In The News
Emerging research suggests that while military enrollees do not share the exact psychological profile as socio-demographically comparable civilians, they are more similar than previously thought.
One study found that new soldiers and matched civilians are equally likely to have experienced at least one major episode of mental illness in their lifetime (38.7 percent of new soldiers; 36.5 percent of civilians).
However, some mental disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and conduct disorder) are more common among new soldiers than civilians. New soldiers are also more likely than civilians to have experienced a combination of three or more disorders, or comorbidity, prior to enlisting (11.3 percent vs. 6.5 percent).
A second study focused on suicide, finding that new soldiers had pre-enlistment rates of suicide thoughts and plans at rates roughly the same as matched civilians.
Nevertheless, rates of pre-enlistment suicidality are higher among soldiers than civilians later in the Army career, implying that Army experiences might lead to chronicity of suicidality.
The studies have been published online in the journal Depression and Anxiety.
Researchers surveyed 38,507 new soldiers reporting for basic combat training in 2011-2012 as part of the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (Army STARRS).
The study, the largest review of mental health risk and resilience ever conducted among U.S. Army personnel, stemmed from concerns about the rising U.S. Army suicide rate. Army STARRS is funded by the Army through the National Institute of Mental Health.
The two papers focus on the ArmySTARRS survey of new soldiers about to start Basic Combat Training.
The research is different from previous Army STARRS reports that presented results from analyses of Army and Department of Defense administrative records and from a separate survey of soldiers exclusive of those in basic training.
“The comparability of overall pre-enlistment rates of mental disorders among new soldiers and civilians is striking,” said Ronald Kessler, Ph.D., McNeil Family Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School and one of the senior authors.
“This raises the possibility that the high rates of active pre-enlistment mental disorders reported by soldiers later in their Army careers might be due largely to these disorders becoming chronic in the context of Army experiences.”
Anthony Rosellini, Ph.D., lead author of the first paper and an HMS postdoctoral fellow in Health Care Policy, added, “At the same time, evidence exists for selection into Army service on the basis of some disorders that can become risk factors for suicidality, suggesting that a combination of differential selection and differential chronicity might be involved in accounting for the high active pre-enlistment disorder rates later in the Army career.”
The second Army STARRS paper reported that 14.1 percent of new soldiers had considered suicide at some point in their life before enlisting, 2.3 percent of new soldiers had made a suicide plan, and that 1.9 percent of new soldiers previously attempted suicide.
“These results are quite similar to those found in our survey of soldiers who were later in their Army careers and these, in turn, were similar to the rates found among matched civilians,” noted the lead author of the paper, Robert Ursano, M.D.
“This means that new soldiers do not come into the Army with higher rates of suicidality than comparable civilians,” said Ursano, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Maryland.
“And this, in turn, means that the high rates of suicidality seen later in the Army career are likely associated with experiences that happen after enlistment rather than before enlistment.”
Source: Harvard University
As the days get shorter, for many the risk of depression increases. New research from the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology conference in Berlin confirms why some people suffer from the winter blues while others get through the winter without any problems.
The new study from scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark finds that people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) show significant seasonal differences in the way they regulate the neurotransmitter serotonin in comparison to the majority of the population.
SAD affects a significant amount of people as daylight levels drop in autumn. At Northern European latitudes (for example all of Scandinavia, Glasgow, and Moscow) around one person in six suffers from SAD.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen used positron emission tomography (PET) to perform a longitudinal study on 11 SAD patients and 23 healthy individuals. They discovered significant summer to winter differences in the levels of the serotonin transporter (SERT) protein.
SAD patients showed higher levels of SERT in the winter months, corresponding to a greater removal of serotonin in winter.
Serotonin (also known as 5-HT) is a neurotransmitter which affects mood. Many antidepressant drugs, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac) work by allowing serotonin to be retained in the synapse where it exerts its effects.
Lead researcher and M.D./Ph.D. student Brenda McMahon said, “We believe that we have found the dial the brain turns when it has to adjust serotonin to the changing seasons. The serotonin transporter (SERT) carries serotonin back into the nerve cells where it is not active, so the higher the SERT activity the lower the activity of serotonin.
“Sunlight keeps this setting naturally low, but when the nights grow longer during the autumn, the SERT levels increase, resulting in diminishing active serotonin levels. Many individuals are not really affected by SAD, and we have found that these people don’t have this increase in SERT activity, so their active serotonin levels remain high throughout the winter.”
The SAD patients had an average five percent higher SERT level in the winter compared to the summer, whereas the healthy participants on average showed no significant change.
Commenting for the ECNP, Professor Siegfried Kasper (Vienna) said, “SERT fluctuations associated with SAD have been seen in previous studies, but this is the first study to follow patients through summer and winter comparisons. It seems to offer confirmation that SERT is associated with SAD.”
Source: Science Daily
A new study has found that dietary cocoa flavanols — naturally occurring bioactives found in cocoa — reversed age-related memory decline in healthy older adults.
The study shows that a component of age-related memory decline is caused by changes in a specific region of the brain and that this form of memory decline can be improved by a dietary intervention, according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC).
As people age, they typically show some decline in cognitive abilities, including learning and remembering such things as the names of new acquaintances or where they parked their car or left their keys.
This normal age-related memory decline starts in early adulthood, but usually does not have any noticeable impact on quality of life until people reach their 50s or 60s, according to the researchers.
They note that age-related memory decline is different from the often-devastating memory impairment that occurs with Alzheimer’s, in which the disease damages and destroys neurons in various parts of the brain, including the memory circuits.
Previous work, including by the laboratory of senior author Scott A. Small, MD, had shown that changes in a specific part of the brain — the dentate gyrus — are associated with age-related memory decline. Until now, however, the evidence in humans showed only a correlational link, not a causal one, according to the researchers.
To see if the dentate gyrus is the source of age-related memory decline in humans, Small and his colleagues tested whether compounds called cocoa flavanols can improve the function of this brain region and improve memory.
Flavanols extracted from cocoa beans had previously been found to improve neuronal connections in the dentate gyrus of mice, the researcher noted.
For the study, a cocoa flavanol-containing test drink was produced by the food company Mars, Incorporated, which also partly supported the research, using a proprietary process to extract flavanols from cocoa beans, according to the research team.
Most methods of processing cocoa remove many of the flavanols found in the raw plant, the researchers noted.
The researchers then recruited 37 healthy volunteers, between the ages of 50 and 69, who were randomly assigned to receive either a high-flavanol diet (900 mg of flavanols a day) or a low-flavanol diet (10 mg of flavanols a day) for three months.
Brain imaging and memory tests were administered to each participant before and after the study. The brain imaging measured blood volume in the dentate gyrus, a measure of metabolism.
The memory test involved a 20-minute pattern-recognition exercise designed to evaluate a type of memory controlled by the dentate gyrus, the researches explained.
“When we imaged our research subjects’ brains, we found noticeable improvements in the function of the dentate gyrus in those who consumed the high-cocoa-flavanol drink,” said lead author Adam M. Brickman, PhD, associate professor of neuropsychology at the Taub Institute.
The high-flavanol group also performed significantly better on the memory test, the study found.
“If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old,” said Small.
He cautioned, however, that the findings need to be replicated in a larger study, which he and his team plan to do.
The researchers point out that the product used in the study is not the same as chocolate, and they caution against an increase in chocolate consumption in an attempt to improve memory.
The study was published in Nature Neuroscience.
A new study has found that sleep difficulties, especially problems with falling asleep, are very common among toddlers and preschoolers treated for psychiatric disorders.
These sleep difficulties are often underdiagnosed in children with behavioral and emotional issues, yet can greatly affect well-being, according to John Boekamp, Ph.D., clinical director of the Pediatric Partial Hospital Program (PPHP) at Bradley Hospital in Providence, R.I.
“It is important for families to be aware of how important sleep is to the behavioral adjustment and well-being of young children,” said Boekamp.
“Sleep disorders may be unrecognized and under-diagnosed in young children, particularly when other behavioral or emotional problems are present.”
The most common sleep difficulties reported nationally for toddlers and preschoolers are problems going to bed, falling asleep, and frequent night awakenings, he reported, noting that collectively, these problems are referred to as behavioral insomnias of childhood.
“Sleep problems in young children frequently co-occur with other behavioral problems, with evidence that inadequate sleep is associated with daytime sleepiness, less optimal preschool adjustment, and problems of irritability, hyperactivity, and attention,” he said.
Boekamp explained that his research team was interested in learning more about sleep and sleep problems in young children with behavior problems, as early sleep problems may be both a cause and consequence of children’s difficulties with behavioral and emotional self-regulation.
“Essentially, these young children might be caught in a cycle, with sleep disruption affecting their psychiatric symptoms and psychiatric symptoms affecting their sleep-wake organization,” he said.
The program that Boekamp leads at Bradley Hospital is a family-centered, intensive day treatment program for very young children from newborn to six years old who have serious emotional, behavioral, or relationship disturbances.
The new study examined the nature and prevalence of diagnostically defined sleep disorders, including Sleep Onset Insomnia (SOI) and Night Waking Insomnia (NWI), in a group of 183 young children admitted to the program.
Diagnosable sleep disorders, particularly SOI, were quite common in the group, exceeding previous estimates obtained in community settings, the researchers noted.
Overall, 41 percent of the children in the study also met diagnostic criteria for a sleep disorder. Sleep problems were especially common in children with disruptive behavior, attention, anxiety, and mood problems, according to the study’s findings.
“Difficulties with sleep may be particularly important to address when children are also struggling with challenging daytime behaviors, such as problems with compliance, aggression, attention, and mood,” he said.
Sleepiness and fatigue may exacerbate these problem behaviors, he noted.
“This study is a great reminder that it’s critical for mental health providers working with young children and their families to ask about children’s sleep,” said Boekamp.
“Simple questions about children’s sleep patterns, including how long it takes a child to fall asleep at night and how frequently a child awakens after falling asleep, may yield important information that is relevant to clinical care, even when sleep problems are not the primary focus of treatment.”
The study was published in the journal Child Psychiatry & Human Development.
A baby’s preference for a human face, rather than an object, is connected to lower levels of insensitive and unemotional behaviors when the baby becomes a toddler, according to scientists at King’s College London, the University of Manchester, and the University of Liverpool.
Furthermore, the findings show that if a mother responds more sensitively to her baby during playtime, then the child is also less likely to exhibit callous unemotional behavior as a toddler.
Callous and unemotional behaviors are defined as having a lack of guilt and empathy, a reduced concern for other’s distress, and difficulties with understanding emotions.
Previously, callous unemotional traits have been associated with reduced attention to important social features such as other people’s faces and eyes. This study is the first to look at whether such a connection is present from the first few weeks of life.
The study, published in Biological Psychiatry, involved the evaluation of 213 infants at five weeks of age. The researchers watched whether the babies spent more time tracking a person’s face or if they preferred an inanimate object — in this case, a red ball.
The researchers found that the more time an infant spent watching a face instead of a ball, the fewer callous unemotional behaviors were reported by questionnaires when the children were two and a half years old.
“Callous and unemotional behaviors in children are known to be associated with an increased emotional burden on families as well as later criminality and antisocial behavior.
“This study takes us a step further in understanding the earliest origins of callous and unemotional behaviors,” said Dr. Rachael Bedford, a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow at the Biostatistics Department, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London.
“An important next step will be to seek replication of the findings before working towards developing early interventions,” said Bedford.
The findings are the latest from the Wirral Child Health and Development Study, an ongoing interdisciplinary investigation of the relationship between social and biological factors in the emotional and cognitive development of children.
The children of this study are still being followed to see whether face preference at five weeks of age can continue to predict callous unemotional behavior through middle childhood.
“While our findings are interesting, we don’t yet know how stable callous unemotional behaviors are. Our follow-up work will assess how these early indicators affect children in later life,” said Dr. Jonathan Hill of the University of Manchester.
Source: University of Manchester
A new study shows that for people over 60 who do not have dementia, moderate alcohol consumption is linked to higher episodic memory, the ability to recall memories of events.
According to researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, University of Kentucky, and University of Maryland, light alcohol consumption is also associated with larger volume in the hippocampus, a region of the brain critical for episodic memory.
The relationship between light alcohol consumption and episodic memory goes away if hippocampal volume is factored in, providing new evidence that hippocampal functioning is the critical factor in these improvements, according to the study, which was published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.
The study is based on data from more than 660 patients in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort.
These patients completed surveys on their alcohol consumption and demographics, as well as a battery of neuropsychological assessments. Researchers also determined the presence or absence of the genetic Alzheimer’s disease risk factor APOE e4 and completed MRIs of the patients’ brains.
The researchers found that light and moderate alcohol consumption in older people is associated with higher episodic memory and is linked with larger hippocampal brain volume. The amount of alcohol consumption had no impact on executive function or overall mental ability, the researchers added.
Findings from animal studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may contribute to preserved hippocampal volume by promoting the generation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus.
In addition, exposing the brain to moderate amounts of alcohol may increase the release of brain chemicals involved with cognitive or information processing functions, the researchers postulate.
“There were no significant differences in cognitive functioning and regional brain volumes during late life according to reported midlife alcohol consumption status,” said lead author Brian Downer, Ph.D., UTMB Sealy Center on Aging postdoctoral fellow.
“This may be due to the fact that adults who are able to continue consuming alcohol into old age are healthier, and therefore have higher cognition and larger regional brain volumes, than people who had to decrease their alcohol consumption due to unfavorable health outcomes.”
Whether they like to admit it or not, most people are interested in gossip about other people’s achievements and failures. And while gossip is often seen as negative, a new study has found that listening to gossip may help us adapt to a social environment, help us improve, or reveal potential threats.
Researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands conducted two studies to examine the effects of positive and negative gossip on the person hearing the gossip.
The first study asked participants to recall an incident where they received either positive or negative gossip about another individual. The participants were then asked questions to measure the self-improvement, self-promotion, and self-protection value of the gossip.
The researchers found that individuals who heard positive gossip had increased self-improvement value, while negative gossip increased self-promotion value. Negative gossip also increased self-protection concerns, according to the study’s findings.
“For example, hearing positive stories about others may be informative, because they suggest ways to improve oneself,” lead researcher Elena Martinescu said.
“Hearing negative gossip may be flattering, because it suggests that others — the gossip target — may function less well than we do. However, negative gossip may also be threatening to the self, because it suggests a malign social environment in which one may easily fall victim to negative treatments.”
Participants in the second study were assigned the role of a sales agent and asked to imagine they had written a job description that was presented to them. Participants received either negative or positive gossip about another’s job performance.
The scenario included an achievement goal manipulation with two conditions — a performance goal condition and a mastery goal condition.
People who primarily have a performance goal strive to demonstrate superior competence by outperforming other people. People who have a mastery goal strive to develop competence by learning new knowledge, abilities, and skills, the researchers explain.
Consistent with the first study, in the second study positive gossip had more self-improvement value, while negative gossip had self-promotion value and raised self-protection concerns.
Negative gossip also elicited pride due to its self-promotion value, since it provides individuals with social comparison information that justifies self-promotional judgments, according to the researchers.
Negative gossip also elicits fear and anxiety due to increased self-protection concerns, since individuals may worry that their reputation could be at risk if they become targets of negative gossip in the future, the researchers added.
The second study also found that individuals with a mastery goal are more likely to learn from positive gossip than individuals with a performance goal.
Additionally, those with a performance goal experience more concern for self-protection in response to positive gossip. Individuals who pursue performance goals feel threatened by positive gossip because rivals’ success translates to their own failure, the researchers explained.
The researchers expected that individuals would be more alert after receiving positive rather than negative gossip because they might find positive gossip provides a source of information they can learn from.
But they were surprised to find that alertness was high for both positive and negative gossip. This may be because both types of gossip are highly relevant for the receiver, the researchers theorized.
Gender differences between men and women were also observed.
“Women who receive negative gossip experience higher self-protection concerns, possibly because they believe they might experience a similar fate as the person being the target of the gossip, while men who receive positive gossip experience higher fear, perhaps because upward social comparisons with competitors are threatening,” Martinescu said.
“Gossip provides individuals with indirect social comparison information, which is valued highly because it provides an essential resource for self-evaluation,” Martinescu said.
Instead of eliminating gossip, the researchers suggest that individuals should “accept gossip as a natural part of our lives and receive it with a critical attitude regarding the consequences it may have on ourselves and on others.”
The study was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
People who are born blind have four times as many nightmares as sighted people, according to a new study conducted by the Danish Centre for Sleep Medicine. The findings confirm that nightmares are related to a person’s daytime stress.
“The study confirms an already existing hypothesis that people’s nightmares are associated with emotions they experience while awake. And blind people apparently experience more threatening or dangerous situations during the day than people with normal sight,” said lead author Amani Meaidi, a research assistant at the center.
The researchers recruited 11 participants who were born blind, 14 who had become blind, and 25 normally sighted people, and asked them to record their dreams over a period of four weeks. Several surprising findings emerged.
The results showed that approximately 25 percent of a born-blind person’s dreams are nightmares, compared to only six percent for a sighted person. The dreams of people who became blind later in life were more similar to sighted people with nightmares at seven percent.
The nightmares were typically related to fears experienced in everyday life, such as being in an embarrassing social situation or a car accident.
Meaidi noted that dreams are a largely sensory experience, a way for the brain to process the day’s physical experiences. Those who were born blind did not have dreams with visual content, while those who became blind later in life reported fewer and fewer visual dreams over time.
“The study also points out that the sensory input and experiences we get while awake are decisive when it comes to what we dream. So people without visual sensory input dream to a much greater extent in terms of sounds, tastes, smells, and touch,” said Meaidi.
“Because people who lose their sight later in life have previously seen their surroundings it might be that their brains do not experience being threatened by circumstances to the same degree as people who are born blind,” said Meaidi.
“For this reason they may not need to process impressions from everyday life to the same extent by means of nightmares.”
The findings were surprising to the blind participants, who were unaware that they had a greater number of nightmares than sighted people.
“This isn’t something that causes problems for them in their everyday lives, for which reason several of them are surprised to hear the result,” says Maeidi.
The study also revealed that blind-from-birth people are not particularly prone to anxiety or depression, and they don’t necessarily experience more negative emotions than sighted people.
Source: Danish Centre for Sleep Medicine
Although enormous efforts have been made to increase anti-bullying legislation and to raise public awareness, school bullying is still one of the most urgent issues facing students, according to a report by researchers from Clemson University and Professional Data Analysts Inc.
“Bullying continues to affect a great number of children in all age groups, with the highest prevalence observed in third and fourth grades, where roughly 22 percent of schoolchildren report that they are bullied two or three times or more per month,” said co-author Dr. Sue Limber, professor in the Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life at Clemson.
For the report, researchers collected data from the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire and analyzed a representative sample of more than 200,000 questionnaires given to students at schools that had future plans to implement the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, an internationally respected anti-bullying program.
The sample included 1,000 girls and 1,000 boys from each grade between third and twelfth; the results were broken down by grade level and gender.
According to the report, verbal bullying occurs more often than any other form of bullying, with 16 percent of both girls and boys reporting being verbally bullied two to three times a month or more.
The spreading of rumors was the second highest reported form of bullying and differs slightly between girls and boys (15 percent of girls compared to 11 percent of boys).
Many of the bullied students reported that they had not told anyone about being bullied, and boys were less likely to confide in others than girls. More than 90 percent of girls and 80 percent of boys said they felt sorry for students who are bullied, although far fewer actually made any efforts to help them.
“We found that 18 percent of all students surveyed were involved in bullying others, were bullied by others or both, and that cyberbullying was one of the least common forms of bullying experienced,” Limber said.
“Many students also lacked confidence in the administrative and teaching staff to address bullying and, by high school, less than one-third of bullied students had reported bullying to adults at school,” she said.
“Although half of students in grades three to five believed that school staff often tried to put a stop to it when a student was being bullied, this percentage dropped to just 36 percent by high school.”
The researchers say that evidence-based prevention programs are some of the most successful tools for decreasing bulling behaviors.
“We hope that this report helps teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, and concerned citizens raise national awareness about bullying and improve school environments so every child can feel safe at school,” said Limber.
Source: Clemson University
What inspires students to take action and truly pursue their dream jobs?
According to new research, they need a vivid and detailed picture depicting their future success. Simply knowing that they have the right grades or skills doesn’t seem to motivate.
“Students who have chronic self-doubt may need an extra boost to pursue the dreams they are certainly able to achieve,” said study author Dr. Patrick Carroll, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Lima campus.
“This study finds that what they really need is a vivid picture of what will happen if they succeed.”
The study, published in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology, involved 67 undergraduate business and psychology students at Ohio State.
The college participants signed up to learn about a faux new master’s degree program in business psychology that would train them for “high-paying consulting positions as business psychologists.”
The goal was to get students interested in the (fake) program in order to observe their reactions to varying levels of validation to their new career dreams. (The researchers followed a protocol to help students who may have been disappointed that there wasn’t a real program.)
The students read a brochure about the business psychologist program and then filled out several questionnaires.
They were asked to rate their self-confidence that they could become a business psychologist, whether they were excited about the possibility of this career, whether they thought they could be admitted to the business psychology program, and whether they intended to apply. They were also asked their overall GPA.
The participants were then divided into four groups. Students in the control group were given an information sheet indicating no GPA requirement for the program. The other three groups were given sheets indicating the GPA requirement was .10 below whatever they had listed as their own GPA.
In one of these groups, a “career adviser” simply pointed out that the students’ GPA was higher than the requirement. In another group, the students were given slightly stronger validation: The adviser told the participants that they were exactly what the program was looking for and that it was unlikely they would be rejected if they applied.
The last group received the most validation: Not only were they told that they were qualified and unlikely to be rejected, but the adviser added that it was likely that they would be accepted with full funding and excel in the program and would graduate with several job offers in business psychology.
In the end, the students once again filled out forms asking how confident and excited they were about becoming business psychologists and whether they expected they would be admitted. In addition, the students were given the opportunity to actually apply to the program.
The results were striking. The students in the control group and those who were simply told their GPA exceeded the program requirements showed no self-confidence related to becoming a business psychologist and were unlikely to apply to the program or even ask for more information.
“Even when students learn that they exceed some external admissions requirement to become a business psychologist, they still have to decide whether that means they should pursue that career dream instead of any others,” Carroll said.
“They may need more validation than that to pursue this career goal.”
However, when the adviser clearly detailed the vivid prospect of success, the students were excited about pursuing the new career.
In fact, students who were given the most vivid validation had higher levels of self-confidence immediately after meeting with the adviser. They were also more likely to actually apply to the new program.
“Self-confidence played a key role here. Students felt more confident that they could really be successful as a business psychologist when they received a detailed picture from their adviser,” Carroll said.
“Sometimes students have the grades, the motivation, and the ability but simply lack the necessary self-confidence to wholeheartedly invest in the pursuit of a realistic new goal,” he said.
“This work shows how parents, teachers, and counselors can steer students into the right direction to achieve their dreams.”
Source: Ohio State University, Lima
New research suggests a controlling parenting style can hinder autonomy and relationship development among teens.
Investigators at the University of Virginia believe their findings are important because the teenage years are a time to establish a healthy degree of autonomy and closeness in relationships (rather than easily giving in to peer pressure).
The longitudinal study discovered parents’ psychological control strongly influences adolescents’ ability to balance autonomy and obtain closeness in relationships.
Investigators found that teens whose parents exerted more psychological control over them when they were 13 had more problems establishing friendships and romantic relationships. These challenges extended from adolescence and into early adulthood.
The study appears in the journal Child Development.
Investigators looked at whether parents’ greater use of psychological control in early adolescence can hinder teens’ development of autonomy in relationships with peers.
Parents’ psychological control involved such tactics as using guilt, withdrawing love, fostering anxiety, or other psychologically manipulative tactics aimed at controlling youths’ motivations and behaviors.
“These tactics might pressure teens to make decisions in line with their parents’ needs and motivations rather than their own,” said researcher Barbara A. Oudekerk, Ph.D.
“Without opportunities to practice self-directed, independent decision-making, teens might give in to their friends’ and partners’ decisions.”
Oudekerk and her colleagues found that parents’ use of psychological control at age 13 placed teens at risk for having problems establishing autonomy and closeness in relationships with friends and romantic partners that persisted eight years later, into early adulthood.
Previous studies have shown that adolescents who fail to develop the capacity to establish autonomy and closeness are at risk for using methods that undermine autonomy in their own relationships.
These teens are also at risk for experiencing depression and loneliness in close relationships in adulthood.
The study included 184 ethnically and socioeconomically diverse teens. At ages 13 and 18, the youths reported the degree to which their parents used psychological control.
For example, some parents used psychological control by saying, “If you really cared for me, you wouldn’t do things to worry me,” while others acted less friendly toward their teens when the adolescents didn’t see things in the same way the parents did.
The study also assessed teens’ autonomy (their ability to reason, be their own people, and express confidence) and relatedness (their ability to show warmth and connection) in friendships when the adolescents were 13, 18, and 21, and in romantic relationships at ages 18 and 21.
Throughout adolescence, teens became increasingly less skilled at establishing autonomy and closeness in friendships and romantic relationships the more psychological control they experienced from their parents.
In addition, teens’ abilities (or lack thereof) to express autonomy and maintain close relationships with friends and partners at age 18 predicted the degree of autonomy and closeness in future relationships at age 21.
Despite romantic relationships being relatively new in adolescence, the better teens were at establishing autonomy and relatedness with partners at age 18, the better they were at establishing autonomy and relatedness with both friends and partners at age 21.
“Parents often fear the harmful consequences of peer pressure in adolescence,” said Oudekerk. “Our study suggests that parents can promote or undermine teens’ ability to assert their own views and needs to close friends and romantic partners.
“In addition, teens who learn, or fail to learn, how to express independence and closeness with friends and partners during adolescence carry these skills forward into adult relationships.”
Researchers believe the study illustrates the importance of intervening early and encouraging healthy relationships between parents and their adolescents.
Study findings also show that adolescent relationships with peers and partners offer opportunities for learning and practicing healthy relationship skills that can shape the quality of adult relationships.
A new study suggests music therapy may be used to reduce depression in children and adolescents with behavioral and emotional problems.
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast found children who received music therapy had significantly improved self-esteem and significantly reduced depression compared with those who received treatment without music therapy.
Investigators also found that those who received music therapy had improved communicative and interactive skills, compared to those who received usual care options alone.
In what researchers say is the largest study of its kind, 251 children and young people were divided into two groups; 128 underwent the usual care options, while 123 were assigned to music therapy in addition to usual care.
All were being treated for emotional, developmental, or behavioral problems. Early findings suggest that the benefits are sustained in the long term.
Sam Porter, Ph.D., of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University, who led the study, said, “This study is hugely significant in terms of determining effective treatments for children and young people with behavioral problems and mental health needs.”
Valerie Holmes, Ph.D., of the University’s Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, and co-researcher of the study, said, ”This is the largest study ever to be carried out looking at music therapy’s ability to help this very vulnerable group.”
Ciara Reilly, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust, noted, ”Music therapy has often been used with children and young people with particular mental health needs, but this is the first time its effectiveness has been shown by a definitive randomized controlled trial in a clinical setting.
“The findings are dramatic and underscore the need for music therapy to be made available as a mainstream treatment option. For a long time we have relied on anecdotal evidence and small-scale research findings about how well music therapy works. Now we have robust clinical evidence to show its beneficial effects.”
Source: Queen’s University Belfast
A new study finds that teenagers can face negative mood and psychological issues for two days after a problematic incident at home or school. Researchers found family conflict and problems at school tend to occur together on the same day.
Moreover, the aftermath of the event sometimes spills over in both directions to the next day, with family conflict increasing the likelihood of problems at school and vice versa.
Researchers from the University of Southern California have published their findings in the journal Child Development.
The kinds of problems that spill over from home and school include arguments between teens and their parents, doing poorly on a quiz or test, cutting class, having difficulty understanding coursework, and not finishing assignments.
“Spillover processes have been recognized but are not well understood,” according to Adela C. Timmons, a doctoral student, and Dr. Gayla Margolin, a professor of psychology.
“Evidence of spillover for as long as two days suggests that some teens get caught in a reverberating cycle of negative events.”
The study also found that teens’ negative mood might be a way that problems are transmitted across areas (for example, failing a test might lead to irritability, which in turn could lead to conflict with parents).
In addition, mental health symptoms may put adolescents at risk for intensified spillover. Teens with more symptoms of anxiety and depression showed stronger associations between conflict with parents and same-day negative mood.
Researchers designed a study to capture the day-to-day variability in adolescents’ experiences of family conflict and school problems.
Study objectives were accomplished by asking more than a hundred 13- to 17-year-olds and their mothers and fathers to complete questions at the end of each day for 14 days. The families represented a range of races and ethnicities, and a range of incomes.
All three family members reported on family conflict during the day that was ending, and teens also reported on their mood and their school experiences on the same day. Adolescents also completed one-time questionnaires of symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and externalizing problems.
Researchers believe the study findings will help professionals develop interventions to help teens better handle their negative moods.
A better understanding of the emotional spillover that can occur after a conflict or problem could improve teens’ relationships with family as well as how they do academically.
New research suggests being aware of and paying attention to what you are thinking and feeling in the moment is associated with better health.
While the practice of mindfulness has received considerable attention for relieving stress and depression, the new study discovers physical health benefits as well.
Specifically, this practice of “dispositional mindfulness” was found to benefit cardiovascular health in a study by Brown University scientists.
As reported in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, researchers found a significant association between self-reported “dispositional mindfulness” and better scores on four of seven cardiovascular health indicators, as well as a composite overall health score.
“The study is the first to quantify such an association between mindfulness and better cardiovascular health,” said study lead author Eric Loucks, Ph.D.
Loucks believes the research can promote health because mindfulness can be enhanced with training.
“Mindfulness is changeable, and standardized mindfulness interventions are available,” Loucks said.
“Mostly they’ve been looked at for mental health and pain management, but increasingly they are being looked at for cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, smoking, and blood pressure.”
Loucks believes the connection between mental processes and physical health is natural as people who are attuned to their present feelings may be better at minding and managing the cravings that often lead to unhealthy choices.
“Being attuned to one’s feelings may help to reduce the desire for salty or sugary foods or cigarettes or even lying on the couch,” Loucks said.
Mindfulness interventions, for example, have already shown efficacy in helping people to quit smoking.
In the study, Loucks and his colleagues asked 382 participants in the broader New England Family Study to answer the 15 questions of the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS).
MAAS questions, rated on a six-point scale from “almost always” to “almost never” include “I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present” and “I tend not to notice feelings of physical tension or discomfort until they really grab my attention.”
The participants also underwent tests to determine ratings on seven indicators of cardiovascular health. The indicators, as suggested by the American Heart Association include smoking avoidance, physical activity, body mass index, fruit and vegetable consumption, cholesterol, blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose.
The researchers noted the participants’ age, race, sex, education and assessed scores on standardized scales of depression, and sense of control in their lives.
In their analysis of the data, Loucks and his team examined the association between the degree of self-reported mindfulness and the scores on each of the seven cardiovascular health indicators.
Researchers statistically accounted for age, sex, and race, and calculated a composite score of the health indicators.
Participants with high MAAS scores had an 83 percent greater prevalence of good cardiovascular health (as measured by the composite score) compared to those with relatively low MAAS scores.
High vs. low MAAS scores were associated with significantly higher cardiovascular health on four of the seven individual indicators: BMI, physical activity, fasting glucose, and avoiding smoking.
Researchers believe the reason that higher mindfulness were not associate with higher scores for blood pressure or cholesterol may be because neither of those health indicators directly affect how someone feels in a typical moment.
In contrast, smoking, obesity (and closely related fasting glucose), and physical activity are all much more explicitly evident experiences for the self.
Meanwhile, fruit and vegetable consumption, an indicator of diet quality, showed a positive association with higher MAAS scores, but with too wide a range of uncertainty to be considered statistically significant.
Loucks said the next step in his research is to begin testing whether improving mindfulness can improve cardiovascular health indicators. He said he hopes to launch randomized controlled trials with long-term follow-up (because behavioral interventions often look good in the short term but then don’t last).
Source: Brown University
A new study suggests a display of poor decision making during primary school increases the risk of interpersonal and behavioral difficulties during adolescence.
However, experts view decision-making as a skill and something that can be taught during youth.
Joshua Weller, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Psychological Science at Oregon State University found that when a 10 or 11 year-old shows poor judgment, the potential for high-risk health behavior in their teen years escalates.
“These findings suggest that less-refined decision skills early in life could potentially be a harbinger for problem behavior in the future,” said Weller.
If poor decision-making patterns can be identified while children are still young, intervention to improve skills can be effective.
“Often a variety of mentors — parents, educators, and health professionals — can effectively help children enhance these skills,” said Weller.
“This research underscores that decision-making is a skill and it can be taught,” he said. “The earlier you teach these skills, the potential for improving outcomes increases.”
The study was recently published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.
For the investigation, researchers wanted to better understand how pre-adolescent children’s decision-making skills predicted later behavior.
To do so, they conducted follow-up assessments with children who had participated in a previous decision-making study.
About 100 children, ages 10 and 11, participated in the original study, where they answered questions that helped assess their decision-making skills. They were evaluated based on how they perceived the risks of a decision, their ability to use appropriate decision-making rules, and whether their confidence about a decision matched their actual knowledge on a subject.
For the new study, researchers invited the original study participants, now 12 and 13 years old, and their parents back for a follow-up.
In all, 76 children ages participated in the second study, which included a behavior assessment that was completed by both the parent and the child.
The behavior assessment included questions about emotional difficulties, conduct issues such as fighting or lying, and problems with peers.
“Those kinds of behavioral issues are often linked to risky health behavior for teens, including substance abuse or high-risk sexual activity,” Weller said.
Researchers compared each child’s scores from the initial decision-making assessment to the child’s and their parent’s behavioral reports.
They found that children who scored worse on the initial decision-making assessment were more likely to have behavioral problems two years later.
“Previous studies of decision-making were retrospective,” Weller said. “To our knowledge, this is the first research to suggest how decision-making competence is associated with future outcomes.”
Researchers believe the study helps to clarify the association between decision-making and high-risk behavior. It also underscores the value of teaching decision-making and related skills such as goal-setting to youths.
“Some interventions have demonstrated promise in helping children learn to make better decisions,” said Weller.
In another recent study, Weller and colleagues studied the decision-making tendencies of at-risk adolescent girls.
The evaluation followed participation by the at-risk teen girls in an intervention program designed to reduce substance abuse and other risky behavior. The program emphasized self-regulation, goal-setting and anger management.
The study found that girls who received the intervention in fifth grade demonstrated better decision-making skills when they were in high school than their at-risk peers who did not participate in the intervention program.
“Most people can benefit from decision-making training. Will it always lead to the outcome you wanted? No,” Weller said.
“However, it boils down to the quality of your decision-making process.”
Researchers believe this is something that parents and other adults can help children learn. For instance, a parent can talk about difficult decisions with a child.
Then, by exploring multiple points of view or showing other people’s perspectives on the issue, the child learns to consider different perspectives.
“Following a good process when making decisions can lead to more favorable outcomes over time,” Weller said.
“Focus on the quality of the decision process, rather than the outcome.”
Source: Oregon State University
German neuroscientists have written a software program that they believe can calculate the risk for experiencing a major depression relapse.
For the project, Selver Demic, M.D., of the Ruhr University Bochum and his colleagues from the Mercator Research Group examined a variety of factors that influence depression.
“Approximately 20 percent of the population will suffer a depressive episode in the course of their lives,” said Demic. ”This cohort of 20 percent includes people who will never again experience any problems after that one-time episode is over.
“The others, however, will suffer repeatedly or chronically under the disorder, despite taking appropriate medication. We want to use our model to explain the occurrence and recurrence rates.”
The model includes factors such as rate of memory lapses, cognitive bias, and activity levels of the mood-related neurochemical serotonin.
Some of the variables such as serotonin are well-recognized as being associated with depression while other items include social factors such as family demographics and job situation. A unique aspect of the research is the inclusion of all factors into one model.
After using the model for analysis, Demic discovered the observed patterns of depression could only be explained by a division into two distinct patient groups: A high-risk group whose parameters are so unfortunately aligned that they will always suffer from recurring depressions; another group in which depression will only occur by chance.
The scientists also wanted to compile a systematic definition for the individual disease states based on objective facts, moving beyond the existing classification system that has some degree of subjectivity.
Currently, psychologists and doctors use a system based on:
- the depressive episode, diagnosed after characteristic symptoms such as lack of motivation and sadness have lasted for minimum of 14 days;
- the recovery phase, which applies when the patient has not presented any symptoms for a period of at least six months;
- and the remission phase, if the period between two depressive episodes is shorter than six months.
“When assessing which phase the patient is currently undergoing, psychologists and doctors will also always rely on their intuition and experience.
“Often, it is not clear if a patient is going through the remission or the recovery phase when he shows depressive symptoms for a few days during the six-month period,” said Demic.
Consequently, the neuroscientist developed a mathematical model, a so-called finite state machine (FSM).
This tool is fed data regarding a patient’s state every day. Based on those data and as result of the time course, the FSM calculates the disease state that the patient is currently undergoing.
“Our approach to understand depression is entirely novel,” said Demic. ”Therefore, we expect animated debates with doctors, psychologists, and other scientists.
“What’s important is that we have demonstrated the potential computer-based models offer with regard to research into depression.”
Source: Ruhr-University Bochum
Researchers found a 60 percent decrease in self-reported anxiety and loneliness symptoms among college students following animal-assisted therapy.
The study by investigators at Georgia State University, Idaho State University and Savannah College of Art and Design is published in the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health.
For the study, researchers provided animal-assisted therapy to 55 students in a group setting at a small arts college in the Southeast. The therapy included use of a registered therapy dog under the supervision of a licensed mental health practitioner.
Eighty-four percent of the participants reported their interaction with the therapy dog, Sophie, was the most significant part of the program.
The group sessions were held twice monthly during an academic quarter. Students were invited to stop by and interact with the therapy dog as long as they wished, up to two hours.
They were allowed to pet, hug, feed, brush, draw, photograph, sit near, and play fetch with the therapy dog.
Dr. Leslie Stewart of Idaho State University, who led the study, began the research as a Ph.D. student at Georgia State. She collaborated with Drs. Franco Dispenza, Lindy Parker, and Catherine Chang of Georgia State and Taffey Cunnien of Savannah College of Art and Design.
College can be an intense environment with social pressures mirroring the real world. The stress often takes a toll on students.
The additional prevalence of anxiety and loneliness on college campuses has placed extra demands on college counseling centers.
Researchers note that budget limitations have made it necessary for these centers to find creative ways to meet the needs of their students.
This study suggests animal-assisted therapy could be an effective way for college counseling centers to meet the growing demands of their students.
It is one of the first to apply animal-assisted therapy in a group, college setting, and use a systematic form of measurement.
“College counseling centers are also becoming more and more reflective of community mental health agencies,” Dispenza said.
“That’s something that’s been noted in the field in probably the last 10 to 15 years. College counseling centers aren’t seeing students struggling with academics, which major to pick or how to study.
“They’re coming in with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, pervasive mood disorders, and considerable contextual strains that are happening out in the world, such as poverty and experiences of homelessness, as well as a history of medical issues and family health issues.”
Dogs can be ideal therapy animals because they are thoroughly domesticated. They also seem to be able to read emotional cues. For instance, a dog can tell when a human is sad, Dispenza said.
“The presence of a therapy dog facilitates a therapeutic connection between the client and the mental health professional,” Parker said.
“When you’re trying to do mental health work with someone, establishing that therapeutic relationship and rapport is so important. Any way to do it faster or more effectively only helps facilitate the therapeutic process.”
Source: Georgia State University
Researchers believe a combination of marital hostility and a history of depression increase the risk for obesity in adults.
The provocative new research suggests social factors play a role in the way the body processes high-fat food.
Investigators discovered that men and women with a history of depression – whose arguments with spouses were especially heated – showed several potential metabolic problems after eating a high-fat meal.
They burned fewer calories and had higher levels of insulin and abnormal spikes of triglycerides, a form of fat in the blood, after eating a heavy meal as compared to others without the risk factors.
Research scientists believe the combination of depression and marital hostility resulted in a reduced calorie consumption of 118 calories, an amount that translates to weight gain of up to 12 pounds in a year.
Moreover, the multiple problems can increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes.
“These findings not only identify how chronic stressors can lead to obesity, but also point to how important it is to treat mood disorders. Interventions for mental health clearly could benefit physical health as well,” said Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., lead author of the study and Distinguished University Professor at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.
“Our results probably underestimate the health risks because the effects of only one meal were analyzed. Most people eat every four to five hours, and often dine with their spouses,” said Kiecolt-Glaser.
“Meals provide prime opportunities for ongoing disagreements in a troubled marriage, so there could be a longstanding pattern of metabolic damage stemming from hostility and depression.”
For the study, researchers recruited 43 healthy couples, ages 24 to 61, who had been married for at least three years.
As part of the study, participants completed a range of questionnaires that included assessments of marital satisfaction, past mood disorders, and depressive symptoms.
During the two daylong study visits, all participants ate eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits, and gravy that totaled 930 calories and 60 grams of fat.
The meal was designed to mimic common fast-food options, and matches the calories and fat in a Burger King double whopper with cheese or a Big Mac and medium fries at McDonald’s.
Two hours later, the couples were asked to discuss and try to resolve one or more issues that researchers had previously judged to be most likely to produce conflict. Common topics were money, communication, and in-laws.
Researchers left the room during these videotaped discussions, and later categorized the interactions as psychological abuse, distress-maintaining conversations, hostility, or withdrawal.
After the meals, participants’ energy expenditure — or calories burned by converting food to energy — was tested for 20 minutes of every hour for the next seven hours.
Researchers obtained this data by using equipment that measured inhaled and exhaled airflow of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Blood samples were drawn several times after the meals to measure glucose, insulin, and triglycerides and compare them to baseline levels.
Participants with both a mood disorder history and a more hostile marriage burned an average of 31 fewer calories per hour and had an average of 12 percent more insulin in the blood than low-hostility participants in the first measurement after the meal.
The insulin level did not match other participants’ lower levels until two hours after eating. Insulin contributes to the storage of fat.
The peak in triglycerides in the high-hostility and depressed participants four hours after eating exceeded all others’ levels.
High levels of triglycerides are considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Source: Ohio State University
A review of studies of more than 6,000 patients suggests ordinary over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs may aid in the treatment of depression, when taken in combination with antidepressants.
The meta-analysis, recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, is the work of researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark.
They discovered analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs used against muscle pain and arthritis may have a beneficial effect on depression symptoms.
The Dutch study team said up to up to 15 percent of the Danish population can expect to suffer from depression at some point in their lives. Americans have between a 10 to 20 percent risk of depression during a lifetime.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression is one of the top five reasons for loss of quality of life and also life years.
In recent years, research has demonstrated a correlation between depression and physical illnesses, such as painful conditions or infections.
In the Danish study, researchers evaluated 14 international studies with a total 6,262 patients who either suffered from depression or had individual symptoms of depression.
“The meta-analysis supports this correlation and also demonstrates that anti-inflammatory medication in combination with antidepressants can have an effect on the treatment of depression.
“When combined they give an important result which, in the long term, strengthens the possibility of being able to provide the individual patient with more personalized treatment options,” said medical student Ole Köhler. Köhler is the first author of the scientific article and a member of the research group from Aarhus University.
The meta-analysis shows strong support for the effect of treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs.
“However, these effects must always be weighed against the possible side effects of the anti-inflammatory drugs. We still need to clarify which patients will benefit from the medicine and the dose-sizes required,” Köhler said.
“The biggest problem with depression is that we do not know the causes that trigger the condition in the individual patient. Some studies suggest that the choice of antidepressant medication can be guided by a blood sample that measures whether there is an inflammatory condition in the body,” he said.
The researchers also report that other studies have shown that the same blood samples could be used as a guideline. Physicians and mental health providers would then know if inflammation is present.
If so, a combination treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs and antidepressants could be an appropriate method of treatment.
“These findings must, however, be verified before they can be implemented in clinical practice,” said Köhler.
He emphasizes that it is not possible to conclude on the basis of the meta-analysis that an inflammatory state can be the sole explanation for a depression.
“The analysis should be seen as a significant milestone in a research context and this could be a landmark for what future research projects and treatment need to focus on,” Köhler said.
Source: Aarhus University
A new study finds that even depressed people are optimistic about the future.
However, researchers also discovered the positive outlook may not lead to better outcomes.
Canadian researchers found that middle-aged adults with a history of depression typically evaluated their past and current lives in more negative terms than did adults without depression.
Yet, the negativity didn’t extend to their beliefs about the future.
“It turns out that even clinically depressed individuals are also characterized by the belief that one’s life in the future will be more satisfying than one’s past and current life,” said psychological scientist and lead researcher Michael Busseri, Ph.D., of Brock University in Canada.
“And this pattern of beliefs appears to be a risk factor for future depression, even over a 10-year period.”
Adults typically believe that life gets better — today is better than yesterday was and tomorrow will be even better than today.
The findings are published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.
Busseri and co-author Emily Peck of Acadia University, also in Canada, analyzed data available from the Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) survey, a nationally representative sample of middle-aged Americans.
The researchers looked at data from both waves of the study, collected 10 years apart. They limited their sample to those participants who were 45 years old or younger at the first wave.
In addition to demographic data, the researchers looked at participants’ reports of life satisfaction for the past, present, and future.
Participants were asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale from zero to 10, from worst life possible to best life possible. They also examined symptoms of depression measured via clinical interview.
Compared to non-depressed participants, MIDUS participants who showed signs of depression reported lower levels of life satisfaction at each time point: past, present, and future.
Like non-depressed participants, however, the depressed participants seemed to think that life would get better over time.
And yet, the discrepancy between optimistic beliefs about the future and a more sober reality might contribute to sub-optimal outcomes for these individuals.
“What we don’t know yet is whether this improved future life is actually something that depressed individuals feel they will achieve,” Busseri said.
“It’s possible, for example, that envisioning a brighter future is a form of wishful thinking — rather than a sign of encouragement and hope.”
Looking at the participants’ subjective trajectories across all three time points, the researchers found that non-depressed participants showed linear increases in life satisfaction from one point to the next, but depressed participants did not.
Instead, they tended to show a relatively flat trajectory between past and current life satisfaction and then a significant increase between current and future life satisfaction.
Busseri and Peck also found that relatively low ratings of past and current life satisfaction were each associated with a higher risk of depression 10 years later. This even after taking various demographic characteristics and baseline levels of depression into account.
Taken together, these findings suggest that subjective trajectories may be an important point of intervention for people suffering from or at risk of depression.
“The fact that even depressed individuals can envision their lives being more satisfying in the future may provide clinicians and mental health workers with a valuable new avenue for intervention, for example, through focusing on helping individuals develop concrete goals and realistic plans for achieving a more satisfying future life,” said Busseri.
“An important next step is determine whether modifying individuals’ subjective trajectories — making them more realistic, or ‘flatter’ — might attenuate symptoms of depression, or longer-term risk of depression.”