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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 9 min 35 sec ago

Autistic Teens Prone to Depressive Symptoms – Especially if Bullied

12 hours 31 min ago

Researchers have discovered that teenagers with difficulties in social communication, including autism, have higher rates of depressive symptoms, especially if they are being bullied.

Investigators from the University of Bristol used questionnaires along with clinical and genetic information to study 6,091 young people from the Children of the 90s longitudinal study. They found children with autism and those with autistic traits had more symptoms of depression when they were 10 years old than their peers and that this continued at least up to the age of 18.

Children with difficulties in social communication were also more likely to have a diagnosis of depression at 18 and the findings suggest an increased risk for those who suffered from bullying.

The researchers did not find any link between having higher genetic tendencies towards autism and depressive symptoms.

Dr. Dheeraj Rai, a senior lecturer in Psychiatry at the Centre for Academic Mental Health, said, “We still know very little about why mental health problems are common in autism and what could be done to address them.

“Thanks to the wealth of data collected within the Children of the 90s study, we tracked the development of depressive symptoms in children with autism and autistic features up to the age of 18 years.

“We found that these children have more depressive symptoms than their peers at age 10 and these continue through adolescence to age 18, especially in children who reported being bullied.

“More research needs to be done to understand other pathways contributing to the risk of depression in autism across the life course. The findings suggest that focusing on the role of traumatic experiences such as bullying and interventions targeting these, could be important and may have the potential to make a real difference to the wellbeing of autistic people.”

Dr. Alan Emond, Professor of Child Health at the University of Bristol added: “Bullying can be detrimental to anyone’s mental health, but young people with social communication difficulties and other autistic traits seem to be particularly vulnerable.

“To protect autistic children and young people a whole school approach is needed to prevent bullying, coupled with targeted support for vulnerable individuals.”

Dr. James Cusack, director of science at Autistica, the charity for autism research, said: “Autistic people and families have told us that mental health is their top priority for research. This is not surprising as we know autistic people experience high rates of chronic mental health problems which lead to tragically high rates of suicide. Yet, our knowledge of autism and depression has remained poor.

“This excellent study tells us that symptoms of depression are elevated in autistic adolescents. The authors found that it was bullying rather than genetic differences which drove an increase in depressive symptoms in autistic people.”

Source: University of Bristol/EurekAlert

Why Being Left-Handed May Affect Brain-Based Treatments

13 hours 2 min ago

Mental health treatments that involve electrical or magnetic stimulation to the brain could be ineffective or even harmful to psychiatric patients who are not strongly right-handed, according to a new model of human emotion demonstrated by researcher Dr. Daniel Casasanto from Cornell University.

The study is published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Since the 1970s, hundreds of studies have suggested that specific emotions are housed in either the right or left side of the brain. Emotions associated with approaching and engaging with the world, like happiness, pride and anger, are in the left side of the brain, while emotions linked to avoidance like disgust and fear are housed in the right.

But those studies were done almost exclusively on right-handed people. This has given us a skewed understanding of how emotion works in the brain, according to Casasanto, an associate professor of human development and psychology at Cornell University in New York.

He suggests that this long-standing model is, in fact, reversed in left-handed people, whose outward emotions such as alertness and determination are housed in the right side of their brains. In fact, the new model shows that the location of a person’s neural systems for emotion depends on whether they are left-handed, right-handed or somewhere in between.

The new theory is called the “sword and shield hypothesis.” It posits that, based on the way we perform actions with our hands determines how emotions are organized in our brains. For example, sword fighters of old would wield their swords in their dominant hand to attack the enemy — an approach action — and raise their shields with their non-dominant hand to fend off attack — an avoidance action.

Consistent with these action habits, the study findings show that approach emotions rely on the hemisphere of the brain that controls the dominant “sword” hand, while avoidance emotions depend on the hemisphere that controls the non-dominant “shield” hand.

The findings have significant implications for neural therapy used for hard-to-treat anxiety and depression. It involves a mild electrical stimulation or a magnetic stimulation to the left side of the brain, to encourage approach-related emotions.

But Casasanto’s work suggests that this treatment could be harmful for left-handers. Specifically, stimulation on the left would reduce life-affirming approach emotions.

“If you give left-handers the standard treatment, you’re probably going to make them worse,” Casasanto said. “And because many people are neither strongly right- nor left-handed, the stimulation won’t make any difference for them, because their approach emotions are distributed across both hemispheres.”

“This suggests strong righties should get the normal treatment, but they make up only 50 percent of the population. Strong lefties should get the opposite treatment, and people in the middle shouldn’t get the treatment at all.”

Since the study focused on healthy participants only, more research is needed to extend these findings to a clinical setting, researchers said.

Source: Cornell University

 

Strong Sibling Bond May Buffer Effects of Parental Conflict

13 hours 32 min ago

Children who regularly witness hostile arguments between their parents are at greater risk for developing mental health problems. However, many who grow up in conflict-ridden homes never go on to develop any psychological issues.

In a new study, researchers wanted to know why some children appear to be protected from the negative impact of witnessing repeated hostility between their parents. They discovered that having a good relationship with a sibling may help buffer the distress of ongoing family conflict.

The study, published in the journal Child Development, was conducted by a research team from the University of Rochester, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of Notre Dame.

“Most children not only grow up with a sibling but spend more time interacting with siblings than with any other family member,” said Dr. Patrick T. Davies, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, who led the study.

“We showed that having a good relationship with a brother or sister reduced heightened vulnerability for youth exposed to conflicts between their parents by decreasing their tendencies to experience distress in response to later disagreements between their parents.”

The researchers defined a good relationship as one in which there were high levels of warmth and problem-solving and low levels of conflict and detachment.

The study involved 236 families, including children with at least one sibling who wasn’t a twin, their mothers, and their fathers. The families, most of which were white and middle class, were evaluated when the children were 12, 13 and 14 years old.

Conflict levels between parents were measured by observing arguments between mothers and fathers, who were asked in the lab to discuss topics of disagreement. The quality of sibling relationships was gauged by mothers’ verbal responses to interview questions about siblings’ closeness and conflict, which the authors acknowledge may limit accuracy.

Adolescents reported their distress levels regarding family conflicts. And adolescents, mothers, and teachers completed questionnaires to evaluate the youth’s psychological problems (e.g., aggression, depression, anxiety, hyperactivity).

