Tri-County Services

In The News

Syndicate content
Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 26 min 20 sec ago

New Moms’ Social Media Posts May Put Kids’ Privacy at Risk

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 7:21am

It is common for new mothers to use social media to share feelings about the trials of parenthood, get advice, or simply brag about their youngsters’ achievements.

New research finds that women’s feelings of vulnerability about being a mother are linked to their posting on social media. The posts sometimes include their children’s personally identifiable information, such as names, birthdates and photographs.

Drs. Mariea Grubbs Hoy and DeForrest Jackson from the University of Tennessee School of Advertising and Public Relations worked with Dr. Alexa K. Fox, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Akron to study “sharenting.”

Their findings appear online in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.

“Providing updates on [a child’s] progress with posts of photos, videos, and other personal information about the child has almost become a social norm, but it puts the child’s online privacy and, potentially, safety at risk,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers suggest the need for enhanced governmental guidance to protect children’s online privacy from commercial entities. They also suggest that parents need more education about the consequences of sharing their children’s personal information.

While the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act prevents marketers from collecting data from children 12 and younger without parental permission, that regulation was enacted in 1998, six years before Facebook launched.

“Today’s parents, many of whom grew up sharing their own lives on social media, may not comprehend the full impact and potential consequences of posting such information about their children,” they wrote.

Their research suggests that mothers are “an important yet under-addressed vulnerable consumer segment who may be uniquely susceptible to particular types of social media marketing engagement tactics.”

In their first study, Fox and Hoy interviewed 15 experienced and first-time mothers ages 24 to 40. The interviewees were all Caucasian, highly educated, and had children ranging in age from 14 weeks to 11 years. The women reported using social media anywhere from less than 30 minutes to nearly two hours per day.

They asked the women about their feelings regarding motherhood and whether they post content about their children on social media. They also asked questions to gauge the women’s understanding of information co-ownership, privacy rules, and other principles of social media behavior.

Finally, they asked questions to determine if the women were willing to share personally identifiable information about their children when engaging with a commercial brand on social media.

The women articulated a variety of risk factors for vulnerability: a changing body, a changing view of self, new responsibilities associated with motherhood, demands of nursing, exhaustion, and issues such as postpartum depression or anxiety.

“Posting about their experiences and sharing personal information about themselves and their children served as a coping strategy, primarily related to seeking affirmation/social support or relief from parents stress/anxiety/depression,” the researchers wrote.

“Every mother mentioned posting milestones ranging from the infant reaching the ‘month birthdays’ to children’s firsts and other ‘cute’ moments. They then waited, at times eagerly, for affirmation in the form of likes or comments.”

At the same time, the researchers note, the mothers acknowledged concerns about other social media users sharing their information in unwelcome ways.

In their second study, Fox and Hoy gathered data from a Twitter chat by Carter’s Inc, a children’s apparel company, to see how feelings of vulnerability seemed to influence mothers’ willingness to share their children’s personally identifiable information with a business.

Some companies provide engagement opportunities through social media marketing tactics such as contests and virtual chats, or by asking parents to post stories, photos, and videos about their children. By doing this, “they may also be triggering sharenting,” the researchers wrote.

“The chat provided a case study opportunity to observe how a brand creates a social media event designed to generate engagement with mothers of young children that might prompt the mothers to post their children’s personally identifiable information.”

The Twitter chat involved 116 unique participants, all mothers, who generated 1,062 original tweets. The company tweeted a link to their disclosure that said the company would own all content and could share it with anyone without compensating the parents.

Carter’s asked 10 questions, tweeted a coupon and link to their website, tweeted several affirming comments in response to photos, and concluded by soliciting child photos, tweeting “We’d love seeing your little one today!”

The researchers determined that 69 percent of the participants posted something indicating they felt vulnerable as a parent. Forty-seven percent of the participants posted some aspect of their child’s personally identifiable information in response to at least one question. About a third of the participants posted something that expressed their vulnerability and also revealed personally identifiable information about their child.

“In other words, if a mother did not express a risk factor for vulnerability during the chat, we saw less sharing of her children’s personally identifiable information,” the researchers concluded.

Source: University of Tennessee/EurekAlert

Sleep Apnea May Play a Role in Some Treatment-Resistant Depression

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 6:00am

A new study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, finds that obstructive sleep apnea may play a role in some cases of treatment-resistant depression.

The findings remain true even when an individual doesn’t fit the usual profile of sleep apnea, which includes being a male with obesity who snores and struggles with daytime sleepiness.

“No one is talking about evaluating for obstructive sleep apnea as a potential cause of treatment-resistant depression, which occurs in about 50 percent of patients with major depressive disorder,” said Dr. W. Vaughn McCall, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

Now he hopes they will.

The researchers found that obstructive sleep apnea occurred in 14 percent of 125 adult patients with major depressive disorder, insomnia and suicidal thoughts, even though the sleep-wrecking type of apnea was an exclusion criterion for the original study.

While more research is needed, McCall said the new findings already suggest that testing for obstructive sleep apnea should be part of the guidelines for managing treatment resistant depression.

“We were completely caught by surprise that people did not fit the picture of what obstructive sleep apnea is supposed to look like,” said McCall.

While it’s known that people with obstructive sleep apnea have higher rates of depression than other populations, little is known about rates of obstructive sleep apnea in patients with major depressive disorder. The team decided to look in a population of patients they already were studying.

The primary goal of the original study was to examine whether treating patients’ insomnia in addition to their depression reduced suicidal thoughts.

Patients who were considered at risk for obstructive sleep apnea were left out of the study since sleeping pills tend to relax muscles, and already too relaxed throat muscles are a primary problem in obstructive sleep apnea.

Also excluded were individuals with restless leg syndrome, which is common with sleep apnea even in patients on therapy, and those with morbid obesity, which is considered a major risk for obstructive sleep apnea.

But when the 125 people enrolled were actually tested with a sleep study at home or in a sleep center, the researchers still found the condition present in 17 of them.

The team notes that neither the degree of daytime sleepiness nor insomnia accurately predicted the severity of obstructive sleep apnea they identified in these patients and that six of the 17 individuals diagnosed were female, not obese and reporting insomnia rather than classic daytime sleepiness.

Treatment of obstructive sleep apnea may improve symptoms of depression, and comprehensive screening for the sleep problem should be included for treatment resistant depression, according to the investigators. These include researchers from the University of California, Irvine; the University of Wisconsin in Madison; Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and the University of California, San Francisco.

“We know that patients with sleep apnea talk about depression symptoms,” McCall says. “We know that if you have obstructive sleep apnea, you are not going to respond well to an antidepressant. We know that if you have sleep apnea and get CPAP, it gets better and now we know that there are hidden cases of sleep apnea in people who are depressed and suicidal.”

Source: Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University


Autistic Kids More Likely to Be Bullied at Home and School

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 9:35am

A new study has found children with autism are more likely to be bullied by both their siblings and their peers, meaning that when they return from school, they have no respite from victimization.

Researchers at the University of York in England also found that children with autism are more likely to be both the victims and perpetrators of sibling bullying, compared to children without autism.

The study used data from The Millennium Cohort Study to investigate sibling bullying. In a sample of more than 8,000 children, more than 231 had autism, according to the researchers.

The children were asked questions about how often they were picked on or hurt on purpose by their siblings and peers and how often they were the perpetrators of such acts.

The study revealed that, at the age of 11, two-thirds of children with autism reported being involved in some form of sibling bullying, compared to half of children without autism.

While there was a decrease in bullying for children in both groups by the time they reached the age of 14, there were still differences in the specific types of involvement, researchers discovered. Children with autism were still more likely to be involved in two-way sibling bullying, as a victim and a perpetrator.

“Children with autism experience difficulties with social interaction and communication, which may have implications for their relationships with siblings,” said Dr. Umar Toseeb from the Department of Education at the University of York and lead author of the study.

“From an evolutionary perspective, siblings may be considered competitors for parental resources, such as affection, attention and material goods. Children with autism might get priority access to these limited parental resources, leading to conflict and bullying between siblings.”

The parents of the children involved in the study were asked questions about their children’s emotional and behavioral difficulties, focusing on things like whether their child was unhappy, downhearted or restless.

According to the study’s findings, children involved in sibling bullying, whether they had autism or not, were more likely to experience emotional and behavioral difficulties, both in the long and short term.

Because sibling bullying disproportionately affects children with autism, the researchers are calling for more resources to help children with autism and their parents identify and deal with bullying behaviors in the home, particularly earlier in childhood.

“Parents should be aware of the potential long-term consequences of sibling bullying on children’s mental health and wellbeing,” Toseeb said. “Persistent conflicts between siblings may be indicative of sibling bullying and this should not be viewed as a normal part of growing up.”

Source: University of York

Severe Workplace Injuries Tied to Greater Risk of Suicide, Overdose Deaths

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 6:59am

Sustaining a work-related injury severe enough to result in at least a week off of work almost triples the combined risk of suicide and overdose deaths among women, and increases the risk by 50 percent among men, according to a new study by a research team from Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH).

The researchers say that offering better treatment options for pain and substance use disorders as well as treatments for post-injury depression may dramatically improve the quality of life and reduce death risk among workers with severe injuries.

According to the National Safety Council, approximately 12,600 American workers are injured on the job each day. In 2017, an estimated 104,000,000 production days were lost due to workplace injuries. The most common types of injuries that lead to missed work are overexertion, contact with objects or equipment (struck, caught or crushed in equipment or structure) and falls/slips.

To estimate the link between workplace injury and death, the research team looked at the data of 100,806 workers in New Mexico, 36,034 of whom had lost work time after sustaining an injury between 1994 and 2000.

The researchers looked at workers’ compensation data for that period, Social Security Administration earnings and mortality data through 2013, and National Death Index cause of death data through 2017.

Their findings reveal that men who had had a lost-time injury were 72 percent more likely to die from suicide and 29 percent more likely to die from drug-related causes. These men also had greater rates of death from cardiovascular diseases. Women with lost-time injuries were 92 percent more likely to die from suicide and 193 percent more likely to die from drug-related causes.

Prior research conducted by the authors showed that women and men who had needed to take at least a week off after a workplace injury were more than 20 percent more likely to die from any cause. They write that this new study highlights the roles of suicide and opioids as major causes of those deaths.

“These findings suggest that work-related injuries contribute to the rapid increase in deaths from both opioids and suicides,” said study senior author Dr. Leslie Boden, professor of environmental health at BUSPH.

“Improved pain treatment, better treatment of substance use disorders, and treatment of post-injury depression may substantially improve quality of life and reduce mortality from workplace injuries.”

The study findings are published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Source: Boston University School of Medicine


Hot Bath 90 Minutes Before Bed May Help Improve Sleep

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 6:46am

Taking a very hot bath or shower (104 to 109 degrees Fahrenheit) around 90 minutes before bedtime can help you fall asleep more quickly and even improve your sleep quality, according to a new analysis of thousands of studies. As a comparison, the average hot tub is set around 100 to 102 degrees F.

Research has shown that around 35 percent of Americans don’t get the recommended minimum amount of sleep (7 hours) per night. Around 20 percent of Americans are affected by a sleep disorder.

For the analysis, biomedical engineers at The University of Texas at Austin analyzed 5,322 studies linking water-based passive body heating, or bathing and showering with warm/hot water, with improved sleep quality.

“When we looked through all known studies, we noticed significant disparities in terms of the approaches and findings,” said Shahab Haghayegh, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and lead author on the paper.

“The only way to make an accurate determination of whether sleep can in fact be improved was to combine all the past data and look at it through a new lens.”

The research team explored the effects of water-based passive body heating on a number of sleep-related conditions: sleep onset latency  the length of time it takes to accomplish the transition from full wakefulness to sleep; total sleep time; sleep efficiency — the amount of time spent asleep relative to the total amount of time spent in bed intended for sleep; and subjective sleep quality.

The team discovered that the optimum temperature of between 104 and 109 degrees Fahrenheit improved overall sleep quality. When scheduled 1 to 2 hours before bedtime, it can also hasten the speed of falling asleep by an average of 10 minutes.

According to the study, the optimal timing of bathing is about 90 minutes before going to bed. This allows the core body temperature to cool down enough to sleep.

Warm baths and showers stimulate the body’s thermoregulatory system, causing a marked increase in the circulation of blood from the internal core of the body to the peripheral sites of the hands and feet, resulting in efficient removal of body heat and decline in body temperature.

Therefore, if baths are taken at the right biological time — 1-2 hours before bedtime — they will aid the natural circadian process and increase one’s chances of not only falling asleep quickly but also of experiencing better quality sleep.

The findings are published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews.

Source: University of Texas at Austin


More Physical Activity May Ward Off Alzheimer’s Onset

Sun, 07/21/2019 - 7:44am

Higher levels of daily physical activity may protect against cognitive decline and neurodegeneration (brain tissue loss) in older adults at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), according to new research published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

In the study, physical activity levels were measured by hip-mounted pedometers. The best results were seen among participants who took more than 8,900 steps per day.

The researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) also found that lowering vascular risk factors, such as obesity, smoking and high blood pressure, may offer additional protection against Alzheimer’s and delay progression of the devastating disease.

“One of the most striking findings from our study was that greater physical activity not only appeared to have positive effects on slowing cognitive decline, but also on slowing the rate of brain tissue loss over time in normal people who had high levels of amyloid plaque in the brain,” said Jasmeer Chhatwal, M.D., Ph.D. of the MGH Department of Neurology, and corresponding author of the study.

The results suggest that physical activity might reduce b-amyloid (Ab)-related cortical thinning and preserve gray matter structure in regions of the brain that have been associated with episodic memory loss and Alzheimer’s-related neurodegeneration.

The underlying processes of Alzheimer’s disease can begin decades before clinical symptoms appear and is characterized by early accumulation of b-amyloid protein.

The new study is among the first to demonstrate the protective effects of physical activity and vascular risk management in the preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease, while there is an opportunity to intervene prior to the onset of substantial neuronal loss and clinical impairment.

“Because there are currently no disease-modifying therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, there is a critical need to identify potential risk-altering factors that might delay progression of the disease,” Chhatwal said.

The Harvard Aging Brain Study at MGH assessed physical activity in its participants —182 normal older adults, including those with elevated b-amyloid who were judged at high-risk of cognitive decline — through hip-mounted pedometers which counted the number of steps walked during the course of the day.

“Beneficial effects were seen at even modest levels of physical activity, but were most prominent at around 8,900 steps, which is only slightly less than the 10,000 many of us strive to achieve daily,” noted co-author Reisa Sperling, M.D., director of the Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital and co-principal investigator of the Harvard Aging Brain Study.

Interventions that target vascular risk factors along with physical exercise have added beneficial properties, she adds, since both operate independently. Vascular risk factors measured by the researchers were drawn from the Framingham Cardiovascular Disease Risk Score Calculator, and include age, sex, weight, smoking/non-smoking, blood pressure, and whether people are on treatment for hypertension.

Through ongoing studies, MGH researchers are working to identify other forms of physical activity and lifestyle changes that may help thwart the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Beta amyloid and tau protein build-up certainly set the stage for cognitive impairment in later age, but we shouldn’t forget that there are steps we can take now to reduce the risk going forward — even in people with build-up of these proteins,” says Chhatwal. “Alzheimer’s disease and the emergence of cognitive decline is multifactorial and demands a multifactorial approach if we hope to change its trajectory.”

The findings from this study were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Los Angeles by the first author of the study, Jennifer Rabin, Ph.D., now at the University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Research Institute.

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital



Low-Income Youth Less Likely to Participate in Sports

Sun, 07/21/2019 - 7:11am

A new study finds that lower-income parents are less likely than their higher-income counterparts to involve their children in school- or community-based sports due to barriers such as rising costs for these extracurricular activities.

For the study, researchers from RAND Corporation surveyed approximately 2,800 parents, public school administrators and community sports program leaders and discovered that financial costs and time commitments were obstacles to sports participation for middle and high school students.

Of those surveyed, 52 percent of parents from lower-income families reported that their children in grades 6 to 12 participated in sports, compared to 66 percent of middle- and higher-income families. (Middle- and higher-income families had an annual household income of $50,000 or more.)

Though costs for sports activities has increased in the past five years, around 63 percent of public school administrators indicated that school funding for sports has either remained flat or is decreasing. This likely places the burden on families to provide additional financial support.

As for why parents didn’t involve their children in sports, around 35 percent of all families cited financial costs as a reason, while 42 percent of lower-income families reported the same.

“Most survey participants thought youth sports participation provided physical health, social and emotional and academic benefits,” said Anamarie Whitaker, lead author of the report and a policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.

“However, the increasing costs for such activities are often passed along to families, which has become more burdensome for those who are lower-income.”

The researchers recommend that community-based organizations help reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income families to increase their children’s participation in sports. Providing equipment and transportation, while also minimizing parent time commitments, may have the greatest impact on increasing sports participation among kids from lower-income families, the study also noted.

In addition, the researchers recommend that schools and community organizations conduct a thorough review of parent time commitments, and where possible, eliminate expectations or requirements.

They also suggest that parents, community organizations, and schools encourage young people (particularly younger youths) to try multiple sports. Encouraging adolescents to try several sports reduces the chances of overspecialization in a particular sport and allows them to explore sports that they would not have tried otherwise.

Another suggestion is that sports organizations provide training to coaches on how to create sports environments that help develop youth social and emotional skills, health and wellness, and promote a positive culture within the sports program or team.

Source: RAND Corporation



Cesarean Birth May Increase Risk of Cognitive Issues in Twins

Sun, 07/21/2019 - 6:53am

Twins born by cesarean birth may be at greater risk for cognitive problems, according to a new study at the University of Malaga (UMA) in Spain.

The findings are published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Psychology.

“Twins are very vulnerable, since their birth frequently ends prematurely and they often present pregnancy and labor complications,” said Dr. Ernesto González Mesa, professor of gynecology at UMA.

“We have verified that cesarean section becomes a risk factor to development. This is why gynecologists firmly believe in vaginal delivery benefits, and we defend the use of this surgical intervention only as an option when problems arise,” he said.

The study involved a total of 160 twins who were born in Hospital Materno-Infantil in Málaga in the year 2005. Of the 7,120 births in this period, 270 were multiple births. From the sample of all twins, 55 percent were born by vaginal delivery and 45 percent by cesarean delivery. Twins born before 32 weeks of gestation were not included in the study.

When the children were 6 years old, the researchers assessed their intelligence, neuropsychological and psychopedagogical development. The results were then compared with information on obstetric and perinatal variables, such as type of delivery, any complications, maternal age and newborn weight, among others.

“When comparing all data, we found out that those children that had a lower intellectual level and cognitive development were born by cesarean delivery,” said Dr. María José González Valenzuela, professor from the evolutionary psychology and education department and main researcher of the study.

