In The News
Overweight and obese individuals with early stage type II diabetes (T2D) tend to have more severe and progressive abnormalities in brain structure and cognition than do normal-weight people, according to new research published in the journal Diabetologia.
For the study, researchers in Korea and the US examined how being overweight or obese could impact the brain and the cognitive function of people with early stage type II diabetes
It is well-known that when T2D is chronic, patients are more susceptible to a wide range of health problems in multiple organs throughout the body. The disease may also lead to complications in the brain that accelerate cognitive dysfunction or increase the risk of dementia.
Although the exact mechanism underlying how T2D alters the brain is not fully understood, several metabolic side effects including insulin resistance, poor blood sugar control, and inflammation have been suggested as playing a role.
In addition, obesity is associated with a greater risk for T2D and can often precede its onset. Being overweight has also been linked to metabolic dysfunction, which is independently associated with brain alterations. Still, little is known about the impact on the brain of excess weight or obesity in the presence of T2D.
Researchers from the Ewha Brain Institute and the Ewha Womans University in South Korea and the Brain Institute at the University of Utah recruited 150 Koreans aged 30 to 60 to participate in the study. A total of 50 participants were overweight/obese with T2D, 50 were normal-weight with T2D, and 50 non-diabetic, normal-weight individuals acted as a control group.
Those with diabetes had been diagnosed within the previous five years and had not received stable insulin therapy. Individuals with chronic diabetic complications or major medical, neurological, or psychiatric disorders were excluded from the study.
Data about the structure of participants’ brains were acquired using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which allowed the mean thickness of the cerebral cortex to be measured across its entirety. Subjects also completed tests of memory, psychomotor speed, and executive function, as these are known to be affected in people with T2D.
The findings show that grey matter was significantly thinner in clusters in the temporal, prefrontoparietal, motor and occipital cortices of the brains of diabetic study participants when compared to the non-diabetic control group.
The researchers also found more extensive thinning of the temporal and motor cortices in the overweight/obese diabetic group, compared to normal-weight diabetics. There were also region-specific changes, suggesting that the temporal lobe has a particular vulnerability to the combined effects of having T2D and being overweight or obese.
Specifically, people of Asian ethnicity tend to be more vulnerable to slight increases in BMI and are at higher risk of T2D than other ethnicities. This vulnerability may be linked to differences at the cellular level as well as a tendency toward insulin resistance, even in lean individuals. The authors note that the potential for ethnic differences in brain vulnerability to T2D and/or obesity may need to be taken into account when interpreting their results.
“Our findings also highlight the need for early intervention aimed to reduce risk factors for overweight or obesity in type II diabetic individuals to preserve their brain structure and cognitive function,” said the authors. They stress that the importance of managing insulin resistance during early stage T2D may be greater than previously thought.
Reading supportive comments, “likes” and private messages from social media friends before taking a test may help college students who have high levels of test anxiety significantly reduce their nervousness and improve their scores, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Illinois found that college students with high levels of test anxiety who sought social support from their online friends and read the messages before a simulated exam reduced their anxiety levels by 21 percent.
These students were able to perform as well on a set of computer programming exercises as students who had low levels of test anxiety, said lead author Robert Deloatch, a graduate student in computer science.
Up to 41 percent of students are estimated to suffer from test anxiety, which is a combination of physiological and emotional responses that occur while preparing for and taking tests, the researcher explained.
Test anxiety is associated with lower test scores and grade-point averages, as well as poorer performance on memory and problem-solving tasks. Test anxiety can be particularly acute when students face exams involving open-ended problems, such as those commonly used on computer science exams that require students to write and run code, according to the researchers.
When students’ test anxiety is reduced, their test scores, GPAs, and task performance improve accordingly, the study discovered.
Students with high test anxiety strongly fear negative evaluation, have lower self-esteem, and tend to experience increased numbers of distracting and irrelevant thoughts in testing situations, according to the study’s findings.
For the simulated exam, students had to solve two programming problems by writing and running code. Most of the participants were computer science majors or computer engineering students who passed a pretest that ensured they had basic programming knowledge.
The researchers measured the students’ levels of test anxiety using the Cognitive Test Anxiety scale, which assesses the cognitive problems associated with test-taking, such as task-irrelevant thinking and attention lapses.
The students also completed two other questionnaires that measured their levels of state anxiety — or “state-of-the-moment” unease — and their trait anxiety, which is anxiety that is considered to be a longstanding characteristic or personality trait, the researchers noted.
The day before the experiment, students in the social support group posted messages on their personal social media pages requesting encouragement — in the form of likes, comments, or private messages — about an upcoming computer programming challenge they planned to participate in.
For seven minutes immediately prior to taking the simulated test, students in the social support group read the responses associated with their online request.
Another group of students wrote about their thoughts and feelings, while a third group of students — the control group — crammed for the exam by reading information on computer programming data structures and answering questions about the text.
Prior to taking the exam, all the students completed a questionnaire to assess their levels of state anxiety. Students were then given 40 minutes to solve two programming problems that had many viable solutions.
“We found that only the students who received supportive messages from their Facebook network showed a significant decrease in anxiety and an increase in their performance on our simulated exam,” Deloatch said.
While prior researchers have found expressive writing to be helpful to some students with test anxiety, Deloatch said he and his team of researchers were surprised to find that the expressive-writing exercise instead increased the pretest jitters of low test-anxious students by 61 percent.
“We hypothesized that might have occurred because focusing on their anxiety as they wrote caused their apprehensiveness to increase rather than decrease,” Deloatch said.
Using social support to alleviate state-of-the-moment anxiety may have implications beyond education, such as helping job applicants quell their nervousness prior to interviews with potential employers, Deloatch said.
While the students who sought social support online felt that reading the supportive messages was helpful, “all of them were uncomfortable with soliciting support from their online friends, perceiving such posts as ‘attention seeking’ and ‘out of place,'” Deloatch said.
“As the majority of the participants in our study were computer science students, the competitive environment of the curriculum may have led to concerns about how others would perceive them. They may have felt that such statuses could harm their relations in group project settings.”
Source: University of Illinois
Photo: Supportive social media messages from online friends decreased the state anxiety of students with high test anxiety by 21 percent, University of Illinois computer science graduate student Robert Deloatch found in a new study. The paper, which is being published in the proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, was co-written by computer science professors Brian P. Bailey, Alex Kirlik and Craig Zilles. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer.
A clinical trial involving nearly 1,400 suicidal patients in the emergency departments of eight hospitals found that a multifaceted intervention lowered the risk of new suicide attempts by 20 percent.
In a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, emergency department (ED) patients who received the intervention, which was composed of specialized screening, safety planning guidance, and periodic follow-up phone check-ins, made 30 percent fewer total suicide attempts compared to people who received standard ED care.
“We were happy that we were able to find these results,” said Brown University and Butler Hospital psychologist Dr. Ivan Miller, the study’s lead and corresponding author. “We would like to have had an even stronger effect, but the fact that we were able to impact attempts with this population and with a relatively limited intervention is encouraging.”
While suicide prevention efforts such as hotlines are well-known, published controlled trials of specific interventions have been much rarer, according to Miller.
The new report is one of several from the Emergency Department Safety Assessment and Follow-up Evaluation (ED-SAFE) study led by Miller and Drs. Edwin Boudreaux of the University of Massachusetts, and Carlos Camargo of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University.
According to Miller, the study focused on an especially high-risk group: patients who said they had engaged in suicidal ideation or had made an attempt within a week before their ED visit.
The trial took place in three phases to create three comparison groups.
In the first phase, August 2010 to December 2011, 497 patients received each ED’s usual treatment as a control group.
In the second phase, September 2011 to December 2012, 377 patients received additional suicide screening.
In the third phase, from July 2012 to November 2013, 502 patients received the experimental intervention. Those patients received additional suicide screening from ED physicians, suicide prevention information from nurses, and a personal safety plan that they could opt to fill out to be better prepared for times when they might begin to harbor suicidal thoughts again.
Over the next year they also received brief, periodic phone calls from trained providers at Butler Hospital who would discuss suicide risk factors, personal values and goals, safety and future planning, treatment engagement, and problem solving.
The intervention was designed to directly involve a designated loved one whenever feasible, as well, according to the researcher.
In all three phases, patients were briefly screened for suicidality at the ED and were also followed for a year with periodic assessment phone calls. Regardless of phase, patients who demonstrated a specific suicide risk during assessments were connected with the Boys Town suicide prevention hotline.
The number of suicide attempts and the proportion of people attempting suicide declined significantly in the intervention group compared to treatment as usual, according to the study’s findings. The middle group, which received only additional screening, did not show a significant drop compared to the treatment as usual group.
Suicide attempts were not the only measure the researchers employed to understand the potential impact of the intervention.
Fortunately, there were so few deaths by suicide among patients — only five total — that there could be no statistically valid conclusions drawn from that data point.
But the researchers also created a broader suicide composite score that included not only attempts and deaths, but also interrupted or aborted attempts, and acts to prepare an attempt.
Across the three groups, 46.3 percent of the patients reported one or more of these behaviors, but the relative risk declined significantly among people in the intervention compared to the usual care group (by 15 percent), but not among people who received screening alone.
While other interventions have also been found to reduce suicide risk, some of the most effective ones have involved providing patients with many hours of psychotherapy.
“This intervention was significantly less costly than most other interventions,” Miller said.
He added that the intervention was associated with significant declines in suicide attempts, even though not every patient engaged in the full intervention (e.g. only 37.4 percent reported receiving a safety plan and nearly 40 percent did not complete a follow-up phone call).
The intervention’s apparent efficacy also persisted despite the study’s ethical design, in which even people in the control phases received suicide prevention counseling that could have prevented an attempt if they presented an urgent need.
In further studies, the ED-SAFE team is looking at whether more intensive safety planning while patients are in the ED could help further. Miller and his colleagues are also conducting further tests of the phone follow-ups with patients from Butler Hospital and the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Source: Brown University
A new meta-analysis confirms that depression affects twice as many females as males, and this gap appears as early as age 12. The results, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, are based on existing studies involving more than 3.5 million people in more than 90 countries.
“We found that twice as many women as men were affected,” said co-author Dr. Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology and gender and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison.
“Although this has been known for a couple of decades, it was based on evidence far less compelling than what we used in this meta-analysis. We want to stress that although twice as many women are affected, we don’t want to stereotype this as a women’s disorder. One-third of those affected are men.”
The gender gap was evident in the earliest data studied by co-authors Hyde; Rachel Salk, now a postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Dr. Lyn Abramson, a professor of psychology at UW-Madison.
“The gap was already present at age 12, which is earlier than previous studies have found,” Hyde said. “We used to think that the gender difference emerged at 13 to 15 years but the better data we examined has pushed that down to age 12.”
The gender difference tapers off somewhat after adolescence, “which has never been identified, but the depression rate is still close to twice as high for women,” she said.
For the meta-analysis, the researchers looked at both diagnoses of major depression and at symptoms of depression. “Symptoms are based on self-reported measures — for example, ‘I feel blue most of the time’ — that do not necessarily meet the standard for a diagnosis of major depression. To meet the criteria for major depression, the condition must be evaluated much more rigorously.”
The researchers also investigated the link between depression and gender equity in income. Surprisingly, nations with greater gender equity had larger gender differences — meaning women were disproportionately diagnosed with major depression.
“This was something of the opposite of what was expected,” said Hyde. “It may occur because, in more gender-equitable nations, women have more contact with men, and therefore compare themselves to men, who don’t express feelings of depression because it doesn’t fit with the masculine role.”
Puberty, which occurs around age 12 in girls, could explain the early onset.
“Hormonal changes may have something to do with it, but it’s also true that the social environment changes for girls at that age. As they develop in puberty, they face more sexual harassment, but we can’t tell which of these might be responsible,” said Hyde.
Although the data did not cover people younger than 12, “there are processes going on at 11 or 12 that are worth thinking about, and that matters in terms of intervening,” she said.
“We need to start before age 12 if we want to prevent girls from sliding into depression. Depression is often quite treatable. People don’t have to suffer and face increased risk for the many related health problems.”
While the findings covered averages across the world, similar results emerged from the studies focusing on the United States alone. Curiously, no relationship in either direction appeared for depression symptoms.
Despite the prevalence of and growing concern about depression, “this was the first meta-analysis on gender differences in depression,” Hyde said. “For a long while, I wondered why nobody had done this, but once I got into it, I realized it’s because there is too much data, and nobody had the courage to plow through it all. We did, and it took two years.”
Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Children in low-income families have a greater chance of thriving when they have high-levels of parental involvement and supervision, according to new research from the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
For the study, NCCP researchers used data from more than 2,200 low-income families who were participating in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. They found that school-age children who reported high levels of parental involvement and supervision were more likely to report behaviors associated with positive emotional development and social growth.
Research has shown that living in poverty can produce environmental stressors that lead to negative behaviors in children, such as inattention, impulsivity, aggression, withdrawal, depression, anxiety, or fearfulness. In addition, children living in poverty are far more likely to have trouble developing social-emotional competence — the ability to manage emotions, express needs and feelings, deal with conflict, and get along with others.
“Too often, when poor families are discussed, the focus is on deficits,” said Renée Wilson-Simmons, Dr.PH., NCCP. director and a co-author of the report. “And chief among those deficits is what’s seen as parents’ inability to successfully parent their children.”
Wilson-Simmons challenged the deficits focus, adding that despite the multitude of obstacles low-income parents face, many of them succeed in helping their children flourish.
“They raise children who possess the social-emotional competence needed to develop and keep friendships; establish good relationships with parents, teachers, and other adults; and experience a range of achievements that contribute to their self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. These families have something to teach us all about thriving amidst adversity.”
Protective factors range from exhibiting a positive outlook, establishing family routines, and spending sufficient family time together to having good financial management skills, an adequate support network, and the willingness to seek help.
The researchers found that low-income parents who provide their children with warmth and nurturance as well as rules and consequences are helping them develop both socially and emotionally in ways that will serve them well as they develop into adults.
Some findings from the study include the following:
- low-income parents (or primary caregivers) who know their children’s friends are twice as likely to have children who do not to engage in problem behaviors compared to parents rated as low in parental supervision;
- parents who attend events important to their children are twice as likely to have children who do not engage in negative behaviors compared to those who rarely attend important events;
- parents who treat their children fairly were twice as likely to have children who did not engage in negative behaviors as those whose children felt that they are treated unfairly “often” or “always.”
Overall, most of the nine-year-olds surveyed rated their caregiver high on all of the factors NCCP researchers used to measure resiliency in low-income families:
- 68 percent reported that their primary caregiver (most often their mother) had knowledge of what they did during their free time and the friends with whom they spent time
- 74 percent said their mother “always” or “often” spent enough time with them, and 76 percent said they talked about things that matter “extremely well” or “quite well”
- 92 percent rated their relationship with their mother as “extremely close” or “quite close”
“The good news is that parents who struggle financially are still finding ways to have the kinds of interactions with their children that help them to develop socially and emotionally, despite the many external stressors competing for their attention,” said co-author Yang Jiang, Ph.D., who led data analysis.
“Since we know that children do better when their families do better, it’s important that advocates and policymakers bolster families’ efforts by supporting policies and programs that help parents develop strong connections with their children.”
A new study suggests a psychological cost to the pursuit of more money.
Although the pursuit of money is not in and of itself bad, when people tie their self-worth to the pursuit of financial success, they are more vulnerable to negative psychological consequences, according to Dr. Lora Park, an associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo and the study’s lead author.
According to the study’s findings, basing self-esteem on financial success led to making more financially-based social comparisons with others, feeling less autonomy and control over one’s life, and experiencing more financial hassles, stress and anxiety. These findings were evident even after accounting for other variables, such as financial status, materialistic values, and importance of financial goals, according to researchers.
“People don’t often think of the possible downsides of wrapping their identity and self-worth around financial pursuits, because our society values wealth as a model of how one should be in the world,” said Park. “It’s important to realize these costs because people are gravitating toward this domain as a source of self-esteem without realizing that it has these unintended consequences.”
For the study, researchers recruited 349 college students and a nationally representative group of 389 participants after developing a scale to measure Financial Contingency of Self-Worth (CSW), or the degree to which people base their self-esteem on financial success.
They then conducted a series of experiments to examine the effects of threatening people’s sense of financial security.
“When we asked people to write about a financial stressor, they experienced a drop in their feelings of autonomy,” Park said. “They also showed more disengagement from their financial problems — they gave up searching for solutions. We didn’t find this in people who didn’t tie their self-esteem to financial success or among those who were asked to write about an academic stressor.”
In the essays, researchers also coded the type of language participants used to describe their financial problems.
“We found that people who highly based their self-worth on financial success used more negative emotion-related words, like sadness and anger,” Park said. “This demonstrates that just thinking about a financial problem generates a lot of stress and negative emotions for these individuals.”
But this effect is eliminated if you get people to self-affirm by giving them an opportunity to think about their personal strengths, according to Park.
“This suggests that self-esteem concerns emerge when people are thinking about financial problems, but if you can repair their self-esteem by having them think about their strengths, then there is no reduction in feelings of autonomy,” she said.
A final study found that people who based their self-esteem on financial success — and were led to believe that they would experience financial instability in their future — became more cautious when it came to extravagant spending decisions. This could be interpreted as a desire to protect their self-esteem following this financial threat, Park suggested.
The study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Source: University at Buffalo
Photo: Credit: University at Buffalo.
A new study has found that food insecurity is linked to poorer mental health and specific psychosocial stressors.
The new study finds that food insecurity (FI) — which affects nearly 795 million people worldwide — may be a key contributor to common mental disorders through several different mechanisms.
First, by generating uncertainty over the ability to maintain food supplies or to acquire sufficient food in the future, FI can provoke a stress response that may contribute to anxiety and depression. And getting food in socially unacceptable ways can induce feelings of alienation, powerlessness, shame, and guilt that are associated with depression.
FI may also magnify socioeconomic disparities within households and communities that could increase cultural sensitivities and influence overall mental well-being.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity means that a household’s economic and social conditions make access to adequate food limited or uncertain — and can lead to hunger.
The study was conducted by Andrew D. Jones, Ph.D., of the Department of Nutritional Sciences in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. He used data from the 2014 Gallup World Poll (GWP). FI data were available for 147,826 individuals across 11 world regions encompassing 149 countries. The extent of FI ranged from 18.3 percent in East Asia to 76.1 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the data.
Mental health status was determined using the Negative Experience Index (NEI) and the Positive Experience Index (PEI), two five-question surveys that examine topics such as pain, sadness, enjoyment, feelings of respect, and other factors. Data for the mental health indices were available for 152,696 individuals, Jones noted.
The PEI was highest in Latin America and the Caribbean region (79.4) and lowest in Russia and the Caucasus (59.2), while the NEI was lowest in Central Asia (17.4) and highest in the Middle East and North Africa region (34.9).
Jones found that FI was associated with poorer mental health status in a dose-response fashion, comparing NEI vs. FI for multiple age ranges. An inverse effect was found for PEI vs. FI data.
The consistent dose-response trend suggests a causal association between FI and mental health status, according to Jones.
“This trend suggests that the psychosocial stressors that underlie the mental health indices examined may be amplified with increasing FI,” he said. “For example, anxiety related to one’s ability to acquire sufficient food in the future may be provoked even under conditions of mild FI, and is likely to increase with moderate and severe FI. Alternatively, multiple pathways from FI to poorer mental health may be invoked with increasing severity of FI.
“Under conditions of more severe FI, for example, individuals may resort to acquiring food in socially unacceptable ways as a coping strategy. The feelings of shame and guilt associated with this behavior could compound pre-existing anxiety precipitated by mild FI to yield even poorer mental health conditions.”
Jones acknowledges the possibility that the direction of the association between FI and mental health status could be the reverse — that poor mental health could drive FI.
He notes, however, that this is the first study to carry out a global analysis of this association and so further research is needed.
“Developing robust monitoring systems and strengthening the measurement of both FI and mental health to more comprehensively understand their relation across contexts may help to inform interventions that can effectively address the mental health consequences of FI,” he concluded.
The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
A new study found that men given doses of testosterone were more likely to rely on snap judgments during a brain-teaser test rather than rely on cognitive reflection; that is, stopping to consider whether their gut reaction to something is correct.
“What we found was the testosterone group was quicker to make snap judgments on brain teasers where your initial guess is usually wrong,” said Dr. Colin Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
“The testosterone is either inhibiting the process of mentally checking your work or increasing the intuitive feeling that ‘I’m definitely right.'”
The study involved 243 males who were randomly selected to receive a dose of testosterone gel or placebo gel before taking a cognitive reflection test. A math task was also given to control for participant engagement, motivation level, and basic math skills.
The questions included on the cognitive reflection test were similar to the following: A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
For many people, the first answer that comes to mind is that the ball costs 10 cents, but that answer is incorrect because then the bat would cost only 90 cents more than the ball. The correct answer is that the ball costs five cents and the bat costs $1.05.
A person prone to relying on their gut instincts would be more likely to accept their first answer of 10 cents. However, another person might realize their initial mistake through cognitive reflection and come up with the correct answer.
Participants were given as much time as they needed to complete the questions and were offered one dollar for each correct answer and an additional tow dollars if they answered all the questions correctly.
The results show that the group that received testosterone scored significantly lower than the group that received the placebo, on average answering 20 percent fewer questions correctly.
The men given testosterone also “gave incorrect answers more quickly, and correct answers more slowly than the placebo group,” the authors write. The same effect was not seen in the results of the basic math tests administered to both groups.
The researchers believe that this phenomenon can be linked to testosterone’s effect of increasing confidence in humans. Testosterone is thought to generally enhance the male drive for social status, and recent studies have shown that confidence enhances status.
“We think it works through confidence enhancement. If you’re more confident, you’ll feel like you’re right and will not have enough self-doubt to correct mistakes,” Camerer says.
Camerer says the new findings raise questions about the potential pitfalls of the growing testosterone-replacement therapy industry, which mainly targets the declining sex drive experienced by many middle-aged men.
“If men want more testosterone to increase sex drive, are there other effects? Do these men become too mentally bold and thinking they know things they don’t?”
The study was conducted by researchers from Caltech, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Western University of Health Sciences and ZRT Laboratory in Oregon, and is published in the journal Psychological Science.
A new national survey finds that less than half of Americans can recognize anxiety. Moreover, most people don’t know what to do about depression even when they spot it.
And remarkably, nearly eight in 10 don’t recognize prescription drug abuse as a treatable problem.
Michigan State University scholars explain that these are just some of the findings of the survey on issues surrounding mental-health literacy.
“Our work is designed to help communities think about how to address behavioral health challenges as they emerge, whether that’s drug abuse, anxiety, or other issues, and the challenges such as suicide that can accompany them,” said Mark Skidmore, a Michigan State University professor and co-investigator on the project.
The national survey examines mental health literacy on four major issues: anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse, and prescription drug abuse.
Skidmore said the web-based survey — which involved nearly 4,600 total participants — aims to give health officials and policymakers a better understanding of where to target education and prevention efforts for major societal issues such as prescription drug abuse.
Public health officials are calling the opioid epidemic — which killed more than 33,000 people in 2015 — the worst drug crisis in American history.
According to the survey, 32 percent of all respondents were unable to identify the signs of prescription drug abuse (taking higher doses than prescribed, excessive mood swings, changes in sleeping patterns, poor decision-making, and seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor).
Those percentages were even more concerning for people aged 18-34 (47 percent) and among all men (44 percent).
“Although great strides have been made in the area of mental health literacy in recent decades,” the authors write, “the discrepancies in mental health knowledge, helping behaviors and stigma show the importance of continuing to educate the public about mental health issues.”
Source: Michigan State University
Teenagers who are affected by bullying in any way — whether by being bullied or by being the bully — have a greater desire to have plastic surgery, according to a new study at the University of Warwick in England.
The findings show that bullies want to have plastic surgery to improve their appearance and increase their social status, while victims of bullying want to go under the knife because their mental health is affected by being picked on giving them lower self-esteem, more emotional problems, and a desire to change their appearance.
Researchers from the Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School screened nearly 2,800 adolescents aged 11 to 16 in UK secondary schools for their involvement in bullying, both through self and peer assessment.
A sample group of around 800 students — including bullies, victims, those who both bully and are bullied, and those who are unaffected by bullying — was analyzed for emotional problems, levels of self-esteem and body-esteem, and how much they desired to have plastic surgery.
The findings revealed that the teens involved in bullying in any role were more interested in cosmetic surgery, compared to those not involved in bullying. Desire for cosmetic surgery was highest among victims of bullying, but was also increased in bullying perpetrators.
The study showed that 11.5 percent of bullying victims have an extreme desire to have cosmetic surgery, as well as 3.4 percent of bullies, and 8.8 percent of teenagers who both bully and are bullied — this is compared with less than one percent of those who are unaffected by bullying.
Girls have more desire for plastic surgery than boys. Of the sample group, 7.3 percent of the girls had an extreme wish to have plastic surgery, compared with two percent of boys.
The authors say that young people might have less of a desire for plastic surgery if their mental health issues due to bullying are addressed. They suggest that cosmetic surgeons screen potential patients for a history of bullying, and any related mental health issues.
“Being victimized by peers resulted in poor psychological functioning, which increased desire for cosmetic surgery. For bullies, cosmetic surgery may simply be another tactic to increase social status […] to look good and achieve dominance,” said Professor Dieter Wolke and co-authors.
“The desire for cosmetic surgery in bullied adolescents is immediate and long-lasting. Our results suggest that cosmetic surgeons should screen candidates for psychological vulnerability and history of bullying.”
The study, titled “Adolescent Desire for Cosmetic Surgery: Associations with Bullying and Psychological Functioning,” is published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
Source: University of Warwick
Intriguing new research suggests worrying can be good for your body and mind.
Kate Sweeny, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, believes there are often benefits to worrying.
“Despite its negative reputation, not all worry is destructive or even futile,” Sweeny said. “It has motivational benefits, and it acts as an emotional buffer.”
In the article, “The Surprising Upsides of Worry,” published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass, Sweeny explains the role of worry in motivating preventive and protective behavior.
In fact, she believes worrying leads people to avoid unpleasant events.
For example, Sweeny finds worry is associated with recovery from traumatic events, adaptive preparation and planning, recovery from depression, and partaking in activities that promote health, and prevent illness.
Furthermore, people who report greater worry may perform better — in school or at the workplace — seek more information in response to stressful events, and engage in more successful problem solving.
The motivational power of worry has been studied and linked to preventive health behavior, like seatbelt use.
In a nationally representative sample of Americans, feelings of worry about skin cancer predicted sunscreen use. And participants who reported higher levels of cancer-related worries also conducted breast self-examinations, underwent regular mammograms, and sought clinical breast examinations.
“Interestingly enough, there are examples of a more nuanced relationship between worry and preventive behavior as well,” Sweeny said.
“Women who reported moderate amounts of worry, compared to women reporting relatively low or high levels of worry, are more likely to get screened for cancer. It seems that both too much and too little worry can interfere with motivation, but the right amount of worry can motivate without paralyzing.”
In the paper, Sweeny noted three explanations for worry’s motivating effects.
- Worry serves as a cue that the situation is serious and requires action. People use their emotions as a source of information when making judgements and decisions.
- Worrying about a stressor keeps the stressor at the front of one’s mind and prompts people toward action.
- The unpleasant feeling of worry motivates people to find ways to reduce their worry.
“Even in circumstances when efforts to prevent undesirable outcomes are futile, worry can motivate proactive efforts to assemble a ready-made set of responses in the case of bad news,” Sweeny said.
“In this instance, worrying pays off because one is actively thinking of a ‘plan B.'”
Another often unrecognized benefit of worry is its ability to improve a person’s emotional state by serving as an emotional bench-mark.
That is, compared to the state of worry, any other feeling is pleasurable by contrast. Thus, the pleasure that comes from a good experience is heightened if preceded by a bad experience.
“If people’s feelings of worry over a future outcome are sufficiently intense and unpleasant, their emotional response to the outcome they ultimately experience will seem more pleasurable in comparison to their previous, worried state,” Sweeny said.
Research on bracing for the worst provides indirect evidence for the role of worry as an emotional buffer, according to Sweeny.
As people brace for the worst, they embrace a pessimistic outlook to mitigate potential disappointment, boosting excitement if the news is good. Therefore, both bracing and worrying have an emotional payoff following the moment of truth.
“Extreme levels of worry are harmful to one’s health. I do not intend to advocate for excessive worrying. Instead, I hope to provide reassurance to the helpless worrier — planning and preventive action is not a bad thing,” Sweeny said.
“Worrying the right amount is far better than not worrying at all.”
The ability to improve willpower is a common lament. For many, turning down that delicious piece of chocolate cake or resisting the temptation to buy clothes that we don’t need is much easier said than done.
Over the years, research has shown that self-control is a valuable attribute that allows us to achieve our goals in life. Accordingly, many intervention programs have been designed to improve our lives by helping us develop more self-discipline.
More broadly, parents, educating, governing, and religious institutions — and even the popular media — explicitly push both children and adults to desire and develop more self-control.
But how does wanting self-control impact on our ability to achieve it?
A new Bar-Ilan University study, in cooperation with Florida State University and University of Queensland, Australia, has shown that, ironically, wanting to have more self-control could actually be an obstacle to achieving it (regardless of one’s actual level of self-control).
The study, entitled “The Self-Control Irony: Desire for Self-Control Limits Exertion of Self-Control in Demanding Settings” appears in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
To determine the effect of wanting self-control on self-control-related behavior, the researchers conducted a series of four experiments which tested the impact of wanting self-control on performance.
Across the four experiments, over six hundred participants were asked to perform tasks that required either much or little self-control.
Their desire to have more self-control was either measured (using a new “desire for self-control” scale developed by the researchers) or manipulated (by making people evaluate the benefits of having more self-control. The manipulation served to establish the causal effect of the desire).
The researchers discovered that no matter whether desire is measured or manipulated, those people with a stronger desire for self-control found it more difficult to exert self-control when the task was difficult (that is, it demanded much self-control).
Researchers believe the reason for this is that when faced with a difficult task, the desire translates into a sense that one doesn’t have enough self-control, which causes low self-efficacy (that is, reduced belief in one’s abilities) and, subsequently, disengagement from the task at hand.
Of importance, participants’ level of trait self-control (their basic predisposition to show self-control) did not affect the findings. That is, a strong desire for self-control had a negative impact on individuals high and low in trait self-control.
“One of the main messages of this paper is that although it’s good for society that both children and adults have a high level of self-control, the mere desire for self-control could be an obstacle to achieving it.
Thus, while intended to help people gain more self-control, the common practice of driving people to desire more self-control runs the risk of actually undermining their confidence and increasing their doubts that they have the resources to exhibit self-control,” says Dr. Liad Uziel, of the Department of Psychology at Bar-Ilan University.
Source: Bar-Ilan University
A large new study finds evidence that heredity plays a role in the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after trauma.
Researchers from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium believe their discovery of molecular evidence for a higher risk profile extends previous findings that showed shared genetic overlap between PTSD and other mental disorders such as schizophrenia.
The new study also finds that genetic risk for PTSD is strongest among women.
“We know from lots of data — from prisoners of war, people who have been in combat, and from rape victims — that many people exposed to even extreme traumatic events do not develop PTSD. Why is that? We believe that genetic variation is an important factor contributing to this risk or resilience,” said senior author Dr. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Koenen leads the Global Neuropsychiatric Genomics Initiative of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at Broad Institute.
PTSD is a common and debilitating mental disorder that occurs after a traumatic event. Symptoms include re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoiding event-related stimuli, and chronic hyperarousal.
In the U.S., one in nine women and one in 29 men will meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis at some point in their lives. The societal impact is large, including increased rates of suicide, hospitalization, and substance use.
The new study — by bringing together data from more than 20,000 people participating in 11 multi-ethnic studies around the world — builds a strong case for the role of genetics in PTSD, which had been previously documented on a smaller scale in studies of twins.
Using genome-wide genomic data, the researchers found that, among European-American females, 29 percent of the risk for developing PTSD is influenced by genetic factors, which is comparable to that of other psychiatric disorders. In contrast, men’s genetic risk for PTSD was substantially lower.
The researchers found strong evidence that people with higher genetic risk for several mental disorders — including schizophrenia, and to a lesser extent bipolar and major depressive disorder — are also at higher genetic risk for developing PTSD after a traumatic event.
“PTSD may be one of the most preventable of psychiatric disorders,” said first author Dr. Laramie Duncan, who did part of the research while at the Broad Institute and is now at Stanford University.
“There are interventions effective in preventing PTSD shortly after a person experiences a traumatic event. But they are too resource-intensive to give to everyone.
“Knowing more about people’s genetic risk for PTSD may help clinicians target interventions more effectively and it helps us understand the underlying biological mechanisms.”
The study appears in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
A new study may help teachers identify why some teens withdraw in the classroom.
Researchers at the University of Kent in the U.K. discovered that psychological pressure from teachers can contribute to disengagement among teenage students under the age 14.
Dr. Stephen Earl from the University’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences said the behavior may be both active and passive.
Active disengagement behaviors include talking and making noise, with daydreaming in class among the more passive disengagement behaviors.
Researchers also discovered that although most teachers may pressure pupils with the well-meaning intention of engaging them, it may have the opposite effect and actually promote disengagement.
Common teaching strategies such as using threats of punishment or controlling language — for example, do this because I say so — without providing any explanation, may be counterproductive.
Other findings from the study, which was conducted across three secondary schools in Kent, include:
- pupils who were made to feel incapable of being successful reported less energy in class and were rated as passively disengaged by teacher;
- pupils who felt forced to do activities in class were reported to disengage either actively or passively.
The study appears in the journal Learning and Instruction.
Source: University of Kent
Despite special education, many children with reading and spelling difficulties (RSD) still lag far behind their same-age peers during the first two years of school, according to a new Finnish study published in the European Journal of Special Needs Education.
In addition, the spelling skills of RSD children who struggled with other types of learning difficulties remained far behind their peers and this gap continued to grow.
“This warrants the question of whether the contents and teaching methods used in special education meet the needs of children. Do we have enough skilled special education teachers capable of helping children with reading and spelling difficulties?” said Professor of Special Education Leena Holopainen from the University of Eastern Finland.
The researchers said about 10 to 15 percent of elementary students have developmental reading and spelling difficulties. They stress that identifying these children as soon as possible and making special education available to them is paramount in moving beyond RSD and preventing other secondary difficulties in learning and studying.
In the Finnish education system, children can receive special education services without a formal diagnosis. Instead, the parents, student, and teacher make the decision together.
According to the researchers, two-thirds of children with RSD who lagged behind the age level received part-time special education approximately once a week during their first and second school years.
“However, one third of children received part-time special education only either in their first or in their second year of school, and the average amount was less than 30 hours per year,” said Holopainen.
The findings also show that when children with RSD had other learning difficulties, their skills lagged far behind their age level, and the gap continued to grow during the first two school years.
“Our findings are relevant both in terms of teacher education and in terms of special education resources schools allocate to reading and spelling skills,” said Holopainen.
Holopainen added that schools should look for ways to organize their special education in reading and spelling in a way that provides sufficient support to all children who need it also after the first school year.
Source: University of Eastern Finland
New research contradicts the popular wisdom, finding that youth violence has sharply declined over the last decade.
Boston University professor Dr. Christopher Salas-Wright and his colleagues found a 29 percent decrease in the relative proportion of young people involved in violence in the United States from 2002-20014.
The study appears in the American Journal of Public Health.
Investigators note, nevertheless, that although youth violence is trending downward, a persistent pattern of racial and ethnic disparities is associated with youth violence.
“There is often the sense that teenagers are out of control and that things are always getting worse,” Salas-Wright said.
“However, our study makes clear that, over the last 10 to 15 years, we have seen a meaningful decrease in the number of adolescents involved in fighting and violence.”
Drawing from nationally representative data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the study examines trends in violence (including fighting, group fighting, and attacks with intent to harm) among youth ages 12-17.
Study findings indicate that among youth in general, violence is meaningfully down. Indeed, Salas-Wright and colleagues found that the prevalence of youth violence steadily dropped from a pinnacle of 33.6 percent in 2003 to a low of 23.7 percent in 2014.
Despite these encouraging findings, Salas-Wright is careful to note that disparities exist. Over the course of the study, African-American youth were consistently found to be most impacted by violent behavior followed by Hispanic and non-Hispanic white youth.
“Overall, these findings represent good news,” Salas-Wright noted. “However, while violence decreased among youth from all racial and ethnic groups, we see clear evidence of that African- American and Hispanic youth continue to be disproportionately impacted by violence.”
The study was co-authored by Drs. Erik Nelson of Indiana University, Michael Vaughn of Saint Louis University, Jennifer Reingle Gonzalez of University of Texas, and David Cordova of the University of Michigan.
The authors argue that, despite the standard assumptions about young people, findings from the present study are consistent with recent research on risk behavior among American youth.
“While we are seeing noteworthy decreases in violence and other risky behaviors among youth, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that these problems persist,” Vaughn said. “There is still much work to be done.”
Based on these findings, Salas-Wright and colleagues emphasize the importance of the continued development and dissemination of evidence-based programs and interventions designed to prevent not only violence but other problem behaviors among youth.
Source: Boston University/EurekAlert
A new study by Canadian researchers suggests the emotional upheaval that accompanies a cancer diagnosis may actually be good for patients.
Anxiety, guilt, and distress often come hand-in-hand with a diagnosis and treatment for cancer, said investigators from Concordia University and the University of Toronto.
Although it is normal to feel down after the diagnosis, feelings of anger or guilt can inspire people to set new goals and engage in more moderate-to-vigorous exercise.
Dr. Andrée Castonguay, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral researcher in Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science, explains that the new motivation serves as a method to counteract the boost in the stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is created in response to emotions and can negatively disrupt the way the body functions.
The research looked at recently diagnosed and treated breast cancer patients. Findings are published in the journal Health Psychology.
For the study, Castonguay and co-authors, Concordia psychology professor Dr. Carsten Wrosch and University of Toronto kinesiology professor Dr. Catherine Sabiston, had 145 breast cancer survivors fill out a questionnaire to assess their emotions, capacity to engage in new goals, and level of physical activity.
The researchers also analyzed cortisol levels using saliva samples provided five times over the course of a year by the participants.
The team then conducted detailed analyses using a statistical technique that helped them predict the relationship between the women’s negative feelings, commitment to new goals, physical activity, and cortisol levels over time.
They found that participants’ capacity for setting new goals, like starting to go for brisk walks, facilitated the beneficial effect of negative emotions on physical activity and prevented the adverse effects of increased cortisol, which can result in a host of health problems, including a weakened immune system.
“Our results underscore the complexity of the link between emotions and health,” said Wrosch, who is also a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development.
“Although negative emotions have a bad reputation and have been linked to disease, they are also ‘designed’ to produce adaptive behaviors.”
In particular, he adds, emotions like guilt or anxiety may motivate people to change their health-compromising behaviors and engage in more exercise. “This may be particularly important among certain cancer survivors, since inactivity, weight problems, or obesity can be common risk factors.”
Castonguay said that although recent guidelines encourage breast cancer survivors to engage in healthy lifestyle behaviors, few survivors actually engage in the recommended levels.
“This includes 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week to reduce the risk of developing further health problems related to immune function, weight management, and quality of life.”
Based on their findings, the researchers conclude that certain negative emotions can play an important role in directing adaptive health behaviors among some cancer survivors and can contribute to long-term benefits on their physical health.
“The capacity to commit to and engage in new goals is an important resource for helping survivors meet activity recommendations and minimize the negative impact of bad moods on their biological functioning,” Castonguay said.
She hopes that the study will encourage clinicians to identify cancer survivors who have difficulty selecting and committing to new goals, and to work with them to help them follow through.
Source: Concordia University
A new Norwegian study found that when parents soothed their four and six year-olds with food, those children were more likely to engage in emotional eating at ages eight and 10. In addition, when children readily and easily accepted food as a source of comfort, their parents were more likely to continue the emotional feeding, thus continuing the cycle.
The study, published in the journal Child Development, sought to determine why children eat emotionally and is the first to consider the issue in school-age children.
One problem with emotional eating is that when children eat to soothe their negative feelings, they tend to reach for sweets, and if they engage in emotional eating often, they are more likely to be overweight. Emotional eating is also tied to the development of later eating disorders, such as bulimia and binge eating.
“Food may work to calm a child, but the downside is teaching children to rely on food to deal with negative emotions, which can have negative consequences in the long run,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Silje Steinsbekk, associate professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
“Understanding where emotional eating comes from is important because such behavior can increase the risk for being overweight and developing eating disorders.”
For the study, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, King’s College London, University College London, and the University of Leeds examined emotional feeding and eating in a sample group of 801 Norwegian four year-olds, looking at these issues again at ages six, eight, and 10.
They wanted to find out whether parents involved in the study (mostly mothers) shaped their children’s later behavior by offering food to make them feel better when they were upset, and whether parents whose children were easily soothed by food (those who calmed when given food) were more likely to offer them more food for comfort at a subsequent time.
Parents completed questionnaires describing their children’s emotional eating and temperament (how easily they became upset and how well they could control their emotions), as well as their own emotional feeding. Approximately 65 percent of the children displayed some emotional eating.
The researchers found that young children whose parents soothed their emotions with food at ages four and six had more emotional eating at ages eight and 10. In addition, parents whose children were more easily comforted with food were more likely to offer them food to soothe them. Therefore, emotional feeding increased emotional eating, and emotional eating increased emotional feeding.
In addition, higher levels of negative affectivity (becoming angry or upset more easily) at age four increased children’s risk for emotional eating and feeding at age six. And this contributed to the bidirectional relation between emotional feeding and emotional eating.
“We know that children who are more easily upset and have more difficulty controlling their emotions are more likely to eat emotionally than calmer children, perhaps because they experience more negative emotions and eating helps them calm down,” said Dr. Lars Wichstrøm, professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who co-authored the study.
“Our research adds to this knowledge by showing that children who are more easily upset are at highest risk for becoming emotional eaters.”
The researchers suggest that instead of offering children food to soothe them when they are emotionally distraught, parents and other caregivers should try to calm them by talking, offering a hug, or soothing in ways that don’t involve food.
The authors warn that since the research was conducted in Norway, which has a relatively homogenous and well-educated population, the findings should not be generalized without further study to more diverse populations or to cultures with other feeding and eating practices.
New research suggest social media can help connect the bereaved to close friends — and that this development and use of social networks mimics biological systems.
As an example, neuroscientists believe the capacity to foster new social networks is similar to the way in which our body repairs itself after injury. That is, scientists have known that if certain brain cells are destroyed by a stroke, new circuits may be laid in another location to compensate, essentially rewiring the brain.
Northeastern University’s Dr. William R. Hobbs, an expert in computational social science, wanted to know how and if social networks responded similarly after the death of a close mutual friend.
As published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, Hobbs found that they did, thereby representing a paradigm of social network resilience.
Hobbs, who led the study, collaborated with Facebook data scientist Moira Burke. The researchers found that close friends of the deceased immediately increased their interactions with one another by 30 percent, peaking in volume.
The interactions faded a bit in the following months and ultimately stabilized at the same volume of interaction as before the death, even two years after the loss.
This insight into how social networks adapt to significant losses could lead to new ways to help people with the grieving process, ensuring that their networks are able to recover rather than collapse during these difficult times.
“Most people don’t have very many friends, so when we lose one, that leaves a hole in our networks as well as in our lives,” said Hobbs, a postdoctoral research fellow in the lab of Dr. David Lazer, distinguished professor of political science and computer and information science.
He wondered: Would a social network unravel with a central member gone? If it recovered, how might it heal?
“We expected to see a spike in interactions among close friends immediately after the loss, corresponding with the acute grieving period,” said Hobbs.
“What surprised us was that the stronger ties continued for years. People made up for the loss of interacting with the friend who had died by increasing interactions with one another.”
Hobbs came to the study from a crisis of his own. After college, he lived and worked in China studying local governments. But when he entered graduate school at the University of California, San Diego, his father was dying. “So I switched to American politics, then to studying chronic illnesses, and then moving into the effect of deaths on others,” he said.
That switch led to this first large-scale investigation of recovery and resilience after a death in social networks. It has the potential to reveal a great deal about ourselves, said Lazer, who is also a core faculty member in the Network Science Institute at Northeastern.
“Death is a tear in the fabric of the social network that binds us together,” he said. “This research provides insight into how our networks heal from this tear over time, and points to the ways that our digital traces can offer important clues into how we help each other through the grieving process.”
Using sophisticated data counters and computer analysis, the researchers compared monthly interactions — wall posts, comments, and photo tags — of approximately 15,000 Facebook networks that had experienced the death of a friend with monthly interactions of approximately 30,000 similar Facebook networks that had not.
The first group comprised more than 770,000 people, the latter more than two million. They learned about the deaths from California state vital records, and characterized “close friends” as those who had interacted with the person who died before the study began.
To maintain the users’ privacy, the data was aggregated and “de-identified” — that is, all elements that associated the data with the individual were removed.
“The response was different from what other researchers have found regarding natural disasters or other kinds of trauma,” says Hobbs. “There you see a spike in communications but that disappears quickly afterward.”
In particular, the researchers found that networks comprising young adults, ages 18 to 24, showed the strongest recovery. They were not only more likely to recover than others, their interaction levels also stayed elevated — higher than before the loss.
Source: Northeastern University
Emerging research shows that the brain works most efficiently when it can focus on a single task for a longer period of time.
The new finding reinforces and helps to explain previous research which found that multitasking — performing several tasks at the same time — reduces productivity by as much as 40 percent.
In the new study, Finnish researchers specializing in brain imaging discovered that changing tasks too frequently interferes with brain activity. This may explain why the end result is worse than when a person focuses on one task at a time.
“We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure different brain areas of our research subjects while they watched short segments of the ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Indiana Jones,’ and ‘James Bond’ movies,” said Aalto University Associate Professor Iiro Jääskeläinen.
Cutting the films into segments of approximately 50 seconds fragmented their continuity.
In the study, researchers discovered the subjects’ brain areas functioned more smoothly when they watched the films in segments of 6.5 minutes.
Anatomically, the posterior temporal and dorsomedial prefrontal cortices, the cerebellum and dorsal precuneus are the most important areas of the brain in terms of combining individual events into coherent event sequences.
Researchers explain that these areas of the brain make it possible to turn fragments into complete entities. Study findings show that these brain regions work more efficiently when it can deal with one task at a time.
Jääskeläinen said the research suggests it is best to complete one task each day rather than working on a dozen of different tasks simultaneously.
“It’s easy to fall into the trap of multitasking. In that case, it seems like there is little real progress and this leads to a feeling of inadequacy. Concentration decreases, which causes stress. Prolonged stress hinders thinking and memory,” Jääskeläinen said.
Still, in the current age of information flow, challenges abound. In fact, the neuroscientist believes social media often reinforces the wrong message.
“Social media is really nothing but multitasking, with several parallel plots and issues,” he said. “You might end up reading the news or playing a game recommended by a friend. From the brain’s perspective, social media only increases the load.”
Source: Aalto University