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Updated: 2 hours 51 min ago

Children’s Brain Images Show How Cognitive Control Increases with Age

Sun, 05/28/2017 - 6:15am

As a child’s brain develops, it becomes more segregated into specialized units, but at the same time, more integrated as a whole due to stronger “hub” connections. These well-defined, networked brain structures are directly related to the healthy development of executive functions, such as the ability to control impulses, stay organized, and make decisions.

In a new study, published in the journal Current Biology, researchers were able to map the changes in the brain that underlie these improvements in executive function. The findings could also lead to the identification of biomarkers of abnormal brain development that could predict a person’s risk for psychosis and major mood disorders.

“We were surprised to find that the developmental refinement of structural brain networks involved increased modular segregation and global integration, since highly modular systems have the potential to become fragmented,” says Ted Satterthwaite, an assistant professor of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“This increasingly modular yet globally integrated network topology may maximize communication efficiency while minimizing wiring costs in the brain.”

The study suggests that modular brain architecture is critical for the development of complex cognition and behavior. In fact, the degree to which executive function improves in a young person is directly associated with how well-defined is his modular network structure.

For the study, the researchers set out to investigate the normal developmental pattern of structural network modules and their relationship to executive functioning. The pulled data from a large sample of 882 youths between the ages of eight and 22 who had undergone diffusion imaging as part of the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, a community-based study of brain development that includes rich neuroimaging and cognitive data.

As expected, executive function improved markedly in study participants with age. An analysis of the brain images revealed an increasingly specialized and fully integrated modular structure.

“The development of modular network architecture did not result in the brain becoming fragmented,” explains the study’s first author Graham Baum, a Ph.D. candidate in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“In fact, the overall network communication capacity actually increased, due to strengthening of specific ‘hub’ connections between modules. These results show that as kids grow up, their brain becomes more segregated into specialized units, but also more integrated as a whole.”

The findings suggest that a globally integrated network architecture may be critical for supporting specialized processing and reducing interference between brain systems.

The researchers say they are now combining structural and functional imaging techniques to examine how structural brain networks constrain and shape functional brain networks and activation patterns. They will also be conducting research to determine whether this information can help predict the emergence of psychiatric disorders in children years later.

Source: Cell Press

Body’s Opioid System Implicated in Trauma Sensivitity

Sat, 05/27/2017 - 9:00am

What happens in the brain when we see other people experiencing a trauma or being subjected to pain?

According to a new study, the same regions that are involved when we feel pain are also activated when we observe other people who appear to be going through some painful experience.

But we are sensitive to different degrees to learning fear from other people, according to researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. They say one explanation for that may be found in the endogenous opioid system.

Seeing others express pain or anxiety can give us important information about things around us that are dangerous and should be avoided, the researchers noted.

Sometimes, however, we can develop fear of situations that, rationally speaking, are not dangerous.

While the opioid system is supposed to alleviate pain and fear, it does not work as effectively in all of us. This might be one of the reasons some people develop anxiety syndrome merely by seeing others experience a trauma, the researchers said.

“Some people are over-sensitive to this form of social learning,” said main author Dr. Jan Haaker, associated researcher at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience.

“Our study shows that the endogenous opioid system affects how sensitive we are and may explain why some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) merely by observing others who are experiencing traumatic events. After terror attacks, sensitive people might be afraid even if they themselves were not present.”

In a double-blind study, the researchers altered the brain’s internal chemistry in 22 healthy subjects by using a pharmaceutical substance to block the opioid system. Another 21 subjects were given an inactive placebo. The subjects then watched a video where other people were subjected to electric shocks.

The brain normally updates its knowledge of danger based on whether we are surprised, but when the opioid system was blocked, the people continued to react as if they were surprised even though they knew the electric shock would come, the researchers discovered.

The response was amplified even when they continued to watch other people being subjected to shocks.

The response increased in regions of the brain such as the amygdala, the periaqueductal gray and the thalamus, which seems to indicate that the same functions as in self-perceived pain were involved, the researchers said.

Communication also increased between these and other regions of the brain that are linked to the ability to understand other individuals’ experiences and thoughts.

“When the people participating in the experiment were themselves subjected to threatening stimuli that they had previously associated with other people’s pain, they perspired more and displayed more fear than those who had been given a placebo,” said research team leader Dr. Andreas Olsson, senior lecturer at the institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience.

“This enhanced learning was even visible three days after the social learning episode.”

The researchers said they hope the new findings will eventually mean that people with anxiety conditions will be able to be given better, more individual-adapted clinical help.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

Source: Karolinska Institutet

‘Authentic’ Teachers Better at Engaging Students

Sat, 05/27/2017 - 8:00am

Teachers who have an authentic teaching style are more positively received by their students, according to new research published in the journal Communication Education.

For the study, around 300 college students were asked about their perceptions of authentic and inauthentic teacher behavior and communication.

Their answers indicate that authentic teachers are seen as approachable, passionate, attentive, capable, and knowledgeable, while inauthentic teachers are viewed as unapproachable, lacking passion, inattentive, incapable, and disrespectful.

In addition, authentic teachers are willing to share details of their life and display elements of their humanity by telling personal stories, making jokes, and admitting mistakes.

They also demonstrate care and compassion toward students by recognizing them as individuals and attending to their needs both academically and personally — for example, by emailing those absent from class due to illness to ask how they are doing.

“Our participants made it clear that a teacher’s efforts to view themselves and their students as individuals had a lasting impact,” said study authors Professor Zac Johnson of California State University and Professor Sara LaBelle of Chapman University.

“The process of teaching authentically need not be more complicated than making simple and direct statements regarding the level of concern and care that a teacher holds for their students.”

“Our implication is not simply that teachers should engage in limitless amounts of self-disclosure. Rather, by making efforts to engage with students beyond their expected roles in the classroom, teachers can greatly impact students’ perceptions of them and their course.”

Furthermore, at-risk students are more positively impacted by teachers they perceive as authentic in their communication. By teaching authentically, teachers may create more meaningful experiences and deeper learning for all students in a variety of settings and across disciplines, the authors conclude.

But, of course, to be truly authentic, teachers should engage in these behaviors only so far as their personality and demeanor naturally allow, say the authors.

“This research indicated that students do pay attention to the messages we send about ourselves in the classroom, and that their perception of those messages seem to play an important role in how they connect to the content of the course,” said Johnson.

“Further, our findings suggest that we must attempt to be thoughtful when presenting our true self; not dishonest or antithetical to our real self, but rather cognizant of how students might perceive our actions. Overall, authentic communication appears to be a critical component of meaningful communication in multiple contexts.”

Source: Taylor & Francis

Study Shows Gray Matter Density Increases In Adolescence

Sat, 05/27/2017 - 7:00am

A new study solves a paradox that while gray matter declines in adolescence, there is also dramatic cognitive improvement from childhood to young adulthood.

In past studies of gray matter volume and cortical thickness, scientists found that gray matter — the tissue found in regions of the brain responsible for muscle control, sensory perception, such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control — declines in adolescence. But scientists were puzzled that cognitive performance improved at the same that brain volume and cortical thickness decline.

A new study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania reveals that while volume decreases from childhood to young adulthood, gray matter density actually increases.

The findings also show that while females have lower brain volume, proportionate to their smaller size, they have higher gray matter density than males, which could explain why their cognitive performance is comparable despite having lower brain volume.

While adolescents lose brain volume, and females have lower brain volume than males, this is compensated for by increased density of gray matter, the researchers explain.

“It is quite rare for a single study to solve a paradox that has been lingering in a field for decades, let alone two paradoxes, as was done by Gennatas in his analysis of data from this large-scale study of a whole cohort of youths,” said Dr. Ruben Gur, a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and radiology. He referred to the work of Efstathios Gennatas, M.B.B.S., a doctoral student of neuroscience working in the Brain Behavior Laboratory at Penn.

“We now have a richer, fuller concept of what happens during brain development and now better understand the complementary unfolding processes in the brain that describe what happens,” Gur said.

The study findings may better explain the extent and intensity of changes in mental life and behavior that occur during the transition from childhood to young adulthood, Gur noted.

“If we are puzzled by the behavior of adolescents, it may help to know that they need to adjust to a brain that is changing in its size and composition at the same time that demands on performance and acceptable behavior keep scaling up,” he added.

In the study, the researchers evaluated 1,189 youth between the ages of eight and 23 who completed magnetic resonance imaging as part of the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort. The community-based study of brain development included neuroimaging and cognitive data to look at age-related effects on multiple measures of regional gray matter, including gray matter volume, gray matter density, and cortical thickness.

Observing such measures during development allowed the researchers to study the brain at different ages to characterize how a child’s brain differs from an adult’s.

“This novel characterization of brain development may help us better understand the relationship between brain structure and cognitive performance,” Gennatas said.

“Our findings also emphasize the need to examine several measures of brain structure at the same time,” he said. “Volume and cortical thickness have received the most attention in developmental studies in the past, but gray matter density may be as important for understanding how improved performance relates to brain development.”

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Photo: MRI-derived gray matter measures, density, volume, mass, and cortical thickness, show distinct age and sex effects, as well as age-dependent intermodal correlations around adolescence. Credit: Penn Medicine.

Losing Sleep Over Climate Change

Sat, 05/27/2017 - 6:15am

Climate change may keep you awake, but not just because you are worried about the future of our planet.

Nights that are warmer than normal can harm human sleep, with the poor and elderly most affected, according to a new study.

Scientists at the University of California San Diego say that if climate change is not addressed, temperatures in 2050 could cost people in the United States millions of additional nights of insufficient sleep each year. By 2099, the figure could rise by several hundred million more nights of lost sleep annually, they warn.

The study was led by Nick Obradovich, who conducted much of the research as a doctoral student in political science at the University of California San Diego.

He was inspired to investigate the question by the heat wave that hit San Diego in October 2015. He was having trouble sleeping, while the small air conditioner in his home provided little relief from the record-breaking temperatures. At school, he noticed that fellow students were also looking grumpy and bedraggled, and it got him thinking: Had anyone looked at what climate change might do to sleep?

“Sleep has been well-established by other researchers as a critical component of human health. Too little sleep can make a person more susceptible to disease and chronic illness, and it can harm psychological well-being and cognitive functioning,” Obradovich said.

“What our study shows is not only that ambient temperature can play a role in disrupting sleep, but also that climate change might make the situation worse by driving up rates of sleep loss.”

The study started with data from 765,000 U.S. residents between 2002 and 2011 who responded to a public health survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study then links data on self-reported nights of insufficient sleep to daily temperature data from the National Centers for Environmental Information.

Finally, it combines the effects of unusually warm temperatures on sleep with climate model projections.

The main finding is that anomalous increases in nighttime temperature by one degree Celsius translate to three nights of insufficient sleep per 100 individuals per month.

To put that in perspective: If we had a single month of nightly temperatures averaging one degree Celsius higher than normal, that is equivalent to nine million more nights of insufficient sleep in a month across the population of the United States today, or 110 million extra nights of insufficient sleep annually, the researcher explains.

The negative effect of warmer nights is most acute in summer, the research shows. It is almost three times as high in summer as during any other season.

The effect is also not spread evenly across all demographic groups. Those whose income is below $50,000 and those who are aged 65 and older are affected most severely, according to the study’s findings.

For older people, the effect is twice that of younger adults. And for the lower-income group, it is three times worse than for people who are better off financially, the data shows.

Using climate projections for 2050 and 2099 by NASA Earth Exchange, the study paints a bleak picture of the future if the relationship between warmer nights and disrupted sleep persists, according to the researcher. Warmer temperatures could cause six additional nights of insufficient sleep per 100 individuals by 2050 and approximately 14 extra nights per 100 by 2099.

“The U.S. is relatively temperate and, in global terms, quite prosperous,” Obradovich said. “We don’t have sleep data from around the world, but assuming the pattern is similar, one can imagine that in places that are warmer or poorer or both, what we’d find could be even worse.”

The study was published by Science Advances.

Source: University of California San Diego

Photo: Areas of the western and northern United States — where nighttime temperatures are projected to increase most — may experience the largest future changes in sleep. Credit: Courtesy N. Obradovich.

Tai Chi Relieves Depression in Chinese Americans

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 7:45am

Tai chi, a form of slow-moving meditation which originated in China, shows strong potential as a primary treatment for mild to moderate depression in Chinese Americans — a group which has traditionally avoided conventional psychiatric treatment, according to a new pilot study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The findings show that Chinese-Americans with mild to moderate depression who enrolled in a 12-week tai chi class experienced a significant reduction in depressive symptoms compared to control groups. The participants were not receiving any other form of treatment.

“While some previous studies have suggested that tai chi may be useful in treating anxiety and depression, most have used it as a supplement to treatment for others medical conditions, rather than patients with depression,” said Albert Yeung, M.D., ScD, of the Depression Clinical and Research Program in the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Psychiatry, lead and corresponding author of the report.

“Finding that tai chi can be effective is particularly significant because it is culturally accepted by this group of patients who tend to avoid conventional psychiatric treatment.”

Participants were recruited through advertisements offering tai chi for stress reduction, and their eligibility for the study was based on in-person interviews and assessments of overall health and depression symptoms.

Eligible participants were Chinese-American adults fluent in either Cantonese or Mandarin, with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder in the mild to moderate range, no history of other psychiatric disorders, no recent practice of tai chi or other mind-body interventions, and no current use of other psychiatric treatments.

A total of 50 participants were randomly placed into one of three groups: 17 in the tai chi intervention group; 14 in an active control group that included discussions on stress, mental health, and depression; and 19 in a passive control, “waitlist” group that returned for repeat assessments during and after the study period.

The 12-week tai chi intervention group met twice a week. Participants were taught basic traditional tai chi movements and were instructed to practice these at home three times a week and to document their practice. The education group also met twice weekly for 12 weeks, and sessions for both groups were offered in Cantonese or Mandarin.

Members of both the education and waitlist groups were able to join free tai chi classes after the initial study period, something they were informed of at the study’s outset.