The findings show that adolescents who were exposed to parental conflicts had greater distressed responses to conflicts a year later; greater distressed responses, in turn, predicted mental health issues in the teens in the subsequent years.

However, teens who had strong relationships with their siblings were protected from experiencing these distressed responses while witnessing their parents fight, and ultimately were protected from subsequent mental health problems. These protective effects were found among siblings of different ages and combinations of genders.

“Relationships with siblings protected teens whether we defined a good bond as one that included warmth and problem-solving skills or one that had low levels of destructive conflict or disengagement,” said Dr. Meredith Martin, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who coauthored the study.

“Strengthening sibling relationships may not only directly foster children’s psychological adjustment, but also offer new approaches to counteracting the risks associated with experiencing hostility and unresolved conflicts between parents.”

The researchers note that since the families were mostly white and middle class, the findings should not be generalized to families of other races and socioeconomic statuses.

Source: Society for Research in Child Development

 

Fasting Morning & Night Can Aid Weight Loss

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 7:00am

A new approach to losing weight that allows people to eat what they want, and the quantity they want — although only for a set number of hours a day — has been found to reduce weight and lower blood pressure.

Moreover, the diet may be easier to maintain.

Investigators say the study is the first to examine the benefit of fasting that limits food consumption to select hours each day on weight loss in obese individuals.

Investigators from the University of Illinois at Chicago examined the effect of time-restricted eating by following 23 obese volunteers who had an average age of 45 and average body mass index, or BMI, of 35.

The study appears in the journal Nutrition and Healthy Aging.

Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. the dieters could eat any type and quantity of food they desired. However, for the remaining 16 hours participants could only drink water or calorie-free beverages. The study followed the subjects for 12 weeks.

When compared to a matched control group from a previous weight loss trial on a different type of fasting, the researchers found that those who followed the time-restricted eating diet consumed fewer calories, lost weight and had improvements in blood pressure.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than one-third of adults in the U.S. have obesity. Obesity greatly increases the risk of metabolic diseases such as coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Moreover, obesity is most prevalent among non-Hispanic black individuals and middle-age adults.

For the study, participants on average consumed about 350 fewer calories, lost about 3 percent of their body weight and saw their systolic blood pressure decreased by about 7 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

All other measures, including fat mass, insulin resistance and cholesterol, were similar to the control group.

“The take-home message from this study is that there are options for weight loss that do not include calorie counting or eliminating certain foods,” said corresponding author Dr.Krista Varady, an associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition.

While this is the first study to look at the 16:8 diet, named for its 16 hours of fasting and its 8 hours of “feasting,” Varady says that the results align with previous research on other types of intermittent fasting diets.

“The results we saw in this study are similar to the results we’ve seen in other studies on alternate day fasting, another type of diet,” Varady said, “but one of the benefits of the 16:8 diet may be that it is easier for people to maintain. We observed that fewer participants dropped out of this study when compared to studies on other fasting diets.”

Varady says that while the research indicates daily fasting works for weight loss, there have not yet been studies to determine if it works better than other diets, although the researchers observed the weight loss to be slightly less than what has been observed in other intermittent fasting diet studies.

“These preliminary data offer promise for the use of time-restricted feeding as a weight loss technique in obese adults, but longer-term, large-scale randomized controlled trials [are required],” Varady and her colleagues write.

“The 16:8 diet is another tool for weight loss that we now have preliminary scientific evidence to support,” Varady said.

“When it comes to weight loss, people need to find what works for them because even small amounts of success can lead to improvements in metabolic health.”

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago

‘Helicopter Parenting’ May Hinder How Kids Manage Emotions, Behavior

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 6:00am

A new study shows that over-controlling parenting, or “helicopter parenting,” can harm a child’s ability to manage his or her emotions and behavior.

The findings, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, assert that children need space to learn and grow on their own, without Mom or Dad hovering over them.

The study found that over-controlling parenting when a child was 2 was linked to poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5. Conversely, the stronger a child’s emotional regulation at age 5, the less likely he or she was to have emotional problems and the more likely he or she was to have better social skills and be more productive in school at age 10.

Kids with better impulse control at age 10 were less likely to have emotional and social problems and were more likely to do better in school.

“Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment,” said Nicole B. Perry, Ph.D., from the University of Minnesota, and lead author of the study.

“Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school.”

Parents should be sensitive to their children’s needs, recognize when a child is capable of managing a situation on his or her own, but be there to guide them when emotional situations become too challenging.

This balance in parenting helps children develop the skills to handle challenging situations on their own as they grow up, and allows for better mental and physical health, healthier social relationships and academic success.

Learning to manage one’s emotions and behavior is a fundamental skill that all children need to learn, and over-controlling parenting can limits these opportunities, said Perry.

For the study, the researchers observed 422 children over the course of eight years and evaluated them at ages 2, 5 and 10. Children in the study were predominantly white and African-American and from economically diverse backgrounds. Data was  collected from observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses and self-reports from the 10-year-olds. During the observations, parents and children were told to play as they would at home.

“Helicopter parenting behavior we saw included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding,” said Perry. “The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration.”

“Children who developed the ability to effectively calm themselves during distressing situations and to conduct themselves appropriately had an easier time adjusting to the increasingly difficult demands of preadolescent school environments,” said Perry.

“Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children’s autonomy with handling emotional challenges.”

Perry suggested that parents can help their children learn to manage their emotions and behavior by talking with them about how to understand their feelings and by explaining what behaviors may stem from feeling certain emotions, as well as the consequences of different responses.

Then parents can help their children figure out positive coping strategies, such as deep breathing, listening to music, coloring or retreating to a quiet space.

“Parents can also set good examples for their children by using positive coping strategies to manage their own emotions and behavior when upset,” said Perry.

Source: American Psychological Association

Study: No Link Between Cannabis And Suicidal Behavior for Most Psychiatric Patients

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 7:02am

A new Canadian study finds no notable link between cannabis use and suicidal behavior in most people with psychiatric disorders.

The findings, published in the journal Biology of Sex Differences, contrast with previous data suggesting that the drug is associated with an increased risk of suicidal behavior in the general population.

In a small subset of participants, however, heavy cannabis use was linked to a greater risk of suicidal behavior in men, suggesting a closer follow-up by medical professionals among patients in this group.

“In what we believe to be a first, this study seeks to understand how cannabis use impacts suicide attempts in men and women with psychiatric disorders who are already at a heightened risk of attempting suicide,” said Dr. Zainab Samaan, lead author and an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University.

“We know there is a high rate of cannabis use among this population and wanted to better understand any potential correlation to suicidal behavior.”

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit substance worldwide, and its consumption is expected to increase as more jurisdictions, including Canada, legalize its use.

For the study, the researchers compared data collected for two studies based in Ontario. These included a prospective cohort study of opioid use disorder using structured scales to determine psychiatric diagnoses, and a case-control study on suicidal behavior using the same diagnostic methods to reach a psychiatric diagnosis including substance use.

The researchers analyzed data from 909 psychiatric patients (average age 40), including 465 men and 444 women. Among this group, 112 men and 158 women had attempted suicide.

“While there was no clear link between cannabis and suicide attempts, our findings did show that among participants with psychiatric disorders, having a mood disorder or being a woman correlates with an increased risk of suicide attempt,” said Dr. Leen Naji, the study’s first author and a family medicine resident at McMaster. “Meanwhile, having a job is protective against suicide attempts.”

Naji said that more research is still needed, considering the changing laws on cannabis use, and the Mental Health Action Plan of the World Health Organization which has the aim to reduce the rate of suicide by 10 percent by 2020.

“Our study is both timely and relevant, especially in light of the impeding legalization of recreational cannabis with an expected increase in access in Canada, and there remains uncertainty about the full effect of cannabis on those living with psychiatric disorders,” she said.

The new findings may serve to educate health professionals when evaluating a patient’s risk of suicide. Samaan said the results also reinforce suggested benefits of supporting patients with psychiatric disorders in job placements and skills development.

Source: McMaster University

 

Urban Violence Creates Ripple Effects in Schools

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 6:00am

Research shows that children living in violent neighborhoods experience trauma that makes them more difficult to teach. These students are more likely to get lower test scores, drop out of high school and develop depression, attention problems and/or discipline problems.

Now a new study at Johns Hopkins University finds that students who are in the same classes as these children also don’t learn as well, scoring as much as 10 percent lower on annual tests.

The findings, published in the journal Sociology of Education, show that in schools where more kids have a high exposure to violence, their classmates score as much as 10 percent lower on annual standardized math and reading tests.

“Exposure to neighborhood violence has a much bigger impact that we think it does,” said lead author and  Johns Hopkins sociologist Dr. Julia Burdick-Will. “It seeps into places that you don’t expect. It can affect an entire school and how it’s able to function.”

The study involved students who attended Chicago Public Schools from 2002 to 2010. Since Chicago offers students the option of attending school anywhere in the city, students often commute to schools across town.

In fact, students from nearly every neighborhood attend nearly every school. This means that the violence that many Chicago students face in their neighborhoods does not necessarily remain in their neighborhood, but is taken with them all over the city to the schools they attend.

For the study, Burdock-Will looked at administrative data from the school system, crime statistics from the Chicago Police Department and school surveys from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Burdock-Will evaluated five cohorts of students who were freshmen between the fall of 2002 and 2006, and followed each student for up to four years. About half of the students studied were African-American and about a third were Hispanic.

The findings show that high school students in Chicago public schools experience, on average, about 70 violent crimes a year within a few blocks of their homes. Children with high levels of exposure to violence, however, often experienced double that amount. Schools with students who experienced high levels of neighborhood violence were more than 94 percent African-American.

The neighborhood crimes included homicides, sexual assaults, aggregated and simple batteries, aggravated and simple assaults, and robberies.

It’s possible these effects build over time, noted Burdock-Will.

“This is just one year — we don’t know what the cumulative effects are,” Burdick-Will said. “If you score 10 percent lower in just one year, you’re that much less prepared for the next year. Ten percent less growth in a year is a pretty big deal.”

Chicago’s crime rates are comparable to those of Baltimore, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Houston and Miami, and it is possible that schools in those cities have similar issues, said Burdick-Will.

“Dealing with urban violence has ripple effects we’re only starting to understand,” she said. “We can’t think about violence as something happening to kids in an isolated part of the city where I don’t live. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“High crime rates may be concentrated in specific areas, but their effects can be felt in schools all over the city.”

Source: Johns Hopkins University

Gout Linked to Higher Risk of Dementia

Sun, 06/17/2018 - 9:50am

A new study finds that gout is associated with a 17 to 20 percent higher risk of dementia in the elderly.

A common condition, gout is caused by deposits of crystals of uric acid (also known as urate) in the joints, which leads to inflammation. Symptom flares can be unpredictable and debilitating, developing over a few hours and causing severe pain in the joints.

Treating gout includes lowering uric acid levels, although maintaining too low a level is a concern because uric acid is thought to protect the brain, researchers note.

“Our study found a considerable increased risk of dementia associated with gout in the elderly,” said Dr. Jasvinder Singh, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Further study is needed to explore these relationships and understand the pathogenic pathways involved in this increased risk.”

Presented at the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR 2018), the study included 1.23 million Medicare beneficiaries, of which 65,325 had dementia.

In an analysis that was adjusted for various potential confounding variables, including demographics, comorbidities, and commonly used medications, the study’s results showed that gout is independently associated with a significantly higher risk of dementia.

That association was larger in older age groups, females, African Americans and people with higher medical comorbidity, according to the researchers.

Source: European League against Rheumatism (EULAR)

Middle-Aged Female Early Risers May Have Less Risk of Depression

Sun, 06/17/2018 - 7:30am

Middle-aged and older women who are naturally early to bed and early to rise may be less likely to develop depression, according to a new study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

Researchers at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder and the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston evaluated the data of more than 32,000 female nurses. The study is the largest and most detailed observational study yet to investigate the association between chronotype (sleep-wake preference) and mood disorders.

The findings reveal that even after taking into account environmental factors such as light exposure and work schedules, a person’s chronotype — which is partly determined by genetics — appears to mildly influence depression risk.

“Our results show a modest link between chronotype and depression risk. This could be related to the overlap in genetic pathways associated with chronotype and mood,” said lead author Dr. Céline Vetter, director of the Circadian and Sleep Epidemiology Laboratory (CASEL) at CU Boulder.

Prior research has shown that people who stay up late are up to twice as likely to suffer from depression. But since those studies typically used data taken at a single point in time and didn’t account for many other factors that influence depression risk, it is still unclear whether depression leads people to stay up later or a late chronotype boosts risk of depression.

To find some answers, the researchers in this study looked at data from 32,470 female participants, average age 55, in the Nurses’ Health Study, which asks nurses to complete health questionnaires every other year.

In 2009, all the participants included in the study did not have depression. When asked about their sleep patterns, 37 percent described themselves as early types, 53 percent described themselves as intermediate types, and 10 percent described themselves as evening types. The women were followed for four years to see if anyone developed depression.

Depression risk factors such as body weight, physical activity, chronic disease, sleep duration, or night shift work were also taken into account.

The findings show that late chronotypes, or night owls, are less likely to be married, more likely to live alone and be smokers, and more likely to have erratic sleep patterns.

After accounting for these factors, the researchers found that early risers still had a 12 to 27 percent lower risk of being depressed than intermediate types. Late types had a 6 percent higher risk than intermediate types (this modest increase was not statistically significant.)

“This tells us that there might be an effect of chronotype on depression risk that is not driven by environmental and lifestyle factors,” said Vetter.

Genetics are partly responsible for whether you are an early bird, intermediate type, or night owl, with research showing 12 to 42 percent heritability. And some research has found that certain genes (including PER2 and RORA), which influence when we prefer to rise and sleep, also affect depression risk.

“Alternatively, when and how much light you get also influences chronotype, and light exposure also influences depression risk. Disentangling the contribution of light patterns and genetics on the link between chronotype and depression risk is an important next step,” Vetter said.

But while the study does suggest that chronotype can factor into depression risk, it does not mean that night owls are doomed to be depressed.

“Yes, chronotype is relevant when it comes to depression but it is a small effect,” she said, noting that her study found a more modest effect than previous studies have.

Her advice to night owls who want to lower their risk?

“Being an early type seems to beneficial, and you can influence how early you are,” she said. Try to get enough sleep, exercise, spend time outdoors, dim the lights at night, and try to get as much light by day as possible.

Source: University of Colorado at Boulder

 

 

Impostor Syndrome Seems to Affects Men and Women Differently

Sun, 06/17/2018 - 6:30am

A new study has found that men and women with impostor syndrome cope with accountability and react to negative feedback in different ways.

If men who see themselves as impostors receive negative feedback and are held accountable for their performance by their superiors, they tend to react more negatively. Women subjected to similar conditions show no such deterioration in performance — on the contrary, they tend to redouble their efforts, said researchers at the Ludwing-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen (LMU) in Germany and Youngstown State University in Ohio.

Those suffering from impostor syndrome believe their success is undeserved and that others overestimate their competence. Previous studies have found that both men and women can display the characteristic symptoms of the syndrome, and that its victims tend to be found among those who have enjoyed outstanding levels of success.

For the new study, researchers began their research with an online questionnaire to identify individuals who felt like impostors. This was specifically targeted to university undergraduates, the researchers point out.

Among the possible responses to the queries in the survey were: “I rarely do a project or task as well as I’d like to do it,” or “Sometimes I’m afraid others will discover how much knowledge or ability I really lack.”

In a second questionnaire, participants were then asked to answer sample examination questions used to determine which undergraduates should be admitted to graduate school. These questions were administered in two separate batches.

After completing the first set of tasks, participants either received negative feedback — irrespective of their actual performance — or were (falsely) informed that their results would be made available to their current professor.

In this study design, male impostors overall performed worse in the second test than in the first, the researchers reported.

“The male participants were more distressed by criticism and tended to give up quicker,” said Professor Brooke Gazdag of the Institute for Leadership and Organization at LMU.

The female participants, on the other hand, put forth more effort and performed marginally better than their male counterparts after they received negative feedback or were told their results would be shown to their professors.

“Our study was exploratory in nature, but gender role theory can provide some insights into the findings,” Gazdag said. “This theory would suggest that male work performance is strongly focused on competence and performance, whereas women have a stronger tendency to view work from a relational standpoint.

“The fact that women try harder when they are aware that their performance will be assessed by someone they know therefore conforms to the female stereotype.”

Source: Ludwing-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen

Brain Matures Faster With Early Childhood Stress 

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 7:30am

A new study has discovered that stress in early childhood leads to faster maturation of certain brain regions during adolescence.

In contrast, stress experienced later in life leads to slower maturation of the adolescent brain, according to a long-term study conducted by researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands.

For the study, researchers monitored 37 subjects for almost 20 years.

In 1998, the group — which then was made up of 129 one-year-olds and their parents — was tested for the first time.

Over the past 20 years, researchers studied the children’s play sessions and interactions with parents, friends, and classmates. The children were also subjected to MRI scans.

The data allowed Karin Roelofs, professor of experimental psychopathology, her Ph.D. student Anna Tyborowska, and other colleagues at the university to investigate how stress in various stages of life affected the adolescent brain of these children.

More specifically, the researchers looked at the effects on cerebral maturation.

The researchers investigated two types of stressors — negative life events and negative influences from the social environment — in two life stages of their subjects: Early childhood (0-5 years) and adolescence (14-17 years).

They related these stress levels to the maturation of the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus. These brain regions play an important role in functioning in social and emotional situations and are known to be sensitive to stress, researchers noted.

According to the study’s findings, stress due to negative experiences during childhood, such as illness or divorce, appears to be related to faster maturation of the prefrontal cortex and amygdala in adolescence.

However, stress resulting from a negative social environment during adolescence, such as low peer esteem at school, is connected to slower maturation of the hippocampus and another part of the prefrontal cortex, the study discovered.

“Unfortunately, in this study we can’t say with certainty that stress causes these effects,” Tyborowska said. “However, based on animal studies, we can hypothesize that these mechanisms are indeed causal.”

“The fact that early childhood stress accelerates the maturation process during adolescence is consistent with theories of evolutionary biology,” she continued. “From an evolutionary perspective, it is useful to mature faster if you grow up in a stressful environment. However, it also prevents the brain from adjusting to the current environment in a flexible way. In other words, the brain becomes mature too soon.”

The researchers were surprised to find, however, that social stress later in life seems to lead to slower maturation during adolescence.

“What makes this interesting is that a stronger effect of stress on the brain also increases the risk of developing antisocial personality traits,” Tyborowska said.

Tyborowska is now conducting the eleventh round of measurements, with the subjects now in their 20s.

“Now that we know that stress affects the maturation of brain regions that also play a role in the control of emotions, we can investigate how this development continues later in life,” she said.

The study was published in Scientific Reports.

Source: Radboud University

Mindfulness May Ease Pain of Social Rejection

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 7:30am

Mindfulness can help ease the pain of social rejection, according to a new study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings and thoughts.

“Social rejection can have a number of negative outcomes both for the rejected person’s own health and well-being, as well as their interpersonal relationships,” said lead author Alexandra Martelli, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).

“Therefore it is critical that researchers find adaptive ways at responding to social rejection, and mindfulness may be one effective emotion regulation strategy.”

Researchers from VCU, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Kentucky conducted the study to determine whether mindfulness could help buffer against the distress and pain of social rejection.

For the study, 40 undergraduate students self-reported their levels of mindfulness, and then were placed in an fMRI scanner. The researchers observed the participants’ brain activity as they played a virtual ball-tossing game with what they believed to be two other partners.

Toward the end of the game, the participants stopped receiving any ball tosses from the other players, mimicking the conditions of social rejection. Then the participants were interviewed about how distressed they were during the game. The findings show that participants with higher levels of mindfulness reported less distress from being excluded.

The correlation between mindfulness and reduced social distress also was seen in the brain imaging, as researchers found there was less activation in the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with the inhibitory regulation of both physical and social forms of pain.

The researchers also observed the communication between the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and other brain areas during social rejection. They discovered that the more mindful participants exhibited less functional connectivity between the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and two brain regions that help generate the experience of social distress, the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.

The research lab, led by David Chester, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and a co-author on the study, seeks to understand why people try to harm one another after experiences such as rejection.

“Mindfulness has beneficial effects for many psychological and behavioral maladies,” Chester said. “Yet in many ways, our understanding of how mindfulness achieves these helpful outcomes is not fully understood. Our findings help shed light on the underlying biological and psychological mechanisms through which mindfulness helps people cope with distressing social experiences, such as rejection and exclusion.”

Specifically, he said, the study suggests that mindful individuals are not as distressed by social rejection and that mindful individuals appear to successfully regulate such distressing emotions by not using effortful, inhibitory processes that suppress their feelings of social pain.

“This is important because the use of such ‘top-down,’ suppressive emotion regulation has been shown to backfire and is linked with poor emotion-related outcomes such as impulsivity,” he said.

“Mindful people are likely using a more ‘bottom-up’ regulatory approach, which makes sense given these individuals’ tendency to focus on the organic origins of their feelings. On a practical level, our findings point to the utility of mindfulness in coping with interpersonal stressors. People dealing with exclusion or rejection may likely benefit from training in mindfulness techniques.”

The new findings also shed light on the underlying neural mechanisms of aggression and violence within interpersonal relationships.

“An over-reliance on top-down emotion-regulation strategies can result in self-regulatory failure,” Martelli said. “Therefore, more bottom-up strategies, such as mindfulness, may be effective at regulating difficult emotions such as anger or frustration that typically result in violent or aggressive acts.”

Source: Virginia Commonwealth University

 

 

Depression, Anxiety Track Disease Activity in Early Arthritis

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 7:00am

Rates of anxiety and depression in patients with rheumatoid arthritis correlate with measures of the disease’s activity over the first year following diagnosis, according to new research.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects a person’s joints, causing pain and disability. RA is more common in older people, but there is also a high prevalence in young adults and adolescents. It affects women more frequently than men.

High rates of depression and anxiety have been shown in patients with RA, according to researchers.

“These results confirm both depression and anxiety as significant comorbidities at the time of rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis,” said Professor Thomas Dörner, chairman of the Abstract Selection Committee of the European League against Rheumatism (EULAR). “It is interesting to see the changes in anxiety and depression scores appear in tandem with disease activity over time, which requires further investigation.”

Presented at the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR 2018),  the study included data from 848 patients.

It discovered significant reductions in anxiety — from 19 percent to 13.4 percent — and depression — from 12.2 percent to 8.2 percent — one year after RA diagnosis. These reductions were in line with a decrease in the disease’s activity, according to researchers.

Both depression and anxiety scores demonstrated a significant correlation with disease activity scores at baseline, six months, and at 12 months, according to the study’s findings.

“Our results demonstrate a number of interesting associations with socioeconomic and other variables,” said Dr. George Fragoulis, honorary research fellow at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

“Most interestingly, c-reactive protein, which is a blood test marker for inflammation, was highly associated with depression, but not anxiety at all time points. This provides further support to compelling data linking inflammation and depression.”

For the study, researchers conducted statistical analysis to highlight potential associations between depression and anxiety scores and multiple variables at each time point.

When looking at anxiety scores, statistically significant associations were found with being female, younger ages, and patient global assessment score (PGA) at baseline.

At six months and 12 months, significant association was demonstrated between anxiety scores and low body mass index (BMI), PGA, and baseline anxiety scores. When looking at depression scores, significant associations were found with PGA at baseline, according to the study’s findings.

At six months and 12 months, depression scores were significantly associated with PGA, c-reactive protein levels, as well as baseline depression and anxiety scores.

The study used data from patients in the Scottish Early Rheumatoid Arthritis (SERA) cohort of newly diagnosed patients with RA. Patients had been followed up every six months following diagnosis and tested for pre-specified clinical, laboratory and psychosocial features. This included anxiety and depression, which was measured using the hospital anxiety and depression score.

Source: European League against Rheumatism (EULAR)

High Blood Pressure May Pose Greater Risk for Dementia

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 6:00am

People with high blood pressure face a greater risk of developing dementia, according to a new study in published in the journal Cardiovascular Research.

The study is also the first to show how new uses of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect very early signs of neurological damage in people with high blood pressure, before any symptoms of dementia occur.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a chronic condition that leads to progressive organ damage. Research has shown that most cases of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not due to genetic predisposition but rather to chronic exposure to vascular risk factors.

Treatment of dementia patients usually begins only after symptoms are clearly evident, even though it has become increasingly clear that when signs of brain damage are manifest, it may be too late to reverse the neurodegenerative process. Physicians still lack methods for assessing progression markers that could detect pre-symptomatic changes and identify patients at risk of developing dementia.

