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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 29 sec ago

Vulnerable Brain Spot Tied to Schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s

5 hours 12 min ago

Oxford researchers have discovered a specific network in the brain that is the first to degenerate with age and also the most vulnerable spot for the development of schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to analyze changes in the brain structures of 484 healthy participants, ages eight to 85 years.

“Our results show that the same specific parts of the brain not only develop more slowly, but also degenerate faster than other parts,” said researcher Dr. Gwenaëlle Douaud, at Oxford University’s Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB).

“These complex regions, which combine information coming from various senses, seem to be more vulnerable than the rest of the brain to both schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s, even though these two diseases have different origins and appear at very different, almost opposite, times of life.”

The researchers used a “data-driven” approach for the study. Instead of looking for a particular pattern of brain change over the lifespan in a specific location of the brain, they analyzed all the imaging data to see what patterns appeared.

In the brain’s grey matter, they found one specific network that developed later than the rest of the brain, and was the first to degenerate in older age.

This network, which doesn’t develop until late adolescence or early adulthood, is associated with both intellect and long-term memory — two mental abilities that become significantly impaired in people with schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s.

When the researchers compared the network in healthy subjects’ brains with patterns of grey matter damage in people with Alzheimer’s and people with schizophrenia, they found striking similarities between the three.

“Early doctors called schizophrenia ‘premature dementia’ but until now we had no clear evidence that the same parts of the brain might be associated with two such different diseases. This large-scale and detailed study provides an important, and previously missing, link between development, aging and disease processes in the brain,” said Hugh Perry, Ph.D., chairman of the Medical Research Council’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, which funded the work.

“It raises important issues about possible genetic and environmental factors that may occur in early life and then have lifelong consequences. The more we can find out about these very difficult disorders, the closer we will come to helping sufferers and their families.”

The study was an international collaboration between the University of Oxford neuroscience imaging team, neuroscience researchers from the University of Oslo and research clinicians from the University Hospital Basel, Imperial College London, and the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry.

Source: University of Oxford


Positive Emotions Affect Baby Memories

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 9:15am

While developmental experts strongly recommend for parents to play and talk to their five-month old baby, many wonder if the child remembers any of it a day later.

Now, a new Brigham Young University study suggests the infant remembers the good times, if not more.

The study, published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development, shows that babies are more likely to remember something if there is a positive emotion, or affect, that accompanies it.

“People study memory in infants, they study discrimination in emotional affect, but we are the first ones to study how these emotions influence memory,” said Professor Ross Flom, lead author of the study.

Although the five-month-olds can’t talk, there are a number of different ways that researchers can analyze how the babies respond to testing treatments.

In this particular study, they monitored the infants’ eye movements and how long they look at a test image.

The babies were set in front of a flat paneled monitor in a closed off partition and then exposed to a person on screen speaking to them with either a happy, neutral, or angry voice. Immediately following the emotional exposure, they were shown a geometric shape.

To test their memory, the researchers did follow-up tests five minutes later and again one day later. In the follow-up test, babies were shown two side-by-side geometric shapes: a brand new one, and the original one from the study.

Investigators then recorded how many times the baby looked from one image to the next and how long they spent looking at each image.

They discovered babies’ memories didn’t improve if the shape had been paired with a negative voice, but they performed significantly better at remembering shapes attached to positive voices.

“We think what happens is that the positive affect heightens the babies’ attentional system and arousal,” Flom said. “By heightening those systems, we heighten their ability to process and perhaps remember this geometric pattern.”

Source: Brigham Young University

Placebo Treatment Activates Brain in Parkinson’s

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 8:30am

Researchers have learned that simply the expectation of learning stimulates brain activity among individuals with Parkinson’s.

For individuals with Parkinson’s disease, the placebo effect activates the brain, providing a response similar to that experienced after the administration of actual medications.

Researchers say the study clearly shows the relationship between psychology and medicine.

In the study, investigators at the University of Colorado Boulder and Columbia University investigated the placebo influence to better understand the relationship between brain dopamine, expectations, and learning.

Past research has shown that while Parkinson’s disease is a neurological reality, the brain systems involved may also be affected by a patient’s expectations about treatment.

The new study explains how the placebo treatment – when patients believe they have received medication when they have not – works in people with Parkinson’s disease. For these individuals, investigators have determined the placebo effect activates dopamine-rich areas in the brain.

The study is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

“The findings highlight the power of expectations to drive changes in the brain,” said Dr. Tor Wager, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at University of Colorado Boulder and a co-author of the study.

Parkinson’s patients have difficulty with “reward learning,” the brain’s ability to associate actions with rewards and make motivated decisions to pursue positive outcomes.

Reward learning is supported by neurons that emit dopamine when an action, like pushing a particular button, leads to a reward, like receiving money.

Reward learning is impaired in Parkinson’s patients because the disease causes the neurons that release dopamine to die. Parkinson’s patients can be treated for this condition with a medication that increases the dopamine in the brain, L-dopa.

For the new study, the research team, which also includes Columbia University researchers Liane Schmidt, Ph.D., Erin Kendall Braun, and Daphna Shohamy, Ph.D., used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of 18 Parkinson’s patients as they played a computer game that measures reward learning.

In the game, participants discover through trial and error which of two symbols is more likely to lead to a better outcome, in this case a small monetary reward or simply not losing any money.

The Parkinson’s patients played the game three times.

The first event occurred when they were not taking any medication, the second when they took real medication (dissolved in orange juice), and the third when they took a placebo, which consisted of drinking orange juice that they thought contained their medication.

The researchers found that the dopamine-rich areas of the brain associated with reward learning – the striatum and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex – became equally active when patients took either the real medication or the placebo treatment.

“This finding demonstrates a link between brain dopamine, expectation, and learning,” Wager said.

“Recognizing that expectation and positive emotions matter has the potential to improve the quality of life for Parkinson’s patients, and may also offer clues to how placebos may be effective in treating other types of diseases.”

Source: University of Colorado at Boulder

Testosterone Spike Does Not Convey Competitive Advantage

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 7:45am

A new study dispels the notion that a higher surge of testosterone in competition, the so-called “winner effect,” influences performance success.

Dr. David Edwards, a professor of psychology at Emory University, and his graduate student Kathleen Casto studied intercollegiate cross-country runners. They found that while testosterone levels vary during athletic competition, a physiological benefit does not occur.

