Psych Central News Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday. 2017-09-21T14:00:30Z Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Preschoolers’ Social Skills Can Make Up For Low Vocabulary]]> 2017-09-21T14:00:30Z 2017-09-21T12:45:51Z Preschoolers' Social Skills Can Make Up For Low VocabularyShy preschoolers with low vocabulary skills can still fit in quite well with their peers if they possess high-level social communication skills, according to a new study published in the […]]]> Preschoolers' Social Skills Can Make Up For Low Vocabulary

Shy preschoolers with low vocabulary skills can still fit in quite well with their peers if they possess high-level social communication skills, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

Some examples of social communication skills include non-verbal communication (e.g. ability to recognize when other people are upset), inappropriate initiation (e.g. talking repetitively about something that no one is interested in) and use of context (e.g. ability to adapt and communicate based on situation and audience).

Contrary to the existing theory that shy children with low vocabulary skills struggle with peer likability, the new study shows that as long as a shy child is equipped with high functioning social skills and is able to react well across different social situations, the child’s poor vocabulary skills become inconsequential. In other words, social communication skills appear to have a buffering effect.

The study was co-authored by Dr. Cheung Hoi Shan, an assistant professor of social sciences at Yale-NUS (National University of Singapore) College, and Dr. John Elliott, an associate professor from the department of psychology. The study involved 64 Singapore preschoolers between the ages of four and six.

“Presumably, having a good expressive vocabulary, and by extension a good command of language, makes it easier for children to engage and interact with peers,” said Cheung. “However, we have found that the presence of a good vocabulary in a shy child offered no additional buffering effect for peer likeability if the child did not possess high-functioning social communication skills.”

“Conversely, shy children with poor vocabulary skills were assumed to be less likeable, but high-functioning social communication skills serve as an effective buffer against the presumed language disadvantage. The more shy a child was, the more pronounced the effect of social communication skills.”

Traditionally, parents tend to focus on increasing a child’s vocabulary as the way to improve a child’s language and communication skills. However, it appears to be social communication skills, rather than a good vocabulary, that serves as a protective function for shy children, helping to increase their peer likability.

“Social communication skills such as making eye contact, ability to adapt and communicate in different situations can be taught deliberately, instead of leaving children to observe and pick up these skills on their own. Parents of shy children may want to consider developing such skills in their children so that they can learn how to better engage with their peers, helping them to develop meaningful relationships despite their shyness,” said Cheung.

The implications of the research are particularly relevant to families who live in Singapore’s multilingual environment as the study included local bilingual or trilingual preschoolers.

Elliott noted the impact of culture and the local context on the study. “It turns out that being a shy child in Singapore is not quite the negative thing it is often thought to be in places like the United States, which have strongly individualistic cultures,” he said.

“In Singapore, it may be considered quite appropriate, and need not diminish the child’s popularity among peers, if the child has good social communication skills.”

Source: Yale-NUS College

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Parental Arguments in Front of Kids Can Be OK if Constructive]]> 2017-09-21T13:50:48Z 2017-09-21T12:00:21Z Parental Arguments in Front of Kids: OK if ConstructiveFew parents want their children to hear them arguing. But new research suggests it may be OK as long as the parents handle disagreements in a constructive way. University of Arizona […]]]> Parental Arguments in Front of Kids: OK if Constructive

Few parents want their children to hear them arguing. But new research suggests it may be OK as long as the parents handle disagreements in a constructive way.

University of Arizona investigators looked at how parents manage conflict with each other, and the way in which this affects their parenting styles.

Olena Kopystynska, a graduate student in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and lead author on the paper, also investigated how emotionally secure children feel after being exposed to conflict between their parents.

Kopystynska’s study focuses on constructive versus destructive styles of conflict management.

In constructive conflict management, there is calmness and respect, despite a difference in opinion; the conflict stays focused on one topic; and progress is made toward a resolution. When conflict is handled destructively, there is anger and resentment, and the argument often strays off topic to things that may have happened in the past.

Kopystynska and her colleagues found that when even one parent handles conflict with a partner destructively, it can leave children feeling more emotionally insecure about their home life.

“Children are very good at picking up on little nuances of how parents interact with each other, so it really matters how parents express and manage their daily life challenges because that determines children’s confidence in the stability and safety of their family,” Kopystynska said.

“If parents are hostile toward each other, even children as young as three years old may be threatened that their family may be headed toward dissolution. They may not necessarily be able to express their insecurities verbally, but they can feel it.”

Kopystynska’s study is based on national data collected for the Building Strong Families Project, which targeted low-income families; a population that could be at high risk for conflict, given the many stressors associated with financial strife.

Parents in the study were mostly unmarried and had just conceived their first child at the start of data collection, which was done in three waves.

Kopystynska focused on the third wave of data, collected when the children in the study were three years old. Mothers and fathers were surveyed at that point about their perceptions of their conflict management behaviors with each other, and how their children react emotionally when they witness conflict between their parents.

While similar studies have relied only on data from mothers, the inclusion of fathers helps provide a more complete picture of what’s going on, Kopystynska said.

Kopystynska and her co-authors identified four different profiles of the couples surveyed:

  • couples in which both partners handled conflict constructively;
  • couples in which both partners handled conflict destructively;
  • couples in which the mother was more constructive and the father more destructive;
  • and couples in which the father was more constructive and the mother more destructive.

The researchers also looked at supportive and harsh parenting behaviors, as measured through direct observations of each parent separately interacting with his or her child.

Supportive behaviors might include making positive statements, being sensitive to the child’s needs, and engaging the child in cognitively stimulating ways. Harsh parenting might include forceful or intrusive behaviors or expressions of anger and dissatisfaction toward the child.

Researchers found that fathers’ parenting styles did not seem to be affected by how they managed conflict with their partners. In other words, fathers interacted with their children similarly in all profiles.

