Psych Central News Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.2015-11-30T11:30:20Z Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[More Contact with Nature May Reduce Crime]]> 2015-11-30T11:08:01Z 2015-11-30T11:30:20Z More Contact with Nature May Reduce CrimeA new U.K. study suggests nature is a natural facilitator for better social and community interactions. Moreover, contact with nature appears to reduce crime rates on a level comparable to […]]]> More Contact with Nature May Reduce Crime

A new U.K. study suggests nature is a natural facilitator for better social and community interactions.

Moreover, contact with nature appears to reduce crime rates on a level comparable to other well-known social-ecological variables, suggesting that policies to improve green space may enhance community safety.

In the study, researchers sough to provide objective evidence on the social consequences of experiences with nature. An international, interdisciplinary team used nationally representative data from the United Kingdom to examine the relationships between objective measures and self-reported assessments of contact with nature, community cohesion, and local crime incidence.

Their findings appear in the journal BioScience.

Netta Weinstein, Ph.D., of Cardiff University, and others discovered people’s experiences of local nature reported via a survey could explain 8 percent of the variation in survey responses about perceptions of community cohesion. This finding came after accounting for a variety of factors, including socioeconomic deprivation, population density, unemployment rate, socioeconomic standing, and weekly wages.

They describe this as “a striking finding given that individual predictors such as income, gender, age, and education together accounted for only 3 percent” of the variance.

The relationship with crime was similarly striking. According to the study results, objective measures of the amount of green space or farmland accessible in people’s neighborhoods accounted for 4 percent of additional variance in crime rates.

The authors argue that this predictive power compares favorably with known contributors to crime, such as socioeconomic deprivation, which accounts for 5 percent variance in crime rates.

“The positive impact of local nature on neighbors’ mutual support may discourage crime, even in areas lower in socioeconomic factors,” they write. Further, given the political importance placed on past crime reductions as small as 2 to 3 percent, the authors suggest that findings such as theirs could justify policies aimed at ameliorating crime by improving contact with nature.

Finally, the authors note that, unlike some easily measured ecosystem services (e.g., the provision of water or food), “the apparent benefits of contact with nature on social cohesion… are more challenging to tease apart and measure.”

However, they express the hope that their study “stimulates consideration of how best to ensure that nature, at many different levels, can continue to benefit individuals and society into the future.”

Source: American Institute of Biological Sciences/EurekAlert

Janice Wood <![CDATA[Frequent Use of High Potency Pot May Lead to Brain Damage]]> 2015-11-29T03:53:22Z 2015-11-29T14:45:01Z Smoking 'Skunk-Like' Cannabis May Lead to Brain DamageFrequent smoking of high potency “skunk-like” cannabis can damage a crucial part of the brain responsible for communication between the two brain hemispheres, according to a new study. Researchers have […]]]> Smoking 'Skunk-Like' Cannabis May Lead to Brain Damage

Frequent smoking of high potency “skunk-like” cannabis can damage a crucial part of the brain responsible for communication between the two brain hemispheres, according to a new study.

Researchers have known for some time that long-term cannabis use can increase the risk of psychosis, and recent evidence suggests that alterations in brain function and structure may be responsible for this greater vulnerability.

The new study, published in Psychological Medicine, is the first to examine the effect of cannabis potency on brain structure, according to researchers at King’s College London and Sapienza University of Rome.

The scientists note that today’s high potency “skunk-like” products have been shown to contain higher proportions of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than they did around a decade ago. In other studies, THC has been shown to induce psychotic symptoms.

“We found that frequent use of high potency cannabis significantly affects the structure of white matter fibers in the brain, whether you have psychosis or not,” said Dr. Paola Dazzan, a reader in Neurobiology of Psychosis from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, and senior researcher on the study. “This reflects a sliding scale where the more cannabis you smoke and the higher the potency, the worse the damage will be.”

The researchers used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique, to examine the white matter in the brains of 56 patients who had reported a first episode of psychosis at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM), as well as 43 healthy participants from the local community.

The researchers specifically examined the corpus callosum, the largest white matter structure in the brain, which is responsible for communication between the left and right hemispheres. White matter consists of large bundles of nerve cell projections, called axons, which connect different regions of the brain, enabling communication between them, the researchers explained.

The corpus callosum is particularly rich in cannabinoid receptors, on which the THC content of cannabis acts.

The study found that frequent use of high potency cannabis was linked to significantly higher mean-diffusivity, a marker of damage in white matter structure.

“This white matter damage was significantly greater among heavy users of high potency cannabis than in occasional or low potency users, and was also independent of the presence of a psychotic disorder,” said Dr. Tiago Reis Marques, a senior research fellow from the IoPPN at King’s College London.

Dazzan noted that there is an “urgent need” to educate health professionals, the public, and policymakers about the risks involved with cannabis use.

“As we have suggested previously, when assessing cannabis use it is extremely important to gather information on how often and what type of cannabis is being used,” she said. “These details can help quantify the risk of mental health problems and increase awareness on the type of damage these substances can do to the brain.”

