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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 1 hour 57 min ago

How Emotions May Impact Kids’ Snacking Habits

2 hours 31 min ago

A new study finds that young children tend to prefer sweets over other types of snacks when they are feeling more emotional. For example, the findings show that children aged four a half to nine years chose chocolate candy over goldfish crackers more frequently in response to both sadness and happiness — particularly sadness.

For the study, the children were divided into groups and shown either a happy, sad, or neutral clip from Disney’s The Lion King. When presented with four snacking options, sad children ate more chocolates than the happy children, who in turn ate more chocolates than the neutral group. The neutral group ate the most goldfish crackers, followed by the happy children and the sad children.

“It was nice to see that there was this hierarchy,” said study author Dr. Shayla C. Holub, head of the psychological sciences Ph.D. program at the University of Texas at Dallas (UT) and associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

“The kids watching the saddest video ate the most chocolate. There was a significant drop in consumption among the ones watching the happy video, but they still consumed more chocolate than the neutral video group. This suggests that children eat in response to both happy and sad emotions, but more for sadness.”

The findings also show that this behavior increases with age, which suggests that it is — at least in part — a socialized behavior.

“This is one of a very few experimental studies on emotional eating in young children. What we’re learning is that it’s sometime during the preschool period that children are developing these eating habits,” said Holub.

“For example, you go to birthday parties and experience positive emotions — everyone has fun and gets candy or cake. And at holidays, it’s all about the food. Children begin to associate food with certain feelings.”

Holub, the 2015 recipient of the Aage Møller Teaching Award at UT Dallas, explained that children begin with a strong ability to take in the right amount of calories for their energy needs.

“Very young kids are really good at regulating their food intake,” she said. “If you change the energy density of a baby’s formula content, the child adapts his or her food intake in response. If you give preschoolers a snack, they will adjust their meal intake to react appropriately so that they are not too hungry or too full. They know their own body cues.”

Holub adds that it’s during the preschool years that children begin to think less about what their body is telling them, and more about what their social environment is telling them. It’s during this time that rules such as eating all the food on the plate or prohibiting certain types of food are frequently introduced.

“If the portion that is on my plate is what I’m supposed to eat, I’m going to force myself to eat it,” she said. “Restrictive feeding practices also seem to be problematic — telling children they can’t have something makes it a preferred food, and when they gain access to it, they immediately eat more of it. That’s another way that children learn to stop listening to their internal cues.”

The new findings build on previous work by the same researchers showing that parents teach emotional eating behavior both by example and through their feeding practices.

“In 2015, we published one of the first studies to find that it’s not only that the behavior is being modeled for a child — seeing a parent turn to food when they’re sad, for example — but that it sometimes also might be that parents feed children in emotion-regulating ways,” Holub said. “Your child gets upset? Here’s a piece of candy. You’re bored? Here’s something to eat.”

So while this doesn’t mean that these habits can’t be changed later, ages three to five represents a crucial time in which some children lose their ability to self-regulate.

“If we can learn how to nurture healthy habits early on, that makes us less likely to have to eliminate negative behaviors later,” she said. “The idea is to set up healthy trajectories and communicate with our children about how to choose healthy options.”

The paper, titled “The effects of happiness and sadness on children’s snack consumption,” is published online in the journal Appetite.

It was co-authored with Dr. Cin Cin Tan, research faculty at University of Michigan’s Center for Human Growth and Development, who completed her doctoral dissertation on the topic with Holub at UT Dallas.

Source: University of Texas at Dallas

Additional Review of Ketamine as Fast Acting Antidepressant is Promising

3 hours 16 min ago

Ketamine, a drug widely used for anesthesia during surgery has received extensive analysis as a potential medication to treat severe depression. Two new studies suggest the medication could offer a new therapeutic approach as the drug can produce an antidepressant response in a few hours, rather than weeks.

Ketamine and related drugs may represent a “paradigm shift” in the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar depression — especially in patients who do not respond to other treatments, explains Carlos A. Zarate, Jr, M.D..

Zarate and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health report their findings in an article published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. Moreover, a second article in the same publication explores evidence on the mechanisms behind ketamine’s rapid antidepressant effects.

Investigation on the use of ketamine has taken a priority as current treatments for MDD and bipolar depression have major limitations. Many patients with severe depressive symptoms don’t respond to available antidepressant drugs. Even for those who do respond, it may take several weeks before symptoms improve.

Ketamine is one of several glutamatergic drugs affecting neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. Over the past decade, several studies have reported “rapid, robust, and relatively sustained antidepressant response” to ketamine, injected intravenously at low, subanesthetic doses.

Dr. Zarate and colleagues review the research on ketamine and other glutamatergic drugs for depression. Ketamine, by far the best-studied of these medications, is notable for its very rapid antidepressant effects.

The researchers discovered that for patients with treatment-resistant MDD, ketamine has produced initial reductions in depressive symptoms within two hours, with peak effects at 24 hours.

Ketamine may also rapidly reduce suicidal thoughts. Combined with other medications, ketamine has also produced rapid antidepressant effects in patients with treatment-resistant bipolar depression.

Prompted by these studies, some doctors are already using ketamine in patients with severe or treatment-resistant depression.

However, since it is FDA-approved only as an anesthetic, use of ketamine in depressive disorders is “off-label,” unregulated, and not standardized. As a result, many questions remain about its short- and long-term side effects and potential for abuse.

“Efforts are underway to bring ketamine to market, standardize its use, and determine its real-world effectiveness,” Dr. Zarate and coauthors write.

They also present evidence on several other glutamatergic drugs. One drug, esketamine, has been given “breakthrough therapy” status by the FDA for patients at imminent risk of suicide.

In the second study, Cristina Cusin, M.D. of Massachusetts General Hospital and colleagues reviewed neuroimaging studies evaluating ketamine’s effects in the brain. The studies show ketamine-induced changes in several brain areas involved in the development of depression.

The investigators discovered ketamine may exert its antidepressant effects by “acutely disabl[ing] the emotional resources required to perpetuate the symptoms of depression,” as well as by increasing emotional blunting and increasing activity in reward processing.

The expanding knowledge of how glutamatergic drugs affect depression point to an exciting conclusion: “that rapid antidepressant effects are indeed achievable in humans,” Dr. Zarate and coauthors write.

“This paradigm shift lends additional urgency to the development of novel treatments for MDD and bipolar depression, particularly for patient subgroups that do not respond to currently available therapies.”

Source: Wolters/Kluwer/Health/EurekAlert

New Technique Creates Images from Brain Activity of Perceptions

4 hours 1 min ago

Neuroscientists at the University of Toronto Scarborough have developed an imaging technique that can reconstruct images of what people perceive based on their brain activity gathered by EEG.

Specifically, the new method is able to digitally reconstruct images seen by test subjects based on electroencephalography (EEG) data.

“When we see something, our brain creates a mental percept, which is essentially a mental impression of that thing. We were able to capture this percept using EEG to get a direct illustration of what’s happening in the brain during this process,” says Dan Nemrodov, a postdoctoral fellow in Adrian Nestor’s lab.

