Psych Central News Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday. 2016-12-05T15:12:15Z http://psychcentral.com/news/feed/atom Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[For Many, Narcissism Tied to Social Media Behaviors]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113460 2016-12-05T15:12:15Z 2016-12-05T13:45:42Z For Many, Narcissism Tied to Social Media BehaviorsA new comprehensive research review suggests that for some people, social media use correlates with narcissism. University of Georgia psychology researchers performed a statistical review of 62 studies involving over […]]]> For Many, Narcissism Tied to Social Media Behaviors

A new comprehensive research review suggests that for some people, social media use correlates with narcissism.

University of Georgia psychology researchers performed a statistical review of 62 studies involving over 13,000 individuals. They discovered narcissism has a modest but reliable positive relationship with a range of social media behaviors.

The largest influences included the number of friends/followers narcissists had, the frequency of status updates and then selfie posting.

The two strains of narcissistic behavior — grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism — showed different relationships to social media use.

Grandiose narcissism, the more extroverted, callous form, was positively related to time spent on social media, the frequency of updates, number of friends/followers, and the frequency of posting selfies.

Vulnerable narcissism, the more insecure form, did not show any relationship to social media, but there was relatively little research on this form of narcissism.

“The stories you have heard about grandiose narcissism on social media are probably true,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Keith Campbell, a professor of psychology in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Campbell, co-author of “The Narcissism Epidemic,” notes that “when you engage with social media, you will be engaging with more narcissism than might really exist in the world. This might distort your view of the world as being more narcissistic than it is.”

“It is important to remember that these are only correlations, however,” said the study’s lead author, Jessica McCain, a graduate student in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences Program.

”Theoretically, we suspect that individuals with pre-existing narcissism are drawn to social media, but the present evidence only establishes that the two are related.”

“Networks on social media aren’t designed by people in Silicon Valley,” Campbell said. “They are built one link at a time by users. And narcissists seem to be central to this build-out.”

The study appears in the early online edition of Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

Source: University of Georgia

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Prisoners’ Written Interactions May Predict Recidivism]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113465 2016-12-05T15:09:18Z 2016-12-05T13:00:15Z Prisoners' Written Interactions May Predict RecidivismThe evolution of how prisoners in substance-abuse programs communicate is a good indicator of whether they’ll return to crime, new research has found. A new study finds that the ability […]]]> Prisoners' Written Interactions May Predict Recidivism

The evolution of how prisoners in substance-abuse programs communicate is a good indicator of whether they’ll return to crime, new research has found.

A new study finds that the ability to use written words to communicate and interact with others is related to successful rehabilitation among incarcerated individuals.

In the research, Ohio State social work investigators examined the relationships between prisoners enrolled in “therapeutic communities,” groups that focus on rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction. Keith Warren, Ph.D., an associate professor of social work at Ohio State University, said learning communication skills is the key to this rehabilitation approach.

Warren said the theory behind these efforts rests on the idea that peer interaction will support learning that displaces ingrained (and unhealthy) ways of thinking that stand in the way of people leaving addiction behind.

In this study, the first to test that theory, Warren and co-author Nathan Doogan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in Ohio State’s College of Public Health, analyzed tens of thousands of written communications collected at four minimum-security facilities in Ohio with programs designed as an alternative to traditional prison time.

The more a participant’s language choices changed during rehab, the less likely he was to return to prison, they found. The study appears in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

“It’s not just being in the program that seems to help, it’s the cognitive engagement in it,” Warren said.

The messages exchanged between program participants come in two forms.

The first, called “pushups,” are congratulatory notes to a peer — something like, “Good job talking about your triggers in group today, man.”

The second, called “pull-ups,” are meant to steer a fellow prisoner toward better choices — something like, “Hey brother, next time try talking to me instead of getting into a fight.”

Once approved as appropriate for group consumption, the written notes are typically read aloud to the group during meal time or a meeting.

Doogan and Warren examined how these communications changed for each of 2,342 men included in their study. They looked at pushups and pull-ups in each inmate’s first two to three months in the program and held those up against the messages they sent fellow prisoners in the second two to three months.

In all, the researchers analyzed about 267,000 messages. Only graduates of the program were included in the study.

The more their word combinations shifted, the greater the chance the men didn’t return to prison. In cases where the inmates did return, those who showed the least change in how they thought and wrote tended to return to prison most quickly.

The study didn’t focus on “positive” or “negative” word choice, but on change in general, with the goal of getting a handle on whether the program was reshaping the participant’s way of thinking, Doogan said.

“It wasn’t so much sentiment, but whether we could measure some form of change in the individual,” he said.

The sheer number of interactions for an individual resident didn’t seem to make a difference, only the changing nature of those notes. That’s important because it seems to mean that simply interacting isn’t enough and that a person has to be engaged and evolve in his thinking, the researchers said.

Shifts in how we put together our thoughts and express them in writing are a good indication of a true evolution in how we think, Warren said.

“Learning is a change in connections between ideas,” he said. “In a therapeutic community, you would hope that they are abandoning some old connections and developing some new ones.”

The researchers created a tool for analyzing word choices, identifying 500 words that could potentially be combined in a note to one participant from another. Doogan and Warren counted change when inmates added new word combinations or abandoned old ones. They attempted to control for variables outside of changed language including race, age, and education level.

Understanding — and being able to measure — changes linked to reduced rates of repeat incarceration could eventually help program directors refine how they approach different participants, the researchers said.

For instance, if it was clear an addict’s communications with others in the program were not changing in nature, it might be a clue that the individual needed more one-on-one attention, Doogan said.

