Inverse Daily: How stress changes your brain
Scientists now have an idea of why stress makes some individuals susceptible to one of depression’s core symptoms: anhedonia.
While the vision of Lil Bub, the internet’s best-ever cat, burns bright in our collective memory, expand your mind with this daily dose of science and technology news from Inverse Daily.
We’ve got one story about the cat-and-mouse game that is deepfake technology, new research on the root of gender dysphoria, how stress changes the brain, and a report on IKEA furniture being designed for Mars.
I’m Nick Lucchesi, executive editor at Inverse, and this is Inverse Daily. Let’s get into it.
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INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Healthy coral reefs are remarkably noisy places”
— Steve Simpson, a professor at the University of Exeter.
- Read more in Today’s Good Thing, located at the bottom of this newsletter.
Deepfakes, truth, and … Joe Rogan.
A deepfake video featuring an actor made to look and sound like the comedian Joe Rogan surfaced last week, stunning the internet with its audio and visual accuracy. And Rogan was a great choice: He’s put out hundreds of hours-long video podcasts. There is a lot of material to work with.
If you’re not yet aware of what a deepfake is in the first place, it’s a way of using artificial intelligence to create fraudulent audio or video that sounds and/or looks like a particular person. In this case, we’re seeing a fake video of Rogan saying things he never said.
Rogan’s life in the public eye makes it easy to train an A.I system to pick up on the subtleties of how he speaks. It’d be significantly harder to do something like this with the average person, but this technology is advancing pretty quickly.
What’s the root of “gender dysphoria” in the brain?
Gender dysphoria can be extremely stressful: People with the condition experience chronic distress, gender non-conformity, and incongruence between perception of gender identity and body sex. It can occur at any age.
After combing through decades of previous research, Stephen Gliske, a researcher at the University of Michigan, says scientists have overlooked the effect that brain networks have on gender dysphoria, the condition in which a person lives with a mismatch between their assigned gender and their true sense of gender identity.
While most research has focused on anatomical differences in the size and shape of people with gender dysphoria, Gliske argues that changes in three neural networks: the distress, social behavior, and body ownership networks, drive the condition.
Gliske’s model could open the door for more effective, less invasive treatment for people who are struggling to live with the condition.
More stories on gender science:
How stress changes the brain
Some people are able to just let stress roll off their back. For others, chronic stress can pave the way towards lasting mental health issues, like depression. Scientists now have an idea of why stress makes some individuals susceptible to one of depression’s core symptoms: anhedonia. That’s the feeling that nothing is pleasurable — even things that used to bring you joy.
This rat study doesn’t have all the answers but it does have some: rats who were particularly susceptible to anhedonia had more serotonin-producing neurons in their brains — a counterintuitive finding, considering that low levels of serotonin typically accompany depression. Chronic stress, the authors suggest, could increase the amount of serotonergic neurons in the brain, ultimately making it harder for susceptible rats to feel happy.
The scientists were also able to reverse the effects: when they activated another population of neurons, they were able to reduce symptoms of anhedonia. So there could be a way to use these findings to treat others. Though this is a rat study so a human treatment is still far away at best.
Read more about this new research →
More neuroscience stories:
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A cozy Martian studio apartment
The POÄNG chair is an iconic piece from Swedish furniture empire IKEA. But could this cozy rocking chair rock on Mars one day?
Two years ago, IKEA’s interior designer Christina Levenborn spent three days in the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah to come up with ideas for a line of products specifically designed for small spaces. Levenborn and other designers from IKEA recently returned to the station to redesign the enclosed area for researchers who are studying how humans will survive on Mars.
“We tried to work with products for a small-space living situation that could be arranged in a flexible and multifunctional way,” Levenborn says. “For the habitat, we brought products on wheels for mobile living, stools for seating and table surfaces and stackable chairs for saving space.”
Keep reading and see photos of IKEA designs for Mars →
Here’s a story about Mars and a story about IKEA:
Today’s Good Thing
When coral reefs die from bleaching, overfishing, mining, pollution or warming seas, fish and ocean organisms flee, and the reefs become ghost towns. To breathe life into these dead zones, scientists are using an unexpected intervention: sound.
Using underwater speakers, an international research team blasted the noises that organisms make in healthy reefs across “ghostly quiet,” degraded areas in the Great Barrier Reef. They found twice as many fish flock to and stay in areas with the artificial soundscape compared to equivalent coral patches where no sound was played. The team described their experiment in the journal Nature.
“Healthy coral reefs are remarkably noisy places — the crackle of snapping shrimp and the whoops and grunts of fish combine to form a dazzling biological soundscape. Juvenile fish home in on these sounds when they’re looking for a place to settle,” says senior author Steve Simpson, professor at the University of Exeter.
This underwater sound experiment could kickstart coral recovery as young fish help clean the reef and make space for coral to regrow. With coral reefs on the brink of total collapse, solutions like these give hope that we might save these buzzing epicenters of ocean biodiversity. — Ali Pattillo
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