Source: King’s College London

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Even Seniors Can Recover from Traumatic Brain Injury]]> 2015-11-29T03:43:05Z 2015-11-29T14:00:25Z Even the Elderly Can Recover from Traumatic Brain InjuryEven patients over the age of 75 are able to recover from severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to a study at the Helsinki University Hospital Department of Neurosurgery in […]]]> Even the Elderly Can Recover from Traumatic Brain Injury

Even patients over the age of 75 are able to recover from severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to a study at the Helsinki University Hospital Department of Neurosurgery in Finland.

The study is the first to describe the results of surgically treated elderly patients with acute subdural hematomas (a blood clot on the external part of the brain usually caused by an injury, such as a fall or collision).

Age is one of the most significant outcome predictors in patients with TBI. If the patient is young, an acute subdural hematoma is typically treated through a neurosurgical operation. However, even among young patients, mortality is still common, despite surgical treatment.

In older patients, the success rate of the surgery is made worse by the fact that many patients are typically using oral anticoagulant medications to treat other cardiovascular diseases. It is generally accepted that elderly patients who suffer from an acute subdural hematoma should not be treated surgically, as few survive and even fewer recover to an independent life.

The Neurosurgical Department in Helsinki University Hospital has been an exception in its policy to surgically treat elderly patients with acute subdural hematomas.

Researchers from the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital have now determined how the patients’ functional status before the injury and the use of oral anticoagulant medications influence the prognosis of patients 75 years or older operated on for an acute subdural hematoma.

The study showed that no patients who had been brought to hospital unconscious, who had not been independent before the trauma, or who had used anticoagulants were alive at one year after the surgery.

“What was surprising, however, was that patients who were conscious at presentation, who were not using anticoagulants or were independent before the operation, recovered quite well. The expected lifespan of these patients was comparable to their age-matched peers,” said Rahul Raj, M.D., Ph.D., one of the main authors.

“One should be careful to make to strong conclusions from such a small number of patients,” Raj said, “but it seems that in approximately half of all cases, even elderly patients may benefit from surgery and recover to an independent life.

“It is important to note that included patients had an isolated acute subdural hematoma with no injuries to the brain tissue itself. This means that the results cannot be applied to patients with contusions or other intracranial injuries, whose treatment and prognosis are different.”

The study throws new light on the old assumption that surgical treatment of the elderly is not a sensible course of action. “The decision to treat through surgery should not be based on age alone, even though this is common,” Raj said.

Surgery of an acute subdural hematoma followed by intensive care and rehabilitation involve major costs and can cause significant suffering to patients and relatives. Thus, it is important to perform surgery on only the patients who are likely to benefit from it.

“But how do you define a bad prognosis? If only 1 in 10 patients recovers sufficiently to live at home, is the treatment worthwhile? If half of the treated patients die within the year, is the treatment worthwhile? This is not a medical decision,” the researchers emphasized.

Source: University of Helsinki


Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[New Insights Into Dopamine Function in Parkinson’s Patients]]> 2015-11-29T03:38:05Z 2015-11-29T13:15:39Z New Insights Into Dopamine Function in Parkinson's PatientsVirginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists have measured release of the key neurotransmitter with unprecedented temporal precision in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease. The measurements, collected during brain […]]]> New Insights Into Dopamine Function in Parkinson's Patients

Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists have measured release of the key neurotransmitter with unprecedented temporal precision in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease.

The measurements, collected during brain surgery as the conscious patients played an investment game, demonstrate how rapid dopamine release encodes information crucial for human choice.

The findings may have widespread implications not just for Parkinson’s disease, but for other neurological and psychiatric disorders as well, including depression and addiction.

The researchers detected changes in the levels of dopamine a thousand times faster than had previously been recorded in humans. These rapid measurements, combined with enhanced chemical specificity, enabled scientists to discover that dopamine has a far more complex role than formerly thought.

The study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“More than 20 years of research in nonhuman model organisms has painted a very specific picture of the suspected role of dopamine in guiding human behavior,” said Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and senior author of the paper.

“And now, with these first-of-their-kind measurements, made directly in humans, we’ve discovered that this picture was woefully incomplete.”

Montague and his team worked with neurosurgeons at Wake Forest University Health Sciences –  Stephen Tatter, Adrian Laxton, and the late Thomas Ellis – to measure dopamine signals in patients with Parkinson’s disease undergoing surgery to implant deep-brain stimulation electrodes. Deep-brain stimulation has been shown to alleviate Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Seventeen patients volunteered to allow Montague’s team to record their dopamine signals during implantation surgery.

“We’re studying a system that’s falling apart in their brains,” said Dr. Ken Kishida, first author of the paper and a research scientist at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the death of dopamine-releasing neurons, and we’re trying to understand the underlying mechanisms of the disease process.”

Kishida and Montague both noted the generosity of the patients who volunteered for the study.

“This type of access to measure dopamine signals is invaluable,” Kishida said. “And we’ve made these measurements in 17 people – that’s 17 more than ever before.”

