In The News
A comprehensive review of studies on parents’ work schedules determined that parents are working more during the evening, night and on the weekends.
The new “nonstandard work schedules” or “unsociable work hours” for parents were found to be associated with child development problems.
When parents work such hours, children tended to have more behavioral problems, poorer cognitive ability (e.g., language, reading and mathematics), and were more likely to be overweight or obese than children in families where parents mostly worked during the daytime hours and weekdays.
The international review was based on research in developed countries.
Study authors, however, admit several challenges in tracking and capturing the parents’ work schedules and how these may matter to children’s health and development.
Nevertheless, in 21 out of 23 reviewed studies, a negative association was found between parents’ nonstandard work schedules and indicators of child development.
Most studies have examined child behavior covering infancy to adolescence. These associations were in part attributed to parents’ depressive symptoms, poorer quality parenting, reduced child-parent interaction and closeness, and a less supportive home environment.
Problems linked with unsociable work hours were more pronounced in disadvantaged families, such as low income or single-parent families, and when parents worked such hours on a full time basis.
Findings from the review highlight the need for financial, workplace, childcare and other community supports for parents, especially in vulnerable families.
Researchers also believe the 24/7 economy may be adding to the challenges faced by parents in managing their work and parenting commitments — especially when jobs require them to work unsociable hours.
Source: WZB Berlin Social Science Center
The research is the work of Jorge V. José, Ph.D., of Indiana University, and Elizabeth Torres, Ph.D., of Rutgers University who presented the new technique at the 2013 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting.
Their work builds on earlier findings involving the random nature of movements of people with autism.
Earlier research looked at the speed maximum and randomness of movement during a computer exercise that involved tracking the motions of youths with ASD when touching an image on the screen to indicate a decision.
That research was reported in the Nature journal Frontiers of Neuroscience.
In the new study, the researchers looked at the entire movement involved in raising and extending a hand to touch a computer screen.
The device they use can record 240 frames per second, which allows them to measure speed changes in the millisecond range.
“We looked at the curve going up and the curve going down and studied the micromovements,” said José.
“When a person reaches for an object, the speed trajectory is not one smooth curve; it has some irregular random movements we call ‘jitter,’” he said. “We looked at the properties of those very small fluctuations and identified patterns.”
Those patterns or signatures also identify the degree of the severity of the person’s ASD, he said.
“Often in movement research, such fluctuations are considered a nuisance,” José said.
“People averaged them away over repeated movements, but we decided instead to analyze the movements on a smaller time scale and found they hold lots of information to help diagnose the continuum of autism spectrum disorder.
“Looking at the speed versus time curves of the motion in much more detail, we noticed that in general many smaller oscillations or fluctuations occur even when the hand is resting in the lap. We decided to carefully study that jitter.
“Our remarkable finding is that the fluctuations in this jitter are not just random fluctuations, but they do correspond to unique characteristics of the degree of autism each child has.”
The work was presented by Ph.D. graduate student Di Wu, who said the more detailed information allows subtyping of ASD and helps to identify typically developing individuals much better than previously.
The new refinement may help advance research in ASD to develop treatments tailored to the individual’s needs and capabilities.
Source: Indiana University
Researchers discovered a link between specific Facebook activities and body image disturbances, but not overall Facebook use.
In the article, researchers Evelyn Meier and James Gray, Ph.D. identified an association between Facebook time spent on photo activity and poor body image among adolescent girls who internalize a thin ideal physique. That is, girls who believe their “ideal self” is someone who has a thin body, and are currently unhappy with their physical looks and body size.
Poor body image is related to lower self-esteem, and a focus on wanting to change their body to be, usually, thinner. It can be a symptom of an underlying or budding eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia.
The authors discuss the implications of these findings for eating disorder prevention programs and understanding the impact of social networking sites.
“Given the connection between eating disorders and body image distortion and dissatisfaction, it is important to identify contributing factors in this particularly vulnerable group,” said the journal’s editor, Brenda K. Wiederhold, Ph.D., M.B.A., B.C.I.A.
“By identifying these factors, we can move towards designing more effective prevention programs.”
The article is published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
Source: Mary Ann Liebert
Experts believe neurofeedback training helps to alter the plasticity of brain networks linked to the condition.
During neurofeedback, intentional control of one’s own brain activity may be learned via a brain-computer interface, which is able to graphically display a person’s real-time brain activation on a computer monitor.
The brain waves are detected noninvasively by surface sensors on the scalp, also known as an electroencephalogram (EEG). Sensors then mirror the real electrical oscillations produced by neurons in the brain on a computer monitor.
“This is the first study to show that key brain networks involved in mediating affect and cognition in PTSD can be volitionally modulated via neurofeedback, with measurable outcomes on subjective well-being,” said researchers Drs. Rosemarie Kluetsch and Tomas Ros.
The researchers used multiple imaging techniques, including EEG and functional MRI (fMRI) to capture the patients’ resting-state brain activity just before and after a 30-minute neurofeedback training session.
The investigators then searched for any differences in connectivity within well-known brain networks.
Interestingly, significant correlations were discovered between EEG and fMRI network activities as well as changes in self-reported calmness.
“This indicated that neurofeedback was able to directly modulate the brain bases of emotional processing in PTSD,” reported Kuetsch and Ros.
Senior author and principal investigator Dr. Ruth Lanius added, “The last decade of neuroscience research has offered a deeper understanding of the key brain networks involved in cognitive and emotional functions. Neurofeedback offers great promise as a type of brain training that is directly based on the functional activation of these brain networks.
“We are therefore thrilled to see the first evidence of this in action, along with significant changes in subjective well-being. Our hope and vision for the future is that this approach could improve and potentially augment PTSD treatment.”
Source: University of Western Ontario
Researchers from the University of Toronto discovered the fear of being single is a meaningful predictor of settling for less in relationships among both men and women.
Study findings may be found in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“Those with stronger fears about being single are willing to settle for less in their relationships,” said lead author Dr. Stephanie Spielmann, postdoctoral researcher in the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychology.
“Sometimes they stay in relationships they aren’t happy in, and sometimes they want to date people who aren’t very good for them.”
She said, “Now we understand that people’s anxieties about being single seem to play a key role in these types of unhealthy relationship behaviors.”
Investigators surveyed several samples of North American adults, consisting of University of Toronto undergraduates and community members from Canada and the U.S. The samples included a wide range of ages.
“In our results we see men and women having similar concerns about being single, which lead to similar coping behaviors, contradicting the idea that only women struggle with a fear of being single,” said co-author Dr. Geoff MacDonald.
“Loneliness is a painful experience for both men and women, so it’s not surprising that the fear of being single seems not to discriminate on the basis of gender.”
Source: University of Toronto
New research discovers that individuals who live with daily pain often face a struggle with their sense of self and find it difficult to prove the legitimacy of their condition.
A new UK study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) Programme, evaluated the growing body of qualitative research on musculoskeletal pain to help understand the experiences of patients suffering from chronic pain.
The study is published in the Health Services and Delivery Research journal. Some of the key findings include:
- patients struggling with the fundamental relationship with their body, and a sense that it is no longer “the real me.”
- a loss of certainty for the future, and being constantly aware of the restrictions of their body.
- feeling lost in the health care system; feeling as though there is no answer to their pain.
- finding it impossible to “prove” their pain; “if I appear ‘too sick’ or ‘not sick enough’ then no one will believe me.”
The findings suggest a low quality of life for those living with chronic pain.
Kate Seers, D.Sc., a professor of Health Research at Warwick University, noted,
“Being able to collate this vast amount of information from patients paints a worrying picture about the experiences they have with chronic non-malignant pain. Our goal has to be to use this information to improve our understanding of their condition and, consequently, the quality of care we can provide.”
“Having patients feel that they have to legitimize their pain, and the sense that doctors might not believe them, is something that should really concern us as health care professionals.”
A key focus of the study included the identification of methods by which individuals can move forward with their lives.
The key for some people appears to be building a new relationship with the body and redefining what is “normal,” rather than trying to maintain the lifestyle before the pain.
Developing an understanding of what the body is capable of and becoming confident to make choices can aid the process of living with musculoskeletal pain.
Experts say social network development among individuals with similar conditions, or among people who have moved on with their life despite daily pain, is critical for long-term success.
Researcher Francine Toye, Ph.D., said, “This paper shows there can be value in discussing the condition with other people who are going through the same experience and knowing that you are not alone. Of course you can learn about your condition from various sources, but sharing your experience seems to really help people to move forward.”
Source: University of Warwick
A comprehensive multistate review finds that the poor face chronic stress from a variety of sources. The stress ranges from concerns regarding parenting to discrimination — and disproportionately affects poor mothers and fathers.
“Those who are poor have much higher stress than those who are not. In fact, being poor was associated with more of almost every kind of stress,” said Dr. Chris Dunkel Schetter, a professor of psychology in UCLA’s College of Letters and Science and the study’s lead author.
The report found that although people with higher incomes have lower levels of stress overall, stress levels aren’t reduced as much for higher-income African-Americans as they are for higher-income whites.
Researchers also learned that Latinos — especially recent immigrants — tend to have lower levels of stress than other groups.
The research is based on extensive interviews with 2,448 mothers who had given birth within the previous month, and 1,383 partners or fathers.
The study’s first results were published this month in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
Investigators studied families one month after the birth of a child, and again after another six, 12 and 18 months; some families also were interviewed after 24 months.
The mothers are African-American, Latino or Hispanic, and white non-Hispanic, and a majority have household incomes near or below the federal poverty level, which in 2013 was $23,550 for a family of four.
“The vast majority of the mothers had very high levels of chronic stress while they were taking care of a new infant and, in some cases, other children as well,” said Dunkel Schetter, co-principal investigator of the Los Angeles site.
The results revealed high stress levels for fathers, too.
“The abundance of stress for poor parents is clear, potent and potentially toxic for them and their children,” Dunkel Schetter said.
“Both mothers and fathers who were poor and members of an ethnic or racial minority group reported higher financial stress and more stress from major life events like death and divorce than those who were either just poor or just part of a minority group.”
The researchers measured many forms of stress that had never before been assessed together in a single study, including stress triggered by concerns about finances, parenting, partner relationships, family and neighborhood, interpersonal violence, major life events such as the death of a family member, and racism and discrimination.
To gauge the biological effects of psychosocial stress, they measured cardiovascular, immune and neuroendocrine factors — including blood pressure, body mass index and salivary cortisol — which, together, offer insight into how people’s body systems age in response to life events and conditions.
The researchers are part of the Community Child Health Network, a collaboration of health scientists and community partners formed by the NICHD in 1997 to investigate disparities in maternal and child health among poor and ethnic-minority families.
Nationally, African-American women and poor women, for example, both are at higher risks for pre-term births, low birth-weight infants and infant mortality than white women, even when differences in income and education are controlled.
“The consequences for families and children are quite serious,” said Tonse Raju, M.D., an NICHD medical officer and co-author of the study.
“Trying to learn the reasons for these disparities is a major goal of the CCHN research project.”
Among the CCHN’s goals are understanding the mechanisms underlying health disparities and using those findings to develop community health interventions in the five high-risk communities where the study took place.