Source: Ohio State University

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Weight Problems Increase Risk for Bipolar Teens]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113468 2016-12-05T15:06:02Z 2016-12-05T12:15:50Z Weight Problems Increase Risk for Bipolar TeensNew research suggest medications alone do not increase the risk of being overweight or developing obesity among adolescents with bipolar disorder. But there appears to be a direct relationship between […]]]> Weight Problems Increase Risk for Bipolar Teens

New research suggest medications alone do not increase the risk of being overweight or developing obesity among adolescents with bipolar disorder. But there appears to be a direct relationship between obesity and greater severity of bipolar disorder.

The relationship is complex and the new study is the first to examine the relationship in teens between being overweight and bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is one of the most disabling medical conditions among adolescents worldwide. Similarly, being overweight or obese is common in adolescents and is known to confer risk for cardiovascular disease and other poor health outcomes in adulthood.

Previous studies have demonstrated that obesity and being overweight are more prevalent among adults with bipolar disorder as compared to the general population. The conditions also are associated with proxies of increased bipolar disorder severity, such as suicide attempts and greater symptom burden.

The new study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), is the first to examine this topic in a large, representative sample of the U.S. adolescent population. The NCS-A is a face-to-face survey of mental disorders in a representative sample of adolescents 13-17 years old. Participants included 295 adolescents with bipolar disorder, 1,112 with major depressive disorder, and 8,716 with neither of these conditions.

Researchers discovered 37.9 percent of adolescents with bipolar disorder were also overweight, compared to 32.4 percent of adolescents with major depressive disorder, and 32 percent of adolescents with neither of these conditions. Although differences present, they were not determined to be statistically significant.

“We were somewhat surprised about the fact that obesity was not more prevalent among the adolescents with bipolar disorder compared to their peers. But this is good news, as it confirms that there is a window of opportunity to intervene in order to prevent the increased risk of obesity that is evident in adults and in clinical samples of adolescents with bipolar disorder,” said Dr. Benjamin Goldstein.

Goldstein director of the Centre for Youth Bipolar Disorder in Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and lead author of the study.

Although being overweight is not more common among bipolar teens, overweight adolescents with bipolar disorder showed signs of increased illness severity. This included more suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalizations for depression, co-occurring conduct disorder and bulimia/binge-eating, and history of physical or sexual abuse.

“It is concerning that despite the fact that this a non-clinical sample, the links between obesity and indicators of greater bipolar disorder severity are already evident. Some have wondered whether these links are secondary to greater exposure to psychiatric medications, some of which confer risk of weight gain, among adolescents with greater severity of bipolar disorder,” added Goldstein.

“Our findings, based on a community sample with low rates of medication use, confirm that there is more to the story than medications — there appears to be a direct relationship between obesity and greater severity of bipolar disorder.”

Asked what next steps should be taken, Goldstein responded, “The main clinical question now becomes: what strategies are most effective for preventing obesity in this specific group of teens, for whom the risks of obesity in terms of both physical and mental health may be especially significant?

The answer to that question will require additional research, informed in part by the findings of this study. In addition, there are scientific questions about the biological, psychological, and environmental factors that explain the increased severity of bipolar disorder among obese teens with bipolar disorder.”

To that end, Goldstein and his team are studying how overweight is associated with brain structure, cognition, and blood markers of inflammation and other processes, among adolescents with bipolar disorder.

Goldstein is planning to study intervention strategies to prevent and treat overweight among adolescents with bipolar disorder, and is hopeful that if successful these strategies will improve mental as well as physical health.

“Wouldn’t it be interesting, and efficient, if an intervention focused on optimizing weight could also yield mental health benefits?” he concluded.

Source: Elsevier

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Parts of Brain Offline Even While We are Awake]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113457 2016-12-05T15:02:22Z 2016-12-05T11:30:03Z Parts of Brain Offline Even While We are AwakeNew research suggests parts of the brain naturally cycle on and off even when we are awake. Stanford University investigators believe this could led to interventions to ensure that the […]]]> Parts of Brain Offline Even While We are Awake

New research suggests parts of the brain naturally cycle on and off even when we are awake. Stanford University investigators believe this could led to interventions to ensure that the areas of the brain we are using are on-line, and performing at ultimate capacity.

Scientist explain that when we are in a deep slumber our brain’s activity ebbs and flows in big, obvious waves, like watching a tide of human bodies rise up and sit down around a sports stadium. It’s hard to miss.

In the new study, researchers discovered the same cycles exist in wake as in sleep, but with only small sections sitting and standing in unison rather than the entire stadium. It’s as if tiny portions of the brain are independently falling asleep and waking back up all the time.

What’s more, it appears that when the neurons have cycled into the more active, or “on,” state they are better at responding to the world. The neurons also spend more time in the on state when paying attention to a task. This finding suggests processes that regulate brain activity in sleep might also play a role in attention.

“Selective attention is similar to making small parts of your brain a little bit more awake,” said Tatiana Engel, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow and co-lead author on the research, recently published in Science.

Former graduate student Nicholas Steinmetz is the other co-lead author, with the neurophysiology experiments performed in the lab of Dr. Tirin Moore, a professor of neurobiology and one of the senior authors.

Understanding these newly discovered cycles requires knowing a bit about how the brain is organized.

If you were to poke a pin directly into the brain, all the brain cells you’d hit would respond to the same types of things. In one column they might all be responding to objects in a particular part of the visual field — the upper right, for example.

The team used what amounts to sets of very sensitive pins that can record activity from a column of neurons in the brain.

In the past, people had known that individual neurons go through phases of being more or less active, but with this probe they saw for the first time that all the neurons in a given column cycled together between firing very rapidly, and then firing at a much slower rate, similar to coordinated cycles in sleep.

“During an on-state the neurons all start firing rapidly,” said Dr. Kwabena Boahen, a professor of bioengineering and electrical engineering at Stanford and a senior author on the paper.