For the study, test subjects hooked up to EEG equipment were shown images of faces. Their brain activity was recorded and then used to digitally recreate the image in the subject’s mind using a technique based on machine learning algorithms.

It’s not the first-time researchers have been able to reconstruct images based on visual stimuli using neuroimaging techniques as prior investigations have reconstructed facial images from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This new research, however, is the first to use EEG data.

While techniques like fMRI — which measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow — can grab finer details of what’s going on in specific areas of the brain, EEG has greater practical potential given that it’s more common, portable, and inexpensive by comparison.

EEG also has greater temporal resolution, meaning it can measure with detail how a percept develops in time right down to milliseconds, explains Nemrodov.

“fMRI captures activity at the time scale of seconds, but EEG captures activity at the millisecond scale. So we can see with very fine detail how the percept of a face develops in our brain using EEG,” he says. In fact, the researchers were able to estimate that it takes our brain about 170 milliseconds (0.17 seconds) to form a good representation of a face we see.

This study provides validation that EEG has potential for this type of image reconstruction notes Nemrodov, something many researchers doubted was possible given its apparent limitations. Using EEG data for image reconstruction has great theoretical and practical potential from a neurotechnological standpoint, especially since it’s relatively inexpensive and portable.

In terms of next steps, work is currently underway to test how image reconstruction based on EEG data could be done using memory and applied to a wider range of objects beyond faces. But it could eventually have wide-ranging clinical applications as well.

“It could provide a means of communication for people who are unable to verbally communicate. Not only could it produce a neural-based reconstruction of what a person is perceiving, but also of what they remember and imagine, of what they want to express,” says Assistant Professor Adrian Nestor.

“It could also have forensic uses for law enforcement in gathering eyewitness information on potential suspects rather than relying on verbal descriptions provided to a sketch artist.”

The research, which will be published in the journal eNeuro, was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and by a Connaught New Researcher Award.

“What’s really exciting is that we’re not reconstructing squares and triangles but actual images of a person’s face, and that involves a lot of fine-grained visual detail,” adds Nestor.

“The fact we can reconstruct what someone experiences visually based on their brain activity opens up a lot of possibilities. It unveils the subjective content of our mind and it provides a way to access, explore, and share the content of our perception, memory, and imagination.”

Source: University of Toronto

Preschool Education Fosters Healthy Eating Habits

4 hours 46 min ago

An often-overlooked epidemic in America is fact that one in four preschoolers are overweight or obese. Experts explain that poor nutrition in early childhood has enduring consequences to children’s cognitive functioning. Moreover, most believe early obesity increases the risk for physical health issues in adulthood.

Preschool, therefore, is a critical period for children to begin to make their own dietary decisions to develop life-long healthy eating habits. A new study finds that preschoolers who learned how to classify food as healthy or unhealthy were more likely to say they would choose healthy food as a snack.

The study appears in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

“Few studies have considered the active role preschoolers have as they develop an understanding of healthy living,” said lead author Jody S. Nicholson, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of North Florida.

“At this age they are not able to explain why they know something is healthy or how the body processes food, but they can identify that fruit, vegetables, and milk are good for them.”

Study participants were 235 preschoolers aged three to six years enrolled in six Head Start centers in a large southeastern US metropolitan area. All preschoolers were recruited from a larger study evaluating a nutrition curriculum, Healthy Habits for Life.

Researchers developed an assessment tool with 26 printed pictures of foods and drinks that are snack items preschoolers could be offered. The snack items were divided into 13 pairs and were differentiated as high contrast (e.g., carrots vs donuts) and low-contrast (e.g., crackers vs chips.)

During individual interviews, preschoolers were asked to identify the snacks pictured and which item in the pair they would select for a snack.

After analysis of the data, preschoolers’ ability to categorize food was predictive of hypothetical food choices. Easy food pair comparisons with high contrast showed a consistent pattern of more preschoolers being able to name the food than to classify it as healthy, and to be able to classify it than to say they would choose it as a snack.

Low-contrast pairs seemed to be outside preschoolers’ ability to differentiate. Novel food items such as kiwi and a granola bar were identified by less than 10 percent of preschoolers.

Older preschoolers could identify healthy foods, categorize food, and were more likely to report they would choose healthier foods for a snack. This finding is consistent with the cognitive skills that improve during preschool years.

“Preschoolers may not be able to detect small differences between food to classify them as healthy and unhealthy and the labels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food are not always accurate,” reported Dr. Nicholson.

“Using one-dimensional descriptive phrases, such as how often food should be consumed, would be more accurate and developmentally appropriate.”

This study extends current research on helping preschoolers with the complex task of categorizing food to make better choices. Children’s cognitive development should be considered in research and practice so that programs are created to match children’s abilities and developmental capacity.

Future research could further the understanding of the relationship between food knowledge, classification, and choices by examining mealtime choices and not just stated snack preferences.

Source: Elseveir

No Simple Answer to Impact of Smartphones on Teens

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 7:45am

New research suggests the impact of cell phones is dependent upon many variables, including the vulnerability of the teen.

Researchers attempted to answer the question of whether the next generation will be better or worse off because of smartphones? They discovered the answer is complex and often dependent on an adolescents’ life offline.

The research is discussed in a commentary appearing in a special edition of Nature that focuses on the science of adolescence. In the paper, Dr. Candice Odgers argues that smartphones should not be seen as universally bad.

Her piece highlights research on how teens use online tools to build up relationships and arrange activities in real life. However, she also examines evidence that vulnerable teens are experiencing greater negative effects of life online.

“What we’re seeing now may be the emergence of a new kind of digital divide, in which differences in online experiences are amplifying risks among already vulnerable adolescents,” writes Odgers. Odgers is a fellow in the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Child & Brain Development program, and professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

For the last 10 years, Odgers has been tracking adolescents’ mental health and their use of smartphones. In her survey of North Carolina schoolchildren, 48 percent of 11-year-olds said they owned a mobile phone.

Researchers said 85 percent of 14-year-olds said they owned a cellphone. However, despite digital technology’s widespread usage, Odgers noted that research has not found a negative association between mental well-being and “moderate” usage.

The negative impacts of technology show up when researchers take a closer look at demographics.

Teens from families with a household income of less than $35,000 per year spent three more hours a day on screen media watching TV and online videos than teens in families with an annual income of more than $100,000, according to a large-scale study in the U.S.

The increased screen time may also convert to more problems offline. Odgers’ survey results showed teens from low-income families reported more physical fights, face-to-face arguments, and trouble at school that spilled over from social media.

“In the past 25 years, income inequality and the opportunity gap between children from low-income families and their more affluent peers has been growing. They have increasingly less access to resources, and lower levels of adult investment,” says Odgers.

“It would be disastrous for many children to see this gap replicated in the online world.”

More research is needed to understand whether and how online experiences are worsening these inequalities, Odgers writes. She called for an interdisciplinary effort that brings together child and brain researchers with those working on human-computer interactions.

As a parent, Odgers understands the concerns mothers and fathers may have for their children online. She cautions that giving into fear could prevent researchers and policymakers from identifying the real determinants of mental health.

