also learn that going to the bar, chatting with friends, eating certain foods and listening to certain kinds of music are rewarding. The more often we do these things while drinking, and the more dopamine that gets released, the more “potentiated” the various synapses become and the more we crave the set of experiences and associations that orbit around the alcohol use.

Morikawa’s long-term hope is that by understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of addiction better, he can develop anti-addiction drugs that would weaken, rather than strengthen, the key synapses. And if he can do that, he would be able to erase the subconscious memory of addiction.

“We’re talking about de-wiring things,” says Morikawa. “It’s kind of scary because it has the potential to be a mind controlling substance. Our goal, though, is to reverse the mind controlling aspects of addictive drugs.”

###

Contact: Daniel Oppenheimer

oppenheimer@mail.utexas.edu

512-232-0682

University of Texas at Austin

via Alcohol helps the brain remember, says new study.

 April 12, 2011  Posted by at 9:50 am Comments Off