In the future, the researchers may address the specific reading, writing and calculating difficulties of twins. They may also look at the differences in the children’s intestinal flora after both cesarean and vaginal deliveries and how these alterations may be tied to neurological effects.

The rate of multiple pregnancies has recently increased, primarily due to the use of assisted reproduction techniques and the fact that more older women are giving birth.

In the United States, the twin birth rate is 5 in 1,000 live births. In 2015, a total of 133,155 infants were born in twin deliveries. The rate of c-sections for twin births increased from 53 percent to 75 percent between 1995 and 2008. But as more research comes out on the benefits of vaginal birth for both mom and babies, many doctors are trying to avoid cesarean when possible.

Professor Dolores López Montiel, from the Department of Psychobiology and Behavioral Science Methodology, also participated in the study.

Source: University of Malaga


Alzheimer’s Gene May Affect Cognition Before Adulthood

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 7:00am

A gene linked to Alzheimer’s Disease may impact cognitive health as early as childhood, according to a new study published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging. The effect appears to be more pronounced in girls.

The APOE gene produces a protein, called “apolipoprotein E,” which packages cholesterol and other fats to transport them through the bloodstream.

There are three versions, or alleles, of APOE, but the one of interest in this study is the APOE4 allele, present in about 15 percent of the population. People with this gene are up to three times more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous research has shown that the gene is linked to changes in cognitive ability as early as a person reaches his or her 50s. But the new study suggests that APOE4 starts manifesting much earlier — well before adulthood.

According to the study, those carrying the APOE4 gene score lower on IQ tests during childhood and adolescence. And the effect was stronger in girls than in boys.

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside (UCR) conducted an analysis of decades-old studies: the Colorado Adoption Project and the Longitudinal Twin Study.

The studies include genotyping data from 1,321 participants when they were 6 ½ to 18 years old. Gender among participants was split almost evenly, and 92 percent of the participants were white, with 8 percent from other races. The findings are based on three IQ assessments between childhood and adolescence.

Overall, full-scale IQ scores were lower by 1.91 points for each APOE4 allele; a person can have up to two APOE4 alleles. Males with the allele scored .33 points lower on IQ tests, and females scored almost 3 points lower for each allele. The traits most affected related to reasoning. The effect of the allele on IQ performance multiplies with each E4 allele present.

The IQ difference seems small. But long-term, it can mean fewer cognitive reserves as the APOE4 carrier ages, with the disadvantage becoming progressively magnified.

Cognitive reserve is the brain’s ability to navigate problems and improvise. Cognitive Reserve Theory holds that people with fewer reserves have more trouble withstanding disease as they age.

Studies have also shown a link between lower childhood IQ and increased biological aging — cell and tissue damage — and cardiovascular disease before age 65.

“Our results suggest that cognitive differences associated with APOE may emerge early and become magnified later in the life course, and if so, childhood represents a key period of intervention to invest in and boost reserves,” writes UCR professor Dr. Chandra Reynolds.

Source: University of California- Riverside


How to Be Depressed by Facebook

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 6:00am

A new study has found that people who use social networks passively — they don’t post updates, but tend to compare themselves with others — are in danger of developing symptoms of depression.

For the study, researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) in Germany carried out one experiment and two questionnaire studies.

In the first study, researchers had two groups of test subjects spend five minutes writing information about the first five people they saw either on their Facebook wall or on the staff website of the Faculty of Catholic Theological at RUB. A third group skipped this task. All three groups then completed a questionnaire that provided information about their self-esteem.

“It was shown that being confronted by social information on the Internet — which is selective and only positive and favorable, whether on Facebook and on employee websites — leads to lower self-esteem,” reported Dr. Phillip Ozimek, who led the research.

As low self-esteem is closely related to depressive symptoms, researchers said they consider even this short-term effect to be a potential source of danger.

The researchers then investigated long-term effects using questionnaire studies. They interviewed more than 800 people about their use of Facebook, their tendency to compare themselves with others, their self-esteem, and the occurrence of depressive symptoms.

They found a positive correlation between passive Facebook use, in particular, and depressive symptoms when subjects have an increased need to make social comparisons of their abilities.

“So, when I have a strong need to compare and keep seeing in my newsfeed that other people are having great holidays, making great deals, and buying great, expensive things while everything I see out of my office window is grey and overcast, it lowers my self-esteem,” Ozimek said. “And if I experience this day after day, over and over again, this can promote greater depressive tendencies over the long term.”

In a third study, the researchers used questionnaires to discover whether their findings could also be transferred to other networks. As professional networks work somewhat differently, they chose Xing.

“Although people’s profiles on there have still been candy-coated, they keep themselves grounded in order to appear as genuine, yet positive, as possible,” said Ozimek.

The results of the evaluation were very similar to those of the Facebook study, he added.

“Overall, we were able to show that it is not the use of social networks that generally and directly leads to or is related to depression, but that certain preconditions and a particular type of use increase the risk of depressive tendencies,” he said.

Private and professional social networks can promote higher levels of depression if users mainly use them passively, compare themselves with others socially, and these comparisons have a negative impact on self-esteem.

“It is important that this impression that everyone else is better off can be an absolute fallacy,” he said. “In fact, very few people post on social media about negative experiences. However, the fact that we are flooded with these positive experiences on the Internet gives us a completely different impression.”

The study was published in the journal Behaviour & Information Technology.

Source: Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Photo: Dr. Phillip Ozimek (left) and Prof. Hans-Werner Bierhoff. Credit: RUB, Kramer.

Precision Therapy Targeting Specific Gene Mutation Reduces Psychotic Symptoms

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 8:00am

Breakthrough research has found that treatment of some forms of psychosis can be enhanced by tailoring an intervention to a specific genetic mutation.

The new study provides a proof-of-principle demonstration that treatments can be focused to a specific genotype, rather than diagnosis, to relieve symptoms. The findings also link an individual structural mutation to the underlying biology of psychosis and treatment response.

Nevertheless, genetic mutations that have large effects on psychiatric disease risk are rare, with some known to occur in only one or a few families. However, therapy directed at one mutation is described in the study led by Deborah L. Levy, PhD, McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. Study findings appear in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The mutation was a copy number variant (CNV) in which the two patients in the study had four, instead of the usual two, copies of the GLDC gene. The authors hypothesized that this mutation might reduce brain glycine, a key factor for proper glutamatergic functioning, which is disrupted in schizophrenia.

“The compelling aspect is that this CNV can be linked to pathophysiology, and, as the new study shows, to treatment,” said Dr. Levy.

The researchers assessed whether this CNV could help guide treatment decisions by targeting the mutation to normalize its effects, a “genotype first” approach.

“This approach contrasts with the standard clinical practice of treating individuals on the basis of clinical symptoms or diagnosis independent of specific genetic variants,” said Dr. Levy.

Agents to restore glutamate function, glycine or D-cycloserine were added to the patients’ standard medications and improved psychotic symptoms in both patients beyond their usual treatment regimens.

Each of the patients also saw some reductions in other symptoms, including mood symptoms and negative symptoms of schizophrenia, and improvements in emotional engagement and social interaction.

“It is important to note that the two subjects studied here bore little clinical resemblance, with distinctly different symptom burdens and highly dissimilar courses of illness,” noted first author J. Alexander Bodkin, MD, McLean Hospital. This suggests that response to the treatment arose from targeting a specific biological process rather than a clinical diagnosis.

“Most studies of rare structural variants will have very small sample sizes, complicating the usual approach to statistical analysis. Nevertheless, because the effects of a targeted treatment can be large, it is important to prioritize opportunities to study even small groups of patients who may benefit,” observed author Charity J. Morgan, University of Alabama.

“Psychiatry is in the very early days of precision medicine, i.e., the effort to match particular patients to the specific treatments that they need. In their article, Dr. Levy and her colleagues provide a wonderful example of this approach,” said John Krystal, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

“The substances that they administered, glycine and D-cycloserine, do not produce noticeable behavioral effects in healthy people or in patients with psychotic disorders. However, because these substances replaced a deficient co-factor involved in neural communication in these particular individuals, their administration alleviated mood and psychosis symptoms.

As in these cases, we expect psychiatry to develop more instances where specific treatments can be developed to meet the needs of particular groups of patients.”

Source: Elsevier

Childhood Tics May Not Go Away, Kids Just Get Better at Hiding Them

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 7:30am

Around 20 percent of kids will develop one or more compulsive tics, such as excessive blinking, throat clearing or shrugging, at some point during childhood. Yet far fewer (only around 3 percent) go on to develop a chronic tic disorder, such as Tourette syndrome.

In fact, conventional wisdom holds that most of these childhood tics go away on their own.

But evidence from a new study at Washington University School of Medicine challenges this long-held notion: The researchers found that childhood tics may not away completely. Rather, children with tics seem to get better at hiding them when others were watching.

The study involved 45 children (30 boys), ages 5 to 10, who had just started experiencing some sort of tic. All of the children were examined within a few months of when their tics first appeared, and a second time 12 months after the tics had started.

“Our expectation, initially, was that maybe one in 10 kids would still have tics at their follow-up exams,” said first author Soyoung Kim, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate in psychiatry. “Most had improved a year later, but to our surprise in every case, the children still had tics — many of them just controlled them better.”

The researchers verified the presence of tics by leaving each child alone in a room with a video camera. They found it was possible for most children to suppress tics when they were being watched during neurological exams. But when left alone, the children exhibited tics, without exception.

“We found that tics were still present one year after they first appeared but that many of the kids we studied had figured out how to suppress them,” said principal investigator Kevin J. Black, M.D., a professor of psychiatry. “Uncovering just how they are able to control these tics may help other children do the same and perhaps avoid chronic tic disorders such as Tourette syndrome.”

The study was able to pinpoint several factors that predicted problematic tics at the one-year mark, as well as factors related to the ability to suppress tics. Having an anxiety disorder history was a predictor of being unable to control or suppress tics, as was having pronounced tics during the kids’ initial exams. Having three or more vocal tics, such as throat clearing or making other noises, also indicated likelihood of evident tics one year later.

In addition, children with higher scores on the Social Responsiveness Scale — a test that measures behaviors on the autism spectrum — also were likely to have continued problems with tics a year after first experiencing them.

“None of these kids had autism, but those who did a little bit worse on that test, who had what we would call sub-syndromal symptoms of autism, were more likely to have trouble with tics one year later,” Black said.

The researchers used a reward system to help determine whether the children could suppress their tics. In one experiment, the children were given a token worth a few pennies for every 10 seconds they could go without having a tic. Those who suppressed their tics most effectively in response to rewards exhibited fewer and less significant problems at their follow-up visits.

“My suspicion is that, over time, these kids may improve in their ability to suppress tics, just from social cues,” Black said.

“But perhaps more importantly, early on — when they’ve experienced tics for only a few weeks or months — some children already can suppress them. If we can develop ways to help other children acquire those skills, we might improve quality of life for those who otherwise may go on to develop a chronic tic disorder such as Tourette syndrome.”

The findings are published in the Journal of Child Neurology.

Source: Washington University School of Medicine

Physical Well-Being Needs to Be Addressed Along With Mental Health

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 7:30am

A new UK study finds that people with mental illness may live longer if they address both their physical and mental health.

University of Queensland researchers found patients’ physical health was often overlooked in pursuit of treating the mind. UQ psychiatrist, Associate Professor Dan Siskind, said it was time to prioritize the physical health of such patients.

The study was a part of an effort to improve mental health care in the UK with findings appearing in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

“One in five people across the world live with mental illness and people with mental illness can die up to 18 years earlier than the general population,” Siskind said.

“Contrary to popular belief, this is not because of suicide. It is from physical health issues associated with mental illness like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and lifestyle factors.

“This commission aimed to find out how great the life expectancy gap really is between those living with mental illness and the general population, discover the causative pathways for this gap, and look at practical strategies to narrow it.”

Siskind said conditions such as diabetes served as a stark example, with rates twice as high in those with mental illness compared to the general population.

“Getting people more physically active, improving nutrition and stopping smoking and substance abuse are all lifestyle factors that can be modified to improve health outcomes,” he said.

“We also looked at issues caused by medications and how these can be managed to mitigate side-effects such as obesity.”

The researchers hope the findings serve as a blueprint for doctors and healthcare professionals treating patients with mental illness.

“It can be hard for people with mental illness to engage with primary health care providers, although they may still see their psychiatrist,” said Siskind.

“We wanted to empower psychiatrists to be involved in the primary health care of their patients and engage the efforts of a multi-disciplined team, a team that includes not only psychologists and nurses but also nutritionists and exercise physiologists.

“A ‘one-stop-shop’, where patients can have their mental health and physical health needs met by a team of experts, can lead to improved health care outcomes.”

Siskind believes this multidisciplinary approach will help patients take back control of their well-being, and overcome debilitating lack of motivation.

“Motivation is often lost among people with mental illness,” he said.

“If we can remove barriers to treatment, then we can start to make improvements across a broad range of physical conditions. This is about making everyone realize patients are whole people; it’s not just about eradicating mental health problems; we need to look after physical health too.”

Source: University of Queensland/EurekAlert

Fun, Structured Programs Improve Mood in Obese Kids as Much as Exercise

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 7:00am

Regular exercise offers a variety of benefits for overweight and obese children, but when it comes to their mental and social health in particular, other kinds of adult-led afterschool programs may be just as beneficial, according to a new study published in the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine.

The findings show that a program with attentive adults, clear rules, routines and activities and a chance to interact with peers seems to work just as well as an exercise program for improving a child’s quality of life, mood and self-worth.

“For me the take-home message is yes, exercise has many wonderful benefits but some of that is because you are in a program run by caring adults,” says study author Dr. Catherine Davis, clinical health psychologist at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) Prevention Institute.

Previous studies, including some led by Davis, have shown that regular physical activity in children who are overweight or obese and inactive can yield a variety of physical benefits, including reduced weight, improved fitness and insulin sensitivity — which reduces the risk of diabetes and other maladies — as well as other mental/emotional benefits, such as improved cognition and reduced anger and depression.

In the new study, the researchers wanted to directly compare an exercise program to a similar sedentary program, and see how each program affected the psychosocial wellbeing of these children.

The study involved 175 predominantly black children, ages 8 to 11, who were overweight or obese and previously inactive. Children participated in either a fun-driven aerobic exercise program for 40 minutes per day, based on their interests and abilities, or a sedentary after-school program where they worked with board games, puzzles, music and/or arts and crafts. Children were free to talk as long as it wasn’t disruptive.

At the beginning and end of the study, the children were evaluated for depressive symptoms, anger expression, self-worth and quality of life. At the start, around 10 percent of children in both groups exhibited depressive symptoms, including sad mood, interpersonal problems and inability to feel pleasure. Depressive symptoms and quality of life were measured again about a year later.

Before the study began, the researchers hypothesized that the exercise intervention would be more effective at improving quality of life, mood and self-worth than the sedentary program.

Instead, they found that while the exercise program had the additional benefits of reducing body fat, improving fitness, and even improved brain health, there was no mood advantage. In fact, in the case of the boys, those in the sedentary group reported depressive symptoms actually decreased more over time than their peers in the exercise group.

Among girls, depressive symptoms yielded similar improvements whether in the exercise or sedentary group, says first author Celestine F. Williams, senior research associate at the Georgia Prevention Institute.

According to the researchers, the gender differences could be due to males in the sedentary group not being under pressure to participate and succeed in physical activities and finding instead an opportunity to pursue more artistic and social endeavors, which children of this age tend to prefer.

In addition, relationships the children built with each other over the course of both programs likely were beneficial in elevating their mood and quality of life, Williams says. The sedentary program may have given children more time to socialize and develop friendships with little competitive pressure.

The fact that both programs provided psychosocial benefit to the children led the researchers to conclude that some benefits of exercise found in previous studies resulted from the regular opportunity to be with attentive adults who provide behavioral structure. It also resulted from the children enjoying interacting with each other, sharing snacks and other activities, while spending less time watching television.

“Exercise is very well demonstrated to improve mood. However, I think you have to consider exercise in the context that it occurs, so the social context counts too,” says Davis.

Source: Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University

UK Study Suggests High Rates of Mental Illness, Drug Problems in Homeless Population

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 6:30am

A new U.K. study finds alarming evidence of severe mental health problems, drug and alcohol dependence, and high rates of hepatitis C among those in the homeless population.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham analyzed routinely collected data from nearly 1,000 patients registered in the Birmingham Homeless Healthcare Centre.

The findings, published in the British Journal of General Practice, show that nearly one in eight homeless individuals had been offered support for substance dependence and one in five had been offered support for alcohol misuse. A high prevalence of infectious hepatitis C was also identified.

The researchers also found that nearly one in three homeless people attended an Accident and Emergency Department in the previous 12 months. This equates to nearly 60 times the rate of A&E visits in the general population.

“The study provides compelling evidence about the health problems faced by homeless people,” said lead Investigator Dr. Vibhu Paudyal, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Pharmacy.

“Participants, whose average age was 38 years old, had two or more serious chronic medical conditions, a rate comparable to people in their 60s. Substance abuse and alcohol dependency were common, as were mental health problems and hepatitis C.”

“This study reinforces the need to further expand and diversify specialist services available to the homeless population, particularly preventative services. Further work needs to be done to minimise fragmentation of services and to improve access and experiences around homeless use of mainstream general practices.”

Paudyal says the evidence suggests that retention in long-term treatment of hepatitis C infection is better when treatment of substance dependence is offered at the same time. Such a multi-disciplinary approach can effectively prevent disease and harm from risky behaviors, improve health outcomes and reduce demand on A&E departments, Paudyal said.

The study authors urge general practitioners to make the registration of homeless people easier and to put up signs for specialist homelessness services where they are available. They say mainstream health services should be flexible and tailored to ensure this population does not face challenges and barriers in accessing care.

“Ill health can be both the cause and consequences of homelessness. Hence, early and opportunistic prevention and treatment of mental health, substance and alcohol dependence can prevent ill health and, for many, the repeat cycle of homelessness,” said Paudyal.

“These services should be readily accessible and where possible to be offered under one roof, as many of these conditions are co-prevalent.”

Shelter estimates suggest that there are over 320,000 homeless people in the U.K., and the number continues to rise.

Source: University of Birmingham

Antidepressants Reduce Death by One-Third in Diabetic Patients

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 6:00am

A new study has found that antidepressants reduce death by more than one-third in patients with diabetes and depression.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes. Researchers add that 50 percent to 75 percent of people with diabetes and depression go undiagnosed, despite therapy and medicine being very effective.

“The incidence of major depressive disorder amongst individuals with diabetes is significantly greater than the general population,” said the study’s corresponding author, Vincent Chin-Hung Chen, a professor at Chiayi Chang Gung Memorial Hospital and Chang Gung University in Puzi, Taiwan. “Diabetes and depression each independently contribute to increasing total mortality.”

For the study, researchers used the National Health Insurance Research Database in Taiwan to identify 53,412 patients diagnosed with diabetes and depression since 2000. They followed this population until 2013 to see if antidepressants reduced the death rate. What they discovered is that antidepressants reduced mortality by 35 percent.

“This data provides further rationale for the screening and treating of depression in persons who have diabetes,” Chen said.

The study was published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Source: The Endocrine Society

Many Domestic Violence Victims May Have Undiagnosed Brain Injuries

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 5:30am

In a new community-based study, researchers from The Ohio State University and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network found that 81 percent of women who seek help because of intimate partner abuse have suffered a head injury and 83 percent have been strangled.

The study, published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, suggests that brain injury caused by blows to the head and by oxygen deprivation are likely ongoing health issues for many domestic violence survivors.

“One in three women in the United States has experienced intimate partner violence. What we found leads us to believe that many people are walking around with undiagnosed brain injury, and we have to address that,” said lead researcher Julianna Nemeth, an assistant professor of health behavior and health promotion at Ohio State.

The study involved 49 domestic violence survivors from Ohio and 62 staff and administrators from five agencies in the state.

The study is the first to establish that many survivors have likely experienced repeated head injury and oxygen deprivation — a combination that could contribute to more-severe problems including memory loss, cognitive difficulty, loss of motivation, nightmares, anxiety and trouble with vision and hearing, Nemeth said.

“Nobody really knows just what this combination of injuries could mean for these women,” she said. “When we looked at our data, it was an ‘Oh my gosh’ moment. We have the information we need now to make sure that people recognize this as a major concern in caring for survivors.”

Nearly half of the study participants said they’d been hit in the head or had their head shoved into another object “too many times to remember.” More than half were choked or strangled “a few times” and one in five said that it happened “too many times to remember.” In some cases, the survivors lived through both experiences multiple times.

Emily Kulow, accessibility project coordinator for the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, said that it’s likely some of the survivors who’ve suffered from severe head trauma and oxygen deprivation have been slipping through the cracks because their symptoms aren’t well-understood.

For example, a survivor who can never remember to show up for counseling at the right time or who is combative with a roommate might be seen as a troublemaker when she’s really at the mercy of her brain injury, Kulow said.

“Brain injury was not something we really talked about much until now. It wasn’t part of any routine training and we’re trying to address that now because of what we learned from these survivors,” said Rachel Ramirez, a study co-author and training director for the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. She’s been exploring ways to ensure better diagnosis and treatment for women with brain injuries and said there’s a long way to go.

“Almost all of the best-practice recommendations for TBI are focused on athletes and soldiers, and some of the guidance is impractical for our population,” she said. “These women could be having trouble being able to plan for the future, to make decisions about their safety, to come to appointments, to do their jobs. Many have likely been wondering for years what’s going on with them.”

The researchers also recognize the challenges faced by advocates and survivors, particularly in areas where residents have poor access to counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists.

“It’s not that they don’t recognize the need for mental health services, but that need is difficult to meet in a state with inadequate mental health services,” Ramirez said.

Source: Ohio State University

Teens Are Not Sexting More – Or Less

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 7:30am

In the first study in nearly a decade, researchers discovered adolescent “sexting” is not at epidemic levels, but neither has it declined  despite preventive efforts. Overall, the practice of sexting was found to occur among a small percentage of teens.

The term sexting is commonly used to describe incidents where teenagers take nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves and exchange that content via text or private social media messages.

Although the intent is to share the images with trusted romantic partners, these pictures also can find their way into the hands of others.

While national studies have contributed to the understanding of sexting behavior among minors, the prevalence estimates are dated (prior to January 2011), and therefore little is known about its frequency and scope on a national level in recent years.

In the new study, researchers at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire provide a much-needed update to what is currently known about the nature and extent of sexting among youth today.

Researchers examined prevalence rates for sending and receiving sexually explicit images or video among a nationally-representative sample of 5,593 American middle and high school students (ages 12 to 17).

The investigators focused only on explicit images and videos (as some previous studies have conflated the picture by also including explicit texts) in order to isolate those experiences that have the greatest potential for problematic outcomes.

The results, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, show that across all sociodemographic variables explored, the vast majority of students were not participating in sexting.

Approximately 14 percent of middle and high school students had received a sexually explicit image from a boyfriend or girlfriend, while 13.6 percent said they received such an image from someone who was not a current romantic partner. About 11 percent of students reported sending a sext to a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Interestingly, most of the students who were asked by a current boyfriend or girlfriend to send a sext complied (63.9 percent). Among those students who were asked to send a sext by someone who was not a current romantic partner, only 43 percent complied.

Males were significantly more likely to have sent and received a sext from a current romantic partner. However, males and females were equally likely to receive them from someone who was not a current boyfriend or girlfriend. Female students were more likely to have been asked to send a sext by someone who was not a current romantic partner (14.3 percent), but only 34.1 percent complied.

Among the different racial groups examined, no statistically significant differences emerged with regard to sexting participation. As expected, older youth were more likely to both send and receive sexts. Students who identified as non-heterosexual were significantly more likely to be involved in sexting in all its forms.

With regard to frequency, about one-third of the students who sent or received explicit messages did so only once. Most commonly, students engaged in these behaviors “a few times.” Fewer than 2 percent of all students said they had sent a sext “many times,” while 2.6 percent said they had received sexts “many times.”

Overall, about 4 percent of students said they shared an explicit image sent to them with another person without their permission, and the about same number believed an image of them was shared with others without permission.

This practice can lead to instances of “sextortion.”

Males were more likely to have shared an image and were more likely to believe an image they sent had been shared with others without permission. Non-heterosexual students were approximately twice as likely to have shared an image with others and to believe their image had been shared with others without permission.

It also appears that 15-year-olds were the most likely to have shared a sext and to believe a sext of them was shared without permission.

“Findings from our study provide a very important message for youth who may believe media headlines that suggest sexting is more widespread than it actually is,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at FAU. Hinduja co-authored the study with Justin Patchin, Ph.D., a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.

“Showing adolescents clear evidence that a relatively small proportion of teens engage in sexting could actually result in decreased overall participation since it underscores that it is not as normal, commonplace, or widespread as they might believe.”

Source: Florida Atlantic University


Perinatal Depression Screening May Miss Suicidal Thoughts

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 7:00am

A new study of 736 low-income pregnant women in Illinois finds that more than one-third of those who reported having thoughts of self-harm in a commonly used health questionnaire did not have elevated levels of depression.

“One would think that having suicidal thoughts would be associated with depression, but for a large proportion of the women in our sample that wasn’t the case,” said University of Illinois social work professor Dr. Karen M. Tabb, the study’s lead author.

“Not all women who report suicidal ideation are going to meet the threshold for depression.”

Women in the study were assessed for depressive symptoms using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, a 10-item questionnaire. Under a state mandate enacted in 2008, the Postpartum Mood Disorders Prevention Act, primary care doctors, obstetricians, pediatricians and other front-line clinicians in Illinois use the Edinburgh scale to screen women for perinatal depression during pregnancy and after delivery.

The study participants completed at least one depression screening in English or in Spanish at clinics run by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, which serves about 2,300 pregnant and postpartum women each month.

All of the women were enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children Special Supplemental Nutrition Program, which serves nearly half of all pregnant women in the U.S. To be eligible for WIC benefits, women must have incomes less than 185% of the federal poverty level and be pregnant or have children under age 5.

According to the study, about 4.6% of women in the sample reported suicidal thoughts. The prevalence of suicidal thoughts among the Illinois women was higher than that reported by two previous studies, which found prenatal suicidal ideation rates of 2.7% and 3.8% in samples that included both low- and high-income women.

One possible reason for the higher rates among the Illinois women could be related to the state mandate, which requires universal screening of all pregnant women as opposed to selective screening of only women in distress, say the researchers.

For every 1-point increase in women’s depression scores on the questionnaire, the odds of reporting suicidal thoughts rose by 39%.

When the researchers adjusted for risk factors such as smoking status, age, education and income, patients’ odds of reporting suicidal ideation increased by 43% for every 1-point increase in their depression score.

Still, 35% of women with suicidal thoughts did not have scores on the depression questionnaire that warranted concern. In other words, many women who are struggling with suicidal thoughts could be overlooked if they are not evaluated for suicidal ideation as well as depressive symptoms, the researchers said.

Suicidal ideation is a significant risk factor and often a precursor for suicide attempts. Therefore, it is vital that thorough mental health evaluations be performed during routine clinic visits, the researchers wrote.

“Based on our findings, we suggest that practitioners should consider using instruments that screen for suicidal ideation as well as for depression to identify women who need mental health referrals and follow-up,” Tabb said.

Currently, the research team is developing a perinatal depression registry, a database that tracks women’s depression symptoms, adverse birth outcomes, health conditions and known risk factors such as obesity and smoking.

The registry will enable the researchers to evaluate the incidence of perinatal depression and suicidality among low-income populations and measure the strength of various risk factors over time.

Management of patients with suicidal ideation is as important as detection, and the registry will allow case managers and other clinicians to jointly monitor their patients, Tabb said.

“Our study adds to a growing body of evidence that calls for collaborative treatment models, patient-centered teams led by behavioral care case managers who work with consulting psychiatrists and use depression registries to track patients’ symptoms and care to ensure that no one fall through the cracks,” Tabb said.

The findings are published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, New Bureau

Spending Habits Often Align With Personality

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 6:00am

Emerging research suggests that how you spend your money can reflect aspects of your personality. Investigators analyzed over 2 million spending records from more than 2,000 individuals and discovered that spending patterns can be used to infer certain personality traits.

Researchers discovered spending money in certain categories is associated with how materialistic a person may be or how much self-control they tend to have.

“Now that most people spend their money electronically with billions of payment cards in circulation worldwide, we can study these spending patterns at scale like never before,” said Dr. Joe Gladstone of University College London, who co-led the research.

“Our findings demonstrate for the first time that it is possible to predict people’s personality from their spending.”

We all spend money on essential goods, such as food and housing, to fulfill basic needs, but we also spend money in ways that reflect aspects of who we are as individuals.

For the study, Gladstone and colleagues wondered whether the variety in people’s spending habits might correlate with other individual differences. Their findings appear in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“We expected that these rich patterns of differences in peoples spending could allow us to infer what kind of person they were,” said Dr. Sandra Matz, who co-led the project.

In collaboration with a UK-based money management app, Gladstone and Columbia Business School researchers Matz and Dr. Alain Lemaire received consent and collected data from more than 2,000 account holders, resulting in a total of 2 million spending records from credit cards and bank transactions.

Account holders also completed a brief personality survey that included questions measuring materialism, self-control, and the “Big Five” personality traits of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Participants’ spending data was organized into broad categories including supermarkets, furniture stores, insurance policies, online retail stores, and coffee shops. Researchers then used a machine-learning technique to analyze whether participants’ relative spending across categories was predictive of specific traits.

Overall, the correlations between the model predictions and participants’ personality trait scores were modest. However, predictive accuracy varied considerably across different traits, with predictions that were more accurate for the narrow traits (materialism and self-control) than for the broader traits (the Big Five).

When researchers reviewed specific correlations between spending categories and traits, they found several interesting associations.

For instance, people who were more open to experience tended to spend more on flights, those who were more extraverted tended to make more dining and drinking purchases, those who were more agreeable donated more to charity.

Moreover, those who were more conscientious put more money into savings, and those who were more materialistic spent more on jewelry and less on donations.

The researchers also found that those who reported greater self-control spent less on bank charges and those who rated higher on neuroticism spent less on mortgage payments.

“It didn’t matter whether a person was old or young, or whether they had a high or low salary, our predictions were broadly consistent,” Matz said.

“The one exception is that people who lived in highly deprived areas were more difficult to predict. One possible explanation may be that deprived areas offer fewer opportunities to spend money in a way that reflects psychological preferences.”

Researchers note that when viewed in the context of previous research that has attempted to use online behavior to predict personality, spending patterns are probably less accurate than other online behavior – such as Facebook “likes” or status updates – which offer a more direct reflection of individual preferences and identity.

However, spending-based predictions seem to be just as accurate as predictions based on individuals’ music preferences and Flickr photos.

The findings have clear applications in the banking and financial services industries, which also raises potential ethical challenges.

For example, financial services firms could use personality predictions to identify individuals with certain traits, such as low self-control, and then target those individuals across a variety of domains, from online advertising to direct mail.

“This means that as personality predictions become more accurate and ubiquitous, and as behavior is recorded digitally at an increasing scale, there is an urgent need for policymakers to ensure that individuals (and societies) are protected against potential abuse of such technologies,” Gladstone, Matz, and Lemaire write.

Source: Association for Psychological Science