“Instead, we must use the data to understand the very different experiences that young people from diverse backgrounds are having online,” she writes.

Source: Canadian Institute for Advanced Research/EurekAlert

Amino Acid May Be Implicated in Depression

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 7:00am

A new Finnish study finds that people with major depressive disorder (MDD) may have reduced bioavailability of the amino acid arginine.

In the body, arginine turns into nitric oxide (NO), a powerful neurotransmitter and immune defense mediator that improves circulation and helps blood vessels relax. A person’s global arginine bioavailability ratio (GABR) is an indicator of the body’s arginine levels, and this ratio has previously been used to measure the body’s capacity to produce nitric oxide.

“It is possible that depression-induced inflammatory responses lead to reduced arginine levels. This may result in insufficient production of nitric oxide for the needs of the nervous system and circulation. However, we don’t know yet what exactly causes reduced arginine bioavailability in people with depression,” said  doctoral student Toni Ali-Sisto, lead author of the study.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospital, involved 99 adults diagnosed with  depressive disorder and 253 non-depressed controls.

Using participants’ fasting glucose levels, the researchers analyzed the concentrations of three amino acids: arginine, citrulline, and ornithine. This data was then used to calculate the participants’ GABRs.

The researchers also measured symmetric and asymmetric dimethylarginine concentrations, which also play a role in the production of nitric oxide. The results were then compared between the depressed and the non-depressed controls.

The study also looked at whether these concentrations changed in people with depression at an eight-month follow-up visit, and whether remission of depression had an effect on the concentrations.

“Although our study shows that people with depression have reduced arginine bioavailability, this doesn’t mean that taking an arginine supplement would protect against depression. That’s an area for further research,” Ali-Sisto says.

The findings show that participants with depression had weaker arginine bioavailability than the non-depressed controls. The study did not find significant differences in the symmetric and asymmetric dimethylarginine concentrations. The use of anti-depressants or anti-psychotics did not affect the concentrations, either.

In contrast to the researchers’ expectations, there were no clear differences in the arginine concentrations measured from people who had recovered from depression and people who remained depressed.

“Arginine bioavailability was slightly higher in people who had recovered from depression than in people who remained depressed. However, a more extensive set of data and a longer follow-up period are necessary for estimating arginine’s role in depression recovery.”

The study is published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Source: University of Eastern Finland

New Communication Strategies Help Alzheimer’s Couples

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 6:15am

A new first-of-its-kind study has found that caregiver-partner communication can improve among couples as they attempt to manage dementia, but it takes practice.

For these couples, the communication strategies they have used before simply do not work anymore. Impaired communication leads to misunderstandings, conflict, isolation, and loss of intimacy.

The new study involved a 10-week in-home intervention to support couples affected by dementia. Researchers discovered that by involving both partners in the intervention, using coaching and role-playing, communication did improve among both partners.

The study, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, demonstrates how creative ways of working with these couples can change their communication behaviors in just 10 weeks.

The approach, termed CARE (Caring About Relationships and Emotions) was designed to increase helpful communication in the caregiver and sociable communication in the care receiver.

The relationship-focused intervention also was designed to reduce disabling behavior (impairing engagement such as criticizing or quizzing their partner’s memory) in caregivers and unsociable behavior (such as not making eye contact) in care receivers.

Researchers were pleasantly surprised that care receivers actually improved more than the caregivers following the intervention.

Care receivers, who had moderate dementia, had statistically significant improvement in their social communication both verbally and non-verbally. They were more interested and engaged, maintained eye contact, responded to questions, stayed on topic, and even joked with and teased their partners.

Caregivers’ communication also showed a statistically significant improvement in their facilitative communication (promoting engagement) and a statistically significant decrease in their disabling communication.

“Caregivers are not experts in communicating with people with dementia. Sometimes they choose strategies they think are helpful, but may be ineffective.

“Also, they often give up communicating with their less verbal partners because benefits are not as obvious,” said Christine L. Williams, D.N.Sc., principal investigator of the study and a professor and director of the Ph.D. in Nursing Program in Florida Atlantic University College of Nursing.

“By teaching caregivers about their partners’ ongoing needs for closeness, comfort, inclusion, love, and respect, they can make a difference in how they perceive their spouses and how facilitative communication, both verbal and non-verbal, can contribute to their well-being.”

For the study, couples received a manual at the start of the intervention with 10 weekly modules on a wide variety of communication issues. Researchers met weekly with the care receiver and caregiver separately; followed by a meeting with the couple together. At the end of the couples’ session, they were asked to converse unobserved by the researchers for about 10 minutes on a topic of their choosing. That session was videotaped.

Researchers assessed caregivers’ learning needs, increased their communication self-awareness, knowledge about communication decline in dementia, common care receiver emotional reactions to lost abilities, and how to use communication strategies to maintain a caring relationship.

Role-play between the interventionist and the caregiver was incorporated when additional practice was needed to demonstrate a specific strategy. Caregivers were coached to identify their communication style and that of their partners.

Researchers also conversed each week with the care receivers to encourage their efforts to verbally express their thoughts, feelings, preferences and needs.

Williams used a rating scale to measure the outcomes of the intervention and analyzed and scored 118, 10-minute videos of each of the couples’ sessions. Measuring both caregiver and care receiver communication weekly over several weeks provided a more complete picture of changes over time.

“This intervention is important because there are no other programs specifically developed for couples where one has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia,” said Williams.

“While marital counseling is available, it’s very different when you have one partner who is losing their ability to communicate. We don’t teach families how to communicate with someone with dementia and it is desperately needed.”

The investigation is timely as more than 5.4 million American adults in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and more than 15 million family members care for them at home.

Moreover, a substantial number of caregivers, 40 percent, are spouses. Spouse caregivers have reported high burden and stress and require $9.7 billion in stress-related health care.

Source: Florida Atlantic University

Perceptions of God Impact Conservative and Liberal Attitudes

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 5:30am

New research suggests Republicans who believe that God is highly engaged with humanity are like Democrats — more liberal — when it comes to social and economic justice issues.

The Baylor University study proposes that some types of theology make conservatives more “compassionate,” while others make liberals “harsher.”

“Partisanship explains only so much. Images of God reveal deep moral perspectives that affect the ways in which Americans understand justice, so much so that they can blur the lines of partisan politics,” said researcher Robert Thomson, Ph.D. Thompson is a postdoctoral research fellow at Rice University.

The study appears in the journal Sociological Forum.

In previous research, Thomson and co-author Paul Froese, Ph.D., Baylor professor of sociology, found Republicans and Democrats who believe God is highly judgmental tend to agree about issues of retributive justice, such as capital punishment.

“Liberals with a ‘strict father’ image of God are more inclined to support harsher criminal punishments and military solutions to foreign conflicts because they adhere to a theology of retribution and just deserts,” Froese said.

“It appears that Americans who see God as wrathful are quicker to support policies which seek an eye-for-an-eye outcome.”

In the new study, Froese and Thomson found that Republicans who view God as actively involved in the world tend to support more generous welfare policies, in opposition to their party’s platform.

“Conservatives who feel close to God tend to go to church more, volunteer more, but also more likely to want help from the government to take care of the poor,” Froese said. “Republicans with a distant God tend be less compassionate.”

Froese and Thomson used data from the 2007 wave of the Baylor Religion Survey, a national cross-sectional survey developed by Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion and administered by the Gallup Organization.

The sample size was 1,588 respondents, excluding atheists because they did not have an image of God to compare with those of other respondents. The group’s makeup included 41 percent Republicans, 37 percent Democrats and 22 percent Independent.

Respondents were asked:

  • Whether the federal government should (1) distribute wealth more evenly and (2)improve the standard of living for ethnic minorities, with responses on each ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” as well as “undecided.” The research found that 50.3 percent affirmed distribution of wealth, while 49.6 affirmed standard of living for ethnic minorities.
  • How important it is to (1) actively seek social and economic justice and (2) take care of the sick and needy if one wishes to be a good person, selecting from answers ranging from “not important” to “very important.” Results showed that 39.1 percent affirmed “seek justice,” while 62 percent affirmed care for the sick and needy.
  • What traits God possesses, with the options being options being distant, ever present, removed from the world, concerned with the world’s well-being, concerned with personal well-being, directly involved in worldly affairs and differently involved in personal affairs.

Additionally, respondents were asked to respond to how religious they were on a four-point scale; and how frequently they attended religious services, with answers ranging from zero (“Never”) to eight (“Several times a week”).

Researchers noted that typically, Republicans are consistently and distinctly more conservative on both issues of social justice and retributive justice than Democrats.

Put simply, conservatism predicts negative views towards social justice, specifically (1) distributing wealth more evenly, (2) improving the standard of living for ethnic minorities, (3) seeking social and economic justice, and (4) taking care of the sick and needy.

Conservatism also predicts positive attitudes towards retributive justice, specifically:

  1. keeping the death penalty,
  2. expanding authority to fight terrorism,
  3. punishing criminals more harshly, and
  4. affirming the importance of serving in the military.

While the GOP opposes efforts to distribute wealth more evenly through taxation and welfare programs, some Republicans feel a personal obligation to assist in nongovernmental ways, researchers said.

Because Republicans are more likely to be active Christians than Democrats when it comes to affiliating with a church, they are more likely to donate time and money to charity than more secular Americans.

“Republicans with a deeply engaged God are consistently liberal on issues of social justice,” Froese said.

“And Democrats with a highly judgmental God are consistently conservative on issues of retributive justice.”

Source: Baylor University

Bolstering Self-Concept in Young Mental Health Patients May Aid in Treatment

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 7:45am

New research suggests an important part of treatment for young mental health patients — especially those in a hospital setting — is improving how they perceive themselves, according to a study from the University of Waterloo.

Researchers found that youth with psychiatric disorders receiving inpatient services reported lower self-concept — particularly global self-worth — compared to those receiving outpatient services.

“This was the first study that examined youth with psychiatric disorders by comparing what type of service they were receiving and whether that was associated with self-concept,” said Dr. Mark Ferro, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Waterloo.

“We know that global self-worth is lower in the inpatient group and we know from other research that lower self-concept is a precursor to other more serious mental health problems.”

The study, which appears in the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, examined 47 youth aged eight to 17 years who were receiving inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services at McMaster’s Children Hospital in Hamilton.

The participants’ self-concept was measured using the Self-Perception Profile for Children and Adolescents.

Although the terms self-concept and self-esteem are often used interchangeably, they represent different but related constructs, according to researchers. Self-concept refers to someone’s perceptions of competence or adequacy; self-esteem refers to one’s overall evaluation of him- or herself, including feelings of general happiness and satisfaction.

As a result of the findings in this study, researchers believe self-concept might be an important aspect to consider when implementing treatment programs to improve the mental health of youth who are hospitalized.

“Because youths who are in the inpatient service have a lower self-concept, therapies within their overall treatment program aiming to improve self-worth might be worthwhile,” Ferro said.

“Interventions to improve an individual’s self-concept or self-perception would be complementary to some of the more pressing needs within child and youth inpatient psychiatric services.”

Source: University of Waterloo/EurekAlert

Both Older and Younger Siblings Impact Each Other’s Empathy Levels

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 7:00am

A new multi-university study finds that both older and younger siblings, even toddlers, can have a significant influence on the other’s capacity for empathy.

The study, published in the journal Child Development, was conducted by researchers at the University of Calgary, Universite Laval in Quebec City, Tel Aviv University, and the University of Toronto.

Like parents, older brothers and sisters act as role models and teachers, helping their younger siblings learn about the world. Children whose older siblings are kind, warm, and supportive, for example, tend to be more empathetic than children whose siblings lack these traits.

In the new longitudinal study, researchers wanted to know whether very young children can also contribute to their older sibling’s capacity for empathy in early childhood, when empathetic tendencies begin to develop.

“Our findings emphasize the importance of considering how all members of the family, not just parents and older siblings, contribute to children’s development,” said Dr. Sheri Madigan, Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Calgary, who co-authored the study.

“The influence of younger siblings has been found during adolescence, but our study indicates that this process may begin much earlier than previously thought.”

For the study, the researchers observed an ethnically diverse group of 452 Canadian sibling pairs and their mothers who were part of the Kids, Families, and Places project and from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

The researchers wanted to see whether levels of empathy in 18- and 48-month-old siblings at the start of the study predicted changes in the other siblings’ empathy 18 months later.

Each of the mothers completed a questionnaire and the researchers videotaped the family interactions. Children’s empathy was measured by observing each sibling’s behavioral and facial responses to an adult researcher who pretended to be distressed (e.g., after breaking a cherished object) and hurt (e.g., after hitting her knee and catching her finger in a briefcase).

“Although it’s assumed that older siblings and parents are the primary socializing influences on younger siblings’ development (but not vice versa), we found that both younger and older siblings positively contributed to each other’s empathy over time,” said Dr. Marc Jambon, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, who was at the University of Calgary when he led the study.

“These findings stayed the same, even after taking into consideration each child’s earlier levels of empathy and factors that siblings in a family share — such as parenting practices or the family’s socioeconomic status — that could explain similarities between them.”

The study also looked at whether siblings’ development of empathy differed as a result of age and gender differences between siblings (e.g., younger brother/older sister versus younger brother/older brother).

“The effects stayed the same for all children in the study with one exception: Younger brothers didn’t contribute to significant changes in older sisters’ empathy,” Jambon noted.

The impact of older brothers and sisters was also stronger in families in which the age difference between the siblings was greater, suggesting they were more effective teachers and role models.

The researchers say that the next step is to determine if and how empathic tendencies can be cultivated in young children, and whether teaching one sibling, either older or younger, can in turn affect the empathy of the other sibling. Such work would also help answer the bigger question of how family interventions aimed can benefit from focusing on sibling relationships.

Source: Society for Research in Child Development

Social Media May Not Harm Teens’ Academic Performance

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 6:15am

Despite widespread concern among parents and educators, using social media may not adversely impact teens’ academic performance, according to a new study in Educational Psychology Review.

