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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 1 hour 33 min ago

Moderate-Severe Pain Significantly Increase Risk of Opioid Addiction

2 hours 6 min ago

New research is the first to directly assess the relationship between the experience of pain and risk of developing opioid use disorder.

Investigators discovered that those with moderate or more severe pain have a 41 percent higher risk of developing prescription opioid use disorders than those without pain. The finding was consistent when adding other demographic and clinical factors.

These results, from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center, appear in American Journal of Psychiatry.

Investigators analyzed data from a national survey of alcohol and substance use in more than 34,000 adults in two waves, three years apart.

At each point, they examined pain (measured on a five-point scale of pain-related interference in daily activities), prescription opioid use disorders, and other variables such as age, gender, anxiety or mood disorders, and family history of drug, alcohol, and behavioral problems.

Participants who reported pain and those with prescription opioid use disorders were also more likely than others to report recent substance use, mood, or anxiety disorders or have a family history of alcohol use disorder.

“These findings indicate that adults who report moderate or more severe pain are at increased risk of becoming addicted to prescription opioids,” said Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, and senior author of the report.

“In light of the national opioid abuse epidemic, these new results underscore the importance of developing effective, multimodal approaches to managing common painful medical conditions.”

Males and younger adults were at increased risk of prescription opioid use disorders, a finding that confirms results of previous studies. In addition, females and older adults were more likely to report pain.

“In evaluating patients who present with pain, physicians should also be attentive to addiction risk factors such as age, sex and personal or family history of drug abuse,” Dr. Olfson added.

“If opioids are prescribed, it is important for clinicians to monitor their patients carefully for warning signs of opioid addiction.”

Source: Columbia University

 
Woman taking pain pills photo by shutterstock.

Background Noise Hamper Toddlers’ Ability to Learn

2 hours 51 min ago

Environmental factors affect a child’s learning ability. More precisely, the kind and form of extraneous stimulation influence what children learn and how they learn.

As such, background noise is an important consideration as children must zero in on the information that’s relevant to what they’re learning and ignore what isn’t.

A new study has found that the presence of background noise in the home or at school makes it more difficult for toddlers to learn new words. The study also found that providing additional language cues may help young children overcome the effects of noisy environments.

“Learning words is an important skill that provides a foundation for children’s ability to achieve academically,” notes Brianna McMillan, doctoral student in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the study.

“Modern homes are filled with noisy distractions such as TV, radio, and people talking that could affect how children learn words at early ages. Our study suggests that adults should be aware of the amount of background speech in the environment when they’re interacting with young children.”

Studies on the impact of environmental noise suggest that too much noise can affect children both cognitively and psycho-physiologically, as seen in more negative school performance and increased levels of cortisol and heart rate.

However, most studies of word learning are conducted in quiet laboratory settings. This study, which appears in the journal Child Development, focused on word learning and attempted to replicate the noisy environments children may experience at home and at school.

In the study, 106 children ages 22 to 30 months took part in three experiments in which they were taught names for unfamiliar objects and then tested on their ability to recognize the objects when they were labeled. First, toddlers listened to sentences featuring two new words.

Then they were taught which objects the new names corresponded to. Finally, the toddlers were tested on their ability to recall the words.

In the first experiment, 40 toddlers (ages 22 to 24 months) heard either louder or quieter background speech when learning the new words. Only toddlers who were exposed to the quieter background speech successfully learned the words.

In the second experiment, a different group of 40 toddlers (ages 28 to 30 months) was tested to determine whether somewhat older children could better overcome the effects of background noise. Again, only when background noise was quieter could the older toddlers successfully learn the new words.

In the third experiment, 26 older toddlers were first exposed to two word labels in a quiet environment. Next, the toddlers were taught the meanings of four word labels–two they had just heard and two new ones. Toddlers were taught the meanings of all these labels in the same noisy environment that impaired learning in the second experiment.

Researchers discovered the children learned the new words and their meanings only when they had first heard the labels in a quiet environment, suggesting that experience with the sounds of the words without distracting background noise helps children subsequently map those sounds to meaning.

In sum, the study shows that while louder background speech hindered toddlers’ ability to learn words, cues in the environment helped them overcome this difficulty.

“Hearing new words in fluent speech without a lot of background noise before trying to learn what objects the new words corresponded to may help very young children master new vocabulary,” suggests Jenny Saffran, College of Letters & Science Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who coauthored the study.

“But when the environment is noisy, drawing young children’s attention to the sounds of the new word may help them compensate.”

Researches note that children will rarely be in a completely quiet environment when learning. Parents and teachers may find that reducing background noise or highlighting important information can help children learn even when there is background noise.

These suggestions may be especially important for low-income households because research shows that such homes on average have higher noise levels due to urban settings and crowding.

Source: Society for Research in Child Development/EurekAlert

 
Father and daughter play learning photo by shutterstock.

Physical Declines Begin in the 50’s

3 hours 36 min ago

A new Duke Health study has depressing news for many as researchers discovered physical declines begin sooner in life than typically detected, often when people are still in their 50s.

The study focused on a large group of U.S. adults across a variety of age groups.

The findings suggest that efforts to maintain basic strength and endurance should begin before age 50. A fitness regimen instigated early mid-life is recommended as it provides an individual the opportunity to preserve the skills that keep people mobile and independent later in life.

“Typically, functional tests are conducted on people in their 70s and 80s, and by then you’ve missed 40 years of opportunities to remedy problems,” said Miriam C. Morey, Ph.D., senior fellow in the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development at Duke University School of Medicine.

Morey and colleagues studied a group of 775 participants enrolled in the Measurement to Understand the Reclassification of Disease Of Cabarrus/Kannapolis (MURDOCK) Study. The MURDOCK Study is Duke Health’s longitudinal clinical research study based at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, N.C. The MURDOCK community registry and bio-repository includes more than 12,000 participants and nearly 460,000 biological specimens.

For the MURDOCK Physical Performance Lifespan Study, the Duke-led team enrolled participants ranging in age from their 30s through their 100s, with broad representation across sexes and races.

All participants performed the same simple tasks to demonstrate strength, endurance or balance: rising from a chair repeatedly for 30 seconds; standing on one leg for a minute; and walking for six minutes. Additionally, their walking speed was measured over a distance of about 10 yards.

Men generally performed better than women on the tasks, and younger people outperformed older participants. But the age at which declines in physical ability began to appear – in the decade of the 50s – were consistent regardless of gender or other demographic features.

