Psych Central News Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday. 2016-05-01T13:01:14Z http://psychcentral.com/news/feed/atom Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Mouse Study: Sleep-Wake Cycle Linked to Salt Levels in Brain]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102604 2016-05-01T13:01:14Z 2016-05-01T13:00:41Z Mouse Study: Sleep-Wake Cycle Linked to Salt Levels in BrainSalt levels in the brain appear to play a critical role in whether we fall asleep or stay awake, according to a new mouse study by researchers at the University […]]]> Mouse Study: Sleep-Wake Cycle Linked to Salt Levels in Brain

Salt levels in the brain appear to play a critical role in whether we fall asleep or stay awake, according to a new mouse study by researchers at the University of Copenhagen. The findings are highly relevant to research on psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, post-anaesthesia confusion, as well as convulsions or seizures due to sleep deprivation.

For the first time, researchers have shown that the levels of salts in our body and brain differ depending on whether we are asleep or awake. The findings show that by influencing the level of salts, it is possible to control the sleep-wake cycle in mouse models.

“These salts play a much larger and much more decisive role than hitherto imagined. The discovery reveals a completely new layer of understanding of how the brain functions,” says Professor Maiken Nedergaard from the Center for Basic and Translational Neuroscience at the University of Copenhagen.

“First and foremost, we learn more about how sleep is controlled. It may, however, also open up for a better future understanding of why some people suffer convulsive fits when staying awake all through the night.”

For the study, the researchers injected salt into the brains of mice to determine whether the salt levels could affect their sleep-wake cycle. They found that it is the neuromodulators (compounds, such as adrenalin, which play a key role in waking up every morning) that change the level of salts surrounding the neurons. This salt balance then decides whether the neurons are sensitive to stimulation in the shape of a touch.

When we are awake, for example, the salt balance makes neurons highly sensitive to stimulation. In contrast, when we are asleep, the salt balance makes it harder to activate the neurons.

“It’s much simpler than previously believed in brain research. The research conducted used to focus only on the brain’s neural activity as a means of mapping and analyzing complicated processes such as being asleep or awake,” says Nedergaard.

The fact that the brain needs seven to eight hours of sleep to function well on a daily basis reveals that there’s much more we need to understand, says Nedergaard. He adds that it’s time we think of the brain as much more than just a group of neurons acting like a computer.

“Our study shows that the brain uses something as simple as changing the level of salts to control whether we are asleep or awake. This discovery reveals that studying only neurons in order to understand brain activity is not enough.”

The findings are published in the scientific journal SCIENCE.

Source: University of Copenhagen

 
Abstract of the brain photo by shutterstock.

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Janice Wood <![CDATA[Breast Milk Linked to Brain Growth in Premature Babies]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102572 2016-05-01T11:31:14Z 2016-05-01T12:15:41Z Breast Milk Linked to Brain Growth in Premature BabiesFeeding premature babies mostly breast milk during the first month of life appears to spur more robust brain growth, according to a new study. Studying preterm infants in the Neonatal […]]]> Breast Milk Linked to Brain Growth in Premature Babies

Feeding premature babies mostly breast milk during the first month of life appears to spur more robust brain growth, according to a new study.

Studying preterm infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the researchers found that babies whose daily diets were at least 50 percent breast milk had more brain tissue and cortical-surface area by their due dates than premature babies who consumed significantly less breast milk.

“The brains of babies born before their due dates usually are not fully developed,” said senior investigator Cynthia Rogers, M.D., an assistant professor of child psychiatry who treats patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “But breast milk has been shown to be helpful in other areas of development, so we looked to see what effect it might have on the brain. With MRI scans, we found that babies fed more breast milk had larger brain volumes. This is important because several other studies have shown a correlation between brain volume and cognitive development.”

The study included 77 preterm infants. The researchers examined how much breast milk the babies received while being cared for in the NICU.

Then, the researchers conducted brain scans on the infants at about the time each would have been born had they not arrived early.

All of the babies were born at least 10 weeks early, with an average gestation of 26 weeks, or about 14 weeks premature, according to the researchers. Because they are still developing, preemies typically have smaller brains than full-term infants, they explain.

First author Erin Reynolds, a research technician in Rogers’ laboratory, said in gauging the effects of breast milk on the babies’ brains, the researchers didn’t distinguish between milk that came from the babies’ own mothers and breast milk donated by other women. Rather, they focused on the influence of breast milk in general.

“As the amount of breast milk increased, so did a baby’s chances of having a larger cortical surface area,” Reynolds said. “The cortex is the part of the brain associated with cognition, so we assume that more cortex will help improve cognition as the babies grow and develop.”

Preterm birth is a leading cause of neurologic problems in children and has been linked to psychiatric disorders later in childhood. Rogers and her team plan to follow the babies in the study through their first years of life to see how they grow, focusing on their motor, cognitive, and social development. As the babies get older, the researchers said they believe they will be able to determine the effects of early exposure to breast milk on later developmental outcomes.

“We want to see whether this difference in brain size has an effect on any of those developmental milestones,” Rogers said. “Neonatologists already believe breast milk is the best nutrition for preterm infants. We wanted to see whether it was possible to detect the impact of breast milk on the brain this early in life and whether the benefits appeared quickly or developed over time.”

Rogers noted further investigation is needed to determine how breast milk affects the brain and what is present in the milk that seems to promote brain development. She added that because all of the babies in the study were born early it isn’t clear whether breast milk would provide similar benefits for babies born at full term.

Source: Washington University School of Medicine
 
PHOTO: Premature infant in the NICU at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Credit: JOHN TWOMBLY.

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Janice Wood <![CDATA[Quicker Resumption of Exercise May Be Best for Concussions]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102581 2016-05-01T11:30:14Z 2016-05-01T11:30:55Z Quicker Resumption of Exercise May Be Best for ConcussionsWhile rest has long been the standard for treating concussions, new research shows that children who exercise within a week of injury recover faster. Current guidelines say children who sustain […]]]> Quicker Resumption of Exercise May Be Best for Concussions

While rest has long been the standard for treating concussions, new research shows that children who exercise within a week of injury recover faster.

Current guidelines say children who sustain sports-related head injuries should avoid returning to play — as well as all other physical activity — until all symptoms, such as headaches, are gone.

But the new study shows that children who exercise within a week of injury, regardless of symptoms, have nearly half the rate of concussion symptoms that linger more than a month.

For the study, researchers had 3,063 children between ages of five and 18 who visited hospital emergency departments in Canada answer survey questions about their level of physical activity and severity of symptoms seven, 14, and 28 days after injury.

Contrary to recommendations, most of the children — 58 percent — still experiencing concussion symptoms resumed exercising a week after being injured, according to the researchers.

More than three-quarters — 76 percent — were physically active two weeks later, the study found.

Ordinarily, discovering so many patients weren’t following strict medical guidelines might be cause for alarm, the researchers said.

But in this case, the non-compliance was associated with faster recovery, according to the study’s findings.

“Exercise within seven days of injury was associated with nearly half the rate of persistent post-concussive symptoms, or those that last beyond a month,” said principal investigator Roger Zemek, M.D., FRCPC, who directs the clinical research unit at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and serves as an associate professor in the departments of pediatrics and Emergency Medicine and Clinical Research Chair in Pediatric Concussion at the University of Ottawa.

He noted the findings echo some previous, smaller studies calling into question the benefit of prolonged physical rest following a concussion, particularly exceeding three days.

“This is the first large-scale study to provide support for the benefits of early exercise on symptom recovery following acute pediatric concussion, shifting away from conservative rest towards more active physical rehabilitation recommendations,” he said.

And while he said “we definitely don’t want patients resuming any activity that could put them at risk of re-injury, like contact sports drills or games, until they are cleared by a doctor,” he added that light aerobic activity like walking, swimming, or stationary cycling might emerge as a beneficial recommendation after further study.

More research is needed to confirm the study’s findings and to determine the best timing for return-to-play following youth concussions, according to Zemek.

In addition to lessening long-term concussion symptoms, re-introducing exercise sooner after injury could help reduce the undesired effects of physical and mental deconditioning, he added.

“If earlier re-introduction of physical activities is, in fact, confirmed to be beneficial to recovery, this would have a significant impact on the well-being of millions of children and families worldwide and cause a major shift in concussion management,” he concluded.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics 
 
Young football player photo by shutterstock.

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Janice Wood <![CDATA[Early Autism Diagnoses Can Bring Earlier Intervention]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102576 2016-04-30T14:23:37Z 2016-04-30T13:00:58Z Early Autism Diagnoses Can Bring Earlier InterventionA change in guidelines on when children should be screened for autism means earlier diagnoses, which leads to earlier intervention. That’s the takeaway from a new study presented at the […]]]> Early Autism Diagnoses Can Bring Earlier Intervention

A change in guidelines on when children should be screened for autism means earlier diagnoses, which leads to earlier intervention.

That’s the takeaway from a new study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting.

According to researchers, children with autism who were born before the 2007 recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that all children be screened for the disorder at the 18- and 24-month well child visits were diagnosed significantly later than they are today.

For the study, the researchers compared two groups of children initially diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) between 2003 and 2012 at a university-affiliated developmental center in the Bronx. The first group were those born before 2005, a pivotal year because children born then would have been 24 months old when the AAP recommendation was issued, while the second group was born in 2005 or later.

What the researchers discovered is that the average age of diagnosis for those born before 2005 was just under four years old. For children born during or after 2005, it was roughly two and-a-half years old.

“Our research shows that children evaluated before the AAP recommended universal pediatric screening were more likely to be diagnosed at an older age and with more severe autistic symptoms and more impaired adaptive functioning,” said lead author Maria Valicenti-McDermott, M.D., M.S., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“This shift has been critical in light of research showing the significant impact early intervention can have for children with ASD.”

Valicenti-McDermott, also an attending physician at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Montefiore Health System, noted the significant drop in the age of diagnoses affected all ethnic groups, including Latino and African-American children. This is important, she said, because demographic factors such as race and ethnicity are linked with later diagnoses, fewer concerns about possible symptoms of autism being expressed by families or asked about by providers, and possible worse overall outcomes.

“Despite data supporting the benefit of earlier therapy for children with autism and ongoing efforts to overcome obstacles to delays in diagnosis, children who are Latino or African-American are still diagnosed later than white children,” she said.

She noted that additional research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of universal autism screening. Earlier this year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to recommend universal autism screening of young children when no concerns of autism spectrum disorder have been raised by their parents or clinical provider.

“It remains unclear at this point whether the significant drop in average age of diagnosis we found was entirely the result of pediatrician universal screening or the effect of the national campaign to increase awareness of ASD in general and the importance of an early diagnosis in particular,” Valicenti-McDermott said.

“But given the undisputed benefit of early identification of autism, sorting out the contribution of universal screening to this pattern will be an important next step to address the concerns of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force regarding the benefits of early screening.”