“Concerns regarding the allegedly disastrous consequences of social networking sites on school performance are unfounded,” said Professor Markus Appel, a psychologist who holds the Chair of Media Communication at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany.

Appel, doctoral student Caroline Marker, and Dr. Timo Gnambs from the University of Bamberg investigated how the social media use of adolescents correlates with their school grades.

“There are several contradictory single studies on this subject and this has made it difficult previously to properly assess all results,” Marker said. Some studies report negative impacts of Snapchat & Co., others describe a positive influence or do not find any relationship at all.

The researchers conducted meta-analyses from relevant databases of scientific publications, identifying 59 studies that tackled the correlation between social media use and academic performance. They then analyzed the combined results of the studies, which accounted for almost 30,000 young people worldwide.

The authors found:

  • pupils who use social media intensively to communicate about school-related topics tend to have slightly better grades — the scientists had expected this;
  • pupils who use Instagram and the like a lot while studying or doing their homework tend to perform slightly worse than other students — this form of multi-tasking thus seems to be rather distracting;
  • students who log into social networking sites very frequently, regularly post messages and photos and spend a lot of time there have slightly lower grades — this negative effect is, however, very small;
  • pupils who are particularly active on social media do not spend less time studying, so there is no scientifically verified proof of social media stealing valuable time for schoolwork from pupils.

Still, the investigation is far from over as critical questions remain. Does the intensive use of social media cause slightly poorer performance at school? Or do worse performing students tend to lose themselves in Facebook or other platforms?

“We cannot answer these questions. Both directions of cause and effect are possible, but they are not very pronounced,” Appel said.

Given the current state of research, then, using social media does not seem to have a significant adverse impact on school grades.

“Nevertheless, parents should take an interest in what their kids are doing on social media, know the social networks and be willing to understand the usage patterns,” said Appel.

“The more open-minded parents are with respect to their children’s online activities, the better they will be able to communicate with them.”

Source: University of Wuerzburg

The Good News and Bad News: You’re Out of A Job

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 5:30am

“When you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.” This can prove especially true in business, where bottoming out as a result of job loss can be necessary before finding the radical solution that will lead to a new work identity, said University of Notre Dame researcher Dean Shepherd, Ph.D., lead author of a new study on job loss.

Shepherd, the Siegfried Professor of Entrepreneurship in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, and Trenton Williams of Indiana University performed the study.

“On the way down, we frantically do all sorts of things to try and repair the situation, and suffer as they fail,” Shepherd says.

“Bottoming out frees us from the misconception that the problems can be fixed, and in the process, frees us from other constraints and negative emotions and provides the conditions necessary to find a viable solution.”

The researchers found that individuals who eventually hit rock bottom come to realize their identity has been lost, and that realization can lead to one of two paths: toward recovery or toward dysfunction.

“Using ‘identity play’ provides a safe environment to escape the situation and try new things, discarding bad ideas or finding and refining a new identity and returning stronger than before.”

Play provides an opportunity to both withdraw from the mental anguish and to be creative in generating alternative new work identities and then trying them out to see how they feel without having to commit to them, which can be fun.

Once the individual finds a potential identity that feels right, they then begin to refine the job to make sure it’s a good fit for both their needs and the reality of the situation. Without hitting rock bottom, the individual would not have been freed from the past to enable them to creatively explore different alternatives for the future.

“A failed corporate executive might consider a variety of other potential roles,” Shepherd says, “For example, sitting on the board of a nonprofit organization that is desperate for experienced managerial guidance, exploring government positions or running for office, working with startups, and so forth.

“Similarly, a failed entrepreneur might explore how skills learned in starting a business could be applied in a corporate setting, take standardized exams to be considered for law school or engage in other low risk exploration activities. In these cases, hitting rock bottom opens up myriad new opportunities.”

He cites former NFL players Jermichael Finley, Mike Utley, and Tony Boselli, all of whom suffered career ending injuries and refocused on other business ventures.

In his 20s, Finley suffered a spinal cord injury while playing as a tight end for the Green Bay Packers. He is now coaching and invested in a gym. Utley played guard for the Detroit Lions when a game injury left him paralyzed. He started the Mike Utley Foundation.

Boselli was a defensive tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars who retired early due to a nagging shoulder injury. He’s now 45 and admits he still suffers from an “identity crisis” but continues working with the Jaguars on their Sunday radio show as well as other radio shows including Westwood One. He also coaches high school football and started a small healthcare company.

The less desirable path involves using fantasy as a means of escape and can include alcohol and drug use.

Along this less desirable path, “people will oscillate between no emotion and severe negative emotion and make no progress toward building a new identity, which can eventually lead to even worse outcomes like suicide,” Shepherd says.

Recent studies have explored the impact of career-ending injuries for musicians and soldiers, injuries that generated intense negative emotions as they approached rock bottom.

In both studies, some of these individuals were fixated on the loss of a former identity, paralyzed by the realization that they could no longer perform or continue in an established role. Some sought escape through cognitive deconstruction, including the use of drugs.

“A failed executive might resort to a numb state that involves abusing alcohol, engaging in menial tasks at home, or becoming a couch potato,” Shepherd says.

“However, when friends offer job suggestions or ask why the executive has yet to land a new position, it could launch the individual from the numb state into extreme negative emotions leading to destructive behavior.”

A deeper understanding of why some recover and others languish provides an opportunity to develop interventions that facilitate recovery from work identity loss.

Shepherd hopes the research helps people realize that hitting rock bottom can be an opportunity to let go of a broken and unrepairable life and begin anew to develop a new life, as well as avoid the negative path of fantasy that obstructs recovery.

The study appears in Academy of Management Review.

Source: University of Notre Dame

Excess Calcium May Influence Development of Parkinson’s

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 7:00am

Emerging research suggests excess levels of calcium in brain cells may lead to the formation of toxic protein clusters that characterize Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is one of a number of neurodegenerative diseases caused when naturally occurring proteins fold into the wrong shape and stick together with other proteins.

The proteins in turn eventually form thin filament-like structures called amyloid fibrils. These amyloid deposits of aggregated alpha-synuclein, also known as Lewy bodies, are the sign of Parkinson’s disease.

An international team, led by the University of Cambridge, found that calcium can influence the interaction between small membranous structures inside nerve endings, and the protein associated with Parkinson’s disease.

The nerve endings are important for neuronal signaling in the brain, and development of alpha-synuclein. Excess levels of either calcium or alpha-synuclein may be what starts the chain reaction that leads to the death of brain cells.

The findings represent another step towards understanding how and why people develop Parkinson’s. On a population level, about one in every 350 adults currently has the condition.

The study findings appear in the journal Nature Communications.

Curiously, it hasn’t been clear until now what alpha-synuclein actually does in the cell, why it’s there and what it’s meant to do. Researchers now understand that alpha-synuclein is involved in various processes such as the smooth flow of chemical signals in the brain and the movement of molecules in and out of nerve endings, but exactly how it behaves is unclear.

“Alpha-synuclein is a very small protein with very little structure, and it needs to interact with other proteins or structures in order to become functional, which has made it difficult to study,” said senior author Dr. Gabriele Kaminski Schierle.

