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Updated: 2 hours 49 min ago

Psychological Tests Used In Court Are Often ‘Junk Science’

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 7:00am

New research suggests courts often admit psychological tests as evidence that are not scientifically valid. Yet they can play a role in determining parental fitness for child custody, assessing the sanity or insanity of a person at the time of a crime, and judging eligibility for capital punishment.

Once introduced into a case psychological instruments are rarely challenged, according to Dr. Tess Neal, an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University.

“Given the stakes involved one would think the validity of such tests would always be sound,” Neal said. “But we found widespread variability in the underlying scientific validity of these tests.”

The problem is made worse because the courts are not separating the good from the bad.

“Even though courts are required to screen out ‘junk science,’ nearly all psychological assessment evidence is admitted into court without even being screened,” Neal said.

Neal presented her findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle.

In a two-part investigation, Neal and her colleagues found a varying degree of scientific validity to 364 commonly used psychological assessment tools employed in legal cases. The researchers looked at 22 surveys of experienced forensic mental health practitioners to find which tools are used in court.

With the help of 30 graduate students and postdocs, they examined the scientific foundations of the tools, focusing on legal standards and scientific and psychometric theory. The second part of the study was a legal analysis of admissibility challenges with regard to psychological assessments, focusing on legal cases from across all state and federal courts in the U.S. for a three-year period (2016-2018).

“Most of these tools are empirically tested (90 percent), but we could only clearly identify two-thirds of them being generally accepted in the field and only about 40 percent as having generally favorable reviews of their psychometric and technical properties in authorities like the Mental Measurements Yearbook,” Neal explained.

“Courts are required to screen out the ‘junk science,’ but rulings regarding psychological assessment evidence are rare. Their admissibility is only challenged in a fraction of cases (5.1 percent),” Neal said.

“When challenges are raised, they succeed only about a third of the time. Challenges to the most scientifically suspect tools are almost nonexistent,” Neal added. “Attorneys rarely challenge psychological expert assessment evidence, and when they do, judges often fail to exercise the scrutiny required by law.”

According to researchers, what is needed is a different approach.

In an open-access paper in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Neal and her colleagues offer concrete advice for solving these problems to professionals and the public. Professions targeted include psychological scientists, mental health practitioners, lawyers, judges and members of the public interacting with psychologists in the legal system.

“We suggest that before using a psychological test in a legal setting, psychologists ensure its psychometric and context-relevant validation studies have survived scientific peer review through an academic journal, ideally before publication in a manual,” Neal explained.

“For lawyers and judges, the methods of psychologist expert witnesses can and should be scrutinized, and we give specific suggestions for how to do so.”

Source: Arizona State University/EurekAlert

Early PTSD Therapy After Natural Disaster Shows Long-Term Benefits

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 9:00am

A long-term study of survivors of a 1988 earthquake in Armenia shows that children who received psychotherapy soon after the disaster were still experiencing health benefits well into adulthood.

The 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck near the northern Armenian city of Spitak, and is estimated to have killed between 25,000 and 35,000 people, many of whom were schoolchildren.

The ongoing research project, led by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), is one of the first long-term studies to follow survivors of a natural disaster who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) more than five years after the event.

The project tracks PTSD and depression symptoms in people who received psychotherapy as children, as well as those who did not.

The findings are particularly relevant today, said lead author Dr. Armen Goenjian, given the increased frequency and severity of climate-related catastrophes such as hurricanes and wildfires. Goenjian is a researcher at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

The latest findings, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, also identified factors that contributed to the risk for PTSD and depression among the earthquake survivors, including whether their homes were destroyed, the severity of adversity they faced after the earthquake and whether they experienced chronic medical illnesses after the disaster.

The findings show that people who had strong social support were less likely to develop PTSD and depression.

“The association of persistent PTSD and depression with chronic medical illnesses points to the need for targeted outreach services across physical and behavioral health systems,” said Goenjian, who is also director of the Armenian Relief Society Clinics in Armenia.

The researchers evaluated 164 survivors who were 12 to 14 years old in 1990, about a year-and-a-half after the earthquake. Of that group, 94 lived in the city of Gumri, which experienced substantial destruction and thousands of deaths. The other 70 lived in Spitak, where the damage was far more severe and there was a higher rate of death.

A few weeks after the initial assessment, mental health workers provided trauma- and grief-focused psychotherapy in some schools in Gumri, but not in others because of a shortage of trained medical staff.

“We were comparing two devastated cities that had different levels of post-earthquake adversities,” Goenjian said. “People in Spitak, who experienced more destruction, earthquake-related deaths and injuries but experienced fewer post-earthquake adversities, had a better recovery from PTSD and depression than survivors in Gumri.”

Researchers interviewed survivors five and 25 years after the earthquake. They discovered that people from Gumri who received psychotherapy had significantly greater improvements in both their depression and PTSD symptoms.

On the 80-point PTSD-Reaction Index, for example, PTSD scores for the Gumri group that received psychotherapy dropped from an average of 44 points a year-and-a-half after the earthquake to 31 points after 25 years.

PTSD scores for people from Gumri who did not receive treatment declined as well, but not as much: from 43 points at one-and-a-half years to 36 points after 25 years.

Overall, people from Spitak had more severe PTSD and depression after the earthquake. However, since they experienced fewer ongoing challenges, such as shortage of heat, electricity, housing and transportation, they tended to show greater improvements in their PTSD symptoms compared to both Gumri groups. The PTSD symptoms for Spitak survivors fell from 53 points at one-and-a-half years to 39 points after 25 years.

“The takeaway is that school-based screening of children for post-traumatic stress reactions and depression, along with providing trauma and grief-focused therapy after a major disaster is strongly recommended,” Goenjian said.

Source: University of California- Los Angeles Health Sciences



Kids’ Fingertip Injuries Could Signal Abuse in Some Cases

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 7:30am

Children with a documented history of abuse or neglect are 23 percent more likely to suffer a fingertip injury before age 12, according to new research published in the Journal of Hand Surgery Global Online. The study is the first to look at the link between children’s fingertip injuries and abuse or neglect.

“Currently, pediatric fingertip injuries typically are not considered an injury of abuse but one of accidental trauma or a clumsy child who gets his finger caught in a door,” said lead author Dr. Alice Chu, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery and chief of the division of pediatric orthopedics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Fingertips injuries can occur during abuse when a child is treated roughly or when the abuser slams a door or steps on their hands. Chu says that doctors may suspect abuse if parents provide a vague history with contradictory statements, if they delay seeking treatment or if the child’s developmental stage is inconsistent with the type of injury.

“Doctors need to see these instances as a possible injury from abuse or neglect so they can be on higher alert during the evaluation,” she said.

For the study, the team used a New York state database that tracks medical discharge records to identify 79,108 children from infancy to 12 years old who sought emergency treatment between 2004 and 2013 for fingertip injuries, such as amputation, tissue damage or crushing, from a total of 4,870,299 children in the database. They then analyzed the children’s medical record history for documentation of abuse.

“We found that children who had been coded at some point with physical abuse were more likely to have also been brought in for treatment of a fingertip injury,” said Chu.

“There is no one injury type that is 100 percent predictive of child abuse, but all the small risk factors can add up. Since fingertip injuries are mostly inflicted by someone else — whether intentional or accidental — it should be a signal to physicians to look deeper into the child’s medical history for signs of neglect or physical abuse.”

Source: Rutgers University




“Winner-Takes-All” Pay Structure May Be Biggest Driver of Innovation

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 7:00am

A new study reveals that a competitive “winner-takes-all” pay structure is most effective in empowering workers to come up with novel ideas and solutions.

Innovation is a major force behind economic growth, but many experts disagree on what is the best way to encourage workers to produce the “think-outside-of-the-box” ideas that lead to better products and services.

For the study, researchers from the University of California (UC), San Diego, partnered with Thermo Fisher Scientific, one of the globe’s largest biotech companies, to hold an innovation contest.

Participants in the competition, which was open to all non-management employees of Thermo Fisher and other tech companies in the region, were asked to design digital solutions to help share medical equipment across small healthcare clinics in the region.

The competition was created to test which of two common compensation models produced more novel ideas. Participants were randomly selected to compete in either the “winner-takes-all” category, in which there was one prize of $15,000 awarded to first place, or the “top 10” category, in which the same amount of prize money was spread out among the top 10 entries.

The entries were judged by a panel of six experts. Half of the judges were from industry (Thermo Fisher and Teradata) and the other half were from academia (computer sciences professors from local universities in the Baja California region).

The novelty of the submissions was rated on a scale from 1 to 5, relative to what is currently and/or soon to be available on the market. The lowest possible score (1) was given to proposed solutions already on the market, and the highest score (5) was awarded to submissions in which no one else has thought of a similar idea.

Those who entered could work as an individual or in teams. The findings show that team submissions in the “winner-takes-all” category were more novel than the team entries in the “top 10” category.

The results of teams vs. individual entries in both categories are consistent with other studies, showing that teams with diversified skill-sets and deepened professional experience produced better entries than that of individuals.

Subsequently, participants in both categories were surveyed on their risk preferences. Not surprisingly, those less averse to risk performed better in the “winner-takes-all” category.

In addition, women who submitted entries in the contest performed better than average in both categories of the competition.

The study was authored by professor of economics Dr. Joshua Graff Zivin and assistant professor of management Dr. Elizabeth Lyons.

“Participants under the winner-takes-all compensation scheme submitted proposals that were significantly more novel than their counterparts in the other scheme,” said the authors of National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper, who both hold appointments with the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy.

“While the two groups did not statistically differ from one another on their overall scores, the risk taking encouraged by the competition with a single prize resulted in innovators pursuing more creative solutions.”

They added, “These findings are significant because the 21st century economy is one that prizes novelty. Firms view it as an important source of comparative advantage. It is also an essential ingredient in the development of technological breakthroughs that transform markets with major impacts to consumers and producers.”

Though there was more risk vs. reward in the “winner-takes-all” category, both produced the about the same number of submissions (20 in “top 10” category and 22 in the “winner-takes-all” category), indicating that having less of a chance of winning a monetary award did not have an impact on the amount of work output.

In conclusion, the authors noted that genius is not created by incentives, but empowered by them.

“It is important to recognize that incentives alone are insufficient to spark creativity,” they wrote. “More work is required to understand the raw ingredients that shape the relationship between creativity and compensation.”

Source: University of California- San Diego


New Research Suggests We Shouldn’t Trust Facial Expressions

Sun, 02/16/2020 - 12:30pm

New research has found that facial expressions might not be reliable indicators of emotion.

In fact, researchers at Ohio State University warn that it might be more accurate to say we should never trust a person’s face.

“The question we really asked is: ‘Can we truly detect emotion from facial articulations?'” said Dr. Aleix Martinez, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at The Ohio State University. “And the basic conclusion is, no, you can’t.”

For the study, researchers analyzed the kinetics of muscle movement in the human face and compared those muscle movements with a person’s emotions. What they discovered is that attempts to detect or define emotions based on a person’s facial expressions were almost always wrong.

“Everyone makes different facial expressions based on context and cultural background,” Martinez said. “And it’s important to realize that not everyone who smiles is happy. Not everyone who is happy smiles. I would even go to the extreme of saying most people who do not smile are not necessarily unhappy. And if you are happy for a whole day, you don’t go walking down the street with a smile on your face. You’re just happy.”

It is also true that people sometimes smile out of an obligation to social norms, he said.

This would not inherently be a problem, but some companies have begun developing technology to recognize facial muscle movements and assign emotion or intent to those movements, he noted.

The researchers analyzed some of those technologies and largely found them lacking, he said.

“Some claim they can detect whether someone is guilty of a crime or not, or whether a student is paying attention in class, or whether a customer is satisfied after a purchase,” he said. “What our research showed is that those claims are complete baloney. There’s no way you can determine those things. And worse, it can be dangerous.”