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics 
 
Doctor with young patient photo by shutterstock.

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Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Junk Food Junkies Go Healthy for Long-Term Rewards]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102623 2016-04-30T14:20:56Z 2016-04-30T12:00:30Z Junk Food Junkies Go Healthy for Long-Term RewardsA new study at Cornell University finds that junk food junkies are more likely to buy healthy food when it comes with a long-term reward incentive. In fact, receiving a […]]]> Junk Food Junkies Go Healthy for Long-Term Rewards

A new study at Cornell University finds that junk food junkies are more likely to buy healthy food when it comes with a long-term reward incentive. In fact, receiving a future reward appears even more effective than an immediate price reduction of equal value.

Now that obesity is one of our nation’s biggest health concerns, nutrition advocates are calling for fast-food restaurants, schools, and food providers to promote the sale of salads and vegetables as alternatives to burgers and fries.

According to the researchers, the most effective strategy for influencing such healthy food choices is not calorie counts and reduced prices, but rather more subtle incentives that reward healthy eating behavior.

The researchers observed the effects of two types of reward-based programs: one group of customers earned reward points redeemable for later purchases and the other group received price discounts effective immediately.

In one experiment, a reward-point group of customers was told they would receive 50 reward points equivalent to 50 cents on a points-collection card redeemable for future purchases if they chose the targeted food item; the price-discount group of customers was told they would receive 50 cents off the price of a specified meal.

The findings show that overweight consumers with poor eating habits benefited the most from long-term reward incentives than when they were offered price reductions of an equal value. On the other hand, healthy eaters were more likely to splurge on less healthy food when the price was right.

“The findings are significant because they reveal a positive path — behavioral rewards for making good food choices — to healthy eating, as opposed to the punitive path (e.g., calorie counting or food restrictions),” said study leader Robert Kwortnik, Ph.D., associate professor at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration.

“We find that offering rewards, such as points that can be redeemed later, encourage healthy food choices, especially for consumers with bad eating habits. So restaurants can encourage repeat patronage with reward programs and encourage healthy eating by rewarding consumers for making better choices. It’s a win-win.”

For food service providers, healthy eating incentives help build a better brand at a lower cost. For consumers, behavioral reward programs introduce much greater variety, especially among healthy food choices, and consumers are rewarded for making healthier choices.

The researchers note that even though fast-food restaurants spend millions on marketing healthy menu options, these efforts have little effect on consumers’ choices.

“Rather than overtly telling consumers to eat better, we propose and show through the empirical results that behavioral reward programs trigger a longer-term view that coincides with longer-term goals to eat healthy versus more immediate goals to indulge in typically less healthy foods such as fries, salty snacks or sweets,” said Kwortnik.

Source: Cornell University

 
Man with reward for buying healthy food photo by shutterstock.

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Janice Wood <![CDATA[What Helps Kids Thrive in Face of Adversity?]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102585 2016-04-30T14:22:04Z 2016-04-30T11:00:25Z What Helps Kids Thrive in Face of Adversity?New research shows that certain family, social, and community supports may boost a child’s chances of thriving in the face of adversity. According to researchers, people who experience four or […]]]> What Helps Kids Thrive in Face of Adversity?

New research shows that certain family, social, and community supports may boost a child’s chances of thriving in the face of adversity.

According to researchers, people who experience four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as economic hardship, exposure to violence, or the death of a loved one, are more likely to have lasting physical and mental health problems.

But a new research abstract presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting identifies several protective factors to help children avoid those problems.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, in an attempt to gauge children’s health and well-being, physical, emotional and behavioral health indicators, family context and neighborhood environment.

“We focused on questions about ACEs exposure, but also family, social, and community assets that could serve to moderate that risk or enhance resilience,” said lead author Iman Sharif, M.D., M.P.H., chief of the division of general pediatrics at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and co-director of the Nemours Primary Care Research Collaborative.

She reports that her research team found that even when children were exposed to adverse childhood experiences, certain family and community strengths appeared to have a protective effect on health, social, and behavioral outcomes.

Among the most influential of these were having access to patient-centered, coordinated medical care, mothers who were in excellent mental health, and community supports. That support was gauged by responses to statements such as “I have adults I can trust, people to count on.”

Additional protective factors identified in the study included fathers in excellent mental health, mothers and fathers who had completed at least some college, living in a neighborhood with amenities such as sidewalks, a library, a park and a recreation center, and mothers in good physical health.

“The research for the past 20 years has clearly demonstrated the relationship between ACEs exposure and adult physical and mental health outcomes,” Sharif said. “This study adds to the emerging literature on the impact of ACEs on child health outcomes, and goes further to identify the factors that can help children thrive even when exposed to ACEs.”

The findings support earlier research showing that ACEs exposure does not render health systems and communities “helpless,” she added.

“This shows there are things we can do,” she said. “With appropriate screening to identify children at risk, we can support children and families through the patient-centered medical home, linking parents to mental health services, and building community social supports to help children succeed.”

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics
 
Mother and son photo by shutterstock.

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Observing Parents Accept Failure Helps Kids Develop Mindset of Perpetual Learner]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102536 2016-04-29T20:20:15Z 2016-04-29T13:30:04Z Observing Parents Accept Failure Helps Kids Develop Mindset of Perpetual LearnerTeaching kids that they need to be a life-long learners is not an easy task. Even more difficult may be instilling an appreciation in children that failure is often a […]]]> Observing Parents Accept Failure Helps Kids Develop Mindset of Perpetual Learner

Teaching kids that they need to be a life-long learners is not an easy task. Even more difficult may be instilling an appreciation in children that failure is often a way we learn.

New research suggests parents’ beliefs about whether failure is a good or a bad thing can guide how their children think about their own intelligence.

Investigators found that it’s parents’ responses to failure, and their beliefs about intelligence, that are ultimately absorbed by their kids.

“Mindsets — children’s belief about whether their intelligence is just fixed or can grow — can have a large impact on their achievement and motivation,” explains psychological scientist Kyla Haimovitz of Stanford University, first author on the study.

“Our findings show that parents can endorse a growth mindset but they might not pass it on to their children unless they have a positive and constructive reaction to their children’s struggles.”

Despite considerable research on mindsets, scientists have found little evidence to suggest that intelligence mindsets are handed down to children from their parents and teachers.

Haimovitz and psychology researcher Carol Dweck, hypothesized that parents’ intelligence mindsets might not transfer to their kids because they aren’t readily observable.

What kids might see and be sensitive to, the researchers speculated, is their how parents feel about failure.

Haimovitz and Dweck surmised that parents convey their views about whether failure is positive or negative through their responses to their children’s setbacks.

For example, parents who typically show anxiety and concern when their kids come home with a poor quiz grade may convey the belief that intelligence is mostly fixed. Parents who focus instead on learning from the poor grade signal to their kids that intelligence can be built through learning and improvement.

In one study, the researchers asked 73 parent-child pairs to answer a series of questions designed to tap into their individual mindsets.

The parents rated their agreement with six statements related to failure (e.g., “Experiencing failure facilitates learning and growth”) and four statements related to intelligence (e.g., “You can learn new things but you can’t really change how intelligent you are”).

The children, all fourth and fifth grade students, responded to similar statements about intelligence.

As expected, there was no association between parents’ beliefs about intelligence and their children’s beliefs about intelligence.

However, parents’ attitudes toward failure were linked with how their kids thought about intelligence.

Parents who tended to view failure as a negative, harmful event had children who were more likely to believe that intelligence is fixed. And the more negative parents’ attitudes were, the more likely their children were to see them as being concerned with performance as opposed to learning.

Investigators also discovered that parents’ beliefs about failure seemed to translate into their reactions to failure.

Results from two online studies with a total of almost 300 participants showed that parents who adopted a more negative stance toward failure were more likely to react to their child’s hypothetical failing grade with concerns about their child’s lack of ability.

At the same time, these parents were less likely to show support for the child’s learning and improvement. Their reactions to the failing grade were not linked, however, with their beliefs about intelligence.

Most importantly, additional data indicated that children were very much attuned to their parents’ feelings about failure.

“It is important for parents, educators, and coaches to know that the growth mindset that sits in their heads may not get through to children unless they use learning-focused practices, like discussing what their children could learn from a failure and how they might improve in the future,” says Haimovitz.

According to Haimovitz and Dweck, these findings could be harnessed to develop interventions that teach parents about the potential upsides of failure, showing parents how they can respond to their children’s setbacks in ways that are motivating rather than discouraging.

Source: Association for Psychological Science
 
Supportive mom photo by shutterstock.

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Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[E-Cigs Can “Radically” Reduce Death, Illness Caused by Tobacco Smoking]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102548 2016-04-29T20:16:55Z 2016-04-29T12:45:40Z E-Cigs Can "Radically" Reduce Death, Illness Caused by Tobacco SmokingIn a new report, experts assert that electronic cigarettes are able to significantly lower the chances of death and illness caused by Britain’s biggest killer — tobacco. Professor John Britton […]]]> E-Cigs Can "Radically" Reduce Death, Illness Caused by Tobacco Smoking

In a new report, experts assert that electronic cigarettes are able to significantly lower the chances of death and illness caused by Britain’s biggest killer — tobacco. Professor John Britton at the University of Nottingham and his colleagues point out that nicotine causes little if any harm on its own and that it is the carcinogens, carbon monoxide, and thousands of other toxins in tobacco smoke that kill. Their findings are published in the journal The BMJ.

Reviewing a new report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) on the role of e-cigarettes in tobacco harm reduction, the authors write that e-cigs and other non-tobacco nicotine products “offer the potential to radically reduce harm from smoking in our society. This is an opportunity that should be managed, and taken.”

The authors explain that, although cigarette smoking has declined in recent decades, there are still nearly nine million smokers in the UK, a high percentage of whom are among the most disadvantaged in society. Smoking remains the largest avoidable cause of premature death, disability, and social inequalities in health in the UK.

The emergence of e-cigarettes has revolutionized the choice of nicotine products available to smokers, say the authors. Currently, an estimated 2.6 million people use e-cigarettes in the UK, almost all of whom are or have been smokers. And most importantly, one-third of these no longer smoke cigarettes.

The RCP report states that, while not absolutely safe, the harm arising from long term vapor inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco.

The report also lays to rest many of the concerns about the use of e-cigarettes, for example that e-cigs will attract young people to become new smokers or that they will re-establish the act of inhaling nicotine as something that is acceptable in public. On the contrary, the paper states that e-cigarette use is almost entirely limited to those who are or have been smokers, in most cases as a means to cut back or quit smoking entirely.

It also finds no evidence to support the idea that e-cigarette use re-normalizes smoking, or that using e-cigs in places where smoking is prohibited poses a hazard to health. It also finds that the availability of e-cigarettes is unlikely to account for the recent decline in the numbers of smokers using smoking cessation services.

One cause for concern, however, is that the tobacco industry might acquire many formerly independent e-cigarette producers and importers, but the report says that advertising restrictions due to be implemented in May 2016 “go some way towards alleviating these concerns.”

In conclusion, the report finds that e-cigarettes have so far been beneficial to UK public health, both at individual and population level, by providing smokers with a good alternative to tobacco smoking, write the authors.

“E-cigarettes represent an important means to reduce the harm to individuals and society from tobacco use,” they conclude. “They should continue to be supported by government and promoted as a tobacco harm reduction strategy.”

Source: BMJ

 
E-cigarette photo by shutterstock.

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Risky Drivers Have Distinct Emotional Profiles]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102545 2016-04-29T13:18:56Z 2016-04-29T12:00:16Z Risky Drivers Have Distinct Emotional ProfilesMotor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death and injury among people under the age of 35 accounting for around five million casualties every year. Sadly, repeat offenders are […]]]> Risky Drivers Have Distinct Emotional Profiles

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death and injury among people under the age of 35 accounting for around five million casualties every year. Sadly, repeat offenders are common and are often minimally responsive to education and prevention efforts.

As such, McGill University researchers believe a better understanding of the subconscious and emotional processes of high-risk drivers could make a difference.

In a study focusing on repeat drunk driving and speeding offenders, researchers discovered each of these forms of risky drivers have a distinct behavioral, personality, and neurobiological profiles.

“Surprisingly, these drivers usually don’t consider themselves as risk takers,” says lead author Thomas G. Brown, an assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill and researcher at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal.

“If drivers don’t believe they are risky, they will not accept the need to change. On the other hand, if we and they don’t understand their behavior, how can they be expected to change it effectively?”

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, looked at four groups of men in Quebec aged between 19 and 39. The groups included those with a history of two or more convictions for drunk driving; those who had been caught speeding or committing another moving traffic violation three or more times in the past two years; those with a driving history that included both these types of offence; and a control group of low-risk drivers.

The researchers gathered background information on the participants’ propensity for drug or alcohol abuse, and on their levels of inhibition and impulsivity. Personal characteristics such as their tendency to seek rewards or thrills in their decision-making, and their capacity to learn from past experience and make better decisions in the future were also assessed.

The study also involved observing participants’ driving on a simulator and measuring their levels of the stress hormone cortisol before and after they completed a stressful task.

The results revealed each group had a distinct emotional and behavioral profiles, leading the research team to speculate that high-risk drivers are more likely to respond to prevention strategies that take their particular characteristics into account.

A technique for thrill- and reward-seeking speeding offenders, for instance, might be to have them spend more time engaging in stimulating activities in a safe environment.

Drunk drivers, because of their greater sensitivity to the effects of alcohol as a cause of their risk taking, might be more responsive to exercises aimed at improving their ability to recall the negative consequences of any amount of drinking whenever they plan to drive.

“This might involve a strategy in which the driver mentally rehearses his plan for a night out when drinking is likely, specifically targeting how to avoid any decision-making about driving once under the influence of alcohol,” Professor. Brown said.

Meanwhile, the group engaging in both forms of dangerous driving was characterized by a lack of concern for others, extending to criminal behavior in some cases.

Past research has shown techniques focusing on a person’s individual motivations — rather than external authoritarian or moral principles — are more likely to succeed in changing behavior in these offenders.

Source: McGill University
 
Young man drinking and driving photo by shutterstock.

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Ocean Views Relieve Stress]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102539 2016-04-29T20:27:33Z 2016-04-29T11:15:53Z Ocean Views Relieve StressMaybe owning some ocean-front property is not such a bad idea. Actually, property with a view of the ocean will suffice as new research suggests an ocean view relieves stress. […]]]> Ocean Views Relieve Stress

Maybe owning some ocean-front property is not such a bad idea. Actually, property with a view of the ocean will suffice as new research suggests an ocean view relieves stress.

The Michigan State study is the first to find a link between health and the visibility of water, which the researchers call blue space.

“Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress,” said Amber L. Pearson, assistant professor of health geography. “However, we did not find that with green space.”

Using various topography data, the researchers studied the visibility of blue and green spaces from residential locations in Wellington, New Zealand, an urban capital city surrounded by the Tasman Sea on the north and the Pacific Ocean on the south.

Green space includes forests and grassy parks.

To gauge psychological distress, the researchers analyzed data from the New Zealand Health Survey. The national survey used the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, or K10, which has proven to be an accurate predictor of anxiety and mood disorders.

The research is important as mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Even after taking into account residents’ wealth, age, sex, and other neighborhood factors, the study found that having a view of the ocean was associated with improved mental health.

Interestingly, the visibility of green space did not show the same calming effect. That could be because the study did not distinguish between types of green space, says Pearson.

“It could be because the blue space was all natural, while the green space included human-made areas, such as sports fields and playgrounds, as well as natural areas such as native forests. Perhaps if we only looked at native forests we might find something different.”

Like most wealthy countries, New Zealand is highly urbanized, meaning effective city planning is increasingly important, Pearson said.

Therefore, environment design is important for public health. Designating a proportion of high-rise buildings or affordable homes in locations with ocean views could potentially promote mental health, suggests the research.

Pearson said future research could also investigate whether the findings hold true for large fresh bodies of water such as the Great Lakes.

The study appears in the academic journal Health & Place.

Source: Michigan State University

 
PHOTO: Ocean sunrise Credit: Dawn Carter

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[What to do About Online Troublemakers?]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102531 2016-04-29T13:10:31Z 2016-04-29T10:30:17Z What to do About Online Troublemakers?A new UK investigation of online troublemakers discovers the perpetrators are often socially well connected. As a result, some Facebook users remain friends online with troublemakers because they are worried […]]]> What to do About Online Troublemakers?

A new UK investigation of online troublemakers discovers the perpetrators are often socially well connected. As a result, some Facebook users remain friends online with troublemakers because they are worried about the repercussions if they “unfriend” them.

Sarah Buglass, a Ph.D. student in the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University will presented her research this week at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Nottingham.

The issue of online troublemaking is a growing concern as more people use online social networks as a focal point for social relationships.

“People are spending more and more time online making them more vulnerable to potentially damaging social tension and disagreements. Our study explored the characteristics of people who might be more likely to cause this sort of trouble in an online social network,” explains Buglass.

The researchers analyzed the online relationship characteristics of 5,113 network contacts from 52 Facebook users (13 to 45 years).

The participants were asked to rate 100 randomly sampled Facebook “friends” from their networks in terms of online disagreement (with self and others), relational closeness, and communication frequency (online and offline).

Analysis of the results revealed that online troublemakers tended to be socially popular contacts who were known and in regular communication with the participants offline but not online (i.e. the participants were Facebook friends with the troublemakers but had very limited online contact).

This implied that Facebook users might be keeping an eye on provocative friends in a bid to avoid confrontation themselves. Online disagreements could be attributed to immaturity as they were more frequent in the 19 to 21 year old group.

“Facebook users appear to be harboring known online troublemakers on their Facebook networks. While some were not averse to reporting the online indiscretions of others to the service provider, many more choose to merely ignore them. It appears that they don’t want to communicate with the troublemakers online for risk of damaging their own reputation, but at the same time they don’t appear to want to unfriend them either,” explains Buglass.

Therefore, the social risk and emotional toil of unfriending may be greater than accepting the inappropriateness.

Buglass summarizes, “The social repercussions of unfriending someone reach far beyond the boundaries of the online network. People don’t want to risk causing offline tension with their friends, family members, or colleagues by disconnecting them from their online lives. Remaining online friends with troublemakers appears to be a social necessity for some.”

Source: British Psychological Association/EurekAlert

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Mindfulness Cognitive Therapy Shown to Lower Risk of Depression Relapse]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102471 2016-04-28T13:41:29Z 2016-04-28T13:30:03Z Mindfulness Cognitive Therapy Shown to Lower Risk of Depression RelapseNew research finds significant benefit in the use of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to reduce the risk of depression relapse. The mindfulness-based cognitive therapy approach was compared to usual care with […]]]> Mindfulness Cognitive Therapy Shown to Lower Risk of Depression Relapse

New research finds significant benefit in the use of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to reduce the risk of depression relapse.

The mindfulness-based cognitive therapy approach was compared to usual care with the results comparable to other active treatments, as measured over a five month period.

Recurrent depression is a serious issues as it causes significant disability. Interventions that prevent depressive relapse could help reduce the burden of this disease.

A growing body of research suggests mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is efficacious.

In the study, researchers reviewed the results of analyses of individual patient data from nine published randomized trials of MBCT. The analyses included 1,258 patients with available data on relapse and examined the efficacy of MBCT compared with usual care and other active treatments, including antidepressants.

From the review, Willem Kuyken, Ph.D., of the University of Oxford, England, and coauthors report MBCT was associated with reduced risk of depressive relapse/recurrence over 60 weeks compared with those who did not receive MBCT.

Investigators also discovered that the technique is robust as it is equally effective for a variety of groups regardless of sex, age, education, or relationship status.

The treatment effect of MBCT on the risk of depressive relapse/recurrence also may be larger in patients with higher levels of depression symptoms at baseline compared with non-MBCT treatments. This finding suggests that MBCT may be especially helpful to those patients who still have significant depressive symptoms.

Nevertheless, the authors acknowledge study limitations related to the availability of the data within the studies.

“We recommend that future trials consider an active control group, use comparable primary and secondary outcomes, use longer follow-ups, report treatment fidelity, collect key background variables (e.g., race/ethnicity and employment), take care to ensure generalizability, conduct cost-effectiveness analyses, put in place ethical and data management procedures that enable data sharing, consider mechanisms of action, and systematically record and report adverse events,” the authors conclude.

The study and accompanying editorial appear in JAMA Psychiatry.

Editorial: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Prevention of Depressive Relapse

“Mindfulness practices were not originally developed as therapeutic treatments. They emerged originally in contemplative traditions for the purposes of cultivating well-being and virtue. The questions of whether and how they might be helpful in alleviating symptoms of depression and other related psychopathologies are quite new, and the evidence base is in its embryonic stage.

“To my knowledge, the article by Kuyken et al is the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date to provide evidence for the effectiveness of MBCT in the prevention of depressive relapse.

“However, the article also raises many questions, and the limited nature of the extant evidence underscores the critical need for additional research,” writes Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Source: JAMA Psychiatry
 
Young woman happy with therapy photo by shutterstock.

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Genetics May Show Who Benefits from Exercise for Depression]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102460 2016-04-28T13:39:08Z 2016-04-28T12:45:42Z Genetics May Show Who Benefits from Exercise for DepressionFor some people with depression, an exercise prescription may one day take the place of a pharmacological remedy, suggests a new research study. University of Florida Health researchers have found […]]]> Genetics May Show Who Benefits from Exercise for Depression

For some people with depression, an exercise prescription may one day take the place of a pharmacological remedy, suggests a new research study.

University of Florida Health researchers have found that exercise provides significant relief from depression in people with certain genetic traits. Moreover, investigators discovered specific genetic markers that put people at risk for depression also predict who might benefit from exercise.

The benefit of exercise toward relieving depression symptoms was especially apparent in some men.

Specifically, the researchers found that men who were carriers of two specific genes had the most significant response to exercise. The results suggest physical activity as part of a treatment plan — exercise as moderate as walking — could help the carriers of these genes.

“I want to better understand who could benefit most from physical activity. I’d like to take the same approach to exercise that we take to medication, which is to have a personalized medicine approach,” said Vonetta Dotson, Ph.D. Dotson is the study’s first author and an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Health Profession’s department of clinical and health psychology.

“If we show through systematic research that exercise has a good chance of helping a patient because of their particular characteristics, I think that might help with patients’ motivation to exercise.”

The results, published in The Journal of Frailty & Aging, came from a small pilot study. Therefore, more research is necessary before this work can be translated into clinical practice. But in the future, it’s possible that blood or saliva could be tested to determine if a person could benefit from physical activity to lower depressive symptoms.

The study used data gathered in the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders, or LIFE, pilot study. During the LIFE pilot study, 396 sedentary older adults were separated into two groups: those who received health education classes and those who were given moderate physical activity classes for 12 months.

A subsequent paper published from the LIFE pilot study found that exercise did not significantly affect depression symptoms across the whole group, but that changed when the research team tunneled down into the data.

“When we looked at subgroups, we ended up finding significant response to exercise in men who were carriers of a specific gene.” Dotson said.

Participants’ response to exercise was assessed with the  Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), a screening test for depression and depressive disorders, at the beginning of the LIFE study’s intervention.

They took the test again after the interventions ended, at 12 months. The scale assesses four factors, including symptoms of sadness and fearfulness, symptoms such as loss of appetite and concentration difficulties, and a diminished capacity to experience pleasure or perceived difficulties in social relationships.

The participants also underwent genetic testing before the intervention, and the researchers tested three genes: the brain-derived neurotrophic, or BDNF, gene, a serotonin transporter gene, and a gene called apolipoprotein E.

The researchers found the greatest decrease in symptoms such as loss of appetite and concentration difficulties in men who carried the BDNF genetic variation that predisposed them to depression. They also saw an increase in the capacity to experience pleasure in men who exercised regularly who carried specific variations of the serotonin transporter gene.

Co-author Taimour Langaee, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., a research associate professor in the UF College of Pharmacy’s department of pharmacotherapy and translational research and Center for Pharmacogenomics, is interested in research studies on the effect of antipsychotic drugs on depression.

When patients are treated with antidepressants, the level of BDNF expression normalizes, helping them overcome depression, Langaee said. This study was different because it was designed to investigate the effect of physical activity in relation to genetic variations in these genes on changes in depressive symptoms.

“We already know that physical activity increases neurotransmitters and endorphins level,” he said. “So, we speculated that physical activity increased the expression of BDNF, leading to a decrease in somatic symptoms.”

Langaee said the study’s results were significant, but a larger sample size and more genetic testing is needed to better determine the effect of physical activity on these genes.

Dotson said the study provides evidence that physical activity could be explored as an intervention for depression, but warns that this study was not done in people whose symptoms were severe enough to be formally diagnosed with clinical depression. She said it’s also important to understand the benefits of exercise because of the impact medications may have on the brains of older adults.

“I’m trying to understand how exercise versus antidepressants affect the brain,” Dotson said. “The next step for me is to understand from a brain standpoint who is going to benefit and how exercise is going to be beneficial in addition to or as an alternative to medication.”

Source: University of Florida
 
DNA photo by shutterstock.

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Managers Should Not Burn Bridges with Ex-Employees]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102464 2016-04-28T13:36:54Z 2016-04-28T12:00:04Z Managers Should Not Burn Bridges with Ex-EmployeesNew research suggests it is important for leaders to maintain good relationships when workers exit the organization. “When we, as researchers, study organizations, or even when we study how managers […]]]> Managers Should Not Burn Bridges with Ex-Employees

New research suggests it is important for leaders to maintain good relationships when workers exit the organization.

“When we, as researchers, study organizations, or even when we study how managers look at employees, we see that businesses often assume that the relationship terminates when a person leaves the organization,” said Dr. Sumita Raghuram, associate professor of human resource management at Pennsylvania State University.

“However, in our research, we extend the employment boundary outside of the organization. We believe that the relationship does not end there and you have to be mindful of the people who actually left the organization.”

The researchers collected data from employees of a global information technology firm headquartered in India. A total of 128 employees were tracked over an 18-month period, which included time that they were employed and after they quit the company.

During the interviews, the former employees were asked their opinion of their former employers, whether there were efforts to retain them, their experiences when they left and details about their new jobs.

Goodwill and word-of-mouth positive referral still make a difference as departed workers may help in replacement recruiting and could even come back to the organization in the future.

In a study, workers who had good relationships with their bosses carried that goodwill into their new jobs, which could lead to important benefits for their former workplaces, according to the researchers.

“These ex-employees, who we call organizational alumni, can be very important for you,” said Raghuram. “They are the ones who can be your ambassadors.”

She added that workers who felt good about their former employers could become future customers and could also relay new business knowledge and insights back to their old employers.

“They can also come back to work for you as boomerang employees,” Raghuram said. “They are a very powerful force and we cannot ignore that.”

One way to increase this alumni goodwill is to make a good effort to retain employees when they announce a pending departure, according to the researchers.

“When an employee quits they are sensitive to how they were treated when they left the organization. For example, did anyone care to tell them that they will be missed, or try to stop them from leaving by offering genuine inducements?” Raghuram said.

“What we find, once again, is that a strong retention effort can reinforce the effect between relationships with bosses and alumni goodwill.”

In many cases an employee develops new skills while working for the organization, often with the assistance of supervisor mentoring. Those improved skills can help them land better jobs with higher salaries than the positions they quit.

The study results appear in the journal Personnel Psychology.

 

Source: Pennsylvania State
 
Employee termination photo by shutterstock.

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Family Retreat Can Help Vets Manage PTSD — And Relationships]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=102478 2016-04-28T13:34:11Z 2016-04-28T11:15:21Z Family Retreat Can Help Vets Manage PTSD -- And RelationshipsMilitary veterans returning from combat situations face a substantial risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Previous studies have also shown a significant association between PTSD and intimate relationship problems. To […]]]> Family Retreat Can Help Vets Manage PTSD -- And Relationships

Military veterans returning from combat situations face a substantial risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Previous studies have also shown a significant association between PTSD and intimate relationship problems.

To address these issues, family studies researchers at the University of Illinois developed an intensive retreat model for veterans and their romantic partners. The retreat includes therapeutic group and couple counseling, as well as relaxation activities. A pilot of the model was successful in helping to reduce symptoms and distress for the participants.

Kale Monk, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois and lead author of the study, said many veterans with PTSD may not seek help because of the stigma associated with mental illness.

“After veterans complete their service, they may be reluctant to report some of these symptoms because they feel a sense of shame or that others would think less of them if they sought therapy,” he said.

“Many service members fear that seeking treatment will have negative consequences for their career or that their security clearance will even be revoked.”

He said another important reason veterans may not seek treatment is that they don’t want to take time away from their families for long-term counseling and most services don’t incorporate the partner or family.

“Therapy could take anywhere from eight sessions to months of treatment and that takes time away from service members reuniting with their families, and most people just want to go back to their lives after a long deployment. Service members and veterans indicate that they would be more willing to engage in treatment if it was brief and family focused.”

Monk says this has prompted service providers to seek out brief workshops or retreats for veterans that also include their support systems.

In the recent study, Monk and colleagues assessed what they call the Veteran Couples Integrative Retreat (VCIIR) model; seeking to evaluate a specific, inclusive treatment for those who had served and may still suffer from trauma, and their partners.

The model uses a holistic treatment approach including traditional therapeutic couple sessions and group psychoeducation, as well as yoga, massage, hiking, equine-assisted therapy, and other recreational wellness activities to promote relaxation.

For the current study, veterans must have had a diagnosis of PTSD or be experiencing PTSD symptoms, as well as a referral from a physician or VA clinic staff member in order to participate in the retreat.

During the weeklong retreat, participants engage in general psychoeducation, where they are given information about trauma, how it manifests, and what it looks like. Facilitators also share coping strategies for the veteran and the partner, such as how to handle stressors or identify triggers.

“In addition to the couple sessions, participants learn as a group about these different symptoms and ways of managing stress. They break into groups and talk about issues that are really salient to them with others who will understand their situation because they are coming from similar experiences.

“This experience sharing and sense of camaraderie seems to be really important, validating, and normalizing. When participants are not in session, they are involved in different relaxation activities and things to get them back into nature to hopefully induce a relaxing state.”

The model intentionally includes veterans from a variety of generations or combat eras to allow for interaction between older and younger veterans.

For the study, researchers used data collected from the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center, as a total of 149 veteran couples (298 individuals) completed assessments before and immediately after the retreat. They also were assessed after six months to determine the effectiveness of the model. Assessments included military and civilian versions of the PTSD checklist.

The results showed a significant reduction in trauma symptoms for veterans and a significant decrease in distress for partners after the retreat.

“Obviously we wanted trauma symptoms to decline for veterans, but what’s additionally encouraging is that we also saw a reduction in distress for partners,” Monk said. “Many times you see an initial boost or benefit from a treatment and then people go back to where they started at baseline.

“But this was really encouraging because at six months out, we noticed that these benefits seemed to be maintained for both couple members. That’s one of the strengths of this retreat.”

Monk stressed that not all veterans returning from combat experience PTSD symptoms and not all veteran couples experience relational difficulties. However, in the United States, the lifetime risk for all people of experiencing PTSD is 8.7 percent.

Scholars estimate that the risk for veterans is 18 to 54 percent for Vietnam veterans and 16 to 30 percent for veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which illustrates that a significant proportion struggle even if most are doing well.

Sometimes partners may notice changes right away, but not all changes are indicators of PTSD.

“Flat affect and a service member wanting to sleep right when they get home might be more indicative of exhaustion after a long deployment,” he adds.

“It can also take some time to notice some of the effects of combat. For some in our study, they struggled with symptoms for years. One Vietnam veteran indicated that he had been struggling for 40 years, but these retreats helped him identify where the distress was coming from.”

Because of the model’s potential success, the researchers are now replicating the study as four-day retreats. “We are still finding similar outcomes as we did in the weeklong retreat study,” Monk says.

“In the new project we are also assessing relationship functioning in those that attend. Looking at the preliminary data, we’re finding that the retreats may also improve relationship quality.”

The retreats are currently free to veterans through grant funding and the contributions of communities where the retreats are held.

Source: University of Illinois
 
Military family photo by shutterstock.

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