“Then all of a sudden they just switch to a low firing rate. This on and off switching is happening all the time, as if the neurons are flipping a coin to decide if they are going to be on or off.”

Those cycles, which occur on the order of seconds or fractions of seconds, weren’t as visible when awake because the wave doesn’t propagate much beyond that column, unlike in sleep when the wave spreads across almost the entire brain and is easy to detect.

The team found that the higher and lower activity states relate to the ability to respond to the world.

The group had their probe in a region of the brain in monkeys that specifically detects one part of the visual world. The monkeys had been trained to pay attention to a cue indicating that something in a particular part of the visual field — the upper right, say, or the lower left — was about to change slightly. The monkeys then got a treat if they correctly identified that they’d seen that change.

When the team gave a cue to where a change might occur, the neurons within the column that senses that part of the world all began spending more time in the active state.

In essence, they all continued flipping between states in unison, but they spent more time in the active state if they were paying attention. If the stimulus change came when the cells were in a more active state, the monkey was also more likely to correctly identify the change.

“The monkey is very good at detecting stimulus changes when neurons in that column are in the on state but not in the off state,” Engel said. Even when the monkey knew to pay attention to a particular area, if the neurons cycled to a lower activity state the monkey frequently missed stimulus change.

Engel said this finding is something that might be familiar to many people. Sometimes you think you are paying attention, she pointed out, but you will still miss things.

The scientists said the findings also relate to previous work, which found that more alert animals and humans tend to have pupils that are more dilated.

In the current work, when the brain cells were spending more time in an active state the monkey’s pupils were also more dilated. The findings demonstrate an interaction between synchronous oscillations in the brain, attention to a task, and external signs of alertness.

“It seems that the mechanisms underlying attention and arousal are quite interdependent,” Moore said.

The research brings new questions.

Investigators say one inquiry that comes out of this work is why the neurons cycle into a lower activity state when we’re awake. Why not just stay in the more active state all the time?

One answer could relate to energy. “There is a metabolic cost associated with neurons firing all the time,” Boahen said. The brain uses a lot of energy and maybe giving the cells a chance to do the energetic equivalent of sitting down allows the brain to save energy.

Also, when neurons are very active they generate cellular byproducts that can damage the cells. Engel pointed out that the low-activity states could allow time to clear out this neuronal waste. “This paper suggests places to look for these answers,” Engel said.

Source: Stanford University

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Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Some Worrying Moms Less Responsive to Baby]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113395 2016-12-04T09:53:57Z 2016-12-04T14:45:22Z Some Worrying Moms Less Responsive to BabyNew moms who have repetitive and self-focused negative thoughts have a harder time relating to their babies, according to a new study at the University of Exeter. While it is […]]]> Some Worrying Moms Less Responsive to Baby

New moms who have repetitive and self-focused negative thoughts have a harder time relating to their babies, according to a new study at the University of Exeter.

While it is common for new moms with young babies to worry about practical, personal or parenting problems, the study found that when self-focused thoughts become all-encompassing and overwhelming (e.g. Why don’t I feel happy?, Why can’t I cope as well as other moms?), mothers become less sensitive and responsive to their young children compared to those who are not stuck in this type of rumination cycle.

For the study, Drs. Michelle Tester-Jones and Heather O’Mahen, along with other psychologists from the University of Exeter, wanted to see whether moms who were both feeling low and preoccupied with their problems would have reduced quality of interactions with their infant during playtime, compared to control groups who were not feeling low or were not preoccupied.

They found that rumination — defined as having prolonged and repetitive thoughts about one’s self concerns and experiences — had the strongest impact on the interactions between a mother and baby, regardless of how depressed the mother was feeling.

Prior research has shown that poor early interactions between a mother and her baby can have an impact on the child’s future cognitive and social functioning and emotional well-being.

For the study, the researchers observed separately 79 mothers (39 with low mood and 40 in a control group) and babies aged three months to a year old. Half of the mothers were encouraged to think in a repetitive and negative way about a problem that was important to them. The rest of the moms were encouraged to think in a focused fashion about a problem that was important to them but that they had resolved.

Both before and after the rumination task, the researchers evaluated the mothers’ interactions with their infants. The mother-baby moments were filmed and then assessed for facial expression, speech, body language and actions to determine whether the moms’ behavior was sensitive, controlling or unresponsive. Moms who quickly and accurately picked up on their baby’s verbal and non-verbal cues and responded to their needs were assessed as being sensitive.

The researchers wrote that “rumination causally impairs maternal sensitivity” and that “all mothers, regardless of level of depressive symptoms, who were induced to ruminate demonstrated reduced maternal sensitivity to their infant. Mothers induced to ruminate had further reductions in sensitivity following a stressful task with their infant.”

Maternal sensitivity was affected in a number of ways, and in different ways for different moms. Some ruminating mothers had less eye contact with their baby and did not comfort the infant if they became distressed. Some also chose an activity that was not appropriate for the infant’s age, or spoke to their child in a flat or quieter tone.

“We hope these findings will be useful for health visitors and midwives when working with new mums, to help understand why mums might be finding interactions with their baby more difficult and support them in building a close and responsive relationship with their baby,” said Tester-Jones.

“The purpose of our study was to help identify thinking styles that might contribute to more or less sensitive parenting. The good news is that there are strategies to help manage rumination, and our research suggests that changing rumination can reduce potentially negative interactions with baby.”

Previous research on worry and rumination has shown that it is much more productive to focus on problems in a specific and goal-oriented way, such as asking when, where and how it happened and how you can fix it — for example, “How can I begin to address this?” rather than “Why does this keep happening to me?” Or “What is wrong with me?”

This more specific, focused way of thinking can improve problem-solving, help to keep difficulties in perspective, and improve mood.

Source: University of Exeter
 
Mother checking her crying baby photo by shutterstock.

