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Updated: 1 hour 56 min ago

Parent Training Shows Promise for ADHD Treatment in Japan

10 hours 43 min ago

A new Japanese research study suggests a parent-training program for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder might prove to be an effective mainstream behavioral treatment.

Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) say the new approach is geared to develop culturally appropriate parent-training programs for Japanese families of children with ADHD.

The study appears in the journal Japanese Psychological Research.

In the proof-of-concept program, researchers found reductions in children’s ADHD symptoms and improvements in parent-child relationships.

International guidelines for the management of ADHD in children recommend approved medications and/or behavioral therapy. However, compared with many Western countries, Japan has fewer pharmacological and behavioral options. The availability of behavioral therapy is further limited by a shortage of trained specialists.

Researchers first recruited Japanese parents of children with ADHD for a pilot study using standard behavioral strategies to see if Japanese parents would be comfortable with the program content, assessment strategies, and group delivery of the program.

Though the researchers did not specify the gender of the parents, only mothers contacted the researchers to participate in the study and five mothers were recruited for the study.

The mothers embraced the group setting, expressing the importance of interacting with other mothers who could understand the challenges of parenting a child with ADHD.

However, they articulated a desire to have more information about the causes of ADHD as well as extra practice using behavioral strategies specifically targeting ADHD. In response, the OIST researchers adapted the New Forest Parenting Programm, with the support of the program originators, for use with Japanese parents.

“It is important that children with ADHD are rewarded with positive praise after engaging in appropriate behaviors,” said Dr. Shizuka Shimabukuro from OIST’s Human Development Neurobiology Unit, who is the driving force behind adapting the NFPP for Japanese families.

“In general, Japanese parents praise their children more sparingly than Western parents. Overcoming this cultural norm can be challenging for many mothers.”

Based on the feedback from the pilot study, researchers in OIST’s Human Development Neurobiology Unit recruited mothers only for the proof-of-concept study.

They modified the program to replace four general parenting strategy sessions with six sessions that were specifically designed for parents of children with ADHD. They also added five extra support sessions to the beginning of the training program to increase mothers’ understanding of ADHD and increase their confidence in participating in the parenting program.

The researchers then conducted a proof-of-concept study with the new extended program, known as the NFPP-Japan, with 17 Japanese mothers, to assess the effects of the program on child behavior, mothers’ well-being, and parenting skills.

Mothers’ reports before and after the program indicated significant reductions in children’s ADHD symptoms, reductions in mothers’ reactivity to their child’s behavioral difficulties, and reductions in the stress they experienced in their roles as parents.

“Because the results of the study are based on self-reports from the mothers, we cannot rule out that the positive results we saw are due to changes in mothers’ perceptions of, or attitudes toward, their child’s behavior,” said Professor Gail Tripp, head of OIST’s Human Development Neurobiology Unit.

“Nevertheless, improving the parent-child relationship is an important step in managing ADHD.”

Future studies of the NFPP-Japan will focus on using objective evaluations of child behavior and the parent child-relationship.

A randomized control trial of the NFPP-Japan is currently underway. If the program proves successful, it might eventually become generally available in Japan as an effective treatment for managing symptoms of ADHD.

Source: Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology

Teens with PTSD, Conduct Disorder May Misinterpret Facial Expressions

11 hours 27 min ago

Teens with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to misinterpret sad and angry facial expressions as fearful, while teens with symptoms of conduct disorder tend to see sad faces as angry, according to a new study by researchers at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University (NYU).

“Our findings suggest that exposure to stress and trauma can have acute emotional impacts that simply translate to misidentification of important affective cues,” said Dr. Shabnam Javdani, assistant professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt, who led the study with Dr. Naomi Sadeh of the University of Delaware.

Teens who have experienced trauma are at greater risk for both PTSD and conduct disorder, behavioral, and emotional problems characterized by callousness or aggression towards others.

These conditions often co-occur and can have a significant impact on the well-being and healthy development of adolescents. If left untreated, these disorders increase the risk of substance use, mental health problems, and harm to oneself or others.

Prior research has shown that young people with PTSD and conduct disorder symptoms have impaired emotional processing which is often associated with aggressive behavior and poor social functioning. These interpersonal problems may be linked to the misinterpretation of social cues conveyed through facial expressions.

For the study, the researchers examined how young people with PTSD and conduct disorder symptoms processed facial expressions. The study involved 371 teens (aged 13-19) with emotional and behavioral problems who were enrolled in therapeutic day schools in Chicago or Providence, R.I.

After completion of a structured diagnostic assessment, 85 percent of the teen participants were found to have at least one conduct disorder symptom, and 30 percent met the criteria for a diagnosis of conduct disorder. Also, 17 percent of the teens had at least one PTSD symptom, and 12.4 percent met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. Overall, 17 percent of those studied had symptoms of both PTSD and conduct disorder.

Next the teens completed a facial affect recognition task. In general, youth with emotional and behavioral problems had more trouble correctly identifying angry faces compared to fearful or sad faces. In particular, teens with higher levels of PTSD symptoms were more likely to mistake sad and angry emotions for fear.

“Fear is particularly relevant for understanding PTSD, as the disorder has been associated with a ‘survival mode’ of functioning characterized by an overactive fight-or-flight response and increased threat perception,” said Javdani.

In contrast, teens with conduct disorder did not have trouble recognizing angry or fearful faces, but had a harder time recognizing sad expressions. In fact, they were more likely to misinterpret sad faces as angry faces. This suggests that teens with higher levels of conduct disorder may be less effective at recognizing others’ sadness, pain, and suffering.

“Difficulty interpreting displays of sadness and misidentifying sadness as anger may contribute to the impaired affective bonding, low empathy, and callous behavior observed in teens with conduct disorder,” said Javdani.

The researchers believe that enhancing the accuracy of recognizing facial expressions may be an important treatment goal for youth with symptoms of PTSD and conduct disorder.

The findings are published in the journal Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Source: New York University

Collaborative Care Helps Adults with Depressive Symptoms

12 hours 13 min ago

New research finds that collaborative care, often conducted via telephone or in a telehealth environment, can benefit older adults with sub-threshold depression — those with some depressive symptoms but not a full-blown depression diagnosis.

Experts explain that depressive disorders are present in about 10 percent of primary care patients and account for more years lived with disability than any single disease. Nearly three-quarters of all outpatient visits for depression are to primary care clinicians rather than to mental health specialists.

Although depression is the second leading cause of disability worldwide, only one in seven older people meet criteria for depression. As such, effective therapeutic strategies are needed in older people with depressive symptoms.

Collaborative care is a therapeutic intervention in which behavioral health is integrated into primary care, most commonly using a nurse care manager to monitor depressive symptoms in depressed patients and adjust treatment under the supervision of a psychiatrist.

In the JAMA study, Simon Gilbody, Ph.D., of the University of York, England, and colleagues randomly assigned 705 adults age 65 years or older with subthreshold depression to collaborative care or usual primary care.

Collaborative care was coordinated by a case manager who assessed functional impairments relating to mood symptoms. Participants were offered behavioral activation and completed an average of six weekly sessions.

Many of the nurse contacts were conducted by telephone, thereby increasing the efficiency of collaborative care.

Collaborative care resulted in lower scores vs usual care at four month follow-up on measures of self-reported depression severity. The proportion of participants meeting criteria for depression were lower for collaborative care (17.2 percent) than usual care (23.5 percent) at four month follow-up, and at 12-month follow-up (15.7 percent vs 27.8 percent).

“Although differences persisted through 12 months, findings are limited by attrition, and further research is needed to assess longer-term efficacy,” the authors write.

Source: JAMA/EurekAlert

Mindfulness Shows Mixed Results for Older Adults’ Well-Being

12 hours 58 min ago

Mindfulness practices are on the rise. But studies so far have shown mixed results in the elderly, and more investigation is needed to determine exactly how best to apply mindfulness in that population.

In a new review, a majority of the 27 studies assessed suggest that the focused attention at the core of mindfulness benefits older people. However, not all of the studies point to improvements.

That should prompt more rigorous investigations in search of interventions likely to do the most good, researchers from the Ohio State University explain.

Their analysis appears in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

“Mindfulness is a practice that really serves as a way to foster a greater quality of life and there’s been some thought that it could help with cognitive decline as we age,” said Stephanie Fountain-Zaragoza, lead author of the study and a graduate student in psychology.

“Given the growing interest in mindfulness in general, we wanted to determine what we know right now so that researchers can think about where we go from here,” she said.

The good news so far: The evidence from a variety of studies points to some benefits for older adults, suggesting that mindfulness training might be integrated into senior centers and group homes, the researchers found.

Older people are an especially important population to study given diminished social support, physical limitations, and changes in cognitive health, the researchers point out.

Studies of mindfulness meditation usually involve three types of practices. The first, focused attention, involves sustained attention to a single thing (such as the breath) and an effort to disengage from other distractions.

Open monitoring meditation, often seen as the next step up in mindfulness, includes acknowledging the details of multiple phenomena (sensations, sounds, etc.) without selectively focusing on one of them.

“This includes being open to experiencing thoughts and sensations and emotions and taking them as they come and letting them go,” Fountain-Zaragoza said.

Loving-kindness meditation encourages a universal state of love and compassion toward oneself and others.

“The goal with this is to foster compassionate acceptance,” said senior author Dr. Ruchika Shaurya Prakash, director of Ohio State’s clinical neuroscience laboratory and an expert in mindfulness.

In addition to looking at whether mindfulness contributed to behavioral and cognitive functioning and to psychological well-being, some of the research also looked at its potential role in inflammation, which contributes to a variety of diseases.

In all categories of study, including inflammatory processes, Prakash and Fountain-Zaragoza found mixed results.

The hope is that mindfulness could help the elderly preserve attention and capitalize on emotional regulation strategies that naturally improve as we age, Prakash said.

“Around 50 percent of our lives, our minds are wandering and research from Harvard University has shown that the more your mind wanders, the less happy you are,” she said.

“Mindfulness allows you to become aware of that chaotic mind-wandering and provides a safe space to just breathe.”

In older people, mindfulness ideally has the potential to help with cognition, emotion, and inflammation, but little research has been done so far and those studies that have been done have had mixed results and scientific limitations.

While most of the studies in the review showed positive results, the field is limited and would benefit greatly from larger randomized controlled trials, Fountain-Zaragoza said.

“We want to really be able to say that we have strong evidence that mindfulness is driving the changes we see,” she said.

Source: Ohio State University

Teen Suicide Attempts Down in States with Same-Sex Marriages

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 7:45am

A new research study finds that the implementation of state laws legalizing same-sex marriage was associated with a significant reduction in the rate of suicide attempts among high school students.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers report that an even greater reduction among gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents, was discovered.

The findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics, estimate that state-level, same-sex marriage policies were associated with more than 134,000 fewer adolescent suicide attempts per year.

The study compared states that passed laws allowing same-sex marriage through January 2015 to states that did not enact state-level legalization. A Supreme Court decision made same-sex marriage federal law in June of 2015.

The results show the effect that social policies can have on behavior, the researchers say.

“These are high school students so they aren’t getting married any time soon, for the most part,” says study leader Julia Raifman, Sc.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School.

“Still, permitting same-sex marriage reduces structural stigma associated with sexual orientation. There may be something about having equal rights — even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them — that makes students feel less stigmatized and more hopeful for the future.”

Suicide is the second most common cause of death among people ages 15 to 24 in the United States (behind unintentional injury). Suicide rates have been rising in the U.S., and data indicate that rates of suicide attempts requiring medical attention among adolescents increased 47 percent between 2009 and 2015.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students are at particular risk. In the new study, 29 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students reported attempting suicide in the previous year as compared to six percent of heterosexual teens.

For the study, Raifman and her colleagues analyzed data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a survey supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data included 32 of the 35 states that enacted same-sex marriage policies between January 1, 2004 and January 1, 2015.

The researchers used data from January 1, 1999 to Dec. 31, 2015 to capture trends in suicide attempts five years before the first same-sex marriage policy went into effect in Massachusetts. They were also able to compare data with states that did not enact same-sex marriage laws. They conducted state-by-state analyses, comparing, for example, suicide attempt rates in a state like Massachusetts before same-sex marriage was legalized to the period right after.

State same-sex marriage legalization policies were associated with a seven percent reduction in suicide attempts among high school students generally.

The association was concentrated in sexual minorities, with a 14 percent reduction in suicide attempts among gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents. The effects persisted for at least two years.

Researchers found that in states that did not implement same-sex marriage, a reduction in suicide attempts among high school students was not observed.

It’s unclear whether the political campaigns surrounding same-sex marriage legalization were behind the reduction in suicide attempts or the laws themselves. Still, they found that the reduction in suicide attempts wasn’t realized until after a law was enacted.

In a state that would go on to pass a law two years in the future — when there was likely to be much conversation in the public about it — suicide attempts remained flat before passage.

Healthy People 2020, a program run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has a goal of reducing adolescent suicide rates by 10 percent by 2020. The new research suggests that the legalization of same-sex marriage has been very effective in making progress toward that goal.

Despite the large reduction in suicide attempts among gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students, this population still attempts suicide at higher rates than their straight peers.

“It’s not easy to be an adolescent, and for adolescents who are just realizing they are sexual minorities, it can be even harder — that’s what the data on disparities affecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents tell us,” Raifman said.

She says gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents are also at increased risk of substance abuse, depression, and HIV. Despite evidence of disparities, she says there are no population-level programs aimed at reducing suicide attempts in gay, lesbian, and bisexual students.

Raifman believes schools and medical providers must understand that students who are sexual minorities are at higher risk and be on high alert.

Although the researchers found that legalizing same-sex marriage appears to be positively associated with reducing suicide attempts, policies that take away rights or add to stigma could have the opposite effect.

“We can all agree that reducing adolescent suicide attempts is a good thing, regardless of our political views,” Raifman says.

“Policymakers need to be aware that policies on sexual minority rights can have a real effect on the mental health of adolescents. The policies at the top can dictate in ways both positive and negative what happens further down.”

Source: Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health/EurekAlert

Genetics + Family Environment Impact Childhood Obesity

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 6:15am

A new international study finds that around 35-40 percent of a child’s BMI (Body Mass Index) — how fat or thin they are — is inherited from their parents.

Investigators say that for the most obese children, the proportion rises to 55-60 percent, thus more than half of their tendency towards obesity is determined by genetics and family environment.

University of Sussex researchers used data on the heights and weights of 100,000 children and their parents across the world, including the U.K., U.S., China, Indonesia, Spain, and Mexico.

Investigators found that the intergenerational transmission of BMI is approximately constant at around 0.2 per parent; i.e., each child’s BMI is, on average, 20 percent due to the mother and 20 percent due to the father.

The pattern of results, said lead author Professor Peter Dolton of the University of Sussex, is remarkably consistent across all countries, irrespective of their stage of economic development, degree of industrialization, or type of economy.

Professor Dolton says, “Our evidence comes from trawling data from across the world with very diverse patterns of nutrition and obesity, from one of the most obese populations — USA — to two of the least obese countries in the world, China and Indonesia.

“This gives an important and rare insight into how obesity is transmitted across generations in both developed and developing countries. We found that the process of intergenerational transmission is the same across all the different countries.”

The findings are published in the journal Economics and Human Biology.

Interestingly, the effect of parents’ BMI on their children’s BMI depends on what the BMI of the child is. Researchers discovered that consistently, across all populations studied, the parental effect’ was lowest for the thinnest children and highest for the most obese children.

For the thinnest child their BMI is 10 percent due to their mother and 10 percent due to their father. For the fattest child this transmission is closer to 30 percent due to each parent.

Said Dolton, “This shows that the children of obese parents are much more likely to be obese themselves when they grow up — the parental effect is more than double for the most obese children what it is for the thinnest children.

“These findings have far-reaching consequences for the health of the world’s children. They should make us rethink the extent to which obesity is the result of family factors, and our genetic inheritance, rather than decisions made by us as individuals.”

Source: University of Sussex

Decision-Making Suffers When Cancer Patients Avoid Math

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 5:30am

New research provides a strategy to help individuals diagnosed with an illness better understand treatment options. Many of the toughest decisions faced by cancer patients involve knowing how to use numbers — calculating risks, evaluating treatment protocols, and understanding the odds of medication side effects.

But for patients who aren’t good at math, decision science research can offer evidence-based advice on how to assess numeric information and ask the right questions to make informed choices.

“The ability to understand numbers is associated with all kinds of positive health outcomes, including for cancer patients,” said Dr. Ellen Peters, professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

“The problem is that too many people aren’t good with numbers or are afraid of math. But we’re starting to figure out the best ways to help these patients so they aren’t at a disadvantage when it comes to their treatment.”

Peters, who is director of the Decision Sciences Collaborative at Ohio State, presented research on cancer patients’ health and numeracy — the ability to understand and use math — at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Numerous studies have shown that people who are less numerate experience worse health outcomes. Peters says these are examples of the “tyranny of numbers.”

For example, diabetics with lower numeracy scores have higher blood sugar levels. And children with diabetes have higher blood sugar levels if their parents are less numerate.

A 2010 study by Peters shows how skill with numbers can affect breast cancer patients. In this research, women who had surgery for breast cancer were presented with options for further treatment, including hormonal treatment, chemotherapy, combined treatment, or no treatment.

The patients were given information, based on their characteristics, on how likely they were to survive 10 years for each possible treatment plan. They were then asked to estimate, based on this information, what their own chances of survival were for 10 years with each treatment.

The patients who scored higher in numeracy were more pessimistic than the data suggested they should be. But their estimates of their own survival did vary based on the numbers they were given.

“For those who were less numerate, their survival estimates were pessimistic, but remained the same no matter what numbers they were presented. It was as if they didn’t read the numbers at all,” Peters said.

“This is critical. We were giving them information that should help them choose the best treatment, but they were ignoring it.”

Other research shows that less numerate people “rely more on their emotions” to make health-related decisions. They are also more swayed by how information is presented to them rather than by the information itself, she said.

If a patient recognizes that he or she is not good with numbers, how can he or she cope? Peters said research suggests four strategies:

  • Ask for the numbers. This may seem counter-intuitive, but research backs it up. In one study, less numerate people were asked to estimate their risk of side effects from a medication. Some were given numeric information about the risks of a particular side effect, while others were told only that there was a risk. When they weren’t given the numbers, 70 percent of less numerate people overestimated their risk, but only 17 percent did when given the numbers. They didn’t do as well at evaluating risk as more numerate people when given the numbers, but they still did much better than when they didn’t have them at all.
  • Ask what the numbers mean. Along with the numbers, doctors should be able to tell you what the numbers mean in practical terms. “If 80 percent of people are helped by this particular drug, is that good or bad? Ask your doctor to say if this is above or below average, if it is a fair, good, or excellent treatment compared to other options,” she said.
  • Ask for absolute risk. Saying that a particular drug doubles your risk of a dangerous side effect sounds scary. But this is what is called a relative risk. The absolute risk is more important.
    “If you’re doubling your risk from 0.01 percent to 0.02 percent, that is much less threatening than if you are doubling from 10 percent to 20 percent,” Peters said.
  • Another recommendation is to cut down the choices. If you’re given a bewildering list of choices for treatment, ask your doctor to choose the best two options to consider.

“It is absolutely OK to tell the doctor that this is too complicated. You don’t need to have doctors make a treatment decision for you, but they should be able to identify the most critical information for you to consider.”

Health care providers should do a better job in presenting critical information to patients, Peters said. But when they don’t, patients should ask for help.

“Numbers are important, whether you like them or not. And nowhere are they more important than when it comes to your health,” she said.

Source: Ohio State University/EurekAlert

MRI During Infancy May Predict Autism in High-Risk Kids

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 7:45am

A first-of-its-kind study used electronic imaging to correctly predict 80 percent of high-risk infants who would later meet criteria for autism at two years of age.

The research was performed on infants with older siblings with autism. Scientists used brain measurements and a computer algorithm to accurately predict autism before symptoms set in.

The study is the first to show it is possible to identify which infants — among those with older siblings with autism — will be diagnosed with autism at 24 months of age.

“Our study shows that early brain development biomarkers could be very useful in identifying babies at the highest risk for autism before behavioral symptoms emerge,” said senior author Joseph Piven, M.D., a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

“Typically, the earliest an autism diagnosis can be made is between ages two and three. But for babies with older autistic siblings, our imaging approach may help predict during the first year of life which babies are most likely to receive an autism diagnosis at 24 months.”

The study appears in the journal Nature.

This research project included hundreds of children from across the country and was led by researchers at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) at the University of North Carolina (UNC), where Piven is director.

The project’s other clinical sites included the University of Washington, Washington University in St. Louis, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Other key collaborators are McGill University, the University of Alberta, the University of Minnesota, the College of Charleston, and New York University.

“This study could not have been completed without a major commitment from these families, many of whom flew in to be part of this,” said first author Heather Hazlett, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine and a CIDD researcher.

“We are still enrolling families for this study, and we hope to begin work on a similar project to replicate our findings.”

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have characteristic social deficits and demonstrate a range of ritualistic, repetitive, and stereotyped behaviors.

It is estimated that one out of 68 children develop autism in the United States. For infants with older siblings with autism, the risk may be as high as 20 out of every 100 births.

There are about three million people with autism in the United States and tens of millions around the world.

Despite much research, it has been impossible to identify those at ultra-high risk for autism prior to 24 months of age, which is the earliest time when the hallmark behavioral characteristics of ASD can be observed and a diagnosis made in most children.

For this Nature study, Piven, Hazlett, and researchers from around the country conducted MRI scans of infants at six, 12, and 24 months of age.

They found that the babies who developed autism experienced a hyper-expansion of brain surface area from six to 12 months, as compared to babies who had an older sibling with autism but did not themselves show evidence of the condition at 24 months of age.

Increased growth rate of surface area in the first year of life was linked to increased growth rate of overall brain volume in the second year of life. Brain overgrowth was tied to the emergence of autistic social deficits in the second year.

Previous behavioral studies of infants who later developed autism — who had older siblings with autism — revealed that social behaviors typical of autism emerge during the second year of life.

The researchers then took these data — MRIs of brain volume, surface area, cortical thickness at six and 12 months of age, and sex of the infants — and used a computer program to identify a way to classify babies most likely to meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age.

The computer program developed the best algorithm to accomplish this, and the researchers applied the algorithm to a separate set of study participants.

The researchers found that brain differences at 6 and 12 months of age in infants with older siblings with autism correctly predicted eight out of ten infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age.

The infants were compared to those infants with older ASD siblings who did not meet criteria for autism at 24 months.

“This means we potentially can identify infants who will later develop autism, before the symptoms of autism begin to consolidate into a diagnosis,” Piven said.

If parents have a child with autism and then have a second child, such a test might be clinically useful in identifying infants at highest risk for developing this condition. The idea would be to then intervene “pre-symptomatically“ before the emergence of the defining symptoms of autism.

Research could then begin to examine the effect of interventions on children during a period before the syndrome is present and when the brain is most malleable. Such interventions may have a greater chance of improving outcomes than treatments started after diagnosis.

“Putting this into the larger context of neuroscience research and treatment, there is currently a big push within the field of neurodegenerative diseases to be able to detect the biomarkers of these conditions before patients are diagnosed, at a time when preventive efforts are possible,” Piven said.

“In Parkinson’s for instance, we know that once a person is diagnosed, they’ve already lost a substantial portion of the dopamine receptors in their brain, making treatment less effective.”

Piven said the idea with autism is similar; once autism is diagnosed at age toe to three years, the brain has already begun to change substantially.

“We haven’t had a way to detect the biomarkers of autism before the condition sets in and symptoms develop,” he said.

“Now we have very promising leads that suggest this may in fact be possible.”

Source: University of North Carolina

Recent Progress Seen in Lessening Cognitive, Motor Delays in Very Premature Babies

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 7:00am

Extremely preterm babies — those born between 22 to 24 weeks gestation — continue to face unfavorable odds, as only about one in three survive. But a new study led by Duke Health shows that these rates are slowly improving. The findings show that, compared to extremely preterm babies born a decade earlier, a larger percentage are developing into toddlers without signs of moderate or severe cognitive and motor delay.

Improvements in survival and neurodevelopment may be the result of a number of factors, including decreasing rates of infection in the infants, along with the increased use of steroids in expectant mothers that can help mature and strengthen the fetus’s lungs prior to birth, according to the authors.

“The findings are encouraging,” said lead author Noelle Younge, M.D., a neonatologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke. “We see evidence of improvement over time. But we do need to keep an eye on the overall numbers, as a large percentage of infants born at this stage still do not survive. Those who survive without significant impairment at about age two are still at risk for numerous other challenges to their overall health.”

For the study, the researchers looked at data of 4,274 infants born between the 22nd and 24th week of pregnancy, far earlier than the 37 to 40 weeks of a full-term pregnancy. The babies were hospitalized at 11 academic medical centers in the Neonatal Research Network, part of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health.

About 30 percent of the infants born at the beginning of the study (between 2000 and 2003) survived. That number increased to 36 percent for babies born toward the end of the study (from 2008 to 2011), with the best outcomes for children born at 23 and 24 weeks. Overall survival for babies born at 22 weeks remained the same throughout the study, at just 4 percent.

Over the 12-year study period, the number of infants who survived but were found to have cognitive and motor impairment at 18 to 22 months stayed about the same (about 14 to 16 percent). However, the percentage of infants who survived without evidence of moderate or severe neurological impairment improved from 16 percent to 20 percent.

“Researchers in the Neonatal Research Network reported in 2015 that survival was increasing in this vulnerable population. One concern was that the improved survival might have been accompanied by a greater number of infants who went on to have impairments in the long term, such as cerebral palsy, developmental delay, hearing and vision loss,” said Younge.

“However, we actually are seeing a slight improvement. Because children continue to develop over years, it’s important to continue to track this data so families and providers can make the best decisions in caring for these infants.”

These improvements may be due to a number of factors, including lower rates of infection in the infants and increased use of steroids in expectant mothers. Steroids can help mature and strengthen the fetus’s lungs prior to birth. At the beginning of the study, 58 percent of the expectant mothers had received steroids to boost fetal development. That figure increased to 64 percent by the end of the study.

“The culture of neonatal intensive care units has really changed in the past decade,” said senior author C. Michael Cotten, M.D., a neonatologist and professor of pediatrics at Duke. “We’ve taken a big focus on preventing infections, and there’s a lot more encouragement and support for the use of mother’s milk than there was 15 years ago, which has also been linked to better outcomes.”

Extremely preterm infants are highly susceptible to infections. Neonatal intensive care units have reported steady decreases in infection rates among extremely preterm infants over the past two decades.

“This is important because infections have been associated with greater risk of neurologic problems,” Cotten said.

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Source: Duke Health

New Approach to Smoking Cessation Taps Into Nostalgia

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 6:15am

A refreshing new approach to help people stop smoking uses messages that resonant with smoker’s memories, rather than inducing fear and guilt.

The new Michigan State University study suggest the new approach provides an option that can be used to promote prosocial behaviors.

Ali Hussain, a doctoral candidate in the School of Journalism, and Dr. Maria Lapinski, professor in the Department of Communication, explored a tactic often used in advertising in which nostalgia-evoking messages are used to promote consumer products.

They believe the approach could be just as effective in encouraging healthy behaviors.

“A lot of no-smoking messages are centered around fear, disgust, and guilt,” Hussain said. “But smokers often don’t buy the messages and instead feel badly about themselves and the person who is trying to scare them.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease in the United States, accounting for one of every five deaths. Smoking rates have declined, but in 2015, 15 of every 100 adults were active smokers.

Despite the health risks, a key hurdle for health communicators is rejection and avoidance of messages, Lapinski said.

Hoping to find a solution, researchers conducted a study of smokers, ages 18 to 39, exposing some to a nostalgic public service announcement (PSA) Hussain created and some to a control message.

Those who viewed the PSA reported greater nostalgic emotions and displayed stronger negative attitudes toward smoking, especially women.

Starting with images of childhood memories, the PSA script includes phrases such as, “I remember when I was a boy” and “I miss the simplicity of life, being outside on a warm summer night,” making references to familiar smells and tastes from bygone days.

It ends with the narrator remembering when someone introduced him to cigarettes and a call to action.

Nostalgia-themed PSAs play off consumers’ most cherished and personal memories, so they feel more engaged, the researchers said. And that nostalgic thinking influences attitudes and behaviors.

“Our study, which to our knowledge is first of its kind, shows promise for using nostalgic messages to promote pro-social behaviors,” Lapinski said.

“We know that policy and environmental changes have an influence on smoking and this study indicates persuasive messages can influence smoking attitudes.”

The study is published in Communication Research Reports.

Source: Michigan State University

New App Seeks to Detect Early Dementia

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 5:30am

Although the incidence of Alzheimer’s threatens to approach epidemic proportions, the complex nature of the disease makes it difficult to understand and predict until it is too late.

Boston University professor and neuropsychologist Rhoda Au is trying to remedy this challenge through the use of wearable digital devices.

Currently, Au is collecting an enormous amount of data on people over time with the hope of finding the minute physical changes that correspond with the slow mental decline of Alzheimer’s.

The effort is salient as nearly 100,000 people in the United States died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2014 alone, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Au, who discussed her research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston, says that what she really wants is to never do another Alzheimer’s test in the lab again.

“It’s really labor-intensive to bring people [into the lab],” she says, and it doesn’t give a full picture of an illness. Cognitive decline can change day-to-day or even hour-to-hour, but lab tests are just a snapshot and don’t provide the important nuances.

Instead of lab tests, Au wants to use wearable devices to try to detect cognitive decline through how people live their daily lives.

It’s what she calls her e-cognitive health initiative — the official title is “Precision Monitoring of Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease: Framingham Study of Cognitive Epidemiology” — and she recently received funding from private industry partners, including Pfizer, for 2,200 people to participate in the initiative over three years.

This will hopefully provide valuable information on how Alzheimer’s and dementia progress. Right now, it is difficult to detect early preclinical Alzheimer’s, a term for a progressing mental decline that does not yet meet the strict definition of Alzheimer’s.

“The idea of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease is that, for people who are destined to develop dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease, in the years before they become overtly cognitively impaired, there might be subtle things that change in their daily behavior that, if we knew what to look for, would disclose who might be at risk,” says David Knopman, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Besides her position at BU, Au is the director of neuropsychology at the Framingham Heart Study (FHS). Since 1948, the FHS has followed over 5,000 participants from Framingham, Massachusetts, throughout their lives.

Volunteer participants came in for regular checkups, and, over the years, scientists saw for the first time how cardiac problems progress in populations–what role lifestyle plays in heart disease and the signs leading up to diagnosis.

Since then, the FHS has widened its focus to include all chronic diseases and taken on even more participants, including the children and grandchildren of the original 5,000.

Au is now giving wearable devices to that second generation of 2,200 participants — although she doesn’t know if every one of them will participate–and she has partnered with tech companies like AnthroTronix and Shimmer, an Irish-based company that creates wearables for detecting biophysical data.

Over a three-year period, various wearable devices from these companies will measure everything from sleep to balance and fall risk to heart rate. Au even has smartphone apps to test cognitive ability at home. While all this data may hold vital clues to Alzheimer’s and dementia, having so much information can present its own challenges.

“We always need more terabytes,” says Brynna Wasserman (ENG’15), Au’s research assistant at the FHS. The digital devices project is only one of many pieces to Au’s research–all of which are data-heavy.

The neuropsychology group at the FHS has a shared hard drive, says Wasserman. “It has 10 terabytes on it. You’d think that would be enough.” It’s not.

Wasserman says that they are constantly asking for more data storage, a problem that will only get more challenging as the lab collects additional data from the wearable devices. And analyzing the data presents an even bigger hurdle.

Right now, Au is focused on how to collect the data, and digging through the information to find the clues to cognitive decline is something she is working on. Still, the need to expand the work has led her partner with private companies.

“I look to the academic community to help work through computation barriers that will lead to next-generation tools, but I look to the private companies for much more horsepower in using what is known/available now.”

Eventually, Au wants to move the e-cognitive health initiative even beyond wearables to in-home devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Nest, which she hopes will give her the most accurate look on what parts of a person’s life may lead to dementia in the future.

Au says that she has faced some pushback from the research community, not only because she is partnering with private industry but because she is bucking conventional science techniques — she doesn’t yet have a hypothesis on what predicts dementia, just a lot of data.

“I’m pretty sure that I have collected data that is not useful,” she says. “But I am equally sure that I have collected data that is useful…it is very much about figuring it out as you go along.”

Source: Boston University/EurekAlert

What Motivates Teens to Exercise?

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 8:45am

Unless actively involved in sports, many students entering high school drop their activity levels to a minimum, setting the stage for sedentary-related adult diseases. In a new pilot study, researchers set out to investigate what types of energy levels and mindsets tend to prompt teens to exercise. For example, are teens more likely to exercise when they are feeling down? Or when they are feeling good and energetic?

The findings show that when it comes to exercise, teens are far too unique in their mindsets and motivations to use a one-size-fits-all intervention.

“You might assume that if you had higher positive affect and felt energetic, you would be more likely to exercise, but we found that this is not true for everyone,” said study leader Dr. Christopher Cushing, assistant professor of clinical child psychology and University of Kansas (KU) Life Span Institute assistant scientist.

“For some of our participants, feeling happy with lots of energy predicted exercise, while for others the relationship was in the opposite direction.”

For the study, 26 adolescents reported their mood and energy four times a day for 20 days with an Android smartphone app developed by the KU research team.

The students were asked to rate positive affect (feeling happy), negative affect (feeling sad) as well as whether and to what degree they felt energetic or fatigued. The researchers then combined those reports with physical activity data collected from an activity tracker that the teens wore 24 hours a day.

Cushing said that this is a big advancement in the field of health behavior.

“If you think about the kind of advice a clinician would want to give to a patient, this study shows that adolescents are too different from each other to rely on a one-size-fits-all recommendation that is typical in practice. We need to know something about the person before giving a standard set of advice.”

A long-term goal of this research is to design an intervention system that would personalize prompts based on each individual’s optimum times to exercise as gleaned from data collected from reported internal states.

Cushing said that they were also able to answer the question of whether adolescents would even want to participate in this kind of study — one that required a lot of time and energy throughout the day. The study got a very high response rate and nearly all of the participants said they would do it again if their physician asked them to in order to better understand their health.

“Teens are willing to do it if they think they’ll learn something about the relationship between how they feel and important health behaviors they are interested in tracking or improving,” he said.

The researchers want to focus on increasing the physical activity of adolescents because high school is a time when most adolescents drop from a pattern of moderate activity to the kind of minimal activity that predisposes them for diseases as adults.

“We want to help them find opportunities for leisure time physical activities outside of the structure of school, and we think it makes sense to do that in a way that is personalized for each adolescent,” said Cushing.

“By the time a person reaches adulthood, patterns of behavior are relatively well-established. We think it is a harder proposition to get an adult off of the couch after they have slipped into a pattern of inactivity than to help an adolescent who is moderately active maintain some of that activity as they age into adulthood.”

The study is published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

Source: University of Kansas, Life Span Institute

New Study Shows How Dads Bond With Their Kids

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 8:00am

A new brain imaging study shows that fathers given the hormone oxytocin show increased activity in brain regions associated with reward and empathy when viewing photos of their toddlers.

“Our findings add to the evidence that fathers, and not just mothers, undergo hormonal changes that are likely to facilitate increased empathy and motivation to care for their children,” said lead author Dr. James Rilling, an Emory University anthropologist and director of the Laboratory for Darwinian Neuroscience.

“They also suggest that oxytocin, known to play a role in social bonding, might someday be used to normalize deficits in paternal motivation, such as in men suffering from postpartum depression.”

According to the researcher, the study is the first to look at the influence of oxytocin and vasopressin, another hormone linked to social bonding, on brain function in fathers.

A growing body of literature shows that an involved father plays a role in reducing child mortality and morbidity, as well as improving social, psychological and educational outcomes, the researcher noted.

But not every father takes a “hands-on” approach to caring for his children.

“I’m interested in understanding why some fathers are more involved in caregiving than others,” Rilling says. “In order to fully understand variation in caregiving behavior, we need a clear picture of the neurobiology and neural mechanisms that support the behavior.”

Researchers have long known that when women go through pregnancy they experience dramatic hormonal changes that prepare them for child rearing. Oxytocin, in particular, was traditionally considered a maternal hormone since it is released into the bloodstream during labor and nursing and facilitates the processes of birth, bonding with the baby, and milk production.

More recently, however, it became clear that men can also undergo hormonal changes when they become fathers, including increases in oxytocin, according to researchers.

Evidence shows that, in fathers, oxytocin facilitates physical stimulation of infants during play, as well as the ability to synchronize their emotions with their children.

To investigate the neural mechanisms involved in oxytocin and paternal behavior, Rilling’s lab used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to compare neural activity in men with and without doses of oxytocin, administered through a nasal spray.

The participants in the experiment were all healthy fathers of toddlers, between the ages of one and two.

While undergoing fMRI brain scans, each participant was shown a photo of his child, a photo of a child he did not know, and a photo of an adult he did not know.

When viewing an image of their child, fathers dosed with oxytocin showed significantly increased neural activity in brain systems associated with reward and empathy, compared to placebo.

This heightened activity in the caudate nucleus, dorsal anterior cingulate and visual cortex suggests that doses of oxytocin may augment feelings of reward and empathy in fathers, as well as their motivation to pay attention to their children, according to the study’s findings.

Surprisingly, the study results did not show a significant effect of vasopressin on the neural activity of fathers, contrary to the findings of some previous studies on animals, the researchers noted.

Research in prairie voles, which bond for life, for instance, has shown that vasopressin promotes both pair-bonding and paternal caregiving.

“It could be that evolution has arrived at different strategies for motiving paternal caregiving in different species,” Rilling said.

The study was published in the journal Hormones and Behavior.

Source: Emory University

Dopamine May Play Role in Human Bonding

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 7:00am

A new study shows, for the first time, that dopamine may play a significant role in human bonding and relationships. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter integrally involved in the brain’s reward system.

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have important implications for the treatment of postpartum depression as well as disorders of the dopamine system such as Parkinson’s disease, addiction, and social dysfunction.

The study, which involved 19 mothers and their infants, used two types of brain scans simultaneously — functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET).

The researchers focused on the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical that acts in various brain systems to spark the motivation necessary to work for a reward. The researchers compared the mothers’ levels of dopamine to their degree of synchrony with their infants as well as to the strength of the connection within the brain’s medial amygdala network. This brain network helps support social affiliation.

“We found that social affiliation is a potent stimulator of dopamine,” said researcher Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University. “This link implies that strong social relationships have the potential to improve your outcome if you have a disease, such as depression, where dopamine is compromised.”

“We already know that people deal with illness better when they have a strong social network. What our study suggests is that caring for others, not just receiving caring, may have the ability to increase your dopamine levels.”

Before performing the scans, the researchers videotaped the mothers at home interacting with their babies and applied measurements to the behaviors of both to determine their degree of synchrony. They also recorded the infants playing on their own.

While in the brain scanner, each mother viewed footage of her own baby at solitary play as well as an unfamiliar baby at play while the researchers measured dopamine levels, with PET, and tracked the strength of the medial amygdala network, with fMRI.

The mothers who were more synchronous with their own babies showed both an increased dopamine response when viewing their child at play and stronger connectivity within the medial amygdala network.

“Animal studies have shown the role of dopamine in bonding but this was the first scientific evidence that it is involved in human bonding,” said Barrett. “That suggests that other animal research in this area could be directly applied to humans as well.”

While the findings are still “cautionary,” they have the potential to reveal how the social environment impacts the developing brain, said Barrett.

“Infants are completely dependent on their caregivers. Whether they get enough to eat, the right kind of nutrients, whether they’re kept warm or cool enough, whether they’re hugged enough and get enough social attention, all these things are important to normal brain development,” said Barrett.

“Our study shows clearly that a biological process in one person’s brain, the mother’s, is linked to behavior that gives the child the social input that will help wire his or her brain normally. That means parents’ ability to keep their infants cared for leads to optimal brain development, which over the years results in better adult health and greater productivity.”

“People’s future health, mental, and physical, is affected by the kind of care they receive when they are babies. If we want to invest wisely in the health of our country, we should concentrate on infants and children, eradicating the adverse conditions that interfere with brain development,” said Barrett.

Source: Northeastern University

What ‘Getting the Gist’ Tells Us About Brain Health

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 6:30am

Many people who have suffered a chronic traumatic brain injury (TBI) report struggling to solve problems, understand complex information and maintain friendships, despite scoring normally on cognitive tests.

New research finds that a gist reasoning test, developed by clinicians and cognitive neuroscientists at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas Dallas, is more sensitive than other traditional tests at identifying certain cognitive deficits.

The study suggests the test may be sensitive enough to help doctors and clinicians identify previously undiagnosed cognitive changes that could explain the daily life difficulties experienced by TBI patients and, subsequently, guide appropriate therapies.

According to researchers, the gist reasoning measure, called the Test of Strategic Learning, accurately identified 84.7 percent of chronic TBI cases, a much higher rate than more traditional tests that accurately identified TBI between 42.3 percent and 67.5 percent of the time.

“Being able to ‘get the gist’ is essential for many day-to-day activities, such as engaging in conversation, understanding meanings that are implied but not explicitly stated, creating shopping lists, and resolving conflicts with others,” said lead author Dr. Asha Vas of Texas Woman’s University, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for BrainHealth at the time of the study. “The gist test requires multiple cognitive functions to work together.”

The study featured 70 participants between the ages of 18 to 55, including 30 who had experienced a moderate to severe chronic traumatic brain injury at least one year ago. All the participants had similar socioeconomic status, educational backgrounds and IQ.

Researchers were blinded to the participant’s TBI status while administering four different tests that measure abstract thinking; the ability to understand the big picture, not just recount the details of a story or other complex information. Researchers used the results to predict which participants were in the TBI group.

During the cognitive tests, the majority of the TBI group easily recognized abstract or concrete information when given prompts in a yes-no format. But the group performed much worse on other tests, including gist reasoning, that required deeper level processing of information with fewer or no prompts.

The gist reasoning test consists of three texts that vary in length — from 291 to 575 words — and complexity. The test requires the participant to provide a synopsis of each of the three texts.

Vas provided an example of what “getting the gist” means, using Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

“There are no right or wrong answers. The test relies on your ability to derive meaning from important story details and arrive at a high-level summary: Two young lovers from rival families scheme to build a life together and it ends tragically.

“You integrate existing knowledge, such as the concept of love and sacrifice, to create a meaning from your perspective. Perhaps, in this case, ‘true love does not conquer all,'” she said.

Past studies have shown that higher scores on the gist reasoning test in individuals in chronic phases of TBI correlate to better ability to perform daily life functions.

“Perhaps, in the future, the gist reasoning test could be used as a tool to identify other cognitive impairments,” said Dr. Jeffrey Spence, study co-author and director of biostatistics at the Center for BrainHealth. “It may also have the potential to be used as a marker of cognitive changes in aging.”

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research.

Source: Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas Dallas

Photo: Drs. Jeffrey Spence and Asha Vas investigate a test that may help doctors and clinicians identify previously undiagnosed cognitive changes that could help explain daily life difficulties experienced by TBI patients.Credit: Courtesy of Center for BrainHealth.

The Unique Benefits of Mother-Baby Song Time

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 8:45am

There is much more to the universal behavior of mothers singing to their babies than meets the eye — and ear, according to a new study at the University of Miami Frost School of Music.

“We know from previous research that infants have the innate ability to process music in a sophisticated manner,” said Dr. Shannon de l’Etoile, professor of music therapy and lead researcher of the study.

“Initially, I set out to identify infant behaviors in response to live infant-directed singing compared to other common maternal interactions such as reading books and playing with toys. One of the main goals of the research was to clarify the meaning of infant-directed singing as a human behavior and as a means to elicit unique behavioral responses from infants.”

In addition, de l’Etoile explored the role of infant-directed singing in relation to the intricate bond between mother and baby. In an initial experiment, she filmed 70 infants responding to six different interactions: mother sings an assigned song, “stranger” sings an assigned song, mother sings song of choice, mother reads book, mother plays with toy, and the mother and infant listen to recorded music.

“High cognitive scores during infant-directed singing suggested that engagement through song is just as effective as book reading or toy play in maintaining infant attention, and far more effective than listening to recorded music,” said de l’Etoile. “But what did the infant engagement tell us about the mother’s role during the interaction?” she said.

To find out, she continued the study by focusing on the role of the caregiver during infant-directed singing by measuring the make-up of the song and the mother’s voice.

“Findings revealed that when infants were engaged during song, their mother’s instincts are also on high alert,” said de l’Etoile. “Intuitively, when infant engagement declined, the mother adjusted her pitch, tempo, or key to stimulate and regulate infant response.”

Although the intuitive adjustment of the song or singing voice seemed natural to most of the mothers, de l’Etoile went further to investigate the acoustic parameters in the singing voices of mothers with postpartum depression.

“The extraction and analysis of vocal data revealed that mothers with postpartum depression may lack sensitivity and emotional expression in their singing,” said de l’Etoile. “Although the infants were still engaged during the interaction, the tempo did not change and was somewhat robotic.”

According to de l’Etoile, when mothers with postpartum depression engage in song with their babies, it creates a unique and mutually beneficial situation. Through song, the infants are provided with much-needed sensory stimulation that can focus their attention and modulate their arousal.

Simultaneously, mothers experience a much-needed distraction from the negative emotions and thoughts associated with depression, while also feeling empowered as a parent.

“Mothers around the world sing to their infants in remarkably similar ways, and infants prefer these specialized songs,” she said. “The tempo and key certainly don’t need to be perfect or professional for mothers and infants to interact through song.

“In fact, infants may be drawn to the personalized tempo and pitch of their mother, which encourage them to direct their gaze toward and ultimately communicate through this gaze,” said de l’Etoile.

The new findings are published in the Journal of Music Therapy.

Source: University of Miami

Zero Tolerance Policy May Unfairly Target Black Girls

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 8:00am

In a new article appearing in the journal Urban Education, two education scholars assert that, due to the “zero tolerance” policy, black girls are disproportionately punished in American schools.

According to the paper, this is an overlooked crisis that is populating the school-to-prison pipeline at rising rates.

Zero tolerance policies unfairly target students of color and should be abolished, said author Dr. Dorinda Carter Andrews, associate professor at Michigan State University (MSU). But while a wealth of research and public discussion has focused on black male students, little attention has been paid to the mistreatment of black girls in U.S. classrooms, she said.

In the paper, Carter Andrews and co-author Dorothy Hines-Datiri, assistant professor at the University of Kansas and former doctoral student at MSU, cite various examples of black girls in elementary school being handcuffed and taken away in police cars for classroom disruptions such as temper tantrums.

“Zero tolerance constructs these young girls as criminals,” Carter Andrews said. “It’s a criminalization of their childhood, and it’s a very prison-type mentality for schools to take.”

Zero tolerance is defined as a form of school discipline that insists on removing the child from school for an array of violations, from violence to truancy to dress code violations. Black students are two to three times more likely to be suspended than white students and are overrepresented in office referrals, expulsions, and corporal punishment, the paper says.

Black female students in the U.S. receive out-of-school suspensions at higher rates (12 percent) than female students across all other racial and ethnic categories, according to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Only black boys (20 percent) and American Indian/Alaska native boys (13 percent) have higher suspension rates than black girls.

Black girls are also more likely to receive harsher discipline than their white peers for minor offenses, such as talking back to the teacher, Carter Andrews said.

“The research shows that teachers and other adults may give a pass to certain students for the ways in which they talk back,” she said. “Teachers may view some girls, particularly African-American girls, as attitudinal or aggressive, even though they may be using the same talk-back language as a white female student.”

In addition to the abolishment of zero tolerance policies, the researchers call for the establishment of culturally responsive professional-development training for educators that would raise their awareness of the experiences of girls of color.

“We cannot afford to have more black girls’ identities snuffed out by disciplinary policies and ultimately the educational and criminal justice systems,” the study says.

Source: Michigan State University

New Study Gauges Impact of Guns on Domestic Violence

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 7:15am

A new study shows that when guns are part of domestic violence, women actually suffer fewer injuries, but experience greater fear.

According to a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, that’s because when a gun enters the situation, women are more likely to back down than fight back.

“A lot of the policies that are laid out about guns and domestic violence focus on preventing homicides, which is really important,” said Dr. Susan B. Sorenson, a professor of social policy in Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice and director of the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence.

“But there has been less attention on what it means for the women who are alive and not just as a risk factor for their death.”

For the study, Sorenson worked with the Philadelphia Police Department, which gave her access to an entire year of department-mandated paperwork on 911 calls related to domestic violence, regardless of whether an arrest took place.

That form included information about what the responding officer saw and did at the scene, as well as a body map to indicate injuries and a place for what Sorenson described as the “narrative,” where officers write in their own words what the victim described happened.

Studying more than 35,000 domestic-violence incidents from 2013, she found that assailants used hands, fists, or feet to attack in about 6,500 of them, and in nearly 1,900 used weapons such as knives, scissors, or baseball bats. About one-third of events with weapons involved a gun, and 80 percent of such incidents were male-on-female.

The study findings show that when an assailant uses a gun rather than another kind of weapon, a woman is less likely to incur injury, but is “substantially” more likely to be frightened.

“When faced with another form of weapon, she might try and defend herself, whereas when there’s a gun, the weapon is, by definition, lethal,” she said.

This underscores the idea of coercive control, in which an abuser doesn’t necessarily want to physically hurt a victim but rather cement the power dynamic between the two by brandishing a gun, increasing the intimidation factor, she explained.

“They get what they want without causing physical harm,” Sorenson said.

The National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted since 1973 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, showed that from 2002 to 2011 guns appeared fiive percent of the time at such incidents. That analysis includes any event with a firearm, not just those the police learn about, meaning there’s likely even more gun use than is reported.

Understanding this can better prepare those who encounter victims immediately following an incident, according to Sorenson.

“Even when the person is not presenting in the emergency department with a gunshot wound or having been pistol-whipped, it’s important for health-care professionals to ask about guns,” Sorenson said. “If a gun is used and there is increased fear, the person is less likely to leave the relationship.”

The same goes for law enforcement, she said.

“Police officers are first responders. They’re going to see these incidents when the people want intervention and are calling and asking for help,” she said. “Police can be really good partners in preventing a situation from escalating.”

The study was published in the Journal of Women’s Health.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Social Exclusion Can Lead to Belief in Conspiracy Theories

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 6:30am

New research shows why so many white, working-class people who feel pushed out by society are willing to believe exaggerated and misleading news reports, especially stories that justified their own beliefs.

According to a Princeton University study published in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, social exclusion leads to conspiratorial thinking.

The two-part analysis — which did not specifically investigate those who voted for President Donald Trump, but two random samples of people — found that the feelings of despair brought on by social exclusion can cause people to seek meaning in miraculous stories, which may not necessarily be true.

Such conspiratorial thinking leads to a dangerous cycle, according to co-lead author Dr. Alin Coman, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton.

When those with conspiratorial ideas share their beliefs, it can drive away family and friends, triggering even more exclusion, he explained. This may lead them to join conspiracy theory communities where they feel welcome, which in turn further entrenches their beliefs.

“Attempting to disrupt this cycle might be the best bet for someone interested in counteracting conspiracy theories at a societal level,” Coman said. “Otherwise, communities could become more prone to propagating inaccurate and conspiratorial beliefs.”

For the first part of the study, Coman and Damaris Graeupner, a research assistant in Princeton’s Department of Psychology,  recruited 119 participants through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing internet marketplace.

Participants engaged in four phases. First, they were asked to write about a recent unpleasant event that involved a close friend. Next, they were asked to rate the degree to which they felt 14 different emotions, including exclusion.

They then were asked to complete a questionnaire that contained 10 statements, ranking their agreement or disagreement with the statements on a seven-point scale ranging from absolutely untrue to absolutely true. These statements included phrases like “I am seeking a purpose or mission for my life” and “I have discovered a satisfying life purpose.”

Finally, participants were asked to indicate the degree to which they endorsed three different conspiratorial beliefs ranging from one (not at all) to seven (extremely). These included statements such as: “Pharmaceutical companies withhold cures for financial reasons”; “Governments use messages below the level of awareness to influence people’s decisions”; and “Events in the Bermuda Triangle constitute evidence of paranormal activity.”

“We chose these particular conspiracy theories for their widespread appeal in the population,” Coman said. “These three are, indeed, endorsed by a significant portion of the American population.”

After analyzing the data, the researchers say their hypothesis was confirmed: Social exclusion does lead to superstitious beliefs and, according to their statistical analyses, is likely the result of one searching for meaning in everyday experiences.

“Those who are excluded may begin to wonder why they’re excluded in the first place, causing them to seek meaning in their lives,” Coman said. “This may then lead them to endorse certain conspiracy beliefs. When you’re included, it doesn’t necessarily trigger the same response.”

In the second part of the study, the researchers wanted to determine whether the degree to which someone was socially excluded influenced their conspiratorial beliefs. For this part of the study they recruited 120 Princeton University students.

The students were first asked to write two paragraphs describing themselves, one about “What it means to be me,” and another about “The kind of person I want to be.”

They were told that these paragraphs would be given to two other participants in the room who would then rank whether they’d want to work with them.

Each of the three participants was then randomly selected to either be in the inclusion group (selected for collaboration in a subsequent task), the exclusion group (not selected for collaboration), or the control group (no instructions about selection).

But the students did not evaluate the other participants’ self-descriptions, but instead descriptions created by the researchers.

Finally, all participants went through the same four phases as the first study, which measured how social exclusion is linked to acceptance of conspiracy theories.

The second study replicated the findings of the first, providing solid evidence that if a person feels excluded, they are more likely to hold conspiratorial beliefs, according the researchers.

The findings highlight the need for inclusion, especially among populations at risk of exclusion, the researchers say.

“When developing laws, regulations, policies, and programs, policymakers should worry about whether people feel excluded by their enactment,” Coman said. “Otherwise, we may create societies that are prone to spreading inaccurate and superstitious beliefs.”

Source: Princeton University

New Approach Reduces Teen Risk for Drug Addiction

Fri, 02/17/2017 - 7:45am

Emerging research suggest programs that ultimately improve impulse control are the best method to prevent substance abuse.

Drug use in adolescence is often linked to later substance-abuse problems. The new study finds that key risk factors include a combination of weak working memory and cognitive processing. These deficits lead to poor impulse control.

The risk factors predispose an individual to progressive drug use in younger years and subsequent dependence, report researchers at three institutions.

Their work, which focused on alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use – the most commonly used drugs by adolescents – appears in the journal Addiction.

For young people with difficulties in impulse control, intervention programs that focus on simply stopping early drug use don’t go far enough, said lead author Atika Khurana, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services at the University of Oregon.

“We found that there is some effect that was carried through the early progression in drug use. It is a risk factor,” said Khurana.

“But we also found that the underlying weakness in working memory and impulse control continues to pose a risk for later substance use disorders.”

Working memory refers to the ability to concentrate on a task without being easily distracted. Youth with weak working memory tend to have problems controlling their impulses and thus appear to be at greater risk of continuing drug use.

The findings emerged from a final assessment of 387 young people, ages 18-20, who were recruited as 10- to 12-year-olds in 2004 for a long-term study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

In a paper published in 2015 in the journal Development and Psychopathology, Khurana’s team documented how adolescents with stronger working memory were better equipped to escape progression into heavy use following initial experimentation.

“Unanswered in our earlier work was whether it was specific forms of early use that predict later substance abuse,” said Khurana.

“People really hadn’t focused on the heterogeneity of drug-use patterns. Some youth can start early and experiment but not progress while others experiment and progress into heavier drug use.”

Analyzing multiple waves of data from early to late adolescence, the researchers found that experimenting with drugs at an early age wasn’t a key factor in predicting later substance use disorders.

In fact, it was the progression in drug use along with weakness in working memory and impulse control difficulties that predicted substance use disorders at later ages.

The researchers also reported that underlying weaknesses in working memory and impulse control continue to pose a risk for later substance use disorders, apart from early drug use progression.

“Substance use disorders are a major public health concern in this country,” Khurana said.

“The onset of substance use happens during adolescence. There is a lot of research that links early onset of use to later substance use disorders. Our study advances the field by showing that just addressing early use is not going to solve the problem.”

“Drug prevention strategy in the schools typically focuses on middle school when early drug use tends to take place and assumes that any drug use at all is a problem,” said co-author Dan Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

“This study suggests that prevention needs to be more nuanced. The risk depends on whether drug use is likely to progress.”

Interventions that strengthen working memory and cognitive processing related to inhibiting impulsive responses need to be developed to help adolescents better navigate drug-related temptations, Khurana said.

Source: University of Oregon