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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 41 min 25 sec ago

Family Dinner with Teen Provides Protection from Cyberbullying

1 hour 12 min ago

As simple as it sounds, making family dinner with your teen a routine provides a double benefit as the support helps adolescents cope with cyberbullying and improves their overall mental health.

Researchers from McGill University studied the association between cyberbullying and mental health and substance use problems, and, if family contact and communication with a teen via family dinners would make a difference.

As a background, researchers were aware that about one in five adolescents has experienced recent online bullying and cyberbullying, like traditional bullying, can increase the risk of mental health problems in teens as well as the misuse of drugs and alcohol.

Frank J. Elgar, Ph.D., and colleagues reviewed included survey data on 18,834 students (ages 12-18) from 49 schools in a Midwestern state.

The authors measured five internalizing problems (anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide ideation and suicide attempt), two externalizing problems (fighting and vandalism) and four substance use problems (frequent alcohol use, frequent binge drinking, prescription drug misuse, and over-the-counter drug misuse).

They discovered nearly 19 percent of the students reported they had experienced cyberbullying during the previous 12 months.

Cyberbullying was associated with all 11 of the internalizing, externalizing, and substance use problems.

Family dinners appeared to moderate the relationship between cyberbullying and the mental health and substance use problems.

For example, with four or more family dinners per week there was about a four-fold difference in the rates of total problems between no cyberbullying victimization and frequent victimization.

When there were no dinners the difference was more than seven-fold.

“Furthermore, based on these findings, we did not conclude that cyberbullying alone is sufficient to produce poor health outcomes nor that family dinners alone can inoculate adolescents from such exposures,” says Elgar.

Indeed, researchers say the associations represent a complex social environment.

Nevertheless, the findings support calls for integrated approaches to protecting victims of cyberbullying that encompass individual coping skills and family and school social supports.

Research findings are published online in JAMA Pediatrics.

In a related editorial, Catherine P. Bradshaw, Ph.D., M.Ed., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, writes, “The article by Elgar and colleagues highlights the importance of cyberbullying in relation to mental health concerns, with particular interest in the role of families.

“Their focus on cyberbullying is salient because this is an issue that often challenges schools and policy makers given that it can occur in any context and at any time of the day, and it often spills over from one setting to another.”

“The permeability of cyberbullying across contexts and the omnipresence of technology, coupled with the challenges parents face monitoring online activities and communication, make it a particularly appropriate focus of this study.

“In fact, parents may play a greater role in preventing and helping to intervene in cyberbullying situations than educators owing in part to their direct influence over youths’ access to electronic devices,” Bradshaw said.

“The often-secret online life of teens may require parents to step up their monitoring efforts to detect this covert form of bullying,” she said.

Source: The JAMA Network Journals

Plants Grow Workplace Productivity

1 hour 57 min ago

New research suggests adding plants to a sterile office could increase productivity by 15 percent.

Further, a green office was found to make workers happier.

British investigators examined the impact of ‘lean’ and ‘green’ offices on staff’s perceptions of air quality, concentration, and workplace satisfaction.

They also monitored productivity levels over subsequent months in two large commercial offices in the UK and The Netherlands.

Lead researcher Marlon Nieuwenhuis, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said,
“Our research suggests that investing in landscaping the office with plants will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity.

“Although previous laboratory research pointed in this direction, our research is, to our knowledge, the first to examine this in real offices, showing benefits over the long term.

“It directly challenges the widely accepted business philosophy that a lean office with clean desks is more productive.”

Investigators discovered plants in the office significantly increased workplace satisfaction, self-reported levels of concentration, and perceived air quality.

Analyses into the reasons why plants are beneficial suggests that a green office increases employees’ work engagement by making them more physically, cognitively, and emotionally involved in their work.

Co-author Dr Craig Knight, from the University of Exeter, said, “Psychologically manipulating real workplaces and real jobs adds new depth to our understanding of what is right and what is wrong with existing workspace design and management. We are now developing a template for a genuinely smart office.”

Professor Alex Haslam, from The University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, who also co-authored the study added, “The ‘lean’ philosophy has been influential across a wide range of organizational domains.

“Our research questions this widespread conviction that less is more. Sometimes less is just less”.

Marlon Nieuwenhuis added: “Simply enriching a previously Spartan space with plants served to increase productivity by 15 percent — a figure that aligns closely with findings in previously conducted laboratory studies.

“This conclusion is at odds with the present economic and political zeitgeist as well as with modern ‘lean’ management techniques, yet it nevertheless identifies a pathway to a more enjoyable, more comfortable, and a more profitable form of office-based working.”

Kenneth Freeman, Head of Innovation at interior landscaping company Ambius, who were involved in the study, said, “We know from previous studies that plants can lower physiological stress, increase attention span, and improve well-being.

“But this is the first long term experiment carried out in a real-life situation which shows that bringing plants into offices can improve well-being and make people feel happier at work.

“Businesses should rethink their lean processes, not only for the health of the employees, but for the financial health of the organization.”

Source: UUniversity of Exeter

Overeating Linked to Viewing Specific Type of Television Program

2 hours 42 min ago

Emerging research suggests that not all TV is alike when it comes to overeating.

Cornell University researchers discovered that some TV programs might lead people to eat twice as much as other programs.

“We find that if you’re watching an action movie while snacking your mouth will see more action too,” said Aner Tal, Ph.D., lead author on the new article in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine.

“In other words, the more distracting the program is, the more you will eat.”

In the study, conducted by researchers at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, 94 undergraduates snacked on M&Ms, cookies, carrots, and grapes while watching 20 minutes of television programming.

A third of the participants watched a segment of the action movie “The Island,” a third watched a segment from the Charlie Rose talk show, and a third watched the same segment from “The Island” without sound.

“People who were watching ‘The Island’ ate almost twice as many snacks – 98 percent more than those watching the talk show!” said co-author Brian Wansink.

“Even those watching ‘The Island’ without sound ate 36 percent more.”

People watching the more distracting content also consumed more calories, with 354 calories consumed by those watching “The Island” (314 calories with no sound) compared to 215 calories consumed by those watching the Charlie Rose Show.

“More stimulating programs that are fast-paced, include many camera cuts, really draw you in and distract you from what you are eating. They can make you eat more because you’re paying less attention to how much you are putting in your mouth,” said Tal.

Because of this, programs that engage viewers more might wind up being worse for their diets.

