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Updated: 24 min 34 sec ago

‘Foodie Call:’ Going Out With A Guy Just For A Free Meal

Sat, 06/22/2019 - 7:21am

A new form of dating is emerging, termed the “foodie call,” where a person sets up a date with someone they are not romantically interested in just to get a free meal.

New research finds that 23 percent to 33 percent of women in an online study say they’ve engaged in a “foodie call.”

Further analysis by researchers found that women who scored high on the “dark triad” of personality traits — psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism — as well as expressed traditional gender role beliefs, were most likely to engage in a foodie call and find it acceptable.

Researchers conducted two studies. In the first, 820 women were recruited, with 40 percent reporting they were single, 33 percent married, and 27 percent saying they were in a committed relationship but not married. Out of them, 85 percent said they were heterosexual, and they were the focus for the study, researchers reported.

The women answered a series of questions that measured their personality traits, beliefs about gender roles, and their foodie call history. They were also asked if they thought a foodie call was socially acceptable.

According to the study’s findings, 23 percent of women in this group revealed they’d engaged in a foodie call. Most did so occasionally or rarely.

Although women who had engaged in a foodie call believed it was more acceptable, most women believed foodie calls were “extremely” to “moderately” unacceptable.

The second study analyzed a similar set of questions of 357 heterosexual women and found 33 percent had engaged in a foodie call.

For both groups, those who engaged in foodie calls scored higher in the “dark triad” personality traits.

“Several dark traits have been linked to deceptive and exploitative behavior in romantic relationships, such as one-night stands, faking an orgasm, or sending unsolicited sexual pictures,” said Brian Collisson of Azusa Pacific University.

Collisson and co-researcher Trista Harig said they became interested in the subject of foodie calls after reading about the phenomenon in the news.

As for how many foodies calls might be occurring in the United States, Collisson says that can’t be inferred from the current research.

“They could be more prevalent, for instance, if women lied or misremembered their foodie calls to maintain a positive view of their dating history,” he says.

The researchers note that foodie calls could occur in many types of relationships, and could be perpetrated by all genders.

Researchers say it is important to note that neither of the studies recruited representative samples of women.

“So we cannot know if these percentages are accurate for women in general,” they explained.

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

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Early, Regular Cannabis Use Seen to Alter Brain Region Tied to Cognitive Control

Sat, 06/22/2019 - 7:13am

New research shows a clear link between early and regular cannabis use by youth and alterations in brain circuits that support aspects of executive functioning.

The study finds that the frequent and regular use of cannabis in youth alters the neural circuits by which the mind governs, regulates, and guides behaviors, impulses and decision-making based on goals.

The researchers found that these brain alterations were less intense in individuals who recently stopped using cannabis.

However, the alterations were greater and more persistent in individuals who started using cannabis earlier, while the brain is still developing.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

“Most adults with problematic substance use now were most likely having problems with drugs and alcohol in adolescence, a developmental period during which the neural circuits underlying cognitive control processes continue to mature,” said lead author Marilyn Cyr, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scientist with Columbia University.

“As such, the adolescent brain may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of substance use, particularly cannabis — the most commonly used recreational drug by teenagers worldwide.”

The study’s findings are based on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data acquired from 28 adolescents and young adults between the ages of 14 and 23 with significant cannabis use and 32 age and sex-matched people who don’t use cannabis.

Participants were scanned during their performance of a Simon Spatial Incompatibility Task, a cognitive control task that requires resolving cognitive conflict to respond accurately, the researchers reported.

Compared to the non-users, the adolescents and young adults with significant cannabis use showed reduced activation in the frontostriatal circuits that support cognitive control and conflict resolution, according to the study’s findings.

The researchers also examined to what extent the regions in the frontostriatal circuit were functionally connected. Although circuit connectivity did not differ between cannabis-using and non-using youth, the researchers found an association between how early individuals began regularly using cannabis and the extent to which frontostriatal regions were disrupted.

This suggests that earlier chronic use may have a larger impact on circuit development than use at a later age, they said.

“The present findings support the mission of the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development study, a longitudinal study aimed at understanding the developmental trajectory of brain circuits in relation to cannabis use,” said Cyr. “In addition, these findings are a first step towards identifying brain-based targets for early interventions that reduce addiction behaviors by enhancing self-regulatory capacity.

Cyr noted that substance use and relapse rates are associated with control processes. Because of this, she said, “interventions based on neural stimulation, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and behavioral interventions, such as cognitive training, that specifically target the brain circuits underlying these control processes may be helpful as adjunct intervention strategies to complement standard treatment programs for cannabis use disorder.”

Cyr is a scientist in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons at Columbia.

Source: Elsevier

Photo: Conflict-related neural activations. Between-group t-map of conflict-related activations (voxel-wise cluster-defining threshold of p < .001, familywise error-corrected cluster extent correction of p < .05) and within-group t-maps (cluster-defining threshold of p < .001, uncorrected), adjusting for age and gender. ACC = anterior cingulate cortex; CU = cannabis user; HC = healthy control; MCC = middle cingulate cortex; OFC = orbitofrontal cortex; PCG = postcentral gyrus; PreCu = precuneus; SMG = supramarginal gyrus; Thal = thalamus. Credit: Elsevier.

One-Day Work Week Satisfies Mental Health Needs Related to Employment

Fri, 06/21/2019 - 7:00am

Having a job and being employed is known to improve mental health and life satisfaction. A new study shows, however, that this benefit is achieved in much less than 40 hours a week.

The finding is pertinent as automation advances. Indeed, predictions of a jobless future have some fearing unrest from mass unemployment, while others imagine a more contented work-free society.

Nonetheless, aside from economic factors, paid employment brings other benefits — often psychological — such as self-esteem and social inclusion. In a new study, researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Salford sought to define a recommended “dosage” of work for optimal wellbeing.

Investigators examined how changes in working hours were linked to mental health and life satisfaction in over 70,000 UK residents between 2009 and 2018.

Researchers discovered that when people moved from unemployment or stay-at-home parenting into paid work of eight hours or less a week, their risk of mental health problems reduced by an average of 30 percent.

Yet researchers found no evidence that working any more than eight hours provided further boosts to wellbeing. The full-time standard of 37 to 40 hours was not significantly different to any other working time category when it came to mental health.

As such, they suggest that to get the mental wellbeing benefits of paid work, the most “effective dose” is only around one day a week — as anything more makes little difference.

The study appears in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

“We have effective dosage guides for everything from Vitamin C to hours of sleep in order to help us feel better, but this is the first time the question has been asked of paid work,” said study co-author Dr Brendan Burchell, a sociologist from Cambridge University.

“We know unemployment is often detrimental to people’s wellbeing, negatively affecting identity, status, time use, and sense of collective purpose. We now have some idea of just how much paid work is needed to get the psychosocial benefits of employment – and it’s not that much at all.”

Supporting the unemployed in a future with limited work is the subject of much policy discussion. However, researchers argue that employment should be retained across adult populations, but working weeks dramatically reduced for work to be redistributed.

“In the next few decades we could see artificial intelligence, big data and robotics replace much of the paid work currently done by humans,” said Salford University’s Dr Daiga Kamerāde, the study’s first author.

“If there is not enough for everybody who wants to work full-time, we will have to rethink current norms. This should include the redistribution of working hours, so everyone can get the mental health benefits of a job, even if that means we all work much shorter weeks.”

“Our findings are an important step in thinking what the minimum amount of paid work people might need in a future with little work to go round,” she said.

The study used data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study to track the wellbeing of 71,113 individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 as they changed working hours over the nine-year period. People were asked about issues such as anxiety and sleep problems to gauge mental health.

Researchers also found that self-reported life satisfaction in men increased by around 30 percent with up to eight hours of paid work, although women didn’t see a similar jump until working 20 hours.

They note that “the significant difference in mental health and wellbeing is between those with paid work and those with none”, and that the working week could be shortened considerably “without a detrimental effect on the workers’ mental health and wellbeing”.

The team offer creative policy options for moving into a future with limited work, including “five-day weekends”, working just a couple of hours a day, or increasing annual holiday from weeks to months — even having two months off for every month at work.

They also argue that working-hour reduction and redistribution could improve work-life balance, increase productivity, and cut down CO2 emissions from commuting. However, they point out that reduction of hours would need to be for everyone, to avoid increasing socioeconomic inequalities.

“The traditional model, in which everyone works around 40 hours a week, was never based on how much work was good for people. Our research suggests that micro-jobs provide the same psychological benefits as full-time jobs,” said co-author and Cambridge sociologist Senhu Wang.

“However, the quality of work will always be crucial. Jobs where employees are disrespected or subject to insecure or zero-hours contracts do not provide the same benefits to wellbeing, nor are they likely to in the future.”

Dr Burchell added: “If the UK were to plough annual productivity gains into reduced working hours rather than pay rises, the normal working week could be four days within a decade.”

Source: University of Cambridge

Friends are Better Predictors of Health than Personal Fitness Trackers

Fri, 06/21/2019 - 6:30am

New research suggests the growth in utilization of wearable fitness trackers has led to incorrect assumptions about our health. Nowadays, we often look at our heart rate to determine if we are stressed or think ourselves healthier based on the number of steps we’ve taken by the end of the day. A new Notre Dame study finds that a better determination of health and wellness is found by looking at the strength and structure of your circle of friends.

While previous studies have shown how beliefs, opinions and attitudes spread throughout our social networks, researchers at the University of Notre Dame were interested in what the structure of social networks says about the state of health, happiness and stress.

“We were interested in the topology of the social network — what does my position within my social network predict about my health and well-being?” said Nitesh V. Chawla, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications and a lead author of the study.

“What we found was the social network structure provides a significant improvement in predictability of wellness states of an individual over just using the data derived from wearables, like the number of steps or heart rate.”

For the study, found in the journal PLOS ONE, participants wore Fitbits to capture health behavior data — such as steps, sleep, heart rate and activity level. They also completed surveys and self-assessments about their feelings of stress, happiness and positivity.

Chawla and his team then analyzed and modeled the data, using machine learning, alongside an individual’s social network characteristics including degree, centrality, clustering coefficient and number of triangles.

These characteristics are indicative of properties like connectivity, social balance, reciprocity and closeness within the social network. The study showed a strong correlation between social network structures, heart rate, number of steps and level of activity.

Social network structure provided significant improvement in predicting one’s health and well-being compared to just looking at health behavior data from the Fitbit alone.

For example, when social network structure is combined with the data derived from wearables, the machine learning model achieved a 65 percent improvement in predicting happiness, 54 percent improvement in predicting one’s self-assessed health prediction, 55 percent improvement in predicting positive attitude, and 38 percent improvement in predicting success.

“This study asserts that without social network information, we only have an incomplete view of an individual’s wellness state, and to be fully predictive or to be able to derive interventions, it is critical to be aware of the social network structural features as well,” Chawla said.

The findings could provide insight to employers who look to wearable fitness devices to incentivize employees to improve their health. Handing someone a means to track their steps and monitor their health in the hopes that their health improves simply may not be enough to see meaningful or significant results.

Those employers, Chawla said, would benefit from encouraging employees to build a platform to post and share their experiences with each other. Social network structure helps complete the picture of health and well-being.

“I do believe these incentives that we institute at work are meaningful, but I also believe we’re not seeing the effect because we may not be capitalizing on them the way we should,” Chawla said.

“When we hear that health and wellness programs driven by wearables at places of employment aren’t working, we should be asking, is it because we’re just taking a single dimensional view where we just give the employees the wearables and forget about it without taking the step to understand the role social networks play in health?”

Source: University of Notre Dame

A Quarter of Older Adults in Northern England May Be Vitamin D Deficient

Fri, 06/21/2019 - 6:00am

A new study, published in the journal Nutrients, suggests that more than one in four midlife and older adults (ages 50 and up) living in Northern England are deficient in vitamin D.

Vitamin D plays a significant role in bone health and mood. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depressive symptoms, anxiety and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that occurs in the winter months.

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin in Ireland found that more than half (57%) of the 6,004 participants had inadequate serum vitamin D levels, of which 26% were classed as vitamin D deficient.

“The high rates of deficiency are similar to rates seen in other high latitude countries such as Ireland,” said coauthor Dr. Eamon Laird, Trinity Research Fellow.

“However, other more northern countries such as Finland have implemented a successful vitamin D fortification policy which has all but eliminated deficiency in the population. Such a policy could easily be implemented in the UK and Ireland.”

People at greatest risk include females, adults 80 years and older, smokers, people of non-white ethnicity, obese people and those with poor self-reported health.

On the other hand, being of a healthy weight, retired, engaging in regular vigorous physical activity, taking vitamin D supplements, and sun travel in the past 12 months and during the summer season were positive determinants, and therefore potentially protective factors against vitamin D deficiency in older people.

“Those who used a vitamin D supplement were less likely to be vitamin D deficient as may be expected, but supplement use was low (4.4%) and, therefore, food fortification and other strategies need to be considered at policy level for older populations,” said first author Dr. Niamh Aspell, who conducted the study as part of her PhD at Trinity.

The researchers also looked at UVB radiation (sunlight), a known determinant of vitamin D status, and found that residents in the South of England had a reduced risk of deficiency, compared with the North, even after adjustment for socioeconomic and other predictors of vitamin D status.

The new findings suggest that vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in older adult populations living at Northern latitudes and highlights the importance of public health strategies throughout midlife and older age to achieve optimal vitamin D status.

“Our study identified factors associated with vitamin D deficiency, including being aged 80+ years, obesity and sedentary lifestyles; all of which are increasing traits in western populations,” said Maria O’Sullivan, Associate Professor in Nutrition at Trinity College.

“Furthermore, this is one of the few studies to highlight the importance of non-white ethnicity in vitamin D deficiency in a large study of ageing. The findings are valuable in developing targeted strategies to eliminate vitamin D deficiency in older populations.”

Source: Trinity College Dublin


Social Media Data Used to ID Mental Health Conditions and Diabetes

Fri, 06/21/2019 - 5:30am

A new study suggests mining data from social media sites may help professionals identify and manage a variety of health conditions, including diabetes, anxiety, depression and psychosis.

Researchers from Penn Medicine and Stony Brook University analyzed Facebook posts and believe that the language in posts could be indicators of disease. Moreover, if an individual provides consent, the posts could be monitored just like physical symptoms.

The study appears in PLOS ONE.

“This work is early, but our hope is that the insights gleaned from these posts could be used to better inform patients and providers about their health,” said lead author Raina Merchant, MD, MS, the director of Penn Medicine’s Center for Digital Health and an associate professor of Emergency Medicine.

“As social media posts are often about someone’s lifestyle choices and experiences or how they’re feeling, this information could provide additional information about disease management and exacerbation.”

Using an automated data collection technique, the researchers analyzed the entire Facebook post history of nearly 1,000 patients who agreed to have their electronic medical record data linked to their profiles.

The researchers then built three models to analyze their predictive power for the patients: one model only analyzing the Facebook post language, another that used demographics such as age and sex, and the last that combined the two datasets.

Looking into 21 different conditions, researchers found that all 21 were predictable from Facebook alone. In fact, 10 of the conditions were better predicted through the Facebook data than demographic information.

Some of the Facebook data that was found to be more predictive than demographic data seemed intuitive. For example, “drink” and “bottle” were shown to be more predictive of alcohol abuse.

However, others weren’t as easy. For example, the people who most often mentioned religious language like “God” or “pray” in their posts were 15 times more likely to have diabetes than those who used these terms the least. Additionally, words expressing hostility — like “dumb” and some expletives– served as indicators of drug abuse and psychoses.

“Our digital language captures powerful aspects of our lives that are likely quite different from what is captured through traditional medical data,” said the study’s senior author Andrew Schwartz, PhD.

“Many studies have now shown a link between language patterns and specific disease, such as language predictive of depression or language that gives insights into whether someone is living with cancer. However, by looking across many medical conditions, we get a view of how conditions relate to each other, which can enable new applications of AI for medicine.”

Last year, many members of this research team were able to show that analysis of Facebook posts could predict a diagnosis of depression as much as three months earlier than a diagnosis in the clinic.

This work builds on that study and shows that there may be potential for developing an opt-in system for patients that could analyze their social media posts and provide extra information for clinicians to refine care delivery. Merchant said that it’s tough to predict how widespread such a system would be, but it “could be valuable” for patients who use social media frequently.

“For instance, if someone is trying to lose weight and needs help understanding their food choices and exercise regimens, having a healthcare provider review their social media record might give them more insight into their usual patterns in order to help improve them,” Merchant said.

Later this year, Merchant will conduct a large trial in which patients will be asked to directly share social media content with their health care provider. This will provide a look into whether managing this data and applying it is feasible, as well as how many patients would actually agree to their accounts being used to supplement active care.

“One challenge with this is that there is so much data and we, as providers, aren’t trained to interpret it ourselves — or make clinical decisions based on it,” Merchant explained. “To address this, we will explore how to condense and summarize social media data.”

Source: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Sense of Personal Space Tends To Expand in Late Stage Pregnancy

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 7:24am

A pregnant woman’s sense of “peripersonal space” tends to expand in the third trimester, according to a new study by researchers from Anglia Ruskin University and Addenbooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, England.

Peripersonal space is defined as the area immediately surrounding the body where our brain is constantly monitoring. This space is commonly described as being within an arm’s length of another person and is where the majority of interactions with the external world occur.

“Peripersonal space is considered a ‘safety bubble’ and it’s possible that the observed expansion of this at the late stage of pregnancy might be aimed at protecting the vulnerable abdomen during the mother’s daily interactions,” said lead author Dr. Flavia Cardini, a senior lecturer in psychology at Anglia Ruskin University.

“So as the mother’s bump grows, in effect the expanded peripersonal space is the brain’s way of ensuring danger is kept at arm’s length.”

For the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers used an audio-tactile test to measure the boundaries of the peripersonal space during pregnancy.

As well as testing women who were not pregnant, the researchers tested women at the second trimester (approximately the 20th week) when the abdomen is just beginning to enlarge; at the third trimester (approximately the 34th week) when the abdomen is clearly visible; and roughly eight weeks after giving birth.

The researchers found that a pregnant woman’s sense of personal space expands, but only during the third trimester of pregnancy. No changes were observed in the earlier stages of pregnancy or after giving birth, when the size and shape of peripersonal space were both comparable to that of non-pregnant women.

“Pregnancy involves massive and rapid changes to the body both externally, as the body suddenly changes shape, and internally, while the fetus is growing,” said Cardini.

“Our results suggest that when the body undergoes significantly large changes, at the stage when the abdomen is clearly expanded, the maternal brain also begins to make adjustments to the space immediately surrounding the body.”

Source: Anglia Ruskin University


Strong Smells Can Enhance Memory

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 6:30am

New research suggests memories are stronger when the original experiences are accompanied by unpleasant odors. Investigators believe this discovery expands knowledge of what can drive Pavlovian responses. Moreover, the finding points to how negative experiences influence our ability to recall past events.

“These results demonstrate that bad smells are capable of producing memory enhancements in both adolescents and adults, pointing to new ways to study how we learn from and remember positive and negative experiences,” explains Catherine Hartley, an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology.

Hartley is the senior author of the paper, which appears in the journal Learning and Memory.

“Because our findings spanned different age groups, this study suggests that aversive odors might be used in the future to examine emotional learning and memory processes across development,” adds Alexandra Cohen, an NYU postdoctoral fellow and the paper’s lead author.

The impact of negative experiences on memory has long been shown–and is familiar to us.

For example, if you are bitten by a dog, you may develop a negative memory of the dog that bit you, and your negative association may also go on to generalize to all dogs. Additinally, because of the trauma surrounding the bite, you are likely to have a better recollection of it than you would other past experiences with dogs.

“The generalization and persistence in memory of learned negative associations are core features of anxiety disorders, which often emerge during adolescence,” notes Hartley.

In order to better understand how learned negative associations influence memory during this stage of development, the researchers designed and administered a Pavlovian learning task to individuals aged 13 to 25. Mild electrical shocks are often used in this type of learning task. In this study, the researchers used bad smells because they can be ethically administered in studying children.

The task included the viewing of a series of images belonging to one of two conceptual categories: objects (e.g., a chair) and scenes (e.g., a snow-capped mountain). As the study’s participants viewed the images, they wore a nasal mask connected to an olfactometer.

While participants viewed images from one category, unpleasant smells were sometimes circulated through the device to the mask; while viewing images from the other category, unscented air was used.

This allowed the researchers to examine memory for images associated with a bad smell as well as for generalization to related images. In other words, if the image of a chair was associated with a bad smell, would memory be enhanced only for the chair or for objects in general?

What constitutes a “bad” odor is somewhat subjective.

Therefore, in order to determine which odors the participants found unlikable, the researchers had the subjects–prior to the start of the experiment–breathe in a variety of odors and indicate which ones they thought were unpleasant.

The odors were blends of chemical compounds provided by a local perfumer and included scents such as rotting fish and manure.

As the subjects viewed the images, the scientists measured perspiration from the palm of the subjects’ hands as an index of arousal–a common research technique used to confirm the creation of a negative association (in this case, of a bad smell).

A day later, researchers tested participants’ memory for the images.

Their findings showed that both adolescents and adults showed better memory specifically for images paired with the bad smell 24 hours after they saw these images.

They also found that individuals with larger arousal responses at the point when they might experience either a bad smell or clean air while viewing the image, regardless of whether or not a smell was actually delivered, had better memory 24 hours later.

Investigators believe this suggests that unpredictability or surprise associated with the outcome leads to better memory.

Source: New York University/EurekAlert

Finnish Study: Symptoms of Depression, Anxiety Affect Many Asylum Seekers

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 6:00am

A new study finds that up to 40% of adults who sought asylum in Finland in 2018 reported that they were suffering from major depression and anxiety symptoms. In addition, more than half of adults and children, particularly those from Sub-Saharan Africa, reported having experienced at least one shocking or traumatic event such as being subjected to violence.

The study, conducted by the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, involved more than 1,000 asylum seekers who had just arrived in Finland. The purpose of the study was to gather detailed information on the health and welfare of adults and minors who had sought asylum in Finland in 2018 and their need for services in Finland.

The study subjects took part in an interview and underwent a medical examination. To date, the research is the most extensive population study focused on the health of asylum seekers both at a national and international level.

“Over 60% of asylum seekers coming from Sub-Saharan Africa had depression and anxiety symptoms — the percentage is higher than among asylum seekers from other areas,” said Anu Castaneda, Research Manager from the National Institute for Health and Welfare.

“The same group had also had the highest number of shocking experiences before coming to Finland. For example, 67% of men from Africa reported having experienced torture and 57% of women reported experiences of sexual violence.”

According to Castaneda, it is, therefore, important to support the mental health and functioning capacity of asylum seekers already at the reception stage.

“This may be effected by supporting meaningful everyday life and activities of asylum seekers, as well as by providing counselling and discussions and information on mental health and by investing in the smooth operation of referral paths. It is particularly important to support the welfare of children and families,” said Castaneda.

A larger share of women than men, 49% in all, reported having a long-term illness or health problem, such as musculoskeletal condition, diabetes or respiratory disorder. When arriving in Finland, every 10th woman in the study was pregnant.

On the other hand, men had more injuries caused by accidents and violence, their share being as high as 55%. Men also smoked cigarettes more often than women, their share being up to 37%.

In many areas of health, the situation of those coming from the Middle East and Africa was worse than that of asylum seekers from other parts of the world.

“It would be advisable to disseminate more health-related information to asylum seekers in an understandable and easy-to-approach form,” said Natalia Skogberg, Project Manager from the National Institute of Health and Welfare.

Asylum seekers also had other health conditions, such as poor oral health. Most of the asylum seekers under the age of 18 had never been to a dentist before coming to Finland.

Some of the findings were quite positive with respect to health. For example, 85% of adults seeking asylum said they did not drink any alcohol, and only a small percentage were drinking to get intoxicated. Use of other substances was also rare among other asylum seekers. Furthermore, very few of those studied showed symptoms of infectious diseases.

“The results of the study are important particularly as we want to develop our activities by which we respond to the health needs of asylum seekers,” said Olli Snellman of the Finnish Immigration Service.

“Based on the results, we are in the process of updating and developing the initial medical examination model applied to asylum seekers, to be adopted in all reception centres around Finland.”

Source: National Institute for Health and Welfare

Antidepressants May Hinder Empathy for Others’ Pain

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 6:00am

Until recently, research has suggested that severe episodes of depression can reduce a person’s ability to feel empathy, an essential skill for successful social interactions and understanding others. However, most of these studies have been conducted with groups of patients taking antidepressant medications.

Now in a new Austrian study, an interdisciplinary team of social neuroscientists, neuroimaging experts, and psychiatrists  from the University of Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna set out to disentangle the effects of acute depressive episodes and antidepressant treatment on empathy.

The researchers discovered that it is the antidepressant treatment — not the depressive episode — which can lead to impaired empathy toward perception of pain.

For the study, patients with severe depression underwent two experiments testing their empathic responses to the pain of others: First, they were tested during an acute depressive episode before they had received any medication. Then they were tested again after three months of psychopharmacological treatment with antidepressants (mostly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs).

In both sessions, patients underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while watching videos of people undergoing painful medical procedures. Their brain activity and self-reported empathy levels were compared to those of a group of healthy controls.

The findings show that, before treatment, depressed patients and healthy controls responded in a comparable way.

But after three months of antidepressant treatment, the researchers discovered notable differences: Medicated patients reported their levels of empathy to be lower, and brain activation was reduced in areas previously associated with empathy.

First author Dr. Markus Rütgen underlines that reduced empathic responses were not caused by a general dampening of negative emotions. “The lowered emotional impact of negative events in a social context possibly allows patients to recover more easily. Nevertheless, the actual impact of reduced empathy on patients’ social behavior remains to be explored,” he said.

The findings are published in the scientific journal Translational Psychiatry.

Source: University of Vienna

Gut Microbes Linked to Temperament Traits in Infants

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 5:00am

A new Finnish study of 303 infants finds that the gut microbiome of a two-month-old appears to be associated with the child’s temperament traits at six months of age.

The University of Turku researchers found that different temperament traits are connected with individual microbe genera, microbial diversity and different microbe clusters. For example, greater diversity in gut bacteria was connected to lesser negative emotionality and fear reactivity.

“It was interesting that, for example, the Bifidobacterium genus including several lactic acid bacteria was associated with higher positive emotions in infants,” said doctoral candidate Anna Aatsinki from the FinnBrain research project at the University of Turku, Finland.

“Positive emotionality is the tendency to experience and express happiness and delight, and it can also be a sign of an extrovert personality later in life.”

The study, published in the journal Brian, Behavior, and Immunity, is the first to investigate the link between microbes and behavior in infants so young. Previously, rodent studies have shown that the composition of gut microbiota and its remodelling is connected to behavior. In humans, research has shown that gut microbes can be associated with different diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, depression and autism spectrum disorders. But few studies have been conducted on infants.

The new study also considered other factors that can significantly affect the diversity of the microbiota, such as the delivery method and breastfeeding.

Strong fear reaction and negative emotionality can be connected to depression risk later in life. However, the association with later diseases is not straightforward and  are also dependent on the environment.

“Although we discovered connections between diversity and temperament traits, it is not certain whether early microbial diversity affects disease risk later in life. It is also unclear what are the exact mechanisms behind the association,” Aatsinki said. “This is why we need follow-up studies as well as a closer examination of metabolites produced by the microbes.”

Source: University of Turku

Lab Findings Hint that BP Med Could Impact Alzheimer’s

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 6:30am

New research finds that the blood pressure drug nilvadipine increased blood flow to the brain’s memory and learning centers among people with Alzheimer’s disease, without affecting other parts of the brain.

The finding is important in the quest to discover new treatments to slow the progression of the Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. The disease accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases.

Scientists said the lab research indicates that the known decrease in cerebral blood flow in patients with Alzheimer’s can be reversed in some regions. However, it is not known if this observed increase in cerebral blood flow translates to clinical benefits.

“This high blood pressure treatment holds promise as it doesn’t appear to decrease blood flow to the brain, which could cause more harm than benefit,” said study lead author Jurgen Claassen, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

The study appears in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension.

The risk for Alzheimer’s increases with age and the causes are largely unknown. Previous research has shown that blood flow to the brain declines in early Alzheimer’s disease.

Nilvadipine is a calcium channel blocker used to treat high blood pressure. Researchers sought to discover whether nilvadipine could help treat Alzheimer’s disease by comparing the use of nilvadipine and a placebo among people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

For the study, researchers randomly assigned 44 participants to receive either nilvadipine or a placebo for six months. Neither researchers nor the participants knew who received the drug or the placebo that was evenly divided among the two groups. At the study’s start and after six months, researchers measured blood flow to specific regions of the brain using a unique magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique.

Results showed that blood flow to the hippocampus — the brain’s memory and learning center — increased by 20 percent among the nilvadipine group compared to the placebo group. Blood flow to other regions of the brain was unchanged in both groups.

“Even though no medical treatment is without risk, getting treatment for high blood pressure could be important to maintain brain health in patients with Alzheimer’s disease,” Classen said.

Researchers note that sample sizes were too small and follow-up time too short to reliably study the effects of this cerebral blood flow increase on structural brain measures and cognitive measures.

Study participants were screened between 2013 and 2015 as part of a larger research project comparing nilvadipine to placebo among more than 500 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (average age 73, more than half female and most were Caucasian).

In that larger project, effects on cerebral blood flow were not measured. Overall, no clinical benefit was noted with use of nilvadipine. However, a subgroup of patients with only mild symptoms of disease did show benefit, in the sense of a slower decline in memory.

Previous studies have hinted that high blood pressure treatment could reduce the risk of developing dementia. The authors think that beneficial effects on brain blood flow could explain part of this effect.

The study is one of a few to use this MRI technique to probe the effects of treatment on cerebral blood flow, making additional research critical. In addition, the small number of participants of similar race and ethnicity mean that the results may not apply to other populations.

“In the future, we need to find out whether the improvement in blood flow, especially in the hippocampus, can be used as a supportive treatment to slow down progression of Alzheimer’s disease, especially in earlier stages of disease,” Claassen said.

Source: American Heart Association

Orthodontic Braces May Not Boost Your Confidence

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 6:00am

A new Australian study counters the belief that getting braces to fix your crooked teeth will automatically boost your self-confidence.

In fact, the findings, published in the journal Orthodontics & Craniofacial Research, show that people who had never received orthodontic treatment were significantly more optimistic than those who did have braces. And many of those who never had braces had crooked teeth.

“Those who didn’t have braces had varying levels of crooked teeth, just like those who had braces treatment — ranging from mild through to very severe,” says Dr. Esma Dogramaci from the Dental School at the University of Adelaide.

“A lot of people are convinced that if they have braces, they will feel more positive about themselves and do well, psychosocially, in later life. This study confirmed that other factors play a role in predicting psychosocial functioning as adults — braces as a youngster was not one of them.”

Rather, the researchers found that brushing at least twice a day and seeing a dentist regularly were among the factors related to better psychosocial scores.

The study followed 448 South Australian participants who were 13-years-old in 1988 and 1989. By the time the participants turned 30 years old, in 2005 and 2006, more than a third had received orthodontic treatment.

The researchers looked at four psychosocial aspects: how well people felt they coped with new or difficult situations and associated setbacks; how much they felt that could take care of their own health; the support the person believed they received from their personal network and finally their own level of optimism.

“These indicators were chosen because they are important for psychosocial functioning and are relevant to health behaviours and health outcomes; since the core research question was the impact of braces treatment on patients’ self-confidence and happiness in later life,” says Dogramaci.

“On a population level, those who have never had braces were more positive than those who had braces. While experiencing braces treatment won’t guarantee happiness later in life, brushing teeth twice a day and seeing a dentist for regular check-ups will help to keep you healthy and happy.”

Fourth year dental student Alex Furlan has never had braces fitted: “My orthodontist recommended that I have braces fitted but I’m quite happy without them. I’ve never felt the need to straighten my teeth — I can get on in life without having perfectly straight teeth,” he says.

Source: University of Adelaide

In Dating, You May Have a Type After All

Mon, 06/17/2019 - 6:00am

When it comes to dating, a new study finds that we do indeed have a type. Even after heartbreak and vowing “never again,” we tend to look for love with the same type of person over and over again.

“It’s common that when a relationship ends, people attribute the breakup to their ex-partner’s personality and decide they need to date a different type of person,” said lead author Yoobin Park, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto (U of T).

“Our research suggests there’s a strong tendency to nevertheless continue to date a similar personality.”

Using data from an ongoing multi-year study of German couples and families across several age groups, the researchers compared the personalities of current and past partners of 332 people. Their findings suggest a significant consistency in the personalities of an individual’s romantic partners.

“The effect is more than just a tendency to date someone similar to yourself,” says Park.

Participants in the study, along with a sample of current and past partners, assessed their own personality traits related to agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience.

For example, they were asked to rate how much they identified with a series of statements such as, “I am usually modest and reserved,” “I am interested in many different kinds of things” and “I make plans and carry them out.” Respondents were asked to rate their disagreement or agreement with each statement on a five-point scale.

An analysis of the responses showed that overall, the current partners of individuals described themselves in ways that were similar to past partners.

“The degree of consistency from one relationship to the next suggests that people may indeed have a ‘type’,” said co-author Dr. Geoff MacDonald, a professor in the Department of Psychology. “And though our data do not make clear why people’s partners exhibit similar personalities, it is noteworthy that we found partner similarity above and beyond similarity to oneself.”

By getting first-person testimonials of someone’s partners rather than relying on someone’s own description of them, the study accounts for biases found in other studies.

“Our study was particularly rigorous because we didn’t just rely on one person recalling their various partners’ personalities,” said Park. “We had reports from the partners themselves in real time.”

The researchers say the findings offer ways to keep relationships healthy and couples happy.

“In every relationship, people learn strategies for working with their partner’s personality,” says Park. “If your new partner’s personality resembles your ex-partner’s personality, transferring the skills you learned might be an effective way to start a new relationship on a good footing.”

On the other hand, Park says the strategies can also be negative, and that more research is needed to determine how much meeting someone similar to an ex-partner is a plus, and how much it’s a minus when moving to a new relationship.

“So, if you find you’re having the same issues in relationship after relationship,” says Park, “you may want to think about how gravitating toward the same personality traits in a partner is contributing to the consistency in your problems.”

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

Source: University of Toronto

Weighing Pros & Cons of Drug Treatment for Depressed Older Adults

Sun, 06/16/2019 - 7:00am

In a new review, researchers analyzed several studies to investigate the harmful effects of antidepressants during the treatment of major depressive disorder in adults ages 65 and older. The systematic review was performed at the University of Connecticut Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC).

Their findings are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Depression is a common and serious problem among older adults. Around 15 to 20 percent of people 65 and older who live independently struggle with symptoms of major depressive disorder. For those in nursing homes, the rates of depression may be as high as 50 percent.

For some, medication is an effective part of treatment for depression. However, when considering whether to prescribe antidepressant medication for older adults, healthcare providers must weigh the safety risks these medications pose against the often modest benefits they can provide compared to other options.

For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) may increase the risk of falls and fractures in older adults.

The researchers reviewed studies of older adults who had been prescribed serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) to treat the acute phase of major depressive disorder (the earliest stage of the condition, when the goal is to address the symptoms associated with an episode of depression).

They found that taking SNRIs led to a greater number of harmful events compared to those who took a placebo (a harmless sugar pill that should have no effect on health and is prescribed to some study participants to compare their results to results from people who were treated with actual medication). Older adults who took SSRIs experienced about the same number of harmful events as did people who took a placebo.

Overall, the researchers said that taking either SSRIs or SNRIs led to a greater number of people leaving the study due to harmful events of the drugs compared to placebos. They also noted that the drug duloxetine, an SSRI, increased the risk of falls.

“Some of the antidepressants have not been studied in older patients with major depression, and studies don’t often describe specific side effects,”  said study co-author Diana M. Sobieraj, Pharm.D., FCCP, BCPS, assistant professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy.

“Future research in this field is critical to better inform how the safety profiles of different antidepressants compare in older adults.”

Source: American Geriatrics Society


Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea Tied to Job Loss

Sun, 06/16/2019 - 6:30am

Preliminary results from a new study show that people with undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea were more likely to have experienced multiple involuntary job losses.

Compared to participants who did not have sleep apnea, those with moderate-to-severe sleep apnea were more than twice as likely to have a history of multiple job layoffs or firings, according to researchers.

“These results suggest that undetected obstructive sleep apnea could have long-term, negative effects on vocational functioning,” said principal investigator Patricia Haynes, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion Sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Nearly 30 million adults in the U.S. have obstructive sleep apnea, a chronic disease that involves the repeated collapse of the upper airway during sleep. Common warning signs include snoring, choking, or gasping during sleep.

Untreated sleep apnea can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and impairments in cognitive functioning, researchers explain.

The researcher’s analysis of data from the ongoing Assessing Daily Activity Patterns through occupational Transitions (ADAPT) study involved 261 participants with an average age of 41 years. Women made up 58 percent of the participants.

According to the researchers, 73 percent received hourly wages rather than a salary, and about 45 percent of the participants had a history of multiple job losses.

Breathing during sleep was evaluated with a home sleep apnea test, which revealed that 42 percent had at least mild sleep apnea.

Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Best Ways for Dads to Bond With Their Kids

Sun, 06/16/2019 - 5:30am

As dads prepare for an onslaught of ties, tools, wallets, and novelty socks as gifts for Father’s Day, a new study affirms that dads who spend their days off work with their children develop a stronger relationship with them.

But it is dads who pitch in on child care during the week who foster the best outcomes.

According to the University of Georgia’s Dr. Geoffrey Brown, play activities seem particularly important, even after taking into account the quality of fathers’ parenting.

“Fathers who make the choice to devote their time on non-workdays to engaging with their children directly seem to be developing the best relationships,” said Brown, an assistant professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “And on those non-workdays, pursuing activities that are child centered, or fun for the child, seems to be the best predictor of a good father-child relationship.”

Fathers who spend lots of time helping out with child care-related tasks on workdays who tend to develop the best relationships with their children, according to Brown.

On workdays, men who engage in high levels of play with their children actually have a slightly less secure attachment relationship with them, he added.

“It’s a complicated story, but I think this reflects differences in these contexts of family interaction time on workdays versus non-workdays,” Brown said. “The most important thing on a workday, from the perspective of building a good relationship with your children, seems to be helping to take care of them.”

In early childhood, the most common way to understand the parent-child relationship is the attachment relationship, according to Brown. Children form an emotional bond with their caregivers, and it serves a purpose by keeping them safe, providing comfort and security, and modeling how relationships should work.

For this study, Brown and his colleagues worked with 80 father-child pairs when the children were about 3 years old. The team conducted interviews and observed father-child interaction in the home, shooting video that was evaluated off site and assigned a score indicating attachment security.

“We’re trying to understand the connection between work life and family life and how fathers construct their role,” he said. “It’s clear that there are different contexts of family time. Relying too much on play during workdays, when your child/partner needs you to help out with caregiving, could be problematic. But play seems more important when there’s more time and less pressure.

“Ultimately, fathers who engage in a variety of parenting behaviors and adjust their parenting to suit the demands and circumstances of each individual day are probably most likely to develop secure relationships with their children,” he concluded.

The study was published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Source: University of Georgia

Photo: ‘Fathers who make the choice to devote their time on non-workdays to engaging with their children directly seem to be developing the best relationships’ said Geoffrey Brown, assistant professor at the University of Georgia. ‘And on those non-workdays, pursuing activities that are child centered, or fun for the child, seems to be the best predictor of a good father-child relationship.’ Credit: UGA.

Many Married Women in US Try for Spring Baby

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 8:56pm

Educated, married American moms are more likely to try to time their pregnancy so that they have their first baby in the spring, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Econometrics.

In fact, if it were possible to guarantee a spring birth, women (ages 20 to 45) would be willing to part with an average $877 to achieve it, according to the findings.

“Our work has discovered that there really is a desire to give birth in the spring in the U.S.,” said Professor Sonia Oreffice, a professor of economics at the University of Exeter Business School in the U.K. “This is often to do with the health of mom and baby because spring and summer are the furthest away from the peak of influenza cases and other germs.

“Knowing parents are making these choices for their first child, coupled with the fact that overall the most prevalent birth season is summer, helps policymakers to better design policies targeting job flexibility, parenthood and child health and development.”

Oreffice conducted the study with Damian Clarke, Associate Professor, Universidad de Santiago de Chile & IZA and Professor Climent Quintana-Domeque of the University of Exeter, using data from U.S. birth certificates, U.S. Census data and a series of surveys with mothers.

The researchers explored the choices made around when to have a first baby, because there is often a far wider range of factors which influence parents’ decision making when considering subsequent children.

“We also found that women in certain occupations — teachers, library workers and those in the training sector — were more likely to aim for a spring baby,” said Oreffice. “We believe this is because women are trying to link their summer vacation to their short U.S. maternity leave in order to spend more time with their baby.”

Unmarried moms who had not listed the father’s name on their child’s birth certificate did not show any of the above patterns; reflecting that these pregnancies are the most likely to be unplanned.

The same was true for moms who had used Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), to conceive. The researchers also noted a drop in the number of December conceptions for ART births in both younger and older mothers, suggesting a link with the fertility clinics’ Christmas closures.

Source: University of Exeter


2-Hour Dose of Nature Tied to Better Health & Well-Being

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 7:48am

In a new large-scale study, British researchers report that spending at least two hours a week in nature may be a crucial threshold for promoting health and wellbeing.

Scientists at the University of Exeter found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological well-being than those who don’t visit nature at all during an average week.

However, no such benefits were found for people who visited natural settings such as town parks, woodlands, country parks and beaches for less than 120 minutes a week.

Researchers evaluated data from nearly 20,000 people in England and found that it didn’t matter whether the 120 minutes was achieved in a single visit or over several shorter visits.

Investigators found that the 120-minute threshold applied to many demographic sectors. The link was discovered among both men and women, older and younger adults, across different occupational and ethnic groups, among those living in both rich and poor areas, and even among people with long term illnesses or disabilities.

The full paper appears in Scientific Reports.

Study leader, Dr. Mat White, comments:

“It’s well known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people’s health and well-being but until now we’ve not been able to say how much is enough,” said study leader Dr. Mat White.

“The majority of nature visits in this research took place within just two miles of home so even visiting local urban green spaces seems to be a good thing. Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit.”

Moreover, there is growing evidence that merely living in a greener neighborhood can be good for health, for instance by reducing air pollution.

The data for the current research came from Natural England’s Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey, the world’s largest study collecting data on people’s weekly contact with the natural world.

Co-author Professor Terry Hartig of Uppsala University in Sweden noted, “There are many reasons why spending time in nature may be good for health and wellbeing, including getting perspective on life circumstances, reducing stress, and enjoying quality time with friends and family.

“The current findings offer valuable support to health practitioners in making recommendations about spending time in nature to promote basic health and wellbeing, similar to guidelines for weekly physical.”

Source: University of Exeter/EurekAlert

Too Many Choices Can Paralyze Decision-Making

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 7:30am

People faced with more options than they can consider want to make a good decision, but feel they’re unable, according to the results of a new study.

Despite the apparent opportunities presented by a lot of options, the need to choose creates a “paralyzing paradox,” according to Thomas Saltsman, a graduate student in the University of Buffalo Department of Psychology and co-author of the study with Dr. Mark Seery, an associate professor of psychology at UB.

“You want to make a good choice, but feel like you can’t,” he said. “This combination of perceiving high stakes and low ability may contribute to a deep-seated fear that one will inevitably make the wrong choice, which could stifle the decision-making process.”

The sheer number of choices we are faced with daily is overwhelming. Searching online for a jacket can return thousands of hits. One streaming service claims to offer more than 7,000 titles, while online dating services can enroll millions of subscribers.

According to Seery, all of those choices seems like a great idea — until you’re actually the one having to choose.

“We love having these choices, but when we’re actually faced with having to choose from among those countless options, the whole process goes south,” he said.

“Research shows that, after the fact, people often regret their decision in these cases, but what our research suggests is that this kind of turn — the inherent paradox of liking choices and then being troubled by choices — happens almost immediately.”

“That transition is fascinating,” he said.

To manage the seemingly unmanageable, Saltsman advises to consider the relative importance of the choice at hand.

“Choosing the wrong menu item for dinner or what to binge-watch is not going to define you as a person,” he said. “It may also be helpful to enter high-choice situations with a few clear guidelines of what you want from your desired option. Doing so may not only help scale down the number of possible choices, by eliminating options that do not meet your guidelines, but may also bolster confidence and trust in your ability to find a choice that meets your needs.”

While previous research has clearly shown how choice overload is associated with negative outcomes, this new research looks specifically at two understudied motivational factors of decision-making: How valuable is the decision to someone and to what extent do people view themselves as capable of making a good choice, he explained.

For the research, the researchers recruited nearly 500 participants across three different experiments.

“We had participants reading through what were fictional dating profiles and asked them to consider their ideal partner,” Saltsman said. “Because we used psychophysiological measures, we wanted people faced with a choice that demanded consideration and had them actively engaged.”

Those psychophysiological measures included heart rate and how hard the heart is pumping. When people care more about a decision, their heart rate increases and beats harder, Seery said.

Other measures, like how much blood the heart is pumping and the degree to which blood vessels dilate, indicate levels of confidence, he added.

TThe study was published in the journal Biological Psychology.

Source: University at Buffalo