The 12-week assessments showed that the tai chi group had significantly greater improvement in depression symptoms than did members of either control group. Follow-up assessment at 24 weeks showed sustained improvement among the tai chi group, with statistically significant differences remaining compared with the waitlist group.

“If these findings are confirmed in larger studies at other sites, that would indicate that tai chi could be a primary depression treatment for Chinese and Chinese American patients, who rarely take advantage of mental health services, and may also help address the shortage of mental health practitioners,” says Yeung, who is an associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“We also should investigate whether tai chi can have similar results for individuals from other racial and ethnic groups and determine which of the many components of tai chi might be responsible for these beneficial effects.”

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital

No Evidence Electrical Brain Stimulation Aids Cognition

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 7:00am

The emerging practice of applying non-invasive electrical stimulation to the brain may have hit a speed bump as new research suggests it does not provide meaningful benefit to cognitive training.

“Our findings suggest that applying transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) while older participants engaged in daily working memory training over four weeks did not result in improved cognitive ability,” explains Martin Lövdén of Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm University.

Research findings appear in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“The study is important because it addresses what has arguably been the most promising cognitive application of tDCS: the possibility of long-term cognitive enhancement from relatively limited practice on select cognitive tasks,” Lövdén adds.

“Cognitive enhancement is of interest not just to scientists, but also to the student studying for final exams, the gamer playing online games, and the retiree remembering which pills to take.

Because of this large audience, it is of utmost importance to conduct systematic research to disentangle hype from fact.”

Investigators explain that working memory — our capacity for holding information in mind at any given moment — is essential for many fundamental cognitive processes and is linked with some aspects of intelligence.

Research has shown that working memory training improves working memory performance but it’s unclear whether this specific training can yield improvements to broader cognitive abilities.

Recent interest and publicity surrounding the potential effects of tDCS — which involves conducting a weak electrical current to the brain via electrodes on the scalp led Lövdén and colleagues to wonder: Could using tDCS during cognitive training enhance brain plasticity and enable transfer from working memory to other cognitive processes?

The researchers enrolled 123 healthy adults who were between 65 and 75 years old in a four week training program. All participants completed a battery of cognitive tests, which included tasks that were incorporated in the training and tasks that were not, at the beginning of the study and again at the end.

Those randomly assigned to the experimental group trained on tasks that targeted their ability to update mental representations and their ability to switch between different tasks and rules, while those in the active control group trained on tasks that focused on perceptual speed.

As they completed the training tasks, some participants received 25 minutes of tDCS current to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that plays a central role in working memory; other participants were led to believe they were receiving 25 minutes of current, when in actuality the current was only active for a total 30 seconds.

Comparing participants’ performance before and after training indicated that those who received working memory training did improve on the updating and switching tasks they had encountered during training and on similar tasks that they had not encountered previously.

But there was no evidence that tDCS produced any additional benefit to the working memory training — at the end of the study, participants who received tDCS did not show greater improvement than their peers.

When the researchers pooled the data from this study with findings from six other studies, they again found no evidence of any additional benefit from working memory training that was combined with tDCS.

Although there is a strong public interest for enhancing cognition, Lövdén and colleagues urge caution when it comes to this as-of-yet unproven application of tDCS:

“A growing number of people in the general public, presumably inspired by such uninhibited optimism, are now using tDCS to perform better at work or in online gaming, and online communities offer advice on the purchase, fabrication, and use of tDCS devices,” the researchers write.

“Unsurprisingly, commercial exploitation is rapidly being developed to meet this new public demand for cognitive enhancement via tDCS, often without a single human trial to support the sellers’ or manufacturers’ claims.”

“These findings highlight exactly how limited our knowledge is of the mechanisms underlying the potential effects of tDCS on human cognition and encourages the research community to take a step back and focus its resources on developing strategies for uncovering such mechanisms before using the technique in more applied settings,” Lövdén concludes.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Neurological Basis for Dads Attachment to Their Girls

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 6:15am

New research discovers the phrase of “daddy’s little girl,” may reflect specific hard wiring in the brain as investigators discover a child’s gender affects the way a dad’s brain works.

Emory University investigators also found that a toddler’s gender influence the types of language a father uses and the play that they engage in.

The study is the first to combine brain scans of fathers with behavioral data collected as fathers interacted with their toddlers in a real-world setting.

One of the more striking behavioral differences was the level of attention given a child. Research findings appear in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.

“When a child cried out or asked for Dad, fathers of daughters responded to that more than did fathers of sons,” says Jennifer Mascaro, who led the research as a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Emory anthropologist James Rilling, senior author of the study.

“We should be aware of how unconscious notions of gender can play into the way we treat even very young children.”

In addition to being more attentive, fathers of daughters sang more often to their child and were more likely to use words associated with sad emotions, such as “cry,” “tears,” and “lonely.”

Fathers of daughters also used more words associated with the body, such as “belly,” “cheek,” “face,” “fat,” and “feet.”

Fathers of sons engaged in more rough-and-tumble play with their child and used more language related to power and achievement — words such as “best,” “win,” “super,” and “top.” In contrast, fathers of daughters used more analytical language — words such as “all,” “below,” and “much” — which has been linked to future academic success.

“It’s important to note,” Rilling says, “that gender-biased paternal behavior need not imply ill intentions on the part of fathers. These biases may be unconscious, or may actually reflect deliberate and altruistically motivated efforts to shape children’s behavior in line with social expectations of adult gender roles that fathers feel may benefit their children.”

Most parental studies draw from data gathered in a lab, where parents answer questions about their behavior and where they may be observed briefly as they interact with their children.

Uniquely, this study collected behavioral data in a real-world setting through an electronic activated recorder (EAR), which was developed in the lab of co-author Matthias Mehl at the University of Arizona.

The participants included 52 fathers of toddlers (30 girls and 22 boys) in the Atlanta area who agreed to clip a small personal digital assistant equipped with the EAR software onto their belts and wear it for one weekday and one weekend day.

The fathers were also told to leave the device charging in their child’s room at night so any nighttime interactions with their children could be recorded. The device randomly turned on for 50 seconds every nine minutes to record any ambient sound during the 48-hour period.

“People act shockingly normal when they are wearing the device,” Mascaro says.

“They kind of forget they are wearing it or they say to themselves, what are the odds it’s on right now. The EAR technology is a naturalistic observation method that helped us verify things about parental behavior that we suspected based on previous research. It also uncovered subtle biases that we didn’t necessarily hypothesize in advance.”

In addition, fathers underwent functional MRI brain scans while viewing photos of an unknown adult, an unknown child, and their own child with happy, sad, or neutral facial expressions.

Fathers of daughters had stronger responses to their daughters’ happy expressions in areas of the brain important for processing emotions, reward, and value. In contrast, the brains of fathers of sons responded more robustly to their child’s neutral facial expressions.

The study focused on fathers because there is less research about their roles in rearing young children than mothers. “Our study provides one of the richest datasets for fathers now available, because it combines real-world assessments of behavior with brain responses,” Mascaro says.

“It appears that men’s brain responses to their children may be related to their behaving differently with sons compared to daughters.”

The findings are consistent with other studies indicating that parents — both fathers and mothers — use more emotion language with girls and engage in more rough-and-tumble play with boys.

