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Category Archives: Social Science

latest news and research about Australian education

Controlling fear by modifying DNA

Controlling fear by modifying DNA

For many people, fear of flying or of spiders skittering across the lounge room floor is more than just a momentary increase in heart rate and a pair of sweaty palms.

It’s a hard-core phobia that can lead to crippling anxiety, but an international team of researchers, including neuroscientists from The University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), may have found a way to silence the gene that feeds this fear.

QBI senior research fellow Dr Timothy Bredy said the team had shed new light on the processes involved in loosening the grip of fear-related memories, particularly those implicated in conditions such as phobia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr Bredy said they had discovered a novel mechanism of gene regulation associated with fear extinction, an inhibitory learning process thought to be critical for controlling fear when the response was no longer required.

“Rather than being static, the way genes function is incredibly dynamic and can be altered by our daily life experiences, with emotionally relevant events having a pronounced impact,” Dr Bredy said.

He said that by understanding the fundamental relationship between the way in which DNA functions without a change in the underlying sequence, future targets for therapeutic intervention in fear-related anxiety disorders could be developed.

“This may be achieved through the selective enhancement of memory for fear extinction by targeting genes that are subject to this novel mode of epigenetic regulation,” he said.

Mr Xiang Li, a PhD candidate and the study’s lead author, said fear extinction was a clear example of rapid behavioural adaptation, and that impairments in this process were critically involved in the development of fear-related anxiety disorders.

“What is most exciting is that we have revealed an epigenetic state that appears to be quite specific for fear extinction,” Mr Li said.

Dr Bredy said this was the first comprehensive analysis of how fear extinction was influenced by modifying DNA.

“It highlights the adaptive significance of experience-dependent changes in the chromatin landscape in the adult brain,” he said.

The collaborative research is being done by a team from QBI, the University of California, Irvine, and Harvard University.

The study was published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Media: Dr Timothy Bredy, +61 7 3346 6391,

Shared goals create connections with leaders, research shows

Employees and group members respect leaders who embody the goals of the team, according to new research from The University of Queensland. This conclusion challenges the common belief that the best way to build bonds between employees and bosses is to engage in social activities – like the recent round of work Christmas parties – saidContinue Reading

Does sex always sell?

A University of Queensland researcher has questioned the effectiveness of ‘sex sells’, a common rationale underlying many advertising campaigns. UQ School of Psychology Honorary Research Fellow Dr Renata Bongiorno suggested that using sexualised images of women could actually make a campaign backfire, particularly for ethical causes such as charities and community organisations. Collaborating with DrContinue Reading

Women put up with more bad behaviour at work, respond by working harder: study

New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) and the University of New England has found women experience more rude and disrespectful behaviour in the workplace, but they tolerated it by working harder. In contrast, men who are treated rudely tended to react by taking longer breaks away from work and taking spurious sick days. TheContinue Reading

Returning soldiers at risk of violent offending

Young men in the military are three times more likely than those in the general population to have committed a violent offence in their lifetime, with the highest risk period being after they return from war, new research shows. This comes as the majority of Australian troops in Afghanistan prepare to return from the endContinue Reading

Crash, bang, thump – the hidden dangers around the home

Bunk beds and baby change tables are among the hidden dangers around the home causing serious injury and death to Queensland children. In the 2013 Consumer product-related injuries in Queensland children report, prepared by QUT’sCentre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q), more than 475,000 Queensland children sustained injuries requiring emergency department treatment between 2004Continue Reading

Social media decreases loneliness for older adults

Social media can be an effective tool for decreasing loneliness for older Australians according to new research conducted at the University of Sydney. Social isolation can pose a significant problem for older adults especially for those who are house-bound, says Professor Robert Steele who led the Connecting Older Adults research project. Professor Steele says while technologies areContinue Reading

Maths and girls

The percentage of girls studying no maths for their HSC has more than doubled in the past decade, a report co-authored by University of Sydney researchers shows. John Mack Hon Associate Professor, School of Mathematics and Statistics and Barry Walsh examined data of all Year 8 students in NSW to show the proportion who go on toContinue Reading

Alcohol-fuelled violence on the rise despite falling consumption

OPINION: Generally speaking, if a population drinks more, then there are more heavy drinkers and more harm from alcohol (similarly if a population drinks less, there will be less harm). But this link now appears to be unravelling. One of the core assumptions of public health-focused alcohol research has been the overarching link between levelsContinue Reading

Retirement blues

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) sent shock-waves around the world as images of banks shutting down, stock prices plummeting and people being evicted from their homes filled television sets. What didn’t get much attention was the longer term health impacts of the global downturn. Now a long-running ANU health survey has found that older AustraliansContinue Reading

Inside the mind of a burglar

Inside the mind of a burglar

Burglars are opportunistic, generally choose their targets at random and know all the tricks householders try to use as deterrents, according to a new study from ECU. In conjunction with the Australian Institute of Criminology, researchers from ECU’s School of Law and Justice conducted the study with 69 participants who admitted to having committed aContinue Reading

The power of music

The power of music

Research on arts programs for disadvantaged kids shows music, when taught the right way in the right environment, can be truly transformative. Victoria University psychology academic Angela Utomo was part of a research team exploring the experiences of refugee-background students as well as teachers and artists involved in The Song Room program, which introduces musicContinue Reading

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