In The News
In a new study, 30 percent of adults with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) report they were physically abused before they turned 18.
This compares to seven percent of those without ADD/ADHD who were physically abused before 18.
“This strong association between abuse and ADD/ADHD was not explained by differences in demographic characteristics or other early adversities experienced by those who had been abused,” said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work.
“Even after adjusting for different factors, those who reported being physically abused before age 18 had seven times the odds of ADD/ADHD.”
The results are published online in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma.
Investigators examined a representative sample of 13,054 adults aged 18 and over in the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey including 1,020 respondents who reported childhood physical abuse and 64 respondents who reported that they had been diagnosed by a health professional with either ADHD or ADD.
“Our data does not allow us to know the direction of the association. It is possible that the behaviors of children with ADD/ADHD increase parental stress and the likelihood of abuse,” said co-author Rukshan Mehta.
“Alternatively, some new literature suggests early childhood abuse may result in and/or exacerbate the risk of ADD/ADHD.”
According to co-author Angela Valeo, Ph.D., from Ryerson University, “This study underlines the importance of ADD/ADHD as a marker of abuse.
“With 30 percent of adults with ADD/ADHD reporting childhood abuse, it is important that health professionals working with children with these disorders screen them for physical abuse.”
Source: University of Toronto
New research from Concordia University shows that, like monolingual children, bilingual children prefer to interact with those who speak their mother tongue with a native accent rather than with peers with a foreign accent.
The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology and builds on earlier research showing that children who speak one language prefer to interact with those who share their native accent.
Authors and psychologists Drs. Krista Byers-Heinlein and Diane Poulin-Dubois initially thought that bilingual children would prove more open-minded than their unilingual peers. The results, however, show that they too prefer exchanges with “accent-free” speakers.
As part of the study, 44 Montreal-area children between the ages of five and six were shown two faces on a computer screen.
Audio recordings were played for each face; one read a phrase in the child’s native accent, while another read the same phrase in a foreign accent. Researchers deliberately chose a foreign accent that was unfamiliar to any of the children and varied associations between faces and voices.
Child participants were asked to point to the faces they would prefer to have as a friend. Most chose faces that corresponded with their native accent.
So why are bilingual children biased against foreign accents? According to Byers-Heinlein, this may be related to children’s preference for familiarity.
“Kids tend to prefer to interact with people who are like them, and might perceive an accent as the mark of an outsider,” she said.
This study has implications for parents. Since children lack the self-awareness to remind themselves that accent is a superficial measure of character, parents should be more direct in teaching their kids about accents.
“We show biases early on, so it might be necessary to educate all kids, regardless of their linguistic background, about what an accent is and how it doesn’t reflect anything about people other than the fact that they are not speaking their native language,” said Byers-Heinlein.
Source: Concordia University
University of Florida researchers say memory trouble doesn’t have to be inevitable, and they’ve found a drug therapy that could potentially reverse this type of memory decline.
The drug is not ready for humans, but the researchers are pursuing compounds that could someday help the population of aging adults who don’t have Alzheimer’s or other dementias, but still have trouble remembering day-to-day items.
The research findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Experts say the kind of memory responsible for holding information in the mind for short periods of time is called “working memory.” This form of memory relies on a balance of chemicals in the brain.
In a new study, researchers have determined that this chemical balance often becomes altered in older adults leading to working memory declines.
The reason? It could be because an elder’s brain is producing too much of a chemical that slows neural activity.
“Lab work suggests that cells that normally provide the brake on neural activity are in overdrive in the aged prefrontal cortex,” said researcher Jennifer Bizon, Ph.D.
Bizon believes the key chemical is an inhibitory brain neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA is essential as without it, brain cells can become too active, similar to what happens in the brains of people with schizophrenia and epilepsy.
“A normal level of GABA helps maintain the optimal levels of cell activation,” said collaborator Barry Setlow, Ph.D.
“Working memory underlies many mental abilities and is sometimes referred to as the brain’s mental sketchpad,” Bizon said.
“For example,” Bizon said, “you use your working memory in many everyday activities such as calculating your final bill at the end of dining at a restaurant. Most people can calculate a 15 percent tip and add it to the cost of their meal without pencil and paper.”
Central to this process is the ability to keep multiple pieces of information in mind for a short duration — such as remembering the cost of your dinner while calculating the amount needed for the tip.
“Almost all higher cognitive processes depend on this fundamental operation,” Bizon said.
To determine the culprit behind working memory decline, the researchers tested the memory of young and aged rats in a “Skinner box.”
In the Skinner box, rats had to remember the location of a lever for short periods of up to 30 seconds.
The scientists found that while both young and old rats could remember the location of the lever for brief periods of time, as those time periods lengthened, old rats had more difficulty remembering the location of the lever than young rats.
But not all older rats did poorly on the memory test, just as not all older adults have memory problems.
The study shows the older brains of some people or rats with no memory problems might compensate for the overactive inhibitory system — they are able to produce fewer GABA receptors and therefore bind less of the inhibitory chemical.
Older rats with memory problems had more GABA receptors. The drug the researchers tested blocked GABA receptors, mimicking the lower number of those receptors that some older rats had naturally and restoring working memory in aged rats to the level of younger rats.
“Modern medicine has done a terrific job of keeping us alive for longer, and now we have to keep up and determine how to maximize the quality of life for seniors,” Bizon said.
“A key aspect of that is going to be developing strategies and therapies that can maintain and improve cognitive health.”
Accurate reporting of cause of death is important for determining potential epidemics and appropriate health resource allocation.
The study, as reported in the print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, submits that Alzheimer’s disease may contribute to close to as many deaths in the United States as heart disease or cancer.
Currently, Alzheimer’s disease falls sixth on the list of leading causes of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while heart disease and cancer are numbers one and two, respectively.
