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Updated: 34 min 55 sec ago

Teen Girls May be More Vulnerable to Bullying Than Boys

Sun, 05/12/2019 - 8:24pm

Girls are bullied more often than boys and are more likely to consider, plan, or attempt suicide, according to a new study published in the journal Nursing Research.

“Bullying is significantly associated with depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, suicide planning and suicide attempts,” said study leader Dr. Nancy Pontes, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden in New Jersey. “We wanted to look at this link between bullying victimization, depressive symptoms, and suicidality by gender.”

The research team looked at data from the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) nationally representative Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2011-2015 and found that more females are negatively impacted by bullying.

Pontes says that, in general, girls are more often bullied than boys, and girls are also more likely to consider, plan, or attempt suicide compared with boys, regardless of being bullied or not — although boys are more likely to die by suicide.

In this study, the researchers looked at significant associations and not direct causal links. Using two methods of statistical analysis, the researchers showed the probability of a link between bullying and depressive symptoms and suicide risk, and then compared the results of the two methods.

When they applied the more commonly used multiplicative interactions method, their results matched the findings of some other studies, which showed no difference between males and females being bullied at school and having depressive symptoms or suicide risk behaviors.

However, when they applied the International Journal of Epidemiology-recommended methodology of additive interactions, they found the effects of bullying to be significantly higher in females than males on every measure of psychological distress or suicidal thoughts and actions.

“To our knowledge, our paper is the first in nursing to compare these two methodologies, and to challenge the status quo of analysis in our field,” Pontes said.

The researchers acknowledge limitations with the study, such as the nature of its retrospective design and the inability to change or alter the design of the CDC study.

Pontes hopes the new findings will help draw attention to how researchers conduct analyses of data and how crucial it is to carefully consider which methods are the best fit, or to use both methods and compare them.

Bullying among boys tends to be physical. Pontes says that many schools are cracking down on physical bullying which people can see, and this is probably preventing and stopping the type of bullying more common among males.

Among females, however, the bullying is less visible. It is often relational bullying, such as excluding someone from activities and social circles, or spreading rumors about them. The actions are not overt, Pontes said, so they could go on for a long time without anyone else knowing.

“Our school interventions should understand the differences in bullying and how we might better address females who are bullied,” says Pontes.

Pontes believes that preventing bullying should begin at a young age. She says parents should start teaching preschool children that bullying is unacceptable. “There are parents who see it as a rite of passage,” said Pontes. “They say, ‘Everyone gets bullied. You have to buck up. Stand up for yourself.'”

She says pediatricians and nurse practitioners should discuss the harmful effects of bullying with parents so that they can intervene early and reduce the victimization that causes young people to consider suicide.

Source: Rutgers University


In China, Teens with High Screen Use May Face Greater Risk of Depression

Sun, 05/12/2019 - 5:09pm

Teens in China who either spend more time on screen activities, such as watching TV or surfing the Web, or less time on non-screen activities are at much greater risk of depression, according to a new study published in the journal Heliyon. The link is even stronger in girls.

The number of digital media users in China has been increasing rapidly. Previous research has shown that behavioral problems, depressive symptoms and suicide in nearly all developed countries have escalated since World War II.

“Digital media, as compared to more traditional media such as television, have profoundly changed the modern life of the average Chinese citizen,” said lead investigator Jie Zhang, Ph.D., Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, and University at Buffalo in New York .

“They can now shop, navigate to travel, browse information, consume various entertainment media, and communicate with one another in an unprecedented manner, and adolescents also spend more and more time using digital media.”

“However, access to these digital media may have detrimental outcomes, such as distraction from work or school, the spread of false information about individuals, online bullying, and reduced face-to-face social interactions, all of which can lead to anxiety, depression, and suicidality.”

In China, young people are facing serious psychological difficulties, according to researchers. Recent evidence shows that the prevalence of depressive symptoms among Chinese students ranges from 11.7 percent to 22.9 percent, representing a significant public health concern, given the established link between depression and suicide in China.

Researchers designed a cross-sectional study to investigate the link between new digital media and depressive symptoms in a representative Chinese adolescent sample. They looked at more than 16,000 Chinese adolescents ages 12 to- 18 using data from the 2013-2014 China Education Panel Survey (CEPS).

The first goal was to study factors that might impact depression, specifically comparing traditional screen time (watching TV); digital media screen time (online); non-screen time (sports, exercise, reading, and cultural activities); and experiencing depressive symptoms among adolescents.

The researchers also looked at the potential influence of gender, grade level in school, hometown, number of children in the family, and socioeconomic status on depressive symptoms. The second goal was to compare associations across different economic groups.

The findings reveal that greater media consumption screen time is related to depression among Chinese adolescents, although online screen time is a stronger predictor. The study also showed that digital media had a greater impact on depression among girls, which is consistent with evidence of greater depression and suicide among women compared to men in China.

The less economically developed western area of China showed the strongest link between digital media and depression, although the link was still significant in all economic regions. The influence of traditional screen time was more inconsistent within the group studied, with TV time predicting depression only in the eastern area and lax parental TV control buffering depression only in the eastern and western areas.

In addition, the study highlights that non-screen time can decrease depression, although the exact nature and strength of this relationship varies across economic regions.

“The new digital media, if not appropriately managed, creates public health hazards in adolescents,” said Zhang.

“There are numerous and significant differences in economy, culture, and education between China and western countries, as well as clear differences in adolescent depression and suicide behavior. Therefore, it may not be appropriate to make inferences about how digital media impacts negative outcomes among Chinese adolescents from findings that utilize samples from western countries.”

Source: Elsevier


Kids With Immigrant Dads at Greater Risk for PTSD

Sun, 05/12/2019 - 5:04pm

A new study finds that children with immigrant fathers are much more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The register-based study, conducted by researchers from the University of Turku in Finland, included 3,639 children born in Finland between 1987-2012 who were diagnosed with PTSD.

The findings show that children who had an immigrant father were twice as likely be diagnosed with PTSD than those with two Finnish parents. The researchers stress that schools and clinicians should become more aware of the intergenerational transmission of trauma.

PTSD is a trauma-and stressor-related disorder that can occur when a person experiences a traumatic event. Individuals with PTSD develop symptoms such as re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoidance of stimuli, negative alterations in cognition and moods, and hyperarousal.

“In this population-based study we showed that if children’s fathers had migrated less than five years before the birth of their child, the risk for PTSD diagnosis in children was almost twofold,” said doctoral candidate Sanju Silwal from the Research Centre for Child Psychiatry at the University of Turku, and the main author of the paper.

The study also reveals that the risk for a PTSD diagnosis is two times higher among kids with immigrant fathers born in North Africa or the Middle East.

“The finding is likely to be related to the fact that immigrants from that part of the world are often entering Finland as refugees. The whole immigration process for them may be a traumatic experience as it usually involves various burdening experiences during the trip, and even after arrival to the host country, it may take years before receiving the asylum decision,” Silwal said.

According to Silwal, it is important to note that the study involved a heterogeneous group of immigrants, and refugees could not be distinguished from others who migrated to Finland for study, work or family ties.

Dr. Andre Sourander, a professor of child psychiatry from the University of Turku, says there is increasing evidence of intergenerational transmission of trauma among holocaust survivors, veterans and refugees.

“Moreover, parental traumatization might impair parenting capacities and attachment relationship with their children and increase the risk of traumatic events in the family,” Sourander said.

The findings are significant for both clinical practice and research, said Silwal. “If left untreated, traumatic events can increase the risk for other psychiatric disorders and cause serious disability and chronic illness such as depression and cardiovascular diseases,” she said.

It is important that clinicians who treat traumatized immigrant parents are aware of the possible trauma transmission in their children. Schools and clinicians need to pay more attention to understand the cultural contexts and behavioral problems of immigrant children, to which the trauma exposure may impact, researchers stressed.

“With the increasing immigrant population in Europe, studies on PTSD among second generation immigrants are of great importance,” Silwal said.

Source: University of Turku


Weekend Food Program Increases School Attendance for Kids at Risk of Hunger

Sun, 05/12/2019 - 5:01pm

Children living in food-insecure households are more likely to attend school on Fridays if they’re participating in a food-distribution program that provides them with backpacks of meals for the weekend, according to a new study at the University of Illinois.

Students participating in the BackPack food program missed one Friday on average during the school year, about the same rate as children in the comparison group.

The research involved 444 students at 16 schools in east central Illinois. Of these students, 289 were enrolled in in Feeding America’s BackPack Program, a national initiative that provides children in food-insecure households with backpacks containing nutritious, easy-to-prepare meals to eat over the weekend.

Eastern Illinois Foodbank identified prospective schools to participate in the program based upon the rate of free and reduced lunches provided in the community and school administrators’ willingness to participate in the project.

The foodbank then provided a one-hour training session to train designated school staff members how to identify children from food-insecure households, based upon physical and behavioral indicators such as extreme thinness or students rushing the school lunch line.

Families of students at each school were mailed a six-item questionnaire that assessed whether they were food-insecure, based upon their use of a food pantry or receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits during the prior 30 days.

Of the parents who returned the survey, about 44% were employed and about 20% were unemployed but seeking work, according to the study. Among households whose children were selected for the BackPack program, 72% were food insecure versus 50% of families on the wait list, the researchers found.

The rates of food insecurity among these families were more than double and triple the national and county rates, which were both around 19% when the study was conducted during the 2011-12 school year.

The findings show that the BackPack students’ rates of perfect attendance on Fridays were similar to those of students in the comparison group, at 26% and 27%, respectively.

“Given that children in the BackPack program were more likely to miss school than children in the comparison group, we consider this effect noteworthy for academic engagement,” said Barbara H. Fiese, the first author of the study and the director of the university’s Family Resiliency Center.

“Even if these children attend just a few more days per school year, over time that may improve their academic progress. Thus, the simple act of distributing food on a Friday may have educational benefits for a particularly vulnerable group of children.”

Improved attendance resulting from the BackPack food program may have spillover benefits for these children’s classmates as well, since chronic absenteeism has been found to negatively affect classmates’ academic performance too, the researchers wrote.

When assessing students’ families for food programs, it’s important for school officials to look beyond any income-based criteria and recognize that families may be struggling with multiple demands and limited resources, the researchers wrote.

“Although food insecurity is associated with poverty and lack of economic resources, it is not equivalent to poverty, as some poor families are not food insecure and some food-insecure families may have incomes above the threshold to participate in some or all of the federal nutrition programs,” Fiese said.

“In some cases, food insecurity may be associated with being a single parent with a low-paying job, or with being a married couple who had a recent job loss and have multiple mouths to feed.”

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

Virtual Reality Can Improve Quality of Life for Dementia Patients

Sat, 05/11/2019 - 7:30am

Virtual reality (VR) technology can improve the quality of life for people with dementia by helping them recall past memories, reduce aggression, and improve interactions with caregivers, according to new research.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Kent’s School of Engineering and Digital Arts, including Dr. Jim Ang and Ph.D. candidate Luma Tabbaa, took place at mental health care provider St. Andrew’s Healthcare in Northampton, England.

Eight patients between the ages of 41 and 88 who are living with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease, took part in the study. Each patient used a VR headset to “visit” one of five virtual environments (VEs): A cathedral, a forest, a sandy beach, a rocky beach, and a countryside scene.

According to the researchers, 16 sessions were monitored with feedback gathered from patients and their caregivers.

One key finding was that VR helped patients recall old memories by providing new stimuli difficult to achieve, due to ill health, or inaccessible within a secure environment, according to the researchers. For example, one patient recalled a holiday when they saw a bridge in the VE because it reminded him of that trip, while another remembered a holiday where they visited a market.

These memories not only provided positive mental stimulation for the patients, but helped their caregivers learn more about their lives before care, improving their social interaction, the researchers noted.

The patients also demonstrated their own choices during the experiment, with some keen to explore different VEs within a session, while others explored the same environment repeatedly, the researchers said.

According to Ang, a larger study is needed to validate the results, but the early indications showed VR has huge potential.

“VR can clearly have positive benefits for patients with dementia, their families, and caregivers,” he said. “It provides a richer and more satisfying quality of life than is otherwise available, with many positive outcomes. With further research it will be possible to further evaluate the elements of VEs that benefit patients and use VR even more effectively.”

The researchers added that as it becomes easier to produce 360-degree VR videos, it could allow VEs specifically designed for individual patients, such as their home or a favorite location, to be created.

The study was presented at the 2019 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems and published in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Source: University of Kent

Parents Don’t Have to Be Perfect, Just ‘Good Enough’

Sat, 05/11/2019 - 6:30am

New research finds that caregivers need only “get it right” 50 percent of the time when responding to babies’ need for attachment to have a positive impact on a baby.

For the new study, Dr. Susan S. Woodhouse, an associate professor of counseling psychology at Lehigh University, studied 83 low socioeconomic-status mothers and infants at ages 4.5 months, 7 months, 9 months, and 12 months to assess attachment. Infants and mothers in the study were racially and ethnically diverse, and infants were selected for high levels of temperamental irritability, Woodhouse noted.

The researchers scored mother-baby pairs based on a mother’s responses to the infant while the baby was crying and not crying to assess the qualities of “secure base provision.” This framework focuses on aspects of caregiving that tell an infant about the caregiver’s availability to serve as a secure base, such as soothing crying and providing a safe base from which to explore.

Researchers found that this framework significantly predicted infant attachment. It also found that babies learned their mothers were providing a secure base when mothers responded properly at least 50 percent of the time.

“The findings provide evidence for the validity of a new way of conceptualizing the maternal caregiving quality that actually works for low-income families,” Woodhouse said.

Woodhouse noted infant attachment is the bond babies form with their primary caregiver. A secure attachment allows babies to feel safe, which gives them both comfort in times of distress and the ability to explore, knowing they can return to their secure base when needed. Attachment is an infant’s first bond with important caregivers and a critical phase in development, with a major impact on emotional and social development, she said.

Numerous studies have shown the importance of secure infant attachment to developmental outcomes. But the actual building blocks leading to attachment have been unresolved, according to Woodhouse.

Caregiver sensitivity — the ability to accurately interpret infant needs and to respond promptly and appropriately — was shown to be a key predictor of attachment. But previous studies showed sensitivity accounts for a surprisingly low percentage of variation in attachment, and has an even lower impact among families with low socioeconomic status, she said.

“That’s a real problem, because low-income babies face the most amount of risk, toxic stress, and other factors that go along with being low income,” Woodhouse explained.

Data suggest secure attachment may serve a protective function in children’s socio-emotional development when in a context of high risk. Secure attachment is associated with better mental health outcomes in both childhood and adulthood,  including less incidence of externalizing behaviors such as acting out and internalizing behaviors such as depression and anxiety, as well as greater school readiness.

“If we want to give advice to parents about what they can do to give their baby the best start in life, it would be really good to know what helps a baby to be secure,” Woodhouse said.

The new study was designed to examine whether secure base provision — the degree to which a caregiver is able to meet an infant’s needs on both sides of the attachment-exploration continuum — predicts attachment security in infants.

Both sensitivity and secure base provision look at how caregivers perceive, interpret, and appropriately respond to infant signals, the researcher said. In both, important infant signals occur at each end of the attachment-exploration continuum.

But secure base provision looks only at certain key infant signals and more specific caregiver responses, Woodhouse said. It also focuses much less on prompt response and more on crying resolution, such as the ratio of infant crying episodes that end in chest-to-chest soothing until the infant is fully calmed, regardless of promptness.

Secure base provision does not consider attunement to a baby’s state and mood in a moment-by-moment manner, as the sensitivity framework does, she said.

“Attunement is not key because the focus is on what the infant learns about his or her ability to, in the end, recruit the caregiver when needed — even in the context of a fair degree of insensitive behavior,” such as not picking up the baby right away, or saying, “Come on, don’t cry,” to the baby, the researchers said. “It is this infant learning about the availability of the caregiver to be recruited to provide a secure base more often than not that is central to the construct.”

Specifically, secure base provision looks at the degree to which a parent, on average, soothes a crying infant to a fully calm and regulated state while in chest-to-chest contact.

“It is at the end of each crying episode that the infant learns about whether, on average, the caregiver can be counted on to be available as the infant achieves a calm state or whether the infant typically must stop crying alone,” the researchers said.

During infant exploration and other times when the infant is not distressed, the secure base provision approach focuses on whether the caregiver allows exploration to occur without terminating or interrupting it — for example, by making the baby cry through play that is too sudden or rough — and on “calm connectedness,” which communicates the mother’s ongoing availability if needed for regulation or protection, showing the baby the mother is there for them and that the baby can count on the mother.

During the study, researchers scored mother-baby pairs based on maternal responses to the infant during episodes of infant crying and maternal responses outside of infant crying episodes. A separate group in another lab also scored for the commonly used sensitivity framework.

The researchers found the new maternal caregiving concept of secure base provision correlated significantly with infant attachment security. Mothers who had higher scores on secure base provision were more likely to have more securely attached infants, with an effect eight times larger than that of sensitivity, according to the study’s findings.

This was true, even after controlling for maternal sensitivity. They also found that maternal sensitivity did not significantly predict infant attachment security.

“What this paper tells us is that we need to change not only how we measure sensitivity, but how we are thinking about the caregiving behaviors that really matter,” Woodhouse said. “What we found was that what really matters is not really so much that moment-to-moment matching between what the baby’s cue is and how the parent responds. What really matters is, in the end, does the parent get the job done — both when a baby needs to connect, and when a baby needs to explore?”

Research suggests that infants demonstrate statistical learning to identify complex underlying patterns in stimuli, according to the researchers.

“We expected that infants whom caregivers soothed from crying to calm in a chest-to-chest position for at least half of the observed episodes of infant crying would learn that, on average, they could trust their caregivers to provide a secure base,” the researchers said, noting that found that to be true.

Woodhouse calls the findings “paradigm shifting.”

“It really is a different way of looking at the quality of parenting,” she said. “It’s looking at this idea of does the job get done in the end, and it allows us to see strengths in low-income parents that our previous ideas about sensitivity don’t let us see.”

Researchers also noted a number of problematic behaviors by mothers while their babies were crying that disrupted the process of comforting the infant. These included turning the baby away from their chests before crying ends, rough handling, harsh verbal tones, verbal instructions not to cry, and verbally attributing negative characteristics to the baby. They also documented frightening behavior, such as sudden looming into the baby’s face or toward the baby, during crying episodes.

“If the mother did frightening things when the baby cried, like hard yelling or growling at the baby, or suddenly looming toward the baby’s face while the baby was upset, even if it only happened one time, the baby would be insecure,” Woodhouse said.

“Similarly, if the mother did anything really frightening even when the baby wasn’t in distress, like saying ‘bye-bye’ and pretending to leave, throwing the baby in the air to the point they would cry, failure to protect the baby, like walking away from the changing table or not protecting them from an aggressive sibling, or even what we call ‘relentless play’ — insisting on play and getting the baby worked up when it is too much — that also leads to insecurity.”

On the flip side, overprotective behaviors, such as moms who don’t let the baby explore more than an arm’s length away, or interrupting or redirecting play (except for safety) also contributed to insecure baby attachment.

“Some moms really had trouble allowing the baby to explore and were very insistent on the baby doing certain things or turning the baby’s head to look at the mom,” Woodhouse said. “In really intrusive parenting, if we saw that, the baby was insecure.”

Woodhouse notes there are several takeaways from the study for parents.

“The first message gets at the core of getting the job done — supporting the baby in exploration and not interrupting it and welcoming babies in when they need us for comfort or protection,” she said. “The other part is that you don’t have to do it 100 percent. You have to get it right about half of the time, and babies are very forgiving and it’s never too late.”

The study was published in the journal Child Development.

Source: Lehigh University

Study: 1 in 4 Who Meditate Have Had Bad Psychological Experience

Sat, 05/11/2019 - 6:00am

More than a quarter of people who regularly meditate have had a “particularly unpleasant” psychological experience, including feelings of fear and distorted emotions, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of College London also found those who had attended a meditation retreat, those who only practiced deconstructive types of meditation, such as Vipassana (insight) and Koan practice (used in Zen Buddhism), and those with higher levels of repetitive negative thinking, were more likely to report a “particularly unpleasant” meditation-related experience.

However, the study, which was based on an international online survey of 1,232 people who had at least two months meditation experience, found women and those with a religious belief were less likely to have had a “particularly unpleasant” experience.

“These findings point to the importance of widening the public and scientific understanding of meditation beyond that of a health-promoting technique,” said Dr. Marco Schlosser, a researcher in the UCL Division of Psychiatry and lead author of the study. “Very little is known about why, when, and how such meditation-related difficulties can occur. More research is now needed to understand the nature of these experiences.”

“When are unpleasant experiences important elements of meditative development, and when are they merely negative effects to be avoided?” he continued.

The study, conducted with researchers at Witten/Herdecke University in Germany and the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, was triggered by a limited but growing number of research reports and case studies that indicate psychologically unpleasant experiences can occur during meditative practice. Some traditional Buddhist texts also reference vivid accounts of similar experiences, the researchers said.

However, very little is known about the prevalence of these experiences, they noted.

In the online survey, participants answered the following question: “Have you ever had any particularly unpleasant experiences (e.g. anxiety, fear, distorted emotions or thoughts, altered sense of self or the world), which you think may have been caused by your meditation practice?”

Participants also reported how long they had been practicing meditation and the frequency of practice, whether they had attended a meditation retreat at any point in their life, and what form of meditation they practiced. They also completed measures of repetitive negative thinking and self-compassion.

The findings showed that:

  • Of the 1,232 participants, 25.6 percent indicated that they had previously encountered particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences.
  • More male participants, 28.5 percent, experienced a particularly unpleasant experience, compared to 23 percent of female participants.
  • 30.6 percent of those who did not have a religious belief had a particularly unpleasant experience, compared to 22 percent of those who had a religious belief.
  • More people, 29.2 percent, who practiced only deconstructive types of meditation reported a particularly unpleasant experience, compared to 20.3 percent who only engaged in other meditation types.
  • And 29 percent of those who had been on a meditation retreat (at any point in life) had a particularly unpleasant experience, compared with 19.6 percent, who had never been on a retreat.

“Most research on meditation has focused on its benefits, however, the range of meditative experiences studied by scientists needs to be expanded,” Schlosser said. “It is important at this point not to draw premature conclusions about the potential negative effects of meditation.”

“Longitudinal studies will help to learn when, for whom, and under what circumstances these unpleasant experiences arise, and whether they can have long-term effects,” he continued. “This future research could inform clinical guidelines, mindfulness manuals, and meditation teacher training.”

The study was published in PLOS ONE.

Source: University College London

Depression and Everyday Stress May Lead to Cardiovascular Issues

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 7:30am

New research suggests everyday stress may play a significant role in overall health among adults with depression. A team of investigators from Penn State found an association between daily stress and blood vessel dysfunction in people with depression who are otherwise healthy.

Specifically, the researchers discovered worse endothelial function — a process that helps regulate blood flow — among individuals who had experience stress in the past 24 hours than those with depression alone.

Lacy Alexander, associate professor of kinesiology, said the results help explain the links between stress, depression and cardiovascular disease and may help design future intervention and prevention strategies. The findings appear in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“This study could be a jumping-off point for looking into whether if people are taught more behavioral strategies in dealing with everyday stressors, maybe that could be protective for their cardiovascular health,” Alexander said.

“For example, maybe mindfulness or cognitive behavioral therapy could be beneficial not just for young, healthy adults, but also for those who are at risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Scientists have known chronic exposure to stress can influence the development of cardiovascular disease. However, researchers say the exact processes of how stress affects the body and can contribute to cardiovascular disease are not known.

Jody Greaney, now an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, who led this study as a postdoctoral research fellow at Penn State, said that because depression is also linked with cardiovascular disease, she and the other researchers wanted to better understand how stress, depression and vascular function are connected.

“When I started studying how vascular function differs in adults with depression, it became clear that we had to consider the role of stress, as well,” Greaney said.

“If you’re chronically stressed, you’re more likely to develop depression. It’s just impossible to tease those two apart. We wanted to look at the three-way interaction between stress, depression and vascular function.”

In the current study, researchers recruited 43 healthy adults who did not have cardiovascular disease, did not use tobacco products and were recreationally active. The researchers also evaluated the participants for symptoms of depression.

On the day of the experiment, the participants reported any stressors they had experienced in the previous 24 hours, including arguments with a friend or family member or a stressful event at work or school.

The researchers also measured endothelial function by inserting a tiny fiber under the skin of the participants’ arms. The fiber allowed them to apply a small amount of the drug acetylcholine, which then affected the blood vessels in an area about the size of a dime. The researchers then looked at how the drug affected the endothelial function in those vessels.

In addition to stress being linked with worse endothelial function in people with depression, the researchers found other symptoms associated with depression.

“Adults with depression also experienced more stress and rated it as being more severe than healthy nondepressed adults, which confirms the link between stress and depression,” Greaney said. “Additionally, adults with depression may have worse vascular function in general, although endothelial function was worse when depression and stress were combined.”

Greaney said that in addition to being helpful for designing future prevention and intervention efforts, the results help underline the importance of the psychological aspects of certain conditions.

“As a physiologist, I’m used to drilling down into the specific mechanisms of vascular function without ever considering a psychological profile of that person,” Greaney said. “But this study would tell you that’s critically important to consider — the interplay because physiology and psychology.”

In the future, Greaney said she hopes to continue researching a more comprehensive assessment of stress and additional measures of vascular function.

Source: Penn State/EurekAlert

Older Adults: Anger More Harmful to Health than Sadness

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 7:00am

New research finds that anger may harm an older person’s physical health by increasing inflammation. Inflammation is associated with such chronic illnesses as heart disease, arthritis and cancer. However, investigators discovered not all negative emotions are associated with illness as some emotions may be beneficial.

In the new study, investigators compared the way in which emotions of anger and sadness affect an older person’s physical health. Curiously, they discovered that some negative emotions such as sadness can actually be beneficial under some circumstances. However other emotions, such as anger can have a detrimental effect among older adults.

“As most people age, they simply cannot do the activities they once did, or they may experience the loss of a spouse or a decline in their physical mobility, and they can become angry,” said Meaghan A. Barlow, MA, of Concordia University, lead author of the study.

“Our study showed that anger can lead to the development of chronic illnesses, whereas sadness did not.” The research appears in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Barlow and her co-authors examined whether anger and sadness contributed to inflammation. Inflammation is a normal body immune response to perceived threats, such as infection or tissue damage. While inflammation in general helps protect the body and assists in healing, long-lasting inflammation can lead to chronic illnesses in old age, according to the authors.

The researchers collected and analyzed data from 226 older adults ages 59 to 93 from Montreal. They grouped participants as being in early old age, 59 to 79 years old, or advanced old age, 80 years old and older.

Over one week, participants completed short questionnaires about how angry or sad they felt. The authors also measured inflammation from blood samples and asked participants if they had any age-related chronic illnesses.

“We found that experiencing anger daily was related to higher levels of inflammation and chronic illness for people 80 years old and older, but not for younger seniors,” said study co-author Carsten Wrosch, PhD, also of Concordia University.

“Sadness, on the other hand, was not related to inflammation or chronic illness.”

Sadness may help older seniors adjust to challenges such as age-related physical and cognitive declines because it can help them disengage from goals that are no longer attainable, said Barlow.

This study showed that not all negative emotions are inherently bad and can be beneficial under certain circumstances, she explained.

“Anger is an energizing emotion that can help motivate people to pursue life goals,” said Barlow.

“Younger seniors may be able to use that anger as fuel to overcome life’s challenges and emerging age-related losses and that can keep them healthier. Anger becomes problematic for adults once they reach 80 years old, however, because that is when many experience irreversible losses and some of life’s pleasures fall out of reach.”

The authors suggested that education and therapy may help older adults reduce anger by regulating their emotions or by offering better coping strategies to manage the inevitable changes that accompany aging.

“If we better understand which negative emotions are harmful, not harmful or even beneficial to older people, we can teach them how to cope with loss in a healthy way,” said Barlow. “This may help them let go of their anger.”

Source: American Psychological Association

Interpersonal Relations: Opposite Pairs Can Make Rewarding Decisions

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 6:30am

New research confirms that while opposites may attract and drive each other a little crazy, oppositional viewpoints may be overcome with unique decision-making compromises that allow each party to be satisfied with joint decisions.

Investigators from Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Washington State University specifically explored how selfish and altruistic consumers join in decision making. Although partners and colleagues may have opposite attitudes, they still must routinely make joint decisions — which restaurant to eat in, what movie to watch or where to go on vacation.

In the study, researchers wanted to see if people with opposite attitudes could come to satisfactory decisions together. Investigators found that when paired with a selfish partner, it is better to behave altruistically rather than selfishly. Similarly, when paired with an altruistic partner, it is better to behave selfishly to achieve a desired outcome.

In both scenarios, the paired respondents were able to come to decisions that best reflected their individual preferences, or what both partners personally liked — if they took the opposite attitude as that of their partner — explains Boston College Assistant Professor of Marketing, Hristina Nikolova.

“When you see that your partner is acting selfishly, it is better to let it go and act altruistically instead; let them make the decision because this will ultimately ensure a better outcome for you than if you act selfishly too,” said Nikolova.

Nikolova is a co-author of the article “Ceding and Succeeding: How the Altruistic Can Benefit from the Selfish in Joint Decisions,” published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

“In the joint decision-making of an altruistic and selfish consumer, the selfish partner would willingly express her desired preference, while the altruistic partner will likely accept these suggestions,” Nikolova continued.

“Since consumers’ preferences are more similar than they recognize, an altruistic individual will likely get an option that she somewhat prefers even when a selfish partner drives the decision. Thus, regardless of who drives the decision, both partners are likely to reach a joint decision that is relatively preferred by both of them.”

Although conventional wisdom suggests that maintaining one’s belief is associated with positive outcomes, researchers discovered that’s not necessarily the case when paired with an opposite.

“In the context of joint choices, however, we find that two selfish heads do worse than one altruistic and one selfish head; two selfish consumers jointly choose options that neither of them prefers. This happens because both partners are likely to be rigidly self-oriented when negotiating with others,” she said.

For those who are selfish in nature, conceding runs counter to their nature. The study found that selfish individuals are likely to meet suggestions with counteroffers even when the suggestions somewhat coincide with their own preferences, Nikolova said. And that might actually be a bad thing.

“This propensity to counteroffer rather than concede inadvertently leads to negotiation,” she said. “The two selfish partners trade rejected offers until they land on an option that is further down both of their preference lists but is deemed acceptable by both partners.”

Investigators note that there is limited research on joint decision-making in the fields of marketing and consumer behavior.

Nikolova believes future studies will investigate how interpersonal orientations influence decision making. While the current study examined decision outcomes among pairs of individuals, the focus did not include investigation on how the pairs went about making their specific decisions.

She said she hopes to look at whether pairs with similar outlooks — two selfish persons, or two altruistic persons — use the same decision tactics as paired opposites. That would require a closer look at the decision process, rather than the outcome.

Source: Boston College/EurekAlert

Goal Persistence, Optimism Tied to Reduced Anxiety, Depression

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 6:00am

People who persevere toward their goals and maintain a positive outlook on life tend to have less anxiety and depression over time, according to a new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

“Perseverance cultivates a sense of purposefulness that can create resilience against or decrease current levels of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder,” said lead author Nur Hani Zainal, MS, from The Pennsylvania State University. “Looking on the bright side of unfortunate events has the same effect because people feel that life is meaningful, understandable and manageable.”

Depression, anxiety and panic disorders are common and can be chronic and debilitating, putting a person’s physical health and livelihood at risk.

“Often, people with these disorders are stuck in a cycle of negative thought patterns and behaviors that can make them feel worse,” said co-author Michelle G. Newman, PhD. “We wanted to understand what specific coping strategies would be helpful in reducing rates of depression, anxiety and panic attacks.”

The researchers looked at data from 3,294 adults (average age 45) who were followed more than 18 years. Most of the participants were white and slightly fewer than half were college-educated.

Data were collected three times, in 1995 to 1996, 2004 to 2005 and 2012 to 2013. At each interval, participants were asked to rate their goal persistence (e.g., “When I encounter problems, I don’t give up until I solve them”), self-mastery (e.g., “I can do just anything I really set my mind to”) and positive reappraisal (e.g., “I can find something positive, even in the worst situations”).

Diagnoses for major depressive, anxiety and panic disorders were also collected at each interval.

The findings show that participants who exhibited more goal persistence and optimism during the first assessment in the mid-1990s had greater reductions in depression, anxiety and panic disorders across the 18 years.

And throughout those years, those who started the study with fewer mental health problems showed more increased perseverance toward life goals and were better at focusing on the positive side of unfortunate events, said Zainal.

“Our findings suggest that people can improve their mental health by raising or maintaining high levels of tenacity, resilience and optimism,” she said. “Aspiring toward personal and career goals can make people feel like their lives have meaning. On the other hand, disengaging from striving toward those aims or having a cynical attitude can have high mental health costs.”

Unlike in previous research, the new study did not find that self-mastery, or feeling in control of one’s fate, had an effect on the mental health of participants across the 18-year period.

“This could have been because the participants, on average, did not show any changes in their use of self-mastery over time,” said Newman. “It is possible that self-mastery is a relatively stable part of a person’s character that does not easily change.”

The researchers hope their findings will be beneficial for psychotherapists working with clients dealing with depression, anxiety and panic disorders.

“Clinicians can help their clients understand the vicious cycle caused by giving up on professional and personal aspirations. Giving up may offer temporary emotional relief but can increase the risk of setbacks as regret and disappointment set in,” said Zainal.

“Boosting a patient’s optimism and resilience by committing to specific courses of actions to make dreams come to full fruition despite obstacles can generate more positive moods and a sense of purpose.”

Source: American Psychological Association

Veterans May Suffer from ‘Culture Shock’ When Returning to College

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 5:30am

A new study of 20 U.S. veterans who returned home and began attending the University of Oklahoma reveals they had a very difficult time fitting into the social culture of college.

The findings, published in the Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, reveal that despite the veterans being the same age as the other college students, military service had instilled them with vastly different cultural values, which meant they experienced a form of ‘culture shock’ when going from a military environment to a college campus.

These cultural differences led to veterans arguing with other students and becoming increasingly isolated and ostracized from their peers.

“Veterans have been through tougher times, even in basic training alone, than many people may realize, therefore to them complaining about writing a paper is silly when they compare it to their past experiences of facing death,” said William T. Howe Jr, the author of the study from the University of Oklahoma.

As well as being unable to relate to civilians feeling stress over ‘trivial’ matters like exams, ex military personnel were often upset by the way their classmates dressed and their perceived lack of respect towards authority figures.

“In the military, good hygiene, grooming, and making sure your clothes are clean and professional are of vital importance, so to a veteran, students coming to class not groomed properly, or in clothes that they perceive as being too casual, conflicts with their military values,” said Howe.

“In addition, while lecturers at university often encourage open discussion, this is distinctly different from what veterans experienced in the military, where communication is top-down and upward dissent is discouraged. Veterans often got angry when other students talked during lectures.”

Finally, while most students enjoyed talking about politics, veterans were very uncomfortable and unwilling to do this.

“The United States Military has very conservative and strict rules that individuals must abide by. For example, they are not allowed to criticize the President — doing so could result in forfeiture of pay, dishonorable discharge, and even imprisonment,” said Howe.

The culture clash was often worsened by differences in the language style used by veterans and civilians. For instance, veterans often used military jargon and acronyms when interacting with civilians and would grow frustrated when other students didn’t know what they were talking about.

Veterans also felt that the profanities and dark humor they used was often misinterpreted by civilians and seen as crude and vulgar when, for the veterans, this was a normal way of speaking.

“Another issue was the directness of communication by veterans,” says Howe. “In the army, it is seen as natural to say ‘do this’ and expect others to do it. However this sort of speech usually resulted in the veterans being disliked by others and ostracized from the group.”

The findings show that veterans responded to this culture clash in three separate ways: trying to see things from the perspective of the other students, verbally lashing out and confronting the person, or by remaining silent.

By far the most commonly used strategy was silence: 100% of veterans interviewed said that they often kept quiet or refused to speak their mind in class. The reasons for this varied from not wanting to talk about politics to being afraid of getting in trouble for saying something others would perceive as inappropriate. However, eventually some veterans erupted and had verbal conflicts with others.

“Many veterans entered a ‘spiral of silence,’ and in doing so continued to feel more and more isolated,” said Howe. “Any prolonged silence about a troubling issue is not good for an individual, and the worry is that this extreme isolation could lead to a feeling that life is not worth living and a decision to permanently silence themselves with suicide.”

According to Howe, more needs to be done to help veterans and civilians understand one another and to reintegrate veterans into society.

“Veterans are one and a half times more likely to commit suicide than civilians, and they’re also at a greater risk of depression, suicide and substance abuse,” said Howe. “The situation is so bad that veteran suicide has been classified as an epidemic, and a national call has gone out to researchers to try to address this issue.”

“The military takes 8-12 weeks to strip military members of their civilian culture and replace it with a military culture. To not spend the same time and effort to reverse the process at the end of a servicemember’s time in uniform is irresponsible.”

The findings held true for both combat and non-combat veterans, suggesting that it is not only combat that makes it difficult for veterans to return to civilian life, but military training and an adoption of military culture.

Source: Taylor & Francis Group

Emotional Overeating Due to Stress May Drive Link Between Poverty and Obesity

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 7:00am

Emotional overeating due to psychological stress may drive the pervasive link between poverty and obesity, according to a new study published in the journal Obesity.

“Our findings suggest that experiencing psychological distress associated with living in lower socioeconomic circumstances is associated with emotional eating to cope which in turn is associated with obesity,” said study leader Dr. Charlotte Hardman from the University of Liverpool in England.

“The reason for socioeconomic disparities in obesity levels is often attributed to the greater availability of low-cost, calorie-dense foods in more deprived areas relative to more affluent neighbourhoods. However, there is limited evidence for an association between local food environments and obesity, indicating psychological and emotional factors may also play a role.”

The study, conducted by a research team from the University of Liverpool and Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia, involved 150 participants from North West England from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

The volunteers completed questionnaires measuring psychological distress, emotional eating and resilience. They reported their income and education level as an indicator of socioeconomic status and their height and weight in order to calculate body mass index (BMI).

The findings reveal that lower SES was linked to higher psychological distress, and higher distress was tied to greater emotional eating, which in turn predicted higher BMI.

“This finding suggests that it is not distress per se, but people’s coping strategies for dealing with distress that may be critical in explaining the link between socioeconomic disadvantage and body weight,” said Hardman.

Importantly, higher SES was also associated with emotional eating; however, this pathway was not in response to significant psychological distress.

“It is, therefore, possible that participants with higher SES may be eating in response to other emotions not directly related to coping with distress, for example, boredom,” said Dr. Joanne Dickson from ECU.

“Almost 2 in 3 Australian adults were recorded as being overweight or having obesity in 2014-15, and in England 61 per cent of adults were recorded as being overweight or having obesity in 2016. The high prevalence of obesity in many countries worldwide is a major concern, and the development of effective intervention and preventive approaches is at the forefront of national health agendas.”

“This study indicates an important role for psychological and emotional factors in eating behavior and body weight regulation, particularly for those of lower SES. Further, it is less clear what factors explain the emotional eating for those of higher SES.”

Source: University of Liverpool


Repetition Key to Fostering Healthy Eating Habits in Early Childhood

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 6:00am

Early childhood is a critical period for establishing healthy eating behaviors, yet many preschoolers in the United States are not meeting dietary recommendations.

Now, new research suggests the best way to develop healthy eating habits is to consistently expose preschoolers to healthy food choices. This allows a child to become familiar with good food without pressure.

In the new study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, investigators discovered repeated exposure to healthy food choices helped children understand the benefits of healthy eating and increased their consumption of healthy food items.

Moreover, researchers learned a parenting technique of providing child-centered nutritional verbal support – such as “Whole grains help you run fast and jump high,” was beneficial when introducing new foods.

“Because preschool children rely on other people to provide food, it is important to understand best practices to improve healthy eating,” said lead author Jane Lanigan, Ph.D., Department of Human Development, Washington State University Vancouver.

“This study shows the value of creating consistent nutrition phrases to use in the home and in child care and healthcare settings during meal time.”

Ninety-eight families were recruited from two early education programs for children 3-6 years old. One center participated in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and served snacks, breakfast, and lunch. The second served only snacks and children brought lunch from home. Tomatoes, bell peppers, lentils and quinoa were introduced during the study.

Children were assigned one of the foods for repeated exposure, one for child-centered nutrition phrases plus repeated exposure, and two foods for no intervention.

Two days per week during the six-week study, trained research assistants operated tasting stations in the classroom. Children visited the tasting stations individually and were offered one food to taste. On the day when child-centered nutrition phrases plus repeat exposure were used, the research assistant introduced food-specific phrases into the conversation.

Phrases used included “Whole grains help you run fast and jump high,” and “Fruits and vegetables help keep you from getting sick.”

While interacting with the children, the researcher took notes on how the child responded to and commented about the food. Children who tried the food were asked to select a face that showed how they thought the food tasted.

At the conclusion of the intervention, the foods were provided to the classes as a snack and researchers measured what was eaten by each student.

Results showed the repeated exposure and the child-centered nutrition phrases in addition to repeated exposure only increased these preschoolers’ willingness to try, preference, and consumption of the study food.

Those hearing child-centered nutrition phrases consumed twice as much of these foods following the intervention, but their stated liking or willingness to try the food did not increase.

“Mealtime conversations can be a time to encourage food exploration and develop healthy eating behaviors with young children,” Lanigan said.

“Both parents and child care providers would benefit from learning and using developmentally appropriate, accurate nutrition messages when introducing new foods.”

Source: Elsevier/EurekAlert

Mouse Study Probes Why GI Issues Often Accompany Depression

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 7:00am

Many people with depression suffer from gastrointestinal problems, and now new research suggests that for some, the two conditions may arise from the same issue: low serotonin.

The study, conducted in mice, is published in the journal Gastroenterology.

As many as one in three people with depression have chronic constipation, and a few studies report that individuals with depression rate their accompanying bowel problems as one of the biggest factors reducing their quality of life.

Severe constipation can obstruct the GI tract and cause serious pain. The condition leads to 2.5 million physician visits and 100,000 hospitalizations each year. And while some antidepressants are known to cause constipation, medication side effects do not explain all cases.

“Ultimately, many patients with depression are faced with limited treatment options and have to suffer with prominent GI dysfunction,” said study leader Kara Gross Margolis, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeon.

Similarities between the gut and the brain suggest the two conditions may share a root cause.

“The gut is often called the body’s ‘second brain,'” Margolis said. “It contains more neurons than the spinal cord and uses many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the two conditions could be caused by the same process.”

Since a shortage of serotonin in the brain is linked to depression, and serotonin is also used by neurons in the gut, the researchers studied mice to determine if a serotonin shortage also plays a role in constipation.

The mice in the study carried a genetic mutation (linked to severe depression in people) that impairs the ability of neurons in the brain and the gut to make serotonin.

The findings show that a serotonin shortage in the gut reduced the number of neurons in the gut, led to a deterioration of the gut’s lining, and slowed the movement of contents through the GI tract.

“Basically, the mice were constipated,” Margolis says, “and they showed the same kind of GI changes we see in people with constipation.” (In previous studies, these same mice also showed depressive symptoms).

Encouragingly, an experimental drug treatment invented by two of the study’s co-authors, Marc Caron, PhD, and Jacob Jacobsen, PhD, of Duke University, raised serotonin levels in the gut’s neurons and alleviated constipation in the mice.

The treatment, which involved a slow-release drug-delivery of 5-HTP (a precursor of serotonin), worked in part by increasing the number of GI neurons in adult mice.

The discovery of this link between the brain and GI problems suggests that new 5-HTP slow-release therapies could treat related brain-gut conditions simultaneously.

The study is also one of the first to demonstrate that neurogenesis in the gut is possible and can fix abnormalities in the gut. “Though it’s been known for many years that neurogenesis occurs in certain parts of the brain, the idea that it occurs in the gut nervous system is relatively new,” Margolis said.

Neurogenesis may help treat other types of constipation. “We see a reduction of neurons in the GI tract with age, and that loss is thought to be a cause of constipation in the elderly,” Margolis said. “The idea that we may be able to use slow-release 5-HTP to treat conditions that require the development of new neurons in the gut may open a whole new avenue of treatment.”

The commonly available immediate-release 5-HTP supplement is too short-acting for this issue, Margolis says. Once ingested, 5-HTP is converted to serotonin, but the serotonin is rapidly inactivated before it can work effectively. The slow-release version of 5-HTP used in the study produces consistent administration of 5-HTP which has been shown to fix the limitations of immediate-release 5-HTP.

Clinical studies are already planned for testing a slow-release 5-HTP drug in people with treatment-resistant depression as well as a 5-HTP drug for constipation.

Source: Columbia University Irving Medical Center


Electroconvulsive Therapy May Reboot Visual Brain Networks in Depressed Patients

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 6:30am

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) appears to fight severe depression by “pushing the reset button” on brain networks involved in creating a mental picture, according to a new study published in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical.

Since the late 1930s, psychiatrists have used ECT as part of an overall treatment plan to help people with depression who do not respond to antidepressants. During this treatment, electrical current is applied to the forehead to intentionally cause brief seizures, while the person is under anesthesia. Following a course of ECT, patients proceed with medication or talk therapy to maintain their improved condition.

“ECT has long been known to be an effective treatment for patients who don’t respond to other therapies,” said Dr. Brian Levine, senior author on the paper and senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI). “But we don’t know precisely how ECT affects brain function. Our study shows how ECT alters brain networks involved in memory and thinking.”

It is well-established that people with depression tend to become focused on the negative aspects of an experience, which also blunts their memory ability. These individuals have difficulty reframing their thoughts toward healthier interpretations of past events.

“Since people with depression struggle to reframe an event, their ability to cope with adverse situations is affected,” says Dr. Raluca Petrican, co-first author on the paper and RRI postdoctoral fellow. “Our study suggests that ECT reconfigures brain networks that promote flexibility in how people remember events, and this may help people cope better with daily challenges.”

For the study, the research team looked at the brain scans of 25 adults between the ages of 25 to 60 years old. Among the participants, 15 individuals were severely depressed and referred for electroconvulsive therapy at psychiatric clinics across Toronto.

All participants were asked to share some notable events with researchers at the beginning of the study. They were then cued to imagine these events while they were inside the scanner.

Those who were recommended for ECT did scans before and after all their sessions. The results show that before ECT, the brain networks linked to visualization appeared to function differently among individuals with depression, but after ECT, these brain networks looked similar to healthy individuals.

The findings were validated in a publicly available database of more than 300 individuals who had their brains scanned as part of a separate study but did not have ECT. Based on these scans and access to the database, researchers were also able to link a person’s brain networks to their resiliency or susceptibility to depression.

As next steps, the researchers will be investigating the amount and types of memory loss experienced by patients who undergo this treatment, as this is a common side effect of ECT.

Source: Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care


AI Speech Analysis Can Detect Depression in Young Children

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 6:00am

New research suggests a machine-learning algorithm can detect signs of anxiety and depression in the speech patterns of young children. The technique could be a faster and easier way of detecting difficult to spot disorders in young people. Early detection of emotional issues is important to ensure timely care.

Investigators explain that around one in five children suffer from anxiety and depression, collectively known as “internalizing disorders.” However, the signs of the disorder are difficult to recognize as children under the age of eight cannot reliably articulate their emotional suffering, making the condition difficult to spot.

The need to make a timely diagnose is important as access to a provider, be it scheduling issues or obtaining insurance verification, is often a laborious process.

“We need quick, objective tests to catch kids when they are suffering,” said Dr.  Ellen McGinnis, a clinical psychologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families and lead author of the study. “The majority of kids under eight are undiagnosed.”

The research appears in the Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics.

Early diagnosis is critical because children respond well to treatment while their brains are still developing, but if they are left untreated they are at greater risk of substance abuse and suicide later in life.

Standard diagnosis involves a 60-90 minute semi-structured interview with a trained clinician and their primary care-giver.

McGinnis, along with University of Vermont biomedical engineer and study senior author Ryan McGinnis, has been looking for ways to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to make diagnosis faster and more reliable.

The researchers used an adapted version of a mood induction task called the Trier-Social Stress Task, which is intended to cause feelings of stress and anxiety in the subject.

A group of 71 children between the ages of three and eight were asked to improvise a three-minute story, and told that they would be judged based on how interesting it was. The researcher acting as the judge remained stern throughout the speech, and gave only neutral or negative feedback. After 90 seconds, and again with 30 seconds left, a buzzer would sound and the judge would tell them how much time was left.

“The task is designed to be stressful, and to put them in the mindset that someone was judging them,” says Ellen McGinnis.

The children were also diagnosed using a structured clinical interview and parent questionnaire, both well-established ways of identifying internalizing disorders in children.

The researchers used a machine learning algorithm to analyze statistical features of the audio recordings of each kid’s story and relate them to the child’s diagnosis. They found the algorithm was highly successful at diagnosing children, and that the middle phase of the recordings, between the two buzzers, was the most predictive of a diagnosis.

“The algorithm was able to identify children with a diagnosis of an internalizing disorder with 80 percent accuracy, and in most cases that compared really well to the accuracy of the parent checklist,” says Ryan McGinnis.

It can also give the results much more quickly – the algorithm requires just a few seconds of processing time once the task is complete to provide a diagnosis.

The algorithm identified eight different audio features of the children’s speech, but three in particular stood out as highly indicative of internalizing disorders: low-pitched voices, with repeatable speech inflections and content, and a higher-pitched response to the surprising buzzer.

Ellen McGinnis says these features fit well with what you might expect from someone suffering from depression. “A low-pitched voice and repeatable speech elements mirrors what we think about when we think about depression: speaking in a monotone voice, repeating what you’re saying,” says Ellen McGinnis.

The higher-pitched response to the buzzer is also similar to the response the researchers found in their previous work, where children with internalizing disorders were found to exhibit a larger turning-away response from a fearful stimulus in a fear induction task.

The voice analysis has a similar accuracy in diagnosis to the motion analysis in that earlier work, but Ryan McGinnis thinks it would be much easier to use in a clinical setting.

The fear task requires a darkened room, toy snake, motion sensors attached to the child and a guide, while the voice task only needs a judge, a way to record speech and a buzzer to interrupt. “This would be more feasible to deploy,” he says.

Ellen McGinnis says the next step will be to develop the speech analysis algorithm into a universal screening tool for clinical use, perhaps via a smartphone app that could record and analyze results immediately.

The voice analysis could also be combined with the motion analysis into a battery of technology-assisted diagnostic tools, to help identify children at risk of anxiety and depression before even their parents suspect that anything is wrong.