“The problem is that neurological alterations related to hypertension are usually diagnosed only when the cognitive deficit becomes evident, or when traditional magnetic resonance shows clear signs of brain damage. In both cases, it is often too late to stop the pathological process,” said Dr. Giuseppe Lembo, the coordinator of this study. Lembo is professor of applied medical technology at the Department of Molecular Medicine of Sapienza University of Rome.

For the study, researchers screened subjects who had been admitted to the Scientific Institute for Research, Hospitalization and Health Care (IRCCS), Neuromed, in Italy. Chosen participants, aged 40 to 65, gave written consent to be part of the study.

Participants showed no signs of structural damage and no diagnosis of dementia. All patients were given clinical exams to determine their hypertensive status and the related organ damage. Patients also had an MRI scan to identify microstructural damage.

The researchers looked for any brain changes in the white matter microstructure. The findings show that hypertensive patients have significant alterations in three specific white matter fiber-tracts. Hypertensive patients also scored significantly worse in the cognitive domains linked to brain regions connected through those fiber-tracts, showing decreased performances in executive functions, processing speed, memory and related learning tasks.

Overall, white matter fiber-tracking on MRIs showed an early signature of damage in hypertensive patients when otherwise undetectable by conventional neuroimaging.

As these changes can be seen before patients show symptoms, they could be given medication earlier to prevent further deterioration in brain function. These findings are also widely applicable to other forms of neurovascular disease, where early intervention could be of significant therapeutic benefit.

“We have been able to see that, in the hypertensive subjects, there was a deterioration of white matter fibers connecting brain areas typically involved in attention, emotions and memory,” said Lorenzo Carnevale, first author of the study.

“An important aspect to consider is that all the patients studied did not show clinical signs of dementia and, in conventional neuroimaging, they showed no signs of cerebral damage. Of course, further studies will be necessary, but we think that the use of tractography will lead to the early identification of people at risk of dementia, allowing timely therapeutic interventions.”

Source: Oxford University Press USA

EEG May Predict Effectiveness of Either Talk Therapy or Antidepressants

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 6:15am

Research has shown that when we experience a positive event in our lives, our brains respond with an increase in electrical activity — a reaction known as “reward positivity.” People who suffer from depression, however, tend to show reduced brain activity in response to good things happening in their lives.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) wanted to see if they could use reward positivity to predict which patients might do better on serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) versus cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). They also wanted to see whether changes in reward positivity were associated with symptom improvement over the course of treatment.

To do this, the researchers used electroencephalography, or EEG, a device which records brain activity through the scalp using a cap embedded with electrodes. A larger reward positivity signal reflects an enhanced brain response to receiving a reward.

The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, show that reward positivity is directly related to symptom improvement during treatment and that those who show blunted reward positivity prior to treatment may do better with SSRIs.

“About 50 percent of people prescribed either selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, — a class of antidepressants — or cognitive behavioral therapy get better with those treatments,” said Katie Burkhouse, assistant professor of psychiatry in the UIC College of Medicine and lead author on the paper.

“We haven’t had an objective way to measure whether a patient is improving with treatment or which patients will do better on SSRIs versus cognitive behavioral therapy, until now.”

Burkhouse adds that there are serious considerations that go into prescribing either of these treatments. “SSRIs can have unwanted side effects, while CBT requires a significant amount of time and commitment, and practitioners trained in delivering CBT can be hard to find.”

For the study, the researchers recruited 63 participants with a history of anxiety or depression and 25 healthy participants with no history of mental health problems. Each wore the EEG cap while undergoing a simple computer task. They were then asked to choose one of two doors on a computer screen and told that if the right door were chosen, they would win a small amount of money. If the wrong door were chosen, they would lose money.

Next, participants with anxiety or depression were randomly chosen to take an SSRI every day for 12 weeks, or receive 12 weekly sessions of CBT delivered by a psychotherapist. After treatment, all participants underwent the monetary reward task again to determine whether there were changes in neural reactivity in response to receiving a reward.

There were two significant findings of the study, according to Burkhouse.

“The more that reward positivity increased from the baseline measurement to the final post-treatment measurement, the more participants reported a lessening of their depression or anxiety symptoms with treatment,” said Burkhouse.

“This means that reward positivity closely follows symptom improvement as treatment progresses, and as such, can be used to help determine if a particular treatment is working for a patient or not.”

The second finding was that individuals with a blunted reward positivity before starting treatment had a greater reduction in depressive symptoms if they were given SSRIs, but not talk therapy.

“These findings could help bring precision medicine closer to reality for patients with anxiety and depressive disorders,” said Dr. K. Luan Phan, professor of psychiatry in the UIC College of Medicine and a senior author on the paper.

Many depressed or anxious patients who seek treatment don’t always do well with the first therapy prescribed, because they are not able to tolerate side effects of drugs or they are not able to commit to weeks of talk therapy, said Phan, who holds the University of Illinois Center on Depression and Resilience Professorship.

“We can say with heightened certainty that being able to give them a treatment that will work for them is a big step towards helping more patients get relief from their symptoms sooner,” said Phan.

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago

Severe Mental Illness Tied to Greater Risk of Prediabetes, Type 2 Diabetes

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 5:45am

People with severe mental illness, particularly racial minorities, face a much greater risk of having prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The researchers suggest that all patients with severe mental illness be screened for diabetes.

The findings, published in the journal Diabetes Care, show that among more than 15,000 patients with severe mental illness, 28.1 percent had Type 2 diabetes compared with 12.2 percent in the general population.

Racial minorities face an even greater risk. For those with severe mental illness, the incidence of Type 2 diabetes is 36.9 percent for Hispanics, 36.3 percent for African Americans and 30.7 percent for Asians — compared with 25.1 percent for whites.

“The results of the study indicate that we should be screening all patients with severe mental illness for diabetes,” said first author Christina Mangurian, M.D., M.A.S., who is Vice Chair for Diversity and Health Equity in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and a member of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences.

“I view this as an opportunity to change how doctors think about health screening and to help prevent diabetes. By diagnosing prediabetes early, we can help patients make lifestyle modifications or start medicine so that they don’t develop diabetes.”

The study follows previous research linking severe mental illness to low rates of testing for diabetes and HIV, and among women, low rates of screening for cervical cancer.

“Antipsychotic medications prescribed for conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may cause weight gain and impact cholesterol levels and insulin resistance,” said Mangurian.

“Additionally, people with severe mental illness have more tenuous life circumstances, including food insecurity, low income and unstable housing situations, which all increase their risk of diabetes. Stressors such as structural racism compound these problems in minorities.”

Prediabetes was also found to be high among patients with severe mental illness. Nearly half of subjects with severe mental illness had prediabetes, versus an estimated one-third of the general population. The condition was more common among minorities and often developed in people as young as 20 years old.

The study, which used a mental health database collected by Kaiser Permanente Northern California, involved patients who were also in the Kaiser Permanente diabetes registry and assessed the prevalence of prediabetes by analyzing patients’ hemoglobin A1C and fasting glucose levels.

“We were able to leverage Kaiser Permanente’s extensive electronic health record data to improve our understanding of the burden of diabetes and prediabetes in people with severe mental illness and develop insights on how to address racial/ethnic and age disparities in this high-risk population,” said senior author Julie Schmittdiel, Ph.D., research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

Source: University of California, San Francisco

Mindfulness, Relaxation Training Both Can Ease Stress But In Different Ways

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 7:00am

Over the past decade a number of meditation-based interventions have been used to reduce stress and promote wellness. Although most of the approaches have been beneficial, a lingering question has been to what extent these programs are similar or different.

New research led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers, in collaboration with members of the two leading mind-body stress reduction programs, reviewed the different ways these mind-body practices affect the brain.

There are two widely used meditation-based stress reduction courses. One is based on the relaxation response, which focuses on eliciting a physiologic state of deep rest, the opposite of the “fight or flight” stress response.

The other is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which emphasizes a particular, non-judgmental attitude termed “mindfulness” as key to stress reduction.

Although both interventions are based on meditation, the scientific philosophies and meditative traditions upon which each is founded are different, and these differences are reflected in the instructions and exercises taught to patients.

Study results appear in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

“If the hypotheses proposed by the programs’ creators are in fact correct, they imply that these programs promote wellness through different mechanisms of action,” said Sara Lazar, Ph.D., author of the current report and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

“Such a finding would suggest that these programs could potentially have different effects on disease.”

To investigate that possibility, healthy adults with high levels of stress were randomized to two 8-week programs; 18 completed the relaxation response program, and 16 completed the mindfulness program.

Both programs successfully decreased stress and increased mindfulness in participants. However, the mindfulness program resulted in further improvements in measures such as self-compassion and rumination, clearly indicating that the programs are not the same, Lazar says.

To further understand the similarities and differences between the programs, the team measured brain activity during a meditation technique common to both programs called a body scan. This technique involves a focus of attention moved sequentially throughout the body to develop bodily awareness.

While the relaxation response program instructs participants to deliberately relax each body area as they become aware of it, the mindfulness program just emphasizes mindful awareness and acceptance “without any attempt to change anything.”

Lead author Gunes Sevinc, Ph.D., said, “By directly comparing the body-scan meditations, which differed only in cognitive strategy, we were able to identify the brain regions that are involved in mediating the common and differential strategies employed by each intervention.”

The results showed that the strength of neural interaction between brain regions associated with present-moment awareness and bodily attention increased during both types of body-scan meditation.

But each program also showed unique patterns of brain activity in line with the different theoretical orientation of each program. The relaxation response body scan strengthened coupling between neural regions commonly associated with deliberate control, including inferior frontal gyrus and supplementary motor areas.

Conversely, the mindfulness body scan strengthened coupling between neural regions associated with sensory awareness and perception, including the insula and the pregenual anterior cingulate.

“These findings indicate that the programs are working through different neural mechanisms,” says Sevinc.

“The relaxation response program is working more through deliberate control mechanisms, while the mindfulness program is working more through sensory awareness mechanisms. It is somewhat analogous to weight training vs. aerobic exercise — both are beneficial, but each has its unique mechanism and contribution.”

Norman Farb, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto Department of Psychology, who was not part of the study, says, “Professor Lazar’s neuroimaging study helps us to better appreciate how these seemingly similar practices differ in important ways. Both practices seem to promote access to neural representations of the body, but they differ in how such representations are structured.

“This study is important for beginning to inform the public about key differences between conceptually similar therapeutic approaches, which may in turn allow people to make more skillful decisions about which practice might be right for their personal improvement.”

Lazar notes that future studies will be needed to determine whether these neural and psychological differences impact specific diseases in unique ways.

Source: Mass General

One in 3 Americans Takes Meds That May Cause Depression

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 6:30am

More than one in three Americans may be taking prescription medications that can lead to depression or increase the risk of suicide, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

And since many of these medications are common and not associated with depression — such as hormonal birth control medications, blood pressure and heart medications, proton pump inhibitors, antacids and painkillers — patients and clinicians may be unaware of the risks.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For the study, the research team looked at the medication use patterns of more than 26,000 adults from 2005 to 2014. The data was taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Their findings show that more than 200 commonly used prescription drugs have depression or suicide listed as potential side effects.

The research is the first to show that these drugs are often used concurrently and that concurrent use, called polypharmacy, is linked to an increased risk of depression.

The findings also show that about 15 percent of adults who simultaneously used three or more of these medications experienced depression while taking the drugs, compared with just 5 percent for those not using any of the drugs, 7 percent for those using one medication and 9 percent for those taking two drugs simultaneously.

The researchers found similar results for medications that listed suicide as a potential side effect. These findings remained strong even when the researchers excluded anyone using psychotropic medications, considered an indicator of underlying depression unrelated to medication use.

“The take away message of this study is that polypharmacy can lead to depressive symptoms and that patients and health care providers need to be aware of the risk of depression that comes with all kinds of common prescription drugs — many of which are also available over the counter,” said lead author Dr. Dima Qato, assistant professor of pharmacy systems, outcomes and policy in the UIC College of Pharmacy.

“Many may be surprised to learn that their medications, despite having nothing to do with mood or anxiety or any other condition normally associated with depression, can increase their risk of experiencing depressive symptoms, and may lead to a depression diagnosis.”

Qato notes that the findings reveal a trend of increasing polypharmacy for medications that list depression, particularly suicidal symptoms, as a potential adverse effect. This makes the need for awareness of depression as a potential side effect even more urgent.

The study finds that the use of any prescription medication listing depression as a potential side effect increased from 35 percent in the 2005 to 2006 period to 38 percent in the 2013 to 2014 period. The use of antacids with potential depression adverse effects, such as proton pump inhibitors and H2 antagonists, increased from 5 percent to 10 percent in the same period. Use of three or more drugs concurrently increased from around 7 percent to 10 percent.

For medications with suicide listed as a potential side effect, usage increased from 17 percent to 24 percent, and use of three or more drugs concurrently increased from 2 percent to 3 percent.

“People are not only increasingly using these medicines alone, but are increasingly using them simultaneously, yet very few of these drugs have warning labels, so until we have public or system-level solutions, it is left up to patients and health care professionals to be aware of the risks,” Qato said.

“With depression as one of the leading causes of disability and increasing national suicide rates, we need to think innovatively about depression as a public health issue, and this study provides evidence that patterns of medication use should be considered in strategies that seek to eliminate, reduce or minimize the impact of depression in our daily lives.”

Co-authors on the study are doctoral student Katharine Ozenberger of UIC and Columbia University’s Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H. Qato and Olfson both noted financial disclosures potentially relevant to the study.

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago

High-Empathy People May Process Music in Brain’s Social Areas

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 7:00am

The brains of people with high levels of empathy appear to process music differently than those of low-empathy people, according to a new study by researchers from Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, finds that high-empathy individuals process familiar music with greater involvement of the brain’s reward system as well as in regions associated with processing social information.

Previous research suggests that around 20 percent of the population is highly empathic. These are people who are especially sensitive and respond strongly to social and emotional stimuli.

“High-empathy and low-empathy people share a lot in common when listening to music, including roughly equivalent involvement in the regions of the brain related to auditory, emotion, and sensory-motor processing,” said lead author Zachary Wallmark, an assistant professor in the SMU Meadows School of the Arts.

But there is at least one major difference: Highly empathic individuals process familiar music with greater involvement of the brain’s social circuitry, such as the regions activated when feeling empathy for others. These individuals also seem to experience a greater degree of pleasure in listening, as indicated by a greater activation of the reward system.

“This may indicate that music is being perceived weakly as a kind of social entity, as an imagined or virtual human presence,” Wallmark said.

The SMU-UCLA study is the first to find evidence supporting a neural account of the music-empathy connection. The study is also one of the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how empathy affects the way humans perceive music.

The findings suggest that, among higher-empathy people at least, music is not solely a form of artistic expression.

“If music was not related to how we process the social world, then we likely would have seen no significant difference in the brain activation between high-empathy and low-empathy people,” said Wallmark, who is director of the MuSci Lab at SMU, an interdisciplinary research collective that investigates how music impacts the brain.

The study involved 20 UCLA undergraduate students. The participants underwent an MRI scan while listening to excerpts of music that were either familiar or unfamiliar to them, and that they either liked or disliked. The familiar music was chosen by participants before the scan.

After the scan, the participants completed a standard questionnaire to evaluate individual differences in empathy. The researchers then conducted controlled comparisons to determine which parts of the brain during music listening are correlated with empathy.

Their findings show that when high-empathy participants listened to familiar music, they experienced more activity in the dorsal striatum, part of the brain’s reward system — whether they liked the music or not. The reward system is associated with pleasure and other positive emotions. Dysfunction in this region can lead to addictive behaviors.

Furthermore, the brain scans of higher empathy participants also showed higher levels of activation in the medial and lateral areas of the prefrontal cortex, which are responsible for processing social situations, and in the temporoparietal junction, which is vital to analyzing and understanding others’ behaviors and intentions.

In general, these brain regions are activated when people are interacting with, or thinking about, other people. Observing their correlation with empathy during music listening might indicate that music to these listeners functions as a proxy for a human encounter.

The researchers also looked at behavioral data; answers to a survey asking the listeners to rate the music afterward. Their findings indicated that higher empathy people were more passionate in their musical likes and dislikes, such as showing a stronger preference for unfamiliar music.

Source: Southern Methodist University

Art by Injured Service Members May Reveal Aspects of Trauma

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 6:30am

Creative arts therapy can be very beneficial for survivors of traumatic brain injury (TBI), because the nature of the injury often makes it difficult for patients to verbalize their thoughts and feelings.

In a new study, 370 active military service members were asked to create artistic masks as part of their TBI recovery treatment. Each mask began as a simple, blank human face that participants were encouraged to paint, cut, or add to with the objective of creating a representation of how they felt.

The researchers then analyzed the different themes present in the masks and linked the artwork to measures of depression, anxiety and PTSD.

The findings show that service members who depicted psychological injuries like depression or anxiety in their artwork tended to have more acute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than those who incorporated symbols of their military units.

The study is published in the journal BMJ Open.

“Few studies in art therapy have linked visual symbols with existing standardized clinical measures,” said Girija Kaimal, Ed.D., an assistant professor at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions and study leader. “This helps us see if there are patterns of visual representations that relate to psychological states.”

Kaimal conducted the study with art therapist Melissa Walker of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE).

Once the masks were complete, the researchers categorized the themes they found in each, then matched the masks with mental health questionnaires previously taken by each participant. More than 10 percent of the masks had symbols relating to the participant’s military units, such as a logo or unit patch. Those kinds of masks were associated with lower levels of PTSD.

“We were surprised by how strongly references to a sense of belonging were associated with positive health outcomes,” Kaimal said.

However, another theme was depicted in the masks: fragmented representations of military symbols. These were present in around 10 percent of the masks and included items like faded flags or pieces of camouflage and weapons. These representations were tied to elevated anxiety in the service members.

“There is a subtle difference here between identification with military branch and the use of fragmented imagery associated with the military symbols,” Kaimal pointed out. “It might be that an integrated sense of belonging and identity are associated with resilience while use of fragmented images are associated with some ongoing struggles.”

More than a quarter of the masks had a representation of psychological injury, which was associated with greater levels of PTSD symptoms. Around a third of the masks depicted metaphors; these were linked to lower symptoms of anxiety.

“The main takeaway is that visual representations embed patterns of strengths and struggles that can help clinicians and researchers better serve this population in coping with their injuries and the psychological symptoms that accompany them,” Kaimal said.

Source: Drexel University