Tri-County Services

In The News

Syndicate content
Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 2 hours 23 min ago

Sniff Test Can Predict Recovery of Severely Brain Injured Patients

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 6:00am

A new study finds that the ability to detect smells predicts recovery and long-term survival in patients who have suffered severe brain injuries.

In fact, a simple, inexpensive sniff test could help doctors accurately diagnose and determine treatment plans for patients with disorders of consciousness, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge in the UK.

The study involved brain-injured patients showing very minimal or no signs of awareness of the external world. It found that 100% of patients who reacted to the sniff test went on to regain consciousness. Furthermore, more than 91% of these patients were still alive three and a half years after their injuries, the researchers reported.

“The accuracy of the sniff test is remarkable — I hope it will help in the treatment of severely brain injured patients around the world,” said Anat Arzi, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology and the Weizmann Institute of Science Israel, who led the research, together with Professor Noam Sobel from the Weizmann Institute of Science Israel and Dr. Yaron Sacher from the Loewenstein Rehabilitation Hospital Israel.

It is often difficult for doctors to determine a patient’s state of consciousness after a severe brain injury, the researchers said, noting diagnostic errors are made in up to 40% of cases.

A patient who is minimally conscious differs from one in a vegetative state, and their future outcomes differ, the scientists said. An accurate diagnosis is critical because it informs treatment strategies, such as pain management and can influence end-of-life decisions.

Our sense of smell is a very basic mechanism and relies on structures deep within the brain, the researchers explained. The brain automatically changes the way we sniff in response to different smells. For example, when presented with an unpleasant smell we automatically take shorter, shallower breaths.

Research was conducted on 43 severely brain-injured patients. The experimenter first explained to each patient that different smells would be presented to them in jars, and the breathing through their nose would be monitored using a small tube called a nasal cannula. There was no indication that the patients heard or understood, the researchers said.

Next, a jar containing either a pleasant smell of shampoo, an unpleasant smell of rotten fish, or no smell at all was presented to each patient for five seconds. Each jar was presented 10 times in a random order, and a measurement was made of the volume of air sniffed by the patient.

The researchers found that minimally conscious patients inhaled significantly less in response to smells, but did not discriminate between nice and nasty smells. These patients also modified their nasal airflow in response to the jar with no smell. This implies awareness of the jar or a learned anticipation of a smell.

Vegetative state patients varied — some did not change their breathing in response to either of the smells, but others did.

A follow-up investigation three and a half years later found that more than 91% of the patients who had a sniff response shortly after injury were still alive, but 63% of those who showed no response had died.

By measuring the sniff response in severely brain-injured patients, the researchers said they could measure the functioning of deep-seated brain structures. Across the patient group, they found that sniff responses differed consistently between those in a vegetative state and those in a minimally conscious state, providing further evidence for an accurate diagnostic.

“We found that if patients in a vegetative state had a sniff response, they later transitioned to at least a minimally conscious state,” said Arzi. “In some cases, this was the only sign that their brain was going to recover — and we saw it days, weeks, and even months before any other signs.”

In a vegetative state the patient may open their eyes, wake up and fall asleep regularly and have basic reflexes, but they don’t show any meaningful responses or signs of awareness. A minimally conscious state differs because the patient may have periods where they can show signs of awareness or respond to commands.

“When the sniff response is functioning normally, it shows that the patient might still have some level of consciousness even when all other signs are absent,” said Dr. Tristan Bekinschtein in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, who was involved in the study. “This new and simple method to assess the likelihood of recovery should be immediately incorporated in the diagnostic tools for patients with disorders of consciousness.”

The study was published in the journal Nature.

Source: University of Cambridge

Experts Worry About Mental Health Stress As More at Risk of Online Scams

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 5:30am

New research suggests we feel less vulnerable to phishing scams than others, thereby underestimating our own exposure to risk. The research is timely as many more people are working online as we distance during the COVID-19 crisis.

Underestimating our exposure to risk occurs, in part, because we overlook data, or “base rate information,” that could help us recognize risk when assessing our own behavior, say New York University researchers.

Ironically, we often use the knowledge to predict that others are at risk, but not ourselves.

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the physical and mental health of people around the globe. Now, with so many more working online during the pandemic, the virus threatens to wreak havoc on the world’s “cyber health,” the researchers note.

“This study shows people ‘self-enhance’ when assessing risk, believing they are less likely than others to engage in actions that pose a threat to their cyber security–a perception that, in fact, may make us more susceptible to online attacks because it creates a false sense of security,” says Emily Balcetis, an associate professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology.

Balcetis authored the study, which appears in the journal Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology.

“This effect is partially explained by differences in how we use base rate information, or actual data on how many people are actually victimized by such scams,” adds co-author Quanyan Zhu, a professor at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering.

“We avoid it when assessing our own behavior, but use it in making judgments about actions others might take. Because we’re less informed in assessing our actions, our vulnerability to phishing may be greater.”

Experts say that through March, more than two million U.S. federal employees had been directed to work from home — in addition to the millions working in the private sector and for state and local governments. This overhaul of working conditions has created significantly more vulnerabilities to criminal activity — a development recognized by the Department of Homeland Security.

Indeed, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an alert in March that foreshadowed the specific cyber vulnerabilities that arise when working from home rather than in the office.

In their study, the researchers sought to capture how people perceive their own vulnerabilities in relation to others’.

To do so, they conducted a series of experiments on computers screens in which subjects were shown emails that were phishing scams and were told these requests, which asked people to click links, update passwords, and download files, were illegitimate.

To tempt the study’s subjects, college undergraduates, they were told complying with the requests would give them a chance to win an iPad in a raffle, allow them to have their access restored to an online account, or other outcomes they wanted or needed.

Half of the subjects were asked how likely they were to take the requested action while the other half was asked how likely another, specifically, “someone like them,” would do so.

On the screen that posed these questions, the researchers also provided the subjects with “base rate information”: The actual percentage of people at other large American universities who did the requested behavior (One, for instance, read: “37.3 percent of undergraduate students at a large American university clicked on a link to sign an illegal movie downloading pledge because they thought they must in order to register for classes”).

The researchers then deployed an innovative methodology to determine if the subjects used this “base rate information” in reporting the likelihood that they and “someone like them” would comply with the requested phishing action. Using eye-tracking technology, they could determine when the subjects actually read the provided information when reporting their own likelihood of falling for phishing attempts and when reporting the likelihood of others doing the same.

Overall, they found that the subjects thought they were less likely than are others to fall for phishing scams — evidence of “self-enhancement.” The researchers also discovered that the subjects were less likely to rely on “base rate information” when answering the question about their own behavior yet more likely to use it when answering question about how others would act.

“In a sense, they don’t think that base rate information is relevant to their own personal likelihood judgments, but they do think it’s useful for determining other people’s risk,” observes Balcetis.

“The patterns of social judgment we observed may be the result of individuals’ biased and motivated beliefs that they are uniquely able to regulate their risk and hold it at low or nonexistent levels.”

Blair Cox, the lead researcher on the paper and scientist in NYU’s Department of Psychology, adds. “As a result, they may in fact be less likely to take steps to ensure their online safety.”

Source: New York University

Research Uses Artificial Intelligence to Measure Human Emotions

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 7:30am

New research presented virtually at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) annual meeting shows how data-driven computational methods are being used to explain the most basic human trait – emotions. Investigators believe their findings will overturn old ideas about the structure of emotions across humanity.

Scientists are applying computing power to understand everything from how we generate spontaneous emotions during mind-wandering to how we decode facial expressions across cultures.

Investigators believe the findings are important in characterizing how emotions contribute to well-being, the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders, and even how to make more effective social robots.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) enables scientists to study emotions in ways that were previously thought to be impossible, which is leading to discoveries that transform how we think emotions are generated from biological signals,” said Dr. Kevin LaBar of Duke University.

Six core human emotions — fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise — have been considered as universal in human psychology for decades. Yet despite the societal prevalence of this idea, experts contend the scientific consensus actually shows that these emotions are far from universal.

In particular, there is a significant gap in facial recognition of these emotions across cultures in particular for people from East Asia, said Dr. Rachael Jack, a researcher at the University of Glasgow.

Jack has been working to understand what she calls the “language of the face;” how individual face movements combine in different ways to create meaningful facial expressions (like how letters combine to create words).

“I think of this a bit like trying to crack hieroglyphics or an unknown ancient language,” Jack said. “We know so much about spoken and written language, even hundreds of ancient languages, but we have comparatively little formal knowledge of the non-verbal communication systems we use every day and which are so critical to all human societies.”

In new work, Jack and her team have created a novel data-driven method to create dynamic models of these face movements, like a recipe book of facial expressions of emotions. Her team is now transferring these models to digital agents, such as social robots and virtual humans, so that they can generate facial expressions that are socially nuanced and culturally sensitive.

From their research they have created a novel face movement generator which can randomly select a subset of individual face movements, such as eyebrow raiser, nose wrinkler, or lip stretcher, and randomly activate the intensity and timing of each.

These randomly activated face movements then combine to create a facial animation. Study participants from different cultures then categorize the facial animation according to the six classic emotions, or they can select “other” if they do not perceive any of these emotions.

After many such trials, the researchers build a statistical relationship between the face movements presented on each trial and the participants’ responses, which produces a mathematical model.

“In contrast to traditional theory-driven approaches where experimenters took a hypothesized set of facial expressions and showed them to participants across the world, we have added a psychophysical approach,” Jack said.

“It is more data-driven and more agnostic in sampling and testing facial expressions and, critically, uses the subjective perceptions of cultural participants to understand what face movements drive their perception of a given emotion, for example, ‘he is happy.'”

These studies have condensed the six commonly thought of universal facial expressions of emotions to only four cross-cultural expressions. “There are substantial cultural differences in facial expressions that can hinder cross-cultural communication,” Jack said. “We often, but not always, find that East Asian facial expressions have more expressive eyes than Western facial expressions, which tend to have more expressive mouths — just like Eastern versus Western emoticons!”

She adds that there are also cultural commonalities that can be used to support accurate cross-cultural communication of specific messages; for example, facial expressions of happy, interested, and bored are similar across Eastern and Western cultures and can be recognized across cultures easily.

Jack and her team are now using their models to enhance the social signaling capabilities of robots and other digital agents that can be used globally. “We’re very excited to transfer our facial expression models to a range of digital agents and to see the dramatic improvement in performance,” she says.

Understanding how the subjective experience of emotion is mediated in the brain is the holy grail of affective neuroscience, said LaBar of Duke. “It is a hard problem, and there has been little progress to date.” In his lab, LaBar and colleagues are working to understand the emotions that emerge while the brain is mind-wandering at rest.

“Whether triggered by internal thoughts or memories, these ‘stream-of-consciousness’ emotions are the targets of rumination and worry that can lead to prolonged mood states, and can bias memory and decision-making,” he said.

Until recently, researchers have been unable to decode these emotions from resting-state signals of brain function. Now, LaBar’s team has been able to apply machine learning tools to derive neuroimaging markers of a small set of emotions like fear, anger, and surprise. Moreover, the researchers have modeled how these emotions spontaneously emerge in the brain while subjects are resting in an MRI scanner.

The core of the work has been training a machine learning algorithm to differentiate patterns of brain activity that separate emotions from one another. The researchers present a pattern classifier algorithm with a training data set from a group of participants who were presented with music and movie clips that induced specific emotions.

Using feedback, the algorithm learns to weigh the inputs coming from different regions of the brain to optimize the signaling of each emotion. The researchers then test how well the classifier can predict the elicited emotions in a new sample of participants using the set of brain weights it generated from the test sample.

“Once the emotion-specific brain patterns are validated across subjects in this way, we look for evidence that these patterns emerge spontaneously in participants who are merely lying at rest in the scanner,” Labar said.

“We can then determine whether the pattern classifier accurately predicts the emotions that people spontaneously report in the scanner, and identify individual differences.”

Source: Cognitive Neuroscience Society/EurekAlert

Veterans at Risk for Homelessness Long After Military Discharge

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 6:45am

Homelessness among U.S. military veterans rarely happens immediately after discharge, but instead can take years to manifest with the risk becoming greater over the next 15 years, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The findings reveal that this “sleeper effect” delay is often seen among veterans who served before the Persian Gulf War era, as well as in more recent groups from the post-9/11 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“The study points to the long-life cycle leading to homelessness among veterans,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Jack Tsai, research director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans in Tampa, Florida.

“It often takes years for problems stemming from military service to build up before a veteran becomes homeless. The team and I found that the risk increases exponentially over time in the period 5-15 years post-military discharge.”

For the study, the research team looked at data from two nationally representative samples, including the records of 275,775 homeless veterans who used the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) services from 2000-2019, as well as a 2018 population-based community survey of 115 veterans with a history of homelessness.

The average time between discharge and homelessness was found to be 5.5 years in the VA sample and 9.9 years in the survey sample.

Major factors linked to longer discharge-to-homelessness periods include service in the Vietnam War, younger age at military discharge, income, and chronic medical and psychiatric conditions (e.g., depression and alcohol abuse).

The findings reveal that some medical and psychiatric conditions take time to develop and do not quickly lead to homelessness but follow a more chronic course that, if untreated, can eventually lead to homelessness.

Deployments to the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were significantly linked to shorter duration between discharge and homelessness, a phenomenon that is increasing.

Among homeless VA service users discharged from 2000 to 2008, it took 10 years or more for 10 percent to become homeless; among those discharged from 2009 to 2014, more than 10 percent were homeless seven years after discharge. This finding reflects earlier research showing that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience considerable difficulties with social adjustment.

“Understanding what happens to people after they leave the military and at what point they become homeless is important for policymakers, service providers, veterans, and their family members in order to prevent new generations of veterans from becoming homelessness,” said Tsai.

“Those who end up homeless have very low quality of life, and developing strategic early interventions at various stages after military discharge can mitigate that risk.”

Interventions focused on chronic health conditions and social adjustment are crucial to prevent homelessness among these veterans.

The research also highlights the effect of certain socioeconomic issues, such as the lack of affordable housing, unemployment and barriers against subgroups (women veterans with children and veterans with cognitive impairments).

Source: Elsevier


Exercise After 40 Tied to Less Time in Hospitals

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 6:30am

Middle-aged and older adults (ages 40-79) who engage in any form of physical activity are significantly less likely to have frequent or extended hospital stays, according to a new U.K. study published in the journal BMC Geriatrics.

The findings show that inactive participants spent slightly over 4 days more in the hospital during the next ten years compared to those who did at least some form of physical activity, whether for work or leisure. And similar results were seen 10 years later when the same participants were 50-90 years old.

The research, conducted by a team from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Public Health and Primary Care and MRC Epidemiology Unit, is based on a general British population study of 25,639 men and women, ages 40-79, living in Norfolk who were recruited from general practices between 1993 and 1997.

The participants completed a lifestyle questionnaire in which they reported their total levels of physical activity. Occupational activity was assessed using a four category question (“sedentary,” “standing,” “moderate physical work” and “heavy manual work”) with examples such as office worker, shop assistant, plumber and construction worker respectively.

Leisure activity in both summer and winter was calculated from the number of hours per week spent cycling, attending keep fit classes or aerobics and swimming or jogging. Estimated average hours of leisure activity was calculated as the mean of summer and winter activities.

Based on a score combining leisure and occupational elements, participants were categorized as “inactive,” “moderately inactive,” “moderately active” and “active.”

The study found that those with a physical activity score of at least “moderately inactive” had fewer hospital admissions and fewer days in hospital, than those who were “inactive.”

Within the first 10 years, active participants were 25-27% less likely than inactive participants to have more than 20 hospital days or more than 7 admissions per year with similar results over the subsequent ten years.

The team also found that among 9,827 study participants with repeated measurements, those who remained physically active or increased their activity were 34% less likely to spend 20 days in hospital.

The researchers also calculated that for every inactive person who starts to engage in at least some exercise, the NHS could save around £247 ($304) per year. This would equal around 7% of the U.K.’s per capita health expenditure.

“Our study provides some of the clearest evidence yet that small, feasible increases in usual physical activity substantially reduce the future hospital usage of middle-aged and older people, and would significantly ease pressure on the NHS,” said lead author Dr. Robert Luben from the Institute of Public Health.

Although previous research has suggested that pre-admission physical activity programs may lower the duration of hospital stays, these are short term, require funding and are targeted to a limited number of individuals. But these new findings indicate that usual physical activity patterns in the general population predict hospital usage over the next two decades.

The researchers note that participants may be physically inactive because of known or preclinical illness which may also predispose them to increased later hospitalization. However, analyses excluding those with a self-reported chronic disease at baseline (heart attack, stroke or cancer), and excluding hospital admissions occurring in the first five years of follow-up, did not differ materially from the main findings.

Source: University of Cambridge


Aromatherapy Patches May Help Reduce Nurses’ Stress, Exhaustion

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 8:00am

A new pilot study suggests that aromatherapy patches may help reduce nurses’ on-the-job feelings of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and overwhelm.

“If we can improve our nurses’ emotional reserves and give them more resiliency by using aromatherapy — give them a place to step back, to do some mindfulness — we’re doing a good thing at the other end of it by improving patient care,” said Marian Reven, a Ph.D. student in the West Virginia University (WVU) School of Nursing.

In an 8-week study, Reven and her colleagues — WVU researchers Janelle Humphrey-Rowan, D.N., and Nina Moore, R.N. — provided aromatherapy patches to 19 nurses who worked at the Infusion Center at the WVU Cancer Institute.

The nurse participants wore aromatherapy patches on their ID badges for four-to-eight-hour stretches, on eight separate occasions, while working at the infusion center. The patches were infused with a citrusy blend of essential oils: lemon, orange, mandarin, pink grapefruit, lemongrass, lime and peppermint.

“I sat down with people from the WVU Cancer Institute’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, and we smelled three different oil blends,” said Reven, a registered nurse with WVU Medicine and certified registered aromatherapist. “When they smelled this blend, everybody’s face lit up, and they were immediately happy.”

Before and after wearing the patch each time, the nurses completed a survey in which they reported their mood by rating specific emotions on a scale of 1 to 10.

The team found that participants felt significantly less stressed, anxious, fatigued and overwhelmed after wearing the aromatherapy patches. The levels of anxiety and fatigue they reported fell by 40 percent, and their stress levels and feelings of being overwhelmed decreased by half.

“Oncology nurses face a type of stress that is unique,” Reven said. “There are so many cancers that are considered chronic illnesses that oncology infusion center nurses probably see these people for years instead of months. They know them. They get very invested in their lives.”

“It’s a stressful job,” said Dr.Laurie Theeke, professor and director of the Ph.D. Program at the School of Nursing and nurse practitioner in the Department of Family Medicine. “You’re dealing with life or death or chronic illness every day. And people in all of the health professions are stressed. This doesn’t just have application to nursing. It’s about workplace stress.”

The study shows that aromatherapy might improve patients’ moods, too, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when hospital patients can’t receive visitors.

“I work nightshift weekends,” Reven said. “Last weekend, several of the patients tugged on my heart strings. They missed their family and friends so much during this time of ‘no visitors.’ I just wanted to be able to do something more for them. An aromatherapy patch with lavender or citrus might have helped.”

“As a nurse, I spend a lot of time at the bedside of very ill people,” she added. “I often think, ‘How would I feel if it was me?’ I get very sad sometimes watching the suffering, and yes, I personally use aromatherapy to help with my resiliency.”

Loneliness isn’t just unpleasant. It’s also a predictor of depression, functional decline and mortality.

“People do die of loneliness,” Theeke said.

The findings also suggest that aromatherapy might help people outside of healthcare settings feel better as they shelter in place to avoid COVID-19. For example, a person can simply plug in an essential oil diffuser or add a drop of pure lavender essential oil to a teaspoon of lotion.

Reven emphasizes the importance of buying essential oils only from reputable sources.

“There are two professional organizations that can give the layperson credible information about where to find essential oils and how to use them safely: the Alliance of International Aromatherapists and the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy,” she said.

But you don’t have to buy anything special to enjoy the benefits of aromatherapy. Common household items, used during common household tasks, can be enough.

“Baking is aromatherapy,” Reven said. “Cutting up an orange is aromatherapy. We need some aromatherapy all the time.”

The findings are published in the International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapy.

Source: West Virginia University

Chronic Illness in Childhood Tied to Greater Risk of Mental Illness

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 7:48am

Children with long-term health conditions, such as asthma, may be at greater risk of developing a mental health disorder in early adolescence compared to healthy children, according to a new study at Queen Mary University of London.

The findings, published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, show that kids with chronic health problems exhibit higher rates of mental illness at age 10, and these health issues continue to be linked to poor mental health at ages 13 and 15.

For the study, a research team reviewed a sample of approximately 7,000 children to investigate the occurrence of mental health disorders, including anxiety or depression, and chronic illness.

The measure of chronic illness was based on mothers rating their child’s health at ages 10 and 13. Since chronic conditions are defined as those that cannot be cured but can be controlled by medication and other therapies, and may have little disease activity, this measure included children presenting with minor health problems.

The study found that children with chronic health conditions were approximately twice as likely at 10 and at 13 to present with a mental health disorder than the control group (children reported by their mothers to be ‘healthy, no problems’). At age 15, children with chronic health problems were 60% more likely to present with such disorders.

“Although the link between chronic health conditions and mental health problems in childhood has been made before, this study provides the strongest evidence of it to date in the years of late childhood and early adolescence,” said study author Dr. Ann Marie Brady.

“The difference chronic conditions make to mental health are concerning, and the first impact can be seen even before adolescence, in late childhood.”

To investigate further, the team looked at a subset of the children with chronic illness: those who had been diagnosed with asthma. Their asthma symptoms were generally mild and well-controlled. Nevertheless, researchers found that asthmatic children showed a similar pattern, having a higher rate of mental illness at 10, 13 and 15 than healthy children.

The researchers also investigated what additional factors might account for the association between chronic conditions and mental illness. The sample was taken from the Children of the 90s study, which also contains information from parents and children about other issues including family functioning, friendships, children’s activity levels, bullying and health-related absenteeism from school. The team analyzed which of these might contribute to mental illness rates among kids with chronic illness.

The researchers found that bullying and health-related school absenteeism emerged as the most significant additional factors for children with mental health issues. Health-related school absenteeism was identified as the most consistent factor predicting mental health problems over time.

“Chronic illness disrupts children’s normal lives, and this can affect their development and wellbeing,” said Brady. “Even children with asthma, a generally treatable and less debilitating chronic condition, had higher rates of mental illness than the healthy children in our study.”

“If children with chronic conditions are more likely to miss school, or experience bullying, that can make the situation worse. Keeping an eye on school attendance and looking out for evidence of bullying amongst children with chronic illness may help to identify those who are most at risk.”

Source: Queen Mary University of London


More Green Tea, Berries and Apples May Halve Risk of Alzheimer’s

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 6:00am

A new study finds that over a span of 20 years, older adults who ate less flavonoid-rich foods such as berries, apples and tea were two to four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias compared with people whose intake was higher.

The epidemiological study of 2,800 people aged 50 and older study was led by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University. They examined the long-term relationship between eating foods containing flavonoids and risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).

While many studies have looked at associations between nutrition and dementias over short periods of time, this study examined exposure for over 20 years. The research is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Flavonoids are natural substances found in plants, including fruits and vegetables such as pears, apples, berries, onions, and plant-based beverages like tea and wine. Flavonoids are associated with various health benefits, including reduced inflammation. Dark chocolate is another source of flavonoids.

The research team determined that low intake of three flavonoid types was linked to higher risk of dementia when compared to the highest intake. Specifically:

  • low intake of flavonols (apples, pears and tea) was associated with twice the risk of developing ADRD;
  • low intake of anthocyanins (blueberries, strawberries, and red wine) was associated with a four-fold risk of developing ADRD;
  • low intake of flavonoid polymers (apples, pears, and tea) was associated with twice the risk of developing ADRD.

The results were similar for Alzheimer’s.

“Our study gives us a picture of how diet over time might be related to a person’s cognitive decline, as we were able to look at flavonoid intake over many years prior to participants’ dementia diagnoses,” said lead author Dr. Paul Jacques, a nutritional epidemiologist at the USDA HNRCA.

“With no effective drugs currently available for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, preventing disease through a healthy diet is an important consideration.”

The researchers analyzed six types of flavonoids and compared long-term intake levels with the number of AD and ADRD diagnoses later in life. They found that low intake (15th percentile or lower) of three flavonoid types was linked to higher risk of dementia when compared to the highest intake (greater than 60th percentile). Examples of the levels studied included:

  • low intake (15th percentile or lower) was equal to no berries (anthocyanins) per month, roughly one-and-a-half apples per month (flavonols), and no tea (flavonoid polymers);
  • high intake (60th percentile or higher) was equal to roughly 7.5 cups of blueberries or strawberries (anthocyanins) per month, 8 apples and pears per month (flavonols), and 19 cups of tea per month (flavonoid polymers).

“Tea, specifically green tea, and berries are good sources of flavonoids,” said first author Esra Shishtar. “When we look at the study results, we see that the people who may benefit the most from consuming more flavonoids are people at the lowest levels of intake, and it doesn’t take much to improve levels. A cup of tea a day or some berries two or three times a week would be adequate,” she said.

Jacques also said making dietary changes relatively late in life can still be effective. In the study, participants were around 50 when data was first analyzed. “The risk of dementia really starts to increase over age 70, and the take home message is, when you are approaching 50 or just beyond, you should start thinking about a healthier diet if you haven’t already,” he said.

To measure long-term flavonoid intake, the research team used dietary questionnaires, filled out at medical exams approximately every four years by participants in the Framingham Heart Study, a largely Caucasian group of people who have been studied over several generations for risk factors of heart disease.

To increase the likelihood that dietary information was accurate, the researchers excluded questionnaires from the years leading up to the dementia diagnosis, based on the assumption that, as cognitive status declined, dietary behavior may have changed, and food questionnaires were more likely to be inaccurate.

Investigators admit there are some limitations to the study, including the use of self-reported food data from food frequency questionnaires, which are subject to errors in recall. Also, the findings are generalizable (or applicable) to middle-aged or older adults of European descent.

Factors such as education level, smoking status, physical activity, body mass index and overall quality of the participants’ diets may have influenced the results, but researchers accounted for those factors in the statistical analysis. Due to its observational design, the study does not reflect a causal relationship between flavonoid intake and the development of AD and ADRD.

Source: Tufts UniversityTufts University

Study Probes Child-to-Parent Violence

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 7:00am

In a new U.K. study, researchers have provided detailed insights and recommendations to help police recognize, report and analyze instances of violence from children towards parents. Northumbria Police in the northeast of England commissioned the study so they could better understand the concept of child-to-parent violence and the associated risks.

A research team from Northumbria University and the Children’s Emotional Language and Thinking (CEL&T) organization began working with Northumbria Police in 2018 to investigate what is sometimes called Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour (CCVAB).

The study highlighted the need to formally recognize these incidents within law enforcement and social services. Their aim was to develop new ways to prevent such abuse in the home and provide appropriate support to families.

“It’s hard for victims to report abusive partners — let alone their own child,” said Detective Chief Inspector Louise Cass-Williams, who described the research as “ground-breaking.”

“Child to parent abuse exists in many forms, it can be emotional or financial, it can see children damaging property or their home and, of course, it can be physical and violent. It’s in a parent’s nature to protect their child but sometimes it’s the parent, sibling or family member who needs to be protected from the child,” she said.

“This research is a vital first step in understanding this aspect of abuse more than ever before and making sure parents, carers and family members have the best possible support from police and every other agency. It is important that when dealing with cases of child to parent violence, there is a focus by police on appropriate intervention by partners rather than progressing solely down a criminal justice route.”

The findings, which have now been made public, highlight that addressing CCVAB requires a multi-agency partnership approach.

However, the researchers found a lack of coordination and information sharing between health, mental health, education, social care and criminal justice services. This means that police are often unaware of known concerns or follow-up actions but are still required to respond to calls.

In particular, the team found that the association between school exclusion and attendance and incidents of CCVAB in the home requires further examination. They also identified the need for adult and child safeguarding teams to work more closely in these cases.

The study also recommends that recognizing and recording CCVAB is a vital first step in understanding the extent and profile of this form of abuse. While the study found that most instances of such violence were carried out by teens, researchers suggested that earlier incidents when the child was younger and physically smaller may not have been reported.

Northumbria Police became the first force in the country to manually record these cases in March 2019; overall, they responded to more than 500 calls in the first nine months.

“We know that there are a lot of families living with this in silence,” said Jeannine Hughes, a senior lecturer in Northumbria University’s Department of Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing.

“This is a form of abuse that exists, and we need to be able to provide targeted interventions to help people who find themselves in this situation. The police get called when it reaches crisis point, which is too late.”

“As much as the police want to be able to help, we really need local authorities, health and education partners to be working together on an early response before such behaviours are entrenched. Without recording it accurately we can’t fully understand the scale of the problem or the underlying causes of this form of abuse.”

“The recording of these statistics will help us to develop a much better understanding of the underlying causes of CCVAB and the key links to adversity. Importantly, it will also help agencies to collect the dots between cases and bring a focus back to local authorities and others.”

“This will lead to a growing recognition for all those affected that this is something that many other families are experiencing and so they should not be afraid to talk about it and ask for help,” said Hughes, who has been researching domestic abuse for two decades and has a background in youth offending social work.

Al Coates MBE, Director of CEL&T, said “While the police service is willing to support families, they are being called out to incidents that they should not be called out to because of their need to respond. They are the service that can’t say ‘no’ and families are forced to turn to them when other services have not met their needs or are not available.”

“Our report builds on a steadily growing body of research that considers the underlying issues that impact on children who display extreme aggressive and violent behaviour. During this process we’ve been given access to records and, having worked as a social worker, I thought I’d become hardened to the challenges that children and families face.”

“Yet I confess to being rendered speechless reading some of the incident reports. Stories of incredibly vulnerable children with mental ill health, special educational needs, substance misuse, adversity, trauma and more are all playing out in homes across the region.”

Source: Northumbria University


Worsening Insomnia May Predict Persistent Depression in Older Adults

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:30am

Older adults who struggle with depression may be at much greater risk of remaining depressed if they experience persistent or worsening sleep problems, according to a new study published in the journal Sleep.

“We can’t say that the sleep disturbances we’re seeing are necessarily causing the poor depression outcomes,” said senior author Adam Spira, Ph.D., professor in the department of mental health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“But the results suggest that older adults who are being treated for depression and whose sleep problems are persistent or worsening need further clinical attention. They also suggest that treating sleep problems should be explored further as a potential means to improve depression outcomes in older people — as well as the poor cognitive and general health outcomes that have been tied to disturbed sleep in this population.”

For the study, a team from the Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed data from nearly 600 people over age 60 who had visited primary care centers in the Northeast U.S. All patients met clinical criteria for major or minor depression at the beginning of the study.

The findings show that patients with a pattern of worsening insomnia symptoms throughout the following year were almost 30 times more likely to have major depression at the end of that year, compared to patients whose sleep had improved.

Participants with worsening insomnia were also much more likely to have a diagnosis of minor depression and were more likely to report suicidal thoughts at the end of the year.

Compared to patients whose sleep had improved, those with insomnia symptoms that persisted but did not worsen were more likely to have persistent major or minor depression, but their risk was not as high as patients with worsening sleep.

“These results suggest that, among older adults with depression, insomnia symptoms offer an important clue to their risks for persistent depression and suicidal ideation,” Spira said.

A lack of sleep has long been considered a potential risk factor for mood disorders, and has more recently been studied in relation to suicidal thinking. In a previous study of older adults living in low- and middle-income countries, the team found that older adults reporting insomnia symptoms and poor sleep quality were more likely to report having suicidal thoughts, and that participants with insomnia symptoms were more likely to report a prior suicide attempt.

The new analysis looked at data from a sleep and mental health study conducted from May 1999 to August 2001, covering older adults at 20 primary care centers in New York City, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

“There otherwise hasn’t been much research on insomnia and depression in older adults in primary care settings — even though primary care is where most people with depression are treated,” Spira says.

The analysis involved 599 patients, 429 (71.6 percent) of whom were women. At the start of the study, the patients’ average age was 70.3 years, and two-thirds met criteria for major depression, while the rest met criteria for minor depression.

The researchers evaluated the patients’ reports of insomnia symptoms — primarily difficulty falling asleep or waking without a full night’s sleep — over 12 months, and sorted them into three groups based on their reports: 346 patients who started with fewer sleep problems and slept much better by the end of the study; 158 who started with more sleep problems and stayed the same or improved only slightly over the year; and 95 patients who at baseline had more sleep problems and worsened over the year.

The findings show that, compared to the patients whose sleep had improved, subjects with worsening sleep disturbances had 28.6 times the odds of having a diagnosis of major depression at the end of the year, as opposed to no longer having a depression diagnosis.

The patients whose sleep worsened also had 11.9 times the odds of having a diagnosis of minor depression at the end of the year and were 10 percent more likely to report having suicidal thoughts at the end of the year.

The study’s lead author was Joseph Gallo, M.D., M.P.H., professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health.

Source: Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Plant Extracts Combo May Ease Hangover

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:00am

A new study suggests that a plant extract combination of Barbados cherry (Acerola), prickly pear, ginkgo biloba, willow and ginger root may help ease physical and psychological hangover symptoms.

The findings, published online in BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health, also reveal that the common assumption that most hangover symptoms are caused by alcohol’s dehydrating effects and the loss of electrolytes may be wrong. (Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals in the body that help balance water content and acid levels.)

While a variety of natural remedies have long been recommended to relieve hangover symptoms, there has been no strong scientific evidence for their use.

In the new study, researchers assessed the potential of specific plant extracts, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidant compounds to see if they could ease a range of recognized physical and psychological symptoms associated with drinking alcohol.

They evaluated plant extracts including Barbados cherry, prickly pear, ginkgo biloba, willow and ginger root. The vitamins and minerals included magnesium, potassium, sodium bicarbonate, zinc, riboflavin, thiamin and folic acid.

A total of 214 healthy adults (ages 18-65) were randomly split into three groups and given a 7.5-gram flavored, water soluble supplement 45 minutes before, and immediately after they stopped drinking alcohol (beer, white wine, or white wine spritzer).

The first group (69) consumed a supplement containing the plant extracts, vitamins and minerals, and the additional antioxidant compounds steviol glycosides and inulin. The second group (76) consumed a supplement minus the plant extracts, while the third group (69) was given glucose alone (placebo).

The number and type of drinks consumed was tracked, as was how many times the participants emptied their bladder between 1,700 and 2,100 hours.

Participants also underwent blood and urine samples and blood pressure measurements, which were taken before and after the start of this four-hour period, after which the participants were sent home to sober up.

Twelve hours later the same samples and blood pressure measurements were taken, and subjects completed a questionnaire about the type and intensity of perceived hangover symptoms, which were ranked on a scale from zero to 10.

The average amount of alcohol consumed was virtually the same in all three groups: 0.62 ml/minute.

Analysis of all the data showed that symptom intensity varied widely among the participants. However, compared with the glucose-only supplement, those taking the full supplement of plant extracts, minerals/vitamins, and antioxidants reported less severe symptoms.

Average headache intensity was 34% less, nausea 42% less, while feelings of indifference fell by an average of 27% and restlessness by 41%. No significant differences or reductions were reported for any of the other symptoms.

Polyphenol and flavonoid compounds in each of the five plant extracts have been associated with curbing the physiological impact of alcohol in previously published experimental studies, researchers said. But it’s not clear how.

“The underlying mechanisms remain to be unravelled and surely need further investigation,” they said.

No significant difference in any symptom was experienced by participants taking the supplement minus the plant extracts, suggesting that plant extracts were largely responsible for the observed changes, say the researchers.

And the absence of any observed impact for vitamins and minerals on their own suggests that alcohol might not affect electrolyte and mineral balance, as is commonly thought, researchers said.

The results also revealed that water levels in the body weren’t significantly linked to the amount of alcohol consumed. “Our results suggest that alcohol-induced increased fluid excretion does not necessarily lead to a significant dehydration process,” they write in the study.

“It seems to be clear that hangover symptoms are predominantly caused by alcohol and its metabolites,” they concluded.

Source: BMJ


Often Overlooked Learning Disorder May Affect Millions of Kids

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 10:49am

New research suggests nonverbal learning disability (NVLD), a poorly understood and often-overlooked disorder that causes problems with visual-spatial processing, may affect nearly 3 million children in the United States.

A new study by led by Columbia University Irving Medical Center is the first to estimate the prevalence of NVLD in the general population. If accurate, the prevalence of NVLD makes it one of the most common learning disorders.

The study appears online in JAMA Network Open.

“NVLD is a huge and hidden public health burden,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chair of psychiatry at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and Director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

“This important work might never have come to light if not for the support of dedicated advocates and their philanthropic support. We hope that these findings raise awareness of the disorder and lead to an understanding of its neurobiology and better treatments.”

The name of this neurodevelopmental disorder may be part of the problem. Children with NVLD are not nonverbal, as the name suggests, and have no difficulty reading. Instead, children with NVLD have difficulty processing visual-spatial sensory information, which can cause problems with math, executive function, and fine motor and social skills.

“Children with this disorder might shy away from doing jigsaw puzzles or playing with Legos,” said lead author Amy E. Margolis, Ph.D., assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“They may have trouble tying their shoes, using scissors, or learning routes or schedules.”

NVLD was first described in 1967, but compared with other learning disorders it has received little attention. There’s little consensus among physicians on how to diagnose the disorder, and it is not included in the current edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The cause of NVLD is not known and there are no treatments. Few parents have heard of NVLD.

“Most parents recognize that a child who isn’t talking by age two should be evaluated for a learning disorder. But no one thinks twice about kids who have problems with visual-spatial tasks,” said Margolis.

To see how common the disorder is, the researchers analyzed three independent samples of children (ages 6 to 19) in the U.S. and Canada, including a total of 2,596 individuals. Any child with a deficit in spatial reasoning and impairment in two of four domains (fine motor skills, math calculation, visual executive functioning, and social skills) was considered to have NLVD.

The researchers found that 3 to 4 percent of children in each sample met the criteria for NLVD.

“When applied to the U.S. population under 18, this translates to approximately 2.2 to 2.9 million children having NVLD,” said co-author Katherine Keyes, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.

Many of the children in the study who were identified as having NVLD had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety disorder.

“While there is some overlap in symptoms between the two disorders, it’s important to distinguish between them so we can begin to develop interventions for NVLD,” says Margolis.

The researchers plan to submit an application to the American Psychiatric Association to include the disorder in the next (sixth) edition of the DSM. They also plan to propose a new name —developmental visual spatial disorder — to improve understanding and recognition of the disorder.

Margolis advises parents to seek evaluation for children with symptoms of NVLD.

“Diagnosis can be accomplished using basic assessment tools,” said Margolis. “It doesn’t have to involve complex and costly neuropsychological testing. We envision that all clinicians who use DSM-5 will be able to use our new criteria to determine who may meet criteria.

They can then send patients for basic psychological testing that is always available through schools to identify/quantify a problem with visual-spatial processing.”

Source: Columbia University

Bad Childhood Leads to Heart Health Issues Later in Life

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 8:30am

Children who experience trauma, abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction are at increased risk of having heart disease in their 50s and 60s, according to a new study from researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Results from the study showed people exposed to the highest levels of childhood adversity were more than 50 percent more likely to have a cardiovascular disease event, such as a heart attack or stroke, over a 30-year follow-up period.

The longitudinal study of more than 3,600 participants is among the first to describe the trajectory of cardiovascular disease and death based on family environment ratings from young adulthood into older middle age, according to researchers.

Children who experience adversity brought about by family dysfunction are predisposed to higher rates of lifelong stress, smoking, anxiety, depression, and sedentary lifestyle that persist into adulthood, according to the researchers. These can lead to increased body mass index (BMI), diabetes, increased blood pressure, vascular dysfunction, and inflammation.

“This population of adults is much more likely to partake in risky behaviors — for example, using food as a coping mechanism, which can lead to problems with weight and obesity,” said first author Jacob Pierce, a fourth-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “They also have higher rates of smoking, which has a direct link to cardiovascular disease.”

Adults who were exposed to these risk factors as children may benefit from counseling on the link between coping with stress and controlling smoking and obesity, but more research is needed, Pierce said.

“Early childhood experiences have a lasting effect on adult mental and physical well-being, and a large number of American kids continue to suffer abuse and dysfunction that will leave a toll of health and social functioning issues throughout their lives,” said senior author Joseph Feinglass, a research professor of medicine and of preventive medicine at Feinberg. “Social and economic support for young children in the United States, which is low by the standards of other developed countries, has the biggest ‘bang for the buck’ of any social program.”

The study used the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study, which has followed participants from recruitment in 1985-1986 through 2018, to determine how the psychosocial environment in childhood relates to cardiovascular disease and mortality in middle age.

To get a broad idea of what a study participant’s family environment was like during their childhood, participants answered survey questions that asked questions such as, “How often did a parent or other adult in the household make you feel that you were loved, supported, and cared for?” or “How often did a parent or other adult in the household swear at you, insult you, put you down, or act in a way that made you feel threatened?”

The most predictive of cardiovascular disease later in life was “Did your family know what you were up to as a kid?” Pierce said.

While the study didn’t specifically address attentiveness of parents, the findings indicate parents’ involvement in their children’s lives could impact their health later in life, the researchers concluded.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Source: Northwestern University

Guide Aims at Supporting Mental Health of COVID-19 Health Care Workers

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 7:58am

In a new paper published in the European Heart Journal, experts look at the psychological well-being of COVID-19 health care workers, and offer recommendations for individuals, teams and organizational leaders working on the front lines of the pandemic.

The academic review emphasizes that COVID-19 health care workers in health care will be psychologically impacted by their work during the pandemic and will require psychological support from multiple levels in their organizations.

“Leadership during a crisis is always a challenge, however, leading during the COVID-19 situation is even more difficult given that leaders themselves are ‘living’ in the crisis and equally impacted by it as much as those who they are leading,” said Dr. Mike Christian, Research & Clinical Effectiveness Lead and emergency physician with Barts Health NHS Trust.

“Although there are many negative aspects of the current situation, teams can grow stronger, individuals can develop, relationships can grow deeper as a result of this crisis. The impact of this pandemic and how leaders respond during it will shape the future relationship of teams and culture of organizations for years to come.”

The paper also emphasizes the increased pressure staff are under, while having to deal with fears of catching the illness themselves or passing it on to their families, working with new and frequently changing protocols, and caring for very sick and quickly deteriorating patients, all of which can lead to severe stress reactions, burnout, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and “moral injury.”

“The hero and angel tropes which we see bandied about are also highly problematic because they make it look as if people signed up to die, like a hero does, but they didn’t,” said Dr. Esther Murray, Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology at Queen Mary University of London.

“It also makes it harder for NHS staff to talk about how they really feel because opinions get polarized — are you a hero or a coward? A lot of staff feel like cowards but they are not at all, they’re just quite justifiably frightened and angry.”

The U.K. authors argue that during the COVID-19 pandemic there are many opportunities to support staff. The paper is structured as a guide and has easy to read sections and tables so that individuals can focus on the section most relevant to them. The paper will be useful for any person involved in the frontline health care response.

Special circumstances such as staff being quarantined and returning to work are covered, including guidance on how organizations can provide tangible support and address any pre-existing stressors. Advice on crisis leadership and how to support distressed colleagues is detailed, including self-care.

In the paper, emerging concepts such as “moral injury” (originally from work with military veterans) are applied to frontline staff. Moral injury describes the psychological impact of bearing witness to unacceptable things or making decisions that contravene the morals of the individual making them, resulting in severe guilt and shame. For example, there may be new protocols about which patients will not receive life support if there are resource scarcities.

“Psychological support for frontline staff is a critical part of the public health response, I hope our paper can be useful for all those who need guidance in providing that support,” said Dr. Matt Walton, a London-based emergency services doctor.

Source: Queen Mary University of London



Trauma Experts Provide Tips to Cope with COVID-19

Sat, 05/02/2020 - 8:02am

In a new study, New York researchers suggest effective ways to cope with stress during the current COVID-19 crisis. Investigators reviewed strategies that were helpful for residents in the New York metropolitan area after traumatic events, including the 9/11 terror attacks.

Dr. Steven Jay Lynn, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology, doctoral student Craig Polizzi and Andrew Perry at Binghamton University, State University of New York, reviewed prior studies and assessed mental health interventions used after mass trauma events.

The paper appears in a special issue of the academic journal Clinical Neuropsychiatry. Lynn is the director of the Laboratory of Consciousness, Cognition and Psychopathology at Binghamton.

The Binghamton lab has studied coping techniques that can potentially promote resilience to and recovery from stress, including acceptance-based coping, mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation, Polizzi explained.

“We also drew inspiration from our previous work with clients who have experienced traumas and how they have coped with traumatic events,” he said.

In the article, the authors draw on studies of the New York metropolitan area following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, another incident of mass trauma. Each event was marked by intense fear with the potential to produce psychological problems such as posttraumatic stress, anxiety and depression.

Additionally, 9/11 has been heavily studied in terms of coping, resilience and trauma, providing a strong scientific foundation for evaluating the efficacy of coping strategies, Polizzi said.

Of course, there are significant differences. While natural disasters and terror events can bring people together in response or recovery, the pandemic requires a level of social isolation not seen since the 1918 Spanish flu.

Individuals also respond to trauma differently, which led the authors to suggest a variety of coping techniques. “People are unique and the way they cope should be consistent with their needs and values,” Polizzi said.

Coping activities can increase the ability to bounce back from negative events, and free up mental resources to deal with ongoing stressors and changing situations, researchers said. The coping activities are focused on the three Cs: control, coherence and connectedness.

You can gain a sense of control by planning daily activities, checking in on friends and loved ones, adjusting commercial news intake, keeping a journal or preparing for your post-pandemic future.

Connection fulfills the need for human contact and support. This can be achieved even in times of social distancing through telephone calls, videoconferencing and social media, or even the more internal practice of loving-kindness meditation. Meditation techniques can direct positive emotions toward the self, loved ones, all humans and eventually all sentient beings.

Coherence “is founded in the deeply human desire to make sense and meaning of the world,” according to the article. One starting point is “acceptance-based coping,” observing our fears, anxieties and emotional responses without judgment, a practice commonly known as mindfulness.

Mindfulness can be practiced not only through meditation and focusing on the breath, but also by giving an activity such as eating or walking your full and unhurried attention.

Looking ahead, the pandemic will give rise to additional research. Lynn’s laboratory is planning to evaluate how mindfulness and emotion regulation promote resilience during the pandemic by defending against post-traumatic stress and dissociation.

“It is also important to test the coping strategies we proposed in our article to see if people did use them to reduce distress during the pandemic, as well identify additional techniques individuals used to cope with stress to enhance recommendations for coping during future mass traumas,” Polizzi said.

Source: Binghamton University/EurekAlert Binghamton University/EurekAlert

Selfish People Revise Memories to Maintain Their Self-Image

Sat, 05/02/2020 - 7:45am

When people behave selfishly, they turn to a reliable ally to keep their self-image intact: Their own memory, according to new research.

When asked to recall how generous they were in the past, selfish people tend to remember being more benevolent than they actually were, according to a series of experiments by psychologists at Yale University in the U.S. and economists at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

”When people behave in ways that fall short of their personal standards, one way they maintain their moral self-image is by misremembering their ethical lapses,” said Yale’s Dr. Molly Crockett, an assistant professor of psychology and senior author of the study.

Psychologists have long been interested in how people balance their self-interest with their desire to be viewed as moral, according to the researchers.

To justify self-serving behaviors to themselves and others, people engage in a process called motivated reasoning. For example, when leaving a bad tip, customers might convince themselves that their server didn’t deserve any more, the researchers explained.

To find out more about this, a team of researchers, led by Crockett and Ryan Carlson, a Ph.D. student at Yale and first author of the study, wanted to explore whether people’s memories of their behaviors help them preserve their moral self-image, perhaps even negating the need to employ motivated reasoning.

Instead of convincing themselves their server didn’t deserve a better tip, for example, a customer might misremember tipping more generously than they actually did, the researchers surmised.

In their first lab experiment, conducted at the University of Zurich with economists Drs. Michel Maréchal and Ernst Fehr, the researchers presented subjects with a pot of money and asked them to decide how much to keep and how much to give to anonymous strangers.

Once the money was distributed, the subjects were asked a series of survey questions. They then were asked to recall how much they had given to the anonymous strangers. Crucially, participants received bonus money if they recalled their decisions accurately, the researchers reported.

Even with a financial incentive, the selfish subjects tended to recall giving more money than they actually did, according to the study’s findings.

In another pair of experiments conducted in the lab and online, the researchers asked subjects what they thought was a fair distribution of money before asking them to divide the pot. The researchers discovered that only those people who had given less than what they personally deemed fair recalled being more generous than they actually were.

A final pair of online studies showed that subjects only misremembered their stinginess when they felt personally responsible for their decisions. When participants were explicitly instructed by the experimenters to give lower amounts — and so felt no responsibility for their actions — they remembered their giving behavior accurately, the study discovered.

“Most people strive to behave ethically, but people sometimes fail to uphold their ideals,” Carlson said. “In such cases, the desire to preserve a moral self-image can be a powerful force and not only motivate us to rationalize our unethical actions, but also ‘revise’ such actions in our memory.”

Crockett cautioned that because the experiments were conducted in Switzerland and the USA, it is not yet clear whether the results will generalize across different cultures.

She also stressed that this tendency for faulty recall only applied to the selfish. The majority of people behaved generously toward their anonymous strangers, and remembered their behavior accurately.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Yale University

Personality Traits Seen as Intertwined With Social Anxiety Disorder

Sat, 05/02/2020 - 6:00am

A new study finds that social anxiety disorder is intertwined with personality.

At the same time, however, there is great variation in the personalities of people who have social anxiety disorder, according to researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden.

In psychological science, personality is typically described using five well-established dimensions: neuroticism, also known as emotional instability; extraversion, which deals with how outgoing a person is; openness; agreeableness; and conscientiousness. Collectively they are known as the “Big Five.”

And for a long time, researchers have been searching for the connection between personality factors and the risk of developing psychiatric illnesses. 

The new study from Uppsala University shows that personality is strongly intertwined with the diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, according to researchers.

The study involved 265 individuals with a social anxiety disorder diagnosis. They filled out comprehensive personality studies, including the revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and the Karolinska Scales of Personality (KSP), according to the researchers. They were also compared with healthy control subjects and Swedish norm data, the researchers added.

The study’s findings showed that individuals with social anxiety disorder had markedly different personality traits, in particular high neuroticism and introversion. In other words, they had a tendency to be emotionally unstable and inward turning, the researchers explained.

At the same time, the study showed that there was a great deal of variation in personality traits among the individuals with social anxious disorder, according to the study’s findings.

The researchers report that three personality groups could be distinguished, based on a cluster analysis of the Big Five personality dimensions.

The first group, with prototypical social anxiety, was both highly anxious and introverted, which may be seen as the typical form of social anxiety disorder, according to the researchers. However, these individuals accounted for only one-third (33 percent) of the total patient sample, according to the study’s findings.

Individuals in the second group, with introvert-conscientious social anxiety, were very introverted but more moderately anxious and also had high levels of conscientiousness, according to the researchers. They accounted for 29 percent of the total patient sample.

Individuals in the third and largest group — at 38 percent — had unstable-open social anxiety disorder, according to the researchers. They were anxious, while having almost normal levels of extraversion, according to the study’s findings. Comparisons with norm data also showed that these individuals scored high on the personality trait openness, the researchers discovered.

“It is possible that the causes of social anxiety differ for the three groups, for example, with regard to abnormalities in brain neurotransmitter levels and genetic factors,” said Professor Tomas Furmark from the Department of Psychology at Uppsala University, who led the study. “It may also be that different treatment efforts are needed for the different types of social anxiety disorder, but further studies are needed to clarify this.”

While additional studies are needed to determine if personality subtypes in social anxiety disorder differ in their cause and treatment, the new study demonstrates there is considerable personality differences in socially anxious individuals, which further underscores that social anxiety disorder is a “multidimensional disorder,” the researchers concluded.

The study was published in PLOS ONE.

Source: Uppsala University

Bias Against People Seen as Physically Dirty May Take Root as Early as Age 5

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 7:00am

Bias against people seen as physically dirty can emerge in children as young as five years old and persist into adulthood, according to new research from Boston College and Franklin & Marshall College.

The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, show these prejudices include those who are sick and may hold implications for people diagnosed with COVID-19.

In three experiments involving approximately 260 participants, the study found that children’s and adults’ biases were stronger when evaluating similarly-aged peers. The biases also crossed cultural boundaries when tested in the U.S. and India.

The findings carry social implications for the current COVID-19 crisis as well, as they suggest that people might adopt negative beliefs and attitudes toward those who contract the novel coronavirus, said Boston College Associate Professor of Psychology Angie Johnston, a co-author of the report “In sickness and in filth: Developing a disdain for dirty people.”

“With the exponential increase in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, people are increasingly likely to know somebody with the virus,” said Johnston.

“It will be critically important for both children and adults to know to stay away from individuals who are contagious. However, it is possible that the stigma directed toward those who test positive for the coronavirus will last well beyond the course of the illness, and that other, less warranted avoidance tendencies will form and persist.”