These numbers are based on what is reported on death certificates.
“Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are under-reported on death certificates and medical records,” said study author Bryan D. James, Ph.D., of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
“Death certificates often list the immediate cause of death, such as pneumonia, rather than listing dementia as an underlying cause.”
James added that attempting to identify a single cause of death does not always capture the reality of the process of dying for most elderly people, as multiple health issues often contribute.
“The estimates generated by our analysis suggest that deaths from Alzheimer’s disease far exceed the numbers reported by the CDC and those listed on death certificates,” said James.
For the study, 2,566 people ages 65 and older received annual testing for dementia. The average age of the participants was 78.
Investigators found that after an average of eight years, 1,090 participants died. Moreover, 559 participants without dementia at the start of the study developed Alzheimer’s disease.
The average time from diagnosis to death was about four years. After death, Alzheimer’s disease was confirmed through autopsy for about 90 percent of those who were clinically diagnosed.
The death rate was more than four times higher after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in people age 75 to 84 and nearly three times higher in people age 85 and older. More than one-third of all deaths in those age groups were attributable to Alzheimer’s disease.
James said this translates into an estimated 503,400 deaths from Alzheimer’s in the U.S. population over age 75 in 2010, which is five to six times higher than the 83,494 number reported by the CDC based on death certificates.
“Determining the true effects of dementia in this country is important for raising public awareness and identifying research priorities regarding this epidemic,” said James.
Source: American Academy of Neurology
IPV is defined by the Centers for Disease Control as “physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse,” and is a serious public health issue affecting millions of people in the United States.
New research from sociologists at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) shows that adolescents and young adults who perpetrate or fall victim to IPV are more likely to experience an increase in symptoms of depression.
The study is the work of postdoctoral fellow Wendi Johnson, Ph.D., and Drs. Peggy Giordano, Monica Longmore, and Wendy Manning published in the current issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (JHSB).
The investigators reviewed data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study to examine how relationship violence might affect depressive symptoms during adolescence and young adulthood.
The first of four interviews were conducted in 2001, when respondents were 12 to 19.
Subsequent interviews occurred approximately one year later, with follow ups occurring in two year intervals. Respondents’ ages at the time of the last interview ranged from 17 to 24.
In the JHSB study, the researchers examined self-reports of IPV victimization and perpetration and considered the individual’s role in the violence (whether violence was mutual or experienced as only a victim or as the perpetrator) as well as earlier victimization by family or peers.
They found that few respondents reported continual involvement in IPV across relationships. A more common pattern was for violence to be present in one or two relationships.
The researchers also found that IPV victimization, perpetration, and mutual violence all correspond with increases in symptoms of depression. Furthermore, these results were present for young men as well as women, documenting that young men are not immune to negative psychological outcomes associated with IPV victimization or perpetration.
“In general, young women experience more symptoms of depression than their male counterparts,” Giordano said.
“However, in terms of IPV, our study indicates that high levels of discord within an intimate relationship have a similar negative effect on the emotional well-being of young men and women.”
Johnson notes that while “victimization has a more intuitive, straightforward relationship with declines in mental health,” perpetration also corresponds with an increase in symptoms of depression.
The researchers argue that perpetration may be significantly related to depressive symptoms because it is a marker of involvement in an intimate relationship characterized by extensive conflict and other negative dynamics.
“Prevention efforts focusing on IPV appear to have changed public attitudes about the general acceptability of these behaviors — in turn, perpetrators are not immune to negative societal views about those who have resorted to violence within their intimate relationships,” Johnson said.
Researchers contend that psychological distress, including depressive symptoms, may undermine self-confidence and self-worth, thus compromising young people’s ability to comfortably transition into adulthood.
“Consequently, the costs of IPV may be long term and have additional implications for individuals’ choices associated with family formation and stability as well as economic and educational attainment,” according to the study.
Still, much is still to be learned as the accumulative trauma of IPV exposure does not appear to influence additional negative contributions beyond those resulting from the current or most recent relationship.
Similarly, prior IPV exposure does not amplify the relationship between IPV exposure on depressive symptoms.
Chad Shenk, Ph.D., and his research team found that adolescent girls who experienced maltreatment in the past year and were willing to talk about their painful experiences, their thoughts and emotions, were less likely to have PTSD symptoms one year later.
Those who tried to avoid painful thoughts and emotions were significantly more likely to exhibit PTSD symptoms down the road.
The researchers report their results in the current issue of Development and Psychopathology.
“Avoidance is something we all do,” said Shenk, professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State.
“Sometimes it is easier not to think about something. But when we rely on avoidance as a coping strategy… that is when there may be negative consequences.”
Approximately 40 percent of maltreated children develop PTSD at some point in their lives. Shenk sought to identify the factors that kept the remaining 60 percent from experiencing the disorder.
“Children and adolescents react very differently to abuse, and we don’t yet know who is going to develop PTSD and who won’t,” said Shenk.
“What factors explain who will develop PTSD and who will not? This study attempted to identify those causal pathways to PTSD.”
One theory holds that PTSD is caused by dysregulation in multiple neurobiological processes, including cortisol deficiencies or heightened suppression of respiratory sinus arrhythmia, each of which affects how individuals can remain calm during a time of stress.
There are also psychological theories, which include experiential avoidance, the tendency to avoid negative feelings like fear, sadness, or shame. Shenk’s study tested these theories by creating one statistical model that included them all to see which factors best accounted for PTSD symptoms.
“It would be inappropriate to say that these are competing theories, but in the literature they are often treated that way,” he said. “Investigators are actually focused on different levels of analysis, one neurological and one psychological, and I think these processes are related.”
At three different points over two years, Shenk and his research team examined girls who suffered from at least one of the three types of child maltreatment — physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect — during the previous year. The 51 maltreated adolescent girls were compared to 59 adolescent girls who had not experienced maltreatment.
