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Common Chemicals Endanger Child Brain Development

Sun, 07/03/2016 - 8:00am

A new report in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives is calling for renewed attention to the growing evidence that many common and widely available chemicals endanger neurodevelopment in fetuses and children of all ages.

Chemicals that are of the most concern include lead and mercury; organophosphate pesticides used in agriculture and home gardens; phthalates, found in pharmaceuticals, plastics, and personal care products; flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers; and air pollutants produced by the combustion of wood and fossil fuels, said University of Illinois comparative biosciences professor Dr. Susan Schantz, one of dozens of scientists who signed the consensus statement.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, once used as coolants and lubricants in transformers and other electrical equipment, also are of concern. PCBs were banned in the U.S. in 1977, but can persist in the environment for decades, she said.

“These chemicals are pervasive, not only in air and water, but in everyday consumer products that we use on our bodies and in our homes,” Schantz said. “Reducing exposures to toxic chemicals can be done, and is urgently needed to protect today’s and tomorrow’s children.”

“The human brain develops over a very long period of time, starting in gestation and continuing during childhood and even into early adulthood,” she continued. “But the biggest amount of growth occurs during prenatal development. The neurons are forming and migrating and maturing and differentiating. And if you disrupt this process, you’re likely to have permanent effects.”

Some of the chemicals, such as phthalates and PBDEs, are known to interfere with normal hormone activity. For example, most pregnant women in the U.S. will test positive for exposure to phthalates and PBDEs, both of which disrupt thyroid hormone function, the scientist noted.

“Thyroid hormone is involved in almost every aspect of brain development, from formation of the neurons to cell division, to the proper migration of cells and myelination of the axons after the cells are differentiated,” said Schantz. “It regulates many of the genes involved in nervous system development.”

Schantz and her colleagues are studying infants and their mothers to determine whether prenatal exposure to phthalates and other endocrine disruptors leads to changes in the brain or behavior. This research, along with parallel studies in older children and animals, is a primary focus of the Children’s Environmental Health Research Center at Illinois, which Schantz directs.

Phthalates also interfere with steroid hormone activity. Studies link exposure to certain phthalates with attention deficits, lower IQ and conduct disorders in children.

“Phthalates are everywhere — they’re in all kinds of different products,” she noted. “We’re exposed to them every day.”

The report criticizes regulatory lapses that allow chemicals to be introduced into people’s lives with little or no review of their effects on fetal and child health.

“For most chemicals, we have no idea what they’re doing to children’s neurodevelopment,” Schantz said. “They just haven’t been studied.

“And if it looks like something is a risk, we feel policymakers should be willing to make a decision that this or that chemical could be a bad actor and we need to stop its production or limit its use,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to wait 10 or 15 years — countless children to be exposed to it in the meantime — until we’re positive it’s a bad actor.”

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Photo: In addition to mercury and lead, flame retardants, air pollutants and chemicals found in many plastics, cosmetics and food containers endanger child brain health, researchers say. Credit: Julie McMahon.

Secret to Fast Language Learning May Lie in Resting Brain Activity

Sun, 07/03/2016 - 7:15am

New research shows that the way a person’s brain functions while at rest can help predict how quickly they can learn a new language.

New findings by scientists at the University of Washington demonstrate that a five-minute measurement of resting-state brain activity predicted how quickly adults picked up a second language.

The study, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), is the first to use patterns of resting-state brain waves to determine how fast someone can learn a new language.

“This is vital brain function research that could enable the military to develop a more effective selection process of those who can learn languages quickly,” said Dr. Ray Perez, a program officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department, who oversees the research. “This is especially critical to the intelligence community, which needs linguists fluent in a variety of languages, and must find such individuals rapidly.”

Study author Dr. Chantel Prat, an associate professor and faculty researcher at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, noted that the way someone’s brain functions while at rest predicts 60 percent of their capacity for learning a second language.

For the experiments, 19 adults between the ages of 18 and 31 with no previous experience learning French visited Prat’s lab twice weekly over eight weeks for 30-minute French lessons. The lessons were delivered through an immersive, virtual-reality computer program called Operational Language and Cultural Training System (OLCTS).

OLCTS is designed to make military personnel proficient in a foreign language after 20 hours of training. The self-paced program guides users through a series of scenes and stories. A voice-recognition component enables users to check their pronunciation.

To ensure participants were progressing well, the researchers used periodic quizzes that required a minimum score before proceeding to the next lesson. The quizzes also served as measures for how quickly participants moved through the curriculum.

For five minutes before and after the eight-week program, Prat had participants sit still, close their eyes, breathe deeply, and wear an electroencephalogram (EEG) headset that measured resting-state brain activity from the cerebral cortex, an area of the brain crucial to memory, attention and perception.

“The brain waves we recorded reflect synchronized firing of large networks of neurons,” said Prat. “We found that the larger the networks were in ‘beta’ frequencies [brain frequencies associated with language and memory], the faster our participants learned French.”

To confirm this, at the end of the eight-week language program, participants completed a proficiency test covering the lessons they had finished. Those with the larger “beta” networks learned French twice as quickly, the study found.

Prat was quick to note that language learning rates were the only things predicted by the recorded brain activity. Participants with smaller “beta” networks still learned the material equally well, he noted.

“There’s more that goes into learning a new language than speed,” said Prat. “You also have to factor in motivation, study habits and practice methods.”

The next stage of Prat’s research will focus on ways to improve and accelerate resting-state brain activity through neurofeedback training, sort of like a workout regimen that bulks up grey matter with brain games and mental cognition exercises like puzzles. Prat will have participants perform a range of neurofeedback techniques before completing the language program, and evaluate the results.

“By studying individual differences in the brain, we’re figuring out key constraints on learning and information processing, to develop ways to improve language mastery,” said Prat.

“This not only could benefit our nation’s military, but also our industry and educational system. In our increasingly connected global society, it pays to be able to speak multiple languages.”

Source: Office of Naval Research
Photo: Jeanne Gallee, an undergraduate research assistant at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, wears an EEG headset measuring her resting-state brain activity. Dr. Chantel Prat, whose research is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, is studying how resting-state brain activity predicts language learning. (Photo provided by Justin A. Abernethy, University of Washington).

Study Finds Link Between Violent Video Games & Social Withdrawal

Sun, 07/03/2016 - 6:30am

A new study has found that young millennials who use violent video games, gambling, or pornography, become more withdrawn over the course of the year.

In fact, the study from researchers at Brigham Young University found that avoiding one party to play violent video games will make it even less likely that you’ll go to the next.

“Regardless of your initial levels of withdrawal, problematic media use predicted becoming more shy and unsocial later,” said lead author and Brigham Young University family life professor Larry Nelson.

The study, published in Developmental Psychology, included 204 college students from two public universities. The students self-reported on their social behaviors and media use twice, at the beginning and the end of one year.

From these reports, the researchers found that violent video games aren’t necessarily the problem — it becomes worrisome when young adults intentionally engage in problematic media and avoid social interaction.

“In no way would I be saying that all video game or problematic media use is bad,” Nelson said. “But if you have an individual who is already struggling with social interaction and combine that tendency with problematic media, it’s not a good fit.”

Not all withdrawn individuals are the same. Motivation matters, he noted.

Nelson’s previous research explains in detail that three types of social withdrawal exist, and not all are harmful:

  • Shy: When a person wants to be social but is held back by fear;
  • Unsocial: When a person has no problem being social but prefers to be alone; and
  • Avoidant: When a person does everything they can to avoid social interaction.

It is important to understand these different types of nonsocial behaviors because many people often think that all quiet, withdrawn people are the same, but that just isn’t the case, the researcher pointed out.

“There’s a perception out there that shy, emerging adults are all just hanging out in their parents’ basement playing video games, but there are different types of withdrawn behaviors,” Nelson said. “Motivations for withdrawing have been tied to very different outcomes. Understanding that helps us see that not all forms of withdrawal are negative, but the mix of avoidance and harmful media appears to be a very bad combination.”

The new study found that avoidant individuals were much more likely to use problematic media than their shy and unsocial counterparts. While this in and of itself isn’t a worry, for the avoidant group, problematic media usage was then linked to internalizing  (depression), and externalizing (crime and illegal drug use) problems a year later. Unsocial and shy individuals did not see this same effect.

“Young people need to be aware of potential risks of their choices,” Nelson said. “The key thing is that for avoidant individuals, the more problematic media that’s used, the higher they’re at risk for these negative outcomes.”

He added that young people who used a lot of problematic media became more shy and unsocial over time, even if they weren’t that way to begin with.

Taken together, the issue with video games for some withdrawn individuals seems to be that they become a problem if they replace social interaction, he continued.

“Emerging adulthood is a time in which young people, for the first time in their lives, have more freedom to make choices on how they spend their time than at any other point in their lives,” Nelson said. “And choices made during this time of heightened autonomy can have long-lasting effects.”

If emerging adults are using their newfound freedom to do what they already enjoy and avoid things that are hard — like avoiding social interaction in favor of video games — it’s going to hurt them down the road, he said.

If young adults aren’t putting themselves in positions to get better at socializing, it’s only going to get harder when they try to succeed in the workplace or develop interpersonal relationships.

“Nothing’s ever magically going to change to help you overcome your challenges if you’re not spending your time practicing and building social skills,” Nelson said.

Source: Brigham Young University
Photo: Playing video games isn’t bad, but combining especially violent ones with avoidant behaviors can have serious consequences. Credit: Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo.

Group Art Therapy Shows Promise for Refugee Children

Sat, 07/02/2016 - 8:45am

A new pilot study suggests that group art therapy may significantly help improve the mental health of refugee children. The research is published in the journal Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies.

The findings show that approximately one week after participating in the art program, refugee children experienced notable improvements in trauma, depression, and trait-anxiety symptoms (general tendency to be anxious).

Previous research has consistently shown that refugee children are at high risk of a broad range of psychological problems including depression, behavioral problems, aggression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For the study, researchers tested whether group art therapy could reduce psychological symptoms in 64 Syrian refugee children (ages seven to 12) who were living in Istanbul. Standard questionnaires and scales were used to assess the children’s traumatic experiences and to measure levels of depression, PTSD, and anxiety — both before and one week after — the five-day art therapy program.

The therapy used the Skills for Psychological Recovery program to help children improve their problem solving skills, express and manage their feelings, and increase their social engagement and self-esteem through, art, dancing, and music.

At the onset of the study, over half of the children (35) were considered at high risk of developing PTSD, around one-fourth (14) were already showing symptoms of PTSD, about one-fifth (10) showed severe levels of depression and state (current) anxiety symptoms, and almost one-third (13) had severe levels of trait anxiety symptoms.

Trait anxiety describes a person’s overall tendency to become anxious, while state anxiety refers to the “in-the-moment” anxiety one feels in response to an immediate threat. People with high levels of trait anxiety typically have more intense levels of state anxiety.

One week after the program, children reported significant improvements in trauma, depression, and trait-anxiety symptoms. No significant improvement was noted in state anxiety symptoms.

With nearly 1.5 million refugee children from Syria currently living in Turkey, effective programs to help improve the mental health of refugees are desperately needed. The new study draws attention to the psychological impact of this crisis and presents a potentially effective therapy.

The researchers caution that because of the limited number of participants and the lack of a control group, however, larger studies are needed before solid conclusions can be made about this particular therapy’s effect on improving the mental health of refugee children.

According to other recent studies, however, art therapy has shown significant promise in making a positive impact on the mental health of patients with PTSD. In fact, in a recent study conducted by a researcher at Concordia University, art therapy was found to help alleviate the psychological trauma experienced by soldiers returning from war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Source: Taylor & Francis

Acupuncture Shown to Improve Quality of Life for Those with TBI-Related Headaches

Sat, 07/02/2016 - 8:00am

A new study has found that acupuncture can significantly improve the quality of life for patients suffering from headaches due to a previous traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The study compared the effectiveness of usual care alone with the usual care plus either auricular or traditional Chinese acupuncture.

Auricular acupuncture had a greater overall impact on headache-related quality of life than traditional Chinese acupuncture, according to the study published in Medical Acupuncture, a peer-reviewed journal from by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers.

The study was conducted by Wayne Jonas, M.D., and coauthors from Samueli Institute in Alexandria, Virginia, Integrative Healing in Hyattsville, Maryland, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

The researchers recruited previously deployed members of the U.S. military who had mild to moderate TBI and headaches. Chronic or recurrent headache is reported by 80 percent of service members with TBI, the researchers noted.

Participants in the six-week study received usual care alone, or usual care plus either 10 auricular acupuncture sessions involving six to nine needled points and indwelling needles left in for up to three days, or 10 Traditional Chinese acupuncture sessions with the placement of up to 22 needles on the limbs, head, and torso.

“Chronic concussion headaches are a clinical challenge. Acupuncture appears promising to avoid the opioid gateway for these patients,” said Richard C. Niemtzow, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, Editor-in-Chief of Medical Acupuncture and Director of the United States Air Force Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine Center, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

Source: Medical Acupuncture

Study Finds No Risk of Contracting Dementia Via Blood Transfusions

Sat, 07/02/2016 - 7:15am

A new study puts to rest any worries that diseases of dementia might be passed along through blood transfusions. The findings are published in The Annals of Internal Medicine.

Recent research has shown that a number of neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, can be induced in healthy laboratory animals through the injection of diseased brain tissue from human patients. This has raised concerns of the possibility of dementia diseases being transmitted between individuals, particularly through the common practice of blood transfusions.

To find out if this is a possibility, researchers at Karolinska Institutet conducted a study based on a unique Swedish-Danish transfusion database. Their results show that these diseases cannot be transmitted in this way.

“The results are unusually clear for such a complicated subject as this,” says principal investigator Gustaf Edgren, docent at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics. “We’ve been working with this question for a long time now and have found no indication that these diseases can be transmitted via transfusions.”

The study was a team effort between researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen. By analyzing data of 1.7 million blood donors and 2.1 million patients given blood transfusions in Sweden and Denmark, the researchers were able to identify over 40,000 patients who had been given blood from donors diagnosed with one of the studied dementia diseases within 20 years of having given blood.

The patients were then tracked up to 44 years through the linking of a number of registries, including the Swedish and Danish patient registries. A total of 1.4 million patients who had not received blood from donors with a subsequent diagnosis were used as controls.

The two groups were compared through statistical analysis taking account of sex, age, place of residence, blood group, number of transfusions and time since first transfusion. The findings show that the patients in the two groups had exactly the same risk of contracting these dementia diseases.

“Blood transfusions are extremely safe in the Western world today, but even so we are working continuously and proactively on identifying any overlooked risks,” says Edgren. “The Swedish-Danish database that we have built up and used in many similar studies clearly demonstrates the value of our vast health registries. This kind of study would have simply been extremely difficult anywhere else in the world.”

Source: Karolinska Institutet


Study Finds Racial Disparities in Traffic Stops

Sat, 07/02/2016 - 6:30am

An independent study of traffic stops in Vermont found that police officers are far more likely to pull over, search, and arrest black and Hispanic drivers, compared to white drivers, but white drivers are more likely to be found with illegal contraband.

The study, which analyzed racial disparities in traffic stops by Vermont State Police between 2010-2015, showed that black drivers were pulled over most often, followed closely by Hispanics. When stopped, black drivers were searched 4.6 times more often than white drivers, while Hispanics were searched four times more often than whites.

Despite having significantly higher odds of being searched and arrested, black and Hispanic drivers had a lower probability of being found with contraband, known as hit rate, than whites, according to the findings.

Overall, white and Asian drivers were stopped least often based on their shares of the population and were treated similarly except when it came to citations. Asian drivers received citations 48.1 percent of the time compared to 36.9 percent for whites.

“The fact that black and Hispanic drivers who were searched were significantly less likely to be carrying contraband than white drivers is evidence of inefficient policy and potential racial bias,” said study co-author Stephanie Seguino, a professor of economics at the University of Vermont, who conducted the study as public service.

“The black-white disparity in search rates has widened since 2011, which indicates a worsening of racial disparity in searches. That said, my work with the Vermont State Police suggests to me they are leaders in the state in their willingness and commitment to address this issue.”

Other states and cities report similar rates of racial discrepancies, including the Burlington Police Department based on a 2014 study by Seguino and Nancy Brooks of Cornell University, who also co-authored the current study.

Despite unsuccessful attempts in the past to curb racial disparities in traffic stops, Vermont State Police officials are committed to addressing the issue on various levels.

“Biased policing goes against the core values and mission of the Vermont State Police,” said Capt. Ingrid Jonas, director of Fair and Impartial Policing and Community Affairs for the Vermont State Police.

“From the beginning, we have recognized that racially biased policing and the perception of its practices are critical issues facing law enforcement across the nation, and in Vermont. Collecting and analyzing traffic stop race data has been one part of our efforts for many years, and we remain open to learning more about this important topic.”

The study also discovered notable racial disparities in policing by location of barracks. For example, the search rate of black drivers is six times greater than white drivers in the area of the Brattleboro and Rutland barracks compared to just two times greater in the Middlesex and Williston barracks.

“We deeply appreciate Dr. Seguino’s work and look forward to working collaboratively to make the Vermont State Police a better organization,” said Capt. Jonas. “We will continue to act with intention to ensure professionalism at all levels within our department, ensure we serve everyone with fairness and dignity, and listen to the concerns of the community.”

Source: University of Vermont

New Gaming Software Hopes to Train Brain to Resist Sweets

Fri, 07/01/2016 - 8:30am

Innovative research uses technology to help people with a sweet-tooth lose weight. Researchers believe they can train the brain to better resist temptation and warn people of an unhealthy urge before the temptation occurs.

Specifically, Drexel University psychologists have created a computer game aimed at improving users’ inhibitory control. Additionally, the investigators are also rolling out a mobile app that used in conjunction with the Weight Watchers app, will alert users on unhealthy urges before they strike.

The game is designed to improve a person’s “inhibitory control,” the part of the brain that stops you from giving into unhealthy cravings — even when the smell of French fries is practically begging you to step inside a fast food restaurant.

In a second study, the researchers have developed a mobile app that intelligently detects patterns in a person’s eating habits. When users are likely to slip from their dietary plans, the app provides tailored strategies to put them back on track.

Researchers in Drexel’s Laboratory for Innovations in Health-Related Behavior Change are now seeking participants for both studies.

Innovative interventions to help people control their weight are sorely needed. On a national level, more than one-third (35.7 percent) of adults are considered to be obese and more than 74 percent obese or overweight.

While a number of factors contribute to the nation’s obesity epidemic, often the mind is the biggest barrier when it comes to losing weight, said Evan Forman, Ph.D., professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

It’s been shown, for example, that sweet foods trigger the same feel-good brain chemicals as addictive drugs.

“Millions of people are trying to lose weight, and they are going about it in a reasonable way — by trying to reduce calories. But you’re going to slip from your diet plan. That pretty much happens to everyone,” Forman said.

“You could say the secret of helping people actually lose weight is preventing these lapses, so we concentrated on how to best do that.”

Researchers believe weight control begins with mind control.

All day long, you have to make choices about what foods you consume. And it’s no secret that there is “a powerful part of your mind that drives you toward things that taste good and feel good,” Forman said.

Let’s say a colleague brings a box of doughnuts into the office. For a person who habitually consumes sweets, the first reaction is, “I want one.” The secondary response tries to pump the brakes on that urge. But that reaction is typically slower and less strong than impulse, according to Forman.

“However, studies have shown that if you do certain tasks that involve this inhibitory control over and over again, it actually gets stronger,” he said.

Forman and a team of researchers tested this theory in a recent study, published in the journal Appetite. Habitual snack food eaters were assigned to one of four short, training exercises designed to increase their mindful decision-making and strengthen their inhibitory control.

The study concluded that both types of training were successful in reducing snack food eating.

The researchers are now looking to find out whether inhibitory control training can help participants reduce their consumption of sugary foods, and ultimately lose weight.

Their new training game — called DietDash — first requires study participants to disclose the types of sugary foods they consume most frequently. They will then be assigned to one of four versions of a game that is customized to their diet.

For example, if someone lists soda and chocolate chip cookies as their favorite treats, those items will appear in the game.

Players are instructed to press certain keys to respond to different types of images, including pictures of tasty sugary foods and pictures of healthy foods. As the player’s inhibitory control improves, the game speed increases for an extra challenge. Users are instructed to play this game for eight minutes per day, every day for six weeks.

Though other studies have shown this type of training at least temporarily affects users’ eating habits, the researchers want to know what will happen over a course of two months.

“The study is really the first to attempt to train people for weeks in a row,” Forman said. “We think this can translate to real-world behaviors, because just like any task, it improves with practice.”

Once the study is complete, Forman said the computer game could also be developed into a mobile app.

Trending a person’s weight and providing feedback based upon user experience is an additional are of study.

To this end, the researchers’ second design is a weight loss app called DietAlert, developed with funding from Weight Watchers and the Obesity Society.

Used in conjunction with the Weight Watchers app, the smartphone application collects information about users’ eating habits and uses a mathematical algorithm to determine when they are most likely to lapse from their diet plans.

For example, the app may conclude that a person is most likely to eat junk food after lunch when she has skipped breakfast. As the app learns about someone’s patterns, it will send out a warning alert and offer a tip to help the user stick to his or her health plan.

“Part of the difficulty with a diet plan stems from an inability to determine and target factors that continue to cause lapses over and over again,” Forman said.

The DietAlert app distinguishes itself from the hundreds of other diet applications available, because it not only tracks a person’s eating habits, but it uses that information to give personalized advice.

“This app targets each individual person exactly when they need the help,” Forman said.

Source: Drexel University

Discrimination Can Lead to Alcohol Abuse

Fri, 07/01/2016 - 7:45am

Over the last three decades’ research has discovered that discrimination can physically affect the health of individuals. Specifically, investigators learned that discrimination may be linked to poor cardiovascular health within the African American Population.

Eventually, the scope of these studies broadened, uncovering a connection between discrimination and other health disparities among minority groups. New research emanating from the University of Iowa, finds another negative health outcome linked to discrimination: alcohol abuse.

“We’ve had this idea that discrimination is associated with heavier drinking and drinking-related problems, but we didn’t have a clear understanding of the evidence underneath that,” says Paul Gilbert, assistant professor of the Department of Community and Behavioral Health.

“I wanted to uncover what we know and how we know it. What does the science actually say?”

Experts have known for decades that drinking is a common coping response to stress — a phenomenon called stress-reactive drinking, Gilbert says.

“We recognize discrimination as a stressor, and we recognize people drink in response to stress,” Gilbert says. “But do they drink in response to discrimination?”

The paper, “Discrimination and Drinking: A Systematic Review of the Evidence,” appears online in in Social Science & Medicine.

For the study, Gilbert searched six online databases for studies related to discrimination and drinking, winnowing his potential sources down to about 1,200 scientific studies that met his criteria.

From there, he identified 97 peer-reviewed, published research papers with quantitative evidence that showed a link between discrimination and heavy and hazardous drinking. Seventy-one studies involved racial discrimination, and the rest examined discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.

“Our study supports the notion that discrimination is harmful to health, specifically through alcohol,” says Gilbert.

Investigators discovered several gaps in the research. For example, the majority of studies involved interpersonal discrimination against African Americans, such as being treated poorly in a store or being called a name.

Gilberts says more studies need to be done about discrimination against other groups, including other racial and ethnic groups, and discrimination due to religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, or disability status.

He also would like to see a more nuanced look at what types of discrimination might be linked to heavy and hazardous drinking.

For example, studies could involve systematic or structural discrimination, such as school and neighborhood segregation.

Additionally, studies of internalized discrimination — which occurs when members of a racial minority absorb the racist messages they hear, resulting in self-hatred or hatred of their minority group — demand investigation.

Finally, Gilbert hopes researchers will take a closer look at the types of alcohol abuse linked to being discriminated against.

“The basic knowledge is now there,” he says. “The next step to advance science is to say what specific groups are involved, what specific type of discrimination are they experiencing, and what specifically were the alcohol outcomes.

Was it just heavier drinking, or was it heavy drinking that led to dependence — or is it alcohol-related problems like getting in a car crash or work and family problems?”

Source: University of Iowa

Drunkorexia: When College Students Eat Less So They Can Drink More

Fri, 07/01/2016 - 7:00am

A researcher at the University of Houston has been examining a growing trend among college students known as “drunkorexia.” This non-medical term refers to the combination of drinking alcohol and engaging in diet-related behaviors such as food restriction, excessive exercising, or bingeing and purging.

For these students, the purpose of restricting food intake while drinking is often to allow more calories for alcohol and/or to allow alcohol to enter the bloodstream more quickly.

“Drunkorexia refers to a complex pattern of drinking-related behaviors that take place before, during, and after a drinking event,” explained Dipali V. Rinker, a research assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Houston.

“College students appear to engage in these behaviors to increase alcohol effects or reduce alcohol-related calories by engaging in bulimic-type or diet/exercising/calorie/restricted eating behaviors.”

The findings were presented at the 39th Annual Research Society on Alcoholism in New Orleans.

Rinker said her research is designed to flesh out the definition of drunkorexia as well as identify different types of “drunkorexic” behaviors. She added that these types of behaviors may result in a number of problems.

“Potential outcomes may include less inhibition that could lead to more negative alcohol-related consequences,” she said. “Additionally, restricting caloric intake to those from alcohol could lead to vitamin depletion, as it may keep the individual from eating more nutrient-dense foods.”

Although the study showed some gender differences in drinking habits, the association between gender and drunkorexia is a complex one, she noted.

“While it is clear that college women who drink more are more likely than men to engage in bulimic-type behaviors, and with greater frequency, and to experience more alcohol-related problems as a result of these behaviors, there were no gender differences for engaging in drunkorexia to increase the effects of alcohol or engaging in bulimic-type behaviors to compensate for alcohol-related calories,” said Rinker.

She went on to report that in some cases, men were more likely to engage in bulimic-type and diet/exercising/calorie-restricted eating behaviors to reduce alcohol-related calories. She added that more research is necessary to gain a better understanding of these differences.

“It is important to realize that, in addition to the amount and/or frequency of alcohol consumption, the manner in which college students drink puts them at greatest risk for experiencing problems,” emphasized Rinker.

“Students who engage in compensatory dieting/exercise behaviors before, during, or after a drinking event to either increase the effects of alcohol or reduce alcohol calories by either engaging in bulimic-type or extreme dieting, exercise, or restrictive behaviors — such as skipping meals — are putting themselves at risk for serious negative consequences related to alcohol use,” said Rinker.

Furthermore, in order to reduce health problems associated with drinking, students should stay well-hydrated and not drink on an empty stomach. They should also eat healthy food and exercise, particularly on days they are drinking.

Source: Research Society on Alcoholism


Media Not to Blame for Teen Sex

Fri, 07/01/2016 - 6:15am

A new review finds that media exposure to sex does not significantly influence teen sexual behavior.

As such, researchers say proclaiming a link between such so-called sexy media and the sexual behavior of young people is in fact premature. The media neither contributes to the early initiation of sex among young people, nor to their sexual conduct more generally.

The finding comes from a systematic analysis of 22 relevant studies on the topic. Christopher Ferguson of Stetson University and colleagues Patrick Markey at Villanova University and Rune Nielsen at IT University Copenhagen performed the review.

The results of the meta-analysis appear in the journal Psychiatric Quarterly.

Parents and policy makers often raise the concern that so-called sexy media (media depicting or discussing sexual encounters) may promote sexual behavior among teenagers.

The new review finds no conclusive evidence that this occurs.

Ferguson’s team conducted a meta-analysis of 22 previous studies that all measured the influence of some form of media on an outcome related to teenagers’ sexual behavior. Outcome behaviors included becoming pregnant, participation in risky sexual behavior, or the initiation of sex.

The studies in total took into account the views of more than 22,000 participants younger than 18 years old.

Researchers discovered only a very weak link between the type of media that teenagers viewed and their eventual sexual behavior. They also found media exposure to sex also plays only a very minor role in the initiation of sex.

The researchers do not exclude the possibility that sexy media may still influence sexual attitudes, but say that this does not seem to carry over into actual behavior.

“Evidence for an association between media and sexual behavior is minimal,” says Ferguson, who believes that parents and peers play a much greater role in how teenagers’ moral values around sexuality develops.

Despite increased availability of sex in the media, US government data suggests teens are waiting longer to have sex, and teen pregnancy rates are at historic lows.

The results do not exclude the possibility that media may have some influence on at-risk youth who are deprived of other socialization influences.

“That is to say, when information from parents or schools are lacking, media may become the only source of information on sexuality,” explains Ferguson.

Researchers warn that simply making the media the scapegoat and giving it considerable public attention might distract parents and policy makers from more pressing and important issues related to teen sexuality.

According to Ferguson, parents must be encouraged to discuss sexuality with their teens, proper sex-education programs must be implemented in schools, and ways should be examined by which peer networks can be used to promote safe sex.

“The encouraging message from our results is that the media is unlikely to thwart parental efforts to socialize children should parents take the initiative to talk directly to their children about sex,” Ferguson adds.

Source: Springer

Positive Self-Talk Works

Fri, 07/01/2016 - 5:30am

New research assessing motivational strategies discovers telling yourself that “I can do better at a given task,” is the most effect strategy as you really may do better.

In the study, UK researchers compared motivation techniques on more than 44,000 people with the participants divided into 12 experimental groups and one control group.

In conjunction with BBC Lab UK, Professor Andrew Lane and his colleagues tested if particular psychological skills would help people improve their scores in an online game.

Investigators wanted to discover if a particular tactic worked best.

This complex study, found in Frontiers in Psychology, examined if one motivational method would be more effective for any specific aspect of a task. The methods tested were self-talk, imagery, and if-then planning.

Each of these psychological skills was applied to one of four parts of a competitive task: process, outcome, arousal-control, and instruction.

People using self-talk, for example telling yourself “I can do better next time” — performed better than the control group in every portion of the task.

The greatest improvements were seen in self-talk-outcome (telling yourself, “I can beat my best score”), self-talk-process (telling yourself, “I can react quicker this time”), imagery-outcome (imagining yourself playing the game and beating your best score), and imagery-process (imagining yourself playing and reacting quicker than last time).

Investigators also found a short motivational video could improve performance.

Participants watched a short video before playing the online game. The coach for these videos was, none other than, four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson, an athlete known for advocating mental preparedness in addition to physical training.

If-then planning was found to be one of the least successful of this study, despite being an effective tool in weight management and other real life challenges.

Professor Lane said: “Working on, ‘Can You Compete?’ was inspirational and educational; since we have been developing online interventions to help people manage their emotions and doing this across a range of specific contexts from delivering a speech to fighting in a boxing ring, from taking an exam to going into dangerous places.”

Source: Frontiers

Revenge Really Is Bittersweet

Thu, 06/30/2016 - 8:30am

Academic research on the human compulsion to seek revenge suggests revenge is a complex emotion that is extremely difficult to explain.

Despite popular consensus that “revenge is sweet,” years of experimental research have suggested otherwise, finding that revenge is seldom as satisfying as anticipated and often leaves the avenger less happy in the long run.

Emerging research from Washington University in St. Louis expands our understanding of revenge, showing that our love-hate relationship with this dark desire is indeed a mixed bag, making us feel both good and bad, for reasons we might not expect.

“We show that people express both positive and negative feelings about revenge, such that revenge isn’t bitter, nor sweet, but both,” said the study’s first author, Fade Eadeh, a doctoral student in psychological and brain sciences.

“We love revenge because we punish the offending party and dislike it because it reminds us of their original act.”

The new study uses a provocative “use case” to provide a more nuanced understanding of both the benefits and drawbacks of revenge.

Its findings are based on three experiments in which about 200 people in each experiment were asked to fill out online questionnaires rating the intensity of moods and emotions triggered by their reading of brief news accounts. One of the events described the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces as a retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The experiments were designed to explore whether people are right in thinking that revenge has the potential to make them feel good, despite recent research that suggests otherwise.

“We wondered whether people’s intuitions about revenge are actually more accurate than originally anticipated,” Eadeh said.

“Why is there such a common cultural expectation that revenge feels sweet and satisfying? If revenge makes us feel worse, why did we see so many people cheering in the streets of D.C. and New York after the announcement of bin Laden’s death?”

In experiment one, participants read either a “justice-is-served” news account of bin Laden’s killing or a nonpolitical control passage about the Olympic Games.

They then rated how strongly their current feelings matched up with a random list of 25 adjectives, such as happy, edgy, satisfied, irritated, mad, upset, or sad.

Although this framework is similar to one used in a 2014 revenge study by Lambert, researchers modified the data analysis phase to focus on measures of emotion, as opposed to mood.

Lambert’s study and a 2008 revenge study led by the late Dr. Kevin Carlsmith at Colgate University both focused on mood and both found little evidence that revenge contributed positively toward it. Instead, people felt worse after taking revenge.

“In the case of the bin Laden assassination, this person is associated with an obviously horrific act — the 9/11 attacks, which provides reason why revenge may be an indirect source of negative feelings,” Eadeh said.

“What our current research shows is that the way you measure feelings can be quite important.”

In the current paper, the authors explain that although the terms emotion and mood are often used interchangeably by psychologists, there are important differences.

Emotions usually relate back to some clear and specific trigger and can be intense but are often fleeting. Moods, on the other hand, may come about gradually, last for an extended time, and are often of low intensity.

In this study, Eadeh and colleagues used sophisticated linguistic tools along with a standard mood inventory to tease apart the differences in self-reported emotions after reading a revenge-related passage.

This analysis replicated previous findings that showed reading about revenge put people in a worse mood, but it also found that the same experience was capable of generating positive feelings.

“Our paper consistently shows that the emotional consequences of revenge are a mixed bag, in that we feel both good and bad when we take revenge on another party. This counters some previous research on the topic, by our own lab and others, that revenge is a wholly negative experience,” Eadeh said.

To further test these findings, researchers repeated the experiment using different reading passages selected to avoid wording or content that might predispose readers toward a particular emotion or mood.

In an effort to avoid stimulating patriotic emotions, the Olympics control passage was swapped for a generic description of food allergies. Additionally, the Osama bin Laden passage was altered to remove wording that explicitly described the killing as retaliation for the 9/11 attacks.

Researchers found that despite these changes, the findings remained largely the same.

“We believe the reason people might feel good about revenge is because it allows us the opportunity to right a wrong and carry out the goal of punishing a bad guy,” Eadeh said.

“In our study, we found that Americans often expressed a great deal of satisfaction from bin Laden’s death, presumably because we had ended the life of a person that was the mastermind behind a terror organization.”

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

Source: Washington University at St. Louis

Exercise Can Boost Youth Academic Performance

Thu, 06/30/2016 - 7:45am

Using the best available evidence on the impact of physical activity on children and young people, researchers find that time taken away from lessons for physical activity is time well spent and does not come at the cost of getting good grades.

The statement on physical activity in schools and during leisure time appears online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It was drawn up by a panel of international experts with a wide range of specialties from the UK, Scandinavia, North America, and Denmark.

The document includes 21 separate statements on the four themes of fitness and health; intellectual performance; engagement, motivation, and well-being; and social inclusion. The recommendations encompass structured and unstructured forms of physical activity for six to to 18-year-olds in school and during leisure time.

Recommendations include:

  • physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness are good for children’s and young people’s brain development and function as well as their intellect;
  • a session of physical activity before, during, and after school boosts academic prowess;
  • a single session of moderately energetic physical activity has immediate positive effects on brain function, intellect, and academic performance;
  • mastery of basic movement boosts brain power and academic performance;
  • time taken away from lessons in favour of physical activity does not come at the cost of getting good grades.

In terms of the physiological benefits of exercise, the Statement says that cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness “are strong predictors” of the risk of developing heart disease and type II diabetes in later life, and that vigorous exercise in childhood helps to keep these risk factors in check.

Experts also acknowledge that frequent moderate intensity and, to a lesser extent, low intensity exercise will still help improve kids’ heart health and their metabolism. Moreover, the positive effects of exercise are not restricted to physical health, says the Statement.

Experts contend that regular physical activity can help develop important life skills, and boost self-esteem, motivation, confidence, and wellbeing. And it can strengthen/foster relationships with peers, parents, and coaches.

And just as importantly, activities that take account of culture and context can promote social inclusion for those from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientation, skill levels, and physical capacity.

Incorporating physical activity into every aspect of school life and providing protected public spaces, such as bike lanes, parks, and playgrounds “are both effective strategies for providing equitable access to, and enhancing physical activity for, children and youth,” says the Statement.

Professor Craig Williams, director of the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre, Sport and Health Sciences at Exeter was one of eight international speakers invited to provide expert statements to aid Danish colleagues revise their national consensus guidelines.

Williams said, “Over the 30 years we have been researching the health and well-being of young people, we have seen the accumulation of pediatric data across physiological, psychological, environmental, and social issues.

“This 21-point consensus statement reflects the importance of enhanced physical activity, not just in schools but sports and recreational clubs, with the family, and even for those children with long term illness. At all levels of society, we must ensure that enhanced physical activity is put into practice.”

Source: University of Exeter

Kids’ Binge Eating Tied to Unavailable Parents, Weight Teasing

Thu, 06/30/2016 - 7:00am

Children whose parents are emotionally or physically unavailable or whose families engage in weight-related teasing are more likely to develop binge eating habits, according to a new study at the University of Illinois. Parental weight, race, and income had no effect, however.

“This study found that childhood binge eating is really associated with parents’ weight-related beliefs, but not their actual weight, and their emotional availability but not necessarily the income availability,” said Jaclyn Saltzman, a doctoral researcher in human development and family studies, and a scholar in the Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program.

Saltzman explains that childhood binge eating can lead to depression, obesity, and many weight and eating behavior problems as the child grows into adulthood. The key is early recognition and intervention.

“Intervening early to address binge eating may not only help prevent an eating disorder from emerging but also prevent lifetime habits of unhealthy weight-related behaviors.”

The research team focused on binge eating and loss-of-control eating behavior. Loss of control is traditionally considered a symptom of binge eating in adults, but Saltzman explains that, according to recent research in the field, loss of control is used as the hallmark of binge eating in young children, although this is not yet officially recognized in diagnostic manuals.

“Loss of control is something that researchers have used to describe binge eating in young children. The idea is that the size of the binge — the amount of food they eat — is less important than the feelings of being out of control or the stress about that eating behavior, especially in young kids, because they don’t have all that much control over the food that they have access to,” said Saltzman.

“Binge eating is feeling like you are not in control when you are eating. You are eating past the point of fullness and to the point of discomfort. You are experiencing a lot of emotional distress because of it,” she said.

For the study, Saltzman and Dr. Janet M. Liechty, a professor of medicine and of social work at University of Illinois, analyzed studies on childhood binge eating spanning the last 35 years. They found that very few studies had been conducted over the last decade on kids and binge eating in the family context.

The researchers began with over 700 potential studies, to which they applied strict inclusion criteria to locate only those that involved children under age 12, used reliable instruments, and stayed within the constructs of interest.

“That left us with 15 studies, which we screened with a tool to assess risk for bias so that we could comment on the strengths and limitations in the studies,” Saltzman said.

The findings show that poor parenting traits, such as ignoring, under-involvement, emotional non-responsiveness, and weight-related teasing in the family are associated with childhood binge eating.

Weight teasing is being made fun of, mocked, or “kidded with” about one’s weight, usually for being perceived as being overweight, Saltzman explains. “Family-based weight teasing would be any of those behaviors perpetrated by a family member, like a parent or a sibling.”

“We want to emphasize to parents that weight isn’t the ‘be all end all,’ and that focusing on weight too much can be damaging. Instead, focusing on giving kids the tools they need to manage their emotions, particularly emotions around eating and weight, can help strengthen children’s coping skills so they are less likely to need binge eating.” Saltzman said.

The findings show that childhood binge eating is not related to parental weight, education, economic situation, race, or ethnicity. “Actually, no studies found any association between these constructs and childhood binge eating,” Saltzman said.

Source: University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences


Going to Church Tied to Lower Suicide Risk In Women

Thu, 06/30/2016 - 6:15am

A new study reveals that women who attended religious services had a lower risk of suicide compared with women who never attended services.

Suicide is among the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. In the research, Tyler J. VanderWeele, Ph.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, and coauthors looked at associations between religious service attendance and suicide from 1996 through June 2010.

The researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study with their findings reported online in JAMA Psychiatry. The analysis included 89,708 women and self-reported attendance at religious services.

Among the women, who were mostly Catholic or Protestant, 17,028 attended more than once per week, 36,488 attended once per week, 14,548 attended less than once per week and 21,644 never attended based on self-reports at the study’s 1996 baseline.

Authors identified 36 suicides during follow-up.

Compared with women who never attended services, women who attended once per week or more had a five times lower risk of subsequent suicide, according to the results.

The authors note their study has limitations as they used observational data. Therefore, despite adjustment for possible interfering factors, it still could be subject to confounding by personality, impulsivity, feeling of hopelessness, or other cognitive factors.

The authors also note women in the study sample were mainly white Christians and female nurses, which can limit the study’s generalizability.

“Our results do not imply that health care providers should prescribe attendance at religious services. However, for patients who are already religious, service attendance might be encouraged as a form of meaningful social participation.

Religion and spirituality may be an under-appreciated resource that psychiatrists and clinicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate,” the study concludes.

Editorial: Association of Religious Involvement and Suicide

“What should mental health professional do with this information? … Thus, the findings by VanderWeele et al underscore the importance of obtaining a spiritual history as part of the overall psychiatric evaluation, which may identify patients who at one time were active in a faith community but have stopped for various reasons. …

Nevertheless, until others have replicated the findings reported here in studies with higher event rates (i.e., greater than 36 suicides), it would be wise to proceed cautiously and sensitively,” writes Harold G. Koenig, M.D., of Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., in a related editorial.

Source: JAMA Psychiatry

Working Hard Often Paired With Playing Hard

Thu, 06/30/2016 - 5:30am

New research from Canada supports a correlation between a motivation to seek accomplishment and an attraction to leisure.

Queen’s University biology professor Dr. Lonnie Aarssen investigated the maxim “work hard, play hard,” a saying that has been traced back to at least 1827.

“I’ve been interested for quite a while in two motivations that people seem to display — one I call legacy drive and one I call leisure drive,” said Aarssen.

Yet, despite its status as a standard in Western society, a statistical link between the two motives has never been quantified.

Aarssen, along with undergraduate student Laura Crimi, conducted a survey of over 1,400 undergraduate students at Queen’s. Participants were asked to identify their age, gender, religious affiliation, and cultural background. They were then asked a series of questions to determine their attraction to religion, parenthood, accomplishment or fame, and recreation.

While some degree of correlation was seen between most of the factors listed, there was a particularly strong correlation between attraction to both legacy and leisure activities. That is, those inclined to “work hard” tend also to “play hard.”

The results also suggest three distinct groupings of individuals based on their strongest motivational factors.

One group consisted of relatively apathetic types; those who displayed relatively weak attraction to parenthood, religion, work, and leisure. Another group distinguished themselves through high attraction to both religion and parenthood with moderate attraction to accomplishment and leisure.

A final group, the highly motivated “go-getters,” were highly attracted to parenthood as well as to accomplishment and leisure.

Aarssen suggests that the “work hard, play hard” motivation could serve an evolutionary purpose in humans, by presenting a means to divert our attention from our own mortality.

“We, unlike any other animals, are aware and concerned about our own self-impermanence,” Aarssen said. That is, we are aware that we have a limited time on this earth.

“Legacy drive and leisure drive have potential to explain our ability to buffer this anxiety. Between these two drives, our ancestors were able to distract from their own self-impermanence, allowing them to cope with the anxiety and thus minimize its potential negative impact on reproductive success.”

The study is available online in the Open Psychology Journal.

Source: Queen’s University

Programs to Curb Prescription Drug Abuse Underutilized

Wed, 06/29/2016 - 8:30am

A new study reports that programs to prevent prescription abuse are in place, but underutilized. The finding comes at a time when prescription drug abuse is a raging epidemic across America.

Celebrity deaths like that of Prince and Heath Ledger have heightened the sensitivity of Americans on the problem. Moreover, the realization that the addiction is a true public health problem — with addictions across the population from teens to seniors — has led legislators to call for programs to combat the abuse.

The new study is informative in showing that programs already exist for the addiction, yet they are underutilized. The report comes out of Maine, one of the U.S. states hardest hit by the “epidemic” of prescription painkiller and heroin abuse. Researchers say that although there have been some positive trends recently, there are also troubling ones.

The study appears in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Investigators report that in 2014, a high percentage of women in their 80s — 38 percent — had prescriptions for powerful painkilling medications known as opioids.

“That’s very concerning,” said researcher Stephanie Nichols, Pharm.D., of Husson University School of Pharmacy in Bangor, Maine.

For one, she explained, elderly people have a higher rate of respiratory conditions, which makes them more susceptible to an accidental opioid overdose.

What’s more, the study found, women in their 80s were also commonly prescribed sedatives known as benzodiazepines. If one of those medications were combined with an opioid, that would also raise the risk of a potentially fatal overdose, Nichols said.

Prescription opioids include medications like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), codeine, and morphine. Abuse of these substances is common with the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse estimating 52 million Americans have abused a prescription drug — with opioid painkillers at the top of the list.

In response, most U.S. states have established prescription-monitoring programs (PMPs) — electronic databases that track prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances. Health care providers can use the programs to identify possible cases of prescription drug misuse and help patients get treatment for addiction if needed.

But although Maine has had a monitoring program since 2004, Nichols’s team found that in 2014, many pharmacists were not using it. Of 275 pharmacists they surveyed, only 56 percent said they were using the program.

Doctors and other health care providers use the system, but it’s still important for pharmacists to be linked in, too, according to Nichols.

“Often, the pharmacist is the ‘last line of defense,’ for patient safety,” she said.

Based on the state’s PMP, opioids were prescribed to 22 percent of Maine residents in 2014 — enough to supply every person in the state with a 16-day supply.

That figure is down slightly from 2010, Nichols said. “But it’s still a very large number,” she added.

In an encouraging sign, though, prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone were lower in 2014, but prescriptions for buprenorphine were up sharply. Buprenorphine is an opioid, but it’s typically used to treat opioid addiction.

“I think that’s a positive trend, because we interpret that as an increase in treatment of people with an opioid use disorder,” Nichols said.

Still, she added, more can be done. That includes getting health care providers and pharmacists on board with existing programs and increasing the accessibility and usability of those programs.

Maine has not only a PMP, Nichols pointed out, but also a diversion alert program — which allows providers to see whether a patient has a history of drug-related arrests.

“We have resources to help tackle the opioid epidemic,” Nichols said, “but we’re underusing them.”

A second study in the same issue of JSAD looked at another type of program aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse. The program involves drug “take-backs,” that is local events where people can bring their unneeded or expired prescriptions for safe disposal.

In the study, Itzhak Yanovitzky, Ph.D., of Rutgers University in New Jersey, surveyed over 900 New Jersey adults and found that efforts to raise public awareness of local take-back programs seem to work.

People who’d seen media stories on drug take-back — or even just signs at their local drug store — were twice as likely to have used the programs in the past 30 days as other state residents were.

It suggests that if people are aware of local take-back programs, many will actually use them, according to the study.

Source: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

Rat Study: Anti-Anxiety Meds May Lower Empathy

Wed, 06/29/2016 - 7:45am

Anti-anxiety medications may lower levels of empathy, according to a new rat study by neuroscientists at the University of Chicago.

Research has shown that rats are often emotionally motivated to help other rats in distress and routinely free their trapped friends. However, the new findings show that rats who were given midazolam, an anti-anxiety medication, were less likely to free their trapped companions.

Midazolam did not affect the rats’ physical ability to open the restrainer door. In fact, rats on this medication routinely opened the door for a piece of chocolate but did not feel motivated enough to open the door for their stressed companions. The findings suggest that motivation to help others relies on emotional reactions, which are dampened by the anti-anxiety medication.

“The rats help each other because they care,” said Peggy Mason, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago. “They need to share the affect of the trapped rat in order to help, and that’s a fundamental finding that tells us something about how we operate, because we’re mammals like rats too.”

The researchers used a rat-helping test originally established in a 2011 study published in the journal Science by Mason, Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Ph.D., a post-doctoral scholar now at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jean Decety, Ph.D., Irving B. Harris Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago.

In those first experiments, one rat was kept in a restrainer — a closed tube with a door that can be nudged open only from the outside. The second rat roamed free in the cage around the restrainer, able to see and hear the trapped cage mate.

In that study, the free rats quickly figured out how to release their trapped cage mates, seen by the researchers as a sign of empathy for their companions in distress. In the latest research, rats injected with midazolam did not free their trapped companions, although they did open the same restrainer when that restrainer contained chocolate chips.

According to the study, stress — such as seeing and hearing a trapped companion — triggers the adrenal gland and sympathetic nervous system and causes physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and high blood pressure.

To determine whether the rats’ helping behavior was driven by these physical changes, the researchers conducted another set of experiments by giving the rats nadolol, a beta-blocker similar to those used to treat high blood pressure. Nadolol prevents the pounding heart and other bodily signs of a stress response. But even those rats who were given nadolol were just as likely to help their companions as those injected with saline or nothing at all.

“What that tells you is that they don’t have to be physiologically, peripherally aroused in order to help. They just have to care inside their brain,” Mason said.

Mason said that this study further confirms the previous research that rats, and by extension other mammals — including humans — are motivated to help others through empathy.

“Helping others could be your new drug. Go help some people and you’ll feel really good,” she said. “I think that’s a mammalian trait that has developed through evolution. Helping another is good for the species.”

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Source: University of Chicago Medical Center


Helicopter Parenting Can Hinder College-Age Kids

Wed, 06/29/2016 - 7:00am

A new study finds that parents who are too involved with their college-age kids could indirectly lead to issues such as depression and anxiety.

“Helicopter parents are parents who are overly involved,” said Florida State University doctoral candidate Kayla Reed. “They mean everything with good intentions, but it often goes beyond supportive to intervening in the decisions of emerging adults.”

Reed and Assistant Professor of Family and Child Sciences Dr. Mallory Lucier-Greer explain that what has been called “helicopter parenting” can have a meaningful impact on how young adults see themselves and whether they can meet challenges or handle adverse situations.

Though much attention has been paid to the notion of helicopter parenting, most of the studies have focused on adolescents.

The current study, found online in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, specifically examined emerging adults, or college-aged students navigating the waters of attending college.

Researchers surveyed more than 460 college students, ages 18 to 25, seeking to learn how their mothers influenced their life decisions. Specifically, researchers asked students how their mothers would respond to sample situations. Investigators looked at mothers because they are traditionally in the primary caregiver role.

Researchers also asked students to self-assess their abilities to persist in complicated tasks or adverse situations and then also rate their depression, life satisfaction, anxiety, and physical health.

Students who had mothers who allowed them more autonomy reported higher life satisfaction, physical health, and self-efficacy. However, students with a so-called helicopter parent were more likely to report low levels of self-efficacy, or the ability to handle some tougher life tasks and decisions.

In turn, those who reported low levels of self-efficacy also reported higher levels of anxiety and depression, and lower life satisfaction and physical health.

“The way your parents interact with you has a lot to do with how you view yourself,” Lucier-Greer said. “If parents are simply being supportive, they are saying things like ‘you can manage your finances, you can pick out your classes.’

“It changes if they are doing that all for you. I think there are good intentions behind those helicopter behaviors, but at the end of the day you need to foster your child’s development.”

Sample scenarios given to students included questions about whether their mothers would encourage them to resolve a conflict with a roommate or friend on his or her own, or whether their mothers would actively intervene in the situation.

Other sample questions probed whether mothers regularly asked students to text or call at given intervals and whether the mothers were controlling their diets.

Researchers hope to continue this line of work in the future by expanding the work to look at both mothers and fathers and also young adults as they enter the workforce.

Source: Florida State University