The danger lies in the possibility of missing the real emotion or intent in another person, and then making decisions about that person’s future or abilities, Martinez warns.

Consider a classroom and a teacher who assumes that a student is not paying attention because of the expression on the student’s face. The teacher might expect the student to smile and nod along if the student is paying attention. But maybe that student, for reasons the teacher doesn’t understand — cultural reasons, perhaps, or contextual ones — is listening intently, but not smiling at all. Martinez argues it would be wrong for the teacher to dismiss that student because of the student’s facial expressions.

After analyzing data about facial expressions and emotion, the research team, which included scientists from Northeastern University, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Wisconsin, concluded that it takes more than expressions to correctly detect emotion.

Facial color, for example, can help provide clues, researchers found.

“What we showed is that when you experience emotion, your brain releases peptides — mostly hormones — that change the blood flow and blood composition, and because the face is inundated with these peptides, it changes color,” Martinez said.

The body offers other hints, too, he said, such as posture.

Context also plays a crucial role, he said.

In one experiment, Martinez showed study participants a picture cropped to display just a man’s face. The man’s mouth is open in an apparent scream, his face bright red.

“When people looked at it, they would think, wow, this guy is super annoyed, or really mad at something, that he’s angry and shouting,” Martinez said. “But when participants saw the whole image, they saw that it was a soccer player who was celebrating a goal.”

In context, it’s clear the man is very happy. But isolate his face and he appears almost dangerous, Martinez said.

Cultural biases play a role, too.

“In the U.S., we tend to smile a lot,” he said. “We are just being friendly. But in other cultures, that means different things. In some cultures, if you walked around the supermarket smiling at everyone, you might get smacked.”

The findings show that people — from hiring managers to professors to criminal justice experts — should consider more than just a facial expression when they evaluate another person.

And while Martinez is “a big believer” in developing computer algorithms that try to understand social cues and the intent of a person, he added that two things are important to know about that technology.

“One is you are never going to get 100 percent accuracy,” he said. “And the second is that deciphering a person’s intent goes beyond their facial expression, and it’s important that people — and the computer algorithms they create — understand that.”

The study’s findings were presented at the 2020 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Source: Ohio State University

Why Would Taller Young Men Have Less Risk of Dementia?

Sun, 02/16/2020 - 8:00am

Young men who are taller than average may have a lower risk of dementia in old age, according to a new Danish study published in eLife. The findings suggest the height-dementia link may have roots in early-life environmental exposures.

Previous studies have shown that height may be a risk factor for dementia, but most research on this topic has not taken into account genetic, environmental, or other early-life factors that may be linked to both height and dementia.

“We wanted to see if body height in young men is associated with diagnosis of dementia, while exploring whether intelligence test scores, educational level, and underlying environmental and genetic factors shared by brothers explain the relationship,” said lead author Dr. Terese Sara Høj Jørgensen, Assistant Professor at the Section of Social Medicine, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen.

To do this, the researchers looked at data on 666,333 Danish men born between 1939 and 1959, including 70,608 brothers and 7,388 twins, from Danish national registries. They found a total of 10,599 men who developed dementia later in life.

Their adjusted analysis revealed that there was about a 10% reduction in the risk of developing dementia for about every 6 centimeters of height in individuals above the average height. When the team took into account the potential role of intelligence or education, the unadjusted association between height and dementia risk was only slightly reduced.

They found that the link between height and dementia also existed when they looked at brothers of different heights, suggesting that genetics and family characteristics alone do not explain why shorter men had a greater dementia risk. This was also true when they studied data concerning twins, although the results for this group were less certain.

“A key strength of our study is that it adjusted for the potential role of education and intelligence in young men’s dementia risk, both of which may build up cognitive reserve and make this group less vulnerable to developing dementia,” said senior author Dr. Merete Osler, professor at the Center for Clinical Research and Prevention, Bispebjerg and Frederiksberg Hospital, and at the University of Copenhagen.

“Cognitive reserve” is the brain’s ability to improvise and solve problems that come up in daily life. Osler says that adjusting for education and intelligence lowers the odds that the link between height and dementia is really explained by cognitive reserve.

“Together, our results point to an association between taller body height in young men and a lower risk of dementia diagnosis later in life, which persists even when adjusted for educational level and intelligence test scores,” Osler says.

“Our analysis of the data concerning brothers confirms these findings, and suggests the association may have common roots in early-life environmental exposures that are not related to family factors shared by brothers.”

Osler adds that an important limitation of the study is the uncertainty as to whether these findings can be generalized to women, as previous work on potential gender differences in the relationship between height and dementia has been mostly inconclusive.

Source: eLife

Breaking Up Can Be Even Harder In the Age of Social Media

Sun, 02/16/2020 - 7:00am

Getting over a breakup is even harder in the age of social media, according to a new study.

“Before social media, breakups still sucked, but it was much easier to get distance from the person,” said Anthony Pinter, a doctoral student in the information science department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and lead author of the study. “It can make it almost impossible to move on if you are constantly being bombarded with reminders in different places online.”

People trying to get over a break up are faced with the possibility of seeing their ex is “in a relationship” on Facebook. Or the Memories feature shows a photo from that vacation you took together last year. Or your ex-lover’s new lover’s mom shows up under People You May Know.

Scenarios like these are real and not uncommon, according to the study.

For the study, researchers recruited participants who had experienced an upsetting encounter online involving a break-up within the past 18 months and interviewed them for over an hour.

Among the 19 people who underwent in-depth interviews, a disturbing trend emerged: Even when people took every measure they saw possible to remove their exes from their online lives, social media returned them — often multiple times a day, the researchers discovered.

“A lot of people make the assumption that they can just unfriend their ex or unfollow them and they are not going to have to deal with this anymore,” said Pinter. “Our work shows that this is not the case.”

News Feed, the primary interface that opens when you launch Facebook, was a major source of distress, delivering news of ex-lovers announcing they were in a new relationship. In one case, a participant noticed his roommate had already “liked” his ex’s post. He was the last of his friends to know.

Memories, which revives posts from years’ past, was equally heart-rending, with one participant recalling how a sweet years-old message from his ex-wife popped up out of nowhere delivering an “emotional wallop.”

Many shared stories of encountering exes via their comments in shared spaces, such as groups or mutual friends’ pictures.

“In real life, you get to decide who gets the cat and who gets the couch, but online it’s a lot harder to determine who gets this picture or who gets this group,” said Pinter.

In 2015, Facebook launched the Take A Break feature, which detects when a user switches from “in a relationship” to “single” and asks if they want the platform to hide that person’s activities. But people like Pinter, who don’t use the Relationship Status tool, never get such an offer.

“Facebook doesn’t know we broke up because Facebook never knew we were in a relationship,” he said.

Even when someone unfriends their ex, if a mutual friend posts a picture without tagging them in it, that picture may still flow through their feed.

And even when they blocked their exes entirely, some reported that the ex’s friends and family would still show up on Facebook as suggestions under People You May Know.

“Am I never going to be free of all this crap online?” asked one exasperated participant.

The research stems from a larger National Science Foundation grant award called Humanizing Algorithms, aimed at identifying and offering solutions for “algorithmic insensitivity,” researchers said.

“Algorithms are really good at seeing patterns in clicks, likes and when things are posted, but there is a whole lot of nuance in how we interact with people socially that they haven’t been designed to pick up,” said Assistant Professor Jed Brubaker.

The researchers suggest that such encounters could be minimized if platform designers paid more attention to the “social periphery” — all those people, groups, photos, and events that spring up around a connection between two users.

For those wanting to rid their online lives from reminders of love lost, they recommend unfriending, untagging, using Take a Break, and blocking — but also understanding they may not be foolproof.

Your best bet: “Take a break from social media for a while until you are in a better place,” Pinter said.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery,

Source: University of Colorado at Boulder

Nature Play Can Boosts Kids’ Creativity, Complex Thinking and Social Skills

Sat, 02/15/2020 - 9:31am

A new Australian study finds that nature play can improve children’s complex thinking skills, social skills and creativity.

Researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) conducted a systematic review exploring the impact of playing in nature on the health and development of children ages 2 to 12. The study is the first to provide evidence that supports the development of innovative nature play spaces in childcare centers and schools.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS, also support investing in city and urban parks that would deliver important opportunities for children’s physical, social and emotional development.

“Nature play is all about playing freely with and in nature. It’s about making mud pies, creating stick forts, having an outdoor adventure, and getting dirty,” said UniSA masters student Kylie Dankiw. “These are all things that children love to do, but unfortunately, as society has become more sedentary, risk averse and time-poor, fewer children are having these opportunities.”

“By playing in nature, children can build their physical capabilities – their balance, fitness, and strength. And, as they play with others, they learn valuable negotiation skills, concepts of sharing and friendships, which may contribute to healthy emotional and social resilience.”

Working with Associate Professor Katherine Baldock, Dankiw conducted a systematic review of 2,927 peer-reviewed articles. The researchers narrowed it down to 16 studies that involved unstructured, free play in nature (forest, green spaces, outdoors, gardens) and included natural elements (highly vegetated, rocks, mud, sand, gardens, forests, ponds and water) to determine the impact of nature play on children’s health and development.

The team found that nature play improved children’s levels of physical activity, health-related fitness, motor skills, learning, and social and emotional development. They also discovered that nature play may deliver improvements in cognitive and learning outcomes, including children’s levels of attention and concentration, punctuality, settling in class (even after play), constructive play, social play, as well as imaginative and functional play.

“In recent years, nature play has become more popular with schools and childcare centres, with many of them re-developing play spaces to incorporate natural elements, such as trees, plants and rocks,” said Dankiw. “But as they transition from the traditional ‘plastic fantastic’ playgrounds to novel nature-based play spaces, they’re also looking for empirical evidence that supports their investments.

“Our research is the first to rigorously, transparently and systematically review the body of work on nature play and show the impact it has on children’s development. We’re pleased to say that the findings indicate a positive connection between nature play and children’s development.”

Source: University of South Australia


Digital Dating Abuse May Affect 1 in 4 Teens – And Mostly Boys

Sat, 02/15/2020 - 8:00am

A new study shows that more than a quarter of teens are victims of digital dating abuse.

Digital dating abuse uses technology to repetitively harass a romantic partner with the intent to control, coerce, intimidate, annoy, or threaten them, researchers explain. Given that teens in relationships today are constantly in touch with each other via texting, social media, and video chat, more opportunities for digital dating abuse can arise.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire sought to clarify the extent to which teens are experiencing digital forms of dating abuse, as well as identify what factors are contributing to those experiences.

The study included 2,218 middle and high school students between the ages of 12 and 17 who have been in a romantic relationship.

The study found that 28.1 percent of teens who had been in a romantic relationship at some point in the previous year said they had been the victim of at least one form of digital dating abuse, including:

  • whether their significant other looked through the contents of their device without permission;
  • kept them from using their device;
  • threatened them via text;
  • posted something publicly online to make fun of, threaten, or embarrass them; and
  • posted or shared a private picture of them without permission.

Additionally, the study found that more than one-third of the teens — 35.9 percent —  had been the victim at least one form of traditional dating abuse. They were pushed, grabbed or shoved; hit or threatened to be hit; called names or criticized; or prevented from doing something they wanted to do, the researchers report.

Interestingly, according to the researchers, males were significantly more likely to have experienced digital dating abuse (32.3 percent) compared to females (23.6 percent). Boys were also more likely to experience all types of digital dating abuse, and were even more likely to experience physical aggression.

No other differences emerged with respect to demographic characteristics, such as sexual orientation, race, and age, according to the study’s findings.

“Specific to heterosexual relationships, girls may use more violence on their boyfriends to try to solve their relational problems, while boys may try to constrain their aggressive impulses when trying to negotiate discord with their girlfriends,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., lead author and a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.

“It is clear that digital dating abuse affects a meaningful proportion of teenagers, and we need to model and educate youth on what constitutes a healthy, stable relationship and what betrays a dysfunctional, problematic one.”