It is unclear whether these differences are due to biological and evolutionary underpinnings, cultural understandings of the way one should act, or some combination of the two.

“We also don’t know the long-term child outcomes,” Mascaro says. “But future research can test the hypothesis that these differences have demonstrable impacts on things like empathy, emotional regulation, and social competence.”

The use of more emotion language with girls by fathers, for example, may help girls develop more empathy than boys.

“The fact that fathers may actually be less attentive to the emotional needs of boys, perhaps despite their best intentions, is important to recognize,” Mascaro says. “Validating emotions is good for everyone — not just daughters.”

Restricted emotions in adult men is linked to depression, decreased social intimacy, marital dissatisfaction, and a lower likelihood of seeking mental health treatment.

Research also shows that many adolescent girls have negative body images. “We found that fathers are using more language about the body with girls than with boys, and the differences appear with children who are just one-to-three years old,” Mascaro says.

And while they use more words about the body with girls, fathers engage in more physical rough-and-tumble play with boys, an activity that research has shown is important to help young children develop social acuity and emotional regulation.

“Most parents really are trying to do the best they can for their children,” Mascaro says.

“A take-home point is that it’s good to pay attention to how your interactions with your sons and daughters may be biased. We need to do more research to try to understand if these subtle differences may have important effects in the long term.”

Source: Emory Health Sciences/EurekAlert

Listening to Music with Others Influences Mood

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 5:30am

Emerging research discovers listening to music in a group setting may either improve mood or make people feel more depressed, depending on the type of music and the social discussions afterward.

Prior investigations have established that listening to music together with others has many social benefits, including creating and strengthening interpersonal bonds.

Moreover, enjoying music in a group setting has an impact on social relationships, with research showing that synchronizing with other group members to a beat influences how people behave to individuals both within and outside of the group.

Similarly, the sharing of emotions has many social benefits as well: it helps to create and sustain relationships with others and facilitates social bonds within a group, as well as intensifying the potential for emotional responses.

Nevertheless, a question that still remains is whether sharing emotional and musical experiences with others might be a particularly powerful form of social bonding, and what the outcome of such an interaction might be.

In the new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers wanted to investigate the self-reported effects on mood that comes with listening to sad music in group settings.

Furthermore, the scientists wanted to assess how mood is influenced by persistent negative thoughts (or rumination), depression, and coping style. Rumination is described as a maladaptive focus on negative thoughts.

In the study, recruited 697 participants were recruited and asked to complete an online survey about “their ways of using music, types of musical engagement and the effect of music listening.”

The participants also completed a number of additional questionnaires, which helped the researchers determine variety of factors.

Questionnaires assessed the presence of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress; general tendencies towards depression; coping styles, i.e. tendencies towards rumination or reflection (i.e. healthier tendencies to self-reflection); musical engagement as a measurement of wellbeing; as well as questionnaires addressing a variety of aspects of music listening, both alone and in a group.

The results reveal two distinct behavioral patterns related to group music listening:

  1. Listening to sad music and talking about sad things tended to make people feel more depressed after listening to music.
  2. This kind of group rumination was more common in younger people, and likely reflects relative importance of both music and social relationships to younger people.

  3. Listening to inspiring music in a group and engaging in discussions about music and life is a more positive interaction that makes people feel good.

These results provide some clues as to how people with depression use music, and why.

“Behaviors relating to music use fall into distinct patterns, reflecting either healthy or unhealthy thought processes,” says corresponding author Dr. Sandra Garrido.

“These results reveal important information about how people with depression use music.”

The results shine a light on how music can facilitate the sharing of negative emotions, and show that the outcome is related to the coping styles and thinking patterns used in each setting, meaning that people with generally maladaptive coping styles are more likely to experience negative outcomes from group rumination of music.

The results also show that young people may be especially vulnerable to the impacts of group rumination with music.

“While young people with tendencies to depression who are a part of social groups may be perceived as receiving valuable social support, our results here suggest that the positive impacts of such group interactions depend on the types of processes that are taking place in the group,” explains Dr Garrido.

“Susceptible individuals with a predilection for rumination may be most likely to suffer negative outcomes from group rumination, with social feedback deepening and exacerbating negative thoughts and feelings.

However, group interactions that provide social support or opportunities for processing of emotions in a constructive way have a much higher likelihood of being positive.”

Investigators believe the findings partially help clarifying under what conditions social interaction around music provide social benefits, and when it might instead amplify negative emotions. The new knowledge will drive future research to create a more detailed picture of how group interaction dynamics influence the outcome.

Source: Frontiers/EurekAlert

Mindfulness In Prenatal Education Can Reduce Risk of Depression

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 7:45am

A new study shows mindfulness training that addresses fear and pain during childbirth can improve women’s childbirth experiences.

Moreover, researchers from researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the University of California, San Francisco discovered the training was associated with a reduction of depression symptoms during pregnancy and the early postpartum period.

“Fear of the unknown affects us all, and perhaps none more so than pregnant women,” says lead author Dr. Larissa Duncan, University of Wisconsin, Madison professor of human development and family studies.

“With mindfulness skills, women in our study reported feeling better able to cope with childbirth and they experienced improved mental well-being critical for healthy mother-infant adjustment in the first year of life.”

The study also suggests that pregnant women who practice mindfulness may use less medication for pain during labor.

This finding is especially relevant as many women and their healthcare providers are concerned about the use of medications during pregnancy, labor, and while breastfeeding because of the potential risks to infants.

Furthermore, if left untreated, maternal mental health problems also pose a significant risk to infants.

“A mindfulness approach offers the possibility of decreasing the need for these medications and can reach women who may not know they are at risk for perinatal depression or can’t access mental health services,” Duncan said.

The new study appears in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. The investigation is a randomized, controlled trial called Prenatal Education About Reducing Labor Stress (PEARLS). The research compares mainstream childbirth education with childbirth education that includes mindfulness skills focused on reducing fear among first-time mothers.

Fear of childbirth has been shown in previous studies to be linked to poorer labor-and-delivery outcomes and to depression.

Although many consider childbirth education classes a primary resource for pregnant women and their partners to learn information and strategies for the birthing process and remedies for coping with labor pain — there is limited data that demonstrates they achieve these goals for the more than two million pregnant women who attend them each year in the United States.

In fact, Duncan says, “sometimes women report that the information in childbirth education actually increases their fear of childbirth.”

In the current pilot study, 30 women and their partners, first-time mothers late in their third trimester of pregnancy were offered either a standard childbirth preparation course lacking a mind-body focus or an intensive weekend workshop called Mind in Labor: Working with Pain in Childbirth.

The workshop was based on the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting education course developed by study co-author Nancy Bardacke, a certified nurse-midwife and senior mindfulness teacher at University of California, San Francisco.

The program focused on practices like mindful movement, walking meditation, and pain coping strategies. Previous research shows that mindfulness training can be an effective way to manage both chronic and acute pain.

Participants represented a diversity of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. They completed self-reported assessments before and after taking part in a childbirth education course and after giving birth.

The mindfulness group also received handouts and guided audio materials so they could practice mindfulness on their own. The study team collected medical record data from each woman.