In order to capture the dopamine signals, especially in people with lower dopamine activity, the researchers had to develop extremely sensitive methods.

The researchers took readings of the ultra-quick dopamine pulses as conscious patients played an investment game. They expected to see dopamine responses in direct relation to expected rewards and actual outcomes. They didn’t.

“We analyzed the dataset of about a thousand pulses of dopamine, and it was flat,” said Montague, who is also a professor of physics in Virginia Tech’s College of Science and director of the Computational Psychiatry Unit of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “The signals did not distinguish between a positive reaction and a negative one.”

Once the researchers had the measurements, they started to analyze what the dopamine was actually signaling.

“We found that dopamine tracks two factors – what happened and what could have happened,” Montague said. “Our dopamine neurons appear to track whether something could have been better or worse, and this information is encoded by the rapid changes in dopamine release. These findings may start to reveal, in computational terms, what’s missing in the dopamine system of Parkinson’s patients.”

The findings have been more than 20 years in the making, since Montague’s first computational studies examining the mechanisms of dopamine signaling.

The idea that “what could have been” is part of how people evaluate actual outcomes is not new. But no one expected that dopamine would be doing the job of combining this information in the human brain.

Now that researchers have measured multiple contributions to the individual dopamine signals, they have even more pathways to explore the human brain’s learning systems in health and disease.

Source: Virginia Tech


Janice Wood <![CDATA[What Makes a Joke Funny?]]> 2015-11-28T22:11:57Z 2015-11-29T12:30:57Z What Makes a Joke Funny?Why are some jokes perceived as funny and others not? According to new research, the more complex a joke, the less likely it is to elicit laughs. The new study, […]]]> What Makes a Joke Funny?

Why are some jokes perceived as funny and others not?

According to new research, the more complex a joke, the less likely it is to elicit laughs.

The new study, led by Robert Dunbar at Oxford University in London, notes that the ability to fully understand another person’s often unspoken intentions is called mentalizing. This involves different levels of intentionality.

For example, an adult can comprehend up to five levels of intentionality before losing the plot of a too-complex story, he said. Conversations that share facts normally involve only three levels. Greater brain power is needed when people chat about the social behavior of others, because it requires them to think and rethink themselves into the shoes of others, the researcher explained.

When looking at humor, the best jokes are thought to build on a set of expectations and have a punchline to update the knowledge of the listener in an unexpected way.

Expectations that involve the thoughts or intentions of people other than the person telling the joke or the audience — for example the characters in the joke — are harder to pin down. That’s because our natural ability to handle only a limited number of mind states comes into play, according to the researcher.

For the study, Dunbar and his colleagues analyzed the reaction of 55 undergraduates from the London School of Economics to 65 jokes from an online compilation of the 101 funniest jokes of all time.

The collection mostly consisted of jokes from successful stand-up comedians. Some jokes were one-liners, while others were longer and more complex.

One-third of the jokes were factual and contained reasonably undemanding observations of idiosyncrasies in the world. The rest involved the mind states of third parties.

The jokes were rated on a scale from one to four, with one not at all funny to four being very funny.

The research team found that the funniest jokes are those that involve two characters and up to five back-and-forth levels of intentionality between the comedian and the audience. People easily lose the plot when jokes are more complex than that, the researchers discovered.

The findings do not suggest that humor is defined by how cleverly a joke is constructed, but rather that there is a limit to how complex its contents can be to still be considered funny, the researchers noted.

According to Dunbar, increasing the mentalizing complexity of the joke improves the perceived quality, but only up to a certain point. That means stand-up comedians cannot afford to tell intricate jokes that leave their audience feeling as if they’ve missed the punchline.

“The task of professional comics is to elicit laughs as directly and as fast as possible,” he said. “They generally do this most effectively when ensuring that they keep within the mental competence of the typical audience member. If they exceed these limits, the joke will not be perceived as funny.”

It is likely that everyday conversational jokes do not involve as many intentional levels as those that have been carefully constructed by professional comedians, he added.

The study was published in Springer’s journal Human Nature.

Source: Springer

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Intervention Lessens Aggression in Young Inner-City Girls]]> 2015-11-28T14:50:19Z 2015-11-28T14:55:52Z Elementary school-age girls, particularly those in urban schools, gossip and ostracize others less when they are taught problem-solving skills and given leadership opportunities, according to a new study from the Violence Prevention Initiative at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Behaviors such as using gossip and social exclusion to harm others, which is the most common form of aggression among girls, are termed “relational aggression” in social psychological research.

The study was a randomized control trial involving third- to fifth-grade urban African-American girls. The aim was to evaluate the effectiveness of the Friend to Friend (F2F) aggression prevention program.

“This study demonstrates not only the effect of a specific aggression prevention program, but also the promise of curricula that emphasize social problem-solving and leadership skills to reduce relational aggression in urban schools,” said psychologist Stephen Leff, Ph.D., the study’s lead author, and co-director of the Violence Prevention Initiative (VPI).

F2F is the first and only relational aggression intervention to effectively lower relationally aggressive behaviors among urban minority girls that continued at least a year after the conclusion of the program.

Specifically, it improved the girls’ social problem-solving knowledge and lowered their levels of relational aggression.

“Including this type of positive skill development in urban school curricula is important because children attending inner-city, under-resourced schools are at high risk for emotional and behavioral problems,” said Leff.

“There is evidence that having these skills and positive leadership opportunities increases the students’ resilience and leads to better future social interactions. This positive approach is infused into the school-based prevention programs that are part of our Violence Prevention Initiative at CHOP.”

The team developed and refined the program based on over a decade of committed research.

“This partnership approach was used to develop F2F curricula, as well as the innovative teaching modalities utilized in the program, such as cartoons, videos and role-plays,” said Brooke Paskewich, Psy.D., a psychologist and VPI program manager.

“Involving students, teachers, and parents in the design of the program helped to ensure its cultural sensitivity, developmental appropriateness, and engagement of urban minority youth.”

Friend to Friend is a 20 session pull-out small group program that is conducted for 40 minutes during the lunch-recess period. The group teaches social problem-solving strategies and provides opportunities for the girls to co-lead classroom sessions of F2F for their classmates.

A pilot study published in 2009 established the promise of F2F in decreasing relational aggression among elementary school-aged girls in two urban elementary schools.

The current study involved 144 relationally aggressive girls from 44 different classrooms across six elementary schools in the School District of Philadelphia. Participants were randomly assigned to either F2F or to a control group that used a homework and study-skills development program.

The study group found significant improvements on self-report and teacher-report measures completed before and after implementing the program. In a one year follow-up, the participants’ new teachers completed the same measures about the students’ social behaviors as their previous teachers the year before.

Notably, the new teachers were unaware of the girls’ aggressive and intervention status, a fact that helped to strengthen the validity of the findings.

The findings are published in the journal Psychology of Violence.

Source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Janice Wood <![CDATA[Neuron Connections Destroyed Early in Alzheimer’s]]> 2015-11-28T13:48:54Z 2015-11-28T14:00:58Z Connections Between Brain Cells Destroyed Early in Alzheimer’sNew research has discovered how connections between brain cells are destroyed in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, which could open up a new avenue for research on possible treatments […]]]> Connections Between Brain Cells Destroyed Early in Alzheimer’s

New research has discovered how connections between brain cells are destroyed in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, which could open up a new avenue for research on possible treatments for the degenerative brain condition.

“One of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease is the loss of synapses — the structures that connect neurons in the brain,” said Dr. Vladimir Sytnyk, of the University of New South Wales School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences in Australia, and lead author of the study.

“Synapses are required for all brain functions, and particularly for learning and forming memories,” he continued. “In Alzheimer’s disease, this loss of synapses occurs very early on, when people still only have mild cognitive impairment, and long before the nerve cells themselves die.”

The researchers identified a new molecular mechanism that directly contributes to this synapse loss, he said.

For their research, the researchers studied a protein in the brain called neural cell adhesion molecule 2 (NCAM2), one of a family of molecules that physically connects the membranes of synapses and help stabilize these long-lasting synaptic contacts between neurons.

Using post-mortem brain tissue from people with and without Alzheimer’s, they discovered that synaptic NCAM2 levels in the part of the brain known as the hippocampus were low in those with Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers also showed in mice studies and in the laboratory that NCAM2 was broken down by another protein called beta-amyloid, which is the main component of the plaques that build up in the brains of people with the disease.

“Our research shows the loss of synapses is linked to the loss of NCAM2 as a result of the toxic effects of beta-amyloid,” said Sytnyk. “It opens up a new avenue for research on possible treatments that can prevent the destruction of NCAM2 in the brain.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: University of New South Wales

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Terrified of the Dentist? CBT Can Help]]> 2015-11-28T14:34:32Z 2015-11-28T13:15:20Z Terrified of the Dentist? CBT Can HelpCognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to help people with dental phobia minimize their fear of going to the dentist and has allowed many of these patients to receive […]]]> Terrified of the Dentist? CBT Can Help

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to help people with dental phobia minimize their fear of going to the dentist and has allowed many of these patients to receive advanced treatments without sedation, according to a new study by King’s College London.

People with dental phobia tend to avoid going to the dentist at all costs, even when they are suffering from oral pain. In the U.K., where the study took place, it is estimated that about 1 in 10 people suffer from dental phobia, according to the most recent Adult Dental Health Survey.

“People with dental phobia are most commonly given sedation to allow them to become relaxed enough for a short period of time to have their dental treatment performed. However this does not help them to overcome their fear in the long term,” said Professor Tim Newton from the Dental Institute at King’s College London and lead author of the study.

“The primary goal of our CBT service is to enable patients to receive dental treatment without the need for sedation, by working with each individual patient to set goals according to their priorities. Our study shows that after on average five CBT sessions, most people can go on to be treated by the dentist without the need to be sedated.”

CBT, which is typically completed in six to 10 sessions, has been shown to help with a range of mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety disorders. Both cognitive and behavioral interventions have been shown to be successful in reducing dental anxiety and increasing dental attendance.

For the study, researchers evaluated 130 patients (99 women and 31 men) attending a psychologist-led CBT service and the outcomes of their treatment. Patients were surveyed for their levels of dental anxiety, general anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol use, and oral health-related quality of life.

Three-quarters of those assessed scored 19 or higher on the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale (MDAS), indicating dental phobia. The remainder all scored high on one or more items of the MDAS, suggesting a specific fear of some aspect of dentistry.

Fear of dental injections and the dental drill were the most common high scoring items on the MDAS. Nearly all patients (94 percent) reported that problems with their teeth, mouth, or gums affected their daily living and quality of life.

Several of the patients surveyed were found to have other psychological conditions: 37 percent had high levels of general anxiety and 12 percent had clinically significant levels of depression. Suicidal thoughts were reported by 12 percent of patients and three percent (four patients) reported a recent intent to commit suicide.

Individuals were referred to support services via the care of their GP and for suicide risk, immediate action was taken based on local service guidelines.

Of all patients referred, 79 percent went on to have dental treatment without the need for sedation and six percent had their dental treatment under sedation. The average number of CBT appointments required before a patient received dental treatment without sedation was five.

“CBT provides a way of reducing the need for sedation in people with a phobia, but there will still be those who need sedation because they require urgent dental treatment or they are having particularly invasive treatments. Our service should be viewed as complementing sedation services rather than as an alternative, the two together providing a comprehensive care pathway for the ultimate benefit of patients,” said Newton.

A recent study published in the same journal, co-authored by Professor Tim Newton, showed that more women than men reported dental phobia in the 2009 Adult Dental Health Survey. Those with dental phobia were more likely to come from a lower income background, have more cavities and suffer from poorer oral health overall.

The findings are published in the British Dental Journal.

Source: King’s College London


Janice Wood <![CDATA[Shopping For the Thrill of It]]> 2015-11-28T13:40:46Z 2015-11-28T12:30:26Z Shopping For the Thrill of ItNew research has found that some people shop simply for the thrill of it. In fact, for these “sport shoppers” a trip to the mall is akin to an athletic […]]]> Shopping For the Thrill of It

New research has found that some people shop simply for the thrill of it.

In fact, for these “sport shoppers” a trip to the mall is akin to an athletic competition, according to researchers at San Francisco State University.

“This is somebody who takes great pride in their ability to get the thing they want at a discount,” said Kathleen O’Donnell, associate dean of the university’s School of Business and lead author of the study. “It’s not about spending the least, it’s about saving the most.”

O’Donnell and her colleagues, Judi Strebel, chair of the university’s marketing department, and Gary Mortimer of Queensland University in Australia, define a sport shopper as someone who often can afford the items she buys at full price, but who bargain hunts for the thrill of it. She is competitive and enjoys outsmarting the retail system.

“Even when she can easily afford to pay full price, there’s no joy in that for the sport shopper,” O’Donnell explained. “She takes a real joy from being able to find that thing at a great discount.”

O’Donnell notes that while she is certain there are male sport shoppers, research so far has only produced females.

Also, like athletes recounting their achievements, the sport shopper can remember with great specificity the stories behind the bargain items in her closet, sometimes including the date of purchase, the price at which she bought the item, and the price at which it would ordinarily retail, she said.

Another similarity the researchers noticed between sport shoppers and athletes is the strategy behind each shopping endeavor. While a runner might train for a race, building up to the race’s distance and mapping the route, a sport shopper will get to know the layout of a department store, observe merchandising patterns, and plan a shopping trip based on how much time she has before going shopping.

O’Donnell added that the sport shopper is different from the bargain shopper in that the bargain shopper hunts for deals out of necessity, while the sport shopper does it for the “rush” of finding a good deal.

The study was published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services.

Source: San Francisco State University

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Physical Activity Tied to Improved Memory in Older Adults]]> 2015-11-27T13:24:53Z 2015-11-27T15:01:20Z Physical Activity Tied to Improved Memory in Older AdultsMore evidence that physical activity can benefit cognition as we age comes from a Boston University study that finds older adults who take more steps walking or jogging perform better on […]]]> Physical Activity Tied to Improved Memory in Older Adults

More evidence that physical activity can benefit cognition as we age comes from a Boston University study that finds older adults who take more steps walking or jogging perform better on memory tasks than those who are more sedentary.

The study, published online in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, examined the relationship between physical activity, memory and cognition in young and old adults.

Researchers followed 29 young adults (ages 18-31) and 31 older adults (ages 55-82). Each participant wore a small device called an ActiGraph, a device that records information including how many steps each took, how vigorous the steps were and how much time it involved.

Participants also completed neuropsychological testing to assess their memory, planning and problem-solving abilities. In addition to standardized neuropsychological tasks of executive function (planning and organization abilities) and long-term memory, participants engaged in a laboratory task in which they had to learn face-name associations.

The researchers found that older adults who took more steps per day had better memory performance. They found the number of steps taken was strongest positive factor for a task that required recalling which name went with a person’s face — the same type of everyday task that older adults often have difficulty with.

In young adults, the number of steps taken was not associated with memory performance.

According to the researchers these findings demonstrate that the effects of physical activity extend to long-term memory, which can be degraded by aging and neurodegenerative dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Identification of physical activity as a protective factor for dementia would be a compelling discovery as the vast population of baby boomers transition to old age.

”Our findings that physical activity is positively associated with memory is appealing for a variety of reasons,” said corresponding author Scott Hayes, Ph.D. “Everyone knows that physical activity is a critical component to ward off obesity and cardiovascular-related disease.

“Knowing that a lack of physical activity may negatively impact one’s memory abilities will be an additional piece of information to motivate folks to stay more active,”he said.

The authors point out that staying physically active can take a variety of forms from formal exercise programs to small changes, such as walking or taking the stairs.

“More research is needed to explore the specific mechanisms of how physical activity may positively impact brain structure and function as well as to clarify the impact of specific exercise programs (e.g., strength, aerobic, or combined training) or dose of exercise (frequency, intensity, duration) on a range of cognitive functions,” added Hayes.

The authors emphasize that the objective measurement of physical activity was a key component of the current study, as the majority of studies to date have used self-report questionnaires, which can be impacted by memory failures or biases. The research was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Source: Boston University/EurekAlert

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Pregnancy Can Mean Mental Health Risk for Dads Too]]> 2015-11-27T13:19:24Z 2015-11-27T14:20:52Z Pregnancy Can Mean Mental Health Risk for Dads TooA new Australian study finds that women are not alone when it comes to mental health issues during pregnancy and the time around and after birth. Although it is well-recognized […]]]> Pregnancy Can Mean Mental Health Risk for Dads Too

A new Australian study finds that women are not alone when it comes to mental health issues during pregnancy and the time around and after birth.

Although it is well-recognized that 20 percent of women will suffer from perinatal and postpartum mood disorders, a new review finds that anxiety and depression also occur in around 1 in 10 men.

Mental health researcher Dr. Liana Leach reviewed 43 separate studies and found anxiety before and after a child arrives is just as prevalent as depression in men.

“Men can feel left out of the process, because pregnancy and childbirth are so integrally linked to the mother,” said Leach, from The Australian National University (ANU) Centre for Ageing, Health and Wellbeing.

“It can compound the problem. They don’t seek help, because they think ‘it’s not so much about me.'”

The causes of anxiety and depression around the arrival of a new baby are poorly understood. While results from individual studies vary, some studies suggest more than 1 in 5 parents suffer from anxiety or depression.

The study will appear in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“Having a new baby is a time of great adjustment for many parents, and it is normal to be nervous, but anxiety can become a problem when it persists for extended periods and interferes with every day functioning,” Leach said.

Symptoms of anxiety can include worrying or feeling keyed up much of the time, feeling irritable, and fears for the baby’s safety. Physical symptoms can include a racing heart, feeling sweaty, poor sleep and poor appetite.

There is good help available and people should in the first instance contact their physician, Leach said.

“Couples should be aware of their mental health right from when they realize they are pregnant. Early intervention reduces the severity and duration of symptoms,” she said.

Researchers discovered risk factors for perinatal mood disorders include a lack of social support especially from a partner, financial difficulties and a history of mental health problems.

“Health care during the perinatal period should be about the whole family,” Leach said.

Source: Australian National University

Image of man by Shutterstock

David McCracken, MA, LPC <![CDATA[FDA Approves Fast-Acting Drug to Counteract Opioid OD]]> 2015-11-27T13:14:41Z 2015-11-27T13:39:30Z FDA Approves Fast-Acting Drug to Counteract Opioid ODThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Narcan nasal spray, the first FDA-approved nasal spray version of naloxone hydrochloride, which can stop or reverse the effects of an opioid […]]]> FDA Approves Fast-Acting Drug to Counteract Opioid OD

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Narcan nasal spray, the first FDA-approved nasal spray version of naloxone hydrochloride, which can stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The rapid approval of the nasal spray form is seen as a boon for first responders in battling what has been called an “epidemic” of opioid abuse, overdoses and deaths. Opioids include prescription pain medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, as well as the illegal drug heroin — which many people addicted to painkillers switch to because of its relatively low cost.

“Combating the opioid abuse epidemic is a top priority for the FDA,” said Stephen Ostroff, M.D., acting commissioner, Food and Drug Administration. “We cannot stand by while Americans are dying. While naloxone will not solve the underlying problems of the opioid epidemic, we are speeding to review new formulations that will ultimately save lives that might otherwise be lost to drug addiction and overdose.”

Until this approval, naloxone was only approved in injectable forms, most commonly delivered by syringe or auto-injector. Many first responders and primary caregivers, however, feel a nasal spray formulation of naloxone is easier to deliver, and eliminates the risk of a contaminated needle stick.

Drug overdose deaths, driven largely by prescription drug overdoses, are now the leading cause of injury death in the United States – surpassing motor vehicle crashes. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of drug overdose deaths had steadily increased for more than a decade.

When someone overdoses on an opioid, it can be difficult to awaken the person, and breathing may become shallow or stop leading to death if there is no medical intervention. If naloxone is administered quickly, it can counter the overdose effects, usually within two minutes.

The FDA granted fast-track designation and priority review for Narcan nasal spray. Fast track is a process designed to facilitate development and expedite review of drugs intended to treat serious conditions and that demonstrate the potential to address an unmet medical need.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse played a critical role in the development of Narcan nasal spray as well, helping to design and carry out clinical trials to determine that the spray worked as quickly and effectively as an injection. NIDA then worked with its private sector partners to obtain FDA approval.

“This easy-to-use intranasal formulation will no doubt save many lives,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., director, National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health. “While prevention is the ultimate goal, the drug’s successful development illustrates how public/private scientific partnerships can play an important role in responding to a national crisis right now.”

Source: FDA

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Neuroimaging Parses Networks Tied to Schizophrenia Symptoms]]> 2015-11-27T13:03:48Z 2015-11-27T13:03:48Z Neuroimaging Parses Networks Tied to Schizophrenia SymptomsNew brain imaging research has shown how different brain networks contribute to distinct sub-symptoms of schizophrenia — distinctions that are not recognizable from behavioral observations alone. Study authors said the findings […]]]> Neuroimaging Parses Networks Tied to Schizophrenia Symptoms

New brain imaging research has shown how different brain networks contribute to distinct sub-symptoms of schizophrenia — distinctions that are not recognizable from behavioral observations alone.

Study authors said the findings also support the emerging theory that schizophrenia is not a single disease but a complex assortment of neural circuit problems.

“For a long time, we’ve thought of brain imaging studies as mainly a way to corroborate or confirm aspects of brain function and pathology that we had already identified from studying a patient’s behavior,” said senior author Aysenil Belger, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

“This approach, where we use brain imaging to dissect the specific neural pathways of complex syndromes, is very novel and important. The imaging can help us distinguish between the different brain networks that contribute to distinct sub-symptoms.”

Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder affecting about one in 100 people. Historically, schizophrenia has been very difficult to diagnose and treat, in large part because it manifests differently in different people.

Belger and recent UNC graduate student Joseph Shaffer, Ph.D., created a map that shows how specific schizophrenia symptoms are linked to distinct brain circuits. They compared brain scans from more than 100 people with schizophrenia against brain scans from people with no psychiatric diagnoses.

The scans were acquired as part of a large multi-site national collaborative research project, the Biomedical Informatics Research Network. Researchers imaged participants during a non-invasive test in which subjects were asked to listen to simple tones and detect changes in pitch.

The analysis revealed that people with schizophrenia showed markedly less brain activity during detection of the tonal changes as compared to the control group, a difference that became more apparent as symptoms worsened.

The study’s most novel and striking findings emerged when researchers analyzed patterns of brain activity in patients with different types of schizophrenia symptoms.

Investigators focused on schizophrenia’s so-called “negative” symptoms, such as problems with speech, blunted emotions, lack of motivation, and an inability to experience pleasure. (“Positive” symptoms include delusions, thought disorders, and hallucinations.)

Negative symptoms are the hardest to treat with available medications and can make it difficult to hold a job or form relationships. A close analysis of the brain scans revealed vastly different neural circuitry behind problems that seem similar on the surface.

Brain scans helped to distinguish areas of the brain responsible for specific symptoms. For example, while a clinician may find it difficult to determine whether a patient’s stilted conversational manner is rooted in a lack of emotional connection or problems forming words, brain scans made it clear that particular symptoms were more closely associated with disruption in the brain’s emotional processing areas.

Scans also provided objective evidence that other areas of the brain were more closely associated with language and motor control.

“We were surprised by the degree to which these circuits were connected with different sub-symptoms, and by what was, in some cases, almost a complete lack of circuit overlap between these different sub-symptoms,” said Belger. Parsing these complex symptoms could help inform new treatment approaches for schizophrenia and other disorders.

“Many of these sub-symptoms are seen in other neuropsychiatric disorders, as well. Therefore, finding the neurological pathway or developing a treatment for that specific symptom could help to address multiple disorders,” Belger said.

Also, the findings could help improve the tools available for early detection of risk for schizophrenia and psychosis, which are typically not diagnosed until late adolescence.

Source: University of North Carolina

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Want Help Promoting Honesty? Keep It Simple]]> 2015-11-26T15:51:50Z 2015-11-26T14:10:34Z Want Help Promoting Honesty? Keep It SimpleDecisions on moral conduct have influenced humanity since Adam and Eve. A new Canadian study provides the practical advice that the easiest answer is usually the most honest. If you […]]]> Want Help Promoting Honesty? Keep It Simple

Decisions on moral conduct have influenced humanity since Adam and Eve. A new Canadian study provides the practical advice that the easiest answer is usually the most honest.