Dunkel Schetter said the study did not support a few of the researchers’ original assumptions, including their hypotheses that African-American and Hispanic parents would have higher levels of most kinds of stress, and that stress would be a major reason for the racial and ethnic disparities in health.
“It wasn’t that clear cut,” she said.
“There were forms of stress that were higher in whites than in African-Americans and Hispanics, there were forms of stress that were quite low in the African-Americans even when they were poor, and there were forms of stress that varied in Latinos, depending on whether they were U.S.- or foreign-born.”
Among the other noteworthy findings:
- White women had more stress related to their pregnancies than African-American and Hispanic women;
- A mother who wasn’t living with the father of her baby was likely to have higher stress levels than one who lived with the baby’s father;
- African-American fathers were exposed to everyday incidents of racism and discrimination — a highly stressful experience — much more frequently than any other group;
- Low-income African-Americans had lower financial stress than low-income whites and Hispanics;
- Low-income Latino mothers and fathers were less likely to feel that life is uncontrollable and overwhelming — and reported less stress from major life events than African-Americans and whites;
- Recent immigrants from Latin American countries demonstrated less stress than Latin Americans who have lived in the U.S. for longer durations or were born in the U.S.;
- No single ethnic group had higher overall stress levels than the others, but each showed higher stress due to certain stressors.
“Our ideas about poverty and race are often inaccurate,” said Dunkel Schetter.
“It’s not as simple as saying, ‘If you’re poor and minority, you will have a lot of stress in your life.’
Racial and ethnic groups bring different attitudes, cultural and behavioral backgrounds, and resources to stressful experiences.”
Peter Schafer, a senior policy associate at the New York Academy of Medicine and a co-author from the Baltimore site, said:
“The fact that higher income does not confer the same protective benefit from stress for black and Hispanic women as it does for whites is potentially a key insight into why racial disparities persist.
“This finding needs further exploration to understand if there are additional stressors for black and Hispanic women as income rises that act to offset the benefits of higher income associated with reduced levels of stress, and how we can mitigate those factors.”
In a related study funded by the NICHD, Dunkel Schetter is examining how the birth of an additional child in 200 of the study’s families affected the children’s development by the time they entered preschool, and the parents’ stress levels and overall well-being.
The university researchers worked closely with community members and organizations including, in Los Angeles, Healthy African American Families, a nonprofit dedicated to improving health in the African-American, Latino and Korean-American communities.
In fact, researchers believe that the messier your child gets while playing with food in the high chair, the more he or she is learning.
Investigators from the University of Iowa studied how 16-month-old children learn words for nonsolid objects, from oatmeal to glue.
Previous research has suggested that toddlers learn easier about solid objects because they can easily identify them due to their unchanging size and shape. But experts did not have an opinion on how learning is associated with oozy, gooey, runny stuff.
Now, the new research shows that word learning can actually increase if you put toddlers in a setting they know well, such as shoving stuff in their mouths.
In those instances, word learning increases, because children at that age are “used to seeing nonsolid things in this context, when they’re eating,” said Larissa Samuelson, Ph.D., an expert on how children learn to associate words with objects.
“And, if you expose them to these things when they’re in a highchair, they do better. They’re familiar with the setting and that helps them remember and use what they already know about nonsolids.”
In a paper published in the journal Developmental Science, Samuelson and her team at the University of Iowa tested their idea by exposing 16-month-olds to 14 nonsolid objects, mostly food and drinks such as applesauce, pudding, juice, and soup.
They presented the items and gave them made-up words, such as “dax” or “kiv.” A minute later, they asked the children to identify the same food in different sizes or shapes.
The task required the youngsters to go beyond relying simply on shape and size and to explore what the substances were made of to make the correct identification and word choice.
Not surprisingly, many children gleefully dove into this task by poking, prodding, touching, feeling, eating—and yes, throwing—the nonsolids in order to understand what they were and make the correct association with the hypothetical names.
The toddlers who “interacted” the most with the foods—parents, interpret as you wish—were more likely to correctly identify them by their texture and name them, the study determined. For example, imagine you were a 16-month-old gazing at a cup of milk and a cup of glue. How would you tell the difference by simply looking?
“It’s the material that makes many nonsolids,” Samuelson notes, “and how children name them.”
The setting matters, too, it seems. Children in a high chair were more apt to identify and name the food than those in other venues, such as seated at a table, the researchers found.
“It turns out that being in a high chair makes it more likely you’ll get messy, because kids know they can get messy there,” said Samuelson, the senior author on the paper.
The authors say the exercise shows how children’s behavior, environment (or setting) and exploration help them acquire an early vocabulary—learning that is linked to better later cognitive development and functioning.
“It may look like your child is playing in the high chair, throwing things on the ground, and they may be doing that, but they are getting information out of (those actions),” Samuelson said.
“And, it turns out, they can use that information later. That’s what the high chair did. Playing with these foods there actually helped these children in the lab, and they learned the names better.”
“It’s not about words you know, but words you’re going to learn,” Samuelson said.
Source: University of Iowa
A new brain imaging technique that provides a noninvasive, indirect measure of the neurotransmitter dopamine may be a new tool to help psychiatrists and other medical professionals determine if an individual has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Researchers said the method could help physicians and parents make better informed decisions about medication.
Radiologists explain that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides a noninvasive way to measure iron levels in the brains of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Low levels of iron in the brain are associated with impaired dopamine synthesis — but alone cannot diagnose any mental disorder.
“Studies show that psychostimulant drugs increase dopamine levels and help the kids that we suspect have lower dopamine levels,” said Vitria Adisetiyo, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C.
“As brain iron is required for dopamine synthesis, assessment of iron levels with MRI may provide a noninvasive, indirect measure of dopamine.”
Adisetiyo and colleagues explored this possibility by measuring brain iron in 22 children and adolescents with ADHD and 27 healthy control children and adolescents using an MRI technique called magnetic field correlation (MFC) imaging.
The technique is relatively new, having been introduced in 2006 by study co-authors and faculty members Joseph A. Helpern, Ph.D., and Jens H. Jensen, Ph.D.
ADHD is a common disorder in children and adolescents that can continue into adulthood. Symptoms include hyperactivity and difficulty staying focused, paying attention and controlling behavior.
The American Psychiatric Association reports that ADHD affects 3 to 7 percent of school-age children.
Psychostimulant medications such as Ritalin are among the drugs commonly used to reduce ADHD symptoms.
“MRI relaxation rates are the more conventional way to measure brain iron, but they are not very specific,” Adisetiyo said. “We added MFC because it offers more refined specificity.”
The results showed that the 12 ADHD patients who had never been on medication had significantly lower MFC than the 10 ADHD patients who had been on psychostimulant medication or the 27 typically developing children and adolescents in the control group.
In contrast, no significant group differences were detected using relaxation rates or serum measures. The lower brain iron levels in the non-medicated group appeared to normalize with psychostimulant medication.
MFC imaging’s ability to noninvasively detect the low iron levels may help improve ADHD diagnosis and guide optimal treatment. Noninvasive methods are particularly important in a pediatric population, Adisetiyo noted.
“This method enables us to exploit inherent biomarkers in the body and indirectly measure dopamine levels without needing any contrast agent,” she said.
If the results can be replicated in larger studies, then MFC might have a future role in determining which patients would benefit from psychostimulants — an important consideration because the drugs can become addictive in some patients and lead to abuse of other psychostimulant drugs like cocaine.
“It would be beneficial, when the psychiatrist is less confident of a diagnosis, if you could put a patient in a scanner for 15 minutes and confirm that brain iron is low,” she said. “And we could possibly identify kids with normal iron levels who could potentially become addicts.”
Along with replicating the results in a larger population of patients, the researchers hope to expand their studies to look at the relationship between cocaine addiction and brain iron.
In the study, researchers report on several recent investigations that show how age-adjusted rates in aging populations have declined for people born later in the last century, particularly in those older people most likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Of course, people are tending to live longer, with worldwide populations aging, so there are many new cases of dementia,” says Eric B. Larson, M.D., M.P.H., executive director of Group Health Research Institute.
“But some seem to be developing it at later ages—and we’re optimistic about this lengthening of the time that people can live without dementia.”
Dementia in those affected may be starting later, closer to the time of death. The researchers also report that lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and obesity are believed to influence the development of dementia.
In 2008, Drs. Kenneth Langa and Larson reported one of the first studies suggesting a decline in U.S. dementia rates, using information from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study.
They found that the decline tracked with education, income, and improvements in health care and lifestyle. Since then, several studies in Europe have confirmed this trend—and the reasons behind it.
“We’re very encouraged to see a growing number of studies from around the world that suggest that the risk of dementia may be falling due to rising levels of education and better prevention and treatment of key cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol,” Langa said.
He added that it will be very important to continue to follow these trends given the wide-ranging impact of dementia on patients, families, and the health care system.
“This is a fascinating example of personal health changes earlier in life having an impact on personal and public health in late life,” said co-author Dr. Kristine Yaffe.
She and Larson have reported that regular exercise may help delay dementia.
In an earlier publication this year in the New England Journal, Larson’s team reported that people with lower blood sugar levels tend to have less risk of dementia.
And Yaffe and her team have focused on a host of other lifestyle factors that have the potential to reduce risk.
“Still, we need to be aware that recent increases in obesity and diabetes threaten to reverse these gains, because of the impact these conditions can have on the aging brain,” Yaffe said.
“The obesity and diabetes epidemics are not affecting age groups most at risk for dementia yet. But it’s just a matter of time.
“To help more people avoid dementia, we’ll need to find better ways of preventing obesity — and avoiding obesity-linked health risks, including diabetes and dementia,” Larson said.
Narrowing health disparities will also be crucial, because obesity and diabetes are more common among certain racial and ethnic minorities and others who lack access to education and health care.
“As luck would have it, preventing obesity and diabetes jibes with preventing dementia,” Larson said. “In other words, we must focus on exercise, diet, education, treating hypertension, and quitting smoking.”
On December 11, the New England Journal of Medicine will post a podcast of Larson discussing this perspective piece, and that day he and Yaffe will also address the U.K. Department of Health’s G8 Dementia Summit in London. The summit aims to develop coordinated global action on dementia.
Source: Group Health Research Institute
Presence of the gene appears to increase the perception of fear and makes a person overestimate danger causing them to have a heightened sense of alarm and anxiety.
In a study published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience researchers define the specific mechanism for the formation of fear memories which will help in the development of new pharmacological and cognitive treatments.
Panic disorder is a serious condition that affects between 3 and 6 million Americans. People with panic disorder have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with little warning.
Experts have suspected that the disorder has a neurobiological and genetic basis. Now, for the first time, researchers from the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) have found that the gene NTRK3 is a factor in genetic susceptibility to panic disorder.
“We have observed that deregulation of NTRK3 produces changes in brain development that lead to malfunctions in the fear-related memory system,” said Mara Dierssen, head of the Cellular and Systems Neurobiology group at the CRG.
“In particular, this system is more efficient at processing information [that has] to do with fear — the thing that makes a person overestimate the risk in a situation and therefore feel more frightened and, also, that stores that information in a more lasting and consistent manner.”
Different regions of the human brain are responsible for processing this feeling, although the hippocampus and amygdala play crucial roles.
On the one hand, the hippocampus is responsible for forming memories and processing contextual information, which means that the person may be afraid of being in places where they could suffer a panic attack; and on the other, the amygdala is crucial in converting this information into a physiological fear response.
Although these circuits are activated in everyone in warning situations, what the CRG researchers have discovered is that “in those people who suffer from panic disorder there is overactivation of the hippocampus and altered activation in the amygdala circuitry, resulting in exaggerated formation of fear memories,” said Davide D’Amico, co-author of the work.
D’Amico and colleagues found that Tiagabine, a drug that modulates the brain’s fear inhibition system, is able to reverse the formation of panic memories.
Although it had already been observed to alleviate certain symptoms in some patients, “we have discovered that it specifically helps restore the fear memory system,” said Dierssen.
Panic attacks can last several minutes, be sudden and repeated; the sufferer has a physical reaction similar to the alarm response to real danger, involving palpitations, cold sweats, dizziness, shortness of breath, tingling in the body, nausea and stomach pain .
On top of this, they feel chronically anxious about suffering another attack.
This study by the CRG researchers shows how memories resulting from a panic attack are stored is what ultimately ends up producing the disorder, which usually appears between 20 and 30 years of age.
Although it has a genetic basis, it is also influenced by other environmental factors, such as accumulated stress. This is why the authors of the paper consider elevated environmental stress in Spanish society to have led to an increase in the occurrence of these disorders.
Currently, there is no cure for this disease, which is treated with medicines that block the more serious symptoms, as well as with cognitive therapy, which aims to help the person learn to survive the attacks better.
“The problem is that drugs have many side effects and psychotherapy is not really aimed at specific moments in the process of forming and forgetting fear memories.
In our work we have defined a specific creation mechanism for these fear memories that could help in the development of new drugs and, also, in identifying the key moments for applying cognitive therapy,” said D’Amico.
A new study suggests that the innocent, serious and sometimes caustic remarks you happen to make on a social media site will soon be scrutinized to inform policymakers, marketing departments and others on emerging trends and attitudes.
European researchers analyzed thousands of microblogging updates and determined social media sites are a rich source of information for marketing insights.
The study results are detailed in the International Journal of Electronic Business.
Many people are now inclined and able to share their opinions widely thanks to social media, on microblogging sites including Twitter and online social networks such as Facebook.
Whether anybody takes any notice of those opinions is a moot point.
Researchers discovered endlessly strident and highly offensive comments on virtually every Youtube clip. They discovered that news stories, particularly those on hot topics such as abortion, religion, evolution, climate change, twerking and selfies, are “trolled” narcissistically.
But, for those in the world of commerce and in particular the marketing wing of many organizations, all that commentary is not meaningless — it is a deep lode of information to be mined.
Within the gems unearthed one might find the collective opinion on almost any product or service, the trends, the fancies of the early adopters and the likes and dislikes of the masses.
Marketing mavens everywhere are looking for ways to dust off these gems and to polish them up for the consumption of their sales and advertising teams.
One such methods of ways of panning the Twitterhood for precious nuggets of insight that could mean the difference between a marginal profit margin or a company marginalized on the whim of publicity has been developed by a research team in Greece.
Informatics experts analyzed hundreds of thousands of microblogging messages containing comments, sentiments and opinions about food and brand products.
Social networking on sites like Facebook and Google+ and microblogging services, such as Twitter, coupled with our 24/7 always connected via mobile or broadband attitude means that countless people cannot escape the opinions of others or of sharing their own ever wider.
The team’s system harvested millions of tweets and used a computer algorithm to automatically extract the sentiment from those tweets.
“Our results provide strong indications that given the use of such services by millions of users, they can play a key role in supporting and enhancing important business processes,” the team said.
They suggest that key aspects of the world of modern marketing are not so different from those that existed before online social media — company-to-customer relationship management, brand image building and Word-of-Mouth (WoM) branding — but today the rate at which information might be exchanged is so much faster than ever before.
Moreover, a positive message that goes viral can lead to an enormous sales boom whereas a deleterious comment adopted as a true reflection of a given product by the many will lead to a bust that could lead to the swift demise of a product or even a company.
The team’s analysis of well-known brands as well as world affairs demonstrates how data mining Twitter can spot shifting opinion on fast-food outlets, wars or potentially even famine and flood.
“We believe that the amount of information contained in microblogging websites makes them an invaluable source of data for continuous monitoring… using opinion mining and sentiment analysis techniques,” the team said.
Source: Inderscience – Alpha Galileo
In the paper, psychologist Dr. Michel Walrave and graduate students Wannes Heirman and Lara Hallam discovered friends and romantic partners are the main source of social pressure, outweighing adolescents’ own attitudes.
The paper is found in the journal Behavior & Information Technology, published by Taylor & Francis.
Sexting is defined as the sharing of sexually explicit text messages or naked/semi-naked self-pictures using mobile phones.
Researchers surveyed 498 adolescents aged between 15 and 18 years and discovered that 26 percent of the teens surveyed had engaged in sexting in the two months preceding the survey.
Investigators analyzed survey responses using a theoretical framework that posits an individual’s behavior is directly determined by his/her intention to perform that behavior.
Adolescents said that they sext for attention, to lower the chances of catching STDs, and to find a romantic partner.
The concepts of receiving a bad reputation, or of being blackmailed, did not appear to influence their motivations.
The authors note that “Remarkably, only the behavioral beliefs that expected positive outcomes of sexting were significant in predicting adolescents’ willingness to engage in it.”
Friends and romantic partners were found to be the only significant social pressures that affect an individual’s motivation to sext.
“The more positive the perceived social pressure that originates from these two categories of referents – who mostly belong to the peer group – the more adolescents will be inclined to engage in sexting,” researchers said.
Negative pressures from parents and teachers did not affect motivations.
Adolescents were most likely to sext if they had complete trust in the recipient. Likewise, a lack of trust would have a significantly adverse effect.
In addition, the more positive social pressure they had from romantic partners, the more they were inclined to sext.
The belief that parents would monitor their mobile phones was not significant to the study group.
The researchers’ findings confirmed that, “Rather than adapting their motivations to sext to their own subjective evaluations, adolescents are influenced relatively more by the social pressure that they anticipate receiving from significant others.”
Girls had a more negative attitude towards sexting than boys, and experience more negative social pressure to sext than boys do.
“Our results suggest that in order to reduce sexting among adolescents, preventive initiatives should allude to what significant others in teenagers’ lives think about them engaging in sexting,” researchers said.
The researchers offer more specific ideas for targets and intervention for policymakers and educators:
- awareness-raising initiatives focusing on peer pressure and the acceptability of sexting;
- integrating the topic of sexting in adolescents’ sexual education;
- opportunities for young people to engage in discussions;
- teaching adolescents how to cope with the pressure.
Source: Taylor and Francis Group
Most studies on Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have focused on abnormalities inside the brain.
Now an international research team studying Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment is reporting potentially significant findings on a vascular abnormality outside the brain.
Although the study is small, with researchers calling for larger studies to validate the findings, the new discovery could lead to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders associated with aging.
Researchers from the University at Buffalo, the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom and National Yang-Ming University School of Medicine in Taiwan studied a hemodynamic abnormality in the internal jugular veins called jugular venous reflux or JVR.
It occurs when the pressure gradient reverses the direction of blood flow in the veins, causing blood to leak backwards into the brain.
The pilot study has been published online ahead of print in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
JVR occurs in certain physiological situations, if the internal jugular vein valves do not open and close properly, which occurs more frequently in the elderly. This reverse flow is also believed to impair cerebral venous drainage.
“We were especially interested to find an association between JVR and white matter changes in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and those with mild cognitive impairment,” said Robert Zivadinov, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.A.N., a senior author.
The brain’s white matter is made of myelin and axons that enable communication between nerve cells.
“Age-related white matter changes have long been associated with dementia and faster cognitive decline,” he said.
“To the best of our knowledge, our study is the first to show that JVR is associated with a higher frequency of white matter changes, which occur in patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Chih-Ping Chung, M.D., Ph.D., the first author on the study and assistant professor of neurology at National Yang-Ming University, said: “We are the first to observe that JVR may be associated with formation of these lesions in the brain, given the fact that Alzheimer’s patients have more white matter lesions than healthy people.
“If this observation is validated in larger studies,” she said, “it could be significant for the development of new diagnostic tools and treatments for pathological white matter lesions developed in Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.”
White matter changes have been found to have a direct relationship to the buildup of amyloid plaque long seen as central to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
“The accumulation of amyloid plaque may result from the inability of cerebrospinal fluid to be properly cleared from the brain,” said Clive Beggs, Ph.D., second author on the study and professor of medical engineering at the University of Bradford.
In addition, he says, the study found that JVR appeared to be associated with dirty-appearing white matter, which is thought to represent early stage lesion formation.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is one of the first studies to explore the impact of dirty-appearing white matter in the elderly,” Beggs continues. He adds that the significance of dirty-appearing white matter in the elderly needs more study.
The research involved 12 patients with Alzheimer’s disease, 24 with mild cognitive impairment and 17 age-matched elderly controls. Participants underwent Doppler ultrasound exams and magnetic resonance imaging scans.
The impact of hemodynamic changes in veins from the brain to the neck has been the focus of numerous studies by Zivadinov and colleagues at UB and institutions worldwide.
“Given the major finding of our group in 2011 that both healthy controls and people with a variety of neurological diseases present with structural and hemodynamic changes of the extracranial venous system, we thought it was important to study how they might be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other important neurodegenerative conditions,” he said.
Zivadinov noted that the frequency of JVR increases with aging and its accumulated effects on cerebral circulation may take many years to develop. Patients are likely to be asymptomatic for a long time, which would explain why the condition is seen in both healthy people and those with neurological diseases, he said.
Source: University of Buffalo
Alcohol also interfered with the development of a network of connections in the neocortex (responsible for high-level thought, vision, hearing, touch, balance, motor skills, language, and emotion) in a mouse model with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
In other words, prenatal exposure to alcohol causes the wrong areas of the brain to be connected to each other. These results contradict the currently popular notion that drinking some alcohol during pregnancy is harmless.
“If you consume alcohol when you are pregnant you can disrupt the development of your baby’s brain,” said lead author Kelly Huffman, assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside. Study co-authors are UCR Ph.D. students Hani El Shawa and Charles Abbott.
“Would you put whiskey in your baby’s bottle? Drinking during pregnancy is not that much different,” she said.
“If you ask me if you have three glasses of wine during pregnancy will your child have FASD, I would say probably not. If you ask if there will be changes in the brain, I would say, probably. There is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy.”
During the study, researchers found dramatic changes in the connections between the frontal, somatosensory and visual cortex in mice born to mothers who consumed ethanol while they were pregnant. The changes were especially severe in the frontal cortex, which regulates motor skill learning, decision-making, planning, judgment, attention, risk-taking, executive function and sociality.
Huffman expected to find some disruption of intraneocortical circuitry, but figured it would be slight.
“I was surprised that the result of alcohol exposure was quite dramatic,” she said. “We found elevated levels of anxiety, disengaged behavior and difficulty with fine motor coordination tasks. These are the kinds of things you see in children with FASD.”
Her future research will investigate whether deficits linked to prenatal alcohol exposure continue through the generations.
The bottom line, Huffman said, is that women who are pregnant or who are trying to get pregnant should not drink alcohol.
“This research helps us understand how substances like alcohol impact brain development and change behavior,” Huffman said.
“It also shows how prenatal alcohol exposure generates dramatic change in the brain that leads to changes in behavior. Although this study uses a moderate- to high-dose model, others have shown that even small doses alter development of key receptors in the brain.”
Children diagnosed with FASD may have facial deformities and may exhibit cognitive, behavioral and motor deficits, including learning disabilities, reduced intelligence, mental retardation and anxiety or depression, Huffman said.
The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania and Freiburg University say their work shows how spatial information is incorporated into memories and why remembering an experience can quickly bring to mind other events that happened in the same place.
“These findings provide the first direct neural evidence for the idea that the human memory system tags memories with information about where and when they were formed and that the act of recall involves the reinstatement of these tags,” said Michael Kahana, Ph.D., professor of psychology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences.
Kahana and his colleagues have long conducted research with epilepsy patients who have electrodes implanted in their brains as part of their treatment. The electrodes capture electrical activity throughout the brain while the patients participate in experiments from their hospital beds.
For this study, the patients were asked to play a video game on a bedside computer that involved making deliveries to stores in a virtual city.
The participants were first given time to freely explore the city and learn the stores’ locations. When the game began, the participants were only instructed where their next stop was, without being told what they were delivering. After they reached their destination, the game would reveal the item that had been delivered, and then give the participant their next stop.
After 13 deliveries, the screen went blank and participants were asked to remember as many of the items they had delivered as they could.
According to the researchers, this allowed them to correlate the neural activation associated with the formation of spatial memories — the locations of the stores — and the recall of episodic memories — the items that had been delivered.
“A challenge in studying memory in naturalistic settings is that we cannot create a realistic experience where the experimenter retains control over and can measure every aspect of what the participant does and sees. Virtual reality solves that problem,” Kahana said.
“Having these patients play our games allows us to record every action they take in the game and to measure the responses of neurons both during spatial navigation and then later during verbal recall.”
Asking the participants to recall the items they delivered instead of the stores they visited allowed the researchers to test whether their spatial memory systems were being activated even when episodic memories were being accessed. The map-like nature of the neurons associated with spatial memory made this comparison possible, the researchers explained.
“During navigation, neurons in the hippocampus and neighboring regions can often represent the patient’s virtual location within the town, kind of like a brain GPS device,” Kahana said. “These so-called ‘place cells’ are perhaps the most striking example of a neuron that encodes an abstract cognitive representation.”
Using the brain recordings generated while the participants navigated the city, the researchers were able to develop a neural map that corresponded to the city’s layout.
As participants passed by a particular store, the researchers correlated their spatial memory of that location with the pattern of place cell activation recorded. To avoid confounding the episodic memories of the items delivered with the spatial memory of a store’s location, the researchers excluded trips that were directly to or from that store when placing it on the neural map.
With maps of place cell activations in hand, the researchers were able to cross-reference each participant’s spatial memories as they accessed their episodic memories of the delivered items.
What they found is that the neurons associated with a particular region of the map activated immediately before a participant named the item that was delivered to a store in that region.
“This means that if we were given just the place cell activations of a participant, we could predict, with better than chance accuracy, the item he or she was recalling,” Kahana said.
“And while we cannot distinguish whether these spatial memories are actually helping the participants access their episodic memories or are just coming along for the ride, we’re seeing that this place cell activation plays a role in the memory retrieval processes.”
Earlier research in both human and animal cognition has suggested the hippocampus has two distinct roles: the role of cartographer, tracking location information for spatial memory; and the role of scribe, recording events for episodic memory, the researchers note.
Their experiment provides further evidence that these roles are intertwined, they say.
“Our finding that spontaneous recall of a memory activates its neural geotag suggests that spatial and episodic memory functions of the hippocampus are intimately related and may reflect a common functional architecture,” Kahana said.
The study was published in the journal Science.
Source: University of Pennsylvania
The findings reveal that ninth- and 11-grade students who had experienced two or more family member deployments over the past decade were 56 percent more likely to feel sad or hopeless and 34 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts, compared with their peers.
The study is one of very few that compare students from military families to their non-military peers, said study leader Julie Cederbaum, Ph.D., an assistant professor of social work at USC.
Less than one percent of the U.S. population has been on active duty at any point in time since the attacks of September 11, 2001, according to the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. Military kids may feel isolated with so few peers who can share and understand their experiences, said the researchers.
For the study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the researchers included an extra military questionnaire to go with a statewide survey administered every two years to public schools in California.
Of the 14,300 students surveyed, less than 14 percent reported having a connection with the military.
The results showed that kids with a family member in the military had higher rates of depression, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts than non-military peers.
When they adjusted for a variety of factors, the differences seemed to be largely driven by the number of family member deployments the teens experienced.
When the researchers compared only the teens with military connections, they found those with one deployment in the family were 15 percent more likely to feel depressed than kids with no deployment experiences, and those with two or more deployments were 41 percent more likely to report symptoms of depression.
“There is the stress of being concerned and worried about the parent or sibling who has been deployed,” Cederbaum said.
“While contact has improved drastically, you don’t always know how well they are doing.”
After comparing the results to recent statistics for U.S. teens in general, Cederbaum’s team writes that 28.5 percent of all teens report feeling sad or hopeless, while 33.7 percent of teens with a parent in the military and 35.3 percent with a sibling in the military reported sadness or hopelessness in the new study.
The findings also showed that 24.8 percent of kids with a parent in the military and 26.1 percent with a sibling in the military reported suicidal thoughts. This is compared to about 15 percent in the general teen population.
“Part of the experience of depression can be isolation. Kids need to be able to connect with one another and know that others feel the way they do,” Cederbaum said.
Instead of “blaming” obese individuals for poor food choices, researchers say that obesity is influenced by three factors: genetic predispositions, environmental stress and emotional well-being.
The findings, published in the journal Appetite, shed light on why some children may be predisposed to obesity, according to the researchers.
“In broad terms, we are finding that obesity is a product of genetics, early development and circumstance,” said Michael Meaney, Ph.D., a professor at McGill University and associate director of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute Research Centre.
The work is part of the MAVAN (Maternal Adversity Vulnerability & Neurodevelopment) project, headed by Meaney and Hélène Gaudreau, project coordinator. The research team studied pregnant women, some of whom suffered from depression or lived in poverty, and followed their children from birth until the age of 10.
For this particular study, researchers tested 150 MAVAN children by administering a snack test meal. The 4-year-old children were given healthy and non-healthy food choices. Mothers also completed a questionnaire to address their child’s normal food consumption and preferences.
“We found that a variation in a gene that regulates the activity of dopamine, a major neurotransmitter that regulates the individual’s response to tasty food, predicted the amount of ‘comfort’ foods — highly palatable foods such as ice cream, candy or calorie-laden snacks — selected and eaten by the children,” said Dr. Patricia Silveira, also of McGill University.
“This effect was especially important for girls, who we found carried the genetic allele that decreases dopamine function.”
“Most importantly, the amount of comfort food eaten during the snack test in the 4-year-olds predicted the body weight of the girls at 6 years of age,” Meaney said.
“Our research indicates that genetics and emotional well-being combine to drive consumption of foods that promote obesity. The next step is to identify vulnerable children, as there may be ways for prevention and counseling in early obesity stages.”
Source: McGill University
Premature birth appears to cause changes in the development of the white matter of the brain, putting infants at a higher risk of behavioral problems later on in life, from impulsiveness and distractibility to more serious conditions like autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to new research.
In the United States, there are about 500,000 preterm births each year. Preterm infants are those born 23 to 36 weeks after conception, as opposed to the normal 37- to 42-week gestation period.
Of the approximately half a million preterm births every year, “about 60,000 of these babies are at high risk for significant long-term problems, which means that this is a significant problem with enormous costs,” said Stefan Blüml, Ph.D., director of the New Imaging Technology Lab at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and associate professor of research radiology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Blüml and his colleagues have been studying how premature birth might cause changes in brain structure that may be associated with problems observed later in life. Much of the focus has been on the brain’s white matter, which transmits signals and enables communication between different parts of the brain.
While some white matter damage is readily apparent on structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers have been using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to look at differences on a microscopic level.
For this study, the researchers compared the concentrations of certain chemicals associated with mature white matter and gray matter in 51 full-term and 30 preterm infants. All the infants had normal structural MRI findings, but MRS results showed significant differences in the biochemical maturation of white matter between the full-term and preterm infants.
These differences suggest a disruption in the timing and synchronization of white and gray matter maturation, according to the researchers. Gray matter is the part of the brain that processes and sends out signals, the researchers explained.
“The road map of brain development is disturbed in these premature kids,” Blüml said. “White matter development had an early start and was ‘out of sync’ with gray matter development.”
This false start in white matter development is triggered by events after birth, according to Blüml.
“This timeline of events might be disturbed in premature kids because there are significant physiological switches at birth, as well as stimulatory events, that happen irrespective of gestational maturity of the newborn,” he said. “The most apparent change is the amount of oxygen that is carried by the blood.”
The amount of oxygen delivered to the fetus’s developing brain in utero is quite low, so our brains have evolved to optimize development in that low oxygen environment, he explained. However, when infants are born, they are quickly exposed to a much more oxygen-rich environment.
“This change may be something premature brains are not ready for,” he said.
While this change may cause irregularities in white matter development, Blüml noted that the newborn brain has a remarkable capacity to adapt or even “re-wire” itself, a concept known as plasticity.
Plasticity not only allows the brain to govern new skills over the course of development, like learning to walk and read, but could also make the brains of preterm infants and young children more responsive to therapeutic interventions, particularly if abnormalities are identified early.
“Our research points to the need to better understand the impact of prematurity on the timing of critical maturational processes and to develop therapies aimed at regulating brain development,” Blüml said.
Among men who suffer from certain types of insomnia — difficulty falling asleep and non-restorative sleep in particular — there is a slight increase in risk of death from heart-related problems, according to a new study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
People with insomnia have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both, with the result that they do not get enough sleep and may not feel refreshed upon waking up. Research has shown that sleep is vital for heart health, and many studies have linked poor sleep with increased risk factors for cardiovascular-related diseases.
“Insomnia is a common health issue, particularly in older adults, but the link between this common sleep disorder and its impact on the risk of death has been unclear,” said lead author of the new study Dr. Yanping Li, a research fellow in the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).
For the study, published in the journal Circulation, researchers analyzed data on self-reported insomnia symptoms of nearly 23,500 men taking part in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.
Using information from the government and the men’s families, they found that 2,025 of the participants died sometime over the six-year follow-up period.
After adjusting for lifestyle, age, and other chronic conditions, the researchers found that men who reported having difficulty falling asleep and non-restorative sleep had a 55% and 32% increased risk of death due to heart-related causes, respectively, compared with men who did not report experiencing these sleep problems.
“Now we know that not only can poor sleep impact disease risk, but it may also impact our longevity.
“While further research is necessary to confirm these findings, there is overwhelming evidence that practicing good sleep hygiene and prioritizing sufficient and restful sleep is an often overlooked but important modifiable risk factor in overall health,” said senior author Dr. Xiang Gao, assistant professor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Earlier this year, a large study from the Netherlands suggested that the effect of sufficient sleep on heart-related deaths could be as strong as not smoking.