The researchers found a reduction in depression symptoms in the mindfulness group, which continued through their post-birth follow up at approximately six weeks.

In contrast, depression symptoms worsened among women who participated in the standard childbirth education courses.

While mothers in the mindfulness group sought epidurals at similar rates to those in the control group and retrospectively reported similar levels of perceived pain during labor, the study did see a trend toward lower use of opioid-based pain medication during labor.

While these results were not statistically significant, the rate of narcotic use during labor was around 62 percent in the control group and just 31 percent in the mindfulness group. A larger study is needed to better understand this effect.

“The encouraging results of this small study point to the possibility that mindfulness skills can transform the way expectant parents prepare for this profound life change,” says Bardacke.

Source: University of Wisconsin, Madison

Parents’ Digital Distractions Linked to Kids’ Behavioral Issues

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 7:00am

Emerging research suggests that even in low amounts, interruptions to parent-child time caused by digital technology are associated with child behavior problems.

The study was a snapshot review of the connection between parents’ technology use and child behavior. As such, a cause-and-effect relationship cannot be inferred although the results will fuel additional investigation.

Parents typically attribute child behavior — be it whining, tantrums, or acting out — to factors such as fatigue, hunger, or boredom. Researchers are now asking if such negative behaviors could be related to something else: parents spending too much time on their smartphones or tablets.

The small study from University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Illinois State University found that heavy digital technology use by parents could be associated with child behavior issues.

The findings appear in the online issue of the journal Child Development.

Researchers analyzed surveys completed separately by both mothers and fathers from 170 two-parent households.

Mothers and fathers were asked about their use of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other technology — and how the devices disrupted family time.

Lead author Dr. Brandon T. McDaniel creatively describes the interruptions or disturbances as ‘’technoference,’ with disturbances being as simple as checking phone messages during mealtime, playtime, and routine activities or conversations with their children.

While more research is needed, the study suggests it might: Even low or seemingly normal amounts of tech-related interruption were associated with greater child behavior problems, such as oversensitivity, hot tempers, hyperactivity, and whining.

“This was a cross-sectional study, so we can’t assume a direct connection between parents’ technology use and child behavior but these findings help us better understand the relationship,” said senior author Jenny Radesky, M.D., a child behavior expert and pediatrician at Mott.

“It’s also possible that parents of children with behavioral difficulties are more likely to withdraw or de-stress with technology during times with their child.”

But, she added, “We know that parents’ responsiveness to their kids changes when they are using mobile technology and that their device use may be associated with less-than-ideal interactions with their children.

“It’s really difficult to toggle attention between all of the important and attention-grabbing information contained in these devices, with social and emotional information from our children, and process them both effectively at the same time.”

McDaniel, who designed and carried out the study, says researchers hope to learn more about the impact of increasing digital technology use on families and children.

“Research on the potential impact of this exposure lags far behind,” said McDaniel, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Illinois State University.

“It’s too early to draw implications that could be used in clinical practice but our findings contribute to growing literature showing an association between greater digital technology use and potential relationship dysfunction between parents and their children.”

Parents in the study were asked to rate how problematic their personal device use was based on how difficult it was for them to resist checking new messages, how frequently they worried about calls and texts, and if they thought they used their phones too much.

Participants also were asked how often phones, tablets, computers, and other devices diverted their attention when otherwise engaged with their children.

On average, mothers and fathers both perceived about two devices interfering in their interactions with their child at least once or more on a typical day. Mothers, however, seemed to perceive their phone use as more problematic than fathers did.

About half (48 percent) of parents reported technology interruptions three or more times on a typical day while 17 percent said it occurred once and 24 percent said it happened twice a day. Only 11 percent said no interruptions occurred.

Parents then rated child behavior issues within the past two months by answering questions about how often their children whined, sulked, easily got frustrated, had tantrums, or showed signs of hyperactivity or restlessness.

The researchers controlled for multiple factors, such as parenting stress, depressive symptoms, income, parent education as well as co-parenting quality (how supportive partners were of each other in parenting their child), which has been shown to predict child behavior.

The study joins other research and advocacy groups contributing to a larger debate about technology and its effect on child development.

Some professional societies, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Zero to Three, recommend “unplugged” family time. But they haven’t tested whether lessening or changing digital technology use during parent-child activities is associated with improved child behavior.

McDaniel and Radesky advise parents to try to carve out designated times to put away the devices and focus all attention on their kids.

Reserving certain times of the day or locations as being technology-free — such as mealtime or playtime right after work — may help ease family tensions caused by the modern blurring of outside worlds with home life, they say.

“Parents may find great benefits from being connected to the outside world through mobile technology, whether that’s work, social lives or keeping up with the news. It may not be realistic, nor is it necessary, to ban technology use all together at home,” Radesky said.

“But setting boundaries can help parents keep smartphones and other mobile technology from interrupting quality time with their kids.”

Source: University of Michigan/EurekAlert

Are Readers More Empathetic?

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 6:15am

People who enjoy reading literature tend to exhibit higher levels of emotional intelligence and empathy compared to their TV-watching counterparts, according to a new thesis study examining the effects of reading and watching television on social behavior.

Rose Turner, a postgraduate research student at Kingston University London, presented her findings to the British Psychological Society, and soon discovered that her research was appearing in headlines around the world as people were fascinated by the psychological dimensions of reading.

“The interest in the study has been a very pleasant surprise, and it has been great to see that it has generated such a buzz,” said Turner.

“Reading is a universal pastime and we regularly hear about parents being encouraged to read to their children from a young age to help introduce them to language and develop their vocabulary. This study demonstrates that the different ways that people engage with fiction can impact their emotional intelligence and empathic behaviors.”

The study involved 123 adults of various ages participating in an anonymous online survey. Participants were asked to select their preferences for books, television, and plays, alongside being tested on their interpersonal skills, which included how much they considered others’ feelings and their desire to help those around them.

The findings show that book readers had greater awareness and empathy for other people’s feelings, while those who preferred watching television came across as less friendly and less understanding of others’ views.

When asked why reading might be associated with having better social skills compared to other forms of fictional media such as television or films, Turner said that reading is an individual experience that makes people think more deeply about characters.

“When we read we go by what is simply written on the page and we have to fill in the gaps as we go along, giving us a chance to develop empathic skills as we try to understand what a character is going through. Whereas when we watch something, we are provided with a lot of that information already,” she said.

Turner, who also works in the field of occupational psychology, says that she runs group exercises in social care settings, schools, and prisons that involve people using role-play techniques to develop their skills.

“I have seen firsthand how stories and the notion of becoming another character can have a positive impact on a person’s well-being. It’s not just a source of escapism but also a chance to imagine how somebody else sees the world.”

Turner will present her research to the American Psychological Society this summer.

Source: Kingston University

Why People Make Others Feel Bad to Try to Make Them Feel Good

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 5:30am

New research suggests that people may try to make others feel negative emotions if they believe the experience will help the person in the long run.

The findings expand on previous research by revealing that people may sometimes seek to induce negative emotions in others for altruistic reasons, not simply for their own pleasure or benefit.