Source: University of Vermont

Head Injuries More Than 5 Times More Common Among Criminal Offenders

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 9:45am

Some studies have suggested that traumatic brain injury may play a role in criminal activity. In a new study, a researcher from the University of Nebraska at Omaha investigated the impact of head injuries on criminal persistence — that is, the likelihood that offenders will continue to break the law — in adolescents and young adults.

The findings, published in the journal Justice Quarterly, show that changes in young people with head injuries were tied to an increase in self-reported criminal activity, particularly violent crimes. In fact, head injury was found to be five to eight times more common among individuals involved with the criminal-justice system than in the general population.

“These results provide preliminary evidence that acquired neuropsychological deficits, and head injuries more directly, result in prolonged periods of criminal persistence,” said Joseph A. Schwartz, Ph.D., professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who authored the study.

Schwartz looked at data from the Pathways to Desistance study of 1,336 previously adjudicated youth from Philadelphia and Phoenix who were 14 to 19 years at the start. The youth, who were mostly male and from a range of races and ethnicities, were interviewed over seven years about criminal behavior and contact with the criminal justice system.

Nearly a fifth sustained one or more head injuries during the study and almost a third had sustained a head injury before the first interview.

Schwartz looked at the effect of changes in individuals with head injuries on trajectories of arrest and monthly reports of overall, violent, and nonviolent offending. He also considered factors such as impulse control, intelligence, pre-existing dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex, family support and socioeconomic status.

He found that head injury is five to eight times more common among individuals involved with the criminal-justice system than in the general population. He also discovered that participation in higher levels of overall and violent offending often followed a head injury.

While Schwartz notes that it is not possible to describe the link between head injury and violent offending as causal, he points to strong evidence of significant changes in trends in offending following a head injury.

A less consistent pattern was found in the association between head injury and nonviolent offending, suggesting that head injury may affect specific forms of criminal persistence. For example, youth who had a head injury were more likely to be arrested (or commit more nonviolent offenses) than those who didn’t have such an injury, but the likelihood of arrest did not increase following an injury.

Schwartz says that the findings should be interpreted with caution because he was unable to directly examine the reasons for the link between head injury and criminal persistence. In addition, the head injuries were self-reported and the study did not address the severity of these injuries.

“The impact of head injury on offending behavior is likely the result of neuropsychological deficits that compromise normative brain development,” Schwartz said. “We need more research into this critical issue, which would help us understand what sorts of treatment and intervention would work with people affected by head injuries and could contribute to reductions in overall crime.”

Source: Crime and Justice Research Alliance


Breastfeeding May Fuel Brain Growth For Smallest Preemies

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 9:40am

Micro-preemies who primarily consume breast milk have significantly higher levels of metabolites important for brain growth and development, according to new research.

“Our previous research established that vulnerable preterm infants who are fed breast milk early in life have improved brain growth and neurodevelopmental outcomes. It was unclear what makes breastfeeding so beneficial for newborns’ developing brains,” said Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., director of MRI Research of the Developing Brain at Children’s National Health System.

“Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a non-invasive imaging technique that describes the chemical composition of specific brain structures, enables us to measure metabolites essential for growth and answer that lingering question.”

For the study, the researchers enrolled babies who were very low birthweight (less than 1,500 grams or 3.3 pounds) and 32 weeks gestational age or younger at birth when they were admitted to Children’s neonatal intensive care unit in the first week of life. The researchers gathered data from the right frontal white matter and the cerebellum, a brain region that enables people to maintain balance and proper muscle coordination and that supports high-order cognitive functions.

Each chemical has its own a unique spectral fingerprint, the researchers reported. They were able to generate light signatures for key metabolites and calculated the quantity of each metabolite.

What they discovered:

  • cerebral white matter spectra showed significantly greater levels of inositol, a molecule similar to glucose, for babies fed breast milk, compared with babies fed formula;
  • cerebellar spectra had significantly greater creatine levels for breastfed babies compared with infants fed formula;
  • the percentage of days infants were fed breast milk was associated with significantly greater levels of both creatine and choline, a water soluble nutrient.

“Key metabolite levels ramp up during the times babies’ brains experience exponential growth,” said Katherine M. Ottolini, M.D., the study’s lead author. “Creatine facilitates recycling of ATP, the cell’s energy currency. Seeing greater quantities of this metabolite denotes more rapid changes and higher cellular maturation. Choline is a marker of cell membrane turnover. When new cells are generated, we see choline levels rise.”

Children’s National leverages an array of imaging options that describe normal brain growth, which makes it easier to spot when fetal or neonatal brain development goes awry, enabling earlier intervention and more effective treatment, according to the researchers.

“Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy may serve as an important additional tool to advance our understanding of how breastfeeding boosts neurodevelopment for preterm infants,” Limperopoulos added.

The study’s findings were presented during the Pediatric Academic Societies 2019 Annual Meeting.

Source: Children’s National Health System

Photo: Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., director of MRI Research of the Developing Brain at Children’s National Health System. Credit: Children’s National.

Student Bullying Can Harm Both Victims and Perpetrators

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 6:39am

A new study finds surprising consistency in teen bullying rates across the globe and shows that it harms both victim and perpetrator suffer in similar ways.

The findings, published in the journal Children and Youth Services Review, show that victims and bullies are more inclined to consume alcohol and tobacco, more likely to complain of psychosomatic problems and both tend to suffer from similar social problems.

For the study, researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany set out to discover whether there were any differences in the way various countries’ cultures handled being bullied and whether boys dealt with it in a different manner than girls.

To do this, they analyzed data provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), who had asked approximately 3,000 adolescents from each country about their lives as part of an extensive study conducted over a number of years.

The researchers specifically looked at the responses from adolescents living in Germany, Greece and the U.S. because they believe these nations exhibit different types of social structures:  the U.S. as rather individualistic, Greece as very collectivist and Germany as somewhere in between.

The data included information on any bullying the adolescents had experienced from other students, but also details of alcohol and tobacco consumption, psychosomatic complaints, how easy they found it to talk to their friends and how they viewed the social support of their classmates.

The analysis revealed that adolescents’ behavior and problems are similar in all three countries, as approximately nine percent of boys and girls had repeatedly experienced physical or psychological attacks from other students.

“None of the three countries can be used as a model for dealing with the problem. We were shocked by this stability that transcends cultures and different periods of time,” said Dr. Anett Wolgast, an MLU educational psychology scientist.

The researchers also investigated the association between student bullying and various other factors: Here, they focused on the adolescents’ risk behaviors, especially their alcohol and tobacco consumption, and whether they had suffered or were still suffering from psychosomatic complaints, such as stomach aches, headaches, back pain or depression.

The study also looked at how perpetrators and victims interacted with their social environment: Did they find it easy to talk to friends? How did they view support from within their class in their social environment?

The findings suggest that boys and girls are just as likely as each other to consume alcohol and smoke cigarettes when they have been the victim of verbal or physical attacks. “Girls are slightly more inclined to internalize problems and therefore have more stomach aches or headaches,” said Wolgast.

Another surprising finding was that perpetrators and victims reported similar social problems. Both groups found it difficult to talk to friends and classmates, and they also both felt they had little support from their environment.

“The fact that perpetrators and victims experience similar problems to each other is remarkable,” said Wolgast. “These findings could be used to devise new prevention strategies.”

In other words, current interventions should target communication between adolescents to improve the classroom atmosphere. One way of encouraging this could be asking students to adhere to rules that they have come up with themselves. Mutual support would play a major role here, Wolgast said.

Source: Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg