Psych Central News Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday. Mon, 13 Jul 2020 07:27:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 111842359 Nitrous Oxide for PTSD? Mon, 13 Jul 2020 12:00:15 +0000 A new pilot study gives an early glimpse into how veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may benefit from one simple, inexpensive treatment involving nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas.

For military veterans with PTSD, symptoms such as anxiety, anger and depression can have a devastating effect on their health, daily routine, relationships and overall quality of life.

The study, which involved three military veterans struggling with PTSD, could lead to improved treatments for the debilitating psychiatric disorder that has affected thousands of current and former members of the U.S. military.

The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

“Effective treatments for PTSD are limited,” said anesthesiologist Peter Nagele, M.D., chair of the Department of Anesthesia & Critical Care at the University of Chicago Medicine and co-author of the paper. “While small in scale, this study shows the early promise of using nitrous oxide to quickly relieve symptoms of PTSD.”

Nagele is a pioneer in the field of using nitrous oxide to treat depression. Most commonly known for its use by dentists, nitrous oxide is a low-cost, easy-to-use medication. Although some patients may experience side effects like nausea or vomiting, the reactions are typically temporary.

For the new study, three veterans with PTSD were asked to inhale a single one-hour dose of 50% nitrous oxide and 50% oxygen through a face mask. Within hours after breathing nitrous oxide, two of the patients reported a marked improvement in their PTSD symptoms.

This improvement lasted one week for one of the patients, while the other patient’s symptoms gradually returned over the week. The third patient reported an improvement two hours after his treatment but went back to experiencing symptoms the next day.

“Like many other treatments, nitrous oxide appears to be effective for some patients but not for others,” explained Nagele, who is himself a veteran of the Austrian Army and grateful to have identified an opportunity to help other veterans. “Often drugs work only on a subset of patients, while others do not respond. It’s our role to determine who may benefit from this treatment, and who won’t.”

Exactly how and why nitrous oxide relieves symptoms of depression in some people and not others is still unclear. Most traditional antidepressants work through the brain chemical serotonin. Similar to ketamine, an anesthetic that recently received FDA approval in a nasal spray to treat those whose major depression has not responded to other drugs, nitrous oxide works through a different mechanism, by blocking N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors.

In a 2015 landmark study, Nagele discovered that two-thirds of patients with treatment-resistant depression experienced an improvement in symptoms after receiving nitrous oxide.

Moving into the future, Nagele is researching the ideal dose of nitrous oxide to treat intractable depression. Study participants with treatment-resistant depression were given different doses of nitrous oxide so that Nagele and his team could compare each dose’s effectiveness and side effects. The study is being funded by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

The study was funded by the VA Office of Research and Development Clinical Science Research & Development Service. It involved a Stanford University School of Medicine team from the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, including principal investigators Drs. Carolyn Rodriguez and David Clark.

Source: University of Chicago Medical Center



Early Compliance With Social Distancing May Show Working Memory Abilities Mon, 13 Jul 2020 11:00:01 +0000 A new study suggests that people who engaged in social distancing during the early stages of COVID-19 may have stronger working memories.

Working memory is the mental process of holding information in the mind for a brief period of time; typically, just seconds. The amount of information working memory can hold briefly, its capacity, is predictive of many mental abilities such as intelligence, comprehension and learning.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offer potential strategies to help mitigate social distancing noncompliance in a public health crisis.

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside found that individuals with higher working memory capacity have an increased awareness of benefits over costs of social distancing. As a result, they showed more compliance with recommended social distancing guidelines during the early stage of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The higher the working memory capacity, the more likely that social distancing behaviors will follow,” said Dr. Weiwei Zhang, an associate professor of psychology at UC Riverside, and the paper’s senior author.

“Interestingly, this relationship holds even after we statistically control for relevant psychological and socioeconomic factors such as depressed and anxious moods, personality traits, education, intelligence, and income.”

In the U.S., where social distancing is voluntary in many places, widespread noncompliance persists. It was especially high during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Zhang, one reason for this is concerns about the inherent socioeconomic costs associated with social distancing.

But what constitutes an individual’s cognitive ability to come to a decision regarding compliance with social distancing guidelines had been largely unclear.

“Our findings reveal a novel cognitive root of social distancing compliance during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Zhang said. “We found social distancing compliance may rely on an effortful decision process of evaluating the costs versus benefits of these behaviors in working memory —  instead of, say, mere habit. This decisional process can be less effortful for people with larger working memory capacity, potentially leading to more social distancing behaviors.”

The study involved 850 U.S. residents from March 13 to March 25, 2020, the first two weeks following the U.S. presidential declaration of a national emergency about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants completed a demographic survey and also a set of questionnaires that captured individual differences in social distancing compliance, depressed mood, and anxious feelings. Personality variables, intelligence, and participants’ understanding about the costs and benefits of social distancing practice were measured also.

“Individual differences in working memory capacity can predict social distancing compliance just as well as some social factors such as personality traits,” Zhang said. “This suggests policymakers will need to consider individuals’ general cognitive abilities when promoting compliance behaviors such as wearing a mask or engaging in physical distancing.”

The team recommends media materials for promoting norm compliance behaviors to avoid information overload.

“The message in such materials should be succinct, concise, and brief,” Zhang said. “Make the decision process easy for people.”

The findings also suggest learning social distancing as a new norm requires an effortful decision process that relies on working memory.

“The bottom line is we should not rely on habitual behaviors since social distancing is not yet adequately established in U.S. society,” Zhang said.

“Before social distancing becomes a habit and a well-adopted social norm, the decision to follow social distancing and wearing masks would be mentally effortful. Consequently, we will have to deliberately make the effort to overcome our tendency to avoid effortful decisions, such as to not practice social distancing.”

Zhang believes the influence of working memory will decline as new social norms, such as wearing a mask or socially distancing, are acquired by society over time.

“Eventually social distancing and wearing face masks will become a habitual behavior and their relationship with working memory will diminish,” he said.

Next, the researchers will analyze data they collected across the U.S., China, and South Korea to identify protective social and mental factors that help people cope with the pandemic.

The team has also been gathering data assessing how working memory is linked to racial discrimination during the pandemic.

Source: University of California- Riverside

Lifestyle Choices, Social Connections May Impact COVID-19 Susceptibility Mon, 13 Jul 2020 02:49:27 +0000 New research suggests lifestyle choices coupled with the emotional stress of social isolation and interpersonal conflicts may increase the risk for contracting COVID-19.

Investigators explain that lifestyle refers to practices such as smoking, exercise and other behaviors generally associated with risk factors for certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

A growing body of research reveals that these risk factors and a lack of supportive social connections can also increase the risk of developing respiratory infections, like the common cold and influenza. Investigators from Carnegie Mellon University believe these factors can also influence susceptibility to COVID-19.

“We know little about why some of the people exposed to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 are more likely to develop the disease than others,” said Dr. Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology and one of the authors on the paper.

“Our research on psychological factors that predict susceptibility to other respiratory viruses may provide clues to help identify factors that matter for COVID-19.”

The study appears in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Investigators have studied how lifestyle, social, and psychological factors affect whether or not healthy adults exposed to respiratory viruses become ill through a series of studies spanning more than 30 years. In the recent study, Cohen and his team focused on eight viral strains that cause the common cold and two that cause influenza.

“In our work, we intentionally exposed people to cold and influenza viruses and studied whether psychological and social factors predict how effective the immune system is in suppressing infection, or preventing or mitigating the severity of illness,” said Cohen. “We found a strong correlation between social and psychological stressors and increased susceptibility.”

Intriguingly, the researchers also found that social integration and social support offer a protective shield against respiratory infection and illness.

Until now, the only tactics to slow the spread of coronavirus have been behavioral changes that reduce the probability of being exposed to the virus, such as stay-at-home measures and social-distancing requirements. These same behaviors, however, are often associated with interpersonal stressors, like loneliness, loss of employment, and familial conflict.

According to the researchers, these stressors may be powerful predictors of how a person will respond if exposed to coronavirus because of the stressors’ direct physiological effects on immunity and their psychological factors. These elements are thought to have their influence through the mind-body connection.

Cohen’s work demonstrates that psychological and social stressors are associated with an overproduction of proinflammatory chemicals known as cytokines in response to cold and influenza viruses. In turn, this excess of inflammation was associated with an increased risk of becoming ill.

Similarly, research on COVID-19 has shown that producing an excess of proinflammatory cytokines is associated with more severe COVID-19 infections. This suggests a stress-triggered excessive cytokine response might also contribute to excessive inflammation and symptoms in COVID-19 patients.

Cohen and his colleagues acknowledge that, as of now, there are no firmly established links between behavioral and psychological factors and the risk for disease and death in persons exposed to the corona virus that causes COVID-19.

However, their prior body of research may be relevant to the current pandemic because, they note, the most potent predictors of disease, interpersonal and economic stressors, are the types of stressors that are commonly experienced among those who are isolated or in quarantine.

“If you have a diverse social network (social integration), you tend to take better care of yourself (no smoking, moderate drinking, more sleep and exercise),” said Cohen. “Also, if people perceive that those in their social network will help them during a period of stress or adversity (social support) then it attenuates the effect of the stressor and is less impactful on their health.”

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Biomarker for Cardiovascular Illness May Also Signal Dementia Sun, 12 Jul 2020 12:00:51 +0000 A new study suggests that an easily measurable marker of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular risk may also be an early warning sign of cognitive decline in older adults — and potentially dementia.

For the study, a research team from Flinders University in Australia and the University of Aberdeen in the U.K. focused on a certain blood marker known as asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA) and investigated its effects on cognition in a group of older adults. Data for the study was taken from the 1936 Aberdeen Birth Cohort.

ADMA has been associated with atherosclerosis (build-up of fats and other deposits on artery walls) and cardiovascular disease (disease involving the heart or blood vessels) in epidemiological studies.

The researchers say the findings could support the search for novel preventative and therapeutic treatments for dementia.

Previous studies on this topic have primarily focused on a set of abnormalities found in diseased brains. However, observational studies and clinical trials targeting these changes have been disappointing, suggesting the urgent need to better understand the causes of dementia and identify novel markers of disease.

Unlike other human aging study groups, participants in the 1936 Aberdeen Birth Cohort were also given childhood intelligence tests at age 11, a key predictor of intelligence and health in old age.

In the first part of the study, ADMA levels measured in the year 2000 (when participants were 63 years) were associated with decline in cognitive performance assessments after four years, said Flinders University Professor Arduino Mangoni.

“Therefore the results of this study suggest, that ADMA, an easily measurable marker of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular risk, could be an early indicator of cognitive decline in old age — and possibly dementia,” said Mangoni, head of Clinical Pharmacology at Flinders.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by a rapid decline in cognition and significant disability in old age, currently affects more than 5 million Americans. In Australia, it affects more than 342,000 residents, and this number is expected to increase to 400,000 in less than a decade. The causes of late onset AD are largely unknown and despite extensive research, there is still no clear consensus on robust biomarkers to predict disease onset and progression and the response to therapies.

U.K. researcher Dr. Deborah Malden said the results of the new study should be approached with caution and that more extensive investigations would be needed with larger study groups.

“We should be cautious about emphasizing the results with the 93 participants’ results here,” she said. “We would know much more after repeating this study in a large-scale cohort, potentially tens of thousands of individuals, and perhaps a genetic MR (Mendelian randomization) study.”

Even so, if the initial study findings are confirmed in large-scale testing, the research team hopes the results could pave the way for population-wide dementia risk categorization and perhaps future development of therapeutic strategies to reduce ADMA levels and/or slow the progression of cognitive decline in old age.

The new article is published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Source: Flinders University


Study: For Long-Term Well-Being, Turn to Power of Realistic Thinking Sun, 12 Jul 2020 11:00:06 +0000 Emerging research in the journal Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin suggests realistic thinking is a more effective strategy than forced positive thinking for obtainment of long-term happiness.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Bath and London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) studied people’s financial expectations in life and compared them to actual outcomes over an 18-year period.

They found that when it comes to the happiness stakes, overestimating outcomes was associated with lower well-being than setting realistic expectations.

The findings point to the benefits of making decisions based on accurate, unbiased assessments.

The study results question the “power of positive thinking.” This strategy frames optimism as a self-fulfilling prophecy in which believing in success helps deliver success, along with immediate happiness generated by picturing a positive future.

Negative thinking should not replace positive thinking though. Pessimists also fared badly compared to realists, undermining the view that low expectations limit disappointment and present a route to contentment.

Their numbers are dwarfed though by the estimated 80 percent of the population classed as unrealistic optimists. These people tend to overestimate the likelihood that good things will happen and underestimate the possibility of bad things. High expectations set them up for large doses of destructive disappointment.

The study findings are based on an analysis from the British Household Panel Survey — a major UK longitudinal survey — tracking 1,600 individuals annually over 18 years.

To investigate whether optimists, pessimists or realists have the highest long-term well-being the researchers measured self-reported life satisfaction and psychological distress. Alongside this, they measured participants’ finances and their tendency to have over- or underestimated them.

“Plans based on inaccurate beliefs make for poor decisions and are bound to deliver worse outcomes than would rational, realistic beliefs, leading to lower well-being for both optimists and pessimists. Particularly prone to this are decisions on employment, savings and any choice involving risk and uncertainty,” said Dr. Chris Dawson, associate professor in business economics in Bath’s School of Management.

“I think for many people, research that shows you don’t have to spend your days striving to think positively might come as a relief. We see that being realistic about your future and making sound decisions based on evidence can bring a sense of well-being, without having to immerse yourself in relentless positivity.”

The results could also be due to counteracting emotions, say the researchers. For optimists, disappointment may eventually overwhelm the anticipatory feelings of expecting the best, so happiness starts to fall. For pessimists, the constant dread of expecting the worst may overtake the positive emotions from doing better than expected.

In the context of the Covid-19 crisis, the researchers highlight that optimists and pessimists alike make decisions based on biased expectations: Not only can this lead to bad decision-making but also a failure to undertake suitable precautions to potential threats.

“Optimists will see themselves as less susceptible to the risk of Covid-19 than others and are therefore less likely to take appropriate precautionary measures. Pessimists, on the other hand, may be tempted to never leave their houses or send their children to school again.

“Neither strategy seems like a suitable recipe for well-being. Realists take measured risks based on our scientific understanding of the disease,” said co-author Professor David de Meza from LSE’s Department of Management.

Source: University of Bath/EurekAlert

Sharing On Social Media May Hinder Assessing Accuracy of News Sat, 11 Jul 2020 12:00:58 +0000 A new study finds that our itch to share on social media helps spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study discovered that when people are consuming news on social media, their inclination to share that news with others interferes with their ability to assess its accuracy.

However, there’s good news from the study: While sharing on social media affects news judgment, there is a quick exercise to reduce the problem, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Regina University in Canada.

For the study, researchers presented the same false news headlines about COVID-19 to two groups of people: One group was asked if they would share those stories on social media, and the other evaluated their accuracy. The researchers discovered that the participants were 32.4 percent more likely to say they would share the headlines than they were to say those headlines were accurate.

“There does appear to be a disconnect between accuracy judgments and sharing intentions,” said MIT professor Dr. David Rand, co-author of the new study. “People are much more discerning when you ask them to judge the accuracy, compared to when you ask them whether they would share something or not.”

But the researchers found that a little bit of reflection can go a long way. Participants who were more likely to think critically, or who had more scientific knowledge, were less likely to share misinformation. And when asked directly about accuracy, most participants did reasonably well at telling true news headlines from false ones, the researchers reported.

The study also offers a solution for over-sharing: When participants were asked to rate the accuracy of a single non-COVID-19 story at the start of their news-viewing sessions, the quality of the COVID-19 news they shared increased significantly, according to the researchers.

“The idea is, if you nudge them about accuracy at the outset, people are more likely to be thinking about the concept of accuracy when they later choose what to share. So then they take accuracy into account more when they make their sharing decisions,” explained Rand.

For the study, the researchers conducted two online experiments in March 2020, with about 1,700 U.S. participants, using the survey platform Lucid. Participants matched the nation’s distribution of age, gender, ethnicity, and geographic region, the researchers noted.

The first experiment had 853 participants. It used 15 true and 15 false news headlines about COVID-19 in the style of Facebook posts, with a headline, photo, and initial sentence from a story. The researchers explained they did this because most people only read headlines on social media.

The participants were split into two groups. One group was asked if the headlines were accurate. The second group was asked if they would consider sharing the posts on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The first group correctly judged the stories’ accuracy about two-thirds of the time, according to the study’s findings.

The second group, therefore, might be expected to share the stories at a similar rate, the researchers hypothesized.

However, they discovered the participants in the second group shared about half of the true stories, and just under half of the false stories — meaning their judgment about which stories to share was almost random in regard to accuracy, the researchers said.

The second study, with 856 participants, used the same group of headlines and again split the participants into two groups. The first group simply looked at the headlines and decided whether or not they would share them on social media.

But the second group of participants were asked to evaluate a non-COVID-19 headline before they made decisions about sharing the COVID-19 headlines.That extra step, of evaluating one non-COVID-19 headline, made a substantial difference, the researchers reported.

The “discernment” score of the second group — the gap between the number of accurate and inaccurate stories they shared — was almost three times larger than that of the first group, according to the study’s findings.

The researchers also evaluated additional factors that might explain tendencies in the responses of the participants. They gave all participants a six-item Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) to evaluate their propensity to analyze information, rather than relying on gut instincts. They also evaluated how much scientific knowledge participants had, as well as looked at whether participants were located close to COVID-19 outbreaks.

They discovered that participants who scored higher on the CRT and knew more about science rated headlines more accurately and shared fewer false headlines.

Those findings suggest that the way people assess news stories has less to do with, say, preset partisan views about the news, and more to do with their broader cognitive habits, the researchers noted.

“A lot of people have a very cynical take on social media and our moment in history — that we’re post-truth and no one cares about the truth any more,” said Dr. Gordon Pennycook, an assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, and a co-author on the study. “Our evidence suggests it’s not that people don’t care; it’s more that they’re distracted.”

The study follows other studies conducted by Rand and Pennycook about explicitly political news, which similarly suggest that cognitive habits, more so than partisan views, influence the way people judge the accuracy of news stories and lead to the sharing of misinformation.

In this new study, the researchers wanted to see if readers analyzed COVID-19 stories, and health information, differently than political information.

But they found the results were similar to the political news experiments they previously conducted.

“Our results suggest that the life-and-death stakes of COVID-19 do not make people suddenly take accuracy into greater account when they’re deciding what to share,” said Jackson G. Lu, an assistant professor at MIT and a co-author of the new study.

Actually, the very importance of COVID-19 as a subject may interfere with readers’ ability to analyze it, added Rand.

“Part of the issue with health and this pandemic is that it’s very anxiety-inducing,” Rand said. “Being emotionally aroused is another thing that makes you less likely to stop and think carefully.”

But the central explanation, according to the researchers, is actually the structure of social media, which encourages rapid browsing of news headlines, elevates splashy news items, and rewards users who post eye-catching news, by tending to give them more followers and retweets, even if those stories happen to be untrue.

“There is just something more systemic and fundamental about the social media context that distracts people from accuracy,” Rand said. “I think part of it is that you’re getting this instantaneous social feedback all the time. Every time you post something, you immediately get to see how many people liked it. And that really focuses your attention on: How many people are going to like this? Which is different from: How true is this?”

The study was published in Psychological Science.

Source: Sage

Probiotics May Help Ease Depression Sat, 11 Jul 2020 11:30:46 +0000 A new review suggests that probiotics, either taken by themselves or when combined with prebiotics, may help ease depression.

While the underlying mechanism remains unclear, probiotics may help reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals, such as cytokines, as is the case in inflammatory bowel disease, say the researchers. Or they may help direct the action of tryptophan, a chemical thought to be important in the gut-brain axis in psychiatric disorders.

The study is published in the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health.

Foods that broaden the profile of helpful bacteria in the gut are collectively known as probiotics, while prebiotics are compounds that help these bacteria to flourish.

A two-way relationship exists between the brain and digestive tract, known as the gut-brain axis. And the possibility that the microbiome — the range and number of bacteria resident in the gut — might help treat mental ill health has become a focus of interest in recent years.

To investigate this further, the research team looked for relevant studies published in English between 2003 and 2019, which looked at the potential therapeutic contribution of pre-and probiotics in adults with depression and/or anxiety disorders.

Out of an initial group of 71 studies, only 7 met all the criteria for inclusion in the review. All 7 studies investigated at least 1 probiotic strain; 4 looked at the effect of combinations of multiple strains.

Overall, 12 probiotic strains were featured in the selected studies, primarily Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidium. One study looked at combined pre-probiotic treatment, while one looked at prebiotic therapy by itself.

Although the studies varied considerably in their design, methods used, and clinical considerations, all of the studies concluded that probiotic supplements either alone or in combination with prebiotics may be associated with measurable reductions in depression.

In addition, each study showed a significant improvement in anxiety symptoms and/or clinically relevant changes in biochemical measures of anxiety and/or depression with probiotic or combined pre-probiotic use.

Of the 12 different probiotics studied, 11 were potentially useful, according to the findings.

The researchers note some limitations to their review: None of the included studies lasted very long; and the number of participants in each was small. This makes it difficult to draw any strong conclusions about the overall effects, whether they are long-lasting, and whether there might be any unwanted side effects linked to prolonged use, they say.

Still, on the basis of the preliminary evidence to date, pre- and probiotic therapy warrant further investigation, they say.

As anxiety disorders and depression affect people in different ways, they require treatment approaches that take account of these complexities, they say. “In this way, with a better understanding of the mechanisms, probiotics may prove to be a useful tool across a wide range of conditions,” they write.

In addition, individuals with depression and/or anxiety disorders often have other underlying conditions, such as impaired insulin production and irritable bowel syndrome, they point out.

“As such, the effect that probiotics have on patients with [common mental disorders] may be twofold: they may directly improve depression in line with the observed findings of this review, and/or they might beneficially impact a patient’s experience of their [common mental disorder] by alleviating additional comorbidities,” they write.

Source: BMJ

Does Our Fave Music When We Were Young Define Us Forever? Sat, 11 Jul 2020 11:00:05 +0000 A new U.K. study finds that the music we listened to between the ages of 10 and 30 defines us for the rest of our lives.

Researchers at the University of Westminster and City University of London in England say music from this period of our lives — which they call a “self-defining period” —connects us to the people, places, and times that are significant to our identities.

The study reveals that when people imagine themselves in isolation, they not only prefer music reminding them of a time when they were between the ages of 10 and 30, but also they are most likely to choose music that reminds them of an important person in their lives or an important turning point in their life as a powerful way to strengthen their sense of self.

To conduct the study, the researchers turned to Desert Island Discs, Britain’s longest running radio program. They asked 80 guests on the radio program to imagine they are being cast away to a desert island and can choose eight records to take with them.

The researchers then analyzed the responses to ascertain how people choose music that is important to them and whether they are more likely to select music from a particular time in their life.

Half of all musical choices were seen to be important between the ages of 10 and 30, a period that has been commonly known as the “reminiscence bump,” according to the researchers.

However, this new study reveals that it is more helpful to think of this period as a “self-defining period” because it is characterized by enduring memories that support our sense of who we are, the researchers said.

They suggest that listening to music is typically a key feature of this age and that music is intrinsically linked to the developing self.

The power of music in identity formation is well-demonstrated through the reasons why people selected certain records, the researchers said.

The most frequent reason for choosing a song (17 percent) was that it reminded the guest of their relationship with a specific person, such as a parent, partner, or a friend. That was followed by a memory of a period of time (16.2 percent),  such as reminding someone of their childhood or “remembering playing this at home over and over again.”

The third most popular explanation for choosing a record was the song’s connection to specific memories relating to the formation of identity through life-changing moments (12.9 percent). This reason was given by Bruce Springsteen, who said that the Beatles song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” inspired him to pick up the guitar and start a band.

“Guests frequently chose songs because they were related to important memories that occurred during teenage years,” said Professor Catherine Loveday, a neuropsychologist at the University of Westminster and lead researcher. “This extends previous findings by showing that music from this time has particular meaning, primarily because it relates to memories from this very important developmental period of our life.”

“Unlike previous studies, this study shows that this occurs even in a completely naturalistic setting, where people are not constrained by experimental settings and have a completely free rein on their musical choices,” she continued.

“Because the premise of the program is that people imagine themselves in isolation, this research has relevance to anyone who becomes isolated, including during lockdown measures in the current coronavirus pandemic, or who becomes displaced from their everyday environment, such as residents in care homes, refugees, or hospital patients,” she added.

The researchers are now working with an international team on a new study that invites people to create and share their own Deserts Island Disc experience. The survey will provide important new insights into the benefits of music and reminiscence, according to the researchers.

You can access the survey at

Source: Sage

Prison, Police Discrimination May Contribute to HIV, Depression Among Gay Black Men Fri, 10 Jul 2020 12:00:42 +0000 A new study led by Rutgers University researchers suggests that incarceration and police discrimination may contribute to HIV, depression and anxiety among Black men who are gay, bisexual or other sexual minorities.

For the study, the research team looked at the links between incarceration, police and law enforcement discrimination and recent arrest with Black sexual minority mens’ psychological distress, risk for HIV and willingness to take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention.

“Evidence suggests Black sexual minority men in the United States may face some of the highest rates of policing and incarceration in the world,” said lead author Devin English, assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health in New Jersey.

“Despite this, research examining the health impacts of the U.S. carceral system rarely focuses on their experiences. This study helps to address this gap.”

“We examined how incarceration and police discrimination, which have roots in enforcing White supremacy and societal heterosexism, are associated with some of the most pressing health crises among Black sexual minority men like depression, anxiety and HIV,” English added.

The researchers published their findings in Social Science & Medicine, a peer-reviewed health and social sciences journal by Elsevier.

To conduct the study, the research team surveyed 1,172 Black gay, bisexual, and other sexual minority men over the age of 16 from across the United States who reported behaviors that increased their risk for HIV over the previous six months.

Participants reported on their incarceration history, experiences of police and law enforcement discrimination, anxiety and depression, sexual behavior, and willingness to take pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention.

The study findings show that 43% of the study participants reported they had experienced police discrimination within the previous year, which was most frequent among those with a history of incarceration. Study participants who had experienced high levels of police discrimination within the previous year also tended to show high levels of psychological distress and HIV risk, and a low willingness to take PrEP compared with their peers.

The study also found that participants who were previously incarcerated or recently arrested had a heightened HIV risk and a lower willingness to take PrEP.

“These findings transcend individual-level only explanations to offer structural-level insights about how we think about Black sexual minority men’s HIV risk,” says co-author Lisa Bowleg, professor of psychology at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “The study rightly directs attention to the structural intersectional discrimination that negatively affects Black sexual minority men’s health.”

The research paper states that the findings support the need for anti-racist and anti-heterosexist advocacy and interventions focused on reducing discrimination in U.S. society, and the carceral system specifically.

“Despite experiencing a disproportionate burden of violence and discrimination at the hands of the police, and extremely high carceral rates, Black queer men are largely invisible in discourse on anti-Black policing and incarceration,” says co-author Joseph Carter, doctoral student of health psychology at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. “Our study provides empirical support for the intersectional health impacts of police and carceral discrimination that have been systemically perpetrated onto Black queer men.”

The study was funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Source: Rutgers University

Prospective Teachers More Likely to Misperceive Black Children as Angry Fri, 10 Jul 2020 11:30:12 +0000 A new study suggests that prospective teachers may be more likely to misperceive Black children as angry compared to white children, which may undermine the education of Black youth.

The findings are published online in Emotion, an American Psychological Association (APA) journal.

While previous work has shown this effect in adults, this study is the first to show how anger bias based on race may extend to teachers and Black elementary and middle-school children, said lead researcher Amy G. Halberstadt, PhD, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University.

“This anger bias can have huge consequences by increasing Black children’s experience of not being ‘seen’ or understood by their teachers and then feeling like school is not for them,” she said. “It might also lead to Black children being disciplined unfairly and suspended more often from school, which can have long-term ramifications.”

The study involved 178 prospective teachers from education programs at three Southeastern universities who viewed short video clips of 72 children ages 9 to 13 years old. The children’s faces expressed one of six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise or disgust.

The clips were evenly divided among boys or girls and Black children or white children. The sample was not large enough to determine whether the race or ethnicity of the teachers made a difference in how they perceived the children.

The participants were somewhat accurate at identifying the children’s emotions, but they also made some mistakes that revealed patterns. Boys of both races were misperceived as angry more often than Black or white girls. Black boys and girls also were misperceived as angry at higher rates than white children, with Black boys eliciting the most anger bias.

Anger bias against Black children can lead to many negative outcomes. While controlling for other factors, earlier studies have shown that Black children are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than white children. Black children’s negative experiences at school may also contribute to the disparate achievement gap between Black and white youth that has been documented across the United States, Halberstadt said.

The participants also completed questionnaires assessing their implicit and explicit racial bias, but their scores on those tests did not impact the findings relating to Black children. However, those who displayed greater racial bias were less likely to misperceive white children as angry.

“Even when people are motivated to be anti-racist, we need to know the specific pathways by which racism travels, and that can include false assumptions that Black people are angry or threatening,” Halberstadt said.

“Those common racist misperceptions can extend from school into adulthood and potentially have fatal consequences, such as when police officers kill unarmed Black people on the street or in their own homes.”

Similar research with American adults has shown that anger is perceived more quickly than happiness in Black faces, while the opposite effect was found for white faces. Anger also is perceived more quickly and for a longer time in young Black men’s faces than young white men’s faces.

“Over the last few weeks, many people are waking up to the pervasive extent of systemic racism in American culture, not just in police practices but in our health, banking and education systems,” Halberstadt said. “Learning more about how these problems become embedded in our thought processes is an important first step.”

Prospective teachers in the study were primarily female (89%) and white (70%), mirroring the gender and race of most public-school teachers across the country. The research didn’t include enough people of color from any single race or ethnicity (Hispanic 9%, Asian 8%, Black 6%, Biracial 5%, Native American 1%, and Middle Eastern 1%) to analyze separate findings based on the race or ethnicity of the participants.

Source: American Psychological Association

Light Drinking May Help Older Adults’ Cognition Fri, 10 Jul 2020 10:30:51 +0000 A new study suggests light to moderate drinking of alcohol may preserve brain function in older age. The finding is the latest volley over the benefits or detriments of imbibing. Much of the controversy surrounds research methods as most are observational studies involving various age groups.

In the current longitudinal study, University of Georgia researchers examined the link between alcohol consumption and changes in cognitive function over time among middle-aged and older adults in the U.S.

“We know there are some older people who believe that drinking a little wine everyday could maintain a good cognitive condition,” said lead author Ruiyuan Zhang, a doctoral student at UGA’s College of Public Health.

“We wanted to know if drinking a small amount of alcohol actually correlates with good cognitive function, or is it just a kind of survivor bias.”

The study, “Association of Moderate Alcohol Drinking with Cognitive Functions Among US Adults,” appears online in JAMA Network Open.

Regular, moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to promote heart health and some research points to a similar protective benefit for brain health. However, many of these studies were not designed to isolate the effects of alcohol on cognition or did not measure effects over time.

Zhang and his team developed a way to track cognition performance over 10 years using participant data from the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study.

During the study, a total of 19,887 participants completed surveys every two years about their health and lifestyle, including questions on drinking habits. Light to moderate drinking is defined as fewer than eight drinks per week for women and 15 drinks or fewer per week among men.

These participants also had their cognitive function measured in a series of tests looking at their overall mental status, word recall and vocabulary. Their test results were combined to form a total cognitive score.

Zhang and his colleagues looked at how participants performed on these cognitive tests over the course of the study and categorized their performance as high or low trajectories, meaning their cognitive function remained high over time or began to decline.

Compared to nondrinkers, they found that those who had a drink or two a day tended to perform better on cognitive tests over time.

Even when other important factors known to impact cognition such as age, smoking or education level were controlled for, they saw a pattern of light drinking associated with high cognitive trajectories.

The optimal amount of drinks per week was between 10 and 14 drinks. But that doesn’t mean those who drink less should start indulging more, says Zhang.

“It is hard to say this effect is causal,” he said. “So, if some people don’t drink alcoholic beverages, this study does not encourage them to drink to prevent cognitive function decline.”

Another interesting finding was that white participants appeared to have more of a cognitive boost than African American participants. Zang said this finding is significant and prompts further exploration into the mechanisms of alcohol’s effect on cognition.

Source: University of Georgia

Teens May Be Kinder Than We Think Thu, 09 Jul 2020 12:00:48 +0000 A new Canadian study seeks to flip the script on the common stereotype that teens are likely to be mean-spirited.

The teen years can carry a negative reputation, often depicted in mainstream media, as perpetrators of bullying, cyber harassment or schoolyard battles, say the researchers.

The new study focused on counterbalancing the commonly-used “bullying literature” to raise the discussion of kindness. Through this, the researchers seek to disrupt the notion that bullying is common by showing how adolescents demonstrate kindness.

“There’s been a shift in schools in recent years to move away from anti-bullying initiatives to efforts that embrace and promote pro-social behaviour,” says Associate Professor John-Tyler Binfet, a researcher in the School of Education from the University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan. “There is an emphasis on kindness throughout school curriculum, but little is known about how youth actually enact kindness.”

For the study, Binfet and his research team surveyed 191 Grade 9 Okanagan Valley students to determine the extent they see themselves as kind in online and face-to-face interactions. The students were then asked to plan and carry out five acts of kindness for one week.

Overall, the students participated in 943 acts of kindness, with 94 percent of the teens completing three or more of their assigned acts. The kind acts ranged from helping with chores, being respectful, complimenting or encouraging others and giving away items like pencils or money for the vending machine.

“When encouraged to be kind, they surpassed expectations. It was interesting to see how adolescents support others with nuanced ways of helping that included helping generally, physically, emotionally and with household chores,” says Binfet.

“As educators and parents model kindness or provide examples of kindness, showcasing examples of subtle acts might make being kind easier for adolescents to accomplish.”

Most of the participants enacted kindness to people they know, most frequently to family members, friends and other students. As the bulk of the kind acts took place at the school, the findings show positive effects for school climate, student-to-student relationships and student behavior.

Following the one-week challenge, the students were interviewed once again to see how their perception of their own kindness had changed. The results revealed a significant increase in their self-ratings of face-to-face and online kindness.

“This has implications for school-based initiatives seeking to encourage kindness among students who may say, ‘but I’m already kind’,” says Binfet. “The findings suggest that by participating in a short kindness activity, students’ perceptions of themselves as kind may be boosted.”

For years, Binfet’s research has focused on counterbalancing the bullying literature to elevate the discussion of kindness. Through this latest study, his goal is to challenge the negative stereotypes of teens.

“I think adolescents can be misperceived, especially in schools. By understanding how they show kindness, parents, educators and researchers can gain insight as to how they actualize pro-social behaviour,” says Binfet. “We can find ways to best structure opportunities for youth to be kind to help foster their development.”

The study, titled “Kinder Than We Might Think: How Adolescents are Kind” is published in the Canadian Journal of School Psychology.

Source: University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus


Brain Imaging Shows Shared Patterns in Major Mental Disorders Thu, 09 Jul 2020 11:00:52 +0000 In a new analysis, a German research team looked at data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies and discovered that four different neuropsychiatric conditions — major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) — share brain structural abnormalities. They also found brain signatures that were unique to these individual conditions.

On the other hand, the researchers found that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) did not share brain structural signatures with any other disorders.

The findings are published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

“We found that 4 major psychiatric disorders — major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder — show a surprisingly high level of similarity in their brain structural abnormalities,” said co-first author Nils Opel, MD. from the University of Münster, Germany,

The shared brain areas showing structural abnormalities were mainly in cortical areas associated with cognitive processing, memory and self-awareness.

On the other hand, Opel added, “we were able to identify regional abnormalities with high specificity for certain disorders.” Interestingly, these distinct structural differences sometimes appeared in the same area for two disorders, but in opposite directions from the norm.

Interestingly, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder did not share brain structural signatures with any other disorders. This may be due to the fact that these disorders are considered developmental diseases with distinct underlying mechanisms separate from the other psychiatric conditions, which have more in common.

The researchers do not yet understand the mechanisms behind the shared structural elements, but a growing body of evidence reveals that these psychiatric disorders also share common genetic as well as environmental influences, which might underlie the current findings.

For the study, the research team analyzed data collected as part of the effort by an international research consortium called ENIGMA, for “Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta Analysis,” which uses genetic and imaging studies to understand brain diseases. The 11 multi-center studies collected brain-imaging data from more than 12,000 people.

“Our understanding arising from brain imaging studies of the biology of neuropsychiatric disorders is changing,” said John H. Krystal, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “Initially, we focused on the individual properties of particular patient groups. Then, some imaging studies suggested that neuropsychiatric disorders were dimensionally related. This new study affirms the dimensional relationship among some disorders, but suggests that some categorical distinctions may exist at the biological level.”

The current finding of regional abnormalities specific to individual conditions “could help shift the focus of future psychiatric and neuroscientific research on brain regions that appear to be central to disorder-specific biological processes and hence might facilitate the discovery of mechanisms underlying the development of specific psychiatric disorders,” said Opel.

Opel (together with Janik Goltermann, MSc) said of the work, “the identification of shared and disorder-specific brain structural signatures might enhance the future development of biologically informed diagnostic applications in psychiatry.”

The study was led by Bernhard T. Baune, MD, PhD, and Udo Dannlowski, MD, PhD, from the University of Münster in Germany.

The new article, titled “Cross-Disorder Analysis of Brain Structural Abnormalities in Six Major Psychiatric Disorders – A Secondary Analysis of Mega- and Meta-Analytical Findings from the ENIGMA Consortium,” appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier.

Source: Elsevier



Closer Threats May Trigger More Primitive Fear in the Brain Wed, 08 Jul 2020 12:00:26 +0000 If a perceived threat feels far away, people tend to engage the more problem-solving areas of the brain. But if the threat feels urgent and up-close, animal instincts take over, allowing very little logical reasoning to occur, according to a new virtual reality (VR) study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This type of primitive reaction makes it harder to extinguish the fear of a close-up threat and more likely that you’ll have some long-term stress from the experience.

Research has shown that traumatic events that touch the body, like rape and other physical assaults, are more strongly linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than are traumas viewed at some distance.

Now, thanks to a clever adaptation that has placed study participants in a 3D virtual reality environment while their brains were being scanned by an MRI machine, researchers have seen just how the circuitry of those brain responses differ.

“Clinically, people who develop PTSD are more likely to have experienced threats that invaded their personal space, assaults or rapes or witnessing a crime at a close distance. They’re the people that tend to develop this long-lasting threat memory,” said senior author Dr. Kevin LaBar, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

“We’ve never been able to study that in the lab because you have a fixed distance to the computer screen,” LaBar said.

But Duke graduate student Leonard Faul and postdoc Daniel Stjepanovic, Ph.D,  figured out a way to do it, using a 3D television, a mirror and some MRI-safe 3D glasses.

“It’s like an IMAX experience,” LaBar said. “The threatening characters popped out of the screen and would either invade your personal space as you’re navigating this virtual world, or they were farther away.”

For the study, 49 participants experienced a first-person VR simulation that had them moving down either a dark alley or a brighter, tree-lined street as they lay in the MRI tube having their brains scanned. Ambient sound and visual backgrounds were altered to provide some context for the threat versus safe memories.

On the first day of testing, volunteers received a mild shock when the “threat avatar” appeared, either two feet away or 10 feet away, but not when they saw the safe avatar at the same distances.

The findings show that near threats were more frightening and they engaged limbic and mid-brain “survival circuitry,” in a way that the farther threats did not.

The next day, participants faced the same scenarios again but only a few shocks were given initially to remind them of the threatening context. Once again, the subjects showed a greater behavioral response to near threats than to distant threats.

“On the second day, we got fear reinstatement, both near and far threats, but it was stronger for the near threat,” LaBar said.

Importantly, the nearby threats that engaged the survival circuits also proved harder to extinguish after they no longer produced shocks. The farther threats that engaged more higher-order thinking in the cortex were easier to extinguish. The near threats engaged the cerebellum, and the persistence of this signal predicted how much fear was reinstated the next day, LaBar said. “It’s the evolutionarily older cortex.”

Understanding the brain’s response to trauma at this level might point to new therapies for PTSD, LaBar said.

“We think that the cerebellum might be an interesting place to intervene,” he said. “Clinically, it’s a new interventional target. If you can somehow get rid of that persistent threat representation in the cerebellum, you might be less likely to reinstate (the fear) later on.”

Source: Duke University

Too Much Sun to Head, Heat Stress Said to Affect Cognition Wed, 08 Jul 2020 11:30:00 +0000 A new Danish-led study reveals the harmful cognitive effects of prolonged sunlight exposure to the head. The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggest that people working or engaging in daily activities outside should take precaution to protect their head against sunlight.

“The novelty of the study is that we provide evidence that direct exposure to sunlight — especially to the head — impairs motor and cognitive performance,” said professor Dr. Lars Nybo, the project coordinator from Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

“Adding to this, the decline in motor and cognitive performance was observed at 38.5 degrees Celsius (101 degrees Fahrenheit), which is a 1 degree lower body temperature than previous studies have shown, which is a substantial difference.”

Around half of the world’s population live in regions where heat stress is an issue that affects the ability to live healthy and productive lives. It is well known that working in hot conditions, and the associated hyperthermia (rise in body temperature), may reduce one’s ability to perform physically demanding manual work.

However, the effects on cognitively dominated functions, and specifically the influence from sunlight exposure on human brain temperature and function, have not been studied.

Previous research on this topic has been conducted primarily in the laboratory, without accounting for the marked effect that sun radiation may have — in particular, when the head is exposed for a prolonged period of time.

Many workers in agriculture, construction and transport are at risk from being affected by exposure to strong sunlight. Postdoc Dr. Jacob Piil and Nybo from the University of Copenhagen conducted this study in collaboration with colleagues from Thessaly University in Greece. They are convinced that the findings have implications not only for the workers’ health, but also for their work performance and safety.

“Health and performance impairments provoked by thermal stress are societal challenges intensifying with global warming and that is a prolonged problem we must try to mitigate,” says associate professor Andreas Flouris from FAME Laboratory in Greece.

“But we must also adapt solution to prevent the current negative effects when workers are exposed, and this study emphasize that it is of great importance that people working or undertaking daily activities outside should protect their head against sunlight.”

“The ability to maintain concentration and avoid attenuation of motor-cognitive performance is certainly of relevance for work and traffic safety as well as for minimizing the risks of making mistakes during other daily tasks.”

Overall, the findings suggest that science may have underestimated the true impact of heat stress, for example during a heat wave, as solar radiation has not been studied before. Future studies should incorporate sunlight, as this seems to have a selective effect on the head and the brain.

The study highlights the importance of including the effect of sunlight radiative heating of the head and neck in future scientific evaluations of environmental heat stress impacts, and specific protection of the head to minimize harmful effects.

The study involved eight healthy, active males (ages 27 to 41). The motor-cognitive test consisted of four different computer math and logical tasks that relied on fine motor precision. Four lamps were positioned to radiate either on the lower-body or on the head (back, sides and top, to avoid blinding the participants).

Source: Faculty of Science- University of Copenhagen