Psych Central News Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday. 2017-02-27T15:16:59Z Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[How High Blood Sugar is Linked to Alzheimer’s]]> 2017-02-27T15:16:59Z 2017-02-27T13:45:43Z How High Blood Sugar is Linked to Alzheimer'sDiabetes patients are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to healthy people, but the specific relationship between glucose and Alzheimer’s was not well understood until now. In a […]]]> How High Blood Sugar is Linked to Alzheimer's

Diabetes patients are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to healthy people, but the specific relationship between glucose and Alzheimer’s was not well understood until now.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Bath in the U.K., working with colleagues at the Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases at King’s College London, have shed light on the link between high blood sugar levels and Alzheimer’s disease by observing a reaction known as glycation, a damaging process in which glucose abnormally bonds to proteins.

“Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets,” said Dr. Omar Kassaar at the University of Bath.

By comparing the brain samples of people with Alzheimer’s to those without, the researchers discovered that in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the process of glycation damages an enzyme called MIF (macrophage migration inhibitory factor) which plays a role in immune response and insulin regulation.

MIF is involved in the response of brain cells called glia to the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers believe that inhibition and reduction of MIF activity caused by glycation could be the tipping point in Alzheimer’s disease progression. It appears that as Alzheimer’s progresses, glycation of these enzymes increases.

“Normally MIF would be part of the immune response to the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain, and we think that because sugar damage reduces some MIF functions and completely inhibits others that this could be a tipping point that allows Alzheimer’s to develop,” said Professor Jean van den Elsen of the University of Bath Department of Biology and Biochemistry.

Worldwide there are around 50 million people with Alzheimer’s disease, and this figure is predicted to rise to more than 125 million by 2050. The global social cost of the disease runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars since Alzheimer’s patients often require constant care.

“Knowing this will be vital to developing a chronology of how Alzheimer’s progresses and we hope will help us identify those at risk of Alzheimer’s and lead to new treatments or ways to prevent the disease,” said Dr. Rob Williams, also from the Department of Biology and Biochemistry.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: University of Bath

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[For Seniors, More Activity = Less Risk of Chronic Pain]]> 2017-02-27T10:05:02Z 2017-02-27T13:00:12Z For Seniors, More Activity = Less Risk of Chronic PainEmerging research provides evidence that high levels of physically activity in older age helps to block the perception of pain. Specifically, older adults with higher levels of physical activity have […]]]> For Seniors, More Activity = Less Risk of Chronic Pain

Emerging research provides evidence that high levels of physically activity in older age helps to block the perception of pain.

Specifically, older adults with higher levels of physical activity have pain modulation patterns that might help lower their risk of developing chronic pain.

In tests of pain processing by the central nervous system, physically active older adults have lower pain perception and are better able to block responses to painful stimuli, according to the new research by Kelly M. Naugle, Ph.D., and colleagues of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

“This study provides the first objective evidence suggesting that physical activity behavior is related to the functioning of the endogenous pain modulatory systems in older adults,” the researchers write.

The study appears in PAIN®, the official publication of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP).

Naugle and colleagues performed a series of experiments in 51 healthy adults, aged 60 to 77. All wore an activity monitor device for one week to measure their level of physical activity.

They then underwent two tests of pain modulation — functions affecting the way pain is interpreted and perceived by the central nervous system.

One test, called “temporal summation,” measured the production (facilitation) of pain responses to repeated pain stimuli. The other test, called “conditioned pain modulation,” assessed the reduction (inhibition) of pain responses to competing pain stimuli.

In both tests, pain modulation was significantly related to daily physical activity level.

Older adults with more frequent moderate-to-vigorous physical activity had lower pain scores on the temporal summation test–indicating less pain facilitation.

Those who did more light physical activity or had less sedentary time per day had lower pain scores on the conditioned pain modulation test — indicating better pain inhibition.

In other words, older adults who did more moderate to vigorous physical activity perceived less facilitation of pain, while those who did at least some activity were better able to block pain perceptions. These differences may be relevant to the “central sensitization” process believed to be responsible for the transition from acute to chronic pain.

Previous studies have shown that pain modulation processes are disrupted in patients with chronic pain syndromes — for example, arthritis, back pain, and fibromyalgia. Correspondingly, people with higher pain facilitation and lower pain inhibition are more likely to develop problems with chronic pain.

The results are consistent with studies in younger adults suggesting that higher levels of physical activity are related to “more efficient conditioned pain modulation.” Older adults are more likely to be physically inactive, which might make them more vulnerable to chronic pain.

“Our data suggest that low levels of sedentary behavior and greater light physical activity may be critical in maintaining effective endogenous pain inhibitory function in older adults,” Dr. Naugle and coauthors write.

Further studies will be needed to test the implications for physical activity programs to reduce and prevent pain in older adults.

For example, it might be possible to match the patient’s specific dysfunctional pain modulation pattern to the type of physical activity that can best improve their pain response patterns.

Source: Wolters Kluwer Health/EurekAlert

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Virtual Game Can Detect Mild Cognitive Impairment]]> 2017-02-27T10:02:50Z 2017-02-27T12:15:38Z Virtual Game Can Detect Mild Cognitive ImpairmentResearch clearly points to the advantage of early detection for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as early intervention can often delay or prevent development of the devastating […]]]> Virtual Game Can Detect Mild Cognitive Impairment

Research clearly points to the advantage of early detection for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as early intervention can often delay or prevent development of the devastating illness.

To this end, Greek researchers have created a new self-administered virtual game to enable older adults to determine if they have mild MCI, without the need for an examiner.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more-serious decline of dementia. MCI can involve problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes.

MCI patients are at a high risk for progressing to dementia however, early detection of MCI and suitable interventions can stabilize the patients’ condition and prevent further decline.

It has been shown that virtual reality game-based applications, and especially a virtual supermarket game, can detect MCI. Past studies have utilized user performance in such applications along with data from standardized neuropsychological tests in order to detect MCI.

The team that conducted this study was the first scientific team to achieve reliable MCI detection using a virtual reality game-based application on its own. In that previous study, administration of the virtual supermarket (VSM) exercise was conducted by an examiner.

The present study eliminated the need for an examiner by calculating the average performance of older adults using a special version of the application, at home on their own, for a period of one month. The application and protocol are called the VSM Remote Assessment Routine (VSM-RAR).

It is the first instance where a self-administered virtual reality application was used to detect MCI with a high degree of reliability.

The research team included scientists from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH), the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas/Information Technologies Institute (CERTH/ITI), the Greek Association of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (GAADRD) and the Network Aging Research (NAR) of the University of Heidelberg.

Results from the study appear in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. In the publication, the researchers report that the virtual supermarket remote assessment routine (VSM-RAR) application displayed a correct classification rate (CCR) of 91.8 percent.

This level of diagnostic accuracy is similar to the most accurate standardized neuropsychological tests, which are considered the gold standard for MCI detection.

Self-administered computerized cognitive training exercises/games are gaining popularity among older adults as an easy and enjoyable means of maintaining cognitive health. Such applications are especially popular among older adults who consider themselves healthy and are not inclined to visit specialized memory clinics for cognitive assessment.

If self-administered games and exercises could also detect cognitive disorders, initial cognitive screening could be conducted remotely.

Researchers believe the wide implementation of this method of remote screening would facilitate the detection of cognitive impairment at the MCI stage thus allowing for more efficient therapeutic interventions.

This preliminary study indicates that automated, remote MCI screening is feasible. This method could be utilized to screen the majority of the older adult population, as it dramatically lowers examination-related costs.

The social and economic benefits, especially caregiver and healthcare service burden, of the early detection of cognitive disorders could be enormous. At the same time, as older adults are becoming increasingly computer savvy, it is important to create software that meets their needs and allows them to remain healthy and active.

Source: IOS Press/EurekAlert

Photo: The VSM virtual environment (screenshot from the English version of the application). Credit: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Neighborhoods with Nature Tied to Better Mental Health]]> 2017-02-27T10:00:01Z 2017-02-27T11:30:00Z Neighborhoods with Nature Tied to Better Mental HealthA new study from the U.K. finds that living in a neighborhood with more birds, shrubs, and trees may help to reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress. Researchers […]]]> Neighborhoods with Nature Tied to Better Mental Health

A new study from the U.K. finds that living in a neighborhood with more birds, shrubs, and trees may help to reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Researchers studied hundreds of people and found that being able to see birds, shrubs, and trees around the home, whether people lived in urban or more leafy suburban neighborhoods.

University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology, and the University of Queensland study involved a survey of mental health in over 270 people from different ages, incomes, and ethnicities.

Researchers also found that those who spent less time out of doors than usual in the previous week were more likely to report they were anxious or depressed.

After conducting extensive surveys of the number of birds in the morning and afternoon of three communities, the study found that lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress were associated with the number of birds people could see in the afternoon.

Researchers studied afternoon bird numbers — which tend to be lower than birds generally seen in the morning — because are more in keeping with the number of birds that people are likely to see in their neighborhood on a daily basis.

In the study, common types of birds including blackbirds, robins, blue tits, and crows were seen. However, the study did not find a relationship between the species of birds and mental health, but rather the number of birds they could see from their windows, in the garden, or in their neighborhood.

Previous studies have found that the ability of most people to identify different species is low, suggesting that for most people it is interacting with birds, not just specific birds, that provides well-being.

University of Exeter research fellow Dr. Daniel Cox, who led the study, said, “This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being. Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live.”

The positive association between birds, shrubs, and trees and better mental health applied, even after controlling for variation in neighborhood deprivation, household income, age, and a wide range of other socio-demographic factors.

The current study expands an earlier which found that watching birds makes people feel relaxed and connected to nature.

Source: University of Exeter

Janice Wood <![CDATA[Living With Kids Means Less Sleep for Women, But Not Men]]> 2017-02-26T13:53:42Z 2017-02-26T21:00:59Z Living With Children Means Less Sleep for Women, But Not MenA new study confirms what many women already know: They are sleep deprived, especially if there are children in the house. Unlike men, a good night’s sleep for women is […]]]> Living With Children Means Less Sleep for Women, But Not Men

A new study confirms what many women already know: They are sleep deprived, especially if there are children in the house.

Unlike men, a good night’s sleep for women is affected by having children in the house, according to the study, which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 69th Annual Meeting in Boston, April 22 to 28, 2017.

“I think these findings may bolster those women who say they feel exhausted,” said study author Kelly Sullivan, Ph.D., of Southern University in Statesboro, Ga., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Our study found not only are they not sleeping long enough, they also report feeling tired throughout the day.”

For the study, researchers examined data from a nationwide telephone survey of 5,805 people. Participants were asked how long they slept, with seven to nine hours a day considered optimum and less than six hours considered insufficient. They were also asked how many days they felt tired in the past month.