Yet, mothers in the profile in which fathers handled conflict constructively and mothers handled conflict destructively tended to be harsher with their children than mothers in the profile in which both parents handled conflict constructively.

As far as the impact on children’s emotional insecurity, researchers found that when one parent handled conflict destructively and the other constructively, children’s emotional insecurity was higher than what was reported for children whose parents both handled conflict constructively.

“What we found is that when parents are using constructive conflict management, the children feel less insecure about their family climate, and when at least one parent argues destructively, there are some levels of insecurity about the family relationships,” Kopystynska said.

Kopystynska points out that a common misconception is that most low-income families are at risk for dysfunctional behaviors — yet, very few couples in the study were entirely destructive in their conflict management styles.

In fact, only three percent of couples in the sample included two partners who handled conflict destructively, suggesting that most couples in the sample participated in healthy and positive conflict patterns.

“There is often a belief out there that if you are a low-income family, you probably have a lot of dysfunction, but over 50 percent of the couples we looked at were arguing constructively,” Kopystynska said.

“Considering all the stressors they’re dealing with, the majority of them still have a good, functional relationship, at least when it comes to conflict.”

The fact that the group in which both parents were arguing in destructive ways was so small might help explain one surprising finding of Kopystynska’s study — that emotional insecurity levels were lowest for children of these parents.

Also contributing to that finding could be the fact that those couples may have broken up and physically separated from each other by the time the data was collected, meaning that children may not have been as directly exposed to their parents’ interactions, Kopystynska said.

“Parents who were in the concordant destructive group were less likely to stay together, so they were probably not in the same home, so children were probably not exposed to that interparental conflict,” said Kopystynska, whose co-authors on the paper were University of Arizona faculty members Drs. Melissa Barnett and Melissa Curran, along with Dr. Katherine Paschall of the University of Texas at Austin.

In general, Kopystynska said, it’s important for parents to be aware of how they interact with each other, and remember that conflict shouldn’t necessarily be avoided but handled in a way that makes a child feel less threatened.

“Not all conflict is bad — it’s about how you manage it,” Kopystynska said.

“Given that children are going to encounter conflict out there in the real world, exposure to some conflict can be beneficial. However, it’s really how parents handle that conflict that sets the tone for how safe children feel, and may further promote similar conflict management behaviors for when children are confronted with conflict of their own.”

Source: University of Arizona

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Tensions With Mom & Sibs Can Impact Midlife Depression]]> 2017-09-21T13:39:37Z 2017-09-21T11:15:44Z Tensions With Mom & Sibs Can Impact Midlife DepressionA new study from Iowa State University finds that midlife tension with mothers and siblings, similar to that with spouses, is associated with symptoms of depression. The research, which appears […]]]> Tensions With Mom & Sibs Can Impact Midlife Depression

A new study from Iowa State University finds that midlife tension with mothers and siblings, similar to that with spouses, is associated with symptoms of depression.

The research, which appears in the journal Social Sciences, found all three relationships have a similar effect, and one is not stronger than another.

“Family scholars have focused a lot on the relationship we have with our spouse,” said Megan Gilligan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of human development and family studies. “There is this assumption that as you go through your life course, you leave these other relationships with your parents and siblings behind, but you don’t. You carry those with you.”

The relationship between mothers and daughters is even more significant. The research shows tension between mothers and adult children was a stronger predictor of depression for daughters than it was for sons.

However, gender did not make a difference in relationships with spouses and siblings. Gilligan says this makes sense based on her previous research.

“We know that mothers and daughters in adulthood have the closest relationships and also the most conflictual. These are really intense relationships,” she said. “Later in life, adult children start providing more care to their parents, and daughters in particular are often caregivers for their mothers.”

Midlife is often characterized as stable and uneventful, but in reality, it is a time of change and transition for many people, Gilligan said.

For example, adult children may be leaving the house and aging parents start requiring more care. Additionally, researchers know that midlife adults often react more strongly to family conflict than older adults do.

While there is a great deal of research on young families and family dynamics later in life, there is a gap at midlife, Gilligan said. Given the potential for greater conflict with mothers or siblings related to these midlife changes, it is important to understand the consequences of negative relationships on our psychological well-being.

“Midlife is a time when siblings are often coming back together as they prepare and navigate care for parents,” she said. “For that reason, it’s a pivotal time when these family relationships might be experiencing more tension, more strain, more discord.”

The researchers believe mental health professionals should take a holistic view and consider the whole family when providing care for an individual’s depressive symptoms.

For the study, investigators used data collected through the Within-Family Differences Study. Their analysis included 495 adult children within 254 families.

For a majority of families, multiple siblings participated in the study. Researchers measured depressive symptoms and tension among family members through survey questions. They controlled for race, gender, and education.

In the paper, Gilligan and her colleagues explained that they expected all three relationships would predict depressive symptoms, but the effect would vary depending on the quality of the relationship.

The fact that they found no significant difference between spouses, mothers, and siblings is important to note, especially for practitioners. Gilligan said instead of focusing solely on a romantic partner or spouse, marriage and family therapists should ask about other sources of family stress.

“These findings show that we are navigating other family relationships at the same time and we’re not experiencing them in isolation — we’re experiencing them simultaneously,” Gilligan said.

“The stress people are experiencing may be the result of a romantic partner or spouse. However, it could also be that they’re fighting with their siblings or they’re experiencing a lot of tension with their mother even though they are 50 years old.”

Source: Iowa State University

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Moods Can Be Contagious]]> 2017-09-21T13:33:04Z 2017-09-21T10:30:06Z Moods Can Be ContagiousNew research suggests that both good and bad moods can be “picked up” or transferred from friends, but depression cannot. In the study, U.K. investigators examined whether friends’ moods can […]]]> Moods Can Be Contagious

New research suggests that both good and bad moods can be “picked up” or transferred from friends, but depression cannot.