“Figuring out which processes conferred the greatest risk for PTSD could provide a basis for prevention and clinical intervention programs,” Shenk said.
“If we can find what the cause or risk pathway is, then we know what to target clinically,” he said.
Source: Penn State
Florida State University College of Medicine researchers found evidence that ADHD associated with nicotine can be passed across generations.
Thus, your child’s ADHD might be an environmentally induced health condition inherited from your grandmother, who may have smoked cigarettes during pregnancy a long time ago.
If the theory holds, the fact that you never smoked may be irrelevant for your child’s ADHD.
“What our research and other people’s research is showing is that some of the changes in your genome — whether induced by drugs or by experience — may be permanent and you will transmit that to your offspring,” said Pradeep G. Bhide, Ph.D., chair of developmental neuroscience at the College of Medicine.
The research is published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Bhide and Jinmin Zhu, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical sciences, used a mouse experiment to test the hypothesis that hyperactivity induced by prenatal nicotine exposure is transmitted from one generation to the next.
Their data demonstrated that there is a transgenerational transmission via the maternal, but not the paternal, line of descent.
“Genes are constantly changing. Some are silenced and others are expressed, and that happens not only by hereditary mechanisms, but because of something in the environment or because of what we eat or what we see or what we hear,” Bhide said.
“So the genetic information that is transmitted to your offspring is qualitatively different than the information you got from your parents. This is how things change over time in the population.”
Building on recent discoveries about how things like stress, fear, or hormonal imbalance in one individual can be passed along to the next generation, Bhide and Zhu were curious about a proven link between prenatal nicotine exposure and hyperactivity in mice.
Their work at the Center for Brain Repair has included extensive research around ADHD, a neurobehavioral disorder affecting about 10 percent of children and five percent of adults in the United States. Researchers have struggled to produce a definitive scientific explanation for a spike in ADHD diagnoses in the last few decades.
“Some reports show up to a 40 percent increase in cases of ADHD — in one generation, basically,” Bhide said. “It cannot be because a mutation occurred; it takes several generations for that to happen.”
One possible contributing factor, though unproven, is that the current spike in ADHD cases correlates in some manner to an increase in the number of women who smoked during pregnancy as cigarettes became fashionable in the United States around the time of World War II and in the decades that followed.
“Other research has shown a very high correlation between heavy smoking during pregnancy and the incidence of kids with ADHD,” Bhide said.
“What’s important about our study is that we are seeing that changes occurring in my grandparents’ genome because of smoking during pregnancy are being passed to my child. So if my child had ADHD it might not matter that I did not have a disposition or that I never smoked.”
Bhide cautions that the work, though conclusive, is based on a study in mice, which have served as a proxy for human phenotypes.
“It’s not that every child born to a mother who smokes has ADHD, and it also isn’t true that every person with ADHD will transmit the genetic material responsible,” he said.
“But our work has opened up new possibilities. The next question is how does transmission to future generations happen? What is the mechanism?
“And the second question is, if the individual is treated successfully would that stop the transmission to future generations?”
Source: Florida State University
Researchers with the University of California — Davis MIND Institute and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that close to half of the younger siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) develop in an atypical fashion.
They found that 17 percent developed ASD and another 28 percent showing delays in other areas of development or behavior.
The study is published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Among the 28 percent of children with older siblings with ASD who showed delays in other areas of development, differences were identified in their social, communication, cognitive, or motor development by 12 months.
The most common deficits were in the social-communication domain, such as extreme shyness with unfamiliar people, lower levels of eye contact, and delayed pointing.
Investigators believe the findings suggest that parents and clinicians should be watchful for such symptoms early on among siblings of children with autism.
Early detection allows targeted early intervention to improve a child’s outcomes.
“Having a child in the family with autism spectrum disorder means that subsequent infants born into that family should be regularly screened for developmental and behavioral problems by their pediatricians,” said Sally Ozonoff, Ph.D., study lead author.
“This research should give parents and clinicians hope that clinical symptoms of atypical development can be picked up earlier, so that we can, perhaps, reduce some of the difficulties that these families often face by intervening earlier.”
The study was conducted in 294 infant siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder and 116 infant siblings of children with typical development. All of the study participants were enrolled prior to 18 months of age.
Data on the children’s development was collected at six, 12, 18, 24 and 36 months of age using a variety of standard developmental tests for autism symptoms.
“Good clinical practice suggests that when children are showing atypical development they and their families should be provided with information about the child’s difficulties, clinical reports when practical and referrals to local service providers,” Ozonoff said.
“The intervention approaches need to be chosen based on each child’s profile of strengths and weaknesses and each family’s goals and priorities.”
Source: UC Davis MIND Institute
Florida State University investigators studied 960 college women and found that more time on Facebook was associated with higher levels of disordered eating.
Women who placed greater importance on receiving comments and “likes” on their status updates and were more likely to untag photos of themselves and compare their own photos to friends’ posted photos reported the highest levels of disordered eating.
Psychology Professor Dr. Pamela K. Keel discovered that while Facebook provides a fun way to stay connected with friends, it also presents women with a new medium through which they are confronted by a thin ideal that impacts their risk for eating disorders.
The findings were outlined in a paper, “Do You ‘Like’ My Photo? Facebook Use Maintains Eating Disorder Risk,” which was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
While other studies have linked social media and eating disorders, the Florida State study is the first to show that spending just 20 minutes on Facebook actually contributes to the risk of eating disorders by reinforcing women’s concerns about weight and shape and increasing anxiety.
More than 95 percent of the women who participated in the study use Facebook, and those with Facebook accounts described checking the site multiple times a day, typically spending 20 minutes during each visit. That amounts to more than an hour on the site each day, according to Keel.
Researchers have long recognized the powerful impact of peer/social influences and traditional media on the risk for eating disorders. Facebook combines those factors.
“Now it’s not the case that the only place you’re seeing thin and idealized images of women in bathing suits is on magazine covers,” Keel said.
“Now your friends are posting carefully curated photos of themselves on their Facebook page that you’re being exposed to constantly. It represents a very unique merging of two things that we already knew could increase risk for eating disorders.”
The research is important because it may lead to interventions to reduce risk factors for eating disorders, which are among the most serious forms of mental illness.
“Eating disorders are associated with the highest rates of mortality of any psychiatric illness,” Keel said.
“They are associated with high rates of chronicity — they’re not things that women necessarily grow out of. We know that peer factors have a significant influence, so understanding when and how peers do things that are unhelpful to one another gives us an important opportunity to protect and prevent.”
Ironically, Facebook may be one of the best ways to employ intervention strategies, such as encouraging women to put a stop to so-called “fat talk.”
“That’s when women get together and engage in negative commentary, usually about their own body, and it gets reinforced because it’s a way women bond with one another and they get reassurance — ‘Oh, no, you don’t look fat. Look at me,’” she said.
“It’s bad for women because it reinforces how important it is to be thin and reinforces really negative talk about the self.”
Her advice to young women?
“Consider what it is you are pursuing when you post on Facebook,” she said.
“Try to remember that you are a whole person and not an object, so don’t display yourself as a commodity that then can be approved or not approved.”
Source: Florida State University
Experts have acknowledged a link between ADHD and obesity for quite some time although whether one leads to the other has been unclear.
A new Finnish study sought to clarify the relationship by following children through to adolescence.
The new investigation, which followed almost 7000 children in Finland, found that those who had ADHD symptoms at age eight had significantly higher odds of being obese at age 16.
Children who had ADHD symptoms were also less physically active as teenagers.
Researchers from Imperial College London reported the findings in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
ADHD affects two to five percent of school-aged children and young people and is related to poor school performance. The main symptoms are inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. ADHD is complex to diagnose, but screening questionnaires can give an indication of a probable diagnosis, based on a child’s behavior.
Conduct disorder, a condition related to ADHD and linked to tendencies towards delinquency, rule-breaking and violence, was also found to increase risk of obesity and physical inactivity among teens.
Researchers found that the nine percent of children in the study who had positive results on an ADHD screening at age eight, were at higher risk of obesity at age 16.
Senior author Dr. Alina Rodriguez, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said, “Obesity is a growing problem that we need to watch out for in all children and young people, but these findings suggest that it’s particularly important for children with ADHD.
“It appears that lack of physical activity might be a key factor. We think encouraging children with ADHD to be more physically active could improve their behavior problems as well as helping them to stay a healthy weight, and studies should be carried out to test this theory.”
Furthermore, children who were less inclined to take part in physically active play as eight year-olds were more likely to have inattention as teenagers.
Binge eating, which was also investigated as a possible factor that could contribute to the link with obesity, was not more prevalent in children with ADHD .
According to Public Health England, around 28 percent of children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese.
Obesity in childhood and adolescence is linked to a wide variety of short- and long-term health risks, including type II diabetes, heart and circulatory disease, and mental health conditions.
The study used questionnaires completed by parents and teachers to assess 6934 children for ADHD and conduct disorder symptoms at ages eight and 16.
Body mass index was calculated based on parents’ reports of their children’s height and weight at age seven. At age 16, the participants had health examinations that recorded their height, weight, waist, and hip measurements.
Researchers traced the issues as related to substance abuse and physical and mental health as well as the effects of child abuse on its victims.
“We wanted to see how characteristics of the victims might differ based on if they were heterosexual or non-heterosexual,” said Maria Koeppel, a Sam Houston State University Ph.D. student, who coauthored the studies with Dr. Leana Bouffard.
“These studies show the need to have specialized programs designed for non-heterosexual victims to deal with their victimization in addition to minority stress issues.”
The first study found that homosexuals and bisexuals were more likely than heterosexuals to be victims of intimate partner violence, a risk compounded by those who experienced abuse as a child.
In the second study, homosexual or bisexual victims of intimate partner violence were more likely to use drugs and alcohol and have health issues compared to heterosexual victims.
Experts claim that homosexuals and bisexuals are victims of intimate partner violence more frequently than their heterosexual counterparts — at rates of 50 percent and 32 percent respectively.
If non-heterosexual individuals are abused as children, two-thirds will face abuse as adults at the hands of intimate partners, according to the report.
The study was based on a sample of 7,216 women and 6,893 men from the National Violence Against Women Survey from 1995 and 1996.
“The finding of higher rates of adult IPV victimization for non-heterosexual child abuse victims lend support to the need for special social welfare programs for non-heterosexual victims, programs which are currently severely lacking,” the report said.
One example of such a program is the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, which works with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender shelters and legal services and provides training, education, and counseling services on domestic violence issues to non-heterosexuals.
The second study, using the same data from the National Violence Against Women Survey, found that homosexual and bisexual victims of intimate partner violence are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol following their victimization, with 35 percent turning to drugs compared to 23 percent among heterosexuals.
In addition, non-heterosexual victims were at higher risk of alcohol abuse and health problems, although heterosexual victims were more likely to suffer mental health issues, the study found.
The two studies have been accepted for publication in academic journals and summaries were released by the Crime Victims’ Institute at Sam Houston State University.
The Institute, created by the Texas Legislature, studies the impact of crime on its victims, relatives and society and makes policy recommendations for improvements to the adult and juvenile criminal justice systems.
In a new study, researchers found that while fathers in the study had eagerly anticipated reuniting with their families, they reported significant stress, especially around issues of reconnecting with children, adapting expectations from military to family life and co-parenting.
“A service member who deploys when his child is an infant and returns home when the child is a toddler may find an entirely different child,” said lead author Tova Walsh, Ph.D.
“Under these circumstances, fathers find that it takes substantial effort to rebuild their relationship with their child.”
The study was published in a special issue of the journal Health & Social Work devoted to the needs of military families. About 37 percent of the 2 million U.S. children of service members are under age six.
For the study, Walsh and colleagues interviewed 14 fathers of children ages six and under who were returning from combat deployment. Most were members of the Michigan Army National Guard. The small group was part of a larger study that is evaluating a group parenting class called STRoNG Military Families.
For some, the reunion with their children didn’t go as anticipated.
One father told the researchers of coming home to a toddler gripping onto his mother’s leg: “He (was) looking at me like, ‘Who’s that?’ She had to tell him, ‘That’s Daddy.’ I have no idea what our relationship would be like if there was no Iraq war.”
The fathers reported they wanted to improve their parenting skills, learn to better express emotion and manage their tempers.
Half of the fathers met the clinical definition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and most of the rest had subclinical symptoms of trauma.
Several reported having difficulty staying calm when their young children acted up, or said they were stressed by their children’s behavior.
“The results show that we need to support military families during reintegration,” said Walsh.
“Military fathers are receptive to information and support that will help them understand and respond to their children’s age-typical responses to separation and reunion. They all hope to renew their relationships with their young children.”
Psychological scientist Emily Cogsdill, Ph.D., of Harvard University determined that children as young as three make judgments on trustworthiness and competence from facial impressions.
And, the children show remarkable consensus in the judgments they make, the findings suggest.
The research shows that the predisposition to judge others based on physical features starts early in childhood and does not require years of social experience.
Experts have known that adults regularly use faces to make judgments about the character traits of others, even with only a brief glance.
But it has been unclear whether this tendency is one that slowly builds as a result of life experiences, or is instead a more fundamental impulse that emerges early in life.
“If adult-child agreement in face-to-trait inferences emerges gradually across development, one might infer that these inferences require prolonged social experience to reach an adultlike state,” Cogsdill and colleagues write.
“If instead young children’s inferences are like those of adults, this would indicate that face-to-trait character inferences are a fundamental social cognitive capacity that emerges early in life.”
To explore these ideas, the researchers had 99 adults and 141 children (ages three to 10) evaluate pairs of computer-generated faces that differed on one of three traits: trustworthiness (i.e., mean/nice), dominance (i.e., strong/not strong), and competence (i.e., smart/not smart).
After being shown a pair of faces, participants might be asked, for example, to judge “which one of the people is very nice.”
As expected, the adults showed consensus on the traits they attributed to specific faces. And so did the children.
Children ages three to four were only slightly less consistent in their assessments than were seven year-olds. But the older children’s judgments were in as much in agreement as adults’, indicating a possible developmental trend.
Overall, children seemed to be most consistent in judging trustworthiness, compared to the other two traits. This suggests that children may tend to pay particular attention to the demeanor of a face; that is, whether it is broadly positive or negative.
Importantly, the findings do not address the question of whether the judgments the children are making are accurate inferences of character. Rather, they simply demonstrate that adults and children are consistent in the traits they attribute to faces, irrespective of the validity of those judgments.
While it is still unclear exactly when the tendency to infer character from faces first emerges, it might be possible to test younger children with the same computer-generated faces to find out.
“If such inferences take root early in development, as the data suggest, even infants might associate faces with trait-consistent behaviors, such as those conveying prosociality,” the researchers note.
Harvard psychology professor Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, the senior researcher on the study, said she and her colleagues next plan to examine how social experience over time influences social perception.
The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
A team led by Dr. Simon Kessner of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany, investigated the impact of oxytocin on the intensity of perceived pain.
They gave 80 healthy male volunteers, aged 20 to 38 years, either 40 IU (International Units) of oxytocin or saline, at random, without telling the participants which they were receiving. Both were delivered by a nasal spray.
After 45 minutes, the participants all had two ointments applied to their forearm. The ointments were inert and identical, but one was described as an anesthetic that reduces pain, and the other was described as inert. After 15 minutes (for the “anesthetic” to work) a 20-second painful heat stimulus was applied to a different area of the arm.
Pain was then rated on a scale from zero (no pain) to 100 (unbearable pain). For each individual, the temperature that led to a pain rating of 60 was recorded. Next, heat of this temperature was applied ten times to each of the two ointment sites in randomized order, and the pain was rated again each time.
Although the applied heat was identical on both sites, pain was rated as relatively lower at the placebo (fake anesthetic) site among those given oxytocin. This indicates a reduction in perceived pain intensity at the placebo site versus the control site in the oxytocin group.
Oxytocin itself had no analgesic effect, as shown by very similar pain scores at the “control” site, where the participants were told an inert cream had been applied.
Details appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The authors report that oxytocin had no side effects.
They said, “Placebo responses have been shown to contribute to clinical treatment outcomes. The pharmacological enhancement of placebo responses therefore has the potential to increase treatment benefits.
“To our knowledge, our study provides the first experimental evidence that placebo responses can be pharmacologically enhanced by the application of intranasal oxytocin. Further studies are needed to replicate our findings in larger clinical populations, identify the underlying mechanisms, and explore moderating variables such as gender or aspects of patient-physician communication.”
They suggest that oxytocin, involved in childbirth and breastfeeding, may also play a role in empathy, trust, and social learning, which are all vital for the patient-physician relationship, itself an “important mediator of placebo responses.”A Second Study
A separate study investigated brain activity when the placebo effect is underway, using patients with irritable bowel syndrome. The researchers, from the University of Florida, carried out fMRI brain scans during tests involving 20 seconds of rectal distension.
One group was given a local anesthetic and the other a “verbally induced placebo,” i.e. they were told an anesthetic had been used. The real anesthetic reduced pain and pain-related brain activity, as predicted. But “verbal suggestion of a placebo” also reduced perceived pain and increased brain activity in “areas that process placebo suggestions,” said the team.
“These placebo suggestions led to significant decreases in activity of brain areas that process pain,” the team reports. They add that this concurs with the idea that placebo analgesia is linked to “somatic focus and sensory feedback.”
“Expectations for pain can be verbally manipulated to produce placebo analgesia,” they write in the Journal of Pain. Verbal suggestions “may enhance placebo analgesia by engaging a feedback mechanism triggered by the painful stimulus itself and related to brain mechanisms involved in memory and semantic processing,” they conclude.
A 2013 review of the placebo effect explains that placebo responses are “complex psychoneurobiological events” which involve the central nervous system and other physiological mechanisms to influence pain perception, clinical symptoms, and the response to drugs.
Many research studies over recent years have advanced our knowledge of the neuropsychological, genetic, and brain-related elements of the placebo effect, and how individuals may differ in their response.
It is already known that the analgesic strength of the placebo effect is influenced by many factors including past exposure to effective analgesic agents and persuasive suggestions of a painkilling effect.
Strategies to maximize the placebo analgesic effect could be extremely helpful in clinical practice, and may well benefit from the inclusion of oxytocin as well as knowledge of the best verbal strategies to use.
Kessner, S., Sprenger, C., Wrobel, N., Wiech, K., Bingel, U. Effect of Oxytocin on Placebo Analgesia: A Randomized Study. JAMA, 23 October 2013 doi:10.l001/jama.2013.277446
Craggs, J. G., Price, D.D., Robinson, M.E. Enhancing the placebo response: fMRI Evidence of Memory and Semantic Processing in Placebo Analgesia. The Journal of Pain, 9 January 2014 doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2013.12.009
Colloca, L., Klinger R., Flor, H., Bingel, U. Placebo analgesia: psychological and neurobiological mechanisms. Pain, April 2013 doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2013.02.002
New research discovers a nearly fivefold increase in risk for heart attack in the two hours following outbursts of anger.
“There has been a lot of research on anger; we already know it can be unhealthy, but we wanted to quantify the risk, not just for heart attack, but for other potentially lethal cardiovascular events as well,” said lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky, M.P.H, Sc.D.
“The hope is this might help patients think about how they manage anger in their everyday lives and prompt physicians to discuss medications and psychosocial supports with their patients for whom anger is an issue, especially patients with known cardiovascular risk factors.”
As published in the European Heart Journal, Mostofsky and colleagues performed a systematic review of studies published between 1966 and 2013. They identified nine case crossover studies where patients who had experienced cardiovascular events answered questions about anger.
They were asked about their level of anger immediately prior to the cardiovascular event and anger at other times, using terms like very angry, furious, or enraged.
The researchers found that despite differences between the studies, there was “consistent evidence of a higher risk of cardiovascular events immediately following outbursts of anger.”
The study results showed that the risk of heart attack or acute coronary syndrome — symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, or sweating related to a blocked artery — was 4.7 times higher in the two hours following an angry outburst than at any other time.
And the risk for stroke caused by a blocked artery in the brain was 3.6 times higher than at other times.
One of the studies included in the review indicated a six-fold increased risk for brain aneurysm in the hour following an outburst of anger compared with other times.
Mostofsky and colleagues also examined two studies that looked at arrhythmia and anger.
Analysis of these studies showed that patients with implanted cardiac defibrillators (ICD) were nearly twice as likely to experience an abnormal heart rate requiring a shock from the ICD in the 15 minutes following an angry outburst than at other times.
“It’s important to bear in mind that while these results show a significantly higher risk of a cardiovascular event associated with an angry outburst, the overall risk for people without other risk factors like smoking or high blood pressure is relatively small,” said senior author Murray Mittleman, M.D., Ph.D.
“However, we should be concerned about the occurrence of angry outbursts with our higher risk patients and our patients who have frequent outbursts of anger.”
“While it’s possible that medications and other interventions may lower the frequency of angry outbursts or the risk associated with anger,” Mostofsky said, “more research including clinical trials are needed to identify which drugs or behavioral therapies will be most effective.”
Investigators found an association between poor sleep quality and reduced gray matter volume in the brain’s frontal lobe, which helps control important processes such as working memory and executive function.
“Previous imaging studies have suggested that sleep disturbances may be associated with structural brain changes in certain regions of the frontal lobe,” said lead author Linda Chao, Ph.D., associate adjunct professor at the University of California, San Francisco.
“The surprising thing about this study is that it suggests poor sleep quality is associated with reduced gray matter volume throughout the entire frontal lobe and also globally in the brain.”
Results show that poorer subjective sleep quality was associated with reduced total cortical and regional frontal lobe gray matter volumes after controlling for potentially confounding variables such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, Gulf War Illness, trauma exposure, and psychotropic medication use.
The study may help explain the link between poor sleep quality and impaired psychosocial, physical and occupational functioning.
“This study emphasizes the importance of seeking medical help if you are troubled by the poor quality of your sleep,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. M. Safwan Badr.
“A board certified sleep medicine physician can identify the cause of your sleep problem and develop an effective treatment plan for you.”
The cross-sectional study was led by senior author Dr. Thomas Neylan, professor in the University of California, San Francisco psychiatry department and director of PTSD research and deputy associate chief of staff for research at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco.
His research team conducted a secondary analysis of imaging and clinical data of 144 Gulf War veterans.
Total cortical, lobar gray matter, and hippocampal volumes were quantified from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and subjective sleep quality was assessed with the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI).
According to the authors, the cross-sectional design of the study did not allow them to determine a causal relationship between sleep and frontal lobe volume.
They noted that additional research is needed to determine if effective treatment of disturbed sleep leads to improved structural and functional integrity of the frontal lobes.
Indiana University researchers were aware that college athletes experience more severe injuries, and long-term effects of those injuries.
However, as discovered by lead investigator and doctoral student Janet Simon, the finding that the former elite athletes also scored worse on depression, fatigue, and sleep scales came as a surprise.
The irony of watching a college athlete — typically the picture of health and vitality — decline within a few short years to requiring assistance to perform normal activities of daily living, is a sobering aspect of college athletics.
Simon’s study, which focused on Division I athletes, considered the most competitive college athletes — was published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
“Division I athletes may sacrifice their future health-related quality of life for their brief athletic career in college,” Simon said.
“Also, when comparing former Division I athletes, non-athletes who were physically active in college and the general U.S. population, it appears that, in rank order of the three groups, non-athletes who were recreationally active in college had better health-related quality of life scores, followed by the general U.S. population.”
“This may be because former Division I athletes sustain more injuries and possibly more severe injuries due to the rigor of their sport.”
Simon and colleagues analyzed questionnaires completed by 232 male and female former Division I athletes and 225 male and female non-collegiate athletes.
The study participants were between 40 and 65 years old, and their scores were compared to a representative sample of the U.S. population in the same age range:
- former Division I athletes were more than twice as likely as non-athletes to report physical activity limitations to daily activities and exercise;
- 67 percent of the athletes reported sustaining a major injury and 50 percent reported chronic injuries, compared to 28 percent and 26 percent respectively for non-athletes;
- 70 percent of athletes reported practicing or performing with an injury, compared to 33 percent on non-athletes;
- 40 percent of athletes reported being diagnosed with osteoarthritis after college compared to 24 percent of the non-athletes. Osteoarthritis has been linked to previous joint injuries.
Simon said athletes have access to a range of expertise during their college years, including strength and conditioning coaches and nutritionists, but they often find themselves on their own after graduating.
“Many of the Division I sports are not lifelong sports, so it is important for the athletes to find sports and activities that can keep them active as they age,” Simon said.
“The most important thing is to stay active. You may have been a former athlete, but unless you stay active your whole life, you may be decreasing your quality of life.”
Source: Indiana University
The Harvard study suggests the old stereotype of men as hugely competitive — meaning cooperative effort is the exception rather than the norm — while women have a tendency to nurture relationships with others, making them much more likely to cooperate with one another — is outdated.
Researchers found that within academic departments, women of different social or professional “ranks” cooperate with each other less well than men do, according to psychologists Drs. Joyce Benenson, an associate of Harvard’s Human Evolutionary Biology Department, and Henry Markovits, from the University of Quebec at Montreal.
However, with full professors of the same sex, the study found men and women cooperated equally well. The study is described in a paper published in Current Biology.
“The question we wanted to examine was: Do men or women cooperate better with members of their own sex?” said co-author Richard Wrangham, Ph.D.
“The conventional wisdom is that women cooperate more easily, but when you look at how armies or sports teams function, there is evidence that men are better at cooperating in some ways. Because there is so much conventional wisdom and general impressions on these issues, I think it’s helpful for this paper to focus on a very clear result, which has to do with the differences in cooperation when rank is involved.”
To get at whether and why those differences in cooperation might exist, Benenson and Wrangham set out to understand how often faculty at dozens of universities collaborate on academic papers.
They began by identifying 50 institutions from across the U.S. and Canada with at least two male and female full professors, and two male and female assistant professors in their psychology departments.
Researchers then set about identifying papers written by senior faculty from 2008 to 2012, and tracking how often senior faculty worked with other senior faculty, and how often they worked with junior faculty.
While the study focused on the world of higher education, Benenson explained that the notion of differences between how men and women cooperate was first planted during her work studying children.
“When I studied young children, I noticed that boys were typically interacting in groups, and girls tended to focus on one-on-one relationships,” said Benenson, the study’s lead author, who explored similar questions in her book “Warriors and Worriers.”
“There is even evidence that these differences exist in six-month-olds — but you can see it with the naked eye by about five or six years old, where boys form these large, loose groups, and girls tend to pair off into more intense, close friendships.”
“What makes those differences particularly provocative,” Benenson said, “is that chimpanzees organize their relationships in nearly identical ways. Chimpanzee males usually have another individual they’re very close with, and they may constantly battle for dominance, but they also have a larger, loose group of allies.
“When it comes to defeating other groups, everybody bands together. I would argue that females don’t have that biological inclination, and they don’t have the practice.”
That’s not to suggest women are inherently flawed when it comes to cooperation.
In fact, Benenson said, women are often thought of as being more egalitarian than men, “but there’s a flip side no one thinks about, which is what happens when they’re with someone who isn’t the same rank?”
Source: Harvard University
Although researchers were aware of a modest link between age and mental health issues, the new research suggests the relationship may be much more pronounced than expected.
Investigators reviewed an immense data set — everyone born in Sweden from 1973 until 2001 — documenting the association between paternal age at childbearing and numerous psychiatric disorders and educational problems in their children.
Disorders tracked included autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, suicide attempts, and substance abuse problems. Academic problems included failing grades, low educational attainment, and low IQ scores.
Among the findings: When compared to a child born to a 24-year-old father, a child born to a 45-year-old father is 3.5 times more likely to have autism, 13 times more likely to have ADHD, two times more likely to have a psychotic disorder, 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder, and 2.5 times more likely to have suicidal behavior or a substance abuse problem.
For most of these problems, the likelihood of the disorder increased steadily with advancing paternal age, suggesting there is no particular paternal age at childbearing that suddenly becomes problematic.
“We were shocked by the findings,” said Dr. Brian D’Onofrio, lead author and associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington.
“The specific associations with paternal age were much, much larger than in previous studies. In fact, we found that advancing paternal age was associated with greater risk for several problems, such as ADHD, suicide attempts and substance use problems, whereas traditional research designs suggested advancing paternal age may have diminished the rate at which these problems occur.”The Study
The study, “Parental Age at Childbearing and Offspring Psychiatric and Academic Morbidity,” was published in JAMA Psychiatry.
Notably, the researchers found converging evidence for the associations with advancing paternal age at childbearing from multiple research designs for a broad range of problems in offspring.
By comparing siblings, which accounts for all factors that make children living in the same house similar, researchers discovered that the associations with advancing paternal age were much greater than estimates in the general population.
By comparing cousins, including first-born cousins, the researchers could examine whether birth order or the influences of one sibling on another could account for the findings.
The authors also statistically controlled for parents’ highest level of education and income, factors often thought to counteract the negative effects of advancing paternal age because older parents are more likely to be more mature and financially stable. The findings were remarkably consistent, however, as the specific associations with advancing paternal age remained.
“The findings in this study are more informative than many previous studies,” D’Onofrio said.
“First, we had the largest sample size for a study on paternal age. Second, we predicted numerous psychiatric and academic problems that are associated with significant impairment.
“Finally, we were able to estimate the association between paternal age at childbearing and these problems while comparing differentially exposed siblings, as well as cousins. These approaches allowed us to control for many factors that other studies could not.”New Trend of Older Parents
In the past 40 years, the average age for childbearing has been increasing steadily for both men and women.
Since 1970 for instance, the average age of first-time mothers in the U.S. has gone up four years from 21.5 to 25.4.
For men the average is three years older. In the northeast, the ages are higher.
Yet the implications of this fact — both socially and in terms of the long-term effects on the health and well-being of the population as a whole — are not yet fully understood.
Moreover, while maternal age has been under scrutiny for a number of years, a more recent body of research has begun to explore the possible effects of advancing paternal age on a variety of physical and mental health issues in offspring.
Existing studies have pointed to increasing risks for some psychological disorders with advancing paternal age. Yet the results are often inconsistent with one another, statistically inconclusive or unable to take certain confounding factors into account.
Researchers posit that a biological explanation for the observation could be that unlike women, who are born with all their eggs, men continue to produce new sperm throughout their lives. Each time sperm replicate, there is a chance for a mutation in the DNA to occur.
As men age, they are also exposed to numerous environmental toxins, which have been shown to cause mutations in the DNA found in sperm. Molecular genetic studies have, in fact, shown that sperm of older men have more genetic mutations.
This study and others like it, however, perhaps signal some of the unforeseen, negative consequences of a relatively new trend in human history.
As such, D’Onofrio said, “it may have important social and public policy implications.”
Given the increased risk associated with advancing paternal age at childbearing, policy-makers may want to make it possible for men and women to accommodate children earlier in their lives without having to set aside other goals.
“While the findings do not indicate that every child born to an older father will have these problems,” D’Onofrio said, “they add to a growing body of research indicating that advancing paternal age is associated with increased risk for serious problems.
“As such, the entire body of research can help to inform individuals in their personal and medical decision-making.”
Source: Indiana University
Current educational policy mandates the repeating of a grade if a child does not meet defined academic requirements. This practice however, may have negative consequences for the child and for the entire school community.
A new Duke University-led study of nearly 80,000 middle-schoolers discovered when students repeat a grade, it can spell trouble for their classmates.
In a paper published online in Teachers College Record, researchers discovered that in schools with high numbers of grade repeaters, suspensions were more likely to occur across the school community.
Discipline problems were also more common among other students, including substance abuse, fighting, and classroom disruption.
“Public debate typically focuses on how retention affects an individual student’s academic performance,” said lead author Clara Muschkin, Ph,D. So she and her colleagues decided to take a wider view and consider how holding students back may affect the school as a whole.
“The decision to retain students has consequences for the whole school community,” said Muschkin, an associate director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. “That wider effect is an issue worth considering as we debate this policy.”
The study by Muschkin, Elizabeth Glennie, and Audrey Beck looked at 79,314 seventh-graders in 334 North Carolina middle schools.
For information on retention and discipline problems, the authors turned to administrative data from the state’s public school system. The authors found that different schools have greatly varying numbers of older and retained students, with significant consequences.
The authors took pains to account for a range of factors that might offer alternative explanations for their findings, including schools’ socioeconomic composition and parents’ educational status.
Even after controlling for such factors, the presence of older and retained students was still strongly linked with more discipline problems in the entire group.
For instance, if 20 percent of children in seventh grade were older than their peers, the chance that other students would commit an infraction or be suspended increased by 200 percent.
“There’s a strong relationship here that we think is likely to be causal,” Muschkin said.
The study focused on two groups in particular: students who repeated a grade, and students who were a year older than their classmates, on average.
When there were more older and retained students present, discipline problems increased for all subgroups in the study, including black and white students and boys and girls. Two groups saw a particularly large jump in discipline problems: white students and girls of all races.
“This finding took us by surprise,” Muschkin said. “These two groups appear to be a bit more affected than others by the influence of older peers.”
“In early adolescence, a time of major physical and psychological change, students are particularly vulnerable to peer influence,” Muschkin noted.
“However, more research is needed to understand why some subgroups appear to respond more strongly than others to the influence of their classmates,” she said.
Holding students back became a popular educational option as criticism of “social promotion” mounted.
The study suggests that since retention has school-wide ramifications, educators should do more to assist older and retained students with their academic struggles; for instance, through tutoring, summer school, and peer mentoring.
“Support for older and retained students is an investment in the achievement and climate of the entire school,” Muschkin said.
Source: Duke University