Specifically, both men and women in that mid-life decade began to slip in their ability to stand on one leg and rise from a chair. The decline continued through the next decades. Further differences in aerobic endurance and gait speed were observed beginning with participants in their 60s and 70s.

The study provides physical ability benchmarks that could be easily performed and measured in clinical exams, providing a way to detect problems earlier.

“Our research reinforces a life-span approach to maintaining physical ability – don’t wait until you are 80 years old and cannot get out of a chair,” said lead author Katherine S. Hall, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at Duke.

“People often misinterpret ‘aging’ to mean ‘aged’, and that issues of functional independence aren’t important until later in life. This bias can exist among researchers and healthcare providers, too.

The good news is, with proper attention and effort, the ability to function independently can often be preserved with regular exercise.”

Hall and Morey said the next phase of research will be to study blood samples of the participants to determine whether there are biological markers that correlate with declines in physical ability. They are also revisiting the study participants for two-year checkups.

Source: Duke Medicine
 
Elderly exercising photo by shutterstock.

Epilepsy Patients at Greater Risk for Suicide

Sun, 07/24/2016 - 8:45am

The annual suicide mortality rate among people with epilepsy is 22 percent higher than in the general population, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The research, which is the first to measure suicide rates among people with epilepsy in a large U.S. general population, also investigated suicide risk factors specific to the disease. The findings are published online in the journal Epilepsy and Behavior.

The study was based on data from the U.S. National Violent Death Reporting System, a multiple-state, population-based, surveillance system that collects information on violent deaths, including suicide.

The researchers identified 972 suicide cases with epilepsy and 81,529 suicide cases without epilepsy in 17 states among people 10 years old and older between the years 2003 and 2011. By comparing the number of cases between those with epilepsy and those without epilepsy, the researchers were able to estimate suicide rates, evaluate suicide risk, and investigate suicide risk factors specific to epilepsy.

In 16 of the 17 states providing continual data from 2005 through 2011, they also compared suicide trends in people with epilepsy and without epilepsy.

The researchers found that, compared with the non-epilepsy population, those with epilepsy were more likely to have died from suicide in houses, apartments, or residential institutions — 81 percent versus 76 percent, respectively — and were twice as likely to poison themselves (38 percent versus 17 percent).

Furthermore, more people with epilepsy aged 40-49 died from suicide than comparably aged persons without epilepsy (29 percent vs. 22 percent). The proportion of suicides among those with epilepsy increased steadily from 2005 through 2010, peaking significantly in 2010 before falling.

“Of particular significance is what we learned about those 40 to 49 years old,” said co-author Dale Hesdorffer, Ph.D., professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. “Efforts for suicide prevention should target people with epilepsy in this age category specifically.”

“Additional preventive efforts should include reducing the availability or exposure to poisons, especially at home, and supporting other evidence-based programs to reduce mental illness comorbidity associated with suicide.”

Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain that causes recurrent, unprovoked seizures. Some causes of epilepsy include stroke, brain tumor, traumatic brain injury, or central nervous system infection; in many cases, however, the cause is unknown. Based on the latest estimates, about 1.8 percent of adults aged 18 years or older have had a diagnosis of epilepsy or seizure disorder, according to the CDC.

Source: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

 

Brains of Athletes With a History of Concussion Show Changes Years Later

Sun, 07/24/2016 - 8:00am

A new study has found that college athletes with a history of concussion had changes in the size, blood flow, and connections in their brains months and even years after the injury.

“Sport concussion is still considered to be a short-term injury, but this study provides further evidence of brain changes that may lead to long-term health consequences, including the risk of re-injury, depression, and cognitive impairments,” said Nathan Churchill, the study’s lead author and a post-doctoral fellow in the Neuroscience Research Program at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

“We expect to see changes in the brain right after an acute injury, but in this study we saw physical differences in brains of athletes that were scanned months to years after their last concussion.”

The study looked at male and female varsity athletes in seven different contact and non-contact sports, demonstrating the relevance of the findings for the overall sporting community, not just traditional high risk sports such as hockey and football, the researchers noted.

Published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, the study used advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to comprehensively describe abnormalities in brain structure and function in 43 varsity athletes at the start of their sports seasons — 21 male, 22 female, 21 with a history of concussion and 22 without.

The researchers found the athletes with a history of concussions had:

  • Brain shrinkage in the frontal lobes, the part of the brain involved in such things as decision-making, problem solving, impulse control, and the ability to speak fluently. The brains of athletes with prior concussions showed a 10 to 20 percent reduction in volume compared to those with no concussions.
  • Less blood flow (25 to 35 percent) to certain areas of the brain, mainly the frontal lobes, which are very vulnerable to injury because of their location at the front of the brain. Reduced blood flow is associated with a longer recovery
  • A greater number of concussions was associated with reduced brain volume and blood flow.
  • Changes in the structure of the brain’s white matter, the fibre tracts that connect different parts of the brain.

Behaviors controlled by the frontal lobe, such as impulse control and problem-solving, are often impaired in older athletes with a history of repeated head injury. These findings suggest that this area of the brain may be affected even for young, healthy adults with few concussions, according to the researchers.

“We want to emphasize that, in general, the health benefits of sport participation still outweigh the risk of concussion,” said Dr. Tom Schweizer, head of the Neuroscience Research Program and a co-author of the paper. “Our findings can help to guide concussion management, and to minimize any future risk to athletes. The more we know about concussion, the better we can reduce these risks.”

Source: St. Michael’s Hospital
 
Photo: University athletes with a history of concussion had changes in the size, blood flow and connections in their brains months and even years after the injury — changes not seen in athletes without prior concussions, according to a new study by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital. Shown here is Dr. Tom Schweizer, co-author of the study. Credit: Courtesy of St. Michael’s Hospital.

Diagnosis of “Shaken Baby Syndrome” Accepted by Majority of Physicians

Sun, 07/24/2016 - 7:15am

Despite recent reports that the medical community is divided on the validity of shaken baby syndrome, a new survey finds that a large majority of physicians believe it is a valid diagnosis, according to a new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

The findings show a very high medical consensus that shaking a young child can result in subdural hematoma (a life-threatening pooling of blood outside the brain), severe retinal hemorrhage, coma, or death.

“Claims of substantial controversy within the medical community about shaken baby syndrome and abusive head trauma have created a chilling effect on child protection hearings and criminal prosecutions,” says Sandeep Narang, M.D., JD, lead author on the study, Division Head of Child Abuse Pediatrics at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and Associate Professor of Pediatrics-Child Abuse at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Our study is the first to provide the much needed empiric confirmation that multidisciplinary physicians throughout the country overwhelmingly accept the validity of these diagnoses, and refutes the recent contention that there is this emerging ‘groundswell’ of physician opinion against the diagnoses.”

Recent media reports and judicial decisions have called into question the general acceptance among physicians of shaken baby syndrome and abusive head trauma. General acceptance of such concepts in the medical community is a critical factor for admitting medical expert testimony in courts. In cases of child maltreatment, courts often rely on medical expert testimony to establish the most likely cause of a child’s injuries.

For the study, researchers analyzed the survey responses of 628 physicians who frequently evaluate injured children at 10 leading children’s hospitals in the U.S. The represented specialties included emergency medicine, critical care, child abuse pediatrics, pediatric ophthalmology, pediatric radiology, pediatric neurosurgery, pediatric neurology, and forensic pathology.

The findings show that 88 percent of these physicians believe that shaken baby syndrome is a valid diagnosis, while 93 percent affirmed the diagnosis of abusive head trauma.

When asked to attribute a cause of subdural hematoma, severe retinal hemorrhage, coma, or death in a child less than three years of age, more than 80 percent of physicians responded that shaking with or without impact was likely or highly likely to produce subdural hematoma. Ninety percent reported that it was likely or highly likely to lead to severe retinal hemorrhage, and 78 percent felt that it was likely or highly likely to result in a coma or death.

None of the other potential causes, except high velocity motor vehicle collision, was thought to result in these three clinical findings by a large majority of respondents. Very few physicians believed that a short fall could explain the symptoms.

“Our data show that shaking a young child is generally accepted by physicians to be a dangerous form of abuse,” says Narang.

Source: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

 

Designer Protein May Shed New Light on Alzheimer’s Disease

Sun, 07/24/2016 - 6:30am

UK scientists at the University of Sussex have designed a new protein that may help shed light on why nerve cells die in people with Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The new protein closely resembles Amyloid-beta (Abeta), a type of protein commonly found in Alzheimer’s, but is non-toxic and does not form sticky clumps like the original.

“This is a really exciting new tool that will contribute to research to uncover the causes for Alzheimer’s disease and enable tangible progress to be made towards finding targets for therapy,” said Professor Louise Serpell, a senior author on the study and co-director of the University of Sussex’s Dementia Research Group.

In people with Alzheimer’s, Amyloid-beta (Abeta) proteins stick together to make amyloid fibrils — or sticky clumps — between neurons in the brain. It is thought that these clumps cause brain cells to die, leading to the cognitive decline seen in patients with Alzheimer’s.

It is still unknown, however, why this particular protein’s “stickiness” results in cell death, and scientists have been unable to properly test whether the sticky clumps of Abeta proteins exert different effects, compared with individual proteins that are not stuck together.

Now University of Sussex scientists have created a new protein which closely resembles the Abeta protein in size and shape, but contains two different amino acids. Because of this, the new protein does not form amyloid fibers or sticky clumps, and, unlike Abeta, is not toxic to nerve cells.

The new protein will be an essential laboratory tool for researchers seeking to discover the role that Abeta plays in Alzheimer’s disease.

“Understanding how the brain protein Abeta causes nerve cell death in Alzheimer’s patients is key if we are to find a cure for this disease,” said study leader Dr. Karen Marshall.

“Our study clearly shows that the aggregation of Abeta into bigger species is critical in its ability to kill cells. Stopping the protein aggregating in people with Alzheimer’s could slow down the progression symptoms of the disease. We hope to work towards finding a strategy to do this in the lab and reverse the damaging effects of toxic Abeta.”

The scientists who designed it are now working closely with the Sussex Innovation Centre, the University’s business-incubation hub, to research commercial opportunities for the protein.

“This is an really exciting development. The Centre is thrilled to be working alongside Professor Serpell to make sure the benefits offered by this new laboratory tool are made widely available to the Alzheimer’s research community in the very near future,” said Peter Lane, Innovation Support Manager at The Sussex Innovation Centre.

Source: University of Sussex

 
PHOTO: 1. Healthy neuron. 2. Neuron with amyloid plaques (yellow). 3. Dead neuron being digested by microglia cells (red).

The Link Between Run-Down Schools and Poor Academic Achievement

Sat, 07/23/2016 - 8:45am

A new study explains the link between run-down schools and lower test scores and academic achievement among students.

Lorraine Maxwell, an associate professor of design and environmental analysis in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, studied more than 230 New York City public middle schools and found a chain reaction at work: Leaking toilets, smelly cafeterias, broken furniture, and run-down classrooms make students feel negatively, which lead to high absenteeism and in turn, contributed to low test scores and poor academic achievement.

“School buildings that are in good condition and attractive may signal to students that someone cares and there’s a positive social climate, which in turn may encourage better attendance,” Maxwell said. “Students cannot learn if they do not come to school.”

Maxwell found that poor building conditions, and the resulting negative perception of the school’s social climate, accounted for 70 percent of the poor academic performance.

She noted that she controlled for students’ socioeconomic status and ethnic background — and while these are related to test scores, they do not tell the whole story. School building condition is also a major contributing factor, she said.

“Those other factors are contributing to poor academic performance, but building condition is significantly contributing also,” she said. “It’s worth it for society to make sure that school buildings are up to par.”

In an earlier, related study, Maxwell asked a handful of middle-school students what difference they thought a school building makes.

“I will never forget one boy,” Maxwell said. “He said, ‘Well, maybe if the school looked better, kids would want to come to school.’ And that sparked me to think, ‘OK, they notice.'”

Maxwell’s latest study analyzed 2011 data from 236 New York City middle schools with a combined enrollment of 143,788 students. The data included academic performance measures and assessments of physical environments done by independent professionals in architecture, and mechanical and electrical engineering.

She also analyzed surveys on how parents, teachers, and students felt about the school’s social climate. That dataset developed by the New York City Department of Education is the largest of its kind in the United States, she noted.

Buildings also have symbolic value, Maxwell said. For example, government buildings in Washington, D.C., and in state capitals are well maintained, with gold-leaf roofs, Greek columns, and polished marble stairs meant to inspire awe, she pointed out.

“Those buildings are kept well. Why? They give us a certain impression about what goes on inside and how much society values those activities,” she said. “So you can understand why kids might think a school that doesn’t look good inside or outside is giving them a message that perhaps what happens in their school doesn’t matter.”

Policymakers need to understand that school conditions are especially important for kids in minority and low-income communities, according to Maxwell.