In the study, U.K. investigators examined whether friends’ moods can spread across friendship networks and affect other individuals.

To do this, University of Warwick researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health which incorporates the moods and friendship networks of US adolescents in schools.

Investigators believe their findings imply that mood does spread over friendship networks, as do various different symptoms of depression such as helplessness and loss of interest. However, they also found that the effect from lower or worse mood friends was not strong enough to push the other friends into depression.

Using mathematical modelling they found that having more friends who suffer worse moods is associated with a higher probability of an individual experiencing low moods and a decreased probability of improving. Conversely, they found the positive moods can spread among teens who had a more positive social circle.

Public health statistics researcher Rob Eyre, a Warwick doctoral student, led the study. Investigators looked for evidence for the individual components of mood (such as appetite, tiredness, and sleep) spreading through U.S. adolescent friendship networks; they then adjusted for confounding by modelling the transition probabilities of changing mood state over time.

“Evidence suggests mood may spread from person to person via a process known as social contagion,” Eyre said.

“Previous studies have found social support and befriending to be beneficial to mood disorders in adolescents while recent experiments suggest that an individual’s emotional state can be affected by exposure to the emotional expressions of social contacts.

“Clearly, a greater understanding of how changes in the mood of adolescents are affected by the mood of their friends would be beneficial in informing interventions tackling adolescent depression.”

The World Health Organization has estimated that depression affects 350 million people across the world, impacting on individual’s abilities to work and socialize and at worse leading to suicide.

Researchers believe the findings emphasize the need to also consider those who exhibit levels of depressive symptoms — just below those needed for a diagnosis of actual depression — when designing public health interventions.

The study also helps confirm that there is more to depression than simply low mood. At the individual level, these findings imply that following the evidence-based advice for improving mood, e.g. exercise, sleeping well, and managing stress, can help a teenager’s friends as well as themselves.

But for depression, friends do not put an individual at risk of illness so a recommended course of action would be to show them support.

The study conclusions link in to current policy discussions on the importance of sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms and could help inform interventions against depression in senior schools

Co-author Dr. Frances Griffiths of Warwick Medical School said, “The results found here can inform public health policy and the design of interventions against depression in adolescents. Sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms in adolescents is an issue of great current concern as they have been found to be very common, to cause a reduced quality of life and to lead to greater risk of depression later on in life than having no symptoms at all.

“Understanding that these components of mood can spread socially suggests that while the primary target of social interventions should be to increase friendships because of its benefits in reducing of the risk of depression, a secondary aim could be to reduce spreading of negative mood.”

The study is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Source: University of Warwick

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Fidgeting Helps Kids with ADHD Concentrate]]> 2017-09-20T14:34:55Z 2017-09-20T12:45:50Z Fidgeting Helps Kids with ADHD ConcentrateMany a parent has expressed frustration when they watch their child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder squirm and fidget in school and while doing their homework, yet appear laser-focused and motionless […]]]> Fidgeting Helps Kids with ADHD Concentrate

Many a parent has expressed frustration when they watch their child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder squirm and fidget in school and while doing their homework, yet appear laser-focused and motionless sitting in front of the TV.

New research should appease concerns as investigators discover lack of motivation or boredom with school isn’t to blame for the differing behavior.

Rather, symptoms of ADHD such as fidgeting, foot-tapping, and chair-swiveling are triggered by cognitively demanding tasks like school and homework. But movies and video games don’t typically require brain strain, so the excessive movement doesn’t manifest.

“When a parent or a teacher sees a child who can sit perfectly still in one condition and yet over here they’re all over the place, the first thing they say is, ‘Well, they could sit still if they wanted to,'” said Dr. Mark Rapport, director of the Children’s Learning Clinic at the University of Central Florida.

“But kids with ADHD only need to move when they are accessing their brain’s executive functions. That movement helps them maintain alertness.”

Scientists once thought that ADHD symptoms were always present. But previous research from Rapport, who has been studying ADHD for more than 36 years, has shown the fidgeting was most often present when children were using their brains’ executive functions, particularly “working memory.”

That’s the system we use for temporarily storing and managing information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension.

In the new study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Professor Rapport’s senior doctoral student Sarah Orban and research team tested 62 boys ages eight to 12. Of those, 32 had ADHD. Thirty did not have ADHD and acted as a control group.

During separate sessions, the children watched two short videos, each about 10 minutes long. One was a scene from “Star Wars Episode I — The Phantom Menace” in which a young Anakin Skywalker competes in a dramatic pod-race. The other was an instructional video featuring an instructor verbally and visually presenting multi-step solutions to addition, subtraction, and multiplication problems.

While watching, the participants were observed by a researcher, recorded and outfitted with wearable actigraphs that tracked their slightest movements. The children with ADHD were largely motionless while watching the Star Wars clip, but during the math video they swiveled in their chairs, frequently changed positions, and tapped their feet.

That may not seem surprising. After all, weren’t the children absorbed by the sci-fi movie and bored by the math lesson? Not so, Rapport said.

“That’s just using the outcome to explain the cause,” he said. “We have shown that what’s really going on is that it depends on the cognitive demands of the task.

“With the action movie, there’s no thinking involved — you’re just viewing it, using your senses. You don’t have to hold anything in your brain and analyze it. With the math video, they are using their working memory, and in that condition movement helps them to be more focused.”

Investigators believe the study findings are salient: Parents and teachers of children with ADHD should avoid labeling them as unmotivated slackers when they’re working on tasks that require working memory and cognitive processing. And, it’s OK and even desirable for kids to fidget and squirm as they work to learn tasks requiring higher level functions.

Source: University of Central Florida

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Surprise: Teens Growing Up More Slowly than in the Past]]> 2017-09-20T14:29:17Z 2017-09-20T12:00:14Z Surprise: Teens Are Growing Up More Slowly than in the PastFor many, life has always been about doing things better, quicker, and faster. While technology has fueled a business and consumer revolution, many people believe teenagers today also grow up […]]]> Surprise: Teens Are Growing Up More Slowly than in the Past

For many, life has always been about doing things better, quicker, and faster. While technology has fueled a business and consumer revolution, many people believe teenagers today also grow up faster than they used to. But is this a fact, or just a perception?

Indeed, some argue that today’s youth are growing up more slowly, perhaps due to overprotection by their parents. A new study explored this issue by examining how often teens in recent years (compared to teens in previous decades) engaged in adult activities such as drinking alcohol, working, driving, or having sex.

The study found that today’s adolescents are less likely than their predecessors to take part in activities typically undertaken by adults.

Researchers at San Diego State University and Bryn Mawr College, examined how often teenagers engaged in activities that adults do and that children don’t, including dating, working for pay, going out without parents, driving, and having sex. The study appears in the journal Child Development.

Investigators analyzed seven large surveys of 8.3 million 13- to 19-year-olds between 1976 and 2016. The surveys were nationally representative, reflecting the population of U.S. teens in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geographic region.

In the surveys, teens were asked how they used their time, including their engagement in one or more adult activities, allowing researchers to compare teens in the 2010s to teens in the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, and 1970s. The researchers also examined how changes in family size, life expectancy, education, and the economy may have influenced the speed at which teens take on adult activities.

“The developmental trajectory of adolescence has slowed, with teens growing up more slowly than they used to,” said Dr. Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the lead author on the study. “In terms of adult activities, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds once did.”

Investigators found that adolescents in the 2010s are less likely to work for pay, drive, date, drink alcohol, go out without their parents, and have sex than adolescents in previous decades.

The trend appeared across demographic groups (including gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, region of the country, and urban/rural location), suggesting a broad-based cultural shift.

The bottom line, the researchers concluded: Today’s teens are growing up more slowly than their counterparts from previous decades.

The trend toward engaging in fewer adult activities cannot be explained by time spent on homework or extracurricular activities, the researchers say, because time doing those activities decreased among eighth and tenth graders and was steady among twelfth graders and college students. The authors note that the decline may be linked to the time teens spend online, which increased markedly.

The context also mattered, with teens less likely to engage in adult activities during time periods in which milestones in life occurred later, including when people had longer life expectancies, women gave birth at later ages, and people completed education later.

Adult activities were also less common during time periods when families had fewer children and higher median income, and when fewer people died of communicable diseases.

“Our study suggests that teens today are taking longer to embrace both adult responsibilities (such as driving and working) and adult pleasures (such as sex and alcohol),” said Dr. Heejung Park, assistant professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College, who coauthored the study.

“These trends are neither good nor bad, but reflect the current U.S. cultural climate.”

Source: Society for Research in Child Development/EurekAlert

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Stress Over Sick Pet Can Lead to Mental Health Issues]]> 2017-09-20T14:25:00Z 2017-09-20T11:15:37Z Stress Over Sick Pet Can Lead to Mental Health IssuesCaregiver stress is a familiar concern when someone cares for an elderly loved one. New research finds that caregivers of pets with chronic and terminal diseases face similar mental and physical […]]]> Stress Over Sick Pet Can Lead to Mental Health Issues

Caregiver stress is a familiar concern when someone cares for an elderly loved one. New research finds that caregivers of pets with chronic and terminal diseases face similar mental and physical health challenges as do individuals caring for elderly loved ones.

Caregiver burden is linked to depression, anxiety, and poor quality of life. However, there are ways to prevent and treat it. In the new study, researchers queried caregivers of pets with chronic and terminal diseases to discover what these caregivers go through and how they handle the stress.

Until recently, very little scientific research has been published on this subject.

Mary Beth Spitznagel, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist and associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences in Kent State University’s College of Arts and Sciences, experienced emotional drain when caring for her adopted dog, Allo.

She realized she was subsidizing Allo’s quality of life with her own. It inspired her to study the topic further and publish the results of a collaborative study in the journal Veterinary Record.

The article was co-authored with veterinarians at Stow Kent Animal Hospital (Dr. Mark Carlson and Dr. Melanie Cox) and Metropolitan Animal Hospital (Dr. Dana Jacobson).

Carlson is Spitznagel’s trusted veterinarian who has treated her dogs for years, including Allo, who passed away a year ago after a difficult bout with both Cushing’s disease and transitional cell carcinoma in the bladder.

Spitznagel said that this is the first study that has ever examined pet caregiver burden and the pet owner’s psychological experience in the context of sick pet caregiving.

For the study, Spitznagel created an online questionnaire using previously validated measures from human caregiver burden research and put it out on social media with general posts and specific online pet disease support group posts. She received an overwhelming response from 600 pet owners.

“It turns out that the effects of caregiving for a sick pet — burden, stress, anxiety, depression, low quality of life — are in many ways similar to what we see in a person caring for a sick family member, for example, a parent with dementia,” Spitznagel said.

“In the case of this study, burden is at a high enough level that for some people, it could be causing symptoms of anxiety and, more likely, depression.”

Spitznagel created a science blog,, on this topic and is doing additional studies with a veterinary clinic clientele and pet disease support groups. She also has four additional papers in the pipeline.

“Something striking in this study participant group of pet caregivers is that a good number of people feel stressed out but don’t stop to think about why,” Spitznagel said.

Caregiver burden was not a new topic for Spitznagel. During her training as a clinical psychologist, she worked on a federally funded project examining family members providing care for people with dementia.

“It can be overwhelming for some — the burden of almost constant attention, sleepless nights, and weekly trips to the doctor,” Spitznagel said. “Difficulty managing that stress contributes to anxiety or depression for many. Over the years, I’ve worked with dementia caregivers who seek counseling for these issues, and I’ve heard similar comments from some of our pet caregivers.”

During her journey of caring for Allo, Spitznagel joined a social media support group for pet owners going through similar experiences. While it helped to share and cope with the stress, it also made her realize the bigger picture.

“There is a ton of research and support for those who care for humans, but virtually none for pet caregivers, even though 85 percent of pet caregivers consider their pets members of their families,” Spitznagel said. “I could see, as a group, we were coping. But, we were all hanging by a thread.”

“The strain on individuals caring for human patients is well-documented and taxes the caregiver both mentally and physically,” Carlson said.

“Since our pets have become family, the hypothesis is that those same struggles plague pet owners also. Compounding this is the fact our pets can’t tell us what’s wrong, which adds to the stress. The more difficulty the owner experiences, the harder it becomes to care for the pet and a vicious cycle ensues.”

Spitznagel said more work is needed to determine how to best help burdened pet caregivers, but the first step is to help people recognize that taking care of their pet is likely to take a personal toll on their own lives.

“They need to know that it is okay to feel stressed out by the situation,” she said. “Acknowledging the stress doesn’t mean they love their pet any less.

“I would also recommend that the pet caregiver takes stock of how much help they are getting from others in the household — are there other people who could pitch in and provide some respite for the primary pet caregiver?” Spitznagel continued.

“But if someone is experiencing significant symptoms of depression or anxiety, enough that it interferes with daily functioning, it may be a good idea to consult with a mental health professional.”

Source: Kent State

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Reward Sensitivity May Protect Against Sleep-Related Depression]]> 2017-09-20T14:19:06Z 2017-09-20T10:45:43Z Strong Activity in Brain's Reward Region May Protect Against Sleep-Related DepressionPoor sleep is a well-known risk factor and symptom of depression, but a new study at Duke University looks at why not everyone who struggles with sleep becomes depressed. The […]]]> Strong Activity in Brain's Reward Region May Protect Against Sleep-Related Depression

Poor sleep is a well-known risk factor and symptom of depression, but a new study at Duke University looks at why not everyone who struggles with sleep becomes depressed.

The findings show that people whose brains are more attuned to rewards may be protected from the negative mental health effects of poor sleep. In fact, study participants with poor quality sleep were less likely to have symptoms of depression if they exhibited greater activity in a reward-sensitive region of the brain.

“This helps us begin to understand why some people are more likely to experience depression when they have problems with sleep,” said Dr. Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. “This finding may one day help us identify individuals for whom sleep hygiene may be more effective or more important.”

The study focused on the ventral striatum (VS), a brain region which helps regulate behavior in response to external feedback. The VS helps reinforce behaviors that are rewarded, while reducing behaviors that are not.

In previous work, electrical stimulation of the VS has been found to lower symptoms of depression in patients who do not respond to other forms of treatment; and earlier studies by Hariri’s team show that individuals with higher reward-related VS activity are more resilient to stress.

“We’ve shown that reward-related VS activity may act as a buffer against the negative effects of stress on depressive symptoms,” said Dr. Reut Avinun, a postdoctoral researcher in Hariri’s group at Duke and the lead author of the study. “I was interested in examining whether the same moderating effect would also be seen if we look at sleep disturbances.”

For the study, the researchers examined the brain activity of 1,129 college students participating in the Duke Neurogenetics Study. Each student completed a series of questionnaires to measure sleep quality and depressive symptoms and underwent an fMRI scan while engaging in a task that activates the VS.

During the task, participants were shown the back of a computer-generated card and asked to guess whether the value of the card was greater than or less than five. After they guessed, they received feedback on whether they were correct or not. But the game was rigged, so that during different trials the students were either right 80 percent of the time or wrong 80 percent of the time.

To determine whether general feedback, or specifically reward-related feedback, buffers against depression, the researchers compared VS brain activity during tests when the participants were mostly right to those when they were mostly wrong but still received feedback.

They discovered that students who were less vulnerable to the negative effects of poor sleep showed significantly higher VS activity in response to positive feedback or reward compared to negative feedback.

“Rather than being more or less responsive to the consequences of any actions, we are able to more confidently say it is really the response to positive feedback, to doing something right, that seems to be part of this pattern,” Hariri said.

“It is almost like this reward system gives you a deeper reserve,” Hariri said. “Poor sleep is not good, but you may have other experiences during your life that are positive. And the more responsive you are to those positive experiences, the less vulnerable you may be to the depressive effects of poor sleep.”

The findings are published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: Duke University

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Study: OCD Not Linked to Higher IQ]]> 2017-09-19T15:14:37Z 2017-09-19T12:45:38Z New research undercuts a widely held opinion that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is associated with a higher intelligence quotient (IQ).

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Texas State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill performed what is believed to be first analysis of existing data on the link between IQ and OCD sufferers verses the general population.

The authors tracked the origins of the myth to the French philosopher, physician, and psychologist Pierre Janet in 1903, but it was Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, who popularized the hypothesis in 1909.

Study findings appear in the Neuropsychology Review.

“Although this myth was never studied empirically until now, it is still a widely held belief among mental-health professionals, OCD sufferers and the general public,” said Dr. Gideon Anholt, a senior lecturer in BGU’s Department of Psychology.

The investigators conducted a meta-analysis of all the available literature on IQ in OCD samples versus non-psychiatric controls (98 studies). They found that contrary to the prevailing myth, OCD is not associated with superior IQ, but with normative IQ that is slightly lower compared to control samples.

The authors suggested that the small reduction in IQ scores in OCD sufferers may be largely attributed to OCD-related slowness and not to intellectual ability.

The popular misconception about OCD has been further promoted by TV programs like “Monk,” which show an individual with OCD using his superior intelligence to solve challenging mysteries.

Yet, such beliefs about OCD may facilitate the misconception that there are advantages associated with the disorder, potentially decreasing one’s motivation to seek professional help.

“Future IQ assessments of individuals with OCD should focus on verbal and not performance IQ, a score heavily influenced by slowness,” the researchers say.

The research team also included Dr. Amitai Abromovich, Texas State University; Sagi Raveh-Gottfried, psychology department, BGU; Dr. Jonathan S. Abramowitz, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Naama Hamo, Ruppin Academic Center, Israel.

Source: American Associates Ben-Gurion University of the Negev/EurekAlert

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Most Parents Not Sure Schools Can Care For Students’ Mental Health]]> 2017-09-19T15:11:46Z 2017-09-19T12:00:10Z Most Parents Not Sure Schools Can Care For Students' Mental HealthA new national poll suggests parents are not confident that schools can appropriately care for students’ mental health problems or medical issues. The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on […]]]> Most Parents Not Sure Schools Can Care For Students' Mental Health

A new national poll suggests parents are not confident that schools can appropriately care for students’ mental health problems or medical issues.

The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan discovered that only 38 percent of parents are very confident in schools’ ability to assist a student suspected of having a mental health problem.

Most parents (77 percent) are sure schools would be able to provide first aid for minor issues, such as bleeding from a cut. But parents are less confident about a school’s ability to respond to more complex health situations, such as an asthma attack or mental health issues.

“Parents feel schools can handle basic first aid, but are less sure about urgent health situations such as an asthma attack, epileptic seizure, or serious allergic reaction,” said Sarah Clark, M.P.H, co-director of the poll.

“And they have the most uncertainty around whether schools can identify and assist a student with a mental health problem.”

“One of the challenges of addressing mental health is that there are so many facets,” Clark said. “At the elementary level, this might include prolonged sadness, anger management problems, or undiagnosed ADHD. For older students, it may be anxiety about college entrance tests, a problem with drug use, or suicidal thoughts.”

Parents at the middle/high school level noted that school counselors would be most likely to assist with mental health issues. However, varying levels of training, competing demands, and large student caseloads may make it especially difficult for counselors to identify students who are struggling.

“Parents may want to learn more about how their child’s school works to identify and support students struggling with mental health issues, and advocate for increased resources if needed,” she said.

For basic first aid and urgent health conditions, parents name the school nurse as the staff with primary responsibility. Roughly three in five parents believe a school nurse is onsite at their child’s school five days a week (61 percent of elementary parents, 57 percent of junior/senior high parents).

Parents who believe a school nurse is onsite five days a week report higher levels of confidence in the school’s ability to handle health and safety situations.

However, recent data from the National Association of School Nurses suggests that parents may be overestimating the amount of time a nurse spends at their child’s school. Fewer than half of U.S. schools have full-time nurses, with substantial variation by region, according to the data.

Budget constraints have forced many school districts to cut nurse staffing at school sites. Some districts are attempting to use telemedicine to fill the void in on-site care, promising improved access, yet parents are often not pleased with this solution.

A distinct trend is the reduction in constant availability of a school nurse — a situation that may be particularly chancy for students with health conditions that may require an immediate response at school such as administering a medication or knowing when to call an ambulance.

“Parents of children with special health needs should work directly with school personnel to understand the onsite availability of school nurses, and to ensure non-medical staff are prepared to handle urgent health-related situations that may arise during the school day,” she said.

Source: University of Michigan

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[People with Schizophrenia Deserve Better Health Care]]> 2017-09-19T15:07:36Z 2017-09-19T11:15:41Z People with Schizophrenia Deserve Better Health CareNew research discovers that individuals with schizophrenia are not benefiting from public health and health care interventions to the same degree as individuals without schizophrenia. In the study, Canadian researchers […]]]> People with Schizophrenia Deserve Better Health Care

New research discovers that individuals with schizophrenia are not benefiting from public health and health care interventions to the same degree as individuals without schizophrenia.

In the study, Canadian researchers found that people with schizophrenia have a mortality rate that is three times greater each year than those without schizophrenia, and die on average, eight years earlier than people without schizophrenia.

The research appears in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

“As health care providers, it is our responsibility to work together across our health care system to provide these patients with better, integrated physical and mental health care. By not doing so, there are dire, tragic consequences and shortened lives,” said Dr. Paul Kurdyak, a researcher at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

Researchers studied all deaths during the 20-year period between 1993 and 2012 in Ontario and examined the deaths annually. They identified all people with schizophrenia and categorized the deaths as occurring among those with and without schizophrenia.

The study showed that individuals with schizophrenia had higher rates of death for all causes including cardiovascular diseases and chronic medical conditions.

Cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack or stroke, is a leading cause of death in the general population. However, while the rest of Ontario has experienced a reduction in cardiovascular deaths, the study shows that individuals with schizophrenia are not experiencing the same reduction.

People with schizophrenia have many cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, smoking, and sedentary lifestyle, but are more burdened by these risk factors than those without schizophrenia.

Medications used to treat schizophrenia can cause weight gain and the development of diabetes.

“It seems that people with schizophrenia haven’t benefited from the advances that we have made for patients living with chronic physical illnesses in the general population,” says Dr. Kurdyak.

“A health care system that can address the mortality gap we have observed in this study would truly be a high performing health care system.”

The complex needs of individuals with schizophrenia and comorbid medical conditions create a tremendous challenge to providers and health care systems more broadly,” explains Kurdyak.