Researchers looked at age, race, education, marital status, number of children in the household, income, body mass index, exercise, employment, and snoring as possible factors linked to sleep deprivation.

Among the 2,908 women aged 45 years and younger in the study, researchers found the only factor associated with getting enough sleep was having children in the house, with each child increasing the odds of insufficient sleep by nearly 50 percent.

For women under 45, 48 percent of women with children reported getting at least seven hours of sleep, compared to 62 percent of women without children, according to the study’s findings.

No other factors — including exercise, marital status, and education — were linked to how long younger women slept, the researchers noted.

The study also found that not only was living with children associated with how long younger women slept, but also how often they felt tired. Younger women with children reported feeling tired 14 days a month, on average, compared to 11 days for younger women without children in the household, the study discovered.

It also found that having children in the house was not linked to how long men slept.

“Getting enough sleep is a key component of overall health and can impact the heart, mind, and weight,” said Sullivan. “It’s important to learn what is keeping people from getting the rest they need so we can help them work toward better health.”

Source: The American Academy of Neurology

Janice Wood <![CDATA[Meditation Can Benefit ALS Patients]]> 2017-02-26T13:56:08Z 2017-02-26T13:15:32Z Meditation Benefits ALS PatientsAn eight-week mindfulness-based meditation program led to improved quality of life and psychological well-being in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to new research. In a randomized, open-label, and […]]]> Meditation Benefits ALS Patients

An eight-week mindfulness-based meditation program led to improved quality of life and psychological well-being in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to new research.

In a randomized, open-label, and controlled clinical trial that included 100 patients, participants who underwent meditation training scored higher on a questionnaire specifically developed to assess quality of life in people with ALS, according to researchers.

They also reported lower levels of anxiety and depression, the study found.

These results remained stable, when not further improved, over a 12-month follow-up.

“There has been very limited investigation on psychological interventions that can promote quality of life in people with ALS,” said Dr. Francesco Pagnini, lead author of the study. “I found that very strange, as we are not able to cure the disease, but we all agree that the promotion of quality of life is the current main goal in ALS cases.”

“This is the first controlled trial in this field, suggesting that a mindfulness-based intervention can be a very important tool to increase the well-being of people with ALS,” he added.

The study was published in the European Journal of Neurology.

Source: Wiley

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Ethics Often Drives Millennial ‘Job Hopping’]]> 2017-02-26T09:10:17Z 2017-02-26T12:30:43Z Ethics Often Drives Millennial 'Job Hopping'Many younger millennials get a hard time about their sensitivities on political and employment issues, including their tendency to job hop. A new study published in the journal Sustainability indeed finds that […]]]> Ethics Often Drives Millennial 'Job Hopping'

Many younger millennials get a hard time about their sensitivities on political and employment issues, including their tendency to job hop. A new study published in the journal Sustainability indeed finds that young workers often leave a job because of a disconnect between their own beliefs and the workplace culture.

“Fewer people of this generation are just looking for a paycheck,” said Jung Ha-Brookshire, Ph.D., an associate professor of textile and apparel management and associate dean of research and graduate studies in the University of Missouri (MU) College of Human Environmental Sciences.

“They have been raised with a sense of pro-social, pro-environment values, and they are looking to be engaged. If they find that a company doesn’t honor these values and contributions, many either will try to change the culture or find employment elsewhere.”

For the study, the researchers interviewed employees working in textile and apparel industries involved in corporate supply chains. They found that young workers expressed the most frustration when their employers publicly voiced a commitment to environmental sustainability but did not follow through substantively in areas such as:

  • materials selection, including the use of recycled materials;
  • proper management of pollutants, including chemicals and dyes;
  • working conditions in textile factories;
  • product packaging, distribution, and marketing to consumers.

“We were interested in workers’ values regarding sustainability and corporate sustainability practices and whether a gap existed,” said Rachel LoMonaco-Benzing, a doctoral student in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences. “Not only did we find a gap, but we also found that workers were much more likely to leave a job if they felt their values were not reflected in the workplace.”

To ensure a good fit with a potential employer, the researchers suggest that job seekers speak with current and former employees at various levels of the organization, asking questions about areas that are particularly important to them, such as sustainability, work-life balance policies, or community partnerships.

On the employer’s side, the researchers encourage businesses to understand that the new generation of workers have high ethical and social expectations. Being transparent with job candidates about corporate culture can help eliminate future frustration, they said.

Furthermore, allowing employees to have a say in cultural decisions through membership on committees and outreach efforts can help increase morale.

“I think this is another sign to the industry that business as usual is not going to work if you want to attract and retain these valuable workers,” Ha-Brookshire said.

Source: University of Missouri

Janice Wood <![CDATA[Rat Study Finds Sons of Fathers Who Use Cocaine at Risk for Learning Disabilities]]> 2017-02-25T16:21:17Z 2017-02-25T14:45:58Z Rat Study Finds Sons of Fathers Who Use Cocaine at Risk for Learning DisabilitiesFathers who use cocaine at the time of conceiving a child may be putting their sons at risk for learning disabilities and memory loss, according to a new animal study. […]]]> Rat Study Finds Sons of Fathers Who Use Cocaine at Risk for Learning Disabilities

Fathers who use cocaine at the time of conceiving a child may be putting their sons at risk for learning disabilities and memory loss, according to a new animal study.

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania say the findings reveal that drug abuse by fathers — separate from the well-established effects of cocaine use in mothers — may negatively impact cognitive development in their male offspring.

The study, led by Mathieu Wimmer, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher in the laboratory of R. Christopher Pierce, Ph.D., a professor of Neuroscience in Psychiatry, found evidence that the sons of fathers that ingested cocaine prior to conception struggle to make new memories.

Their findings demonstrated that the sons — but not the daughters — of male rats that consumed cocaine for an extended period of time could not remember the location of items in their surroundings and had impaired synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, a brain region critical for learning and spatial navigation in humans and rodents.

“These results suggest that the sons of male cocaine addicts may be at risk for learning deficits,” said Pierce.

Pierce and his research team propose that epigenetic mechanisms are at the root of the problem. Epigenetics refers to heritable traits that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence, as is the case with genetic inheritance.

DNA is tightly wound around proteins called histones, like thread around a spool, and chemical changes to histones influence the expression of genes, which is an epigenetic process, the researchers explained.

The new study shows that cocaine use in dads caused epigenetic changes in the brains of their sons, changing the expression of genes important for memory formation.

D-serine, a molecule essential for memory, was depleted in male rats whose fathers took cocaine, the researchers said. They noted that replenishing the levels of D-serine in the sons’ hippocampus improved learning in these animals.

In collaboration with Benjamin Garcia, Ph.D., presidential professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the Epigenetics Institute at the Perelman School of Medicine, the researchers showed that cocaine abuse in dads broadly altered the chemical marks on histones in the brain of their sons, even though the sons were never exposed to cocaine.

Chemical modifications on the histones were changed to favor active transcription of genes in the hippocampus of male rats with a paternal history of cocaine use, allowing more production of the enzyme D-amino acid oxidase, which degrades D-serine, according to the study’s findings.

The researchers postulate that increased expression of the enzyme, driven by changes in the epigenetic landscape, cause the memory problems in the sons of addicted rats.

“There is substantial interest in the development of D-serine and related compounds, which are well tolerated by humans, as drug therapies,” Pierce said. “The ability of D-serine to reverse the adverse effects of paternal cocaine taking on learning adds potential clinical relevance to our research.”

The study was published in Molecular Psychiatry.

Source: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Janice Wood <![CDATA[Instagram a Haven for Those with Depression]]> 2017-02-25T16:18:18Z 2017-02-25T14:00:44Z Instagram A Haven for Those With DepressionA new study shows that one way people suffering from depression find solace is in sharing their feelings and experiences on social media sites, especially Instagram. The new study, from […]]]> Instagram A Haven for Those With Depression

A new study shows that one way people suffering from depression find solace is in sharing their feelings and experiences on social media sites, especially Instagram.

The new study, from researchers at Drexel University, notes that some users view Instagram as a safe medium for sharing sensitive information about themselves and reaching out for help.

“Physical or mental health and body image concerns are stigmatized, rarely disclosed, and frequently elicit negative responses when shared with others,” according to the researchers. “We found that these disclosures, in addition to deep and detailed stories of one’s difficult experiences, attract positive social support on Instagram.”

The researchers, Andrea Forte, Ph.D., an associate professor, and Nazanin Andalibi, a doctoral candidate in Drexel’s College of Computing & Informatics, said they also observed this sort of self-disclosure and support-seeking behavior among Reddit users. One reason may be that the relative anonymity provided by “throwaway” accounts on the forum allowed users to make sensitive disclosures, ask for and receive help, the researchers noted.

Previous studies had suggested that people avoid sharing their struggles with depression, eating disorders, abuse, mental health challenges, and other sensitive issues, on social networks, such as Facebook — for much the same reason they’d tend to avoid talking about these things in person: Because of the stigma that’s attached to them.

The researchers say their study on Reddit broke new ground in understanding the use of social media in stigmatized and sensitive contexts.

It also pushed them to find how people were using other social media sites to reach out for support.

“At the same time we were studying interactions on Reddit, we were also looking at Instagram because it is one of the most heavily used social media sites and also allows pseudonymous users, in contrary to Facebook that enforces real-name policies,” Andalibi said. “And we wanted to see how people might behave differently on a more image-centric, rather than one that is driven solely by textual posts and comments.”

To investigate their theory, Forte and Andalibi examined the responses to a sample of 800 Instagram posts pulled from more than 95,000 photos tagged with “#depression” that were posted by 24,920 unique users over the course of a month.

The findings indicate that not only are people using Instagram to make sensitive disclosures, but they are also getting mostly positive support from the people who respond to the posts, and little in the way of negative or aggressive comments.

The researchers set out to understand the ways that Instagrammers use pictures, captions, and comments to signal this need to connect. Gathering posts with the “#depression” tag gave them a range of posts in which people were expressing their feelings, talking about their struggles and reaching out for support — both in words and pictures.

To explore the correlation between posts and the responses — comments and “likes” — they receive, Forte and Andalibi organized them into categories based on the type of disclosures in the text and captions, ranging from disclosures seeking some sort of social interaction to those expressing emotion.

They also developed a method for coding the content of images and categorized the types of messages they were expressing, such as concerns about looks, relationship problems, illness, suicidal thoughts, and pictures of food and beverage that were often used to talk about eating disorders.

After gaining an understanding of the general categories of posts that were tagged “#depression” Forte and Andalibi undertook a similar process to categorize the comments on the posts. Then, by using a statistical analysis method, they were able to discover what sorts of responses were most often elicited from particular types of posts.

According to the study, 41 percent of the posts that the researchers examined brought on comments expressing positive social support. They found that “those who value feedback, engage in support seeking, or disclose sensitive concerns, do receive significantly more feedback.”

For example, they noted that posts seeking support and engagement about eating disorders, self-appearance, and relationships are more likely to receive supportive comments — not just “likes” — than the same type of post that is not worded in a way that is seeking support or social engagement. These posts were also more likely to receive comments offering instrumental support, such as how and where to get help, the researchers noted.

“Those in distress or with stigmatized identities often need to express themselves and tell their stories, not only to potentially receive support or find similar others, but also to feel they are expressing themselves candidly, to make sense of their experiences, and to solidify their identities,” the researchers write in the study.

They noticed that the people who were willing to tell the story of their suffering — rather than just posting a picture or implying that they have a problem — seemed to get more supportive comments on their posts, messages like “I know how that feels,” “I have been there,” or “You are strong and beautiful.”

According to the research, people whose posts disclosed an illness received more than twice as many supportive comments as the ones who did not specifically note that they had an illness.

Forte and Andalibi note that psychologists sometimes use visual imagery to help their patients express feelings and experiences that are difficult to put into words. Confirming that images on Instagram can serve a similar function in online social interactions is an important discovery, they add. It means that there are specific corners of social media where people are turning to ask for help — and this is valuable information for professional caregivers who seek to help the suffering, they said.

“The social risks associated with negative disclosures are real, and if people expose themselves to such risk at particularly vulnerable moments, they likely expect some important benefits from doing so,” they said. “Finding social support is critical, and by sharing difficult experiences and emotions, people signal this need to others.”

Another observation the researchers made is that users who post about behaviors such as harming themselves or struggling with an eating disorder tend to receive comments that offer empathetic support and discourage the unhealthy behavior.

For instance, someone who posts about their self-harming behaviors is equally likely to be greeted with comments such as, “I know how it is, it helps to hurt myself too” or “Please don’t hurt yourself. You are strong and you can get through this.” These are surprising observations given the fact that these disclosures could make the users targets for bullying among other negative commentary, according to the researchers.

“Self-harm is a way of coping with extreme negative feelings and gaining control that many keep as a secret, and find isolating. It is possible that finding others who engage or used to engage in the same behavior may be comforting for some,” the researchers said. “Our findings suggest that both kinds of reactions to self-harm disclosures are significant, and shed light on the nuances of these expressions.”

Similarly, users who disclosed eating disorders received comments that discouraged the behavior, offered constructive support, and reinforced a positive self-image, for example, “Please don’t fast or look for any tips. You are beautiful the way you are.”

It is important to note that eating disorder-related disclosures did not receive a significant number of comments that supported the harmful behavior, the researchers pointed out.

“Our findings complicate the concerns and the popular narrative that such online disclosures might encourage eating disorders or are inherently problematic,” Andalibi said.

“Statistically speaking, our findings suggest that when people share content about eating disorders, they do not receive many comments supportive of pro-disease behavior. Is Instagram used as a pro-eating disorder or a pro-self-harm community? We do not know yet. With this study, we are the first to detail the nuances of interactions around these sensitive disclosures.

This is a necessary first step to understanding the impact of these interactions on Instagrammers. How posters perceive these comments, and how these comments and interactions influence their wellbeing and behavior is an important area for further research.”

Instagram recently rolled out a suicide prevention tool that allows users to alert operators when they think someone might be in serious trouble. The operators are able to provide help or connect users with the information they need to find it.

While this is a step in the right direction, it is only the first of many that need to be taken to truly reach these communities of users, Andalibi said.

“Social media platforms like Instagram that people have adopted to connect with ‘similar others’ to share their difficult experiences, and seek and provide support, should explore ways to facilitate safe and supportive connections,” Andalibi said. “Rather than diverting people away from these platforms, or making design decisions that would further stigmatize sensitive disclosures, they should work to foster these communities of support that are arising organically on their platform.”

For Forte and Andalibi, this research represents another step toward more fully understanding how social media is becoming interwoven into the ways people interact and express themselves, particularly in socially stigmatized or otherwise sensitive contexts. While in some ways, it is means for people turn away from external expression and communication with others, by better understanding how people use social networking sites, it can actually uncover very nuanced forms of communication that would not happen elsewhere, they said.

“It is very important to figure out what the needs of certain marginalized or stigmatized populations are, and how we could be more inclusive and considerate when we design social media,” Andalibi said. “The period of thinking online platforms are not ‘real-life’ has passed, and these spaces can have meaningful impact on people’s lives in many ways, so we need to focus on design that can foster support and reduce abuse.”

They suggest that future research could continue to look at the effects of the interactions that result from the sensitive disclosures to figure out if the help and support being offered is having an impact.

Andalibi presented the research at the Association for Computing Machinery’s International Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in February 2017.

Source: Drexel University

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Lack of Training Can Lead to Preschool Teacher Burnout]]> 2017-02-25T16:06:14Z 2017-02-25T13:15:36Z Lack of Training Can Lead to Preschool Teacher BurnoutThe annual turnover rate for preschool teachers in the United States is quite high — about 30 percent. Now, a new study reveals that lack of training may be a […]]]> Lack of Training Can Lead to Preschool Teacher Burnout

The annual turnover rate for preschool teachers in the United States is quite high — about 30 percent. Now, a new study reveals that lack of training may be a significant factor behind teacher burnout.

“We know from previous research that early educational programs can benefit future school achievement, job performance, and social behaviors,” said Laine Young-Walker, M.D., associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Missouri (MU) School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

“However, many early childhood educators are not formally trained, requiring them to learn on the job. Our study assessed teachers’ perceptions of the challenges they face and their commitment to educating the very young.”

For the study, the researchers surveyed 100 educators and child care providers from 13 early childhood programs in Boone County, Missouri. The survey included questions relating to job commitment, stress, and support.

Participants were chosen by invitation from facilities enrolled in the Early Childhood Positive Behavior Support program, a countywide initiative that assists early learning centers in establishing and maintaining effective learning environments.

“It is clear that these educators are devoted to their profession,” Young-Walker said. “Ninety-two percent agreed that they were committed to their work. However, the survey also provided insight into the challenges they experience.”

More than 75 percent of the teachers wanted more training opportunities. The majority of those surveyed felt that the training they received covered information they already knew.

More than one-third of the respondents agreed that students’ negative behaviors interfered with their work and resulted in high levels of stress. Seventeen percent frequently felt like leaving their jobs, and 15 percent already planned to do so.

“A follow-up analysis indicated that 38 percent of the early childhood teachers surveyed were at risk of burning out,” Young-Walker said. “Our analysis points to a combination of their high commitment to the children they care for, and a perception that they do not have the educational support they need to address challenging behaviors in the classroom.”

The new findings can be used to help address teacher needs and improve retention, say the researchers.

“Teachers of young children play a central role in the prevention of behavioral problems in schools, yet they often are the least prepared to do so,” Young-Walker said.

“High levels of challenging behavior in the classroom contribute to teacher stress and burnout. Without additional training specific to early education, these teachers will not have the necessary tools to help themselves or their students.”

Source: University of Missouri

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Self-Guided Imagery Can Enhance Well-Being in Healthy People]]> 2017-02-25T16:02:42Z 2017-02-25T12:30:04Z Self-Guided Imagery Can Enhance Well-Being in Healthy PeopleTherapists often use guided imagery techniques to help redirect the emotions and mental images of patients who have suffered from traumatic events, such as those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). […]]]> Self-Guided Imagery Can Enhance Well-Being in Healthy People

Therapists often use guided imagery techniques to help redirect the emotions and mental images of patients who have suffered from traumatic events, such as those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a new study, researchers wanted to find out whether these therapeutic imagery techniques could be used by healthy people to help optimize their emotional states and whether the techniques could be self-guided and developed at home without the help of a therapist.

“The close relationship between the human imagery system and our emotions can cause deep emotional perturbations,” said Dr. Svetla Velikova of Smartbrain in Norway. “Imagery techniques are often used in cognitive psychotherapy to help patients modify disturbing mental images and overcome negative emotions.”

Healthy people are also emotionally affected by the distinct images they recall from negative circumstances. Velikova explains that “if we visually remember an image from an unpleasant interaction with our boss, this can cause an increased level of anxiety about our work and demotivation.”

There is great interest in findings new ways to combat everyday negative emotional responses through imagery training. But she warned, “this is a challenging task and requires a flexible approach. Each day we face different problems and a therapist teaches us how to identify topics and strategies for imagery exercises.”

To find out whether people can train themselves to use imagery to optimize their emotional states, Velikova and co-researchers recruited 30 healthy volunteers to attend a two-day workshop in which they were taught a series of imagery techniques.

The volunteers learned how to cope with negative emotions from past events using imagery transformation, how to plan for future events and goals using positive imagery, and how to improve social interactions and enhance their emotional balance in daily life with similar imagery techniques. Then they spent the following 12 weeks training themselves at home for 15-20 minutes a day, before attending another similar two-day workshop.

The researchers compared the results of the participants’ psychological assessments and brain activity measurements using electroencephalographic (EEG), before and after the experiment.

“The psychological testing showed that depressive symptoms were less prominent. The number of those with subthreshold depression, expressing depressive symptoms but not meeting the criteria for depression, was halved. Overall, volunteers were more satisfied with life and perceived themselves as more efficient,” said Velikova.

Specifically, the EEG data showed significant changes in the beta activity in the right medial prefrontal cortex of the brain. Velikova notes that this region is known to be involved in imaging pleasant emotions and contributing to the degree of satisfaction with life.

The results also show changes in the functional connectivity of the brain, including increased connectivity between the temporal regions from both hemispheres, which Velikova attributes to enhanced coordination of networks linked to processing of images.

She concludes, “this combination of EEG findings also suggests a possible increase in the activity of GABA (gamma -aminobutyric acid), well known for its anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties.”

The findings suggest that self-guided emotional imagery training has great potential to improve the everyday emotional well-being of healthy people.

The researchers are now exploring how the approach affects the cognitive function of healthy people. With minimal professional intervention, this technique could be developed to be a cost-effective aid for those with subthreshold depression. It could also be promoted by businesses to help improve workforce morale and increase motivation and productivity.

Source: Frontiers

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Sleepy Teens 4.5 Times More Likely to Commit Crimes as Adults]]> 2017-02-24T14:38:58Z 2017-02-24T13:45:21Z Sleepy Teens 4.5 Times More Likely to Commit Crimes as AdultsTeenagers who feel sleepy in the middle of the day are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviors, such as lying, cheating, stealing, and fighting. Now, a new study shows […]]]> Sleepy Teens 4.5 Times More Likely to Commit Crimes as Adults

Teenagers who feel sleepy in the middle of the day are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviors, such as lying, cheating, stealing, and fighting. Now, a new study shows that those same teens are 4.5 times more likely to commit serious crimes as adults.

“It’s the first study to our knowledge to show that daytime sleepiness during teenage years are associated with criminal offending 14 years later,” said Adrian Raine, the Richard Perry University Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Perry and Peter Venables, an emeritus psychology professor at the University of York in England, published their findings in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Raine had gathered the data for this study 39 years earlier as part of his Ph.D. dissertation (studying under Venables) but had never analyzed it. Recently, he began noticing cross-sectional studies — those that evaluate several behaviors at a single point in time — connecting sleep and behavioral problems in children. He pulled out his old data to see if there is an association between sleep and criminal behavior in adulthood.

“A lot of the prior research focused on sleep problems, but in our study we measured, very simply, how drowsy the child is during the day,” said Raine.

Raine evaluated 101 teens (aged 15 years) from three secondary schools in northern England. At the start and end of each two-hour afternoon lab session (1:00 to 3:00 p.m.), he asked participants to rate their degree of sleepiness on a seven point scale, with one being “unusually alert” and seven being “sleepy.” He also measured brain-wave activity and sweat-rate responses to stimuli, which indicates the level of attention a person pays to a tone being played over headphones. This represents brain-attentional function, Raine said.

Next he gathered data about the teens’ anti-social behavior, both self-reported from the study participants, as well as from two or three teachers who had worked with each teen for at least four years.

“Both are helpful. There are kids who don’t really want to talk about their anti-social behavior, and that’s where the teacher reports really come in handy,” Raine said. “Actually, the teacher and child reports correlated quite well in this study, which is not usual. Often, what the teacher says, what the parent says, what the child says — it’s usually three different stories.”

Finally, Raine conducted a computerized search at the Central Criminal Records Office in London to determine if any of the original 101 participants had a criminal record at age 29. Raine excluded minor violations, focusing only on violent crimes and property offenses and only those crimes for which participants had been convicted. His findings revealed that 17 percent of the original participants had committed a crime by the age of 29.

With these data in hand, Raine also factored in the participants’ socioeconomic status. He found a connection.

“Is it the case that low social class and early social adversity results in daytime drowsiness, which results in inattention or brain dysfunction, which results 14 years later in crime? The answer’s yes,” he said. “Think of a flow diagram from A to B to C to D. Think of a chain. There is a significant link.”

“Daytime drowsiness is associated with poor attention. Take poor attention as a proxy for poor brain function. If you’ve got poor brain functioning, you’re more likely to be criminal.”

Of course, drowsiness in and of itself doesn’t always predispose a teenage boy to becoming antisocial, said the researchers. And many children with sleep problems do not become lawbreakers. But they did observe that teens with sleepiness and a greater frequency of antisocial behavior were more likely to commit crimes as adults.

These findings could potentially help with a simple treatment plan for children with behavioral issues: Get more sleep at night.

“That could make a difference not just for anti-social behavior at school with these teenage kids but more importantly, with later serious criminal behavior,” Raine said. “More sleep won’t solve crime, but it might make a bit of a dent.”

Source: University of Pennsylvania
Sleepy teenager photo by shutterstock.

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[New Study Suggests Not All Psychopaths are ‘Bad’]]> 2017-02-24T14:36:23Z 2017-02-24T13:00:56Z New Study Suggests Not All Psychopaths are ‘Bad’A provocative new German study suggests a certain form of psychopathy can lead to top professional performance, without harming others or the company. The term “psychopath” is typically not flattering: […]]]> New Study Suggests Not All Psychopaths are ‘Bad’

A provocative new German study suggests a certain form of psychopathy can lead to top professional performance, without harming others or the company.

The term “psychopath” is typically not flattering: such people are considered cold, manipulative, do not feel any remorse, and seek thrills without any fear — and all that at other’s expense.

A new study by psychologists at the University of Bonn continues to reshape this image. They claim that a certain form of psychopathy can lead to top professional performance, without harming others or the company.

Interestingly, many associate a psychopathic personality with Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the classic movie “Silence of the Lambs”. The movie is intriguing as it shows that although he is a cannibal, Lecter is brilliant and, in fact, has many desirable traits.

The new study explores the psychopathy paradox and has initially been published online. The print edition will be published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences in the near future.

Researchers discovered that people with this paradoxical personality often progress particularly far up the career ladder as they are willing to take risks, and are ruthless and charming at the same time.

However, they are reputed to be harmful to companies: this ranges from risky decisions, ignored instructions, and damage to employees through to drug and alcohol consumption.

Nevertheless, according to the results of the current study, a more precise distinction should be made. That is besides the dark side of psychopathy, researchers discovered a lighter side is often present.

The scientists invited employees from Germany to take part in the study by e-mail. The subjects performed a very wide range of jobs. As a first step, they were tested with regard to their personal factors, their level of education, and their level of psychopathy.

Next, two colleagues for each participant gave information about the work performance and social behavior of the study participants. A total of 161 of these employee-colleague relationships was investigated.

Researchers determined there is a toxic and a benign form of psychopathy.

“The toxic form of psychopathy is characterized by antisocial impulsiveness,” says Prof. Gerhard Blickle from the Department of Psychology. Such people cannot control themselves, they take what they like, act without thinking beforehand, and pass the blame to others.

“The potentially benign form of psychopathy is named fearless dominance,” adds co-author Nora Schütte.

“It can develop to be bad, but also to be very good.” People with these characteristics do not know fear, have pronounced self-confidence, good social skills, and are extremely resistant to stress.

Whether a person with fearless dominance can potentially become a top employee depends on an important factor according to the current study: education.

While people with fearless dominance and low education display behaviors that can harm the company, such “psychopaths” with high education are assessed by their colleagues in the workplace as outstandingly capable and in no way antisocial.

“These findings confirm the previously little-noted theory that, although psychopathy can often lead to antisocial behavior, it does not necessarily have to,” says Prof. Blickle.

People with high fearless dominance, above-average intelligence, and a successful educational career could also become selfless heroes in everyday life, such as crisis managers or emergency doctors.

The significance of educational level as an indicator of the successful socialization of people with fearless dominance was the focus of the current study. The study built upon prior research in which psychologists discovered that pronounced social skills make people with psychopathic traits helpful and cooperative colleagues.

Source: University of Bonn/EurekAlert
Photo: This is Gerhard Blickle from the Department of Psychology at University of Bonn. Credit: © Volker Lannert/Uni Bonn.

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Study Finds Most People Don’t Want to Know Future]]> 2017-02-25T04:36:56Z 2017-02-24T12:15:33Z If you were given the chance to take a look into your future, would you do it? If you’d rather not, you are in good company. New research shows that most people would rather not know what life has in store for them, even if they think those events could make them happy.

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Review.

In two nationally representative studies of more than 2,000 adults in Germany and Spain, researchers found that 85 to 90 percent of people would not want to know about upcoming negative events, and 40 to 70 percent preferred to remain ignorant of upcoming positive events.

In fact, only one percent of participants consistently wanted to know what the future held.

“The findings also show that people who do not want to know the future tend to be more risk averse and more likely to buy life and legal insurance compared to those who want to know the future. This suggests that those who choose to be ignorant anticipate regret,” said the study’s lead author Gerd Gigerenzer, Ph.D., of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development..

Length of time mattered as well; people were more likely to choose deliberate ignorance when the event was going to happen sooner. For example, older adults were less likely than younger adults to want to know when they or their partner would die, and the cause of death.

Participants were asked about a large range of potential events, both positive and negative. For instance, they were asked if they wanted to know who won a soccer game they had planned to watch later, what they were getting for Christmas, whether there is life after death and if their marriage would eventually end in divorce.

Finding out the sex of their unborn baby was the only circumstance in the survey where more people wanted to know than didn’t, with only 37 percent of participants saying they wouldn’t want to know.

“In Greek mythology, Cassandra, daughter of the king of Troy, had the power to foresee the future,” Gigerenzer said. “But, she was also cursed and no one believed her prophecies.

“In our study, we’ve found that people would rather decline the powers that made Cassandra famous, in an effort to forgo the suffering that knowing the future may cause, avoid regret and also maintain the enjoyment of suspense that pleasurable events provide.”

Although people living in Germany and Spain vary in several aspects, the pattern of choosing ignorance regarding the future was highly consistent across the two countries, according to the article, including its prevalence and predictability.

“Wanting to know appears to be the natural condition of humankind, and in no need of justification. People are not just invited but also often expected to participate in early detection for cancer screening or in regular health check-ups, to subject their unborn babies to dozens of prenatal genetic tests, or to use self-tracking health devices,” said Gigerenzer.

“Not wanting to know appears counterintuitive and may raise eyebrows, but deliberate ignorance, as we’ve shown here, doesn’t just exist — it is a widespread state of mind.”

Source: American Psychological Association


Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Cat Ownership Not Associated with Mental Health Issues]]> 2017-02-24T14:29:57Z 2017-02-24T12:15:18Z Cat Ownership Not Associated with Mental Health IssuesNew research has refuted suggestions that people who grew up with cats are at higher risk of mental illness. The original allegation between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms was tied […]]]> Cat Ownership Not Associated with Mental Health Issues

New research has refuted suggestions that people who grew up with cats are at higher risk of mental illness.

The original allegation between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms was tied to the fact that cats are the primary host of the common parasite Toxoplasma Gondii (T. Gondii), itself linked to mental health problems such as schizophrenia.

Now, a new study suggests that cat ownership in pregnancy and childhood does not play a role in developing psychotic symptoms during adolescence.

The study, published in Psychological Medicine, looked at nearly 5000 people born in 1991 or 1992 who were followed-up until the age of 18. The researchers had data on whether the household had cats while the mother was pregnant and when the children were growing up.

“The message for cat owners is clear: there is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children’s mental health,” says lead author Dr. Francesca Solmi (UCL Psychiatry).

“In our study, initial unadjusted analyses suggested a small link between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at age 13, but this turned out to be due to other factors.

Once we controlled for factors such as household over-crowding and socioeconomic status, the data showed that cats were not to blame. Previous studies reporting links between cat ownership and psychosis simply failed to adequately control for other possible explanations.”

The new study was significantly more reliable than previous research in this area since the team looked at families who were followed up regularly for almost 20 years.

This study design is much more reliable than the methods used in previous studies, which asked people with and without mental health problems to remember details about their childhood. Such accounts are more vulnerable to errors in recall which can lead to spurious findings.

Previous studies were also relatively small and had significant gaps in the data, whereas the new study looked at a large population and was able to account for missing data.

The new study was not able to measure T. Gondii exposure directly, but the results suggest that if the parasite does cause psychiatric problems then cat ownership does not significantly increase exposure.

“Our study suggests that cat ownership during pregnancy or in early childhood does not pose a direct risk for later psychotic symptoms,” explains senior author Dr James Kirkbride (UCL Psychiatry).

“However, there is good evidence that T. Gondii exposure during pregnancy can lead to serious birth defects and other health problems in children. As such, we recommend that pregnant women should continue to follow advice not to handle soiled cat litter in case it contains T. Gondii.”

Source: University College London