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Updated: 30 min 16 sec ago

Digital Tech Helps Supplement CBT for Opioid Abuse

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 7:45am

Researchers announce that an automated text messaging service may help to curb opioid abuse and reduce the likelihood of relapse while also decreasing treatment costs.

Investigators from Washington University School of Medicine and Epharmix, a digital health company, explain that the service provides automated text messages and phone calls to patients being treated for opioid addiction.

The text messages ask patients if they’re feeling OK or struggling with potential relapse. Patients also can activate a panic button for immediate help.

Investigators believe the new communication channel save time associated with traditional monitoring of patients through individual phone calls and in-person appointments. The time-savings will permit health-care workers to treat more patients without accruing heavier workloads.

Findings of the small study appear in NEJM Catalyst, a publication of The New England Journal of Medicine Group.

“There is an urgent need to address the opioid crisis in powerful new ways,” said the study’s senior author, Avik Som, an M.D./Ph.D. student at Washington University.

Som, who has completed his doctorate in biomedical engineering and will receive his medical degree in May, helped develop the text-messaging technology as chief medical officer at Epharmix.

“With the opioid epidemic, time is of the essence because of how quickly it’s grown and the lives that are lost,” Som said.

Nearly 100 people die each day due to opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A highly addictive class of drugs, opioids include prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl.

The mobile technology is designed to supplement cognitive-behavioral therapy, support services and other treatments aimed at combating opioid addiction.

“This is not meant to replace important programs or face-to-face contact between patients and providers,” Som said. “Rather, it is an additional tool that is affordable and immediate. It doesn’t require costly, time-consuming measures such as opening substance-abuse centers, and training and hiring new staff.

The 21 patients in the study began using the texting service in late 2016 as part of their treatment at Preferred Family Healthcare, a community-based organization in St. Louis that offers treatment for substance abuse.

Data collected via the text messaging service found that at the time of enrollment, nine patients (43 percent) reported substance abuse use in the previous three days, and nine patients (43 percent) reported no use, while the remaining did not respond. After three months, half of the 21 total patients reported no substance use, while the number of patients using dropped to two (10 percent). The researchers can’t attribute the positive trend solely to the app but said the data are encouraging.

“Opioid users face strong urges to relapse because of the addictive power of the drug,” Som said. “As a result, health-care workers struggle to keep patients engaged.”

Patients and caregivers reported that they preferred the ease and familiarity of text message communication. “Texting is convenient, immediate and nonjudgmental,” Som said. “It has become an integral part of how we communicate in society. Patients reported feeling more connected to health-care providers.”

The service includes a “panic button” for patients facing relapse or other health struggles. Once the button is activated, health-care workers phone patients and provide counseling, scheduling for in-person appointments, or other resources.

Additionally, texts allow caregivers to monitor patients daily with automated questions such as “Have you used in the last day?” and “Have you had urges to use?” Patients who reported struggling received automated follow-up questions that classified their risk for relapse as high, moderate or low. At the same time, health-care workers were alerted to intervene immediately.

“Health-care providers can be proactive,” Som said. “It is so much more powerful to curb the temptation and break the cycle in advance of relapse rather than providing treatment only after the event has occurred.”

The patients in the study were on Medicaid and individually had accrued more than $20,000 in medical costs related to substance abuse and other health issues. Researchers calculated that per-patient costs for caregiver services specific to addiction-related care would drop 19 percent, from $926 annually to $753.
Reduced costs from staff time savings were attributed to the texting service, enabling more efficient patient follow-up and better targeting to provide treatment to the right patients.

“Cost savings could be realized with this tool as opioid addiction continues to rise and caregivers increasingly are being asked to manage additional patients,” said the study’s first author, Jordan Feltes, an Epharmix researcher and a second-year medical student at Saint Louis University.

Further studies will allow researchers to examine the text-messaging strategy in a larger patient group, and better gauge potential savings in Medicaid funding and related costs.

“In the midst of this national emergency, it is critical that patients and providers have clear, open channels of communication in order to mitigate the devastating impact of the opioid crisis,” said Will Ross, M.D., associate dean for diversity and a professor of medicine at Washington University.

Source: Washington University in St Louis

Some Workplace Anxiety Can Be Beneficial

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 7:00am

Emerging research suggests anxiety at work may not always be a bad thing; it may actually improve motivation and enhance performance.

“There are a lot of theories and models of anxiety that exist, but this is the first model situated in the workplace focusing on employees,” said co-author Julie McCarthy, Ph.D., from the Department of Management at the University of Toronto.

McCarthy, along with her former grad student and lead author Bonnie Hayden Cheng, Ph.D., looked at both the triggers of workplace anxiety and also its relationship to employee performance.

“If you have too much anxiety, and you’re completely consumed by it, then it’s going to derail your performance,” said McCarthy, an expert on organizational behavior.

“On the other hand, moderate levels of anxiety can facilitate and drive performance.”

If employees are constantly distracted or thinking about things that are causing them anxiety, it will prevent them from completing tasks at work and that can eventually lead to exhaustion and burnout, said Cheng.

However, there are times when anxiety can boost performance by helping employees focus and self-regulate their behavior.

Cheng compares this to athletes who are trained to harness anxiety in order to remain motivated and stay on task.

Likewise, if employees engage in something called self-regulatory processing — monitoring their progress on a task and focusing their efforts toward performing that task — it can help boost their performance.

“After all, if we have no anxiety and we just don’t care about performance, then we are not going to be motivated to do the job,” Cheng said.

She said work-anxious employees who are motivated are more likely to harness anxiety in order to help them focus on their tasks.

Moreover, those who are emotionally intelligent can recognize their feelings of anxiety and use it to regulate their performance. Individuals who are experienced and skilled at their job are also less likely to have anxiety affect their performance.

The model of workplace anxiety Cheng and McCarthy developed is broken into two categories.

One area involves a persons character traits or dispositional presentation. If someone already experiences high levels of general anxiety for example, their experiences with workplace anxiety will be different from those who don’t.

The other covers situational aspects, those that arise in specific job tasks. Some employees may be more affected by job appraisals, public speaking or other tasks that can distract them and lead to poor performance.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Applied Psychology, also outlines many of the triggers for workplace anxiety. The most prominent include jobs that require constant expression or suppression of emotion — think “service with a smile” — as well as jobs with constant looming deadlines or frequent organizational change.

Office politics and control over work are other important factors. Employee characteristics including age, gender and job tenure can also affect the experience of workplace anxiety.

The authors note that anxiety is a growing issue for workplaces. Recent research has found that 72 per cent of Americans experiencing daily anxiety say it interferes with their work and personal lives.

While the authors do not condone inducing anxiety in employees to foster high performance, the good news for employees who chronically experience anxiety at work, or who experience it from time to time, is that it can help performance if they can self-regulate their behavior.

“Managing anxiety can be done by recognizing and addressing triggers of workplace anxiety, but also being aware of how to leverage it in order to drive performance,” said Cheng.

She said there are many strategies organizations can use to help employees. Some of these include training to help boost self-confidence, offering tools and resources to perform tasks at work, and equipping employees with strategies to recognize, use, and manage feelings of anxiety through emotional intelligence development.

Source: University of Toronto

Nasal Ketamine Shows Promise for Depression & Suicidal Thoughts

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 6:00am

New research suggests a nasal spray formulation of ketamine may be an option for the rapid treatment of symptoms of major depression and suicidal thoughts.

In a double-blind study, investigators compared treatment protocols for an individual presenting with major depression and imminent suicidal thoughts.

The standard care for this mental condition was compared to an intervention that added an intranasal formulation of esketamine, part of the ketamine molecule, in addition to standard protocol.

The study, involving 68 randomly assigned participants, appears online in The American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP).

Participants were assigned to assigned to one of two groups – either receiving esketamine or placebo twice a week for four weeks. All participants continued to receive treatment with antidepressants throughout. The researchers looked at effects at four hours after first treatment, at 24 hours and at 25 days.

Researchers found a significant improvement in depression scores and decreased suicidal ideation in the esketamine group compared to the placebo group at four hours and at 24 hours. The esketamine effects were not greater than the placebo at 25 days.

The measurement of suicide risk took into consideration both the patient’s and clinician’s perspectives.

Investigators believe the results of the study support the use of a nasal spray of esketamine for rapid treatment of depressive symptoms in patients assessed to be at imminent risk for suicide.

The use of esketamine could be an important intervention for people with acute depression. Currently, most antidepressants take four to six weeks to become fully effective. Therefore, esketamine could potentially help bridge this pharmacological gap in clinical effectiveness.

This study was a proof-of-concept, phase 2, study for esketamine; it must still go through a phase 3 study before possible FDA approval. The research was funded by Janssen Research and Development, LLC.

The authors caution that more research is needed on the potential for abuse of ketamine. That caution is also the focus of an accompanying AJP editorial also published online.

In the editorial, AJP Editor Robert Freedman, M.D., along with members of the AJP Editorial Board, note the known potential for abuse and existing reports of abuse of prescribed ketamine.

They discuss the need for additional research relating to the abuse potential of ketamine during phase 3 trials, such as monitoring of patients’ craving and potential ketamine use from other sources.

While it is the responsibility of physicians to provide a suicidal patient with the fullest range of effective interventions, the AJP editors note, “protection of the public’s health is part of our responsibility as well, and as physicians, we are responsible for preventing new drug epidemics.”

The editors suggest the need for broad input in the development of effective controls on the distribution and use of ketamine.

Freedman and colleagues argue that steps to control the use of ketamine would not be aimed at preventing its use for beneficial purposes but would allow for treatment to “continue to be available to those with need, while the population that is at-risk for abuse is protected from an epidemic of misuse.”

Source: American Psychiatric Association/EurekAlert

Maternal Depression May Impact Child’s IQ

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 7:00am

Maternal depression can negatively impact a child’s cognitive development at least until the age of 16, according to a new study published in the journal Child Development.

Researchers from the University of California (UC), San Diego School of Medicine evaluated approximately 900 healthy children and their mothers living in Santiago, Chile at five-year intervals from the child’s infancy through age 16.

The research team noted how affectionate and responsive the mothers were to their children at each age period and also how well the mothers were able to provide age-appropriate learning materials. Children were assessed on verbal cognitive skills using standardized IQ tests during each assessment. Mothers were evaluated for symptoms of depression.

“We found that mothers who were highly depressed didn’t invest emotionally or in providing learning materials to support their child, such as toys and books, as much as mothers who were not depressed. This, in turn, impacted the child’s IQ at ages 1, 5, 10 and 16,” said Patricia East, Ph.D., research scientist with the Department of Pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“The consistency and longevity of these results speak to the enduring effect that depression has on a mother’s parenting and her child’s development.”

On a scale of 1 to 19, the average verbal IQ score for all 5-year old children in the study was 7.64. Children who had severely depressed mothers were found to have an average verbal IQ score of 7.30 compared to a score of 7.78 in children without depressed mothers.

“Although seemingly small, differences in IQ from 7.78 to 7.30 are highly meaningful in terms of children’s verbal skills and vocabulary,” said East. “Our study results show the long term consequences that a child can experience due to chronic maternal depression.”

At least half of the mothers in the study were rated as depressed based on their answers to questions such as “Are you sad?” and “Do you find yourself crying?”

“For mothers in the study, there were many stressors in their lives. Most of the mothers, while literate, had only nine years of education, were not employed outside the home and often lived with extended family in small, crowded homes — factors that likely contributed to their depression,” said East. “Many mothers suffer from depression in the first six months after childbirth, but for some, depression lingers.”

Research has shown that approximately 20 percent of mothers who are severely depressed when their child turns one-year old remain depressed for a long time.

“For health care providers, the results show that early identification, intervention and treatment of maternal depression are key,” said East. “Providing resources to depressed moms will help them manage their symptoms in a productive way and ensure their children reach their full potential.”

In the future, the researchers plan to further analyze the data to better understand how a mother’s depression may affect the child’s own depressive symptoms, as well as his or her academic achievement and health, such as the likelihood of being overweight or obese.

Roughly one in 10 women in the United States will experience depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Source: University of California- San Diego

 

Nearly 80 Genes Linked to Depression

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 6:00am

United Kingdom scientists have identified nearly 80 genes associated with depression, a finding that could help explain why some people may be at a higher risk of developing the condition.

Experts believe the findings could also help researchers develop drugs to tackle mental disorders.

Depression affects one in five people in the U.K. every year and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Life events such as trauma or stress can contribute to its onset, but it is not clear why some people are more likely to develop the condition than others.

In the new study, University of Edinburgh scientists led the investigation which analyzed data from UK Biobank, a research resource containing health and genetic information for half a million people.

The scientists scanned the genetic code of 300,000 people to identify areas of DNA that could be linked to depression.

Researchers discovered that some of the pinpointed genes are known to be involved in the function of synapses, tiny connectors that allow brain cells to communicate with each other through electrical and chemical signals.

The scientists then confirmed their findings by examining anonymized data held by the personal genetics and research company 23andMe, used with the donors’ consent.

The study, funded by Wellcome Trust is a part of the Stratifying Resilience and Depression Longitudinally investigation, a nearly $7 million government project to better understand depression.

Findings appear in the journal Nature Communications.

Research leader Professor Andrew McIntosh of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, explains: “Depression is a common and often severe condition that affects millions of people worldwide. These new findings help us better understand the causes of depression and show how the UK Biobank study and big data research has helped advance mental health research.

“We hope that the UK’s growing health data research capacity will help us to make major advances in our understanding of depression in coming years.”

Dr. David Howard, research fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences and lead author of the study, said, “This study identifies genes that potentially increase our risk of depression, adding to the evidence that it is partly a genetic disorder.

“The findings also provide new clues to the causes of depression and we hope it will narrow down the search for therapies that could help people living with the condition.”

Source: University of Edinburgh/EurekAlert

In Polluted Cities, Kids Show Hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 7:00am

Alzheimer’s disease may get a very early start in people living in polluted megacities, according to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Research. The University of Montana (UM) researchers detected early stages of the disease in babies less than a year old.

The researchers believe that the harmful effects begin when tiny pollution particles enter the brain through the nose, lungs and gastrointestinal tract; these particles then proceed to damage all barriers and travel throughout the body via the circulatory system.

For the study, the research team studied 203 autopsies of Mexico City residents between the ages of 11 months and 40 years. Mexico City is home to 24 million people exposed daily to concentrations of fine particulate matter and ozone above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

The researchers focused on two abnormal proteins that indicate development of Alzheimer’s, hyperphosphorylated tau and beta amyloid. They detected the early stages of the disease in babies less than a year old.

“Alzheimer’s disease hallmarks start in childhood in polluted environments, and we must implement effective preventative measures early,” said Dr. Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas, a physician and Ph.D. toxicologist in UM’s Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “It is useless to take reactive actions decades later.”

The autopsy findings reveal greater levels of both hyperphosphorylated tau and beta amyloid in the brains of urban youth with lifetime exposure to fine-particulate-matter pollution, or PM2.5. These particles are at least 30 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair and frequently cause the haze over urban areas.

The researchers also tracked Apolipoprotein E (APOE 4), a well-known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s, as well as lifetime cumulative exposure to unhealthy levels of PM2.5.

Hallmarks of the disease were found among 99.5 percent of the Mexico City subjects. The findings suggest that Alzheimer’s begins in early childhood, and that disease progression relates to age, APOE 4 status and particulate exposure.

In addition, APOE 4 carriers have a higher risk of rapid progression of Alzheimer’s and 4.92 higher odds of committing suicide versus APOE 3 carriers, controlling for age and particulate exposure.

Overall, the researchers discovered an accelerated and early disease process for Alzheimer’s in highly exposed Mexico City residents. They believe the harmful effects are due to tiny pollution particles that enter the brain through the nose, lungs and gastrointestinal tract; these particles damage all barriers and travel everywhere in the body through the circulatory system.

The researchers conclude that air pollution is a key modifiable risk for millions of people around the world, including millions of Americans who are exposed to harmful particulate pollution levels.

“Neuroprotection measures ought to start very early, including the prenatal period and childhood,” said Calderón-Garcidueñas. “Defining pediatric environmental, nutritional, metabolic and genetic risk-factor interactions are key to preventing Alzheimer’s disease.”

Source: University of Montana

 

Study: Transgender Youth More Likely To Be Diagnosed with Mental Disorders

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 6:00am

New research finds that transgender and gender-nonconforming youth are diagnosed with mental health conditions much more frequently than young people who identify with the gender they are assigned at birth.

Although this correlation has been discovered in small clinically based studies, Kaiser Permanente researchers discovered a similar link upon review of health information associated with a large group of transgender/gender non-conforming individuals enrolled in a comprehensive care system.

Investigators mined electronic health records of the cohort examining the prevalence of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

The research findings appear in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers discovered that In nearly all instances, mental health diagnoses were more common for transgender and gender-nonconforming youth than for youth who identify with the gender assigned at birth, also known as cisgender youth.

“We looked at mental health in transgender and gender-nonconforming youth retrospectively between 2006 and 2014 and found that these youths had three to 13 times the mental health conditions of their cisgender counterparts,” said the study’s lead author, Tracy A. Becerra-Culqui, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation.

“Among these young people, the most prevalent diagnoses were attention deficit disorders in children, 3 to 9 years of age, and depressive disorders in adolescents, 10 to 17 years of age.”

This study, which was based on information in the electronic health record, included 1,347 transgender and gender-nonconforming youth 3 to 17 years who are members of Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, Northern California and Georgia.

The cohort was 44 percent transfeminine (youth whose gender assigned at birth was male) and 56 percent transmasculine (youth whose gender assigned at birth was female).

The most common diagnoses for transgender and gender-nonconforming children and adolescents were:

  • attention deficit disorder (transfeminine: 15 percent, transmasculine: 16 percent). These numbers are 3 to 7 times higher than the matched cisgender reference group;
  • depressive disorder (transfeminine: 49 percent, transmasculine: 62 percent). These numbers are 4 to 7 times higher than the matched cisgender reference group.

“We hope this research creates awareness about the pressure young people questioning their gender identity may feel, and how this may affect their mental well-being,” said Becerra-Culqui.

“For clinicians, it is important that they are aware of possible mental health conditions that may be more common in transgender and gender-nonconforming youth compared to cisgender youth. It is also crucial they have the knowledge necessary to provide social and educational support for their young patients who are figuring out their gender identity.”

The authors noted that the conditions may be related to gender dysphoria, a feeling of distress when one’s assigned gender does not match their identity. Also, young people with gender-nonconforming behavior may experience stress from prejudice and discrimination, which can cause or exacerbate emotional or behavioral problems.

Source: Kaiser Permanente

Mental Disorders Called One of Top Causes of Childhood Disease

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 6:15am

Despite a global decline in childhood infectious diseases, the prevalence of mental illness among youth has remained the same. That makes mental disorders one of the main origins of illness in children aged 4-15 years around the world, according to a new study published in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health.

In the paper, researchers from INSERM, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, described the prevalence of mental disorders among children aged 5-14 years in each of the six regions of the World Health Organization: Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and the West Pacific Region.

They discovered that even in emerging regions, the prevalence of mental disorders is high and constant over time.

“We found that the prevalence of mental disorders in young people remained stable between 2000 and 2015, which suggests that mental disorders are not decreasing in young people despite the global improvement of their physical health,” said study co-author Marie-Laure Baranne.

“In the future, the decrease of other, preventable diseases, such as diabetes, will lead to an increase in the importance of treating mental disorders for public health.”

Baranne co-authored the paper with Bruno Falissard. The authors found that in 2000, mental disorders ranked third in the Americas and in Europe among the causes of “disability adjusted life years” (DALYs). DALYs is defined as the lost years of a healthy life due to disease or disability. It is a measure of disease burden, or the impact of a health problem in a population.

By 2015, mental disorders had reached second place as causes of DALYs in the Americas and Europe, while the impact of infectious diseases decreased. The change from infectious diseases to mental disorders as the main cause of DALYs in children is known as an epidemiological transition.

The impact of mental disorders on children’s health is going to become more important in the future as more countries make the transition from infection diseases to mental disorders as one of the top causes of poor health, according to the authors.

“Our study is intended as an urgent signal of alarm to international public health institutions and policy-makers. Given the impact of these mental disorders in the long term, organising a global policy to address this issue requires careful preparation,” said Baranne.

In most regions, four mental disorders ranked among the 20 diseases associated with the most DALYs: conduct disorders, anxiety disorders, major depressive disorders and autism-Asperger syndrome.

Among boys, the most common mental disorders associated with DALYs were conduct disorders, autism-Asperger syndrome and anxiety disorders. Among girls they were anxiety disorders, conduct disorders and major depressive disorder.

The authors also noticed that income plays a role: regions with the highest gross domestic product were found to have fewer problems with infectious diseases and more problems with mental disorders.

The authors acknowledge that that the calculation of DALYs depends on parameters that are only known as approximations and based on multiple sources of information containing potential errors. This may introduce some uncertainty into estimates.

Source: BioMEd Central

 

 

Equal Earnings May Affect Whether Cohabitating Couples Get Married

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 5:30am

Some research suggests that cohabitating couples are less likely to marry when the male partner lacks full-time work or earns less than his female partner, while other research suggests that economic dependence tends to strengthen a couple’s commitment and sense of obligation to one another.

A new study at Cornell University, however, suggests it’s none of the above.

The study, conducted by Dr. Patrick Ishizuka, a postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell Population Center, is the first to offer empirical evidence that cohabitating couples are likely to get married only when they earn as much as their married peers. And when each person in a cohabitating partnership earns the same amount, they are less likely to separate, Ishizuka said.

“Once couples have reached a certain income and wealth threshold, they’re more likely to marry,” said Ishizuka, who researches work, families, and social inequality. “Economically disadvantaged couples are also more likely to separate.”

The new study confirms a theory known as “the marriage bar,” which posits that the closer a couple is to reaching the economic standards associated with marriage — such as having enough money to buy a house — the more likely they are to get married.

Qualitative studies have suggested that economically disadvantaged couples strongly value marriage, but they struggle to reach what they perceive as the high economic standard required to get married.

“They want to have a house and a car and enough savings to have a big wedding; and they also want to have stable jobs and a steady income,” Ishizuka said.

The new findings reflect a growing socioeconomic divide in family life, he said. “Marriage is increasingly reserved for couples that have achieved a high economic standard. Rising divorce rates since the 1960s have also been steepest for individuals with less education.”

The study also found that cohabiting couples who earn an equal amount of money are more likely to stay together than couples with unequal earnings. “Equality appears to promote stability,” he said. “Equality in men’s and women’s economic contributions may hold these couples together.”

In addition, unmarried couples who live together tend to have more egalitarian views on men’s and women’s roles than couples who go from singlehood straight into marriage.

This could explain why the study found no evidence that men’s income or employment status is more important than a woman’s when it comes to predicting whether or not they stay together or marry. “It’s really the couple’s combined resources that seem to matter,” Ishizuka said.

The new findings are published in the journal Demography.

Source: Cornell University

Survey: Disabled Workers Overcoming Barriers to Employment

Sun, 04/15/2018 - 7:45am

People with disabilities often face significant barriers to employment, resulting in poorer labor force participation, higher unemployment rates, and lower wages compared to non-disabled workers.

In a new review, published in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, researchers from Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire, Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD) detail the positive findings of the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey (KFNEDS).

The survey reveals how Americans with disabilities are dealing with these issues and overcoming barriers to employment. The findings show that disabled people are actively engaging in job preparation and job search activities, and successfully negotiating barriers at work.

“Approximately 69 percent of those surveyed are striving to work, which is defined as working, actively preparing for employment, searching for jobs, seeking more hours, or overcoming barriers to finding and maintaining employment” said Elaine Katz, MS, CCC-SLP, of Kessler Foundation and senior vice president of grants and communications at Kessler Foundation.

“By focusing on the successful outcomes of jobseekers and employees with disabilities, rather than the barriers, we are reframing the discourse and adding to the growing body of knowledge on best employment practices.”

According to the researchers, identifying the strategies and resources required to help sustain disabled workers in paid employment is the first step toward increasing the participation of this population in the workforce.

Based on the findings, a substantial percentage of employees reported experiencing — and overcoming — obstacles to finding and maintaining employment, including insufficient education or training, negative attitudes of supervisors and coworkers, inaccurate assumptions on ability, pay disparity, and lack of transportation.

Over 42% of survey respondents were currently working, with 60.7% of those working more than 40 hours a week. Other findings showed that approximately 50% of the respondents used workplace accommodations and were satisfied with their jobs, and nearly 90% felt accepted in their workplace.

“This review highlights the strategies people with disabilities use to search for work and navigate barriers,a topic largely overlooked in contemporary disability and employment research,” said John O’Neill, Ph.D., director of disability and employment research at Kessler Foundation.

“Our hope is that this information will aid the development of targeted policies and programs that foster long-term increases in workforce participation among Americans with disabilities.”

Further research exploring the effectiveness of practices that employers often use to recruit, hire, train, and retain people with disabilities in their organizations, from the unique perspective of supervisors of employees with and without disabilities, is presented in the 2017 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey: Supervisor Perspectives.

Source: Kessler Foundation

 

 

Gay, Straight Residents May Not See Eye-to-Eye on ‘Gayborhoods’

Sun, 04/15/2018 - 7:00am

A new Canadian study finds a common misunderstanding between straight and gay people living in predominantly gay neighborhoods. While gay and lesbian residents see “gayborhoods” as a safe place to retreat from discrimination, straight residents may see them as a novel place to live and are surprised when they sometimes feel unwelcome.

In addition, the researchers found that, despite claiming to support gay rights, many straight people who live in gayborhoods still practice subtle forms of discrimination when interacting with their gay and lesbian neighbors.

“There is a mistaken belief that marriage equality means the struggle for gay rights is over,” said Dr. Amin Ghaziani, the study’s senior author and associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia (UBC). “But it is far from over. Prejudice and discrimination still exist — it’s just more subtle and difficult to detect.”

“The people we interviewed say their desire is for everyone to ‘just get along,’ but that desire implies that gaybourhoods are utopias where everyone can live, rather than places where minorities can find relief from discrimination and social isolation,” he said.

For the study, the researchers interviewed 53 straight people who live in two Chicago gayborhoods: Boystown and Andersonville.

While the majority of residents said they supported gay people, the researchers found their progressive attitudes didn’t appear to correlate with their actions. For example, many residents said they don’t care if people are gay or straight, but some indicated that they don’t like gay people who are “in your face.”

When asked about resistance from LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, queer) communities to the widespread trend of straight people moving into gayborhoods, some of the people interviewed responded with accusations of reverse discrimination and described gay people who challenged them as “segregationist” and “heterophobic.”

Some said they believed they should have open access to cultural gay spaces, and were surprised that they felt “unwelcome” there.

“If a group of straight women hosted a bachelorette party in a gay bar, for example, they were surprised that they felt ‘unwelcome,'” said Ghaziani. “That feeling of surprise, however, exemplifies a misguided belief that gay districts are trendy commodities when they are actually safe spaces for sexual minorities.”

In addition, when asked if they had done anything to show their support of gay rights, such as marching in the pride parade, donating to an LGBTQ organization, or writing a letter in support of marriage equality to a politician, the majority of straight residents said they had not.

Many also expected their gay and lesbian neighbors to be happy and welcoming of straight people moving into gayborhoods, expressing sentiments like, “you wanted equality— this is what equality looks like.”

Ghaziani said this argument portrays the fundamental misunderstanding of the inequality and discrimination that creates the need for gayborhoods in the first place.

“I hope that our research motivates people against becoming politically complacent or apathetic,” said Adriana Brodyn, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. student in the UBC department of sociology. “If we do not motivate ourselves to be aware of this subtle form of prejudice, then it will just continue to perpetuate.”

The findings are published in the journal City and Community.

Source: University of British Columbia

 

Know-It-Alls Tend to Overestimate What They Know

Sun, 04/15/2018 - 6:00am

Just about everyone knows a person who could be considered a “know-it-all,” someone who believes their knowledge and beliefs are superior to others. In a new study, researchers at the University of Michigan discovered what many people already suspect: know-it-all people tend to consistently overestimate what they actually know.

The study focused on people who profess “belief superiority” — or thinking their views are superior to other viewpoints — when it comes to political issues. The findings show that, even after getting feedback showing how much they didn’t know relevant political facts, the belief-superior participants still claimed that their beliefs were objectively more correct than everyone else’s.

In addition, they were more likely to seek out new information in biased ways to confirm their sense of superiority.

The researchers used several studies to answer two key questions about political belief superiority: Do people who think that their beliefs are superior have more knowledge about the issues they feel superior about? And do belief-superior people use superior strategies when seeking out new knowledge?

To answer the first question, participants reported their beliefs and feelings of belief superiority regarding several political topics. Researchers asked them how much they thought they knew about these topics and then had them complete quizzes testing their actual knowledge on those issues.

Throughout six different experiments and several political topics, participants who were high in belief superiority thought that they knew a great deal about these topics. However, when comparing this perceived knowledge to how much people actually knew, the researchers found that belief-superior people were consistently overestimating their own knowledge.

“Whereas more humble participants sometimes even underestimated their knowledge, the belief superior tended to think they knew a lot more than they actually did,” said Michael Hall, a psychology graduate student and the study’s lead author.

Next, the researchers offered participants news articles about a political topic and asked them to select which ones they would like to read. Half of the articles supported the participants’ own point of view, whereas the other half challenged their position.

Belief-superior people were significantly more likely than their more humble counterparts to choose the articles that supported their beliefs. Furthermore, they were aware that they were seeking out biased information: when the researchers asked them what type of articles they had chosen, they readily admitted their preference for articles that supported their own beliefs.

“We thought that if belief-superior people showed a tendency to seek out a balanced set of information, they might be able to claim that they arrived at their belief superiority through reasoned, critical thinking about both sides of the issue,” Hall said.

Instead, these individuals strongly preferred information that supported their own views, indicating that they were probably missing out on opportunities to improve and balance their knowledge.

So why do people seem to reject opposing viewpoints? Researchers suggest that while some people insist that they are always right, all of us feel good when the beliefs we think are important are confirmed.

In other words, when a belief is strongly held, is tied to one’s identity or values, or is held with a sense of moral conviction, people are more likely to distance themselves from information and people that challenge their belief.

“Having your beliefs validated feels good, whereas having your beliefs challenged creates discomfort, and this discomfort generally increases when your beliefs are strongly held and important to you,” said Dr. Kaitlin Raimi, U-M assistant professor of public policy and the study’s co-author.

The researchers note that people are also likely to claim belief superiority in a variety of other areas besides politics, such as the environment, religion, relationship conflicts, and even relatively trivial topics such as etiquette and personal preferences.

The findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Source: University of Michigan

 

Scientists Often Dismissed When Sound Quality is Bad

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 8:47pm

A new study finds that when people listen to recordings of scientists presenting their work, the quality of audio has a significant impact on whether the listener believes the content, regardless of who the researchers are or what they are talking about.

Dr. Eryn Newman of the Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Psychology said the findings reveal that when it comes to communicating science, style can override substance.

“When people are assessing the credibility of information, most of the time people are making a judgement based on how something feels,” said Newman.”Our results showed that when the sound quality was poor, the participants thought the researcher wasn’t as intelligent, they didn’t like them as much and found their research less important.”

For the study, participants watched video clips of scientists speaking at conferences. One group of participants heard the recordings in clear high-quality audio, while the other group heard the same recordings with poor-quality audio.

When asked to give an evaluation of the researchers and their work, participants who listened to the poorer quality audio consistently evaluated the scientists as less intelligent and their research as less important.

Next, the researchers upped the ante and conducted the same experiment using renowned scientists discussing their work on the well-known U.S. public radio program “Science Friday. “This time the recordings included audio of the scientists being introduced with their qualifications and institutional affiliations.

“It made no difference,” said Newman.”As soon as we reduced the audio quality, all of a sudden the scientists and their research lost credibility.”

Similar to the first experiment, participants thought the research was worse, the scientists were less competent and they also reported finding their work less interesting.

Newman said in a time when genuine science is struggling to be heard above fake news and alternate facts, researchers need to consider not only the content of their messages, but the quality of delivery.

“Another recent study showed false information travels six times faster than real information on Twitter,” she said.”Our results show that it’s not just about who you are and what you are saying, it’s about how your work is presented.”

The findings are published in the journal Science Communication.

Source: Australian National University

 

 

Night Owls May Have Higher Risk of Earlier Death

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 7:56pm

Night owls have a greater risk of dying sooner than morning people, according to a new study from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago and the University of Surrey in the U.K. The findings also show that night owls tend to have higher rates of diabetes, psychological disorders and neurological disorders.

The research, based on nearly half a million participants in the UK Biobank Study, found that night owls — those who like to stay up late into the night and have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning — have a 10 percent higher risk of dying than morning people.

The results held true after scientists adjusted for the expected health problems in owls.

“Night owls trying to live in a morning lark world may have health consequences for their bodies,” said co-lead author Dr. Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“It could be that people who are up late have an internal biological clock that doesn’t match their external environment,” Knutson said. “It could be psychological stress, eating at the wrong time for their body, not exercising enough, not sleeping enough, being awake at night by yourself, maybe drug or alcohol use. There are a whole variety of unhealthy behaviors related to being up late in the dark by yourself.”

Previous research in this field has focused on the higher rates of metabolic dysfunction and cardiovascular disease, but this study is the first to investigate mortality risk. The findings are published in the journal Chronobiology International.

“This is a public health issue that can no longer be ignored,” said Dr. Malcolm von Schantz, a professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey. “We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical. And we need more research about how we can help evening types cope with the higher effort of keeping their body clock in synchrony with sun time.”

For the study, the researchers examined the link between an individual’s natural inclination toward mornings or evenings and their risk of mortality. They asked 433,268 participants, aged 38 to 73 years, if they are a “definite morning type” a “moderate morning type” a “moderate evening type” or a “definite evening type.” Deaths in the sample were tracked up to six and half years later.

The researchers also found that night owls had higher rates of diabetes, psychological disorders and neurological disorders.

Genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining whether a person is a morning or a night type, or somewhere in between, but nothing is set in stone.

“You’re not doomed,” Knutson said. “Part of it you don’t have any control over and part of it you might.”

According to Knutson, the following may help:

  • make sure you are exposed to light early in the morning but not at night;
  • try to keep a regular bedtime and don’t let yourself drift to later bedtimes;
  • be regimented about adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors and recognize the timing of when you sleep;
  • and do things earlier and be less of an evening person as much as you can.

“If we can recognize these chronotypes are, in part, genetically determined and not just a character flaw, jobs and work hours could have more flexibility for owls,” Knutson said. “They shouldn’t be forced to get up for an 8 a.m. shift. Make work shifts match peoples’ chronotypes. Some people may be better suited to night shifts.”

In the future, the researchers want to test an intervention with night owls to help them shift their body clocks to adapt to an earlier schedule. “Then we’ll see if we get improvements in blood pressure and overall health,” she said.

The switch to daylight savings or summer time is already known to be much more difficult for evening types than for morning types.

“There are already reports of higher incidence of heart attacks following the switch to summer time,” says von Schantz. “And we have to remember that even a small additional risk is multiplied by more than 1.3 billion people who experience this shift every year. I think we need to seriously consider whether the suggested benefits outweigh these risks.”

Source: Northwestern University

Psychological Traits May Impact How We Look at Art

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 7:00am

The same piece of artwork can elicit completely different responses among various observers. Now a new Australian study reveals that psychological traits may play a significant role in how a person looks at art.

For the study, participants were psychologically evaluated in relation to their personality and then asked to look at abstract art pictures. They were then told to rate the pictures and to consider how much they would pay for them. The participants’ eye movements were tracked as they looked at the images.

The findings reveal that while the general observer tends to concentrate in the upper right quadrant of the image, individuals with neurotic tendencies hold a longer gaze toward the left side of the picture and those with mild schizophrenic tendencies look less often at the top.

Psychology lecturer Dr. Nicole Thomas of James Cook University (JCU)  in Australia notes that the relationship between personality traits and artwork preferences has already been well established. Scientists know, for example, that neurotic people are more likely to find abstract and pop art more appealing.

In the new study, however, the cognitive psychologists were particularly interested in the mechanisms of attention and perception.

“We found that people who tended towards neuroticism paid more attention to the left side of a picture, and those with traits related to schizophrenia looked less often at the top of a picture,” said Thomas.

These findings are significant because they correlate with known attentional differences in individuals with neuroticism. “For example, we tend to look to the left side of images first and the fact that these individuals spent more time looking at the left overall suggests they find it harder to disengage their attention,” said Thomas.

“In contrast, those participants with mild schizophrenic tendencies appear to have relied on an entirely different scanning strategy. The tendency to focus on the lower portion of an image has previously been linked with deficits in attentional focus and control.”

In general, the eye movements of the non-symptomatic participants were more concentrated in the upper right quadrant of their visual field.

“The right hemisphere of the brain plays a significant role in emotional processing. Artwork is inherently emotional and the emotional reactions elicited by abstract artwork might lead people to focus their attention within the upper right quadrant to better engage that emotional processing.”

Thomas said that activating the right hemisphere of the brain is also consistent with superior visuospatial processing, which would encourage more thorough exploration of abstract artwork. The work was begun by study co-author Ali Simpson at Flinders University.

Source: James Cook University

 

Inflammation in Pregnancy Tied to Greater Risk for Mental Illness in Child

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 6:00am

Heightened inflammation during pregnancy may increase the risk of mental illness or brain development problems in children, according to a new study led by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland.

The research team discovered a link between inflammation in pregnant women and the way the newborn brain is organized into networks. The findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, may offer promising avenues for treating such negative impacts on newborn brain function.

The research team, led by Damien Fair, P.A.-C., Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral neuroscience and psychiatry in the OHSU School of Medicine, and Claudia Buss, Ph.D., of the Charité-Universitätsmedizin in Berlin, Germany, and associate professor at University of California Irvine, collected blood samples from 84 pregnant women at each pregnancy trimester.

The samples were measured for levels of the cytokine interleukin-6, or IL-6, an inflammatory marker known to play a role in fetal brain development.

Four weeks after delivery, the infants’ brain connectivity patterns were evaluated using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans. At age 2, the children were also tested for working memory performance, a key skill that supports academic achievement and is frequently compromised in mental health disorders.

The findings reveal that differences in the levels of inflammatory markers are directly associated with differences in newborn brain communication, and later to working memory scores at age 2. Higher levels of the marker during pregnancy were more likely to result in poorer working memory in the child.

“Importantly, this doesn’t mean that every exposure to inflammation will result in a negative impact to the child,” said  co-author Alice Graham, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine.

“However, these findings provide new avenues for research, and can help health care providers think about how, and when, inflammation might impact a child’s long-term learning development and mental health.”

A notable aspect of the study was the development of a model that can correctly estimate information about maternal inflammation during pregnancy based only on newborn brain functioning, said Graham. Created using artificial intelligence known as machine-learning, the model is based on the biomarkers identified in the study and can be applied to cases beyond the initial research.

“Now, we have an approach that can utilize MRI brain scans of a newborn to accurately estimate the mother’s overall levels of inflammation during the time of her pregnancy,” she said. “This understanding provides some information about future memory function of that child approximately two-years later, creating a potential opportunity for research surrounding early clinical intervention, if necessary.”

According to Fair, future research should focus on how factors before and after birth — such as society and environment — interact to influence brain function and cognition in newborns.

“Increased stress and poor diet are considered normal by today’s standards, but greatly impact inflammation rates in all humans, not just expectant mothers,” said Fair. “Just as important to understanding how the immune system and inflammation affect early brain development, we also need to understand what common factors contribute to heightened inflammation so that we may target therapies to help reduce the rates of inflammation and overall impact on the developing brain.”

Source: Oregon Health & Science University

Study: Smiling Makes You Look Cooler

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 5:30am

One of the longest-held unspoken rules for being cool is keeping one’s emotions under control. This idea is commonly reinforced through advertisements where fashion models often look inexpressive and rarely smile.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Arizona wanted to investigate whether this link between concealing emotions and coolness was in fact true. In a series of experiments, participants looked at print-ad models who were either smiling or being inexpressive. The findings reveal that being inexpressive doesn’t necessarily make you look cool to others, but smiling often does.

“We found over and over again that people are perceived to be cooler when they smile compared to when they are inexpressive in print advertisements,” says Caleb Warren, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Arizona. “Being inexpressive makes people seem unfriendly or cold rather than cool.”

For the study, the participants looked at models — either smiling or inexpressive — in print advertisements for a clothing brand. The models included well-known celebrities such as James Dean, Emily Didonato, and Michael Jordan as well as unknown models. They were endorsing both unfamiliar brands and well-known brands.

The participants were asked to rate how cool the model seemed on a seven-point scale. The participants consistently rated the smiling models as cooler than the inexpressive models. The researchers were surprised that participants preferred the smiling pictures of James Dean, who is often inexpressive in photographs and considered a cool icon. The findings also reveal that participants have a less favorable impression of the brand when the models are inexpressive.

Warren and his co-authors, Todd Pezzuti from the University of Chile and Shruti Koley from Texas A&M University, found one exception to the rule: competitive situations. When a news article showed mixed martial arts fighters who were going to face one another at a press conference, participants rated the inexpressive athlete as more cool and dominant than a smiling athlete.

However, when the context changed to a friendly meeting with fans at a press conference, then the participants rated the smiling fighter as cooler. “This shows that being uncool or cool can depend on the context,” says Warren.

The results have implications not only for advertisers who are striving to make favorable impressions on consumers, but also for the average person in everyday life. In particular, Warren hopes this research will increase awareness about how we perceive one another. In social media, for example, people may want to consider posting smiling photos rather than inexpressive ones.

“This inaccurate belief about how to become cool can influence the way we communicate with others, and being inexpressive can hurt relationships,” Warren says. “It also makes it more difficult to understand one another. For these reasons, being inexpressive isn’t necessarily cool.”

The findings are published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Source: Society for Consumer Psychology

Holocaust Trauma Impacts How Survivors’ Offspring Cope with Caregiving

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 7:45am

A new Israeli study shows that the trauma of the Holocaust left an intergenerational mark on families, manifesting in how the adult children of survivors cope with stress, particularly as it relates to caring for their elderly parents.

Psychology researchers have long disagreed over whether the trauma of the Holocaust has permanently transferred into the offspring of survivors. Some argue that the children of Holocaust survivors exhibit impressive resilience and do not differ in major health markers — such as symptoms of depression and anxiety — from the general population.

Other researchers posit that the overwhelming suffering experienced by Holocaust survivors has lingered across generations, thereby affecting their offspring and other kin.

In an effort to bridge these contradicting views, a third theory suggests that the offspring of survivors are generally resilient, yet their vulnerability is exposed when they are coping with prolonged stress.

With this new theory in mind, the Bar-Ilan University researchers conducted a three-part study examining the way in which adult offspring of Holocaust survivors cope with stressful situations related to serving as caregivers for their elderly parents.

Their findings are published in the journal Aging & Mental Health.

In the first part of the study, the researchers conducted intensive interviews with 10 adult offspring who were acting as caregivers to their survivor parents. The respondents shared their concerns regarding their parents’ condition, and emphasized their desire to protect their parents from any additional suffering. They also noted the unique difficulties in caring for traumatized parents, such as their resistance to being treated by Jewish physicians with German names.

