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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 58 min 4 sec ago

Psychotic Experiences Linked to Cognitive Changes

4 hours 22 min ago

Recent research suggests that people who have psychotic experiences, but no diagnosis of psychotic illness, have altered cognitive functioning compared with people without psychotic experiences.

A substantial minority of the general population, around six percent, experiences subclinical psychotic experiences, report MSc student Josephine Mollon of King’s College London, UK, and colleagues in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

“Evidence suggests that subclinical psychotic experiences may lie on a continuum with clinically significant psychotic symptoms, and therefore be informative for research into the cause of psychotic illness,” they write.

Both disorders share risk factors such as low IQ, childhood maltreatment, and stressful life events, as well as similar brain scan results such as deficits in grey and white matter.

The researchers looked at neuropsychological functioning and psychotic experiences in adults, taking into account sociodemographic characteristics and age. They used information gathered from household surveys covering 1,677 people aged 16 years or older, living in two areas of London, UK. Average age was 40 years.

Participants’ psychotic experiences were measured using the Psychosis Screening Questionnaire, which is administered by an interviewer. It assesses psychotic experiences in the previous year, covering thought disorder, paranoia, strange experiences, and hallucinations. The tool also covers hypomania, a mild form of mania, marked by elation and hyperactivity, but this was not assessed as the focus was on psychosis.

Cognitive functioning was measured with a series of tests looking at verbal knowledge (using a reading test), working memory, general memory, and cognitive processing speed. From this, an overall IQ score was calculated.

One in ten of the participants had previously had psychotic experiences. This group was not significantly different from those without psychotic experiences on overall IQ or processing speed. But they scored less highly on verbal knowledge, working memory, and general memory.

Medium to large impairments in cognitive functioning were seen among participants aged 50 years and older with psychotic experiences. These differences remained once socioeconomic status, cannabis use, and common mental disorders were taken into account.

The team writes, “The profile of cognitive impairment in adults with psychotic experiences differed from that seen in adults with psychotic disorders, suggesting important differences between subclinical and clinical psychosis.”

Commenting on the study, researcher Josephine Mollon says, “Psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, are core features of psychotic disorders. A significant minority of the general population also reports subclinical psychotic experiences.

“We used population-based survey data to characterize cognitive functioning in adults with psychotic experiences while adjusting for important sociodemographic characteristics and investigating the effect of age.”

She continues, “Those with subclinical psychotic experiences did not show an impairment in processing speed, which is severely compromised in psychotic patients, suggesting that processing speed deficits indicate vulnerability to psychosis.

“Moreover, psychotic experiences, together with cognitive deficits, may be most challenging in those aged 50 years and older. Even mild, subclinical psychotic experiences, when combined with the effects of aging, may strain cognitive reserves and lead to large, burdensome cognitive deficits.”

In conclusion, Mollon adds, “Our findings suggest a continuum of psychotic experiences and cognitive deficits in a much larger proportion of the population than that seen in clinical practice. Effective treatment of such deficits could be helpful for many individuals.”

She recommends that future research on the topic should involve long-term studies “to elucidate how psychotic experiences interact with cognitive deficits throughout the life course and to identify risk and resiliency factors.”

This study is the first to investigate the effect of age on cognitive impairment associated with psychotic experiences in adults. Some previous studies suggest that these experiences are most prevalent in adolescence and old age, while others have not found significant age differences. Among the participants in this study, psychotic experiences were more likely in the youngest group but remained sizable in the other age groups.

Because the data in this study came from household surveys, the researchers could look for possible mechanisms behind the links they found with psychotic experiences and cognition.

They say, “First-degree relatives were significantly impaired on verbal knowledge, whereas unrelated cohabitants showed no impairment. Our findings suggest that a complex interplay of genetic, biological, and psychosocial factors lies behind the association between psychotic experiences and neuropsychological impairment.

“This pattern of verbal knowledge impairment suggests common genetic and/or family environmental factors.”

Reference

Mollon, J. et al. Psychotic Experiences and Neuropsychological Functioning in a Population-based Sample. JAMA Psychiatry, 30 December 2015 doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2551

Mice Study Shows How Sleep Deprivation Harms Memory

5 hours 6 min ago

Findings from an international research effort are helping scientists understand the way in which sleep deprivation negatively affects memory.

Researchers from the Universities of Groningen (Netherlands) and Pennsylvania found that in mice, five hours of sleep deprivation leads to a loss of connectivity between neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with learning and memory.

The study, to be published in the journal eLife, is the first to provide detail on why memory is harmed when sleep deprived.

“It’s clear that sleep plays an important role in memory — we know that taking naps helps us retain important memories. But how sleep deprivation impairs hippocampal function and memory is less obvious,” says first author Robbert Havekes, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences.

It has been proposed that changes in the connectivity between synapses — structures that allow neurons to pass signals to each other — can affect memory.

To study this further, the researchers examined the impact of brief periods of sleep loss on the structure of dendrites, the branching extensions of nerve cells along which impulses are received from other synaptic cells, in the mouse brain.

They first used the Golgi silver-staining method to visualize the length of dendrites and number of dendritic spines in the mouse hippocampus following five hours of sleep deprivation, a period of sleep loss that is known to impair memory consolidation.

Their analyses indicated that sleep deprivation significantly reduces the length and spine density of the dendrites belonging to the neurons in the CA1 region of the hippocampus.

They repeated the sleep-loss experiment, but left the mice to sleep undisturbed for three hours afterwards. This period was chosen based on the scientists’ previous work showing that three hours is sufficient to restore deficits caused by lack of sleep.

The effects of the five-hour sleep deprivation in the mice were reversed so that their dendritic structures were similar to those observed in the mice that had slept.

The researchers then investigated what was happening during sleep deprivation at the molecular level.

“We were curious about whether the structural changes in the hippocampus might be related to increased activity of the protein cofilin, since this can cause shrinkage and loss of dendritic spines,” Havekes says.

“Our further studies revealed that the molecular mechanisms underlying the negative effects of sleep loss do in fact target cofilin.

“Blocking this protein in hippocampal neurons of sleep-deprived mice not only prevented the loss of neuronal connectivity, but also made the memory processes resilient to sleep loss. The sleep-deprived mice learned as well as non-sleep deprived subjects.”

Ted Abel, Ph.D., Brush Family Professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania and senior author of the study, explains: “Lack of sleep is a common problem in our 24/7 modern society and it has severe consequences for health, overall wellbeing, and brain function.

“Despite decades of research, the reasons why sleep loss negatively impacts brain function have remained unknown. Our novel description of a pathway through which sleep deprivation impacts memory consolidation highlights the importance of the neuronal cell network’s ability to adapt to sleep loss.

“What is perhaps most striking is that these neuronal connections are restored with several hours of recovery sleep. Thus, when subjects have a chance to catch up on much-needed sleep, they are rapidly remodeling their brain.”

Source: Elife/EurekAlert

Banned Chemicals Continue to Increase Risk of Autism

5 hours 52 min ago

Chemicals banned decades ago continue to increase the risk of autism. In a new study, investigators discovered exposure during pregnancy to chemicals used in certain pesticides and as insulating material banned in the 1970s, can significantly increase the odds of autism spectrum disorder in children.

Researchers discovered children born after being exposed to the highest levels of certain compounds of the chemicals during their mother’s pregnancy were roughly 80 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism when compared to individuals with the very lowest levels of these chemicals. That also includes those who were completely unexposed.

The dangerous substances — known as organochlorine chemicals — were banned in the United States in 1977. However, these compounds can remain in the environment and become absorbed in the fat of animals that humans eat, leading to exposure.

With that in mind, Kristen Lyall, ScD, assistant professor in Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, and her collaborators, decided to look at organochlorine chemicals during pregnancy since they can cross through the placenta and affect the fetus’ neurodevelopment.

“There’s a fair amount of research examining exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy in association with other outcomes, like birth weight — but little research on autism, specifically,” Lyall said.

“To examine the role of environmental exposures in risk of autism, it is important that samples are collected during time frames with evidence for susceptibility for autism — termed ‘critical windows’ in neurodevelopment. Fetal development is one of those critical windows.”

Their paper describing this study was titled, “Prenatal Organochlorine Chemicals and Autism,” and published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Lyall teamed with researchers including Gayle Windham, Ph.D., Martin Kharrazi, Ph.D., Lisa Croen, Ph.D., as well as an expert on measuring organochlorine chemicals, Andreas Sjodin, Ph.D..

The team looked at a population sample of 1,144 children born in Southern California between 2000 and 2003. Data was accrued from mothers who had enrolled in California’s Expanded Alphafetoprotein Prenatal Screening Program, which is dedicated to detecting birth defects during pregnancy.

Participants’ children were separated into three groups: 545 who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, 181 with intellectual disabilities but no autism diagnosis, and 418 with a diagnosis of neither.

Blood tests taken from the second trimester of the children’s mothers were used to determine the level of exposure to two different classes of organochlorine chemicals: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, which were used as lubricants, coolants and insulators in consumer and electrical products) and organochlorine pesticides (OCPs, which include chemicals like DDT).

“Exposure to PCBs and OCPs is ubiquitous,” Lyall said. “Work from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which includes pregnant women, shows that people in the U.S. generally still have measurable levels of these chemicals in their bodies.”

However, Lyall emphasized that exposure levels were key in determining risk.

“Adverse effects are related to levels of exposure, not just presence or absence of detectable levels,” she said. “In our Southern California study population, we found evidence for modestly increased risk for individuals in the highest 25th percentile of exposure to some of these chemicals.”

It was determined that two compounds in particular — PCB 138/158 and PCB 153 — stood out as being significantly linked with autism risk.

Children with the highest in utero levels (exposure during their mother’s pregnancy) of these two forms of PCBs were between 79 and 82 percent more likely to have an autism diagnosis than those found to be exposed to the lowest levels.

High levels of two other compounds, PCB 170 and PCB 180, were also associated with children being approximately 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed — again, this is relative to children with the lowest prenatal exposure to these PCBs.

None of the OCPs appeared to show an association with higher autism diagnosis risk.

In children with intellectual disabilities but not autism, the highest exposure to PCBs appeared to double the risk of a diagnosis when compared to those with the lowest exposure. Mid-range (rather than high) OCP exposure was also associated with an increased level of intellectual disability diagnosis when measured against children with the lowest exposure levels.

“The results suggest that prenatal exposure to these chemicals above a certain level may influence neurodevelopment in adverse ways,” Lyall said.

These results are a first step to suggest these compounds may increase risk of development of autism, and Lyall and her colleagues are eyeing up more work in the field.

“We are definitely doing more research to build on this — including work examining genetics, as well as mixtures of chemicals,” Lyall said. “This investigation draws from a rich dataset and we need more studies like this in autism research.”

Source: Drexel University

App Improves Health Behaviors for People Living with HIV

6 hours 36 min ago

A smartphone app has been found to help people with HIV take their daily medications and reduce substance abuse.

University of Buffalo researchers found that participants not only found the app easy and convenient to use — they were also willing to provide honest responses.

“Reporting was actually high — we had 95 percent compliance with daily report completion. A key finding of our study was the ability for people living with HIV to feel comfortable reporting on sensitive health behaviors,” said Sarahmona Przybyla, the study’s lead author.

A willingness to report the use of alcohol or drugs was significant because substance use is one of the most reliable predictors of poor adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART), explain the researchers.

Their findings were more surprising considering that the majority of the 26 study participants had never used a smartphone before. After some initial smartphone training from research staff, they completed their reports with ease.

The study appears in the journal AIDS Research and Treatment.

Participants were recruited from two Buffalo-area clinics and were asked to use the app — named Daily Reports of Using Medications, or DRUM — to complete their reports, which took three to five minutes, between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. each day for two weeks.

Every afternoon, the 26 study participants received a text message reminder asking them to fill out their report. If they missed that day’s report, they were given the option to do a make-up when they logged into the app the next day.

Researchers were deliberate in their wording of the questions. “People living with HIV continue to be a stigmatized population, so we didn’t want any of the questions we developed to draw attention to their disease. We never used ‘HIV’ or ‘ART’ — anything that would inadvertently out someone as having HIV,” Przybyla said.

A sample medication question was, “Did you take your first dose?” A change in daily routine was the most commonly reported reason participants didn’t take their medication, followed by simply forgetting. Use of alcohol or drugs was the third most common reason.

Participants who confirmed they had used alcohol or drugs in the past 24 hours were given a series of follow-up questions that asked why they used the substance and where they were when they used it, with a dropdown menu of answer choices.

Each participant was provided with a five-digit passcode to access the app, ensuring privacy and confidentiality. Data from the completed reports was sent in real time directly to University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, which helped develop the app along with Przybyla.

In the future, the app could aid in users’ decision to use alcohol since some participants in this study reported that it helped them understand exactly how much they were drinking.

And it helped users establish a pattern. “I think the surprising thing is how much the app and the text reminders helped the participants to develop a routine,” said Rebecca Eliseo-Arras, a study co-author and senior research analyst at UB’s Research Institute on Addictions.

“For instance, some reported that the text message reminded them to do the report, but the report actually made them think about whether or not they took their medication and, if they didn’t, that it prompted them to go take their medications.”

Participants completed 347 out of 364 possible daily reports over the two-week span. They reported drinking alcohol on 51.6 percent and marijuana use on 35.4 percent of reporting days.

In follow-up interviews after the two weeks, researchers asked study members about their experience using the app. “Many said it was a piece of cake and that they actually looked forward to doing their daily reports,” Przybyla said.

“We also asked people where they were when they completed their reports. A lot of them said they were out and about. They never felt like they had to go hide in a bathroom to fill out the survey each day.”

Przybyla said it’s important to note that the average time since diagnosis among study participants was 17 years and that many of their friends and relatives were likely aware they had HIV. As a result, participants probably felt more comfortable completing the reports around others than someone who was more recently diagnosed and may not have been open about disclosing their disease status to others.

Three-quarters of the sample was male, and slightly more than half were African American. The average age was 48.

Investigators believe the app could help lead to quicker intervention in cases where a patient has missed a number of doses. “Life expectancy has changed dramatically as a result of advances in pharmacotherapy, which is wonderful, but adherence is key. You can live a long, healthy life with HIV, but you have to take your meds,” said Przybyla.

“Now that we have this data, we can reach out to people with HIV and say, ‘We’ve noticed you’ve been using substances and that seems to be related to the fact that you’ve missed your doses — what can we do to help you?’ It’s putting prevention in their pockets.”

Source: University of Buffalo

Music at Work Enhances Teambuilding

7 hours 22 min ago

From retail shops to health care complexes, music is used to improve the customer experience and mold behavior. New research reviews the effects of music for enhancing the worksite environment for employees.

In the study, Cornell University investigators used a pair of lab experiments to learn that music can play an important role in enhancing cooperative spirit.

Researchers Kevin Kniffin, Jubo Yan, Brian Wansink, and William Schulze devised the experiments to test the effect of different types of music on the cooperative behavior of individuals working as a team.

The summary paper appears in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

For each study, participants were grouped into teams of three. Each team member was given multiple opportunities to either contribute to the team’s value using tokens or keep the tokens for personal use.

When happy, upbeat music was played — researchers chose the “Happy Days” theme song, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles, and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves — team members were more likely to contribute to the group’s value.

When music deemed unpleasant was played — in this case, heavy metal songs by less than well-known bands — participants were more likely to keep tokens for themselves.

The researchers found contribution levels to the public good when happy, upbeat songs were played were approximately one-third higher compared to the less pleasant music.

When researchers conducted a second experiment testing how people react when no music is played, the results were the same. The researchers conclude that happy music provokes people to more often make decisions that contribute to the good of the team.

“Music is a pervasive part of much of our daily lives, whether we consciously notice it or not,” said Kniffin, a behavioral scientist at Cornell and lead author on the paper.

“Music might melt into the background in places like supermarkets or gyms and other times it’s very prominent like places of worship or presidential nominating conventions. Our results show that people seem more likely to get into sync with each other if they’re listening to music that has a steady beat to it.”

Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, added, “What’s great about these findings, other than having a scientific reason to blast tunes at work, is that happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive overall.”

The researchers suggest managers consider not only the customer experience but also workers’ when picking the day’s music.

Starting the day with this simple consideration in mind could result in happier employees and more teamwork.

“Lots of employers spend significant sums of time and money on off-site team-building exercises to build cooperation among employees. Our research points to the office sound system as a channel that has been under appreciated as a way to inspire cooperation among co-workers,” said Kniffin.

Source: Cornell University

Starting to View Porn Linked to Divorce Risk

Tue, 08/23/2016 - 7:45am

A new study suggests that beginning pornography use substantially increases the probability of divorce for married Americans, especially among women.

“Beginning pornography use between survey waves nearly doubled one’s likelihood of being divorced by the next survey period, from six percent to 11 percent, and nearly tripled it for women, from six percent to 16 percent,” said Dr. Samuel Perry. Perry is the lead author of the study and is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma.

“Our results suggest that viewing pornography, under certain social conditions, may have negative effects on marital stability.”

Perry presented his study findings at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). The study uses nationally representative General Social Survey panel data collected from thousands of American adults.

Respondents were interviewed three times about their pornography use and marital status: every two years from 2006-2010, 2008-2012, or 2010-2014.

The study uses a statistical design that focuses on initially married respondents’ change in pornography use and marital status between survey waves. Respondents who did not report viewing pornography in the past year at an initial wave, but did so by the subsequent wave were characterized as having begun pornography use.

The study then isolates the connection between this change in pornography use and the probability of respondents being divorced by that subsequent survey wave, compared to the probability of divorce among those who did not watch pornography in either survey wave.

In addition to investigating the association between changing pornography viewership habits and the probability of divorce in general, Perry and his co-author Dr. Cyrus Schleifer, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma, also examined how other variables influenced the way in which viewing pornography impacts a marriage.

Variables considered included age, religiosity, and marital happiness as each influenced the link between changing pornography viewership habits and marital stability.

While beginning to watch pornography was associated with an increase in the probability of divorce for the sample of married Americans, the increase was greater for younger adults. In fact, the study found that the younger an adult was when he or she began watching pornography, the higher his or her probability of getting divorced by the next survey wave.

“Younger Americans tend to view pornography more often than older Americans, and older Americans generally have more stable marriages since they tend to be more mature, financially established, and likely already have more time invested in the relationship,” Perry said.

“So, we thought it made perfect sense that the effect of pornography use on divorce would grow weaker with age.”

Beginning pornography use was also associated with a greater negative impact on the marriages of those who were less religious, which was measured by religious service attendance.

For those who did not attend religious services every week or more, beginning pornography use was associated with an increase from six percent to 12 percent in the probability of getting divorced by the next survey. By contrast, those who attended religious services at least weekly saw virtually no increase in their probability of divorce upon starting to view pornography.

According to Perry, the fact that being more religious seemed to lessen the negative influence of pornography use on marital stability deviates from some previous research.

“Several previous studies finding a negative association between pornography use and marital quality showed the effect was stronger for frequent churchgoers,” Perry said. “This was thought to be because pornography use carries a greater social and psychic cost for those in communities that stigmatize its use. But our findings suggest that religion has a protective effect on marriage, even in the face of pornography use.

“Because religious groups stigmatize divorce and prioritize marital stability, it is likely that married Americans who are more religious will experience a greater combination of community pressure and internalized moral pressure to stay married, regardless of pornography’s effect on their marital quality.”

Additionally, the researchers found that respondents’ initially reported level of marital happiness played an important role in determining the magnitude of pornography’s association with the probability of divorce.

Among people who reported they were “very happy” in their marriage in the first survey wave, beginning pornography viewership before the next survey was associated with a noteworthy increase — from three percent to 12 percent — in the likelihood of getting divorced by the time of that next survey.

However, beginning pornography use had no statistically significant association for individuals who reported lower marital happiness initially.

“We took this to mean that pornography use — perhaps if it’s discovered by one’s spouse unexpectedly — could rock an otherwise happy marriage to the point of divorce, but it doesn’t seem to make an unhappy marriage any worse than it already is,” Perry said.

 

Source: American Sociological Association/EurekAlert

Naps Between Studies Can Aid Retention & Relearning

Tue, 08/23/2016 - 7:00am

Now that many students have either returned to school or are preparing to hit the books again, the results of a new French study can help them retain and learn new information more effectively.

Researchers have found that getting some sleep in between study sessions may make it easier to recall what was studied and help to relearn what has been forgotten, even six months later.

“Our results suggest that interleaving sleep between practice sessions leads to a twofold advantage, reducing the time spent relearning and ensuring a much better long-term retention than practice alone,” said psychological scientist Dr. Stephanie Mazza of the University of Lyon.

“Previous research suggested that sleeping after learning is definitely a good strategy, but now we show that sleeping between two learning sessions greatly improves such a strategy.”

The study appears in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

While studies have shown that both repeated practice and sleep can help improve memory, there is little research investigating how repetition and sleep influence memory when they are combined.

In the study, Mazza and colleagues hypothesized that sleeping in between study sessions might make the relearning process more efficient, reducing the effort needed to commit information to memory.

A total of 40 French adults were randomly assigned to either a “sleep” group or a “wake” group. At the first session, all participants were presented with 16 French-Swahili word pairs in random order.

After studying a pair for seven seconds, the Swahili word appeared and participants were prompted to type the French translation. The correct word pair was then shown for four seconds. Any words that were not correctly translated were presented again, until each word pair had been correctly translated.

Twelve hours after the initial session, the participants completed the recall task again, practicing the whole list of words until all 16 words were correctly translated.

Importantly, some participants completed the first session in the morning and the second session in the evening of the same day (“wake” group); others completed the first session in the evening, slept, and completed the second session the following morning (“sleep” group).

In the first session, the two groups showed no difference in how many words they could initially recall or in the number of trials they needed to be able to remember all 16 word pairs.

But after 12 hours, the data told another story: Participants who had slept between sessions recalled about 10 of the 16 words, on average, while those who hadn’t slept recalled only about 7.5 words.

And when it came to relearning, those who had slept needed only about three trials to be able to recall all 16 words, while those who had stayed awake needed about six trials.

Ultimately, both groups were able to learn all 16 word pairs, but sleeping in between sessions seemed to allow participants to do so in less time and with less effort.

“Memories that were not explicitly accessible at the beginning of relearning appeared to have been transformed by sleep in some way,” said Mazza. “Such transformation allowed subjects to re-encode information faster and to save time during the relearning session.”

The memory boost that participants got from sleeping between sessions seemed to last over time. Follow-up data showed that participants in the sleep group outperformed their peers on the recall test one week later.

The sleep group showed very little forgetting, recalling about 15 word pairs, compared to the wake group, who were able to recall about 11 word pairs. This benefit was still noticeable six months later.

The benefits of sleep could not be ascribed to participants’ sleep quality or sleepiness, or to their short-term or long-term memory capacity, as the two groups showed no differences on these measures.

The results suggest that alternating study sessions with sleep might be an easy and effective way to remember information over longer periods of time with less study, Mazza and colleagues conclude.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Fussy Infants May Be More at Risk for Obesity

Tue, 08/23/2016 - 6:15am

Emerging research suggest babies that seem to get upset more easily and take longer to calm down may be at higher risk for obesity than babies that exhibit more “cuddliness” and calm down easily.

In the study, University of Buffalo researchers investigated new ways in which to identify infants at risk for becoming overweight or obese. The belief is that early identification of high-risk children allows intervention before detrimental behaviors and habits have been established.

The research appears online ahead of print in Childhood Obesity.

“The research tells us that differences in behavior begin as early as infancy and those differences can influence health behaviors that impact future health risks,” said Kai Ling Kong, Ph.D., first author and assistant professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at University of Buffalo.

In the study, 105 infants from nine to 18 months old were taught to press a button to earn a reward. They completed the task twice, and received either a piece of their favorite food as a reward or ten seconds of a non-food reward, such as blowing bubbles, watching a Baby Einstein DVD, or hearing music.

Parents were instructed to say only specific phrases while the child completed the task.

As the task went on, it became increasingly difficult for the infant to earn the reward as they had to press the button more times. The amount of “work” they were willing to do was calculated by counting the number of times the child was willing to press the button to get the reward.

The child’s temperament was assessed through a detailed, 191-question online questionnaire that parents completed.

“We found that infants that rated higher on what we call cuddliness — the baby’s expression of enjoyment and molding of the body to being held — had lower food reinforcement,” said Kong.

“That means they were willing to work more for a non-food reward versus a food reward. So an infant who enjoyed being held closely by a caregiver was less motivated to work for food.”

The researchers measured cuddliness by asking parents specific questions such as, “When being held, how often did your baby pull away or kick?” and “While being fed on your lap, how often did your baby snuggle even after they were done?”

Infants who rated high on how quickly they could recover from crying or being distressed also were less motivated to work for food compared to non-food alternatives.

Conversely, infants who rated lower on cuddliness and who took longer to recover from distress and arousal, had higher food reinforcement; that is, they were willing to work harder for a food reward.

Kong said that correlating these differences in temperament with their relative food reinforcement will help researchers identify ways to encourage healthier diets among the youngest individuals.

Parents who identify these characteristics in their infants also can benefit, she said.

“If a parent sees high relative food reinforcement in their child, it is not cause for immediate concern,” she said.

Instead, she noted, the parent could evaluate their child’s relationship to food, encouraging the child to engage in activities other than eating, especially as a reward.

“Using rewards other than food, such as a trip to the playground or engaging in active play with their parents, may help reduce their child’s tendency to find pleasure in food,” she said.

Making available a wide array of toys, activities and playmates so food isn’t the main focus and sole source of pleasure also can be beneficial.

Kong added that children can learn healthier lifestyles when parents model healthy behaviors themselves, pay close attention to children’s satiety cues (noting when they are full) and don’t immediately use food to comfort a child who is crying or fussing.

Source: University of Buffalo

Poor Job Satisfaction Can Harm Health Before Age 40

Tue, 08/23/2016 - 5:30am

New research discovers early job satisfaction plays a significant role on a person’s health, especially their mental health.

In a new nationwide study, Ohio State investigators discovered job satisfaction in the late 20s and 30s has a link to overall health in the early 40s.

While job satisfaction had some impact on physical health, its effect was particularly strong for mental health, researchers found.

Investigators discovered that those less than happy with their work early in their careers were more depressed and worried and had more trouble sleeping. Furthermore, improving or decline job satisfaction early in one’s career influences later health.

The good news is that people whose job satisfaction started low but got better over the course of their early career didn’t have the health problems associated with consistently low or declining satisfaction.

“We found that there is a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s,” said Jonathan Dirlam, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology.

Dirlam conducted the study with Hui Zheng, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State and they will presented their research at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

Zheng said the results showed the importance that early jobs have on people’s lives.

“You don’t have to be near the end of your career to see the health impact of job satisfaction, particularly on your mental health,” Zheng said.

The researchers used data from 6,432 Americans who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, which followed adults who were between the ages of 14 and 22 when the survey began in 1979. The NLSY79 is conducted by Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For this study, the researchers examined job satisfaction trajectories for people from age 25 to 39. These participants then reported a variety of health measures after they turned 40.

Participants rated how much they liked their jobs from one (dislike very much) to four (like very much).

The researchers put participants in four groups: consistently low and consistently high job satisfaction, those whose satisfaction started high but was trending down, and those who started low but were trending higher.

The average score of those classified as the low group was nearly three (indicating they liked their job “fairly well”), Dirlam noted. But there was a lot of variance in that group, meaning that it included all the people who said they disliked their jobs somewhat or very much.

About 45 percent of participants had consistently low job satisfaction, while another 23 percent had levels that were trending downward through their early career.

About 15 percent of people were consistently happy at their jobs (nearly four on the scale) and about 17 percent were trending upward.

Using those who were consistently happy as the reference, the researchers compared how the health of the other three groups compared.

They discovered that a person’s perception of their job plays a significant role in their mental health. People who were in the low job satisfaction group throughout their early careers scored worse on all five of the mental health measures studied, study results showed.

Those unhappy with their job reported higher levels of depression, sleep problems, and excessive worry. They were also more likely to have been diagnosed with emotional problems and scored lower on a test of overall mental health.

Individuals whose job satisfaction started out higher but declined through their early career were more likely than those with consistently high satisfaction to have frequent trouble sleeping and excessive worry, and had lower scores for overall mental health.

But they didn’t see an impact on depression scores or their probability of being diagnosed with emotional problems. Those whose scores went up through the early career years did not see any comparative health problems.

Job dissatisfaction did not impact a person’s physical health as much as mental health. Those who were in the low satisfaction group and those who were trending downwards reported poorer overall health and more problems like back pain and frequent colds compared to the high satisfaction group.

But they weren’t different in physical functioning and in doctor-diagnosed health problems such as diabetes and cancer.

As was true for mental health, no effects were seen on physical health for those trending upward.

Zheng said it is important to remember that participants were studied when they were only in their 40s.

“The higher levels of mental health problems for those with low job satisfaction may be a precursor to future physical problems,” Zheng said.

“Increased anxiety and depression could lead to cardiovascular or other health problems that won’t show up until they are older.”

Dirlam noted that the study ended before the Great Recession.

“The recession almost certainly increased job insecurity and dissatisfaction, and that could have resulted in more negative health effects,” he said.

Source: American Sociological Association/EurekAlert

“Hybrid Masculinity” And The Rise of Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 7:45am

A study of the fast-growing therapeutic boarding school industry finds some atypical trends as researchers discovered troubled young men in at least one program most often displayed a type of “hybrid masculinity.”

Earlier research found that males in traditional boarding and preparatory school settings are prone to display masculine behaviors to signal their wealth, self-worth, and strength. In those settings, such behaviors have been positively linked to future attainment and success, said Jessica A. Pfaffendorf, a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona School of Sociology.

Pfaffendorf presented her research in a paper at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). She found that young men at the therapeutic boarding school she studied intentionally used more feminine behaviors for personal benefit.

Whereas traditional boarding schools have tended to focus on academics and college preparation, therapeutic boarding schools are specifically designed for those with emotional and behavioral challenges.

Pfaffendorf’s findings are part of a larger investigation she began conducting in 2012 on the rise of therapeutic boarding schools. About 300 of these elite residential treatment centers exist in the United States, a number representing a threefold increase in the last two decades, Pfaffendorf said.

Such programs generally cater to those aged 13 to 18 who have behavioral and psychological issues, and who are dealing with addictions. Tuition for these programs can range between $75,000 and $100,000 annually, and they exist most often to help young adults graduate from high school, while offering interventions.

Most often, upper-class, white young men enroll, Pfaffendorf said.

As part of her research, Pfaffendorf spent two years observing and conducting interviews at a therapeutic boarding school located in the Southwest region of the U.S.

The program in the Southwest operated on an active ranch. This provided the young men with the opportunity to groom, ride, and train horses, as well as wilderness excursions with counselors. The program, like most others nationally, also reinforced values associated with relationship building, interdependence, recognition of one’s powerlessness, communality, and the open expression of emotions.

Pfaffendorf found that the young men often “spoke at length about their feelings, expressed emotion openly, and freely admitted their past wrongs and the guilt that came along with them.” These men also described themselves as being more mature and having more purpose than their counterparts attending traditional schools.

“By communicating and responding maturely to situations, students maintain that they are better leaders and better able to succeed than other young men,” Pfaffendorf said. “In these ways, students use hybrid masculinities to reassert dominance,” particularly over those attending traditional schools.

It is important to note here that sociologists understand gender not as a biological occurrence, but as culturally-defined behaviors that are learned and performed.

Also important, Pfaffendorf found that the men did not fully embrace feminine demeanors. Instead, they aligned masculine and feminine styles with intention, to assert that they were in control of their emotions and were, therefore, more mature than their peers.

Given the national discourse about male masculinity, often evoked during conversations about acts of violence carried out by boys and men, Pfaffendorf believes her findings may offer insight about how and why some young men adopt styles that are not usually perceived as “manly.”

“Limited research attributes the growth of therapeutic boarding schools to a series of cultural events. The initial development of the therapeutic boarding school coincides with the height of the ‘war on drugs’ in the late 1980s,” Pfaffendorf said. “In the immediate years after the Columbine shootings, the number of therapeutic schools increased six times over.”

Pfaffendorf also found that hybrid masculinity was regarded positively. The young men were often rewarded in certain circumstances by women, employers, and educational organizations.

“In sum, students in therapeutic boarding schools may appropriate feminine qualities, but these qualities are used to reassert masculine dominance — sustaining prevailing gender norms,” Pfaffendorf said.

“This contributes to what others have called the “flexibility of patriarchy” — that privileged men are able to mobilize feminine characteristics to their advantage and to assert dominance.”

Pfaffendorf suggests that future research should evaluate the long-term implications of therapeutic boarding schools, and whether young men maintain their hybrid masculinity or return to more dominant forms of masculinity.

Source: American Sociological Association/EurekAlert

Combing Research for New List of Dementia Risk Factors

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 7:00am

Using the latest information from clinical trials and relevant studies, U.K. researchers have created an infographic that shows what factors do and don’t reduce the risk of dementia.

Among the findings from the latest research are that eating lots of fatty foods and living in a polluted area may increase dementia risk, whereas regular exercise and keeping cholesterol at healthy levels may lower risk.

According to Dr. Ruth Peters, a neuropsychologist from Imperial College London, “The evidence is increasingly suggesting that keeping a healthy blood circulation throughout the body is crucial for lowering dementia risk — in other words, what is good for your heart is good for your brain.”

A healthy heart, arteries, and veins ensures the brain receives an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients, which keeps our neurons functioning properly.

Dementia affects more that 47 million people worldwide. The condition is associated with growing older and, as such, is on the uptick driven by aging baby boomers.

Memory loss is a prominent feature of dementia; Alzheimer’s is the most common type. Today in the U.S., researchers estimate that at least one in three seniors will die with dementia.

Given the escalation of the disease, scientists are urgently trying to find why the disease affects some but not others. To this end, has developed a list of modifiable factors such as weight, blood pressure, and alcohol intake.

Peters’ current work is investigating whether any particular blood pressure medications seem to improve cognitive function. Her most recent research, published in the journal Current Hypertensive Reports, found that no type of medicine seems to work better than another.

“Previous work has suggested a type of blood pressure medication called calcium channel blockers may improve cognitive function, though the latest findings don’t suggest this,” said Dr Peters.

“There are still large gaps in our knowledge when it comes to dementia risk, which scientists are working hard to fill — but in the meantime keeping yourself fit, active, and healthy will keep your brain — and body — in good shape.”

According to Peters’ co-author, Professor Kaarin J. Anstey, Director of the Centre for Research on Ageing at Australian National University, “Keeping healthy in middle age is important for brain ageing and reducing risk of dementia in old age, but it’s never too early or too late to take steps to reduce your risk.

These factors may increase risk 

  • Excess alcohol: regular drinking above the NHS recommended levels increases your risk. Advice: drink within current recommended guidelines.
  • Poor diet: unhealthy eating habits can affect your risk of developing dementia. Advice: eat a balanced diet.
  • Smoking: smokers have a higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers. Advice: stop smoking or don’t start.
  • Unhealthy weight: being overweight or obese is likely to increase your risk. However, the evidence is less clear in the over-65 age group. Advice: maintain a healthy weight.
  • High blood pressure: high blood pressure increases your risk. Advice: take prescribed medication and maintain a healthy weight.
  • High cholesterol: high cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of dementia. However, the evidence is less clear in the over-65 age group. Advice: follow a healthy diet and adhere to any treatment recommended by your GP.
  • Diabetes: Type II diabetes is associated with increased risk of dementia. Advice: follow a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Adhere to any treatment recommended by your GP.
  • Stroke: stroke causes damage within the brain and increases dementia risk. Advice: follow a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Adhere to any treatment recommended by your GP.
  • Air pollution: air pollution increases risk of having a stroke and may increase risk of dementia. However, scientists say more evidence is needed.

These factors may reduce risk

  • Physical activity: physical activity and exercise might help reduce risk of dementia. Advice: carry out a mixture of activities, as recommended by health professionals.
  • Caffeine: some researchers think moderate amounts of caffeine may help protect against dementia.
  • Social engagement: some researchers think keeping contact with friends and joining in activities may help protect against dementia. However, scientists say we need more studies in this area.
  • Brain training: brain training may hold benefits. It can help with daily tasks, such as remembering shopping lists, and may also reduce dementia risk.

Source: Imperial College London

Expecting Husband To Be Breadwinner Can Harm Men’s Health

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 6:15am

New research finds that gender expectations in marriage are not just bad for women, they are also bad for men.

The study, by University of Connecticut (UConn) sociologists discovered that as men take on more financial responsibility in the marriage, their mental and physical health declined. Conversely, when women take the role as primary bread-winner, their psychological well-being improved.

The study, “Relative Income, Psychological Well-Being, and Health: Is Breadwinning Hazardous or Protective?” was presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). Dr. Christin Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology and graduate students Matthew Rogers and Jessica Yorks, lead the research team.

Using data on the same nationally representative group of married men and women over 15 years, the authors examined the relationship between men’s and women’s relative income contributions. They found that, in general, as men took on more financial responsibility in their marriages, their psychological well-being and health declined.

Men’s psychological well-being and health were at their worst during years when they were their families’ sole breadwinner. In these years, they had psychological well-being scores that were five percent lower and health scores that were 3.5 percent lower, on average, than in years when their partners contributed equally.

“A lot of what we know about how gender plays out in marriage focuses on the ways in which women are disadvantaged,” said Munsch.

“For example, women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, and they still perform the lion’s share of housework.

Our study contributes to a growing body of research that demonstrates the ways in which gendered expectations are harmful for men too. Men are expected to be breadwinners, yet providing for one’s family with little or no help has negative repercussions.”

Interestingly, breadwinning has the opposite effect for women when it comes to psychological well-being.

Women’s psychological well-being improved as they made greater economic contributions. Conversely, as they contributed less relative to their spouses, their psychological well-being declined. Relative income was unrelated to women’s health.

Munsch attributes these psychological well-being differences to cultural expectations for men and women. “Men who make a lot more money than their partners may approach breadwinning with a sense of obligation and worry about maintaining breadwinner status,” said Munsch.

“Women, on the other hand, may approach breadwinning as an opportunity or choice. Breadwinning women may feel a sense of pride, without worrying what others will say if they can’t or don’t maintain it.”

According to Munsch, her findings are good news given that both husbands and wives usually work. “Our study finds that decoupling breadwinning from masculinity has concrete benefits for both men and women,” said Munsch.

“Whereas men’s psychological well-being and health tend to increase as their wives take on more economic responsibility, women’s psychological well-being also improves as they take on more economic responsibility.”

The study uses data from the 1997 through 2011 waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to examine the effects of household income dynamics on psychological well-being and health. Study participants reflected a nationally representative sample of married people between the ages of 18 and 32.

The researchers considered a number of alternative explanations for their findings, including age, education, absolute income, and number of hours worked per week. However, these variables did not account for their findings.

Source: American Sociological Association/EurekAlert

Stereotypes Persist for Household Division of Labor

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 5:30am

Despite the influence of women in the workforce and equal if not greater work hours and earnings, most Americans still believe in the traditional division of household labor between husbands and wives.

This mentality also persists in same-sex couples, as Americans believe the “more masculine” partner and the “more feminine” partner should generally be responsible for stereotypically male and female chores.

The findings from the new study were presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

“This is the first study that looks at Americans’ beliefs about how partners should divide chores and child care tasks,” said Natasha Quadlin, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology at Indiana University.

The study examined responses from a nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 adults in 2015. Researchers sought to determine which characteristics, including relative income, masculine or feminine traits, and sex, shape Americans’ ideas about how married couples should divide household laborl indoor and outdoor chores, as well as child care.

Each respondent was randomly assigned a description of a heterosexual or same-sex couple. The description included information about each partner’s occupation and income, as well as his or her hobbies and interests, which cued whether the partner had traditionally masculine or feminine traits.

The respondents also received a list of chores and childcare-related tasks to assign between the two partners.

Quadlin and co-author Dr. Long Doan, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, found that among heterosexual couples, partner sex differences had the strongest overall effect on the assignment of chores and childcare.

“Nearly three quarters of our respondents thought that the female partners in heterosexual couples should be responsible for cooking, doing laundry, cleaning the house, and buying groceries,” Quadlin said.

“In addition, nearly 90 percent of our respondents thought that heterosexual men should be responsible for automobile maintenance and outdoor chores. Regardless of the partner’s relative income or gendered hobbies and interests, our respondents gravitated toward the person’s sex instead.”

When respondents were asked to assign tasks between same-sex partners, traditionally female chores were generally given to the more feminine partner, and traditionally male tasks were typically assigned to the more masculine partner.

According to the researchers, 66 percent of respondents believed the more feminine partner should be responsible for buying groceries, 61 percent felt that partner should cook, and 58 percent thought that partner should clean the house and do the laundry.

On the other hand, 67 percent of respondents believed that the more masculine partner should handle automobile maintenance and outdoor chores.

“Even in same-sex couples where there are not sex differences between partners, people use gender differences as a way to approximate sex differences,” Quadlin said.

Women in heterosexual relationships were also expected to handle the majority of childcare tasks. Eighty-two percent of respondents said the female partner should be responsible for the children’s physical needs, 72 percent thought she should take care of the children’s emotional needs, and 62 percent believed the woman should be the stay-at-home parent.

Male partners were assigned only one childcare task by a majority of respondents: 55 percent felt the man should be in charge of discipline.

When evaluating same-sex couples, 62 percent of respondents expected the more feminine partner to attend to the physical needs of the children, and 60 percent believed the more feminine spouse should handle the emotional needs of the children, the researchers said.

The findings for whether the more masculine or feminine partner should be the stay-at-home parent and be in charge of discipline were not statistically significant for same-sex couples.

Interestingly, the effect of relative income on the allocation of chores and childcare responsibilities was consistently weak for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

For example, according to the researchers, 75 percent of respondents said that the female partner in heterosexual relationships should be responsible for doing laundry, compared to 57 percent who said the responsibility should fall to the lower-earning partner.

“Sex was by far the strongest determinant of which tasks people assigned to each spouse in heterosexual couples,” Quadlin said. “But, surprisingly, that theme extended to same-sex couples.

When there wasn’t a sex difference between partners, people relied on information about gender to guide their beliefs about what people should be doing.”

That is, participants followed the heterosexual norm — where there are certain chores that men are expected to do and certain chores that women are expected to do — and used that same rationalization to determine household responsibilities for same-sex couples.

We were surprised that happened to the extent that it did, because we thought expectations for household responsibilities would be more egalitarian between same-sex partners,” explains Quadlin.

Researchers believe the study results are especially helpful in providing insight into the state of gender equality in America. “Determining who does what in the home is a complex negotiation that reflects underlying power dynamics in the household,” Quadlin said.

“We have public policies aimed at ensuring that women and men have equal earnings, but those policies will not necessarily advance gender equality in the home if people maintain such gendered attitudes. Even if women have higher earnings than their husbands, they are expected to come home and perform a second shift of chores and childcare.”

Source: American Sociological Association/EurekAlert

Mother Tongue Shapes Infant’s First Cries

Sun, 08/21/2016 - 8:45am

Newborn babies whose parents speak a tonal language cry in higher melodic patterns compared to newborns whose parents speak non-tonal languages, according to a new German study published in the journals Speech, Language and Hearing and Journal of Voice.

Tonal languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, rely on the pitch of one’s voice to determine meaning. For example, a seemingly identical word can mean completely different things depending on whether it is pronounced with high pitch, low pitch, or a specific pitch fluctuation.

While all tonal languages are complicated, some are much more complex than others. Mandarin, China’s official language, features four characteristic sounds, but Lamnso, the language of the Nso — a group of people living mostly in the grasslands of Northwest Cameroon — possesses eight tones.

“The crying of neonates whose mothers speak a tonal language is characterized by a significantly higher melodic variation as compared to, for example, German neonates,” said lead author Professor Kathleen Wermke, head of the Center for Pre-speech Development and Developmental Disorders at the University of Würzburg (Department of Orthodontics).

The findings show that the infants of the Nso in Cameroon exhibited a significantly higher “intra-utterance overall pitch variation” (the interval between the highest and the lowest tone). Also, the short-term rise and fall of tones during a crying episode was more intensive in the Nso babies compared with those of German-speaking mothers.

“Their crying sounds more like chanting,” said Wermke. The results were similar for neonates from Peking, China — but to a somewhat lesser degree.

The findings support the theory that the building blocks of future language begin before birth, not just when infants begin to babble or to produce their first words. Having had ample opportunity to become acquainted with their mother’s language while still in the womb, neonates exhibit the language’s melodic patterns in their cries.

At the same time, the researchers found that neonates exhibit a high degree of cross-cultural universality in their crying.

In another study, for example, the researchers compared 55 neonates from Peking, China to 21 Nso neonates from Cameroon. The neonates from Peking had developed surrounded by all influences of modern civilization, such as radios, television, smart phones. On the other hand, the children of the Nso were born in a rural environment where none of the technical achievements of modern times are to be found.

“The fact that despite these cultural differences both tonal language groups exhibited similar effects in comparison with the non-tonal German group indicates that our interpretation of data points in the right direction,” said Wermke.

With all due caution, these results could even suggest that genetic factors are involved in the process in addition to external factors. “Of course, it remains undisputed that neonates are able to learn any language spoken in the world, no matter how complex it is,” said Wermke.

Source: University of Würzburg

Cyberbullies Likely to Be Former Friends or Romantic Partners

Sun, 08/21/2016 - 8:00am

Cyberbullying is more likely to occur between current or former friends and dating partners than between students who were never friends or in a romantic relationship, according to a new study.

“A common concern regarding cyberbullying is that strangers can attack someone, but here we see evidence that there are significant risks associated with close connections,” said Dr. Diane Felmlee, the lead author of the study and a professor of sociology at The Pennsylvania State University.

“The large magnitude of the effects of close relationships on the likelihood of cyberbullying, even after controlling for many other factors, was particularly surprising.”

The study found that the likelihood of cyberbullying — which the researchers also refer to as cyber-aggression, defined as electronic or online behavior intended to harm another person psychologically or damage his or her reputation — was approximately seven times greater between current or former friends and dating partners than between young people who were not friends or had dated.

“We believe that competition for status and esteem represents one reason behind peer cyberbullying,” Felmlee said. “Friends, or former friends, are particularly likely to find themselves in situations in which they are vying for the same school, club, and/or sport positions and social connections.

“In terms of dating partners, young people often have resentful and hurt feelings as a result of a breakup, and they may take out these feelings on a former partner via cyber aggression. They might also believe they can win back a previous boyfriend or girlfriend, or prevent that person from breaking up with them or dating someone else, by embarrassing or harassing him or her.”

For the study,  published in Social Psychology Quarterly, researchers analyzed survey results from nearly 800 eighth- to twelfth-grade students in 2011 at a public school in a suburb of New York City. The survey collected data about the students’ social networks, dating history, and cyberbullying experiences.

Felmlee and co-author Dr. Robert Faris, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis, found that approximately 17.2 percent of students had been involved with cyberbullying within a week of their having been surveyed — 5.8 percent were purely victims, 9.1 percent were solely aggressors, and 2.3 percent were both.

In most cases, the cyber-aggression occurred over Facebook or text message.

The researchers also found that certain types of students were much more likely than others to be victimized. For example, girls were twice as likely as boys to fall victim to cyber-aggression.

“In spite of societal progress regarding gender inequality, there remains a tendency to attribute lower levels of esteem and respect to females in our society, including within schools,” Felmlee said.

“Males tend to dominate powerful positions within schools, and traditional, male sports often gain greater attention than those in which females participate. Cyber-aggression towards girls may be in part an attempt to keep girls ‘in their places.'”

The survey results also showed that LGBTQ youth were four times as likely as their heterosexual peers to be victims of cyberbullying.

“We were not surprised that non-heterosexuals were more likely to be victims than heterosexuals,” Felmlee said. “However, the size of the effect was alarmingly high. The finding reflects the social norms in our society that continue to stigmatize non-heterosexuality, norms that are likely to be reinforced within the walls of middle and high schools.”

In a section of the survey that allowed students to describe the nature of their cyber aggressive interactions, LGBTQ students reported being called homophobic slurs and, in at least one case, unwillingly having their sexual identities revealed to others.

Overall, incidents of cyber-aggression ranged from threats and the posting of embarrassing photos and nasty rumors to criminal activities, such as identity theft and physical relationship violence that the attacker posted about online.

“Our study calls attention to the role of cyber-aggression within close relationships, and we hope that bullying prevention programs will incorporate these findings into their curricula, particularly through the development of interventions to help heal or resolve toxic, abusive relationships among teens,” Felmlee said.

In addition to efforts in schools to stop cyberbullying, Felmlee said parents can also take steps to mitigate cyber aggression in their children’s lives.

“Many people may be unaware that current or former friends and romantic partners are the most likely perpetrators of cyberbullying, at least among school-aged teens,” Felmlee said. “We hope parents turn a watchful eye to their teenager’s closest associates, and pay attention to his or her online activities for signs of abuse.”

Source: American Sociological Association

Stronger Family Ties Linked to Longer Life

Sun, 08/21/2016 - 7:15am

For older adults, having more or closer family members decreases the likelihood of death, according to a new study.

But the study, presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA), found that having a larger or closer group of friends does not impact that likelihood.

“We found that older individuals who had more family in their network, as well as older people who were closer with their family were less likely to die,” said James Iveniuk, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “No such associations were observed for number of or closeness to friends.”

For the study, researchers used nationally representative data from the 2005-2006 and 2010-2011 survey waves of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), to investigate which aspects of social networks are most important for postponing mortality.

Mortality of wave one respondents, who were 57 to 85 years old, was assessed at wave two.

In the first wave, these older adults were asked to list up to five of their closest confidants, describe in detail the nature of each relationship, and indicate how close they felt to each person. Excluding spouses, the average number of close confidants named was 2.91, and most older adults perceived high levels of support from their social contacts, the researchers reported.

Most of the respondents were married, in good physical health, and reported not being very lonely, the researchers added.

Older adults who reported feeling “extremely close” on average to the non-spousal family members they listed as among their closest confidants had about a six percent risk of mortality within the next five years. That figure is compared to approximately a 14 percent risk of mortality among those who reported feeling “not very close” to the family members they listed, according to Iveniuk and co-author L. Philip Schumm, Ph.D., a senior biostatician at the University of Chicago.

The study also found that respondents who listed more non-spousal family members in their network — no matter how close — had lower odds of death compared to those who listed fewer family members.

“Regardless of the emotional content of a connection, simply having a social relationship with another person may have benefits for longevity,” Iveniuk said.

Iveniuk said he was surprised that feeling closer to one’s family members and having more relatives as confidants decreased the risk of death for older adults, but that the same was not true of relationships with friends.

“Because you can choose your friends, you might, therefore, expect that relationships with friends would be more important for mortality, since you might be better able to customize your friend network to meet your specific needs,” Iveniuk said.

“But that account isn’t supported by the data — it is the people who in some sense you cannot choose, and who also have little choice about choosing you, who seem to provide the greatest benefit to longevity.”

Besides comparing friendships to relationships with family members, the study examined the characteristics of social networks in general and their association with mortality.

The four factors most consistently associated with reduced mortality risk were:

  1. neing married;
  2. a larger network size;
  3. greater participation in social organizations, and
  4. feeling closer to one’s confidants.

All four factors mattered to about the same degree, according to the researchers.

Factors found to be less important included time with confidants, access to social support, and feelings of loneliness.

“I expected the association between participation in social organizations and mortality to diminish in size considerably once we controlled for other aspects of peoples’ social worlds, but that didn’t happen,” Iveniuk said.

Interestingly, marriage was found to have positive effects on longevity, regardless of the quality of the marriage.

“We observed no association between measures of support from the spouse and mortality, indicating that the presence of a marital bond may be more important for longevity than certain aspects of the bond itself,” Iveniuk said.

The findings underscore the importance of family relationships for longevity, according to Iveniuk.

“Going back to the very first sociological theorists, many different thinkers have noted that there is some kind of special significance that people attribute to family ties, leading people to stay close to and support people who wouldn’t necessarily be individuals that they would associate with if they had the choice,” Iveniuk said.

Source: American Sociological Association

New Study Finds Seasonal Pattern to Divorce Filings

Sun, 08/21/2016 - 6:30am

New research finds that divorce filings may be driven by a “domestic ritual” calendar governing family behavior.

After researchers at the University of Washington analyzed divorce filings in Washington State between 2001 and 2015, they found that filings consistently peaked in March and August, the period following winter and summer holidays.

According to associate sociology professor Dr. Julie Brines, winter and summer holidays are culturally sacred times for families, when filing for divorce is considered inappropriate, even taboo.

“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” Brines said. “They represent periods in the year when there’s the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life.

“It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense. They’re very symbolically charged moments in time for the culture.”

But holidays are also emotionally charged and stressful for many couples and can expose fissures in a marriage, she noted.

The consistent pattern in filings reflects the disillusionment unhappy spouses feel when the holidays don’t live up to expectations, according to the researchers. They may decide to file for divorce in August, following the family vacation and before the kids start school. But what explains the spike in March, several months after the winter holidays?

Couples need time to get finances in order, find an attorney or simply summon the courage to file for divorce, Brines suggested. Though the same considerations apply in summer, Brines thinks the start of the school year may hasten the timing, at least for couples with children.

Suicides also tend to peak in spring, and some experts have said the longer days and increased activity elevates mood enough to motivate people to act. Brines said she wonders if similar forces are at play with divorce filings.

Brines and her co-researcher, doctoral candidate Brian Serafini, weren’t initially looking for a pattern in divorce filings when they set out to investigate the effects of the recession, such as rising unemployment rates and declining house values, on marital stability.

Poring over divorce filings for counties throughout Washington, they began noticing variations from month to month and were startled to see a pattern emerge.

“It was very robust from year to year, and very robust across counties,” Brines said.

The pattern persisted even after accounting for other seasonal factors, such as unemployment and the housing market, she noted.

The researchers reasoned that if the pattern was tied to family holidays, other court actions involving families — such as guardianship rulings — should show a similar pattern, while claims less related to family structure wouldn’t. And they found exactly that: The timing of guardianship filings resembled that of divorce filings, but property claims, for example, did not.

The divorce filing pattern shifted somewhat during the recession, showing a peak earlier in the year and one in the fall, and more volatility overall. Given uncertainty about financial considerations like housing values and employment, it’s not surprising the pattern was disrupted, Brines noted. But the shift in the pattern during the recession is not statistically significant, she said.

Their research excluded two of Washington’s 39 counties, Lincoln and Wahkiakum. The small, rural counties are among few nationwide that allow marriages to be ended by mail, without a court appearance. Since anyone in Washington can file for divorce in the two counties, the researchers thought they would skew the results. The researchers figured filings might peak more quickly after the holidays, given the simpler process.

But they examined filings in Lincoln County, the only county to accept divorce by mail since 2001, and saw the same pattern, although more pronounced, as elsewhere in the state.

“That leads me to think that it takes some time emotionally for people to take this step,” Brines said. “Filing for divorce, whether you do it by mail or appear in court, is a big step.”

The researchers are now looking at whether the filing pattern they identified translates to other states.

They examined data for four other states — Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona — that have similar divorce laws as Washington but differ in demographics and economic conditions, particularly during the recession. Florida and Arizona were among states hit hardest by the real estate collapse, and Ohio had higher than average employment rates.

Despite those differences, the pattern persisted, according to Brines.

“What I can tell you is that the seasonal pattern of divorce filings is more or less the same,” she said.

The study was presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

Source: American Sociological Association

Twitter Redefines How People Grieve

Sat, 08/20/2016 - 8:30am

While death and mourning were largely considered private matters in the 20th century,  social media is redefining how people grieve, according to new research.

Twitter in particular — with its mix of rapid-fire broadcast and personal expression — is widening the conversation around death and mourning, according to two University of Washington (UW) sociologists.

In a study presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA), UW doctoral students Nina Cesare and Jennifer Branstad analyzed the feeds of deceased Twitter users and found that people use the site to acknowledge death in a blend of public and private behavior that differs from how it is addressed on other social media sites.

While posts about death on Facebook, for example, tend to be more personal and involve people who knew the deceased, Twitter users may not know the dead person, tend to tweet both personal and general comments about the deceased, and sometimes tie the death to broader social issues, such as mental illness or suicide, according to the study’s findings.

“It’s bringing strangers together in this space to share common concerns and open up conversations about death in a way that is really unique,” Cesare said.

The researchers used mydeathspace.com, a website that links social media pages of dead people to their online obituaries, to find deceased Twitter users. They sorted through almost 21,000 obituaries and identified 39 dead people with Twitter accounts. The researchers noted that the vast majority of entries are linked to Facebook or MySpace profiles.

The most common known causes of death among people in the sample were, in order, suicides, automobile accidents, and shootings.

Cesare and Branstad pored over the 39 feeds to see how users tweeted about the deceased, and concluded that Twitter was used “to discuss, debate, and even canonize or condemn” them.

Among their findings:

  • Some users maintained bonds with the dead person by sharing memories and life updates (“I miss cheering you on the field”).
  • Some posted intimate messages (“I love and miss you so much”), while others commented on the nature of the death (“So sad reading the tweets of the girl who was killed”).
  • Others expressed thoughts on life and mortality (“Goes to show you can be here one moment and gone the next”).
  • Some users made judgmental comments about the deceased (“Being a responsible gun owner requires some common sense — something that this dude didn’t have!”).

The expansive nature of the comments reflects how death is addressed more broadly on Twitter than on Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site, according to the researchers.

Facebook users frequently know each other offline, often post personal photos, and can choose who sees their profiles. By contrast, Twitter users can tweet at anybody, profiles are short, and most accounts are public. Given the 140-character tweet limit, users are more likely to post pithy thoughts than soul-baring sentiments.

Those characteristics create a less personal atmosphere that emboldens users to engage when someone has died, even if they didn’t know the person, the researchers noted.

“A Facebook memorial post about someone who died is more like sitting in that person’s house and talking with their family, sharing your grief in that inner circle,” Branstad said. “What we think is happening on Twitter is people who wouldn’t be in that house, who wouldn’t be in that inner circle, get to comment and talk about that person. That space didn’t really exist before, at least not publicly.”

Traditions around death and dying have existed for centuries, the researchers note. But increased secularization and medical advances in the 20th century made death an uncomfortable topic for public conversation, relegating grief to an intimate circle of family and close friends, they say in the study.

Social media has changed that, bringing death back into the public realm and broadening notions about who may engage when someone dies, the researchers added.

“Ten, twenty years ago, death was much more private and bound within a community,” Branstad said. “Now, with social media, we’re seeing some of those hierarchies break down in terms of who feels comfortable commenting about the deceased.”

Twitter use is still evolving, making the site fertile ground for studying how social media is used for mourning in the future, the researchers said.

“New norms will have to be established for what is and isn’t appropriate to share within this space,” Cesare said. “But I think the ability of Twitter to open the mourning community outside of the intimate sphere is a big contribution, and creating this space where people can come together and talk about death is something new.”

Source: American Sociological Association

Cannabis Seems to Relieve Pain Better for Men than Women

Sat, 08/20/2016 - 8:00am

As cannabis becomes an increasingly available and legal option for pain relief, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) wanted to see if they could find any significant gender differences in the drug’s pain-relieving effects. Their findings show that although both men and women report similar levels of enjoyment and intoxication, men tend to experience more significant pain relief after smoking cannabis than women.

“These findings come at a time when more people, including women, are turning to the use of medical cannabis for pain relief,” said Ziva Cooper, Ph.D., associate professor of clinical neurobiology (in psychiatry) at CUMC.

“Preclinical evidence has suggested that the experience of pain relief from cannabis-related products may vary between sexes, but no studies have been done to see if this is true in humans.”

For the study, the researchers looked at data from two double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies examining the analgesic, or pain-relieving, effects of cannabis in 42 participants who smoked the drug recreationally.

After smoking the same amount of either an active or placebo form of cannabis, the participants immersed one hand in a a cold-water bath until they couldn’t stand the pain any longer. Following the immersion, the participants answered a short pain questionnaire.

Men who had smoked the active cannabis reported a significant decrease in pain sensitivity and an increase in pain tolerance. Women who smoked the active cannabis did not experience a significant decrease in pain sensitivity, although they did report a small increase in pain tolerance shortly after smoking.

But regardless of the differences in pain relief, men and women did not report differences in how intoxicated they felt or how much they liked the effects of the active cannabis.

The researchers say that more studies in both men and women are needed to better understand the factors that may influence the analgesic effects of cannabinoids — the active chemicals in cannabis products — such as the drug’s strength, mode of delivery (smoked versus oral), frequency of use, and type of pain measured.

“This study underscores the importance of including both men and women in clinical trials aimed at understanding the potential therapeutic and negative effects of cannabis, particularly as more people use cannabinoid products for recreational or medical purposes,” said Cooper.

Results of the study were recently published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Source: Columbia University Medical Center

Vaping May Mean Fewer Respiratory Infections for Ex-Smokers

Sat, 08/20/2016 - 7:30am

The majority of people who successfully switch from cigarette smoking to vaping are less likely to develop respiratory infections, according to a new study led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

The study, which involved an on-line survey of 941 respondents, assessed subjective changes in respiratory symptoms in smokers who had switched to vaping for two months or longer. The results show that 66 percent of respondents reported an improvement in respiratory symptoms, 29 percent reported no change and five percent reported worsening.

“There is no doubt that e-cigarettes are much safer than conventional cigarettes, but smokers are still led to believe that they’re dangerous,” said senior author Professor Peter Hajek at QMUL.

“This misinformation includes a misreported study on rats that claimed that vaping may increase vulnerability to infections. These new findings from human vapers show that this is not the case.”

Hajek is referring to some previous cell and animal studies that were interpreted to suggest that vaping may increase vulnerability to infection, but these studies did not use realistic exposure levels.

Furthermore, human trials have found no significant adverse respiratory effects tied to e-cigarette use for up to 1.5 years, and a follow-up study of smokers with asthma who switched to vaping found significant improvements.

While the new study still needs to be interpreted with caution since it is based on self-reported data, Hajek said that the “present results provide sufficient information to suggest that vaping does not increase infection rates and may in fact lead to a decrease in infections.” Further studies using objective measures will help confirm the results.

The researchers say that it is not surprising that the participants noticed improvements in their respiratory health.

It is well known that smoking cigarettes increases susceptibility to respiratory infections and that quitting smoking can be expected to have a positive effect. In addition to this, vaping may also provide some antimicrobial protection through the e-liquid ingredient propylene glycol, though further evidence is needed to confirm this.

The main limitation of the study is that the reports are subjective. Future studies should assess respiratory symptoms objectively and on unselected samples of vapers.

Despite the limitations, the researchers say that the study provides reasonable reassurance that vaping does not promote respiratory infections and that it may, in fact, play a role in reducing them.

The findings are published in the Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy.

Source: Queen Mary University of London