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Loneliness May be a Factor for Alzheimer’s

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 6:45am

A new study examined if self-reported loneliness was associated with a build-up of cortical amyloid levels in the brain — a marker of preclinical Alzheimer disease.

Alzheimer disease (AD) is a process that moves through preclinical, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia stages before it leads to progressive neuropsychiatric, cognitive, and functional declines.

Although loneliness has been associated with cognitive and functional decline and an increased risk of AD dementia, a link between loneliness and preclinical Alzheimer’s has not been established.

In the new study, published online by JAMA Psychiatry, Nancy J. Donovan, M.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and coauthors addressed if their could be an association between between loneliness and Alzheimer’s.

To do this, they used brain imaging technology to measure cortical amyloid levels in the brain and a loneliness scale to indicate levels of loneliness.

The study included 43 women and 36 men with an average age of about 76. Of the participants, 22 (28 percent) were carriers of a genetic risk factor and 25 (32 percent) were in the amyloid-positive group based on volume in imaging. The participants’ average loneliness score was 5.3 on a scale of three to 12.

The authors report higher cortical amyloid levels were associated with greater loneliness after controlling for age, sex, genetic risk factors, socioeconomic status, depression, anxiety, and social network.

Participants in the amyloid-positive group were 7.5 times more likely to be classified as lonely then non-lonely compared with individuals in the amyloid-negative group.

The association between high amyloid levels and loneliness also was stronger in genetic carriers than in non-carriers, according to the results.

Limitations of the study include the demographic profile of the participants who had high intelligence and educational attainment but limited racial and socioeconomic diversity. The participants also had better mental and physical health.

The finding suggests that a linkage appears to be present between loneliness and brain changes associated with pre-Alzheimers among normal adults.

As such, study authors believe the study presents evidence for loneliness as a neuropsychiatric symptom relevant to preclinical AD.

“This work will inform new research into the neurobiology of loneliness and other socioemotional changes in late life and may enhance early detection and intervention research in AD,” the study concludes.

Source: JAMA/EurekAlert

People Eat More When Sleep Deprived

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 6:00am

A comprehensive literature review suggests sleep deprivation may result in people consuming more calories during the following day.

Researchers at King’s College London performed a meta-analysis which combined the results of many previous small intervention studies. The statistical technique allows a pooling of data to provide statistical power and robust, generalizable findings.

From the analysis, researchers found that sleep-deprived people consumed an average of 385 kcal per day extra, which is equivalent to the calories of about four and a half slices of bread.

The study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, combined the results of 11 studies with a total of 172 participants. The analysis included studies that compared a partial sleep restriction intervention with an unrestricted sleep control and measured the individuals’ energy intake over the next 24 hours.

Investigators found partial sleep deprivation did not have a significant effect on how much energy people expended in the subsequent 24 hours. Therefore, participants had a net energy gain of 385 calories per day.

The researchers also found there was a small shift in what sleep deprived people ate — they had proportionately higher fat and lower protein intakes, but no change in carbohydrate intake.

Dr Gerda Pot, senior author said, “The main cause of obesity is an imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure and this study adds to accumulating evidence that sleep deprivation could contribute to this imbalance.”

So there may be some truth in the saying “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wise”. This study found that partial sleep deprivation resulted in a large net increased energy intake of 385 kcal per day. If long-term sleep deprivation continues to result in an increased calorie intake of this magnitude, it may contribute to weight gain.

“Reduced sleep is one of the most common and potentially modifiable health risks in today’s society in which chronic sleep loss is becoming more common. More research is needed to investigate the importance of long-term, partial sleep deprivation as a risk factor for obesity and whether sleep extension could play a role in obesity prevention.”

A previous study of 26 adults found partial sleep deprivation resulted in greater activation of areas in the brain associated with reward when people were exposed to food.

This greater motivation to seek food could be an explanation for the increased food intake seen in sleep deprived people in this study, the authors suggest. Other possible explanations include a disruption of the internal body clock affecting the body’s regulation of leptin (the ‘satiety’ hormone) and ghrelin (the ‘hunger’ hormone).

The amount of sleep restriction varied between the studies, with the sleep deprived participants sleeping between three and a half and five and a half hours in the night. The control subjects spent between seven and 12 hours in bed.

The authors suggest that more intervention studies are needed into the effect of increased sleep duration over longer periods in everyday life on weight gain and obesity, as most of the studies included in this analysis were in controlled laboratory conditions over periods of one day to two weeks.

Haya Al Khatib, lead author and PhD candidate at King’s College London, summarizes, “Our results highlight sleep as a potential third factor, in addition to diet and exercise, to target weight gain more effectively. We are currently conducting a randomized controlled trial in habitually short sleepers to explore the effects of sleep extension on indicators of weight gain.”

Source: Kings College, London/EurekAlert

Family Therapy Speeds Moms Recovery from Substance Abuse

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 5:15am

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers discovered that it is best to have the kids involved in their moms rehab for drug and alcohol use.

Specifically, Ohio State investigators found mothers recover faster if their children take part in their treatment sessions.

Research showed that women who were in family therapy — which included their eight to 16-year-old children — presented a quicker decline in alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine use over 18 months compared to mothers who were in individual therapy.

This is the first study to examine the effectiveness of family therapy for mothers who are substance users, said Natasha Slesnick, lead author of the study and professor of human sciences at the Ohio State University.

“Interpersonal stress, especially within the family, has been shown to be an important factor in drug and alcohol abuse,” Slesnick said. “So it makes sense that having mothers and children working together in therapy can help moms with substance use problems do better over time.

“Family therapy is not generally part of the treatment options for substance-using mothers, but this study suggests it should be.”

Slesnick conducted the study with Jing Zhang, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State. The study appears in the current issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

The study involved 183 mothers who were seeking outpatient treatment and met diagnostic criteria for having an alcohol or drug use disorder. All had at least one biological child aged eight to 16.

Some of the mothers were placed in a 12-session program called Ecologically Based Family Therapy. EBFT focuses on improving social interactions, emotional connectedness, and problem resolution skills among family members.

Other mothers were assigned to an individual therapy program called Women’s Health Education.

All participants were assessed at the beginning of the study and then three, six, 12, and 18 months later.

Substance use was assessed using structured interviews with the mothers in which the researchers calculated the percentage of mothers’ total days of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and opioids use in the past 90 days.

For the EBFT group, the mother and child participated in a 10-minute interaction task at the beginning of the study and six and 18 months later. The researchers watched the interaction and rated the mother and child relationship quality.

Results showed that all mothers showed reduced alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine use over time, but mothers in the family therapy saw their substance use decrease more quickly.

The exception involved opioids, such as heroin — mothers reported similar decreases in use after both the individual and family therapies.

“Different drugs affect family dynamics in different ways, and we need more research to determine why opioids respond differently to family therapy,” Slesnick said.

Family therapy is probably more helpful to moms battling most substance use issues than individual therapy because it deals with the family stresses that contribute to drug and alcohol use, she said.

Although the researchers hoped that assessing differences in the mother-child interaction before and after treatment would help them determine whether changes in these family dynamics were the key to the success of family therapy, the results did not confirm that link.

Slesnick said she still believes the link is there, but that there weren’t enough subjects in the study to prove it.

Preliminary data from upcoming studies by the researchers suggests that family therapy is not only good for the mothers — it helps their children’s mental health, as well.

“Children are usually not included in the treatment plans of their mothers, but they should be. They already have to deal with their moms’ substance use in many ways. Being part of the therapy can help both them and their mothers,” she said.

Source: Ohio State University

Sunshine Critical for Emotional Health

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 4:30am

Although the idea that weather can influence emotional health is not new, a recent study clarifies which weather factor is the most important for mental health.

Brigham Young University (BYU) researchers discovered sunshine matters. A lot. Investigators discovered that when it comes to mental and emotional health, the amount of time between sunrise and sunset is the weather variable that matters most.

Your day might be filled with irritatingly hot temperatures, thick air pollution, and maybe even pockets of rainclouds, but that won’t necessarily get you down. If you’re able to soak up enough sun, your level of emotional distress should remain stable.

Take away sun time, though, and your distress can spike. Investigators discovered this emotional interaction applies to the clinical population at large, not just those diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“That’s one of the surprising pieces of our research,” said Mark Beecher, clinical professor and licensed psychologist in BYU Counseling and Psychological Services.

“On a rainy day, or a more polluted day, people assume that they’d have more distress. But we didn’t see that. We looked at solar irradiance, or the amount of sunlight that actually hits the ground. We tried to take into account cloudy days, rainy days, pollution . . . but they washed out. The one thing that was really significant was the amount of time between sunrise and sunset.

“Therapists should be aware that winter months will be a time of high demand for their services. With fewer sun time hours, clients will be particularly vulnerable to emotional distress. Preventative measures should be implemented on a case-by-case basis.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, started with a casual conversation that piqued Beecher’s professional curiosity.

“Mark and I have been friends and neighbors for years, and we often take the bus together,” said Lawrence Rees, a physics professor at BYU. “And of course you often talk about mundane things, like how are classes going? How has the semester been? How ’bout this weather? So one day it was kind of stormy, and I asked Mark if he sees more clients on these days. He said he’s not sure, it’s kind of an open question. It’s hard to get accurate data.”

A lightbulb went off in Rees’ head. As a physics professor, Rees had access to weather data in the Provo area. As a psychologist, Beecher had access to emotional health data for clients living in Provo.

“We realized that we had access to a nice set of data that not a lot of people have access to,” Beecher said. “So Rees said, ‘Well, I’ve got weather data,’ and I’m like, ‘I’ve got clinical data. Let’s combine the pair!’ Wonder Twin powers activate, you know?”

The duo then brought in BYU statistics professor Dennis Eggett, who developed the plan for analyzing the data and performed all of the statistical analyses on the project.

Several studies have attempted to look at the weather’s effect on mood with mixed results. Beecher cited four reasons why this study is an improvement on previous research:

  • The study analyzed several meteorological variables such as wind chill, rainfall, solar irradiance, wind speed, temperature, and more.
  • The weather data could be analyzed down to the minute in the exact area where the clients lived.
  • The study focused on a clinical population instead of a general population.
  • The study used a mental health treatment outcome measure to examine several aspects of psychological distress, rather than relying on suicide attempts or online diaries.

The weather data came from BYU’s Physics and Astronomy Weather Station, and the pollution data came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mental and emotional health data came from BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center.

Source: Brigham Young University

Cognitive Dysfunction Often First Sign of Schizophrenia

Thu, 11/03/2016 - 7:30am

People with schizophrenia suffer not only from symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations and delusions, but neurocognitive deficits as well such as poor memory and attention.

Now a new study led by psychologists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) found that certain neurocognitive symptoms tend to manifest first and are typically evident in the early, high-risk stage of the disorder called the prodromal phase.

The findings suggest that these deficits may serve as early warning signs of schizophrenia, as well as potential targets for intervention that could help curb the onset of the psychotic disorder and significantly improve cognitive function.

“To our knowledge, this is the largest and most definitive study of cognition in the high-risk period before onset of for psychosis/schizophrenia,” said corresponding author Larry J. Seidman, Ph.D., a psychologist at BIDMC and professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

“This is part of a paradigm shift in the way we are focusing on the earlier, prodromal phase of the disorder in an effort to identify those most likely to develop psychosis.”

For the study, the researchers gathered neurocognitive functioning data from participants at eight university-based, outpatient programs in the United States and Canada over the course of four years. They compared 689 males and females deemed at clinical high risk (CHR) of developing psychosis to 264 male and female healthy controls (HC).

The findings show that the high-risk group performed significantly worse than the control group on all measures, which involved tests of executive and visuospatial abilities, attention and working memory, verbal abilities, and declarative memory.

Among the high-risk participants only, those who would later go on to develop psychosis performed significantly worse than their high-risk peers who did not develop psychosis during the study.

“Currently, when mental health professionals assess people coming in for evaluation, we don’t know who will eventually develop schizophrenia,” said Seidman. “Our group’s focus is on identifying early warning signs and then developing interventions to improve a person’s chances for not getting it, making it milder or delaying it.”

Impaired working memory (the ability to hold information like a phone number in mind for a short time while it’s in use) and declarative memory (the ability to recall things learned in the last few minutes) turned out to be the key neurocognitive functions that are impaired in the high-risk, prodromal phase prior to the onset of full-blown psychosis.

These findings, said Seidman, confirm the experiences of many people with schizophrenia who report sudden difficulties reading, concentrating or remembering things in the earliest days of the disorder.

These cognitive deficits are the most difficult symptoms to treat and are responsible for keeping roughly 80 percent of people with schizophrenia out of work or school. New focus on the prodromal period and the growing promise of early intervention is giving patients and their families more realistic hope that better outcomes are possible, added Seidman.

“People can hear voices and still function pretty well, but they basically cannot function at all when their cognition is impaired,” he said.

“We are also testing a number of cognitive remediation and enhancement treatments to determine their role in the evolution of the illness. There’s more evidence suggesting that early intervention reduces the number of people who transition to schizophrenia.”

The study is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Source: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Normal for Women to Experience Sexual Decline Around Menopause

Thu, 11/03/2016 - 6:45am

New research suggests that menopause is linked to a reduction in sexual function for most women, although race/ethnicity does play a factor in the magnitude of the decline.

Investigators from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center discovered women experience a notable decline in sexual function about 20 months before and one year after their last menstrual period, and that decrease continues, though at a somewhat slower rate, over the following five years.

The study, published ahead of print in the online issue of Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society, also found that various factors that frequently co-occur with menopause have less direct influence on declining sexual function than menopause itself.

“Sexual functioning in women declines with age, and there has been much debate about how much this is due to menopause, aging, or other physical, psychological or social factors,” said the study’s lead author, Nancy Avis, Ph.D.

“Our findings support that menopause has a negative effect on sexual functioning in many women.”

Additionally, the study found that women who have a hysterectomy before the onset of menopause do not experience a marked decline in sexual function immediately before undergoing the procedure but do so afterward, for as long as five years.

The researchers based their findings on information collected from 1,390 participants in the federally funded Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), which began in 1996.

These women, who were between the ages of 42 and 52 at the time of enrollment in the study and who had a known date of final menstrual period during their participation, responded to questionnaires dealing with various aspects of sexual function — including desire, arousal, satisfaction, and pain — between one and seven times over the course of the study.

The researchers analyzed 5,798 of these self-assessments (4,932 from the 1,164 women in the natural menopause group and 866 from the 226 women in the hysterectomy group) and tracked the changes in the respondents’ scores on the sexual-function questionnaires. They correlated the scores relative to either their final menstrual period among women who experienced a natural menopause or the hysterectomy.

Notably, in the natural menopause group, the researchers found that race/ethnicity played a major role in the decline of sexual function. They discovered African-American women experiencing a significantly smaller decline and women of Japanese descent experiencing a much greater decline when compared with white women.

“Sexual functioning is an important component of women’s lives. More than 75 percent of the middle-aged women in the SWAN study reported that sex was moderately to extremely important to them when the study began,” Avis said.

“It is important for women and their health care providers to understand all the factors that may impact women’s experience of sex in relation to both the natural menopausal transition and hysterectomy, and we hope our findings will contribute to better understanding in this area.”

Source: Wake Forest University

Wandering Mind May Not Be Unhappy Mind

Thu, 11/03/2016 - 6:00am

New brain imaging research suggest daydreaming or mind-wandering is a spontaneous form of activity that helps us think freely and creatively.

Investigators explain that during downtime, some of us daydream while others might focus on a to-do list, or get stuck in a negative loop. Psychology has traditionally defined all these thought patterns as variations of “mind-wandering.”

But a review of brain imaging studies led by researchers at University of California, Berkeley and the University of British Columbia offers a new way of looking at spontaneous versus controlled thinking, challenging the adage that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

Researchers say their findings suggests that increased awareness of how our thoughts move when our brains are at rest could lead to better diagnoses and targeted treatments for such mental illnesses as depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“It’s important to know not only the difference between free-ranging mind-wandering and sticky, obsessive thoughts, but also to understand, within this framework, how these types of thinking work together,” said review co-author Zachary Irving, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar at University of California, Berkeley.

Irving and fellow authors of the qualitative review, published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, looked at three different ways in which people think when they’re not directly engaged in tasks: spontaneous thought, ruminative thought, and goal-directed thought.

“We propose that mind-wandering isn’t an odd quirk of the mind,” said the review’s lead author, Dr. Kalina Christoff, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia.

“Rather, it’s something that the mind does when it enters into a spontaneous mode. Without this spontaneous mode, we couldn’t do things like dream or think creatively.”

Irving, who has ADHD, said there are upsides to the most stigmatized mental disorders.

“Everyone’s mind has a natural ebb and flow of thought, but our framework reconceptualizes disorders like ADHD, depression, and anxiety as extensions of that normal variation in thinking,” said Irving.

“This framework suggests, in a sense, that we all have someone with anxiety and ADHD in our minds. The anxious mind helps us focus on what’s personally important; the ADHD mind allows us to think freely and creatively.”

Irving and fellow researchers reviewed nearly 200 neuroscience studies, a large number of which used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan brains during resting activities.

They found that interactions between large-scale neural networks offered insights into how the resting mind moves.

For example, their review of brain-imaging studies found that when the brain was focused on a task at hand, its prefrontal “executive” network, which governs planning and impulse control, among other functions, constrains other brain activity.

However, when stuck in a negative loop, such as anxious rumination, the brain’s “salience” network, which processes emotions, took control, shutting off most other networks.

Not surprisingly, spontaneous thought, such as daydreaming, dreaming during sleep, and other forms of free association, were linked to far lower activity in the neural networks responsible for controlled thinking, allowing the imagination to flow freely.

Overall, researchers hypothesize that the resting mind naturally transitions between spontaneous and constrained thought.

“Let’s say you’re walking to the grocery store,” Irving said. “At first, your mind wanders to a plethora of ideas: your new shirt, a joke you heard today, an upcoming ski trip to Lake Tahoe. Then your thoughts become automatically constrained when you start to worry about a looming work deadline that needs to be met before the Tahoe trip.

“Then you realize that your worries are making you miserable, so you deliberately constrain your thoughts, forcing your mind back to grocery shopping.”

Historically, Irving said, the field of psychology has approached mental disorders separately, as though each were in a vacuum rather than being interconnected.

“Clinicians have studied compulsive rumination in isolation, and ADHD in isolation, but now there’s a huge interest in how we can make sure that the psychology and neuroscience literature is more closely aligned to what is happening in our heads,” Irving said.

Source: University of California, Berkeley

Strategy to Manage Emotions Best if Matched to Situation

Thu, 11/03/2016 - 5:15am

New research suggests that the strategy we use to control our emotions should reflect on the situation, rather than using the same approach for all issues.

For instance, reframing how we think about a situation is a common strategy for managing our emotions. However, a new study suggests that using this reappraisal strategy in situations we actually have control over may be associated with lower well-being.

“Our results caution against a ‘one strategy fits all’ approach, which may be tempting to recommend based on many previous findings regarding reappraisal as a strategy for regulating emotion,” said psychological scientist Dr. Peter Koval of Australian Catholic University.

“Simply using any given emotion regulation strategy more (or less) in all situations may not lead to the best outcomes — instead, contextually-appropriate emotion regulation may be healthier.”

Recent work on emotion regulation has highlighted the fact that flexibility in using emotion regulation strategies is key to healthy functioning.

As published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Koval and his research team decided to investigate how situational context might play a role in the relationship between emotion regulation and well-being in people’s everyday lives.

The researchers recruited 74 adults to participate in a seven day study that involved responding to periodic survey questions delivered via smartphone. The survey app sent prompts at random intervals of 40 to 102 minutes between 10:00 am and 10:00 pm each day, asking the participants whether they had “looked at things from a different perspective” and/or “changed the way [they] were thinking” in response to their feelings since the last prompt.

Participants were also asked to rate how much control they felt they had over what had happened since the last prompt. For each question, participants could choose a response ranging from zero (not at all) to 100 (very much so).

Before beginning the seven day study, participants completed validated measures assessing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and neuroticism, as well as measures of social anxiety and self-esteem.

These measures provided the researchers an indication of participants’ well-being.

Results showed that participants successfully complied with the survey instructions, answering about 87 percent of the prompts delivered, on average.

The researchers found no reliable associations between participants’ well-being and their overall use of reappraisal as a means of regulating emotion in daily life, in line with the notion that reappraisal is not a one-size-fits-all strategy.

The researchers did find, however, that participants who reported higher levels of depression, anxiety, stress, neuroticism, and social anxiety were more likely to use reappraisal in response to situations they perceived as controllable, whereas participants who reported higher well-being tended to use reappraisal more in situations they felt they had little control over.

“We found that people with higher well-being increased their use of reappraisal as contexts became less controllable, whereas individuals with lower well-being showed the opposite pattern,” Koval and colleagues said in their paper.

Given that the study measured reappraisal use in daily life over a single week and assessed well-being on just a one occasion, the results do not tell us whether more situationally-appropriate use of reappraisal leads to greater well-being, or vice versa.

Despite this, the researchers argue that the findings suggest that context — in this case, how much control an individual believes he or she has over situations — does make a difference in the outcomes of emotion-regulation strategies.

“When a situation can be directly changed, reappraisal may undermine the adaptive function of emotions in motivating action,” the researchers write.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Being Fit Can Reduce Effects of Work-Related Stress

Thu, 11/03/2016 - 4:30am

Being in good shape can protect against health problems related to stress at work, a new study finds. Sport scientists in Switzerland and Sweden discovered a high-fitness level appears to protect individuals from the effects of work-related stress.

It is a well-known fact that fitness and well-being go hand in hand. But researchers now find that being in good shape also protects against the health problems that arise when we feel particularly stressed at work. As such, experts recommend to stay physically active, especially during periods of high stress.

Stress can lead to illness-related absences from work — accompanied by impaired mental well-being and an increase in depressive symptoms.

It also raises the likelihood of cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and an unfavorable blood lipid profile. Conversely, a high fitness level is associated with fewer depressive symptoms and fewer cardiovascular risk factors.

As published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers discovered a high fitness level offers particularly effective protection for professionals who experience a high degree of stress in the workplace.

Researchers recorded the fitness levels of almost 200 Swedish employees — 51 percent men, mean age 39 years — using a so-called bicycle ergometer test. In addition, they measured various known cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol, triglycerides, and glycated hemoglobin.

The participants were then asked to provide information on their current perception of stress.

As expected, the study conducted by the University of Basel, the Institute of Stress Medicine, and Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, illustrates that stressed individuals exhibit higher values of most cardiovascular risk factors.

Furthermore, it was confirmed that cardiovascular fitness is linked to virtually all risk factors, with the risk factors being less high in people who are physically fit.

Researchers demonstrated for the first time that the relationship between the subjective perception of stress and cardiovascular risk factors is moderated by fitness. In other words, among the stressed employees, there were particularly large differences between individuals with a high, medium, and low fitness level.

For example, when stress levels were high, the LDL cholesterol values exceeded the clinically relevant limit in employees with a low fitness level — but not in those with a high fitness level. By contrast, where the exposure to stress was low, far smaller differences were observed between fitness levels.

“Above all, these findings are significant because it is precisely when people are stressed that they tend to engage in physical activity less often,” said Professor Markus Gerber of the University of Basel.

Furthermore, he said the study has direct implications for the therapy and treatment of stress-related disorders. To promote a physically active lifestyle, a high priority should be attached to the systematic measurement of cardiorespiratory fitness and the provision of theoretically sound and evidence-based physical activity counseling.

Source: University of Basel

CBT Can Lessen Kids’ Dental Anxiety

Wed, 11/02/2016 - 6:45am

As many parents can attest, it is not uncommon for a child to experience significant anxiety when they go to the dentist. Sadly, the anxiety may influence pediatric dental care with the effects continuing through adulthood. New research suggests cognitive-behavioral therapy may provide a non-pharmaceutical solution to the conundrum.

In the study, U.K. researchers describe the development of a guided self-help cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) resource for the management of children’s dental anxiety.

Investigators believe the pilot intervention provides evidence for the feasibility and acceptability of this approach with children aged between nine and 16 years.

CBT is an evidence-based treatment for dental anxiety; however, access to therapy is limited. This study employed a mixed methods design where within phase one, a qualitative “person-based” approach informed the development of the self-help CBT resource.

Guidelines for the development and evaluation of complex interventions were also used. Within phase two, children aged between nine and 16 years who had elevated self-reported dental anxiety and were attending a community dental service or dental hospital were invited to use the CBT resource.

Children completed questionnaires, which assessed their dental anxiety and health-related quality of life prior to and following their use of the resource. Recruitment and completion rates were also recorded.

Acceptability of the CBT resource was explored using interviews and focus groups with children, parents/caregivers and dental professionals. A total of 85 children were invited to participate in the feasibility study and trial the CBT resource.

The recruitment rate (proportion of children invited to take part in the study who agreed to participate) and completion rate (proportion of children who agreed to participate who completed the study) was 66 percent and 86 percent, respectively. A total of 48 patients completed the study.

At the conclusion of the study, the authors ascertained that there was a significant reduction in dental anxiety and an increase in health-related quality of life following the use of the guided self-help cognitive behavioral therapy resource.

The results of this study will inform the design of a definitive trial to examine the treatment and cost-effectiveness of the resource for the reduction of children’s dental anxiety.

The study appears in the OnlineFirst portion of JDR Clinical & Translational Research.

Source: International Association for Dental Research

Feeling Connected to Others Improves Social Activism

Wed, 11/02/2016 - 6:00am

New research suggests a crucial factor in someone’s decisions to act in a socially responsible manner is how much they believe their actions make a difference.

Natalia Karelaia, Ph.D., an associate professor of decision sciences at the international business school INSEAD, led a series of studies to determine whether people’s decision-making could be influenced on the basis of social connectedness.

In her research, she suggested that whether a person feels they make an impact or not depends on how socially connected they are. The paper appears in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

“Our paper offers new insight into how feeling connected to others affects behavior. We find that identification with a social group has an empowering effect on individuals. People who are highly socially motivated may surrender some aspects of their individuality, but receive in return a sense of strength in numbers that gets absorbed into their own self-image.

“Consequently, they have a greater belief in the effectiveness of their individual actions, and a clearer conception of how their own choices directly impact the collective,” said Karelaia.

Her paper studied the consumer habits of more than 600 adults in the U.S. in a survey which sought to understand their social values, sense of connectedness to others and how effective they perceived their actions to be.

Those respondents who felt a high degree of social connectedness felt their individual actions had a greater impact on a larger scale.

They were also found to be the most socially conscious consumers, which was reflected in their responses to questions about how often they recycled and whether they were environmentally conscious in their purchasing behavior, such as avoiding products that cause environmental damage or those tested on animals.

The respondents’ social values, which were measured by their responses to questions of whether particular behaviors were morally appropriate, however, turned out to be a less important predictor of their behavior than whether they felt they could make a difference. While values were important, the belief in one’s ability to make an impact was necessary to influence behavior.

Karelaia took these insights into further studies to see whether people’s decision-making could be influenced on the basis of social connectedness. In a second study, to bring about one’s sense of connectedness to others, she recruited 39 undergraduate students and asked one group of them to bring to mind and describe a situation when they were buying a gift for someone.

The other group was asked to write about buying something for themselves. Further reinforcing the initial findings, Karelaia found that people in the first group felt more socially connected and were more likely to believe in their actions having an ability to make a difference.

In a third study, 132 US-based adults completed the same writing task as in the second study. Afterwards, in a seemingly unrelated task, participants were asked to provide assistance to a non-governmental organization (NGO).

They were told that the researchers conducting the study supported the actions of “EarthAction”, an NGO, and it needed help finding corporate sponsors. To get that help it needed to develop corporate slogans. Participants were asked for their voluntary help in creating between one and five slogans.

Investigators discovered that those in the condition that made their connectedness to others more salient, developed more slogans each than those in the control condition.

Karelaia also put money into the equation. 48 undergraduate students went through the same connectedness manipulation as in study two and three and were then invited to make a financial contribution to an NGO. The same pattern emerged.

In summary, the sense of one’s connectedness was found to enhance the perceived effectiveness of one’s actions, which in turn raised the participants’ appreciation for the consequences of their behavior. This is especially important for organizations trying to promote ethical behavior.

Karelaia’s findings suggest that managers should build a sense of communal awareness, framing the actions of individuals and the firm in the context of the wider community.

“Overall, this suggests that we’re at our ethical best when we feel part of a human community that transcends our immediate surroundings,” said Karelaia.

Source: INSEAD/EurekAlert

Virtual Reality Rehabilitation Can Improve Mobility

Wed, 11/02/2016 - 5:15am

Although holographic decks are still a work in progress, many futuristic applications are becoming reality as a combination of virtual reality and treadmill training is proving useful for a variety of mobility issues.

Tel Aviv University researchers report virtual reality and treadmill training appears effective in preventing dangerous falls associated with aging, Parkinson’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, or dementia.

As published in The Lancet, the study’s lead authors, Prof. Jeff Hausdorff and Dr. Anat Mirelman, explained how the intervention combines the physical and cognitive aspects of walking.

They believe the approach could be implemented in gyms, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes to improve walking skills and prevent the falls of older adults and those with movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

“Falls often start a vicious cycle with many negative health consequences,” said Mirelman.

“The ability of older people to negotiate obstacles can be impaired because of age-related decline in cognitive abilities like motor planning, divided attention, executive control, and judgement. But current interventions typically focus almost exclusively on improving muscle strength, balance, and gait.

“Our approach helps improve both physical mobility and cognitive aspects that are important for safe walking,” he said.

“We found that virtual reality plus treadmill training helped to reduce fall frequency and fall risk for at least six months after training — significantly more than treadmill training alone. This suggests that our use of virtual reality successfully targeted the cognitive aspects of safe ambulation to reduce the risk of falls.”

The researchers, in collaboration with partners across Europe, collected data from 282 participants at five clinical sites in Belgium, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK between 2013 and 2015.

The participants, all aged 60-90, were able to walk at least five minutes unassisted, were on stable medications and, critically, had reported at least two falls in the six months prior to the start of the study. Nearly half of all participants (130) had Parkinson’s disease, and some (43) had mild cognitive impairment.

Participants were assigned to treadmill training with virtual reality (146) or treadmill training alone (136). The virtual reality component consisted of a camera that captured the movement of participants’ feet and projected it onto a screen in front of the treadmill, so that participants could “see” their feet walking on the screen in real time.

The game-like simulation was designed to reduce the risk of falls in older adults by including real life challenges such as avoiding and stepping over obstacles like puddles or hurdles, and navigating pathways. It also provided motivation to the participants, giving them feedback on their performance and scores on the game.

While the incident rate of falls was similar in the two groups prior to the intervention, six months after training the rate of falls among those who trained with VR dropped by almost 50 percent. In contrast, there was no significant reduction in the fall rates among subjects who did not train with the VR.

“Interestingly, when we asked people if they enjoyed the treatment program, participants in the virtual reality group reported higher scores on user satisfaction questionnaires and a greater desire to continue to exercise with the ‘game,'” said Hausdorff.

“This suggests that the virtual reality not only led to fewer falls, it was also more likely to be used in the long-term. Exercise needs to be fun and effective if it is going to be used continually.

“The biggest improvement was seen in participants with Parkinson’s disease,” Hausdorff continued.

“It was very exciting to see such improvement in the presence of a neurodegenerative disease. Still, we need to conduct further research to verify the results and better understand why the fall rates were so responsive in the people with Parkinson’s disease.”

“Treadmills are widely available, and the additional cost of treadmill training plus virtual reality is only about $4,500. The low cost could permit this approach to be widely used in various settings,” said Mirelman.

“Future studies need to examine whether treadmill training plus virtual reality could be used as part of a prevention package to treat fall risk before falls become common and before injuries occur.”

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Exercise + Healthy Diet = Strong Mind

Wed, 11/02/2016 - 4:30am

Consistent engagement in physical activity, consumption of fruits and vegetables, and not being obese appears to be linked to better cognitive functioning.

The study of both younger and older Canadian adults is one of the first to investigate the relationships between physical activity and eating fruit and vegetables and the effect it has on the brain for both younger and older adults.

Findings appear in the Journal of Public Health.

Regular engagement in physical activity and healthy eating has long been associated with a reduced risk for a range of chronic conditions. For older adults, there is a growing body of evidence that exercising may delay the onset of cognitive decline.

Similarly, compounds found in fruits and vegetables have been shown to fight illnesses and help maintain healthy processes in the body.

Given the increasing rates of inactivity and obesity in the world, researchers are interested in understanding the relationship between clusters of risk factors for cognitive decline, and how lifestyle factors might help prevent or delay it.

Previous studies in Spain and Korea have shown that older adults who eat more fruits and vegetables perform better in mentally stimulating activities than older adults who report eating a lower amount.

The new study examined cross-sectional data from 45,522, 30 years of age and older, participants from the 2012 annual component of the Canadian Community Health Survey.

Cognitive function was assessed using a single six level question of the Health Utilities Index, which assessed mental processes, such as thinking, memory, and problem solving. Participants were analyzed by their age, level of physical activity, body mass index, and daily intake of fruit and vegetables.

Using general linear models and mediation analyses, researchers assessed the relationship between these factors and participants’ overall cognitive function.

The results showed that higher levels of physical activity, eating more fruits and vegetables, and having a BMI in the normal weight (18.5-24.9 kg/m2) or overweight range (25.0-29.9 kg/m2) were each associated with better cognitive function in both younger and older adults.

Further, by way of mediation analysis (via the Sobel test), it was determined that higher levels of physical activity may be in part responsible for the relationship between higher daily fruit and vegetable consumption and better cognitive performance.

Dr. Alina Cohen, Ph.D., explains: “Factors such as adhering to a healthy lifestyle including a diet that is rich in essential nutrients, regular exercise engagement, and having an adequate cardiovascular profile all seem to be effective ways by which to preserve cognitive function and delay cognitive decline.”

Further that “It is pertinent that we develop a better understanding of the lifelong behaviors that may contribute to cognitive decline in late life by implementing a life-span approach whereby younger, middle-aged, and older adults are collectively studied, and where lifestyle risk factors are evaluated prior to a diagnosis of dementia.”

Source: Oxford University Press/EurekAlert

Negative Attitudes Slow Acceptance of Bisexuality

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 6:45am

Although positive attitudes toward gay men and lesbians have increased over recent decades, a new study shows attitudes toward bisexual men and women are relatively neutral, if not ambivalent.

Researchers at Indiana University Center for Sexual Health Promotion say their study is only the second to explore attitudes toward bisexual men and women in a nationally representative sample. Investigators define bisexuality as the capacity for physical, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to more than one sex or gender.

The study is also the first to query attitudes among a sample of gay, lesbian and other-identified individuals (pansexual, queer and other identity labels), in addition to those who identify as heterosexuals.

The study, led by Dr. Brian Dodge, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Health Science and associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, was recently published in PLOS ONE.

The nationally representative sample was taken from the Center for Sexual Health Promotion’s 2015 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior.

“While recent data demonstrates dramatic shifts in attitude (from negative to positive) toward homosexuality, gay/lesbian individuals, and same-sex marriage in the U.S., most of these surveys do not ask about attitudes toward bisexuality or bisexual individuals,” Dodge said.

“And many rely on convenience sampling strategies that are not representative of the general population of the U.S.”

The study looked at five negative connotations, found in previous studies, associated with bisexual men and women — including the idea that bisexuals are confused or in transition regarding their sexual orientation, that they are hypersexual and that they are vectors of sexually transmitted diseases.

The research showed that a majority of male and female respondents, more than one-third, were most likely to “neither agree nor disagree” with the attitudinal statements.

In regard to bisexual men and women having the capability to be faithful in a relationship, nearly 40 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.

Those who identified as “other” had the most positive attitudes toward bisexuality, followed by gay/lesbian respondents and then heterosexuals.

Age played a factor in the results, with participants under the age of 25 indicating more positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women. Income and education also played a role: Higher-income participants were more likely to report more positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women, in addition to participants with higher levels of education.

Overall, attitudes toward bisexual women were more positive than attitudes toward bisexual men.

“While our society has seen marked shifts in more positive attitudes toward homosexuality in recent decades, our data suggest that attitudes toward bisexual men and women have shifted only slightly from very negative to neutral,” Dodge said.

“That nearly one-third of participants reported moderately to extremely negative attitudes toward bisexual individuals is of great concern given the dramatic health disparities faced by bisexual men and women in our country, even relative to gay and lesbian individuals.”

Bisexual men and women face a disproportionate rate of physical, mental, and other health disparities in comparison to monosexuals — those who identify as exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual, Dodge said.

Although research has not determined the cause, Dodge said that negative attitudes and stigma associated with bisexuality could play a role.

Data from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior shows that approximately 2.6 percent of adult men and 3.6 percent of adult women in the U.S. identify as bisexual.

For females, that number is more than double the number of women who identify as lesbian, 0.9 percent. When it comes to adolescents, 1.5 percent of male adolescents (age 14 to 17) and 8.4 percent of female adolescents identify as bisexual.

Dodge said he hopes the results emphasize the need for efforts to decrease negative stereotypes and increase acceptance of bisexual individuals as a component of broader initiatives aimed at tolerance of sexual and gender minority individuals.

“After documenting the absence of positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women in the general U.S. population, we encourage future research, intervention, and practice opportunities focused on assessing, understanding, and eliminating biphobia — for example, among clinicians and other service providers — and determining how health disparities among bisexual men and women can be alleviated,” he said.

Source: University of Indiana

Dads Get Kids’ Skills as Well as Moms

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 6:00am

New research from Denmark finds that a father is able to evaluate a child’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills as well as a mother.

The discovery is important for parental rights cases, schools, or other places where in the past, a mother’s judgement of children was deemed superior.

Aarhus University researchers used the results from the so-called CHIPS-tests (Children’s Problem Solving) — which test the child’s linguistic and cognitive level and psychiatric diagnosis — and compared the results with the parents’ overall evaluation of the child’s academic and behavioral performance (the latter specified in a Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire).

The test results from 6,000 Danish families, adjusted for variables such as gender, the parents’ age, educational background, work situation, income, psychiatric diagnosis etc., show that dad is just as able to evaluate the child’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills as mom.

“This is important knowledge not least in e.g. divorce cases, where the majority of parental rights cases are decided in favor of the mother — among other things based on the parents’ testimonies on the well-being and skills of their children,” said Nabanita Datta Gupta, Ph.D., one of three researchers behind the study.

The research has been published in Review of Economics of the Household.

The study also shows that mothers who have mental issues often evaluate their children’s competences as being poorer than they actually are.

This could be a serious issue as a child may develop a lower self-esteem and a lack of confidence in their own abilities, say the researchers. Moreover, another study has previously shown that children of parents with mental illnesses are at a greater risk of attempting suicide.

“Many women who suffer from post-natal depression are never diagnosed, but their mental state still influences their life and also their ability to evaluate their children’s competences.

Generally, our results indicate that parents should be regarded equally in clinical and school-related contexts, where the doctor and the teacher might as well hear the father’s evaluation of e.g. symptoms and well-being as the mother’s. Especially in Denmark, where fathers are typically very actively involved in looking after the child,” Gupta said.

Gupta believes findings from the research can be widely applied.

“The results are valid, because the parent’s subjective evaluations are compared to the objective measurements of the CHIPS test and the psychiatric diagnoses. Naturally, a lot of other factors are also important, but our research is an important contribution to the collected understanding of the parents’ ability to evaluate their children’s behavior and competences,” she said.

Source: Aarhus University

Using Digital Devices Around Bedtime Can Disrupt Kids’ Sleep

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 5:15am

A new study discovers use of devices such as smartphones and tablets at bedtime more than doubles the risk of poor sleep in children.

Previous research suggests that 72 percent of children and 89 percent of adolescents have at least one device in their bedrooms and most are used near bedtime.

The speed at which these devices have developed — and their growing popularity among families — has outpaced research in this area, meaning that the impact on sleep is not well understood.

Researchers from Kings College, London reviewed 20 existing studies from four continents, involving more than 125,000 children aged six to 19 (with an average age of 15).

Their findings appear in JAMA Pediatrics.

Investigators discovered bedtime use of media devices was associated with an increased likelihood of inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quality, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Bedtime use was classified as engagement with a device within 90 minutes of going to sleep.
They also found that the presence of a media device in the bedroom, even without use, was associated with an increased likelihood of poor sleep.

One potential reason for this is that the “always on” nature of social media and instant messaging means children are continuously engaged with devices in their environment, even when they are not actively using them.

It is thought that screen-based media devices adversely affect sleep through a variety of ways, including delaying or interrupting sleep time; psychologically stimulating the brain; and affecting sleep cycles, physiology, and alertness.

Sleep disturbance in childhood is known to have adverse effects on health, including poor diet, obesity, sedative behavior, reduced immune function, and stunted growth, as well as links with mental health issues.

Dr. Ben Carter from King’s College London, said, “Our study provides further proof of the detrimental effect of media devices on both sleep duration and quality.

“Sleep is an often undervalued but important part of children’s development, with a regular lack of sleep causing a variety of health problems. With the ever-growing popularity of portable media devices and their use in schools as a replacement for textbooks, the problem of poor sleep amongst children is likely to get worse.

“Our findings suggest that an integrated approach involving parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals is necessary to reduce access to these devices and encourage good sleeping habits near bedtime.”

Source: Kings College, London/EurekAlert

Mind-Wandering May Underlie Creativity & Mental Illness

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 4:30am

Mind-wandering, a term used to describe mental thoughts that stray from the task at hand, is the subject of new research that has the potential to revolutionize the understanding of many mental conditions.

In the new study, University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers led a review of mind-wandering research and then developed a new framework for understanding how thoughts flow, even at rest.

The authors argue that their new framework could help better understand the stream of consciousness of patients diagnosed with mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“Mind-wandering is typically characterized as thoughts that stray from what you’re doing,” said Dr. Kalina Christoff, the review’s lead author and a professor in UBC’s department of psychology.

“But we believe this definition is limited in that it doesn’t capture the dynamics of thought. Sometimes the mind moves freely from one idea to another, but at other times it keeps coming back to the same idea, drawn by some worry or emotion.

“Understanding what makes thought free and what makes it constrained is crucial because it can help us understand how thoughts move in the minds of those diagnosed with mental illness.”

In the review, published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, the researchers propose that thoughts flow freely when the mind is in its default state — mind-wandering.

Yet two types of constraints — one automatic and the other deliberate — can curtail this spontaneous movement of thoughts. Reviewing neuroscience literature from more than 200 journals, the authors give an account of how the flow of thoughts is grounded in the interaction between different brain networks, a framework that could guide future research in neuroscience.

This new perspective on mind-wandering could help psychologists gain a more in-depth understanding of mental illnesses, said review co-author Dr. Zachary Irving, postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, who has ADHD.

“Everyone’s mind has a natural ebb and flow of thought, but our framework reconceptualizes disorders like ADHD, depression, and anxiety as extensions of that normal variation in thinking,” said Irving.

“This framework suggests, in a sense, that we all have someone with anxiety and ADHD in our minds. The anxious mind helps us focus on what’s personally important; the ADHD mind allows us to think freely and creatively.”

Within this framework, spontaneous thought processes including mind-wandering, but also creative thinking and dreaming, arise when thoughts are relatively free from deliberate and automatic constraints. Mind-wandering is not far from creative thinking.

“We propose that mind-wandering isn’t an odd quirk of the mind,” said Christoff.

“Rather, it’s something that the mind does when it enters into a spontaneous mode. Without this spontaneous mode, we couldn’t do things like dream or think creatively.”

Source: University of British Columbia

CBT Can Help Older People with Insomnia

Mon, 10/31/2016 - 7:30am

Sleep difficulties are common — 30 percent to 50 percent of adults report having trouble sleeping.

For older adults, insomnia can often be chronic and is linked to other serious health conditions. Elders who have difficulty sleeping are also at higher risk for depression, falls, stroke, and trouble with memory and thinking. They also may experience a poorer quality of life.

For these individuals, sedatives or hypnotic-type sleeping pills are a common choice as a sleep aid, however, the medications bring a risk of falls, fractures, and even death.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a type of talk therapy that is considered highly effective for treating older adults with insomnia. During CBT-I sessions, therapists work with patients to help them change their thinking, behavior, and emotional responses related to sleep issues, which can improve their insomnia.

Although treatment guidelines recommend CBT-I as a primary therapy for older adults with insomnia, many people do not receive it because only a limited number of therapists have CBT-I training. Primary care providers also may believe that it is challenging to motivate older adults to see a therapist for insomnia.

To address these problems, a team of researchers developed a new CBT-I treatment program. The program uses trained “sleep coaches” who are not therapists. They learn how to give CBT-I using a manual and have weekly, supervised telephone calls with a CBT-I psychologist.

The program requires brief training for the sleep coaches, who are social workers or other health educators.

In their study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the researchers assigned 159 people to one of three treatment groups. The participants were mostly white male veterans who ranged in age from 60- to 90-years-old.

The first two groups of people received CBT-I from sleep coaches (who had a master’s degree in social work, public health, or communications) who had attended the special CBT-I training. One group of people received one-on-one CBT-I sessions with the sleep coach.

The second group also received CBT-I , but in a group format. People in the third group (the control group) received a general sleep education program, which also consisted of five one-hour sessions over six weeks. These people did not receive CBT-I from sleep coaches.

During the five one-hour sessions over a six-week period, in both the one-on-one and group sessions, the coaches counseled participants about improving sleep habits and how to avoid practices that can make it harder to sleep well.

Participants were taught techniques to enhance good sleeping. Recommendations such as using the bed only for sleeping, not for watching TV or reading, limiting the amount of time in bed so sleep becomes more consolidated, and other techniques were provided.

In both groups, the sleep coaches also had one weekly telephone call with a CBTI-trained psychologist to review how the participants were doing with the program.

Researchers collected information about the participants’ sleep habits at the beginning of the study and one week after treatments ended. They also followed up with participants six months and one year later.

Following their treatment, people with insomnia who received CBT-I from a sleep coach (either one-on-one or in a group) had lessened their sleep problems significantly, compared to people in the control group.

Improvements included:

  • Participants took about 23 minutes less to fall asleep;
  • Participants’ awake time was about 18 minutes less once they fell asleep;
  • Participants’ total awake time was about 68 minutes less throughout the night;
  • Participants also reported that the quality of their sleep had improved.

Six and 12 months after treatment, the participants in both CBT-I treatment groups maintained most of their sleep improvements.

The researchers said that improvements in sleep were about the same whether people worked with the sleep coach in one-on-one or group sessions.

The primary limitations of the research accompany study composition as investigators report the study was mostly limited to male veterans. As such, the results might not be the same for women or for non-veterans.

Overall, the researchers concluded that this CBT-I treatment program, delivered by sleep coaches, improved sleep quality for older adults.

Source: American Geriatrics Society

Celebrity Experiences Reduce Stigma Attached to Out-of-Wedlock Childbirths

Mon, 10/31/2016 - 6:45am

New sociological research attributes the commonality of unwed celebrity childbirths as helping to change social norms that frowned upon unmarried partners having children.

Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, a University at Buffalo sociologist, explains that over the past four decades celebrity news has contributed to the changing makeup of the traditional American family.

“Celebrities typically did not apologize for getting pregnant outside of marriage,” says Grol-Prokopczyk. “But the family model also changed over time. The early model dictated that you should marry by the time the baby is born. By the mid-2000s that had changed, and it became widely acceptable in the celebrity world to have a child without marrying first.”

With People magazine as her proxy for popular culture news coverage, Grol-Prokopczyk analyzed nearly 400 cover stories dating from People’s 1974 premier issue to the present to learn when the interest in celebrity pregnancies started and how the magazine’s presentation of family norms changed over time.

She presented her findings at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. A more detailed study, including calculations of celebrity non-marital birth rates, is currently under peer-review.

“I used People magazine because it’s reputable in the sense that it doesn’t publish fictional stories; it has been in continuous circulation for over 40 years; and it remains one of the most widely circulating magazines in the country,” says Grol-Prokopczyk.

“It also has a strong online presence, with as many as 72 million unique views in a given month.”

Grol-Prokopczyk’s curiosity about the media’s fascination with celebrity baby news began when she was pregnant with her first child. She signed up for news alerts, expecting to get medical and nutrition stories relevant to expectant mothers, but instead received mostly news reports about celebrity pregnancies.

“Academics often scoff at celebrity news, but in fact there’s evidence that celebrity culture is enormously influential in changing norms and has a very wide reach,” she says.

“For example, after Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed after having her preventative mastectomy, a survey conducted weeks later found that 74 percent of Americans knew about her surgery and the decision.”

This became known as the Angelina Effect, and research on its impact was published in the journal Genetics in Medicine. “That attests to the fact that decisions celebrities make reach us and affect our thinking,” says Grol-Prokopczyk.

Researchers discovered the first People magazine cover that showed a celebrity pregnancy was in May 1976. Goldie Hawn was pictured and the text makes it clear that she’s pregnant and unmarried, but the caption reads, “She’s laughing with a baby and a new hubby on the way.”

“There aren’t many non-marital fertility stories in the 1970s, but when they do appear there’s almost always a promise that the parent will marry by the time the baby is born,” says Grol-Prokopczyk.

“It’s like saying, ‘Don’t worry, readers. They’ll be married by the time the baby arrives.'”

The model was still the same when People magazine announced Melanie Griffith’s pregnancy in 1989, with a caption that said she and Don Johnson were “thinking about an April wedding.”

Beginning in the 1990s, the normative model began to change, and by the mid-2000s, People magazine regularly showed celebrity couples who didn’t marry by the time the baby was born, according to Grol-Prokopczyk. These non-marital births were almost without exception presented as happy, morally unproblematic events.

“This includes women who were partnered but didn’t plan to marry the partner, but it also includes so-called ‘single mothers’ who we now know were in committed same-sex relationships, in particular Jodie Foster and Rosie O’Donnell,” she says.

Seven covers about Foster and O’Donnell appeared between 1996 and 2002. None of them acknowledge that the women were in same-sex relationships, and two of them directly referred to the women as “single mothers.”

“Based on biographies of them now, we know they were in long-term, committed relationships at the time,” says Grol-Prokopczyk.

“People magazine was slow to show acceptance of same-sex parents, preferring to present them as single parents. This example shows that while celebrity media coverage can serve as an agent for social change — by de-stigmatizing non-marital childbearing or transgenderism, for instance — it does not always do so,” she says.

Source: University of Buffalo

Therapy Dogs Provide Reward for ASD Behavioral Improvements

Mon, 10/31/2016 - 6:00am

Innovative new research discovers a novel reward of having the opportunity to interact with therapy dogs, can improve behavior among children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

ASD may result in deficits in social communication and interaction, repetitive or restricted behavior, sensory issues, and cognitive delays, say researchers. These traits prevent children on the spectrum from performing or completing tasks in the same timeliness or fashion as other children.

Often, in order to get children with ASD to complete tasks, a reward-based system is implemented, where the child is given a toy or some other form of reward. But the offer of a reward doesn’t always guarantee completion of the task.

In a new study, Texas Tech University researchers investigate if providing access to therapy dogs as the reward — allowing students who complete certain academic tasks to spend time with the pooch — will help motivate them to complete those tasks.

“It is a reward-based program,” said Alexandra Protopopova, a behavioral analyst and assistant professor in companion animal science in the Department of Animal & Food Sciences.

“There is a second component to it, however, in that dogs, just by being dogs, may alleviate stress. Potentially, the dogs create a more pleasant environment and offer emotional support during academic sessions.”

Investigators believe the dogs create a more pleasant environment and offer emotional support during academic sessions.

“So, by mediating that stress level, the dogs may improve learning and potentially improve other outcomes as well as being a reward for the child ruing work.”

Protopopova is an expert in behavior issues with dogs across a wide array of subjects, from interaction with children with ASD to analyzing what behaviors are more attractive for potential adopters and ways to bring those behaviors out to improve adoption rates.

But she said the methods and philosophies of how behavior works in animals is, at the core, the same as it is in children, and it is that connection that made this current research both attractive and interesting.

“With an iPad or toy as a reward, a child might become bored over time,” Protopopova said. “With a dog you might see the exact opposite situation over time where the child grows attached to the dog and the quality of the reward grows as well.”

The innovative approach was spurned by Protopopova and a colleague in the College of Education, Professor Jeanne Donaldson, who wanted to connect the college and the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research with the Department of Animal & Food Sciences.

The most natural way to make that connection, she said was to incorporate therapy dogs with the research being done involving applied behavior analysis in children with disabilities.

“Social behavior and social interaction has been an often neglected component of these kinds of programs,” Protopopova said, “and that is something researchers have attempted to improve, that social behavior and communication.

There is some evidence that dogs or animals in general occasionally could bring out that social connection. That part of the research is definitely attractive to us.”

Measuring the effectiveness of using therapy dogs as a reward for academic performance in children with ASD was performed in two areas.

The first was done biologically; stress responses were detected through the collection of saliva. Breanna Harris, a research assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, used salivary cortisol, a stress hormone, to determine a student’s stress level in regard to anticipating interaction with the dog.

The second aspect of measuring effectiveness was done by observing the rate of work in the children and how motivated the children were to engage in academic tasks. Each child was given an individual task based on his or her education level, so those tasks involved the same things they were learning in school at the time or what parents had indicated the child needed extra help with.

A control condition was created where there were not rewards and children received praise only for engaging in academic tasks. A second control group saw children work toward receiving inanimate leisure items such as iPads or toys, which Protopopova said have been proven through prior research to be effective motivational tactics.

Two other control conditions involved the therapy dogs. One condition involved the dogs being used as a reward for work performed and would be present only after that work was completed. The second condition was what Protopopova termed more of the typical animal assisted intervention where the dog was continuously present in the room.

Notably, the conditions where there was no reward at all and where the dog was constantly around proved to be the most ineffective methods of motivation, researchers found.

The two conditions where there were rewards provided upon completion of the work were the most effective; being rewarded with spending time with the therapy dog proved the most effective for some children.

“In fact, for most of the children, this was very useful as a reward because the dog motivated them quite a bit to do the work,” Protopopova said. “We did find, surprisingly to me, that one participant did in fact work where we hypothesized he wouldn’t during a session where the dog was present but not as a reward.”

In many cases, time and experience made a difference.

For example, single-use incidences of using the therapy dog show one thing, but the researchers wanted to determine whether prolonged exposure to the availability of a therapy dog as a reward for performing work continues those results.

For that reason, in this first study, children stayed in the program for anywhere from four to nine months to see if using the same dog repeatedly fosters the child’s attachment to the dog.

Prior to the child beginning the program, he or she is given a behavioral preference assessment where the child is asked to choose his or her favorite thing in the room, whether it’s a toy, an electronic device, a dog, etc.

They also were given the choice of performing the academic test instead. At the end of the program, the child is tested again with the same assessment to see if their preferences had changed.

“We wanted to see how all these preferences for inanimate objects or activities changed,” Protopopova said. “Right now we are still collecting the final pieces of data because we’re still finishing up with a couple of participants. We don’t yet have the clear answers there, but it’s not as straightforward as we imagined, either. For some of the children, we did not see the attachment we hypothesized, or at least any evidence of it in our data so far. But it’s too early to tell.”

Protopopova said one of the advantages of this study is its single-subject design where each child’s program or sessions are designed specifically for that child’s needs. That will allow, if the program is used outside of an educational setting, for other children to enter the program with a focus on their unique behaviors and what is best to encourage them to learn difficult academic or self-care tasks in a non-stressful learning environment.

She said one family in the original group took the data gathered about their child and obtained a dog and will train it as a service dog because of the benefits the data showed for their child.

“This is definitely a strength,” Protopopova said. “Instead of a group design and us concluding that the average child would benefit from some procedure, which is not really that meaningful to individual families, we can give each family specific answers whether their child would or would not benefit from a dog.”

One major question to come out of the preliminary research, she said, is whether using a shelter dog to encourage behavior can be used to determine the severity of the disability. Does it work on children who are higher- or lower-functioning?

Protopopova and other researchers are beginning another one to answer new questions that rose from the original, smaller study.

The larger study will involve at least 30 children, and they are actively recruiting children to enter the study. Those children must be between the ages of two and 14 with autism spectrum disorder and/or other developmental disabilities.

The hope is the larger study will allow the research to be used in schools and centers on a regular basis.

“There we can answer more generalized questions,” Protopopova said. “How useful is this and who is it most useful for? Can we tell which children are going to benefit and which ones will not? So when we get those answers we are going to be a bit closer to really giving that program out to schools to say, ‘we have strong evidence that it will be useful for this person or not for this person.”

Source: Texas Tech University