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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 23 min 29 sec ago

Tuning Into Emotions Can Help Teens Ward Off Depressive Symptoms

Sun, 06/30/2019 - 7:00am

A new study finds that teens who can describe their negative emotions in precise and nuanced ways are less likely to experience depressive symptoms after stressful life events. And this, in turn, can reduce the likelihood of having their negative emotions escalate into clinically significant depression over time.

The study, published in the journal Emotion, explored the psychological concept of “negative emotion differentiation” (NED) in adolescence, a time of heightened risk for depression. NED is the ability to make fine-grained distinctions between negative emotions and apply precise labels.

“Adolescents who use more granular terms such as ‘I feel annoyed,’ or ‘I feel frustrated,’ or ‘I feel ashamed’ instead of simply saying ‘I feel bad’ are better protected against developing increased depressive symptoms after experiencing a stressful life event,” said lead author Dr. Lisa Starr, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.

Teens who scored low on negative emotion differentiation tended to describe their feelings in more general terms such as “bad” or “upset.” As a result, they were less able to benefit from useful lessons encoded in their negative emotions, including the ability to develop coping strategies that could help them regulate their feelings.

“Emotions convey a lot of information. They communicate information about the person’s motivational state, level of arousal, emotional valence, and appraisals of the threatening experience,”  Starr said. A person has to integrate all that information to figure out “am I feeling irritated,” or “am I feeling angry, embarrassed, or some other emotion?”

Once a person understands this, he/she can use this information to help determine the best course of action, said Starr. “It’s going to help me predict how my emotional experience will unfold, and how I can best regulate these emotions to make myself feel better,” she said.

Importantly, the researchers found that a low NED strengthens the link between stressful life events and depression, leading to reduced psychological well-being.

By focusing exclusively on adolescence, the study zeroed in on a gap in the research to date. Previous research suggests that during adolescence a person’s NED plunges to its lowest point, compared to that of younger children or adults. It’s exactly during this developmentally crucial time that depression rates climb steadily.

Although previous studies have shown a link between depression and low NED, these studies did not test whether a low NED temporally preceded depression. To the researchers, this phenomenon became the proverbial chicken-and-egg question: Did those young people who showed signs of significant depressive symptoms have a naturally low NED, or was their NED low as a direct result of their feeling depressed?

For the new study, the team recruited 233 teens (average age nearly 16) in the greater Rochester area and conducted diagnostic interviews to evaluate the participants for depression.

The young participants reported their emotions four times daily over a period of seven days. One and a half years later, the team conducted follow-up interviews with the original participants (of whom 193 returned) to study longitudinal outcomes.

The results show that youth who are poor at differentiating their negative emotions are more susceptible to depressive symptoms following stressful life events. Conversely, those who display high NED are better at managing the emotional and behavioral aftermath of being exposed to stress, thereby reducing the likelihood of having negative emotions escalate into a clinically significant depression over time.

“Basically you need to know the way you feel, in order to change the way you feel,” said Starr. “I believe that NED could be modifiable, and I think it’s something that could be directly addressed with treatment protocols that target NED.”

“Our data suggests that if you are able to increase people’s NED then you should be able to buffer them against stressful experiences and the depressogenic effect of stress,” she said.

Source: University of Rochester

One in 10 Report Near-Death Experiences

Sun, 06/30/2019 - 6:00am

New research has found that about 10 percent of people report a near-death experience with a range of spiritual and physical symptoms, including out-of-body sensations, seeing or hearing hallucinations, racing thoughts, and time distortion.

These near-death experiences (NDEs) are equally as common in people who are not in imminent danger of death as in those who have experienced truly life-threatening situations, such as heart attacks, car crashes, near drowning, or combat situations, according to researchers.

The new findings were presented at the Fifth European Academy of Neurology Congress by researchers from the Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, University of Copenhagen in Denmark, the Center for Stroke Research in Berlin, and the Norwegian University of Technology in Norway.

Experiences most frequently reported by participants in the new study included:

  • abnormal time perception (87 percent);
  • exceptional speed of thought (65 percent);
  • exceptionally vivid senses (63 percent); and
  • feeling separated from or out of their body (53 percent).

Those who experienced NDEs variously described feeling at total peace, having their “soul sucked out,” hearing angels singing, being aware they were outside their body, seeing their life flashing before them, and being in a dark tunnel before reaching a bright light.

Others spoke of being aware of another’s presence before they went to sleep, or of a demon sitting on their chest while they lay paralyzed unable to move.

For the study, the researchers recruited 1,034 people from 35 countries via an online crowdsourcing platform and asked if they’d ever had an NDE. If they answered yes, they were asked for more details, using a detailed questionnaire assessment tool called the Greyson Near-Death Experience Scale, which asks about 16 specific symptoms, the researchers explained.

According to the researchers, 289 people reported an NDE, and 106 of those reached a threshold of 7 on the Greyson NDE Scale, which confirms a true NDE. Some 55 percent perceived the NDE as truly life-threatening, while 45 percent perceived it as not life-threatening.

Far from being a pleasant experience associated with feelings of peacefulness and wellbeing, as some previous studies have reported, the new study found a much higher rate of people reporting their NDE as unpleasant. Of all the people who claimed an NDE, 73 percent said it was unpleasant, with only 27 percent saying it was pleasant. However, in those with a score of 7 or above on the Greyson NDE Scale, this changed to 53 percent reporting a pleasant experience and 14 percent an unpleasant one.

Based on insight gained from previous studies, the researchers said they found an association between NDEs and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep intrusion into wakefulness.

REM sleep is a phase of the sleep cycle where the eyes move rapidly, the brain is as active as when someone is awake, dreaming is more vivid, and most people experience a state of temporary paralysis, as the brain sends a signal to the spinal cord to stop the arms and legs moving. When REM sleep intrudes into wakefulness, some people report visual and auditory hallucinations and other symptoms, such as sleep paralysis, where they feel conscious but cannot move.

REM sleep intrusion on wakefulness was found to be more common in people with scores of 7 or above on the Greyson NDE Scale (47 percent) than in people with scores of 6 or below (26 percent), or in those below the threshold with no such experiences (14 percent).

“Our central finding is that we confirmed the association of near-death experiences with REM sleep intrusion,” said lead researcher Dr. Daniel Kondziella, a neurologist at the University of Copenhagen. “Although association is not causality, identifying the physiological mechanisms behind REM sleep intrusion into wakefulness might advance our understanding of near-death experiences.”

Kondziella added the 10 percent prevalence figure of NDE was higher than in previous studies conducted in Australia (8 percent) and Germany (4 percent). He said this could be explained by the fact they had been conducted on cardiac arrest survivors rather than the general public, as in this study.

Source: Spink Health

Social Media May Improve Mental Health for Adults

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 10:09pm

Social media researchers have largely focused on how it influences youth and college students, and many studies have found deleterious effects. But a new study contends that much of the negatively associated with the use of social media may be attributed to life stages rather than technology use.

Indeed, the Michigan State University study suggests regular use of social media and the Internet can improve mental health among adults and help reduce the risk of serious psychological distress such as depression and anxiety.

Dr. Keith Hampton, professor of media and information at Michigan State University believes communication technologies and social media platforms make it easier to maintain relationships and access health information.

Hampton believes the negative impression of social media has come about because adults have not been the focus of research on the subject.

“Taking a snapshot of the anxiety felt by young people today and concluding that a whole generation is at risk because of social media ignores more noteworthy social changes, such as the lingering effects of the Great Recession, the rise in single child families, older and more protective parents, more kids going to college and rising student debt,” he said.

In the new study, Hampton examined more mature populations, analyzing data from more than 13,000 relationships from adult participants in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the world’s longest-running household survey.

He used 2015 and 2016 data, which included a series of questions about the use of communication technologies and psychological distress. Hampton found social media users are 63 percent less likely to experience serious psychological distress from one year to the next, including major depression or serious anxiety.

Moreover, having extended family members on social media further reduced psychological distress, so long as their family member’s mental health was not in decline. The study appears in the Journal of Computer Mediated-Communication.

Investigators believe the research findings challenge the notion that social media, mobile technologies and the Internet amount to a mental health crisis in the United States.

Other key findings include:

  • someone who uses a social networking site is 1.63 times more likely to avoid serious psychological distress;
  • the extent to which communication technologies affect psychological distress varies according to the type and amount of technologies people and their extended family members use;
  • changes to the mental health of family members affect the psychological distress experienced by other family, but only if both family members are connected on a social networking site.

“Today, we have these ongoing, little bits of information popping up on our cell phones and Facebook feeds, and that ongoing contact might matter for things like mental health,” Hampton said.

Source: Michigan State University

Better Care Urged for Bipolar Patients’ 1st Manic Episode

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 7:00am

An international team of experts argues that better care for people experiencing their first manic episode is urgently needed and that more research needs to go into treatment solutions for bipolar disorder.

In a new paper, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, the authors describe patchy and inconsistent care, widespread failure to detect bipolar disorder early enough, and a lack of guidance on how to treat people experiencing mania for the first time.

For the study, researchers from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre reviewed current evidence regarding the prevalence and health burden of bipolar disorder, the typical progression of illness, evidence for a range of interventions and the content of international guidelines.

Calling for clearer treatment guidelines and targeted care within existing services, the authors describe how people experiencing first episode mania have been overlooked by health services, despite evidence for effective treatments. They also assert that care is inconsistent and that few trials have examined interventions specifically for people who have had a first manic episode.

People with bipolar disorder are 50 times more likely to self-harm compared to the general population, and at least 12 times more likely to take their own lives (higher than the rate for people with schizophrenia).

Analyses suggest that close to 50 percent of people with bipolar show symptoms before the age of 21, and a recent review of 27 studies suggested an average delay of almost six years between first symptoms of bipolar disorder and targeted treatment.

“Bipolar illness can have serious effects on the health of a young person, their family and society in general,” said Dr. Sameer Jauhar, consultant psychiatrist for people experiencing first episode psychosis and Senior Research Fellow at the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre.

“By identifying people who have had a first episode, and offering them appropriate treatment at an early stage, we can help them get on with their lives and prevent relapses.”

“As a consultant psychiatrist, this is something I see again and again,” Jauhar said. “People who are identified early and get effective treatment quickly are able to avoid further episodes and achieve extraordinary things, while others who the system doesn’t serve so well can get stuck for years.”

“Another really important factor is research — we need long-term studies to help guide future treatments and make sure we keep people well in the longer term,” said Jauhar.

The new findings highlight a lack of high-quality evidence for interventions in first episode mania, as well as gaps in guidelines on how to treat people experiencing mania for the first time.

“First episode mania can have a devastating impact on people living with bipolar and their families,” said Simon Kitchen, CEO of Bipolar UK.

“During the mania they might have racked up massive debts, damaged their careers and relationships with reckless behaviour or engaged in promiscuous activities that make them feel embarrassed. Post-mania requires rebuilding and often coming to terms with a life-changing diagnosis. It is vital that people are not left to go through this process alone.”

Source: King’s College London- Institute of Psychiatry

GI Symptoms Linked to Problem Behaviors In Autistic Kids

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 6:30am

A new study has found a link between internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors and gastrointestinal distress in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.

Internalizing behaviors are negative behaviors that are focused inward like fearfulness and social withdrawal. Externalizing behaviors are directed outward toward others, such as bullying.

For the study, Dr. Bradley Ferguson, an assistant research professor in the departments of health psychology, radiology, and the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri, examined records from 340 children and adolescents with autism who are patients at the Thompson Center.

He found that 65 percent of patients experienced constipation, nearly half experienced stomach pain, nearly 30 percent experienced diarrhea, and 23 percent experienced nausea.

He also discovered that some of these gastrointestinal symptoms were associated with different behaviors, such as anxiety and aggression.

“We are starting to better understand how gastrointestinal issues coincide with problem behaviors in ASD,” Ferguson said.

“For example, we found that individuals with autism and co-occurring nausea were about 11 percent more likely to display aggressive behaviors. Therefore, addressing the nausea might alleviate the aggressive behaviors, which will ultimately increase the quality of life for the patient as well as their family.”

One in 59 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Since the developmental disorder can affect an individual’s social skills, speech, and nonverbal communication, it can be difficult for those with the disorder to adequately communicate other health challenges, such as gastrointestinal discomfort, Ferguson noted.

He and his research team also found that the relationship between problem behaviors and gastrointestinal symptoms differed between young children and older children with autism.

While aggressive behavior in younger children — between 2 and 5 — was associated with upper gastrointestinal issues such as nausea and stomach pains, older children — 6 to 18 — with greater anxiety were more likely to experience lower gastrointestinal issues, such as constipation and diarrhea.

“These findings further highlight the importance of treating gastrointestinal issues in autism,” Ferguson said. “Many children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder are often unable to verbally communicate their discomfort, which can lead to problem behavior as a means of communicating their discomfort.”

Ferguson added that since the study is correlational in nature, it is not clear if the gastrointestinal symptoms are causing the problem behavior or vice versa.

“Regardless, our team is examining the effects of propranolol, a beta blocker with stress-blocking effects, on constipation and other symptoms. We have to work quickly, because people are suffering and need answers now. We hope that our research will translate to better quality of life,” he said.

The study was published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Source: University of Missouri at Columbia

Pink Noise Can Boost Deep Sleep, Memory in Mild Cognitive Impairment Patients

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 6:00am

New research has found that gentle sound stimulation — known as pink noise — played during specific times during deep sleep enhances deep or slow-wave sleep for people with mild cognitive impairment, who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

The individuals whose brains responded the most robustly to the sound stimulation showed an improved memory response the following day, researchers discovered.

“Our findings suggest slow-wave or deep sleep is a viable and potentially important therapeutic target in people with mild cognitive impairment,” said Dr. Roneil Malkani, an assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine sleep medicine physician. “The results deepen our understanding of the importance of sleep in memory, even when there is memory loss.”

Deep sleep is critical for memory consolidation, the researcher said, noting sleep disturbances have been observed in people with mild cognitive impairment. The most pronounced changes include a  reduced amount of time spent in the deepest stage of sleep, he noted.

Because the new study was small — just nine participants — and some individuals responded more robustly than others, the improvement in memory was not considered statistically significant, he said.

However, there was a significant relationship between the enhancement of deep sleep by sound and memory: The greater the deep sleep enhancement, the better the memory response, according to the study’s findings.

“These results suggest that improving sleep is a promising novel approach to stave off dementia,” Malkani said.

For the study, Northwestern scientists conducted a trial of sound stimulation overnight in people with mild cognitive impairment. Participants spent one night in the sleep laboratory, returning about a week later for another night.

Each participant received sounds on one of the nights and no sounds on the other. The order of which night had sounds or no sounds was randomly assigned, the researchers explained.

Participants did memory testing the night before and again in the morning. Scientists then compared the difference in slow-wave sleep with sound stimulation and without sounds, and the change in memory across both nights for each participant.

The participants were tested on their recall of 44 word pairs. The individuals who had 20 percent or more increase in their slow wave activity after the sound stimulation recalled about two more words in the memory test the next morning. One person with a 40 percent increase in slow wave activity remembered nine more words.

The sound stimulation consisted of short pulses of pink noise, similar to white noise but deeper, during the slow waves. The system monitored the participant’s brain activity. When the person was asleep and slow brain waves were seen, the system delivered the sounds. If the patient woke up, the sounds stopped playing.

“As a potential treatment, this would be something people could do every night,” Malkani said.

The next step is to evaluate pink noise stimulation in a larger sample of people with mild cognitive impairment over multiple nights to confirm memory enhancement and see how long the effect lasts, Malkani said.

The study was published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

Source: Northwestern University

Use of Evidence-Based Therapies Lag For Child Mental Health Care

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 7:00am

New research has found that the use of emerging therapies to treat youth with mental health problems are slow to be put into practice, even when the therapies are scientifically proven to improve symptoms. The research pertains to city-funded clinics, where investigators surveyed clinicians from 20 different publicly funded Philadelphia clinics that treat youth at three different points from 2013 to 2017.

Specifically, researchers found the use of evidence-based therapies — such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — increased only modestly, despite the city and researchers’ substantial efforts to showcase the value of these approaches and to provide training to community clinicians.

Investigators from Penn Medicine and Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) believe the finding is of critical importance. They discovered clinicians who use evidence-based practices (EBPs) as part of their routine care obtain much better outcomes for children with depression, anxiety, trauma, and disruptive behavior disorders compared with clinicians who do not.

Their findings appear in Implementation Science.

“Evidenced-based therapies are effective for treating a wide range of psychiatric conditions, but there is still a gap in widespread use,” said the study’s lead author Rinad S. Beidas, PhD.

“While findings showed a modest increase in use, the data point to a clear need for finding better ways to support clinicians and organizations in using EBP therapies. This research-to-practice gap is a historically intractable problem, which exists not only in behavioral health but all across health care specialties.”

Researchers identified two factors driving the observed increases of EBP implementation in publicly funded clinics that could inform future strategies to increase EBP use.

First, the more city-sponsored EBP trainings clinicians attended, the more likely they were to apply evidence-based techniques in their practices.

Second, use of EBP was more likely among clinicians who worked in a practice with a “proficient culture,” meaning the organization expects clinicians to place the well-being of their clients first, to be competent, and have up-to-date knowledge.

Over the last decade, cities from Philadelphia to Los Angeles have placed an increased emphasis on implementing EBP into care, from building EBPs into contracts, to initiating new policies that support their use in an effort to help improve outcomes for vulnerable youth.

In 2007, Philadelphia’s DBHIDS began large-scale efforts to increase EBP use. The department created the Evidence-based Practice and Innovation Center (EPIC) in 2013, a city-wide entity intended to provide a centralized infrastructure to support EBP administration.

However, despite a national focus on EBP use, very few EBP implementation efforts around the country have been systematically and rigorously evaluated, which ultimately limits the ability to understand the effects of said efforts.

The researchers surveyed clinicians from 20 different publicly funded Philadelphia clinics that treat youth at three different points from 2013 to 2017. Sixty percent of the 340 clinicians contacted completed the survey. All of the clinics had the opportunity to receive system-level support provided by EPIC, but only half of the clinicians participated in city-funded, EBP training initiatives.

On average, use of CBT techniques increased by six percent from the first data collection to the last, compared to no change in psychodynamic techniques, a frequently used type of “talk therapy” that has less evidence of effectiveness in children. The researchers also found that each EBP training initiative predicted a three percent increase in CBT use, but no change in use of psychodynamic techniques.

In organizations described as having a more “proficient” culture at the beginning of the survey, clinicians exhibited an eight percent increase in CBT use, compared with a two percent decrease in organizations with less proficient cultures.

“Philadelphia is a leader in making EBP available to its most vulnerable citizens with mental health and substance abuse problems. This study represents an opportunity to learn from an exemplar system encouraging EBP implementation,” Beidas said.

“To build upon Philadelphia’s and other cities’ deep commitment to increasing this implementation, we need further studies to test and evaluate strategies that increase use of EBP to guide our understanding of the best ways to use and how to implement them.”

Source: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Machine Learning Can Help Predict Psychosis Via Language Analysis

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 6:30am

A new machine-learning method can predict with 93 percent accuracy whether a person at-risk for psychosis will go on to develop the disorder.

The method, developed by scientists at Emory University and Harvard University, discovered that higher than normal usage of words related to sound, combined with a higher rate of using words with similar meaning, meant that psychosis was likely on the horizon.

Even trained clinicians had not noticed how people at risk for psychosis use more words associated with sound than the average, although abnormal auditory perception is an early warning sign.

“Trying to hear these subtleties in conversations with people is like trying to see microscopic germs with your eyes,” says Neguine Rezaii, first author of the paper. “The automated technique we’ve developed is a really sensitive tool to detect these hidden patterns. It’s like a microscope for warning signs of psychosis.”

The onset of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders typically occurs in the early 20s, with early warning signs — known as prodromal syndrome — beginning around age 17. Around 25 to 30 percent of young people with prodromal syndrome will eventually develop schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder.

Currently, there is no cure for psychosis. Through structured interviews and cognitive tests, trained clinicians can predict psychosis with about 80 percent accuracy in those with a prodromal syndrome.

Now, research with machine-learning, a form of artificial intelligence that can uncover hidden patterns, is one of the many ongoing efforts to streamline diagnostic methods, identify new variables, and improve the accuracy of predictions.

“It was previously known that subtle features of future psychosis are present in people’s language, but we’ve used machine learning to actually uncover hidden details about those features,” says senior author Phillip Wolff, a professor of psychology at Emory. Wolff’s lab focuses on language semantics and machine learning to predict decision-making and mental health.

For the study, the researchers first used machine learning to establish “norms” for conversational language. They fed a computer software program the online conversations of 30,000 users of Reddit, a social media platform where people have informal discussions about a range of topics.

The software program, known as Word2Vec, uses an algorithm to change individual words to vectors (a mathematical term referring to the position of one point in space relative to another). In other words, the program assigned each word to a location in a semantic space based on its meaning. Words with similar meanings were positioned closer together than those with very different meanings.

The Wolff lab also developed a computer program to perform “vector unpacking,” or analysis of the semantic density of word usage. Vector unpacking allowed the researchers to quantify how much information was packed into each sentence.

After generating a baseline of “normal” data, the researchers applied the same techniques to diagnostic interviews of 40 young people at high risk for psychosis. The automated analyses of the participant samples were then compared to the normal baseline sample.

The results showed that higher than normal usage of sound-related words, along with a higher rate of using words with similar meaning, meant that psychosis was likely to occur.

Strengths of the study include the simplicity of using just two variables — both of which have a strong theoretical foundation — the replication of the results in a holdout dataset, and the high accuracy of its predictions, at above 90 percent.

“In the clinical realm, we often lack precision,” Rezaii says. “We need more quantified, objective ways to measure subtle variables, such as those hidden within language usage.”

Rezaii and Wolff are now gathering larger data sets and testing the application of their methods on a variety of neuropsychiatric diseases, including dementia.

“This research is interesting not just for its potential to reveal more about mental illness, but for understanding how the mind works — how it puts ideas together,” Wolff says. “Machine learning technology is advancing so rapidly that it’s giving us tools to data mine the human mind.”

Co-author Elaine Walker, Emory professor of psychology and neuroscience, says “If we can identify individuals who are at risk earlier and use preventive interventions, we might be able to reverse the deficits.”

The findings are published in the journal npj Schizophrenia.

Source: Emory Health Sciences

Night Owls Can Retrain Their Body Clocks to Improve Mental Health and Performance

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 6:00am

A few simple tweaks to the sleeping patterns of night owls could lead to significant improvements in the timing of sleep and waking, improved performance in the mornings, better eating habits, and a decrease in depression and stress.

New research by the University of Birmingham and the University of Surrey in the UK, and Monash University in Australia showed that, over a three-week period, it was possible to shift the circadian rhythm of night owls using non-pharmacological and practical interventions.

Night owls are individuals whose internal body clock dictates later-than-usual sleep and wake times. In a new study participants had an average bedtime of 2:30 a.m. and wake-up time of 10:15 a.m.

The study demonstrated that participants were able to bring forward their sleep/wake timings by two hours while having no negative effect on sleep duration. In addition, participants reported a decrease in feelings of depression and stress, as well as in daytime sleepiness, according to researchers.

“Our research findings highlight the ability of a simple non-pharmacological intervention to phase advance night owls, reduce negative elements of mental health and sleepiness, as well as manipulate peak performance times in the real world,” said lead researcher Dr. Elise Facer-Childs, from Monash University’s Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health.

“Having a late sleep pattern puts you at odds with the standard societal days, which can lead to a range of adverse outcomes, from daytime sleepiness to poorer mental well-being,” added study co-author Dr. Andrew Bagshaw, from the University of Birmingham.

“We wanted to see if there were simple things people could do at home to solve this issue,” he continued. “This was successful, on average allowing people to get to sleep and wake up around two hours earlier than they were before. Most interestingly, this was also associated with improvements in mental well-being and perceived sleepiness, meaning that it was a very positive outcome for the participants. We now need to understand how habitual sleep patterns are related to the brain, how this links with mental well-being, and whether the interventions lead to long-term changes.”

For the study researchers recruited 22 healthy individuals. For three weeks, participants were asked to:

  • Wake up two to three hours before their regular wake up time;
  • Maximize outdoor light during the mornings;
  • Go to bed two to three hours before their habitual bedtime and limit light exposure in the evening;
  • Keep sleep and wake times fixed on both work days and free days;
  • Have breakfast as soon as possible after waking up, eat lunch at the same time each day, and refrain from eating dinner after 7 p.m.

The study’s findings highlighted an increase in cognitive and physical performance during the morning when tiredness is often very high in night owls, as well as a shift in peak performance times from evening to afternoon. It also increased the number of days in which breakfast was consumed and led to better mental well-being, with participants reporting a decrease in feelings of stress and depression, researchers said.

“Establishing simple routines could help night owls adjust their body clocks and improve their overall physical and mental health. Insufficient levels of sleep and circadian misalignment can disrupt many bodily processes, putting us at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes,” said Professor Debra Skene from the University of Surrey.

The study was published in Sleep Medicine.

Source: The University of Birmingham

AI May Revolutionize Detection and Management of Alzheimer’s

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 5:30am

Alzheimer’s disease is a healthcare albatross lurking in the background to prey upon our aging population. Despite considerable attention to detection and management of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), significant gaps remain.

While many traditional memory assessment tools are available, deficiencies in screening and detection accuracy and reliability remain prevalent. New research suggests use of technology in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) may present a solution for testing and managing the complex human health condition.

Worldwide, about 44 million people are living with AD or a related form of dementia. Although 82 percent of seniors in the United States say it’s important to have their thinking or memory checked, only 16 percent say they receive regular cognitive assessments.

And even with the development of new, simple online tests, numerous integrated and complex factors complicate the interpretation of memory evaluation test results. This presents a real challenge for clinicians and is a collective barrier for addressing the growing and widespread prevalence of AD.

As such, a team of researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, SIVOTEC Analytics, HAPPYneuron, MemTrax, and Stanford University School of Medicine, believe AI can significantly help address these complex issues.

One challenge is determining the reliability and validity of new assessment instruments such as MemTrax — a very simple online memory test using image recognition. MemTrax is a supervised machine learning and predictive modeling tool that can serve as a clinical decision support screening tool for assessing cognitive impairment.

As published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers determined MemTrax is an effective tool that can be administered as part of the online Continuous Recognition Tasks (M-CRT) test, in screening for variations in cognitive brain health.

Notably, a comparison of MemTrax to the recognized and widely utilized Montreal Cognitive Assessment Estimation of mild cognitive impairment underscores the power and potential of this new online tool. MemTrax improves the ability to evaluate short-term memory and aids in diagnostic support for cognitive screening and assessment for a variety of clinical conditions and impairments including dementia.

“Machine learning has an inherent capacity to reveal meaningful patterns and insights from a large, complex inter-dependent array of clinical determinants and the ability to continue to ‘learn’ from ongoing utility of practical predictive models,” said Taghi Khoshgoftaar, PhD, co-author and Motorola Professor in FAU’s Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“Seamless use and real-time interpretation will enhance case management and patient care through innovative technology and practical and readily usable integrated clinical applications that could be developed into a hand-held device and app.”

For the study, the researchers used an existing dataset, which includes data from more than 18,000 individuals. They examined answers to general health screening questions (addressing memory, sleep quality, medications, and medical conditions affecting thinking) and demographic information. They also reviewed the test results from adults who took the MemTrax (M-CRT) test for episodic-memory screening.

“Findings from our study provide an important step in advancing the approach for clinically managing a very complex condition like Alzheimer’s disease,” said Michael F. Bergeron, PhD, senior author.

“By analyzing a wide array of attributes across multiple domains of the human system and functional behaviors of brain health, informed and strategically directed advanced data mining, supervised machine learning, and robust analytics can be integral, and in fact necessary, for health care providers to detect and anticipate further progression in this disease and myriad other aspects of cognitive impairment.”

AD is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, affecting 5.8 million Americans. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this number is projected to rise to 14 million by 2050. In 2019, AD and other dementias will cost the nation $290 billion. By 2050, these costs could rise as high as $1.1 trillion.

“With its widespread prevalence and escalating incidence and public health burden, it is imperative to ensure that the tools clinicians use for testing and managing Alzheimer’s disease and other related cognitive conditions are optimal,” said Stella Batalama, PhD, dean of FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science.

“Results from this important study provide new insights and discovery that has set the stage for future impactful and significant research.”

Source: Florida Atlantic University/EurekAlert
Photo: A team of researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, SIVOTEC Analytics, HAPPYneuron, MemTrax, and Stanford University School of Medicine introduce supervised machine learning as a modern approach and new value-added complementary tool in cognitive brain health assessment and related patient care and management. Credit: Florida Atlantic University.

Chemical Weapon Victims Can Suffer Lifelong Mental, Physical Health Problems

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 6:30am

In a new study of victims of Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare, people exposed to such agents struggle with lifelong mental and physical health problems, including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and damage to their lungs, skin and eyes.

The study is published in the journal PLOS One.

Currently, tens of thousands of people, primarily in the Middle East, suffer from lasting damage after exposure to chemical weapons.

In the late 1980s, sulfur mustard (SM, or mustard gas) was used on a large scale in Iraq. The most notorious and severe gas attacks were conducted by the Iraqi government of Hussein against the Kurdish city of Halabja, Iraq, in 1988. Approximately 5,000 people died and tens of thousands were injured.

For the study, researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and Martin Luther University Halle-Wittendberg, Germany, conducted in-depth interviews with 16 survivors of the Halabja gas attacks. All of the participants (ages 34 to 67) had been diagnosed with chronic pulmonary complications.

The findings show that the victims suffer from severely impaired health, both physical and mental. This includes respiratory problems, insomnia, fatigue and eye problems, as well as depressive symptoms, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The researchers also refer to “chemical contamination anxiety,” a powerful reaction to exposure among these participants. It has limited their family lives, social relations and work capacity. Unemployment and loss of social capital have, in turn, led to social isolation.

“The findings show that exposure to chemical warfare agents, especially sulfur mustard, results in lifelong physical and mental ill-health,” said first author Faraidoun Moradi, a doctoral student of occupational and environmental medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

“Our conclusion is that holistic care of the victims and, above all, detection of their somatic and mental ill-health, can minimize the deterioration in their health,” said Moradi, a registered pharmacist and specialist resident doctor in general medical practice.

Moradi also emphasizes the fact that hundreds of Kurdish and Syrian victims of gassing with sulfur mustard have migrated to Sweden, and may need care and monitoring in the Swedish primary care services.

“Studies of SM-exposed patients in Sweden, and their symptoms, experience and care needs, are lacking. We need more knowledge in this area to be able to improve their reception and clinical treatment by the care services, and be prepared to deal with incidents in the future,” Moradi said.

Source: University of Gothenburg

Air Pollution May Limit Benefits of Walkable Community

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 6:00am

Increased exposure to traffic-related air pollution may reduce the benefits of living in a walkable community, according to a new Canadian study published in the journal Environment International.

Walkability reflects how well neighborhoods offer opportunities for individuals to walk while performing daily tasks like grocery shopping, running errands, or commuting to work.

The study, led by St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), a non-profit research institute, was based on nearly 2.5 million adults from 15 Ontario municipalities.

The findings challenge the notion that living in walkable neighborhoods always improves the overall health and well-being of Canadians.

“Previous research has shown that individuals living in more walkable neighborhoods are more physically active, with downstream health benefits like lower rates of overweight and obesity, hypertension and diabetes,” said study co-lead Dr. Gillian Booth, a scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital’s MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions and ICES.

“But our findings confirm that walkability and air pollution are highly intertwined, potentially diminishing any health benefits derived from living in walkable, urban communities.”

The findings show that people living in unwalkable neighborhoods are at greater risk of diabetes or hypertension than those living in the most walkable communities. However, any observed benefit for those living in walkable areas appears to decrease — or in some cases, disappear — as the level of air pollution increases.

“Individuals living in highly walkable neighbourhoods tend to be more likely to choose active forms of transportation, like walking or bicycling, as an alternative to driving,” said Nicholas Howell, a recent Ph.D. graduate in the St. Michael’s Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute and co-leader of the research. “So they may be more exposed to air pollution based simply on the amount of time they spend outside.”

The researchers say these findings suggest that policies aimed at encouraging the development of walkable neighborhoods should consider strategies to reduce residents’ exposure to air pollution.

“Initiatives to create walkable communities while decreasing sources of car pollution may have promise to reap even greater health benefits and have stronger impact on the health of Canadians,” said Howell.

Previous research has also linked air pollution exposure to a range of cognitive issues, including memory problems and dementia.

Researchers used participant data from the Cardiovascular Health in Ambulatory Care Research Team (CANHEART) cohort, a population-based cohort drawn from databases including nearly all adults living in Ontario.

Source: St. Michael’s Hospital



Low Serotonin in Blood May Be Tied to Pain Perception Disorder

Tue, 06/25/2019 - 6:00am

An international research team has discovered that reduced levels of serotonin in the blood may be linked to heightened somatic awareness, a condition where people experience physical discomforts for which there is no physiological explanation.

Symptoms of heightened somatic awareness may include headaches, sore joints, nausea, constipation or itchy skin. Patients are also twice as likely to develop chronic pain, as the condition is associated with illnesses such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and temporomandibular disorders. The illness tends to cause great emotional distress, particularly since patients are often told it’s “all in their head.”

“Think of the fairy tale of the princess and the pea,” said Dr. Samar Khoury, a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University’s Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain.

“The princess in the story had extreme sensitivity where she could feel a small pea through a pile of 20 mattresses. This is a good analogy of how someone with heightened somatic awareness might feel; they have discomforts caused by a tiny pea that doctors can’t seem to find or see, but it’s very real.”

The study, recently published in the Annals of Neurology, found that patients who suffer from somatic symptoms share a common genetic variant. The mutation leads to the malfunctioning of an enzyme important for the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter with numerous biological functions.

“I am very happy and proud that our work provides a molecular basis for heightened somatic symptoms,” said Dr. Luda Diatchenko, lead author of the new study and a professor in McGill’s Faculty of Dentistry.

“We believe that this work is very important to patients because we can now provide a biological explanation of their symptoms. It was often believed that there were psychological or psychiatric problems, that the problem was in that patient’s head, but our work shows that these patients have lower levels of serotonin in their blood.”

The findings have laid the groundwork for the development of animal models that could be used to better characterize the molecular pathways in heightened somatic awareness. But mostly, the researchers hope their work will pave the way for treatment options.

“The next step for us would be to see if we are able to target serotonin levels in order to alleviate these symptoms,” said Diatchenko, who holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Human Pain Genetics.

Source: McGill University

Is Processed Food Linked to Autism?

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 6:00am

As the number of children diagnosed with autism continues to rise at alarming rates, researchers have been working hard to figure out what environmental and/or genetic factors might be contributing to the disorder.

Now, based on the findings of a new study,  researchers from the University of Central Florida (UCF) may be a step closer to establishing a link between processed food and specific changes in the fetal brain tied to behaviors in autism.

Their findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, show that when fetal-derived neural stem cells are exposed to high levels of Propionic Acid (PPA), an additive commonly found in processed foods, it decreases neuron development.

PPA is often used in the commercial food industry to increase the shelf life of packaged foods and to inhibit mold in processed cheese and bread. The acid also occurs naturally in the gut, and when a mother’s microbiome changes during pregnancy, it can cause an increase in the acid.

However, the researchers say that eating packaged foods containing the acid can further increase PPA in the woman’s gut, which then crosses to the fetus.

Researcher Dr. Saleh Naser, who specializes in gastroenterology research at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, began the study after reports showed that children with autism often suffer from gastric issues such as irritable bowel syndrome.

He wondered about a possible link between the gut and the brain and began examining how the microbiome, or gut bacteria, differed between people with autism and those who do not have the condition.

“Studies have shown a higher level of PPA in stool samples from children with autism and the gut microbiome in autistic children is different,” Naser said. “I wanted to know what the underlying cause was.”

In the lab, the scientists discovered that exposing neural stem cells to excessive PPA damages brain cells in several ways: First, the acid disrupts the natural balance between brain cells by reducing the number of neurons and over-producing glial cells. And although glial cells help develop and protect neuron function, too many glia cells disturb connectivity between neurons. They also cause inflammation, which has been noted in the brains of autistic children.

In addition, excessive amounts of the acid shorten and damage pathways that neurons use to communicate with the rest of the body. This combination of reduced neurons and damaged pathways hinder the brain’s ability to communicate, resulting in behaviors that are often found in children with autism, including repetitive behavior, mobility issues and inability to interact with others.

Previous research has found links between autism and environmental and genetic factors, but this study is the first to discover the molecular link between elevated levels of PPA, proliferation of glial cells, disturbed neural circuitry and autism.

More research needs to be conducted before drawing clinical conclusions. Next, the team will attempt to validate its findings in mice models by seeing if a high PPA maternal diet causes autism in mice genetically predisposed to the condition. There is no cure for autism, which affects about 1 in 59 children, but the scientists hope their findings will advance studies for ways to prevent the disorder.

Naser conducted the 18-month study with Dr. Latifa Abdelli and UCF undergraduate research assistant Aseela Samsam. The research was self-funded by UCF.

“This research is only the first step towards better understanding of autism spectrum disorder,” the UCF scientists concluded. “But we have confidence we are on the right track to finally uncovering autism etiology.”

Source: University of Central Florida

Health Professionals Need to Be Cautious on Social Media

Sun, 06/23/2019 - 1:11pm

For health professionals on social media, posting just one negative comment in frustration may harm their credibility with current or potential clients, according to a new Canadian study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

In today’s highly-connected world, many professionals use social media as a platform to promote their businesses. But in doing so, the line between one’s personal and professional lives can become blurred, potentially resulting in public mistakes which can harm professional credibility.

In the new study, the researchers investigated Facebook factors that may affect people’s perceptions of professionalism. They discovered that posting just one subtle comment expressing workplace frustration was enough for people to view the poster as a less credible health care professional.

“This study provides the first evidence of the impact health professionals’ personal online disclosures can have on credibility,” said psychology professor Dr. Serge Desmarais at the University of Guelph (U of G) in Ontario, Canada.

“This finding is significant not only because health professionals use social media in their personal lives, but are also encouraged to use it to promote themselves and engage with the public.”

The research involved more than 350 Canadian participants who viewed a mock Facebook profile and rated the profile owner’s credibility and then rated their own willingness to become a client of that profile owner.

The researchers tested factors including the identified gender of the Facebook profile owner, whether they listed their profession as a veterinarian or medical physician and whether their profile included a posting of an ambiguous workday comment or a comment expressing frustration.

The ambiguous comment posted stated: “Started with new electronic patient charts today…interesting experience for sure J.”

The workday frustration comment stated: “What is it with some people?? I know I only went through 9 years of university…but really, I know what I’m talking about…yeesh!!”

The only factor that affected the participants’ perception of the profile owner’s professionalism was the single workday frustration comment. On a scale from 0 to 100, the profile with the negative workday comment was rated 11 points lower (56.7) than the one with the ambiguous workday comment (67.9).

“That’s a meaningful drop,” said Desmarais. “This shows that it takes just one simple comment for people to view you as less professional and to decide they don’t want to become a client of yours. Depending on who sees your posts, you may really hurt your reputation just by being up late one night, feeling frustrated and posting your thoughts online.”

Credibility scores were based on the participants’ ratings of 16 personality adjectives under the categories of competence, caring and trustworthiness. Profile owners with lower credibility ratings were also deemed by participants as less professional.

But even if a health professional refrains from posting this type of negative comment on their promotional page, potential clients can easily find their personal page online, added Desmarais.

“This blurring between private and public may be particularly problematic for people just entering the health profession field who have essentially grown up posting their lives on social media and haven’t yet had the chance to build positive relationships with clients.”

While social media can be an effective way to engage with others, as well as promote and brand yourself, it’s not the best fit for everyone, he said.

“It makes sense for people whose personalities are a large part of their profession to promote themselves through social media, but it may not make as much sense for health professionals and other professionals whose trust and credibility is a large part of their personal capital.”

Source: University of Guelph

Younger Guys ‘Bulking Up’ May Face Dangers of Disordered Eating

Sun, 06/23/2019 - 12:09pm

Young adults who see themselves as scrawny and who exercise to gain weight may be at risk of muscularity-oriented disordered eating behaviors, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of California- San Francisco (UCSF) Benioff Children’s Hospitals.

These behaviors include one or more of the following: eating more or differently to gain weight or bulk up and/or using dietary supplements or anabolic steroids to achieve the same goal.

The findings, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, reveal that 22 percent of young men and 5 percent of young women, ages 18 to 24, exhibit these disordered eating behaviors.

Left untreated, these behaviors may escalate to muscle dysmorphia, characterized by rigid dieting, obsessive over-exercising and extreme preoccupation with physique, say the researchers.

“Some eating disorders can be challenging to diagnose,” said first author Jason Nagata, M.D., of the UCSF Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine.

“Unlike anorexia nervosa, which may be easily identified by parents or pediatricians, disordered eating to increase bulk may masquerade as healthy habits and because of this, it tends to go unnoticed.”

At its most extreme, it can lead to heart failure or overexertion, as well as muscle dysmorphia, which is associated with social withdrawal and depression, Nagata said.

For the study, the researchers evaluated the data of 14,891 young American adults, who had been followed for seven years. The researchers wanted to see if the early data, when the participants’ average age was 15, revealed something about their perceptions and habits that may serve as warning signs.

They found that male teens who exercised specifically to gain weight had 142 percent higher odds of this type of disordered eating; among female teens, the odds were increased by 248 percent. Boys who perceived themselves as being underweight had 56 percent higher odds; in girls the odds were 271 percent higher. Smoking and alcohol use in boys, and smoking in girls, increased odds moderately.

In addition, being African-American boosted the odds by 66 percent in boys and 181 percent in girls. Non-heterosexual identity, which the participants had been asked about when they reached adulthood, was not found to be a risk factor, the researchers said.

In young adulthood, 6.9 percent of males reported supplement use to gain weight or build muscle and 2.8 percent said they used anabolic steroids. Use by young women was significantly lower at 0.7 percent and 0.4 percent respectively.

“Supplements are a black box, since they are not regulated,” said Nagata. “In extreme cases, supplements can cause liver and kidney damage. Anabolic steroids can cause both long-term and short-term health issues, including shrunken testicles, stunted growth and heart disease.”

According to Nagata, some behavioral clues that may indicate muscle dysmorphia risk include a highly restrictive diet that omits fats and carbohydrates, compulsive weighing and checking of appearance, and extensive time dedicated to exercise that may cut into social activities.

Source: University of California- San Francisco


Upbeat Music Can Make Hard Workouts Easier

Sun, 06/23/2019 - 8:30am

New research shows that upbeat music can make a rigorous workout seem less tough, even for people who are insufficiently active.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) — brief, repeated bouts of intense exercise separated by periods of rest — has been shown to improve physical health over several weeks of training. But it can be perceived as grueling for many people, especially those who are less active, said Dr. Matthew Stork, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus.

“While HIIT is time-efficient and can elicit meaningful health benefits among adults who are insufficiently active, one major drawback is that people may find it to be unpleasant,” he said. “As a result, this has the potential to discourage continued participation.”

Previous research led by Stork and UBC Okanagan’s Kathleen Martin Ginis examined the effects of music during HIIT with active people.

The new study tested the effects of music with participants who were insufficiently active. Researchers say they used a more rigorous music selection process and created a HIIT regimen that is more practical for less-active adults.

The study took place at Brunel University London, where Stork worked with Professor Costas Karageorghis, a world-renowned researcher who studies the effects music has on sport and exercise.

Stork first gathered a panel of British adults to rate the motivational qualities of 16 fast-tempo songs. The three songs with the highest motivational ratings were used for the study, he reports.

“Music is typically used as a dissociative strategy,” he said. “This means that it can draw your attention away from the body’s physiological responses to exercise, such as increased heart rate or sore muscles. But with high-intensity exercise, it seems that music is most effective when it has a fast tempo and is highly motivational.”

In the next step of the study, a separate group of 24 participants completed what is referred to as the “one-minute workout” — three 20-second all-out sprints, totaling 60 seconds of hard work. A short rest separated the sprints, for a total exercise period of 10 minutes, including a warm-up and cool-down.

Participants completed these HIIT sessions under three different conditions: With motivational music, no audio, or a podcast that was devoid of music.

Participants reported greater enjoyment of HIIT with motivational music. They also had elevated heart rates and exhibited peak power in the session with music compared to the no-audio and podcast sessions, the study discovered.

“The more I look into this, the more I am surprised,” Stork says. “We believed that motivational music would help people enjoy the exercise more, but we were surprised about the elevated heart rate. That was a novel finding.”

Stork believes the elevated heart rates may be explained by a phenomenon called “entrainment.”

“Humans have an innate tendency to alter the frequency of their biological rhythms toward that of musical rhythms,” he said. “In this case, the fast-tempo music may have increased people’s heart rate during the exercise. It’s incredible how powerful music can be.”

Stork’s research indicates that for people who are insufficiently active, music can help them work harder physically during HIIT, as well as help them enjoy the exercise more.

And because motivational music has the power to enhance people’s HIIT workouts, it may ultimately give people an extra boost to try HIIT again in the future, he says.

“Music can be a practical strategy to help insufficiently active people get more out of their HIIT workouts and may even encourage continued participation,” he concluded.

The study was published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Source: University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus

Kindergarten Behavior May Be Tied to Adult Earnings

Sun, 06/23/2019 - 7:59am

A new study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, suggests that childhood behaviors in kindergarten may be related to annual earnings at ages 33 to 35 years.

The international team of researchers found that boys and girls who were inattentive at age 6 had lower earnings in their 30s after taking into consideration their IQ and family adversity.

They also found that boys who were physically aggressive or oppositional (who refused to share materials or blamed others) had lower annual earnings in their 30s, while boys who were prosocial (who shared or helped) had higher later earnings.

The study was conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Montreal, University College Dublin, the French Economic Observatory (OFCE), the Center for Economic Research and Applications, Statistics Canada, and the University of Bordeaux in France.

“Our study suggests that kindergarten teachers can identify behaviors associated with lower earnings three decades later,” said co-author Dr. Daniel Nagin, professor of public policy and statistics at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

“Early monitoring and support for children who exhibit high levels of inattention, and for boys who exhibit high levels of aggression and opposition and low levels of prosocial behavior could have long-term socioeconomic advantages for those individuals and society.”

The study used data from 2,850 children in the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Kindergarten Children, a population-based sample of predominantly white boys and girls born in 1980 or 1981 in Quebec, Canada, who were followed from January 1, 1985, to December 31, 2015.

The data included behavioral ratings by kindergarten teachers when the children were 5 or 6 years old, as well as 2013 to 2015 government tax returns when the participants were 33 to 35 years old.

Kindergarten behaviors the researchers looked at were:

  • inattention (lacking concentration, being easily distracted);
  • hyperactivity (feeling fidgety, moving constantly);
  • physical aggression (fighting, bullying, kicking);
  • opposition (disobeying, blaming others, being irritable);
  • anxiety (worrying about many things, crying easily), and;
  • prosociality (helping someone who has been hurt, showing sympathy).

They then sought to associate these with later reported annual earnings.

The study addressed the limitations of previous research by assessing children earlier, including specific behaviors within a single model, so the results could be incorporated more easily into targeted intervention programs. They also relied on reports from teachers instead of self-reports by children and tax records of income instead of adults’ self-reported earnings.

“Early behaviors are modifiable, arguably more so than traditional factors associated with earnings, such as IQ and socioeconomic status, making them key targets for early intervention,” said co-author Dr. Sylvana M. Côté, associate professor of social and preventive medicine at the University of Montreal.

“If early behavioral problems are associated with lower earnings, addressing these behaviors is essential to helping children —through screenings and the development of intervention programs — as early as possible.”

The study’s authors acknowledged that they did not account for earnings through the informal economy or for unaccounted accumulation of debt. They also noted that because they looked at associations, the study did not reach conclusions about causality.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University


For Veterans, Witnessing Suffering Can Mean Worse PTSD

Sun, 06/23/2019 - 7:41am

A study of Norwegian veterans who served in Afghanistan finds that being exposed to the death and suffering of others tends to result in worse symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than being put in life-threatening situations.

The study, published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, is part of a comprehensive survey of how veterans are faring after the war in Afghanistan. Just over 7,000 Norwegian soldiers participated in the war in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011, and 4,053 of them participated in this research.

Trauma is roughly divided into danger-based and non-danger-based stressors. Both types of stressors lead to an increase in PTSD, an anxiety disorder which can involve being hyper-alert, jumpy, sleeping poorly and reliving events after they’ve happened.

Danger-based trauma occurs when soldiers are exposed to trauma in classic military settings, such as being shot or ambushed. It is an active threat that is linked to anxiety.

Non-danger-based trauma is divided into two subgroups: Witnessing (seeing the suffering or death of others, without being in danger oneself) and moral challenges (seeing or performing an act that violates a person’s own moral beliefs).

“An example of witnessing might be that a suicide bomber triggers a bomb that hurts or kills children and civilians. Then our soldiers come in to clean up or secure the area after the bomb has gone off and experience the devastation,” said study author Andreas Espetvedt Nordstrand from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.

Performing actions that violate moral principles can involve killing an innocent person. “For example, an officer may order a person shot because it looks as if he is wearing a suicide vest. But then it turns out that he wasn’t, and a civilian ends up being killed,” he says.

“Another example could be when an officer supervises and instructs an Afghan unit, and then learns that someone in that unit is abusing small children. It can be difficult to intervene in that kind of situation, but easy for a Norwegian officer to think afterwards that he should have done something,” Nordstrand said.

There is a marked difference between how danger-based and non-danger-based stressors affect the symptoms of psychological distress. Non-danger-based stressors are likely to trigger far more symptoms of psychological distress.

“In our study, we found that depression, chronic sleep disorders and anxiety were much more linked to non-danger-based stressors than having been in fear for one’s life,” says Nordstrand.

In fact, the findings show that exposure to personal life threats often leads to positive personal development. This type of trauma can contribute to the individual appreciating life more, getting closer to relatives and experiencing greater faith in their ability to handle situations.

Non-danger-based stressors, on the other hand, usually lead to negative personal development, where the person values life less, feels more distant from others and has less faith in himself.

Nordstrand’s idea for the study came to him through his job as a psychologist in the Norwegian Armed Forces stress management service, where he noticed that often other issues than having been shot at were plaguing the soldiers.

“A lot of soldiers told stories of how witnessing someone else’s suffering, especially of children who became victims of the war, were tough to work through,” said Nordstrand.

One of the soldiers he’s followed up with had participated in lots of battles without dwelling on them.

“The experience that stayed with him and burdened him afterwards was when he went out onto the battlefield after a bomb had gone off and found a child’s sparkly shoe spattered with blood,” said Nordstrand.

He added that a lot of people hide their non-danger-based trauma and don’t talk about it to their family, friends or colleagues. He thinks this relates to the fact that non-danger-based trauma is often linked to shame and guilt, and that it can be more difficult to talk about than that they were scared in an exchange of fire.

“A lot of soldiers are probably afraid of feeling alienated if they would tell their family and civilian friends of all the horrors they saw and experienced. Such experiences often don’t fit very well with the world view we protected Norwegians have,” Nordstrand said.

Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology

3D Imaging Can Help Young Women Boost Body Image

Sat, 06/22/2019 - 7:48am

A new study shows how 3D imaging, a type of technology which enhances the illusion of depth perception, might be able to help young women better appreciate their bodies, and in turn, improve their mental health.

3D technology is commonly used in movies and medical imaging, but this is one of the first times the technology has been applied to a body image intervention.

“3D body image scanning is a relatively new tool in social science research, and the research on using 3D tools for improving body image is scant,” said Dr. Virginia Ramseyer Winter, assistant professor in the School of Social Work and director of the University of Missouri (MU) Center for Body Image Research and Policy. “We wanted to see if it could provide a way to help young women shift their focus away from appearance and toward function.”

For the study, young adult women between the ages of 18 and 25 were scanned in a 3D scanner used by researchers and students in MU’s Department of Textile and Apparel Management.

The researchers used modeling software to convert the scans to 3D avatars. Participants then digitally “painted” body parts that they appreciated for various reasons such as their utility or role in their relationships.

“In digitally painting their avatars, women could think about how, for example, their thighs help them run or how their arms can help hold others in an embrace,” Ramseyer Winter said.

“It provided the participants a way to visual their bodies in a completely different way. It allowed the participants to recognize how our bodies are much more than a size or a number on a scale.”

Immediately after digitally painting their avatars and then again three months later, participants reported increased body appreciation. Participants also reported lower depressive and anxiety symptoms.

“While more research still needs to be done on the relationship between the 3D image intervention we used and its impact on mental health, we did see a significant effect on body appreciation,” Ramseyer Winter said.

“Prior research has shown that body appreciation is related to depression and anxiety, which leads us to think that we are on the right track in creating an intervention that can improve not only body image, but mental health as well.”

In the future, the researchers want to investigate how painting the 3D avatars might impact young women with more severe depression.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia