In The News
Warm teachers who express empathy in the classroom boost students’ academic skills, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. A positive atmosphere created by the teacher also safeguards and increases children’s motivation for learning, according to the Finnish First Steps study currently being conducted at the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Turku.
There have been few studies on the significance of empathy and a warm disposition in classroom. However, research has shown that the interaction between the teacher and the pupil is more important for learning outcomes than structural factors such as educational materials and class sizes.
Prior research has found that the interaction between a teacher and student is a significant factor during the early school years, but there are indications of this interaction playing an important role also later, when the academic challenges become greater and the protective teacher-pupil interaction can be less intensive.
The success of the Finnish education system is often attributed to a high regard for the teaching profession and highly qualified teachers, equality in education, and keeping standardized testing to a bare minimum.
“We are currently studying to what extent the teacher-pupil relationship in the upper comprehensive school, i.e. in grades seven to nine, can be linked to Finland’s excellent reading scores in the Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA,” says Senior Lecturer of Early Education Martti Siekkinen of the University of Eastern Finland, leader of the UEF research group in the First Steps study.
According to Siekkinen, the first years of the earlier grades (first to third) are a critical period during which the child needs to have a safe relationship with his or her teacher. The teacher’s empathetic attitude not only protects children’s image of themselves as learners, but also acts as a protective factor if a child is excluded by classmates.
“It is important that we learn about the mechanisms that inspire children to become active members of their school community, motivate them to study and set goals — in other words, to believe in their abilities to achieve these goals.”
The First Steps study is a ten-year follow-up study that focuses on the development of children’s reading and writing skills as well as what motivates them in those first years. It also looks at a variety of counseling practices and forms of cooperation of parents and teachers.
The findings are published in the journals Contemporary Educational Psychology and Early Education and Development.
Source: University of Eastern Finland
When we believe someone is moody, of if we are accused of being moody, negative connotations come to mind. An emerging theory, however, suggests that mood draws on experiences and can, in fact, help us quickly adapt to changes in our environment.
According to the new theory, as people learn from experiences that are influenced by their mood, their expectations come to reflect not only the reward associated with a particular mood, but also recent changes in the overall availability of reward in their environment.
In this way, the existence of mood allows learning to account for the impact of general environmental factors.
For example, experiencing unexpected gains on the stock market should improve a trader’s mood. That positive mood may then cause the trader to take more risks, essentially helping her adapt more quickly to a market that is generally on the rise.
“This effect of mood should be useful whenever different sources of reward are interconnected or possess an underlying momentum,” says one of the study’s lead authors, Eran Eldar of University College London.
“That may often be the case in the natural as well as in the modern world, as successes in acquiring skills, material resources, social status, and even mating partners may all affect one another.”
Eldar and his colleagues note that positive or negative moods maximize their usefulness by persisting only until expectations are fully in accordance with changes in rewards. (That may be why happiness eventually returns to a baseline level even following highly significant changes in circumstances, including winning the lottery.)
For instance, a negative mood that persists may cause a person to perceive many subsequent outcomes as worse than they really are, leading to a downward spiral. This might turn mood into a “self-fulfilling prophecy” and lead to the onset of a depressive episode.
Therefore, by defining a potential function for mood and describing the learning processes that underlie it, the new theory may lead to a better understanding of the causes of mood disorders.
“We think that this novel approach may help reveal what predisposes particular individuals to bipolar disorder and depression,” Eldar says.
Since moods are such a pervasive element of our personality, researchers believe it is likely that they have conferred a significant competitive advantage throughout the course of evolution.
That is, being moody at times may be a small price to pay for the ability to adapt quickly when facing momentous environmental changes.
Source: Cell Press/EurekAlert
New research suggests men may want to consider washing more dishes or doing an extra load of laundry as a way to have more and better sex.
Investigators from the University of Alberta discovered that couples enjoyed more frequent and satisfying sex for both partners when men made a fair contribution to housework.
The same study also found there’s no relationship between the amount of housework male partners completed and the sexual functioning of a couple.
The new study contradicts a widely reported 2012 US study that stated that when men perform what is regarded traditionally as female housework — things like doing the dishes, cooking, and laundry — the couple had less sex.
The new finding, however, does not surprise experts.
The first study didn’t ring true, said Dr. Matt Johnson, a family ecology professor in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta. “It didn’t fit with my intuition and background experiences as a couples therapist.”
Johnson pored over data from a five-year study of 1,338 German couples to see if the amount of housework the male partner did was a predictor of a couple’s sex life. He didn’t find any connection.
He also looked at men’s perception of whether they made a fair contribution to housework, and how that was related to their sex life.
“In any relationship, the amount of housework is going to mean something different based on the couple’s context, based on their own expectations for what each partner should be doing, and their comparison levels of what happens with other couples they know,” Johnson said.
He found that when men perceived their contributions to the division of labor as fair, the couple engaged in more frequent sex and both male and female partners were more satisfied with their sex life.
Johnson acknowledged there are cultural differences between Germany and the U.S. and explained that Germany tends to have more traditional gender roles than the U.S. And, some studies have found that men, on average, tend to do less housework in Germany.
“There are cultural differences but if the logic held from the prior studies, we would have expected to have a more pronounced negative impact of housework on sexuality in Germany because it’s a bit more traditional. But that wasn’t the case at all,” said Johnson.
He added that the findings are important for couples seeking to maintain sexual intimacy while balancing the demands of daily life.
The lesson may be that equitable sharing of duties helps both parties feel good about their relationship.
“Rather than avoiding chores in the hopes of having more sex, as prior research would imply, men are likely to experience more frequent and satisfying passion for both partners between the sheets when they simply do their fair share.”
The paper will appear in print in a future issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.
Anti-smoking ad campaigns that stigmatize smokers may actually have the opposite effect, prompting some people to become defensive and light up even more, according to a new study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine. The findings reveal the potential for negative stereotypes to backfire, especially when it comes to public health campaigns.
The researchers found that while stigmatizing smoking does work on some people, the tactic may be damaging to others, especially for those who are more vulnerable with fewer coping resources. In these cases, the stigma leads to an even lower drop in self-esteem, making it harder for them to quit.
The authors suggest that health policies may want to focus instead on more positive strategies, reinforcing the benefits of giving up smoking rather than reiterating negative stereotypes.
“Consequences of stigmatizing stereotypes ranged from increased intentions to quit smoking to increased stress to greater resistance to quitting smoking,” said Dr. Rebecca Evans-Polce, postdoctoral fellow at the Methodology Center and the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center of Pennsylvania State.
For the study, Evans-Polce and colleagues from the U.K., Brazil and Germany conducted a review of almost 600 articles relating to smoking self-stigma. While the evidence shows that stigmatizing smoking may prompt some individuals to quit, the authors say that health policies could instead focus on more positive strategies.
“The stereotypes that smokers deal with are almost universally negative,” said Dr. Sara Evans-Lacko, research fellow at London School of Economics and Political Science.
For example, one study showed that 30 to 40 percent of smokers felt high levels of family disapproval and social unacceptability and 27 percent felt they were treated differently. Another study found that 39 percent of smokers believed that people thought less of them.
“The stigma for parents who smoke is particularly strong,” added Evans-Lacko.
In multiple studies, smokers used words such as “leper,” “outcast,” “bad person,” “low-life,” and “pathetic” to describe their own behavior.
The stigma surrounding smokers may lead to a variety of negative outcomes, including relapses, increased resistance to quitting, self-induced social isolation, and higher stress levels.
Other studies highlighted gender biases in smoking, showing that Pakistani and Bangladeshi women who smoked were seen as “shameful” and “tainted” while male smokers from the same culture were viewed as “macho.” Another study showed that females in general regret smoking more than men do.
Evans-Lacko said the findings reveal that vulnerable groups with fewer coping skills benefit more from ads that focus on the benefits of giving up rather than on the stigma of smoking.
“Future research is needed to understand what factors are related to how individuals respond to smoking stigma,” said Evans-Polce.
Source: Penn State
New research finds that talking about sex with parents, especially mothers, improves safe sex behavior among adolescents. The findings are particularly true for girls.
Public health researchers explain that risky sexual behavior among adolescents is a serious health problem because of the risk of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.
Communication between parents and adolescents is one factor that could positively affect safer sex behavior among teens, including the use of contraception and condoms.
However, such open communication about sex does not always take place because embarrassment and inaccurate knowledge can get in the way.
Laura Widman, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University, Raleigh, and coauthors reviewed medical literature and pooled data from 30 years of research with more than 25,000 adolescents. Researchers analyzed 52 articles to examine the effect of parent-adolescent sexual communication on safer sex behavior among youth.
The data indicate a small but significant positive effect of parent-adolescent sexual communication associated with safer sex behavior. That association was stronger for girls and stronger for adolescents who discussed sexual topics with their mothers.
The association between parent communication and adolescents’ contraceptive and condom use was significantly stronger for girls than boys, the study reports.
“Results of this study confirm that parent-adolescent sexual communication is a protective factor for youth, and a focus on communication remains justified in future intervention efforts,” the study concludes.
The study appears online in JAMA Pediatrics.
Editorial: Parent-Adolescent Communication about Contraception, Condom Use
In a related editorial, Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, Ph.D., M.P.H., L.C.S.W., R.N., of New York University, and coauthors write: “In summary, the meta-analysis by Widman et al provides evidence that parent-adolescent communication is associated with adolescent use of contraceptives and condoms.
“Most research has focused on parental influences in delaying sexual debut. Sexually active youths also benefit from parental discussions regarding sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Youth want to hear from their parents and overwhelmingly say that parents matter. Hence, public health efforts should support the unique role that parents can play in sexual decision-making among adolescents.”
A new study suggests that by age five, children have a sense of self-esteem comparable in strength to that of adults.
University of Washington researchers believe self-esteem tends to remain relatively stable across one’s lifespan. Therefore, the study suggests that this important personality trait is already in place before children begin kindergarten.
“Our work provides the earliest glimpse to date of how preschoolers sense their selves,” said lead author Dr. Dario Cvencek.
“We found that as young as five years of age self-esteem is established strongly enough to be measured,” said Cvencek, “and we can measure it using sensitive techniques.”
The new findings will be published in a forthcoming issue of coming issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
For the research, investigators used a newly developed test to assess implicit self-esteem in more than 200 five year-old children, the youngest age yet to be measured.
“Some scientists consider preschoolers too young to have developed a positive or negative sense about themselves. Our findings suggest that self-esteem, feeling good or bad about yourself, is fundamental,” said co-author Dr. Andrew Meltzoff. “It is a social mindset children bring to school with them, not something they develop in school.”
Meltzoff continued, “What aspects of parent-child interaction promote and nurture preschool self-esteem? That’s the essential question. We hope we can find out by studying even younger children.”
Until now no measurement tool has been able to detect self-esteem in preschool-aged children. This is because existing self-esteem tests require the cognitive or verbal sophistication to talk about a concept like “self” when asked probing questions by adult experimenters.
“Preschoolers can give verbal reports of what they’re good at as long as it is about a narrow, concrete skill, such as ‘I’m good at running’ or ‘I’m good with letters,’ but they have difficulties providing reliable verbal answers to questions about whether they are a good or bad person,” Cvencek said.
To try a different approach, Cvencek, Meltzoff and co-author Dr. Anthony Greenwald created a self-esteem task for preschoolers. Called the Preschool Implicit Association Test (PSIAT), it measures how strongly children feel positively about themselves.
Adult versions of the IAT, which was first developed by Greenwald, can reveal attitudes and beliefs that people don’t know they have, such as biases related to race, gender, age, and other topics.