“We have shown that people can be ‘cruel to be kind’ — that is, they may decide to make someone feel worse if this emotion is beneficial for that other person, even if this does not entail any personal benefit for them,” said psychological scientist Dr. Belén López-Pérez, who conducted the research while at the University of Plymouth.

“These results expand our knowledge of the motivations underlying emotion regulation between people.”

The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In other studies, researchers had shown that people may sometimes seek to worsen others’ mood for their own personal gain.

Based on their own work examining altruistic behavior, López-Pérez and colleagues Laura Howells and Dr. Michaela Gummerum wondered whether there might be circumstances under which people would try to worsen others’ mood for altruistic reasons.

“We identified several everyday examples where this might be the case — for instance, inducing fear of failure in a loved one who is procrastinating instead of studying for an exam,” López-Pérez said.

The researchers hypothesized that prompting participants to take another person’s perspective might make them more likely to choose a negative experience for that person if they thought the experience would help the individual reach a specific goal.

To test their hypothesis, they recruited 140 adults to participate in a lab-based study that involved playing a computer game with an anonymous partner, known as Player A. In reality, the participants were always assigned the role of Player B and there was no actual Player A.

After receiving a note supposedly written by Player A, some participants were asked to imagine how Player A felt, while others were told to remain detached. The note described Player A’s recent breakup and how upset and helpless Player A felt about it.

Then, participants were asked to play a video game so they could then make decisions for Player A on how the game would be presented. Depending on the experimental condition participants were assigned to, half were asked to play Soldier of Fortune, a first-person shooter game with an explicit goal of killing as many enemies as possible (i.e., confrontation goal).

The other half were asked to play Escape Dead Island, a first-person game with the explicit goal of escaping from a room of zombies (i.e., avoidance goal).

After playing the assigned game, the participants listened to some music clips and read short game descriptions that varied in their emotional content. The participants used scales to rate how much they wanted their partner to listen to each clip and read each description (from one = not at all to seven = extremely).

They also rated the extent to which they wanted their partner to feel angry, fearful, or neutral and how useful these emotions would be in playing the game.

The players were awarded raffle tickets for a chance at winning $50 based on their performance in the game — participants were reminded that their choices might impact the other participants’ performance and, therefore, their own chances of winning the $50.

The results showed that the participants who empathized with Player A focused on inducing specific emotions in their partner, depending on the ultimate goal of their computer game.

Compared with participants who had remained detached, those who empathized with Player A and who played the first-person shooter game seemed to focus specifically on inducing anger in Player A explicitly and implicitly.

That is, they would choose the anger-inducing music clips and game description, while those who had empathized with Player A and who played the zombie game focused specifically on inducing fear — for example, selecting the fear-inducing music clips and game description.

“What was surprising was that affect worsening was not random but emotion-specific,” López-Pérez said.

“In line with previous research, our results have shown that people hold very specific expectations about the effects that certain emotions may have and about which emotions may be better for achieving different goals.”

The study suggests that empathy led people to choose particular negative emotional experiences that they believed would ultimately help their partner be successful in the context of the game.

“These findings shed light on social dynamics, helping us to understand, for instance, why we sometimes may try to make our loved ones feel bad if we perceive this emotion to be useful to achieve a goal,” López-Pérez said.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Dual Gait Analysis Can Aid Early Diagnosis of Dementia

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 8:30am

A new approach that assesses ambulation while performing a cognitively demanding task is an effective predictor of progression to dementia.

In a new study, researchers at Canada’s Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University discovered gait analysis while simultaneously performing mental tasks is a new way to assess cognitive decline.

To date, there has been no definitive way for health care professionals to forecast the onset of dementia in a patient with memory complaints. Experts believe early detection of dementia can lead to halting its progression.

Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso, a geriatrician and associate professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, is leading the “Gait and Brain Study.”

His team is assessing up to 150 seniors with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a slight decline of memory and other mental functions which is considered a pre-dementia syndrome, in order to detect an early predictor of cognitive and mobility decline and progression to dementia.

“Finding methods to detect dementia early is vital to our ability to slow or halt the progression of the disease,” said Montero-Odasso.

The study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, followed participants for six years and included bi-annual visits.

Researchers asked participants to walk while simultaneously performing a cognitively demanding task, such as counting backwards or naming animals.

They have discovered that individuals with MCI that slow down more than 20 percent while performing a cognitively demanding task are at a higher risk of progressing to dementia.

“While walking has long been considered an automatic motor task, emerging evidence suggests cognitive function plays a key role in the control of walking, avoidance of obstacles, and maintenance of navigation,” Montero-Odasso said.

“We believe that gait, as a complex brain-motor task, provides a golden window of opportunity to see brain function.”

The “gait cost,” or speed at which participants completed a single task (walking) versus a dual-task, was higher in those MCI individuals with worse episodic memory and who struggle with executive functions such as attention keeping and time management.

“Our results reveal a ‘motor signature’ of cognitive impairment that can be used to predict dementia,” said Montero-Odasso.

“It is conceivable that we will be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias before people even have significant memory loss. Our hope is to combine these methods with promising new medications to slow or halt the progression of MCI to dementia.”

The study appears in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Source: Lawson Health Research Institute

Report: Alcohol Hikes Breast Cancer Risk, Exercise Lowers It

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 7:45am

A new report suggests drinking just one glass of wine or other alcoholic drink a day increases breast cancer risk.

Conversely, vigorous exercise such as running or fast bicycling decreases the risk of both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancers.

Moreover, strong evidence confirmed an earlier finding that moderate exercise decreases the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer, the most common type of breast cancer.

The findings were issued by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

“It can be confusing with single studies when the findings get swept back and forth,” said Anne McTiernan, M.D., Ph.D., a lead author of the report and cancer prevention expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

“With this comprehensive and up-to-date report the evidence is clear: Having a physically active lifestyle, maintaining a healthy weight throughout life, and limiting alcohol — these are all steps women can take to lower their risk.”

Researchers systematically collated and evaluated the scientific research worldwide on how diet, weight, and exercise affect breast cancer risk in the first such review since 2010.

The report analyzed 119 studies, including data on 12 million women and 260,000 cases of breast cancer.

Investigators found strong evidence that drinking the equivalent of a small glass of wine or beer a day (about 10 grams alcohol content) increases pre-menopausal breast cancer risk by five percent and post-menopausal breast cancer risk by nine percent. A standard drink is 14 grams of alcohol.

For vigorous exercise, pre-menopausal women who were the most active had a 17 percent lower risk and post-menopausal women had a 10 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to those who were the least active.

Total moderate activity, such as walking and gardening, linked to a 13 percent lower risk when comparing the most versus least active women.

Additional findings include:

  • being overweight or obese increases the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer, the most common type of breast cancer;
  • mothers who breastfeed are at lower risk for breast cancer;
  • greater adult weight gain increases risk of post-menopausal breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in U.S. women with over 252,000 new cases estimated this year.

AICR estimates that one in three breast cancer cases in the U.S. could be prevented if women did not drink alcohol, were physically active, and stayed a healthy weight.

The report also points to links between diet and breast cancer risk. There was some evidence — although limited — that non-starchy vegetables lowers risk for estrogen-receptor (ER) negative breast cancers, a less common but more challenging to treat type of tumor.

Limited evidence also links dairy, diets high in calcium and foods containing carotenoids to lowering risk of some breast cancers. Carrots, apricots, spinach, and kale are all foods high in carotenoids, a group of phytonutrients studied for their health benefits.

These links are intriguing but more research is needed, says McTiernan.

“The findings indicate that women may get some benefit from including more non-starchy vegetables with high variety, including foods that contain carotenoids,” she said.

“That can also help avoid the common one to two pounds women are gaining every year, which is key for lowering cancer risk.”

Aside from these lifestyle risk factors, other established causes of breast cancer include being older, early menstrual period, and having a family history of breast cancer.

Investigators believe women can actively lower their risk of breast cancer.

While there are many factors that women cannot control, says Alice Bender, M.S., R.D.N., AICR’s Head of Nutrition Programs, the good news from this report is that all women can take steps to lower their breast cancer risk.

“Wherever you are with physical activity, try to nudge it up a bit, either a little longer or a little harder.

Make simple food shifts to boost protection — substitute veggies like carrots, bell peppers, or green salad for chips and crackers and if you drink alcohol, stick to a single drink or less,” said Bender.

“There are no guarantees when it comes to cancer, but it’s empowering to know you can do something to lower your risk.”

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research

Big City Teens in UK May Have Greater Risk for Psychotic Experiences

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 7:00am

Teens living in major cities in England and Wales are more than 40 percent more likely to report psychotic experiences (hearing voices, paranoia, delusions) compared to teens living in rural areas, according to a new study published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.

Researchers from King’s College London and Duke University found that neighborhood conditions and crime were strong contributing factors. Among adolescents who had grown up in the worst neighborhoods and had also been victims of violent crimes, 62 percent reported having some type of psychotic experience.

This high rate of psychotic experiences was almost three times greater than those living in more favorable neighborhood conditions who had not experienced violent crime (21 percent).

“As increasing numbers of young people around the world are living in cities, there is a growing need to improve our understanding of how both built and social features of urban settings are supporting and challenging young people’s mental health,” said Professor Candice Odgers, senior author from Duke University.

Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable time for mental health — around 70 percent of adults with mental health problems had their first episodes during adolescence.

In fact, up to one in three young people at some point have had a psychotic experience, and these individuals are at greater risk for other mental health disorders, schizophrenia, and suicide attempts. Yet little is known about the potential impact of social surroundings — such as living in a city — on adolescent expressions of psychosis.

In a previous study, the research team found higher rates of psychotic symptoms among children living in cities, but this new study is the first to examine the effects of city life on psychotic experiences during adolescence.

“Our study suggests that the effects of city life on psychotic experiences are not limited to childhood but continue into late adolescence, which is one of the peak ages at which clinical psychotic disorders are typically diagnosed,” said Jo Newbury, first author of the study, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London.

For the new study, researchers interviewed more than 2,000 British 18-year-olds about psychotic experiences since the age of 12. The authors note that they were only looking for subclinical experiences of psychosis, rather than evidence of a diagnosable, clinical disorder.

Youth were considered to have psychotic experiences if they reported at least one out of thirteen potential experiences including, for example, that they heard voices that others could not, believed they were being spied on, or their food was being poisoned.

Levels of “urbanicity” were assigned to each participant based on their post code, using data from the Office of National Statistics. Neighborhood social factors, such as trust, support, and cooperation between neighbors, and signs of threat like muggings, assaults, and vandalism were measured through surveys of over 5,000 immediate neighbors of the participants.

Finally, personal victimization by violent crime was assessed through interviews with the participants themselves.

The findings show that young people raised in urban versus rural neighborhoods were significantly more likely to have psychotic experiences, and this association remained significant after considering a range of other factors, including family socioeconomic status, family psychiatric history, and cannabis use.

Among those who lived in the largest, most densely populated cities, 34 percent subsequently reported psychotic experiences between age 12 and 18, compared to 24 percent of adolescents in rural settings.

Almost half of the association between city life and psychotic experiences was explained by adverse and threatening social characteristics of urban neighborhoods, including lack of trust and support between neighbors, and high levels of threat in the neighborhood.

The researchers suggest a number of reasons why living in the city could increase the risk for psychotic experiences, including a heightened biological response to stress, which could in turn disrupt the activity of dopamine in the brain. Excess dopamine is the best biological explanation researchers currently have for psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.

They also suggest that teens who grow up in threatening neighborhoods could develop maladaptive cognitive responses, such as hypervigilance (becoming excessively aware of potential threats) and attributing negative intentions to people, which might lead them to become paranoid about those around them.

“These findings highlight the importance of early, preventative strategies for reducing psychosis risk and suggests that adolescents living in threatening neighborhoods within cities should be made a priority,” said Dr. Helen Fisher, senior author from IoPPN at King’s College London.

“If we intervene early enough, for example by offering psychological therapies and support to help them cope better with stressful experiences, we could reduce young people’s risk for developing psychosis and other mental health problems further down the line.”

Source: King’s College London

Study Looks at Keys to Exercise Motivation for Women

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 6:15am

Many women start fitness programs to lose weight, and when they don’t, they feel like failures and stop exercising. In a new study, researchers analyzed what women say makes them feel happy and successful, and how their expectations and beliefs about exercise foster or undermine those things.

Dr. Michelle Segar, director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center, and co-investigators reviewed the factors that could help a woman regain enthusiasm for improving their health.

“A new understanding of what really motivates women might make an enormous difference in their ability to successfully incorporate physical activity into their daily routine and have fun doing it,” said Segar.

The findings, which will appear in the journal BMC Public Health, show that both active and inactive women report the same ingredients for feeling happy and successful:

  • connecting with and helping others be happy and successful;
  • being relaxed and free of pressures during their leisure time;
  • accomplishing goals of many sorts (from grocery shopping to career goals).

But the study also found that for inactive women, their beliefs and expectations about exercise actually thwarted the things that make them feel happy and successful:

  • they believe “valid” exercise must be intense, yet they want to feel relaxed during their leisure time;
  • they feel pressured to exercise for health or to lose weight, yet during their leisure time they want to be free of pressures.

Success comes from achieving goals, yet their expectations about how much, where, and how they should be exercising means they can’t achieve these goals.

“The direct conflict between what these low-active women believe they should be doing when they exercise, and their desire to decompress and renew themselves during leisure time, demotivates them,” Segar said.

“Their beliefs about what exercise should consist of and their past negative experiences about what it feels like actually prevents them from successfully adopting and sustaining physically active lives.”

Segar and co-investigators Jennifer Taber, Heather Patrick, Chan Thai, and April Oh conducted eight focus groups among white, black, and Hispanic women aged 22-49 who were either categorized as “high active” or “low active.”

While the findings about happiness and success seemed to hold true for both groups in the different demographics, low-active women held distinctly different views than high-active women about exercising.

“We’ve all been socialized to exercise and be physically active for the last 30 years,” said Segar.

“The traditional recommendation we’ve learned to believe is that we should exercise at a high intensity for at least 30 minutes, for the purpose of losing weight or improving our health. Even though there are newer recommendations that permit lower intensity activity in shorter durations most people don’t know or even believe it.”

This more traditional message has worked for a small minority of the population, but more generally it has failed to increase population physical activity, she says.

“This traditional approach to exercising might actually harm exercise motivation. Our study shows that this exercise message conflicts with and undermines the very experiences and goals most women have for themselves,” she said.

The exceptions found in the study were among the more active participants, who held more flexible views of exercise. They expressed that it “was not the end of the world” if they had to skip exercising once in awhile.

They made exercise more of a “middle priority,” which took the pressure off and left room for compromise when schedules and responsibilities did not permit planned exercise to occur.

The high-active women seemed to have more positive feelings from exercising, in contrast to most of the low-active women, who, in general, tended to dread the very idea of it.

“There are important implications from this study on how we can help women better prioritize exercise in their day-to-day life,” Segar said.

“We need to re-educate women they can move in ways that will renew instead of exhaust them, and more effectively get the message across that any movement is better than nothing. To increase motivation to be physically active, we need to help women to want to exercise instead of feeling like they should do it.”

This can be achieved by:

  • e-educating women that movement can and should feel good to do;
  • promoting physical activity as a way to connect with important others;
  • reframing physical activity as a vehicle that helps women renew and re-energize themselves to better succeed at their daily roles and goals;
  • explain physical activity as a broad continuum that counts all movement as valid and worth doing.

Source: University of Michigan/EurekAlert

Probiotics May Ease Depression Symptoms

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 5:30am

A new Canadian study finds that probiotics, used to reduce gastrointestinal distress, also appear to mitigate symptoms of depression.

McMaster University researchers discovered twice as many adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) reported improvements from co-existing depression when they took a specific probiotic than adults with IBS who took a placebo.

The findings appear in the medical journal Gastroenterology.

The study provides further evidence that the microbiota environment in the intestines communicates with the brain, said senior author Dr. Premysl Bercik, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster and a gastroenterologist for Hamilton Health Sciences.

“This study shows that consumption of a specific probiotic can improve both gut symptoms and psychological issues in IBS. This opens new avenues not only for the treatment of patients with functional bowel disorders but also for patients with primary psychiatric diseases,” he said.

IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the world, and is highly prevalent in Canada. It affects the large intestine and patients suffer from abdominal pain and altered bowel habits like diarrhea and constipation. They are also frequently affected by chronic anxiety or depression.

The pilot study involved 44 adults with IBS and mild to moderate anxiety or depression. They were followed for 10 weeks, as half took a daily dose of the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001, while the others had a placebo.

At six weeks, 14 of 22, or 64 percent, of the patients taking the probiotic had decreased depression scores, compared to seven of 22 (or 32 percent) of patients given placebo.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed that the improvement in depression scores was associated with changes in multiple brain areas involved in mood control.

“This is the result of a decade-long journey — from identifying the probiotic, testing it in preclinical models and investigating the pathways through which the signals from the gut reach the brain,” said Bercik.

“The results of this pilot study are very promising but they have to be confirmed in a future, larger scale trial,” said Dr. Maria Pinto Sanchez, the first author and a McMaster clinical research fellow.

The study was performed in collaboration with scientists from Nestlé.

Source: McMaster University/EurekAlert

Childhood Obesity May Raise Risk of Later Depression

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 7:45am

Being overweight or obese in childhood may substantially increase one’s lifetime risk of major depression, according to a new study presented at the European Congress on Obesity.

Researchers found that children who were overweight at age eight or 13 had more than triple the risk of developing major depression later in life, while carrying excess weight over a lifetime (both as a child and as an adult) quadrupled the chance of developing depression compared to only being overweight as an adult.

More than one in three children in the U.S. are overweight and nearly one in five children aged between two and 19 years are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Previous research has shown that people who are obese are more likely to become depressed, but few have looked at the influence of early-life obesity over the long term, or the age-related effect of obesity on depression risk.

For the study, researcher Dr. Deborah Gibson-Smith from VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands and colleagues observed the relationship between being overweight in childhood and lifetime depression in 889 participants from the population-based AGES (Age, Gene/Environment Susceptibility) Reykjavik study (begun in 1967). They also studied whether the detrimental effect of obesity on mental health is due to lifelong obesity or the result of being overweight in adulthood.

A random sample of surviving participants (average age 75) from the Reykjavik study were assessed to see whether they had current depressive symptoms or had ever had a major depressive disorder in the past. Data on height and weight during childhood and midlife were obtained from school records and the Reykjavik study, respectively.

A BMI of between 25 and 29.9 was considered overweight. The data were adjusted for sex and the age at which the BMI measurements were taken. A total of 39 participants had been diagnosed with major depression at some point in their lifetime.

The analysis revealed that carrying excess weight in childhood was a stronger predictor of subsequent depression than being overweight in midlife only. The researchers estimate that being overweight or obese at age eight or 13 years is associated with a more than four times increased risk of lifetime major depressive disorder compared with children who were normal weight as a child but went on to become overweight as adults (a statistically significant result).

This is an observational study so no conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. But the findings confirm earlier research showing an increased risk of depression in young people who are obese.

“Our findings suggest that some of the underlying mechanisms linking overweight or obesity to depression stem from childhood,” the authors stated. “A shared genetic risk or low self-esteem, which is frequently associated with those who do not conform to the ideal body type, could be responsible.”

“Given the rise in adolescents’ obesity and greater influence of social media on body image, understanding the associations between childhood obesity and depression is critical.”

Source: European Association for the Study of Obesity

Sleep Disorders May Hit Women Harder

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 7:00am

New research suggests sleep disorders affect men and women differently. Investigators determined women are more likely than men to have more severe symptoms of depression, trouble sleeping at night, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Investigators also found that women have a higher degree of difficulty concentrating and remembering things due to sleepiness or tiredness. In contrast, male snoring was more likely than female snoring to force bed partners to sleep in different rooms.

“We found that females were more likely to have sleeping disorders associated with daytime sleepiness,” said co-author Dr. John Malouf, founder of SleepGP sleep clinic in Coolangatta, Queensland, Australia.

“Females were also likely to feel more affected by the burden of their symptoms.”

The main purpose of the study was to understand the differences in functional status between the sexes when they present to primary care providers with sleep problems.

“What was surprising about the results was that while men and women tended to present at a similar age, their symptoms and the effect on their lives differed markedly,” said lead author Allegra Boccabella, research associate at SleepGP clinic.

“We didn’t expect there to be differences across the board in terms of the different aspects of people’s lives.”

Study findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

For the study, Boccabella and Malouf conducted a retrospective clinical audit of 744 patients who received sleep-related health care from seven private general practices in Australia between April 2013 and January 2015.

Patients completed a variety of sleep-related questionnaires, including the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS), the Snoring Severity Scale (SSS), and the Functional Outcomes of Sleep Questionnaire 10.

According to the authors, understanding how the symptoms reported by women differ from those of men can help medical professionals manage sleep disorders more holistically.

“If we can identify the ways that their lives are affected, we can help produce better outcomes for the patient,” said Boccabella.

Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine