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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 24 min 59 sec ago

Saving Oneself Tied To Saving For The Future

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 7:00am

New research suggests poor physical and financial health are the products of similar underlying psychological factors.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that the decision to contribute to a 401(k) retirement plan predicted whether or not someone will try to improve poor physical health as indicated during an employer-sponsored health examination.

“We find that existing retirement contribution patterns and future health improvements are highly correlated,” said the investigators.

“Those who save for the future by contributing to a 401(k) improved abnormal health test results and poor health behaviors approximately 27 percent more than non-contributors.”

Researchers Lamar Pierce, Ph.D., and Ph.D. candidate Timothy Gubler discuss their findings in a study found in the journal Psychological Science.

In the paper, Gubler and Pierce provide evidence that insufficient retirement funds and chronic health problems are at least partially driven by the same time discounting preferences.

Gubler and Pierce studied personnel and health data from eight industrial laundry locations in multiple states.

They found the previous decision of an employee to forego immediate income and contribute to a 401(k) retirement plan predicted whether he or she would respond positively to the revelation of poor physical health.

Gubler and Pierce wanted to compare 401(k) contributors and non-contributors on how much they were willing to change a health risk.

Employees were given an initial health screening. Ninety-seven percent of them had at least one abnormal blood test and 25 percent had at least one severely abnormal finding.

They were told of the results, which were sent to the worker’s personal physicians. Workers also were given information on risky health behaviors and anticipated future health risks.

The researchers followed the laundry workers for two years to see how they attempted to improve their health, and if those changes were tied to financial planning.

After controlling for differences in initial health, demographics, and job type, the researchers found that retirement savings and health improvement behaviors are highly correlated.

Those who had previously chosen to save for the future through 401(k) contributions improved their health significantly more than non-contributors, despite having few health differences prior to program implementation.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

Alcohol Disorders More Likely to Push Women Off Career Ladder

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 6:15am

A new study reviewed the relationship between occupation and alcohol use disorders (AUDs) in workers during early adulthood to middle age, and the news for women in particular should give pause.

Investigators focused on the “substantive complexity” of work as an indicator of work trajectory — that is, whether individuals were progressing in their careers in terms of factors such as decision latitude and expanded work abilities.

Researchers reviewed factors such as drinking more than intended or unsuccessful attempts to cut down on drinking.

This analysis discovered AUDs were initially present in about 15 percent of men and 7.5 percent of women.

Lower work trajectory was linked to a higher rate of AUDs, both initially and during follow-up. For both men and women, career advances were associated with decreased AUD rates.

Although men had higher AUD rates, the association between AUD and flat or downward occupational trajectory appeared stronger in women. In contrast, higher education was more strongly associated with lower AUD risk in men.

Together with previous reports, the study suggests that “declining occupational trajectory is a consequence of AUD development,” rather than a predictor.

However, the link between AUDs and occupation appears to be “complex and reinforcing,” according to researchers John D. Meyer, M.D., M.P.H., of Icahn-Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, and Miriam Mutambudzi, Ph.D., M.P.H., of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore.

They add that women’s career paths “may be more readily disrupted” by AUDs, compared to men’s.

Source: Wolters Kluwer Health

Can Mobile Technology Transform Psychiatric Care?

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 5:30am

A new smartphone application could potentially transform how patients with mental illnesses are monitored and treated by clinicians.

Uri Nevo, Ph.D., and a team of scientists from Tel Aviv University developed a system that detects changes in patients’ behavioral patterns, and then transmits them to professionals in real time. The app could greatly improve the response time and efficacy of clinical psychiatrists.

By facilitating patient observation through smartphones, the technology also affords patients much-needed independence from hospitals, clinicians — and even family members.

“The diagnosis of mental health disease is based only on behavioral patterns,” said Nevo. “In some cases, a patient is discharged from the hospital into a vacuum, with no idea how to monitor his or her new state of mind.

Because most people own smartphones today, we thought, ‘Why not harness the smartphone, a reservoir of daily activities, to monitor behavioral patterns?’

Nevo said bipolar disorder, for example, starts with a manic episode. ”A patient who usually makes five or ten calls a day might suddenly start making dozens of calls a day,” he said.

“How much they talk, text, how many places they visit, when they go to bed, and for how long — these are all indicators of mental health and provide important insights to clinicians who want to catch a disorder before it is full-blown.”

Researchers conducted two clinical trials in which the application was installed on the smartphones of 20 patients suffering from bipolar, unipolar/depressive, or schizoaffective disorders, as well as on the phones of 20 healthy participants.

Over the course of six months, the app acquired data from patients’ phones and sent the information to distant computers, where advanced algorithms analyzed the data to detect changes in patients’ sleep, communication, mobility, and vocal patterns.

The researchers further developed a visualization system that displayed the summarized information to psychiatrists, providing them with instant insight into the behavioral trends of their patients.

According to Nevo, a patient using the app has full control over who has access to the behavioral patterns recorded and analyzed by it.

“We take great care to protect the patient’s privacy,” said Nevo. “The content of calls and texts is completely ignored and never acquired or recorded, and any identifying parameters of the patient or of his contacts, are irreversibly masked and are obviously not used.”

Psychiatrists in the trials reported that the system has already positively affected their interaction with patients, offering a useful objective “window” into the patient’s daily routine.

One patient who was involved in the clinical trial for only a brief period recently suffered a hospitalization.

“If I had kept the app on my phone, you would have immediately noticed the unusual number of phone calls I was making, and this hospitalization could have been prevented,” he told his psychiatrist.

“We have a way to go until such a system will be proven effective and adopted by the psychiatric community,” said Nevo.

“However, psychiatrists, as well as U.S. federal policymakers in the field, agree that such tools are necessary to improve psychiatric practice.”

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Jerk Or Pushover? Many Don’t Have a Clue About Assertiveness

Tue, 07/01/2014 - 7:45am

A new study suggests that many people are in the dark about how others view them either at work or among social connections.

“Finding the middle ground between being pushy and being a pushover is a basic challenge in social life and the workplace,” said Daniel Ames, professor of management at Columbia Business School and co–author of the new study. “We’ve now found that the challenge is compounded by the fact that people often don’t know how others see their assertiveness.

“In the language of Goldilocks, many people are serving up porridge that others see as too hot or too cold, but they mistakenly think the temperature comes across as just right — that their assertiveness is seen as appropriate.

“To our surprise, we also found that many people whose porridge was actually seen as just right mistakenly thought their porridge came off as too hot. That is, they were asserting themselves appropriately in the eyes of others, but they incorrectly thought they were pushing too hard.”

Ames said the research shows that many people seen by others as under- or over-assertive think they’re appropriately assertive.

The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, also reveals that people seen as getting assertiveness right often mistakenly think they’ve gotten it wrong.

Ames and fellow researcher Abbie Wazlawek conducted four studies to test their hypotheses about the connection between assertiveness and self–awareness.

Three of the four studies involved participants who were MBA students enrolled in negotiation courses at Columbia Business School, and one study involved an online survey of 500 U.S. adults.

The MBA student studies paired up developing professionals for mock negotiations over issues such as licensing rights. After the deal-making, each person answered questions about their own assertiveness and their counterpart’s assertiveness.

The negotiators were then asked to guess what their counterpart said about them. A key question for the researchers was whether people knew what their counterparts thought of them.

The studies found that, generally speaking, negotiators have a lot of work to do in the self-awareness department.

For example, one study found that:

  • 57 percent of people actually seen by their counterpart as under-assertive thought they had come across as appropriately assertive or even over-assertive.
  • 56 percent of people actually seen by their counterpart as over-assertive thought they had come across as appropriately assertive or even under-assertive.
  • Together, these results suggest that people seen as getting assertiveness wrong in the eyes of others had about a coin flip’s chance of recognizing how they were seen.

“Most people can think of someone who is a jerk or a pushover and largely clueless about how they’re seen,” said Ames. “Sadly, our results suggest that, often enough, that clueless jerk or pushover is us.”

The researchers were surprised to discover another pattern in their results. Ames and Wazlawek found that many people getting assertiveness right mistakenly thought they were seen as pushing too hard.

In multiple studies, Ames and Wazlawek observed a good share of people displaying what they called the “line crossing illusion.”

These people believed that they came across as being too assertive, or had crossed a line, during negotiations, when in fact their counterparts saw them as being appropriately assertive.

While this illusion might seem like a harmless or even endearing mistake, Ames and Wazlawek showed that it can be costly.

Those who mistakenly thought they had over-asserted themselves were more likely to try to repair relationships with their partners, sometimes agreeing to a less valuable subsequent deal just to smooth things over.

As the researchers put it, these negotiators were attempting costly repairs for something that wasn’t broken. The result was that both sides frequently lost out on what could have been a better deal.

Source: Columbia Business School

Over-assertive man stepping on another man photo by shutterstock.

St. John’s Wort Interactions Can Be Dangerous

Tue, 07/01/2014 - 7:00am

New research discovers that combining St. John’s wort, the leading complementary and alternative treatment for depression in the United States, with commonly prescribed drugs, can lead to dangerous side effects.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center investigators report that the herbal supplement can reduce the concentration of numerous drugs in the body, including oral contraceptive, blood thinners, cancer chemotherapy, and blood pressure medications. Such dilution can result in impaired effectiveness and treatment failure.

“Patients may have a false sense of safety with so-called ‘natural’ treatments like St. John’s wort,” said Sarah Taylor, M.D., lead author of the study. “And it is crucial for physicians to know the dangers of ‘natural’ treatments and to communicate the risks to patients effectively.”

The study is published in the current online issue of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

To determine how often S. John’s wort (SJW) was being prescribed or taken with other medications, the team conducted a retrospective analysis of nationally representative data collected by the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 1993 to 2010.

The research team found the use of SJW in potentially harmful combinations in 28 percent of the cases reviewed.

“Possible drug interactions can include serotonin syndrome, a potentially fatal condition that causes high levels of the chemical serotonin to accumulate in your body, heart disease due to impaired efficacy of blood pressure medications, or unplanned pregnancy due to contraceptive failure,” Taylor said.

The study does have limitations as only medications recorded by the physician were analyzed. “Nevertheless,” Taylor said “the rate of SJW interactions may actually be underestimated because the database did not include patients who were using SJW but did not tell their doctor.”

“Labeling requirements for helpful supplements such as St. John’s wort need to provide appropriate cautions and risk information,” Taylor said.

France has banned the use of St. John’s wort products, and several other countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom, and Canada, are in the process of including drug-herb interaction warnings on St. John’s wort products.

“Doctors also need to be trained to always ask if the patient is taking any supplements, vitamins, minerals, or herbs, especially before prescribing any of the common drugs that might interact with St. John’s wort.”

Source: Wake Forest Baptist

Workplace Double Standard on Social Media

Tue, 07/01/2014 - 6:15am

A new study finds that while managers have a negative view of employee use of social media for private purposes during work, top executives frequently surf the web during work hours.

Experts say that every day, more than one billion people worldwide use social media.

This habit also permeates the workplace, as some research reports that four out of five employees now use social media for private purpose during work time.

New research from the the University of Bergen (UiB) shows that managers and top executives are critical of private use of social media at work.

Middle managers and top executives were found to hold more negative attitudes to private use of social media at work than subordinates.

“It is very interesting that top executives, who are negative to private web-surfing during working hours, are the ones who surf the most for private purposes when at work,” said postdoctoral fellow Cecilie Schou Andreassen, Ph.D.

She suggests that this can be explained by the fact that top executives have longer working hours, and that work and leisure are much more integrated than it is for employees.

“It is likely that managers are worried about reductions in output and financial loss as a result of use of private social media among their employees,” says Schou Andreassen.
Singles surf more

Schou Andreassen and her colleagues are among the first in the world to do research on the causes that may explain the attitudes and actual usages of private social media in the workplace.

About 11,000 Norwegian employees participated in the researchers’ study Predictors of Use of Social Network Sites at Work.

Some of the main findings in the study about the habits of internet use at work:

  • Younger employees use social media for private purposes more than older employees do.
  • Men browse the internet more for private purposes than women do during working hours.
  • People with higher education are the most active social media users.
  • Singles are more active on social media than those in relationships.
  • Extrovert and nervous people are more active online.
  • People who are structured/reliable/organised/prompt personalities, spend less time on social media compared to their counterparts.

The researchers have some indications as to why some surf and use social media for personal purposes more during working hours, and why young, single, and educated men stand out.

“Social media probably has a greater social function for singles than it has for people in relationships,” says Schou Andreassen.

Those with higher education and socioeconomic status are likely more familiar with computer use, which may explain why they are more active online than those with lower education.

Their work situation may also provide more opportunities to engage in private use of social media at work compared to those with lower education.

“The finding may also reflect that people with a high socioeconomic status, are not as afraid to lose their job as those in low-status jobs,” says Schou Andreassen.

“In addition, high rollers may be more interested in social media to advance their career.”

The study also showed that people who are outgoing, so-called extrovert personalities, and neurotic people spend more time online and on social media for personal purposes during working hours than their counterparts.

People who are organized and punctual, however, spend the least time online for personal purposes during working hours.

“While outgoing people in general enjoy being social, anxious people may prefer to communicate digitally rather than in stress-inducing real life situations,” suggests Schou Andreassen.

“Ambitious people with a sense of order may surf less than others for private purposes, but will probably use the web actively for work-related business during office hours.”

Researchers also discovered the use of social media during working hours is closely related to attitudes.

The survey showed that strict guidelines and limited access reduce private browsing at work.

“Good regulations combined with motivational work challenges can prevent private browsing during work hours,” says the postdoctoral fellow.

A heavy work load also limits the use of social media and private browsing at work. But Cecilie Schou Andreassen cautions against this.

“Although a demanding workload limits browsing, it is not recommended that managers overload their staff with work to prevent them from using private social media,” she says.

Should employers worry that private browsing hampers output and leads to financial loss?

“The research conducted provides conflicting answers to this.”

“Some studies suggest that companies suffer financial losses as a result of private browsing; while other studies suggest that private browsing has the same refreshing effect on the mind-set as going for a walk,” says Cecilie Schou Andreassen.

Source: University of Bergen

Executive surfing the web photo by shutterstock.

Teen Sexting Associated with Sexual Behavior

Tue, 07/01/2014 - 5:30am

A new study illuminates the relationship between “sexting” and sexual behavior in early adolescence.

University of Southern California researchers believe the findings can inform the ongoing national conversation about whether sexually explicit text messaging is a risk behavior or just a technologically-enabled extension of normal teenage flirtation.

The latest research, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that among middle school students, those who reported receiving a sext were six times more likely to also report being sexually active. The researchers defined “sext” in their survey as a sexually suggestive text or photo.

While past research has examined sexting and sexual behavior among high school-age students and young adults, the researchers were particularly interested in young teens. Past data has shown clear links between early sexual debut and risky sexual behavior, including teenage pregnancy, sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol, experience of forced sex, and higher risk of sexually transmitted disease.

“These findings call attention to the need to train health educators, pediatricians, and parents on how best to communicate with young adolescents about sexting in relation to sexual behavior,” said lead author Eric Rice.

“The sexting conversation should occur as soon as the child acquires a cell phone.”

The study anonymously sampled more than 1,300 middle school students in Los Angeles as part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Respondents ranged in age from 10-15, with an average age of 12.3 years. The researchers found that even when controlling for sexting behaviors, young teens who sent more than 100 texts a day were more likely to report being sexually active.

Other key findings:

  • Young teens who sent sexts were almost four times more likely to report being sexually active;
  • Sending and receiving sexts went hand-in-hand – those who reported receiving a sext were 23 times more likely to have also sent one;
  • Students who identified as LGBTQ were nine times more likely to have sent a sext;
  • However, unlike past research on high school students, LGBTQ young adolescents were not more likely to be sexually active, the study showed;
  • Youth who texted more than 100 times a day were more than twice as likely to have received a sext and almost 4.5 times more likely to report having sent a sext.

The researchers acknowledge that despite anonymity, the data is self-reported and thus subject to social desirability bias, as well as limitations for geographic area and the diverse demographics of Los Angeles.

However, the dramatic correlation between students who sent sexts and reported sexual activity indicates the need for further research and summons attention to the relationship between technology use and sexual behavior among early adolescents, the researchers say.

“Our results show that excessive, unlimited, or unmonitored texting seems to enable sexting,” Rice said. “Parents may wish to openly monitor their young teen’s cell phone, check in with them about who they are communicating with, and perhaps restrict their number of texts allowed per month.”

Overall, 20 percent of students with text-capable cell phones said they had ever received a sext, and five percent report sending a sext.

Source: University of Southern California

Weight-Challenged Kids Familiar with Fast-Food Logos

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 7:45am

Marketing works, and the results can be detrimental to the health of young people.

A new study discovers the more a child is familiar with logos and other images from fast-food restaurants, sodas, and not-so-healthy snack food brands, the more likely the child is to be overweight or obese.

And, unfortunately, studies have shown that people who are overweight at a young age tend to stay that way.

A research team that included a Michigan State University professor tested kids on their knowledge of various brands, including their ability to identify items such as golden arches, silly rabbits, and a king’s crown. Researchers found those who could identify them the most tended to have higher body mass indexes, or BMIs.

“We found the relationship between brand knowledge and BMI to be quite robust,” said Anna McAlister, Ph.D., an MSU assistant professor.

“The kids who know most about these brands have higher BMIs.”

The children — ages three to five — were tested by being given pictures of unhealthy food-related logos.

They then were given pictures of food items, packaging, and cartoon characters and asked to match the items with their corresponding brand logos.

“The results varied, which is a good thing,” McAlister said. “Some kids knew very little about the brands while others knew them exceptionally well.”

Doing the study twice, the research team found that among one group exercise tended to offset the negative effects of too much familiarity with unhealthy food. However, that finding could not be duplicated in the second group.

“The inconsistency across studies tells us that physical activity should not be seen as a cure-all in fixing childhood obesity,” McAlister said. “Of course we want kids to be active, but the results from these studies suggest that physical activity is not the only answer.

“The consistent relationship between brand knowledge and BMI suggests that limiting advertising exposure might be a step in the right direction too.”

Because kids get most of their food messages from television, the question is what causes more harm — the sedentary lifestyle brought on by too much time in front of the TV or the unhealthy food messages kids are bombarded with?

“From our results,” she said, “it would suggest that it’s not the TV time itself, but rather what is learned about these brands. It’s probably the developing food knowledge, not the sedentary lifestyle.”

University of Oregon professor and co-author of the paper, Dr. Bettina Cornwell, noted that the findings provide more insight into children’s relationship with food, or their “first language of food.”

“It doesn’t take long,” she said, “for children to figure out what they like and don’t like, something that can stick with them their entire lives.”

“What we’re trying to show here is just how young kids are when they develop their theory of food,” McAlister said. “As early as five years of age, kids are developing a sense of what food means to them.”

The findings were published in the recent issue of the journal Appetite.

Source: Michigan State University

McDonalds fries photo by shutterstock.

Many Teens Get Lots of Pot Tweets

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 7:00am

It appears that many teens are being bombarded with tweets encouraging marijuana use.

A new study discovered that during an eight-month period in 2013, a marijuana-related Twitter account sent out more than 2,200 messages to some one million followers, 73 percent of whom were 19 years old or younger.

According to researchers from Washington University School of Medicine, hundreds of thousands of American youth are following marijuana-related Twitter accounts and getting pro-pot messages several times each day.

The tweets are cause for concern, they said, because young people are thought to be especially responsive to social media influences. In addition, patterns of drug use tend to be established in a person’s late teens and early 20s.

In a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, investigators analyzed messages tweeted from May 1 through Dec. 31, 2013, by a Twitter account called Weed Tweets@stillblazintho.

Among pro-marijuana accounts, this one was selected because it has the most Twitter followers — about one million. During the eight-month study period, the account posted an average of 11 tweets per day.

“As people are becoming more accepting of marijuana use and two states have legalized the drug for recreational use, it is important to remember that it remains a dangerous drug of abuse,” said principal investigator Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, Ph.D.

“I’ve been studying what is influencing attitudes to change dramatically and where people may be getting messages about marijuana that are leading them to believe the drug is not hazardous.”

Although 19 states now allow marijuana use for medical purposes, much of the evidence for its effectiveness remains anecdotal. Even as Americans are relaxing their attitudes about marijuana, in 2011 marijuana contributed to more than 455,000 emergency room visits in the United States, federal research shows. Some 13 percent of those patients were ages 12 to 17.

A majority of Americans favor legalizing recreational use of the drug, and 60 percent of high school seniors report they don’t believe regular marijuana use is harmful.

A recent report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said that more Americans are using cannabis as their perception of the health risk declines. The report stated that for youth and young adults, “more permissive cannabis regulations correlate with decreases in the perceived risk of use.”

Cavazos-Rehg said Twitter also is influencing young people’s attitudes about the drug. Studying Weed Tweets, the team counted 2,285 tweets during the eight-month study. Of those, 82 percent were positive about the drug, 18 percent were either neutral or did not focus on marijuana, and 0.3 percent expressed negative attitudes about it.

Many of the tweets were meant to be humorous. Others implied that marijuana helps a person feel good or relax, and some mentioned different ways to get high.

With the help of a data analysis firm, the investigators found that of those receiving the tweets, 73 percent were under 19. Fifty-four percent were 17 to 19 years old, and almost 20 percent were 16 or younger. About 22 percent were 20 to 24 years of age. Only five percent of the followers were 25 or older.

“These are risky ages when young people often begin experimentation with drugs,” explained Cavazos-Rehg, an assistant professor of psychiatry.

“It’s an age when people are impressionable and when substance-use behaviors can transition into addiction. In other words, it’s a very risky time of life for people to be receiving messages like these.”

Cavazos-Rehg said it isn’t possible from this study to “connect the dots” between positive marijuana tweets and actual drug use, but she cites previous research linking substance use to messages from television and billboards. She suggested this also may apply to social media.

“Studies looking at media messages on traditional outlets like television, radio, billboards, and magazines have shown that media messages can influence substance use and attitudes about substance use,” she said.

“It’s likely a young person’s attitudes and behaviors may be influenced when he or she is receiving daily, ongoing messages of this sort.”

The researchers also learned that the Twitter account they tracked reached a high number of African-Americans and Hispanics compared with Caucasians.

Almost 43 percent were African-American, and nearly 12 percent were Hispanic. In fact, among Hispanics, Weed Tweets ranked in the top 30 percent of all Twitter accounts followed.

“It was surprising to see that members of these minority groups were so much more likely than Caucasians to be receiving these messages,” Cavazos-Rehg said, adding that there is particular concern about African-Americans because their rates of marijuana abuse and dependence are about twice as high as the rate in Caucasians and Hispanics.

“The findings point to the need for a discussion about the pro-drug messages young people receive,” Cavazos-Rehg said.

“There are celebrities who tweet to hundreds of thousands of followers, and it turns out a Twitter handle that promotes substance use can be equally popular,” she said.

“Because there’s not much regulation of social media platforms, that could lead to potentially harmful messages being distributed.

Regulating this sort of thing is going to be challenging, but the more we can provide evidence that harmful messages are being received by vulnerable kids, the more likely it is we can have a discussion about the types of regulation that might be appropriate.”

Source: Washington University School of Medicine

Atrocious Video Game Behavior Can Boost Moral Sensitivity

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 6:15am

A new study suggests wicked video game behavior can, paradoxically, lead to players’ increased sensitivity toward the moral codes they violated.

“Rather than leading players to become less moral,” said Matthew Grizzard, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Communication, “this research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity.

“This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others.”

The study, “Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive,” is found online ahead of print in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

Grizzard points out that several recent studies, including this one, have found that committing immoral behaviors in a video game elicits feelings of guilt in players who commit them.

The current study found such guilt can lead players to be more sensitive to the moral issues they violated during game play.

Other studies have established that in real-life scenarios, guilt evoked by immoral behavior in the “real-world” elicits pro-social behaviors in most people.

“We suggest that pro-social behavior also may result when guilt is provoked by virtual behavior,” Grizzard says.

Researchers induced guilt in participants by having them play a video game where they violated two of five moral domains: care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity/sanctity.

“We found that after a subject played a violent video game, they felt guilt and that guilt was associated with greater sensitivity toward the two particular domains they violated — those of care/harm and fairness/reciprocity,” Grizzard says.

The first includes behaviors marked by cruelty, abuse, and lack of compassion, and the second, by injustice or the denial of the rights of others.

“Our findings suggest that emotional experiences evoked by media exposure can increase the intuitive foundations upon which human beings make moral judgments,” Grizzard says.

“This is particularly relevant for video-game play, where habitual engagement with that media is the norm for a small, but considerably important group of users.”

Grizzard explains that in life and in game, specific definitions of moral behavior in each domain will vary from culture to culture and situation to situation.

“For instance,” he says, “an American who played a violent game ‘as a terrorist’ would likely consider his avatar’s unjust and violent behavior — violations of the fairness/reciprocity and harm/care domains — to be more immoral than when he or she performed the same acts in the role of a ‘UN peacekeeper.’”

In conducting the study, researchers combined a model of intuitive morality and exemplars representing current advances in moral psychology with media-effects theories to explain how mediated or indirect experiences influence individuals’ moral judgments.

The study involved 185 subjects who were randomly assigned to either a guilt-inducing condition — in which they played a shooter game as a terrorist or were asked to recall real-life acts that induced guilt — or a control condition — shooter game play as a UN soldier and the recollection of real-life acts that did not induce guilt.

After completing the video game or the memory recall, participants completed a three-item guilt scale and a 30-item moral foundations questionnaire designed to assess the importance to them of the five moral domains cited above.

Correlations were calculated among the variables in the study, with separate correlation matrices calculated for the video-game conditions and the memory-recall conditions.

The study found significant positive correlations between video-game guilt and the moral foundations violated during game play.

Source: University of Buffalo

New App Helps People Get Up, Stand Up for Fitness

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 5:30am

A new smartphone-based intervention may produce short-term reductions in sedentary behavior that can help to improve health.

Researchers from Miriam Hospital, affiliated with the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, developed a smartphone-based intervention, or smartphone app, to reduce the amount of time obese individuals sit or recline while awake.

“Almost everyone knows that physical activity is important,” said researcher Dale Bond, Ph.D., faculty in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at The Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center.

“But it’s not widely recognized that someone who runs five miles in the evening but spends the rest of the day sitting at a desk can be putting their health at risk.”

According to recent research, even individuals who exercise a lot can be at risk for health problems if they also spend a lot of time in sedentary behaviors, such as sitting. More sedentary time, regardless of physical activity levels, is associated with greater risk for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and mortality.

The average American adult spends upward of 60 percent of his or her awake time sedentary, and this low-cost intervention could be made accessible to a large segment of the population using a device they already own.”

“That smartphone you use so often throughout the day could now actually help to improve your health,” Bond said.

The smartphone app, “B-Mobile,” was tested in a study of primarily middle-aged women who were obese, although the intervention can be applied to those who are not obese.

The app automatically monitored the time participants spent being sedentary, and after an extended period with no activity, prompted participants via a tone paired with motivational messages to get up and walk around for a few minutes.

Participants received feedback providing encouragement for taking a break and reinforcement when they achieved the walking break goal.

Researchers tested three different approaches to see which was best at reducing the total amount of sedentary time.

Even though all three were successful, researchers found it is better to take shorter breaks more often for better health.

Also, while previous interventions have used similar behavioral strategies such as self-monitoring and feedback to reduce sedentary behavior, use of a smartphone allowed these strategies to be easily automated and implemented through the day in any environment.

The app performed better than other low-intensity intervention approaches that do not involve intensive face-to-face contact and/or expensive equipment.

“Prompting frequent, short activity breaks may be the most effective way to decrease excessive sedentary time and increase physical activity in individuals who are overweight or obese,” Bond concluded.

“Further investigations should determine whether these excessive sedentary time reductions can be maintained long-term and impact sedentary-related health risks.”

The findings of a study that utilized this app are published in PLOS ONE.

Source: Lifespan

Chronic Childhood Stress Leaves Lasting Impact on Brain

Sun, 06/29/2014 - 8:45am

Extreme stress experienced during childhood, such as poverty, neglect, and physical abuse, might alter the parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and the processing of stress and emotion.

These changes may be linked to negative effects on behavior, health, employment, and even the choice of romantic partners later in life, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We haven’t really understood why things that happen when you’re two, three, four years old stay with you and have a lasting impact,” said Dr. Seth Pollak, co-leader of the study and UW-Madison professor of psychology.

“Yet,” noted Pollak, “early life stress has been linked to depression, anxiety, heart disease, cancer, and a lack of educational and employment success.”

“Given how costly these early stressful experiences are for society … unless we understand what part of the brain is affected, we won’t be able to tailor something to do about it,” said Pollak, also director of the UW Waisman Center’s Child Emotion Research Laboratory.

The study involved 128 children, approximately age 12, who had experienced either physical abuse, neglect early in life, or came from low socioeconomic status.

The children and their caregivers underwent in-depth interviews, reporting behavioral problems and their cumulative life stress. The researchers also took images of the children’s brains, focusing on the hippocampus and amygdala, parts of the brain involved in emotion and stress processing. These images were compared to similar children from middle-class households who had not been maltreated.

The researchers outlined each child’s hippocampus and amygdala by hand and calculated their volumes. Both brain structures are very small, especially in children, and the researchers believed that automated software measurements might be prone to error.

The findings showed that children who experienced any of the three types of early life stress had smaller amygdalas than children who had not. Children who lived in poverty and children who had been physically abused also had smaller hippocampal volumes.

Putting the same images through automated software showed no effects. Behavioral problems and increased cumulative life stress were linked to smaller hippocampus and amygdala volumes.

“For me, it’s an important reminder that as a society we need to attend to the types of experiences children are having,” Pollak said. “We are shaping the people these individuals will become.”

But the findings, say the researchers, are only markers for neurobiological change — a display of the robustness of the human brain, and not a crystal ball to be used to see the future.

“Just because it’s in the brain doesn’t mean it’s destiny,” said study author and UW Ph.D. graduate Jamie Hanson.

The study is published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison


Young boy covering his face with his hands photo by shutterstock.

Homeless Alcoholics Typically Begin Drinking as Children

Sun, 06/29/2014 - 8:00am

A new study has found that homeless alcoholics typically began drinking as children.

According to study author Dr. Ryan McCormack of New York University School of Medicine in New York, N.Y., 100 percent of the patients enrolled in the study at Bellevue Hospital in New York City began drinking as children, becoming alcohol-dependent soon after.

“For people who have homes and jobs, it is difficult to imagine the level of despair these people experience day in and day out, or the all-consuming focus on getting the next drink that overrides even the most basic human survival instinct,” he said.

“Most do not come to my ER voluntarily, but end up there because of public intoxication. The majority of patients in this study consistently left the hospital prior to the completion of medical care.”

For the study, McCormack and his research team interviewed 20 homeless, alcohol-dependent patients who had four or more annual visits to Bellevue Hospital’s emergency department for two consecutive years.

They found that all began drinking in childhood or adolescence, and 13 reported having alcoholic parents. Of the 20, 13 reported abuse in their childhood homes, while 19 were either forced to or chose to leave home by age 18.

Only one was married. None was employed. The three who were military veterans said that military life amplified their alcohol use, the researchers report.

For all 20, alcoholism was cited as the primary reason for living on the street. According to the researchers, 11 had definitive psychiatric diagnoses in the psychotic, mood, or anxiety spectrums. All 20 reported having entered detoxification programs at some point in the past.

Within a year of being interviewed for the study, 25 percent of the patients had died as a direct result of their alcoholism from liver or lung cancer, vehicular trauma, assault or hypothermia, the researchers noted.

“As their capacity to envision a future diminishes, they increasingly lose motivation for personal recovery,” said McCormack.

“An alcoholic is first a human being. We hypothesize that more accessible, lower-barrier, patient-centered interventions that support alcohol harm reduction and quality of life improvement can be translated into the emergency department setting and this population.”

The study was published in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Source: American College of Emergency Physicians


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Caffeine Affects Males, Females Differently After Puberty

Sun, 06/29/2014 - 7:15am

A new study suggests that after puberty, males and females experience different effects from caffeine consumption, including varying changes in heart rate and blood pressure levels. Girls also experience distinct changes during their menstrual cycles.

“We found an interaction between gender and caffeine dose, with boys having a greater response to caffeine than girls, as well as interactions between pubertal phase, gender, and caffeine dose, with gender differences present in post-pubertal, but not in pre-pubertal, participants,” said researcher Jennifer Temple, Ph.D.

Researchers evaluated heart rate and blood pressure before and after administration of placebo and two doses of caffeine in pre-pubertal (eight to nine year-old) and post-pubertal (15- to 17-year-old) boys and girls.

Previous studies, including some conducted by this research team, have shown that caffeine raises blood pressure and decreases heart rate in children, teens, and adults, including pre-adolescent boys and girls.

The goal of this new study was to determine whether gender differences in cardiovascular responses to caffeine begin after puberty and if those responses fluctuate during the various phases of the menstrual cycle.

“Finally, we found differences in responses to caffeine across the menstrual cycle in post-pubertal girls, with decreases in heart rate that were greater in the mid-luteal phase and blood pressure increases that were greater in the mid-follicular phase of the menstrual cycle,” said Temple, of the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions.

“In this study, we were looking exclusively into the physical results of caffeine ingestion,” she said.

Two main phases of the menstrual cycle (marked by hormone changes) were studied: the follicular phase, which begins on the first day of the period and ends with ovulation, and the luteal phase, which begins just after ovulation and consists of significantly higher levels of progesterone than the first phase.

“Future research will evaluate a variety of factors in more detail, including the extent to which gender caffeine differences are affected by steroid hormone levels or by differences in patterns of caffeine use, caffeine use by peers or more autonomy and control over beverage purchases,” Temple said.

The study, funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health, is published in the journal Pediatrics.

Source: University at Buffalo


Teenagers drinking coffee photo by shutterstock.

Sleep Problems Linked To Decline in Brain Function With Age

Sun, 06/29/2014 - 6:30am

New research shows a link between sleep and memory problems in older people.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in England conducted an analysis of sleep and cognitive data from 3,968 men and 4,821 women who took part in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA). The participants reported on the quality and quantity of sleep over a one-month period.

According to the researchers, they found an association between both quality and duration of sleep and brain function, which changes with age.

In adults between the ages of 50 and 64, short sleep (less than six hours a night) and long sleep (more than eight hours a night) were associated with lower brain function scores. In older adults between the ages of 65 and 89, lower brain function scores were only observed in long sleepers, the researchers reported.

“Six to eight hours of sleep per night is particularly important for optimum brain function in younger adults,” said Dr. Michelle A. Miller.

“These results are consistent with our previous research, which showed that six to eight hours of sleep per night was optimal for physical health, including lowest risk of developing obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.”

She noted that researchers found it interesting that in younger, pre-retirement-aged adults, sleep quality did not have any significant association with brain function scores, while in adults older than 65, there was a significant relationship between sleep quality and the observed scores.

“Sleep is important for good health and mental well-being,” said researcher Francesco Cappuccio, M.D. “Optimizing sleep at an older age may help to delay the decline in brain function seen with age, or indeed may slow or prevent the rapid decline that leads to dementia.”

“If poor sleep is causative of future cognitive decline, non-pharmacological improvements in sleep may provide an alternative low-cost and more accessible public health intervention to delay or slow the rate of cognitive decline,” concluded Miller.

The study was published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

Source: University of Warwick


Elderly man turning off alarm clock photo by shutterstock.

Mother’s Birthplace a Risk Factor for Autism

Sat, 06/28/2014 - 8:45am

The place where a woman was born and raised can be a risk factor for autism in her children, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

In the U.S., children of foreign-born women tend to have a higher risk for autism, compared with children born to white American mothers.

Currently, autism reports are highest among white (non-Hispanic) children in the U.S., but these new findings show that other ethnic groups are actually at greater risk.

Using data from Los Angeles County, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that children of foreign-born women who are black, Central or South American, Filipino, and Vietnamese had a higher risk of autism, compared with children born to white American mothers.

There were similar findings among children of U.S.-born African-American and Hispanic women.

Until now, experts have had a difficult time determining prenatal risk factors for autism other than the mother’s age and complications during pregnancy. However, recent studies have suggested a link between the nation where a woman is born and her children’s risk for autism.

“Epidemiology has a long tradition of using migration studies to understand how environmental and genetic factors contribute to disease risk in populations,” said senior author Beate Ritz, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Fielding School of Public Health’s department of epidemiology.

“The fact that 22 percent of six year-olds born in the United States have immigrant parents opened a unique opportunity for us to consider the influence of nativity, race, and ethnicity on the causes of autism spectrum disorder.”

For the study, researchers analyzed birth records for children born in Los Angeles County who had been diagnosed with autism between the ages of three and five from 1998 to 2009. In total, 7,540 children with autism were identified from more than 1.6 million births.

Once adjusted, when compared to U.S.-born white mothers, rates were 76 percent higher in children of foreign-born black mothers, 43 percent higher in women born in Vietnam, 25 percent higher in women born in the Philippines, 26 percent higher in women born in Central or South America, and 13 to 14 percent higher in Hispanic and black women born in the U.S.

There are several reasons why the mother’s place of birth is a risk factor. One may be the psychological and physical stress suffered by the mother during relocation, for example, due to escaping war, natural disasters, or malnutrition from famine.

“For foreign-born mothers, language and cultural barriers in the U.S., and a lack of access to health care could also have caused an underestimate of autism spectrum disorder in these populations,” said Ritz, also a professor of neurology and a member of the UCLA Brain Research Institute.

“Our findings suggest that we need to do a better job of early identification and treatment of autism spectrum disorder for these large and diverse immigrant communities who vary in risk, protective factors and access to health care.”

Source: UCLA

Map of the world photo by shutterstock.

Feeling Powerful Helps People Save More Money

Sat, 06/28/2014 - 8:00am

A new study has found that people save more money when they feel powerful.

Researchers Emily Garbinsky, doctoral student in marketing, and Drs. Jennifer Aaker from Stanford University and Anne-Kathrin Klesse from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, conducted five experiments to see whether the decision to save money was affected by how the person was feeling during the time they were making the saving decision.

Across all five studies, the researchers found that when made to feel powerful, the amount of money someone is willing to save for the future increases.

In one study, some participants were made to feel powerful and were asked to sit in a tall chair. Other participants were made to feel powerless and were asked to sit on a low ottoman.

All participants were asked to respond to some questions and were then given the option to either collect their study compensation in cash or to put it in a lab savings account.

Results showed that the individuals who sat in the tall chair saved more of their money than those who sat on the low ottoman, the researchers report.

Another study revealed that making people feel powerful only increases saving when they are told they will be saving money to keep it or when they are not given a specific reason to save.

In other words, making people feel powerful only motivates them to save money when the purpose of saving is to accumulate financial resources, and not when the purpose of saving is to spend those resources later, the researchers explain.

According to the researchers, companies offering financial services like retirement planning can use these results to help their customers prepare for the future, including the creation of more effective intervention strategies. Consumers can also use the results to better understand their own personal relationships with power and money, the researchers noted.

“People who feel powerful use saving money as a means to maintain their current state of power,” the researchers said in the study, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“When saving no longer affords individuals the opportunity to maintain power, the effect of power on saving disappears.”

Source: Journal of Consumer Research

Man saving money photo by shutterstock.

How Sweet Talk Emotionally Engages The Brain

Sat, 06/28/2014 - 7:15am

New research shows that taste-related words, such as describing something as “sweet” or “bitter,” engage the emotional centers of the brain more than literal words with the same meaning.

For their study, researchers from Princeton University and the Free University of Berlin had volunteers read 37 sentences that included common metaphors based on taste while the scientists recorded their brain activity. Each taste-related word was then swapped with a literal counterpart so that, for instance, “She looked at him sweetly” became “She looked at him kindly.”

The researchers found that the sentences containing words that invoked taste activated areas known to be associated with emotional processing, such as the amygdala, as well as areas known as the gustatory cortices that allow for the physical act of tasting.

The researchers report that the metaphorical and literal words only resulted in brain activity related to emotion when part of a sentence, but stimulated the gustatory cortices when used both in sentences and as stand-alone words.

“Metaphorical sentences may spark increased brain activity in emotion-related regions because they allude to physical experiences,” said co-author Dr. Adele Goldberg, a professor of linguistics in the Council of the Humanities at Princeton.

She noted that language frequently uses physical sensations or objects to refer to abstract domains, such as time, understanding, or emotion. For instance, people liken love to a number of afflictions including being “sick” or shot through the heart with an arrow, she explained. Similarly, “sweet” has a much clearer physical component than “kind,” she noted.

“The latest research suggests that these associations go beyond just being descriptive to engage our brains on an emotional level,” she said. “This can potentially amplify the impact of the sentence,” she added.

“You begin to realize when you look at metaphors how common they are in helping us understand abstract domains,” Goldberg said. “It could be that we are more engaged with abstract concepts when we use metaphorical language that ties into physical experiences.”

If metaphors in general elicit an emotional response from the brain that is similar to that caused by taste-related metaphors, then that could mean that figurative language presents a “rhetorical advantage” when communicating with others, explained co-author Dr. Francesca Citron, a postdoctoral researcher of psycholinguistics at the Free University’s Languages of Emotion research center.

“Figurative language may be more effective in communication and may facilitate processes such as affiliation, persuasion, and support,” she said. “Further, as a reader or listener, one should be wary of being overly influenced by metaphorical language.”

Existing research on metaphors and neural processing has shown that figurative language generally requires more brainpower than literal language, according to the researchers. But these bursts of neural activity have been related to higher-order processing from thinking through an unfamiliar metaphor, they noted.

The brain activity observed in this study did not correlate with this process, according to the researchers.

In order to create the metaphorical- and literal-sentence stimuli, the researchers had a separate group of people rate sentences for familiarity, apparent arousal, imageability — which is how easily a phrase can be imagined in the reader’s mind — and how positive or negative each sentence was interpreted as being.

The metaphorical and literal sentences were equal on all of these factors, according to the researchers. In addition, each metaphorical phrase and its literal counterpart were rated as being highly similar in meaning, they noted.

“This helped ensure that the metaphorical and literal sentences were equally as easy to comprehend,” they said. This meant the brain activity the researchers recorded was not likely to be in response to any additional difficulty study participants had in understanding the metaphors.

“It is important to rule out possible effects of familiarity, since less familiar items may require more processing resources to be understood and elicit enhanced brain responses in several brain regions,” Citron said.

Citron and Goldberg said they plan to follow up on their results by examining if figurative language is remembered more accurately than literal language; if metaphors are more physically stimulating; and if metaphors related to other senses also provoke an emotional response from the brain.

The study was published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Source: Princeton University

Sweet talk candy photo by shutterstock.

Heavy Alcohol Use Tied to 1 in 10 Deaths of Working-Age Adults

Sat, 06/28/2014 - 6:30am

Excessive alcohol use is linked to one in 10 deaths among adults ages 20 to 64 years of age in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death that kills many Americans in the prime of their lives,” said Ursula E. Bauer, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

“We need to redouble our efforts to implement scientifically proven public health approaches to reduce this tragic loss of life and the huge economic costs that result.”

Heavy use of alcohol was accountable for about 88,000 deaths per year from 2006 to 2010, and it shortened the lives of those who died by about 30 years.

Deaths were caused by health problems from drinking heavily over time, including breast cancer, liver disease, and heart disease, as well as effects from drinking too much in a short period of time, such as violence, alcohol poisoning, and car accidents.

Nearly 70 percent of deaths due to excessive drinking involved working-age adults, and about 70 percent of the deaths involved males. About five percent of the deaths involved people under age 21. The highest death rate due to excessive drinking was in New Mexico (51 deaths per 100,000 population), and the lowest was in New Jersey (19.1 per 100,000).

Excessive drinking includes binge drinking (four or more drinks at a time for women, five or more drinks at a time for men), heavy drinking (eight or more drinks a week for women, 15 or more drinks a week for men), and any alcohol use by pregnant women or those under the minimum legal drinking age of 21.

“It’s shocking to see the public health impact of excessive drinking on working-age adults,” said study author Robert Brewer, M.D., M.S.P.H., head of CDC’s Alcohol Program.

“CDC is working with partners to support the implementation of strategies for preventing excessive alcohol use that are recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force, which can help reduce the health and social cost of this dangerous risk behavior.”

The study is published in Preventing Chronic Disease.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More Women Than Men With Chronic Illness Seek Mental Health Services

Fri, 06/27/2014 - 8:00am

New research finds that women with chronic physical illnesses are more likely to use mental health services than men with similar illnesses.

Moreover, they also seek out mental health services six months earlier than those same men.

“Chronic physical illness can lead to depression,” said Dr. Flora Matheson, a scientist in Canada’s St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

“We want to better understand who will seek mental health services when diagnosed with a chronic physical illness so we can best help those who need care.”

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal’s Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, looked at people diagnosed with at least one of four physical illnesses: diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Researchers found that among those with at least one of these four illnesses, women were 10 percent more likely to use mental health services than men.

Furthermore, within any three-year period, women with physical illness used medical services for mental health treatment six months earlier than men.

“Our results don’t necessarily mean that more focus should be paid to women, however,” said Matheson, who is also an adjunct scientist at ICES. “We still need more research to understand why this gender divide exists.”

The results may imply that women are more comfortable seeking mental health support than men.

Alternatively, the gender discrepancy might mean that symptoms are worse among women, requiring more women to seek help and sooner, or that men defer seeking treatment for mental health concerns.

The study used data from the Canadian Community Health Survey, physician claims and inpatient medical records from ICES.

Mental illness service use was defined as one visit to a physician or specialist for mental health reasons, such as depression, anxiety, smoking addiction, or marital difficulties.

Source: St. Michael’s Hospital


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