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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 14 min 52 sec ago

Suicide Risk Plummets After Talk Therapy

4 hours 52 min ago

Repeated suicide attempts and deaths by suicide were about 25 percent lower among a group of Danish people who participated in voluntary talk therapy after a suicide attempt, according to a new study.

The study is believed to be the first to show that voluntary short-term psychosocial counseling actually works to prevent suicide, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Although the patients received just six to 10 therapy sessions, the researchers found long-term benefits. They report that five years after the counseling ended, there were 26 percent fewer suicides in the group that received treatment compared to a group that did not.

“We know that people who have attempted suicide are a high-risk population and that we need to help them. However, we did not know what would be effective in terms of treatment,” said Annette Erlangsen, Ph.D, study leader and adjunct associate professor in the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins.

“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.”

For the study, researchers analyzed health data from more than 65,000 people in Denmark who attempted suicide between Jan. 1, 1992, and Dec. 31, 2010. Denmark, which provides free health care for its citizens, first opened suicide prevention clinics in 1992. The clinics went nationwide in 2007.

The researchers analyzed data from 5,678 people who received psychosocial therapy at one of eight suicide prevention clinics. They then compared their outcomes over time with 17,304 people who had attempted suicide and looked similar on 31 factors, but had not gone for treatment afterward. Participants were followed for up to 20 years.

The researchers found that during the first year, those who received therapy were 27 percent less likely to attempt suicide again and 38 percent less likely to die of any cause.

After five years, there were 26 percent fewer suicides in the group that had been treated. After 10 years, the suicide rate for those who had therapy was 229 per 100,000 compared to 314 per 100,000 in the group that did not get the talk therapy.

The researchers noted that the therapy varied depending on the individual needs of the patient, so they can’t pinpoint exactly what the “active ingredient” was that inoculated those against future suicide attempts.

While it is possible that it was simply having a safe, confidential place to talk, the researchers said they plan to gather more data on which specific types of therapy may have worked better than others.

Study co-author Elizabeth A. Stuart, Ph.D.,  of Johns Hopkins noted that before this, it was not possible to determine whether a specific suicide prevention treatment was working. It isn’t ethical to do a randomized study where some get suicide prevention therapy while others don’t, she said.

Because the Danish clinics were rolled out slowly and participation was voluntary, it gave the researchers the best way to gather this kind of information, they noted. The extent of the data — including extensive baseline data and long-term follow-up data — on such a large group of people also was critical to the success of the study, the researchers noted.

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

The study was published in Lancet Psychiatry.

Source: Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Woman talking with her therapist photo by shutterstock.

Adult Daycare Stabilizes Emotions of Dementia Caregivers

5 hours 36 min ago

Caregivers of family members with dementia who use the part-time services of adult daycare have fewer emotional fluctuations, and this may protect the caregivers’ health, according to new research at the College of Health and Human Development at Pennsylvania State.

The study, published in the journal Health Psychology, investigated the emotional fluctuations in caregivers of dementia patients, including the associations between daily negative emotions (such as depression and anger) and the use of adult daycare, daily experiences, and other caregiving characteristics.

“Specifically, it shows that people who use more days of adult day care have fewer day-to-day intrinsic emotional fluctuations,” said Dr. Steven H. Zarit, distinguished professor of human development and family studies.

“These fluctuations represent individual differences in how emotionally reactive people are after controlling for the events of the day. Emotional reactivity has been linked to increased illness in other studies. Reduced emotional liability due to adult day care use may be protective of caregivers’ health.”

For the study, researchers asked 173 family caregivers of individuals with dementia to report their experiences for eight days. Statistical models were then used to show connections between daily stressors and changes in affect, and to test hypotheses on connections between daycare use, daily experiences, and emotional fluctuations.

The findings revealed that, when the total number of daycare days was greater than average, there was a stabilizing effect on caregivers’ emotions, specifically with regard to negative affect (negative emotions after one has failed or done poorly at a task).

Better sleep quality was associated with less fluctuation in anger; and younger age and more years of education were associated with less fluctuation in daily depression.

“We know that people who are more emotionally labile — who have greater fluctuations — are more at risk of developing health problems when they are in stressful situations,” said first author Yin Liu, a doctoral candidate.

“We examined the magnitude of caregivers’ daily emotional lability in negative affect, and associations with daily experiences, caregiving characteristics, and whether getting relief from caregiving stressors by an adult daycare service program makes a difference in emotional lability.”

Specifically, there was a stabilizing effect on the caregivers’ daily feelings of depression and anger. The results suggest that getting more days of relief from full-time caregiving help people control ups and downs in their emotions.

“In a previous study, we showed that levels of depression and anger were decreased on days the caregiver’s relative attended adult day services. Here we show more emotional stability as well,” Liu added. Both dimensions of emotion play a role in health.

Source: Pennsylvania State


Entering an adult daycare photo by shutterstock.

Guidelines for Media Use in Toddlers

6 hours 22 min ago

Two experts on child development have released their research-based guidelines to help parents understand the impact of media use on very young children. The research includes tips about how much screen time is OK, parent participation, the effects of parental screen use, and more.

Rachel Barr, associate professor of psychology at Georgetown, worked with Claire Lerner of ZERO TO THREE, a national nonprofit that provides parents, professionals, and policymakers with research-based information on how to nurture early development.

In the guidelines, the researchers ask parents to limit background TV, choose content and programming carefully, and remove all screens from toddlers’ bedrooms.

“Over the past decade we have learned a great deal about how young children learn from screens and how both the content and context of their screen media experiences shape that learning,” says Barr, who has been researching this topic for the past decade at the Georgetown Early Learning Project.“

“We hope this summary of the research will be informative to parents, pediatricians, and early educators who have to navigate this rapidly changing technology.”

Barr and Lerner recently participated in a virtual news briefing to discuss their research.

Barr noted in the briefing that over the past 15 years, the amount of content available to young children has “exploded,” and that the research shows that “it’s not just the amount of exposure but the content of their exposure and the context of that exposure that’s crucial for learning.”

“Our take-home messages from the review of the literature for parents of young children are: participate and make screen use interactive, talk about what children are seeing, and encourage them to use their minds and bodies as they engage with the screen activity to maximize learning,” Barr explains.

“We hope to help children bridge the gap between content they are exposed to on screens and real-life experiences.”

Barr stressed how important it is that parents remain involved in their young children’s learning, noting that parents only talk with their toddlers 50 percent of the time while watching television and only 25 percent of the time while using mobile technology.

“The bottom line in terms of screens is we know from research that real 3-D experiences in the real world allow for richer social and physical exploration than screen experiences,” Lerner said.

“I think that really the take-home message from this report … is to be mindful. That we’re not in the business of telling parents what to do, we’re really in the business of helping parents make informed decisions.”

Source: Georgetown University

Mother using tablet with her young child photo by shutterstock.

Workplace Bullying a Taboo Problem

7 hours 6 min ago

Approximately 35 percent of employees in the United States report being the target of a bully at work, and they tend to keep it to themselves, according to new research at Iowa State University.

“Many of the participants felt no one would believe them, or they were afraid of being labeled as a big cry baby or a whiner, so they didn’t tell a manager or someone else in the organization,” says Stacy Tye-Williams, assistant professor of communications studies and English at the university.

“When you experience serious trauma in the workplace, it’s difficult to explain to people what is happening to you.”

The study, published in the journal Management Communications Quarterly, includes reports from 48 victims of bullying in the workplace. More than half reported being bullied by their boss, while the rest were harassed by a co-worker. Participants worked in a variety of fields including professional and technical, education, health care, banking and finance, and the military.

Many of the victims had difficulty finding the right words or putting events in logical order to explain how the bullying started and escalated. In fact, several months can pass before the victim realizes there is a problem, because bullying often starts with subtle behaviors that make it hard to identify initially.

“When the story is all over the place and feels disjointed or disconnected, people don’t understand or they can’t make sense of what happened. Then what often happens is the victim is not taken seriously or not believed, which is really sad because these victims tend to be the ones suffering most,” Tye-Williams says.

Victims often feel alone because co-workers who witness or are aware of the bullying are hesitant to get involved. Previous studies have shown that victims have lower levels of depression and higher levels of job satisfaction when they have a co-worker to talk to and provide support.

“If victims are not believed and don’t have someone to talk to about their story, then they have a hard time formulating a narrative,” Tye-Williams says. “Even if you’re not comfortable as a co-worker reporting the behavior, letting the victim tell you their story, go with you to have a drink and vent, or just feel believed can help.

“For a lot of victims, that process of being believed and having someone listen to their story is crucial in helping them better communicate about their experience.”

If a victim does report the bullying, it is important for managers to reserve judgment. Even when the story is hard to follow, managers need to listen and ask questions, Tye-Williams says.

Although schools focus a lot of attention on bullying, it is not as openly discussed in the workplace. Some research shows that children who are bullies in school continue that behavior into adulthood. Greater awareness will help, but even small, simple changes can make a difference.

“Sometimes people are already aware of bullying, but others want to know how it’s different from harassment or discrimination, so awareness of the issue is important,” Tye-Williams says.

“It’s also important that we learn how to treat each other better and reach out when people are being harmed. We can all make strides in that direction.”

Source: Iowa State University


Woman being bullied at work photo by shutterstock.

Confidence is Key for Future Family, Career Success

Sat, 11/22/2014 - 8:45am

When a young person’s plans for the future includes both family and career, the outcome is more likely to be success in all areas, especially if he or she is confident in these goals, say researchers at Penn State.

“I’m really interested in career development, but also how that interacts with family life,” says Bora Lee, Ph.D., postdoctoral scholar, human development and family studies. “I was interested in how adolescents weighed their goals within work and family domains.”

For the study, researchers pulled data from the Youth Development Study, which included responses from 995 teens, at ages 14 to 15 and again at 17 to 18 years old, to questions about anticipated future importance of career and family, as well as the respondents’ self-efficacy beliefs about these goals.

The rating of “self-efficacy beliefs” was a measure of the students’ confidence that they would achieve a future family or career goal.

Then, as adults aged 35 to 36 years old, the same subjects responded to questions regarding their “perceived success in work life” and “perceived success in family life.” The researchers used a statistical approach to sort respondents into groups based on the relative importance they assigned to work and family goals, and their belief that they would achieve these goals.

The analysis also indicated how likely people were to move from one group to another over time. The findings showed that teens were likely to shift their family and work goals from ages 14 to 15 to ages 17 to 18 — but that one-third of those who had a similar interest in both work and family goals retained this feeling over time.

“The biggest group was people who placed relatively high importance on both work and family,” said Lee. “Almost half of the adolescents said that work and family are both important for me, and also that it is pretty highly likely that I can achieve these goals.”

In fact, confidence in meeting goals was the key factor to success.

“Those who do show more confidence about achieving their goal were also more likely to achieve those goals in young adulthood,” said Lee.

“So those who placed a lot of importance on work and family and had very high confidence in those were more likely to report that they felt successful in work than other people.”

The study is published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.

Source: Penn State 

Teenager confident about her future photo by shutterstock.

Boosting Self-Regulation Helps At-Risk Kids

Sat, 11/22/2014 - 8:00am

An intervention that uses music and games to help preschoolers learn self-regulation skills — such as paying attention, following directions, and learning to stay on task — has been shown to help prepare at-risk children for kindergarten.

These skills are critical to a child’s success in kindergarten and beyond, according to Dr. Megan McClelland, a professor at Oregon State University and co-author of the new study.

“Most children do just fine in the transition to kindergarten, but 20 to 25 percent of them experience difficulties — those difficulties have a lot to do with self-regulation,” McClelland said. “Any intervention you can develop to make that transition easier can be beneficial.”

The intervention was most effective among children considered at the highest risk for struggling in school, including kids from low-income backgrounds who are learning English as a second language.

Besides having a positive effect on self-regulation, the intervention also positively affected achievements in math, she noted.

“The math gain was huge,” McClelland said. “English language learners who were randomly assigned to the intervention showed a one-year gain in six months. This was in spite of the fact that we had no math content in these games.”

That indicates that children were more likely to integrate the self-regulation skills they’ve learned into their everyday lives, McClelland explained. It also supports previous research finding strong links between self-regulation and math skills.

The study included 276 children enrolled in a federally funded Head Start program for at-risk children in the Pacific Northwest. Children ranged in age from three to five, with most about four years old. Children were randomly assigned to either a control group or the intervention program.

The intervention ran for eight weeks, with two 20- to 30-minute sessions each week. Research assistants came into classes and led children through movement and music-based games that increased in complexity over time and encouraged the children to practice self-regulation skills.

One game was “Red Light, Purple Light,” which is similar to “Red Light, Green Light.” A researcher acted as a stoplight and held up construction-paper circles to represent stop and go. Children followed color cues, such as purple is stop and orange is go, and then switched to the opposite, where purple is go and orange is stop, the researchers explained.

Additional rules were added later to increase the complexity of the game. The game requires children to listen and remember instructions, pay attention to the adult leading the game, and resist natural inclinations to stop or go.

“It’s about helping the children practice better control,” McClelland said. “The games train them to stop, think, and then act.”

Researchers evaluated children’s self-regulation and academic achievement before and after the intervention and found that children who had received the intervention scored significantly higher on two direct measures of self-regulation.

English language learners who participated in the intervention also scored significantly higher in math than their peers in the control group, the researchers reported.

“Researchers want to continue improving the games used in the intervention and expand the use of the intervention to more children,” McClelland said.

Because the games are somewhat simple and require few materials, training teachers is fairly easy and the program is relatively low-cost for schools, she added.

The study, supported by a grant from the Ford Family Foundation and by Oregon State University, was published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Source: Oregon State University

Preschooler playing music game photo by shutterstock.

Rejecting Unsuitable Suitors Easier Said Than Done

Sat, 11/22/2014 - 7:15am

New research shows that it’s easier to reject an unsuitable romantic partner in a hypothetical situation, but not so easy in a face-to-face encounter.

“When actually faced with a potential date, we don’t like to reject a person and make them feel bad, which is not necessarily something that people anticipate when they imagine making these choices,” said the study’s lead researcher, psychology Ph.D. candidate Samantha Joel of the University of Toronto.

“The fact that we underestimate how concerned we’ll feel about hurting the other person’s feelings may help to explain why people’s dating decisions often don’t match up with their stated dating preferences.”

For the first part of the study, researchers at Toronto and Yale University asked participants to complete their own dating profile. Then they were given three profiles that supposedly belonged to other participants.

Participants were then split into real and hypothetical situations. Those in the real situation were told that the potential dates were in the lab next door and could meet them. Those in the hypothetical situation were told that the potential dates were unavailable, but to imagine the possibility of meeting them.

After selecting their favorite profile of the three, the participants were then given additional information about their potential date, including a photo of an unattractive person, and a completed questionnaire that suggested the potential date wanted to meet them.

The participants then completed the same questionnaire: Those in the real situation were told that it would be presented to the potential date and those in the hypothetical situation were to imagine the potential date receiving it.

The researchers found that those in the real situation were more likely to accept the date from the unattractive suitor. When asked, the participants said they were concerned about hurting the potential dates’ feelings.

In the second part of the study, the researchers surveyed participants’ willingness to accept dates with individuals whose qualities or attributes were undesirable because of habits or traits, rather than physical unattractiveness. Deal-breaking attributes included, for example, opposing political or religious views.

Instead of being presented with photos, participants received a questionnaire that suggested that their chosen dates were incompatible with them. They then filled out the same questionnaire and were told it would be presented to the potential date. Again, those in the hypothetical situation were more likely to reject the dates than those considering a face-to-face proposition.

“I think it’s incredible that people care so much about not hurting the feelings of potential dates who they haven’t even met if they think they’ll actually meet them,” Joel said.

“Next, I’d like to explore how much this concern might come into play when people make later, perhaps more serious, relationship decisions.”

The study was published in Psychological Science.

Source: University of Toronto

Uncomfortable situation photo by shutterstock.

Don’t Like Your Boss? Don’t Fake It

Sat, 11/22/2014 - 6:30am

Don’t particularly like your boss? A new study shows that it’s counterproductive to “fake it.” In fact, your job performance can actually improve once you and your boss see eye-to-eye about your relationship.

“Seeing eye-to-eye about the employee-supervisor relationship is equally — if not more — important than the actual quality of the relationship,” said Fadel Matta, lead investigator on the study and a management researcher in Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business.

He noted that past research suggests workers and their bosses often have differing views about the quality of their relationships. That why he and his research team set out to examine whether that affects actual work engagement or motivation.

It does, they found.

According to the study of 280 employees and their bosses, motivation suffered when an employee believed he or she had a good relationship with the boss, but the boss saw it differently.

The finding held when the flip side was true and the boss believed the relationship was good, but the employee did not, according to the researchers.

The researchers found that employee motivation was higher — and the employee was more apt to go above and beyond his or her basic job duties – when the worker and supervisor saw eye-to-eye about the relationship, even when it was poor.

The researchers surveyed both sides separately, meaning the boss did not necessarily know how the employee felt about him or her, and vice versa.

The study included a wide range of employees, from cashiers to senior managers, in a host of industries, including automotive, retail, and financial services.

“It’s nearly impossible for a supervisor to have a good relationship with every employee — there’s only so much time and so many resources a boss can invest toward that goal — but at the same time it’s human nature to want everyone to like you,” Matta said.

“Some people would say it’s better to fake it, but our results indicate that the opposite is true,” said Matta. “At the end of the day, it’s better for everyone to know where they stand and how they feel about each other.”

The study was published in the Academy of Management Journal.

Source: Michigan State University

Serious discussion with boss photo by shutterstock.

Racial Discrimination, Family Issues Key Sources of Stress in Latina Immigrants

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 8:30am

For Latina immigrant women, racial discrimination and family issues are key sources of stress as they try to adapt to U.S. culture, according to new research at the University of Illinois. But whether this cultural stress translates into psychological distress depends on a variety of other factors.

The study, published in the Journal of Immigrant Minority Health, examined the impact of various  factors on the psychological distress and acculturative stress experienced by more than 630 Latina immigrant women who moved to the U.S. mainland from Cuba, Mexico, or Puerto Rico.

The researchers pulled data from the National Latino Asian American Survey, a mental health study that included more than 2,500 Latinos.

“Using an ecological-based model called family stress management, we found that acculturative stress did not always lead to poor mental health,” said Venera Bekteshi, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois.

“It really depended on what we controlled for and what was going on in the person’s life. When Latinas had many negative things going on, such as discrimination, poverty, and family-culture conflict, the acculturative stress lost significance because there were all these other issues that they were dealing with. But when they had fewer positive elements in their lives, such as family support, the acculturative stress did lead to poor mental health.”

The participants’ residency in the U.S. varied, from less than five years to more than 20 years. Latinas who had stayed between five and 10 years experienced the highest levels of acculturative stress, the researchers found.

“Recent immigrants may not be as vulnerable to acculturative stress because they are focused on the potential opportunities and are working hard to help their families after they relocate,” Bekteshi said.

“But after a while, the excitement may wear off, and they’ve got issues with their children, because not everyone acculturates and learns English at the same pace,” Bekteshi said.

“This leads to depression and anxiety, since it’s very important to Latina women to be good moms and to feel a connection with their children. Plus, these women also may be working multiple jobs, very difficult jobs, yet they have all these domestic tasks awaiting them at home, which their spouses may or may not help with because the men believe in traditional gender roles.”

Family is very important to Latina women, and so familial issues, including difficulties keeping close ties with family living far away and cultural conflicts within the immediate family, were particularly stressful.

Family support, and the women’s belief in the Latino cultural value “familismo,” which promotes interconnectedness among family members, emerged as protective factors against psychological distress for all the women.

The amount of racial discrimination that the women perceived in their communities and their families’ economic hardships were also significant factors contributing to their acculturative stress levels, according to the research.

For all of the subjects, the acculturative stress that peaked at five to 10 years in the U.S. declined the longer that they lived in the U.S.; however, as the women aged, they became more prone to depression and anxiety.

Source: University of Illinois  

PreSchool Sleep Deficits Up Risk of Obesity

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 7:45am

A new study suggests the majority of preschoolers may not be getting the amount of sleep they need each night.

Researchers believe the sleep deficits place the children at higher risk of being overweight or obese within a year. Investigators also suggest that some of the sleep inadequacies may be linked to how much a mother works.

University of Illinois investigators studied the relationship between mothers’ employment status and their child’s weight over time. Factors such as children’s sleep and dietary habits, the amount of time they spent watching TV, and family mealtime routines were analyzed to determine if they influenced weight gain.

The study has been published online by the journal Sleep Medicine.

“The only factor of the four that we investigated that mediated the relationship between maternal employment status and child obesity was how much sleep the child was getting each night,” said lead author Katherine E. Speirs.

Speirs and co-authors Janet M. Liechty and Chi-Fang Wu followed 247 mother-child pairs from the STRONG Kids study for a year. STRONG is a health awareness initiative for families that focuses on preventing child obesity.

The children, who ranged from three to five years old, were weighed, measured, and had their body mass index calculated at the outset of the study and again one year later.

At the second weigh-in, 17 percent of the preschoolers were overweight and 12 percent were obese, according to BMI-for-age growth charts.

In the study sample, sixty-six percent of the mothers were employed full time, defined as working 35 hours or more per week. Another 18 percent of the women were employed part time, or 20 to 34 hours per week.

The amount of time a mother worked made a difference in their child’s sleep and weight.

Investigators discovered children whose mothers worked full time got fewer hours of sleep than peers whose mothers worked less than 20 hours per week. The children of women who worked full time also tended to have higher BMIs at the second weigh-in.

Saliently, only 18 percent of the preschoolers in the sample were getting the 11 to 12 hours of nightly sleep recommended by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. On average, the children were getting about 9.6 hours of nighttime sleep, say the researchers.

When children received the recommended amount of sleep, BMI was improved.

Investigators discovered each additional hour of nighttime sleep that a child obtained was associated with a 6.8 percent decrease in their BMI at the second weigh-in.

“We looked at nighttime sleep in particular, because studies show that the amount of nighttime sleep matters for regulating weight,” said Liechty, a professor of medicine and of social work.

“We think that it might be the more hours that mothers are working, the less time they have, and there may be some sort of tradeoff going on, ‘Do I spend quality time with my child or do we get to bed early?’” Speirs said.

“And then in the morning, when mothers leave for work, their children also wake up early to get to day care.”

Experts recommend the following sleep schedules:

  • Newborns — 16-18 hrs
  • Preschool-aged children — 11-12 hrs
  • School-aged children — At least 10 hrs
  • Teens — 9-10 hrs
  • Adults, including the elderly — 7-8 hr.

Researchers recruited mothers whose children were enrolled in 32 licensed day care centers in Central Illinois. Sixty-six percent of the women had college degrees; about a third had household incomes under $40,000 a year, and just over half the sample had household incomes under $70,000 a year.

“The challenges of ensuring that children obtain adequate sleep may be even greater for low-income women, who often hold multiple jobs or work rotating shifts or nonstandard hours,” Speirs said.

“There are lots of characteristics about mothers’ employment that are really important to help us better understand the relationship between mothers’ employment status and child obesity,” said Wu, a professor of social work.

“Factors such as whether women are working part time voluntarily or involuntarily, or scheduled or nonscheduled hours make a difference.” Currently, the authors are exploring some of these characteristics and possible links with child obesity in a related study.

Source: University of Illinois

Overweight boy photo by shutterstock.

Additional Education Brings Potential for Stress

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 7:00am

Obtaining a degree is usually associated with a better salary and improved control over one’s life. However, gaining prestige and moving up the financial ladder comes with a price.

In a new study, professor Scott Schieman, Canada Research Chair in the Social Contexts of Health, and Ph.D. student Atsushi Narisada investigated the adverse effects associated with attaining a high degree of mastery.

The researchers analyzed data captured by the Canadian Work, Stress, and Health Study (CANWSH) — a national sample of Canadian workers.

The researchers measured proficiency, or mastery, by asking study participants how much they agree or disagree with statements such as: “You have little control over the things that happen to you” and “You often feel helpless in dealing with problems of life.”

The study confirms that university graduates in Canada report the highest sense of mastery, mainly due to their above-average earnings and lower exposure to financial strain.

However, these well-educated people are also more likely to encounter overwork, job pressure, and work-to-family conflict. And, in turn, each of these stressors actually undermines mastery.

“Were it not for the fact that highly educated individuals report more job demands and conflict between work and family roles they would have even higher levels of mastery,” says Schieman.

“While education is extremely critical for mastery, higher educational attainment also appears to introduce stressors that can dampen the psychological benefits.”

These patterns represent what Schieman has called “the stress of higher status” — a process in which stressors associated with higher status offset the rewards that often accompany it.

“We also learned that workers who experience excessive on-the-job pressure feel less in control of their lives, primarily due to the conflict triggered between work and personal or family life,” says Schieman.

“In fact, stress in the work-family interface poses the biggest threat to Canadians’ sense of mastery.”

The study also found that workers who engage in more work-family multitasking feel a lower sense of mastery due to the conflict generated between the two roles.

Source: University of Toronto

Father and daughter photo by shutterstock.

Weight Changes Common with Parkinson’s

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 6:15am

New research discovers that it is normal for patients with Parkinson’s disease to have significant weight fluctuations.

People may gain or lose weight depending on the stage of the disease. They may also gain up to 25 pounds after a course of deep brain stimulation.

Unfortunately, weight variances can worsen the quality of life of a person who is already suffering from motor disorders.

“The body weight and eating habits of Parkinson’s patients change as the disease progresses”, explains Marilena Aiello, first author of the study published in the journal Appetite.

“In our paper, we reviewed studies on Parkinson’s that provided data on the association between non-motor symptoms and dietary habits and body weight. This way, we were able to evaluate some factors which, beyond the motor symptoms and drug treatments, might play a role in this problem”.

A variety of factors can influence poor dietary habits among individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Common issues include depression, cognitive impairment, and sensory disturbances that alter smell and taste. Additionally, an impaired ability to feel pleasure may trigger incorrect eating habits.

“The possible role of the ability to feel (or not feel) pleasure and motivation towards food consumption is particularly interesting,” says Aeillo.

“Parkinson’s patients may be somewhat lacking in this respect and therefore eat less and lose weight, whereas the weight gain exhibited after deep brain stimulation seems to point to an increase in pleasure and motivation associated with food. Specific studies are required to confirm or refute this finding emerging from the literature review”.

Aiello believes the information gained from the study can help those working with patient with Parkinson’s.

For example, healthcare workers and family members can benefit from an awareness of the dynamic factors that occur with the disease.

“This knowledge is in fact crucial for devising interventions to minimize the effect of the deficits and restore normal weight levels in individuals who are already suffering because of the disease,” says Aiello.

Source: International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)/EurekAlert

Man’s weight being checked photo by shutterstock.

Hiring Authority Influences Gender-Related Depression

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 5:30am

A job description that includes hiring and firing authority appears to affect women and men differently.

In a new study, researchers discovered that having job authority increases symptoms of depression among women, but decreases them among men.

“Women with job authority — the ability to hire, fire, and influence pay — have significantly more symptoms of depression than women without this power,” said Tetyana Pudrovska, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.

“In contrast, men with job authority have fewer symptoms of depression than men without such power.”

The study, “Gender, Job Authority, and Depression,” has been published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Researchers studied more than 1,300 middle-aged men and 1,500 middle-aged women, who graduated from high schools in Wisconsin.

According to Pudrovska, who co-authored the study with Amelia Karraker, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University, women who do not participate in the hiring/firing process had slightly more symptoms of depression on average than men without job authority.

But among people with the ability to hire, fire, and influence pay, women typically exhibit many more symptoms of depression than men.

“What’s striking is that women with job authority in our study are advantaged in terms of most characteristics that are strong predictors of positive mental health,” said Pudrovska.

“These women have more education, higher incomes, more prestigious occupations, and higher levels of job satisfaction and autonomy than women without job authority. Yet, they have worse mental health than lower-status women.”

So why does having job authority increase symptoms of depression in women, but decrease them in men?

“Years of social science research suggests that women in authority positions deal with interpersonal tension, negative social interactions, negative stereotypes, prejudice, social isolation, as well as resistance from subordinates, colleagues, and superiors,” Pudrovska said.

“Women in authority positions are viewed as lacking the assertiveness and confidence of strong leaders. But when these women display such characteristics, they are judged negatively for being unfeminine. This contributes to chronic stress.”

Pudrovska believes men in authority positions generally deal with fewer stressors because they do not have to overcome the resistance and negative stereotypes that women often face.

“Men in positions of authority are consistent with the expected status beliefs, and male leadership is accepted as normative and legitimate,” she said.

“This increases men’s power and effectiveness as leaders and diminishes interpersonal conflict.”

Pudrovska believes the findings suggest that more work needs to be done to reduce stress on women.

“We need to address gender discrimination, hostility, and prejudice against women leaders to reduce the psychological costs and increase the psychological rewards of higher-status jobs for women.”

Source: American Sociological Association/EurekAlert

Early Puberty May Put Teens at Risk for Depression

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 8:30am

New research suggests kids who enter puberty ahead of their peers are at heightened risk of depression.

Both genders are at risk, although depression typically develops differently in girls than in boys, said University of Illinois researchers.

“Investigators believe their findings show that early maturation triggers an array of psychological, social-behavioral and interpersonal difficulties. These challenges predict elevated levels of depression in boys and girls several years later,” said psychology professor Dr. Karen D. Rudolph.

Rudolph and her colleagues measured pubertal timing and tracked levels of depression among more than 160 youths over a four-year period.

During their early teenage years, they completed annual questionnaires and interviews that assessed their psychological risk factors, interpersonal stressors, and coping behaviors. Parents also reported on their children’s social relationships and difficulties.

The study is one of the first to confirm that early puberty heightens risk for depression in both sexes over time and to explain the underlying mechanisms.

“It is often believed that going through puberty earlier than peers only contributes to depression in girls,” Rudolph said. “We found that early maturation can also be a risk for boys as they progress through adolescence, but the timing is different than in girls.”

As discussed online in the journal Development and Psychopathology, youth who entered puberty ahead of their peers were vulnerable to a number of risks that were associated with depression.

They had poorer self-images; greater anxiety; social problems, including conflict with family members and peers; and tended to befriend peers who were prone to getting into trouble, the researchers found.

Girls were found to have special challenges.

Levels of depression among early-maturing girls were elevated at the beginning of the study and remained stable over the next three years. These adverse effects were persistent in early maturing girls, who remained at a distinct disadvantage, even as peers caught up to them in physical development, Rudolph said.

“In girls, early maturation seems to trigger immediate psychological and environmental risks and consequent depression,” Rudolph said.

“Pubertal changes cause early maturing girls to feel badly about themselves, cope less effectively with social problems, affiliate with deviant peers, enter riskier and more stressful social contexts, and experience disruption and conflict within their relationships.”

Boys were discovered to have a different timing of events as early maturation did not appear to have an immediate adverse effect; they showed significantly lower levels of depression at the outset than their female counterparts.

However, these differences dissipated over time, such that by the end of the fourth year, early maturing boys didn’t differ significantly from their female counterparts in their levels of depression.

Although early maturation seemed to protect boys from the challenges of puberty initially, boys experienced an emerging cascade of personal and contextual risks as they move through adolescence. Issues included negative self-image, anxiety, social problems, and interpersonal stress.

Although the study examined the risk factors as independent measures, it’s possible that these elements mutually reinforce each other over time, the researchers said.

“But it’s important to note, as we find in our work, that only some teens are vulnerable to the effects of early maturation, particularly those with more disruption in their families and less support in their peer relationships,” Rudolph said.

Source: University of Illinois

Young girl with depression photo by shutterstock.

Herpes Simplex Virus May Up Risk of Alzheimer’s

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 7:45am

A person who carries certain antibodies of the herpes simplex virus may be at double the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, according to two new Swedish studies.

“The identification of a treatable cause [herpes simplex] of the most common dementia disorder is a breakthrough,” said lead researcher Dr. Hugo Lovheim, an associate professor in the department of community medicine and rehabilitation at Umea University in Sweden.

“Whether treatment of herpes infection with antiviral drugs may slow the Alzheimer’s progression is not known, but is certainly worth investigating in clinical studies,” he said.

Herpes simplex is the common infection that causes cold sores. The virus, which affects up to 90 percent of the population, is lifelong but not always active. According to the researchers, the herpes virus weakens the immune system, allowing the virus to spread to the brain, which may start the process toward dementia.

The first study involved nearly 3,500 people who were followed for an average of 11 years; the researchers found that those who had certain antibodies to a herpes infection doubled their risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In the second study, blood samples were taken from 360 Alzheimer’s patients an average of 9.6 years before being diagnosed with the disease.

When the researchers compared these with samples taken from people without Alzheimer’s, they found no association between Alzheimer’s and herpes infection. However, when they looked only at people who had their blood taken 6.6 years prior, they found a significant link between the herpes virus and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

“I think herpes virus causes a significant proportion of all cases of AD — about 40 to 50 percent — according to our data,” Lovheim said.

Lovheim said the findings show more than a chance association and may indicate a causal relationship.

“I think a causal relationship is likely, but like all epidemiological studies, there might always be confounders one has not thought about or not measured,” he said.

“In a few years we hope we will be able to start clinical studies to investigate whether antiviral drugs might slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

However, Greg Cole, Ph.D., the associate director of the Geriatric Research and Clinical Center at the University of California, Los Angeles Alzheimer Disease Research Center in Los Angeles, isn’t convinced.

“More than 90 percent of the population has antibodies to herpes, and they are not all destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

However, an immune response or infection connection between herpes and Alzheimer’s disease is possible, Cole noted.

“Recent genetic studies have implicated variants of several genes controlling immunity with increased Alzheimer’s disease risk. These new results warrant a closer look in larger populations,” Cole said.

The studies were published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

Source: Mary S. Easton Center, University of California- Los Angeles


Elderly man photo by shutterstock.

Creativity Spurred by Small Feelings of Entitlement

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 7:00am

New research finds temporary feelings of privilege or entitlement can boost creativity.

The perception of entitlement is usually considered a negative trait similar to narcissism or conceit.

Prior studies have found that those who feel entitled are less likely to help others or apologize. These individuals are more likely to want special privileges, break rules, treat their romantic partners selfishly, and make unethical decisions.

However, in a new study, researchers wanted to see if a perception of entitlement was associated with any positive consequences. They discovered that inspiring entitlement in people stimulates their creativity.

The condition was prompted by a short exercise where subjects were encouraged to write sentences about why they deserved various positive outcomes.

“Our results suggest that people who feel more entitled value being different from others, and the greater their need for uniqueness, the more they break convention, think divergently, and give creative responses,” say Lynne C. Vincent, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at Vanderbilt University, and Emily Zitek, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Cornell.

The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

For the study, subjects were given a boost in feelings of entitlement before completing a set of tasks. Tasks included imagining uses for a paper clip, drawing a space alien, and a word association exercise. Test subjects made to feel entitled outdid the non-entitled every time and by significant margins.

To clarfy, the study investigated “state entitlement,” meaning small, temporary boosts in feelings of entitlement. It did not test “trait entitlement,” a more permanent state of mind.

“We have failed to find positive relationships between trait entitlement and creativity across several studies,” Vincent and Zitek write. “Similarly, narcissism, which is correlated with trait entitlement, is not consistently related to actual creativity.”

There could be other positive consequences of state entitlement, and Vincent and Zitek suggest further study.

“For example, due to the heightened need for uniqueness associated with entitlement, entitled individuals might be more willing to engage in other tasks that require them to stand out, such as public speaking, pitching an idea, and whistle-blowing,” they write.

Source: Vanderbilt University

Creative woman photo by shutterstock.

Mindfulness + Cognitive Therapy = Less Prenatal Depression Risk

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 6:15am

Mindfulness techniques combined with cognitive therapy have been shown to reduce the risk of depression relapse among pregnant women.

Mindfulness approaches include meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga while cognitive therapy challenges and alters maladaptive thoughts and feelings.

University of Colorado, Boulder researchers found pregnant women with histories of major depression were less likely to relapse into depression if they used the non-drug interventions.

About 30 percent of pregnant women who have struggled with depression in the past will again become depressed in the months before and after birth, according to past research.

In the new study, researchers found that participation in a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy program reduced the relapse rate to 18 percent.

“It’s important for pregnant women who are at high risk of depression to have options for treatment and prevention,” said Dr. Sona Dimidjian, an associate professor in University of Colorado, Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and lead author of the study.

“For some women, antidepressant medication is truly a lifesaver, but for others, concerns about side effects and possible impacts to fetal development may cause them to prefer a non-pharmacological intervention.”

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, which combines mindfulness practice with more traditional cognitive therapy, has been shown to be effective at preventing recurrent episodes of depression in the general population.

But few studies of any kind have looked at the effect of non-drug therapies and interventions among pregnant women. A major reason for the research shortfall is the difficulty to recruit participants for a study within the relatively short time period of pregnancy.

For the current research, published in the journal Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 42 women in Colorado and Georgia with at least one prior episode of major depression took an eight-session class during their pregnancies. During class and in homework assignments, the women worked to develop mindfulness skills.

“Mindfulness is about how to pay attention to your own moment-to-moment experience in a way that is suffused with an openness, curiosity, gentleness, and kindness towards oneself,” Dimidjian said.

The standard mindfulness practices used in class were tweaked to be more valuable to pregnant women. Lessons included prenatal yoga, walking meditation exercises that could be done later while soothing a baby, and shorter practices that could be easily integrated into the busy lives of new moms.

The lessons also specifically addressed worry, which can be an overwhelming emotion during pregnancy, and put particular focus on love and kindness for oneself and one’s baby.

The research team surveyed the women for symptoms of depression during their pregnancy and through six months postpartum.

“A high percentage of the women who began the courses, 86 percent, completed the study, a sign that the women found the sessions valuable,” Dimidjian said.

The researchers also were struck by the number of pregnant women who expressed interest in participating in a mindfulness program, even though they didn’t meet the criteria to participate in this study.

“I was surprised by the level of interest, even among women who didn’t have a history of depression,” Dimidjian said. “Pregnant women know they are going to have this upcoming event that’s going to change their lives, and they want to be ready.”

Dimidjian has worked to create an online program of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy that could be used as a tool to address the demand by pregnant women and others to develop these skills.

To test the effectiveness of the online program, Dimidjian is now recruiting adult women with a prior history of depression to participate in a new study. The women do not need to be pregnant.

Source: University of Colorado

Happy pregnant woman photo by shutterstock.

Emotional Intelligence Can Boost Income

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 5:30am

Researchers have discovered that emotional sensitivity toward employees and colleagues may be the ticket to earning more money.

The international study, led by Dr. Gerhard Blickle of the Department of Psychology at the University of Bonn, discovered the “ability to recognize emotions” affects income.

The study is published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

“Although managing employees and dealing with people often involves reading their emotions and determining their moods, not everyone is good at it,” Blickle said.

“It’s the same as foreign languages or athletics: some people are good at it, while others aren’t. Most people can do a sit-up. But not everyone is an Olympic champion.”

Researchers compared and measured the ability to recognize emotions by using a validated collection of images and recordings of actors and children. In these images, people were displayed who have learned to clearly express their feelings or who do not want to hide their feelings in an “adult” manner.

These emotion expressions (24 pictures of faces and 24 voice recordings) were then shown to 142 working adults who were recruited to participate in this research study.

The participants were asked to recognize the emotion expression; whether it was angry or sad, happy, or scared, for example. “On average, the participants succeeded in 77 percent of the cases,” Blickle said.

“People who succeeded in 87 percent of the cases were considered to be good, and people who succeeded in more than 90 percent of the cases were considered really good. Those below 60 percent, in contrast, were seen as not so good in recognizing emotions.”

Once the emotion recognition task was completed, the researchers asked the participants’ colleagues and supervisors to assess the political skills of the participants (for example, whether participants socially well attuned, influential, apparently sincere, and good as networkers).

According to Blickle, the result indicated that people with a good ability to recognize emotions “are considered more socially and politically skilled than others by their colleagues. Their supervisors also attribute better social and political skills to these people. And, most notably, their income is significantly higher.”

Researchers believe the study was unique in that alternative explanations for why a person made more money were ruled out.

The “special strength” of the study is “that we were able to exclude alternative explanations,” said Blickle. Numerous factors affect the income of an employee: biological sex, age, training, weekly working hours, and hierarchical position in the company.

“We controlled for all these variants,” Blickle said. “The effect of the ability to recognize emotions on income still remained.”

Researchers validated the study by performing an independent second study with 156 participants. The results were similar, suggesting the study design and findings are robust.

The researchers concluded that, among other things, more value should be placed on the skill of recognizing emotions in the selection of managers – especially in professions where contact with people is important.

“Often we hear managers speak of understanding and esteem,” Blickle said, “but when we look at their management behavior, we realize that they have neither.”

The discovery of the relationship leads to the question: Can the ability to recognize feelings be improved?

Researchers explain that various methods exist that presumably enhance “emotional intelligence.” But as Blickle said, these methods often fall short of effectively training the ability to recognize the feelings of others in the first place because it is implicitly assumed that this ability is already well-honed among those who do such trainings.

“I know of no study of high scientific standards that showed that the recognition of emotions lastingly can be improved,” Blickle said.

Source: University of Bonn

Night Shift May Lead to Weight Problems

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 8:30am

New research discovers people who work the night shift are likely burning less energy during a 24-hour period than those on a normal schedule.

The imbalance in caloric energy expenditure may increase night workers risk for weight gain and obesity.

Researchers have known that people who work, and therefore eat, at night when their bodies are biologically prepared to sleep are prone to put on pounds. But the reasons have not been clear.

The University of Colorado Boulder study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers followed fourteen healthy adults as they spent six days at the University of Colorado Hospital’s Clinical and Translational Research Center. For the first two days, the participants followed a normal schedule sleeping at night and staying awake during the day. They then transitioned to a three-day shift work schedule when their routines were reversed.

“When people are on a shift work-type schedule, their daily energy expenditure is reduced and unless they were to reduce their food intake, this by itself could lead to weight gain,” said Kenneth Wright, senior author of the paper.

During the experiment, participants’ meals were carefully controlled, and they were given the amount of food they would normally need to eat at home to maintain their current weight.

When the participants transitioned to the shift work schedule, the timing of their meals changed but the total amount of calories remained the same.

The participants also were given the same eight-hour sleep opportunity regardless of whether those hours were scheduled during the day or night.

The researchers found that total daily energy used by participants decreased when they were put on a shift work schedule.

“The reduction is probably linked to the mismatch between the person’s activities and their circadian clocks,” Wright said. Humans have evolved to be awake — and eat — when it’s light outside and sleep when it’s dark.

In large part, the human circadian clock is set by exposure to sunlight.

However, people’s circadian clocks can shift over time — even radically — with the use of artificial lights if they aren’t exposed to the sun.

Unfortunately for shift workers this often does not occur because they typically switch back to a daytime schedule on their days off.

Thus, night-worker find themselves in the middle as their biological clocks don’t flip to fit their night shift schedules.

“Shift work goes against our fundamental biology,” said Wright. “Shift work requires our biological day to occur at night and our biological night to occur during the day and that’s very difficult to achieve because the sun is such a powerful cue.

We can have some change in our clock — a couple of hours — but then on days off, it goes right back. Shift workers never adapt.”

One surprise finding was that study participants burned more fat when they slept during the day compared to when they slept at night. It’s not clear why this happens, but Wright said it’s possible the extra fat-burning is triggered by the transition day between a daytime schedule and a nighttime schedule.

“On that day shift workers often take an afternoon nap to prepare for the first nightshift, but in total, they are typically awake more hours than usual and, therefore, burn more energy. The need to meet the extra demand for energy may cause the body to begin burning fat,” Wright said.

“Research is needed to determine if the fat-burning phenomenon would happen among actual shift workers, whose diet is not being strictly controlled,” Wright said. For example, shift workers may eat more calories on the transition day — an option not available to study participants — which could eliminate the need for the body to start burning fat.

Still the findings suggest that shift workers may be prone not only to gaining weight, but also to a changing composition of fat and muscle mass in their bodies.

Wright cautions that even though participants initially burned more fat, this would not lead to weight loss because in total, the energy expenditure over the three days of shift work was lower.

Wright said more work is needed before specific recommendations can be made for how to improve the health of shift workers but the new study provides a starting point.

“What we can say is that it’s perhaps even more important to have a healthy diet for shift workers as well as a healthy amount of physical activity,” he said.

Source: University of Colorado

Overweight woman sleeping during the day photo by shutterstock.

People Often Rely on ‘Blind Insight’ to Make Decisions

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 7:45am

New research shows that when people have to guess the answer to an unknown question, they tend to feel greater confidence about decisions that would later turn out correct and less confidence about those that turned out incorrect.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex, shows that when we don’t have the conscious knowledge to answer a question, there is an unconscious form of insight that we use in our decision-making. The researchers refer to this as “blind insight.”

“The existence of blind insight tells us that our knowledge of the likely accuracy of our decisions — our ‘metacognition’ — does not always derive directly from the same information used to make those decisions. It appears our confidence can confound logic,” said psychologist Dr. Ryan Scott, lead author of the study.

Metacognition is the ability to think about and assess our own mental processes; it plays a vital role in memory, learning, self-regulation, and social interaction.

Consciousness research has shown many instances in which people are able to make accurate decisions without knowing it, that is, in the absence of metacognition. A prime example of this is “blindsight,” in which people are able to discriminate visual stimuli even when they can’t see the stimuli, or when their discrimination judgments are only guesses.

Scott and colleagues at the University’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science wanted to know whether the opposite of blindsight (blind insight) could occur.  “We wondered: Can a person lack accuracy in their decisions but still be more confident when their decision is right than when it’s wrong?” said Scott.

For the study, 450 participants performed a simple decision task. They first looked at a set of letter strings which, unknown to the participants, followed a complex set of rules that dictated the order of the letters.

They were then told of the existence of these rules and were asked to classify a new set of strings according to whether or not they followed the rules, answering yes or no.  After each decision they had to say whether or not they had any confidence in their answer.

Although the majority of participants were able to classify the strings with some accuracy, many volunteers performed no better than if they had selected yes or no at random.  However, the confidence ratings for this group of “random responders” showed that they were more likely to feel confident in their correct decisions than in their incorrect ones.

“An everyday example might be trying to decide which of two routes to take on the Tube,” said Scott, referring to the London subway. “You pick what you think is the quickest route but the moment you get on the train you are sure you’ve made a wrong decision. How could that happen?

“Perhaps your original decision was largely influenced by the number of stops along the different routes, with fewer stops being favored. But without you being aware, your subsequent confidence draws on something more, perhaps a forgotten previous experience with stoppages on one of those lines. That additional unconscious knowledge could mean that your confidence is often right despite your original decision being no better than chance.”

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.

Source: University of Sussex

Abstract of human insight photo by shutterstock.