Mastodon Scientific Frontline: Psychology
Showing posts with label Psychology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Psychology. Show all posts

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Social isolation may impact brain volume in regions linked to higher risk of dementia

Elderly woman in the middle stages of Alzheimer 
Credit: Steven HWG

Social isolation is linked to lower brain volume in areas related to cognition and a higher risk of dementia, according to research published today in Neurology. The study found that social isolation was linked to a 26% increased risk of dementia, separately from risk factors like depression and loneliness.

“Social isolation is a serious yet underrecognized public health problem that is often associated with old age,” said study author Professor Jianfeng Feng of Fudan University in Shanghai, China. “In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation, or the state of being cut off from social networks, has intensified. It’s more important than ever to identify people who are socially isolated and provide resources to help them make connections in their community.”

The study looked at over 460,000 people across the United Kingdom with an average age of 57 at the beginning of the study who were followed for nearly 12 years before the pandemic. Of those, almost 42,000 (9%) reported being socially isolated, and 29,000 (6%) felt lonely. During the study, almost 5,000 developed dementia.

Researchers collected survey data from participants, along with a variety of physical and biological measurements, including MRI data. Participants also took thinking and memory tests to assess their cognitive function. For social isolation, people were asked three questions about social contact: whether they lived with others; whether they had visits with friends or family at least once a month; and whether they participated in social activities such as clubs, meetings or volunteer work at least once a week. People were considered socially isolated if they answered no to at least two questions.

Visual system brain development implicated in infants who develop autism

Anatomical locations of the splenium (yellow) and right middle occipital gyrus (red) in a representative infant brain.
Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

For the first time, scientists have found that brain differences in the visual brain systems of infants who later develop autism are associated with inherited genetic factors.

Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, this research shows that brain changes in the size, white matter integrity and functional connectivity of the visual processing systems of six-month-olds are evident well before they show symptoms of autism as toddlers. Moreover, the presence of brain changes in the visual system is associated with the severity of autism traits in their older siblings.

Led by Dr. Jessica Girault, assistant professor of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine, this is the first research to observe that infants with older siblings who have autism and who themselves later develop autism as toddlers have specific biological differences in visual processing regions of the brain and that these brain characteristics precede the appearance of autistic symptoms. The presence of those visual processing differences is related to how pronounced the autism traits are in the older siblings.

“We’re beginning to parse differences in infant brain development that might be related to genetic factors,” said Girault, who is also a member of the Carolina Institute of Developmental Disabilities. “Using magnetic resonance imaging, we studied selected structures of brain, the functional relationship between key brain regions, and the microstructure of white matter connections between those brain regions. Findings from all three pointed us to the discovery of unique differences in the visual systems of infants who later developed autism.”

Friday, May 27, 2022

‘Transformative’ effects of mass gatherings like Burning Man are lasting

Photo by Curtis Simmons, Flickr: simmons_tx

Throughout history, mass gatherings such as collective rituals, ceremonies, and pilgrimages have created intense social bonds and feelings of unity in human societies. But Yale psychologists wondered if modern day secular gatherings that emphasize creativity and community serve an even broader purpose.

The research team studied people’s subjective experiences and social behavior at secular mass gatherings, such as the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. They found that people who reported transformative experiences at the gatherings felt more connected with all of humanity and were more willing to help distant strangers, the researchers report May 27 in the journal Nature Communications.

“We’ve long known that festivals, pilgrimages, and ceremonies make people feel more bonded with their own group,” said Daniel Yudkin, a postdoctoral researcher and first author of the paper. “Here we show that experiences at secular mass gatherings also have the potential to expand the boundaries of moral concern beyond one’s own group.”

The research team, led by M.J. Crockett, an associate professor of psychology at Yale, conducted field studies of more than 1,200 people attending multi-day mass gatherings in the United States and United Kingdom: Burning Man, Burning Nest, Lightning in a Bottle, Dirty Bird, and Latitude, all events that feature art, music, and self-expression.

Unlocking the Secrets of the Brain

Roberto Vargas
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have explored the regions of the brain where concrete and abstract concepts materialize. A new study now explores if people who grow up in different cultures and speak different languages form these concepts in the same regions of the brain.

"We wanted to look across languages to see if our cultural backgrounds influence how we understand, how we perceive abstract ideas like justice," said Roberto Vargas, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and lead author on the study.

Vargas is continuing fundamental research in neural and semantic organization initiated by Marcel Just, the D.O. Hebb University Professor of Psychology. Just began this process more than 30 years ago by scanning the brains of participants using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. His research team began by identifying the regions of the brain that light up for concrete objects, like an apple, and later moved to abstract concepts from physics like force and gravity.

The latest study took the evaluation of abstract concepts one step further by exploring the regions of the brain that fire for abstract objects based on language. In this case, the researchers studied people whose first language is Mandarin or English.

"The lab's research is progress to study universalities of not only single concept representations, but also representations of larger bodies of knowledge such as scientific and technical knowledge," Just said. "Cultures and languages can give us a particular perspective of the world, but our mental filing cabinets are all very similar."

Thursday, May 19, 2022

New brain-painting method developed at USF is being tested for ADHD treatment

The brain painting method developed at USF is being tested for ADHD treatment.
Credit: University of South Florida

Imagine focusing on one thing so well that you can control its movement. Now, imagine mentally selecting colors and shapes to create an abstract image – a brain painting. USF computer scientist Marvin Andujar is harnessing the power of concentration and art to develop a new brain-computer interface (BCI) prototype and help study participants use their brain like never before. The goal is to introduce a novel treatment option for individuals with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by tapping directly into their brain activity.

“This type of brain-computer interaction is more of a brain exercise to improve your attention,” Andujar said. “We’re trying to see how we can narrow that focus over time.”

Similar to Andujar’s previous work with brain-controlled drones, participants’ complete attention is required. To fly forward, a user must focus on a specific movement, such as walking. Individuals from the ADHD community approached Andujar after learning how the brain-controlled drone project harnessed attention span and asked for a device they could use at home.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Deaths from Alcohol Use Disorder Surged During Pandemic

Deaths related to alcohol use disorder dramatically increased over projections during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cedars-Sinai investigators found

Deaths involving alcohol use disorder increased dramatically during the pandemic, according to a new study by Cedars-Sinai investigators. The study also found that young adults 25 to 44 years old experienced the steepest upward trend in alcohol use disorder mortality.

In the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Network Open, investigators used predictive modeling to compare expected—also called projected—alcohol use disorder mortality rates to actual rates. They found that alcohol use disorder-related mortality rates increased among all ages and sexes during the pandemic.

“During the first few months of the pandemic, my colleagues and I saw increased numbers of patients being treated for acute

alcohol use-related conditions in the intensive care unit and throughout the medical center,” said Yee Hui Yeo, MD, MSc, lead author of the study. “We also became aware of reports from single centers of elevated alcohol use-related complications. That prompted us to think, maybe this is a significant public health crisis.”

Transgender mental health in crisis

Trans and LGBTIQA+ organizations across Australia are facing huge demand from the trans community for inclusive and affirming mental health services.
Image: The Gender Spectrum Collection

Australia’s transgender (trans) community is experiencing depression and thoughts of self-harm at levels never before seen, but many are not getting the help they need because they’re afraid to access mainstream services, a new study has shown.

Authored by the University of Melbourne’s Trans Health Research Group, the Trans in the Pandemic: Stories of Struggle and Resilience in the Australia Trans Community report has found 61 per cent of the 1019 people surveyed in 2020 experienced clinical depression – that’s twice the national rate and much higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team also found 49 per cent of trans people experienced thoughts of self-harm or suicide compared to 14.9 per cent for the general Australian population who reported thoughts of self-harm or suicide in the initial months of the pandemic.

The survey was carried out in May and June 2020, when there was concern the trans community may be disproportionately affected by social distancing restrictions, and healthcare and employment disruptions.

Report lead author Sav Zwickl said it was already well-established prior to the pandemic that the trans community faced numerous health disparities and was one of the most medically and socially marginalized groups in society.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

New research finds the risk of psychotic-like experiences can start in childhood


It has long been understood that environmental and socio-economic factors – including income disparity, family poverty, and air pollution – increase a person’s risk of developing psychotic-like experiences, such as subtle hallucinations and delusions that can become precursors to a schizophrenia diagnosis later in life. Research has long focused on young adults but now, thanks to data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, researchers at the University of Rochester have found these risk factors can be observed in pre-adolescent children.

“These findings could have a major impact on public health initiatives to reduce the risk of psychotic-like experiences,” said Abhishek Saxena, a graduate student in the department of Psychology at the University of Rochester and first author of the study recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. “Past research has largely focused on the biological factors that lead to development of schizophrenia spectrum disorders, but we now know that social and environmental factors can also play a large role in the risk and development of schizophrenia. And this research shows these factors impact people starting at a very young age.”

Researchers looked at data collected from 8,000 kids enrolled in the ABCD study. They found that the more urban of an environment a child lived in – proximity to roads, houses with lead paint risks, families in poverty, and income disparity – the greater number of psychotic-like experiences they had over a year’s time. These findings are in line with past research conducted in young adults, but have not been found like this in pre-adolescences.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Study finds an unexpected upside to imposter syndrome

People who report “impostor workplace thoughts” are often still successful, by being strong team players in the office, and being recognized as such, according to a new study. The research was led by MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Basima Tewfik.
Credit: MIT

Even many successful people harbor what is commonly called impostor syndrome, a sense of being secretly unworthy and not as capable as others think. First posited by psychologists in 1978, it is often assumed to be a debilitating problem.

But research by an MIT scholar suggests this is not universally true. In workplace settings, at least, those harboring impostor-type concerns tend to compensate for their perceived shortcomings by being good team players with strong social skills, and are often recognized as productive workers by their employers.

“People who have workplace impostor thoughts become more other-oriented as a result of having these thoughts,” says Basima Tewfik, an assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of a new paper detailing her findings. “As they become more other-oriented, they’re going to be evaluated as being more interpersonally effective.”

Tewfik’s research as a whole suggests we should rethink some of our assumptions about impostor-type complexes and their dynamics. At the same time, she emphasizes, the prevalence of these types of thoughts among workers should not be ignored, dismissed, or even encouraged.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Wireless neuro-stimulator to revolutionize patient care

Many neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, chronic depression and other psychiatric conditions could be managed at home, thanks to a collaborative project involving researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ).

Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) Professor Peter Silburn AM said his team, together with Neurosciences Queensland and Abbott Neuromodulation have developed a remote care platform which allows patients to access treatment from anywhere in the world.

“By creating the world’s first integrated and completely wireless remote care platform, we have removed the need for patients to see their doctor in person to have their device adjusted,” Professor Silburn said.

Electrodes are surgically inserted into the brain and electrical stimulation is delivered by a pacemaker which alters brain function - providing therapeutic relief and improving quality of life.

This digital platform allows clinicians to monitor patients remotely, as well as adjust the device to treat and alleviate symptoms in real time.

“We have shown that it is possible to minimize disruption to patients’ and caregivers’ lifestyles by increasing accessibility to the service, saving time and money,” Professor Silburn said.

“There are no cures for many of these conditions which often require life-long treatment and care, so for those people the device would be a game-changer.”

He said the system also fostered increasingly personalized treatment and data-driven clinical decisions, which could improve patient care.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Researchers accurately identify people with PTSD through text data alone

A study participant is interviewed by Ellie, an artificial character, to gather text data.
Credit: Jonathan Gratch, USC Institute for Creative Technologies 

University of Alberta researchers have trained a machine learning model to identify people with post-traumatic stress disorder with 80 per cent accuracy by analyzing text data. The model could one day serve as an accessible and inexpensive screening tool to support health professionals in detecting and diagnosing PTSD or other mental health disorders through telehealth platforms.

Psychiatry PhD candidate Jeff Sawalha, who led the project, performed a sentiment analysis of text from a dataset created by Jonathan Gratch at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. Sentiment analysis involves taking a large body of data, such as the contents of a series of tweets, and categorizing them — for example, seeing how many are expressing positive thoughts and how many are expressing negative thoughts.

“We wanted to strictly look at the sentiment analysis from this dataset to see if we could properly identify or distinguish individuals with PTSD just using the emotional content of these interviews,” said Sawalha.

The text in the USC dataset was gathered through 250 semi-structured interviews conducted by an artificial character, Ellie, over video conferencing calls with 188 people without PTSD and 87 with PTSD.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Are people more willing to empathize with animals or with other humans?

Credit: Photo by David Clode on Unsplash
Stories about animals such as Harambe the gorilla and Cecil the lion often sweep the media as they pull at people’s heartstrings. But are people more likely to feel empathy for animals than humans?

A new Penn State study led by Daryl Cameron, associate professor of psychology and senior research associate at Rock Ethics Institute, found that the answer is complicated. The findings could have implications for how messaging to the public about issues like new environmental policies is framed, among others.

The researchers found that when people were asked to choose between empathizing with a human stranger or an animal — in this study, a koala bear — the participants were more likely to choose empathizing with a fellow human.

However, in a second pair of studies, the researchers had participants take part in two separate tasks: one in which they could choose whether or not they wanted to empathize with a person, and one in which they could choose whether or not they wanted to empathize with an animal. This time, people were more likely to choose empathy when faced with an animal than when faced with a person.

Cameron said the findings — recently published in a special issue on empathy in the Journal of Social Psychology — suggest that when people are deciding whether to engage in empathy, context matters.

“It’s possible that if people are seeing humans and animals in competition, it might lead to them preferring to empathize with other humans,” Cameron said. “But if you don’t see that competition, and the situation is just deciding whether to empathize with an animal one day and a human the other, it seems that people don’t want to engage in human empathy but they're a little bit more interested in animals.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Study finds genetic link between childhood and adult anxiety and depression

Hereditary factors are partly responsible for childhood anxiety and depression that persists into adulthood, according to University of Queensland researchers.

In the largest study of its kind in the world, the genetics of 64,641 children, aged between 3 and 18 years, were analyzed using longitudinal data from the Early Genetics and Lifeforce Epidemiology consortium.

Professor Christel Middeldorp, who holds a co-joint appointment with the UQ Child Health Research Centre and Children’s Health Queensland, said the study showed children who had similar levels of anxiety and depression were also alike genetically.

“It also revealed a genetic overlap between childhood and adult mental health disorders when comparing the results in this childhood study with results of previous studies in adults.

“These findings are important because they help identify people most at risk of symptoms continuing across the lifespan, so intense treatment can be provided where needed,” Professor Middeldorp said.

It’s the first-time researchers have conducted such a large-scale study examining the role of genetics in repeated measures of anxiety and depression in children.

Professor Middeldorp said genetic variants needed to be investigated because they increased the risk of recurrence and co-occurrence with other disorders.

“Mental health symptoms often come together, so those who experience anxiety or depression have a greater risk of disorders such as ADHD, aggressive behavior,” she said.

Smart but stressful

Intelligent personal assistants accompany people worldwide every day.
Credit: RUB, Kramer
Intelligent personal assistants make everyday work easier. If you use them intensively and over a longer period of time, they can also create stress.

Siri, delete the light! Alexa, what does the weather forecast say? Nowadays, so-called intelligent personal assistants such as loudspeakers with speech recognition are hard to imagine in our everyday life. But do they only have a positive effect on us? What does the long-term human-assistant relationship look like?? Prof. also asked himself these questions. Dr. Sascha Alavi, chair holder at the Sales Management Department of RUB, and his research colleagues Prof. Dr. Valéry Bezençon and Ertuğrul Uysal from the University of Neuchâtel. In their joint study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, economists show that personal assistance systems can also have damaging effects on users in the long term.

“Previous studies have primarily and exclusively dealt with the advantages of intelligent assistance systems, highlighted their benefits for the world of work, for companies, especially from a commercial point of view. We were also interested in the potentially damaging consequences for consumers,” reports Alavi. To this end, he carried out surveys with his colleagues with more than 1,000 users of intelligent language assistants as well as qualitative in-depth interviews with eleven users.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Scientists identify overgrowth of key brain structure in babies who later develop autism

The amygdala is a small structure deep in the brain important for interpreting the social and emotional meaning of sensory input – from recognizing emotion in faces to interpreting fearful images that inform us about potential dangers in our surroundings. Historically the amygdala has been thought to play a prominent role in the difficulties with social behavior that are central to autism.

Researchers have long known the amygdala is abnormally large in school-age children with autism, but it was unknown precisely when that enlargement occurs. Now, for the first time, researchers from the Infant Brain Imaging Study Network, used magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate that the amygdala grows too rapidly in infancy. Overgrowth begins between six and 12 months of age, prior to the age when the hallmark behaviors of autism fully emerge, enabling the earliest diagnosis of this condition. Increased growth of the amygdala in infants who were later diagnosed with autism differed markedly from brain-growth patterns in babies with another neurodevelopmental disorder, fragile X syndrome, where no differences in amygdala growth were observed.

Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the official journal of the American Psychiatric Association, this research demonstrated that infants with fragile X syndrome already exhibit cognitive delays at six months of age, whereas infants who will later be diagnosed with autism do not show any deficits in cognitive ability at six months of age, but have a gradual decline in cognitive ability between six and 24 months of age, the age when they were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in this study. Babies who go on to develop autism show no difference in the size of their amygdala at six months. However, their amygdala begins growing faster than other babies (including those with fragile X syndrome and those who do not develop autism), between six and 12 months of age, and is significantly enlarged by 12 months. This amygdala enlargement continues through 24 months, an age when behaviors are often sufficiently evident to warrant a diagnosis of autism.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

‘Junk DNA’ key to controlling fear

A piece of “junk DNA” could be the key to extinguishing fear-related memories for people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobia, according to a study from The University of Queensland.

An international research project, led by the Queensland Brain Institute’s Associate Professor Timothy Bredy, discovered the new gene while investigating how the genome responds to traumatic experiences.

“Until recently, scientists thought the majority of our genes were made up of junk DNA, which essentially didn’t do anything.” Dr Bredy said.

“But when researchers began to explore these regions, they realized that most of the genome is active and transcribed.”

Using a powerful new sequencing approach, Dr Bredy’s team identified 433 long non-coding RNAs from relatively unknown regions of the human genome.

“The technology is a really interesting way to zero in on sites within the genome that would otherwise be masked,” Dr Bredy said.

“It’s like harnessing the power of the Hubble Telescope to peer into the unknown of the brain.”

A new gene, labelled ADRAM by the researchers, was found to not only act as a scaffold for molecules inside the cell, but also helped coordinate the formation of fear-extinction memory.

Until now, there have been no studies devoted to understanding these genes, or how they might influence brain function in the context of learning and memory.

Monday, February 14, 2022

How a feeling of satiety unconsciously controls body sensation

Martin Diers let healthy women go through a door in a rich and hungry state.
Credit: LWL Clinic

Hungry - full! Thick or thin? Researchers at the Bochum University Hospital are studying the body structure of healthy women.

Whether looking at your own body in the mirror or classifying your body feeling when walking through a door - in people with an eating disorder, the body image and body scheme have been proven to be disturbed. For a study, a team of scientists led by Prof. Dr. Martin Diers from the LWL University Clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at RUB only healthy, normal weight test subjects run through a door, both hungry and saturated, thus demonstrating that hunger and satiety have an active influence on the body's scheme - the unconscious body feeling. For further research on eating disorders, it is important to consider body image and body scheme differently based on the mechanisms of action. In a specialist article in Scientific Reports, the scientists report on the results.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Do you see faces in things?

Composite image: Dr Jessica Taubert
Seeing faces in everyday objects is a common experience, but research from The University of Queensland has found people are more likely to see male faces when they see an image on the trunk of a tree or in burnt toast over breakfast.

Dr Jessica Taubert from UQ’s School of Psychology said face pareidolia, the illusion of seeing a facial structure in an everyday object, tells us a lot about how our brains detect and recognize social cues.

“The aim of our study was to understand whether examples of face pareidolia carry the kinds of social signals that faces normally transmit, such as expression and biological sex,” Dr Taubert said.

“Our results showed a striking bias in gender perception, with many more illusory faces perceived as male than female.

“As illusory faces do not have a biological sex, this bias is significant in revealing an asymmetry in our face evaluation system when given minimal information.

“The results demonstrate visual features required for face detection are not generally sufficient for the perception of female faces.”

More than 3800 participants were shown numerous examples of face pareidolia and inanimate objects with no facial structure and they were asked to indicate whether each example had a distinct emotional expression, age, and biological sex, or not.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Suicide Attempts on the Rise, But Help is Hard to Get

The rate of suicidal behavior among Americans increased from 2008 to 2019, but usage of mental health services didn’t budge, reports a team led by UConn Health. The results, reported in JAMA Psychiatry, show that people need help to overcome existing barriers to care.

Suicide overall is still rare, but the rate of people attempting it in the US increased from 2008 to 2019, despite an improving economy during that period. A team of researchers including UConn Health School of Medicine psychiatric epidemiologist Greg Rhee looked at data from a survey done by the National Institutes of Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of 484,732 people across the US.

The survey found rates of attempted suicide rose by 1.8 times from 2008 to 2019 in young people aged 18-25. It also rose among people struggling with substance abuse. Suicide attempts are the single most important risk factor for suicide; the rate of suicide is 100 times greater among people who’ve already made the attempt in the past year compared to the general population. Getting people mental health services soon after a suicide attempt is one of the most effective ways to help them.

The survey also asked respondents if there was a time in the last 12 months when they needed mental health services but did not receive them, and if so, why.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Better mental health found among transgender people who started hormones as teens

For transgender people, starting gender-affirming hormone treatment in adolescence is linked to better mental health than waiting until adulthood, according to new research led by the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The study, which appeared online Jan. 12 in PLOS ONE, drew on data from the largest-ever survey of U.S. transgender adults, a group of more than 27,000 people who responded in 2015. The new study found that transgender people who began hormone treatment in adolescence had fewer thoughts of suicide, were less likely to experience major mental health disorders and had fewer problems with substance abuse than those who started hormones in adulthood. The study also documented better mental health among those who received hormones at any age than those who desired but never received the treatment.

Gender-affirming hormone treatment with estrogen or testosterone can help bring a transgender person’s physical characteristics in line with their gender identity. In adolescence, hormone therapy can enable a transgender teenager to go through puberty in a way that matches their gender identity.

“This study is particularly relevant now because many state legislatures are introducing bills that would outlaw this kind of care for transgender youth,” said Jack Turban, MD, a postdoctoral scholar in pediatric and adolescent psychiatry at Stanford Medicine. “We are adding to the evidence base that shows why gender-affirming care is beneficial from a mental health perspective.”

Turban is the study’s lead author. The senior author is Alex Keuroghlian, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center at the Fenway Institute.

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