“Many people in the scientific literature and in popular culture link testosterone increases to winning,” Casto said.

“In this study, however, we found an increase in testosterone during a race regardless of the athletes’ finish time. In fact, one of the runners with the highest increases in testosterone finished with one of the slowest times.”

Researchers analyzed saliva samples of participants and found that testosterone levels rise in athletes during the warm-up period.

“It’s surprising that not only does competition itself, irrespective of outcome, substantially increase testosterone, but also that testosterone begins to increase before the competition even begins, long before status of winner or loser are determined,” Casto said.

Edwards has been collecting data since 1999 on hormone levels of Emory sports teams that have volunteered to participate. Many of the labs’ previous studies involved sports such as volleyball and soccer that require team coordination, intermittent physical exertion, and only overall team outcomes of win or loss.

In the current study, Casto wanted to investigate how hormones relate to individual performance outcomes in cross-country racing.

Cross-country racing is both a team and individual sport. Teams are evaluated through a points-scoring system, but runners are also judged on their individual times, clearly ranking their success in an event.

“Cross country running is a unique sport. It’s associated with a drive to compete and perseverance against pain over a relatively long period of time,” Casto says. “It’s an intense experience.”

Participants in the study were consenting members of the 2010 and 2011 Emory varsity men’s and women’s cross-country teams. Each participant provided three saliva samples: One before warming up (to serve as a baseline), one after warming up, and a third immediately after crossing the finish line.

Testosterone went up from the baseline for both men and women during the warm-up, while levels of cortisol — a hormone related to stress — did not.

At the end of the race, both men and women participants showed the expected increases in cortisol and surges in testosterone. Neither hormone, however, was related to finish time.

This research follows on the heels of a 2013 study of women athletes in a variety of sports by Edwards and Casto, published in Hormones and Behavior.

In this study, they found cholesterol levels were associated with social status and respect.

Specifically, when stress hormones (cortisol) were low, the higher a woman’s testosterone, the higher her status with teammates. The body uses cortisol for vital functions like metabolizing glucose.

“Over short periods, an increase in cortisol can be a good thing, but over long periods of chronic stress, it is maladaptive,” Casto said.

The inverse relationship between cortisol (a product of stress) and testosterone, may influence success either as an athlete or as a work professional. Those that have the ability to mitigate stress have lower amounts of cortisol and more testosterone.

“Among groups of women athletes, achieving status may require a delicate balance between stress and the actions or behaviors carried out as a team leader.”

Higher baseline levels of testosterone have been linked to long-term strength and power, such as higher status positions in companies.

“Although short-term surges of testosterone in competition have been associated with winning, they may instead be indicators of a psychological strength for competition, the drive to win,” Casto said.

Source: Emory University

People with Autism See Faces Differently

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 7:00am

New research suggests the way people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) gather information could explain why they gain different perceptions from peoples’ faces.

Investigators from the University of Montreal, however, say this difference in gathering of information is different from the judgment process itself.

“The evaluation of an individual’s face is a rapid process that influences our future relationship with the individual,” said Baudouin Forgeot d’Arc, Ph.D., lead author of the study.

“By studying these judgments, we wanted to better understand how people with ASD use facial features as cues. Do they need more cues to be able to make the same judgment?”

Researchers collaborated with a team from the Hôpital Robert-Debré in Paris, and studied 71 individuals, including a control group (n=38) and an ASD group (n=33), without intellectual disabilities.

The group was divided into aged-matched subgroups: children (mean age 10 years) and adults (mean age 33 years).

The researchers presented 36 pairs of photographic and synthetic images to the participants, and evaluated their social judgment by asking them to indicate which emotionally neutral faces appeared “kind” to them.

When photographic images of neutral faces were presented, the judgment of ASD participants was mixed compared to participants in the control group. That is, the choices of the ASD participants were not predictable from one subject to another.

However, the researchers found no difference between the groups when participants were presented with synthetic images. These images were created based on the characteristics of the photographic images previously shown.

Moreover, when the synthetic image pairs contained less useful judgment clues (less pronounced facial features), the results for the two groups were influenced in the same way by this difficulty.

Since each group viewed synthetic images in a similar manner, this suggests that it is not the judgment process itself that is different. That is, the differences observed when the autistic group viewed photographic images suggest the information-gathering process is critical.

“We now want to understand how the gathering of cues underpinning these judgments is different between people with or without ASD depending on whether they are viewing synthetic or photographic images.

“Ultimately, a better understanding of how people with ASD perceive and evaluate the social environment will allow us to better interact with them,” said Forgeot d’Arc.

Source: University of Montreal/EurekAlert

Sleep Apnea Tied to Poor Oxygen Intake During Exercise

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 6:15am

Individuals with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea may have limited oxygen capacity while participating in strenuous aerobic exercise, according to researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition in which a person’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. These pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes, and over 30 times an hour in severe cases. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when the throat muscles relax.

For people with this condition, sleep quality is poor, and they often suffer from chronic daytime sleepiness.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, shows that people with sleep apnea have a lower peak oxygen uptake during aerobic activity than those who do not suffer from the sleep disorder.

Although people who suffer from apnea are more likely to be obese, the researchers found that apnea patients had reduced aerobic fitness, even compared to those of similar body mass.

“Encouraging patients to exercise more is part of the story, but that is not the whole story,” said lead author Jeremy Beitler, M.D., assistant clinical professor in pulmonary and critical care medicine.

“We believe the sleep apnea itself causes structural changes in muscle that contributes to their difficulty exercising.”

Researchers conducted sleep studies on 15 men and women with moderate to severe apnea and 19 with mild or no apnea. They monitored participants in order to evaluate apnea severity and to screen for other types of sleep disorders that could sway the results.

The participants were then asked to pedal to exhaustion on a stationary bike at incrementally harder resistance levels, as if they were riding up a hill.

Using the exercise test results, and prior measurements of participants’ resting metabolic rates, the researchers figured out each person’s VO2 max, a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can receive during strenuous exercise. They then compared this number to the expected VO2 max for a person of the same age, gender and body mass index.

After adjusting for baseline differences, scientists found that people with sleep apnea had an average 14 percent lower VO2 max than healthy subjects.

“This is a big discrepancy,” Beitler said.

Source: University of California San Diego Health System


Arterial Plaque Can Lead to Cognitive Impairment

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 5:30am

While it is well known that plaque buildup in the arteries can increase the risk of heart disease, new research discovers the condition can also compromise mental acuity.

In a study of nearly 2,000 adults, researchers found that a buildup of plaque in the body’s major arteries was associated with mild cognitive impairment.

Results of the study conducted will be presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

“It is well established that plaque buildup in the arteries is a predictor of heart disease, but the relationship between atherosclerosis and brain health is less clear,” said Christopher D. Maroules, M.D., radiology resident at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

“Our findings suggest that atherosclerosis not only affects the heart but also brain health.”

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fat, cholesterol, and other substances collect in the arteries, forming a substance called plaque that can build up, limiting blood flow.

As a surprise to some, atherosclerosis can occur in any artery of the body including the carotid, which supplies blood to the brain. Traditionally the perception of plaque buildup has been associated with coronary arteries and the aorta, which carry oxygenated blood from the heart through the abdomen to the rest of body.

In the study, researchers analyzed the test results of 1,903 participants (mean age, 44 years) in the Dallas Heart Study, a multiethnic population-based study of adults from Dallas County, Texas. The participants included both men and women who had no symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

Study participants completed the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), a 30-point standardized test for detecting mild cognitive impairment, and underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain to identify white matter hyperintensity (WMH) volume.

Bright white spots known as high signal intensity areas on a brain MR images indicate abnormal changes within the white matter.” Increased white matter hyperintensity volume is part of the normal aging process,” Dr. Maroules explained. “But excessive WMH volume is a marker for cognitive impairment.”

Study participants also underwent imaging exams to measure the buildup of plaque in the arteries in three distinct vascular areas of the body: MRI to measure wall thickness in the carotid arteries and the abdominal aorta, and computed tomography (CT) to measure coronary artery calcium, or the amount of calcified plaque in the arteries of the heart.

Using the results, researchers performed a statistical regression to correlate the incidence of atherosclerosis and mild cognitive impairment.

After adjusting for traditional risk factors for atherosclerosis — including age, ethnicity, male sex, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, and body mass index — they found independent relationships between atherosclerosis in all three vascular areas of the body and cognitive health.

Individuals in the highest quartile of internal carotid wall thickness were 21 percent more likely to have cognitive impairment as measured by a low MoCA score. An increasing coronary artery calcium score was predictive of large white matter intensity volume on MRI.

“These results underscore the importance of identifying atherosclerosis in its early stages, not just to help preserve heart function, but also to preserve cognition and brain health,” Dr. Maroules said.

Dr. Maroules said the MRI and CT imaging techniques provide valuable prognostic information about an individual’s downstream health risks.

“Plaque buildup in blood vessels throughout the body offers us a window into brain health,” he said.

“Imaging with CT and MRI has an important role in identifying patients who are at a higher risk for cognitive impairment.”

Source: Radiological Society of North America/EurekAlert

Gambling Issues Often Linked to Personality Disorders

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 8:30am

A new review suggest that individuals receiving treatment for gambling problems should also be screened for personality disorders.

The recommendation comes after researchers from Monash University in Australia discovered treatment for gambling problems is often complicated because an individual may also suffer from a personality disorder.

Experts say that problem gambling creates a multitude of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and social difficulties.

Gambling problems are a worldwide issue as roughly 2.3 percent of the population suffers from this behavior. Previous research has shown that people with gambling problems suffer from a range of psychiatric disorders affecting their mood, levels of anxiety, and their use of substances.

In the new study, Meredith Brown and colleagues reviewed existing research to establish patterns and factors that link problem gambling and various personality disorders.

They found that people with gambling problems share similar characteristics to people with antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders.

Investigators discovered borderline personality disorder (BPD) is more prevalent among people with gambling problems than those who can control their gambling. This personality disorder is associated with unstable interpersonal relationships and self-image, and marked impulsivity.

The review discovered that the same biological and social factors are at play in causing problem gambling and personality disorders. These include poor parental relationships during childhood, possible abuse, difficulty in controlling emotions, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety disorders.

Individuals with gambling problems and those with BPD tend to be socially isolated, have problematic relationships with their peers, lower self-esteem, and feelings of hopelessness and dissociation.

They are also emotionally more vulnerable, and struggle with anger issues and feelings of shame. People with gambling problems, like people suffering from BPD, also tend to be impulsive, revert to interpersonal violence and often commit suicide.

Brown advises that routine screening for personality disorders be part of any treatment option considered for people with gambling problems. Detection of a personality disorder can help clinicians customize interventions and improve outcomes.

The practice could alert clinicians to potential difficulties in treatment, and to the need to set more stringent behavioral limits. Screening will also help clinicians to adjust their expectations of what treatment may achieve, and how long it may take.

Because people with both problem gambling and personality disorders are three times more likely to drop out of treatment than those with problem gambling but no personality disorders, screening could also help practitioners to be more tolerant towards poor compliance and to encourage adherence to treatment.

The review highlights that dialectical behavior therapy, which has shown success in treating BPD, could also help a subgroup of problem gambling.

This intervention is based on Eastern principles and teaches clients the core skills of mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness, in combination with more traditional behavioral and motivational strategies.

“The fact that problem gambling and high levels of psychopathology often go together indicates a need to undertake routine and systematic screening and assessment of problem gamblers who sign up for treatment,” said Brown.

“Because the clinical picture of people with gambling problems who also suffer from personality disorders is more complicated, their successful treatment is also more difficult.”

Source: Springer

Woman gambling photo by shutterstock.

Progesterone Helps Cocaine-Addicted Women Stay Abstinent After Pregnancy

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 7:45am

Women with cocaine addiction who quit during pregnancy may have an easier time achieving long-term abstinence with the help of progesterone supplementation, according to a new study at Yale University.

The study involved 50 pregnant women with cocaine use problems. Of all the women who stopped using cocaine during pregnancy, those who took exogenous progesterone were more likely to remain abstinent after they gave birth than women who received a placebo.

“In our prior work it was striking how committed women were to maintaining abstinence in pregnancy and even after they deliver and then how difficult it was to maintain abstinence,” said Yale researcher Dr. Kimberly Ann Yonkers, who was the study’s lead author.

“There must be something going on biologically that makes it harder for them [to abstain] after they deliver.”

“Women often stop using drugs during pregnancy for the sake of their child,” Yonkers said. But this abstinence is short-lived as 80 percent of these women relapse a year after they deliver, said study author Dr. Ariadna Forray, a psychiatry professor.

With the help of progesterone, however, Forray said she sees the possibility of women staying abstinent not just through the pregnancy, but long after birth.

In the study, half of the women were given progesterone post-pregnancy, and half were given a placebo. In total, 12 of the 50 women relapsed within a three-month period. Of the 12, nine were from the placebo control group and only three were from the progesterone group.

Previous studies on animals have found that progesterone has an anti-craving effect, Yonkers said, adding that her research is the first of its kind because few studies have been done on human patients.

“Nonsynthetic progesterone, a hormone produced in women and one of two main hormones involved in pregnancy and menstruation, is a substance that primary care doctors and obstetricians can prescribe, making it a drug readily available to most women,” Forray said.

Forray added that the women in this study were noticeably committed to the mission of the research

“Women who abuse substances in pregnancy often don’t get treated very nicely because people see them as substance users and not as pregnant women,” Forray said.

Forray is currently conducting a similar study, but with postpartum tobacco users. More women smoke during pregnancy than use cocaine, Forray said, and she hopes to prevent postpartum with the use of progesterone.

“I think that this should be replicated in a larger sample size of postpartum women who attained abstinence,” said Yonkers.

Source: Yale University

Breast Asymmetry Can Impact Teen Mental Health

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 7:00am

A new study by plastic surgeons finds that differences in breast size have a significant mental health impact in adolescent girls.

Researchers discovered breast asymmetry affects self-esteem, emotional well-being, and social functioning.

The study has been published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery®, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

Dr. Brian I. Labow and colleagues of Boston Children’s Hospital found breast asymmetry is more than just a “cosmetic issue,” as the condition can have negative psychological and emotional effects.

They suggest that early intervention may have mental health benefits for young women with even relatively mild breast size differences.

The researchers evaluated psychosocial functioning and health-related quality of life in 59 adolescents and young women (12 to 21 years) with breast asymmetry.

In all patients, the breasts differed by at least one bra cup size. Similar evaluations were performed in a group of girls without breast asymmetry, and in girls with macromastia (overlarge breasts).

Mean age was about 17 years in all groups. About 40 percent of girls with breast asymmetry had tuberous breast deformity, a congenital condition in which the breasts don’t develop normally.

Several aspects of mental health and well-being were lower for girls with breast asymmetry, compared to those with “normal” breasts. After adjustment for differences in body weight, breast asymmetry was associated with significantly lower scores for emotional well-being and self-esteem.

The differences were similar to those in girls with macromastia — another common condition with a known mental health impact. Breast asymmetry was also associated with “borderline” issues in social functional and eating behaviors and attitudes.

Experts say that differences in breast size are common, especially in early adolescence. The breasts usually even out over time, but in some girls the difference persists after puberty.

The new study is the first to focus on the mental health impact of breast asymmetry.

“These findings suggest that patients suffering from breast asymmetry have poorer emotional well-being and lower self-esteem than their female peers,” Labow and coauthors write. They note that the mental health impact is similar for girls with mild versus more severe breast asymmetry.

Researchers say that the psychological impact of breast asymmetry is similar to that found among girls with overlarge breasts, as well as in boys with enlarged breasts and even women with differences in the breasts related to breast cancer surgery.

Investigators note that although federal provisions ensure insurance coverage for surgery to correct asymmetry in breast cancer survivors due to the known psychological effects, no such provisions exist for younger women with congenital breast asymmetry.

As a result, treatment for breast asymmetry in adolescents is often not reimbursed by insurance, with the justification that there is “no functional impairment.”

“The observed impaired psychological well-being of adolescents with breast asymmetry may indicate the need for early intervention to minimize negative outcomes,” Labow and coauthors write. They note that this doesn’t necessarily mean surgery; especially for younger girls, “consultation and support” may be appropriate.

However, for girls who are finished growing and still have breast asymmetry, surgical correction may have important emotional benefits.

“Though substantial barriers to care exist, early evaluation and intervention for these patients may be beneficial, and should include weight control and mental health counseling,” Labow and colleagues concluded.

Experts believe the study is important as it shows that breast asymmetry – often classified as a cosmetic issue – is truly a condition that can have lasting psychological and emotional effects, just like macromastia.

Source: Wolters Kluwer Health/EurekAlert


Girl with arms crossed photo by shutterstock.

Perception of Wealth Influences Political Stance

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 6:15am

Emerging research suggests alignment with political policies may have more to do with how wealthy a person feels they are, rather than how much money they have in the bank.

In a new study, investigators found people’s views on income inequality and wealth distribution is often based on how wealthy they feel in comparison to their friends and neighbors.

“Our research shows that subjective feelings of wealth or poverty motivate people’s attitudes toward redistribution, quite independently of objective self-interest,” says psychological scientist and study co-author Keith Payne of the University of North Carolina.

The study has been published in the journal Psychological Science.

“These findings are important because they suggest a mechanism by which inequality may lead to increases in political polarization and conflict,” Payne explains.

“Peoples’ support for tax and welfare policies depends on how well off each person feels at that moment.”

While it seems logical that people would support whichever wealth distribution policy enhances their own bottom line, research consistently shows that the association between actual household income and attitudes toward redistribution is weak.

Lead author Jazmin Brown-Iannuzzi of the University of North Carolina, Payne, and colleagues speculated that perceived socioeconomic status, how people judge their status relative to those around them, might be the more influential factor.

Indeed, an online survey of adults revealed that the more well-off people felt relative to most people in the U.S., the less supportive they were of policies that involved redistribution of income from the wealthy to the poor.

Importantly, support for redistribution wasn’t related to participants’ actual household income or level of education.

And the results from a second online study provided further experimental support for the link.

In this study, when participants were given feedback suggesting they had more discretionary income than “similar” peers, they showed less support for redistribution and reported being more politically conservative (less liberal) than those who were told they were worse off than their peers.

In two additional experiments, participants were induced to feel wealthy or poor according to their performance in an investing game. Some performed “better than 89 percent of all players,” watching their assets rise and then dip by 20 percent due to income redistribution. Others performed “worse than 89 percent of all players,” seeing their assets dip before receiving a bonus through redistribution.

When asked how they might improve the rules for future participants, the “poor” players seemed to be satisfied with the existing rules, while the “wealthy” players preferred significantly less redistribution.

The perception of wealth also affected the way study participants viewed broader political theologies.

“Wealthy” players viewed inequality in the game, and the American economic system as a whole, as more fair than did “poor” players. And they viewed those who recommended increasing redistribution as more biased.

“When people were made to feel wealthier, they not only opposed redistribution but they also began endorsing more conservative principles and ideologies in general,” says Payne.

“They began to see the world as a fair and just meritocracy. And this was all the result of a simple five minute manipulation of relative comparisons to others.”

These findings suggest that feelings of subjective wealth drive people’s attitudes toward redistributive policies, and that they shift to ideological positions that justify these attitudes.

Therefore, the way in which we compare ourselves to others on a daily basis may end up having consequences for our political preferences.

Source: Association for Psychological Science


Voting and money photo by shutterstock.

Sound of Voice Linked to Position of Power

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 5:30am

New research finds that being in a position of power can fundamentally change the way a person sounds when they speak.

San Diego State University researchers discovered that being in power is associated with the alteration of basic acoustic properties of the voice. The vocal changes allow other people to be able to pick up on these vocal cues to know who is really in charge.

The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The expression of power or status is often reflected in the words and language used to communicate with others. The new findings suggest that basic acoustic cues also play an important role.

“Our findings suggest that whether it’s parents attempting to assert authority over unruly children, haggling between a car salesman and customer, or negotiations between heads of states, the sound of the voices involved may profoundly determine the outcome of those interactions,” said psychological scientist and lead researcher Sei Jin Ko.

The researchers had long been interested in non-language-related properties of speech, but it was former U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher that inspired them to investigate the relationship between acoustic cues and power.

“It was quite well known that Thatcher had gone through extensive voice coaching to exude a more authoritative, powerful persona,” Ko said.

“We wanted to explore how something so fundamental as power might elicit changes in the way a voice sounds, and how these situational vocal changes impact the way listeners perceive and behave toward the speakers.”

Ko, along with Melody Sadler, Ph.D., of San Diego State University and Adam Galinsky, Ph.D., of Columbia Business School, designed two studies to find out.

In the first experiment, they recorded 161 college students reading a passage aloud; this first recording captured baseline acoustics. The participants were then randomly assigned them to play a specific role in an ensuing negotiation exercise.

Students assigned to a “high” rank were told to go into the negotiation imagining that they either had a strong alternative offer, valuable inside information, or high status in the workplace, or they were asked to recall an experience in which they had power before the negotiation started.

Low-rank students, on the other hand, were told to imagine they had either a weak offer, no inside information, or low workplace status, or they were asked to recall an experience in which they lacked power.

The students then read a second passage aloud, as if they were leading off negotiations with their imaginary adversary, and their voices were recorded. Everyone read the same opening, allowing the researchers to examine acoustics while holding the speech content constant across all participants.

Comparing the first and second recordings, the researchers found that the voices of students assigned to high-power roles tended to go up in pitch, become more monotone (less variable in pitch), and become more variable in loudness than the voices of students assigned low-power roles.

“Amazingly, power affected our participants’ voices in almost the exact same way that Thatcher’s voice changed after her vocal training,” said Galinsky.

Researchers also discovered that listeners can pick up the expression of power by a voice and could determine which speaker held a position of power or authority.

A second experiment with a separate group of college students revealed that listeners, who had no knowledge of the first experiment, were able to pick up on these power-related vocal cues to determine who did and did not have power.

Listeners ranked speakers who had been assigned to the high-rank group as more likely to engage in high-power behaviors, and they were able to categorize whether a speaker had high or low rank with considerable accuracy.

In line with the vocal changes observed in the first experiments, listeners tended to associate higher pitch and voices that varied in loudness with high-power behaviors. They also associated louder voices with higher power.

“These findings suggest that listeners are quite perceptive to these subtle variations in vocal cues and they use these cues to decide who is in charge,” said Galinsky.

Source: Association for Psychological Science


Man with a strong voice photo by shutterstock.

Teens Report Less Loneliness, More Isolation

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 8:30am

New research suggests self-esteem and confidence among American high school and college students is growing.

But the new report is mixed as researchers learn that while that subjective isolation has declined, social network isolation has increased.

Researchers posit that modernization is fueling the emotional imbalance.

In 2006, a New York Times article “The Lonely American Just Got a Bit Lonelier” highlighted research that showed a decline in social engagement.

Researchers at that time found that people are less likely to join clubs, have fewer close friends, and are less likely to perceive others as trustworthy.

However, emerging studies are now finding that teens and young adults are gaining in extraversion and self-esteem — information which suggests loneliness is decreasing.

In an effort to study the societal trend of loneliness, researchers from the University of Queensland and Griffith University conducted an analysis of data on high school and college students.

The study is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

In the first study, the researchers examined past studies that utilized the Revised University of California, Los Angeles loneliness scale (R-UCLA) to analyze changes in loneliness over time, and gender differences in loneliness.

The studies focused on college students through the year 1978 to 2009. Analysis of the studies showed a modest decline in loneliness over time. Female students reported lower loneliness than male college students.

Study one used a small sample of studies, which limits the reliability of the analysis. The review also focused on college students, which is not necessarily a representative sample of the general population. Study two aimed to address these limitations.

Study two utilized a large representative sample of high school students from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) project. The MTF project surveyed the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American high school students. Overall, high school students reported a decline in loneliness from 1991 to 2012.

In this study, researchers examined specific items within the MTF data to determine if various aspects of loneliness demonstrated differing trends. The MTF project assessed feeling lonely, feeling left out, and desiring more close friends — factors which assess subjective feelings of isolation. Researchers called this factor “subjective isolation.”

A second aspect for analysis included items such as whether an individual has friends to talk to, turn to, and interact with, which measures a students’ social environment and social support — this factor was labeled “social network isolation.”

Study two found that white high school students reported lower loneliness than black students, Hispanic students, or other races.

The study also found that subjective isolation declined, but social network isolation increased, which suggests that high school students perceive less loneliness but poorer social networks. High school students reported fewer friends with whom to interact, but less desire for more friends.

Lead researcher David Clark said that “the trend in loneliness may be caused by modernization.” Throughout history, modernization has changed the way people interact with one another.

“People become less dependent on their families and need more specialized skills, which could lead to less interest in social support and more self-sufficiency,” Clark said. “Over time, people are more individualistic, more extroverted, and have higher self-esteem.”

More research on cultures outside of the U.S. is necessary to determine if modernization is the root cause of the observed results.

“If other cultures show the same pattern of reduced loneliness in the face of poorer social networks, this would support the idea that modernization is responsible,” Clark said. If other cultures do not show a similar pattern, then the cause is something more specific to American culture.

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Teenager using her laptop photo by shutterstock.

Rat Study Suggests Schizophrenia May Stem from Surplus Brain Protein

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 7:45am

New research discovers a gene associated with schizophrenia also plays a role in brain development. The finding may help to explain the way the disease originates.

Bonnie Firestein, Ph.D., a Rutgers professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, says too much protein expressed by the NOS1AP gene causes abnormalities in brain structure and faulty connections between nerve cells that prevent them from communicating properly.

The gene has previously been found to be associated with schizophrenia.

Firestein’s research indicates that an overabundance of a protein in the NOS1AP gene resulted in the dendrites – tree-like structures that allow cells to talk to each other and are essential to the functioning of the nervous system – being stunted in the developing brains of rats.

The study has been published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Firestein and colleagues found that too much of the NOS1AP protein in brain cells didn’t allow them to branch out and kept them deep within the neocortex. The neocortex is the region of the brain responsible for higher functioning skills, such as spatial reasoning, conscious thought, motor commands, language development, and sensory perception.

In the control group of rats in which NOS1AP chemical protein was not over-expressed, the cellular connections developed properly, with cells moving out to the outer layers of the neocortex and enabling the nerve cells to communicate.

“When the brain develops, it sets up a system of the right type of connectivity to make sure that communication can occur,” said Firestein. “What we saw here was that the nerve cells didn’t move to the correct locations and didn’t have dendrites that branch out to make the connections that were needed.”

While the definitive cause of schizophrenia remains unknown, researchers believe they are on task to understanding many of the factors associated with the disease.

Scientists have determined that several genes, including NOS1AP, are associated with an increased risk for the disabling brain disorder and believe that when there is an imbalance of the chemical reactions in the brain, development can be disrupted.

Firestein has been working with Rutgers geneticist Linda Brzustowicz, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Genetics, who co-authored the paper and first began investigating the genetic link between NOS1AP and schizophrenia a decade ago.

While about one percent of the general population suffers from schizophrenia, the risk increases to about 10 percent in the first degree relatives of an individual with the disease. NOS1AP has been identified as a risk factor in some families with multiple individuals affected with schizophrenia.

Since the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is associated with schizophrenia, matures through adulthood, Firestein says it is possible that drug treatment therapies could be developed to target the disease in adolescents when schizophrenia is thought to develop and when symptoms appear.

“The next step would be to let the disease develop in the laboratory and try to treat the over expression of the protein with an anti-psychotic therapy to see if it works,” says Firestein.

Source: Rutgers University

Abstract of brain photo by shutterstock.

Action Video Games Can Increase General Learning Skills

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 7:00am

Playing action video games improves not only the skills needed for the game, but also learning skills in general, according to a new study by the University of Rochester.

“Prior research by our group and others has shown that action gamers excel at many tasks. In this new study, we show they excel because they are better learners,” said Daphne Bavelier, Ph.D., a research professor in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester.

“And they become better learners,” she said, “by playing the fast-paced action games.”

Our brains keep predicting what will come next — whether we’re listening to a conversation, driving, or performing surgery, said Bavalier.

“In order to sharpen its prediction skills, our brains constantly build models, or ‘templates,’ of the world,” she explained. “The better the template, the better the performance. And now we know playing action video games actually fosters better templates.”

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, compared action video gamers’ visual performances with those of individuals who did not play action video games.

The action gamers outperformed the non-action gamers, and the key to their performance was that their brains used a better template for the task at hand.

The team conducted another experiment to determine if regular players of fast-paced, action-rich video games may be endowed with better templates independently of their game play, or if the game play caused them to have better templates.

To find out, the researchers recruited people with little gaming experience and asked them to play 50 hours of video games for nine weeks. One group played action video games, e.g., Call of Duty. The second group played 50 hours of non-action video games, such as The Sims.

The trainees were tested on a pattern discrimination task before and after their training. The test showed that the action video games players improved their templates, compared to the non-action control group. The researchers then started to investigate how action video games may foster better templates.

When the researchers gave action gamers a perceptual learning task, the action video game players were able to build and fine tune templates quicker than the non-action game participants. And they did so on the fly.

“When they began the perceptual learning task, action video gamers were indistinguishable from non-action gamers; they didn’t come to the task with a better template,” said Bavelier. “Instead, they developed better templates for the task, much, much faster showing an accelerated learning curve.”

Furthermore, when tested several months to a year later, the action-trained participants still outperformed the other participants, suggesting that they retained their ability to build better templates.

The researchers are investigating which characteristics in action video games are conducive to learning.

“Games other than action video games may be able to have the same effect,” she said. “They may need to be fast-paced, and require the player to divide his or her attention, and make predictions at different time scales.”

Source: University of Rochester


Boy playing intense video game photo by shutterstock.

Anti-Anxiety, Sleep Drugs to Teens Comes with Abuse Risk

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 6:15am

New research discovers prescription of an anti-anxiety or sleeping medication to a teen comes with a risk of illegal abuse of medications by the teen.

Experts say the findings suggest substance abuse assessments should be performed before the drugs are prescribed.

University of Michigan researchers found that teens prescribed anti-anxiety or sleep medications may be up to 12 times more likely to abuse those drugs illegally than teens who have never received a prescription. Investigators discovered the teens acquired the additional pills from friends or family members.

The study has been published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

Researchers surveyed more than 2,700 high school and middle school students from the Detroit area, and discovered almost nine percent had been prescribed a potentially addictive benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medication (e.g., Xanax, Valium, or Klonopin) or sleep medication (e.g., Ambien, Lunesta, or Restoril) at some time in their lives.

Investigators found that more than three percent of students had a current prescription during the study, which took place from 2009 to 2012.

These students were 10 times more likely — than students who never had a prescription — to obtain anti-anxiety or sleep medications illegally. Reasons for obtaining illegal pills included experimentation and as a way to get high.

Students who were prescribed anti-anxiety medications before the three-year study but who no longer had a prescription were 12 times more likely to use someone else’s anxiety medication illegally than students who had never received a prescription.

While students with a current prescription during the three-year study were more likely to abuse anti-anxiety and sleep medications, students who previously had a prescription for either drug were only at a heightened risk to abuse anxiety medications, which may provide greater euphoric effects than sleep medications.

“This is a wake-up call to the medical community as far as the risks involved in prescribing these medications to young people,” said lead researcher Carol J. Boyd, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.

“When taken as prescribed, these drugs are effective and not dangerous. The problem is when adolescents use too many of them or mix them with other substances, especially alcohol.”

Students also were more likely to abuse anti-anxiety or sleep medications if they were white, female, or had had a valid prescription for several years, the study found. These medications can impair driving and can be fatal when mixed with alcohol and/or other drugs.

The research is the first longitudinal study to examine adolescents’ illegal abuse of sleep and anti-anxiety medications, according to the authors.

“Prescribers and parents don’t realize the abuse potential,” Boyd said. “These drugs produce highly attractive sensations, and adolescents may start seeking the drugs after their prescriptions run out.”

The study involved 2,745 students from two middle schools and three high schools who completed online surveys twice a year for three years. The participants were evenly split between boys and girls, with an average age of 14 at the beginning of the study.

The group was 65 percent white, 29 percent African-American, and six percent “other” (Asian, Hispanic, or American Indian/Alaskan Native). Most of the students came from well-educated families, with 80 percent having at least one parent with a college or graduate degree.

White students were twice as likely as African-American students to use someone else’s anti-anxiety or sleep medication illegally.

Several studies have shown that adolescents and young adults are more likely to abuse potentially addictive medications, increasing the risk for overdose, substance abuse disorders, and criminal activity.

Both state and federal laws prohibit the use of someone else’s prescribed medication, along with the selling or giving of prescription drugs to someone without a prescription, which can be a felony.

“The public often thinks that nonmedical use of these prescription drugs is driven by doctor shopping and drug dealers, but it isn’t,” Boyd said. “It is driven by people with prescriptions who divert their pills to other people, who are usually friends or family members.”

The prescribing of anti-anxiety and sleep medications to teens has increased over the past decade, along with abuse of these drugs, according to several studies. A 2011 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that three percent of adolescents in the United States abuse these medications.

“Before prescriptions are written, prescribers need to inform teens and their parents about the risks associated with abuse of anti-anxiety and sleep medications and the danger of sharing those drugs,” Boyd said.

A substance abuse assessment should be completed for each patient before prescriptions are written, and medication refills may need to be strictly limited, the study concluded.

A limitation of the study includes the limited geographic scope. Since the study was conducted in only a single area of the country, the findings may not be similar to other settings.

Source: American Psychological Association

Teenager with pills photo by shutterstock.

Early Exposure to Verbal Conflict Can Aid in Coping with Adult Stress

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 5:30am

While the holiday season is a time to reconnect with family and friends, it can also be a time of stress.

Although the opportunity to be in close contact with family and friends is welcomed, the environment may result in heated debates, or differing opinions on subjects that someone may passionately support.

For some, the stress is potentially damaging, while others seem able to shrug it off.

A new study, published in the journal Human Communication Research, addresses why some can handle these stressful events better than others.

Researchers from Rollins College and Pennsylvania State University found that individuals who were exposed to intense verbal aggression as children are able to handle intense conflict later in life.

Researchers Lindsey Aloia and Denise Solomon studied 50 romantically involved couples and found that the more intense the conflict interaction was rated between the couples, the stronger the physiological stress response to the conflict.

This relationship, however, was weakened for individuals who reported a higher level of childhood exposure to verbal aggression.

For the experiment the couples provided saliva samples to determine their baseline cortisol levels. They were then interviewed separately about the most stressful areas of conflict in their relationship and filled out a questionnaire that asked about their childhood experiences with verbal aggression.

Following the interview, partners were asked to sit together and discuss an area of conflict alone for 10 minutes. The sessions were videotaped. After the discussion the couples were separated again and provided two additional saliva samples over a period of 20 minutes after the conflict.

Trained judges then watched video recordings of the couples and rated the intensity of the conflict communication of each couple. Finally, cortisol levels were calculated to evaluate experiences of stress using the collected saliva samples.

Previous research has examined the experience of conflict within a multitude of relationships.

The prior studies clearly showed that conflict can produce a number of negative outcomes. For example, exposure to conflict has been linked to depression, distress, and anxiety; feelings of hurt and anger; relationship dissatisfaction; and subsequent physical violence.

Emerging research points to the role of physiological processes in understanding the variation in individuals’ experiences of interpersonal conflict.

Considering the physiological implications for stress and viewing interpersonal conflict interactions as potential stressors highlights how experiences of conflict occur.

The way in which an individual responds to the conflict is shaped by both the demands of the interaction and people’s adaptive capacity to handle that stressor.

“Conflict experiences can be beneficial, by alleviating tension and avoiding conflict escalation, reducing communication apprehension, and contributing to closeness within the relationship,” said Aloia.

“Given the diversity of outcomes associated with interpersonal conflict, efforts to understand variation in the experienced negativity of conflict experiences are extremely important in helping people navigate these interactions.”

Source: International Communication Association/EurekAlert

Psychotherapy Cuts Suicide Risk by 26 Percent

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 4:01pm

How do you help someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide? Suggest they talk to a therapist.

A new study out of the University of Copenhagen and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that in a review of Denmark medical records, those who received psychotherapy treatment — talk therapy — reduced their risk of suicide by 26 percent.

Suicide is a serious public health as well as a mental health problem. In the U.S., over 33,000 people die each year from suicide.

Suicide is most often caused by untreated or under-treated clinical depression, a serious condition that is the second most prevalent type of mental illness. People who are at the greatest risk for suicide are usually not in treatment.

In the new study, the medical records of 5,678 Denmark residents who received psychotherapy were matched with over 17,000 subjects who did not receive psychotherapy after engaging in a self-harm event, such as trying to commit suicide. The records were examined from 1992 until 2010.

The researchers found that the group of those who received psychotherapy treatment had 26 percent fewer suicides than the group that did not receive psychotherapy. The researchers estimated that about 145 suicide attempts and 30 suicides were prevented in the talk therapy group.

They also found the psychotherapy group fared better in other ways too. They repeated acts of self-harm less frequently and had a lower risk of death by any cause, including death by suicide.

“Now we have evidence that psychosocial treatment —  which provides support, not medication —  is able to prevent suicide in a group at high risk of dying by suicide,” noted the researchers.

“Our findings provide a solid basis for recommending that this type of therapy be considered for populations at risk for suicide.”

The researchers concluded, “Our findings show a lower risk of repeated deliberate self-harm and general mortality in recipients of psychosocial therapy after short-term and long-term follow-up, and a protective effect for suicide after long-term follow-up, which favor the use of psychosocial therapy interventions after deliberate self-harm.”

Psychotherapy in the study was short-term, generally consisting of interventions ranging from 6 to 12 sessions.

The study is published in the most recent issue of Lancet Psychiatry.

Source: Lancet Psychiatry

Cancer Screenings Often Unheeded by Mentally Ill Women

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 8:30am

According to a new study, women with symptoms of serious mental illness tend to miss recommended health screenings, underreport clinical conditions to medical providers, and may face bias and stigmatization by health practitioners.

University of Illinois researchers discovered women with mental illness were significantly less likely to receive three routine cancer screenings – Pap tests, mammograms and clinical breast exams – than women in the general population.

The missed screenings occur despite the risk of being at elevated risk for medical comorbidities and early death.

“Women who reported symptoms of serious psychological distress such as feelings of hopelessness and depression during the past 30 days were 41 percent less likely to have received Pap tests during the preceding two-year period,” said researcher Xiaoling Xiang.

Xiang also found such women were 38 percent and 35 percent less likely to have received mammograms and clinical breast exams, respectively, during that same period of time.

For the study, researchers examined three years of data for more than 17,000 women who participated in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

More than 1,300 women in the sample, who ranged in age from 40 to 74, had symptoms of serious psychological distress. This indicates a mental illness that is serious enough to cause significant impairment and require treatment.

Prior research has suggested that the mentally ill tend to utilize outpatient, inpatient, and emergency services at much higher rates than the general population.

“However, people with serious mental illness are estimated to die an average of 14 to 32 years earlier than the average person,” said Xiang, a doctoral candidate in social work.

“There’s a big health disparity there. Their frequent contact with the health care system opens up opportunities for providers to implement targeted interventions and patient education to improve utilization of preventive services.”

The higher mortality rates among the mentally ill, despite their greater use of certain types of medical services, may point to a “quality of care problem,” Xiang said.

“If you have to use the emergency room multiple times each year, but you’re not receiving routine screenings and other preventive care, it might be because your health care needs are not being adequately met.”

Women with psychological issues also are at risk for other medical conditions.

Xiang’s data analyses confirmed prior research findings that women with symptoms of serious psychological distress have double or triple the rates of chronic lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes as the general population.

A variety of issues can compromise traditional medical care for people with a mental illness. Severe mental illness can sometimes lead to self-neglect and underreporting of physical symptoms, and can make it difficult for patients to discuss their needs with their physicians.

“Likewise, bias and stigmatization of the mentally ill by health care practitioners can discourage some patients from seeking care,” Xiang said.

About 17 percent of the women in the sample were uninsured, a rate higher than that of the general population. A recent Gallup poll estimated that about 13 percent of Americans have no health insurance.

While the recent expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act may give some of the mentally ill and previously uninsured greater access to preventive testing, “the problem with this population goes beyond access,” Xiang said.

“The fragmentation of care that goes on under the current health care system is a huge barrier for people with comorbid mental and medical conditions, because these patients may have to visit multiple providers to get proper treatment.

“Integrated primary and behavioral health care models are popular, and the federal government is devoting a lot of resources to promoting integrated care,” Xiang said.

”It’s the right path to take. However, more research is needed to test what types of models are best for people with serious mental illness. There also is a need to investigate strategies for successfully implementing evidence-based integrated care models.”

Xiang’s study, published recently in the journal Women’s Health Issues, is one of the first examinations of cancer screening disparities and mental illness to use both a nationally representative population and a sample of this size.

The prevalence of serious psychological distress among the women in Xiang’s study was slightly more than six percent, higher than the National Institute of Mental Health’s estimate of about 4.9 percent of U.S. women.

Samples in prior studies of mental illness and cancer screenings were limited to people receiving inpatient or outpatient psychiatric treatment.

To address these limitations and obtain a representative sample of women, Xiang used a global indicator of mental health, the six-item Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, also called the K6, to screen participants for recent mental health problems.

The K6, which has been shown to be strongly predictive of serious mental illness, identifies people with psychological distress symptoms that are severe enough to impair functioning, but who might have been excluded from prior research samples because their mental illnesses were undiagnosed, under treated, or untreated.

Source: University of Illinois

Doctor speaking to a patient photo by shutterstock.

Credit Score May Reflect Cardiovascular Health

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 7:45am

A new analysis has found a strong correlation between a person’s credit score and his or her cardiovascular health, according to the findings published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This doesn’t mean that poor financial management hurts your health, said postdoctoral researcher Salomon Israel, Ph.D., of Duke University. Instead, it’s that the sort of personal attributes that can lead to a poor credit score can also lead to poor health.

Specifically, self-control, planning ahead, and perseverance appear to be attributes that predict both better financial status and better health.

For the study, researchers monitored the physical and mental health of more than 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 38.

“What it comes down to is that people who don’t take care of their money don’t take care of their health,” said study leader Terrie Moffitt, Ph.D., who is the Nannerl O. Keohane university professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke.

In fact, the researchers found that about 20 percent of the relationship between credit scores and heart health was accounted for by the attitudes, behaviors, and competencies displayed by the participants when they were younger than age 10.

“We’re showing that these things take root early in life,” Israel said.

The Duke researchers used a standard measure called the Framingham cardiovascular risk score. This helped estimate the “heart age” of their participants, based on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and smoking habits.

At age 38, the participants’ Framingham “heart ages” ranged from 22 to 85 years; participants with higher credit scores had younger “heart ages.”

“The thing that’s so compelling about credit scores is that they’re both predictive and retrospective,” said co-author Avshalom Caspi, Ph.D., the Edward M. Arnett professor of psychology and neuroscience, psychiatry & behavioral sciences at Duke. “They offer a window on the future, but also a window on the past.”

“In recent years, credit scores have been used for pre-employment screening and many other functions beyond their original intent,” Israel said. It seems to be a measure of a person’s reliability and steadfastness, and in turn how healthy they may be.

“Our findings suggest that life insurance companies that acquire an applicant’s credit score are also indirectly acquiring information about that applicant’s educational attainment, intelligence, and personality, right back to childhood,” the authors wrote.

The link might work the other way as well. In less developed countries where credit scores aren’t available, a Harvard team has been experimenting with a 40-minute personality quiz to judge a candidates’ credit-worthiness for microloans.

Source: Duke University