This Brain Region Lights Up When People Display Confirmation Bias

Leslie Nemo wrote . . . . . . . . .

Humans have a hard time changing their minds. A chief culprit is often confirmation bias — the tendency to reject new information that counteracts our beliefs and pay attention to information that supports them. Now, a new brain imaging study provides some insights into the specific regions that give rise to confirmation bias.

A Nature Neuroscience study looked at participants’ brains as they made choices while considering a partner’s decisions. The researchers found that a small region toward the front of the brain called the posterior medial prefrontal cortex, associated with judging performance and mistakes, was more active during the task. Specifically, it was active when individuals were processing someone’s agreement with their opinion, but not when they were dealing with an opposing view.

Seeing that this brain region responds more strongly when our suspicions are confirmed helps explain the mechanism behind cognitive bias, says study co-author Andreas Kappes, a neuroscientist with the City University of London. The results also hint at more strategic approaches to winning someone over in a debate.

Right or Wrong?

Confirmation bias is a well-established concept in psychology. It seems to come down to the fact that when we’re looking for input on our decisions, we don’t treat all information equally. Evidence that backs up our preexisting opinions is weighted more heavily, meaning that it’s more difficult to change our minds.

Kappes was also interested in whether someone’s confidence affected our decision-making. If someone really believes in the information they’re presenting us, will we be more likely to change our minds?

The lab asked 21 pairs of participants to evaluate 175 property listings. Independently, participants said whether they thought the real value was above or below the price on the screen — and bet 1 to 60 cents on their guess. Then the individual was told what their partner for the exercise thought the property value was, along with their wager (though it was actually from a computer program, to ensure half the responses agreed with them). Afterward, the participant could change their guess and bet.

On average, when someone saw their partner agreed with them, they raised their bet by about 8 cents. When they disagreed, they lowered it by about 3.5 cents. In other words, having their opinions confirmed made them more sure of themselves than disagreement made them hesitant.

Additionally, participants accounted for their partner’s confidence — or how high their bet was — when their opinions matched. But if their partner disagreed, no matter how sure they were, their confidence didn’t affect the participants’ decisions. It was confirmation bias at work.

Brain scans conducted during the betting experience showed that the posterior medial prefrontal cortex kicked in more when a participant was contemplating agreement. Furthermore, the region was sensitive to how confident the partner was in their decision, but only when it backed up the participant’s own thinking. When they disagreed, it was noticeably less active.

Start With Agreement

If agreement is so essential to behavior change that it’s reflected in brain activity, then maybe real-life debates would be more effective if people met their opposition by finding common ground first, Kappes says.

Other research has proposed this strategy. For example, if you want to convince an anti-vaxxer that vaccines are necessary, it might be more effective to start with something everyone agrees on — like it’s important to protect kids from deadly disease, Kappes says.

Source : Discover

Vegan Lobster Mushroom Mac and Cheese


1 ounce dried lobster mushrooms, soaked overnight, water reserved
1/2 pound uncooked cavatappi pasta
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup mushroom soaking liquid, strained well
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs

Cheese Sauce

1 cup raw cashews
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
2 tablespoons ume plum vinegar
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon mashed roasted garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon mellow white miso
1/8 teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place a baking dish on top of a half sheet pan.
  2. Remove the mushrooms from water (reserving liquid), squeeze to drain, and add to a strainer. Rinse mushrooms to remove any grit. Chop into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Strain reserved soaking liquid through a paper towel and set aside.
  3. Into a blender, add cashews and water and blend until smooth.
  4. For the cheese sauce, into a blender, add cashew cream, oil, vinegar, nutritional yeast, roasted garlic, lemon juice, miso, and salt and blend until smooth. Set aside.
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Reserving some cooking water, drain pasta, then return it to the same pot.
  6. In a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, warm 1 tablespoon oil. Once shimmering, add shallots and salt, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add chopped mushrooms and stir. Add mushroom soaking liquid and water and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid has almost evaporated and mushrooms are soft, about 30 minutes.

  8. Pour mushroom-shallot mixture and cheese sauce into a pot. Gently mix everything together, adding a little pasta water to make the sauce silky. Carefully pour the entire mixture into the preheated baking dish.
  9. Combine breadcrumbs and remaining oil in a small mixing bowl, stir until completely incorporated. Sprinkle on top of mac and cheese and bake for 30 minutes, until the top is crispy and sauce is bubbling. Let stand for at least 10 minutes to cool, then serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Source: Veg News

What are the Best Plant-based Sources of Fats?

Grace Forsythe wrote . . . . . . . . .

People are confused — bad science and poor journalism have not helped our understanding of fat, lumping the good and the bad in the same basket. Many now fear any type of fat, worrying that it’s always bad for our health and that it causes unwanted weight gain. But not all fat is bad…Do we really need fat?Fat is essential for health and plays many roles in the body, from helping us to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, to building the membrane of each of our cells. It also protects our vital organs by providing padding around them, insulates our bodies and provides us with energy.One fat we don’t need, however, is saturated fat as our bodies can make all we need. Diets high in saturated fat increase the risk of many health problems and diseases, including obesity, high blood cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Saturated fat actually has 10 times the power to raise blood cholesterol than dietary cholesterol.The main sources of saturated fat are animal products — meat, eggs, dairy, pies, pastries, processed foods, fatty spreads and coconut oil and palm fat. Man-made trans fats are much rarer in foods now than they used to be, once it became clear how damaging they are to our health. We have no need for them and they increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Trans fats are twice as bad as saturated fat for blood cholesterol!Low levels of trans fats are found naturally in dairy products, lamb and beef fat but they can also be found in some processed foods, such as biscuits, cakes, pastry and shortening as a result of manufacturers partially hydrogenating unsaturated vegetable oils. This converts them into a solid or semi-solid state that increases the shelf life of these processed foods but does your health no favours — it’s wise to check the ingredients list!Plant-based sourcesNot all fats are bad, though, and some polyunsaturated fats are essential in the diet as the body cannot produce them: linoleic acid (LA) is an omega-6 fat found in seeds, nuts, corn and soya oils and can be converted into other important omega-6 fatty acids in the body. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fat that can be obtained from flaxseed/linseed (the richest source), walnuts, hempseed, rapeseed oil and soya beans. The body converts ALA to the longer-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, which are required for healthy brain function. These can also be obtained from some species of vegan (algae-based) omega-3 supplements.Oily fish are a source of EPA and DHA, which they get from eating algae naturally rich in omega-3s. However, all the world’s oceans are polluted so they also contain toxins such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins. Fear not, you can get your omega-3s from the same place as the fish — algae. Vegan EPA and DHA supplements are available online and in health shops but the algae for these are usually grown in controlled conditions away from the sea so it doesn’t impact on marine ecosystems or deprive fish of their natural food.The bonus of algae supplements is that toxin levels are virtually non-existent, unlike in fish oil supplements. Monounsaturated fats, including omega-7 and omega-9 fatty acids, are not classed as ‘essential fatty acids’ as the body can produce them from other unsaturated fats. Good sources include olive oil, peanut oil, rapeseed oil, avocados and most nuts.Omega-3 fat that can be obtained from flaxseed, walnuts, rapeseed oil and soy.

Concerns about cholesterol

A small amount of cholesterol in the body is essential for health, but you don’t need to eat any in your diet as your body can produce as much as you need. Large amounts of cholesterol in the diet are bad for you. Because animals also naturally produce cholesterol, it follows that animal products contain it. Plant-based foods, including every type of fruit and vegetable, pulses (peas, beans and lentils), wholegrains, nuts and seeds and avocados are all cholesterol-free.Cholesterol has to be transported to and from the cells by special carriers called lipoproteins. Two types of lipoprotein are often mentioned in connection with cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), too much of which in the blood can lead to the build-up of fatty plaques that can block the arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart and brain. For this reason, LDL is often called ‘bad’ cholesterol.High-density lipoprotein (HDL) tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where it is eliminated from the body and a high HDL level seems to protect against heart disease. It follows that HDL cholesterol is referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol.

A weighty subject

We gain weight when we take in more calories than we need. They can come from fat, protein or carbohydrate. Protein and carbohydrate both provide four calories per gram, whereas fat provides nine calories per gram. So, when eating the same amount of protein, carbohydrate or fat, you will always get more calories from fat. But don’t avoid monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — just eat them in moderation.Many studies have found that some high-fat foods, such as nuts, can help prevent weight gain and even encourage weight loss. One study showed that those who ate two portions of nuts a week were 31 per cent less likely to gain excess weight than those who ate none. This may be because nuts can reduce hunger and make you feel full for longer. They also contain fibre, so some of the fat is not absorbed and is carried into the bowel.You should be able to get all the healthy fats you need from eating a varied, vegan diet including ground flaxseed, hempseed, rapeseed oil for cooking and some nuts — especially walnuts — and seeds. Having a diet high in omega-3s may help protect against heart disease and stroke, inflammatory diseases and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. Avoiding animal foods rich in saturated fat, while including some foods containing unsaturated fat, such as avocados, nuts, seeds and a small amount of plant oil, is a simple and effective way to protect your health.

Source: Vegan Food and Living

Research Suggests Statins Could Lower Ovarian Cancer Risk

A genetic study has found evidence to suggest that women who take statins in the long term could be less likely to develop ovarian cancer, according to new research funded by Cancer Research UK published recently.

The same result was also found in women who carry the BRCA1/2 gene fault. Having the BRCA1/2 fault puts women at a higher risk of ovarian cancer than the general population.

The research published in JAMA studied genes and the extent to which they inhibit the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase – which is responsible for regulating cholesterol in the body – and is the exact enzyme targeted by statin drugs to reduce cholesterol.

While the study suggests that statins could lower ovarian cancer risk, more research needs to be done specifically looking at their use and impact on women’s risk of developing the disease.

The researchers based at the University of Bristol looked at 63,347 women between the ages of 20 and 100 years old, of whom 22,406 had ovarian cancer. They also looked at an additional 31,448 women who carried the BRCA1/2 fault, of whom 3,887 had ovarian cancer. The study used an approach called Mendelian randomization, which involves analysing the genetic data from thousands of people.

Statins may protect against the development of ovarian cancer because they’ve been shown to induce apoptosis – one of the body’s ways of getting rid of old, faulty or infected cells – and to stop tumours from growing in laboratory studies. Another line of thought is that statins lower circulating cholesterol, which helps regulate cell growth, though this research suggests that lower circulating cholesterol was not the method by which statins may reduce ovarian cancer risk.

The findings suggest that long-term statin use could be associated with an estimated 40% reduction in ovarian cancer risk in the general population, although the estimate comes from looking at gene variation rather than statins themselves, and the exact mechanism by which these genes are associated with lower ovarian cancer risk is unclear.

Ovarian cancer is the 6th most common cancer in women in the UK. There are around 7,400 cases each year, and out of those with a known stage at diagnosis, almost 6 in 10 are diagnosed at a late stage. Around 4,100 women die from the disease every year in the UK.

There is no test that reliably picks up ovarian cancer at an early stage, so chemoprevention could be an important approach to saving lives.

Professor Richard Martin, from the University of Bristol, said: “Our findings open up the possibility of repurposing a cheap drug to help prevent ovarian cancer – especially in women who are at a higher risk. It’s incredibly interesting that women whose bodies naturally inhibit the enzyme targeted by statins have a lower risk of ovarian cancer, but we don’t recommend anyone rushes to take statins specifically to reduce ovarian cancer risk because of this study.

“It’s a promising result and I hope it sparks more research and trials into statins to demonstrate conclusively whether or not there’s a benefit.”

Dr Rachel Orritt, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, said: “This study is a great first step to finding out if statins could play a role in lowering ovarian cancer risk, and justifies future research into this area.

“But there’s not yet enough evidence to know if statins themselves could reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer safely. And it’s important to remember that the risk of developing ovarian cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and environmental factors. Speak to your doctor first if you have any concerns about your risk.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Why Poor Sleep May Increase Heart Disease in Women

Women who sleep poorly tend to overeat and consume a lower-quality diet, according to a new study from researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The findings provide new insight into how poor sleep quality can increase the risk of heart disease and obesity and points to possible interventions for improving women’s heart health.

Previous studies have shown that people who get less sleep are more likely to develop obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease—and that the relationship may be partially explained by diet. But these studies were narrowly focused on specific foods or nutrients (like fish, sweets, or saturated fat) or only measured sleep duration, not sleep quality.

The new study was designed to get a more comprehensive picture in women by examining associations between overall diet quality and multiple aspects of sleep quality.

“Women are particularly prone to sleep disturbances across the life span, because they often shoulder the responsibilities of caring for children and family and, later, because of menopausal hormones,” says Brooke Aggarwal, EdD, assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and senior author of the study.

The study of nearly 500 women* was published online today in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The researchers analyzed the sleep and eating habits of an ethnically diverse group of 495 women, ages 20 to 76. The study looked at sleep quality, the time it took to fall asleep, and insomnia. The women also reported on the types and amounts of foods they typically eat throughout the year, allowing researchers to measure their typical dietary patterns.

The Sleep-Diet Connection

  • Women with worse sleep quality consumed more of the added sugars associated with obesity and diabetes.
  • Women who took longer to fall asleep ate more calories and food by weight.
  • Women with severe insomnia ate more food and fewer ‘healthy’ fats.

Similar to previous studies of sleep and diet, the study found that those with worse overall sleep quality consumed more of the added sugars associated with obesity and diabetes.

Women who took longer to fall asleep had higher caloric intake and ate more food by weight.

And women with more severe insomnia symptoms consumed more food by weight and fewer unsaturated fats than women with milder insomnia.

“Our interpretation is that women with poor-quality sleep could be overeating during subsequent meals and making more unhealthy food choices,” says Aggarwal.

The question remains: How might poor sleep contribute to poor eating?

“Poor sleep quality may lead to excessive food and calorie intake by stimulating hunger signals or suppressing signals of fullness,” says Faris Zuraikat, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and lead author of the study. “Fullness is largely affected by the weight or volume of food consumed, and it could be that women with insomnia consume a greater amount of food in an effort to feel full.

“However, it’s also possible that poor diet has a negative impact on women’s sleep quality,” adds Zuraikat. “Eating more could also cause gastrointestinal discomfort, for instance, making it harder to fall asleep or remain asleep.”

“Given that poor diet and overeating may lead to obesity—a well-established risk factor for heart disease—future studies should test whether therapies that improve sleep quality can promote cardiometabolic health in women,” says Aggarwal.

Source: Columbia University

Today’s Comic