Psych Central News Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday. 2016-08-25T13:30:45Z http://psychcentral.com/news/feed/atom Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Disrupted Sleep Patterns Up Risk of Suicide]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=109048 2016-08-25T13:30:01Z 2016-08-25T13:30:45Z Disrupted Sleep Patterns Up Risk of SuicideA new U.K. study finds a clear link between sleep problems and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Researchers from The University of Manchester and the University of Oxford interviewed 18 participants […]]]> Disrupted Sleep Patterns Up Risk of Suicide

A new U.K. study finds a clear link between sleep problems and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Researchers from The University of Manchester and the University of Oxford interviewed 18 participants about the role sleep problems have on suicidal tendencies.

From the discussions, investigators identified three inter-related pathways to suicidal thoughts arising from sleep problems.

The first was that being awake at night heightened the risks of suicidal thoughts and attempts, which in part was seen as a consequence of the lack of help or resources available at night.

Secondly, the research found that a prolonged failure to achieve a good night’s sleep made life harder for respondents, adding to depression, as well as increasing negative thinking, attention difficulties, and inactivity.

Finally, respondents said sleep acted as an alternative to suicide, providing an escape from their problems. However, the desire to use sleep as an avoidance tactic led to increased day time sleeping which in turn caused disturbed sleeping patterns — reinforcing the first two pathways.

The study is published in BMJ Open.

Donna Littlewood, lead author of the study, said the research has implications for service providers, such as health care specialist and social services.

“Our research underscores the importance of restoring healthy sleep in relation to coping with mental health problems, suicidal thoughts, and behaviors.

Moreover, the need for appropriate night time support services is paramount as researchers discovered that that those who are awake in the night are at an increased risk of suicide.

Source: University of Manchester

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[How Teens Learn to Manage Their Emotions]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=109040 2016-08-25T12:52:01Z 2016-08-25T12:45:26Z How Teens Learn to Manage Their EmotionsA daughter’s transition through adolescence is a sensitive period for both the child and mother. In a new study, researchers observed how mother-daughter pairs were able to manage rapid transitions […]]]> How Teens Learn to Manage Their Emotions

A daughter’s transition through adolescence is a sensitive period for both the child and mother. In a new study, researchers observed how mother-daughter pairs were able to manage rapid transitions between emotional states and the so-called “emotional rollercoaster” of adolescence.

Queen’s University researcher Tom Hollenstein and Jessica Lougheed explain that the study reflects a growing need to examine how typically developing adolescents — those without a diagnosis of any major mental health issue — learn to manage their emotions.

“Being able to effectively manage emotions in different kinds of emotional contexts — called ’emotion regulation’ — is a crucial part of healthy development,” says Dr. Lougheed, a co-principal investigator on the study and now a post-doctoral researcher at Pennsylvania State University.

The researchers examined how mother-daughter pairs were able to manage transitions between emotional states. Interestingly, researchers discovered mothers also have significant emotional transitions during a child’s adolescence.

Ninety-six typically developing adolescent females and their mothers responded individually to a questionnaire consisting of questions on relationship quality, “internalizing” of symptoms such as anxiety and depression, and demographics.

The pairs then answered a questionnaire on times when they felt happy, worried, proud, frustrated, and grateful toward each other and took part in a series of three-minute conversations about those emotional experiences.

The videotaped sessions were played back and coded based on the emotions mothers and daughters expressed during the conversations.

As expected, pairs with low flexibility — those who displayed difficulty transitioning from one state to another — reported lower relationship quality and higher levels of maternal symptoms. Those who showed moderate levels of flexibility showed higher relationship quality and lower maternal symptoms.

However, those with the highest degree of flexibility showed no associations with relationship quality or symptoms — suggesting that a moderate degree of flexibility is optimal for a strong and healthy relationship.

“We have speculated, but never tested the hypothesis, that flexibility is sort of an inverted-U function in terms that a certain amount is just right, but too much and you become disorganized and leaning towards a lack of coherence,” says Dr. Hollenstein, the co-principal investigator on the study.

Researchers also discovered that the degree of flexibility demonstrated was consistently related to the mothers’ depression and anxiety symptoms — though not with the symptoms reported by their daughters.

Dr. Lougheed states this finding is a good reminder that adolescence is not just a time of development for youth, but a developmental transition for parents as well.

“The adolescent developmental period is an important transition for parents and adolescents alike,” says Dr. Lougheed.

“Generally speaking, parents and teens who are able to ‘go with the flow’ of new emotional experiences in their relationship will likely be show better well-being in other ways as well.”

The full study, titled Socioemotional Flexibility in Mother-Daughter Dyads: Riding the Emotional Rollercoaster across Positive and Negative Contexts appears in the journal Emotion.

Source: Queen’s University

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Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Acupuncture Offers Pain Relief for Kids with Complex Medical Issues]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=109019 2016-08-25T12:28:51Z 2016-08-25T12:00:03Z Acupuncture Offers Pain Relief for Kids with Complex Medical IssuesMany young patients with long-term medical conditions such as cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, and other brain and musculoskeletal conditions suffer from chronic pain. A new case study of nine […]]]> Acupuncture Offers Pain Relief for Kids with Complex Medical Issues

Many young patients with long-term medical conditions such as cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, and other brain and musculoskeletal conditions suffer from chronic pain. A new case study of nine patients has found that the practice of acupuncture may be a safe, effective alternative for pain relief in children with such complex medical conditions.

The findings show that all nine of the patients in the study experienced some measure of relief, spanning from decreased pain to complete relief.

The non-toxic and minimally invasive practice of acupuncture makes it a particularly attractive option for children with chronic care conditions, since many of these patients are already burdened with frequent surgeries and several types of medications.

Furthermore, many of these drugs come with unpleasant side effects — such as weight gain, sleepiness, and mood swings — that burden both the child and their families, said lead author Scott Schwantes, M.D., a pediatrician at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“A lot of these patients have gone through a tremendous amount of physical and emotional pain,” said Schwantes. “These kids have a complex array of distressing symptoms that decrease their quality of life. For some of them, acupuncture may be a valuable tool to add to their treatment.”

The research involved a case review of nine patients who received acupuncture treatments in the clinic or hospital between June 2014 and June 2015. Patients received treatments based on their backgrounds and conditions. Treatments included energetic work, biomechanical treatment (surface release technique, percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), and/or ear stimulation.

The findings show that every single one of the patients received notable benefits from acupuncture, spanning from decreased pain to complete relief.

On average, the acupuncture procedure takes about 30 minutes and involves the process of strategically placing a series of needles at precise points on a patient. The minimally invasive outpatient procedure could be a safe and effective alternative for children who are already burdened with surgeries, frequent hospital stays and medications, said Schwantes. The biggest stumbling block to the procedure is that some children have needle phobia.

“The proof is with the patients. They’re the ones who are successfully recovering from pain,” Schwantes says. “This study shows that acupuncture can be a safe, well-tolerated, and effective therapy for children and young adults with pediatric-onset disabilities.”

The findings are published in the journal Medical Acupuncture.

Source: Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare

 

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Aging Worries Influence Die Young Philosophy]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=109044 2016-08-25T12:08:28Z 2016-08-25T11:15:11Z Aging Worries Influence Die Young PhilosophyNew research addresses the question of why do some people want to live a very long time, while others would prefer to die relatively young? Public Health experts from Columbia […]]]> Aging Worries Influence Die Young Philosophy

New research addresses the question of why do some people want to live a very long time, while others would prefer to die relatively young?

Public Health experts from Columbia University investigated how long young and middle-aged adults in the United States say they want to live in relation to a number of personal characteristics.

Vegard Skirbekk, Ph.D., found that more than one out of six people would prefer to die younger than age 80, before reaching average life expectancy. Interestingly, age, gender, or education did not influence the preference of a life shorter or longer than average life expectancy.

The study is one of the first to investigate how younger adults perceive and anticipate their own aging. Findings are published online in the journal Ageing and Society.

Using data from a telephone survey of over 1600 adults aged 18 to 64 years, the authors also found that one-third would prefer a life expectancy in the eighties, or about equal to average life expectancy, and approximately one-quarter would prefer to live into their nineties, somewhat longer than average life expectancy.

The remaining participants said they hope to live to 100 or more years. Participants were on average 42 years old, half were women and 33 percent were university graduates.

“We were particularly interested in whether how long people want to live would be related to their expectations about what their life in old age will be like,” said Dr. Skirbekk.

The results, which were controlled for overall happiness, confirmed that having fewer positive old age expectations was associated with the preference to die before reaching average life expectancy.

On the contrary, having fewer negative old expectations was associated with the preference to live either somewhat longer or much longer than average life expectancy.

“Having rather bleak expectations of what life will be like in old age seems to undermine the desire to live up to and beyond current levels of average life expectancy,” said first author Catherine Bowen, Ph.D. and expert on mental representations of old age and the aging process.

“People who embrace the ‘better to die young’ attitude may underestimate their ability to cope with negative age-related life experiences as well as to find new sources of well-being in old age.”

African-American participants were particularly likely to report wanting to live 100 or more years. People who identified themselves as Hispanic or as an ethnicity other than White/Caucasian, Black/African-American or Hispanic were more likely to indicate a preference for a life shorter than average life expectancy.

In spite of the fact that women live about five years longer than men, gender was unrelated to how long people say they want to live.

The authors also found that education was unrelated to the preferred length of life, although people with more formal education tend to live longer.

“For many, it seems that the fear of becoming old may outweigh the fear of dying,” observed Dr. Skirbekk.

Source: Columbia University/EurekAlert

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Older but Happier]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=109037 2016-08-25T12:04:19Z 2016-08-25T10:30:35Z Older but HappierNew research provides good news as investigators discover the mental health of adults improves with aging. Scientists from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found the psychological […]]]> Older but Happier

New research provides good news as investigators discover the mental health of adults improves with aging.

Scientists from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found the psychological health of adults seems to consistently get better over time. Paradoxically, researchers discovered high levels of stress among young adults.

The improved sense of psychological well-being for aging adults was linear and substantial, said senior author Dilip Jeste, M.D.. “Participants reported that they felt better about themselves and their lives year upon year, decade after decade.”

The findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Conversely, Jeste and colleagues noted high levels of perceived stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety among adults in their 20s and 30s participating in the study. “This ‘fountain of youth’ period is associated with far worse levels of psychological well-being than any other period of adulthood,” he said.

The findings may help to reframe the aging process. Conventional notions of aging have largely described it as an ongoing progression of physical and cognitive decline, with little discussion about mental health except in the context of decline.

It has been broadly assumed that the mental health of older people mirrors their worsening physical and cognitive function.

But Jeste, who has long studied the phenomenon, said actual research, though limited, produces mixed findings.

“Some investigators have reported a U-shaped curve of well-being across the lifespan, with declines from early adulthood to middle age followed by an improvement in later adulthood.

The nadir of mental health in this model occurs during middle age, roughly 45 to 55. However, we did not find such a mid-life dip in well-being.”

The reasons for these differences in results aren’t obvious. There is measurement variation across studies, with different researchers emphasizing different indicators that, ultimately, produce different conclusions. Nonetheless, the commonality is in finding improved well-being in the second half of life.

Jeste emphasized that this study was not restricted to psychological well-being, but included “mental health”, which is broader in definition and also includes satisfaction with life, and low levels of perceived stress, anxiety, and depression.

Most epidemiologic studies report lower prevalence of all mental illnesses in older adults, except for dementias.

“Some cognitive decline over time is inevitable,” said Jeste, “but its effect is clearly not uniform and in many people, not clinically significant — at least in terms of impacting their sense of well-being and enjoyment of life.”

In the latest study, Jeste and colleagues examined the physical health, cognitive function, and other measures of mental health in 1,546 adults, ages 21 to 100 years, living in San Diego County. Participants were selected using random digit dialing and were almost evenly split by gender. The sample was stratified by age decade, with an oversampling of adults over age 75.

The linear nature of the findings was surprising, said Jeste, particularly in magnitude. The oldest cohort had mental health scores significantly better than the youngest cohort, though the former’s physical and cognitive function was measurably poorer than the latter’s.

The reasons for improved positive mental health in old age are not clear. Some previous research has shown older adults become more adept at coping with stressful changes. They learn, said Jeste, “not to sweat out the little things. And a lot of previously big things become little.”

However, another important explanation may be increased wisdom with age. A number of studies have shown that older individuals tend to be more skilled at emotional regulation and complex social decision-making.