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Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[SSRIs Tied to Increase in Stillbirths, Birth Defects]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113390 2016-12-04T12:17:15Z 2016-12-04T14:00:52Z SSRIs Tied to Increase in Stillbirths, Birth DefectsWomen who take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in early pregnancy have a small but significantly greater risk of having stillbirths or babies born with major congenital birth defects, compared […]]]> SSRIs Tied to Increase in Stillbirths, Birth Defects

Women who take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in early pregnancy have a small but significantly greater risk of having stillbirths or babies born with major congenital birth defects, compared to women who do not take these antidepressants, according to a new study led by researchers at Swansea University in the U.K.

The study analyzed data from more than 500,000 infants in Wales, Norway and Denmark. It found that women who had been prescribed SSRIs in the first trimester of pregnancy or three months before pregnancy were at a small but significantly greater risk of having infants with congenital anomalies, particularly severe heart defects or stillbirths compared with those who did not take SSRIs.

The findings show that in women who did not take SSRIs, six in 200 pregnancies had an adverse outcome of stillbirth or a baby with a major congenital anomaly, but when SSRIs were prescribed this rose to seven in 200. The researchers say this risk is of public health importance due to the severity of the outcome and because SSRIs are prescribed to many pregnant women.

“To our knowledge, this is the first dose-response analysis that shows the link between SSRI doses and congenital anomalies and stillbirths. While this extra risk may seem small, in my view, the outcomes are as serious as they can be,” said study leader Professor Sue Jordan at the College of Human and Health Sciences.

“Women should not stop taking SSRIs without consulting their doctors, and we are not saying stop all medicines, but our message is that we want our health care professionals to be very mindful of this link and to take the appropriate action to ensure that women are given the right type of care before, during and after pregnancy to minimize the risks of congenital anomalies and stillbirths linked to SSRIs.”

Professor Helen Dolk, who led the EUROmediCAT project, added that “Women should not stop taking SSRIs without discussing with their doctor the benefits and risks of SSRIs and alternative nonpharmacological therapies, since good mental health is important for both mother and child.”

Finally, the researchers are calling on health care professionals to closely review all women requesting SSRI prescriptions and not just those who are planning pregnancy. They also suggest that health care workers evaluate pre-pregnancy care when SSRIs are prescribed and consider offering at-risk women enhanced scans to detect serious heart defects.

The findings are published in the the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: Swansea University

Pregnant woman taking medication photo by shutterstock.

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Janice Wood <![CDATA[Psychological Well-Being Linked to More Physical Activity in Older Adults]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113354 2016-12-04T09:41:40Z 2016-12-04T13:15:49Z Psychological Well-Being Linked to More Physical Activity in Older AdultsA new study finds a link between increased physical activity in adults 50 and older and psychological well-being. “Researchers have long studied how physical activity can lead to improved mood […]]]> Psychological Well-Being Linked to More Physical Activity in Older Adults

A new study finds a link between increased physical activity in adults 50 and older and psychological well-being.

“Researchers have long studied how physical activity can lead to improved mood and feelings of well-being,” said Chapman University’s Julia Boehm, Ph.D., and lead author on the study. “However, less well understood is whether being happy and optimistic might actually encourage a person to be physically active.”

“What we wanted to do in this study was to assess psychological well-being before assessing physical activity to determine if happier adults are more likely to exercise than their less happy peers,” she explained.

Physical activity is a key health behavior linked to better physical and mental functioning, as well as reduced risk of the leading causes of death, including cancer and heart disease.

Psychological well-being is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, and mortality. Researchers speculate that psychological well-being may be linked with improved health because happier people may be more likely to engage in physical activity.

Rates of physical activity are relatively low among middle-aged adults and decline further in older adulthood, worsening substantially after age 75. Thus, a key challenge is to identify not only modifiable factors that reduce the likelihood of declining activity levels, but also factors that contribute to the initiation and maintenance of physical activity in older age, researchers noted.

Interventions that increase the number of people who are physically active may reduce the burden of poor health later in life.

During the 11-year study, participants were asked about the frequency and intensity of their physical activity both at work and during leisure time and then classified into categories of sedentary activity, low activity, moderate activity and high activity.

The researchers found that higher psychological well-being at the start of the study was associated with greater levels of physical activity across more than a decade. Moreover, people at the start of the study who had high levels of psychological well-being and who were also physically active initially were less likely to become inactive over time.

“These findings have implications for health care as medical professionals often have difficulty persuading adults to increase physical activity,” Boehm said.

“Results from this study suggest that higher levels of psychological well-being may precede increased physical activity, therefore it is possible that psychological well-being could be a novel way of not only enhancing psychological health, but also increasing physical activity — which in turn could improve the physical health of a large segment of people in an aging society.”

The study included 9,986 English adults over the age of 50 who were assessed up to six times across an average of 11 years. The average age of participants was 63.7 years, with 55 percent of participants women, and 97 percent of the sample identifying as White.

Source: Chapman University

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Janice Wood <![CDATA[Joining Group Could Protect From Cognitive Decline]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113377 2016-12-04T09:49:02Z 2016-12-04T12:30:33Z Joining Group Could Protect From Cognitive DeclineBeing part of a group, such as a political party, an environmental group, neighborhood watch, a voluntary service group or other community-based group, is associated with better cognitive function at […]]]> Joining Group Could Protect From Cognitive Decline

Being part of a group, such as a political party, an environmental group, neighborhood watch, a voluntary service group or other community-based group, is associated with better cognitive function at age 50, according to a new study.

“While the associations between adult social engagement and cognitive function at age 50 we found were moderate, they persisted after we adjusted for covariates, such as health, socioeconomic status and gender,” said University of Southampton Professor Ann Bowling.

“The implication is that if people continue to engage socially throughout life, maintaining related behaviors that require cognitive skills such as memory, attention, and control, there may be some protection from cognitive decline. Public health policy interventions aimed at promoting cognitive health could include encouraging civic engagement and providing people with opportunities for this.”

For the study, published in the journal BMC Psychology, researchers used data from the British National Child Development Study (NCDS), a general population sample in England, Scotland and Wales. Baseline data on 9,119 men and women was collected at birth in 1958 and study participants were followed up at several points later in life.

What they discovered is that a person’s cognitive ability at age 11, their participation in civic activities at ages 33 and 50, frequent physical activity, higher educational qualification, and being female were all associated with better cognitive function at age 50.

Having low socioeconomic status as a child and reporting worse mental well-being in adulthood were both associated with worse cognitive function at age 50, according to the findings.

According to the study’s findings, at age 33, 83 percent of all respondents reported they did not participate in any civic organization. This number dropped to 64 percent at age 50. Participating in one civic organization was reported by 14 percent of respondents at age 33 and by 25 percent at age 50.

Out of the overall sample, 8,129 participants completed cognitive tests at ages 11 (reading, writing, math, and general ability tests) and 50 (memory and visual attention, speed, and concentration tests). The researchers found that almost a third of the sample population’s cognitive ability deteriorated between ages 11 and 50, while remaining unchanged in less than half of participants (44 percent). A quarter of participants showed improved cognitive ability at age 50.

Those who reported they participated in civic groups at age 33 and 50 scored higher in cognitive tests, according to the study’s findings.

The researchers also found that participation in each additional civic group was found to further increase scores on cognitive tests.

Source: BioMed Central
 
Volunteers collecting donations photo by shutterstock.

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Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Psilocybin Shown to Ease Anxiety, Depression in Cancer Patients]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113380 2016-12-03T15:13:09Z 2016-12-03T14:45:56Z Psilocybin Shown to Ease Anxiety, Depression in Cancer PatientsA single dose of psilocybin — the hallucinogenic compound found in psychedelic mushrooms — has been found to significantly reduce mental anguish in patients with advanced cancer for up to several […]]]> Psilocybin Shown to Ease Anxiety, Depression in Cancer Patients

A single dose of psilocybin — the hallucinogenic compound found in psychedelic mushrooms — has been found to significantly reduce mental anguish in patients with advanced cancer for up to several months, according to a new study led by researchers at New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center.

The findings show that a one-time treatment of psilocybin — whose use required federal waivers because it is a banned substance — brought instant relief from distress to cancer patients, and the effects lasted for more than six months in 80 percent of the 29 study subjects monitored, based on clinical evaluation scores for anxiety and depression.

All patients in the study — mostly women age 22 to 75 who are or were patients at the Perlmutter Cancer Center of NYU Langone — had either advanced breast, gastrointestinal, or blood cancers and had been diagnosed as suffering from serious psychological distress related to their disease.

All patients were provided with tailored counseling from a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse, or social worker, and were monitored for side effects and improvements in their mental state.

“Our results represent the strongest evidence to date of a clinical benefit from psilocybin therapy, with the potential to transform care for patients with cancer-related psychological distress,” said study lead investigator Stephen Ross, M.D., director of substance abuse services in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone.

“If larger clinical trials prove successful, then we could ultimately have available a safe, effective, and inexpensive medication — dispensed under strict control — to alleviate the distress that increases suicide rates among cancer patients,” said Ross, also an associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine.

Study co-investigator Jeffrey Guss, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone, notes that psilocybin has been studied for decades and has an established safety profile. He adds that none of the study participants experienced any serious negative effects, such as hospitalization or more serious mental health conditions.

Although the neurological benefits of psilocybin are not completely understood, the compound has been shown to activate parts of the brain also impacted by the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is known to regulate mood and anxiety. Serotonin imbalances have also been linked to depression.

For the study, half of the subjects were randomly given a 0.3 milligram dose of psilocybin while the rest received a vitamin placebo (250 milligrams of niacin) known to produce a “rushing” feeling.

About halfway through the study’s monitoring period (after seven weeks), all participants switched treatments. Those who were initially given psilocybin took a single dose of placebo, and those who first took niacin, then received psilocybin. Neither patients nor researchers knew who had first received psilocybin or placebo.

“The randomization, placebo control and double-blind procedures maximized the validity of the study results,” said Guss.

One significant finding was that reductions in levels of anxiety and depression lasted for the remainder of the study’s extended monitoring period; specifically, eight months for those who took psilocybin first.

Co-investigator Anthony Bossis, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone, said patients also reported post-psilocybin improvements in their quality of life: going out more, greater energy, getting along better with family members, and doing well at work. Several also reported variations of spirituality, unusual peacefulness, and increased feelings of altruism.

“Our study showed that psilocybin facilitated experiences that drove reductions in psychological distress,” said Bossis. “And if it’s true for cancer care, then it could apply to other stressful medical conditions.”

Bossis cautioned that patients should not consume psilocybin on their own or without supervision by a physician and a trained counselor. He also said, “Psilocybin therapy may not work for everyone, and some groups, such as people with schizophrenia, as well as adolescents, should not be treated with it.”

The NYU Langone-led study, appearing in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, was published side by side with a similar study from Johns Hopkins. Study results were also endorsed in 11 accompanying editorials from leading experts in psychiatry, addiction, and palliative care.

Source: NYU Langone Medical Center

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Janice Wood <![CDATA[Magnetic Brain Stimulation Can Activate Dormant Memories]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113363 2016-12-03T15:07:12Z 2016-12-03T14:00:46Z Magnetic Brain Stimulation Can Activate Dormant MemoriesNew research is challenging the idea that working memory helps us remembers things through sustained brain activity. Instead, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that our brains tuck […]]]> Magnetic Brain Stimulation Can Activate Dormant Memories

New research is challenging the idea that working memory helps us remembers things through sustained brain activity.