So what can you do to avoid overeating during your favorite chase scene?

The researchers suggest pre-plating or pre-portioning your TV snacks instead of bringing out a whole bag of chips or box of cookies.

Wansink said that the best solution is to bring out the healthy munchable snacks, like carrots.

“The good news,” says Wansink “is that action movie watchers also eat more healthy foods, if that’s what’s in front of them. Take advantage of this!”

Source: Cornell Food & Brand Lab

Train Brain to be Addicted to Healthy Foods

3 hours 27 min ago

A new study using brain imaging suggests it may be possible to train the brain to prefer healthy low-calorie foods over unhealthy higher-calorie foods.

As published online in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, researchers from Tufts University and at Massachusetts General Hospital performed a brain scan study in adult men and women.

They believe the results suggest that it is possible to reverse the addictive power of unhealthy food while also increasing preference for healthy foods.

“We don’t start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta,” said senior and co-corresponding author Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D.

“This conditioning happens over time in response to eating — repeatedly! — what is out there in the toxic food environment.”

Scientists have suspected that, once unhealthy food addiction circuits are established, they may be hard or impossible to reverse, subjecting people who have gained weight to a lifetime of unhealthy food cravings and temptation.

To find out whether the brain can be re-trained to support healthy food choices, Roberts and colleagues studied the reward system in thirteen overweight and obese men and women — eight of whom were participants in a new weight loss program designed by Tufts University researchers and five who were in a control group and were not enrolled in the program.

Both groups underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans at the beginning and end of a six-month period.

Among those who participated in the weight loss program, the brain scans revealed changes in areas of the brain reward center associated with learning and addiction.

After six months, this area had increased sensitivity to healthy, lower-calorie foods, indicating an increased reward and enjoyment of healthier food cues.

The area also showed decreased sensitivity to the unhealthy higher-calorie foods.

“The weight loss program is specifically designed to change how people react to different foods, and our study shows those who participated in it had an increased desire for healthier foods along with a decreased preference for unhealthy foods, the combined effects of which are probably critical for sustainable weight control,” said co-author Sai Krupa Das, Ph.D.

“To the best of our knowledge this is the first demonstration of this important switch.”

The authors hypothesize that several features of the weight loss program were important, including behavior change, education, and high-fiber, low glycemic menu plans.

“Although other studies have shown that surgical procedures like gastric bypass surgery can decrease how much people enjoy food generally, this is not very satisfactory because it takes away food enjoyment generally rather than making healthier foods more appealing,” said first author and co-corresponding author Thilo Deckersbach, Ph.D.

“We show here that it is possible to shift preferences from unhealthy food to healthy food without surgery, and that MRI is an important technique for exploring the brain’s role in food cues.”

“There is much more research to be done here, involving many more participants, long-term follow-up and investigating more areas of the brain,” Roberts added.

“But we are very encouraged that, the weight loss program appears to change what foods are tempting to people.”

Source: Tufts University

Volunteerism Helps Older Adults Stay Happier, Healthier

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 7:00am

Volunteering appears to play an important role for improving the health and happiness of older adults with the activity perhaps even more beneficial for seniors with a chronic health condition.

A new study, published online in Psychological Bulletin, is the first to examine peer-reviewed evidence regarding the psychosocial health benefits of formal volunteering for older adults.

Nicole Anderson, Ph.D., led a team of Canadian and American academics in an examination of 73 studies published over the last 45 years, involving adults aged 50-plus who were in formal volunteering roles.

To be included in the review, studies had to measure psychosocial, physical and/or cognitive outcomes associated with formal volunteering such as happiness, physical health, depression, cognitive functioning, feelings of social support, and life satisfaction.

“Our goal was to obtain a more comprehensive view of the current state of knowledge on the benefits of volunteering among older adults,” said Anderson, a senior scientist and associate professor at the University of Toronto.

“We discovered a number of trends in the results that paint a compelling picture of volunteering as an important lifestyle component for maintaining health and well-being in later years.”

Among the key findings:

  • volunteering is associated with reductions in symptoms of depression, better overall health, fewer functional limitations, and greater longevity;
  • health benefits may depend on a moderate level of volunteering. There appears to be a tipping point after which greater benefits no longer accrue — the “sweet spot” appears to be at about 100 annual hours, or 2-3 hours per week
  • more vulnerable seniors (i.e. those with chronic health conditions) may benefit the most from volunteering;
  • feeling appreciated or needed as a volunteer appears to amplify the relationship between volunteering and psychosocial well-being.

“Taken together, these results suggest that volunteering is associated with health improvements and increased physical activity — changes that one would expect to offer protection against a variety of health conditions,” said Anderson.

Indeed, a moderate amount of volunteering has been shown to be related to less hypertension and fewer hip fractures among seniors who volunteer compared to their matched non-volunteering peers.

One troubling finding for the research team was that “very few studies” have examined the benefits of volunteering on cognitive functioning in older adults.

The report noted that “not a single study” has examined the association between volunteering and risk of dementia, or the association between volunteering and a host of other health conditions that put seniors at higher risk for dementia, such as diabetes and stroke.

Dementia prevalence is projected to double over 20 years, from over 30 million people worldwide today to more than 65 million people in 2030 (Alzheimer’s Disease International and World Health Organization, 2012). Anderson called it a “startling omission” that the field of neuroscience research has yet to investigate the capacity of volunteering to mitigate dementia risk or delay onset.

“We encourage investigators to include more objective measures of cognitive functioning in future studies.

“Particularly interesting would be the inclusion of a more comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests, so that the association of volunteering with the risks of various forms of dementia and its precursor, mild cognitive impairment, could be ascertained,” the report concluded.

Source: Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care


Elderly volunteer assisting a teenager photo by shutterstock.

Robots May Help Autistic Kids Learn Life Skills

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 6:15am

A new study from the University of Southern California (USC) has found that humanoid robots can help children with autism spectrum disorder learn new skills and improve social behaviors.

According to researchers, the robots help children learn by imitating behavior and by providing specific prompts or graded cues to learn new behaviors.

Researchers from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering presented their results at the 23rd IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN) conference.

The pilot study was led by Maja Matarić, Ph.D., whose research focuses on how robotics can help those with various special needs, including Alzheimer’s patients and children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Her research team included doctoral student Jillian Greczek, postdoctoral researcher Amin Atrash, Ph.D., and undergraduate computer science student Edward Kaszubski.

“There is a vast health care need that can be aided by intelligent machines capable of helping people of all ages to be less lonely, to do rehabilitative exercises, and to learn social behaviors,” said Matarić, professor of computer science, neuroscience, and pediatrics at USC.

“There’s so much that can be done that can complement human care as well as other emerging technologies.”

For the study, the researchers examined how children with ASD react to humanoid robots that provide graded cueing, an occupational therapy technique that shapes behavior by providing increasingly specific cues, or prompts, to help a person learn new or lost skills.

Matarić and her team divided a group of 12 high-functioning children with ASD into two groups, one experimental and one control. Each child then played an imitation game (“copycat”) with a Nao robot that asked the child to imitate 25 different arm poses.

“In this study we used graded cueing to develop the social skill of imitation through the copycat game,” said doctoral student Jillian Greczek, who oversaw the study.

“Our hope is that learning such skills could be generalized. So, if a child with autism is at recess with friends, and some kids are playing Red Light/Green Light, the child might look at the game and say, ‘Oh, I see how to play, and I can play with them too.”‘

When a child in either group imitated the pose correctly, the robot flashed its eyes green, nodded, or said “Good job!” When a child in the control group failed to imitate the pose correctly, the robot simply repeated the command without variation.

However, for the experimental group participants, the Nao robot offered varied prompting when a child did not copy the pose accurately, at first providing only verbal cues and then following up with more detailed instructions and demonstrations of the pose.

The study showed that children who received the varied prompting (graded cueing feedback) until the correct action was achieved, showed improved or maintained performance, while children who did not receive graded cueing regressed or stayed the same.

“These results suggest that varied feedback was more effective and less frustrating to the study participants than merely receiving the same prompt repeatedly when they did not imitate the pose correctly,” researchers said. Furthermore, it demonstrates that a socially assistive robot can be effective at providing such feedback.

Although this study did not exercise the graded cueing model to its fullest, the preliminary results show promise for the use of this technique to improve user autonomy through robot-mediated intervention.

Matarić hopes that, within a decade, children with ASD might have their own personal robots to assist them with therapy, help prompt them through daily tasks, coach them through interactions with others, and encourage them to play with peers.

“The idea is to eventually give every child a personalized robot dedicated to providing motivation and praise and nudges toward more integration,” Matarić said.

Source: University of Southern California

How Meaningful Relationships Can Help Us Thrive

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 5:30am

A new paper provides an important perspective on thriving through relationships.

Past research has shown that individuals with supportive and rewarding relationships have better mental health, higher levels of subjective well-being, and lower rates of morbidity and mortality.

The work explores the method by which relationships provide two types of support: source of strength (SOS) support, and relational catalyst (RC) support.

Psychologists Drs. Brooke Feeney of Carnegie Mellon University and Nancy Collins of University of California at Santa Barbara emphasize the importance of relationships in supporting individuals in their ability to cope with stress or adversity. Moreover, a strong relationship helps a person learn, grow, explore, achieve goals, cultivate new talents, and find purpose and meaning in life.

According to the researchers, thriving involves five components of well-being:

  • hedonic well-being (happiness, life satisfaction);
  • eudaimonic well-being (having purpose and meaning in life, progressing toward meaningful life goals);
  • psychological well-being (positive self-regard, absence of mental health symptoms/disorders);
  • social well-being (deep and meaningful human connections, faith in others and humanity, positive interpersonal expectancies);
  • physical well-being (healthy weight and activity levels, health status above expected baselines).

Researchers believe people will be most likely to thrive with well-functioning close relationships that serve different support functions — whether the relationship is with friends, parents, siblings, a spouse, or mentors.

The review, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review emphasizes two types of support, both serving unique functions in different life contexts.

The first important function of relationships is to support thriving through adversity, not only by buffering individuals from negative effects of stress, but also by enabling them to flourish either because of or in spite of their circumstances.

“Relationships serve an important function of not simply helping people return to baseline, but helping them to thrive by exceeding prior baseline levels of functioning,” said lead researcher Feeney.

“We refer to this as source of strength (SOS) support, and emphasize that the promotion of thriving through adversity is the core purpose of this support function.”

The second important function of relationships is to support thriving in the absence of adversity by promoting full participation in life opportunities for exploration, growth, and personal achievement.

Supportive relationships help people thrive in this context by enabling them to embrace and pursue opportunities that enhance positive well-being, broaden and build resources, and foster a sense of purpose and meaning in life.

This type of support is referred to as relational catalyst (RC) support because support providers can serve as active catalysts for thriving in this context.

This form of support emphasizes that the promotion of thriving through life opportunities is its core purpose.

In the paper, researchers emphasize that there are certain characteristics of support-providers that enhance their capacity to provide meaningful support.

“It is not just whether someone provides support, but it is how he or she does it that determines the outcome of that support. Any behaviors in the service of providing SOS and RC support must be enacted both responsively and sensitively to promote thriving,” said Feeney.

“Being responsive involves providing the type and amount of support that is dictated by the situation and by the partner’s needs, and being sensitive involves responding to needs in such a way that the support-recipient feels understood, validated, and cared for.”

Support-providers may inadvertently do more harm than good if they make the person feel weak, needy, or inadequate; induce guilt or indebtedness; make the recipient feel like a burden; minimize or discount the recipient’s problem, goal, or accomplishment; blame the recipient for his or her misfortunes or setbacks; or restrict autonomy or self-determination.

Support-providers might also be neglectful or disengaged, over-involved, controlling, or otherwise out of sync with the recipient’s needs.

Responsive support requires the knowledge of how to support others and take their perspective, the resources (i.e., cognitive, emotional, and/or tangible) needed to provide effective support, and the motivation to accept the responsibility to support another.

Support-recipients also play an important role in this process by facilitating or hindering the receipt of responsive support.

Support-recipients can cultivate effective support by reaching out to others (vs. withdrawing), expressing needs in a clear and direct manner, being receptive to others’ support efforts, regulating demands on others (not taxing their social network), expressing gratitude, engaging in healthy dependence and independence, building a dense relationship network, and providing reciprocal support.

The researchers emphasize that accepting support when needed, and being willing and able to provide support in return, should cultivate the types of mutually caring relationships that enable people to thrive.

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Childhood Burn Survivors Suffer Higher Rates of Depression, Suicidal Thoughts

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 8:45am

Adults who were hospitalized for a burn as a child experience higher than usual rates of depression and suicidal thoughts, according to a new Australian study.

A 30-year follow-up study of childhood burn victims by researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies found that 42 percent had suffered some form of mental illness, while 30 percent suffered depression at some stage in their lives.

The study, published in the journal Burns, also found that 11 percent had attempted suicide.

“Some of these results are concerning, particularly the rates of prolonged episodes of depression and suicide attempts, which are at a level higher than you would expect to find in the general population,” said psychologist Dr. Miranda van Hooff of the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies.

“This research demonstrates that being hospitalized for a burn during childhood places that child in an increased risk group. They require further, long-term follow up beyond the medical attention received for their burns.”

The researchers surveyed 272 people who were hospitalized for burns while children between 1980 and 1990. Scalds accounted for 58 percent of the burns, while 17 percent were flame burns, according to the researchers. The severity of the burns ranged from one percent to 80 percent of their bodies.

Although the burns are an important factor in these cases, many people surveyed did not directly link the burn with their current emotional well-being, according to van Hooff.

“We found that it’s not often the burn itself that has affected people, but some other lifetime traumatic event,” she said. “Half of the participants stated clearly in the survey that their personal distress was not related to their burns.”

She noted that the center’s work with victims of Australia’s Ash Wednesday bush fires found that many people affected by the tragedy develop a heightened sensitivity to trauma.

“We suspect that this may be the same among the childhood burn victims,” she explained. “While the memory of the burn itself may have faded with time, they have become more susceptible to mental trauma or the negative effects of additional trauma.”

The researcher said her main concern is in “ensuring that this group of people receives the long-term follow-up and care they need, because they are at increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts.”

Source: University of Adelaide


Young boy with a burn photo by shutterstock.

New Research Shows Sleep Critical to Effective PTSD Treatment

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 8:00am

Sleep quality is critical to the effectiveness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment, according to a new study.

“I think these findings help us understand why sleep disturbances and nightmares are such important symptoms in PTSD,” said Sean P.A. Drummond, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

“Our study suggests the physiological mechanism whereby sleep difficulties can help maintain PTSD. It also strongly implies a mechanism by which poor sleep may impair the ability of an individual to fully benefit from exposure-based PTSD treatments, which are the gold standard of interventions.”

“The implication is that we should try treating sleep before treating the daytime symptoms of PTSD and see if those who are sleeping better when they start exposure therapy derive more benefit,” said Drummond, also director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the VA San Diego Healthcare System.

PTSD is an often difficult-to-treat mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event. Frequently associated with people who have served in war zones, it is characterized by severe anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, and uncontrollable thoughts.

The latest study builds on previous research on fear conditioning in animals, considered the PTSD of the animal world. In fear conditioning, an animal is trained to associate an averse stimulus, such as an electric shock, with a neutral stimulus, such as a tone or a beep. Researchers have found that this disrupts the animals’ rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deep, dream-filled recuperative slumber.

For their study, Drummond and his colleagues investigated the impact of fear conditioning and another form of behavioral training called safety signal learning upon human REM sleep. Safety signals are learned cues that predict an averse event won’t re-occur, scientists explained.

“In PTSD, humans learn to associate threat with a stimulus that used to be neutral or even pleasant,” he said. “Often, this fear generalizes so that they have a hard time learning that other stimuli are safe.

“For example, a U.S. Marine in Iraq might suffer trauma when her personnel carrier is blown up by a roadside bomb hidden in trash alongside the road. When she comes home, she should learn that trash on the side of I-5 does not pose a threat — it’s a safe stimulus — but that may be difficult for her.”

For the study, researchers recruited 42 healthy volunteers who were tested over three consecutive days and nights.

They found that increased safety signaling was associated with increased REM sleep consolidation at night. They also found that the quality of overnight REM sleep was related to how well volunteers managed fear conditioning.

Drummond noted that the stimuli representing safety increased human REM sleep, adding that “helps humans distinguish threatening stimuli from safe stimuli the next day. So while animal studies focused on learning and unlearning a threat, our study showed REM sleep in humans is more related to learning and remembering safety.”

He noted, however, that the findings are not conclusive. “No comparable animal studies have examined the relationship between safety and REM sleep,” he said.

“However, the findings do encourage further investigation, eventually into human PTSD populations where fear, safety, and sleep are on-going and paramount concerns among military veterans and others”, he said.

“A very large percentage of missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan were at night, so soldiers learned the night was a time of danger,” he said. “When they come home, they have a hard time learning night here is a time to relax and go to sleep.”

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: University of California, San Diego

Woman with insomnia photo by shutterstock.

Mothers of Autistic Kids Benefit from Peer-Led Intervention

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 7:15am

Peer-led support groups that target the well-being of moms with disabled children have been found to significantly reduce maternal stress, depression, and anxiety, according to new research from Vanderbilt University.

“The well-being of this population is critically important because, compared to parents of typically developing children, parents of children with developmental disabilities experience substantially higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, and as they age, physical and medical problems,” said lead author Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D.

“Add to this the high prevalence of developmental disabilities — about one in five children — and the fact that most adult children with intellectual disabilities remain at home with aging parents, we have a looming public health problem on our hands.”

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, involved the use of two treatment programs designed for primary caregivers of a child with a disability. Participants in both groups experienced improvements in mental health, sleep, and overall life satisfaction and showed less dysfunctional parent-child interactions.

Nearly 250 mothers of children with autism or other disabilities were randomized into one of two programs: 1) Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a more physical program that emphasizes breathing exercises, deep belly breathing, meditation, and gentle movement; or 2) Positive Adult Development (PAD), a more cognitive approach that uses exercises such as practicing gratitude.

The peer mentors — mothers of children with disabilities who received four months of training — led six weeks of group treatments in 1.5-hour weekly sessions with the research participants.

At baseline, 85 percent of participants had significantly elevated stress, 48 percent were clinically depressed, and 41 percent had anxiety disorders.

Both treatment programs resulted in significant reductions in stress, depression, anxiety, improved sleep, and life satisfaction among participants. Mothers in both treatments also showed fewer dysfunctional parent-child interactions.

While mothers in the MBSR treatment saw the strongest  improvements, participants in both programs continued to improve during follow-up, and improvements in other areas were sustained six months later.

“Our research and findings from other labs indicate that many mothers of children with disabilities have a blunted cortisol response, indicative of chronic stress,” said Dykens, professor of psychology and human development, pediatrics and psychiatry at Vanderbilt.

“Compared to mothers in control groups, this population mounts a poorer antibody response to influenza vaccinations, suggesting a reduced ability to fight both bacterial and viral infections. They also have shorter telomeres, associated with an advanced cellular aging process, and have poorer sleep quality, which can have deleterious health effects.

“All of this results in parents who are less available to manage their child’s special needs or challenging behaviors,” Dykens said.

Source: Vanderbilt University

Support group for women photo by shutterstock.

College Students In Study Spend 8 to 10 Hours Daily on Cell Phone

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 6:30am

A new study from researchers at Baylor University has found that women college students spend an average of 10 hours a day on their cell phones, while men students spend nearly eight hours.

“That’s astounding,” said lead author James Roberts, Ph.D., Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. “As cell phone functions increase, addictions to this seemingly indispensable piece of technology become an increasingly realistic possibility.”

The study found that approximately 60 percent of college students admit they may be addicted to their cell phone, and some indicated they get agitated when it is not in sight, said Roberts, lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

The study, based on an online survey of 164 college students, examined 24 cell phone activities and found that time spent on 11 of those activities differed significantly across the sexes.

Some functions, such as Pinterest and Instagram, are associated significantly with cell phone addiction, the study found. But others that might seem to be addictive, such as Internet use and gaming, were not, according to the researchers.

The students reported spending the most time texting, with an average of 94.6 minutes a day. That was followed by sending emails (48.5 minutes), checking Facebook (38.6 minutes), surfing the Internet (34.4 minutes), and listening to music (26.9 minutes).

The study also found that women spend more time on their cell phones. While that finding seems contrary to the traditional view that men are more invested in technology, “women may be more inclined to use cell phones for social reasons, such as texting or emails to build relationships and have deeper conversations,” Roberts said.

Another finding is that men send about the same number of emails, but spend less time on each.

“That may suggest that they’re sending shorter, more utilitarian messages than their female counterparts,” Roberts said.

While men appear to be more occupied with using their cell phones for utilitarian or entertainment purposes, they “are not immune to the allure of social media,” Roberts said.

He noted they spent time visiting social networking sites such as as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Reasons they used Twitter were to follow sports figures, catch up on the news — “or, as one male student explained it, ‘waste time,’” Roberts said.

Excessive use of cell phones poses a number of possible risks for students, he noted.

“Cell phones may wind up being an escape mechanism from their classrooms,” he said. “For some, cell phones in class may provide a way to cheat.”

Obsessive cell phone use also can cause conflict, he noted, with everyone from professors and family to employers.

“Some people use a cell phone to dodge an awkward situation,” he said. “They may pretend to take a call, send a text, or check their phones.”

The researcher noted that cell phone use is a paradox in that it can be “both freeing and enslaving at the same time.”

“We need to identify the activities that push cell phone use from being a helpful tool to one that undermines our well-being and that of others,” Roberts said.

Source: Baylor University


College student using her phone photo by shutterstock.

Weight Loss Surgery for Obesity May Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 8:45am

Weight loss surgery can actually benefit the brain, according to a new study.

In fact, researchers theorize that bariatric surgery could help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s in obese people. Past research how shown that obese people face a 35 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than people at a normal weight.

“When we studied obese women prior to bariatric surgery, we found some areas of their brains metabolized sugars at a higher rate than normal weight women,” said one of the study’s authors, Cintia Cercato, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of São Paolo in Brazil.

“In particular, obesity led to altered activity in a part of the brain linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease — the posterior cingulate gyrus. Since bariatric surgery reversed this activity, we suspect the procedure may contribute to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.”

Bariatric surgery procedures are designed to restrict the amount of food patients can eat by reducing the stomach’s size or limit the absorption of nutrients by removing part of the small intestine from the path food takes through the digestive tract. Some procedures, such as Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYBG) surgery, use a combination of these methods.

The new study examined the effect of RYBG surgery on the brain function of 17 obese women. Researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans and neuropsychological tests to assess brain function and activity in the women before the surgery and six months after the procedure. The same tests also were run once on a control group of 16 healthy weight women.

Before they underwent surgery, the obese women had higher rates of metabolism in certain areas of the brain, including the posterior cingulate gyrus, according to the researchers.

Following surgery, there was no evidence of this exacerbated brain activity. Their brain metabolism rates were comparable to the activity seen in normal weight women, the study found.

After surgery, the obese women also performed better on a test measuring executive function — the brain’s ability to connect past experience and present action — than they did before the procedures.

Executive function is used in planning, organizing, and strategizing, the researchers noted. Five other neuropsychological tests measuring various aspects of memory and cognitive function showed no change following the surgery, the researchers added.

“Our findings suggest the brain is another organ that benefits from weight loss induced by surgery,” Cercato said.

“The increased brain activity the obese women exhibited before undergoing surgery did not result in improved cognitive performance, which suggests obesity may force the brain to work harder to achieve the same level of cognition.”

The study is published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Source: The Endocrine Society 

Abstract of woman’s brain photo by shutterstock.

Pediatricians: Teens Need to Sleep In

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 8:00am

In a new policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that middle and high school classes begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. This later start time would allow teenagers to work with their body’s natural sleep rhythms.

Beginning at puberty, teens’ sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later. Research has shown that adolescents who suffer from a lack of sleep are at greater risk for physical and mental health problems, automobile accidents, and declining academic performance.

Getting enough sleep each night can be hard for teens whose natural sleep cycles cause them to stay up late into the night and who must arrive at a 7:30 a.m. first-period class.

“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common — and easily fixable — public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, M.D., FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” published in the journal Pediatrics.

“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores, and an overall better quality of life,” Owens said.

“Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

Research has suggested the average U.S. teen is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy. A National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of sixth through eighth graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.

An estimated 40 percent of high schools in the U.S. begin before 8:00 a.m.; only 15 percent start at 8:30 a.m. or later. The median middle school start time is 8:00 a.m., and more than 20 percent of middle schools start at 7:45 a.m. or earlier.

The policy statement is accompanied by a technical report, “Insufficient Sleep in Adolescents and Young Adults: An Update on Causes and Consequences.” The report updates a prior report on excessive sleepiness among adolescents that was published in 2005.

Napping, sleeping in on the weekends, and caffeine consumption can temporarily counteract sleepiness, but they do not restore optimal alertness and do not take the place of regular, sufficient sleep, according to the AAP.

“The AAP is making a definitive and powerful statement about the importance of sleep to the health, safety, performance, and well-being of our nation’s youth,” Owens said.

“By advocating for later school start times for middle and high school students, the AAP is both promoting the compelling scientific evidence that supports school start time delay as an important public health measure, and providing support and encouragement to those school districts around the country contemplating that change.”

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Father waking his teenage son photo by shutterstock.

3 Factors Tied To Sky-High Suicide Rate Among MDs

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 7:15am

A new analysis finds an astonishingly high rate of suicide among physicians in the following categories: those who were found unfit to practice; those in solo practice; or those who were taking benzodiazepine (anti-anxiety) drugs.

The analysis, published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, found that seven of 141 Tennessee physicians (average age 51) had attempted suicide and five had died — a rate that is 175 times higher than the rate of .02 percent in the general population of Tennessee.

“Being found unfit for practice means a loss of income, loss of social contact, and loss of social status. It’s very distressing,” said Reid Finlayson, M.D., associate professor of clinical psychiatry and medical director of the Vanderbilt Comprehensive Assessment Program.

Finlayson also noted that practicing solo can make physicians feel isolated. “It stands to reason. Doctors who are in large practices or who work at a hospital have colleagues who can see what’s going on with them. They’re observed and they can be pointed toward getting help.”

Furthermore, Finlayson added that it appears that the physicians in the analysis who were taking benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax had denied the treatment that was suggested and continued to take the medication up until their suicide.

“The extreme stress associated with practicing medicine and the relatively high rates of suicidal behavior among doctors make it important to be able to identify those who are at risk,” he said.

The analysis — called the Vanderbilt Comprehensive Assessment Program (V-CAP) — is designed to help medical professionals, business executives, and others become aware of emotional and behavioral concerns that could affect the quality of their work and life, including addictions and disruptive conduct.

Furthermore, the analysis also found that out of the five physicians who committed suicide, three were being investigated for their prescribing habits.

“That suggests that doctors who are taking benzodiazepines may self-prescribe, and may be more likely to be prescribing them too often for their patients, and contributing to the epidemic drug abuse in this country.”

Finlayson said that a close look at the interviews and extensive battery of testing done with the doctors who were under evaluation and that later committed suicide revealed little indication of suicidal behavior.

“Our next steps are to try and find some way to predict which physicians will try to commit suicide,” he said.

“This may be a bit premature, but the next time I evaluate a physician taking benzodiazepines, I will try harder to have them detoxify. Benzodiazepine use appears to be a risk factor for suicide.”

Source: Vanderbilt University

Depressed doctor photo by shutterstock.

Your Brain Judges Trustworthiness Before You Know It

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 6:30am

Your brain makes a spontaneous judgment of whether or not another person’s face is trustworthy before you are even conscious of it, according to new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“Our findings suggest that the brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived,” said study author Jonathan Freeman, Ph.D., an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology.

“The results are consistent with an extensive body of research suggesting that we form spontaneous judgments of other people that can be largely outside awareness,” added Freeman, who conducted the study as a faculty member at Dartmouth College.

The study focused on the amygdala, a part of the brain important for humans’ social and emotional behavior that has been shown in past studies to actively judge the trustworthiness of faces. It was not known, however, whether the amygdala was capable of responding to a complex social signal like a face’s trustworthiness without that signal reaching conscious awareness.

To find out, the researchers conducted a pair of experiments in which they monitored the activity of participants’ amygdala while the participants were exposed to a series of facial images.

These images included photographs of actual strangers’ faces as well as artificially generated faces whose trustworthiness cues could be manipulated while all other facial cues were controlled.

The artificially generated faces were computer-synthesized based on previous research showing that cues such as higher inner eyebrows and pronounced cheekbones are seen as trustworthy and lower inner eyebrows and shallower cheekbones are seen as untrustworthy.

Before the study, a separate group of subjects examined all the real and computer-generated faces and rated how trustworthy or untrustworthy they appeared. As expected, subjects strongly agreed on the level of trustworthiness shown by each given face.

During the study, a new set of participants viewed these same faces inside a brain scanner, but were exposed to the faces very briefly, for only a matter of milliseconds.

This quick exposure, along with another feature known as “backward masking,” prevented participants from consciously seeing the faces. In backward masking, subjects are presented with an irrelevant “mask” image that immediately follows an extremely brief exposure to a face, which is thought to terminate the brain’s ability to further process the face and prevent it from reaching awareness.

The researchers found that specific regions inside the amygdala exhibited activity tracking how untrustworthy a face appeared, and other regions inside the amygdala exhibited activity tracking the overall strength of the trustworthiness signal. This even though participants could not consciously see any of the faces.

“These findings provide evidence that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously understood,” said Freeman. “The amygdala is able to assess how trustworthy another person’s face appears without it being consciously perceived.”

Source: New York University

Magnetic Electrical Current Boosts Memory

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 8:30am

External stimulation of the brain with electrical current using magnetic pulses has been found to improve memory.

Researchers from Northwestern Medicine believe the discovery may signal a new method to treat memory impairments associated with diseases such as stroke, early Alzheimer’s disease, cardiac arrest, and traumatic brain injury.

Additionally, investigators believe the technique may also help memory problems associated with normal aging.

“We show for the first time that you can specifically change memory functions of the brain in adults without surgery or drugs, which have not proven effective,” said senior author Dr. Joel Voss, assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“This noninvasive stimulation improves the ability to learn new things. It has tremendous potential for treating memory disorders.”

The study will be published in a forthcoming edition of Science.

Researcher report the investigation is the first to demonstrate that remembering events requires a collection of many brain regions to work in combination with the hippocampus — similar to a symphony orchestra.

“The electrical stimulation is like giving the brain regions a more talented conductor so they play in closer synchrony as, in fact, the brain regions played together better after the stimulation,” says Voss.

The approach also has potential for treating mental disorders such as schizophrenia in which these brain regions and the hippocampus are out of sync with each other, affecting memory and cognition.

The Northwestern study is the first to show Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) improves memory long after treatment.

In the past, TMS has been used in a limited way to temporarily change brain function to improve performance during a test, for example, making someone push a button slightly faster while the brain is being stimulated.

The study shows that TMS can be used to improve memory for events at least 24 hours after the stimulation is given.

Technically, it isn’t possible to directly stimulate the hippocampus with TMS because it’s too deep in the brain for the magnetic fields to penetrate.

So, using an MRI scan, Voss and colleagues identified a superficial brain region a mere centimeter from the surface of the skull with high connectivity to the hippocampus.

The technique worked well as directing the stimulation to the spot stimulated the hippocampus.

When TMS was used to stimulate this spot, brain regions associated with the hippocampus became more synchronized with each other — as indicated by data taken while subjects were inside an MRI machine, which records the blood flow in the brain as an indirect measure of neuronal activity.

The more those regions worked together due to the stimulation, the better people were able to learn new information.

For the study scientists recruited 16 healthy adults ages 21 to 40. Each had a detailed anatomical image taken of his or her brain as well as 10 minutes of recording brain activity while lying quietly inside an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.

This analysis allowed the researchers to identify each person’s network of brain structures that are involved in memory and well connected to the hippocampus.

Interestingly, the structures are slightly different in each person and may vary in location by as much as a few centimeters.

“To properly target the stimulation, we had to identify the structures in each person’s brain space because everyone’s brain is different,” Voss said.

Each participant then underwent a memory test, consisting of a set of arbitrary associations between faces and words that they were asked to learn and remember.

After establishing their baseline ability to perform on this memory task, participants received brain stimulation 20 minutes a day for five consecutive days.

During the week they also received additional MRI scans and tests of their ability to remember new sets of arbitrary word and face parings to see how their memory changed as a result of the stimulation.

Then, at least 24 hours after the final stimulation, they were tested again.

At least one week later, the same experiment was repeated but with a fake placebo stimulation.

The order of real stimulation and placebo portions of the study was reversed for half of the participants, and they weren’t told which was which.

Both groups performed better on memory tests as a result of the brain stimulation. It took three days of stimulation before they improved.

“They remembered more face-word pairings after the stimulation than before, which means their learning ability improved,” Voss said.

“That didn’t happen for the placebo condition or in another control experiment with additional subjects.”

In addition, the MRI showed the stimulation caused the brain regions to become more synchronized with each other and the hippocampus.

The greater the improvement in the synchronicity or connectivity between specific parts of the network, the better the performance on the memory test.

“The more certain brain regions worked together because of the stimulation, the more people were able to learn face-word pairings, ” Voss said.

Using TMS to stimulate memory has multiple advantages, noted first author Dr. Jane Wang, a postdoctoral fellow in Voss’s lab at Feinberg.

“No medication could be as specific as TMS for these memory networks,” Wang said. “There are a lot of different targets and it’s not easy to come up with any one receptor that’s involved in memory.”

“This opens up a whole new area for treatment studies where we will try to see if we can improve function in people who really need it,” Voss said.

His current study was with people who had normal memory, in whom he wouldn’t expect to see a big improvement because their brains are already working effectively.

“But for a person with brain damage or a memory disorder, those networks are disrupted so even a small change could translate into gains in their function,” Voss said.

Voss cautioned that years of research are needed to determine whether this approach is safe or effective for patients with Alzheimer’s disease or similar disorders of memory.

Source: Northwestern University

Abstract of brain photo by shutterstock.

Angry Face May Convey Physical Strength

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 7:45am

Although we may not realize this, true anger is more than an emotional state; it can literally be seen in lowered brows, thinned lips, and flared nostrils.

In fact, social scientists call this the “anger face.” Researchers at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and at Griffith University in Australia have now identified the functional advantages that may have caused the specific appearance of the anger face to evolve.

Their findings appear in the current online edition of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

“The expression is cross-culturally universal, and even congenitally blind children make this same face without ever having seen one,” said lead author Aaron Sell.

The anger expression employs seven distinct muscle groups that contract in a highly stereotyped manner.

The researchers sought to understand why evolution chose those particular muscle contractions to signal the emotional state of anger. The current research is part of a larger set of studies that examine the evolutionary function of anger.

“Our earlier research showed that anger evolved to motivate effective bargaining behavior during conflicts of interest,” said Sell.

The greater the harm an individual can inflict, noted Leda Cosmides, the more bargaining power he or she wields.

Cosmides, professor of psychology at UCSB, is a co-author on the study along with John Tooby.

“This general bargaining-through-menace principle applies to humans as well,” said Tooby.

“In earlier work we were able to confirm the predictions that stronger men anger more easily, fight more often, feel entitled to more unequal treatment, resolve conflicts more in their own favor, and are even more in favor of military solutions than are physically weak men.”

Starting from the hypothesis that anger is a bargaining emotion, the researchers reasoned that the first step is communicating to the other party that the anger-triggering event is not acceptable, and the conflict will not end until an implicit agreement is reached.

This, they say, is why the emotion of anger has a facial expression associated with it.

“But the anger face not only signals the onset of a conflict,” said Sell.

“Any distinctive facial display could do that. We hypothesized that the anger face evolved its specific form because it delivers something more for the expresser. Each element is designed to help intimidate others by making the angry individual appear more capable of delivering harm if not appeased.”

For our ancestors, Cosmides noted, greater upper body strength led to a greater ability to inflict harm; so the hypothesis was that the anger face should make a person appear stronger.

Using computer-generated faces, the researchers demonstrated that each of the individual components of the anger face made those computer-generated people appear physically stronger.

For example, the most common feature of the anger face is the lowered brow. Researchers took a computerized image of an average human face and then digitally morphed it in two ways: One photo showed a lowered brow, and the other a raised brow.

“With just this one difference, neither face appeared ‘angry,’ ” said Sell.

“But when these two faces were shown to subjects, they reported the lowered brow face as looking like it belonged to a physically stronger man.”

The experiment was repeated one-by-one with each of the other major components of the classic anger face — raised cheekbones (as in a snarl), lips thinned and pushed out, the mouth raised (as in defiance), the nose flared and the chin pushed out and up.

As predicted, the presence by itself of any one of these muscle contractions led observers to judge that the person making the face was physically stronger.

“Our previous research showed that humans are exceptionally good at assessing fighting ability just by looking at someone’s face,” said Sell.

“Since people who are judged to be stronger tend to get their way more often, other things being equal, the researchers concluded that the explanation for evolution of the form of the human anger face is surprisingly simple — it is a threat display.”

These threat displays — like those of other animals — consist of exaggerations of cues of fighting ability, Sell continued.

“So a man will puff up his chest, stand tall, and morph his face to make himself appear stronger.

“The function of the anger face is intimidation,” added Cosmides, “just like a frog will puff itself up or a baboon will display its canines.”

As Tooby explained, “This makes sense of why evolution selected this particular facial display to co-occur with the onset of anger.

Anger is triggered by the refusal to accept the situation, and the face immediately organizes itself to advertise to the other party the costs of not making the situation more acceptable. What is most pleasing about these results is that no feature of the anger face appears to be arbitrary; they all deliver the same message.”

According to Sell, the researchers know this to be true because each of the seven components has the same effect. “In the final analysis, you can think of the anger face as a constellation of features, each of which makes you appear physically more formidable.”

Source: University of California, Santa Barbara


Man with angry facial expression photo by shutterstock.

Understanding the Brain of Teenage Boys

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 7:00am

Pushing boundaries and taking risks during adolescence is common, but for some the behavior becomes maladaptive.

Emerging research is now illuminating the source of this behavior providing insights that will be helpful in reducing unsafe teen conduct.

In a new issue, Florida State neuroscientist Pradeep Bhide, Ph.D., brought together some of the world’s foremost researchers in a quest to explain why teenagers — boys, in particular — often behave erratically.

The result is a series of 19 studies that approached the question from multiple scientific domains, including psychology, neurochemistry, brain imaging, clinical neuroscience, and neurobiology.

The studies are published in a special volume of Developmental Neuroscience, “Teenage Brains: Think Different?”

“Psychologists, psychiatrists, educators, neuroscientists, criminal justice professionals, and parents are engaged in a daily struggle to understand and solve the enigma of teenage risky behaviors,” Bhide said.

“Such behaviors impact not only the teenagers who obviously put themselves at serious and lasting risk but also families and societies in general.

“The emotional and economic burdens of such behaviors are quite huge. The research described in this book offers clues to what may cause such maladaptive behaviors and how one may be able to devise methods of countering, avoiding, or modifying these behaviors.”

Researchers provide new insights about the inner workings of a teenage boy’s brain:

  • Unlike children or adults, teenage boys show enhanced activity in the part of the brain that controls emotions when confronted with a threat. Magnetic resonance scanner readings in one study revealed that the level of activity in the limbic brain of adolescent males reacting to threat, even when they’ve been told not to respond to it, was strikingly different from that in adult men;
  • Using brain activity measurements, another team of researchers found that teenage boys were mostly immune to the threat of punishment but hypersensitive to the possibility of large gains from gambling. The results question the effectiveness of punishment as a deterrent for risky or deviant behavior in adolescent boys;
  • Another study demonstrated that a molecule known to be vital in developing fear of dangerous situations is less active in adolescent male brains. These findings point towards neurochemical differences between teenage and adult brains, which may underlie the complex behaviors exhibited by teenagers.

“The new studies illustrate the neurobiological basis of some of the more unusual but well-known behaviors exhibited by our teenagers,” Bhide said.

“Stress, hormonal changes, complexities of psychosocial environment, and peer-pressure all contribute to the challenges of assimilation faced by teenagers.

“These studies attempt to isolate, examine, and understand some of these potential causes of a teenager’s complex conundrum. The research sheds light on how we may be able to better interact with teenagers at home or outside the home, how to design educational strategies and how best to treat or modify a teenager’s maladaptive behavior.”

Source: Newswise/Florida State


Abstract of teenage brain photo by shutterstock.

Imaging Studies Distinguish Imagination from Memory

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 6:15am

In a new study, Brigham Young University researchers explore where and how imagination happens in the brain.

Graduate student researcher Stefania Ashby and her faculty mentor developed a methodology that incorporated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology in a series of experiments that helped them distinguish pure imagination from related processes like remembering.

“I was thinking a lot about planning for my own future and imagining myself in the future, and I started wondering how memory and imagination work together,” Ashby said.

“I wondered if they were separate or if imagination is just taking past memories and combining them in different ways to form something I’ve never experienced before.”

Scientists have often debated whether memory and imagination truly are distinct processes. So Ashby and her faculty mentor devised MRI experiments to put it to the test.

They asked study participants to provide 60 personal photographs for the “remember” section of the experiment.

Participants also filled out a questionnaire beforehand to determine which scenarios would be unfamiliar to them and thus a better fit for the “imagine” section.

The researchers then showed people their own photographs during an MRI session to elicit brain activity that is strictly memory-based. A statistical analysis revealed distinctive patterns for memory and imagination.

“We were able to see the distinctions even in those small regions of the hippocampus,” Ashby said. “It’s really neat that we can see the difference between those two tasks in that small of a brain region.”

The study has been published in the journal Cognitive Neuroscience.

Source: Brigham Young University

Abstract of MRI brain scan photo by shutterstock.

Sincere Appreciation Leads to New Friendships

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 5:30am

A new Australian study suggests that the act of expressing gratitude to a new acquaintance for their help makes it more likely that they will seek an ongoing social relationship with you.

Thus, the courtesy of saying “thank you” has value far beyond the literal connotation.

“Saying thank you provides a valuable signal that you are someone with whom a high quality relationship could be formed,” said psychologist Dr. Lisa Williams, who conducted the research with Dr. Monica Bartlett in the U.S.

The study, to be published in the journal Emotion, involved 70 university students who provided advice to a younger student. Some of those advice-givers were thanked for their advice.

The study was designed to test an emerging theory on how the emotion of gratitude can benefit individuals and society.

This find-remind-and-bind theory suggests gratitude helps people develop new relationships (find), build on existing relationships (remind), and maintain both (bind).

The current study tested the first aspect of the theory, finding.

The university students were led to believe they were mentoring a high school student, and were asked to comment on a university admissions essay, supposedly written by the mentee.

In reply, all mentor participants received a handwritten note from their supposed mentee.

In about half the cases the note included an expression of gratitude: “Thank you SO much for all the time and effort you put into doing that for me!”

The university students who were thanked were more likely to provide their contact details, such as their phone number or email address, for the mentee than those who were not thanked. The grateful mentees were also rated as having significantly warmer personalities.

The results suggest that the reason why people “find” grateful others is because of this perceived warmth.

Although the study findings may seem like common sense, this kind of experiment had not been conducted before.

“Our findings represent the first known evidence that expression of gratitude facilitates the initiation of new relationships among previously unacquainted people,” said Williams.

The message is especially relevant in today’s world given the widespread adoption of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

“New studies may investigate if observing someone express gratitude increases another person’s desire to form a relationship with them,” said Williams.

Source: University of New South Wales

Woman holding thanks sign photo by shutterstock.