This Week in Research: Avoiding Digital Distraction; A Blood Test for Postpartum Depression

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digital-distraction

According to Johns Hopkins professor P.M. Forni, our current “age of distraction” is making us more shallow, stupid, and unhappy. And as the founder of the university’s Civility Initiative, Forni should know.

Forni’s fear is that digital distraction makes us less likely to spend time simply thinking; instead, we obsessively check for new emails/tweets/Facebook likes/Instagram photos, or mindlessly scroll through online detritus. But, as Forni writes in his 2011 book, The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction, “If we agree that life is important, then thinking as we go through it is the basic tribute we owe it. It also happens to be the golden way to the good life——the kind of life in which happiness blooms.”

Forni offered Baltimore Magazine a few tips for how to make sure that your digital devices don’t melt your brain. My personal favorite is his suggestion for 15-minute “thinking appointments”:

Think in terms of 15-minute appointments with your brain. These are appointments that you will make a point of keeping no matter what. On Sunday nights, put them in your calendar for the whole week: one 15-minute appointment per day. I call these embedded appointments. You may wish to embed them within——for instance——commuting time, lunch time, gym time, or running time. During these 15 minutes, you will not use digital devices of any kind, nor will you read a book. You will just reflect. You may think that 15 minutes is a short time, but you will be surprised at the amount of good ideas, which will result.

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Johns Hopkins researchers have pinpointed certain chemical changes in two genes that reliably predict whether a woman will develop postpartum depression. This paves the way for a simple blood test predicting a woman’s  potential susceptibility for postpartum depression, which affects between 10 and 18 percent of new mothers.

Although the researchers caution that more studies are needed to figure out just how and why these particular genes (TTC9B and HP1BP3) correlate with postpartum depression. One theory is that they may be involved with cell creation in the hippocampus and, therefore, brain plasticity (the ability to adapt to new environments or situations). When adaptability is inhibited, moods may suffer.

Nonetheless, “If you knew you were likely to develop postpartum depression, your decisions about managing your care could be made more clearly,” said study leader Zachary Kaminsky.



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