BYU psychology professor looks to acupuncture for treating addiction

BYU psychology professor Scott Steffensen is showing that acupuncture can have a very real impact at the neurological level, better helping those recovering from addiction.

Steffensen, in collaboration with a lab in South Korea, has published studies addressing the neural underpinnings of acupuncture, with three over the past year in the journals Addiction Biology and Scientific Reports.

“The objective of our research, and that of our South Korean collaborators and other labs, is to characterize the neurobiology of acupuncture with evidence-based research,” Steffensen said. “In other words, does acupuncture work through established neural pathways in the periphery and central nervous system? However, of particular interest to us is that acupuncture has been shown to be effective in animal models to ameliorate drug cravings and self-administration.”

Acupuncture has ancient Greek, Egyptian, Arabic and Chinese origins. It’s been used for centuries to treat various medical conditions and diseases. However, the longevity of its use does not necessarily prove its effectiveness. The success of acupuncture in alleviating some medical conditions is not clear and there is no consensus regarding which mechanisms to use. Some claim there are unknown energies underlying acupuncture’s success in alleviating pain. Others claim sensory stimulation blocks pain transmission. Others claim it has a strong placebo effect.

Steffensen is going beyond the previous claims and is studying the neuroscience behind acupuncture. He has shown it to be an effective method of activating pathways from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system. Here’s how:

  • Those suffering from withdrawal have dysregulated dopamine levels in the midbrain reward/pleasure system
  • This causes dysregulation of GABA neurons in this system, and they become hyperactive, inhibiting dopamine neurons and lowering dopamine levels during withdrawl
  • Lowered dopamine levels is the driving force for relapse
  • Accupuncture stimulation inhibits GABA neurons
  • This restores dopamine levels and effectively lowers the driving force for relapse

In the US, more than 20 million people suffer from drug and alcohol abuse issues, with only 19 percent of them receiving treatment and only 50 percent of those ever recovering.

“We really, really hope that this research can provide an avenue to help people get their lives back,” said Kyle Bills, a neuroscience Ph.D. candidate and coauthor on the Steffensen lab’s most recent paper.

The Steffensen lab has published different papers looking specifically at acupuncture protocols for alcohol addiction, cocaine addiction and methamphetamine addiction and hopes to advance the acupuncture technology with state of the art neuroscience tools.

“We hope to develop a treatment system for ameliorating drug cravings,” Steffensen said, “as an effective supplement to addiction therapy.”

Jon McBride, University Communications

The Loneliness Epidemic

In our hyper-connected world with smart phones, tweets, texts, posts and photos, it’s surprising that people often feel more lonely than ever.

Using research from BYU psychology and neuroscience professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the TODAY Show is launching a #TogetherToday campaign to help combat social isolation and forge meaningful, real-life connections.

Some researchers say that America is in the grips of a loneliness epidemic. The effects go beyond emotional distress and can lead to serious health problems.

“Feeling lonely can heighten the sense of perception of environment as threatening. These physiological or biological responses that are preparing us for a threat are much like a stress response and this can put us at increased risk for a variety of physical illnesses,” says Holt-Lunstad.

She has studied the physical risks of loneliness and says social disconnection can be deadlier than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

See the full story at https://www.today.com/offsite/loneliness-can-be-hazardous-to-your-health-experts-warn-1217031235888.

 

FHSS Valedictorians: Setting the Curve

BYU is famous for many things: Cosmo the Cougar, being ranked the number 1 “Stone Cold Sober” school 20 years running, and our awesome chocolate milk. Our amazing graduates however, trump all. The graduating class this year is one of the school’s biggest, which the majority of the females being returned missionaries.  From undergraduate research in Thailand to managing a neuroscience lab, FHSS boasts some of the most accomplished graduates. Check out our incredible valedictorians:

Boone Robins Christianson, of Provo, had no idea what anthropology was when he declared it as a major his freshman year. He wants to thank his parents Marlin and LaDonn for supporting him even though they were equally confused about what he could do with the degree. Throughout his time at BYU, Boone has spent the majority of his studies researching African agricultural development, including conducting research in Malawi and Namibia. In addition, he speaks Otjiherero, a rare language spoken by small groups of people from those countries. Despite his successes in anthropology, Boone has decided to pursue a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, and will begin his pursuit of this degree at Auburn University in Alabama this upcoming fall. Boone has enjoyed being involved in intermural sports, the Diction Club, and being an active participant in his LDS campus wards. He loves spending long hours playing Boggle and eating cereal.

boone baby

John Frederick Bonney, an economics major, is the son of Philip and Georgia Bonney. He grew up in the US, Senegal, and Italy, and served a mission in the Netherlands. John has thoroughly enjoyed working with faculty at BYU, performing research in areas including behavioral, educational, and familial economics and teaching other students about applied econometric research. He is grateful to the economics faculty for their stellar instruction and would specifically like to thank Drs. Lars Lefgren, Joe Price, and James Cardon for allowing him to enhance his learning through research and teaching assistantships. While attending BYU, John has also completed four internships during which he designed market research and forecasted models currently in use by multiple Fortune 500 companies. Within the community, John has enjoyed serving through educational organizations like Alpha and Project Read. John is happily married to Amanda Bonney, who is graduating with a Master of Accountancy. After graduating, John will continue his passion for economic research as a pre-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago.

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Grayson Morgan, a geography major with a geospatial science and technology emphasis, is the second child born to Daniel and Michelle Morgan and grew up in Beaufort, South Carolina. Geography has surrounded him his whole life, but it wasn’t until his freshman year that he realized that it was exactly what he wanted to do. During his short time at BYU, Grayson has come to thoroughly enjoy his encounters with the various Geography Department Professors, secretaries, TAs, and fellow students. Certainly, much of his learning could not have taken place without their generous help and overwhelming kindness. His family means the world to him and he would like to thank his wife, parents, siblings, and extended family for their support. Grayson loves serving others, BYU sports, playing with his two-month-old daughter, and learning new things. He is excited to continue learning this fall as he begins a master’s degree and eventual PhD program in Global Information Systems/Remote Sensing at the University of South Carolina.

Morgan

Kaytlin Fay Anne Nalder, a history teaching major, grew up in Alberta, Canada. She is the sixth of seven children born to Byron and Deanne Nalder. Her love for history began in high school, but it wasn’t until she came to BYU that she considered majoring in it. While at BYU, Kaytlin was able to work as both a teaching and research assistant for Dr. Underwood, a job which was one of the highlights of her undergraduate experience. She was also the recipient of two history paper awards including the De Lamar and Mary Jensen Student Paper Award in European History and the Carol Cornwall Madsen Student Paper Award in Women’s History. Kaytlin enjoys skiing, reading, cooking, crocheting, and spending time with family and friends. She would like to thank all of the wonderful mentors and professors she was privileged to work with during her time at BYU, as well as her family and friends for their support and encouragement.

Nalder Picture

Marissa Skinner, a family life major with an emphasis in Human Development, is the daughter of Terry and Lottie Anderson. Although she grew up in Salt Lake City, she is a Cougar fan through and through. She discovered her passion for human development simply by taking a general class and has been hooked ever since. During her time at BYU, she served as a council member for Y-Serve, served a mission in the Philippines, and worked closely with many professors to conduct research projects regarding the topics of gender-socialization and moral development. Marissa also conducted two research projects that she presented at conferences on campus. She is so excited to implement what she has learned in her program and hopes she can make a difference because of it. She would like to thank her husband, family, and faculty members for pushing her out of her comfort zone and helping her reach her goals.

Marissa Skinner

Reed Lynn Rasband, a political science major, is the son of Kevin Rasband and Heather Watts and is the oldest of eight children. He grew up raising sheep in Brigham City, Utah and served a mission in Rancagua, Chile. As an undergraduate, he was able to carry out research for his Honors thesis in Thailand, additional research in the United Kingdom, and an internship with a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border. He worked for four years as a teaching and research assistant in the Political Science department. He has also served as the President of the BYU Political Affairs Society, as Editor-in-Chief for the undergraduate journal Sigma, and as a volunteer with two organizations serving the Utah County Latino community. This fall, he will begin work on a Ph.D. in political science, focusing on ethnic and migration politics in the hopes of finding ways to improve intergroup relations around the globe. He is incredibly grateful for the continuing support his family provides him, as well as for the excellent mentorship he has received from BYU faculty.

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Charlotte Esplin, a psychology major with a clinical emphasis, grew up in Basildon, Essex, UK. After serving a mission in the Utah St. George Temple Visitors’ Center, Charlotte came to BYU. The first to attend a university in her family, Charlotte has embraced academics and all that a university life has had to offer.  While at BYU, Charlotte has worked as a teaching assistant for multiple psychology classes, and has performed quantitative research into how personality variables affect marital outcomes with Dr. Scott Braithwaite. This research has resulted in various articles,

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Psychological effects of critical illness: Hickman Lecture 2018

The effects of a critical illness can impact your life and the lives of your loved ones years after the illness itself ends.

1109-15 Hopkins, Ramona 05Ramona Hopkins, director of the BYU Neuroscience Center, will address this relevant and personal topic at the 25th Annual Martin B. Hickman Outstanding Scholar Lecture. Her lecture, titled “Effects of Critical Illness on Patients and Families,” will expound on Post-Intensive Care Syndrome and how critical illness impacts both patients and family caregivers’ cognitive and psychological functions.

The lecture will be held on Thursday, March 8 at 7 p.m. in room 250 in the KMBL (SWKT). Light refreshments will be served after the event.

Dr. Ramona Hopkins has led and served the college in neuroscience and psychology for almost 20 years. She has multiple degrees in both nursing and psychology and uses her knowledge and leadership to direct the Neuroscience Center and to teach psychology and neuroscience. She is the recipient of a number of awards from BYU including the Young Scholar Award in 2004, the Karl G. Maeser Research and Creative Arts Award in 2010, the 2011 Jack Bailey Teaching and Learning Faculty Fellowship and the 2013 Sponsored Research Recognition Award.

The lecture is in honor of Martin Berkeley Hickman, a BYU political science professor who served as the dean of the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences from 1970-1986. As the dean, Hickman was instrumental in helping the college become what it is today by unifying the College of Social Sciences with parts of the College of Family Living. He also helped make possible the Women’s Research Institute, the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies and the Family Studies Center. As for teaching, Hickman is recognized as the father of BYU’s American Heritage program as he organized, presided over, and helped instruct the course. Hickman was renown for his loyalty and dedication to his family, the Church, the college and BYU.

The Martin B. Hickman Scholar Award is given annually to recognize a notable college faculty who follows Hickman’s example of service and dedication.

 

What More Can be Done for College Students With Autism?

 

Being a college student with autism can be quite challenging, research shows. In addition to the typical struggles that come with adjusting to the more rigorous but less structured demands of university classes, and the life changes of moving away from home and making new friends, young adults on the autism spectrum (ASD) tend to struggle with deficits in sensory processing, social skills, and executive functioning. While they can take advantage of therapeutic resources and government-mandated accommodations to address these concerns, there is more that can be done, according to BYU professors Mikle South and Jonathan Cox.

Mikle South
Photo by: Cheryl C. Fowers/BYU
Copyright BYU PHOTO 2007
All Rights Reserved

South, who is an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Cox, an associate clinical professor, analyzed two-decades’ worth of patient records from the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center to discover the effectiveness of therapy for autistic students as opposed to their neuro-typical peers. They found that the students with autism generally took twice as long and required significantly more therapy sessions to achieve degrees of improvement comparable to their non-autistic peer. In the United States in general, the graduation rate of college students with autism is 18 percent lower than that of the general population.

In an October 2017 Spectrum article, South and Cox suggest that, while BYU and other universities offer therapy groups and accommodations to bring more of them closer to graduation and farther from their difficulties, some universities have implemented other effective non-therapeutic measures, and there are more that can be taken that are more suited to the specific needs of people on the ASD spectrum.

What Can Be Done

“In large institutions,” say South and Cox, “the [social, mental, and organizational needs of people with autism] can easily be missed by everyone, including the parents of these students.” To address those needs, they suggest that universities offer programs like one provided at Utah Valley University. Passages includes weekly skill-building meetings, recreational and social activities like hikes and movie nights, and regular workshops for families. In addition, they say that universities can consider training aides in executive functioning coaching.

Too, they offer, “It may be possible to create safe spaces— areas with minimal sensory stimulation—for taking exams and other activities. And our data suggest that extending treatment limits for people with autism can lead to substantial improvements in well-being while decreasing costs associated with student failure.”

“Generating the institutional willpower to improve support for students on the spectrum requires advocacy, creativity and flexibility,” they continue. “Administrators and others should take the time to learn about autism and push for change. Autism is not rare; every college has many students with autism who can succeed with a little help.”

What We Know

South and Cox’s suggestions add to the large body of expertise produced by research group Autism Connect, whose purpose is to help everyone see autism as “a collection of disorders where each individual has unique symptoms.” These professors and researchers seek to improve the lives of individuals and families with autism spectrum disorders through research so that new understanding and symptom-specific treatments can be developed. Doctor South focuses his research on the relationship between anxiety and ASD. Using MRI and EEG brain imaging, South and his peers have found that people with ASD may have difficulties understanding their emotions and the safety of situations. These individuals may assume that everything is threatening and adopt anxiety as a default emotion. This anxiety may be a connection between ASD and aggression.

This research can help individuals and families get the help and assistance they need sooner rather than later, helping to decrease distress and isolation among families and individuals who have ASD.

 

 

Tackling Mental Health with a Psychologist and College Quarterback

What do you think of when you hear the words “mental health?” For many people, there’s a stigma attached to depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, or any other form of mental illness, but these illnesses are real, and they are widespread. Luckily, more and more people are raising their voices to talk about their experiences with mental illness. You probably first heard of one such BYU student in September 2015 when he threw a Hail Mary to secure BYU’s victory over Nebraska, featured on ESPN. In an April 2017 Instagram post, “Miracle Mangum,” this year’s starting quarterback Tanner Mangum, spoke out about his struggles with depression and anxiety.

Now, a new CBS Sports video features the quarterback as he discusses more about his mental health. Dr. Michael Larson, a clinical neuropsychologist from FHSS‘s Psychology Department, appears in the video to elaborate on the science of mental illness. “Most mental illness tends to start between the ages of 18 and 24,” Dr. Larson says. It often manifests itself as young adults move away from home and live on their own for the first time.


Dr. Larson also addressed the myths that learning to “toughen up” or realizing “it’s just in your head” will cure mental illness. “The truth is that depression and anxiety have actual changes in the brain that are associated with these mental illnesses,” he explained.

Depression and anxiety may result from a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and social factors, according to the American Psychological Association. And mental illness may occur if there are problems with the function of a particular brain region or as neurons send messages via neurotransmitters, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Office offers many resources and services to students with mental illnesses, and our Comprehensive Clinic provides counseling and therapy to members of the community dealing with mental illness. The office lets students make appointments with counselors, complete online courses on stress management, and enroll in student development classes, among other things.

Has mental illness affected you? How can friends and family members support individuals with mental illness?

Let us know in the comments, and don’t hesitate to share resources or tips.

How can You Help Kids Learn about Healthy Living?

Anatomy AcademyAccording to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 17% of American children are obese. As obesity can lead to a plethora of health problems, the prevalence of it is a serious problem. BYU Neuroscience professor Jonathan Wisco recognized this and founded the Anatomy Academy to combat the nationwide epidemic by teaching children about healthy living.

 

 

 

What is it?


The program recruits BYU students to go visit local fifth and sixth grade classes to teach the kids about healthy living. “You’re teaching all these young kids how to take care of themselves so that they can be healthy in the future, and they won’t have to go to the hospital,” said former BYU student and Academy mentor Janeen Williamson.

Dr. Wisco, in an interview with KBYU Radio’s Top of Mind host Julie Rose, said that some of the activities the mentors and middle schoolers do are:

  • Measuring out the amount of sugar in foods, especially drinks, so that the kids can see how much sugar they’re really consuming
  • Studying a cow heart to gain an increased understanding of how the organ works
  • Playacting as blood cells to better comprehend how the heart functions
  • Inflating cow lungs with a straw

anatomy academyBy having students engage in hands-on activities, Dr. Wisco believes that they will learn how to live a healthy lifestyle. And they seem to be getting the message. A mother of one his students received a call from her son’s camp leader. While on a camping trip, her son would not sit next to the fire because he didn’t want to inhale the smoke. “It was a little extreme, but he clearly got the message,” said Dr. Wisco.

Origins

How did Anatomy Academy begin? While Wisco was employed at UCLA’s medical school, he and other faculty members were “looking for an impactful way to help our medical students translate complicated medical information to a population that’s often ignored. And those are junior high students.” While there are programs and classes for high school students, very little was being done for those in middle school and junior high. Anatomy Academy was introduced to a school in the area, eventually spreading to Utah when Dr. Wisco became a professor at BYU. Since then, it has “just exploded.” Through word of mouth, it has spread to a profusion of states.

“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have,” said former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Through his Anatomy Academy, he is giving the rising generation invaluable instruction about how to live a healthy lifestyle.

anatomy 3

What tips or healthy recipes have helped you or your kids lead healthier lifestyles?

 

Students: Five Ways to Stay Sharp This Summer

Summer may be for lazy days and having fun with your friends, but that doesn’t mean you should stop learning! Here are 5 ways to stay sharp and have fun this summer!

Find Your Club!

Even though clubs aren’t very active during the Spring and Summer, you can still sort through them at BYU’s clubs’ website and pick which one you want to join in Fall/Winter! Here are some quick links to more information about clubs within our college:

refugee
Courtesy of BYU Refugee Empowerment Club’s Facebook page

Visit the Museum of Peoples and Cultures!

Learn all about ancient and more modern civilizations at this museum. Current exhibits include Piecing Together Paquimé, which features the remnants of the city from A.D. 1200-1450, and Steps in Style, which features shoes from a plethora of cultures and time periods.

mpc
Courtesy of the MPC Facebook page

Hit up the Library!

Here at BYU, we have one of the best libraries ever! It’s full of cool rooms and exhibits and awesome movies and books. So take time this summer to explore the HBLL and find some great books! Highlights of the HBLL include:

hbll
Courtesy of the HBLL Facebook page

Brush up on your Writing Skills

Whether you’re taking classes this summer or not, you can always improve your writing. FHSS’ Writing Lab offers many tools both on-campus and online to help you with that. Take a few moments to brush up on these skills, so you don’t have to do it in the middle of trying to meet a million assignment deadlines:

  • Formatting a paper Turabian style
  • Structuring your paper
  • Writing a conclusion
  • Citing APA style

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Watch YouTube Videos!

Did you know that FHSS has two YouTube channels? Every other week, we post videos about the intricacies of daily life and how to live within them.

What are your summer plans?

New Faculty Member Dr. Derin Cobia Studies Mental Illness and the Brain

Cobia_DerinWhen Derin Cobia first came to BYU as student, he didn’t think he would end up studying the human brain. Through the help of one professor, his life changed directions. Now, thirteen years later, he’s back, and in the same position as his mentor. As his life was enriched, so is Dr. Cobia enriching others: through research that has the potential to aid countless individuals.   

 

 

 

Mental Illness and the Brain

Cobia is focused on mental illness, primarily schizophrenia and dementia, and its causes. He studies what factors lead to symptom variance, and what tools the brain uses to combat these diseases.

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These pictures show the areas of the brain most affected by schizophrenia. The brighter areas are places where the strongest amount of variance in relation to healthy brains occur.

He has found that different people react to the same illnesses in differing ways; some might feel the symptoms very strongly, others might not. The focal point of Dr. Cobia’s research on dementia has been PPA, or Primary Progressive Aphasia. This differs from traditional dementia in that the patient loses their language capabilities, yet remains cognitively sound.

Dr. Cobia’s research and findings possess significant implications. While he himself, not being a medical doctor, cannot produce treatments for mental illness, his studies will assist others in doing so. Other researchers can potentially use his findings to facilitate clinical studies that may eventually result in treatments.

The Importance of a Mentor

Dr. Cobia credits Dr. Erin Bigler, one of our psychology professors, for galvanizing his interest in neuroscience. It was Dr. Bigler who taught him about brain functions and other principles of neurology. About the organ, Dr. Cobia says: “I can’t think of anything more interesting.”

Dr. Cobia was hired as assistant professor in the Department of Psychology recently. He graduated in 2003 with a BS in Psychology, and later obtained a masters and a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of St. Louis. He went on to become a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern, and then a neuropsychologist with the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation. While there, he was promoted the positions of Associate Director of Education and Clinical Training and Assistant Professor at the Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. He held those jobs concurrently.

Of his return to his alma mater, he says that “BYU feels like home… [It] is my tribe.” More importantly, though, he looks forward mentoring a new generation of scientists and to pay back the university for the education he was given.

 


 

BYU’s Neuroscience Club = Service, Leadership, and Support

Brain

Brigham Young University is full of clubs, programs, and service opportunities that help students get involved with their major, peers, and community. As the Fall 2016 semester approaches, individuals in the Neuroscience Major have the opportunity to join the Neuroscience Club, or NeuroClub for short. With meetings every Tuesday and a group of officers and professors that want to make your experience at BYU the best it can be, there’s no better place for Neuroscience majors to go to find opportunities for service, leadership, and support!

Here’s everything you need to know about the Neuroscience Club:

How it Helps You

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The NeuroClub’s purpose as described by the President Kaitlyn Williams is, “to enhance and broaden neuroscience student’s awareness of practices and applications in the neuroscience field while providing opportunities for service, leadership, and support in their education.” The club focuses on helping students answer: “Where can I go? What can I do? And why is it important?” in regards to their educational and career pursuits.

What it Does

For Fall of 2016, the NeuroClub has big plans for its members! With a focus on careers, each month the club will be hosting 3 activities in which students can learn more about where they can go with a neuroscience degree. These activities include:

  • Guest speakers with a neuroscience background that have chosen various career paths
  • Casual dinner meetings with professors to get to know them as well as have the opportunity to ask them questions
  • Service and Volunteering
  • Tutoring
  • And of course games and other fun activities to build lasting friendships!

Where to Find out More

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To kick off the fun for Fall 2016, check out the club’s opening social on Thursday, September 1 from 12-2pm in the south quad of the SWKT! There will be food, desserts, games with prizes, and so much more. Come out to meet the club officers, find out about upcoming activities, and be there for the big reveal of the club’s NEW t-shirt design! Watch out for NeuroClub officers visiting your classrooms this week and don’t forget to vote! And there’s even more fun planned in 2017 with Brain Week in March.

Why join?

Because membership in it:

  • looks great on applications and resumes
  • builds relationships
  • provides research opportunities
  • provides ideas for career paths
  • provides service opportunities
  • helps you make an impact

Get Involved

The only requirement for membership in the club is that you are a declared Neuroscience major and have a passion for it! So make plans to go to the club’s opening social and then check out the Neuroscience Center, Facebook page, and Website. Still looking for more information? You can always email the club at byuneuroscience@gmail.com

Check out the NeuroClub today!