Thanks to super-resolution microscopy techniques, it is now possible to look inside cells to observe the behaviour of alpha-synuclein. To do so, Kaminski Schierle and her colleagues isolated synaptic vesicles, part of the nerve cells that store the neurotransmitters which send signals from one nerve cell to another.

In neurons, calcium plays a role in the release of neurotransmitters.

The researchers observed that when calcium levels in the nerve cell increase, such as upon neuronal signaling, the alpha-synuclein binds to synaptic vesicles at multiple points, causing the vesicles to come together.

This may indicate that the normal role of alpha-synuclein is to help the chemical transmission of information across nerve cells.

“This is the first time we’ve seen that calcium influences the way alpha-synuclein interacts with synaptic vesicles,” said Dr. Janin Lautenschlger, the paper’s first author.

“We think that alpha-synuclein is almost like a calcium sensor. In the presence of calcium, it changes its structure and how it interacts with its environment, which is likely very important for its normal function.”

“There is a fine balance of calcium and alpha-synuclein in the cell, and when there is too much of one or the other, the balance is tipped and aggregation begins, leading to Parkinson’s disease,” said co-first author Dr. Amberley Stephens.

The imbalance can be caused by a genetic doubling of the amount of alpha-synuclein (gene duplication), by an age-related slowing of the breakdown of excess protein, by an increased level of calcium in neurons that are sensitive to Parkinson’s, or an associated lack of calcium buffering capacity in these neurons.

Understanding the role of alpha-synuclein in normal or pathological processes may aid in the development of new treatments for Parkinson’s disease. One possibility is that drug candidates developed to block calcium, for use in heart disease for instance, might also have potential against Parkinson’s disease.

Source: University of Cambridge

Sleep May Be Essential for Learning and Forgetting

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 6:15am

Why do people and other animals sicken and die if they are deprived of sleep? What is it about sleep that makes it so essential?

A new study, published in Science, shows evidence that in fact humans sleep to forget some of the things they learn each day — maintaining the brain’s “plasticity,” its ability to change and adapt.

The investigation is a follow-up on the “synaptic homeostasis hypothesis” (SHY) posited by psychiatrists Drs. Chiara Cirelli and Giulio Tononi of the Wisconsin Center for Sleep and Consciousness. The research offers direct visual proof of SHY via electron-microscope pictures from inside the brains of mice. The visuals suggest what happens in our own brain every day.

The pictures showed that our synapses — the junctions between nerve cells — grow strong and large during the stimulation of daytime, then shrink by nearly 20 percent while we sleep, creating room for more growth and learning the next day.

In the study, a large team of researchers sectioned the brains of mice, and then using a scanning electron microscope they photographed, reconstructed, and analyzed two areas of cerebral cortex. Investigators were able to reconstruct 6,920 synapses and measure their size.

The team deliberately did not know whether they were analyzing the brain cells of a well-rested mouse or one that had been awake. When they finally “broke the code” and correlated the measurements with the amount of sleep the mice had during the six to eight hours before the image was taken, they found that a few hours of sleep led on average to an 18 percent decrease in the size of the synapses.

These changes occurred in both areas of the cerebral cortex and were proportional to the size of the synapses. The study has been bolstered by a companion Johns Hopkins University study that analyzed brain proteins, also confirming SHY’s prediction that the purpose of sleep is to scale back synapses.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison/EurekAlert

College Roommates May Underestimate Each Other’s Distress

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 5:30am

Although college can be an exciting time, many students feel extreme pressure to succeed both academically and socially, and this can lead to serious distress.

A new study at New York University (NYU) finds that even someone as close as a roommate may not recognize just how stressed their living partner is. With a little training, however, roommates may be in the best position to help detect each other’s distress and offer support.

“College students can detect certain levels of distress in their roommates and spot changes over the course of a semester, but they nonetheless underestimate the absolute level of distress,” said Dr. Patrick Shrout, a professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and the study’s senior author.

Although the study participants had not been trained to spot distress, the researchers suggest that, with proper training, college roomates are in a good place to help identify students who are struggling with their mental health.

“More universal training on how to identify and respond to the distress of peers might have the benefit of encouraging conversations among roommates about what actions each might take if he or she notices another experiencing extreme distress,” write Shrout and lead author and doctoral student Qi Xu, in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The study involved 187 same-sex undergraduate roommate pairs who included Asian, Black, Hispanic, White, and biracial students. At two points during the academic year — February and April — each roommate in the pair reported his or her own distress level as well as that perceived in the other roommate. Comparing these reports allowed the researchers to quantify accuracy and bias.

The findings show that the roommate pairs systematically underestimated each other’s levels of distress, and that students tended to believe their partner’s distress was similar to their own. Even so, the roommates’ evaluations of one another did reflect a component of truth: The students who were judged to be most distressed were those who tended to self-report extreme distress.

Because the survey was conducted twice, the researchers were able to see which students were becoming more (or less) distressed over time and were able to compare the changes to roommates’ rankings.

The biases found at the separate time points did not carry over to the inferences about distress change. When students’ reports indicated that their roommates were experiencing more distress, the target roommates tended to self-report more distress as well.

The researchers say that with proper training on how to detect distress in others, roommates might be even more accurate in their judgments and could be a helpful in supporting a safety net for college students who are distressed.

Source: New York University

Teens With Stroke at Birth Use Opposite Side of Brain for Language

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 7:45am

In a new study, researchers observed young people who had left-brain stroke damage at birth and found they are now using the right side of the brain for language — in the exact, mirror-opposite region to the normal language areas on the left side.

At least one in 4,000 newborn babies experience a perinatal stroke, one that occurs right around the time of birth. But a stroke in a baby, even a big one, does not have the same long-term effects as an adult stroke. The findings help demonstrate just how “plastic” brain function is in infants.

For the study, researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center observed 12 individuals (aged 12 to 25) who had experienced a left-brain perinatal stroke, and found that all used the right side of their brains for language.

“Their language is good — normal,” said cognitive neuroscientist Elissa L. Newport, Ph.D., professor of neurology at Georgetown University School of Medicine, and director of the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery at Georgetown University and MedStar National Rehabilitation Network.

Some of the participants have a slight limp, and many have a dominant left hand because the stroke caused an impairment in right-hand function. They also have some executive function impairments — slightly slower neural processing, for example — that are common in individuals with brain injuries.

But basic cognitive functions, such as language comprehension and production, are excellent, Newport said.

Significantly, imaging studies show that the participants’ language function is based in the right side of the brain in the mirror-opposite region to the left normal language areas. This has also been found in previous studies, but earlier findings have been inconsistent, perhaps due to the heterogeneity of the types of brain injuries involved in those studies, Newport said.

The new study was carefully controlled in terms of the types and areas of injury included, and suggests that while “these young brains were very plastic, meaning they could relocate language to a healthy area, it doesn’t mean that new areas can be located willy-nilly on the right side. We believe there are very important constraints to where functions can be relocated,” saidNewport.

“There are very specific regions that take over when part of the brain is injured, depending on the particular function. Each function, like language or spatial skills, has a particular region that can take over if its primary brain area is injured. This is a very important discovery that may have implications in the rehabilitation of adult stroke survivors.”

This finding makes sense in very young brains, Newport noted. “Imaging shows that children up to about age four can process language in both sides of their brains, and then the functions split up: the left side processes sentences and the right processes emotion in language.”

The research team is extending the study to a larger group of participants, and is looking at both left and right brain strokes and also at whether brain functions other than language are relocated and where.

They are also collaborating on studies that may reveal the molecular basis of plasticity in young brains; information that might help switch on plasticity in adults who have suffered stroke or brain injury.

The findings were recently reported in a symposium at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.

Source: Georgetown University Medical Center

Brain Imaging Can Predict CBT Effectiveness for OCD

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 7:00am

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have developed a new method to predict whether a person with obsessive compulsive disorder would benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a challenging, life-long mental health disorder marked by repetitive thoughts and actions that can seriously impair work performance, relationships, and quality of life. Examples of OCD include washing hands needlessly dozens of times of day, or spending so much time perfecting schoolwork that it never gets turned in.

OCD is most commonly treated with medication and a form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy. Unfortunately, cognitive behavioral therapy does not help everyone with OCD, and the treatment can be expensive and time-consuming.

In the new study, researchers have developed a way to use brain scans and machine learning — a form of artificial intelligence — to predict whether people with OCD will benefit from cognitive behavior therapy.

The technique could help improve the overall success rate of cognitive behavioral therapy, and it could enable therapists to tailor treatment to each patient.

A paper describing the work appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“If the results of this study are replicated in future studies, the methods we used could potentially give clinicians a new predictive tool,” said Nicco Reggente, a UCLA doctoral student and the study’s first author.

“If a patient is predicted to be a non-responder to cognitive behavioral therapy, clinicians could pursue different options.”

Using a functional MRI machine, or fMRI, the researchers scanned the brains of 42 people with OCD, ages 18 to 60, before and after four weeks of intensive, daily cognitive behavioral therapy. Researchers specifically analyzed how different areas of the brain activate in sync with each other — a property called functional connectivity — during a period of rest.

Functional MRI does this by measuring blood flow in the brain, which correlates with neurons’ activity levels.

In addition, the scientists assessed the severity of participants’ OCD symptoms before and after the treatment, using a scaled system in which a lower score indicates less severe or less frequent symptoms.

The researchers fed the participants’ fMRI data and symptom scores into a computer and then used machine learning to determine which people would respond. In machine learning, computers are trained to recognize common patterns in mountains of data by exposing them to numerous variations of the same thing.

The machine-learning program predicted which patients would fail to respond to cognitive behavioral therapy with 70 percent accuracy, significantly better than chance, or 50 percent. The algorithm also correctly predicted the participants’ final scores on the symptoms assessment within a small margin of error, regardless of how they responded to the treatment.

“This method opens a window into OCD patients’ brains to help us see how responsive they will be to treatment,” said Dr. Jamie Feusner, a clinical neuroscientist at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the study’s senior author.

“The algorithm performed far better than our own predictions based on their symptoms and other clinical information.”

Feusner, who also is a professor of psychiatry at UCLA, said if the study’s results are replicated, OCD treatment could someday start with a brain scan.

The cost to perform and interpret a brief MRI is several hundred dollars, he said. But that expense could help people who are unlikely to be helped by intensive cognitive behavioral therapy to avoid the cost of that treatment, which can be $2,500 to $5,000 per week, and typically runs for four to eight weeks.

Source: UCLA

Alzheimer’s Signs Reversed in Mouse Study

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 6:15am

Researchers have successfully reversed the formation of amyloid plaques in the brains of mice with Alzheimer’s disease, thereby improving the animals’ cognitive function.

Investigators from the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute discovered that gradually depleting an enzyme called BACE1 eliminates the plaques.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, raises hopes that drugs targeting this enzyme will be able to successfully treat Alzheimer’s disease in humans. The vast majority of experimental treatments using a rodent model — whether for diabetes or cancer or Alzheimer’s — fail to work in humans.

Researchers explain that one of the earliest events in Alzheimer’s disease is an abnormal buildup of beta-amyloid peptide, which can form large, amyloid plaques in the brain and disrupt the function of neuronal synapses.

Also known as beta-secretase, BACE1 helps produce beta-amyloid peptide by cleaving amyloid precursor protein (APP). Drugs that inhibit BACE1 are therefore being developed as potential Alzheimer’s disease treatments. However, the drugs may have serious side-effects because BACE1 controls many important processes.

Mice completely lacking BACE1 suffer severe neurodevelopmental defects. To investigate whether inhibiting BACE1 in adults might be less harmful, researcher Dr. Riqiang Yan and colleagues generated mice that gradually lose this enzyme as they grow older. These mice developed normally and appeared to remain perfectly healthy over time.

The researchers then bred these rodents with mice that start to develop amyloid plaques and Alzheimer’s disease when they are 75 days old. The resulting offspring also formed plaques at this age, even though their BACE1 levels were approximately 50 percent lower than normal.

Remarkably, however, the plaques began to disappear as the mice continued to age and lose BACE1 activity, until, at 10 months old, the mice had no plaques in their brains at all.

“To our knowledge, this is the first observation of such a dramatic reversal of amyloid deposition in any study of Alzheimer’s disease mouse models,” Yan said.

Decreasing BACE1 activity also resulted in lower beta-amyloid peptide levels and reversed other hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, such as the activation of microglial cells and the formation of abnormal neuronal processes.

Loss of BACE1 also improved the learning and memory of mice with Alzheimer’s disease. However, when the researchers made electrophysiological recordings of neurons from these animals, they found that depletion of BACE1 only partially restored synaptic function, suggesting that BACE1 may be required for optimal synaptic activity and cognition.

“Our study provides genetic evidence that preformed amyloid deposition can be completely reversed after sequential and increased deletion of BACE1 in the adult,” Yan said.

“Our data show that BACE1 inhibitors have the potential to treat Alzheimer’s disease patients without unwanted toxicity. Future studies should develop strategies to minimize the synaptic impairments arising from significant inhibition of BACE1 to achieve maximal and optimal benefits for Alzheimer’s patients.”

Source: Rockefeller University Press/Science Daily

Social Media Can Help Start Healing Process

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 5:30am

In a new study, investigators at Drexel University examined how and why women decide to disclose pregnancy loss on Facebook. Their findings shed light on a shift in our social media behavior that is making it easier for people to come forward and share their painful, personal, and often stigmatized stories.

“While many use Facebook to largely talk about happy and light topics and believe that to be the expected norm on this platform, some people make complicated decisions to talk about things that are not all that happy,” said Nazanin Andalibi, a doctoral candidate in Drexel’s College of Computing & Informatics.

Andalibi is the lead author of the study to be published in the Proceedings of the 2018 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

The investigation is the first piece of research to use the lens of pregnancy loss to look at how and why people use social media to share their sensitive and stigmatized stories.

“Our research looks at why and how people decide to use social media to share their traumatic experiences that often have a social stigma attached to them.”