“Those students are already potentially facing more of an uphill battle, and sending more positive messages about how the larger society values them is critical,” she said.

Her study, “School Building Condition, Social Climate, Student Attendance and Academic Achievement: A Mediation Model,” appears in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

Source: Cornell University

Poor Sleep in Childhood Ups Risk of Later Depression, Anxiety

Sat, 07/23/2016 - 8:00am

Children who experience inadequate or disrupted sleep are at greater risk for developing depression and anxiety disorders later in life, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Houston.

Study leader Candice Alfano, a clinical psychologist and associate psychology professor at the University of Houston, is conducting the study to better understand how poor sleeping patterns during childhood contribute to emotional disorders in later years. The research was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

“In particular, we are interested in understanding how children appraise, express, regulate, and later recall emotional experiences, both when sleep is adequate and when it is inadequate,” said Alfano, who is also director of the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston (SACH).

“We focus on childhood, because similar to problems with anxiety and depression, sleep habits and patterns develop early in life and can be enduring.”

Alfano and co-investigator Cara Palmer, who is a postdoctoral fellow at SACH, are identifying distinct emotional processes that, when disrupted by poor sleep, make children vulnerable to developing anxiety and depression.

To pinpoint these cognitive, behavioral, and physiological patterns of emotional risk, they are temporarily restricting sleep in 50 pre-adolescent children between the ages of seven to 11.

The findings reveal that inadequate sleep impacts children’s emotional health in two basic ways: it creates more negative emotions and also alters positive emotional experiences. For example, after just two nights of poor sleep, children derive less pleasure from positive things, are less reactive to them, and less likely to recall details about these positive experiences later.

When the children get adequate sleep, however, these emotional effects are less apparent.

“Healthy sleep is critical for children’s psychological well-being,” Alfano said. “Continually experiencing inadequate sleep can eventually lead to depression, anxiety, and other types of emotional problems.”

“Parents, therefore, need to think about sleep as an essential component of overall health in the same way they do nutrition, dental hygiene, and physical activity. If your child has problems waking up in the morning or is sleepy during the day, then their nighttime sleep is probably inadequate. This can result for several reasons, such as a bedtime that is too late, non-restful sleep during the night, or an inconsistent sleep schedule.”

Studying the link between poor sleep and maladaptive emotional processing in childhood is essential, says Alfano, because that’s when sleep and emotion regulatory systems are developing.

The increased need for sleep and greater brain plasticity during childhood suggests this to be a critical window of opportunity for early intervention.

Alfano and Palmer authored a recent article in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews in which they reviewed the scientific literature on sleep and emotion regulation, partly to inform the methods of their new study.

In the article, they point out that without adequate sleep, people are less likely to seek out positive or rewarding experiences if they require effort, such as social or leisure activities. Over time, they say, these behavioral changes can elevate risk for depression and an overall poorer quality of life.

“There are multiple emotional processes that seem to be disrupted by poor sleep,” Alfano said. “For example, our ability to self-monitor, pick up on others’ nonverbal cues, and accurately identify others’ emotions diminishes when sleep is inadequate. Combine this with less impulse control, a hallmark feature of the teenage years, and sleep deprivation can create a ‘perfect storm’ for experiencing negative emotions and consequences.”

Source: University of Houston

Mice Study Shows Cinnamon Can Boost Learning

Sat, 07/23/2016 - 7:15am

New research has found that cinnamon turns poor learners into good ones — at least among mice.

Dr. Kalipada Pahan, a researcher at Rush University and the Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Chicago, hopes the same will hold true for people.

“The increase in learning in poor-learning mice after cinnamon treatment was significant,” said Pahan. “For example, poor-learning mice took about 150 seconds to find the right hole in the Barnes maze test. On the other hand, after one month of cinnamon treatment, poor-learning mice were finding the right hole within 60 seconds.”

Pahan’s research shows that the effect appears to be due mainly to sodium benzoate, a chemical produced as cinnamon is broken down in the body.

If that chemical sounds familiar, you may have noticed it on the ingredient labels of many processed foods. Food makers use a synthetic form of it as a preservative. It is also an FDA-approved drug used to treat hyperammonemia, which is too much ammonia in the blood.

Cinnamon acts as a slow-release form of sodium benzoate, according to Pahan.

His lab studies show that different compounds within cinnamon, including cinnamaldehyde, which gives the spice is distinctive flavor and aroma, are “metabolized into sodium benzoate in the liver. Sodium benzoate then becomes the active compound, which readily enters the brain and stimulates hippocampal plasticity.”

Changes in the hippocampus, the brain’s main memory center, appear to be the mechanism by which cinnamon and sodium benzoate exert their benefits, according to the researcher.

In the study, Pahan’s researchers first tested mice in mazes to separate the good and poor learners. Good learners made fewer wrong turns and took less time to find food.

In analyzing baseline disparities between the good and poor learners, the researchers found differences in two brain proteins. The gap was all but erased when cinnamon was given, according to the study’s findings.

“Little is known about the changes that occur in the brains of poor learners,” he said, noting molecular differences related to neurotransmission. “Interestingly, these particular changes were reversed by one month of cinnamon treatment.”

The researchers also examined brain cells taken from the mice. They found that sodium benzoate enhanced the structural integrity of the cells, including in the dendrites, the tree-like extensions of neurons that enable them to communicate with other brain cells.

Cinnamon, like many spices, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also has a centuries-long history of medicinal use around the world.

But the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says that “high-quality clinical evidence to support the use of cinnamon for any medical condition is generally lacking.”

Most of the clinical trials that have taken place have focused on the spice’s possible effect on blood sugar for people with diabetes. Little, if any, clinical research has been done on the spice’s possible brain-boosting properties.

Pahan hopes to change that. Based on the promising results from the preclinical studies, he believes that “besides general memory improvement, cinnamon may target Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment [a precursor to Alzheimer’s], and Parkinson’s disease as well.”

He is now talking with neurologists about planning a clinical trial on Alzheimer’s.

However, before you start heaping cinnamon on your oatmeal, keep a few caveats in mind, he advises.

First, most cinnamon found in the store is the Chinese variety, which contains a compound called coumarin that may be toxic to the liver in high amounts. A person would likely have to eat tons of cinnamon to run into a problem, but just the same, Pahan recommends the Ceylon or Sri Lanka type, which is coumarin-free.

Even then, don’t overdo it. “Anything in excess is toxic,” he said.

What about simply inhaling the spice? Will that benefit the brain?

“Simply smelling the spice may not help because cinnamaldehyde should be metabolized into cinnamic acid and then sodium benzoate,” he said. “For metabolism [to occur], cinnamaldehyde should be within the cell.”

Pahan added he takes about a teaspoonful of cinnamon powder mixed with honey as a supplement every night.

Should the research on cinnamon continue to move forward, he envisions a similar remedy being adopted by struggling students worldwide.

“Individual differences in learning and educational performance is a global issue,” he said. “In many cases, we find two students of the same background studying in the same class, and one turns out to be a poor learner and does worse than the other academically. Now we need to find a way to test this approach in poor learners.

“If these results are replicated in poor-learning students, it would be a remarkable advance. At present, we are not using any other spice or natural substance.”

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.

Source: Veteran’s Administration
 
Photo: In mouse experiments, Dr. Kalipada Pahan’s lab has been studying the effects of cinnamon on learning and brain plasticity. Credit: Jerry Daliege.

Should You Trust Your Gut or Carefully Analyze the Situation?

Sat, 07/23/2016 - 6:30am

Is empathy the result of gut intuition or careful reasoning?

A new study suggests that, contrary to popular belief, trusting your gut is not always the best approach.

“Cultivating successful personal and professional relationships requires the ability to accurately infer the feelings of others — that is, to be empathically accurate. Some are better at this than others, a difference that may be explained in part by mode of thought,” said Jennifer Lerner, Ph.D., of Harvard University, a co-author of the study.

“Until now, however, little was known about which mode of thought, intuitive versus systematic, offers better accuracy in perceiving another’s feelings.”

People process information and make decisions in different ways, according to Lerner. Some choose to follow their instincts and go with what feels right to them — intuitive — while others plan carefully and analyze the information available to them before deciding — systematic.

Lerner and her co-author, Christine Ma-Kellams, Ph.D., of the University of La Verne, conducted four studies, involving more than 900 participants, to examine the relationship between the two modes of thought and empathetic accuracy.

The first study determined that most people believe that intuition is a better guide than systematic thinking to accurately infer another’s thoughts and feelings. The other three studies found that the opposite is true, according to the researchers.

“Importantly, three out of the four studies presented here relied on actual professionals and managers. This sample represents a highly relevant group for which to test empathic accuracy, given the importance of empathic accuracy for a host of workplace outcomes, including negotiations, worker satisfaction, and workplace performance,” said Ma-Kellams.

These findings show that commonly held assumptions about what makes someone a good emotional mind reader may be wrong, said Lerner.

“The many settings in which the value of intuition is extolled — for example a job interview — may need to be reassessed with a more nuanced perspective,” she said.

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Source: American Psychological Association

Warning: Elevated Psychological Distress Among 7-12th Grade Students

Fri, 07/22/2016 - 8:30am

A new survey discovers more than a third of Ontario students in grades seven-to-12 report moderate-to-serious psychological distress.

The finding is ominous as this means 328,000 adolescents in the province of Ontario are experiencing psychological stress. Canadian researchers also found that girls are twice as likely as boys to experience psychological distress.

“This is a significant number of young people, especially girls, who are experiencing high levels of psychological distress,” says Dr. Robert Mann, senior scientist at Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and co-lead investigator of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS).

A total of 10,426 students from across Ontario participated in the 2015 OSDUHS, the longest-running school survey of adolescents in Canada, and one of the longest-running surveys in the world.

“We were also surprised to see this number increase to 34 percent in 2015 from 24 percent in 2013. That is a 10 percent jump in reported psychological distress in just two years,” said Dr. Mann.

Psychological distress is defined as symptoms of depression and anxiety and is measured using a six-item screening tool. Students are asked how often they felt nervous, hopeless or worthless, among others indicators, in the last four weeks.

Forty-six percent of girls indicated high levels of distress compared to 23 percent of boys.

Levels of distress also increase significantly in the later teens, to an average of over 40 percent of students in grades 11 and 12. One in five students (21 percent) reported visiting a mental health professional at least once during the last year, a marked increase from 12 percent in 1999.

“While we can’t say for certain what is causing this distress, it’s important for parents, schools, and health care providers to be aware of what young people are telling us about their mental health,” said Dr. Mann.

“Our research indicates that the later teen years into the twenties is the peak period of stress for many people.”

Although cause and effect cannot be assumed, a correlation does exist between escalating stress and increased screen time, social media use, and a rise in problem gaming.

Survey results also showed that in 2015, almost two thirds (63 percent) of students spent three hours or more per day of their free time in front of a TV or tablet/computer. The percentage of students who are screen-time sedentary has increased from 57 percent since 2009, the first year of monitoring this behavior.

At the same time, while the majority of students rate their health as excellent or very good (66 percent), only 22 percent of students met the recommended daily physical activity guideline, defined as a total of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, during the past seven days.

Additionally, 86 percent of students visit social media sites daily and about 16 percent spend five hours or more on social media per day.

“We know that the more time spent on social media sites, the greater the risk of cyberbullying and related mental health issues,” said Dr. Hayley Hamilton, scientist with CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research and co-lead investigator on the OSDUHS.

“Combined with low levels of physical activity across this age group, we are seeing clear priority areas where we can work with youth to improve health.”

An estimated 122,600 students in Ontario (13 percent) report symptoms of a video gaming problem which includes preoccupation, loss of control, withdrawal, and disregard for consequences.

The percentage of students indicating a video gaming problem rose to 13 per cent in 2015 from nine percent in 2007, the first year of monitoring. Problem video gaming is especially prevalent among boys in this age group, with 20 percent reporting problematic symptoms compared with five percent of girls.

“The reality is that it’s not possible to be technology-abstinent in 2016,” said Lisa Pont, social worker with CAMH’s Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario, who helps youth and parents better manage technology use.

“But it is possible to have good ‘cyber health’, to balance screen time with other activities and to prevent technology from having serious negative consequences on the rest of your life.”

Noticing an increase in young people struggling with gaming and other forms of tech use, Pont helped develop CAMH’s clinical programming on technology misuse and also trains other health professionals in this emerging area.

“At CAMH we see young people who are on the more severe end of problem tech use, many of whom have pre-existing depression and anxiety,” said Pont.

“Many youth are heavy users of technology and are able to keep good balance in their lives. But for those who develop problems, it is important that the underlying and concurrent issues are addressed so that healthier tech use is achievable.”

Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Imaging Study Traces Brain Activity Associated with Problem-Solving

Fri, 07/22/2016 - 7:45am

A new research approach using neuroimaging data reveals that the brain progresses through distinct phases as an individual solves challenging problems.

By combining two analytical strategies, researchers were able to use functional MRI data to identify patterns of brain activity that accompany four distinct stages of problem solving.

“How students were solving these kinds of problems was a total mystery to us until we applied these techniques,” says psychological scientist John Anderson of Carnegie Mellon University, lead researcher on the study.

“Now, when students are sitting there thinking hard, we can tell what they are thinking each second.”

Insights from this work may eventually be applied to the design of more effective classroom instruction, says Anderson.

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

The research emerges from an ongoing line of investigation that uses brain imaging to understand the sequence of processes that underlie thinking. While neuroimaging research has provided a window into various aspects of cognition, how these pieces fit together into a coherent whole, as people complete real tasks in real time, is not clearly understood.

Anderson wondered whether two analytical approaches — multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA) and hidden semi-Markov models (HSMM) — could be combined to shed light on the different stages of thinking.

MVPA has typically been used to identify momentary patterns of activation; adding HSMM, Anderson hypothesized, would yield information about how these patterns play out over time.

Anderson and colleagues Aryn A. Pike and Jon M. Fincham decided to apply this combined approach to neuroimaging data collected from participants as they solved specific types of math problems.

To gauge whether the stages that were identified mapped on to actual stages of thinking, the researchers manipulated different features of the math problems. To do this, they created some problems that required more effort in coming up with an appropriate solution plan and others that required more effort in executing the solution.

The aim was to test whether these manipulations had the specific effects one would expect on the durations of the different stages.

The researchers brought 80 participants to the lab — after practicing using specific strategies to solve the math problems, the participants then answered a series of target problems while in the scanner. They received feedback for each problem, with answers turning green if they were correct and red if they were incorrect.

Using the HSMM-MVPA method to analyze the neuroimaging data, Anderson and colleagues identified four stages of cognition: encoding, planning, solving, and responding.

The results showed that the planning stage tended to be longer when the problem required more planning, and the solution stage tended to be longer when the solution was more difficult to execute, indicating that the method mapped onto real stages of cognition that were differentially affected by various features of the problems.

“Typically, researchers have looked at the total time to complete a task as evidence of the stages involved in performing that task and how they are related,” says Anderson. “The methods in this paper allow us to measure the stages directly.”

Although the study focused specifically on mathematical problem solving, the method holds promise for broader application, the researchers argue.

Using the same method with brain imaging techniques that have greater temporal resolution, such as EEG, could reveal even more detailed information about the various stages of cognitive processing.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Never too Late to Rekindle Passion

Fri, 07/22/2016 - 7:00am

It is not uncommon for couples to experience a decline in sexual desire over time. New research suggest, however, that there are ways to restore responsiveness and enhance intimacy.

“Our research shows that partners who are responsive to each other outside the bedroom are able to maintain their sexual desire,” says Gurit Birnbaum, psychology professor at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel.

Birnbaum and her coauthors also found that women’s desire is more strongly affected by their partner’s responsiveness than men’s desire — although men report a boost, as well.

The concept of responsiveness — which is a type of intimacy — is important as it signals that one is really concerned with the welfare of the other, but in a way that is truly open and informed about what the other cares about and wants, says Birnbaum.

Responsive partners are willing to invest resources in the relationship, and show understanding at a deep level. They make the relationship feel special — that their relationship is unique — which is, at least in Western societies, what people seek from their romantic relationships.

The new study was prompted, in part by a concept psychologists know as the “intimacy-desire paradox.”

The core of the paradox lies in the contradiction between intimate and familiar relationships that many people strive for, and the limitations of such bonds for facilitating desire.

Some scholars have argued that long-term intimacy may actually inhibit rather than increase sexual desire. For example, the need for security may clash with the sense of novelty and uncertainty that can often fuel desire.

But previous research has not provided conclusive evidence for whether increased sense of intimacy actually promotes or undermines sexual desire.

The study, by Birnbaum and coauthor Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

They believe their findings suggests that, under certain circumstances, there may not be a paradox.

That is, what determines whether intimacy prompts or inhibits desire is not its mere existence, but its meaning in the larger context of a relationship. The authors believe responsiveness is most likely to encourage desire. That’s because it conveys the impression that the partner is worth pursuing and thus engaging in sex with such a desirable partner is likely to promote an already valuable relationship.

As part of the study, the researchers conducted three experiments, one of which consisted of 100 couples who kept a diary for six weeks. Both partners reported on their own level of sexual desire each day as well as their perceptions of their partner’s responsiveness. They also reported their own levels of feeling special and perceptions of their partner’s mate value.

The results indicated that when men and women perceive their partners as responsive, they feel special and think of their partner as a valuable mate, which boosted sexual desirability.

Birnbaum notes that partner responsiveness had a significantly stronger effect on women’s perceptions of themselves and others. This suggests that women experienced higher levels of desire for their responsive partner because they were more likely than men to feel special and value their partner as a result of the partner’s responsiveness.

“‘Being nice’ and things like that are not necessarily based on who the partner is and what the partner really wants,” Birnbaum says. “When a mate is truly responsive, the relationship feels special and unique and he or she is perceived as valued and desirable.

“Sexual desire thrives on increasing intimacy and being responsive is one of the best ways to instill this elusive sensation over time; better than any pyrotechnic sex,” Birnbaum says.

Source: University of Rochester

Bragging is a Big Turn-Off in Online Dating

Fri, 07/22/2016 - 6:15am

Now that more and more singles are turning to online dating to meet prospective mates, scholars have become curious as to what makes a dating profile successful or unsuccessful, attractive or unattractive? Do the same factors that attract people in face-to-face encounters also apply online?

Researchers Crystal D. Wotipka and Andrew C. High at the University of Iowa asked 316 online daters what they thought of particular profiles. Their goal was to find out how specific types of content in online dating profiles affect viewers’ impressions of the profile owner. They also wanted to know what makes a person take the next step and contact a person of interest.

Their findings are published in the National Communication Association’s journal Communication Monographs.

For the study, participants were presented with one of four sample online dating profiles that exhibited different types of content. The researchers looked specifically at the effects of two concepts: selective-self presentation and warranting.

Selective self-presentation is people’s ability to highlight their most flattering qualities. In the context of online dating, where the goal is to attract a partner, people are motivated to present a lot of positive information about themselves while minimizing negative information — or in other words, to brag a little.