Avoiding filth and germs is typically advantageous. However, when other people are physically dirty or sick, often through no fault of their own — such as being homeless, or working a “dirty job” — the tendencies toward avoidance can lead to problematic social biases, said Joshua Rottman, an Assistant Professor at Franklin & Marshall and co-author on the report.

In the study, the researchers found that kids and adults from both the U.S. and India are less likely to trust information conveyed by people who are unclean, and they are also less likely to attribute positive traits — such as intelligence or kindness — to those they see as unclean or unhygienic.

The team used three experiments to rate bias in children (ages 5-9) and adults against individuals who were sick or physically unclean, and to determine whether these biases extended across cultures. Participants were shown photos of identical twins, one dressed neatly in a clean setting; the other in stained, disheveled clothing in a setting littered with trash.

The first experiment showed that children and adults considered clean adults to be more likely to possess favorable traits than dirty adults, and adults have particularly strong tendencies to trust information provided by clean adults.

The second experiment revealed that only children view clean children as possessing more favorable traits than dirty children, but both children and adults selectively trust the testimony of clean children.

A third experiment in India uncovered similar patterns of results.

“Taken as a whole, these findings suggest that people who are perceived to be dirty will be frequently mistrusted, marginalized, maligned, and misunderstood from an early age,” the researchers conclude.

“These biases are generally constant across different causes of dirtiness,” said Rottman. “There are not clear differences between biases directed toward individuals who are sick versus individuals who are intentionally dirty versus individuals who are accidentally dirty.”

In addition to the social implications for the current COVID-19 crisis, the study results may pertain to certain segments of society labeled as “dirty.” Currently, the researchers are looking at  whether dirtiness stereotypes — such as labeling immigrants as “dirty” — elicit similar social biases in children.

Source: Boston College

Mice/Human Studies Suggest Immune System Influences OCD

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 6:30am

In a series of lab and human studies, British researchers have discovered that individuals suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) have increased levels of a protein called Immuno-moodulin (Imood) in their lymphocytes, a type of immune cell.

The discovery may be profound as it supports an emerging concept that the immune system may influence mental disorders. Moreover, treatment with appropriate antibodies could therefore be of significant benefit to individuals with some forms of mental disorders.

Using a mice model, scientists at Queen Mary University of London and the University of Roehampton, London, discovered that mice with high levels of this protein were also found to exhibit behaviors that are characteristic of anxiety and stress, such as digging and excessive grooming.

When the researchers treated the mice with an antibody that neutralized Imood, the animals’ anxiety levels reduced.

The findings have led the researchers to file a patent application for the antibody and they are now working with a drug company to develop a potential treatment for human patients.

“There is mounting evidence that the immune system plays an important role in mental disorders,” said Professor Fulvio D’Acquisto, a professor of immunology at the University of Roehampton and honorary professor of Immunopharmacology at Queen Mary University of London.

“And in fact people with auto-immune diseases are known to have higher than average rates of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and OCD. Our findings overturn a lot of the conventional thinking about mental health disorders being solely caused by the central nervous system.”

Professor D’Acquisto, who led the research, has published the team’s findings in the journal Brain Behavior and Immunity. D’Acquisto first identified Imood by chance while studying a different protein called Annexin-A1 and the role it plays in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and lupus.

He had created transgenic mice to over-express this protein in their T-cells, one of the main cells responsible for the development of autoimmune diseases, but found the mice showed more anxiety than normal.

When he and his team analyzed the genes expressed in the animals’ T-cells, they discovered one gene in particular was especially active. The protein produced from this gene was what they eventually named Immuno-moodulin, or Imood.

When the anxious mice were given an antibody that blocked Imood, their behavior returned to normal in a couple of days.

Next, the researchers tested the immune cells from 23 patients with OCD and 20 healthy volunteers. They found Imood expression was around six times higher in the OCD patients.

Other recent research by scientists elsewhere have also found the same protein may also play a role in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

D’Acquisto believes Imood does not directly regulate brain functions in a classical way, that is by changing the levels of chemical signals in neurons. Instead, it may influence genes in brain cells that have been linked to mental disorders like OCD.

“This is work we still have to do to understand the role of Imood,” he said. “We also want to do more work with larger samples of patients to see if we can replicate what we saw in the small number we looked at in our study.”

In the meantime, Professor D’Acquisto and Dr. Dianne Cooper, a Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, are working with the biopharmaceutical company UCB to develop antibodies against Imood that can be used in humans and to understand how this could be used to treat patients with mental disorders.

“It is early still, but the discovery of antibodies — instead of the classical chemical drugs — for the treatment of mental disorders could radically change the life of these patients as we foresee a reduced chance of side effects,” he said. Professor D’Acquisto estimates it could take up to five years before a treatment can be taken to clinical trials.

Source: Queen Mary University of London

Views on Guns, Death Penalty Linked to Harsh Treatment of Immigrants

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 6:00am

The words people use and their beliefs about certain controversial issues, such as the death penalty and gun rights, can predict attitudes favoring the harsh treatment and dehumanization of illegal immigrants, according to a new online study that pulled equally from people who identified as Democrats or Republicans.

The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the study, researchers from the University of Oregon (UO) investigated the traits of those who dehumanize immigrants, beyond the often-discussed factors such as hatred toward outside groups and extreme racism.

Dehumanization — defined as depriving a person or group of fundamental human qualities — is a complex process, but identifiable by taking a holistic view of individuals, said communication professor David M. Markowitz, a UO assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communication.

“This study investigates how treating immigrants as less than human is associated with a range of characteristics largely unexplored by prior research,” said Markowitz, who uses computational approaches to analyze how social and psychological phenomena are reflected in language.

“We demonstrate that dehumanization manifests in a range of new characteristics, such as policy beliefs and how people talk.”

The newly identified factors emerged as Markowitz and UO psychologist Paul Slovic, an expert on decision-making and risk perception, surveyed 468 participants with a complex series of questions aimed at understanding how people dehumanize immigrants.

Initially, participants were randomly assigned to scenarios that either involved a lone immigrant or an immigrant with a child being caught entering the country illegally. Respondents in each scenario were then asked how much jail time, from none to life in jail, should be given. Subsequently, participants were asked to write about their judgments.

Next, the participants answered a myriad questions designed to probe additional layers of dehumanization related to social, psychological and demographic issues.

The research team evaluated the written responses for rates of impersonal pronouns, the use of words associated with power, and emotion. Words that people use, the researchers noted, provide important clues about psychological dynamics and how people think and feel about a specific group.

Words, they wrote, “are crucial because they provide an opportunity to evaluate potentially large-scale and pervasive dehumanization that exists online through verbal behavior, such as alt-right chatrooms, instead of relying on self-report measures alone.”

Indeed, the researchers found, dehumanizers wrote about immigrants in more impersonal terms, from a position of power and with more negative emotion.

The researchers next focused on how dehumanization was associated with social harms. Those who endorsed social harms related to protecting American rights to own guns, the death penalty and harsh raids on immigrants tended to dehumanize more and identified as conservative. Such individuals were also more likely to endorse lengthy jail time for illegal immigrants.

Markowitz and Slovic concluded that, “a substantial number of Americans can be classified as dehumanizers.”

“The support for social harms, particularly about guns and the death penalty, are seemingly unrelated to how one should treat an immigrant, but they matter in a large way,” Markowitz said. “We can move forward by acknowledging our blind spots as individuals.”

The study, which was supported by grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and National Science Foundation, is part of an ongoing effort by the researchers to identify how and why people dehumanize illegal immigrants.

“We hope that interdisciplinary social science research can inform how vulnerable populations are treated, with the goal of mitigating cruelty around the world,” Slovic said.

Source: University of Oregon