Andalibi and co-author Andrea Forte, Ph.D., an associate professor in the College of Computing & Informatics, chose to focus on pregnancy loss disclosures because one in five pregnancies in the United States lead to a pregnancy loss, yet most people –approximately 55 percent — still think it’s a rare occurrence.

A discrepancy in understanding of this magnitude tends to fuel stigmatization and feelings of isolation; by contrast, raising awareness can not only help reduce the stigma, but also aid in the emotional process of recovering from such a loss.

“Pregnancy loss is a stigmatized reproductive health complication, associated with negative wellbeing effects such as depression and PTSD, changes people’s sense of identity, impacts their relationships, and it often elicits negative or unsupportive responses when disclosed,” Andalibi said.

“Understanding how and why women talk about pregnancy loss on social networking sites could help us and technologists to design services that facilitate safe disclosures and supportive interactions to form around them when people experience distress and stigma.

The potential for improved well-being through access to social support makes pregnancy loss a productive context for research on designing social computing systems for safe disclosures and support seeking.”

By interviewing 27 women, all social media users, who had recently experienced pregnancy loss, the researchers built a framework for understanding why people are now turning to social media to end their silence and share their stories. These findings can also be applied to other phenomena such as the 12 million who recently shared their experiences of sexual assault using the hashtag #MeToo.

One of the main reasons people are coming forward, they suggest, is that social media is now part of the healing process.

“People often need to share stigmatized life events and emotions associated with them. However, many do not, and sometimes they suffer as a result of this inhibition due to the psychological distress associated with keeping a secret,” they write.

Another motivation for turning to social media, according to the research, is the benefit of sharing with a large network of people. Many women found it to be a highly efficient way of sharing a painful story once instead of repeating it over and over again in individual conversations, which was perceived to be incredibly difficult.

“I didn’t want to talk to people about it because I didn’t want to deal with their feelings about it,” one participant told the researchers. “I didn’t want to feel like I had to manage their feelings…that’s easier on social media because they’re not in front of me. I definitely had friends who cried when I told them. I don’t want to deal with somebody else’s tears about it. You don’t have to do that on Facebook.”

This broad-spectrum sharing, which is a definitive characteristic of social media, also makes it easier for others to express support or share a similar story in hopes of building strength in numbers, educating others, and reducing the social stigma.

These posts often inspire others in a network to come forward with their own stories because they see people talking about it and feel as though the stigma has diminished. The researchers call this behavior “Network-Level Reciprocal Disclosures.”

They suggest that by seeing others post, people knew and felt pregnancy loss was not unique to them. And by observing posts that did not receive negative responses, participants felt that sharing about their loss may be more appropriate than they originally thought — and even if that was not the case, they would at least not be the only people taking that chance.

This behavior, which is becoming more prevalent on social networks today, is at the heart of the sexual assault awareness movement that organically coalesced on social media via the hashtag #MeToo.

“Our theory of Network-Level Reciprocal Disclosure suggests that it is likely that by seeing others say #MeToo, those who did end up saying #MeToo as well, were inspired and felt safer to do so themselves, and wanted to be a source of support for others,” Andalibi said.

Even with support from others and confidence gleaned from seeing the conversation grow in a positive direction, many people still want to ease into sharing their story or need a timely nudge.

According to the study, women who shared their pregnancy loss publicly on social media often did so after first revealing it on an anonymous forum, like Reddit, as a way of testing out the message and the responses to it while being shielded from the emotions of interacting with a familiar audience.

“Processing their experiences on more anonymous sites helped people decide exactly what and how to share, and reduced anxiety about sharing,” they wrote. Anonymous disclosures paved the way for disclosures on Facebook. This indicates the distinct and complementary roles of anonymous online spaces, such as Reddit, and identified spaces, such as Facebook.”

It’s important for social network sites to understand this behavior, according to the researchers, because it could help them build a more inclusive space if they embrace their role as forums where people can find support and support one another. The researchers suggest that social network sites could facilitate this process and help to reduce the stigma associated with difficult human experiences by implementing these changes:

  • Have news feed algorithms surface sensitive disclosures when they happen, particularly to those who are demographically likely to share the experiences;
  • Enable finding others inside one’s social networks who have had similar experiences;
  • Help people see the prevalence of pregnancy loss in their network by predicting how many in one’s network may have experienced a pregnancy loss;
  • Facebook could add an “I experienced pregnancy loss” life event to help influence norms and be more inclusive;
  • During awareness months, algorithms could boost related posts, so it’s easier for people who have made disclosures to see others doing the same;
  • Experiment with a system that allows disclosing to one’s Facebook network anonymously.

“Taken together, awareness campaigns, the efficiency of one-to-many disclosures, and opportunities for anonymous lower-risk disclosures elsewhere contribute to women’s decisions to disclose pregnancy loss experiences on identified social network systems, which, through the mechanism of network-level reciprocation, creates an increasingly disclosure-friendly context for those who come after,” the authors wrote.

Source: Drexel University

Blood and Urine Tests Developed to Diagnose Autism

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 7:15pm

New blood and urine tests that can indicate autism in children have been developed by researchers in England.

The researchers, who discovered a link between autism and damage to proteins in blood plasma, say the tests could led to earlier detection of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and earlier intervention.

“We hope the tests will also reveal new causative factors,” said Dr. Naila Rabbani, Reader of Experimental Systems Biology at the University of Warwick, who led the study. “With further testing we may reveal specific plasma and urinary profiles or ‘fingerprints’ of compounds with damaging modifications. This may help us improve the diagnosis of ASD and point the way to new causes of ASD.”

The researchers explain they found a link between ASD and damage to proteins in blood plasma by oxidation and glycation; processes where reactive oxygen species (ROS) and sugar molecules spontaneously modify proteins.

They found the most reliable of the tests they developed was examining protein in blood plasma where, when tested, children with ASD were found to have higher levels of the oxidation marker dityrosine (DT) and certain sugar-modified compounds called “advanced glycation endproducts” (AGEs).

Genetic causes have been found in 30 to 35 percent of cases of ASD, while the remaining 65 to 70 percent of cases are thought to be caused by a combination of environmental factors, multiple mutations and rare genetic variants. The research team said they believe the new tests could reveal yet to be identified causes of ASD.

The team’s research also confirmed the previously held belief that mutations of amino acid transporters are a genetic variant associated with ASD.

The Warwick team worked with collaborators at the University of Bologna in Italy, who recruited 38 children who were diagnosed with ASD (29 boys and nine girls) and a control group of 31 healthy children (23 boys and eight girls) between the ages of five and 12. Blood and urine samples were taken from the children for analysis.

The Warwick team discovered that there were chemical differences between the two groups.

Working with a further collaborator at the University of Birmingham, the changes in multiple compounds were combined together using artificial intelligence algorithms techniques to develop a mathematical equation or algorithm to distinguish between ASD and healthy controls. The outcome was a diagnostic test better than any method currently available, according to the researchers.

The next steps are to repeat the study with further groups of children to confirm the good diagnostic performance and to assess if the test can identify ASD at very early stages, indicate how the ASD is likely to develop further to more severe disease, and assess if treatments are working, the researchers explained.

The study was published in Molecular Autism. 

Source: University of Warwick