Instead, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that our brains tuck less-important information away beyond the reach of the tools that typically monitor brain activity. The researchers then were able to bring that information back into active attention with magnets.

The research could eventually help people suffering from schizophrenia or depression, according to Dr. Brad Postle, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“A lot of mental illness is associated with the inability to choose what to think about,” he said. “What we’re taking are first steps toward looking at the mechanisms that give us control over what we think about.”

According to Postle, most people feel they are able to concentrate on a lot more than their working memory can actually hold. It’s a bit like vision, in which it feels like we’re seeing everything in our field of view, but details slip away unless you re-focus on them regularly.

“The notion that you’re aware of everything all the time is a sort of illusion your consciousness creates,” he said. “That is true for thinking, too. You have the impression that you’re thinking of a lot of things at once, holding them all in your mind.

But lots of research shows us you’re probably only actually attending to — are conscious of in any given moment — just a very small number of things.”

For the study, the researchers conducted a series of experiments in which people were asked to remember two items representing different types of information — words, faces, and directions of motion — because they’d be tested on their memories.

When the researchers gave their subjects a cue as to the type of question coming — a face, for example, instead of a word — the electrical activity and blood flow in the brain associated with the word memory disappeared. But if a second cue came letting the person know they would now be asked about that word, the brain activity would jump back up to a level indicating it was the focus of attention.

“People have always thought neurons would have to keep firing to hold something in memory. Most models of the brain assume that,” Postle said. “But we’re watching people remember things almost perfectly without showing any of the activity that would come with a neuron firing. The fact that you’re able to bring it back at all in this example proves it’s not gone. It’s just that we can’t see evidence for its active retention in the brain.”

The researchers were also able to bring the seemingly abandoned items back to mind without cueing their subjects. Using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to apply a focused electromagnetic field to a precise part of the brain involved in storing the word, they could trigger the sort of brain activity representing focused attention.

Additionally, if they cued their subjects to focus on a face (causing brain activity associated with the word to drop off), a well-timed pulse of transcranial magnetic stimulation would snap the stowed memory back into attention, and prompt the subjects to incorrectly think that they had been cued to focus on the word, the researchers report.

“We think that memory is there, but not active,” said Postle. “More than just showing us it’s there, the TMS can actually make that memory temporarily active again.”

The study suggests a state of memory apart from the spotlight attention of active working memory and the deep storage of more significant things in long-term memory, according to Postle.

“What’s still unknown here is how the brain determines what falls away, and what enables you to retrieve things in the short-term if you need them,” he said.

Studying how the brain apportions attention could eventually influence the way we understand and treat some mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, in which patients focus on hallucinations instead of reality, and depression, which seems related to spending an unhealthy amount of time dwelling on negative things, he noted.

“We are making some interesting progress with very basic research,” he said. “But you can picture a point at which this work could help people control their attention, choose what they think about, and manage or overcome some very serious problems associated with a lack of control.”

The study was published in the journal Science.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Cataracts Tied to Depression in Older Adults]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113384 2016-12-03T15:02:19Z 2016-12-03T13:15:12Z Optical Series - Eye Exam VerticalOlder adults with cataracts are at greater risk for depression, particularly among those with lower levels of education, according to a new Chinese study published in the journal Optometry and […]]]> Optical Series - Eye Exam Vertical

Older adults with cataracts are at greater risk for depression, particularly among those with lower levels of education, according to a new Chinese study published in the journal Optometry and Vision Science.

“[O]ur study sheds further light on the complex relationship between aging, vision loss, cataract, and depression and suggests that there may be a role for cataract surgery in improving mental health in the elderly,” writes Haifang Wang, M.Sc., of Soochow University, Suzhou, China, and colleagues.

Cataracts are a common problem in older adults. With this condition, the lens of the eye becomes increasingly cloudy and opaque and eventually leads to vision loss.

Cataracts are the leading cause of visual impairment worldwide and are expected to increase as demographics shift toward an older population. Depression is also common in older adults.

For the study, approximately 4,600 older adults (60 years and older) in one Chinese town completed a depression questionnaire. Participants were also given a clinical eye examination to rate the presence and severity of cataracts.

Excluding those with previous cataract surgery, nearly half (49 percent) of older adults in the study had cataracts in at least one eye. On the depression questionnaire, eight percent of subjects had depressive symptoms. Symptoms of depression were more common in women than men (11 versus five percent) and more common in older age groups.

Older adults with cataracts were more likely to have symptoms of depression, independent of socioeconomic status, lifestyle factors, and visual acuity. On adjusted analysis, the researchers found that symptoms of depression were 33 percent more likely in people with cataracts.

Importantly, the odds of depressive symptoms were similar for all participants with cataracts, whether the cataracts were found in one eye or both eyes.

The link between cataracts and depression was even stronger for subjects with no formal education — a 50 percent increase. After all other factors were taken into account, cataracts explained 14 percent of the variation in depression risk.

The study does not show the direction of the association. Vision loss might cause older adults to become isolated and withdrawn, or depression might make them less likely to seek treatment for cataracts.

“These results suggest that optometrists and vision care professionals should think beyond the direct effects of cataracts on visual impairment. We should also consider the broader impact that vision loss may have on mental health and well-being,” noted Michael Twa, O.D., Ph.D., F.A.A.O., Editor-in-Chief of Optometry and Vision Science.

“As a next step, it would be important to know if the associated depression in older adults is reversible following the restoration of vision after cataract surgery.”

Source: Optometry and Vision Science

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Janice Wood <![CDATA[Brief ‘Nudge’ Can Help Patients Finish Health Program]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113357 2016-12-03T14:52:12Z 2016-12-03T12:30:56Z Brief 'Nudge' Can Help Patients Finish Health ProgramKeeping messages brief and simple is more effective when trying to encourage patients to complete a health care program, according to new research. In a study that analyzes six years […]]]> Brief 'Nudge' Can Help Patients Finish Health Program

Keeping messages brief and simple is more effective when trying to encourage patients to complete a health care program, according to new research.

In a study that analyzes six years of data, a team of researchers found small “nudges” in the right direction were a simple, inexpensive, and effective way to increase completion of health care programs, leading to a 16 percent jump in the completion rate for an already fastidious audience.

“Retention and completion are critical components of the effectiveness of health care interventions in real-world conditions, so a 16 percent increase in completion is significant,” said Dr. Dolores Albarracin, a professor of psychology and business administration at the University of Illinois and one of the co-authors of the study.

She noted that most health care intervention programs — for example, 10 sessions with a counselor — are expensive to implement and deliver.

“Patients start but they often drop out, which is not beneficial and is a huge deadweight loss of resources for everyone,” she said. “That’s why increasing retention rates is vital for public health, because multi-session behavioral interventions or a series of appointments with a health care provider are more efficacious when completed.”

For the study, a randomized control trial with more than 700 eligible patients in Florida was conducted to identify a simple, effective intervention to increase the completion of an HIV-prevention counseling program delivered at the Duval County Department of Health.

The study involved two factors: One representing an instrumental message and the other an empowering message. The messages were brief videos played immediately after the counseling program.

The instrumental message reminded participants that they could discuss issues other than HIV with their counselor. The empowering message was designed to make them feel free, independent and in charge of their decision to return — a strategy that doubled enrollment in programs in other work by the same team, according to the study.

The idea was to use brief, simple marketing messages not for a commercial product, but for “health programs to get people to complete interventions that change detrimental behavior,” Albarracin said.

“These messages were designed to either empower clients as agents responsible for their own change or to highlight the instrumental outcomes of the intervention in terms of participants’ lives by addressing health concerns other than HIV, such as employment or education,” she explained.

Results indicated that the instrumental message alone produced more completion than either the empowering message alone or combined with the instrumental message.

The success of the simple, post-session message, which the researchers termed “meta-intervention,” comes down to the power of the nudge as a “gentle reminder to do something,” Albarracin said.

“The word ‘nudge’ has such a nice connotation to it because it reminds us that we need to find strategies that are simple and cost-effective,” she said. “In a health care setting, you need something that’s practical, implementable and inexpensive. This is that kind of approach.”

For people who are vulnerable or disadvantaged, repeated contact with the health care system is important, according to Albarracin.

“Contact with the public health system is often the front door to accessing a lot of other public services — mental health services, career and employment services, and other forms of social assistance,” she said. “So the public health system might design a program with health in mind, but the audience who is buying into the program has multiple goals in mind, not just health.”

Having a good job or access to other services is just as important, which is why you have to sell the benefits of the program from the perspective of the audience, not of the provider, according to Albarracin.

“Social marketing is a marriage between psychological approaches and an approach that has the consumer in mind,” she said. “Make it recipient- and patient-centered, not provider-centered. The instrumental message capitalizes on that.”

The study was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 

Source: University of Illinois
 
Photo: Keeping your message brief and simple — on the level of a gentle reminder, as opposed to constant nagging — can produce gains when trying to increase engagement with health care programs, says new research from University of Illinois professor and social psychology expert Dolores Albarracin. Credit: L. Brian Stauffe.

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Online Forums Provide Comfort to Cancer Patients]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113318 2016-12-02T14:30:01Z 2016-12-02T13:45:44Z Online Forums Provide Comfort to Cancer PatientsHolistic health includes a large dose of social support. When faced with potentially life-threatening diseases such as cancer, researchers observe that people often seek information about the disease, and seek […]]]> Online Forums Provide Comfort to Cancer Patients

Holistic health includes a large dose of social support. When faced with potentially life-threatening diseases such as cancer, researchers observe that people often seek information about the disease, and seek support, from peers and other convenient sources.

A new University of Michigan study finds that the best resources often involve personal stories from other cancer patients that are posted on online forums and scientific websites. The personal stories by others provide comfort during stressful times, say the researchers.

Media — in the format of television entertainment shows and medical dramas — are easily accessible. However, they can leave people feeling fearful and concerned because the storylines are often altered to hold viewers’ attention, the researchers said.

“We tend to worry about whether information found on the internet is reliable, but people look for more than just information. They are comforted and feel supported by the stories and reactions from people who are going through the same ordeal,” said study co-author Jan Van den Bulck, professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan.

The study is published online in the Journal of Cancer Education.

Van den Bulck collaborated on the research with Sara Nelissen and Kathleen Bellens of the University of Leuven in Belgium.

Many studies have focused on cancer patients using the internet for peer support. The current research investigates how this group uses television and the internet to access peer stories and what the emotional outcomes are.

Using data from the Leuven Cancer Information Survey, the study looked at 621 individuals diagnosed with cancer living in Belgium. The average age was 54 years old and most were female.

In addition to providing personal background, respondents indicated if they viewed television and the internet to follow peer stories and how they felt.

Most respondents preferred to use websites, forums, and informative television programs to learn more about the disease.

“The forums can generate interaction between the individuals who are posting real-life stories and those who are reading the stories,” said Nelissen, the study’s lead author.

Forums also provide more factual and less visual information, which can be more comforting than the dramatic TV shows with emotional visual content, he added.

The study also looked at differences between men and women diagnosed with cancer. Women made significantly more use of all sources for following peer stories.

Source: University of Michigan

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Postural Changes Detect Cognitive Problems in Parkinson’s]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113337 2016-12-02T14:26:44Z 2016-12-02T13:00:19Z Postural Changes Detect Cognitive Problems in Parkinson’sNeurological research has discovered that when some patients with Parkinson’s disease stand up from sitting or lying down, they may exhibit significant cognitive deficits. Experts explain that when people stand […]]]> Postural Changes Detect Cognitive Problems in Parkinson’s

Neurological research has discovered that when some patients with Parkinson’s disease stand up from sitting or lying down, they may exhibit significant cognitive deficits.

Experts explain that when people stand up from a sitting or recumbent posture, it is common to experience a drop in blood pressure known as orthostatic hypotension. And, for some with Parkinson’s, this change appears to express cognitive deficits that reverse when they lie down.

Neurologists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and neuropsychologists at Boston University believe knowledge of this characteristic can help physicians detect cognitive impairments that may go unnoticed.

In a new study published online in the journal Neurology, researchers explain that detection of the cognitive issues is important as they could lead to difficulty in daily activities performed while standing and walking. Individuals may be challenged in tracking conversations, counting change, and interpreting traffic signals.

“Cognitive impairment is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease,” said co-senior author Roy Freeman, M.D., director of the Center for Autonomic and Peripheral Nerve Disorders at BIDMC and a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

“In this study, we demonstrated that the upright posture in patients with Parkinson’s disease exacerbated cognitive deficits, and that this effect is transient and reversible. Based on these results, we encourage clinicians to include cognitive testing in a variety of postures in their assessments of patients.”

Marked by characteristic tremor, rigidity and slowness of movement, Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive degeneration of parts of the nervous system. It affects many aspects of movement and can cause a masklike, expressionless face, rigid limbs, and problems with walking and posture.

PD is also associated with cognitive defects attributed to breakdowns in connectivity between regions of the brain. Up to 50 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease may also have orthostatic hypotension.

In a previous study, Freeman and colleagues demonstrated that orthostatic hypotension is linked to reversible cognitive impairment in patients with a rare neurological disorder called autoimmune autonomic ganglionopathy.

In this new study of the far more prevalent Parkinson’s disease, the researchers investigated whether OH is linked to reversible cognitive deficits in patients with PD as well.

Freeman and colleagues including lead author Justin Centi and co-senior author Alice Cronin-Golomb, Ph.D., divided 55 volunteers into three study groups: 18 patients with both PD and OH, 19 patients with PD but without OH, and 18 control participants with neither PD nor OH.

All participants were given a series of cognitive tests, with the tests administered while supine and again while tilted to 60 degrees. Researchers measured and recorded the participants’ blood pressure before and during each round of cognitive testing to ensure that participants were never at risk for fainting.

“As we suspected, people with both Parkinson’s disease and orthostatic hypotension showed posture-related impairments when upright relative to supine on nearly all measures of cognition,” said Centi, who noted that study participants with Parkinson’s disease without orthostatic hypotension demonstrated deficits on only two cognitive tests. There was no difference between upright and supine scores for the control group.

When the three groups’ relative performances were compared to each other, postural changes had no significant impact on participants with PD but without OH, compared to the control group.

However, Participants with PD and OH were far more susceptible to posture-related impairment on several tests, including those that measured math skills, the ability to produce words easily, keeping information in mind while working on it, paying sufficient attention so that later memory is efficient and searching for items quickly and accurately.

“Essentially all neuropsychological tests are given to patients in the seated position in the clinic as well as during most research studies — with the exception of imaging studies in which the patient is lying down,” said Cronin-Golomb.

“The cognitive performance that we see in those patients with Parkinson’s disease who are tested when seated or lying down in fact may underestimate their cognitive problems in real life, when they are standing up and going about their business of daily activities. Also, the patterns of brain activity that we see on imaging when they are lying down may not be the patterns that the brain produces during normal upright activity.”

Cognitive deficits in PD result, at least in part, from neurodegeneration, the authors explained. But transient blood pressure changes when upright may indeed play a contributing role. Clinical providers might miss an important target for intervention when not considering OH as a contributor to cognitive impairment.

Source: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

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Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Web-based Cognitive Therapy for Insomnia]]> http://psychcentral.com/news/?p=113312 2016-12-02T14:03:47Z 2016-12-02T12:15:55Z Web-based Cognitive Therapy for InsomniaInsomnia and related excessive daytime sleepiness is a troubling trend in the United States. Now, a new study finds that web-based cognitive behavior therapy is effective and can help adults […]]]> Web-based Cognitive Therapy for Insomnia

Insomnia and related excessive daytime sleepiness is a troubling trend in the United States. Now, a new study finds that web-based cognitive behavior therapy is effective and can help adults sleep better.

The finding is salient as insomnia has been associated with a range of physical and mental conditions, and adversely affects quality of life, productivity at work, and school performance.

Researchers discovered the adults assigned to receive the fully automated and interactive web-based Sleep Healthy Using the Internet (SHUTi) intervention had improved sleep compared with those adults just given access to a patient education website with information about insomnia.

The study findings appear online in JAMA Psychiatry.

Lee M. Ritterband, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, led the clinical trial. His team evaluated the efficacy of the intervention from nine weeks to one year and included 303 adults.

The study is significant for although cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) has been established as the first-line recommendation for the millions of adults with chronic insomnia, there has been a paucity of trained clinicians to deliver this much needed treatment.

Internet-delivered CBT-I has shown promise as a method to overcome this obstacle; however, the long-term effectiveness has not been proven in a representative sample with chronic insomnia.

The new research now suggests that Internet-delivered cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia provides a less expensive, scalable treatment option.

The proof of concept means that effective insomnia intervention can now be delivered to previously unimaginable numbers of people.

Researchers believe the next step is working out the details.

“Future studies are necessary to determine who may be best served by this type of intervention and how the next steps of dissemination should occur,” the study concludes.

Source: JAMA

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