“Although there have been numerous calls to action to help individuals with severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, to manage chronic medical illnesses, and although the declining trends and narrowing absolute gap that we observed are positive developments, more effort is required to reduce the considerable disparity in both mortality and illness burden,” the study concludes.

“A gap in life expectancy of this size for any other group of patients might reasonably be expected to lead to correspondingly substantial public health action to redress the health inequality,” writes Dr. Philip Ward, University of New South Wales Sydney, Sydney, Australia, in a related commentary.

“However, this does not appear to be the case for people with schizophrenia.”

He suggests that strategies to reduce smoking, diet and exercise interventions to counteract weight gain experienced from drugs to control schizophrenia and managing chronic disease can help narrow the life expectancy gap.

Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health/EurekAlert

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Can Genes Be Blamed for Criminal Behavior?]]> 2017-09-19T14:52:02Z 2017-09-19T10:30:06Z Can Genes Be Blamed for Criminal Behavior?Using an offender’s genetic data in an attempt to explain or excuse violent or impulsive criminal behavior has become increasingly common in the courtroom. In a new review, however, researchers […]]]> Can Genes Be Blamed for Criminal Behavior?

Using an offender’s genetic data in an attempt to explain or excuse violent or impulsive criminal behavior has become increasingly common in the courtroom. In a new review, however, researchers have found that this strategy has not been very effective thus far in terms of convincing judges and juries that defendants should not be held accountable for their actions.

Although researchers have certainly established an association between gene variants and criminal behavior, the exact link is still unclear. And many people remain unconvinced that this factor alone is strong enough to excuse someone for poor behavior.

For example, the combination of low activity in the MAOA gene (found on the X chromosome) and a history of childhood maltreatment has been associated with a greater number of convictions for violent crime. Still, the link between the gene’s activity, environmental factors, and criminal behavior remains unknown.

In addition, using genetic data to excuse a criminal’s behavior can trigger contradictory feelings among jury members.

“A judge and jury may find defendants are less responsible because of a genetic factor,” said Paul Appelbaum, M.D., at Columbia University Medical Center, “but also feel that they are more likely to re-offend because they can’t control themselves due to the genetic effect.”

These two ideas end up canceling each other out, negating any effect this evidence would have had on the assignment of blame and punishment.

Furthermore, it is argued by many that genetic information alone is not enough to decrease responsibility for behavior. For instance, the law requires that defendants must show limited rationality (e.g., due to insanity) or have a reason for reduced behavioral control (e.g., mental disability or young age) for the courts to reduce responsibility or shorten a sentence.

“Ongoing use of behavioral genetic data in the criminal courts may depend on the success of future research elucidating the mechanisms of genetic effects on behavior and responsibility,” said Appelbaum, “as well as how these genetic explanations relate to legal standards for responsibility in the criminal arena. ”

“Until that evidence is forthcoming,” he said, “the use of behavioral genetic data in the criminal justice system is likely to diminish. For the time being, at least, not relying on genetic evidence in criminal courts may result in fairer outcomes at every level.”

Appelbaum led that study with Nicholas Scurich, Ph.D., at the University of Californa, Irvine. Their paper was recently published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

Source: Columbia University Medical Center

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Green Space at School Improves Child Health]]> 2017-09-18T15:48:55Z 2017-09-18T12:45:41Z Green Space at School Improves Child HealthEmerging research points to the benefits of a green environment to relieve stress and enhance physical fitness. A new concept gaining momentum in this realm is green schoolyards. A growing […]]]> Green Space at School Improves Child Health

Emerging research points to the benefits of a green environment to relieve stress and enhance physical fitness. A new concept gaining momentum in this realm is green schoolyards.

A growing body of evidence supports the claim that access to safe, natural areas improves health across a wide variety of areas, including heart health, mental health, weight management, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and stress among children.

A new study abstract, “Green Schoolyards Support Healthy Bodies, Minds and Communities,” presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, suggests green school yards can improve a child’s mental and physical health.

“Green schoolyards can include outdoor classrooms, native gardens, storm water capture, traditional play equipment, vegetable gardens, trails, trees, and more,” says Stephen Pont, M.D., MPH, FAAP, medical director, Dell Children’s Texas Center for the Prevention & Treatment of Childhood Obesity, University of Texas, Austin Dell Medical School.

“And outside of school time, these schoolyards can be open for the surrounding community to use, benefiting everyone.”

Green schoolyards offer an opportunity for children to experience a healthy outdoor environment as part of their daily lives. After school hours, they provide value to the entire community through improved health, higher rates of community and family engagement, and increased opportunities for active outdoor play and relaxation.

“Too many children have no access to quality school grounds. In many neighborhoods, the standard play space is a barren asphalt playground or a concrete slab surrounded by chain link fence — a completely unsuitable environment for children’s play,” says Richard Louv, Co-Founder of the Children & Nature Network.

For this study, researchers summarized the peer-reviewed scientific literature documenting green schoolyard benefits to academic outcomes, beneficial play, physical activity, and mental health.

To date, the research on the benefits of green schoolyards has enabled 5 cities to implement such projects in collaboration with the Children & Nature Network and the National League of Cities. These include Austin, Texas; Grand Rapids, Mich.; San Francisco, Calif.; Providence, R.I.; and Madison, Wis.

“So many physicians and health professionals choose to spend their free time in nature, but we often forget that nature can be a powerful health intervention for our patients, both for the prevention and improvement of many medical conditions,” says Dr. Pont.

“We should all be champions for kids and families getting more Vitamin N.”

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[After Listening to Music, Females Find Males More Attractive]]> 2017-09-18T15:46:35Z 2017-09-18T12:00:06Z After Listening to Music, Females Find Males More AttractiveIn a new study, Austrian researchers set out to investigate whether music has an impact on how attractive we find the opposite sex. The findings show that male faces appear […]]]> After Listening to Music, Females Find Males More Attractive

In a new study, Austrian researchers set out to investigate whether music has an impact on how attractive we find the opposite sex. The findings show that male faces appear more attractive to females who had just listened to music, particularly music that was highly stimulating and complex.