The researchers also found a significant connection between digital and traditional forms of dating abuse: 81 percent of the teens who had been the target of digital dating abuse had also been the target of traditional dating abuse.

Teens victimized offline were approximately 18 times more likely to have also experienced online abuse compared to those who were not victimized offline. Similarly, most of the teens who had been the victim of offline dating violence also had been the victim of online dating violence, though the proportion was lower at 63 percent.

A number of risk factors were significantly associated with digital dating abuse, the researchers discovered.

Teens who reported depressive symptoms were about four times as likely to have experienced digital dating abuse.

Those who reported that they had sexual intercourse were 2.5 times as likely to have experienced digital dating abuse. Students who had sent a “sext” to another person were nearly five times as likely to be the target of digital dating abuse as compared to those who had not sent a sext. Finally, those who had been the target of cyberbullying also were likely to have been the target of digital dating abuse.

“As we observe ‘Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month’ (in February), we are hopeful that our research will provide more information on the context, contributing factors, and consequences of these behaviors,” said Hinduja. “Gaining a deeper understanding of the emotional and psychological mind-set and the situational circumstances of current-day adolescents may significantly inform the policy and practice we need to develop to address this form and all forms of dating abuse.”

The study was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Source: Florida Atlantic University

Brain Inflammation Found in Veterans With Gulf War Illness

Sat, 02/15/2020 - 7:00am

In a new study, researchers detected widespread inflammation in the brains of veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Illness (GWI).

GWI is a chronic, multi-symptom condition affecting about 30% of military veterans who returned from the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War. Symptoms may include fatigue, muscle pain, insomnia, cognitive problems (often described as brain fog) and exhaustion after exercise.

The cause of GWI is unknown, but several potential culprits are suspected. They include exposure to nerve gas, as well as medicine given to protect against this neurotoxin; exposure to pesticides; and the stress of extreme temperature changes, sleep deprivation and physical exertion during deployment.

Many GWI symptoms overlap with fibromyalgia, said the senior author of the study, Marco Loggia, Ph.D. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition also characterized by widespread pain with associated fatigue, sleep and mood issues.

Loggia’s laboratory at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital focuses on understanding the brain mechanisms of pain and neuroinflammation in humans.

Last year, Loggia and his colleagues showed in another study that fibromyalgia patients have extensive neuroinflammation. “So, we asked, Do veterans who have Gulf War Illness demonstrate evidence of neuroinflammation, too?”

To find out, the research team collaborated with the Gulf War Illness Consortium at Boston University, which helped them recruit Gulf War veterans. The study involved 23 veterans, 15 of whom had GWI, as well as 25 healthy civilian subjects.

All participants’ brains were scanned using positron-emission tomography (PET) imaging, which measured levels of a molecule called translocator protein that rises in the presence of neuroinflammation.

The scans detected little evidence of neuroinflammation in the healthy controls and veterans without GWI. In contrast, the researchers found extensive inflammation in the brains of veterans with GWI, “particularly in the cortical regions, which are involved in ‘higher-order’ functions, such as memory, concentration and reasoning,” said Zeynab Alshelh, Ph.D., one of two research fellows in Loggia’s lab who co-led the study.

“The neuroinflammation looked very similar to the widespread cortical inflammation we detected in fibromyalgia patients,” said Alshelh.

What might cause neuroinflammation? The central nervous system has legions of immune cells that protect the brain by detecting bacteria, viruses, and other potentially harmful agents, then producing inflammatory molecules to destroy the invaders, said Loggia.

However, while this response can be beneficial in the short term, it may become exaggerated, said Loggia, “and when that happens, inflammation becomes pathological — it becomes the problem.”

Research has also implicated neuroinflammation in a number of additional conditions, including chronic pain, depression, anxiety, autism, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS), Huntington’s disease and migraine. The findings of the GWI study, Loggia said, “could help motivate a more aggressive evaluation of neuroinflammation as a potential therapeutic target.”

The findings are published online in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital