Talk Therapy Helps Strengthen Brain Connections

Talk Therapy Helps Strengthen Brain Connections

In post-traumatic growth, one of the steps is to talk about the problem.  People that can verbalize what the challenges are have an increased probability for restoring mental health.

New research in neuroscience now gives additional confirmation.

Summary: Study reveals cognitive behavioral therapy can strengthen specific connections in the brains of people with psychosis, and the stronger neural network connections are associated with long term reduction in symptoms.

A new study from King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust has shown for the first time that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) strengthens specific connections in the brains of people with psychosis, and that these stronger connections are associated with long-term reduction in symptoms and recovery eight years later.

CBT – a specific type of talking therapy – involves people changing the way they think about and respond to their thoughts and experiences. For individuals experiencing psychotic symptoms, common in schizophrenia and a number of other psychiatric disorders, the therapy involves learning to think differently about unusual experiences, such as distressing beliefs that others are out to get them. CBT also involves developing strategies to reduce distress and improve wellbeing.

The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, follow the same researchers’ previous work which showed that people with psychosis who received CBT displayed strengthened connections between key regions of the brain involved in processing social threat accurately.

The new results show for the first time that these changes continue to have an impact years later on people’s long-term recovery.

In the original study, participants underwent fMRI imaging to assess the brain’s response to images of faces expressing different emotions, before and after six months of CBT. Participants were already taking medication when they took part in the study, and so were compared to a group receiving medication only. The group receiving medication only did not show any increases in connectivity, suggesting that the effects on brain connections could be attributed to the CBT.

For the new study, the health of 15 of the 22 participants who received CBT was tracked for eight years through their medical records. They were also sent a questionnaire at the end of this period to assess their level of recovery and wellbeing.

The results show that increases in connectivity between several brain regions – most importantly the amygdala (the brain’s threat centre) and the frontal lobes (which are involved in thinking and reasoning) – are associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that changes in the brain associated with CBT have been shown to be associated with long-term recovery in people with psychosis.

The results show that increases in connectivity between several brain regions – most importantly the amygdala (the brain’s threat centre) and the frontal lobes (which are involved in thinking and reasoning) – are associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that changes in the brain associated with CBT have been shown to be associated with long-term recovery in people with psychosis.

Lead author of the study Dr Liam Mason from King’s College London, who is a clinical psychologist at the Maudsley Hospital where the research took place, said: “This research challenges the notion that the existence of physical brain differences in mental health disorders somehow makes psychological factors or treatments less important. Unfortunately, previous research has shown that this ‘brain bias’ can make clinicians more likely to recommend medication but not psychological therapies. This is especially important in psychosis, where only one in ten people who could benefit from psychological therapies are offered them.”

The researchers now hope to confirm the results in a larger sample, and to identify the changes in the brain that differentiate people who experience improvements with CBT from those who do not. Ultimately, the results could lead to better, and more tailored, treatments for psychosis, by allowing researchers to understand what determines whether psychological therapies are effective.

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The study took place at the Psychological Interventions Clinic for Outpatients with Psychosis (PICuP), a specialist service based in the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

Funding: The research was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and the Wellcome Trust.

Original Research: Full open access research for “Brain connectivity changes occurring following cognitive behavioural therapy for psychosis predict long-term recovery” by L Mason, E Peters, S C Williams & V Kumari in Translational Psychiatry. Published online January 17 2017 doi:10.1038/tp.2016.263

How Conversational Metaphors Engage Brain Region for Visual Perception

How Conversational Metaphors Engage Brain Region for Visual Perception

Summary: Researchers discover metaphors that involve body parts such as arms or legs, such as ‘twist my arm, engage a brain region responsible for the visual perception of those parts.

Source: Emory Health Sciences.

Body part metaphors activate the extrastriate body area.

Listening to metaphors involving arms or legs loops in a region of the brain responsible for visual perception of those body parts, scientists have discovered.

The finding, recently published in Brain & Language, is another example of how neuroscience studies are providing evidence for “grounded cognition” — the idea that comprehension of abstract concepts in the brain is built upon concrete experiences, a proposal whose history extends back millennia to Aristotle.

When study participants heard sentences that included phrases such as “shoulder responsibility,” “foot the bill” or “twist my arm”, they tended to engage a region of the brain called the left extrastriate body area or EBA.

Image shows a brain with the EBA highlighted.

The extrastriate body area was shown in 2001 to respond selectively to images of the human body, and more recently to metaphors involving body parts. Reprogrammingmind image is credited to Alexander et al./Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

The same level of activation was not seen when participants heard literal sentences containing phrases with a similar meaning, such as “take responsibility” or “pay the bill.” The study included 12 right-handed, English-speaking people, and blood flow in their brains was monitored by functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

“The EBA is part of the extrastriate visual cortex, and it was known to be involved in identifying body parts,” says senior author Krish Sathian, MD, PhD, professor of neurology, rehabilitation medicine, and psychology at Emory University. “We found that the metaphor selectivity of the EBA matches its visual selectivity.”

The EBA was not activated when study participants heard literal, non-metaphorical sentences describing body parts.

“This suggests that deep semantic processing is needed to recruit the EBA, over and above routine use of the words for body parts,” Sathian says.

Sathian’s research team had previously observed that metaphors involving the sense of touch, such as “a rough day”, activate a region of the brain important for sensing texture. In addition, other researchers have shown that motion-related metaphors engage parts of the brain involved in motor control or in the perception of movement.

Relative to those previous findings, the researchers were surprised to find that body part metaphors did not tend to activate areas of the brain linked to motor control or the sense of touch.

“It is a negative result, but just because we didn’t detect signals with these brain imaging methods doesn’t mean subtler connections don’t exist,” Sathian says.

The Brain & Language paper includes analysis of “resting state connectivity”, showing that the EBA appears to communicate with language processing areas of the brain, even while someone is not listening to a metaphor. Follow-up research could test whether magnetic stimulation of the EBA interferes with processing of body part metaphors.

In one reported case of damage to the brain including the EBA, the affected person was impaired in using body part words to refer to inanimate objects (the teeth of a comb or the arm of a chair). Separately, the EBA was recently shown to be involved in understanding the meaning of gestures.

Research on metaphor comprehension can inform rehabilitation approaches for someone who has had a stroke or traumatic brain injury affecting the ability to process language.

“Engaging their senses multimodally may be a way to bootstrap rehab for those individuals,” says Sathian, who is director of the Rehabilitation R&D Center at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

ABOUT THIS NEUROSCIENCE RESEARCH ARTICLE

The first author of the paper is senior research associate Simon Lacey, PhD. Collaborators at Auburn University and Purdue University contributed to the paper.

Funding: The research was supported by the National Science Foundation (BCS1125756) and the Veterans Administration.

Source: Quinn Eastman – Emory Health Sciences
Image Source: Reprogrammingmind.com image is credited to Lacey et al Brain & Language (2016).
Original Research: Abstract for “Engagement of the left extrastriate body area during body-part metaphor comprehension” by Simon Lacey, Randall Stilla, Gopikrishna Deshpande, Sinan Zhao, Careese Stephens, Kelly McCormick, David Kemmerer, and K. Sathian in Brain and Language. Published online December 2016 doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2016.11.004


Abstract

Engagement of the left extrastriate body area during body-part metaphor comprehension

Grounded cognition explanations of metaphor comprehension predict activation of sensorimotor cortices relevant to the metaphor’s source domain. We tested this prediction for body-part metaphors using functional magnetic resonance imaging while participants heard sentences containing metaphorical or literal references to body parts, and comparable control sentences. Localizer scans identified body-part-specific motor, somatosensory and visual cortical regions. Both subject- and item-wise analyses showed that, relative to control sentences, metaphorical but not literal sentences evoked limb metaphor-specific activity in the left extrastriate body area (EBA), paralleling the EBA’s known visual limb-selectivity. The EBA focus exhibited resting-state functional connectivity with ipsilateral semantic processing regions. In some of these regions, the strength of resting-state connectivity correlated with individual preference for verbal processing. Effective connectivity analyses showed that, during metaphor comprehension, activity in some semantic regions drove that in the EBA. These results provide converging evidence for grounding of metaphor processing in domain-specific sensorimotor cortical activity.

“Engagement of the left extrastriate body area during body-part metaphor comprehension” by Simon Lacey, Randall Stilla, Gopikrishna Deshpande, Sinan Zhao, Careese Stephens, Kelly McCormick, David Kemmerer, and K. Sathian in Brain and Language. Published online December 2016 doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2016.11.004

How Our Brains Are Biologically Tuned to Be Influenced by Confident People

How Our Brains Are Biologically Tuned to Be Influenced by Confident People

Reprinted from Neuroscience News and the Journal of Neuroscience

Summary: The brain automatically places more value on the opinions of people who appear to be confident, a new study reports.

Source: University of Sussex.

Scientists have uncovered that the added influence of confident people may be down to our biology.

By studying brain activity, academics discerned that human brains are geared for placing added value on opinions of confident people.

The research, published today in the Journal of Neuroscience and led by University of Sussex psychologist Dr Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, pinpointed a region of the brain that responds to confident (but not unconfident) opinions of others when making decisions.

The scientists examined the active brains of 23 healthy volunteers and found that expectations of success could be influenced by three key elements: personal experience, learning what the majority people believe and, most importantly, learning what confident people believe.

Image shows a brain scan.

The researchers observed that this extra activity occurs next door to a brain area that helps us consider what others are thinking. This is important for the next step, which is to figure out what the brain is actually doing when we observe confident people. Reprogrammingmind.com image is adapted from the University of Sussex press release.

The first two had widespread effects on the brain’s reward system, which predicts how satisfied we will be when we choose something. Opinions of confident people, however, had an additional effect on this reward system – and only in a part of the brain that appeared late in our evolution.

Discussing the research, Dr Campbell-Meiklejohn said:

“This additional effect seems likely to be the mechanism by which the confidence of others can give us reassurance in our actions. Our findings suggest that social transmission of beliefs and preferences is not as straightforward as copying the person next to you. Other elements are clearly at play during the decision-making process.”

The researchers observed that this extra activity occurs next door to a brain area that helps us consider what others are thinking. This is important for the next step, which is to figure out what the brain is actually doing when we observe confident people.

“We can now consider that this part of the brain may be inferring, correctly or incorrectly, the quality of the confident person’s information before deciding whether or not to let that person change our beliefs,” adds Dr Campbell-Meiklejohn.

“In today’s political climate in particular, we should be aware that when facts aren’t clear, we may be biologically tuned to allow seemingly confident people to hold more sway on our own beliefs.”

ABOUT THIS NEUROSCIENCE RESEARCH ARTICLE

The study was completed in conjunction with researchers at Aarhus University, University College London and Princeton University.

Source: University of Sussex
Image Source: reprogrammingmind.com image is adapted from the University of Sussex press release.
Original Research: Abstract for “Independent Neural Computation of Value from Other People’s Confidence” by Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, Arndis Simonsen, Chris D. Frith and Nathaniel D. Daw in Journal of Neuroscience. Published online December 9 2016 doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4490-15.2016

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