Science News » Reading the Brain’s Map: Coordinated Brain Activation Supports Spatial Learning and Decision-Making

Specialized brain activation “replays” the possible routes that rats can take as they navigate a space, helping them keep track of the paths they’ve already taken and choose among the routes that they can take next, according to a National Institutes of Health-funded study published in the journal Neuron.

“These findings reveal an internal ‘replay’ process in the brain that allows animals to learn from past experiences to form memories of paths leading toward goals, and subsequently to recall these paths for planning future decisions,” said Shantanu Jadhav, Ph.D., assistant professor at Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, and senior author of the study. “These results help us better understand how coordinated activation at the level of neurons can contribute to the complex processes involved in learning and decision-making.”

The hippocampus, a structure located in the middle of the brain, is critical to learning and memory and contains specialized “place” cells that relay information about location and orientation in space. These place cells show specific patterns of activity during navigation that can be “replayed” later in forward or reverse order, almost as if the brain were fast-forwarding or rewinding through routes the rats have taken.

In previous research, Jadhav and colleagues had discovered these replay events, marked by bursts of neural activity called sharp-wave ripples, lead to coordinated activity in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain just behind the forehead that is involved in decision-making.

But how these forward and reverse replay events influence actual learning and decision-making over time remained unclear. To find out, Jadhav and co-first authors Justin D. Shin and Wenbo Tang continuously recorded the rats’ brain activity as the rats learned how to navigate a special W-shaped maze over the course of one day. This allowed the investigators to see how neural representations changed as the rats were learning.

The researchers trained the rats over eight sessions to follow paths according to two rules – a simple rule and a complex rule – giving the rats a reward whenever they reached the correct destination. The simple rule required remembering the start and end locations of the maze paths. The complex rule depended on working memory, requiring that the rats remember the previous path in order to choose the next destination.

The scientists focused their analyses on moments of transition when the rats had paused in between completing one path and choosing the next one. As the researchers expected, replay events in the hippocampus showed reactivation of past paths in a reverse order, as if on rewind, and showed reactivation of the possible future paths in a forward order, as if on fast forward.

The forward and reverse replay patterns were so robust that the researchers could use the recordings to predict where the rats had paused in the W-shaped maze. Continuous recordings of brain activity throughout the entire task revealed shifts in activation patterns as the rats learned the simple rule. At different stages of learning, the researchers could use reverse replay and forward replay patterns to predict the path the animals had just taken and where they were about to go next, respectively. These shifts indicated that reverse replay was important for learning from the previous path, especially in the early stages of learning, while forward replay was important for planning for the next route, especially in the later stages of learning.

Activation patterns related to learning the complex working-memory rule were more consistent over time: Reverse replay events reactivated all possible past choices and forward replay events reactivated all possible future options throughout the learning process.

However, when the researchers looked at coordination between replay events in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, they found that the coordinated reactivation in the two brain areas was correlated with the rats’ actual choices – that is, reactivation was stronger for replay of paths that the rats took than for the paths they didn’t take.

Together, the findings suggest that coordinated replay across the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex serves an important function in spatial learning and memory-guided decision-making. Specifically, the results suggest that reverse replay is likely to support the ability to reflect on and evaluate paths that have led to goals in the past, whereas forward replay seems to support the ability to think ahead and plan choices that will lead to goals in the future.

“The involvement of ‘replay’ in memory processes has been observed across many species, including humans, and this study establishes that replay serves as a key neural substrate underlying an internal dialogue across multiple brain regions to support our ability to learn, plan, choose, and deduce,” Jadhav concluded.

Activity in hippocampal cells shows a forward replay event representing the path the rat will take next.

Activity in hippocampal cells (left image) shows a forward replay event representing the path the rat will take next (right image). Credit: Wenbo Tang and Justin Shin


Shin, J. D., Tang, W., & Jadhav, S. (2019). Dynamics of awake hippocampal-prefrontal replay for spatial learning and memory-guided decision making. Neuron. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2019.09.012



About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website.

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Science News » Schizophrenia Risk Gene Linked to Cognitive Deficits in Mice

Researchers have discovered in mice how one of the few genes definitively linked to schizophrenia, called SETD1A, likely confers risk for the illness. Mice genetically engineered to lack a functioning version of the enzyme-coding gene showed abnormalities in working memory, mimicking those commonly seen in schizophrenia patients. Restoring the gene’s function corrected the working memory deficit. Counteracting the gene’s deficiencies also repaired neuronal circuit deficits in adult mice — suggesting clues for potential treatment strategies. A team of scientists led by Joseph Gogos, M.D., Ph.D., of Columbia University, New York City, reported on their research — supported by the National Institutes of Health — in Neuron.

“You could call SETD1A a master regulator,” explained David Panchision Ph.D., of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which co-funded the study. “This schizophrenia risk gene codes for an enzyme that influences the expression of many other genes. In mice, a hobbled version of SETD1A disrupted gene expression in a network harboring other genomic suspects in schizophrenia. Remarkably, the resulting abnormalities were reversible.”

Researchers have identified both common and rare genetic variations that contribute to risk for schizophrenia. Mutant SETD1A is one of just a few rare genes known to unequivocally confer risk for schizophrenia. While common genetic variations linked to schizophrenia individually exert only tiny effects on risk, having just one mutant copy of SETD1A is sufficient to confer a large increase in disease risk. SETD1A plays a key role in epigenomic regulation — the switching on-and-off of genes in response to experience — a molecular process widespread in the brain. Mutations in SETD1A have primarily been found in people with schizophrenia, suggesting that this rare gene variation might hold important clues to the underlying disease process.

To find out how such a mutation in SETD1A affects brain cells, circuits, and behavior, Gogos and colleagues modeled the effects in mice carrying a mutation that halves the gene’s expression.

The genetically-altered mice faltered on tasks requiring navigation of a maze to receive a reward. The tasks test the animals’ working memory — holding information in mind and retrieving it to guide behavior — an ability often impaired in schizophrenia.

The mutated gene also disrupted the cellular machinery by which neurons communicate with each other. For example, it stunted the growth and branching of cell extensions and reduced the number of spines on these extensions, which are needed to relay chemical signals from neighboring cells into electrical impulses.

Underlying such impaired neuronal growth and function, the researchers discovered that the mutant SETD1A gene disrupted regulation of many other genes with which it is networked. Whole classes of genes were under-expressed while others were over-expressed, depending on their relationship to the gene. One class overlapped conspicuously with genetic variation associated with schizophrenia in key (pyramidal) neurons of the brain’s outer mantel, or cortex, with likely cumulative effects on cellular structure and function, suggest the researchers.

Experimentally reinstating normal expression of SETD1A in adult mice restored the animals’ working memory function. Moreover, inhibiting expression of a gene called LSD1, which counteracts SETD1A, corrected all of the animals’ behavioral and neuronal communication abnormalities. Evidence indicated that many of these mechanisms identified in mouse brain have been conserved through evolution and likely play similar roles in humans.

Reactivating SETD1A function or counteracting downstream effects of SETD1A deficiency in the adult brain, perhaps with LSD1 inhibitors, may hold promise for treating schizophrenia’s cognitive deficits, suggest the researchers.

“Although SETD1A mutations exist in a small percentage of all schizophrenia patients, many people diagnosed with the disorder have issues similar to those caused by this mutation,” explained Gogos. “Thus, therapies that are specific to SETD1A may indeed have wider implications for schizophrenia as a whole.”

Neuronal spines

Mutant mice with impaired function of the SETD1A gene showed abnormalities in the neuronal machinery by which brain cells communicate. For example, there were fewer-than-normal spines (right), needed to relay signals, on branches of neurons.


MH080234, DA036894


Recapitulation and Reversal of Schizophrenia-Related Phenotypes in Setd1a-Deficient Mice.
Mukai J, Cannavò E, Crabtree GW, Sun Z, Diamantopoulou A, Thakur P, Chang CY, Cai Y, Lomvardas S, Takata A, Xu B, Gogos JA. Neuron. 2019 Oct 9. pii: S0896-6273(19)30787-1. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2019.09.014. [Epub ahead of print] PMID:31606247

For More Information see:

Columbia news release
Columbia scientists reverse core symptom of schizophrenia in adult mice

About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.

About the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug use and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to inform policy, improve practice, and advance addiction science. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs and information on NIDA research and other activities can be found at, which is now compatible with your smartphone, iPad or tablet. To order publications in English or Spanish, call NIDA’s DrugPubs research dissemination center at 1-877-NIDA-NIH or 240-645-0228 (TDD) or email requests to Online ordering is available at NIDA’s media guide can be found at, and its easy-to-read website can be found at You can follow NIDA on Twitter and Facebook.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website.

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Blog Post » A Hypothesis-Based Approach: The Use of Animals in Mental Health Research

This Director’s Message on the use of animal models in mental health research is one of two focused on this topic and is aimed at the research community. A companion message, written for a general audience, is titled: What Can Animals Tell Us About Mental Illnesses?

Model organisms play a crucial role in modern neuroscience. Exploring the function of molecules, cells, circuits, and systems and how they relate to behavior often requires the use of methods to examine the intact brain that, for ethical and practical reasons, can only be performed in animals. Yet, the translation of results gained from animals into treatments for humans has been challenging. At the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), we have been engaged in a year-long interactive process to understand and clarify the appropriate role of animal research in our portfolio. While we continue to refine our policies, this message and an accompanying notice are meant to communicate our current policies regarding the scientifically justified use of animals in mental health research.

Utility rather than validity: A hypothesis-based approach

First and foremost, we must realize that there is no such thing as a true animal model of a psychiatric disorder. Such models are, at best, approximations. How then should we evaluate animal models? For the past few years, we at NIMH have been asking the following questions about studies involving model organisms:

  • What is the question being asked?
  • Is it an important question?
  • Does the proposed experimental system enable that question to be answered?

These questions support an evaluation of the appropriateness and impact of a hypothesis-based approach to studying the biology of mental illnesses using animal models.

What is the question being asked?

Researchers create models to test hypotheses. We believe that NIMH-supported studies should not be aimed at establishing whether a particular model has validity for understanding a human mental illness. Instead, they should be aimed at testing a specific hypothesis. Too frequently, we receive proposals in which an investigator proposes to create an animal model of a disorder and “validate” that animal model by running a series of assays to document similarities between the animal and humans with the disorder. Such studies are problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is low statistical rigor, given that positive publication bias coupled with multiple tests can often lead investigators (and those that follow) astray. A strong focus on a mechanistic hypothesis, with the animal model designed to test that hypothesis, coupled with a rigorously planned and sufficiently powered experimental design, increases the reproducibility of the results. Moreover, focusing on the question ensures that the knowledge gained can be built upon by succeeding investigators.

Is it an important question?

For the purposes of grant applications, we urge that investigators explicitly set forth the hypothesis upfront and explain how the proposed experiments address this hypothesis. Notably, the hypothesis can be driven by basic science interests. How does disrupting a given cellular function alter the development of a neural circuit? What is the role of that circuit element in a particular behavior? How do multiple brain regions interact during that behavior? They may also be driven by clinical questions, testing hypotheses that arise from studies in patients. Do disruptions in inhibitory interneurons alter prefrontal function? What is the role of sensory inputs to the amygdala in social recognition of emotion? How does exposure to adverse environments during development affect cortico-limbic interactions? Each of these questions addresses fundamental areas of biology of relevance to mental illnesses.

There are some areas of neurobiology where we have identified specific priority areas and additional topics where we might require detailed justification given known challenges. Several of these areas are delineated in the accompanying notice. For example, fundamental studies of the biology of genes and gene products implicated in mental illnesses by unbiased approaches using genome-wide significance thresholds are of particular interest to NIMH given their definitive relationship to the human conditions. Conversely, genes previously identified via candidate approaches and not subsequently verified by genome-wide approaches are of considerably less interest. These and other priorities in the area of genetics and genomics are clearly stated in guidance we have published following the Report of the National Advisory Mental Health Council Genomics Workgroup.

Similarly, we are prioritizing computational behavioral phenotypes over simplistic, pharmacologically-validated behavioral tests for reasons to do with specificity and clarity of mechanism. For example, traditional behavioral responses to stress paradigms are particularly problematic. Non-specific tests such as the forced-swim or tail suspension tests, among others, have largely failed to reveal translatable neural mechanisms, and lack specificity from a pharmacologic-validity perspective. Approaches that examine and rigorously quantify the impacts of stress on reward and arousal systems, by contrast, are promising avenues of research that hold considerable promise to reveal novel mechanistic insights and lead to new therapeutic avenues.

Does the experimental system proposed enable that question to be answered?