“Previously we understood that preschoolers knew about some of their specific good features. We now understand that, in addition, they have a global, overall knowledge of their goodness as a person,” said Greenwald.
The task for adults works by measuring how quickly people respond to words in different categories. For instance, the adult implicit self-esteem task measures associations between words like “self” and “pleasant” or “other” and “unpleasant.”
To make the task appropriate for preschoolers who can’t read, the researchers replaced words related to the self (“me,” “not me”) with objects. They used small unfamiliar flags, and the children were told which of the flags were “yours” and “not yours.”
The five year-olds in the experiment, which included an even mix of 234 boys and girls from the Seattle area, first learned to distinguish their set of flags (“me”) from another set of flags (“not me”). Using buttons on a computer, they responded to a series of “me” and “not me” flags and to a series of “good” words from a loudspeaker (fun, happy, good, nice) and “bad” words (bad, mad, mean, yucky).
Then, to measure self-esteem, the children had to combine the words and press the buttons to indicate whether the “good” words were associated more with the “me” flags or not.
Investigators found that the five year-olds associated themselves more with “good” than with “bad,” and this was equally pronounced in both girls and boys.
The researchers also did two more implicit tests to probe different aspects of the self. A gender identity task assessed the children’s sense of whether they are a boy or a girl, and a gender attitude task measured the children’s preference for other children of their own gender, called a “gender in-group preference.”
Interestingly, children who had high self-esteem and strong own-gender identity also showed stronger preferences for members of their own gender.
Taken together, the findings showed that self-esteem is not only unexpectedly strong in children this young, but is also systematically related to other fundamental parts of children’s personality, such as in-group preferences and gender identity.
“Self-esteem appears to play a critical role in how children form various social identities. Our findings underscore the importance of the first five years as a foundation for life,” Cvencek said.
New research is planned to examine whether self-esteem measured in preschool can predict outcomes later in childhood such as health and success in school. Investigators are also interested in the malleability of children’s self-esteem and how it changes with experience.
New research discovers mass media coverage of a disease outbreak appears to cause people to forget potentially relevant personal health information.
Experts believe the findings indicate that personal anxiety and mass media coverage interact to determine what people remember about a disease.
“The starting point for our study was the exaggerated coverage of Ebola in 2014 despite the absence of any serious consequences in the United States,” said psychological scientist Dr. Alin Coman of Princeton University.
“The common sense intuition is that in situations like these, in which health risks are exaggerated by the media, the audience pays more attention to the information presented.”
Study results appear in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
An unintended outcome of selective media coverage, Coman said, is that it also shapes how people remember information that isn’t presented.
For example, a newscast that highlights only some disease symptoms may induce people to forget other symptoms they had learned previously, but it probably won’t affect their ability to recall disease characteristics that aren’t symptoms.
Coman and co-author Jessica Berry decided to investigate this forgetting phenomenon in the context of meningococcal disease, a real disease that most people don’t know much about.
The researchers conducted an online study with 460 adult participants in the US. The participants learned about specific symptoms, risk factors, diagnostic tools, and aftereffects associated with meningococcal disease and then read a message about the disease.
Some participants read a “low-risk” message that highlighted the low likelihood of contracting the disease in the U.S., with about one recorded case for every 100,000 individuals in a given year.
Other participants read a “high-risk” message that focused instead on the consequences of the disease, including the fact that the mortality rate is as high as 40 percent in some age groups. It was expected that the messages would differentially affected how anxious participants felt about meningococcal disease.
The participants then listened to a radio show clip that supposedly featured an expert from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention talking about meningococcal disease. The clip included some, but not all, of the facts the participants had just learned; for example, the clip might only highlight two of the four symptoms participants had learned about.
After the clip was over, the participants completed a surprise recall test, in which they had to remember as many of the previously learned characteristics — symptoms, risk factors, diagnostic tools, and aftereffects — as they could.
As expected, participants in both the low- and high-risk groups were better at remembering the disease facts that were repeated in the radio show compared to those that weren’t.
But they also showed a particular pattern of forgetting. Participants were worse at remembering disease characteristics that weren’t mentioned when they came from the same category as characteristics that were mentioned.
If the radio show only highlighted two symptoms and two aftereffects, for example, participants were more likely to forget the other symptoms and aftereffects they had learned than they were to forget about risk factors and diagnostic tools.
Importantly, the anxiety that participants felt in the high-risk group seemed to cause this forgetting effect.
“The audience experiences a paradoxical effect by which the more attention they pay to the expert, due to increased anxiety, the more likely they are to forget information that is related to what the expert mentions,” said Coman.
“Media outlets may not know whether a public health risk will have serious consequences down the line, but I believe that they have to be better calibrated to the events on the ground and properly evaluate public health risks. The exaggeration of these risks causes people to forget potentially relevant information.”
Coman plans to conduct further research to illuminate some of the behavioral strategies that could be used by both those in media and in medicine to ensure that information is disseminated to the public in efficient, and accurate, ways.
A recent UK study suggests a new tactic for determining if someone is lying.
The new approach suggests we focus on a single “cue”, such as whether or not a person is plainly thinking hard and if they are factual with their content.
Dr. Chris Street and his University of Huddersfield colleagues believe this approach is more effective that the typical recommendation of trusting our instincts and indirectly observing body language.
Researchers believe they are making breakthroughs that are leading towards a clearer understanding of how humans tell lies and how their deceptions can be detected.
But gathering reliable research data is a tricky proposition. To begin with, a set of lies and truths need to be collected. Ideally, participants should not be aware that they are taking part in experiments that are dealing with the subject of truth and lies.
Thus, in the new study Dr. Street and his colleague devised an ingenious and well-intentioned deception of their own that involved hiring a film studio in London and persuading passers-by to be interviewed for a “documentary” on tourism.
They were told by research assistants placed outside the studio that the film makers were running out of time and asked if, in addition to describing genuine travel experiences, they would talk about places they had not actually visited.
Inside the studio, the speakers were then interviewed by a director who — they supposed — was unaware that they had agreed to lie on film.
“The idea was that they were lying to someone that they could potentially deceive. They were lying on behalf of another person, but the lie was spontaneous and told with an intention to mislead,” said Dr. Street.
Researchers believe the filmed interviews will aid other researchers in what is still the relatively new field of human lie detection.
For more than 30 years, the standard approach to tapping the unconscious has been to use the “indirect lie detection” method.
“People are asked to rate some behavior that is indirectly related to deception,” explained Dr. Street. “For example, does the speaker appear to be thinking hard or not? The researcher then converts all thinking-hard judgments into lie judgments and all not-thinking-hard judgments into truth judgments.”
The fact that these indirect judgments give better accuracy than asking people to directly and explicitly rate statements as truth or lies has been taken as evidence that people have innate, unconscious knowledge about human deception.
Dr. Street and his co-researcher and author Dr Daniel Richardson, of University College London, have developed a different explanation, which they explore in their new article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
“Indirect lie detection does not access implicit knowledge, but simply focuses the perceiver on more useful cues,” write the authors. It is an argument that could have real-world significance, in the training of interrogators, for example.
“There has been a push in the literature suggesting that indirect lie detection works and the reason is that it is unconscious — so people should not be making reasoned judgments but relying on their gut feeling,” said Dr. Street. “But if our account is correct, that is a very bad way to go.”
He readily concedes that human lie detection – while a fascinating subject — requires a great deal more research and is a long way from infallibility.
“Typical accuracy rates are around 54 percent, reaching up to around 60 percent with training. So there is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all strategy that gives us accuracy rates anything like what we would want in a legal setting.”
Nevertheless, researchers believe progress can be made in several areas to improve detection accuracy. These include improving clues to deception, preventing raters from using less reliable clues, and a better understanding of how information about the current context plays into that judgment.
“We often think of nonverbal behaviour when we think of deception,” continued Dr. Street. “But it would be better to focus on the content of the tale people are selling us, and asking if it is consistent with other facts we know. But even then there is a large amount of room for error.”
If human lie detection has a long way to go and there is probably a cap on the accuracy that can be achieved, could the polygraph machine fill the gap? No, asserts Dr. Street, adding that the British Psychological Society is one body that has dismissed the polygraph as a tool that will never be useful.
It purports to work by detecting anxiety. “But are liars more anxious than truth tellers?” said Dr. Street. “The reality is no, because often the reason we lie is that to tell the truth would be very difficult and more anxiety-provoking than a lie.”
For young people in foster care, participating in common daily activities such as grocery shopping, playing in the park, or reading a book helps give them a stronger sense of value and well-being, according to a new study at the University of Leicester in the U.K.
The findings call on foster parents and the community to recognize the value of encouraging young people in their care to engage in everyday activities, such as shopping, playing with pets, darts, board games, socializing, playing in the park, reading, crafting, swimming, and singing.
“It is already understood that participating in facilitated cultural and social activities has positive effects on children’s and young people’s wellbeing, personal development, aspiration, and thus improves their life chances,” said lead author Dr. Lisanne Gibson from the University of Leicester.
“Our research has also found that everyday participation is an important domain through which young people learn about the social world, their place in it, and is a domain in which they feel empowered to express themselves.”
The findings offer insights not only to foster parents, but for members of the community as well who desire to help foster children build a stronger sense of well-being.
“This report is exciting because it speaks to, and is intended to be useful to, professionals working in social and health services, cultural practitioners, charities, and the education sector, along with families, carers, and foster carers,” said Dr. Delyth Edwards from the University of Leicester.
The study involved ethnographic work by and with young women living in foster care, focus group discussions with foster parents and independent visitors, and workshop discussions with professionals involved in delivering social and cultural services to young people in care.
“What young people choose to do in their free time can be of great importance to how they see themselves and are the lived experiences from which they can and will construct their identities now, and in the future. This is a fundamental value of facilitated and everyday participation,” said the researchers.
For professionals working in cultural and leisure institutions, the research clearly demonstrates the potential for supporting young people in foster care by facilitating programs that connect with and value young people’s everyday participation.
“Cultural institutions such as museums and galleries, with their expertise in memory and identity work are currently underutilized as tools for the facilitation of participation amongst young people in care,” said the researchers.
“We suggest that the responsibility to facilitate the participation of young people in care lies not only with those directly looking after children and young people and social services, but also with the organizations and venues funded by the corporate parent.”
Source: University of Leicester
New healthcare initiatives target quality improvement strategies that enhance patient satisfaction and facilitate engagement between individuals and their health care team.
One emerging method is for providers to send common medical test results to patients via digital communication channels such as email, provider portals, or voice mail. A new study sought to determine which of these methods is most preferred?
The Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) survey finds that the largest portion of participants was comfortable receiving test results through password-protected websites or portals. (The survey did not include in-person communications.)
Results appear in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
The survey of 409 participants suggests that while password-protected web portals are highly preferred, participants don’t mind a variety of non in-person communication methods including email, texts, or voicemail for receiving results of common tests such as blood cholesterol levels.
Nevertheless, the context matters as participants prefer the results of sensitive tests to be accessible only via a password-protected patient portal/website. Results of this nature include non-HIV sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and genetic test results.
“Communication with patients may need to be on a case-by-case basis — every individual may have a personal preference, and there may be a way to indicate those preferences in the patient’s record. The goal of this study was to try to better understand these preferences, so we can improve doctor-patient communication,” said the study’s lead researcher, Jeannine LaRocque, Ph.D.
It is not uncommon for a physician to call or email a patient with results to common tests without any idea of which is preferred in different contexts, but “this study makes clear that the majority of people prefer something different than what we’ve been doing,” said the study’s senior researcher, Daniel Merenstein, M.D.
The survey tested the desirability of seven different methods of non-in-person communication in receiving three different kinds of tests: common tests such as blood cholesterol and colonoscopy results; non-HIV STIs; and genetic testing (predisposition to a disorder, carrier of an inherited gene linked to a disease and a carrier of a genetic disorder).
The seven methods of communications surveyed were a password-protected patient portal website, phone voicemail, personal email, letter, home voicemail, fax, and mobile phone text.
Researchers found that in all categories, patients were least comfortable receiving information via fax.
Half or more preferred receiving cholesterol or colonoscopy results in four methods: password protected patient portal websites, personal voicemail, personal email, or letter. The majority did not want to receive a home voicemail, mobile text message, or a fax.
For receiving results of STIs, only one method was preferred by the majority (51 percent) of participants: password-protected websites. No single method was preferred for genetic test results; the closest, at 46 percent, was also password-protected websites.
LaRocque, a genetic researcher, is interested in how sensitive information is transmitted to patients.
“With these highly sensitive medical results such as genetic test results, patients may not trust the privacy of methods such as personal voicemail or email, whereas password-protected websites provide an added level of security, which may be necessary as these tests become more prevalent in primary care practices,” she said.
But other studies have found that a minority of patients has signed up for available patient portals, and only half have actually activated their sites, the researchers say.
The researchers point out one potential bias in the study: Since the majority of completed surveys were administered online, those who participated may be innately more comfortable with electronic communication.
Source: Georgetown University/EurekAlert
New research finds that romantic attraction may change as a relationship shifts from long distance to up close and personal.
“We found that men preferred women who are smarter than them in psychologically distant situations. Men rely on their ideal preferences when a woman is hypothetical or imagined,” said Lora Park, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and associate professor of psychology at the University of Buffalo.
“But in live interaction, men distanced themselves and were less attracted to a woman who outperformed them in intelligence.”
In the study, researchers found the difference between genuine affinity and apparent desirability becomes clearer as the distance between two people gets smaller.
Their findings are published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Previous research has shown that similarities between individuals can affect attraction. This new set of studies suggests that psychological distance — whether someone is construed as being near or far in relation to the self — plays a key role in determining attraction.
“It’s the distinction between the abstract and the immediate,” says Park. “There is a disconnect between what people appear to like in the abstract when someone is unknown and when that same person is with them in some immediate social context.”
Even though the research focus of the current study was on romantic attraction and, specifically, men’s interest in women, Park says the result might potentially be a broader phenomenon, extending to other interpersonal situations.
“That’s a question for future research,” she said. “But presumably, anyone who is outperformed by someone close to them might feel threatened themselves. We just happened to look at men in a romantic dating context.”
Park’s team conducted six separate studies involving 650 young adult subjects. The studies ranged from presenting subjects with hypothetical women, to women they expected to meet, to actually engaging in an interpersonal interaction.
“In each case, how much you like someone or how much you are attracted to them is affected by how intelligent that person is relative to you and how close that person is relative to you,” said Park.
But the area of performance has to be something important to the individual.
“The domain matters,” says Park. “If you don’t care about the domain, you might not be threatened. Yet, if you care a lot about the domain, then you might prefer that quality in somebody who is distant, then feel threatened when that person gets close to you.”
Source: University of Buffalo
Researchers from the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Illinois found that the hippocampus, a crucial part of the brain that consolidates new memories and helps connect emotions to the senses, is not larger in females than in males.
“Sex differences in the brain are irresistible to those looking to explain stereotypic differences between men and women,” said neuroscientist Dr. Lise Eliot of the university’s medical school.
“They often make a big splash, in spite of being based on small samples. But as we explore multiple datasets and are able to coalesce very large samples of males and females, we find these differences often disappear or are trivial.”
For the study, Eliot and a team of students performed a meta-analysis of structural MRI volumes and found no significant difference in hippocampal size between men and women.
Meta-analysis is a statistical technique that allows researchers to combine the findings from many independent studies into a comprehensive review. The team examined findings from 76 published papers, involving more than 6,000 healthy individuals.
The hippocampi are located on both sides of the brain, under the cerebral cortex. The team’s findings challenge the common claim that a disproportionately larger hippocampus explains females’ tendency toward greater emotional expressiveness, stronger interpersonal skills, and better verbal memory.
“Many people believe there is such a thing as a ‘male brain’ and a ‘female brain,'” Eliot said. “But when you look beyond the popularized studies — at collections of all the data — you often find that the differences are minimal.”
The study appears in the journal NeuroImage.
Additional meta-analyses by other investigators have also disproved other purported sex differences in the brain, Eliot noted. There is no difference in the size of the corpus callosum, the white matter that allows the two sides of the brain to communicate, she said. Nor do men and women differ in the way their left and right hemispheres process language.
Adults with schizophrenia are 3.5 times more likely to die prematurely, particularly from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, compared to the average population, according to a new study published online by JAMA Psychiatry.
Many factors contribute to the risk of premature death, including economic disadvantage, negative health behaviors, and difficulty accessing and adhering to medical treatments. Specifically, the following harmful traits are more common in those with schizophrenia than in the general population: smoking, limited physical activity, obesity, elevated blood glucose level, hypertension, and dyslipidemia (abnormal amount of lipids, such as fat or cholesterol, in the blood).
For the study, the researchers looked at a national group of more than 1.1 million Medicaid patients with schizophrenia (between the ages of 20 to 64) and 74,003 deaths, of which 65,553 had a known cause.
Among the 65,553 deaths with a known cause, 55,741 were from natural causes, which include a variety of diseases, and 9,812 were due to unnatural deaths, which included suicide, homicide assault, and accidents, both poisoning and non-poisoning, according to the results.
Cardiovascular disease had the highest mortality rate and accounted for almost one-third of all natural deaths. Cancer accounted for about one in six deaths. Among the other natural causes of death, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, influenza, and pneumonia had the highest mortality rates.
Unnatural causes of death accounted for about one in seven deaths with known causes, with suicide accounting for about one-quarter of the unnatural deaths. Accidents accounted for more than twice as many deaths as suicide.
Nonsuicidal substance-induced death, mostly from alcohol or other drugs, also was a leading cause of death.
Limitations noted by the authors include not having information about key health risk factors such as smoking status, body mass index, and substance abuse.
“The results from this study confirm a marked excess of deaths in schizophrenia, particularly from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, that is evident in early adulthood and persists into later life,” writes Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., of Columbia University, New York, and coauthors.
“Especially high risks of mortality were observed from diseases for which tobacco use is a key risk factor. These findings support efforts to train mental health care professionals in tobacco use prevention and treatment and in implementation of policies that incentivize smoking control interventions in settings treating patients with schizophrenia.”
A new study has shown that just one month of training on a new computer game can help older adults strengthen prospective memory, the type of memory necessary for planning, everyday functioning, and independent living.
Older adults who played the cognitive-training game, called Virtual Week, “more than doubled” the number of prospective memory tasks performed correctly compared to seniors who performed other activities, such as taking music classes, according to researchers at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto, Canada.
Prospective memory, which refers to the ability to remember and successfully carry out intentions and planned activities during the day, tends to weaken with age, the researchers noted. It accounts for between 50 percent to 80 percent of reported everyday memory problems, they added.
The study incorporated a “train for transfer” approach, utilizing a training intervention to have participants practice performing real-world prospective memory tasks in simulated every day settings and then assessing whether the cognitive gains transfer to successful performance at home, the researchers explained.
“As the world’s population ages, it is becoming increasingly important to develop ways to support successful prospective memory functioning so that older adults can continue to live independently at home without the need for assisted care,” said Dr. Nathan Rose, lead investigator of the study and now a research fellow in the School of Psychology at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne.
“While these results are encouraging, they represent a first step in exploring the efficacy of prospective memory training with the Virtual Week training program,” added Dr. Fergus Craik, a memory researcher based at Baycrest and senior author on the paper, which was published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
“Perhaps the most exciting aspect is that training in the lab resulted in improvements in real-life memory tasks. This lab-to-life transfer has been difficult to achieve in previous studies.”
For the study, researchers developed a version of a computerized board game called Virtual Week in which players simulate going through the course of a day on a circuit that resembles a Monopoly board.
Players move their tokens through a virtual day. Along the way, they have to remember to perform several tasks, such as taking medication or taking their dinner out of the oven at appropriate times.
Researchers recruited 59 healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 79, who played 24 levels of the game over a one-month period.
The difficulty of the game increased over the course of training in terms of the number of tasks to be completed each day, the complexity of tasks, and interference with prior tasks. The difficulty was adjusted to each individual’s level of performance on the previous day.
Prospective memory performance measures were taken before the training began and after, then compared to two control groups; one of which received a music-based cognitive training program and the other which received no intervention. The researchers also developed a “call-back” task in which participants had to remember to phone the lab from home during their every day activities.
The researchers found large training gains in prospective memory performance in the group that played the Virtual Week game. Moreover, these gains transferred to significant improvements in real-world prospective memory, including on tasks such as counting change and following medication instructions, according to the researchers.
Brain imaging (EEG) on a subset of the groups showed some evidence of neuroplasticity — brain changes — that correlated to correct prospective memory performance, the researchers report. These brain changes were particularly associated with the ability to stop oneself from carrying on with ongoing activities and switch to performing an intended action at the appropriate time.
The early findings are so promising that the researchers have been awarded a grant from the Australian Research Council, in partnership with Villa Maria Catholic Homes, to follow up on the study with a large randomized control trial.
The research team was also awarded a grant with colleagues in the Centre for Heart and Mind at the Australian Catholic University’s Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research to implement the game-based cognitive training program in patients with chronic heart failure, a group that demonstrates severe prospective memory problems associated with self-care.
Source: Baycrest Health Sciences
A new study indicates that chronic pain sufferers could benefit from therapy to help them sleep better.
Researchers at the University of Warwick in the U.K. found that cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) were either moderately or strongly effective in tackling insomnia in patients with long-term pain.
They also discovered that chronic pain sufferers didn’t just benefit from improved sleep, but also experienced a wider positive impact on pain, fatigue, and depression. However, the study also concluded that CBT only worked when delivered in person.
“Poor sleep is a potential cause of ill health and previous studies suggest it can lead to obesity, diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease — even death,” said Dr. Nicole Tang, from the university’s Department of Psychology, who led the research.
“Insomnia can also increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. It is also a major problem for those suffering pain that lasts longer than three to six months and that is why we looked at this group.”
She noted the study is “particularly important because the use of drugs to treat insomnia is not recommended over a long period of time,” which means the “condition needs to be addressed using a non-pharmacological treatment.”
Researchers from the university’s Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School ran a meta-analysis of the effects of non-drug treatments for sleeplessness, examining 72 studies that included 1,066 patients between the ages 45 and 61 who suffered from insomnia and experienced pain caused by a variety of ailments, such as cancer, headaches, and arthritis.
Treatments covered a variety of approaches, including education about sleep hygiene (good sleeping habits, such as a regular sleeping pattern), stimulus control, sleep restriction and cognitive therapy.
In addition to highlighting the positive effect of CBT on insomnia, the researchers identified a mild to moderate decrease in pain immediately after therapy.
The researchers also noted that improved sleep resulted in a decrease in depression following treatment and at follow-ups up to 12 months. The researchers said this highlights the value of treating insomnia that exists with chronic pain as early as possible.
The therapies were found to be less effective when delivered over the phone or Internet, Tang reported.
“We found little evidence that using therapies delivered either by phone or computer benefited insomniacs,” she said. “The jury is still out on the effectiveness of using automated sleep treatments. We found that, at the moment at least, delivering therapies personally had the most positive effect on sleeplessness.”
The scientists concluded that more research is required to establish if it is feasible and cost-effective over the long-term to treat patients using CBT.
The study was published in the journal Sleep.
Source: University of Warwick
New research has found that unconditional acceptance by friends and authenticity in relationships play crucial roles in contributing to the well-being of mothers.
In what is described as the first known study to delve into the phenomenological experience of motherhood, Dr. Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, and postdoctoral research associate Lucia Ciciolla, Ph.D., asked more than 2,000 well-educated, upper middle-class mothers what factors helped them cope with motherhood.
This group, the researchers said, is described as being at “high risk” for parenting stress, because over time, they have come to spend vastly greater number of hours each week on children’s activities and commitments, as compared to well-educated fathers and less-educated mothers.
In the study, published in Developmental Psychology, the researchers said four factors out of seven stood out as main contributors to helping mom’s equanimity of spirit and keeping distress at bay:
- Unconditional acceptance;
- Feeling comforted when needed;
- Authenticity in relationships; and
- Friendship satisfaction.
Interestingly, being married was not related to mothers’ psychological well-being. More significant, according to the researchers, was the quality of the marriage.
“Relationships with spouses are important, but clearly not determinative to a mother’s well being,” Luthar said. “Our findings show the strong potential protective power of other close relationships — satisfaction with the frequency of visiting with friends had significant unique associations with all seven adjustment outcomes.”
The new study is a by-product of Luthar’s more than 25 years of work on resilience among children facing adversities. Researchers have found that the single most powerful “protective factor” for kids is having a strong, supportive bond with the primary parent.
As mothers are typically primary parents across socioeconomic strata, the researcher said she is now deliberately focused on trying to unravel what best helps mothers function well.
“Developmental science is replete with studies on what moms do and do not do, what they should do and should not do, but there is almost no attention to what might mothers need to negotiate the inevitable challenges in sustaining ‘good enough parenting’ across decades,” she said.
One goal of the study was to test the stereotype that mothers today are excessively invested in their children, as embodied in the phrase “helicopter parents.” There was no support for this stereotype in the study findings, Luthar noted.
“Our results yield little support for views that as a group, upper-middle class mothers’ well-being is primarily tied to their investment in their children and their roles as parents, and instead, suggest far stronger ramifications for feelings of being personally supported,” she said.
“Women’s adjustment status did co-vary with how they felt in their roles as mothers, but also showed equivalent, if not vastly stronger, variation with the emotional support in their everyday lives.”
According to Luthar, that emotional support is best-captured in two simple phrases: “I feel seen and loved for the person I am at my core,” and “When I am deeply distressed, I feel comforted in the way I need it.”
“Just as unconditional acceptance is critical for children, so it is critical for mothers who must provide it,” Luthar said. “Mothers, like children, benefit greatly when they know they have reliable sources of comfort when in distress.”
Computer-based modeling is able to reduce the length of hospital stay and duration of treatment for newborns born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), or opioid drug addiction and withdrawal.
Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center used computer models to represent pharmacokinetics (the movement of a drug from the moment it is administered up to the point at which it is completely eliminated from the body). This reduced the duration of methadone treatment from 16.4 to 14.1 days and inpatient treatment from 21.7 to 18.3 days for infants with NAS.
Recent statistics have shown an increase in the admission of newborns with NAS to intensive care units from seven cases per 1,000 admissions to 27 per 1,000 admissions from 2004 through 2013. These infants are born in drug withdrawal — often in critical condition — having been exposed in utero to a range of opiates and opioids, from Percocet and Vicodin to heroin.
It is essential that NAS is detected before the newborn goes home. The problem, however, is that symptoms may not occur for 48 hours, and many babies go home with their mothers after delivery with no one there to treat their withdrawal. They may end up failing to thrive, or in emergency departments with seizures.
“The incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome after an infant’s in utero exposure to opioids has risen dramatically in recent years,” says Eric Hall, Ph.D., a researcher in the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the study.
“Future protocol refinements may include personalized treatments, including strategies based on bedside pharmacogenetic analyses or individual opioid exposure profiles, which take into account individual genetic responses to drugs.”
The study was conducted at six newborn nurseries in southwest Ohio and was based on a standardized protocol previously developed by the Ohio Children’s Hospital Neonatal Research Consortium. The findings showed an improvement in length of stay and duration of treatment.
In 2013, hospitals in the Cincinnati area became the first to begin widespread universal drug testing of all expectant mothers. Ohio law does not require notification of law enforcement if a maternal test is positive, unless there is suspicion of criminal behavior linked directly to the safety or well-being of the newborn. This diffuses a mother’s fear of criminal charges and increases the likelihood that she will agree to a urine sample.
“Prior to this program, one of four women using opioids went undetected. Today we are detecting nearly all,” says Scott Wexelblatt, M.D., a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s who has spearheaded the universal drug testing method.
The findings are published online in the Journal of Pediatrics.
A new study shows that among families with healthy children, the chances of divorce tend to increase with each successive child. However, among families with at least one disabled child, there is no increase in the rate of divorce as the family grows bigger.
The findings suggest that having non-disabled children who can pitch in and help care for the disabled child may act as a support system for parents and help mitigate the added stress of having several children.
The study, conducted by researchers from the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, compared the divorce rates of couples who have at least one child with a developmental disability to that of their peers who have typically developing children.
Specifically, among couples with children without any disabilities, the risk of divorce was lowest for couples with one child and increased with each successive child. In contrast, the risk of divorce for parents of children with developmental disabilities remained unchanged with increasing family size.
Parenting a child with a developmental disability involves challenges and rewards that are unique to each family and previous research suggests that parents of a child with a developmental disability tend to experience greater marital stress compared to couples raising typically developing children.
As a result, there has been “a conception that, in general, parents of children with disabilities are more likely to experience divorce, and we wanted to test that assumption,” said Eun Ha Namkung, first author of the paper and a graduate student in social work at the Waisman Center’s Lifespan Family Research Program, led by study co-authors Drs. Jan Greenberg and Marsha Mailick.
Previous research has proven inconclusive.
The researchers found that couples with typically-developing children who can pitch in to care for and support their siblings with developmental disabilities may experience less marital stress, which can help counterbalance the effects of family size on divorce rates found in the general population.
“Our results clearly show that the effects of having additional children are different for families of individuals with developmental disabilities compared to the effects on the general population,” said Namkung, “and suggest that other children in the family may be a vital support system for parents coping with the care of a child with a developmental disability.”
About 22 percent of parents with a child with a developmental disability experienced divorce over the span of the study. Of parents in the comparison group, 20 percent experienced divorce, which is not a significant difference.
For the study, the researchers used the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS). The WLS has been following more than 10,000 men and women who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957 and some of their siblings for more than 50 years.
“When the WLS began, the participants were still in high school,” says Namkung, “whereas most past research recruited parents after they have given birth to a child diagnosed with developmental disabilities.”
Using the WLS allowed the researchers to follow 190 parents whose children had a broad range of developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and unspecified intellectual disabilities.
The almost six-decade span of the WLS also allowed researchers to track families from the beginning of their marriages until they were in their early-to-mid sixties. Looking at marriages over a longer time period is important because the challenges of caring for a child with a developmental disability can vary tremendously over the lifespan.
Namkung does point out some limitations to the study. For example, the study population was mostly of Caucasian origin, which meant very little ethnic diversity. Participants were also mostly born between 1930 and 1935 and it is possible that examining younger generations would yield different divorce rates.
These are factors the researchers intend to address in future studies. They also plan to “focus on other types of disabilities such as mental illness to better understand the effects of having a child with a particular disability on divorce rates,” Namkung said.
The findings are published in the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison
The more frequently children watch TV channels that show ads for kids’ fast food meals, the more often their families eat at those fast food restaurants, according to a new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Fast food companies advertise children’s meals featuring new toys on TV, and it has been suggested that seeing these toys may prompt children to request eating at fast food restaurants.
For the study, researchers referred to a database compiled of all fast food TV ads that aired nationally in 2009. They found that only two nationally-recognized fast food chains were engaging in child-directed TV advertising at that time.
“Seventy-nine percent of the child-directed ads from those two restaurants aired on just four children’s networks,” said lead researcher Jennifer A. Emond, Ph.D., at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.
The researchers enrolled 100 children (three to seven years of age) and one of their parents in the study. The parents filled out a survey that included questions about how often their children watched each of the four children’s networks, if their children requested visits to the two restaurants, if their children collected toys from those restaurants, and how often the family visited those restaurants.
The findings showed that 37 percent of parents reported more frequent visits to the two fast food restaurants with child-directed TV ads. In addition, 54 percent of the children requested visits to at least one of the restaurants. Of the 29 percent of children who collected toys from the restaurants, almost 83 percent requested to visit one or both of the restaurants.
Certain factors were linked to more frequent restaurant visits, including the following: having more TVs in the home, a TV in the child’s bedroom, more time spent watching TV during the day, and more time spent watching one of the four children’s networks airing the majority of child-directed ads.
Although the study enrolled a small number of families, the findings show that the more frequently a child views child-directed fast food TV ads, often involving a toy, the more likely the family visited the fast food restaurant that was featured in the commercial. The findings also show that children’s food preferences may be partially shaped by a desire for the featured toys.
“For now,” notes Emond, “our best advice to parents is to switch their child to commercial-free TV programming to help avoid pestering for foods seen in commercials.”
A new study has found that awakening several times throughout the night is more detrimental to people’s positive moods than getting the same shortened amount of sleep without interruption.
For the study, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine recruited 62 healthy men and women and randomly subjected them to three experimental sleep conditions in an inpatient clinical research suite: Three consecutive nights of either forced awakenings, delayed bedtimes, or uninterrupted sleep.
The volunteers subjected to eight forced awakenings and those with delayed bedtimes showed similar low positive mood and high negative mood after the first night, as measured by a standard mood assessment questionnaire administered before bedtimes. The questionnaire asked the volunteers to rate how strongly they felt a variety of positive and negative emotions, such as cheerfulness or anger.
Those similarities ended after the second night, according to the researchers.
The forced awakening group had a reduction of 31 percent in positive mood, while the delayed bedtime group had a decline of 12 percent compared to the first day.
Researchers add they did not find significant differences in negative mood between the two groups on any of the three days, which suggests that sleep fragmentation is especially detrimental to positive mood.
“When your sleep is disrupted throughout the night, you don’t have the opportunity to progress through the sleep stages to get the amount of slow-wave sleep that is key to the feeling of restoration,” explained lead author Patrick Finan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Frequent awakenings throughout the night are common among new parents and on-call health care workers, he says. It is also one of the most common symptoms among people with insomnia, who make up an estimated 10 percent of the U.S. adult population.
“Many individuals with insomnia achieve sleep in fits and starts throughout the night, and they don’t have the experience of restorative sleep,” Finan said.
Depressed mood is a common symptom of insomnia, but the biological reasons for this are poorly understood, according to Finan.
To investigate the link, he and his team used a test called polysomnography to monitor certain brain and body functions while volunteers were sleeping to assess sleep stages.
Compared with the delayed bedtime group, the forced awakening group had shorter periods of deep, slow-wave sleep. The lack of sufficient slow-wave sleep had a statistically significant association with the volunteers’ reduction in positive mood, the researchers said.
They also found that interrupted sleep affected different domains of positive mood. For example, it not only reduced energy levels, but also feelings of sympathy and friendliness.
The study also suggests that the effects of interrupted sleep on positive mood can be cumulative, since the group differences emerged after the second night and continued the day after the third night of the study, according to Finan.
“You can imagine the hard time people with chronic sleep disorders have after repeatedly not reaching deep sleep,” he said.
He notes that further studies are needed to learn more about sleep stages in people with insomnia and the role played by a night of recovering sleep.
The study was published in the journal Sleep.