If you want to promote honesty and honest answers, make it as easy as possible for others to complete the task you’ve given them.

Investigators discovered that we’re more likely to do the right thing in situations of moral conflict when it requires little to no effort.

For example, if our income information is automatically entered into our tax return, we may be less likely to alter it to something that is incorrect once it’s already there. That would require more effort and possibly explanation.

On the other hand, a passive response can promote cheating. When faced with a blank return, we may conveniently “forget” to fill in those bothersome boxes for things like extra money made on investments, which might push our taxes higher.

“We don’t think there is one solution for all situations in which you are tempted to be dishonest, but we definitely know from prior research that people tend to accept the status quo,” said researcher Dr. Nina Mazar, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Toronto.

Mazar co-wrote the study with Rotman colleague Dr. Scott Hawkins, also an associate professor of marketing. The paper appears in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

For the study, researchers ran an experiment to gauge how people would behave under different choice scenarios where there was a financial gain attached to their answers.

Participants cheated most when it meant passively ignoring an incorrect answer with higher financial value that had been automatically generated for them, rather than actively creating the dishonest response themselves.

On the other hand, cheating was virtually eliminated when the scenario was set up so that participants were automatically given the honest response and had to override it if they wanted to give a different answer that carried a bigger financial gain.

Researchers believe some participants struggled with the moral dilemma as those who cheated had slower reaction times than those who did not.

Previous studies have shown that default options can encourage compliance with public policy goals, such as promoting higher rates of organ donation. The results of this study build upon these prior observations.

Investigators believe their findings can have implications for a variety of self-report situations, including insurance applications and claim forms, as well as tax returns.

That is, more people may comply with tax reporting rules if their reporting mechanisms — such as tax preparation software — require a response even in cases where individuals don’t have anything to report (i.e., requiring to type in “$0” rather than leaving the field blank) or pre-fill key fields with available information.

Source: University of Toronto/EurekAlert

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Facial Features of Politicians Play Large Role in Popularity]]> 2015-11-26T16:51:00Z 2015-11-26T13:37:24Z Facial Features of Politicians Play Large Role in PopularityA new study has found that a politician’s physical features may have a greater impact on voter preferences than previously thought, and that conservatives and liberals are drawn to different […]]]> Facial Features of Politicians Play Large Role in Popularity

A new study has found that a politician’s physical features may have a greater impact on voter preferences than previously thought, and that conservatives and liberals are drawn to different physical features.

The findings show that liberal voters tend to prefer politicians with more gentle facial features, while conservatives prefer more masculine traits, such as a deep voice and a square jaw, according to the findings from two scientific articles from Aarhus University.

The study results run counter to the ideal that voters make their choices after carefully weighing the pros and cons of each candidate and party, said the researchers.

“A deep tone of voice appeals to conservative voters. More generally, conservative voters seem to have a preference for politicians who look physically strong and masculine, while liberal voters prefer those who have less dominant features and seem more accommodating, perhaps even slightly feminine,” said researcher Lasse Laustsen, Ph.D., from the university’s Department of Political Science.

To understand why this is, you have to dig a little deeper, Laustsen said. Republican voters have a preference for strong politicians, or at least those whose deep voices make them sound like they are strong, because they believe the world is a more dangerous and menacing place than Democratic voters, he said.

“If you hold up images of objects that people consider dangerous or unpleasant, for example of large spiders, and then measure the production of sweat from people’s fingertips (skin conductance response), you get an indication of spontaneous physical reaction. In these cases, conservative voters react more strongly than liberal ones. This could indicate a large visceral difference in the way these voter groups perceive the world,” Laustsen said.

Psychological mechanisms which saved our ancient ancestors from being eaten by saber-toothed tigers and other fierce animals continue to be at work today, explaining, among other things, why people vote as they do along the left-right continuum.

“There are evolutionarily important reasons for the structure of our psychology,” said researcher Michael Bang Petersen, Ph.D. “Our ancestors had to make a decision about which leader to follow, and it was crucial for their survival and reproduction that they picked the right one.

“As a species we are pre-programmed to think in a certain way about who we would like to be in charge. This affects choices that we make even today.”

Would it be helpful then for conservative politicians to tone down their dominant, masculine personality traits in the hopes of attracting left-wing voters who tend to find less dominant features more attractive?

“Democrats are often seen as empathic, compassionate types. Republicans, by contrast, are often considered as strong leaders with a moral compass. This kind of subjective views may have real importance in cases where a Republican candidate is seen as more empathic than his Democratic opponent and trespasses into his territory. Perhaps he can gain some votes there,” he said.

As for the voters, it’s helpful to be aware of what causes us to have the preferences we have. But the roots of our likes and dislikes are buried so deep in the subconscious that the two authors doubt there is very much to do about them.

“We can’t necessarily do very much to control this,” Laustsen said. “Some American research indicates that participants in lab tests are able to determine which of two unknown candidates they like more after having been exposed to images of them for less than 0.1 second. This suggests that these processes are really fast and subconscious. So I think it’s hard to rein in.”

Source: Aarhus University