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Updated: 2 hours 57 min ago

Children Who Show Benevolent Sexism Also More Likely to Show Hostile Sexism

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 5:30am

Children who hold seemingly positive, “benevolent” views about women are also likely to hold negative ones, according to a new study.

The study also found that there are differences between how these views change over time between boys and girls: Negative, or hostile, sexist perceptions decline for both boys and girls as they get older, but “benevolent” sexist ones diminish only for girls.

“It might seem cute when a boy acts in chivalrous ways toward girls, or when a girl pretends to be a princess who’s waiting for a prince to rescue her,” said Andrei Cimpian, an associate professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and one of the authors of the study. “Many times, this is just play, with no deeper meaning. But other times, these behaviors, even though they may seem inoffensive, might signal that children view women in a negative light, as weak, incompetent, and unable to survive or thrive without a man’s help.”

“It is encouraging to note that this work also reveals how these attitudes evolve with age for boys and girls, albeit unevenly,” added first author Matthew Hammond, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington.

Many people understand that the term “sexism” refers to overtly negative attitudes toward women, according to the researchers. This includes perceptions that women are weak, incompetent, or overly emotional.

However, there’s another aspect of sexism that is often overlooked — what researchers call “benevolent sexism.” This consists of attitudes that may appear positive, but are still undermining of and patronizing toward women — for instance, that women should be warm, caring, pure, and deserve to be put on a pedestal.

Previous studies have shown that adults who hold sexist views that are hostile also possess ones that are benevolent, the researchers noted. But less clear is whether children also hold these perceptions and whether these views change through childhood.

To address this, the researchers looked at the attitudes of more than 200 children, between the ages of 5 and 11, in two locations: New York City and Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

The children were asked if a series of statements were “right” or “wrong.” The statements included both benevolent views (“Men need to protect women from danger”) and hostile ones (“Women get more upset than men about small things”).

In analyzing children’s agreement and disagreement with these statements, the researchers found that children gave statistically distinct patterns of responses to the statements expressing hostile and benevolent views about women. Importantly, however, they also found an association between these types of views, meaning that if a child agreed with a hostile statement, then he or she was also likely to agree with a benevolent one.

“This is something we did not know before about young children’s gender attitudes,” Cimpian said.

The findings also showed that children’s hostile sexism decreased with age for both boys and girls. However, benevolent sexism decreased with age only for girls.

“Boys may be less likely to recognize that their benevolent attitudes toward women are, in fact, patronizing,” Cimpian said. “For instance, they may hold on to the belief that men ought to protect women because this view is in line with social norms and may be reinforced throughout their upbringing.”

The researchers said current circumstances are a chance to address many of the concerns the study’s findings raise.

“Parents and kids are spending a lot of time together these days, so there are plenty of opportunities for conversation,” Hammond said. “It could be worthwhile to spend a few minutes discussing what they think men and women should be.”

The study was published in the journal Sex Roles.

Source: New York University

Kids Can Tell When Moms Suppress Their Stress

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 7:00am

When mothers suppress stress around their kids, those feelings can actually transmit to their children, according to new research published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

For the study, researchers observed interactions between parents and children ages 7 to 11, and found that children had a physical response when their mothers tried to hide their emotions.

“We show that the response happens under the skin,” said Dr. Sara Waters, assistant professor in Washington State University’s Department of Human Development and corresponding author on the paper.

“It shows what happens when we tell kids that we’re fine when we’re not. It comes from a good place; we don’t want to stress them out. But we may be doing the exact opposite.”

The team observed 107 parents, nearly half of whom were fathers, and their children. They first got baseline measurements from both parent and child, and asked each to list the top five topics that caused conflict between them.

Next, the researchers separated the parents from children and asked each parent to perform a stressful activity, like public speaking, to activate the physiological stress response system.

Then, with the parent adequately stressed, they brought the child back in and asked them to have a conversation about the topic that ranked highest on both of their conflict lists. Half of those parents were asked to suppress their emotions during the conversation.

The interactions were all filmed and scored by third party viewers who didn’t know which parents were in which group. The parents and children also had sensors on their bodies to measure the physiological responses.

They found that for the families suppressing emotions, both parents and children were less warm and engaged with each other.

“That makes sense for a parent distracted by trying to keep their stress hidden, but the kids very quickly changed their behavior to match the parent,” Waters said.

“So if you’re stressed and just say, ‘Oh, I’m fine’, that only makes you less available to your child. We found that the kids picked up on that and reciprocated, which becomes a self-fulfilling dynamic.”

Importantly, mothers in the control group did not transmit their stress to their children. But, for mothers asked to suppress their emotions, their children exhibited more signs of stress, both physiologically and externally. It wasn’t the same for fathers.

“We found that moms and dads were different,” Waters said. “We were looking for a physiological response, but there wasn’t one in either the control or the experimental condition where dads transmitted stress to their kids.”

“We think that fathers not transmitting their suppressed stress may be because, often, fathers tend to suppress their emotions around their children more than mothers do,” Waters said. “The kids have experience with their dad saying things are fine even when they’re not. But it was more abnormal for kids to see their mom suppressing their emotions and they reacted to that.”

The more out of control parents feel — and during a global pandemic that feeling is likely exacerbated — the stronger they have an impulse to reassure their kids that everything is ok.

“Research shows that it’s more comforting for kids to have their feelings honored than just be told ‘It’s going to be fine,'” Waters said.

For example, if a child tells their parents it sucks not to see their friends anymore, don’t immediately try to fix that problem, Waters said.

“Just sit with them and give them a chance to regulate those emotions on their own,” she said. “Try not to show that you’re frustrated with them, or solve their problem. And try to do the same for yourself, give yourself permission to be frustrated and emotional.”

Source: Washington State University

 

Factors that Drive Depression and Burnout Often Similar

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 6:00am

A recent study finds that personal and workplace factors predicting burnout largely overlap with factors that contribute to depressive symptoms.

The new study, which appears in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, was led by Constance Guille, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina, and Lisa Rotenstein, M.D., an internal medicine resident at Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women’s Hospital, among others.

“There is a long-standing thought that burnout is associated with workplace factors and that depressive symptoms are associated with workplace factors but also heavily influenced by personal factors,” explained Rotenstein.

“We found that the factors that drive burnout are much more closely related to the factors that drive depressive symptoms than previously realized.”

The study surveyed 1,552 medical interns entering residency programs at 68 different institutions about depressive symptoms, emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, as well as about potential contributing factors.

Depressive symptoms were measured by a standard 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire, while emotional exhaustion and depersonalization were measured with a 9-item abbreviated Maslach Burnout Inventory.

Workload and learning environment satisfaction were assessed with a standardized instrument. Personal factors assessed included age, gender, ethnicity, relationship status, sexual orientation, parenting status, specialty, self-reported history of depression, early life stress and neuroticism score.

The study found significant overlap between factors that contribute to depressive symptoms and those that contribute to burnout, with about two-thirds of variance in both depressive symptoms and burnout attributable to personal factors, and one-third of the variance in these measures attributable to workplace factors.

The term “burnout” is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He originally defined burnout as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

With more than 142 definitions circulating in the literature, the definition of burnout has historically been unclear. This lack of clear definition has led to highly variable rates of burnout being reported among medical interns, residents and attending physicians. In contrast, depressive symptoms are well-defined and have been clinically validated.

The results of this study suggest that assessing for depressive symptoms may be a validated, standardized alternative to assessing for burnout among medical personnel.

They also underscore that interventions that help address burnout may be effective in addressing depressive symptoms and vice versa. Examples of such interventions include leveraging resources such as scribes to address documentation burdens, time banking for physician service and resources such as childcare to take stress off those physicians with familial obligations.

“Previous to this work, depression and burnout were conceptualized as separate entities with different factors contributing to these outcomes,” explained Guille.

“This work suggests there is substantial overlap between both workplace and personal factors that contribute to an increase in both depressive symptoms and burnout.”

Source: Medical University of South Carolina

AA Can Work Well with Other Therapies for Alcoholism

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 7:22am

New research suggests combining the 12-Step Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program with a different treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy can result in a very effective intervention for individuals with alcohol use disorders.

However, treatment providers should be mindful of misconceptions about AA if they wish to bridge the gap, says a Baylor University researcher.

Alcohol use disorders are among the most common psychological disorders experienced by Americans, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Sadly, only an estimated 10 percent of those with disorders receive treatment, with the most popular treatment being some form of Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step involvement.

Nevertheless, many misconceptions about AA continue to exist. “Clinicians should be mindful if they have biases or misconceptions about the AA program and AA members, and empirical research on how well 12-Step programs work is now widely available,” said Sara Dolan, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience. Dolan is also director of the doctor of clinical psychology (Psy.D.) graduate program at Baylor University.

“Because it is likely that clinicians will work with people who engage in 12-Step programs, we should learn as much as we can about how to integrate 12-Step treatment into our work with these clients.”

The article appears in the American Psychological Association journal Training and Education in Professional Psychology.

In the article, Dolan and her coauthors discuss misconceptions about AA, including:

  • AA is a religious program requiring belief in God to work the steps. While a historic Christian influence exists in AA’s principles (self-examination, confession, restitution and service to others), AA considers itself a “spiritual program of action.” In fact, AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution, and it does not endorse or support causes. The Big Book — AA’s recovery manual — asks only whether one is “even willing to believe that there is a Power greater than myself,” with no requirement to define this Power or state with absolute certainty it exists.
  • AA negates personal responsibility for sobriety. Although the First Step of the program asks individuals to admit “powerlessness” over alcohol, the program aims to help individuals accept personal responsibility for their actions.

Some important distinctions do exist between AA and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Dolan said.

While AA’s goal is total abstinence, CBT sometimes encourages total abstinence and sometimes seeks to reduce the amount one drinks to reduce harm to self or others.

Another difference is that in AA, the primary therapeutic relationship is with a peer — someone who is in recovery from harmful alcohol and substance use. In CBT, the primary relationship is with a psychotherapist who may or may not be in recovery. And in AA or 12-step programs, clients can get free help that protects their anonymity.

But the two approaches have much in common, Dolan said. In both, the work that is done to achieve control over drinking is fundamentally cognitive-behavioral in nature.

For example, AA strives to identify the thoughts, emotions, attitudes and behaviors that cause problems, then replace them with new, more adaptive ones to overcome problematic alcohol and other drug use and to engage in altruistic behavior.

Similarly, cognitive-behavioral therapy seeks to identify and replace dysfunctional beliefs and help clients learn to cope through means other than drinking, Dolan said.

AA and cognitive behavioral therapy have similar definitions of alcohol and substance use disorder and are alike in that they urge individuals to take stock of emotions and behaviors. This occurs during CBT by documentation of a daily thought record of negative emotions; and in AA, through daily admittance of selfish, dishonest, self-seeking or fearful thoughts or behaviors.

Some interventions and skills also are similar.

CBT promotes social support, interpersonal skills training and learning to regulate emotion and tolerate distress. AA advocates avoiding former “people, places and things” conducive to drinking and to instead use sponsors and support groups that model the behavior of sober AA members.

Both approaches advocate taking responsibility for one’s actions, acceptance and times of self-examination and relaxation, researchers wrote. CBT advises using relaxation techniques and training, while AA suggests prayer and meditation.

The article recommends that clinicians be aware of their misconceptions about AA and AA members and educate themselves about AA. For example, attendance as a guest at AA meetings (some are open to guests, while others are members only) would be helpful, as well as reading AA’s program material, including the Big Book.

In addition, the authors suggest that efforts to “translate” 12-Step language into the terminology of cognitive-behavioral therapy may help clinical trainees understand the corollaries between the two approaches and bridge the gap.

Source: Baylor University/Science Direct

‘Ethnic Spaces’ Can Help Minority Students Feel Welcome on Campus

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 7:00am

A new study suggests that “ethnic spaces” at universities in the U.S. help students from underrepresented minority groups feel a greater sense of belonging and engagement with their campus.

“This suggests the importance of these spaces is partly about the signal they send,” said lead author Dr. Teri Kirby, senior lecturer at the University of Exeter in the U.K. “They are more than just gathering places — they show students from underrepresented ethnic groups that they are welcome at the university.”

Many universities already have designated facilities, such as social areas and cultural centers, specifically for minority students. But at some institutions, such spaces have fallen victim to budget cuts or controversy.

Researchers from the University of Washington (UW) and the University of Exeter, wanted to investigate the value that college students of many races place on those facilities.

For the study, 965 students (205 minority/760 white) from the UW campus in Seattle read about plans for their university to add either a new ethnic space or a general space. Among minority students, reading about plans for an ethnic space led to stronger feelings of belonging, support and engagement in the university.

“This work is important because we know that students from ethnic minority groups can feel less belonging in institutions where they are underrepresented,” said Kirby. “We need to understand how to make underrepresented students of color feel more welcome. Our research suggests that ethnic spaces are one good way to achieve this.”

Among the top 26 universities on US News and World Report’s undergraduate rankings for 2020, 18 mention having a space for underrepresented students of color.

At UW, for example, the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center opened in 1968. Over the years, it has been renovated and expanded and is now believed to be the largest college cultural center in the United States. The 26,000-square-foot building provides meeting spaces, a computer lab, a dance studio and other programming.

However, other research has shown that organizations and institutions can increase people’s sense of belonging through materials, policies and programs that are not wholly based on one’s ethnicity, just as well as a set physical space.

Study coauthor Dr. Sapna Cheryan, a UW psychology professor, previously led a study about the ways computer science classrooms often appear unwelcoming to many women, potentially turning them away from the field.

In the current study, researchers asked 205 African American, Latinx and Native American students at UW as well as 760 white students to read about plans for either an ethnic or a general student space, like a student union building.

The research was divided into four separate studies, each presenting students with slightly different versions of plans for ethnic spaces or general student spaces.

The findings reveal that reading about a new ethnic space increased feelings of belonging among underrepresented students of color regardless of whether they intended to use it.

For white students, reading about ethnic spaces increased perceptions that the university valued underrepresented students. However, these white students felt a lower sense of belonging, support and campus engagement than white students who read about a general student space.

The current research did not look at the cause of this difference, so it is unclear whether the general student center boosted their senses of belonging, support and engagement, whether the ethnic space reduced them, or both.

Overall, the research underscores how even the idea of a space for students of color can boost their feelings of inclusion.

The study is published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Source: University of Washington

 

Early High School Start May Drive Down Attendance

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 6:30am

A new study finds that earlier high school start times are linked to a slight increase in rates of tardiness and absenteeism. The researchers assert that schools need to look at more than test scores to see the ways in which early start times negatively affect students.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools begin class after 8:30 a.m., but we know that most schools start much earlier,” said Dr. Melinda Morrill, an associate professor of economics at North Carolina (NC) State University and corresponding author of a paper on the work.

“We were able to look at five high schools that moved start times from 8:05 a.m. to 7:25 a.m. in order to examine the effect that the change had on students.”

For the study, the research team analyzed data on seven groups of students, with graduation years ranging from 2013 to 2019. Specifically, the team examined data from the freshman, sophomore and junior years of each student group. The change in start times was implemented in the 2012-13 school year. As an additional control group, the research team also looked at data from 14 other high schools in the same school district that had already begun using a 7:25 a.m. start time.

“There’s a growing body of research that suggests earlier start times can hurt test scores,” Morrill said. “We looked at that, but the numbers weren’t statistically significant one way or the other.”

However, the study findings show that the move to the earlier start times caused a small increase in the number of students who did not advance to 12th grade on time, says John Westall, a Ph.D. candidate at NC State and co-author of the paper.

“Specifically, the move from 8:05 to 7:25 was associated with students being 8% more likely not to advance to 12th grade on schedule.”

“We also wanted to look beyond testing to see if there were effects on other measures of academic engagement,” Morrill said. “And we found a significant increase in both absences and tardiness.”

The change to an earlier start time was linked to an increase of about one additional absence per year and just over three additional tardy arrivals per year for students. “So students were definitely missing more school,” Westall said.

Overall, later high school start times appear to be far better when it comes to getting to school.

“Looking at all 19 of the schools, we found that historically, the five schools that started at 8:05 had significantly lower rates of absenteeism and tardiness than the 14 schools that started at 7:25,” Morrill said. “But once those five schools moved their start time to 7:25, those advantages disappeared.

“The take-home message here is that we need to look at more than just test scores if we want to understand all of the ways that early start times can affect high school students,” Morrill said.

“We know that school districts have to consider a wide range of issues, such as transportation logistics, student safety, extracurricular activities and school finances. But the more we look, the more the findings suggest that there are significant consequences of early start times for students.”

The paper is published in the journal Economics of Education Review.

Source: North Carolina State University

 

How PTSD Can Lead to Earlier Heart Disease

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 6:00am

A new study may help explain why patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to develop heart disease at an earlier age than those without the illness.

The research was supposed to be presented at the American Physiological Society annual meeting in San Diego this month, but the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The abstract is published in The FASEB Journal.

In the study, researchers found evidence of small blood vessel dysfunction which appears to be driven by the sympathetic nervous system — the system behind the fight-or-flight response — along with oxidative stress, an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the bloodstream.

Problems in the small blood vessels are often a precursor to stiffening or narrowing of the larger arteries, which can lead to a heart attack, stroke or other forms of heart disease.

“We have found that blood vessel dysfunction is more prevalent in young adults with PTSD than those without,” said lead study author Jennifer Weggen, a Ph.D. student at Virginia Commonwealth University. “We hypothesize that both oxidative stress and overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system, independently and cooperatively, may ultimately lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.”

In any given year about 8 million U.S. adults suffer from PTSD, a mental health disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Prior research has shown that PTSD increases a person’s chances of having heart disease by as much as 50%.

To investigate the path from PTSD to heart disease, the scientists conducted a series of cardiovascular assessments in 16 patients with PTSD and 24 healthy volunteers with similar demographics. The average age in both groups was 24 years old.

The PTSD participants received two assessments and consumed either an antioxidant supplement containing vitamin C, vitamin E and alpha lipoic acid or a placebo beforehand.

Healthy arteries respond to changes in blood flow by constricting and relaxing. The researchers found that all participants had normal responses in the brachial artery, an artery in the arm.

However, the participants with PTSD showed a significantly lower amount of blood flowing through a given portion of the brachial artery during testing which reflects abnormal responses in the smaller vessels further downstream. These patients also had a lower variation in the time intervals between heart beats, a marker of increased sympathetic nervous system activation.

Importantly, those differences essentially disappeared when the participants consumed an antioxidant supplement, suggesting oxidative stress plays a role in both the small vessel dysfunction and the sympathetic nervous system activity.

Free radicals naturally occur in the body as a result of normal physiological processes, but the body makes its own antioxidants to keep them in check. Oxidative stress occurs when the free radicals overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defenses.

“Supplementing with an antioxidant cocktail tipped the balance back to equilibrium, reducing oxidative stress,” said Weggen. However, she warned that antioxidants were used in the study only to understand the potential role of oxidative stress, not to test the supplements as a potential treatment.

“The suggestion of regular use of antioxidants specifically for treatment of PTSD would be premature, as no studies have confirmed its efficacy or safety and appropriate dosage is unknown. Everyone responds differently to antioxidant supplements, and not everyone may reap benefits. Seeking medical guidance would be prudent before taking nutritional supplements,” said Weggen.

Oxidative stress can also be reduced by fortifying the body’s own antioxidant defense systems through lifestyle changes such as exercise, diet, stress reduction and meditation. More studies could help shed light on whether these methods are effective for mediating the oxidant-antioxidant balance in people with PTSD, Weggen noted.

Source: Experimental Biology

 

Our Favorite Fictional Villains May Remind Us of – Ourselves

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 7:00am

A new study suggests that we find fictional villains surprisingly likeable when they share certain similarities with us.

This attraction to potentially darker versions of ourselves in movies and books occurs even though we would be repulsed by real-world individuals with similar immoral or unstable behaviors.

One reason for this shift, the study indicates, is that fiction acts like a cognitive safety net, allowing us to identify with villainous characters without affecting our self-image.

“Our research suggests that stories and fictional worlds can offer a ‘safe haven’ for comparison to a villainous character that reminds us of ourselves,” said Rebecca Krause, a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University and lead author on the paper.

“When people feel protected by the veil of fiction, they may show greater interest in learning about dark and sinister characters who resemble them.”

Academics have long suggested people recoil from others who are in many ways similar to themselves yet possess negative features such as obnoxiousness, instability, and treachery. Antisocial features in someone with otherwise similar qualities, the thinking goes, may be a threat to a person’s image of themselves.

“People want to see themselves in a positive light,” notes Krause. “Finding similarities between oneself and a bad person can be uncomfortable.”

In contrast, Krause and her coauthor and advisor Dr. Derek Rucker find that putting the bad person in a fictional context can remove that discomfort and even reverse this preference. In essence, this separation from reality reduces undesirable and uncomfortable feelings.

“When you are no longer uncomfortable with the comparison, there seems to be something alluring and enticing about having similarities with a villain,” Rucker said.

“For example,” said Krause, “people who see themselves as tricky and chaotic may feel especially drawn to the character of The Joker in the Batman movies, while a person who shares Lord Voldemort’s intellect and ambition may feel more drawn to that character in the Harry Potter series.”

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the website CharacTour, an online, character-focused entertainment platform that had approximately 232,500 registered users at the time of analysis.

One of the site’s features allows users to take a personality quiz and see their similarity to different characters who had been coded as either villainous or not. Villains included characters such as Maleficent, The Joker and Darth Vader. Nonvillains included Sherlock Holmes, Joey Tribbiani and Yoda.

The anonymous data from these quizzes allowed the researchers to test whether people were attracted toward or repulsed by similar villains, using nonvillains as a baseline. Not surprisingly, people were drawn to nonvillains as their similarity increased. However, the results further suggest that users were most drawn to villains who share similarities with them.

The researchers believe that similarities to story villains do not threaten the self in the way real-life villains would.

“Given the common finding that people are uncomfortable with an tend to avoid people who are similar to them and bad in some way, the fact that people actually prefer similar villains over dissimilar villains was surprising to us,” noted Rucker. “Honestly, going into the research, we both were aware of the possibility that we might find the opposite.”

The study did not identify which behaviors or traits the participants found attractive. More research is needed to investigate the psychological pull of villains and whether people are drawn toward similar villains in fiction because people look for chances to explore their own personal dark side.

“Perhaps fiction provides a way to engage with the dark aspects of your personality without making you question whether you are a good person in general,” said Krause.

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

 

Preparation and Confidence May Help or Hinder

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 6:00am

New research suggests feeling prepared and confident about a job interview is great, but that sense of confidence may influence other parts of your life for which you might not be nearly so prepared.

Ohio State researchers performed three studies and found that feelings of preparedness in one area made people more confident in their beliefs about something completely different – whether those thoughts were positive or negative.

This finding suggests that people may sometimes feel confident about a belief or decision for totally unrelated reasons, said Dr. Patrick Carroll, lead author of the study and associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University at Lima.

Investigators believe the findings suggests that people should think more closely about how they arrive at important decisions in their lives. Sometimes a newfound confidence in a critical decision may have been influenced, right or wrong, by an unrelated event.

For example, you may have been leaning slightly toward support of one candidate in a local election when you started preparing for a job interview. Once you’re prepared for the interview and are feeling confident, you may find that you strongly support the candidate.

“You’re going to feel a general sense of confidence as a result of being prepared for the job interview,” Carroll said.

“And when you think about which candidate to support, you may start to feel confidence in your thoughts about that issue – not realizing that the confidence is actually coming from your preparations for the job interview.”

The research appears online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

One of the studies involved 80 college students who were told they were going to be participating in two separate experiments.

First, participants learned about what they were told was a new proposal at their university for funding research on genetically modified foods. (There was actually no such proposal.) The proposal listed major benefits of genetically modified foods, including environmental protection and crop growth.

Half of the participants were told to list three positive thoughts about increasing funding for this research, while the other half listed three negative thoughts.

All the participants were told they would then be taking part in a second study on the role of self-presentation in interpersonal attraction. As part of this, they used a computer to write down what they thought were their greatest strength, greatest weakness and most important life goal.

They were told this profile would be evaluated by an opposite-sex student in the next room who would provide feedback and indicate how much they would like to meet them in person later. (There was actually no such person.)

After participants sent their presentation, they all received a message on their screen very quickly saying that their partner had already made their evaluation.

Half were told on the screen that the early return didn’t mean anything as far as their evaluation. But the other half were told that an early return indicated a worse evaluation.

“This warning of a likely negative evaluation allowed participants some time to prepare for it,” Carroll said. “The other participants had no reason to prepare.”

Afterward, all participants were asked to reflect on their thoughts on the proposal to fund research on genetically modified foods and answered several questions.

Results showed that the students who had to prepare themselves for the bad news in the second experiment reacted differently to their thoughts on the unrelated research funding than those who didn’t have to prepare.

If they generated positive thoughts earlier, those who prepared had a more positive attitude toward the research funding than those who didn’t prepare. And if they generated negative thoughts, those who prepared had more negative attitudes than those who didn’t prepare.

“Preparedness didn’t change people’s opinions about the research funding. But it did validate the thoughts they already had, whether those thoughts were positive or negative,” Carroll said.

“And of course, their feelings of preparedness had nothing to do with the issue of research funding for genetically modified foods.”

Participants who had prepared for the bad news also indicated they had more confidence in their thoughts about the research funding proposal, compared to those who didn’t prepare.

“Being prepared in one area gave people more confidence in their thoughts in a completely different area, and this helped strengthen their attitudes,” he said.

Two other studies confirmed these findings, using different designs and subject matters. While in the study discussed above participants prepared themselves mentally for bad news, in another study, the researchers had participants write down strategies on how to handle different situations posed in the experiment.

“In different studies, we looked at different ways of being prepared,” he said. “Ultimately, preparedness is about knowing how to respond to future outcomes.”

The findings suggest people should think more closely about how they arrive at important decisions in their lives, Carroll said.

“We sometimes feel like we’re leaning in one direction on a decision and then something changes and we feel more convinced about the choice,” he said.

“It is worth considering what caused that shift. Your newfound confidence may be coming from somewhere you aren’t aware of.”

Source: Ohio State University

Can Suicide Be Predicted From Patients’ Records?

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 6:00am

A new study demonstrates that a predictive computer model can identify patients at risk for attempting suicide from patterns in their electronic health records — an average of two years ahead of time.

Such models could potentially alert health professionals in advance of a visit, helping patients get appropriate interventions, say researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.

The findings are published in JAMA Network Open.

“Computers cannot replace care teams in identifying mental health issues. But we feel that computers, if well designed, could identify high-risk patients who may currently be falling through the cracks, unnoticed by the health system,” said Ben Reis, Ph.D., director of the Predictive Medicine Group, part of the Computational Health Informatics Program (CHIP) at Boston Children’s Hospital, and co-senior author on the paper.

“We envision a system that could tell the doctor, ‘of all your patients, these three fall into a high-risk category. Take a few extra minutes to speak with them.'”

For the study, the researchers analyzed electronic health record data from more than 3.7 million patients ages 10 to 90 across five diverse U.S. health care systems: Partners HealthCare System in Boston; Boston Medical Center; Boston Children’s Hospital; Wake Forest Medical Center in North Carolina; and University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Between 6 and 17 years’ worth of data were available from the different centers, including diagnostic codes, laboratory test results, medical procedure codes, and medications.

The records revealed a total of 39,162 suicide attempts. The models were able to detect 38 percent of them (this ranged 33 to 39 percent across the five centers) with 90 percent specificity. Cases were picked up a mean of 2.1 years before the actual suicide attempt (range, 1.3 to 3.5 years).

The strongest predictors, not surprisingly, included drug poisonings, drug dependence, acute alcohol intoxication, and several mental health conditions. But other predictors were ones that wouldn’t ordinarily come to mind, like rhabdomyolysis, cellulitis or abscess of the hand, and HIV medications.

“There wasn’t one single predictor,” says Reis. “It is more of a gestalt or balance of evidence, a general signal that builds up over time.”

The team developed the model in two steps, using a machine-learning approach. First, they showed half of their patient data to a computer model, directing it to find patterns that were associated with documented suicide attempts.

Next, they took lessons learned from that “training” exercise and validated them using the other half of their data; asking the model to predict, based on those patterns alone, which patients would eventually attempt suicide.

Overall, the model performed similarly at all five medical centers, but retraining the model at individual centers brought better results.

“We could have created one model to fit all medical centers, using the same codes,” said Yuval Barak-Corren, M.D., of CHIP, first author on the paper. “But we chose an approach that automatically builds a slightly different model, tailored to suit the specifics of each health care site.”

Suicide is now the second most common cause of death among American youth. Fatal suicides rose 30 percent between 2000 and 2016, and 2016 alone saw 1.3 million nonfatal suicide attempts.

The findings confirm the value of adapting the model to each site, since health care centers may have unique predictive factors, based on different hospital coding practices and local demographics and health patterns.

Source: Boston Children’s Hospital

Combination of Foods We Eat May Affect Dementia Risk

Sun, 04/26/2020 - 8:37pm

It’s no secret that a healthy diet may benefit the brain.

However, new research shows that it may not be just the foods you eat, but what foods you eat together that affect your risk of dementia.

The new study looked at “food networks” and found that people whose diets consisted mostly of highly processed meats, starchy foods like potatoes, and snacks like cookies and cakes, were more likely to have dementia years later than people who ate a wider variety of healthy foods.

“There is a complex inter-connectedness of foods in a person’s diet, and it is important to understand how these different connections, or food networks, may affect the brain because diet could be a promising way to prevent dementia,” said study author Cécilia Samieri, Ph.D., of the University of Bordeaux in France. “A number of studies have shown that eating a healthier diet, for example a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains and fish, may lower a person’s risk of dementia.”

“Many of those studies focused on quantity and frequency of foods,” she continued. “Our study went one step further to look at food networks and found important differences in the ways in which food items were co-consumed in people who went on to develop dementia and those who did not.”

The study involved 209 people with an average age of 78 who had dementia and 418 people, matched for age, sex and educational level, who did not have dementia.

Participants completed a food questionnaire at the beginning of the study describing what types of food they ate over the year, and how frequently, from less than once a month to more than four times a day. They then had medical checkups every two to three years.

Five years after the study began, researchers used data from the food questionnaire to compare what foods were often eaten together by the patients with and without dementia.

Researchers found that while there were few differences in the amount of individual foods that people ate, overall food groups or networks differed substantially between people who had dementia and those who did not have dementia.

“Processed meats were a ‘hub’ in the food networks of people with dementia,” said Samieri. “People who developed dementia were more likely to combine highly processed meats such as sausages, cured meats, and patés with starchy foods like potatoes, alcohol, and snacks like cookies and cakes.

“This may suggest that the frequency with which processed meat is combined with other unhealthy foods, rather than average quantity, may be important for dementia risk. For example, people with dementia were more likely, when they ate processed meat, to accompany it with potatoes and people without dementia were more likely to accompany meat with more diverse foods, including fruit and vegetables and seafood.”

People who did not have dementia were more likely to have a lot of diversity in their diet, demonstrated by many small food networks that usually included healthier foods, such as fruit and vegetables, seafood, poultry or meats, according to the study’s findings.

“We found that more diversity in diet, and greater inclusion of a variety of healthy foods, is related to less dementia,” said Samieri. “In fact, we found differences in food networks that could be seen years before people with dementia were diagnosed. Our findings suggest that studying diet by looking at food networks may help untangle the complexity of diet and biology in health and disease.”

One limitation of the study was that participants completed a food questionnaire that relied on their ability to accurately recall diet rather than having researchers monitor their diets, according to the researchers. Another limitation was that diets were only recorded once, years before the onset of dementia, so any changes in diet over time were unknown.

The study was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. 

Source: American Academy of Neurology

High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy Linked to Kids’ Mental Health Disorders

Sun, 04/26/2020 - 9:39am

Pregnant women with hypertensive disorders, particularly preeclampsia, a form of high blood pressure during pregnancy, are at greater risk of having children with mental health issues, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland.

Women were recruited into the study in early pregnancy at Finnish maternity hospitals. The children in the study were born between 2006 and 2010 and were tracked until the end of 2016 when they were 6.4 to 10.8 years old. Mental disorders were identified from Care Register for Health Care.

Overall, the research team looked at 4,743 mother-child pairs and found a link between hypertensive pregnancy disorders, including chronic hypertension (high blood pressure), gestational hypertension, preeclampsia and eclampsia, and childhood mental disorders.

Preeclampsia is a common pregnancy complication often characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, which can indicate damage to other organs including the liver and kidneys. Eclampsia is a severe complication of preeclampsia in which high blood pressure during pregnancy results in seizures.

The study findings show that maternal preeclampsia and its severity are linked to an increase in the risk of any childhood mental disorder and psychological development and behavioral and emotional disorders.

Specifically, the research team found a 66 percent higher risk of mental health disorders among children whose mothers had preeclampsia. They also found a two-fold higher risk of childhood mental health issues among children whose mothers had severe preeclampsia.

“While previous studies have shown significant effects of preeclampsia on ADHD, autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia in the offspring, a novel aspect of our findings was that the predisposing effects of maternal preeclampsia extended to any childhood mental disorder in the offspring,” said Dr. Marius Lahti-Pulkkinen, one of the senior researchers of the study and a docent at the University of Helsinki.

The research team also noted that the combination of maternal hypertensive disorders, overweight/obesity and diabetes disorders in pregnancy increases the cumulative prevalence of childhood mental disorders from 6.6 percent among children of mothers with none of those conditions to 22.2 percent in offspring exposed to all three of these negative maternal conditions.

In addition, the link between the mother’s preeclampsia and mental disorders in her offspring could not be explained by her own mental health disorders, age, substance use, number of previous pregnancies, education, overweight/obesity or diabetes disorders or by the father’s mental or hypertensive disorders.

“The findings emphasize the need for preventive interventions and treatments for maternal hypertensive disorders, since such interventions have the potential to benefit both the well-being of the expectant mother and her offspring,” said Lahti-Pulkkinen.

“The findings also shed important new light on the etiology of childhood mental disorders. This information may help in targeting preventive interventions and support for families at risk, and aid clinicians in understanding issues and the underlying causes of childhood mental disorders.”

Hypertensive disorders in pregnancy are also key risk factors for maternal mortality, stillbirth, preterm birth and intrauterine growth restriction, and these disorders can predict cardiovascular morbidity in the mother and her offspring.

The study is published in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association.

Source: American Heart Association

Being a ‘Fun’ Kid Linked to Higher Social Status

Sun, 04/26/2020 - 6:00am

In a new study, researchers investigated whether being a “fun” kid can contribute to popularity or being well-liked among peers. They found that the fun-status association can work both ways: Being fun can lead to higher social status, while higher status can lead to more opportunities to be fun.

“We had good reasons to suspect that being fun would uniquely contribute to a child’s social status. Obviously, fun is intrinsically rewarding. Fun peers are rewarding companions and rewarding companions enjoy higher social status than non-rewarding companions,” said Brett Laursen, Ph.D., lead author and a professor in the Department of Psychology in Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.

“But the benefits of fun probably extend well beyond their immediate rewards. Fun experiences provide positive stimulation that promotes creativity. Being fun can protect against rejection insofar as it raises the child’s worth to the group and minimizes the prospect that others will habituate to the child’s presence.”

“Finally, changes in the brain in the early middle school years increase the salience of rewards derived from novelty, in general, and fun, in particular. Children and adolescents are, quite literally, fun-seekers.”

The findings are important, because until now, research has only shown that the traits of prosocial behavior and leadership are linked to both likeability and popularity.

In general, studies have shown that children who are well-liked tend to be outgoing, assertive, prosocial, and academically competent; they are neither aggressive nor withdrawn. In comparison, children who are popular are outgoing, assertive, and prosocial or aggressive (or both); they too are not withdrawn.

According to the researchers, being fun is a trait conspicuously missing from these lists — an omission that is odd when you consider how much time and energy children devote to having fun.

For the study, researchers from Florida Atlantic University in collaboration with Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, examined whether children who are well-liked and children who are popular got that way by being fun to hang around with.

Data from children living in Florida and children living in Colombia, South America, revealed the degree to which peer perceptions of being fun could predict increases in being liked by classmates and being popular with classmates.

The study involved two sets of children in grades 4 to 6 (ages 9 to 12): the first included 306 girls and 305 boys attending school in northern Colombia; the second included 363 girls and 299 boys attending school in southern Florida.

All of the data came in the form of peer nominations, an important strategy that avoids the use of self-reported data. The same pattern of results emerged in different samples, in different locations, and from different children of different ages.

Overall, across a two-month period, primary school children perceived by classmates as someone who is fun to be around experienced an increase in the number of classmates who liked them and the number who rated them as popular.

Importantly, these associations remained after accounting for other variables known to contribute to peer status, such as prosocial behavior, leadership, physical attractiveness, fairness, athletic ability, disruptiveness, and aggression.

Being well-liked and being popular also anticipated changes in classmate perceptions of a child as fun, suggesting that, in the eyes of peers, “fun begets status and status begets fun.”

“Our study is novel in that no research has unambiguously measured peer perceptions of classmates who are fun and no longitudinal studies have examined whether being fun uniquely anticipates subsequent changes in peer social status,” said Laursen.

“The findings also are important because until now only prosocial behavior and leadership have been demonstrated to prospectively predict changes in both likeability and popularity.”

The team focused on the late primary school and early middle school years, a time when peer reputations consolidate and peer status assumes outsized importance in the lives of children.

So what makes a child fun? The researchers say that some children who are fun are undoubtedly equipped with a variety of traits that combine to make them rewarding companions.

“One potential combination is surgency (positivity, and ego resilience, which make the child a novel and exciting companion,” said Laursen. “Fun children are probably also socially adept, and have high levels of perspective-taking and social skills.”

Why does that matter? Laursen says that adults tend to forget the importance of peer status in the classroom. Being well-liked and being popular are huge assets.

“Well-liked children present few adjustment difficulties and tend to succeed where others do not,” said Laursen. “Popularity is highly coveted by children and adolescents; many value it above being liked.”

This finding raises the possibility of a reputational halo effect. Age-mates assume that children with high social status have desirable attributes, which may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy as high status children are given more opportunities to have fun and thereby hone their skills around others who are fun.

The study is published in the Journal of Personality.

Source: Florida Atlantic University

PTSD Can Be Rough on Partners of Vets, 1st Responders

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 7:30am

New research suggests the partners of first responders, health care workers and veterans may also carry a burden if their loved ones develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — a timely finding given the protracted battle against COVID-19.

The Australian study explored the multidimensional nature of experiences of being an intimate partner of a veteran or emergency service first responder with PTSD.

Investigators discovered recognition of the needs of wives and intimate partners in supporting their recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often absent. Researchers from Flinders University found the ways in which partners contribute to their loved ones’ recovery, and their own need for support, are not well understood.

Researchers have acknowledged that the impact of PTSD can reach far beyond the individual suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, affecting the lives of friends and family caring for someone with PTSD. Caregiver burden and stress are common when a loved one has PTSD. Caregivers may feel guilty if they take time for themselves; however, it is vitally important to provide support for caregivers.

Living with and caring for someone with PTSD is stressful, and attention to the caregiver is vitally important, as the caregiver is also the primary source of support needed by those living with PTSD.

In the new study, researchers interviewed 22 partners of Australian veterans, paramedics, fire and police officers to determine partner’s feelings and thoughts. Their analysis revealed that the key concern of the participants was to protect their family unit and the intimate relationship.

“We looked at partners in these groups because of the occupational exposure to trauma they experience,” said Flinders Behavioral Health researcher Professor Sharon Lawn, project lead and author.

“The key finding was that partners feel invisible in recovery. They live with the trauma that their partners experience but are still not acknowledged by health services or professional organizations (such as Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Police, etc) as a vital part of the person’s support system.”

Feeling invisible was the barrier respondents felt to receiving the support they crave, said co-investigator Paula Redpath, a consultant psychotherapist and discipline lead at Flinders Behavioral Health.

“The participants’ key concerns were to protect their family unit and relationship with their partner, showing many ways in which they managed, coped and adapted to myriad changes brought by the PTSD,” she said.

However, many perceive that the strength of their commitment to their relationship, their contribution to the recovery of the veteran, and to what they do every day for the family, is largely invisible to the organizations and healthcare providers available to these occupations, the researchers conclude.

The article appears in the journal Health and Social Care in the Community.

Source: Flinders University/EurekAlert

Study: We Often Know the Best Choice But Don’t Make It

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 6:30am

When faced with a decision, we often know what will give us the best chance of success but choose another option anyway, according to new research.

People often choose based on a gut feeling, a habit, or what worked for them last time, rather than on what they have learned will work most often, said Dr. Ian Krajbich, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology and economics at The Ohio State University.

The results run counter to the belief that people make the less optimal choice because they just don’t know any better, he noted.

“In our study, people knew what worked most often. They just didn’t use that knowledge,” he said.

For example, you know that taking Main Street is the fastest way home from work. But yesterday there was an event that slowed traffic on Main Street, so you took Spruce Street instead and it got you home a few minutes faster than normal.

So today, do you take Main Street — which you know is usually the better route — or take Spruce Street because it worked so well yesterday?

Krajbich said the results of the new study suggest that many times we take the route that worked yesterday and ignore the evidence of what normally works best.

“There’s this tension between doing what you should do, at least from a statistical perspective, versus doing what worked out well recently,” he said.

For the study, participants played a computer game in which noticing and exploiting patterns could make them more money. The researchers tracked their mouse movements to detect whether they picked up on those patterns.

In one scenario, participants would choose one of two symbols on the top half of the screen — one on the top left and one on the top right. They would then move the cursor to the bottom half of the screen and a symbol would appear on the bottom right or bottom left. They would click on that to see their reward.

Participants repeated this game dozens of times. The researchers could determine if the participants learned the pattern between what they chose at the top and what they got at the bottom — for example, choosing the top left symbol usually led to the bottom right symbol with the largest reward — by watching their mouse movements.

“We could tell where they thought the next symbol was going to appear by where they moved the cursor,” Krajbich said.

“And we found that nearly everyone — 56 of the 57 participants — learned the pattern,” he said. “That was no problem for our participants.”

But the researchers designed part of the study so that the pattern that usually led to the largest reward didn’t work 10 percent to 40 percent of the time.

So the question was: After one of the trials in which the pattern that usually led to the largest reward didn’t work, what would participants do? Would they stick to the pattern or choose something else?

The study results showed that participants followed the plan that gave them the best chance of success — which was following the pattern that worked at least six out of 10 times — only about 20 percent of the time.

In other parts of the study, the pattern that produced the biggest reward always worked the same way. When the pattern was consistent, participants followed it about twice as often — or 40 percent of the time — as in the other cases, the researchers reported.

Why don’t people follow the best strategy more often?

Krajbich said the answer to that question is beyond the scope of this study, but noted it likely takes a lot of mental energy and planning to always make decisions based on your knowledge of the environment.

And the rewards of following the best strategy aren’t always obvious, especially if following that strategy increases your success by only a small percentage, he said.

This tension between using a statistical-based strategy versus going with your gut comes up a lot in sports, according to Krajbich. Coaches and managers must decide whether to go for it on fourth down in football or walk a batter in baseball. The decision that has the best chance to succeed statistically is often only a bit more successful than the other choice.

“It can be hard to judge whether you made a good or bad decision based just on the outcome,” he said. “We can make a good decision and just get unlucky and have a bad outcome. Or we can make a bad decision and get lucky and have a good outcome.”

In those situations, it is easy for people to stop being disciplined and just choose whatever decision got them rewards most recently, he added.

The lesson from this study, Krajbich said, is that people often do learn what works best.

“They just have to put that knowledge into practice,” he said.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, was led by Arkady Konovalov, Ph.D., a former graduate student at Ohio State now at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

Source: The Ohio State University

Cannabis Dependence Linked to Poor Mental Health

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 6:00am

New research shows that people with a history of dependence on cannabis are more likely to have some form of mental illness or substance abuse.

“Our findings illustrate that for many adults, a history of cannabis dependence casts a very long shadow, with a wide range of associated negative mental health outcomes,” said Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson, professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW) and director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging and lead author of the study.

The study compared 336 Canadians with a history of cannabis dependence to 20,441 who had never been addicted to the substance. The data was drawn from Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health.

The study found that more than a quarter — 28 percent — of those with a history of cannabis dependence were still dependent on cannabis, while almost half — 47% — had some form of mental illness or substance dependence, compared to only 8 percent among those without a history of cannabis dependence.

The study also found that 74 percent of people without a history of cannabis dependence were in excellent mental health, while only 43 percent of those with a history of dependence were. To be considered in excellent mental health, subjects had to report: Almost daily happiness or life satisfaction in the past month; high levels of social and psychological well-being in the past month; and freedom from all forms of substance dependence, depressive and generalized anxiety disorder, and serious suicidal thoughts for at least the preceding full year.

Social support was strongly associated with remission from cannabis addiction and achieving excellent mental health, the study discovered.

“It is important to consider ways to best facilitate social integration and social support for clients who are recovering from cannabis addiction,” said co-author Janany Jayanthikumar, M.S.W., a graduate from the university. “Clinicians may be more effective if they expand the focus of their treatment for substance dependence to include strategies to assist clients in creating and maintaining healthy social connections.”

In addition, women with a history of cannabis dependence were more likely than men to be in remission and to have excellent mental health, the study found.

“Women may experience more acutely negative physical, mental, and social consequences of substance use than men, which may motivate them to discontinue use,” explained co-author Dr. Melissa Redmond, an assistant professor of social work at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. “Women may also decrease substance use during pregnancy or periods of child-rearing due to side effects and associated feelings of responsibility or guilt.”

The study also found that with each decade of aging, adults had double the likelihood of achieving both remission and excellent mental health.

“Decreases in impulsivity, increased role responsibility, awareness of the impact of drug use on health, as well as negative social consequences are thought to play a role in remission among older individuals,” said co-author Senyo Agbeyaka, M.S.W.

While the Statistics Canada survey used for the study did not gather information on what interventions, if any, those with cannabis dependence received, other research indicates that combined treatments, such as motivational enhancement therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, are successful in reducing cannabis use, as well as dependence related symptoms, the researchers observed.

Previous research indicates that among cannabis users, dependence is high. A 2013 U.S. study found that almost one-third (31 percent) of current cannabis users were cannabis dependent.

“It is important to remember that the legalization of cannabis is not solely about a profitable new business,” warned Fuller-Thomson. “With more users and subsequently more people who are cannabis dependent, there will be very serious long-term mental health repercussions that individuals, families, and the health care systems must address.”

The study was published in the journal Advances in Preventive Medicine.

Source: University of Toronto

Humans Wired to Huddle When Afraid, Making Quarantine More Difficult

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 4:30am

When faced with danger, humans are wired to draw closer together, and social distancing thwarts this impulse. In a new paper, published in the journal Current Biology, experts argue that this natural behavior poses a greater threat to society than overtly antisocial behavior.

The COVID-19 crisis constitutes a truly global threat, and in the absence of a vaccine, our primary defense against it involves “social distancing” — minimizing our contacts with others in public spaces.

“Hazardous conditions make us more — not less — social. Coping with this contradiction is the biggest challenge we now face,” said Professor Ophelia Deroy, who holds a chair in philosophy of mind at Ludwigs-Maximilians Universitaet in Munich (LMU).

In the essay, Deroy and an interdisciplinary team of authors highlight the dilemma posed by measures designed to promote social distancing.

Seen from this point of view, our current problem lies not in selfish reactions to the crisis or a refusal to recognize the risks, as images of banks of empty shelves in supermarkets or throngs of strollers in our public parks would have us believe.

Deroy and her co-authors Drs. Chris Frith, a social neurobiologist based at University College London, and Guillaume Dezecache, a social psychologist at the Université Clermont Auvergne in France, argue that such scenes are not representative.

They emphasize that people instinctively tend to huddle together when faced with an acute danger; in other words, they actively seek closer social contacts.

Research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary biology have already shown that we are not as egotistical as some think. In fact, researchers continue to produce evidence that threatening situations make us even more cooperative and more likely to be socially supportive than we usually are.

“When people are afraid, they seek safety in numbers. But in the present situation, this impulse increases the risk of infection for all of us. This is the basic evolutionary conundrum that we describe,” said Dezecache.

The demands now being made by governments to self-isolate and follow social distancing guidelines are fundamentally at odd with our social instincts, and therefore represent a serious challenge for most people.

“After all,” said Deroy, “social contacts are not an ‘extra’, which we are at liberty to refuse. They are part of what we call normal.”

The authors therefore contend that, because social distancing stands in opposition to our natural reaction to impending hazards, our social inclinations — rather than antisocial reactions to rationally recognized threats — now risk exacerbating the danger.

How might we solve this problem? According to Deroy, we need to revise what the Internet can offer. The argument goes as follows: In the pre-pandemic world, the Internet and social media were often looked upon as being decidedly unsocial. But in times like the present, they provide an acceptable and effective alternative to physical contact, as they enable social interactions in the absence of physical closeness.

Social media makes it possible for large numbers of people to reach out virtually to neighbors, relatives, friends and other contacts.

“Our innate inclinations are cooperative rather than egoistic. But access to the Internet makes it possible for us to cope with the need for social distancing,” Frith said.

“How well, and for how long, our need for social contact can be satisfied by social media remains to be seen,” said Deroy.

But the researchers do have two important recommendations for policymakers: First, they must acknowledge that the demand for social distancing is not only politically highly unusual, it runs counter to the evolved structure of human cognition.

Secondly, nowadays, free access to the Internet is not only a prerequisite for freedom of speech. In the present situation, it is also making a positive contribution to public health.

“This is an important message, given that the most vulnerable sections of society are often those who, owing to poverty, age and illness, have few social contacts.”

Source: Ludwigs-Maximilians Universitaet in Munich 

Many Young Adults Leaving Foster Care Feel Unprepared to Manage Their Mental Health

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 7:30am

A new study of more than 700 teens about to age-out of the California foster care system shows that more than half were still receiving mental health counseling, and those with a diagnosed mental disorder were more likely to say they felt less prepared to manage their mental health on their own.

The findings, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, offer an updated look at counseling and medication use among teens in foster care, and reports on how prepared 17-year-olds feel to manage their mental health as they near adulthood.

“As far as we know, this is the first study to ask 17-year-olds in foster care how prepared they feel to manage their mental health,” writes Professor Michelle Munson of the Silver School of Social Work at New York University.

“These results are important as the [child welfare] field continues to develop new supports for older youth in foster care, and as society continues to strive to help individuals increasingly maintain their mental health in young adulthood.”

An estimated 25,000 to 28,000 youth transition out of foster care each year in the United States. Not surprisingly, mental disorders are elevated among youth in foster care, and the transition to adulthood has been shown to be especially difficult and challenging. One contributing factor is the reduction of support from professional child welfare and mental health workers in the youth’s life.

For the study, the research team interviewed 727 youth in foster care at age 17 about their mental health, service use and preparedness to manage their mental health.

As part of the structured interviews, the researchers asked the teens how prepared they felt to manage their mental health — that is, finding ways to relax when they felt stressed out; being able to calm down when they became angry or upset; talking to others about things that were bothering them; knowing how to make an appointment with a psychiatrist or therapist, and following through with their provider’s instructions.

Among this representative sample, more than half of the teens said they were using counseling services, and almost a third were using medications. Youth with a current mental disorder indicated they were more likely to receive mental health services, but said they felt less prepared to manage their mental health than those without a current mental disorder.

Young people who resided in largely rural counties were more likely to receive mental health services, compared to their counterparts in larger counties such as Los Angeles County. Authors suggested this may be due to variation in caseload size.

Additionally, youth who identified as 100% heterosexual were less likely to receive counseling and reported feeling more prepared to manage their mental health, than were youth who identified as not 100% heterosexual.

These and other findings can help inform the development and delivery of mental health interventions designed for youth with particular characteristics, according to the study.

Munson conducted the study with Mark Courtney, Samuel Deutsch Professor at the University of Chicago and Principal Investigator of the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH) where the data were drawn; Nate Okpych of the University of Connecticut; and Colleen Katz of Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY).

Source: New York University

Whole-Genome Study Finds Previously Undetected Schizophrenia Mutations

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 7:30am

A new study, published in Nature Communications, suggests that ultra-rare structural genetic variants could play a role in schizophrenia.

Most genetic research on schizophrenia has sought to understand the role genes play in the development and heritability of schizophrenia. And while many discoveries have been made, there are still many missing pieces.

Now, scientists at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine have conducted the largest-ever whole genome sequencing study of schizophrenia to provide a more complete picture of the role the human genome plays in this disease.

“Our results suggest that ultra-rare structural variants that affect the boundaries of a specific genome structure increase risk for schizophrenia,” said senior author Jin Szatkiewicz, PhD, associate professor in the UNC Department of Genetics.

“Alterations in these boundaries may lead to dysregulation of gene expression, and we think future mechanistic studies could determine the precise functional effects these variants have on biology.”

Previous research on the genetics of schizophrenia has mostly involved using common genetic variations known as SNPs (alterations in common genetic sequences and each affecting a single nucleotide), rare variations in the part of DNA that provide instructions for making proteins, or very large structural variations (alterations affecting a few hundred thousands of nucleotides).

These studies give snapshots of the genome as it potentially relates to schizophrenia, but leave a large portion of the genome a mystery.

In the new study, the research team looked at the entire genome using a method called whole genome sequencing (WGS). The primary reason WGS hasn’t been more widely used is that it is very expensive.

For this study, an international collaboration pooled funding from National Institute of Mental Health grants and matching funds from Sweden’s SciLife Labs to conduct deep whole genome sequencing on 1,165 people with schizophrenia and 1,000 controls — the largest known WGS study of schizophrenia ever.

As a result, previously undetectable mutations in DNA were found that researchers had never seen before in schizophrenia.

In particular, the findings emphasize the role that topologically associated domains (TADs) (a three-dimensional genome structure) could play in the development of schizophrenia. TADs are distinct regions of the genome with strict boundaries between them that keep the domains from interacting with genetic material in neighboring TADs.

Shifting or breaking these boundaries allows interactions between genes and regulatory elements that normally would not interact.

When these interactions occur, there may be negative outcomes in gene expression that could result in congenital defects, formation of cancers, and developmental disorders.

The researchers discovered that extremely rare structural variants affecting TAD boundaries in the brain occur significantly more often in people with schizophrenia than in those without it. Structural variants are large mutations that may involve missing or duplicated genetic sequences, or sequences that are not in the typical genome.

This finding suggests that misplaced or missing TAD boundaries may contribute to the development of schizophrenia, and TADs-affecting structural variants may be prime candidates for future schizophrenia studies.

“A possible future investigation would be to work with patient-derived cells with these TADs-affecting mutations and figure out what exactly happened at the molecular level,” said Szatkiewicz, an adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at UNC.

“In the future, we could use this information about the TAD effects to help develop drugs or precision medicine treatments that could repair disrupted TADs or affected gene expressions which may improve patient outcomes.”

Source: University of North Carolina Health Care

Online Status Indicators Affect Our Behavior

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 6:30am

Some apps highlight when a person is online and then share that information with their followers. How does this affect our behavior?

Finding the answer to that question led researchers at the University of Washington to find out if people recognize that they are sharing this information and whether these indicators change how people behave online.

After surveying smartphone users, the team found that many people misunderstand online status indicators, but still carefully shape their behavior to control how they are displayed to others.

More than half of the participants reported they had suspected that someone had noticed their status. Meanwhile, over half reported logging on to an app just to check someone else’s status. And 43% of participants discussed changing their settings or behavior because they were trying to avoid one specific person.

“Online status indicators are an unusual mechanism for broadcasting information about yourself to other people,” said senior author Alexis Hiniker, an assistant professor in the UW Information School. “When people share information by posting or liking something, the user is in control of that broadcast. But online status indicators are sharing information without taking explicit direction from the user. We believe our results are especially intriguing in light of the coronavirus pandemic: With people’s social lives completely online, what is the role of online status indicators?”

People need to be aware of everything they are sharing about themselves online, the researchers said.

“Practicing good online security and privacy hygiene isn’t just a matter of protecting yourself from skilled technical adversaries,” said lead author Camille Cobb, a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, who completed this research as a UW doctoral student in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. “It also includes thinking about how your online presence allows you to craft the identities that you want and manage your interpersonal relationships. There are tools to protect you from malware, but you can’t really download something to protect you from your in-laws.”

For the study, the researchers recruited 200 participants between the ages of 19 and 64 through Amazon Mechanical Turk to fill out an online survey. More than 90% of the participants were from the U.S., and almost half of them had earned a bachelor’s degree.

The researchers asked participants to identify apps they use from a list of 44 that have online status indicators. They then asked participants if those apps broadcast their online status to their network.

Almost 90% of participants correctly identified that at least one of the apps they used had online status indicators. But for at least one app they used, 62.5% answered “not sure” and 35.5% answered “no,” according to the study’s findings.

For example, of the 60 people who said they use Google Docs regularly, 40% said it didn’t have online status indicators and 28% were not sure.

Then the researchers asked the participants to time themselves while they located the settings to turn off “appearing online” in each app they used regularly. For the apps that have settings, participants gave up before they found the settings 28% of the time, the researchers discovered. For apps that don’t have these settings, such as WhatsApp, participants mistakenly thought they had turned the settings off 23% of the time, the researchers reported.

“When you put some of these pieces together, you’re seeing that more than a third of the time, people think they’re not broadcasting information that they actually are,” Cobb said. “And then even when they’re told ‘Please go try and turn this off,’ they’re still not able to find it more than a quarter of the time. Just broadly, we’re seeing that people don’t have a lot of control over whether they share this information with their network.”

Finally the team asked participants a series of questions about their own experiences online. These questions touched on whether participants noticed when others were online, if they thought others noticed when they were online, and whether they had changed their own behavior because they did or didn’t want to appear online.

“We see this repeated pattern of people adjusting themselves to meet the demands of technology as opposed to technology adapting to us and meeting our needs,” said co-author Lucy Simko, a UW doctoral student in the Allen School. “That means people are choosing to go online not because they want to do something there but because it’s important that their status indicator is projecting the right thing at the right time.”

Now that most states have put stay-at-home orders in place to try to combat the coronavirus pandemic, many people are working from home and socializing only online. This could change how people use online status indicators, according to the researchers.

For example, employees can use their online status to indicate that they are working and available for meetings. Or people can use a family member’s “available” status as an opportunity to check up on them and make sure they are OK.

“Right now, when a lot of people are working remotely, I think there’s an opportunity to think about how future evolutions of this technology can help create a sense of community,” Cobb said. “For example, in the real world, you can have your door cracked open and that means ‘interrupt me if you have to,’ you can have it wide open to say ‘come on in’ or you can have your door closed and you theoretically won’t get disturbed. That kind of nuance is not really available in online status indicators. But we need to have a sense of balance — to create community in a way that doesn’t compromise people’s privacy, share people’s statuses when they don’t want to, or allow their statuses to be abused.”

The study was published in the Proceedings of the 2020 ACM CHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Source: University of Washington