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Updated: 1 hour 51 min ago

Almost Half of Parents Depressed, Anxious, and Stressed When Newborns Leave NICU

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 8:45am

Almost half of parents whose children were admitted to Children’s National Health System’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) experienced postpartum depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress when their newborns were discharged from the hospital.

Parents who were the most anxious also were the most depressed, according to research presented during the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conference.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that one in 10 infants born in the United States each year is born preterm, or before 37 weeks’ gestation. Because fetuses undergo dramatic growth in the final weeks of pregnancy, preemies often need help in the NICU with essentials such as breathing, eating, and regulating their body temperature. Some very sick newborns die.

Because their infants’ lives hang in the balance, NICU parents are at particular risk for poor emotional function, including mood disorders, anxiety, and distress.

Researchers led by Children’s National Neonatologist Lamia Soghier, M.D., set out to determine factors closely associated with poor emotional function to identify at-risk parents most in need of mental health support.

The research team enrolled 300 parents and infants in a randomized controlled clinical trial that explored the impact of providing peer-to-peer support to parents after their newborns are discharged from the NICU.

The researchers relied on a 10-item tool to assess depressive symptoms and a 46-question tool to describe the degree of parental stress. They used regression and partial correlation to characterize the relationship between depressive symptoms, stress, gender, and educational status with such factors as the infant’s gestational age at birth, birth weight, and length of stay.

About 58 percent of the infants in the study were male; 58 percent weighed less than 5.6 pounds at birth; and the average length of stay for 54 percent of infants was less than two weeks.

According to the researchers, 89 percent of parents who completed the surveys were mothers; 44 percent were African American; and 45 percent reported having attained at least a college degree. Additionally, 43 percent were first-time parents.

The researchers discovered that about 45 percent of NICU parents had elevated Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) scores.

“The baby’s gender, gestational age at birth and length of NICU stay were associated with the parents having more pronounced depressive symptoms,” Soghier says. “Paradoxically, parents whose newborns were close to full-term at delivery had 6.6-fold increased odds of having elevated CES-D scores compared with parents of preemies born prior to 28 weeks’ gestation. Stress levels were higher in mothers compared with fathers, but older parents had lower levels of stress than younger parents.”

The results presented at the conference are an interim analysis, according to Soghier. She noted the longer-term study continues, exploring the impact of providing peer support for parents after NICU discharge.

Source: Children’s National Health System

Photo: Almost half of parents whose children were admitted to Children’s National Health System’s neonatal intensive care unit experienced postpartum depressive symptoms, anxiety and stress when their newborns were discharged from the hospital. Credit: Children’s National Health System.

Study: All HIV Patients Should Be Screened for Chronic Pain

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 8:00am

Every patient living with HIV should be screened for chronic pain and offered a variety of pain-relieving therapies, starting with non-drug treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, and physical therapy, according to the first comprehensive guidelines on HIV and chronic pain released by the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).

It is estimated that approximately 39 to 85 percent of people with HIV live with chronic pain. Nearly half of chronic pain in people with HIV is neuropathic (nerve pain), likely due to inflammation or injury to the central or peripheral nervous system caused by the infection. Non-neuropathic pain typically is musculoskeletal, such as low-back pain and osteoarthritis in the joints.

“Because HIV clinicians typically are not experts in pain management, they should work closely with others, such as pain specialists, psychiatrists, and physical therapists to help alleviate their patients’ pain,” said Douglas Bruce, M.D., MA, MS, lead author of the guidelines, chief of medicine at Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, and associate clinical professor of medicine at Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

“These comprehensive guidelines provide the tools and resources HIV specialists need to treat these often-complex patients, many of whom struggle with depression, substance use disorders, and have other health conditions such as diabetes.”

The guidelines recommend all people with HIV be screened for chronic pain using a few simple questions:

  • How much bodily pain have you had during the week?
  • Do you have bodily pain that has lasted more than three months?

Patients that screen positive should then complete a comprehensive evaluation, including a physical exam, psychosocial evaluation, and diagnostic testing.

“It has been long known that patients with HIV/AIDS are at high risk for pain, and for having their pain inadequately diagnosed and treated,” said Peter Selwyn, M.D., MPH, co-chair of the guidelines and professor and chair of the Department of Family and Social Medicine, and director of the Palliative Care Program for Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY.

“This is an aging population and the changing clinical manifestations of HIV, complexity of the disease and additional challenges related to substance abuse make treatment complicated. These guidelines help provide clarity in treating these patients.”

The guidelines recommend offering alternative, non-pharmacological therapies first, including cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, physical and occupational therapy, hypnosis, and acupuncture.

If drugs are necessary, the guidelines suggest beginning with non-opioids, such as gabapentin (anti-seizure medicine) and capsaicin (topical pain reliever made from chili peppers), both of which help with nerve pain.

“Opioids are never first-line,” said Bruce. “The guidelines always recommend the most effective treatment with the lowest risk.”

The guidelines are published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Source: Infectious Diseases Society of America

Kids Who Own Cellphones More Likely to be Cyberbullied

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 7:15am

A new study that examined cellphone ownership among children in third to fifth grades finds they may be particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying.

For the study, researchers collected data on 4,584 students in grades three, four, and five between 2014 and 2016. Overall, 9.5 percent of children reported being a victim of cyberbullying. Children who owned cellphones were significantly more likely to report being a victim of cyberbullying, especially in grades three and four, according to the researchers.

“Parents often cite the benefits of giving their child a cellphone, but our research suggests that giving young children these devices may have unforeseen risks as well,” said Elizabeth K. Englander, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

The study found that across all three grades, 49.6 percent of students reported owning a cellphone. The older the student, the more likely to report cellphone ownership, according to the findings: 59.8 percent of fifth graders, 50.6 percent of fourth graders, and 39.5 percent of third graders reported owning their own cellphone.

The study also discovered that cellphone owners in grades three and four were more likely to report being a victim of cyberbullying.

Across all three grades, more cellphone owners admitted they have been a cyberbully themselves, the researchers discovered.

The increased risk of cyberbullying related to phone ownership could be tied to increased opportunity and vulnerability, according to the researchers.

Continuous access to social media and texting increases online interactions, provides more opportunities to engage both positively and negatively with peers, and increases the chance of an impulsive response to peers’ postings and messages.

The study’s findings are a reminder for parents to consider the risks, as well as the benefits, when deciding whether to provide their elementary school-aged child with a cellphone, Englander said.

“At the very least, parents can engage in discussions and education with their child about the responsibilities inherent in owning a mobile device, and the general rules for communicating in the social sphere,” Englander said.

The study was presented at the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics 

Photo: Cell phone owners are more likely to be bullies. Credit: AAP and Dr. Englander.

Study: Medical Ed Needs to Catch Up to Marijuana Laws

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 6:30am

A new study shows that very few medical students are being trained on how to prescribe medical marijuana, even though it is now a legal medicine in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis surveyed medical school deans, residents, and fellows, and examined a curriculum database maintained by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). They discovered that medical marijuana is rarely being addressed in medical education.

“Medical education needs to catch up to marijuana legislation,” said senior author Laura Jean Bierut, M.D., the Alumni Endowed Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University and a member of the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse.

“Physicians in training need to know the benefits and drawbacks associated with medical marijuana so they know when or if, and to whom, to prescribe the drug.”

Doctors are being asked to guide patients through areas in which most have no training, she explained.

The research team sent surveys to medical school curriculum deans at 172 medical schools in North America, including 31 that specialize in osteopathic medicine, and received 101 replies.

Two-thirds (66.7 percent) of these reported that their graduates were not prepared to prescribe medical marijuana. A quarter of deans said their trainees weren’t even equipped to answer questions about medical marijuana.

The researchers also surveyed 258 residents and fellows who earned their medical degrees from schools around the country before coming to Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis to complete their training.

Nearly 90 percent felt they weren’t prepared to prescribe medical marijuana, and 85 percent said they had not received any education about medical marijuana during their time at medical schools or in residency programs throughout the country.

Based on data from the AAMC database, only nine percent of medical schools had taught their students about medical marijuana.

“As a future physician, it worries me,” said first author Anastasia B. Evanoff, a third-year medical student. “We need to know how to answer questions about medical marijuana’s risks and benefits, but there is a fundamental mismatch between state laws involving marijuana and the education physicians-in-training receive at medical schools throughout the country.”

Making things even more complicated is the fact that several states have not legalized medical marijuana, and research on the potential risks and benefits of medical marijuana are often contradictory. So what are schools to teach?

“You address the controversy,” said co-investigator Carolyn Dufault, Ph.D., assistant dean for education at Washington University and an instructor in medicine. “You say, ‘This is what we know,’ and you guide students to the points of controversy. You also point out where there may be research opportunities.”

The authors believe that as more states legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use, doctors need to have at least enough training to answer patients’ questions.

“More medical students are now getting better training about opioids, for example,” said Evanoff. “We talk about how those drugs can affect every organ system in the body, and we learn how to discuss the risks and benefits with patients. But if a patient were to ask about medical marijuana, most medical students wouldn’t know what to say.”

The findings are published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Source: Washington University School of Medicine


Kids Praised as Smart May be More Likely to Cheat

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 8:30am

Children who are praised for being smart not only are quicker to give up in the face of obstacles, they also are more likely to be dishonest and cheat, according to a new study.

Researchers found that kids as young as three appear to behave differently when told “You are so smart” versus “You did very well this time.”

The study, published in Psychological Science, builds on work by Stanford’s Dr. Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset,” who has shown that praising a child’s innate ability instead of the child’s effort or a specific behavior has the unintended consequence of reducing their motivation to learn and their ability to deal with setbacks.

The new study shows there’s also a moral dimension to different kinds of praise. Additionally, it found that it affects children at younger ages than previously known. Even the kindergarten and preschool set seem to be sensitive to subtle differences in praise, according to the researchers.

“It’s common and natural to tell children how smart they are,” said co-author Dr. Gail Heyman, a development psychologist at the University of California San Diego. “Even when parents and educators know that it harms kids’ achievement motivation, it’s still easy to do. What our study shows is that the harm can go beyond motivation and extend to the moral domain. It makes a child more willing to cheat in order to do well.”

For their study the international team of researchers asked 300 children in Eastern China to play a guessing game using number cards. There were 150 three year-olds and 150 five year-olds.

The children were either praised for being smart or for their performance. A control group got no praise at all.

After praising the children and getting them to promise not to cheat, the researcher left the room for a minute in the middle of the game. The kids’ subsequent behavior was monitored by a hidden camera, which recorded who got out of their seat or leaned over to get a peek at the numbers.

Results suggest that both the three and five year-olds who’d been praised for being smart were more likely to act dishonestly than the ones praised for how well they did or those who got no praise at all. The results were the same for boys and girls.

In another study, published in Developmental Science, the same team of researchers show that the consequences are similar even when children are not directly praised for being smart, but are merely told that they have a reputation for being smart.

The researchers believe that praising ability is tied to performance pressure in a way that praising behavior isn’t.

“When children are praised for being smart or are told that they have reputation for it, they feel pressure to perform well in order to live up to others’ expectations, even if they need to cheat to do so,” said co-author Li Zhao of Hangzhou Normal University.

Co-author Dr. Kang Lee, of the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, emphasized the takeaway for the adults in kids’ lives: “We want to encourage children. We want them to feel good about themselves. But these studies show we must learn to give children the right kinds of praise, such as praising specific behavior. Only in this way will praise have the intended positive outcomes.”

Source: University of California San Diego

20-Minute Test Evaluates Cognition in Schizophrenia Patients

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 7:45am

Researchers in Spain have developed a short test which can help evaluate schizophrenia patients’ short-term memory, mental agility, and organizational abilities in 20 minutes or less.

The research, which forms part of the doctoral thesis of Sílvia Zaragoza Domingo at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), is the result of a pioneering study in which 257 professionals worked with a sample of 700 schizophrenia patients representative of the Spanish population.

“In schizophrenia, it is desirable for the patient to be as independent and function as best [as] possible, although that does not always happen,” said Zaragoza Domingo.

She goes on to say that “this test allows each patient to better adapt to his life. For example, if a patient is slower mentally, but short-term memory is not affected, he or she will have more chances of leading an independent life than someone whose memory is also affected.”

For the study, UAB researchers, in collaboration with the University of Oviedo and the Biomedical Research Networking Centre in Mental Health (CIBERSAM), observed the efficacy of the test which consists of four separate assessments.

In addition to being short, the assessments are easy to administer and easily available to doctors, psychologists, and other clinicians in several languages, which makes it easier to use them with patients of different origins.

The test allows health professionals to assess, study, and comment on symptoms of the disorder which normally are not taken into account and which could serve to treat each case in the most effective way possible.

This battery of assessments represents a very important step towards offering patients specific examinations, which can be conducted through their regular mental health center or private doctor.

After the initial examination, health care workers can also conduct follow-up visits and determine whether changes in medications have worsened a patient’s attention span or memory, a common complaint among patients at their routine visits.

Schizophrenia is a chronic debilitating mental disorder characterized by psychotic “positive” symptoms, such as delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and disordered thinking, as well as “negative” symptoms, such as loss of motivation or judgment, memory problems, slowed movement, disinterest in hygiene, and social withdrawal.

People with schizophrenia often experience debilitating cognitive problems, including difficulties with episodic memory, a key factor in social functioning.

The findings were published in the journal Schizophrenia Research: Cognition, published by the Schizophrenia International Research Society (SIRS).

Source: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

How Lack of Paid Sick Leave Affects Americans’ Mental Health

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 7:00am

Paid sick leave is starting to gain momentum as a social justice issue with important implications for health and wellness. At the moment, only seven states in the United States have mandatory paid sick leave laws, and 15 states have passed preemptive legislation prohibiting localities from passing sick leave.

But how does a lack of paid sick leave affect Americans’ mental health? In a new study, researchers from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and Cleveland State University explore the link between psychological distress and paid sick leave among U.S. workers ages 18-64.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, shed light on the effects of exacerbated stress on Americans without paid sick leave who are unable to care for themselves or their loved ones without fear of losing wages or their jobs.

“For many Americans, daily life itself can be a source of stress as they struggle to manage numerous responsibilities including health related issues,” said Patricia Stoddard-Dare, Ph.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of social work at Cleveland State University.

“Making matters worse, for those who lack paid sick leave, a day away from work can mean lost wages or even fear of losing one’s job. These stressors combined with other sources of stress have the potential to interfere with workplace performance and impact overall mental health.”

The study shows that workers without paid sick leave benefits have a statistically significant higher level of psychological distress. They also are 1.45 times more likely to report that their distress symptoms interfere “a lot” with their daily life and activities compared to workers with paid sick leave. Those most vulnerable are young, Hispanic, low-income, and poorly educated populations.

“Given the disproportionate access to paid sick leave based on race, ethnicity, and income status, coupled with its relationship to health and mental health, paid sick leave must be viewed as a health disparity as well as a social justice issue,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., co-author of the study and an associate professor in the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry.

“Even modest increases in psychological distress are noteworthy for both researchers and policy makers since we know that even small increases in stress can impact health.”

The study involved 17,897 participants from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), administered by the U.S. government since 1957 to examine a nationally representative sample of U.S. households about health and sociodemographic variables.

To assess psychological distress, the researchers used the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6). With a theoretical range of zero to 24, higher scores on the K6 represent increased psychological distress and scores above 13 are correlated with having a mental disorder of some type.

The findings show that those with paid sick leave had a lower mean distress score compared to those without paid sick leave, who had significantly higher K6 scores, indicating a higher level of psychological distress. Only 1.4 percent of those with paid sick leave had a K6 score above 12 compared to 3.1 percent of the respondents without paid sick leave.

The most significant control variables indicated an increase in the expected psychological distress score among those who were younger, female, in fair or poor personal health, had at least one chronic health condition, were current smokers or did not get an average of seven to nine hours of sleep per day.

Around 40 percent of participants in the NHIS sample did not have paid sick leave; about half were female; more than half were married or cohabitating; three-quarters indicated that their highest level of education included at least some college; and 62 percent were non-Hispanic white.

The mean age was 41.2 years. Most of the respondents (79.1 percent) worked full-time and 82.7 percent had health insurance coverage. Participants were in families with a mean size of 2.6 persons and 39.3 percent reported having children in the family. Approximately 32 percent had an annual family income of $35,000 to $50,000, and more than one-quarter were below the poverty threshold.

The researchers warn that even though there is concern about the potential burden on employers if paid sick leave laws are passed, it is important to be mindful of the overall situation regarding productivity loss and workplace costs associated with mental health symptoms and psychological concerns among U.S. workers.

In addition, the personal health care consequences of delaying or forgoing needed medical care can lead to more complicated and expensive health conditions. Employees with paid sick leave are more likely to take time off work and self-quarantine when necessary, without the worries of losing their job or income while also not spreading illness to others.

“Results from our research will help employers as they think about strategies to reduce psychological stress in their employees such as implementing or expanding access to paid sick days,” said Stoddard-Dare.

“Clinicians also can use these findings to help their patients and clients as can legislators who are actively evaluating the value of mandating paid sick leave.”

Source: Florida Atlantic University

Life-Saving Ways to Prevent Suicide Prove Less Costly, More Effective than Standard Care

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 6:00am

Three life-saving suicide prevention strategies have proven to be more effective and less expensive than usual care given to at-risk patients in hospital emergency departments.

A new study, from researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), found that the three interventions — sending caring postcards or letters following an emergency visit, calling patients to offer support and encourage engagement in follow-up treatment, and cognitive-behavioral therapy — have all proven to be effective, but haven’t been adopted by most hospitals.

It’s an important message, particularly in the midst of National Suicide Prevention Week which runs through Saturday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. More than 44,190 people died by suicide in the United States in 2015 (the most recent year for which statistics are available).

CDC officials also report that hospital emergency rooms treat more than 500,000 people each year for self-harm injuries.

“In the face of a gradually rising suicide rate, the need for effective prevention strategies is urgent,” said NIMH Director Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D. “These findings of cost-effectiveness add to the impetus for implementing these life-saving approaches. Importantly, they also make a strong case for expanding screening, which would allow us to reach many more of those at risk with life-saving interventions.”

Each of the three interventions has been tested in randomized controlled trials and found to reduce patients’ suicide risk on the order of 30 to 50 percent, according to the researchers.

The latest study looks at the cost-effectiveness of the strategies.

The researchers carried out Monte Carlo simulations, a method of evaluating the possible consequences of an action when many unpredictable factors could affect the outcome.

Software enabled researchers to carry out repeated simulations of the chain of events following a choice — in this case, alternative emergency department-based suicide prevention interventions — with different values assigned to factors that can influence the outcome. Thousands of simulations reveal the range of outcomes possible and the probabilities of each.

The researchers, led by Michael Schoenbaum, Ph.D., Senior Advisor for Mental Health Services, Epidemiology, and Economics in NIMH’s Division of Services and Intervention Research, modeled a roughly year-long period following the arrival of patients at an emergency department.

The chain of events they considered encompassed entry of the patient to an emergency department, screening for suicide risk, emergency department-based treatment or hospitalization, and outcomes. It could also include additional visits to the emergency department, if the person considered or attempted suicide again during the follow-up period.

The investigators estimated the cost of each intervention by combining information on health services reported in previous clinical trials and national rates for medical procedures, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations.

Assessing the cost-effectiveness of an intervention — and providing a basis for comparing one intervention with another — involves estimating the cost of achieving a defined health outcome. In this case, investigators looked at the cost incurred against life years (gained as a result of suicides prevented) in the cases modeled in the study.

Relative to usual care, the use of postcards both reduced suicide attempts and deaths and slightly reduced health care costs, making it a “dominant” intervention in terms of cost-effectiveness, according to the study’s findings.

In this strategy, hospital staff mail follow-up postcards each month for four months to all patients identified at risk, and then every other month for a total of eight cards.

Telephone outreach, which involved hospital staff calling patients to offer support and encouragement in follow-up treatment, and referrals to cognitive behavioral therapy reduced suicide attempts and deaths while increasing health care costs slightly. The telephone intervention increased costs by $5,900, while cognitive behavioral therapy increased costs by $18,800 per additional life-year saved, according to the study’s findings.

A commonly used benchmark for cost-effectiveness — the amount a society is willing to pay for the benefit accrued by a health care procedure — is $50,000 per additional life-year, the researchers said.

And recent research suggests that that amount is conservative — that is, our society is willing to pay considerably more per life-year, they add.

The simulation results suggest that, even if the societal willingness to pay is assumed to be lower than $50,000, the approaches are still likely to be cost effective relative to usual care.

Telephone care is almost certain to be cost effective relative to usual care if willingness to pay is $20,000, while the probability that cognitive behavioral therapy will be more cost effective is 67 percent.

The researchers also point out that even if these prevention approaches were widely used, their impact is limited by the extent to which people at risk are identified for treatment through screening.

A recent study reported that screening all adults 18 and older entering an emergency department, regardless of the reason for the visit, nearly doubled the rate of identification of those at risk. The model suggests that universal screening of patients could substantially increase the public health benefits of implementing the prevention strategies modeled in this study.

“Suicide risk is relatively common among people who seek care from a hospital emergency department,” said Schoenbaum. “It’s really important for us to identify better ways to reduce suicide risk in this group, and to implement those widely.”

The study was published in journal Psychiatric Services.

Source: National Institutes of Health

Teen Concussions May Increase Risk of Multiple Sclerosis

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 7:45am

Concussions that occur in the teen years increase the risk of adult-onset multiple sclerosis (MS) in people with a genetic susceptibility to the disease, according to a new study published in the journal Annals of Neurology. No link was found between MS and concussion in younger children.

MS is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks parts of the central nervous system. It is caused by a combination of genetic susceptibility and other factors that are incompletely identified.

The new findings show just how important it is to protect teenagers from head injuries. “Bicycle helmets is one way, and we should consider head injury risk in sports played by adolescents,” says Professor Scott Montgomery at Örebro University in Sweden.

The research comes from a collaborative study between Örebro University and Karolinska Institutet, which showed concussion in adolescence increased the risk of MS in later life by 22 percent for one concussion. Teens who experienced two or more concussions were at more than a doubled risk of MS at 133 percent. But not all teenagers run the same risk.

“MS is caused by a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental exposures. Most of the young people who experience a head trauma should not worry as they will not carry the necessary genes and other risks that will result in MS in later life,” says Montgomery.

The researchers used medical records to identify children and adolescents who had been treated for concussion in the hospital. They divided the subjects into two groups: birth to age 10 years and adolescents from ages 11 to 20. The risk of MS in later adulthood was examined for both groups.

“We think that concussion among adolescents can indicate the processes that cause the body’s immune system to attack the insulating layer of nerve cells which, over time, prevents them from functioning correctly,” says Montgomery.

Differences in brain development during childhood and adolescence may shed some light on why concussion in these two age groups does not carry the same risk of subsequent MS.

“The rapidly developing brain in earlier childhood may be more able to avoid some delayed consequences of trauma than in later teenage years,” explains Montgomery.

He believes these new findings strengthen the arguments to protect young people from head injury. “Teenagers often take risks, like cycling without a helmet. If they knew about the possible long-term consequences, they might think again; perhaps they wouldn’t think it’s so cool to ride without a helmet,” he says.

Still, Montgomery adds that he absolutely does not want young people to avoid sports and physical activity. “We should consider ways to reduce the risk of head injury, especially repeated head injuries, when participating in sport.”

Next, the researchers plan to study genetic influences, including how genes interact with other factors to determine MS risk. This will involve looking at how genes influence the risk of MS associated with concussion in adolescence, as well as examining other exposures among teenagers, such as infections.

Source: Örebro University

Long-Term Effect of Antidepressants Questioned

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 7:00am

Provocative new research suggests antidepressant medications, most commonly prescribed to reduce depression and anxiety, increase the risk of death.

Canadian researchers explain that common antidepressants block the absorption of serotonin by cells in the body. In the brain serotonin affects moods and the antidepressants often improve the way we feel.

However, McMaster University researchers warn that all the major organs of the body — the heart, kidneys, lungs, liver — use serotonin from the bloodstream.

Blocking the absorption of serotonin in these organs by antidepressants could increase the risk of death by preventing multiple organs from functioning properly.

The researchers reviewed studies involving hundreds of thousands of people and found that antidepressant users had a 33 percent higher chance of death than non-users.

Antidepressant users also had a 14 percent higher risk of cardiovascular events, such as strokes and heart attacks. The findings are published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

“We are very concerned by these results. They suggest that we shouldn’t be taking antidepressant drugs without understanding precisely how they interact with the body,” says author Paul Andrews, an associate professor at McMaster University who led the research team.

Taken by one in eight adult Americans, antidepressants are among the most frequently used medications. They are often prescribed by family doctors without a formal diagnosis of depression, on the assumption they are safe.

Since depression itself can be deadly — people with depression are at an increased risk of suicide, stroke, and heart attack — many physicians think that antidepressants could save lives by reducing depressive symptoms.

However, McMaster researcher and co-author Marta Maslej, says, “Our findings are important because they undermine this assumption. I think people would be much less willing to take these drugs if they were aware how little is known about their impact outside of the brain, and that what we do know points to an increased risk of death.”

Benoit Mulsant, a psychiatrist at the University of Toronto who was also involved in the study, says the findings point to the need for more research on how antidepressants actually do work.

“I prescribe antidepressants even though I do not know if they are more harmful than helpful in the long-term. I am worried that in some patients they could be, and psychiatrists in 50 years will wonder why we did not do more to find out,” Mulsant says.

Interestingly, the news about antidepressants is not all bad. The researchers found that antidepressants are not harmful for people with cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

This makes sense since these antidepressants have blood-thinning effects that are useful in treating such disorders. Unfortunately, this also means that for most people who are in otherwise good cardiovascular health, antidepressants tend to be harmful.

Source: McMaster University/EurekAlert

Journaling of Emotions Helps Worriers Improve Performance

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 6:15am

Some people worry more than others. Unfortunately, the concerns may detrimentally influence future performance of tasks. A new study using electroencephalographic feedback finds that the solution to this dilemma may easily accomplished.

In the study, Michigan State University (MSU) researchers found that simply writing about your feelings may help you perform an upcoming stressful task more efficiently.

Investigators say the research provides the first neural evidence for the benefits of expressive writing.

“Worrying takes up cognitive resources; it’s kind of like people who struggle with worry are constantly multitasking — they are doing one task and trying to monitor and suppress their worries at the same time,” explains lead author Hans Schroder, an MSU doctoral student in psychology and a clinical intern at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital.

“Our findings show that if you get these worries out of your head through expressive writing, those cognitive resources are freed up to work toward the task you’re completing and you become more efficient.”

Schroder conducted the study at Michigan State with Jason Moser, associate professor of psychology and director of MSU’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, and Tim Moran, a research scientist at Emory University.

The findings appear online in the journal Psychophysiology.

For the study, college students identified as chronically anxious through a validated screening measure completed a computer-based “flanker task” that measured their response accuracy and reaction times.

Before the task, about half of the participants wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings about the upcoming task for eight minutes; the other half, in the control condition, wrote about what they did the day before.

While the two groups performed at about the same level for speed and accuracy, the expressive-writing group performed the flanker task more efficiently, meaning they used fewer brain resources, measured with electroencephalography, or EEG, in the process.

Moser uses a car analogy to describe the effect.

“Here, worried college students who wrote about their worries were able to offload these worries and run more like a brand new Prius,” he said, “whereas the worried students who didn’t offload their worries ran more like a ’74 Impala — guzzling more brain gas to achieve the same outcomes on the task.”

While much previous research has shown that expressive writing can help individuals process past traumas or stressful events, the current study suggests the same technique can help people — especially worriers — prepare for stressful tasks in the future.

“Expressive writing makes the mind work less hard on upcoming stressful tasks, which is what worriers often get “burned out” over, their worried minds working harder and hotter,” Moser said.

“This technique takes the edge off their brains so they can perform the task with a ‘cooler head.'”

Source: Michigan State University

Incorrect Perception of Social Networks Can Harm

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 5:30am

New research discovers many people feel that they are alone and that they have less friends than their peers. Unfortunately, this perception — which is often incorrect — could negatively affect happiness.

In the study, investigators from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Harvard Business School, and Harvard Medical School discovered new university students consistently think their peers have more friends and spend more time socializing than they do.

Even when that’s untrue, simply believing so affected students’ wellbeing and sense of belonging.

Over the past few decades, health experts have discovered that social support is as important for holistic health as mental and physical health.

“We know the size of your social networks has a significant effect on happiness and wellbeing,” said study lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School who carried out the research while a Ph.D. candidate at UBC.

“But our research shows that even mere beliefs you have about your peers’ social networks has an impact on your happiness.”

The researchers used data collected from a survey of 1,099 first-year students at UBC. Students were asked how many friends they had made and to estimate how many friends their peers had made since starting school in September.

The researchers found a greater proportion of students (48 percent) believed other students had made more close friends than they did. Thirty-one percent believed the opposite.

A second survey tracking 389 students across their first year found students who believed their peers had more friends at the beginning of the year reported lower levels of wellbeing.

However, several months later, the same students who thought their peers had moderately more friends than they did at the beginning of the year reported making more friends compared to students who thought their peers had many more friends.

“We think students are motivated to make more friends if they think their peers only have one or two more friends than they do,” said Whillans.

“But if they feel like the gap is too big, it’s almost as if they give up and feel it isn’t even worth trying.”

Frances Chen, the study’s senior author, said the public nature of social activities is likely why students feel their peers are doing better socially.

“Since social activities, like eating or studying with others, tend to happen in cafes and libraries where they are easily seen, students might overestimate how much their peers are socializing because they don’t see them eating and studying alone,” said Chen.

The findings could help inform university initiatives to support students’ transition to university life, possibly through an intervention to correct social misperceptions and promote friendship formation, said Chen.

More research is needed to determine whether the same pattern emerges among new immigrants, or people moving to a new city or starting a new job, said Chen.

“These feelings and perceptions are probably the strongest when people first enter a new social environment, but most of us probably experience them at some point in our lives,” she said.

Source: University of British Columbia

Study Probes Differences in Aggression Among Dementias

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 7:45am

New research provides insight into how the course of illness in those with Alzheimer’s or frontotemporal dementia impacts physical aggression.

The study from Lund University in Sweden suggests that one-third of patients with the diagnosis Alzheimer’s disease or frontotemporal dementia were physically aggressive towards health care staff, other patients, relatives, animals, and complete strangers.

Researchers note that his manifestation of disease must be both understood and addressed in the right way.

“The prevalences are not surprising, but we noted a difference between the two groups in terms of when in the course of the disease aggressive behavior manifested and how serious the violence was,” said psychiatry resident Madeleine Liljegren, a doctoral student at Lund University and lead author of the study.

Investigators reviewed brain examinations and patient journals of 281 deceased people who between the years 1967 and 2013 were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or frontotemporal dementia. The researchers examined data associated with the entire duration of the disease, from the patients’ first contact with a physician to follow-up after death.

“The individuals with frontotemporal dementia displayed physically aggressive behavior earlier in their disease than people with Alzheimer’s. The difference may be due to the fact that the diseases arise in different parts of the brain,” said Dr. Maria Landqvist Waldö, co-author of the study.

“For those with frontotemporal dementia, the damage begins in the frontal parts of the brain, which is where among other things our capacity for empathy, impulse control, personality, and judgement reside. Alzheimer’s is accentuated further back in the brain where our memory is located as well as our ability to orientate ourselves in time and space.”

The number of patients who displayed physical aggression was greater among those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. However, individuals with frontotemporal dementia were physically aggressive more often, and this behavior was particularly evident toward complete strangers.

Twenty-one percent of the physically aggressive patients with frontotemporal dementia were physically aggressive towards strangers, compared with two percent of the physically aggressive Alzheimer’s patients.

“There was an unexpectedly large difference between the groups, even though people with frontotemporal dementia generally are younger when they start showing symptoms of the disease than those with Alzheimer’s disease,” Liljegren said.

“There is also a longer delay between the first symptoms and an established diagnosis, which means they are out and about in the community longer without access to the right help and support.”

She said someone with frontotemporal dementia can use physical aggression without any provocation, whereas a person with Alzheimer’s generally does this if another person approaches them too fast, for example in a nursing care situation.

“If you notice socially deviant or criminal behavior in a person who has previously acted normally, you should be attentive and help the person get examined by a physician, as it could be the first sign of dementia,” Liljegren said.

Source: Lund University/EurekAlert

Considering Intentions of Others Tied to Structural Brain Changes

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 7:00am

New research finds that a teenager’s ability to consider the intentions of others in regard to gauging fairness may be linked to structural changes in the brain’s cortex. These changes most likely show a synaptic reorganization in how brain regions connect and communicate with one another.

Deciphering the intentions of others is vital to human interaction and cooperation within society. Previous research has shown that areas of the social brain linked to how we care about others or “social inference,” continue to undergo cortical development until late adolescence.

The new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is the first to provide evidence linking structural changes with behavioral changes in the context of fairness.

For the study, participants aged nine to 23 played an ultimatum game based on the exchange of money. First, participants who played the role of “proposer” were told to select between two different ways of dividing $10. Those who acted as “responders” then decided whether to accept or reject the chosen division.

Using computational modeling, the researchers at Dartmouth College observed how participants used two different cognitive strategies while making their decisions. Then they analyzed how these processes correlated with measurements of participants’ cortical thickness, which they obtained through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The researchers found that younger players tended to want to minimize the difference in the division of the money, making it so that everyone gets the same amount. However, the older the participants were, the more likely they were to consider the other players’ intentions.

This change from a simple rule-based egalitarian strategy to a more sophisticated strategy that considers both the other players’ intentions and notions of reciprocity, was observed during late adolescence.

This gradual shift coincided with cortical thinning in the brain, specifically, in areas of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which is involved with how we view others’ mental states, and the posterior temporal cortex, which is involved in visual perception particularly in processing facial information.

“This work provides converging evidence in line with other research that the computation of inferring intentions is processed in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex,” said senior author Dr. Luke Chang, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the director of the Computational Social Affective Neuroscience Laboratory (Cosan Lab) at Dartmouth.

“We were surprised that this shift in preference for considering others’ intentions occurred so late in development. Of course, younger children can infer the intentions of others, but we see that this ability continues to be refined well into late adolescence.”

“This finding has potential implications regarding how much autonomy this age group should be given when making important social and ethical decisions, such as purchasing weapons, going to war, and serving on juries,” added Chang.

Source: Dartmouth College

Magnetic Brain Stimulation May Enhance CBT in Treating Anxiety

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 6:15am

In the United States, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18.1 percent of the population every year. The diagnosis is the most common mental illness in the U.S.

Sadly, less than 37 percent of people with anxiety receive treatment.

For example, some individuals panic upon boarding an aircraft, others find it impossible to enter a room with a spider on the wall and again others prefer the staircase over the elevator — even to get to the 10th floor — because riding in elevators elevates their heart rate.

Therefore, what sounds like funny quirks is often debilitating for the sufferers. Sometimes their anxiety can affect them to a point that they are unable to follow a normal daily routine.

Care for the disorder has improved significantly with the introduction of cognitive behavioral therapy and the technique of deliberately exposing anxiety patients to the situations they feel threatened by — under the individual psychological supervision of an expert.

However, CBT appears to help some more than others.

A new German study led by Professor Martin J. Herrmann, a psychologist at the Center of Mental Health of the Würzburg University Hospital, explored strategies to improve patients’ response to cognitive behavioral therapy.

One supplemental method was the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation. During transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a magnetic coil is placed near the head of the person receiving the treatment.

The coil produces a rapidly changing magnetic field which sends magnetic pulses through the cranium into the brain. There it triggers an action potential in the neurons and the neuron transmits an impulse.

Although the technique has been around only for a few decades, it is routinely used in research and diagnostics. “We knew from previous studies that a specific region in the frontal lobe of the human brain is important for unlearning anxiety,” Herrmann said.

He said initial studies have shown that magnetically stimulating this brain region can improve the effectiveness of unlearning anxiety responses in the laboratory.

In the recently published study, the team investigated whether the technique would help to relieve anxiety associated with a fear of heights.

Researchers studied 39 participants with a pronounced fear of heights. Virtual reality was used to take the participants to dizzying heights during two sessions. “The people feel actual fear also in a virtual reality, although they know that they are not really in a dangerous situation,” Herrmann said.

The scientists stimulated the frontal lobe of some of the anxiety patients for about 20 minutes before entering the virtual world; the other group was only administered a pseudo stimulation.

“The findings demonstrate that all participants benefit considerably from the therapy in virtual reality and the positive effects of the intervention are still clearly visible even after three months,” Herrmann said.

What is more, by stimulating the frontal lobe, the therapy response was accelerated.

Next, the researchers want to study whether this method is also suitable to treat other forms of anxiety by conducting a further virtual reality therapy study for arachnophobic (fear of spiders) patients.

Source: University of Würzburg /EurekAlert
Photo: People suffering from a fear of heights experience the anxiety also in virtual reality — even though they are aware that they are not really in a dangerous situation. Credit: VTPlus.

‘Owning’ Your Mistake Can Enhance Chances of Future Success

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 5:30am

Profound new research suggests the common strategy to not dwell on mistakes and to move on to the next experience, may be unproductive.

Ohio State investigators believe truly feeling the pain of failure helps you admit what went wrong and stimulates you to try harder the next time. They believe this approach is a better method to correct mistakes than simply thinking about what went wrong.

Researchers found that people who just thought about a failure tended to make excuses for why they were unsuccessful and didn’t try harder when faced with a similar situation. In contrast, people who focused on their emotions following a failure put forth more effort when they tried again.

“All the advice tells you not to dwell on your mistakes, to not feel bad,” said Dr. Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and a professor of marketing.

“But we found the opposite. When faced with a failure, it is better to focus on one’s emotions — when people concentrate on how bad they feel and how they don’t want to experience these feelings again, they are more likely to try harder the next time.”

While thinking about how to improve from past mistakes might help — this study didn’t examine that — the researchers found that people who reflect on a failure do not tend to focus on ways to avoid a similar mistake.

When asked to think about their mistakes, most people focus on protecting their ego, Malkoc said. They think about how the failure wasn’t their fault, or how it wasn’t that big of a deal, anyway.

“If your thoughts are all about how to distance yourself from the failure, you’re not going to learn from your mistakes,” she said.

Malkoc conducted the study with Drs. Noelle Nelson of the University of Kansas and Baba Shiv of Stanford University. Their results appear online in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

Researchers conducted several studies to come to their conclusion. In one, 98 college students were asked to price search online for a blender with specific characteristics, and with the possibility of winning a cash prize if they found the lowest price.

Before they found out if they won, half the participants were told to focus on their emotional response to winning or losing, while the other half were instructed to focus on their thoughts about how they did. They were told they would write about their response afterward.

The price search task was rigged, though, and all participants found out that the lowest price was $3.27 less than what they found. After writing about their failure, the students had a chance to redeem themselves.

The researchers wanted to find out if the effort put forth by participants in a new task would be related to whether they focused on their thoughts or emotions involving the previous failure. The researchers believed that a task similar to their failed job — in this case a search for the lowest price — would trigger participants into recalling their unsuccessful attempt, while an unrelated job would not.

So the participants were given another task. Half were asked to search for a gift book for a friend that was the best fit for their limited college-student budget. In other words, they were looking for the lowest price, as they were instructed in the first task.

The other half of the participants were given a non-similar task, which was to search for a book that would be the best choice as a gift for their friend.

The results showed emotional responses to failure motivated participants much more than cognitive ones when they were faced with a similar task.

Emotionally motivated participants spent nearly 25 percent more time searching for a low-priced book than did participants who had only thought about — rather than dwelled on the pain of — their earlier failure.

There was no significant difference in effort made by participants when the second task wasn’t like the first (when they were searching for the best gift, rather than the cheapest).

“When the participants focused on how bad they felt about failing the first time, they tried harder than others when they had another similar opportunity,” Malkoc said.

“But the situation has to be similar enough to trigger the pain of the initial failure.”

One reason why an emotional response to failure may be more effective than a cognitive one is the nature of people’s thoughts about their mistakes.

When the researchers analyzed what participants who thought about their failure wrote about, they found significantly more self-protective thoughts (“This wasn’t my fault,” “I could not have found it even if I tried”) than they did self-improvement thoughts (“I know how I can do better next time”).

Unfortunately, that may be the default mode for most people, at least in many everyday situations.

In another similar study, the researchers didn’t tell some participants how to respond to their failures. They found that these people tended to produce cognitive responses rather than emotional ones, and those cognitive responses were the kinds that protected themselves rather than focused on self-improvement.

Malkoc said that in most real-life situations, people probably have both cognitive and emotional responses to their failures. But the important thing to remember is not to avoid the emotional pain of failing, but to use that pain to fuel improvement.

“Emotional responses to failure can hurt. They make you feel bad. That’s why people often choose to think self-protective thoughts after they make mistakes,” she said.

“But if you focus on how bad you feel, you’re going to work harder to find a solution and make sure you don’t make the same mistake again.”

Source: Ohio State University

Rejection Tolerance Influences Choice of Dating Sites

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 7:00am

Americans are using online dating sites more than ever before as nearly 50 percent of the American public knows someone who has used an online dating site.

Moreover, five percent of Americans who are married or in committed relationships today met their significant other online.

The success of dating sites has now lead to an abundance of options. A new study looks into this dilemma and provides suggestions to help users know which company is best for them.

Interestingly, researchers discovered your choice of which site to use should depend on your tolerance of rejection. If you can handle rejection, more choices may be best. However, if you do not want to go the volume route, the site you chose may be more expensive.

The study, “Competing by Restricting Choice: The Case of Search Platforms,” explains that most sites, such as, compete by building the largest user base possible, and provide users with access to unlimited profiles on the platform.

Others, such as, pursue user growth with the same intensity, but allow users to only view and contact a limited number of others on the platform.

However, despite the limited choice, eHarmony’s customers are willing to pay an average of 25 percent more than Match’s customers.

The study authors, Drs. Hanna Halaburda of the Bank of Canada and New York University, Mikolaj Piskorksi of IMD Business School, and Pinar Yildirim of the University of Pennsylvania, created a stylized model of online, heterosexual dating.

They found that increasing the number of potential matches has a positive effect due to larger choice, but also a negative effect due to competition between users of the same sex.

This suggests that by offering its members access to a large number of profiles, Match’s users are also more likely to experience rejection, as each of their potential matches will have access to a larger number of options, increasing the competition among members.

With access to only a limited number of profiles, eHarmony users are more likely to successfully and more rapidly identify a match with another user, who because of limited choice, is less likely to reject them.

“Online dating platforms that restrict choice, like eHarmony, exist and prosper alongside platforms that offer more choice, like,” said Halaburda.

“On a platform that offers more choice, agents also face more competition as their candidates also enjoy a larger choice set.”

Ultimately, for online dating users who can tolerate rejection and aren’t bothered by a potentially longer timeframe to identify a match, provides much greater choice of options.

However, for users who are looking to more quickly identify a potential mutual match, eHarmony limits competition that may result in rejection.


Tracking Tiny Eye Movements May Help Diagnose, Treat ADHD

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 6:15am

Close observation of tiny movements in the eyes may help researchers better understand and perhaps eventually improve assessment of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Science.

Growing evidence suggests that small involuntary eye movements, called saccades and microsaccades, are promising new tools for revealing the underlying mechanisms of mental processes like attention and anticipation — cognitive processes that are often impaired in individuals with ADHD.

The researchers believe that carefully tracking these eye movements may offer a new method for empirically monitoring temporal expectation (an expectation with respect to the timing of a certain event) in people with ADHD.

“The eye is restless and eye movements occur constantly, even when observers try to avoid them. Our study shows that this continuous stream of eye movements is temporarily paused before an anticipated visual event,” says psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Shlomit Yuval-Greenberg, Assistant Professor at Tel Aviv University, senior author of the study.

“This attenuation in eye movements can be used as an estimate for whether and when the occurrence of regular events was indeed predicted.”

The researchers discovered that neurotypical individuals (those without a diagnosis of ADHD) tended to have different patterns of eye movements compared with individuals with ADHD.

“We found that individuals with ADHD tended to not attenuate their eye movements before a predictable event, which suggests that they were not able to predict the event and/or to act upon predictions,” said Yuval-Greenberg.

The findings suggest that careful analysis of eye movements may offer a complimentary and objective measure for ADHD diagnosis and treatment.

For the study, the research team collected data from a group of 20 individuals who had an ADHD diagnosis and a group of 20 controls without ADHD. The ADHD participants were asked to refrain from taking any ADHD-related medication for 24 hours prior to the testing sessions.

On two different days, participants were shown a series of colored shapes on a screen while the researchers monitored their eye movements. They were instructed to press a key whenever they saw a red square (which appeared around 25 percent of the time).

On one day, the shapes were shown at predictable intervals (every two seconds the next shape would appear). On the other day, the time between shapes varied from one to 2.5 seconds. Participants did not know that the timing would be different between the two sessions.

When the shapes appeared at regular, predictable intervals participants without ADHD responded more quickly than when they appeared at varied intervals. However, the reaction times of ADHD participants did not improve under predictable conditions.

The research team also found that those in the control group tended to have fewer eye movements immediately before a predicted event. In contrast, ADHD participants did not show the same eye movement slowdown in preparation for an upcoming stimulus.

One surprising finding was that an ADHD diagnosis was not the best predictor of a person’s ability to stay focused on the task.

“It is well documented that ADHD is a heterogeneous disorder. It is also documented that only some of the individuals with ADHD experience difficulties in maintaining focused attention throughout a monotonous task,” Yuval-Greenberg says.

“Yet we were most surprised to reveal that the individual ability to stay focused throughout the task was a better predictor for the attenuation of eye movements than whether or not that individual was diagnosed with ADHD.”

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Taking Movement Breaks Can Lessen Mortality Risk

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 5:30am

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) discovered that it isn’t just the amount of time spent sitting, but also the way in which sitting time is accumulated during the day, that can affect risk of early death.

The study, which appears in Annals of Internal Medicine, found that adults who sit for one to two hours at a time without moving have a higher mortality rate than adults who accrue the same amount of sedentary time in shorter bouts.

“We tend to think of sedentary behavior as just the sheer volume of how much we sit around each day,” said Keith Diaz, Ph.D., associate research scientist in the Department of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and lead investigator of the study.

“But previous studies have suggested that sedentary patterns — whether an individual accrues sedentary time through several short stretches or fewer long stretches of time — may have an impact on health.”

The researchers used hip-mounted activity monitors to objectively measure inactivity during waking time over a period of seven days in 7,985 black and white adults over age 45. (The participants were taking part in the REGARDS study, a national investigation of racial and regional disparities in stroke.)

On average, sedentary behavior accounted for 77 percent of the participants’ waking hours, equivalent to more than 12 hours per day.

Over a median follow-up period of four years, 340 of the participants died. Mortality risk was calculated for those with various amounts of total sedentary time and various sedentary patterns.

Those with the greatest amount of sedentary time — more than 13 hours per day — and who frequently had sedentary bouts of at least 60 to 90 consecutive minutes had a nearly two-fold increase in death risk compared with those who had the least total sedentary time and the shortest sedentary bouts.

Breaking up the sitting period has significant benefits as researchers found that participants who kept most of their sitting bouts to less than 30 minutes had the lowest risk of death.

“So if you have a job or lifestyle where you have to sit for prolonged periods of time, we suggest taking a movement break every half hour. This one behavior change could reduce your risk of death, although we don’t yet know precisely how much activity is optimal,” Diaz said.

The study was the largest to link objectively measured sedentary time and sedentary patterns with mortality risk.

“This study adds to the growing literature on how dangerous long periods of sitting are for our health, and underscores a growing awareness among clinicians and researchers that sitting really is the new smoking,” said study co-author Monika Safford, M.D.

“We need creative ways to ensure that we not only cut back on the total amount we sit, but also increase regular interruptions to sitting with bursts of activity.”

Source: Columbia University Medical Center

Expecting Reciprocity May Fuel Cooperation with Others

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 7:45am

From the earliest days of humanity, people have cooperated with others to increase chances of survival. But the true driving force that motivates an individual to cooperate with others, even strangers, has been obscure.

New research now suggests the reason we cooperate with others is driven by our hope that we will receive benefits in return. Investigators discovered the somewhat narcissist motive is more important than our desire to conform with group norms when we’re deciding whether to cooperate with someone.

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

“Understanding human cooperation with strangers is considered a puzzle by many disciplines. Our findings show that people are relatively influenced more by reciprocity than conformity when deciding to cooperate with others,” said psychological scientist Dr. Angelo Romano of the University of Torino and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

“This is important because it advances theory on understanding the origin of human cooperation.”

Prior studies have produced evidence in support of both reciprocity and conformity, but Romano and co-author Dr. Daniel Balliet observed that no studies had tested which process would win out if the two were pitted directly against each other.

Romano and Balliet wondered: If another person chooses to cooperate with us, would we return the favor even if other members of our group don’t? Or would we follow the group norm and choose not to reciprocate the other person’s cooperative overture?

The researchers conducted a series of three online experiments to find out.

In one study, 704 online participants completed activities with five other group members — in reality, the responses of these five “participants” were actually programmed by the researchers.

In the first activity, participants imagined that their spaceship had crashed and had to decide which 15 pieces of equipment to bring with them as they escaped. They were told that their score would be combined with those of their group members, who were supposedly completing the task at the same time. The purpose of this activity was to foster a sense of group cohesion and belonging among participants.

Then, in a second activity, the participants played a game with their group members and another partner (also programmed by the researchers). In each round, a group member and the partner each received 100 tickets and had to decide how many to give to each other. Each ticket given away doubled in value — for the participant, the best outcome would occur if she kept all 100 of her tickets and her partner gave away all 100 of his tickets. In this case, the participant would have a total of 300 tickets.

If both the participant and her partner gave away their tickets, they would each end up with 200 total. But if they both kept all their tickets, they would only have the 100 that they started with.

Importantly, the participants played last and could see the previous rounds between the partner and each group members before making their own decision.

Overall, participants were more likely to cooperate when others cooperated — that is, they gave more tickets away when they saw that their group members gave their tickets away and when they saw that the partner tended to give his tickets away.

But the results were especially revealing when the partner and the group members responded differently.

Participants were more cooperative when they had a cooperative partner and an uncooperative group than when they had an uncooperative partner and a cooperative group. In other words, when the options to reciprocate the partner’s behavior or conform to the group’s behavior were in direct conflict, people were more likely to cooperate with the partner than fall in line with the group.

Additional experiments supported these results, even when the researchers included additional factors that strengthened group norms.

Taken together, the experiments shed light on the mechanisms that drive our decisions to cooperate with people who aren’t genetically related to us — a topic that has long perplexed behavioral, evolutionary, and biological scientists.

The investigations believe the findings may be used to boost cooperation in the real world: “Our research may also inform practitioners interested in finding solutions to promote cooperation at small and large scales — among individuals and groups, organizations, and nations,” said Romano.

“Indeed, the social dilemmas investigated in these studies are used to study and model real world problems such as global warming, or tax evasion.”

Source: Association for Psychological Science