They also experience and retain fewer negative emotions and memories. These are all collective elements of wisdom, as defined by the researchers.

Michael L. Thomas, Ph.D., first author of the paper and assistant research scientist in psychiatry at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, cautioned that “like many other investigations of this type, it was a cross-sectional study, and thus a snapshot of data.

Also, there may have been a survivor bias — i.e., less healthy adults do not survive into old age”. Yet, he also pointed out that older adults in this study were physically more disabled than younger ones — so this was not a sample of super-normal healthy adults.

Jeste expressed concern that the rates of psychological distress and mental illness in younger persons seem to be rising.

“Inadequate attention has been paid to mental health issues that continue or get exacerbated post-adolescence. We need to understand mechanisms underlying better mental health in older age in spite of more physical ailments.

“That would help develop broad-based interventions to promote mental health in all age groups, including youth.”

Source: University of California, San Diego/EurekAlert

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Jane Collingwood <![CDATA[Psychotic Experiences Linked to Cognitive Changes]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=108992 2016-08-24T16:06:09Z 2016-08-24T13:30:03Z Psychotic Experiences Linked to Cognitive ChangesRecent research suggests that people who have psychotic experiences, but no diagnosis of psychotic illness, have altered cognitive functioning compared with people without psychotic experiences. A substantial minority of the […]]]> Psychotic Experiences Linked to Cognitive Changes

Recent research suggests that people who have psychotic experiences, but no diagnosis of psychotic illness, have altered cognitive functioning compared with people without psychotic experiences.

A substantial minority of the general population, around six percent, experiences subclinical psychotic experiences, report MSc student Josephine Mollon of King’s College London, UK, and colleagues in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

“Evidence suggests that subclinical psychotic experiences may lie on a continuum with clinically significant psychotic symptoms, and therefore be informative for research into the cause of psychotic illness,” they write.

Both disorders share risk factors such as low IQ, childhood maltreatment, and stressful life events, as well as similar brain scan results such as deficits in grey and white matter.

The researchers looked at neuropsychological functioning and psychotic experiences in adults, taking into account sociodemographic characteristics and age. They used information gathered from household surveys covering 1,677 people aged 16 years or older, living in two areas of London, UK. Average age was 40 years.

Participants’ psychotic experiences were measured using the Psychosis Screening Questionnaire, which is administered by an interviewer. It assesses psychotic experiences in the previous year, covering thought disorder, paranoia, strange experiences, and hallucinations. The tool also covers hypomania, a mild form of mania, marked by elation and hyperactivity, but this was not assessed as the focus was on psychosis.

Cognitive functioning was measured with a series of tests looking at verbal knowledge (using a reading test), working memory, general memory, and cognitive processing speed. From this, an overall IQ score was calculated.

One in ten of the participants had previously had psychotic experiences. This group was not significantly different from those without psychotic experiences on overall IQ or processing speed. But they scored less highly on verbal knowledge, working memory, and general memory.

Medium to large impairments in cognitive functioning were seen among participants aged 50 years and older with psychotic experiences. These differences remained once socioeconomic status, cannabis use, and common mental disorders were taken into account.

The team writes, “The profile of cognitive impairment in adults with psychotic experiences differed from that seen in adults with psychotic disorders, suggesting important differences between subclinical and clinical psychosis.”

Commenting on the study, researcher Josephine Mollon says, “Psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, are core features of psychotic disorders. A significant minority of the general population also reports subclinical psychotic experiences.

“We used population-based survey data to characterize cognitive functioning in adults with psychotic experiences while adjusting for important sociodemographic characteristics and investigating the effect of age.”

She continues, “Those with subclinical psychotic experiences did not show an impairment in processing speed, which is severely compromised in psychotic patients, suggesting that processing speed deficits indicate vulnerability to psychosis.

“Moreover, psychotic experiences, together with cognitive deficits, may be most challenging in those aged 50 years and older. Even mild, subclinical psychotic experiences, when combined with the effects of aging, may strain cognitive reserves and lead to large, burdensome cognitive deficits.”

In conclusion, Mollon adds, “Our findings suggest a continuum of psychotic experiences and cognitive deficits in a much larger proportion of the population than that seen in clinical practice. Effective treatment of such deficits could be helpful for many individuals.”

She recommends that future research on the topic should involve long-term studies “to elucidate how psychotic experiences interact with cognitive deficits throughout the life course and to identify risk and resiliency factors.”

This study is the first to investigate the effect of age on cognitive impairment associated with psychotic experiences in adults. Some previous studies suggest that these experiences are most prevalent in adolescence and old age, while others have not found significant age differences. Among the participants in this study, psychotic experiences were more likely in the youngest group but remained sizable in the other age groups.

Because the data in this study came from household surveys, the researchers could look for possible mechanisms behind the links they found with psychotic experiences and cognition.

They say, “First-degree relatives were significantly impaired on verbal knowledge, whereas unrelated cohabitants showed no impairment. Our findings suggest that a complex interplay of genetic, biological, and psychosocial factors lies behind the association between psychotic experiences and neuropsychological impairment.

“This pattern of verbal knowledge impairment suggests common genetic and/or family environmental factors.”

Reference

Mollon, J. et al. Psychotic Experiences and Neuropsychological Functioning in a Population-based Sample. JAMA Psychiatry, 30 December 2015 doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2551

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Mice Study Shows How Sleep Deprivation Harms Memory]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=109000 2016-08-24T14:58:45Z 2016-08-24T12:45:33Z Mice Study Shows How Sleep Deprivation Harms MemoryFindings from an international research effort are helping scientists understand the way in which sleep deprivation negatively affects memory. Researchers from the Universities of Groningen (Netherlands) and Pennsylvania found that […]]]> Mice Study Shows How Sleep Deprivation Harms Memory

Findings from an international research effort are helping scientists understand the way in which sleep deprivation negatively affects memory.

Researchers from the Universities of Groningen (Netherlands) and Pennsylvania found that in mice, five hours of sleep deprivation leads to a loss of connectivity between neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with learning and memory.

The study, to be published in the journal eLife, is the first to provide detail on why memory is harmed when sleep deprived.

“It’s clear that sleep plays an important role in memory — we know that taking naps helps us retain important memories. But how sleep deprivation impairs hippocampal function and memory is less obvious,” says first author Robbert Havekes, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences.

It has been proposed that changes in the connectivity between synapses — structures that allow neurons to pass signals to each other — can affect memory.

To study this further, the researchers examined the impact of brief periods of sleep loss on the structure of dendrites, the branching extensions of nerve cells along which impulses are received from other synaptic cells, in the mouse brain.

They first used the Golgi silver-staining method to visualize the length of dendrites and number of dendritic spines in the mouse hippocampus following five hours of sleep deprivation, a period of sleep loss that is known to impair memory consolidation.

Their analyses indicated that sleep deprivation significantly reduces the length and spine density of the dendrites belonging to the neurons in the CA1 region of the hippocampus.

They repeated the sleep-loss experiment, but left the mice to sleep undisturbed for three hours afterwards. This period was chosen based on the scientists’ previous work showing that three hours is sufficient to restore deficits caused by lack of sleep.

The effects of the five-hour sleep deprivation in the mice were reversed so that their dendritic structures were similar to those observed in the mice that had slept.

The researchers then investigated what was happening during sleep deprivation at the molecular level.

“We were curious about whether the structural changes in the hippocampus might be related to increased activity of the protein cofilin, since this can cause shrinkage and loss of dendritic spines,” Havekes says.

“Our further studies revealed that the molecular mechanisms underlying the negative effects of sleep loss do in fact target cofilin.

“Blocking this protein in hippocampal neurons of sleep-deprived mice not only prevented the loss of neuronal connectivity, but also made the memory processes resilient to sleep loss. The sleep-deprived mice learned as well as non-sleep deprived subjects.”

Ted Abel, Ph.D., Brush Family Professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania and senior author of the study, explains: “Lack of sleep is a common problem in our 24/7 modern society and it has severe consequences for health, overall wellbeing, and brain function.

“Despite decades of research, the reasons why sleep loss negatively impacts brain function have remained unknown. Our novel description of a pathway through which sleep deprivation impacts memory consolidation highlights the importance of the neuronal cell network’s ability to adapt to sleep loss.

“What is perhaps most striking is that these neuronal connections are restored with several hours of recovery sleep. Thus, when subjects have a chance to catch up on much-needed sleep, they are rapidly remodeling their brain.”

Source: Elife/EurekAlert

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Banned Chemicals Continue to Increase Risk of Autism]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=109004 2016-08-24T14:55:01Z 2016-08-24T12:00:06Z Banned Chemicals Continue to Increase Risk of AutismChemicals banned decades ago continue to increase the risk of autism. In a new study, investigators discovered exposure during pregnancy to chemicals used in certain pesticides and as insulating material […]]]> Banned Chemicals Continue to Increase Risk of Autism

Chemicals banned decades ago continue to increase the risk of autism. In a new study, investigators discovered exposure during pregnancy to chemicals used in certain pesticides and as insulating material banned in the 1970s, can significantly increase the odds of autism spectrum disorder in children.

Researchers discovered children born after being exposed to the highest levels of certain compounds of the chemicals during their mother’s pregnancy were roughly 80 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism when compared to individuals with the very lowest levels of these chemicals. That also includes those who were completely unexposed.

The dangerous substances — known as organochlorine chemicals — were banned in the United States in 1977. However, these compounds can remain in the environment and become absorbed in the fat of animals that humans eat, leading to exposure.

With that in mind, Kristen Lyall, ScD, assistant professor in Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, and her collaborators, decided to look at organochlorine chemicals during pregnancy since they can cross through the placenta and affect the fetus’ neurodevelopment.

“There’s a fair amount of research examining exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy in association with other outcomes, like birth weight — but little research on autism, specifically,” Lyall said.

“To examine the role of environmental exposures in risk of autism, it is important that samples are collected during time frames with evidence for susceptibility for autism — termed ‘critical windows’ in neurodevelopment. Fetal development is one of those critical windows.”

Their paper describing this study was titled, “Prenatal Organochlorine Chemicals and Autism,” and published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Lyall teamed with researchers including Gayle Windham, Ph.D., Martin Kharrazi, Ph.D., Lisa Croen, Ph.D., as well as an expert on measuring organochlorine chemicals, Andreas Sjodin, Ph.D..

The team looked at a population sample of 1,144 children born in Southern California between 2000 and 2003. Data was accrued from mothers who had enrolled in California’s Expanded Alphafetoprotein Prenatal Screening Program, which is dedicated to detecting birth defects during pregnancy.

Participants’ children were separated into three groups: 545 who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, 181 with intellectual disabilities but no autism diagnosis, and 418 with a diagnosis of neither.

Blood tests taken from the second trimester of the children’s mothers were used to determine the level of exposure to two different classes of organochlorine chemicals: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, which were used as lubricants, coolants and insulators in consumer and electrical products) and organochlorine pesticides (OCPs, which include chemicals like DDT).

“Exposure to PCBs and OCPs is ubiquitous,” Lyall said. “Work from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which includes pregnant women, shows that people in the U.S. generally still have measurable levels of these chemicals in their bodies.”

However, Lyall emphasized that exposure levels were key in determining risk.

“Adverse effects are related to levels of exposure, not just presence or absence of detectable levels,” she said. “In our Southern California study population, we found evidence for modestly increased risk for individuals in the highest 25th percentile of exposure to some of these chemicals.”

It was determined that two compounds in particular — PCB 138/158 and PCB 153 — stood out as being significantly linked with autism risk.

Children with the highest in utero levels (exposure during their mother’s pregnancy) of these two forms of PCBs were between 79 and 82 percent more likely to have an autism diagnosis than those found to be exposed to the lowest levels.

High levels of two other compounds, PCB 170 and PCB 180, were also associated with children being approximately 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed — again, this is relative to children with the lowest prenatal exposure to these PCBs.

None of the OCPs appeared to show an association with higher autism diagnosis risk.

In children with intellectual disabilities but not autism, the highest exposure to PCBs appeared to double the risk of a diagnosis when compared to those with the lowest exposure. Mid-range (rather than high) OCP exposure was also associated with an increased level of intellectual disability diagnosis when measured against children with the lowest exposure levels.

“The results suggest that prenatal exposure to these chemicals above a certain level may influence neurodevelopment in adverse ways,” Lyall said.

These results are a first step to suggest these compounds may increase risk of development of autism, and Lyall and her colleagues are eyeing up more work in the field.

“We are definitely doing more research to build on this — including work examining genetics, as well as mixtures of chemicals,” Lyall said. “This investigation draws from a rich dataset and we need more studies like this in autism research.”

Source: Drexel University

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[App Improves Health Behaviors for People Living with HIV]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=109007 2016-08-24T14:47:07Z 2016-08-24T11:15:37Z App Improves Health Behaviors for People Living with HIVA smartphone app has been found to help people with HIV take their daily medications and reduce substance abuse. University of Buffalo researchers found that participants not only found the […]]]> App Improves Health Behaviors for People Living with HIV

A smartphone app has been found to help people with HIV take their daily medications and reduce substance abuse.

University of Buffalo researchers found that participants not only found the app easy and convenient to use — they were also willing to provide honest responses.

“Reporting was actually high — we had 95 percent compliance with daily report completion. A key finding of our study was the ability for people living with HIV to feel comfortable reporting on sensitive health behaviors,” said Sarahmona Przybyla, the study’s lead author.

A willingness to report the use of alcohol or drugs was significant because substance use is one of the most reliable predictors of poor adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART), explain the researchers.

Their findings were more surprising considering that the majority of the 26 study participants had never used a smartphone before. After some initial smartphone training from research staff, they completed their reports with ease.

The study appears in the journal AIDS Research and Treatment.

Participants were recruited from two Buffalo-area clinics and were asked to use the app — named Daily Reports of Using Medications, or DRUM — to complete their reports, which took three to five minutes, between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. each day for two weeks.

Every afternoon, the 26 study participants received a text message reminder asking them to fill out their report. If they missed that day’s report, they were given the option to do a make-up when they logged into the app the next day.

Researchers were deliberate in their wording of the questions. “People living with HIV continue to be a stigmatized population, so we didn’t want any of the questions we developed to draw attention to their disease. We never used ‘HIV’ or ‘ART’ — anything that would inadvertently out someone as having HIV,” Przybyla said.

A sample medication question was, “Did you take your first dose?” A change in daily routine was the most commonly reported reason participants didn’t take their medication, followed by simply forgetting. Use of alcohol or drugs was the third most common reason.

Participants who confirmed they had used alcohol or drugs in the past 24 hours were given a series of follow-up questions that asked why they used the substance and where they were when they used it, with a dropdown menu of answer choices.

Each participant was provided with a five-digit passcode to access the app, ensuring privacy and confidentiality. Data from the completed reports was sent in real time directly to University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, which helped develop the app along with Przybyla.

In the future, the app could aid in users’ decision to use alcohol since some participants in this study reported that it helped them understand exactly how much they were drinking.

And it helped users establish a pattern. “I think the surprising thing is how much the app and the text reminders helped the participants to develop a routine,” said Rebecca Eliseo-Arras, a study co-author and senior research analyst at UB’s Research Institute on Addictions.

“For instance, some reported that the text message reminded them to do the report, but the report actually made them think about whether or not they took their medication and, if they didn’t, that it prompted them to go take their medications.”

Participants completed 347 out of 364 possible daily reports over the two-week span. They reported drinking alcohol on 51.6 percent and marijuana use on 35.4 percent of reporting days.

In follow-up interviews after the two weeks, researchers asked study members about their experience using the app. “Many said it was a piece of cake and that they actually looked forward to doing their daily reports,” Przybyla said.

“We also asked people where they were when they completed their reports. A lot of them said they were out and about. They never felt like they had to go hide in a bathroom to fill out the survey each day.”

Przybyla said it’s important to note that the average time since diagnosis among study participants was 17 years and that many of their friends and relatives were likely aware they had HIV. As a result, participants probably felt more comfortable completing the reports around others than someone who was more recently diagnosed and may not have been open about disclosing their disease status to others.

Three-quarters of the sample was male, and slightly more than half were African American. The average age was 48.

Investigators believe the app could help lead to quicker intervention in cases where a patient has missed a number of doses. “Life expectancy has changed dramatically as a result of advances in pharmacotherapy, which is wonderful, but adherence is key. You can live a long, healthy life with HIV, but you have to take your meds,” said Przybyla.

“Now that we have this data, we can reach out to people with HIV and say, ‘We’ve noticed you’ve been using substances and that seems to be related to the fact that you’ve missed your doses — what can we do to help you?’ It’s putting prevention in their pockets.”

Source: University of Buffalo

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Music at Work Enhances Teambuilding]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=108997 2016-08-24T14:41:06Z 2016-08-24T10:30:04Z Music at Work Enhances TeambuildingFrom retail shops to health care complexes, music is used to improve the customer experience and mold behavior. New research reviews the effects of music for enhancing the worksite environment […]]]> Music at Work Enhances Teambuilding

From retail shops to health care complexes, music is used to improve the customer experience and mold behavior. New research reviews the effects of music for enhancing the worksite environment for employees.

In the study, Cornell University investigators used a pair of lab experiments to learn that music can play an important role in enhancing cooperative spirit.

Researchers Kevin Kniffin, Jubo Yan, Brian Wansink, and William Schulze devised the experiments to test the effect of different types of music on the cooperative behavior of individuals working as a team.

The summary paper appears in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

For each study, participants were grouped into teams of three. Each team member was given multiple opportunities to either contribute to the team’s value using tokens or keep the tokens for personal use.

When happy, upbeat music was played — researchers chose the “Happy Days” theme song, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles, and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves — team members were more likely to contribute to the group’s value.

When music deemed unpleasant was played — in this case, heavy metal songs by less than well-known bands — participants were more likely to keep tokens for themselves.

The researchers found contribution levels to the public good when happy, upbeat songs were played were approximately one-third higher compared to the less pleasant music.

When researchers conducted a second experiment testing how people react when no music is played, the results were the same. The researchers conclude that happy music provokes people to more often make decisions that contribute to the good of the team.

“Music is a pervasive part of much of our daily lives, whether we consciously notice it or not,” said Kniffin, a behavioral scientist at Cornell and lead author on the paper.

“Music might melt into the background in places like supermarkets or gyms and other times it’s very prominent like places of worship or presidential nominating conventions. Our results show that people seem more likely to get into sync with each other if they’re listening to music that has a steady beat to it.”

Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, added, “What’s great about these findings, other than having a scientific reason to blast tunes at work, is that happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive overall.”

The researchers suggest managers consider not only the customer experience but also workers’ when picking the day’s music.

Starting the day with this simple consideration in mind could result in happier employees and more teamwork.

“Lots of employers spend significant sums of time and money on off-site team-building exercises to build cooperation among employees. Our research points to the office sound system as a channel that has been under appreciated as a way to inspire cooperation among co-workers,” said Kniffin.

Source: Cornell University

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Starting to View Porn Linked to Divorce Risk]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=108963 2016-08-23T13:59:54Z 2016-08-23T12:45:23Z Starting to View Porn Linked to Divorce RiskA new study suggests that beginning pornography use substantially increases the probability of divorce for married Americans, especially among women. “Beginning pornography use between survey waves nearly doubled one’s likelihood […]]]> Starting to View Porn Linked to Divorce Risk

A new study suggests that beginning pornography use substantially increases the probability of divorce for married Americans, especially among women.

“Beginning pornography use between survey waves nearly doubled one’s likelihood of being divorced by the next survey period, from six percent to 11 percent, and nearly tripled it for women, from six percent to 16 percent,” said Dr. Samuel Perry. Perry is the lead author of the study and is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma.

“Our results suggest that viewing pornography, under certain social conditions, may have negative effects on marital stability.”

Perry presented his study findings at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). The study uses nationally representative General Social Survey panel data collected from thousands of American adults.

Respondents were interviewed three times about their pornography use and marital status: every two years from 2006-2010, 2008-2012, or 2010-2014.

The study uses a statistical design that focuses on initially married respondents’ change in pornography use and marital status between survey waves. Respondents who did not report viewing pornography in the past year at an initial wave, but did so by the subsequent wave were characterized as having begun pornography use.

The study then isolates the connection between this change in pornography use and the probability of respondents being divorced by that subsequent survey wave, compared to the probability of divorce among those who did not watch pornography in either survey wave.

In addition to investigating the association between changing pornography viewership habits and the probability of divorce in general, Perry and his co-author Dr. Cyrus Schleifer, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma, also examined how other variables influenced the way in which viewing pornography impacts a marriage.

Variables considered included age, religiosity, and marital happiness as each influenced the link between changing pornography viewership habits and marital stability.

While beginning to watch pornography was associated with an increase in the probability of divorce for the sample of married Americans, the increase was greater for younger adults. In fact, the study found that the younger an adult was when he or she began watching pornography, the higher his or her probability of getting divorced by the next survey wave.

“Younger Americans tend to view pornography more often than older Americans, and older Americans generally have more stable marriages since they tend to be more mature, financially established, and likely already have more time invested in the relationship,” Perry said.

“So, we thought it made perfect sense that the effect of pornography use on divorce would grow weaker with age.”

Beginning pornography use was also associated with a greater negative impact on the marriages of those who were less religious, which was measured by religious service attendance.

For those who did not attend religious services every week or more, beginning pornography use was associated with an increase from six percent to 12 percent in the probability of getting divorced by the next survey. By contrast, those who attended religious services at least weekly saw virtually no increase in their probability of divorce upon starting to view pornography.

According to Perry, the fact that being more religious seemed to lessen the negative influence of pornography use on marital stability deviates from some previous research.

“Several previous studies finding a negative association between pornography use and marital quality showed the effect was stronger for frequent churchgoers,” Perry said. “This was thought to be because pornography use carries a greater social and psychic cost for those in communities that stigmatize its use. But our findings suggest that religion has a protective effect on marriage, even in the face of pornography use.

“Because religious groups stigmatize divorce and prioritize marital stability, it is likely that married Americans who are more religious will experience a greater combination of community pressure and internalized moral pressure to stay married, regardless of pornography’s effect on their marital quality.”

Additionally, the researchers found that respondents’ initially reported level of marital happiness played an important role in determining the magnitude of pornography’s association with the probability of divorce.

Among people who reported they were “very happy” in their marriage in the first survey wave, beginning pornography viewership before the next survey was associated with a noteworthy increase — from three percent to 12 percent — in the likelihood of getting divorced by the time of that next survey.

However, beginning pornography use had no statistically significant association for individuals who reported lower marital happiness initially.

“We took this to mean that pornography use — perhaps if it’s discovered by one’s spouse unexpectedly — could rock an otherwise happy marriage to the point of divorce, but it doesn’t seem to make an unhappy marriage any worse than it already is,” Perry said.

 

Source: American Sociological Association/EurekAlert

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Naps Between Studies Can Aid Retention & Relearning]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=108959 2016-08-23T13:52:47Z 2016-08-23T12:00:01Z Naps Between Studies Can Aid Retention & RelearningNow that many students have either returned to school or are preparing to hit the books again, the results of a new French study can help them retain and learn […]]]> Naps Between Studies Can Aid Retention & Relearning

Now that many students have either returned to school or are preparing to hit the books again, the results of a new French study can help them retain and learn new information more effectively.

Researchers have found that getting some sleep in between study sessions may make it easier to recall what was studied and help to relearn what has been forgotten, even six months later.

“Our results suggest that interleaving sleep between practice sessions leads to a twofold advantage, reducing the time spent relearning and ensuring a much better long-term retention than practice alone,” said psychological scientist Dr. Stephanie Mazza of the University of Lyon.

“Previous research suggested that sleeping after learning is definitely a good strategy, but now we show that sleeping between two learning sessions greatly improves such a strategy.”

The study appears in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

While studies have shown that both repeated practice and sleep can help improve memory, there is little research investigating how repetition and sleep influence memory when they are combined.

In the study, Mazza and colleagues hypothesized that sleeping in between study sessions might make the relearning process more efficient, reducing the effort needed to commit information to memory.

A total of 40 French adults were randomly assigned to either a “sleep” group or a “wake” group. At the first session, all participants were presented with 16 French-Swahili word pairs in random order.

After studying a pair for seven seconds, the Swahili word appeared and participants were prompted to type the French translation. The correct word pair was then shown for four seconds. Any words that were not correctly translated were presented again, until each word pair had been correctly translated.

Twelve hours after the initial session, the participants completed the recall task again, practicing the whole list of words until all 16 words were correctly translated.

Importantly, some participants completed the first session in the morning and the second session in the evening of the same day (“wake” group); others completed the first session in the evening, slept, and completed the second session the following morning (“sleep” group).

In the first session, the two groups showed no difference in how many words they could initially recall or in the number of trials they needed to be able to remember all 16 word pairs.

But after 12 hours, the data told another story: Participants who had slept between sessions recalled about 10 of the 16 words, on average, while those who hadn’t slept recalled only about 7.5 words.

And when it came to relearning, those who had slept needed only about three trials to be able to recall all 16 words, while those who had stayed awake needed about six trials.

Ultimately, both groups were able to learn all 16 word pairs, but sleeping in between sessions seemed to allow participants to do so in less time and with less effort.

“Memories that were not explicitly accessible at the beginning of relearning appeared to have been transformed by sleep in some way,” said Mazza. “Such transformation allowed subjects to re-encode information faster and to save time during the relearning session.”

The memory boost that participants got from sleeping between sessions seemed to last over time. Follow-up data showed that participants in the sleep group outperformed their peers on the recall test one week later.

The sleep group showed very little forgetting, recalling about 15 word pairs, compared to the wake group, who were able to recall about 11 word pairs. This benefit was still noticeable six months later.

The benefits of sleep could not be ascribed to participants’ sleep quality or sleepiness, or to their short-term or long-term memory capacity, as the two groups showed no differences on these measures.

The results suggest that alternating study sessions with sleep might be an easy and effective way to remember information over longer periods of time with less study, Mazza and colleagues conclude.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Fussy Infants May Be More at Risk for Obesity]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=108967 2016-08-23T13:49:47Z 2016-08-23T11:15:39Z Fussy Infants May Be More at Risk for ObesityEmerging research suggest babies that seem to get upset more easily and take longer to calm down may be at higher risk for obesity than babies that exhibit more “cuddliness” […]]]> Fussy Infants May Be More at Risk for Obesity

Emerging research suggest babies that seem to get upset more easily and take longer to calm down may be at higher risk for obesity than babies that exhibit more “cuddliness” and calm down easily.

In the study, University of Buffalo researchers investigated new ways in which to identify infants at risk for becoming overweight or obese. The belief is that early identification of high-risk children allows intervention before detrimental behaviors and habits have been established.

The research appears online ahead of print in Childhood Obesity.

“The research tells us that differences in behavior begin as early as infancy and those differences can influence health behaviors that impact future health risks,” said Kai Ling Kong, Ph.D., first author and assistant professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at University of Buffalo.

In the study, 105 infants from nine to 18 months old were taught to press a button to earn a reward. They completed the task twice, and received either a piece of their favorite food as a reward or ten seconds of a non-food reward, such as blowing bubbles, watching a Baby Einstein DVD, or hearing music.

Parents were instructed to say only specific phrases while the child completed the task.

As the task went on, it became increasingly difficult for the infant to earn the reward as they had to press the button more times. The amount of “work” they were willing to do was calculated by counting the number of times the child was willing to press the button to get the reward.

The child’s temperament was assessed through a detailed, 191-question online questionnaire that parents completed.

“We found that infants that rated higher on what we call cuddliness — the baby’s expression of enjoyment and molding of the body to being held — had lower food reinforcement,” said Kong.

“That means they were willing to work more for a non-food reward versus a food reward. So an infant who enjoyed being held closely by a caregiver was less motivated to work for food.”

The researchers measured cuddliness by asking parents specific questions such as, “When being held, how often did your baby pull away or kick?” and “While being fed on your lap, how often did your baby snuggle even after they were done?”

Infants who rated high on how quickly they could recover from crying or being distressed also were less motivated to work for food compared to non-food alternatives.

Conversely, infants who rated lower on cuddliness and who took longer to recover from distress and arousal, had higher food reinforcement; that is, they were willing to work harder for a food reward.

Kong said that correlating these differences in temperament with their relative food reinforcement will help researchers identify ways to encourage healthier diets among the youngest individuals.

Parents who identify these characteristics in their infants also can benefit, she said.

“If a parent sees high relative food reinforcement in their child, it is not cause for immediate concern,” she said.

Instead, she noted, the parent could evaluate their child’s relationship to food, encouraging the child to engage in activities other than eating, especially as a reward.

“Using rewards other than food, such as a trip to the playground or engaging in active play with their parents, may help reduce their child’s tendency to find pleasure in food,” she said.

Making available a wide array of toys, activities and playmates so food isn’t the main focus and sole source of pleasure also can be beneficial.

Kong added that children can learn healthier lifestyles when parents model healthy behaviors themselves, pay close attention to children’s satiety cues (noting when they are full) and don’t immediately use food to comfort a child who is crying or fussing.

Source: University of Buffalo

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Poor Job Satisfaction Can Harm Health Before Age 40]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=108956 2016-08-23T13:46:44Z 2016-08-23T10:30:01Z Poor Job Satisfaction Can Harm Health Before Age 40New research discovers early job satisfaction plays a significant role on a person’s health, especially their mental health. In a new nationwide study, Ohio State investigators discovered job satisfaction in […]]]> Poor Job Satisfaction Can Harm Health Before Age 40

New research discovers early job satisfaction plays a significant role on a person’s health, especially their mental health.

In a new nationwide study, Ohio State investigators discovered job satisfaction in the late 20s and 30s has a link to overall health in the early 40s.

While job satisfaction had some impact on physical health, its effect was particularly strong for mental health, researchers found.

Investigators discovered that those less than happy with their work early in their careers were more depressed and worried and had more trouble sleeping. Furthermore, improving or decline job satisfaction early in one’s career influences later health.

The good news is that people whose job satisfaction started low but got better over the course of their early career didn’t have the health problems associated with consistently low or declining satisfaction.

“We found that there is a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s,” said Jonathan Dirlam, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology.

Dirlam conducted the study with Hui Zheng, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State and they will presented their research at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

Zheng said the results showed the importance that early jobs have on people’s lives.

“You don’t have to be near the end of your career to see the health impact of job satisfaction, particularly on your mental health,” Zheng said.

The researchers used data from 6,432 Americans who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, which followed adults who were between the ages of 14 and 22 when the survey began in 1979. The NLSY79 is conducted by Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For this study, the researchers examined job satisfaction trajectories for people from age 25 to 39. These participants then reported a variety of health measures after they turned 40.

Participants rated how much they liked their jobs from one (dislike very much) to four (like very much).

The researchers put participants in four groups: consistently low and consistently high job satisfaction, those whose satisfaction started high but was trending down, and those who started low but were trending higher.

The average score of those classified as the low group was nearly three (indicating they liked their job “fairly well”), Dirlam noted. But there was a lot of variance in that group, meaning that it included all the people who said they disliked their jobs somewhat or very much.

About 45 percent of participants had consistently low job satisfaction, while another 23 percent had levels that were trending downward through their early career.

About 15 percent of people were consistently happy at their jobs (nearly four on the scale) and about 17 percent were trending upward.

Using those who were consistently happy as the reference, the researchers compared how the health of the other three groups compared.

They discovered that a person’s perception of their job plays a significant role in their mental health. People who were in the low job satisfaction group throughout their early careers scored worse on all five of the mental health measures studied, study results showed.

Those unhappy with their job reported higher levels of depression, sleep problems, and excessive worry. They were also more likely to have been diagnosed with emotional problems and scored lower on a test of overall mental health.

Individuals whose job satisfaction started out higher but declined through their early career were more likely than those with consistently high satisfaction to have frequent trouble sleeping and excessive worry, and had lower scores for overall mental health.

But they didn’t see an impact on depression scores or their probability of being diagnosed with emotional problems. Those whose scores went up through the early career years did not see any comparative health problems.

Job dissatisfaction did not impact a person’s physical health as much as mental health. Those who were in the low satisfaction group and those who were trending downwards reported poorer overall health and more problems like back pain and frequent colds compared to the high satisfaction group.

But they weren’t different in physical functioning and in doctor-diagnosed health problems such as diabetes and cancer.

As was true for mental health, no effects were seen on physical health for those trending upward.

Zheng said it is important to remember that participants were studied when they were only in their 40s.

“The higher levels of mental health problems for those with low job satisfaction may be a precursor to future physical problems,” Zheng said.

“Increased anxiety and depression could lead to cardiovascular or other health problems that won’t show up until they are older.”

Dirlam noted that the study ended before the Great Recession.

“The recession almost certainly increased job insecurity and dissatisfaction, and that could have resulted in more negative health effects,” he said.

Source: American Sociological Association/EurekAlert

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[“Hybrid Masculinity” And The Rise of Therapeutic Boarding Schools]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=108923 2016-08-22T14:29:34Z 2016-08-22T12:45:02Z "Hybrid Masculinity" And The Rise of Therapeutic Boarding SchoolsA study of the fast-growing therapeutic boarding school industry finds some atypical trends as researchers discovered troubled young men in at least one program most often displayed a type of […]]]> "Hybrid Masculinity" And The Rise of Therapeutic Boarding Schools

A study of the fast-growing therapeutic boarding school industry finds some atypical trends as researchers discovered troubled young men in at least one program most often displayed a type of “hybrid masculinity.”

Earlier research found that males in traditional boarding and preparatory school settings are prone to display masculine behaviors to signal their wealth, self-worth, and strength. In those settings, such behaviors have been positively linked to future attainment and success, said Jessica A. Pfaffendorf, a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona School of Sociology.

Pfaffendorf presented her research in a paper at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). She found that young men at the therapeutic boarding school she studied intentionally used more feminine behaviors for personal benefit.

Whereas traditional boarding schools have tended to focus on academics and college preparation, therapeutic boarding schools are specifically designed for those with emotional and behavioral challenges.

Pfaffendorf’s findings are part of a larger investigation she began conducting in 2012 on the rise of therapeutic boarding schools. About 300 of these elite residential treatment centers exist in the United States, a number representing a threefold increase in the last two decades, Pfaffendorf said.

Such programs generally cater to those aged 13 to 18 who have behavioral and psychological issues, and who are dealing with addictions. Tuition for these programs can range between $75,000 and $100,000 annually, and they exist most often to help young adults graduate from high school, while offering interventions.

Most often, upper-class, white young men enroll, Pfaffendorf said.

As part of her research, Pfaffendorf spent two years observing and conducting interviews at a therapeutic boarding school located in the Southwest region of the U.S.

The program in the Southwest operated on an active ranch. This provided the young men with the opportunity to groom, ride, and train horses, as well as wilderness excursions with counselors. The program, like most others nationally, also reinforced values associated with relationship building, interdependence, recognition of one’s powerlessness, communality, and the open expression of emotions.

Pfaffendorf found that the young men often “spoke at length about their feelings, expressed emotion openly, and freely admitted their past wrongs and the guilt that came along with them.” These men also described themselves as being more mature and having more purpose than their counterparts attending traditional schools.

“By communicating and responding maturely to situations, students maintain that they are better leaders and better able to succeed than other young men,” Pfaffendorf said. “In these ways, students use hybrid masculinities to reassert dominance,” particularly over those attending traditional schools.

It is important to note here that sociologists understand gender not as a biological occurrence, but as culturally-defined behaviors that are learned and performed.

Also important, Pfaffendorf found that the men did not fully embrace feminine demeanors. Instead, they aligned masculine and feminine styles with intention, to assert that they were in control of their emotions and were, therefore, more mature than their peers.

Given the national discourse about male masculinity, often evoked during conversations about acts of violence carried out by boys and men, Pfaffendorf believes her findings may offer insight about how and why some young men adopt styles that are not usually perceived as “manly.”

“Limited research attributes the growth of therapeutic boarding schools to a series of cultural events. The initial development of the therapeutic boarding school coincides with the height of the ‘war on drugs’ in the late 1980s,” Pfaffendorf said. “In the immediate years after the Columbine shootings, the number of therapeutic schools increased six times over.”

Pfaffendorf also found that hybrid masculinity was regarded positively. The young men were often rewarded in certain circumstances by women, employers, and educational organizations.

“In sum, students in therapeutic boarding schools may appropriate feminine qualities, but these qualities are used to reassert masculine dominance — sustaining prevailing gender norms,” Pfaffendorf said.

“This contributes to what others have called the “flexibility of patriarchy” — that privileged men are able to mobilize feminine characteristics to their advantage and to assert dominance.”

Pfaffendorf suggests that future research should evaluate the long-term implications of therapeutic boarding schools, and whether young men maintain their hybrid masculinity or return to more dominant forms of masculinity.

Source: American Sociological Association/EurekAlert

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