The issue of the usefulness of an animal model cannot be divorced from the question that the model is trying to answer. Precision here is crucial, as are the measured variables. For example, consider facial expressions of emotion. Mice don’t have them. But mice do have measurable facial expressions of physical pain. If an investigator wants to understand the neural pathways leading to facial expressions of emotion, mouse models will not help. But if the goal is to understand the pathways leading from pain to facial motor output and how they are modulated during behavior, the mouse might be useful.

The point here is that one should ask the question first and then figure out what the best experimental system is to answer that question. The evaluation of the experimental system should include consideration of the ethical and efficient use of resources, the feasibility of the approach, and the potential evolutionary conservation of the mechanism of interest. Most questions will probably require a variety of systems in order to answer them fully, maximize rigor and reproducibility, and ensure translatability. For many investigators, this will mean collaborations and team science. But for investigators using animals, this means clarifying why the particular model organism was chosen and how that model facilitates hypothesis testing.

We are here to help

We have attempted to make the NIMH position on animal models as clear as possible, but there are a number of gray areas, and every investigator’s situation is unique. In addition to examining the resources we have available on the web — including this message, the notice, and other materials — I encourage as always communication with NIMH program staff early in the grant preparation process to ensure that potential issues are addressed appropriately in advance.

Original Article

Blog Post » What Can Animals Tell Us About Mental Illnesses?

This Director’s Message on the use of animal models in mental health research is one of two focused on this topic. The companion message, directed toward scientific researchers, is titled: A Hypothesis-Based Approach: The Use of Animals in Mental Health Research.

“How can you tell if a mouse has schizophrenia?”

I get this question a lot. You see, in my research lab, I study the brains of mice engineered to carry a genetic mutation that increases the risk for schizophrenia in humans. So, when I meet new people, the first question I get is the usual, “so, what do you do?” And the second question… well, now you know.

I used to respond with a smart retort, like, “ask a mouse psychiatrist.” But it turns out it is a great question, for two reasons. First, it is an opportunity to talk about my science, which I love to do (almost as much as I love doing the science in the first place!); second, the answer is simultaneously obvious and nuanced, and important for our field to get right.

The obvious answer

Mice do not have schizophrenia.

Or any other mental illness. The human brain is a complex organ, dizzyingly complex, and quite different from the mouse brain in many ways. These differences definitively preclude us from re-creating a mental illness in its totality in mice. One small fact: people with schizophrenia have changes in the function of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a piece of the brain that sits roughly above the temples. Mice don’t have a well-defined dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, above their temples or anywhere else!

Of course, there are a lot of other differences between mice and people besides just the presence of a dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — different genes, molecules, cells, circuits, and behaviors. Indeed, the differences in behaviors are particularly challenging — and not just because mice can’t tell us if they hear voices! Variations in how human patients express emotion, perform cognitive tasks, seek out rewards, avoid punishments, and interact with other people (including their doctors and therapists) are how we recognize and categorize mental illnesses. The profound difference in these behaviors between mice and people prevents the straightforward mapping of psychiatric syndromes across species.

Take emotional expression, for example. In people, facial expressions reflect their inner emotional experience — smiles for happiness, frowns for sadness, furrowed brows for anger, etc. Not so in mice. But we can recognize various states that seem to mirror these human emotions by observing other behaviors in mice — their movement patterns, the tone of their vocalizations, the repetitiveness of their grooming, and their bowel movements and eating habits. Accordingly, scientists have used these behaviors to try to “model” human disorders in mice. For example, scientists have studied overgrooming as a potential model of obsessive-compulsive disorder and avoidance of food in a brightly lit open arena as a model of anxiety, etc.

None of these models can accurately reflect the human condition. For example, anxiety in humans is much more than avoidance of food in a brightly lit area — anxiety can be accompanied by changes in energy, sleep, and other behaviors. Similarly, individuals with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia typically suffer from a range of symptoms, including episodic hallucinations and delusions, but also more enduring social and cognitive dysfunction. No mouse model of schizophrenia can accurately reproduce all these features, nor should we expect one to do so. Mice are not people. Mice do not have schizophrenia or anxiety.

The nuance

Nonetheless, mice (and other species) can help us understand and develop treatments for schizophrenia, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. How? By teaching us about molecules, cells, circuits, and systems of the brain; how they work; and how they produce behavior. We can then use that information to identify better targets for treating impairments or symptoms associated with mental illnesses.

One example: in my research, I don’t study a mouse model of schizophrenia (remember, there is no such thing). Instead, I study how certain genetic mutations increase the risk of schizophrenia and how we might use that understanding to develop new treatments. So, when I was starting my career, I teamed up with colleagues at Columbia University (Drs. Joseph Gogos, M.D., Ph.D., and Maria Karayiorgou, M.D., among others) to try to study the effect of one of these mutations, the 22q11.2 microdeletion—a deletion of more than 20 genes that results in a neurodevelopmental syndrome. About 30% of people with this microdeletion will develop schizophrenia, making it one of the strongest genetic risk factors for the disease.

Several groups, including those led by Drs. Gogos and Karayiorgou, engineered the genome of mice to create a similar deletion. But they didn’t create mice with schizophrenia. They created mice that could be used to study the effects of this microdeletion on brain development and function. Before I came along, they had already demonstrated significant effects of the microdeletion on molecular function, neural development, and working memory. My lab worked with theirs to demonstrate that these effects could all be linked together by changes in the function of a particular circuit involving the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, two brain regions often implicated in schizophrenia. We also showed that targeting one particular molecular mechanism — a protein called a kinase that is important for neurons as they develop — reversed the effects on neurodevelopment, thereby rescuing the circuit and behavioral changes. We continue to work together to try to figure out whether this molecular mechanism might be a good therapeutic target to help people with the microdeletion and/or others with schizophrenia.

This is the approach we use not only in my lab but throughout the NIMH portfolio: carefully choosing animal models to explore the mechanisms underlying biological processes relevant for mental illnesses and then using this mechanistic knowledge to begin the challenging process of developing novel interventions. As I’ve written about recently, this approach can work. But it requires careful experimental design to ensure that the questions being asked can be properly answered in an animal.

This last point is really important to consider. We have an obligation to carefully consider the need for animal studies, for both ethical and scientific reasons. Ethically, we must remember that animals are deserving of being treated with respect and care for their well-being. Scientifically, given the difficulty of translating across species, if there is knowledge that can be gained safely and ethically from healthy humans and individuals with mental illnesses, we should study them instead of animals. But to understand the full complexity of the brain–particularly how the circuits of the brain drive behavior, and the role of molecular and cellular processes in the development and function of those circuits — animals will continue to play a crucial role. We must, therefore, ensure that they are used appropriately to answer those questions that would be impossible or unsafe to answer using human subjects.

Original Article

Science News » New BRAIN Initiative Awards Accelerate Neuroscience Discoveries

Scientists have been developing astounding new tools for exploring neural circuits that underlie brain function throughout the first five years of the National Institutes of Health’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative. Now, the NIH has announced its continued support for these projects by funding over 180 new BRAIN Initiative awards, bringing the total 2019 budget for the program to more than $424 million. This work may not only help paralyzed patients to communicate more easily, but also allow neuroscientists to closely examine the brain at work, in real time. This year’s awards also include new projects that will help researchers understand neural circuits, study non-neuronal brain cells called glia, analyze and store complex neuroscience data, test neuromodulation approaches for regaining dexterity after stroke and address ethical implications of the advancing science.

“These new awards bring us ever closer to realizing the promise of the BRAIN Initiative. The tools being developed are illuminating the underpinnings of the most perplexing brain diseases, while also expanding our understanding of the brain itself,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Launched in 2013, the BRAIN Initiative is a large-scale effort to accelerate neuroscience research by equipping researchers with the tools and insights necessary for studying a wide variety of brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. The initiative is supported by Congress through the regular appropriations process and the 21st Century Cures Act.

Over the past year, NIH BRAIN Initiative-funded researchers have created a system for studying circuits in a postmortem animal brain; programmed a computer to mimic natural speech from people’s brain signals; and located a salt-craving neuron. Through advanced imaging techniques they have watched neurons spark and fire in the brains of running mice and made high-speed, high-resolution, 3D films of a nervous system in action.

“BRAIN Initiative researchers are transforming the way we think about the brain,” said Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “We hope that this pace of discovery will accelerate even more with the newly funded awards.”

This year more than 70 research institutions received awards to support the work of over 270 investigators representing fields ranging from engineering to psychology. BRAIN investigators will continue their remarkable achievements in data science with the largest human brain cell census to date; creation of a glial cell atlas; and establishment of brain data warehouses. Other projects include the development of a noninvasive nanoparticle brain tool delivery system; and an examination of the ethics surrounding the use of deep brain stimulation for treating children with brain disorders. Descriptions of all of the research projects can be found on the NIH BRAIN Initiative website.

“These new awards expand the scope of the NIH BRAIN Initiative. Researchers will explore the full range of brain cell systems, discover meaningful and timely ways of sharing data, and get us even closer to a true understanding of the brain,” said Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health.

The NIH BRAIN Initiative® is managed by 10 institutes whose missions and current research portfolios complement the goals of the BRAIN Initiative: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Eye Institute, National Institute on Aging, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, National Institute of Mental Health, and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website.

NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health®

Original Article

Scientific Meeting » New Perspectives on Cerebellar Function: Implications for Mental Health

New Perspectives on Cerebellar Function: Implications for Mental Health


Sponsored by:
Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science, NIMH

Society for Neuroscience Annual Conference – Chicago, IL
Marriott Marquis, Great Lakes A

Research suggests that the cerebellum plays a significant role in cognitive, emotional, and social processes, and its dysfunction has been linked to a variety of psychiatric disorders. This NIMH-sponsored symposium will bring together experts in basic and translational neuroscience to discuss the state of the field and identify opportunities to advance our understanding of how the cerebellum contributes to cognition, emotion, and social behavior in both healthy and psychiatric populations.

Registration is free for attendees of the Society of Neuroscience (SfN) Annual Meeting.

More Information:

Original Article

Video » Let’s Play Ball: How Sex and Gender Effects Influence Sports Involvement, Hippocampal Volume and Depressive Symptoms in Children

Let’s Play Ball: How Sex and Gender Effects Influence Sports Involvement, Hippocampal Volume and Depressive Symptoms in Children


Watch on YouTube.


>> OPERATOR: Welcome to the National Institute of Mental Health’s Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity Webinar entitled, “Let's Play Ball: How Sex and Gender Effects Influence Sports Involvement, Hippocampal Volume and Depressive Symptoms in Children.” At this time our participants are in a listen-only mode. Questions can be submitted any time during the presentation via the Q and A pod located on the lower right-hand corner of your screen. Please note that this call may be recorded. It's now my pleasure to turn the call over to Tamara Lewis Johnson. Please, go ahead.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: Well, good afternoon everyone. On behalf of National Institute of Mental Health, I welcome you to The Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity Webinar. This is the first of two webinars for the 2019 series. We offer the webinar series as an opportunity for program staff and the public to learn about recent scientific advances and sponsored research in the key areas that our office is focused on , which women’s mental health, the mental health of LGBTQ individuals, the mental health of people living in rural communities, and the mental health communities of color.
The second webinar will be held on Wednesday, the 18th of September at 10:00 AM. The title for that webinar is “Insights from Social Psychology in Neuroscience on Implicit Bias,” by Dr. Georgina Rippon.

Please allow me to introduce Dr. Deanna Barch. She is currently the Chair and Professor of the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences and the Gregory B. Couch Professor of Psychiatry at the Washington University in Saint Louis. Her research program is focused on understanding normative patterns of functional brain connectivity across development as well as the mechanisms to give rise to the challenges in behavior and cognition found in mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and depression, utilizing behavioral neuroimaging in computational approaches.

She received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern and completed her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. She is the deputy editor of Biological Psychiatry and is on the editorial boards of Schizophrenia Bulletin, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, and Clinical Psychological Science. Dr. Barch is on the Scientific Board of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, the One Mind Foundation and the Stanley Foundation and on the Executive Committee of the Association for Psychological Science.

Her research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, The National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, the National Science Foundation, and the McDonell Center for Systems Neuroscience. She was a member of the National Institute of Mental Health Scientific Council and is a member of the National Institute of Mental Health Research Diagnostic Criteria Committee. She is a fellow of both the Association for Psychological Science and the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and a member of The Society for Experimental Psychology.
I welcome Dr. Barch to give a wonderful presentation this afternoon.
>> DR. BARCH: Thank you very much. I want to thank Tamara in the Office of Disparities Research, for offering me the opportunity to give this presentation and to thank her for that very generous introduction. I also want to make sure at the start to acknowledge my collaborators on this project, Lisa Gorham, Terry Jernigan, and Jim Hudziak. In particular, I want to highlight Lisa Gorham who was the very talented undergraduate in my lab who really spearheaded this line of research. She was a student-athlete herself and many of the ideas that we'll talk about were ones that she helped develop both from her lived experience as a student-athlete and also through reading the literature.

Let's get started. I think we need to start by talking a little bit about what we currently know about the relationships between sports and exercise and mental health in kids and adolescents. We do know already that active lifestyles in children and adolescents are positively associated with fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, better self-concept and more effective coping with stress. In addition, active lifestyles promote a positive self-concept and more effective coping with stress. That's one starting point for the work we're going talk about today. We also know that being involved in sports through the high school years is predictive of more feelings of school engagement, doing better at school and having increased self-esteem. While this is known for young people, and we also know this to be true in adults as well. If higher levels of exercise are significantly associated with lower levels of depression, then that begs the question of what might be the mechanism that might be leading to some of these associations and might there be mechanisms in the brain that are contributing to these relationships. We know that children who are what we would refer to as higher fit children have better cardiovascular fitness and show greater bilateral hippocampal volumes.

The hippocampus is very important to think about in this context because the hippocampus is a region of the brain that is important for, in particular, stress responses, and things like memory and cognitive function. While bigger is not always better, in this case, much of the evidence in the literature suggests that larger hippocampal volumes are associated with more positive cognitive attributes such as doing better on cognitive tasks and having better stress responsivity. We also know in kids that greater aerobics fitness predicts larger left middle prefrontal cortex volumes. In addition, the prefrontal cortex is another part of the brain that may also be very important for cognitive control and emotion regulation.

Interestingly, this is an area of research where there are some nice homologies between the animal research and the human research. That's not always true but in this case, if you look in rodent models where you can experimentally manipulate things, we see that robust exercise leads new cell growth in the hippocampus, which is what people sometimes refer to as neurogenesis. There are some nice parallels between animal research that are consistent with the human research where we can't always so easily do experimental manipulations.

Now the third part of this is understanding depression and the brain. We've talked about the fact that previous literature suggests that among kids and adolescents, greater involvement in sports and more aerobic fitness are associated with less depression, less anxiety, and greater self-esteem. We've also talked about those same characteristics being associated with greater hippocampal volume in both humans and animal models and some evidence for greater prefrontal volume. How might that then link exercise and sports to depression?

Well interestingly, people who have major depression, pretty consistently show reductions in hippocampal volume relative to individuals who are currently healthy or don't have major depression. That's been seen in many different studies. It’s been seen in individual studies. It been seen in large meta-analyses. There's a relatively consistent relationship between people having experienced clinical level of depression and having smaller hippocampal volume. We also know that this relationship is even seen in very early onset depression, and adolescent depression, so it's not just in adults with depression or for people who've had many years of chronic courses of depression.

Interestingly, we actually see some asymmetry in terms of gender there where we see some evidence that smaller hippocampal volumes in depression are more prominent in males than females. Although not every study has looked at this question, many studies don't look at it separately for males and females, and not every study that has looked at it separately from males and females has seen consistent sex differences so it's more of a hint than anything else.

There are a number of theories or ideas about how hippocampal volume and depression might be related. One prominent model is that things in an individual's life, whether that be stress or other factors, that disrupt hippocampal development and function might lead to challenges with stress regulation. The hippocampus importantly contains many receptors for what are called glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids are an important part of the brain’s pathway to respond to stress by helping to shut off the brain's response to stress. When we have a stress response and we activate something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, one of the things that happens is that we release cortisol. In order to help shut down and regulate that response, cortisol needs to bind with glucocorticoid receptors, and those are highly present in the hippocampus. Disruptions to the hippocampus can disrupt the ability of these glucocorticoid receptors, which may make it more difficult to shut down these stress responses. It's been hypothesized that that contributes to risk for depression.

It may also be the case that the experience of depression over time may be increasing people's experience of stress, and also contributing to subsequent changes in hippocampal volume. It may go in either direction. Given these three kinds of research that I've just talked about, research linking exercise and sports to better mental health, linking exercise and sports to hippocampal volume, and the evidence linking hippocampal volume to depression, we went into this project with a number of hypotheses.

First, we thought that among children in involvement in sports would be associated with a severity of depression. To be concrete about that, we thought that children who were more involved in sports would be less likely to have depression or would have lower levels of depression. We also thought that involvement in sports in kids would predict larger hippocampal volume bilaterally, meaning both on the right and on the left. More sports involvement, greater hippocampal volume. We also thought that larger hippocampal volumes would predict depression severity in children so that if you had larger hippocampal volume, you would have less depression severity.

We thought that the hippocampal volume would mediate, meaning be the pathway by which the sport is related to depressive symptoms. The hypothesis is that greater involvement in sports contributes to increased hippocampal volume, and that may be protective against depression. That hypothesis is a causal hypothesis, meaning that we're making predictions about what might be causing what. I will be very clear from the beginning that the data we have so far is going to tell us about relationships, and it's not going to establish what causes what. The underlying hypothesis is certainly that there is a causal relationship.

So far, I've mostly talked about exercise and sports in the brain. Much of the literature on sports and mental health has shown the potential of that sports involvement might have on the brain. There are other things about being involved in sports that might have positive mental health benefits for both boys and girls, but maybe even in particular for girls. That's the idea that involvement in sports or at least some types of sport may be an important form of social support for individuals.

This is where again my student Lisa who helped to spearhead this work. She had been a student-athlete. She played volleyball. She ran. She felt like she had received a lot of social support from being involved in these team sports, from the other members of her team and from her coaches. She thought social support might be potentially an important pathway by which involvement in sports might be associated with reduced depression. If you think that's true, then you might predict that involvement in certain kinds of sports might be particularly strongly associated with less depression.

Team sports, for example, where you are part of a team might be a form of sports involvement that might be most likely to be associated with better mental health, better self-esteem, if the social support was part of the action on the brain. You might contrast that with sports that were more individualized, either where you were an individual athlete or even where maybe you were part of a larger team, but the way the sport is actually carried out is individually.

To give you a couple of examples of that, playing baseball, or softball, or soccer is something that's a team sport where you have to play as a team. That is the nature of the sport. There are other sports, say being involved in track and field where you may be part of a team, but you may compete individually, and then there are people who may be engaged in sports on their own with individual coaches, who are not necessarily part of the team. If there is an additional role for social support, we might see some differences across those types of sports and their relationship to depression. Then, the key question is, do any of these relationships differ for boys versus girls? Again, going into this, Lisa's hypothesis was that the social support component might end up being particularly important for girls versus boys, but that initially, we both had hypothesized that the pathway through hippocampal volume would be pretty similar for both boys and girls.

Let me start by telling you a little bit about the methods. We had the unique opportunity to work with a data set that I will tell you a little bit more about because I think it's a very important resource for the community, and so given that we have so many community members on the line, I think it will be useful to take a minute and talk about it. This particular set of analysis was done with 4,196 children, aged 9 to 11 from locations across the country, as part of a project called the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study.

I'll do a little sidebar here for a few minutes and tell you about this project, that I'll call ABCD for short, and then I'll come back and talk about the specific methods that we used for this project and the results. We have many wonderful federal partners for the ABCD project. It's a very collaborative project, so it's being funded by support from many of the different National Institutes of Health Institutes, including Drug Abuse; Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Cancer; Mental Health; Child Health and Human Development; Heart, Lung, and Disease. I have them listed here so I won't read them all, but also partners like the National Institute of Justice, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Endowment for the Arts. There are many federal partners. This is a very ambitious project.
The ABCD study has recruited approximately 11,875, it depends on exactly which count you say, children ages, 9 and 10 when they were enrolled in the study and we're hoping to follow them for up to 10 years. The goal of the project is to try to understand and identify individual development trajectories of things related to the brain, and emotion, and cognition, academics, and the various factors that can impact them both positively and negatively.

We have 21 sites across the country, I happen to be in the site at Washington University in St. Louis. We have 100-plus investigators, and the data is being released publicly. I will say a little bit more about that. I think this is a very unique study because many studies that are about normative development maybe are not particularly large studies, and many studies that are about mental health development tends to focus more on the things that have negative impacts on children's development.

What I think is really unique and important about ABCD, is that's it's really trying to look at both the things that help support positive brain development, cognitive development in kids, and the things that may get in the way. As part of that then, we are looking at things like sports involvement, involvement in the arts, positive support in the community, all kinds of factors that might be resilience factors that help children develop in healthy positive ways, as well as the things that might get in the way.

We will be able to and it is a large we because it won’t be just us it will be other ABCD partners and the larger scientific community. We'll be able to use the data both starting at baseline and throughout 10 years, to understand these factors in a way that might let us develop new interventions or new things that we could help to implement that would promote healthy brain development in kids. Just in case anybody's interested, the red dots here are our 21 sites across the country, so we stay on the East Coast and the West Coast. You will see fewer study sites in the middle South-West.

That is in part because we did need to have sites that were in major academic centers and had the imaging facilities necessary to carry out the study. We worked very hard to try to recruit a very diverse sample. It is not exactly representative of the United States population, but we tried as best as possible to approximate as much of the diversity in the US population of children as we could. It is diverse in terms of socioeconomic status, racial and ethnic minorities, and equally represented across genders. This just gives you a schematic of the kinds of things that children and their families do. We do ask them to come into our sites every single year.

Every other year they do neuroimaging where we get a number of different kinds of neuroimaging measures. We look at the structures of the brain, the size, and the shape. We look at connections among brain regions, both structural and functional connections. We look at brain activity when kids perform different kinds of tasks that measure cognitive and emotion and reward challenges, but we also get many other measures. We have children and their families tell us about their experiences, their communities, the kinds of things that they're involved in.

We collect some biomarker data in terms of being able to look at genetics, hormones and development, through a very broad array of measures on each child. We've also started to use what we'll call mobile technologies. Children are wearing Fitbits so we can measure physical activity in a way which will be an important addition to the kinds of data that I'm going to talk about today. I just wanted to note here to really highlight the fact that the ABCD data is available to qualified investigators through the National Data Archives at the NIH support.

We've already done two data releases, so all of the baseline data is available for investigators and part of the follow-up data. I emphasize this because it really is a wonderful and rich resource for people to answer questions that maybe we never even thought of. In addition, this data might be really useful for many of the folks on the phone here. Now let me come back to our particular project that we're going to talk about today using the data from the ABCD study. As I mentioned before, we were looking at data from the first release, what we call 1.0, to measure depression and anxiety we use something called the child-behavior checklist.

This is a parent-report measure that looks at anxiety and attention, aggression, externalizing and internalizing depression, and other symptoms. Every parent or every caregiver in the study fills that out about their child. As an aside, as the children are getting older, we are increasingly asking them to self-report on their own emotional experiences, but at the younger ages we are still heavily relying on parents helping inform us. For the imaging data, as I mentioned already, we acquire a number of different kinds of imaging data.

For this project, we focused on the structural imaging data, and we used FreeSurfer, which is a program that will segment the brain and help identify the shape and the volume of different parts of the brain. We focused for this project on the hippocampus. Again, as a bit of an aside, this project actually uses multiple different scanner types from different companies. The fact that the images are coming from different scanners is taken in account in the analyses.

And then we asked quite a bit about sports and activities and I going to go into in a little bit of detail to give a sense of the kinds of things we asked about and a sense of the range of activities. We worked with a number of people in the field to develop a questionnaire that was as inclusive as we could be about the different kinds of sports and activities that kids might be involved in. It looked at lifetime involvement in a whole huge range of sports and then also activities like music and dance, and other hobbies. We tried to capture as many different things as possible. For example, the questionnaire asked about things like chess club and all kinds of music involvement, arts and crafts, painting, dance, acrobatics, every kind of sport that seemed like any kid could be involved in, arts and craft, painting, just a wide variety of things.

We asked parents to tell us about the frequency of their being involved, how long they were involved, the type of activity. Then we also followed up and asked whether it was being done as part of an organized activity at school or outside of school, whether they were getting private lessons or doing it as part of a group, was it an individual sport, was it structured so we tried to get more information about that but doing it this way gives a sense of what kinds of things kids are involved in that are not necessarily part of a structured activity as well as those things that are a structure activity.

Gathering the data in this manner allows us to capture things that kids might be very involved in, that aren't necessarily part of a structured activity, as well as those things that are part of a structured activity. The data is from baseline, but we continue to ask these questions every year when the kids and their families come in, so we are continuing to get updates about their involvement in sports and activities, so we can look at how that changes over time. As I noted before, in one of the follow-up years, we've also started asking children to wear Fitbits for several weeks so we can get other measures of physical activity.

The different sports we asked about, you can see a big range here. We do update this list of sports as we get information about sports that we might have missed or about which we weren't aware, but we tried to be as inclusive as possible. Then what we did was develop some definitions about different kinds of sports to try to get at this question about social support. We defined team sports generally, as when a child engages in a sport at school or through an organized outside league. It could be any sport on that list, but it was when it was through an organized kind of group.

Then we had a more restrictive definition of team sports, where it had to be a sport where the actual playing of the sport occurs as a team. Things like baseball, basketball, field hockey, football, volleyball, all those things where you're actually playing it as a team. An individual sport would be something where the child engages in that sport on their own time or through private lessons. You could, for example, have a child who's very involved in skateboarding, and that would be an individual sport, or maybe they're involved in tennis, but it's through private lessons, and not through school, something like that.

We have another definition that we call structured sport, which overlaps a little bit with team sport, but was basically any sport that the child was involved in through school, or an organized league or through private lessons. That was kind of a broader category that included some of the others.

Okay, let start by telling you about the results and let me orient you to what I am going to show you here. We started the study out by asking whether any of these different kinds of activities or sports were associated with depression and whether there were any gender differences in that association. I will go through and show you those different results.

We did look at not just sports, but we also looked at involvement in activities because it's certainly is possible that it's really not sports per se. It could be that involvement in any kind of organized activity really had positive mental health benefits for kids. We also looked at activities in addition to sports to try to ask that question and see how specific it was to sports involvement. All right let me start by showing you the results for what we call the "Main Effect." Is there a relationship between one of these activities and depression? The beta weight is from a regression, actually, a linear mixed model that looked at the relationship between these different kinds of categories of sports or activities and depression, taking into account the fact that some kids might actually be siblings or twins, which is important statistically. A negative value here means that, for example, greater involvement in sports was associated with less depression and then I'll show you the p-value. Now, you'll see that many of these p-values are wildly significant. This is a very large sample size and so it's not so difficult to get things to be significant. We should pay attention to sort of how big that beta weight is.
These are very robust relationships. They are not huge relationships, but they are very robust. When you look just at this question of what's related to depression, we see that pretty much everything is related to less depression. More involvement in activities, more involvement in sports, in general, being involved in a team sport whether it's the broad or the restrictive definition, being involved in an individual sport, being involved in a structured sport. Every one of those is associated with less depression.

Again, as a reminder, since we are looking at the baseline data, what we can say is that the data are related, we can't tell you what's causing what. It could be that being involved in these activities and sports is preventing kids from developing depression or it could be the case that more depressed kids are less likely to engage in these things. We'll talk a little bit more at the end of what are the next steps in order to identify which is causing what. Then we wanted to look at were there things that showed an interaction with sex, and a little bit to our surprise many of these relationships actually showed an interaction with sex.

When we followed things up to say, "Was it significant in boys and girls or just one or the other?" what we found is that by far these relationships were much stronger in the males than the females. Pretty much across the board except for interestingly team sports, the restricted definition of team sports, so being involved in a sport where you are part of a team like baseball or football. There we saw a significant relationship for both boys and girls. It was still stronger for boys than for girls, but it was significant for girls.

Whereas for everything else involvement in activities more generally, just general involvement in sports, individual sports, it was significantly related for boys but not for girls. I should also note these relationships were specific to depression, as opposed to anxiety, so when we looked at predicting anxiety, we did not see a relationship between involvement in sports and activities. It seems the relationships for depression held even if you included anxiety in the model.

It seemed to be more about depression than anxiety and it seemed to be much stronger for males than females. Just to illustrate this relationship, I've got two things here to illustrate it for you. On the left, I have a scatter plot that shows the relationship between the number of sports in which a child is involved and their depression score. What we have done here is shaded the dots separately, so the open dots are female and shaded in dots are males. Then I have some regression lines there, the solid one is for females and the doted one is for male.

What you can see there is that yes, indeed overall there is a relationship between more sports and less depression, but that relationship is a bit stronger for males than females. On the right is a different graph where we have grouped kids into participating in a team sport yes or no, the restricted definition and their parent-reported depression score. In that graph on the left are the kids who are not involved in the team sport and on the right are the kids who are involved in the team sport. What you can see there is that for both males and females but particularly for males, parent-reported depression levels are lower if the child is involved in a team sport than if they're not involved in a team sport.

Overall our kids are not showing super-high rates of depression although sadly there are some kids in this sample who do have some fairly high levels of depression but fortunately, there are many kids who do not have high levels of depression. It's still the case that those levels of depression are lower in the kids involved in team sports versus not. We then went on and asked about hippocampus and depression, and so I'm going to show you some data analyzed in a somewhat similar way where we use these linear mix models to look at whether or not the hippocampal volumes are related to depression.

Indeed, what we saw was that overall it was the case. Higher levels of depression were associated with smaller hippocampal volumes and there was an interaction with sex that was such that this relationship was stronger in males than females. Lower hippocampal volume was significantly related to greater depression in males but not in females. Then, what about the third leg of that triangle, involvement of sports in the hippocampus? I'm going to show you the data in the same way I did for sports involvement and depression. We've got the different kinds of activities and sports that are going to be by row, and we're going to look at what is related to hippocampal volume.

To start, what we see is that many forms of sports and activities were associated with, in this case, larger hippocampal volumes, which is the direction we would predict. There was some relationship between just being involved in activities in larger hippocampal volume and sports in general, but the strongest relationships we saw actually were for involvement in team sports and involvement in structured sports. Interestingly, here, we did not see any interaction with sex.

We saw that these relationships were present for both males and females. This next slide here will show this relationship for both males and females. If you look at the graph on the left, what you can see is that for both males and females, you have larger hippocampal volume being associated with a greater number of sports, in which a child is involved.

Then, if you look at the graph on the right, now that we've got it plotted for kids who are involved in a team sport versus kids who are not involved in a team sport, and you see for both males and females, being involved in a team sport is associated with a larger hippocampal volume than not being involved in a team sport.

We have this interesting association now where the relationship to depression, both for sports and hippocampal volume, are stronger for males and females for at least most forms of sports, but that their relationship to the brain is similar across males and females, so being involved in more sports, particularly team or restrictive team sports is associated with larger hippocampus volume in both boys and girls, but only in boys is it then also associated with less depression.

Now, remember, I raised the issue before saying, is the data consistent with the idea that the pathway by which sports may be associated with less depression might be through hippocampal volume? We did an analysis called the mediation analysis that tests that kind of hypothesis. As I showed you earlier, for boys being involved in team sports was associated with less depression and being involved in team sports was associated with greater hippocampal volume, and greater hippocampal volume was associated with less depression in boys.

Importantly, that direct relationship between being involved in team sports and having fewer depressive symptoms, that relationship is reduced when you take into account hippocampal volume. That's consistent with what we call partial mediation, meaning that part of the relationship between team sports and depressive symptoms is being accounted for by hippocampal volume.

Now, that direct relationship is still significant, meaning that there are things other than hippocampal volume that are contributing to the relationship between team sports and depressive symptoms. For example, it might partly be the social support involved in team sports or other factors that might be contributing. One important point I do want to bring up, there are lots of socio-demographic factors that influence the ability of kids to be involved in sports.

To some extent, this is more true when kids are younger where public schools don't necessarily always have options for team sports involvement for kids like in grammar school or middle school. For a lot of public schools, that may not start until you're in junior high or middle school or high school. Unfortunately, many times being able to be involved in sports or other activities when kids are younger requires families being able to afford to pay for that.

That is a potential important confound. All of these analyses though also included information about family socioeconomic status. All of these relationships were still present even when we accounted for family socioeconomic status, which itself has a relationship to the likelihood of being able to be involved in some of these sports and activities, as well as a child’s mental health. That's an important point I forgot to mention earlier.

To summarize, what I've shown you is that these data suggest that participation in sports was related to less depression in boys but not girls, somewhat to our surprise. Also, this is very consistent with our work on exercise and depression. We saw some very modest relationships to participation in non-sports. In some follow-up analyses we did, all of the relationships to sports involvement held even if we controlled the general activity involvement.

The activity measures I showed you before included all activities, sports, and non-sports. If we separate out just the non-sports, we did not see many relationships to either depression or to hippocampal volume.
As I noted here though, we weren't really necessarily anticipating sex differences at least in the direction that we saw, where we saw these relationships being stronger for boys than girls because these previous findings either had not looked at it or didn't see such sex differences. It is possible that there's something about the developmental stage of our kid that's important. These kids are younger, and the meaning and the role of sports may change quite a bit as kids evolve through puberty and into adolescence.

We know that girls enter puberty earlier than boys on average. There are, of course, individual differences. It is possible, we think, that the relationship of sports and exercise to depression in girls might become quite different as they enter into puberty. Also, there will be hormonal changes that could influence those relationships, but I think also the social meaning of involvement in sports might be different as girls enter into puberty and what that means in terms of self-esteem, sources of self-esteem, sources of social support for girls.

The meaning of that may change as they move into puberty. The hypothesis is that those relationships might become stronger for girls as they move into puberty, even though they're not as present in girls, these younger girls, most of whom have not entered puberty yet or are only at the various early stages. I think that these findings also raised some interesting potential questions about differences and cultural attitudes about sports for girls versus boys.

There certainly are differences to some extent in expectations historically for participation in sports for girls versus boys. Some of that is clearly changing. There are important changes that are happening in society in terms of the importance of girls playing sports and the visibility of girls playing sports. Certainly, the recent wonderful winning soccer team in the U.S. has very much highlighted the potential role for sports and girls, but historically, that has not always been the case.

Some of the differences in the relationship to depression might be accounted for by some of these cultural attitudes. Again, they may change as we move into puberty where there may be different interpretations about sports involvement and different impacts for girls versus boys. Interestingly, though, we did see that work was related to hippocampal volume in both boys and girls. That was true for involvement in any type of sport other than just the individual sport.

Although, truth in advertising, it was somewhat less likely for people to be involved just in individual sports. It could be that if we had greater variance in the intensity of individual sports involvement that maybe we would have seen more of a relationship there. We did not see these relationships when you pulled out just activities that were not sports. That would have been things like chess club or music or art. That is not to say that music is not good, or arts involvement is not good for children's mental health or self-esteem.

It just means that in these particular analyses, we didn't see those relationships here. Again, how those kinds of things relate to children's mental health and brain development may be evolving as the kids get older and move into puberty. This really extends the previous work in adolescents and adults to kids. It also suggests that exercise is associated with enhanced hippocampal volume, which again, many people interpret as a positive brain attribute.

We like to think though that there may be some added role for social support or engagement. The fact that we did see these relationships more strongly for team sports than individual sports means that there could be an added benefit in terms of hippocampal volume to social support and maybe stress reduction. One of the things we did to follow up on that is to say, "Well, does this relationship to team sports hold even if you account for involvement in other sports or if you do what we'll call a dose-response relationship?"

We did some follow up analyses where we tried to generate an overall estimate of how many hours on average a week a child was being involved in sports, because some children were involved in several different sports. One possibility was that those kids who were involved in team sports, maybe they were just more likely to be involved in sports, spending more hours being involved in sports.

Maybe it's not really anything about being in a team, maybe it's just the number of hours that you're engaged in sports. We created this dose measure of sports involvement and asked whether you still saw a relationship to being involved in team sports, even when you took into account the intensity of their sports involvement. We still saw that relationship. It does suggest there is some added benefit of the team context, and whether that is having some more direct impact on hippocampal volume development or if it's through something having to do with structure or social support, we're going to need to do further research to tease that apart.

We did see that smaller hippocampal volumes were related to depression in boys, though not girls. There is, as I noted, a little bit of previous work suggesting more evidence for reduced hippocampal volume and depressed males, but not depressed females. Although there are certainly other studies that have also seen reduced hippocampal volume in females with depression, so this is clearly an area of research where more work is needed.

It's also consistent with some prior animal work, looking at, for example, more impairments in male rodents after maternal deprivation interventions that seemed to be associated with, depression-like behaviors in animal models. There is a evidence that males may have some greater vulnerability or susceptibility to some early things that might be associated with depression.

There's also some very interesting literature that has suggested neuroprotective effects of estrogen, though the evidence for this is somewhat mixed. That is another possibility why early on, we see these effects more strongly for boys than girls. We also see some interesting evidence that testosterone might play a role in increasing vulnerability to neurotoxic processes in rats.

That would be consistent with the possibility that boys, at least early on, might have some greater susceptibility to things that might be depressogenic and may show more strong relationships between things that would modulate hippocampal volume and depression. It might be showing those relationships more strongly in boys than girls as these kids move into puberty. Again, that may change as these kids move into puberty.

Some important future directions here. I keep hammering on the fact that these were associations and they can't tell us about causal directions. We do need to determine causal directions because we don't want to make recommendations about what kinds of things kids should be involved in without evidence of causal relationships. I do think the longitudinal nature of ABCD will really help with that so we will be able to ask questions like, for example, "All right, how much a kid is involved with sports at baseline?"

If we look over time, does that predict their development of depression over time even when you control for a depression starting out? If there really were a causal relationship between involvement in sports and depression, we should see that those relationships predict over time and we can look at the opposite. We can say, "Okay. Well, is it the case that how depressed the kid is at time one, does that predict the likelihood that they'll be involved in sports at time two, which would be sort of more consistent with the opposite?"

Should we get more evidence for causal relationships, one could then think about potential intervention studies. It has a number of public health implications should we find evidence that involvement in sports causally has an influence on depression. As I noted before too, I think it's going to be important to continue to see whether these gender differences continue into adolescence.

As boys and girls go through puberty and have hormone status changes and the meaning of sports involvement may change, we would predict that we would start to see a stronger relationship between sports involvement and depression and self-esteem in girls as they move into adolescence where that might be particularly helpful and protective, but that is an empirical question. We think it will be important to look at the relationship of hormones and puberty status might modify or moderate the relationship between exercise and sports involvement in both brain development and mental health in kids. All right. I will stop there and wrap up, and then we can proceed to taking questions.

>> OPERATOR: Any plans for younger subjects?

>> DR. BARCH: I'm assuming that means in the ABCD. Enrollment for the ABCD is complete, so the ABCD itself will not be recruiting younger kids. We will be following the same kids over time, but I think there is an interest in working with even younger children. You'll have to stay tuned as to whether there might be some new projects coming down the line that would start working with kids much younger.
There certainly are some other projects being done. There's a project called ECHO, which is Environmental Child Health Outcomes that is recruiting much younger kids and looking at a host of environmental factors that may be influencing development. That would be an opportunity to look at some of these similar questions.

>> OPERATOR: Are you willing to share your PowerPoint slides?

>> DR. BARCH: Yes, we'll be happy to share the PowerPoints with people.

>> OPERATOR: Can you say more about the measurement and operationalization of the different categories. What was included as a non-sports activity, what were team sports, and what were individual sports?

>> DR. BARCH: For non-sports activities, we tried to ask about as many different things as possible. We asked about involvement in all forms of art, so music, painting, anything like that at all.
We looked at things like debate club. They're a little young for this yet, but they are things that people can be doing. Chess, checkers, anything that was not related sports– There were enough evidence that kids regularly engage in these sorts of things. We tried to measure those.

Then, for team sports, our restrictive definition of team sports was it had to be a sport that was played as a team, so baseball, football, volleyball, field hockey, soccer. Things where you're playing it as a team, ice hockey. Then, the more general definition was if you were engaged in a sport as part of a team even if the sport wasn't played as a team. Some kids might be, for example, on a swim team. You could do relays and we would consider that a team sport, but mostly, swimmers are swimming their individual activities, so they're not playing the sport as a team, but they are on a team.

That would be considered a team sport. Then, an individual sport would be if the kid is doing it on their own, not as part of a team. For example, maybe they're getting tennis lessons and doing tennis lessons, but they're not doing it as part of a team, or they're doing some biking activity that they're doing on a regular basis but they're not doing it as part of a team.

>> OPERATOR: Did you look at kids who are not engaged in organized team sports but exercise regularly on their own?

>> DR. BARCH: Yes, we did look at that. There were not that many parents who reported that their kids do that. There are opportunities, say, like they jog regularly on their own. We would certainly count it as being involved in an individual sport if a kid, for example, was really involved in skateboarding and did that regularly, but they didn't do it as part of a team.

That would be counted as an individual sport. That's where I think the Fitbits will be very useful because that will give us a measure at least over the time period that the kids are wearing the Fitbits of their level of exercise in a more objective fashion.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: "You mentioned the culture of sports differences between boys and girls. Are you able to ask questions related to race and ethnic differences as it relates to sports?"

>> DR. BARCH: We haven't yet but we could ask whether there are differences across individuals who self-described as being of different races or ethnicity in these relationships. That is certainly something we can look at. We don't currently have measures in the ABCD that explicitly asked about attitudes about sports involvement. That actually would be an interesting thing to consider.

Yes, we could ask whether these relationships vary as a function of race or ethnicity or other cultural characteristics that are being measured. What we don't currently have is information about exactly what those differences might be in terms of attitudes about sports involvement across genders or races or ethnicity.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: "Can you elaborate more on the measurement and operationalization of the different activity categories? For example, what was included as non-sport activities? What were team sports and what were individual sports?"

>> DR. BARCH: Non-sport activities, we tried to ask about as many different things as we could that kids were involved in. That would include all the different music options, all the different other kinds of parts involvement, painting or anything else that kids could be involved in. It would include things like debate team, it would include things like chess or checkers teams.

Anything that seems to be of enough frequency that we would have enough kids reporting on being involved in that. Our restricted definition of team sports was that the sport had to be played as a team, baseball, soccer, hockey. Our more general definition was that the kid was doing it as part of a team, but not necessarily playing the sport as a team. The best example of that is swimming.

At this age, a lot of kids are involved in swimming, and they may be part of a swim team, but they may be only swimming individual events. It's a general definition of a team sport because they are on a team, but they are not actually executing the sport as part of a team.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: "Sports involvement was related to fewer depressive symptoms for boys and not girls. Why do you think that is if we know that doing exercise releases endorphins, which could then be related to better mental health?"

>> DR. BARCH: I cannot say that that was a result that we anticipated. We know less about what it's like for kids, like do we know for sure that kids are releasing endorphins in the same way as adults when they're engaging in sports? No, we don't necessarily know that. Our data did suggest that sports were related positively to hippocampal volume in both boys and girls, it just wasn't further related to depression.

It's also the case that we are not measuring mood in the moment while the kid is engaging in sports. We're measuring more like does the kids show symptoms of depression more generally? An interesting question would be, to what extent do boys and girls experience mood elevations in the moment when they're engaging in sports? Is that different between boys and girls? Or is it the same between boys and girls? Because that might be different than whether it's then associated with an overall reduction in depression symptoms, which are not necessarily being experienced in the moment that they're playing sports.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: Are you thinking about looking at comparative models from international data that might be available in sports for kids in that age range?

>> DR. BARCH: There are a few other studies. Particularly, there's a study called Generation R that's going on in Europe that would have some similar data, and that might be an opportunity to do some comparative look at those relationships. That's a great idea.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: Are you measuring adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)? Might you be able to explore this down the line?

>> DR. BARCH: Yes, we are. We have a number of different ways of measuring at least some components of adverse childhood experiences. Parents do tell us about things that their child may have experienced that would constitute as adverse childhood experiences. In some of the follow-up years, we started asking both kids and parents about life events that they might have experienced.

The other thing that we also have data available on is geocoding, where if you have information about where someone lives, there are databases available like the American Community Survey that could tell you about characteristics of the neighborhood. That can also give you some information about, for example, poverty or crime in the neighborhood. You could look at that in relationship to child development. There will be a number of different measures that people can look at in the ABCD either separately or in relationship to how they impact sports involvement and its relationship to brain development or depression.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: "Do you think there is any correlation between this data and young people who have higher ACE scores, not looking at racial differences, that someone else asked but looking at young people who experience high levels of trauma in their lives, knowing that perhaps there is higher incidence of depression and less access to sports?"

>> DR. BARCH: There's two ways you could look at it. One way you could look at it is to say, is involvement in things that we think might be beneficial, and again, we don't know from the data the causality, but I'm just going to say, might it be the case that kids who are particularly at risk for depression because of some earlier adverse experiences might show particularly strong benefit of being involved in sports or other things that might be positive for brain development and depression?

That's a really interesting question, and definitely, one that we could explore. Another question, is it the case that kids who had an earlier adverse experience are less likely to be involved in sports? Is that one of the things that might be contributing to an increased risk for depression or less healthy brain development? One could certainly look at that as well. Those are really interesting questions that we haven't looked at yet.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: "Is there a sleep component measured? Individuals who participate in sports tend to focus on self-care related to sleep and nutrition, which can also be associated with depression."

>> DR. BARCH: Yes, so we have measures of sleep from the parents starting at baseline. We do ask about sleep. Then, as the kids got a little bit older, these data were from baseline, we're just about to finish with the year one follow up, and we've already started the year two follow up. In year two, we also started asking kids about what we call chronometrics, so as kids are moving into puberty, their sleep cycles change. We are asking questions about that.

With the Fitbits, we will be able to get some information on sleep as well. That's interesting in and of itself, but it could also be something that's part of the relationship between sports and brain development and depression.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: I think this might be one of our last questions. Relying on parent proxy, do you think there may be differences in how parents are perceiving depressive symptoms in their children based on gender norms?

>> DR. BARCH: Yes, it is certainly possible. As the kids get older, we are increasingly asking them to self-report on their own depression and anxiety symptoms. That is something we'll be able to ask about explicitly. Is it the case that you still see relationships when kids are reporting about their own depression levels, and do you continue to see any evidence for gender differences when kids are self-reporting?

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: That concludes our questions. I want to thank everyone who submitted a question. Wait a minute, I have two more. Are there differences between contact sports, for example, football, rugby, men's hockey, and possibly soccer, and any non-contact team sports such as swimming, tennis, volleyball?

>> DR. BARCH: That's a good question. We did not break them up by contact versus non-contact. That's an interesting question. That is something we could look at, but we haven't so far.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: Does CBCL have normed data that this data could be compared with?

>> DR. BARCH: They do and in fact the data that I showed that is the T-score is the normed data.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: Are you thinking of recruiting younger kids?

>> DR. BARCH: ABCD will not be recruiting younger kids but the Environmental Child Health Outcome (ECHO) study will be recruiting younger kids for their study. There are other projects in discussion that may include younger kids.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: That concludes our questions. I want to thank everyone who submitted one. I want to thank Dr. Barch. I want to thank everyone who participated in making this webinar happen. You see here our contact information, if you want to contact either myself or Dr. Barch, you can do so by email. Thank you very much for participating in the webinar this afternoon. I hope that you'll be tuning into the webinar that we'll be having in September.

>> DR. BARCH: Thank you, everybody.

>> OPERATOR: This will conclude today's program.

>> TAMARA LEWIS JOHNSON: Thanks. Bye-bye.

>> DR. BARCH: Bye-bye.

Original Article

Video » Insights from Social Psychology and Neuroscience on Bias

Insights from Social Psychology and Neuroscience on Bias


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>> OPERATOR: Good day, and welcome to today's Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity, 2019 Webinar Series titled, Insights from Social Psychology and Neuroscience on Bias. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Questions can be submitted anytime via the Q&A part located in the lower right-hand corner of your screen. Please note this call may be recorded. It is now my pleasure to turn the call over to Ishmael Amarreh; please go ahead.

>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Great. Thank you. Good morning everyone, good afternoon, and good evening. I'm Ishmael Amarreh of the National Institute of Mental Health. I would like to welcome you to today's webinar on Insights from Social Psychology and Neuroscience on Bias. This is the second of two webinars in our NIMH 2019 Webinar Series for the Office for Research on Disparities and Workforce. The first webinar held last month was on the influence of exercise on brain development, and the differential effect that this has on girls versus boys.

We archive all of these webinars so that you can read them later. You'll see the webpage on the screen at the end of the webinar today. Before we start, just a couple of logistical things. We will take questions online. So, We ask you to use the Q&A box on your screen any time during the presentation. I will compile these questions, and Dr. Rippon, our speaker, will answer these questions at the end of the presentation.

Now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce our speaker of today, Dr. Gina Rippon. Dr. Rippon is an international expert on brain-imaging techniques. She is the Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Neuroimaging at Aston Brain Center, at Aston University in Birmingham in the United Kingdom. Dr. Rippon is a leader in neuroimaging field, particularly EEG and MEG. She uses these techniques and cognitive neuroscience paradigms to investigate developmental disorders such as autism.

When she's not in the lab, she's out in the world debunking the sex different myths, the idea that there is such thing as male or female brain. She recently published a book on this topic, titled Gender Brain: The New Neuroscience that Shatters the Myth of Female Brain. She's going to speak to us today about her insights from social psychology and neuroscience on bias.
Dr. Rippon, welcome and thank you for presenting this webinar.

>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Thank you very much, Ish. Thank you for the introduction. Hello, everybody? I gather you're in all sorts of different parts of the world. As I said, good morning, good afternoon, and good evening. As Ish mentioned also, I've got a wide-ranging interest in the way in which different brains get to be different, and whether or not there are such types of brains as a male brain and a female brain. The book that I've just written is called The Gendered Brain in the UK, and for some reason, Gender and Our Brains in the US.

It’s really wide-ranging, but a key theme is how messages in the outside world may change your brain and may change the behavior associated with it. And Whether or not that some kind of explanation for the kind of gender gaps that I'm interested in looking at. A key interest of mine is the underrepresentation of women in science. Why it is that there are so few women in science, big gender gaps across the world, and whether understanding some of the neuroscience and some of the social psychology behind aspects of behavior may explain this. That's what today's seminar is going to be about.

Just briefly, to show you the kind of changes that I'm interested in, is looking at some of the gender gaps and– Just quickly getting my slide changing here. It doesn't seem to be changing. [laughs] Just moving on to my second slide. It isn't moving. I don't know if somebody is listening into this, but–

>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Gina, I can see your slides moving.

>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Okay. They are coming through very slowly on my computer. I'm just going to go back now. That's better. Okay, apologies, everybody.

The kind of gender gaps I'm interested in is one of the slides I'm showing here, is some data from the World Economic Forum looking at global gender gap differences and pointing out that economic and political empowerment gaps that very slow to change. The interest that I have, in particular, as I mentioned, is the fact that if we look at the world of science, it's a world of gender gaps. These are some UK data, looking at the participation in different science subjects of 18-year-old students in their last year at school, and showing that there's huge gender gaps. If you look at the right-hand end of the graph, you can see that very few girls do computing or physics or mathematical subjects.

This then translates into the fact that there are people who do computer A level or go into the core science, technology, engineering, and medicine subjects. Few of those are associated with girls, and also in engineering and technology, very small percentage of girls participate. This is a great loss to science, because we need lots of woman too. If a large number of the population are not engaging, we need to look at that. It's also a loss to the people who don't engage, because becoming part of the scientific community is both economically and intellectually very important. It's difficult to understand why not everybody is trying to do science.

What I'm going to try and do today is actually look at the neuroscience explanation initially, behind any gender gaps, whatever they are. It could be gender gaps in science, it could be a gender gap in achievement. The slide I'm showing here is actually just a depiction of what I call a very simple chain of arguments. The fact that whatever it is that determines anatomical differences between males and females, in addition, on the left-hand side, also determines the fact that they have different kinds of brains. What we now know is the genotype, because this is a very old argument. What we now know is the genotype will determine that you have a female brain. And If you have a female brain, and there's all sorts of psychological characteristics go with that, for example, you expect to be very empathic, but not very good at reading maps. That will then lead to a particular role in society.

Whereas if you have a male body, that means you also have a male brain. That male brain will bring with it characteristics of being very good at spatial cognition, the map reading argument, but you're not very good at listening or understanding emotions. That again, will determine particular roles in society.

This argument has been around for a very long time. The way in which you can detect it is that this is a biologically determined pathway, you have a male brain at birth, which arrived with particular kinds of skills. As that male brain grows, the owner of that brain goes through life, gets educated, requires different skills, and they're very important skills. They may well determine, for example, that they become great scientists and win Nobel prizes, et cetera.

Whereas a female version, it doesn't come equipped with such useful skills. Certainly, in the 19th century, it was believed that female brains shouldn't be exposed to dangerous things like education, because it would affect their reproductive capacity. Effectively, this brain becomes different. The skills it brings with it means that you're perhaps emotionally labor, but very good at understanding emotion, good at caring, good at in quotes, being a womanly companion to men, for example. I've depicted it here, and obviously caricaturing it, but the idea is that there's two types of brain, a female brain and the male brain. Those brains have different skills, different capacities, which will determine different involvement in science or any particular field that you might be interested in.

Now, one of the reasons that I'm interested in this particular topic, is the idea that once the world recognizes that, with respect to the cognitive skills which are necessary for involvement in science, then we should start to see that you don't treat women differently from men because of the cognitive skills they have. They have the performance capacity, then we should start to see these gender gaps in science disappearing. One of the issues that's emerged recently is what's called the gender equality paradox. That's if you look at gap countries where the gender gaps are relatively small, think Scandinavian countries, paradoxically, the representation of women and the underrepresentation of women in science is greater.

There is a kind of underlying currents that perhaps essentially this argument is got something to say it's nothing to do with science same with the world saying you can't do science. It's saying that when all of those different society pressures are removed, women are still choosing not to do science, and perhaps they choose to do because they have personal strengths in different areas, and very often, the choice of arts and humanities is quoted.

We have this paradox where, and this is a quotation from the authors, the differences emerge from a seemingly irrational choice to pursue academic paths that are our personal strength. There is a feeling that we are looking at females who have a female brain, who have different strengths and make different choices.

Now, one of the lines I was challenging in my book was actually looking at the chain of argument that leads to these statements. What I'll be doing for the rest of the seminar is really examining what it is, what claims there are that women are underrepresented in science for a range of reasons. I think there's two particular arguments that I'm going to go through.

First of all, that women are unsuitable for STEM, and this is rather the, essentially the argument, that they have "The wrong sort of brain', or they have the wrong sort of skill set, because their skill set brains brought with them, perhaps they have the wrong temperament or personality, maybe the kind of personality that's determined how they behave in the world is not suitable for science, or they have their own preferences. They actually choose, for example, an example is often given where they prefer to work with people rather than things. I would say that it might give one pause for thought to think that science is characterized as just being interested in working with things as something to do with working with people. That's, I think, it's an essentialist argument that women don't do science because they can't do science.

My argument is very much is that we also need to look at the world in which these brains are functioning, male or female, and say, how suitable, how welcoming is science to certain types of people such as women. If science is viewed as a male domain, that fantasy mainly expected to be men, and there's expectations of a certain innate brilliance which is associated with males, then it may well be that that's why females and their brains don't fit into science.

Or you can look at what I call science chilly climate, the fact that there's evidence of gender bias, that there's different explanations for when women do succeed in science, or women working in science get acknowledged in different ways. This seminar will really be working through these characteristics and say, how does science back up with respect to answering these questions?

First of all, let's have a look at the idea that maybe women have the wrong brain. Maybe they're all male brains and female brains, and male brains are better suited for science. On the left-hand side, there's just a couple of examples of the many, many thousands of neuroscience papers which have been produced since neural imaging really entered the mainstream science in the 1990s. This hunt for the difference between males and females, which really started 200 years ago, continued, but using these new kinds of techniques. If you had a quick glance at the number of papers published, which report sex differences, you think there's thousands of them.

Isn't it amazing how neuroscience has really proved that males brains are different from female brains? If you look more carefully at the body of evidence, you'll see that one study will report one of the papers I'm showing here a sex difference in adult human brains gathering information from over 5,000 participants, and in this case, they will report a difference in the Amygdala and the Hippocampus. There is lots of structures in the brain. Whereas in other papers, other papers will say, yes, we found amazing sex differences, but they're in different parts of the brain.

We have to acknowledge that after 30 more years, we still haven't come up with any consistent description which would allow anybody looking at a brain, looking at an image of a brain to say, “oh, that's a male brain, and that's a female brain.” A very basic concept that there are different kinds of brains associated with being male or female is something that we need to challenge, we need to say there really isn't any consistent evidence that male brains are different from female brains. The other thing to realize is that if we're looking at a body of literature, the way in which what we call publication bias works, is that if you have a hypothesis, that there is a difference and you find a difference wherever it is, that's much more likely to be published than if you don't actually find a difference. Your hypothesis isn't proved.

Or you may find that this is a very long paper and lots and lots of similarities or lack of differences have been reported. That's not what's emphasized.

On the right-hand side of the slide, I'm just giving an indication that sometimes scientists themselves are not that reliable or perhaps are rather cautious in emphasizing their findings. This was a paper which had a big impact five or six years ago reporting differences in wiring the patterns of connections between male and female brains. Very popular and reported in Science and popular journals widely. The suggestion was that male brains were connected anterior to posterior, whereas female brains were much more likely to have connections between the right and the left hemispheres. This fitted in nicely with existing metaphors. The popular press got very excited, and there was lots of headlines, lots of the truth. Now we know why men and women are different.

What the scientists themselves, and certainly also the communicators of this work, didn't emphasize, was that the data we were looking at were hugely overlapping. This is true of all sex differences research. This is something we nearly really need to remember, is that when we talk about differences, we're not talking about distinctions, that a male brain is like this and a female brain is like that. We're looking at data where there's a huge amount of variability within each group, but if you put the two sets of data together on the relevant axes, you'll see there's a huge overlap. The differences between those two groups are very tiny. Actually, knowing whether you've got a male or a female and how they will perform on a science task, or what particular structure in the brain you might be interested in, these are very tiny differences. We're talking about group averages. Even at the group level, these are very tiny. I think that's very important in trying to understand any discussion about sex differences. In particular, when we're talking about sex differences in the involvement in science.

Moving on, the suggestion is perhaps we should be looking at the characteristics that are associated with having a particular brain. A book by Simon Baron Cohen, a very eminent neuroscientist in the UK who also like myself works in the author's world of autism, has written a book for popular consumption which is again an amalgam of lots of research about sex differences. Starts the book, the female brain is predominantly hardwired. That's quite important because it suggests you can't change it for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hardwired for understanding and building systems.

There's a clear message that if you have the kind of brain that is a systemizing brain, what he calls the systemizing brain, then it's much more likely that you will be at ease and successful in a scientific environment. Later on, in the book, he does actually say, your sex doesn't dictate your brain type. Not all men have a male brain, and not all women have a female brain. I think that's another important message that the language used in the area sometimes is misleading. Because you think, why do we call it a male brain if you don't have to be a man to have that kind of brain? Really what this individual is talking about is the difference between certain skill sets being empathizing or systemizing. Research from that lab has actually later found that a cognitive style, which is whether or not you'd score high on tests of empathy, or you score high on tests of systemizing.

That style is a good predictor of entry into physical sciences and humanities. This is a survey done on applicants. It's actually independent of sex differences. Again, that's an important message. That sometimes what looks like a sex difference is actually some kind of cognitive difference. We need to make sure that people understand that's the difference that we're talking about.

Again, not the wrong brain, the wrong skill set. Maybe it's the case that, as was early suggested, women weren't very good at the hard skills which were necessary for science. A lot of this was supported by what I call that experimental psychologies go to degenerating or go to list for researchers and for people interested in this area to say these are reliable differences between the various skills, temperaments and personalities of males and females. Again, the impression, when you looked at the data, was there was a good story here. There were clear differences, and that was what was taught to psychology students et cetera, including people like myself.

Now that researchers are going back and looking much more carefully at the findings and really saying, how often were these findings reliably replicated? How big was the effect size? What they're actually finding is that what we've always believed were profound differences between males and females in terms of males being better at mathematical skills and spatial cognition, actually, this is not a finding that has been supported. There's been a couple of great studies really summarizing all the research in this area, one by Janet Hyde talking about gender similarities and differences. Another study by a group headed by Ethan Zell who looked at all data evaluating where they found gender similarities, as well as differences, using very complicated analytical techniques. Actually, they say that all the differences we believed in have either disappeared over time, or actually, if you look at the data, never really existed in the first place. We really should be talking about gender similarities. Males and females are much more similar in the skills they have than they are different. That's again, important to remember when people start using arguments about why women don't do science.

The other thing is, if we have a belief that the brain is fixed, the essentialist pathway, I showed at the beginning, is some invariable unfolding of a biological template, and that template determines particular skills. We could say, why we're fixed on particular trajectories, our brains, whether or not we think it will be useful for more women to do science, their brains are on a different biological trajectory. One of the things we discovered in the last 30 years, is that our brains are so-called plastic so much longer, really throughout our lives, and we have realized we knew baby brains were developmentally very plastic, pathways were being formed, dependent on the experiences they had. They were still fairly fixed in the skills that were required.

The understanding was that you reached the developmental endpoint fairly early in your life, and after that, your brain was pretty much fixed, and those brains broke within the skills that you had. We now know that the brain is very, very responsive throughout our lives to different experiences. Some of the examples I've given here are of neuroscientists looking at people learning particular skills, showing how the brain changes, and also showing how the behavior associated with those brains change.

I've got pictures of taxi drivers' brains, of Black Cab drivers in London go to a really complicated visual-spatial memory training, which goes on for three or four years, sometimes it takes as long as six, which means they are brilliant at navigating their way around London. Have you come to London and leap in a cab, a Black Cab driver will be able to unerringly take you to wherever you want to go in the shortest possible time? People are looking at taxi drivers' brains have shown how particular parts of the brain associated with this task change, become enlarged as these skills are acquired. Interestingly, once taxi drivers retire, then those changes disappear. There are no differences between them and controls.

The other examples shown here is just really the skills learning to juggle which is quite a complicated motor hand-eye coordination task, or learning to play Tetris, which is quite a complicated spatial cognition task. All of these you can show that you can change the brain if you give people the right training opportunities. That's quite important to hang on to. Because it means that if you haven't got the skills for whatever reason, when you enter a particular profession, or when you wish to enter a profession, you can still acquire them, and your brain will change appropriately. It's not as though if we don't have a skill, it's because our brain doesn't allow us to have it and can't be changed.

I think this is a nice example, where something that looks like a sex difference and that has long been claimed as a sex difference, and sex difference which is relevant to involvement in science, when you look more closely, you realize that this has changed quite dramatically. Not as a function of the sex of the brain’s owner, but the training opportunities that the brains’ owners had. This task here is called a mental rotation task. It's a good measure, claim to be a very good measure of spatial cognition. You've got two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object. You have to mentally rotate that object to see if the two figures you're looking at are the same, except one is just being rotated through, say, 90 degrees. It's actually for anybody like me who actually does struggle with this task. It's quite complicated and quite hard work. It's shown over the years to claim to be a robust sex difference. Males, on average, important to remember that, perform better.

If you then look at the training opportunities that some parts of our population have, you realize that this may actually be a function of the differences you see, and there was a big study carried out two years ago.

It looked at spatial cognition skills in large numbers of males and females, found a sex difference overlapping, and on average, but it was a clear sex difference. Then they thought, "Well, we'll have a look at visual and spatial experience. We'll ask people if they played with construction toys when they were children, if they play video games now. What kind of video games? If they have a hobby which gives them some kind of spatial hand-eye coordination training, for example." They found that once you got a measure of spatial experience, the sex difference disappeared. What looked like a male-female difference was actually to do with spatial training experience.

If you look, for example, at the kind of toys that children are exposed to, this is, I think, very telling. If you look at Lego, if you look at the kinds of models which are associated with Lego, or the kind of video game, Super Mario is a very good example, you'll find that experience with these kinds of toys and games is a very reliable predictor of how well you're going to perform in a special task. Do I think there's some kind of asymmetry in the world with respect to these training opportunities? The answer obviously, is yes. If you look at the kind of Lego that girls are given, much less complicated, some of the bigger bits because of course, girls will find these sorts of things hard. What they can build is things like a hairdressing salon or a poodle parlor, for example.

My favorite and with tremendous relevance to this particular seminar is STEM Barbie. Mattel, realizing that it was under-representation of women in science, decided to solve this problem by producing a Barbie doll, engineer Barbie, who you will see here. She is wearing a very short lab coat and even shorter miniskirt underneath. It does have DNA on the skirt to show she's sciencey. In terms of the kind of gender stereotypes that are inadvertently at one hopes in forming this, are Barbie engineer can build a pink washing machine, or a pink jewelry carousel, or a pink table for cutting out dress patterns.

I think you don't have to look very far in the outside world to see that training opportunities are different for boys and girls, right from the toys they play with to the expectations of the kinds of things that they want to get involved in. Again, it's something that's important to remember, something that looks like a sex difference may well be playing out the world's gender stereotypes.

Finally, this sort of essential argument, looking at the idea that males and females have different preferences. Women prefer working with people, and that's why they don't go into science, whereas men prefer working with things, and that's why they're very good at science. This is quite an interesting example here of the metric we use to make these kinds of claims. The questionnaire that is the basis of these claims, is actually for me, a flawed questionnaire, and it's something which is very often quoted in explaining why women don't do science. This people versus things task was devised way back in the 1980s. Looking at occupational choice and trying to determine this was really developed for career advisors and saying, "Let's have a look at the kinds of things that people like doing and we'll fit them into the right occupation." What they said was that the tasks which were THING type tasks, they measured things, interest in people like bricklayers and laboratory technicians and bus drivers, and found they mainly worked mainly with things, and whereas people who were interested in working with people, they looked at the interest of elementary school teachers and social workers and vocational counselors.

The trouble is that the time in which they were looking, these were already gendered occupations. The little image I'm showing here, is that only 2.4% of bricklayers were women. Also, looking at elementary school teachers, for example, 82% of them at that time were female. You've got a task, which is already gendered, the choices that they've made is determined, and in some cases, these are legal issues. These were perhaps union issues, that women weren't allowed to join a union, which meant you couldn’t be a construction worker. What you're seeing here is playing out of a social difference between males and females. The task itself is already gendered. When people say, "Isn't it amazing, we give males and females this particular questionnaire, and females always come up strongly on preferring people and men preferring things. Actually, I think it's a flawed metric. It's actually already gendered, and that's why we find the difference that we claim to be due to particular kinds of preferences.

Again, moving on, we need to say that, "Okay, we don't seem to have an explanation, essential explanation from research as to why women don't do science." Let's move on quickly to see whether or not science is a suitable place for women, a welcoming place for women. At this point, we need to slightly step aside from the general argument, and I'll give you some of the background, which is really fundamental aspect of my book. That is reminding us that our brains are not just wired to be amazingly skilled cognitive operators.

Our brains are also wired to make us social, and the diagram I'm showing here is a complicated anatomical diagram, a cross-section of the brain, but the key issues to notice is that if you look at the prefrontal cortex evolution, really younger parts of the brain, we've always assumed that it was the evolution of this increase in size which made us very good at sciency-type things, being creative, solving problems, as well as developing language and being able to organize our worlds in a particular way, become the executive function within the brain.

We now know that it's also equally important for the fact that human beings are very social beings. We solve problems collaboratively, we generally work collaboratively, we have big social networks, and the success of the human race has been linked very closely to the social part of the brain. Being social is as much a brain process as the kind of cognitive skills we have. This is linked to the same kind of functions that we've always had, even earlier evolutionary functions.

Parts of the brain associated with emotion still give us positive or negative feedback depending on the outcome of our behavior. This could be social behavior; if you feel good about belonging to a group, you want to belong to a particular in-group. You want to understand the rules of that group, the social context, the social scripts associated with that group. Your behavior when you belong to the group and is accepted by the group will be rewarded.

There's a part of the brain here, which I characterize a bit like a traffic light system. It's a bridge between the new part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, and the old parts of the brain which drive our behavior by emotional responses. This is like a traffic light system, particularly in the stop behavior, which results in negative feedback.

We have a system within the brain, which I call an inner limiter, a bit like an intake mechanistic calm metaphor, which will drive us away from behavior which doesn't give us positive feedback.

If you're looking at social behavior, you can see that there is a very powerful social driver in the world. Looking at the next slide, these are evidence of brain changes which are associated with social experiences, negative social experiences, and some of this work is from my lab. We can have a look at the experience of being socially rejected. This is actually a very powerful effect which we can show in a scanner.

You can give somebody a really simple cartoon type involvement in a game, and you can be part of that game but gradually, the other players start to exclude you. Even though you know it's a video game, I've played this game myself, you think, "I know this is a video game, but I'm a bit messed that people aren't passing the ball to me," et cetera. We can see that as your social esteem drops or you find yourself getting more and more annoyed, particular parts of the brain will change.

Similarly, if you have experienced a drop in self-esteem through some kind of rating system or you're asked to rank where you are in your own particular environment, in your group, in your employment, et cetera, or if you're very critical, you make a mistake and you blame yourself for it, all of these are social activities, all of these associated with activity in our inner limiter.

They are very powerful. What is interesting in terms of the driving effects of being belonging or not belonging is that the areas of the brain which are activated by these negative social experiences such as social rejection are the same areas of the brain which are activated by real pain. Being rejected from your social group or not being accepted by a social group is a very powerful driver within the brain.
Associated with that is certain changes in behavior, which is interesting to understand in terms of why some individuals withdraw from situations where you know cognitively they're completely competent, but if they have a poor self-image or they're very sensitive to being rejected and not feeling welcome, they have high levels of self-criticism and they may what we call a self-silence, they withdraw and say, "I don't think I want to engage with what's going on." They may leave.

This is played out in in all sorts of fora but also, interestingly, in science in terms of when women decide that science is not for them, either they are involved in science and leave, or they look at science and think, "I don't particularly want to be involved here." It's key to understand that our brain, the world is a brain influencer, and this is something that we've really found out in the last 30 years, that we shouldn't just be looking at cognitive skills and particular structures in the brain, we also need to understand how the brain is very, very sensitive to what's going on in the world around it.

Examples of this is the fact that you can give somebody exactly the same task, but if you give a negative context, you say this is the task. An example I'm giving here is of another spatial task, if you say to three groups of women in this particular study involved, if you say to one group, "This is a task that women are very good at, but I just want to see what happens when you try and solve the problem," or you give another group what we call a positive message, "This is a perspective taking task," if you like, "which women are very good at. We'd like to see how your brain changes as a function of that."

What you'll see is that the behavior, you get many fewer errors when you got a positive message, and you got more errors when you get a negative message. Also, the brain activity reflects that. If you get a positive message, the appropriate areas of the brain are activated, and you solve the problem efficiently. If you're given a negative message, you may struggle to solve the problem, and there's much more activity, again, in our inner limiter error evaluate system.

Exactly the same task but the brain responds differently depending on the attitude. Again, I think that's something, it's important to hang onto in understanding what's going on in the under-involvement of women in science. What I'm showing in the next few slides is just some other examples of the same issue, and I've given references on the slide so that people could follow this up. If you look at people who have math anxiety, for example, and then you divide them into groups, one group is told, "We'll be comparing your score to other students for the purpose of studying gender differences in math, or with a neutral group, we want to examine psychological processes associated with efforts or problem-solving."

You'll find the brain activity associated with making mistakes is very different in the group who have a negative message. You also find behaviorally in this particular task that help is offered to people who are making mistakes, the people who are given a negative context of the task cannot take that help and tend to self-limit their behavior and withdraw from the task because that's also an option they're given.

We have very good evidence that our brains will respond differently to the social context that they find themselves in. This is another example here, where the example is this task is diagnostic as the type of problem-solving strategies you prefer or the other message, "This task is diagnostic of your mass ability." Again, same tasks that we get different responses from the brain.

We can also see how early this starts. I was involved in a television program in the UK which was called No More Boys and Girls and actually looking at the effect of gender stereotyping in the classroom. The fact that there was lots of gender stereotyping, quite unconscious, the teacher called the girls sweet pea and the boys mates, chose boys much more often than girls to carry out particular tasks and girls weren't asked to answer the questions.
This is all unconscious, but they did find that once people's attention was drawn to this and that involved the children as well, just a six-week experiment, they took every opportunity to remove gender stereotyping, and the boys' and the girls' behavior changed quite dramatically, a big increase in self-esteem, which was low in seven-year-old girls and also a greater indication of boys using emotional language much more effectively and enjoying.

They had a mixed football team and enjoying not just being boys playing football but enjoying playing football with a mixed team. We know, in education, that teachers tend to overmark boys and undermark girls in particular issues, particularly science, and if you generate this as a bias score, you can follow it up longitudinally and show this, in fact, this has quite a profound effect on how people will actually- the choices they will make intensive of high school subjects.

We have six-year-old girls who if you give them a choice between toys or games for really, really clever people or games for people who work hard, the girls will be much more likely to choose the games for people who work hard, and when they're asked a reason for their choice, they say, "It's because girls aren't really, really clever, and I'm a girl so I wouldn't like that toy," which I think is a rather sad reflection on the effect of gender stereotypes.
Similarly, nine-year-old girls, you'll find that they have a very powerful belief that math is a boy thing and that they probably won't do math when they grow up or they'll do as little math as they can because they're not boys and therefore they're not really good at math and math is the kind of thing that boys do. Again, we have an indication that these all start fairly early on, being aware that I should move on here.
What we then need to look at is whether or not there's a belief in science about who can do science. There's a bit of a rogue's gallery here, on the left, we have a picture of Charles Darwin, who 200 years ago, a great scientist that he was, had a very powerful belief that women were actually inferior. You think, "Okay, that's 200 years ago." The other pictures are a bit of rogue's gallery of men quoting the fact that women shouldn't be encouraged to go into science or the fact that there weren't high achievers in science was possibly to do with a lack of aptitude at the high end.

To quote Larry Summers and the Google Memo writer saying that Google was wasting its time with diversity initiative because, biologically, women had different preferences and abilities which weren't really suited for what Google was looking for. Similarly, a physicist intern standing up and saying physics was wasting their time educating girls in physics because actually, biologically, they had a different interest and wouldn't make good physicists.

He did kindly make an exception of Marie Curie, who has two Nobel prizes, but she was, of course, unexceptional. We're getting a feeling, hopefully, that we need to understand that science has a particular view of women. There was a great study done. Again, I've given the reference here, by Sarah Jane Leslie and her team looking at all sorts of different academic disciplines and asking both males and females within those disciplines what they felt were necessary characteristics to be high achievers in their particular discipline.

She called it Expectations of Brilliance. She generated a score which showed that there was a very powerful belief in some disciplines that there was some innate characteristic, some innate ability that people were born with which meant they were likely to be high achievers. When she correlated that score with the size of underrepresentation of women in science and this, in fact, is a measure of the number of females doing PhDs, she showed that the disciplines just focusing on the left-hand side, in this case, in science, the disciplines which had the most powerful belief that being brilliant was something you were born with we're also the disciplines which had the biggest gender gaps.

Again, if you're in an environment which doesn't believe that you are going to be a great success, this is a pretty negative information. Similarly, there's many social psychology studies I've given references here which show that there's a underlying bias that if you're given exactly the same CV and you're, as an academic male or female, supposed to be rating these CVs in terms of who you'd like to employ to work in your lab, what kind of starting salary they might have, what kind of training opportunities you would give them, how well you think they would succeed, identical CVs, one, the name was John and the other one, the name was Jennifer.

It was clearly indicated that there was a bias, and Jennifer was offered a much lower starting salary, much less likely to succeed, not given many training opportunities but, interestingly, rated highly on likeability. They liked Jennifer, but they didn't actually think that she was going to be very successful. Similarly, writing letters of reference, there's a clear gender bias in raving about the genius, the insightful logical problem-solving of male applicants and the neat handwriting and well-turned-outness of female applicants.

Within the environment of science, there's very clear evidence of differences between males and females. Just finally, moving on, is to say that there's also the idea that if women get into science and they achieve well, then that's due to different reasons. This is nice dichotomy between the lightbulb achievement where if a male achieves, it's because they're a genius. They've had this amazing insight and will solve a problem in a flash that's been worrying science for centuries, possibly, whereas if women do very well, it's because they worked very hard, they've got a good team, they'd been plugging away at the problem for ages.

The images here just to illustrate this as a nice dichotomy between Hedy Lamar who was a very famous film star in her time but also an amazing inventor, and she worked together with a male, Mr. George Antheil, a radio specialist trying to solve the problem of enemy aircraft and enemy shipping intercepting messages in the Second World War, and they came up with this radio frequency hopping solution which meant that you could send a message, but if you kept changing the frequency, it couldn't be tracked by the enemy.

Both of those were equally involved in producing this amazing solution, but Hedy Lamar’s contribution is frequently rated as of working really, really hard with a great team, whereas George Antheil's contribution is very often described as an amazing flash of genius. Even if women get into science and are successful, there are different explanations given. We are moving onto the end here to say, remember what we're talking about, we're talking about the gender-equality paradox.

Why it is that women who are apparently, if you look at their performance scores, equally capable, and society in terms of measures of gender gap appear to be offering them every opportunity, why it is that they don't choose to go into science? I think if we look at some of the newer science evidence, the inner limiter that I've talked about, the way in which if you don't really belong in a group or if you feel that a group is likely to reject you and what I call the kind of, if women are believed to be inferior or incompetent or even invisible, then this is a powerful brain-changing effect.

It will drive behavior in a particular direction. I think that's really important that we need to remember that we should be looking at science itself as well as the individuals to try and explain why people don't get involved. Looking at the explanations I've come with, I don't think that women are in any way unsuitable for science, I appreciate that I'm quite perfectly biased, but I think there's a lot of evidence to support the idea that this essentialist argument needs to be dismissed.

I think there is strong evidence that women don't enter science because science is a no-go area for women, and this is something that we need to acknowledge to say this is a brain-changing effect. We are looking into a biological process, but it is not actually something which is fixed and inevitable, it's something we could do something about. I've just put some papers here which I think are really interesting for people interested in this area to say there are unasked questions in answering this issue.

Is it to do with self-confidence, are there gender gaps in confidence which might explain gender gaps in wages? Is it the case that if you look at women who are withdrawing from science, could it be not to do with their incompetence but actually to do with they’re quite sensitive to being rejected from social groups? If they are in a group such as science, which doesn't seem to be welcoming, this is something we should look at.

The idea of what is caught here is threatening academic environments predicts how high women's self-esteem and their engagement in science might be, so if you look at the environments, you can see a lot of the explanations here. It's to say that at the end of the day when we're looking at explanations for this underrepresentation of women, we need to move on from this essentialist argument which was talking about the male and the female brain and suggesting, actually, these brains are differently organized, have different skills, and they will succeed in different fora, and that's where we should stop.

To say, actually, where did these differences come from, let's have a look at the world, let's have a look at the gender explanations in the world. My take-home message for you, if you like, is brains will reflect the lives they've lived, so if you haven't had the right kind of training experiences, then maybe your brain appears not to have the kind of necessary skills, but that's something we can challenge.
Finally, a gendered world produces a gendered brain, and that may underpin a lot of the underrepresentation that we're looking at. I'm going to stop there, and I think Ish is going to forward to me some of the questions that you've asked. I understand also that you have access to emails, so if there's other questions you'd like to ask, I'm happy to take them. Over to you, Ish.

>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Thank you very much, Gina, thank you for an insightful presentation. We don't have too many questions, so it seems maybe you have answered all the questions that people have. If you still have questions, we still have another 10 minutes for Dr. Rippon to answer your questions. The first question that came through the Q&A is something that's on everybody's minds and it's, how do we start to make change in the environment to minimize this bias, and are there strategies that you can think of to tackle this in a social context that we can use, either from institutions like NIMH, where we are the funders, or even universities or other places in society?

>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Okay, I think that's a great question, and what isn't great about it is that there is something we can do about it. Sometimes, it's just knowledge, it's making the policy deciders, if you like, in an institution or the management, depending on what you're looking at, aware of the unconscious bias and actually, where is the power of this bias to change the behavior in their workforce.
It's not just the kind of being PC and we're chasing gender equality or something we should be doing. Of course, it is something we should be doing but this is why. I think demonstrating that we are looking at a brain-changing process, actually, seems to have quite a powerful effect. One of the areas I've been involved in the European Union, well, we still belong to it, with the idea that funding was only given to mainstream science if they could also demonstrate that they were trying to encourage diversity.

Now, my focus, obviously, has been on gender gaps. The basic principle of how social our brains are and how we like to belong can apply to any minority, therefore, understanding that diversity or looking at people underrepresented is a brain-changing process. If you go to mainstream science and say, I've given talks to string theorists and particle physicists, et cetera, and saying, actually, your science will be much more creative, your teams would be much more productive if they were more diverse, but there may be problems for encouraging people to join your teams because of this sort of issues.

If you address the issues and make sure that you are aware of role models and how people like to work in teams, et cetera, make these available, then you will become more diverse. What they've done in Europe is actually, use, obviously, finance as a driving force. Yes, we will give you money for your mainstream science project, but you also need to demonstrate that you're attacking any diversity issues that you have.

I assume that the unity NIMH running these kind of a diversity seminars are also making both the individuals themselves because a lot of this is self-fulfilling prophecies. As I said, if you've got nine-year-old girls thinking they can't do math because they're a girl, you then, of course, get a self-fulfilling prophecy. Making sure that people are aware of their own power and to change their involvement as well as the environment itself, I think that's very helpful.

>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Thank you. I think you answered this question, but the other side of this coin is the individual and some of the questions that have been asked is, how do you as an individual try to overcome the negative aspects of this if you could say something about that?

>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Okay. Yes, I think the concept of resilience is something which is popular in social psychology and in clinical psychology as well. Again, sometimes it's just making individuals aware that they will confront unwelcoming situations. Looking at the difference, at the brain level, between self-criticism and self-reassurance is very interesting because if you can train people to say, "Look, mistakes will happen," or you may feel you're not very welcome in a group, it may be that you need techniques of self-reassurance.

You need to take a step back. "Is this something to do with me?" Don't listen too hard to your inner critic but just to say, "I'm working in an environment which is not very welcoming." If you're an activist sort of person, you may say, "Well, we need to change this, we need to have a diversity group," or to look at the environment, even if it's the physical environment, what kind of role models are, what kind of pictures are there on the wall, which sounds very trivial, but it's been demonstrated at a behavioral level that this is quite powerful.

I think individuals can make a difference both to themselves being aware that this is what they are going to encounter or maybe even are encountering. Similarly, empowering individuals so they can reflect on times when they were successful has been demonstrated to be very effective in overcoming stereotype threat.

For example, girls who suffer from math anxiety if rather than plugging them into many, many more training sessions in math, if you actually say, "You need to think more of yourself, you need to boost your self-esteem," it's been found that once somebody has a boost in self-esteem, then it doesn't have to come from math, that this can actually change their performance, and they start to succeed.

>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Thank you. We're getting more questions, I think. I guess maybe your answers are eliciting more questions. One thing that I wanted to say is if we don't have time to answer some of these questions, Dr. Rippon has volunteered for me to send her some of these questions, and she could provide answers through email. One question that came up from a couple of people is they wanted to know if there are studies out there that show this bias in parents themselves before people go into science or even education systems.

>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Yes, indeed. Certainly, developmentally, a strong belief in what we call gender essentialism, the kind of mantras "let boys be boys, let girls be girls" is a powerful predictor of how stereotypically gendered children are. Interestingly, again, math anxiety is something I'm interested in, the role of the mother if the mother tends to be very math-anxious, that's been demonstrated to be strongly correlative with girls being math-anxious, so it's a kind of role-model issue.

Parents have a very strong role, and that could be right back to this idea of training opportunities of is it boys that play with Lego and girls that play with dolls and dress up as princesses, et cetera. Parents do have a role to play. I've just mentioned an active role, obviously, they have a very positive role. Children are quite hard, it's quite strange. Sometimes parents will do their best to present a positive role model.

I have a friend who's a female neurosurgeon and her three-year-old son believes that only boys can be doctors. You can present role models very powerfully but there's all sorts of other messages that children are getting from media, social media, in particular, video games, toys that their families give, what's happening in nursery, et cetera. Children are very powerful gender-detective, so it is quite hard, I speak as a parent as well. I know it's quite hard to make a difference, but parents can. I think that that's important, to realize that talking about people not choosing not to do something because they're a girl or a boy is a good thing to avoid.

>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Thank you. We have one more minute before we end this. There are a couple of people who are asking if this webinar will be available. Yes, it will be available with the transcript. If you have any questions that you still want us to answer after you digest the material, please feel free to either send it to me or Dr. Rippon herself. You should be able to find our emails at the– There you go. This is our contact, so please email us if you have any questions, and we will have this presentation as soon as we do the transcript. Go ahead.

>> DR. GINA RIPPON: I'm sorry. I'll say I would cheekily add that hopefully, quite a lot of the answers are available in my book that's called Gender and Our Brains, by the way.

>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Yes. If you google Dr. Rippon, her book will come up in the search, and it's a great book. I recommend anyone who has a chance to read it. There are a lot of more information, more experiments there, and studies that I have done on this, both in the neural imaging world and also in the psychology world. Please go and if you would like to read more on this, read Dr. Rippon's book.

I think we are at the hour, if there is nothing else, Dr. Rippon, that you want to add, I think we'll call it an end of this webinar. Again, please email us any other questions that we were not able to get to, and I will forward it to Dr. Rippon, and hopefully, she will be able to answer your questions. Thank you again all.

>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Thank you very much everybody for listening.

>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Thank you very much and thank you for everyone who joined and participated in this webinar.

Original Article

Twitter Chat » Twitter Chat on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Twitter Chat on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder


On October 16, 2019, NIMH hosted a Twitter chat on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for ADHD Awareness Month. The chat covered signs, symptoms, treatments, current research, and tips for helping children and adults.

#NIMHchats – Eating Disorders Twitter Chat

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Twitter Chat » NIMH Twitter Chat: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

NIMH Twitter Chat: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder that makes it difficult for a person to pay attention and control impulsive behaviors. A person with ADHD may also be restless and almost constantly active. Although the symptoms of ADHD begin in childhood, ADHD can continue through adolescence and adulthood.

In observance of ADHD Awareness Month in October, NIMH is hosting a Twitter chat on ADHD. This chat will cover signs, symptoms, treatments, current research, and tips for helping children and adults with ADHD. NIMH experts will be available to discuss the topic and answer questions live on Twitter.

Participating is easy.

  • To ask questions, you must have a Twitter account.
  • Remember to use #NIMHchats with your questions and posts.
  • If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still observe the chat in real-time by entering the hashtag #NIMHchats at
  • Follow @NIMHgov on Twitter for updates about the chat and other information about mental health research.

An archive of the chat will be posted on NIMH’s website following the event.

Note: The experts cannot provide specific medical advice or referrals. Please consult with a qualified health care provider for diagnosis, treatment, and answers to your personal questions. If you need help finding a provider, visit

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