People can “warrant” their online dating profiles, explain the authors, by providing access to corroborating sites — for example, a link to a professional biography page or the name of a blog to which they regularly contribute.

The researchers investigated how online dating profiles that contain high or low selective self-presentation and high or low warranting align with impressions of social attraction and trust from profile viewers. Wotipka and High also analyzed whether impressions of trust and social attraction influenced a profile viewer’s intention to contact and date the profile owner.

The findings show that online daters judged people who bragged excessively about themselves, their looks, or their accomplishments as less trustworthy and less socially attractive, thereby lessening viewer’s intentions to date or contact those profile owners.

To develop profiles with high warranting value, the researchers included links to external sites that could support their identity, such as a link to a professional biography page maintained by the profile creator’s employer. This strategy helped viewers to verify content in a profile, which ultimately increased trust in the information on the profile, but only when people bragged less.

When combined, low selective self-presentation and high warranting made people “seem honest as well as humble and approachable,” wrote the authors. On the other hand, profiles exhibiting both high self-selective presentation and high warranting were viewed as arrogant or immodest, which lessened viewers’ intention to contact them. In other words, braggers don’t get dates.

“Daters should strive to present themselves as humble, ‘real’ people,” said the authors, especially if their goal is to establish a long-term relationship based on trust.

Source: Taylor & Francis

 

Humble Prominent People are More Generous

Fri, 07/22/2016 - 5:30am

New research discovers that people who believe they “earned” their high social status are often less generous than influential people who accredited their prominent position to other factors.

In fact, people who were generous on their path to high social status, may become less generous once they accomplish their prominence.

Michigan State University scholar Nicholas Hays, led a series of six scientific studies and found that people with high social status who didn’t believe they earned that status, were much more generous than high-status people who felt they deserved the respect and admiration of others.

Prominent people who don’t feel their status is fair and equitable become more generous with others to alleviate that sense of inequity, he explained.

“The effects of social status on generosity are contingent on deservingness, meaning that high-ranking people don’t always behave selfishly, as a significant amount of research suggests, but do indeed care about whether or not they deserve their position,” said Hays, assistant professor of management.

The findings are published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In separate studies with more than 1,200 total participants, Hays and Steven Blader, professor at New York University, examined the effects of social status on generosity.

In one study they surveyed 255 MBA students organized into 51 teams twice during a six-month project on the students’ willingness to help their teammates and on their perceptions of their own and their teammates’ social status.

The research project is one of the first of its kind.

Previous studies have looked at the effects of power — which is defined as control over resources, whereas status is about being respected by others — and found that powerful people tend to become more selfish regardless of fairness or equity.

But Hays and Blader, in all six studies, found that while high-status people who felt worthy of their rank were indeed less generous, high-status people who felt unworthy were actually more generous.

Prior research has also found that generosity often leads to high social status.

The current study takes that a step further by considering what happens after people have attained high status.

“We demonstrate that generosity may not persist once people achieve that high status,” Hays said. “It depends on whether they feel that status is deserved.”

Source: Michigan State University

Dogs Can Ease Stress in Families with Autistic Child

Thu, 07/21/2016 - 8:30am

A pet dog can act as a significant stress reducer for families who have a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new study at the University of Lincoln, UK.

The findings show a reduction in the number of dysfunctional interactions between parent and child among families who own a dog, and these anti-stress benefits appear to get stronger over time.

“Parents of children with autism can experience increased anxiety and stress, and now we have strong scientific evidence to show that pets can have positive effects on these quality-of-life issues. Families with an autistic child should consider pet ownership as a way to improve family harmony,” said Steven Feldman, Executive Director at the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation.

The project, which focused specifically on how pet dogs affect families with ASD children, is one of the first of several research projects funded by HABRI investigating the effects of companion animals on human health.

“While there‭ ‬is‭ ‬growing‭ ‬evidence ‬that ‬animal-assisted‭ ‬therapy‭ ‬can aid in ‬the‭ ‬treatment‭ ‬of‭ children with ‬autism‭ ‬spectrum‭ ‬disorders, this study is one of the first to examine how‭ ‬pet‭ ‬dog‭ ‬ownership‭ ‬can also ‬improve‭ ‬the‭ ‬lives‭ ‬of‭ ‬those‭ ‬more widely affected‭ ‬by‭ ‬autism,” said study leader Dr. Daniel Mills, professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln.

“Researchers have previously focused on the positive effects that assistance dogs can have on the child’s well-being and have passed over the impact they might also have on close relatives, but our results show that owning a pet dog (rather than a specifically trained assistance dog) can considerably improve the function of the whole family unit.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬”

“We found a significant, positive‭ ‬relationship‭ ‬between‭ ‬parenting‭ ‬stress‭ ‬of‭ ‬the child‭’‬s‭ ‬main‭ ‬caregiver‭ ‬and‭ ‬their‭ ‬attachment‭ ‬to‭ ‬the‭ family dog. This highlights the importance of the bond between the carer and their dog in the benefits they‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ gain.”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The research involved families with an autistic child who had also been participating in an earlier study on the short-term effects of dog ownership. The researchers followed up with the families two and a half years later in order to determine the long-term benefits of having a pet dog.

The findings show that initial results of reduced family difficulties lasted years beyond the early stages of acquiring a dog, and that stress levels continued to experience a steady decline.

“Stress associated with parenting a child with autism continued to decrease among dog owners over time, but we did not see the same reductions in families without a dog,” added Mills.

“This long-term follow-up study highlights the potential benefits of pet ownership in bringing long-term improvements to the lives of families living with a child with autism.”

The findings are published in the American Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

Source: University of Lincoln

 

Nearly Half of Women with ADHD Mull Suicide

Thu, 07/21/2016 - 7:45am

A new study suggests women with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are much more likely to have a wide range of mental and physical health problems in comparison to women without ADHD.

Researchers at the University of Toronto were surprised by the various health issues — including suicidal ideation — which women with ADHD evidently experience.

“The prevalence of mental illness among women with ADHD was disturbingly high with 46 percent having seriously considered suicide, 36 percent having generalized anxiety disorder, 31 percent having major depressive disorder, and 39 percent having substance abuse problems at some point in their life,” reported Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson, Faculty of Social Work and Director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging.

“These rates are much higher than among women without ADHD, ranging from more than four times the odds of suicidal thoughts and generalized anxiety disorders to more than twice the odds of major depressive disorder and substance abuse.” said Fuller-Thomson.

Investigators examined a representative sample of 3,908 Canadian women aged 20 to 39 of whom 107 reported that they had been diagnosed with ADHD. Data was drawn from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health.

“We were surprised at the high levels of physical health problems that the women were experiencing,” said Danielle A. Lewis, co-author of the study.

“More than one in four (28 percent) of these relatively young women said that physical pain prohibited some of their activities, which was much higher than the nine percent of their peers without ADHD who had disabling pain.

Insomnia was also more prevalent in the women with ADHD in comparison to those without ADHD (43.9 percent vs 12.2 percent) as was smoking (41 percent vs 22 percent),” stated Lewis.

“Unfortunately, our study does not provide insight into why women with ADHD are so vulnerable. It is possible that some of the mental health problems may be caused by and/or contributing to financial stress,” Fuller-Thomson suggested.

The study also found, one in three of the women (37 percent) with ADHD reported they had difficulty meeting basic expenses such as food, shelter and clothing due to their inadequate household income. For women without ADHD, only 13 percent had this shortfall.

“Many people think of ADHD as primarily a boys’ disorder which has little relevance for girls and women. Our findings suggest, to the contrary, that a large portion of women with ADHD are struggling with mental illness, physical health concerns, and poverty,” said Fuller-Thomson.

Source: University of Toronto/EurekAlert

Mindfulness Skills Show Promise in Treating Kids’ Anxiety

Thu, 07/21/2016 - 7:00am

Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric conditions for children and teens. While antidepressants are frequently used to treat youth with anxiety disorders, sometimes, antidepressants may be poorly tolerated in children who are at high risk of developing bipolar disorder.

A new study by researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) explores how cognitive therapy that uses mindfulness techniques such as meditation, quiet reflection, and facilitator-led discussion, may serve as an adjunct to pharmacological treatments.

The study, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, looked at brain imaging in youth before and after mindfulness-based therapy and saw changes in brain regions that control emotional processing.

The review is part of a larger study by co-principal investigators Melissa DelBello, M.D., and Sian Cotton, Ph.D., looking at the effectiveness of mindfulness-based therapy.

In a small group of youth identified with anxiety disorders (generalized, social, and/or separation anxiety) and who have a parent with bipolar disorder, researchers evaluated the neurophysiology of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in children who are considered at-risk for developing bipolar disorder.

“Our preliminary observation that the mindfulness therapy increases activity in the part of the brain known as the cingulate, which processes cognitive and emotional information, is noteworthy,” says Jeffrey Strawn, M.D., a co-principal investigator on the study.

“This study, taken together with previous research, raises the possibility that treatment-related increases in brain activity [of the anterior cingulate cortex] during emotional processing may improve emotional processing in anxious youth who are at risk for developing bipolar disorder.”

The study’s findings in regard to increases in activity in the part of the brain known as the insula, are of high interest, Strawn said. This is because the insula is the part of the brain responsible for monitoring and responding to the physiological condition of the body.

In this pilot trial, nine participants ages nine to 16 years, underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing continuous performance tasks with emotional and neutral distractors prior to and following 12 weeks of mindful-based cognitive therapy.

“Mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions promote the use of meditative practices to increase present-moment awareness of conscious thoughts, feelings, and body sensations in an effort to manage negative experiences more effectively,” said Cotton.

“These integrative approaches expand traditional treatments and offer new strategies for coping with psychological distress.”

Researchers discovered multiple benefits from the mindfulness intervention. Cotton explains that clinician-rated anxiety and youth-rated trait anxiety were significantly reduced following treatment. Further, the increases in mindfulness were associated with decreases in anxiety.

Increasingly, patients and families are asking for additional therapeutic options, in addition to traditional medication-based treatments, that have proven effectiveness for improved symptom reduction. Mindfulness-based therapies for mood disorders is one such example with promising evidence being studied and implemented at University of Cincinnati, said Cotton.

“The path from an initial understanding of the effects of psychotherapy on brain activity to the identification of markers of treatment response is a challenging one, and will require additional studies of specific aspects of emotional processing circuits,” Strawn said.

Source: University of Cincinnati

Selective Memory May Portend Memory Loss in Old Age

Thu, 07/21/2016 - 6:15am

A new study found that people who recalled positive information over neutral and negative information performed worse on memory tests.

Neurobiologists at the University of California, Irvine, believe the results suggest that this discriminating remembrance may be a marker for early stages of memory loss in the elderly.

Michael Yassa, associate professor of neurobiology and behavior, and neurology, and colleagues designed and employed a test that assessed participants’ recall of stories with differing emotional content. The study was designed to identify memory deficits and decline, particularly in the context of aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

Thirty-two older adults (21 females and 11 males with a mean age of 74.8) took part in the study.

After each story was read aloud, they were asked to recite all the details they could remember. The task was repeated after 20 minutes and one week later. This allowed the neurobiologists to observe how story recall varied as time passed.

The research will appear in the journal Learning & Memory.

The study team included Dr. Stephanie Leal, who recently earned a doctorate at University of California, Irvine, and Jessica Noche, a clinical research specialist in the Yassa lab.

“We were interested in seeing how emotional memory changes over time, so we developed a test to detect the subtle changes that occur with different types of emotional memory in older adults,” Noche said.

“We specifically compared responses to positive, negative, and neutral stories to learn whether emotional valence had a role in the way stories were remembered over time.”

Study subjects also took a verbal learning exam to gauge general memory performance. This served to distinguish between individuals who were high performers and those who were low performers (i.e., showing subtle memory deficits).

Researchers believe it is importantly to note that none of the participants suffered from overt memory problems severe enough for a clinical diagnosis.

Analyzing the results, researchers found that low-performing older adults exhibited a large “positivity effect,” or propensity to remember positive information. However, this came at the expense of retaining neutral material.

On the other hand, high-performing older adults could recall more from neutral stories at the expense of retaining positive details.

“We suggest that this bias toward positive retention may be a compensatory mechanism that masks the effects of memory loss in the elderly, although this remains speculative,” Yassa said.

“It’s possible that selectively remembering positive information may be related to changes in the brain networks supporting memory, emotional valence, and reward value.

Future studies using brain imaging techniques will be essential in understanding the mechanisms underlying this effect.”

Since all study participants at the time of testing had no memory complaints, researchers believe that the exam they created, called the Emotional Logical Memory Test, may tap into subtle changes in emotional memory abilities prior to obvious symptoms of cognitive decline.

Further work will be necessary to establish whether subjects expressing the positivity effect are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. If so, the test could prove to be a valuable tool in the early detection of Alzheimer’s susceptibility.

Source: University of California, Irvine