“Facial attractiveness is one of the most important physical characteristics that can influence the choice of a partner. We wanted to find out how music can alter the perception of this feature” says Helmut Leder from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Vienna.

Within the framework of his theory of evolution, Charles Darwin said that music developed through sexual selection. Specifically, the motor and cognitive abilities necessary for creating music serve as an indicator for good genes and thus increase the reproductive success.

This is similar to the singing of birds in the mating season. “There are currently few empirical findings that support Darwin’s theory on the origin of music. We wanted to use a new experimental paradigm to investigate the role of music in choosing a mating partner,” said Manuela Marin, the leader of the study and former associate of the Institute for Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods at the University of Vienna.

Since music, especially before the advent of modern technology, had always been experienced in the here and now, and mostly in a social context, it makes sense to assume that music could positively influence the visual perception of faces. So the research team set out to investigate the impact of musical exposure on the subjective evaluations of opposite-sex faces.

“There is some evidence in the psychological literature that so-called arousal transfer effects can occur if two stimuli are processed consecutively,” said Marin.

“The processing of the first stimulus produces internal arousal, i.e. increased physiological activity, which is then attributed to the second stimulus. This mostly unconscious mechanism can then influence our actions, in this case, the choice of a partner.”

In the experiment, heterosexual participants were exposed to instrumental musical excerpts that varied in their emotional content, followed by a photograph of a face from the opposite sex with a neutral facial expression. Participants rated the attractiveness of the face and were asked to rate whether they would date the person pictured. In the control condition only faces without music were presented.

There were three groups of participants: women in the fertile phase of their cycle, women in the non-fertile phase of their cycle, and men. All participants had similar relationship statuses, similar musical preferences and musical training, and were in similar moods before the experiment.

The findings showed that female participants rated the male faces as more attractive and were more willing to date the men pictured when they had been previously exposed to music. The fertility cycle did not have a large influence on the ratings. Overall, highly stimulating and complex music led to the greatest effect compared to the control condition. This effect was not found among male participants.

The researchers believe these results are promising and open up new possibilities to investigate the role of music in partner selection in connection with aspects of physical attractiveness. “Our goal is to replicate these results in a larger sample and to modify some aspects of the experiment,” says Bruno Gingras from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Innsbruck.

“For example, we would like to clarify whether musical abilities and creativity can compensate partially for deficiencies in terms of physical appearance and fitness.”

The study findings could have broad implications. “There is an increasing number of empirical findings showing that music has the power to influence human behavior with regard to partner selection,” said Marin.

“But how can Darwin’s theory be reconciled with other biological and social theories on the genesis of music? Music can promote social cohesion, and it also plays a role in the mother-child relationship. Until we understand these connections, there will be a long way to go.”

Source: University of Vienna

Rick Nauert PhD <![CDATA[Poor Sleep Can Hasten Kidney Disease]]> 2017-09-18T14:54:59Z 2017-09-18T11:15:27Z Poor Sleep Can Hasten Kidney DiseaseNew research suggests sleep is critical for people with chronic kidney disease as investigators discover poor sleep may actually speed the progression of the disease. In the study, investigators from […]]]> Poor Sleep Can Hasten Kidney Disease

New research suggests sleep is critical for people with chronic kidney disease as investigators discover poor sleep may actually speed the progression of the disease.

In the study, investigators from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, and Northwestern University, examined the association between sleep duration and quality, on progression of chronic kidney disease among 431 patients with chronic kidney disease.

Chronic kidney disease is characterized by gradual loss of kidney function over time, and may eventually lead to kidney failure. The kidney failure may result in the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant. Chronic kidney disease can be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure, and other disorders. Early detection and treatment can often keep chronic kidney disease from getting worse.

Poor sleep is known to be associated with worse cardiac function, higher levels of inflammation, insulin resistance, and poor hormonal regulation of the appetite. Previous studies have suggested that poor sleep is common among patients with chronic kidney disease, but few studies have looked at the effects of sleep on the progression of the disease.

For the study, forty-eight percent were women, and half of the participants also had diabetes, with a mean age of 60. Participants were asked to wear an accelerometer on their wrists for five to seven days. The devices measure motion and provide information on duration of sleep as well as periods of wakefulness.

Patients also kept a sleep journal where they logged hours slept. Participants were followed up for five years.

“We observed that sleep is seriously impaired in these patients with chronic kidney disease,” said Dr. Ana Ricardo, an associate professor of medicine at University of Illinois.

The average hours of sleep among the participants was 6.5 hours per night. On average, participants spent 21 percent of the time in bed in wakeful periods. Interrupted sleep, also known as “sleep fragmentation,” was associated with a slightly elevated risk of developing kidney failure.

Over the five-year follow-up, 70 participants developed kidney failure, and 48 participants died. Higher sleep fragmentation and shorter sleep duration were each associated with steeper declines in kidney function over time.

“Each hour less of sleep duration increases the risk for deterioration of kidney function over time,” Ricardo said. Additionally, self-reported daytime sleepiness was associated with an 11 percent increased risk of death from any cause.

“We hope to measure the effect of sleep apnea among patients with chronic kidney disease in follow up studies,” said Ricardo.

Her team did not assess for sleep apnea among participants of the current study, but Ricardo said many patients with chronic kidney disease are likely to have sleep apnea because they share similar risk factors, including obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

“If we find that sleep apnea is a main driver of poor sleep among patients with chronic kidney disease, then perhaps ensuring that it is treated can help improve overall outcomes,” she said.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Source: University of Illinois – Chicago