In the second part of the study, the researchers interviewed 60 adult offspring, half of whose parents survived the Holocaust and half whose parents were not directly exposed to the Holocaust. The researchers found that the offspring of survivors expressed a greater commitment to caring for their parents and also felt greater anxiety regarding their parents’ condition, compared to their counterparts.

In the third portion of the study, the researchers interviewed 143 parent-child dyads (some with Holocaust background and some without). The researchers found much greater levels of commitment and anxiety among the offspring of survivors who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“These findings have some important practical implications for practitioners assisting adult offspring of Holocaust survivors in caring for their parents,” said Professor Amit Shrira, of the Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences.

“Practitioners should help both sides process negative emotions, resolve conflictual and problematic relationships, and improve their relationships. They should also facilitate offspring comprehension of, and empathy towards, complicated behaviors exhibited by the care recipient.”

“Lastly, they should encourage offspring of Holocaust survivors to express their own needs and suggest other methods of care for their parents so that the burden doesn’t fall entirely upon them.”

Shrira conducted the study with Dr. Moshe Bensimon, of the Department of Criminology, and graduate student Ravit Menashe.

Source: Bar-Ilan University

 

EEG in Brain Region May Predict Success of Antidepressants

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 7:00am

New research offers hope that a noninvasive intervention can predict which individuals will or will not respond to drug treatment for depression. Currently, 10 to 30 percent of individuals fail to respond to an initial course of care.

Investigators found that an electroencephalogram or EEG can detect electrical activity in a brain region that corresponds to a patient’s response to an antidepressant.

The paper appears in JAMA Psychiatry, and was jointly first-authored by Diego A. Pizzagalli, Ph.D., and Christian A. Webb, Ph.D.

“Our work shows that we could predict a patient’s response to an antidepressant by looking at the activation level of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) region of the brain by using an EEG,” said Pizzagalli.

Pizzagalli is director of the McLean Hospital Imaging Center. Webb is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Treatment and Etiology of Depression in Youth Laboratory.

In the study, researchers discovered that certain markers in the brain could allow clinicians to identify patients with a high or low likelihood of responding to certain treatments for depression. Webb said that this is the first study to show that activity in this brain region predicts the likelihood of treatment response above and beyond what was suggested by clinical and demographic characteristics.

For this study, the team built upon Pizzagalli’s previous work showing that EEG recordings of ACC activity could predict the eventual response. “In that prior study, we saw that the higher the activity before the start of the treatment, the better the clinical response months later,” noted Pizzagalli.

For the new study, more than 300 patients were tested at four sites in the United States, using sertraline (brand name Zoloft) for the treatment group. “We showed that the brain marker predicted clinical response eight weeks later, even when statistically controlling for demographics and clinical variables previously linked to treatment response,” said Pizzagalli.

“For those with the marker of good response, a clinician could tell patients that they have a high chance of benefitting from the intervention, and they should stay engaged in treatment,” he explained.

Conversely, he said, for patients with the marker of low response, “clinicians could decide to start with more aggressive treatment at the outset, such as a combination of pharmacology and psychotherapy, and importantly, monitor these patients more closely.”

Soon, Webb, Pizzagalli, and their colleagues plan to deploy these approaches on patients at McLean Hospital to determine whether they can lead to treatment-specific predictions.

“Our vision is to determine if an optimal combination of markers — including brain-based but also clinical and demographic characteristics — might allow us to predict response to drug A but not drug B or psychotherapy, for example,” Webb explained.

Also, if an ACC marker predicts better response, researchers might develop cognitive training that specifically targets this region, which could increase brain activation to accelerate or boost response to more traditional intervention.

Pizzagalli and his team hope to engage in further research into this concept by testing patients with major depressive disorder.

Source: McLean Hospital/EurekAlert

Survey: Heavy Smartphone Use Tied to Anxiety, Loneliness, Depression

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 6:34am

New research suggests the convenience of smartphones can facilitate overuse and addiction. San Francisco State investigators suggested many users are also addicted to the constant pings, chimes, vibrations and other alerts from our devices, unable to ignore new emails, texts and images.

As published in the journal NeuroRegulation, Dr. Erik Peper, a professor of health education, and Dr. Richard Harvey, an associate professor of health, state that overuse of smart phones is just like any other type of substance abuse.

“The behavioral addiction of smartphone use begins forming neurological connections in the brain in ways similar to how opioid addiction is experienced by people taking Oxycontin for pain relief — gradually,” Peper said.

Moreover, an addiction to social media technology may actually have a negative effect on social connections.

In a survey of 135 San Francisco State students, Peper and Harvey found that students who used their phones the most reported higher levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed and anxious.

The researchers believe the loneliness is partly a consequence of replacing face-to-face interaction with a form of communication where body language and other signals cannot be interpreted.

They also found that those same students almost constantly multitasked while studying, watching other media, eating or attending class. This constant activity is problematic as it allows little time for bodies and minds to relax and regenerate.

Peper explains that the behavior also results in “semi-tasking,” where people do two or more tasks at the same time, but half as well as they would have if focused on one task at a time.

Peper and Harvey note that digital addiction is a result of the tech industry’s desire to increase corporate profits.

“More eyeballs, more clicks, more money,” said Peper. Push notifications, vibrations and other alerts on our phones and computers make us feel compelled to look at them by triggering the same neural pathways in our brains that once alerted us to imminent danger.

“But now we are hijacked by those same mechanisms that once protected us and allowed us to survive, for the most trivial pieces of information,” he said.

But just as we can train ourselves to eat less sugar, for example, we can take charge and train ourselves to be less addicted to our phones and computers.

Peper suggests turning off push notifications, only responding to email and social media at specific times and scheduling periods with no interruptions to focus on important tasks.

Two of Peper’s students say they have taken proactive measures to change their patterns of technology use. Recreation, Parks and Tourism major Khari McKendell closed all of his social media accounts about six months ago because he wanted to make stronger face-to-face connections with people.

“I still call and text people but I want to make sure that a majority of the time I’m talking to my friends in person,” he said.

Senior Sierra Hinkle, a Holistic Health minor, says she has stopped using headphones while out walking in order to be more aware of her surroundings. When she’s out with friends, they all put their phones in the center of the table, and the first one to touch theirs buys the drinks.

“We have to become creative and approach technology in a different way that still incorporates the skills we need but doesn’t take away from real-life experience,” said Hinkle.

Source: San Francisco State University