Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

New study shows that yoga and meditation may help train the brain

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http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/ws-nss100314.php

From the October 2014 EurkAlert!

New research by biomedical engineers at the University of Minnesota shows that people who practice yoga and meditation long term can learn to control a computer with their minds faster and better than people with little or no yoga or meditation experience. The research could have major implications for treatments of people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases.

The research is published online in Technology, a new scientific journal featuring cutting-edge new technologies in emerging fields of science and engineering.

In the study, researchers involved a total of 36 participants. One group of 12 had at least one year of experience in yoga or meditation at least two times per week for one hour. The second group included 24 healthy participants who had little or no yoga or meditation experience. Both groups were new to systems using the brain to control a computer. Both groups participated in three, two-hour experiments over four weeks in which they wore a high tech, non-invasive cap over the scalp that picked up brain activity. The participants were asked to move a computer cursor across the screen by imaging left or right hand movements.

The participants with yoga or meditation experience were twice as likely to complete the brain-computer interface task by the end of 30 trials and learned three times faster than their counterparts for the left-right cursor movement experiments.

“In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on improving the computer side of the brain-computer interface but very little attention to the brain side,” said lead researcher Bin He, a biomedical engineering professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering and director of the University’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine. “This comprehensive study shows for the first time that looking closer at the brain side may provide a valuable tool for reducing obstacles for brain-computer interface success in early stages.”

Researchers have been increasingly focused on finding ways to help physically disabled individuals who are paralyzed, have lost limbs, or suffer from diseases such as ALS or cerebral palsy. In these cases, brain function remains intact, but these people have to find a way to bypass muscular control to move a wheelchair, control an artificial limb, or control other devices.

Professor He gained international attention in 2013 when members of his research team were able to demonstrate flying a robot with only their minds. However, they found that not everyone can easily learn to control a computer with their brains. Many people are unsuccessful in controlling the computer after multiple attempts. A consistent and reliable EEG brain signal may depend on an undistracted mind and sustained attention. Meditators have shown more distinctive EEG patterns than untrained participants, which may explain their success.

Professor He said he got the idea for the study more than five years ago when he began his brain-computer interface research and noticed one woman participant who was much more successful than other participants at controlling the computer with her brain. The woman had extensive experience with yoga and mediation, referred to by researchers as Mind-Body Awareness Training (MBAT).

The next step for He and his team is to study a group of participants over time who are participating in yoga or meditation for the first time to see if their performance on the brain-computer interface improves.

“Our ultimate goal is to help people who are paralyzed or have brain diseases regain mobility and independence,” He said. “We need to look at all possibilities to improve the number of people who could benefit from our research.”

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This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine. In addition to He, the University of Minnesota research team included research lab technician Kaitlin Cassady, biomedical engineering undergraduate student Albert You, and biomedical engineering master’s and medical student Alex Doud.

Corresponding author for this study in Technology is Professor Bin He, Ph.D., binhe@umn.edu. This study can be found at http://www.worldscientific.com/doi/abs/10.1142/S233954781450023X.

October 17, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

Psychiatrist appointments hard to get, even for insured, study shows — ScienceDaily

Psychiatrist appointments hard to get, even for insured, study shows — ScienceDaily.

Obtaining access to private outpatient psychiatric care in the Boston, Chicago and Houston metropolitan areas is difficult, even for those with private insurance or those willing to pay out of pocket. Researchers, who posed on the phone as patients seeking appointments with individual psychiatrists, encountered numerous obstacles, including unreturned calls, and met with success only 26 percent of the time.

October 17, 2014 Posted by | health care, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

[News article] New approaches needed for people with serious mental illnesses in criminal justice system — ScienceDaily

New approaches needed for people with serious mental illnesses in criminal justice system — ScienceDaily.

From the 14 October 2014 article

esponding to the large number of people with serious mental illnesses in the criminal justice system will require more than mental health services, according to a new report.

In many ways, the criminal justice system is the largest provider of mental health services in the country. Estimates vary, but previous research has found that about 14 percent of persons in the criminal justice system have a serious mental illness, and that number is as high as 31 percent for female inmates. Researchers are defining serious mental illnesses to include such things as schizophrenia, bipolar spectrum disorders and major depressive disorders.

“It has been assumed that untreated symptoms of mental illness caused criminal justice involvement, but now we’re seeing that there is little evidence to support that claim,” said Matthew Epperson, assistant professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Specialized interventions for people with mental illness in the criminal justice system have been developed over the past 20 years, such as mental health courts and jail diversion programs, Epperson said.

“But we need a new generation of interventions for people with serious mental health issues who are involved in the criminal justice system, whether it be interactions with police, jails, probation programs and courts,” he said. “Research shows that people with serious mental illnesses, in general, display many of the same risk factors for criminal involvement as persons without these conditions.”

: Criminal Justice Center

: Criminal Justice Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

October 17, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Only 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation alleviates stress

 PITTSBURGH—Mindfulness meditation has become an increasingly popular way for people to improve their mental and physical health, yet most research supporting its benefits has focused on lengthy, weeks-long training programs.

New research from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice – 25 minutes for three consecutive days – alleviates psychological stress. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress.

“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” said lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

For the study, Creswell and his research team had 66 healthy individuals aged 18-30 years old participate in a three-day experiment. Some participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days, the individuals were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences. A second group of participants completed a matched three-day cognitive training program in which they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills.

Following the final training activity, all participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators. Each individual reported their stress levels in response to stressful speech and math performance stress tasks, and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone.

The participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training reported reduced stress perceptions to the speech and math tasks, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience. More interestingly, on the biological side, the mindfulness mediation participants showed greater cortisol reactivity.

“When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it – especially during a stressful task,” said Creswell. “And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production.”

Creswell’s group is now testing the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity.

 

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In addition to Creswell, the research team consisted of Carnegie Mellon’s Laura E. Pacilio and Emily K. Lindsay and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Kirk Warren Brown.

The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Opportunity Fund supported this research.

For more information, visit http://www.psy.cmu.edu/people/creswell.html.

July 11, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

Neuroreductionism about sex and love

Neuroreductionism about sex and love | Brian D. Earp – Academia.edu.

Excerpt from the 2014 paper **

Abstract
“Neuroreductionism” is the tendency to reduce complex mental phenomena to brainstates, confusing correlation for physical causation. In this paper, we illustrate thedangers of this popular neuro-fallacy, by looking at an example drawn from the media: astory about “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” in women. We discuss the role of folkdualism in perpetuating such a confusion, and draw some conclusions about the role of“brain scans” in our understanding of romantic love.
* * *There has been a surge of interest in recent years in “the neuroscience of love.” Bylooking at images of people’s brains when they are gazing pictures of their romantic partner, forexample, and comparing those against images of the same people looking at pictures of aplatonic friend, scientists have begun to construct a picture of “what is going on in our brains”when we we’re in love. They’re also starting to identify a number of brain chemicals—such asoxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin—that seem to play in role in whether and how we formromantic and other social attachments.
For some people, this research is exciting—opening upnew frontiers for how we understand some of our most basic human experiences. For others, it’sa little bit unsettling. Doesn’t it suggest that “love”—our most prized and mysterious emotion—is really just a bunch of stupid brain chemicals swirling around in our skulls?The answer is yes and no.
At one level of description,everything that we experience,from, yes, falling in love, to, say, getting a stomach ache after eating a burrito, is (at least in principle) explainable in terms of microscopic events playing out between our neurons. But there are many different levels of description—including psychological, social, cultural, and even philosophical—that are just as important if we want to have a more complete understanding ofthe sorts of things that matter to us in our daily existence.
“Brain chemicals” only get us so far…….
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July 2, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press Release] National Prevention Week – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration

From the press release

National Prevention Week is a SAMHSA-supported annual health observance dedicated to increasing public awareness of, and action around, substance abuse and mental health issues. National Prevention Week 2014 is about Our Lives. Our Health. Our Future. We’ll be highlighting the important role each of us has in maintaining a healthy life and ensuring a productive future.

There are many ways to make a difference. Explore the National Prevention Week website to learn more about how you can get involved, from planning a community event to participating in the “I Choose” Project.

Learn more about National Prevention Week.

 

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May 17, 2014 Posted by | Psychology, Public Health | , , , | 1 Comment

[Research article]Morality Rebooted: Exploring Simple Fixes to Our Moral Bugs

From the abstract

Morality Rebooted: Exploring Simple Fixes to Our Moral Bugs

Ting Zhang ,Harvard Business School

Francesca Gino ,Harvard University – Harvard Business School

Max H. Bazerman ,Harvard Business School – Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit
April 21, 2014

Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 14-105

Abstract:      

Ethics research developed partly in response to calls from organizations to understand and solve unethical behavior. Departing from prior work that has mainly focused on examining the antecedents and consequences of dishonesty, we examine two approaches to mitigating unethical behavior: (1) values-oriented approaches that broadly appeal to individuals’ preferences to be more moral, and (2) structure-oriented approaches that redesign specific incentives, tasks, and decisions to reduce temptations to cheat in the environment. This paper explores how these approaches can change behavior. We argue that integrating both approaches while avoiding incompatible strategies can reduce the risk of adverse effects that arise from taking a single approach.

May 10, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is the ‘Hidden Brain’ Behind Some Health Disparities? – The NIH Record – May 9, 2014

Is the ‘Hidden Brain’ Behind Some Health Disparities? – The NIH Record – May 9, 2014.

Excerpts

Turns out, it wasn’t the devil that made you do it. It was your “hidden brain.” That’s what Shankar Vedantam suggested at a recent lecture on unconscious bias at work, part of the 2013-2014 Deputy Director for Management Seminar Series. Vedantam said he “coined the term ‘hidden brain’ to describe mental activities that happen outside our conscious awareness.

“Is it possible,” he wondered, “that some of the [health] disparities we’re seeing are not the result of bad people behaving badly, but of well-intentioned people who are unintentionally doing the wrong thing? Is it possible that unconscious biases of well-intentioned people are responsible for these disparities that we observe?”

 

A science correspondent with National Public Radio whose reporting focuses on human behavior and the sciences, Vedantam suggested that sometimes the snap judgments or preconceived notions we exhibit turn out to be wrong not because we’re evil people but because we’re not concentrating on what we’re doing. Our brains are, in a sense, functioning on autopilot.

To illustrate false moves we make automatically, Vedantam showed several optical illusions that indicated how unconscious bias doesn’t just distort perception, but often alters the way things really are.

“Our minds change reality to reflect the biases that we have inside our own heads,” he explained.

Reading, Vedantam said, is a perfect example of the hidden brain at work. Once you learn to read and are accustomed to reading, he said, your mind takes shortcuts. You naturally skip or fill in, without consciously thinking about it. Unlike a new reader, then, you don’t register every single word on a page. Otherwise, you’d spend all day reading just one page.

In the same way, Vedantam argues, your mind in many cases anticipates—pre-judges—situations throughout daily life.

So, how do we overcome the effects that unconscious biases have on us? Vedantam says we can pay closer attention to our decision-making in certain situations, recognize the way we’re leaning and simply tug our minds in the opposite direction. In addition, since our environment shapes our mind, we can surround ourselves with experiences and friendships outside our comfort zone. If you broaden what goes into your thinking, then you broaden what comes out of it.

 

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May 10, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News article] Early depression, anger may taint love life even 20 years later, study shows

 

Emotions show

Emotions show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the 7 May 2014 article at ScienceDaily

Negative emotions people may have suffered as young adults can have a lasting grip on their couple relationships, well into middle age, research demonstrates. The study followed 341 people for 25 years, and found that negative emotions they may have suffered as young adults can have a lasting grip on their couple relationships, well into middle age. The fact that depression and anger experienced during the teen years clung to people, even through major life events such as child-rearing, marriages and careers was surprising, researchers note.

Read the entire article here

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May 8, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , | Leave a comment

[Report] 40% of Children Miss Out on the Parenting Needed to Succeed in Life

Janice Flahiff:

Father and child, Dhaka.

Father and child, Dhaka. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Originally posted on Full Text Reports...:

40% of Children Miss Out on the Parenting Needed to Succeed in Life
Source> Sutton Trust

Four in ten babies don’t develop the strong emotional bonds – what psychologists call “secure attachment” – with their parents that are crucial to success later in life. Disadvantaged children are more likely to face educational and behavioural problems when they grow older as a result, new Sutton Trust research finds today.

The review of international studies of attachment, Baby Bonds, by Sophie Moullin (Princeton University), Professor Jane Waldfogel (Colombia University and the London School of Economics) and Dr Liz Washbrook (University of Bristol), finds infants aged under three who do not form strong bonds with their mother or father are more likely to suffer from aggression, defiance and hyperactivity when they get older.

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May 2, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

[Report] Is Violent Radicalisation Associated with Poverty, Migration, Poor Self-Reported Health and Common Mental Disorders?

Originally posted on Full Text Reports...:

Is Violent Radicalisation Associated with Poverty, Migration, Poor Self-Reported Health and Common Mental Disorders?
Source: PLoS ONE

Background
Doctors, lawyers and criminal justice agencies need methods to assess vulnerability to violent radicalization. In synergy, public health interventions aim to prevent the emergence of risk behaviours as well as prevent and treat new illness events. This paper describes a new method of assessing vulnerability to violent radicalization, and then investigates the role of previously reported causes, including poor self-reported health, anxiety and depression, adverse life events, poverty, and migration and socio-political factors. The aim is to identify foci for preventive intervention.

Methods
A cross-sectional survey of a representative population sample of men and women aged 18–45, of Muslim heritage and recruited by quota sampling by age, gender, working status, in two English cities. The main outcomes include self-reported health, symptoms of anxiety and depression (common mental disorders), and vulnerability to violent…

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May 2, 2014 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology, Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News item] Religion, spirituality influence health in different but complementary ways — ScienceDaily

Religion, spirituality influence health in different but complementary ways — ScienceDaily.

Date:
March 28, 2014
Source:
Oregon State University
Summary:
Religion and spirituality have distinct but complementary influences on health, new research indicates. A new theoretical model defines the two distinct pathways. “Religion helps regulate behavior and health habits, while spirituality regulates your emotions, how you feel,” explains one of the authors.

 

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March 31, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychology | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release - new book] What’s behind near-death experiences — science, myth or miracle?

What’s behind near-death experiences — science, myth or miracle?.

New book Near-Death Experiences explores this controversial topic with historical reports and well-documented cases

In popular understanding, the expression “near-death experience” refers to the transition between the states of life and death. But how should such experiences be interpreted? Are they verifiable with scientific methods? If so, how can they be explained? Attempting to relate matters of scientific knowledge to subjective experience and the realm of belief is a difficult balancing act, and has led to a variety of approaches to the topic.

Near-Death Experiences by Birk Engmann scrutinizes the diverse views, and also myths, about near-death experiences and describes them from a scientific standpoint. Situated at the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and religious studies, his book will appeal to a broad audience of both scientists and general readers.

Engmann explains, “The multitude of views and models purporting explanation already indicates that near-death research is something of a tightrope walk between rationally explainable theories and the sphere of belief. There is an urgent need for a critical review, and indeed, one which examines the way the natural sciences can throw light on this matter. This is the main aim of my book.”

Near-Death Experiences provides explanations for the various experiences construed by some as proof of the supernatural. The author discusses this highly controversial topic, using interesting historical reports and recent well-documented cases.

Photographic illustration of a near-death-expe...

Photographic illustration of a near-death-experience. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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March 28, 2014 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Male, stressed, and poorly social

Male, stressed, and poorly social.

Stress undermines empathic abilities in men but increases them in women

Stress, this enemy that haunts us every day, could be undermining not only our health but also our relationships with other people, especially if we are men. In fact, stressed women apparently become more “prosocial”. These are the main findings of a study carried out with the collaboration of Giorgia Silani, from the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste. The study was coordinated by the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Unit of the University of Vienna and saw the participation of the University of Freiburg.

“There’s a subtle boundary between the ability to identify with others and take on their perspective – and therefore be empathic – and the inability to distinguish between self and other, thus acting egocentrically” explains Silani. “To be truly empathic and behave prosocially it’s important to maintain the ability to distinguish between self and other, and stress appears to play an important role in this”.

Stress is a psycho-biological mechanism that may have a positive function: it enables the individual to recruit additional resources when faced with a particularly demanding situation. The individual can cope with stress in one of two ways: by trying to reduce the internal load of “extra” resources being used, or, more simply, by seeking external support. “Our starting hypothesis was that stressed individuals tend to become more egocentric. Taking a self-centred perspective in fact reduces the emotional/cognitive load. We therefore expected that in the experimental conditions people would be less empathic” explains Claus Lamm, from the University of Vienna and one of the authors of the paper.

More in detail…

The surprise was that our starting hypothesis was indeed true, but only for males. In the experiments, conditions of moderate stress were created in the laboratory (for example, the subjects had to perform public speaking or mental arithmetic tasks, etc.). The participants then had to imitate certain movements (motor condition), or recognise their own or other people’s emotions (emotional condition), or make a judgement taking on another person’s perspective (cognitive condition). Half of the study sample were men, the other half were women.

“What we observed was that stress worsens the performance of men in all three types of tasks. The opposite is true for women” explains Silani.

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Why this happens is not yet clear. “Explanations might be sought at several levels”, concludes Silani. “At a psychosocial level, women may have internalized the experience that they receive more external support when they are able to interact better with others.

This means that the more they need help – and are thus stressed – the more they apply social strategies. At a physiological level, the gender difference might be accounted for by the oxytocin system. Oxytocin is a hormone connected with social behaviours and a previous study found that in conditions of stress women had higher physiological levels of oxytocin than men”.

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March 28, 2014 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Shared psychological characteristics that are linked to aggression between patients with Internet addiction and those with alcohol dependence | Full Text Reports…

Shared psychological characteristics that are linked to aggression between patients with Internet addiction and those with alcohol dependence | Full Text Reports….

Background
Internet addiction (IA) is considered as one of behavioral addictions. Although common neurobiological mechanisms have been suggested to underlie behavioral addiction and substance dependence, few studies have directly compared IA with substance dependence, such as alcohol dependence (AD).

Methods
We compared patients with IA, AD, and healthy controls (HC) in terms of the Five Factor Model of personality and with regard to impulsiveness, anger expression, and mood to explore psychological factors that are linked to aggression. All patients were treatment-seeking and had moderate-to-severe symptoms.

Results
The IA and AD groups showed a lower level of agreeableness and higher levels of neuroticism, impulsivity, and anger expression compared with the HC group, which are characteristics related to aggression. The addiction groups showed lower levels of extraversion, openness to experience, and conscientiousness and were more depressive and anxious than the HCs, and the severity of IA and AD symptoms was positively correlated with these types of psychopathology.

Conclusions
IA and AD are similar in terms of personality, temperament, and emotion, and they share common characteristics that may lead to aggression. Our findings suggest that strategies to reduce aggression in patients with IA are necessary and that IA and AD are closely related and should be dealt with as having a close nosological relationship.

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March 28, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dalai Lama: On Science and Emotional Health

 

Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth and current Dala...

Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth and current Dalai Lama, is the leader of the exiled Tibetan government in India. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Photographed during his visit in Cologno Monzese MI, Italy, on december 8th, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dalai Lama: On Science and Emotional Health.

Excerpt

The Dalai Lama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and exiled spiritual leader of Buddhism in Tibet, discussed his admiration for scientists and made some interesting remarks about emotional health during a recent speech at the National Institutes of Health.

The Dalai Lama was effusive in his praise for scientists. He said (and we quote): ‘I deeply admire my scientific friends’ (end of quote). The Dalai Lama pinpointed the open minded of scientists and what he described as a healthy skepticism about evidence and hyperbole. He also emphasized the capacity of scientists from around the world to work together and ignore differences in geography, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and social class.

The Dalai Lama noted these traits set scientists apart and provided an international, professional role model.

However, the Dalai Lama also said he found some scientists were unhappy despite their gifts and intelligence. He briefly discussed the lack of inner peace among scientists with a sense of humor rather than admonishment. The Dalai Lama’s infectious laugh and self-deprecating humor delighted many NIH staff members who packed an auditorium to hear him.

The Dalia Lama’s discussion about emotional inner peace led to broader remarks about the impact of maternal affection in the life long health of children. The Dalai Lama explained he was pleased that scientific evidence seemed consistent with his personal, long-standing observation of the vital role of maternal love and sincerity in the development of a child’s brain and emotional health.

Similarly, the Dalai Lama noted that he had long observed a perceived link between maternal affection, attention, and sincerity for their children and the development of life long compassion for others. He encouraged behavioral and other scientists to further assess the extent of this relationship.

The Dalai Lama also was moved by a series of drawings from young patients at NIH’s Children’s Inn and underscored his appreciation for the artists. Similarly, he praised a project he saw at NIH’s Clinical Center that seeks to restore the ability to walk for young persons with Cerebral Palsy.

In response to a question from NIH Director Francis Collins M.D., the Dalai Lama confessed he sometimes gets frustrated and irritated – and even occasionally loses his temper. For example, he explained he became angry once during an interview when a New York Times columnist asked him four times to describe his probable legacy. Although the Dalai Lama noted he believed he answered the question the first time, the story revealed even renowned spiritual leaders sometimes can get cross. It also deftly reminded the audience there always is room for improvement in how we manage our lives and work.

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March 26, 2014 Posted by | Health News Items, Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BBC – Future – Body bacteria: Can your gut bugs make you smarter?

BBC – Future – Body bacteria: Can your gut bugs make you smarter?.

Excerpts from the 21 February 2014 article

The bacteria in our guts can influence the working of the mind, says Frank Swain. So could they be upgraded to enhance brainpower?

I have some startling news: you are not human. At least, by some counts. While you are indeed made up of billions of human cells working in remarkable concert, these are easily outnumbered by the bacterial cells that live on and in you – your microbiome. There are ten of them for every one of your own cells, and they add an extra two kilograms (4.4lbs) to your body.

Far from being freeloading passengers, many of these microbes actively help digest food and prevent infection. And now evidence is emerging that these tiny organisms may also have a profound impact on the brain too. They are a living augmentation of your body – and like any enhancement, this means they could, in principle, be upgraded. So, could you hack your microbiome to make yourself healthier, happier, and smarter too?

..

“Diet is perhaps the biggest factor in shaping the composition of the microbiome,” he says. A study by University College Cork researcherspublished in Nature in 2012 followed 200 elderly people over the course of two years, as they transitioned into different environments such as nursing homes. The researchers found that their subjects’ health – frailty, cognition, and immune system – all correlated with their microbiome. From bacterial population alone, researchers could tell if a patient was a long-stay patient in a nursing home, or short-stay, or living in the general community. These changes were a direct reflection of their diet in these different environments. “A diverse diet gives you a diverse microbiome that gives you a better health outcome,” says Cryan.

Beyond a healthy and varied diet, though, it still remains to be discovered whether certain food combinations could alter the microbiome to produce a cognitive boost. In fact, Cryan recommends that claims from probiotic supplements of brain-boosting ought to be taken with a pinch of salt for now. “Unless the studies have been done, one can assume they’re not going to have any effect on mental health,” he says. Still, he’s optimistic about the future. “The field right now is evolving very strongly and quickly. There’s a lot of important research to be done. It’s still early days.”

 

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March 13, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Nutrition, Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press Release] American Psychological Association Survey Shows Teen Stress Rivals That of Adults

From the 12 February 2014 Full Text Reports item

American Psychological Association Survey Shows Teen Stress Rivals That of Adults
Source: American Psychological Association

American teens report experiences with stress that follow a similar pattern as adults, according to a new survey released today by the American Psychological Association (APA). In fact, during the school year, teens say their stress level is higher than levels reported by adults in the past month. For teens and adults alike, stress has an impact on healthy behaviors like exercising, sleeping well and eating healthy foods.

Findings from Stress in America™: Are Teens Adopting Adults’ Stress Habits?, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive Inc., (on behalf of APA) among 1,950 adults and 1,018 teens in the U.S. in August 2013, suggest that unhealthy behaviors associated with stress may begin manifesting early in people’s lives.

Teens report that their stress level during the school year far exceeds what they believe to be healthy (5.8 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale) and tops adults’ average reported stress levels (5.8 for teens versus 5.1 for adults). Even during the summer — between Aug. 3 and Aug. 31, 2013, when interviewing took place — teens reported their stress during the past month at levels higher than what they believe is healthy (4.6 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale). Many teens also report feeling overwhelmed (31 percent) and depressed or sad (30 percent) as a result of stress. More than one-third of teens report fatigue or feeling tired (36 percent) and nearly one-quarter of teens (23 percent) report skipping a meal due to stress.

Despite the impact that stress appears to have on their lives, teens are more likely than adults to report that their stress level has a slight or no impact on their body or physical health (54 percent of teens versus 39 percent of adults) or their mental health (52 percent of teens versus 43 percent of adults).

 

 

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February 13, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press Release] Brain Scans Show We Take Risks Because We Can’t Stop Ourselves

Major implications in concepts as free will, sin, justice, mental illness, government/medical “intervention”…..

From the 4 February 2014 University of Texas at Austin press release

AUSTIN, Texas — A new study correlating brain activity with how people make decisions suggests that when individuals engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving or unsafe sex, it’s probably not because their brains’ desire systems are too active, but because their self-control systems are not active enough.

This might have implications for how health experts treat mental illness and addiction or how the legal system assesses a criminal’s likelihood of committing another crime.

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When these brain regions (mostly associated with control) aren’t active enough, we make risky choices. Z-statistic corresponds to predictive ability, yellow being the most predictive regions. Image: Sarah Helfinstein/U. of Texas at Austin.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, UCLA and elsewhere analyzed data from 108 subjects who sat in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner — a machine that allows researchers to pinpoint brain activity in vivid, three-dimensional images — while playing a video game that simulates risk-taking.

The researchers used specialized software to look for patterns of activity across the whole brain that preceded a person’s making a risky choice or a safe choice in one set of subjects. Then they asked the software to predict what other subjects would choose during the game based solely on their brain activity. The software accurately predicted people’s choices 71 percent of the time.

“These patterns are reliable enough that not only can we predict what will happen in an additional test on the same person, but on people we haven’t seen before,” said Russell Poldrack, director of UT Austin’s Imaging Research Center and professor of psychology and neuroscience.

Read the entire press release here

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February 5, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , | 2 Comments

[Press Release] Altruistic acts more common in states with high well-being

Altruistic acts more common in states with high well-being.

From the 27 January 2014 press release of the Association of Psychological Science

People are much more likely to decide to donate a kidney to a stranger — an extraordinarily altruistic act — in areas of the United States where levels of well-being are high, according to a new study.

“Anywhere from 11% to 54% of adults say that they’d be willing to consider altruistic kidney donation, but only a tiny fraction of them actually become donors,” says psychological scientist Abigail Marsh of Georgetown University, senior author on the study. “Our work suggests that subjective well-being may be a factor that ‘nudges’ some adults into actually donating.”

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Defining altruism, and determining if it truly exists, has long been a topic of debate. Many seemingly selfless acts of altruism can be explained by indirect benefits to the do-gooder, such as a bump in social status or protection from the negative judgments of others.

Non-directed kidney donation is unique, says Marsh, because it meets the most stringent criteria for altruism. People willingly choose to donate their kidney to someone they aren’t related to, someone they don’t even know — and the process of donating requires considerable time, and the risk of experiencing serious discomfort and pain.

So why do these people donate at all?

Marsh and lead author Kristin Brethel-Haurwitz hypothesized that it might have something to do with subjective well-being, given that well-being is associated with other prosocial behaviors, including volunteering and charitable giving.

To explore a possible link, the researchers used kidney donation data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network and nationally representative well-being data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Just as they predicted, the data revealed a positive relationship between altruistic kidney donation and well-being: States with higher per capita donation rates tended to have higher levels of well-being. The positive link held when the researchers combined states into nine broader geographic regions, and also when they examined the data for a single year (2010).

Together, these findings suggest that well-being is not just linked to prosocial behaviors, like charitable giving, but may also promote genuine altruism.

…..

 

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February 2, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

[Press release]Do brain connections help shape religious beliefs?

Do brain connections help shape religious beliefs?.

From the 27 January 2014 press release at EurekAlert 

 IMAGE: Brain Connectivity is the journal of record for researchers and clinicians interested in all aspects of brain connectivity.

Click here for more information. 

New Rochelle, NY, January 27, 2014—Building on previous evidence showing that religious belief involves cognitive activity that can be mapped to specific brain regions, a new study has found that causal, directional connections between these brain networks can be linked to differences in religious thought. The article “Brain Networks Shaping Religious Belief” is published in Brain Connectivity, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers, and is available free on the Brain Connectivity website at http://www.liebertpub.com/brain.

Dimitrios Kapogiannis and colleagues from the National Institute on Aging (National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD) and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, IL, analyzed data collected from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies to evaluate the flow of brain activity when religious and non-religious individuals discussed their religious beliefs. The authors determined causal pathways linking brain networks related to “supernatural agents,” fear regulation, imagery, and affect, all of which may be involved in cognitive processing of religious beliefs.

“When the brain contemplates a religious belief,” says Dr. Kapogiannis, “it is activating three distinct networks that are trying to answer three distinct questions: 1) is there a supernatural agent involved (such as God) and, if so, what are his or her intentions; 2) is the supernatural agent to be feared; and 3) how does this belief relate to prior life experiences and to doctrines?”

“Are there brain networks uniquely devoted to religious belief? Prior research has indicated the answer is a resolute no,” continues study co-author Jordan Grafman, Director, Brain Injury Research and Chief, Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. “But this study demonstrates that important brain networks devoted to various kinds of reasoning about others, emotional processing, knowledge representation, and memory are called into action when thinking about religious beliefs. The use of these basic networks for religious practice indicates how basic networks evolved to mediate much more complex beliefs like those contained in religious practice.”

 

 

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February 1, 2014 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sun-induced frowning: a possible cause of aggression? — ScienceDaily

Sun-induced frowning: a possible cause of aggression? — ScienceDaily.

 

From the 27 January 2014 article

 

Research recently published examines how facial expression can trigger an emotional response. The authors set out to test this theory that mood can be governed by facial expression, to the extent that intensity of a person’s smile bears a relationship to well-being, fulfillment and longevity. They conducted a study on involuntary sun-induced frowning and relationship to emotional state of the subject.

frown

frown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

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February 1, 2014 Posted by | environmental health, Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Do Religious People Love Their Neighbors? Yes — Some Neighbors

From the January 2014 Baylor University press release

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Jan. 23, 2014

Follow us on Twitter:@BaylorUMediaCom

Contact: Terry Goodrich,(254) 710-3321

WACO, Texas (Jan. 24, 2014) — Most religions teach their followers to “Love thy neighbor” — including those of different races, nationalities or beliefs. But is religiousness really related to love of neighbors?

A Baylor University study provided partial support for that idea. When factoring out the level of right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), researchers found a positive association between being religious and having loving attitudes toward other racial and ethnic groups but not toward those who violated their values.

The study was published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

The study was based on analysis of data collected from 389 religiously diverse adult Americans in a 200-question online survey. Among participants were Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, those with no religion and “others.” “Religiosity” generally was defined in terms of frequency of religious activities. Researchers studied positive feelings toward different groups, such as African-Americans, atheists, gay men and lesbians.

Previously, researchers usually tested the “love thy neighbor” hypothesis indirectly by measuring degrees of prejudice or withholding generosity, said researcher Wade Rowatt, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. Prior research indicated that religiousness is not positively associated with love of neighbors.

But that approach did not account for the role of rigid ideologies – such as right-wing authoritarianism – in influencing the relationships, said researcher and lead author Megan Johnson Shen, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Prejudice or not giving resources is different from liking or compassion toward a group that is not one’s own, the researchers noted.

“Until now, we’ve never really tested whether religiosity is related to love of neighbors” as evidenced by positive or tolerant attitudes toward those of different races, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, Rowatt said.

Shen said that the present study addressed prior limitations by examining the relationship between religiosity and liking or “love” of one’s neighbor once the influence of RWA has been removed from this relationship.

The right-wing authoritarians were identified by how strongly they agreed to such statements as “There are many racial, immoral people in our country today, trying to ruin it for their godless purposes, whom the authorities should put out of action;” and how strongly they disagreed with such statements as “Everyone should have their own lifestyle, religious beliefs and sexual preferences, even if it makes them different from everyone else.”

“Statistically speaking, right-wing authoritarianism appears to suppress the positive relationship between religiosity and love of neighbor,” Rowatt said. “The bottom line is that religiousness is linked with love of neighbor, as measured with surveys. The next step is to observe actual rates of volunteerism and helping to see if what people say and do match.”

ABOUT BAYLOR

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions.

ABOUT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES

The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 26 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines.

 

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January 25, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Losing a family member in childhood associated with psychotic illness

From the 21 January 2014 press release

Highest risk seen in children who experience suicide in close family members

Experiencing a family death in childhood is associated with a small but significant increase in risk of psychosis, suggests a paper published today on bmj.com.

The researchers say that the risks are highest for children who have experienced a suicide in the ‘nuclear family’ (brothers, sisters, parents).

Previous studies have concluded that the risk of adult disease can be influenced by genetics, lifestyle and environmental experience. There is also evidence that maternal psychological stress adversely affects the development of the fetus.

Population studies have so far provided weak support for an association between prenatal maternal psychological stress and later psychosis. Researchers from the UK, US and Sweden therefore set out to examine the association between deaths in the family as a form of severe stress to the individual and subsequent psychosis. Data were taken from Statistics Sweden and the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare and children born between 1973 and 1985 in Sweden.

Definitions of psychosis were: non-affective psychosis (including schizophrenia) and affective psychosis (bipolar disorder with psychosis and unipolar depression with psychosis).

Exposure periods were divided into ‘any exposure’ (all pre and postnatal); ‘any prenatal’ (prior to birth) and ‘any postnatal’ (birth up to 13 years of age) and further subdivided by trimester (first, second, third) and by three year periods in childhood between birth and 13 years of age (0-2.9 years; 3-6.9 years and 7-12.9 years). If more than one exposure occurred during the study period, priority was given to the earliest exposure.

Death was categorised into suicide, fatal injury / accident and others (such as cancers and cardiac arrests).

Models were adjusted for year of birth, child sex, maternal and paternal age, maternal and paternal nationality, parental socioeconomic status and history of any psychiatric illness in the family.

The final number of children included in the study was 946,994. Altogether, 321,249 (33%) children were exposed to a family death before the age of 13. Of individuals exposed to any death during the study period, 1323 (0.4%) developed a non-affective psychosis while 556 (0.17%) developed an effective psychosis. 11,117 children were exposed to death from suicide, 15,189 from accidents and the majority, 280,172 to deaths due to natural causes.

No increased risk of psychosis was seen following exposure in any prenatal period. Postnatally, an increased risk of ‘all psychosis’ was associated with deaths in the nuclear family and risk increased the earlier in childhood the death occurred.

Risks associated with exposure to suicide were higher compared with exposure to deaths from accidents which in turn were higher than risks associated with other deaths from natural causes.

The largest risk was seen in children exposed ages 0-3 years and risks reduced as age of exposure increased.

Professor Kathryn Abel, from the Centre for Women’s Mental Health at The University of Manchester, said: “Our research shows childhood exposure to death of a parent or sibling is associated with excess risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life. This is particularly associated with early childhood exposure. Further investigation is now required and future studies should consider “the broader contexts of parental suicide and parental loss in non-western, ethnically diverse populations.”

 

###

Research: Severe bereavement stress during the prenatal and childhood periods and risk of psychosis in later life: population based cohort study

 

 

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January 23, 2014 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press Release] Warning! Warning labels can be dangerous to your health

Warning! Warning labels can be dangerous to your health.

From the 16 January 2014 Tel Aviv University press release

AU research shows that some warning labels can make products like cigarettes more appealing

Many products, like cigarettes and medications, are stamped with warning labels alerting consumers to their risks. Common sense suggests these warnings will encourage safer choices.

But now Dr. Yael Steinhart of Tel Aviv University‘s Recanati Business School, along with Prof. Ziv Carmon of INSEAD in Singapore and Prof. Yaacov Trope of New York University, has shown that warning labels can actually have the opposite effect. When there is a time lag between reading a warning and then buying, consuming, or evaluating the associated products, the warnings may encourage trust in the manufacturers of potentially dangerous products, making them less threatening. Published in Psychological Science, the study findings could help improve the efficacy of warning labels.

“We showed that warnings may immediately increase concern and decrease consumption,” said Dr. Steinhart. “But over time, they paradoxically promote trust in a product and consequently lead to more positive product evaluation and more actual purchases.” The findings have important implications for regulators and managers in fields including consumer products, healthcare, and finance.

The best laid plans

The study is based on an idea called “the construal-level theory” (CLT), developed by Prof. Trope and Prof. Nira Liberman of TAU’s School of Psychological Sciences. When thinking about objects over a period of time, people tend to construe them abstractly, emphasizing what they describe as “high-level features” and suppressing “low-level features.” The high-level feature of warning labels is that they build trust in consumers by creating the impression that all the relevant information about the products is being presented. The low-level feature of warning labels is that they make consumers more aware of the products’ negative side effects.

The CLT holds that over long periods of time, consumers deemphasize side effects and emphasize the feeling of trust communicated by warnings over time. Ironically, this may increase the purchase, consumption, and assessment of the associated products.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

 

 

 

Read the entire article here

 

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January 23, 2014 Posted by | Psychology, Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Reblog] The hallucinated demons of intensive care « Mind Hacks

The hallucinated demons of intensive care 

From the 7 January 2014 article at Mind Hacks

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http://www.maquet.com/images/
thumbs/320_Solutions_Intensive_Care.jpg

I’ve got an article in The Observerabout the psychological impact of being a patient in intensive care that can include trauma, fear and intense hallucinations.

This has only been recently recognised as an issue and with mental disorders being detected in over half of post-ICU patients it has sparked a serious re-think of how ICU should be organised to minimise stress.

Some of the most spectacular experiences are intense hallucinations and delusions that can lead to intrusive and surreal flashbacks that can have effects long after the person has become medically stable.

Wade interviewed patients about the hallucinations and delusions they experienced while in intensive care. One patient reported seeing puffins jumping out of the curtains firing blood from guns, another began to believe that the nurses were being paid to kill patients and zombify them. The descriptions seem faintly amusing at a distance, but both were terrifying at the time and led to distressing intrusive memories long after the patients had realised their experiences were illusory.

Many patients don’t mention these experiences while in hospital, either through fear of sounding mad, or through an inability to speak – often because of medical breathing aids, or because of fears generated by the delusions themselves. After all, who would you talk to in a zombie factory?

One of the interesting aspects is how standard ICU care is incredibly stressful and uncomfortable experience. I quote Hugh Montgomery, a professor of intensive care medicine, who says “If you think about the sort of things used for torture you will experience most of them in intensive care”!

Anyway, more at the link below.
Link to ‘When intensive care is just too intense’ in The Observer.

 

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January 23, 2014 Posted by | health care, Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

The ironic (and surprising) effects of weight stigma

The ironic (and surprising) effects of weight stigma.

From the 8 January 2014 Science Daily article

If you’re one of the millions of people who count losing weight among their top New Year’s resolutions, you might want to pay careful attention to some new findings by UC Santa Barbara psychology professor Brenda Major.

It turns out that the weight-stigmatizing messages presented by the media — the ones that characterize overweight individuals as lazy, weak-willed, self-indulgent and contributing to rising health care costs — may be tipping the scales in the wrong direction. Designed to encourage weight loss, they may actually have the opposite effect.

According to Major’s research, which appears in the current online issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, when women who perceive themselves as overweight are exposed to weight-stigmatizing news articles, they are less able to control their eating afterward than are women who don’t perceive themselves that way.

 

Read the entire article here

 

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January 22, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , | Leave a comment

Finnish research team reveals how emotions are mapped in the body

Finnish research team reveals how emotions are mapped in the body.

From the 31 December 2013 ScienceNewsline Biology article

Published: December 31, 2013. By Aalto University
http://www.aalto.fi/en/

Researchers Aalto University have revealed how emotions are experienced in the body.

Emotions adjust our mental and also bodily states to cope with the challenges detected in the environment. These sensations arising from the bodily changes are an important feature of our emotional experiences. For example, anxiety may be experienced as pain in the chest, whereas falling in love may trigger warm, pleasurable sensations all over the body. New research from Aalto University reveals, how emotions are literally experienced through the body.

The researchers found that the most common emotions trigger strong bodily sensations, and the bodily maps of these sensations were topographically different for different emotions. The sensation patterns were, however, consistent across different West European and East Asian cultures, highlighting that emotions and their corresponding bodily sensation patterns have a biological basis.

Emotions adjust not only our mental, but also our bodily states. This way the prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities such as pleasurable social interactions present in the environment. Awareness of the corresponding bodily changes may subsequently trigger the conscious emotional sensations, such as the feeling of happiness, tells assistant professor Lauri Nummenmaa from Aalto University.

The findings have major implications for our understanding of the functions of emotions and their bodily basis. On the other hand, the results help us to understand different emotional disorders and provide novel tools for their diagnosis.

The research was carried out on line, and over 700 individuals from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan took part in the study. The researchers induced different emotional states in their Finnish and Taiwanese participants. Subsequently the participants were shown with pictures of human bodies on a computer, and asked to colour the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing.

he research was funded by European Research Council (ERC), The Academy of Finland and the Aalto University (aivoAALTO project)

The results were published on 31 December (U.S. Eastern time) in the scientific journal Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America (PNAS).

Original publication: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111.full.pdf+html?with-ds=yes

Figure summarizing the main findings of the study http://becs.aalto.fi/~lnummen/Emotionbodies.pdf
Participate in the ongoing experiment : http://becs.aalto.fi/~lnummen/participate.htm
emotionbodies.pdf (2M)
Figure caption: Different emotions are associated with discernible patterns of bodily sensations.
Contact information:
Assistant Professor Lauri Nummenmaa
Aalto University and Turku PET Centre
lauri.nummenmaa@aalto.fi
p. +358 50 431 9931
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January 6, 2014 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

[Reblog] Why You Think You’re Great at Everything, Even When You Suck

Reblogging this with reservations.
The word “suck” is not part of my vocabulary.  Much like shouting, I think it detracts or even obscures a message.
Also,  there are no references to this article and no sources are quoted.

However, it does seem that the basic arguments ring true. At least they resonate with my life.

Perhaps this article can serve as a gentle reminder to be a bit compassionate with others and ourselves.
Deep down, I believe we are all doing the best we can to survive and thrive. May we do what we can to listen to each other for their good and ours.

From the 2 January 2014 LifeHacker article by THORIN KLOSOWSKI

As humans, we’re pretty bad at judging our own abilities. From exercising to our sense of humor, we’re all certain that we’re the best at everything we do. The problem is, in a lot of cases, we’re way worse at things than we think we are. That can keep us from succeeding the long term.P

On the surface, it’s not a big enough problem that we tend to overestimate our own abilities. However, when we’re blissfully ignorant of our skills, we can’t work toward improving them. We don’t know why our brains do this, but they do. The best you can do is recognize where your brain fails and try to keep it in mind before judging yourself (and others).P

We Overestimate Our Positive QualitiesP

Read the entire article here

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Boosting self-expression online may limit impulsive purchases

From the 10th December 2013 Penn State press release

By Matthew Swayne
December 10, 2013
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Long online transactions can take a toll on a person’s self-control, but adding more self-expression and personal identity to those processes can help restore control, according to Penn State researchers.

“Making a lot of choices leads to what researchers call ego-depletion and that can affect self-control,” said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory. “When a person makes a lot of choices, the ability to exert self-control begins to diminish with every choice.”

Participants in an online study showed more self-control after they tailored a personal website that represented their own values and personality than a group that customized a site for other people, said Sundar. Creating the website required several decisions on what features to add and where to place the new features.

After people make too many choices, they tend to make more impulsive decisions, according to the researchers, who report their findings in the current issue of Computers in Human Behavior. For example, while making online purchases, customers may be more prone to buy upgraded, but unneeded features, toward the end of the sale.

Sundar, who worked with Hyunjin Kang, a doctoral student in mass communications, said that the study may help remind web users that they should exercise caution when they are making a lot of decisions duringecommerce sessions, surveys and other online transactions.

“People should become aware that if they are making a lot of choices — for example, during hotel or travel purchases — the activity can deplete their ability to control their actions,” said Sundar. “They may want to take a break and step away from the computer for a while to recharge that self-control.”

While some businesses may want users to be more impulsive during online purchases, Sundar said companies that want their customers to make reasoned decisions should incorporate self-affirming activities into the process.

“For instance, a customer who is environmentally conscious may be interested in personalizing their stay at a hotel with options that can help the environment and affirm their green identity,” Sundar said.

The researchers asked 54 university students to either tailor or browse a customizable website. One group was asked to customize a site to best reflect their personality and values. Researchers asked another group to create a site that represented someone of a different gender. The control group did not create a site, but browsed a similar, but generic website.

Participants who tailored their own site worked significantly longer on a puzzle than those who customized the website for others. The puzzle, which is an unsolvable anagram task, is a standard way to measure ego-depletion and decision fatigue, according to the researchers. The length of time that subjects try to solve the problem indicates the level of self-control remaining after the assigned activity.

“This shows that choosing behaviors in the customization process can make you feel depleted and you’ll persist less in an unsolvable task,” said Kang. “The cure, then, seems to be tasks that improve self-expression and help protect one’s identity.”

December 14, 2013 Posted by | Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

[Online Book] Subjective Well-Being: Measuring Happiness, Suffering, and Other Dimensions of Experience (2013)

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From the Overview at the National Academy Press

Description

Subjective well-being refers to how people experience and evaluate their lives and specific domains and activities in their lives. This information has already proven valuable to researchers, who have produced insights about the emotional states and experiences of people belonging to different groups, engaged in different activities, at different points in the life course, and involved in different family and community structures. Research has also revealed relationships between people’s self-reported, subjectively assessed states and their behavior and decisions. Research on subjective well-being has been ongoing for decades, providing new information about the human condition. During the past decade, interest in the topic among policy makers, national statistical offices, academic researchers, the media, and the public has increased markedly because of its potential for shedding light on the economic, social, and health conditions of populations and for informing policy decisions across these domains.

Subjective Well-Being: Measuring Happiness, Suffering, and Other Dimensions of Experienceexplores the use of this measure in population surveys. This report reviews the current state of research and evaluates methods for the measurement. In this report, a range of potential experienced well-being data applications are cited, from cost-benefit studies of health care delivery to commuting and transportation planning, environmental valuation, and outdoor recreation resource monitoring, and even to assessment of end-of-life treatment options.

Subjective Well-Being finds that, whether used to assess the consequence of people’s situations and policies that might affect them or to explore determinants of outcomes, contextual and covariate data are needed alongside the subjective well-being measures. This report offers guidance about adopting subjective well-being measures in official government surveys to inform social and economic policies and considers whether research has advanced to a point which warrants the federal government collecting data that allow aspects of the population’s subjective well-being to be tracked and associated with changing conditions.

 

December 14, 2013 Posted by | Consumer Health, Psychology, Public Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Awkward Facebook Encounters

Facebook Notifications Management (Mark as Spam!)

Facebook Notifications Management (Mark as Spam!) (Photo credit: @superamit)

AWKWARD FACEBOOK ENCOUNTERS
Embarrassing Facebook posts cause certain people more anguish than others

From the 9 December 2013 Northwestern State University press release

EVANSTON, Ill. — A friend posts a picture on Facebook that shows you picking food out of your teeth. Awkward!

Such Facebook faux pas are common. But depending on who you are and to whom you allow access to your Facebook page, such embarrassments can cause greater anguish, according to a new Northwestern University study.

“Almost every participant in the study could describe something that happened on Facebook in the past six months that was embarrassing or made them feel awkward or uncomfortable,” said Jeremy Birnholtz, one of the authors of the paper. “We were interested in the strength of the emotional response to this type of encounter.”

People most concerned about social appropriateness (high self monitors) and those with a diverse network of friends on Facebook — who allow access to co-workers, clients and friends, for example — are more likely to strongly experience a “face threat,” the study found. Whereas people who felt they had a high level of Facebook skills reported experiencing these kinds of threats less severely.

“Perhaps people with more Facebook experience, who know how to control settings, delete pictures and comments and untag, think they knew how to deal with these encounters or at least try to deal with them,” Birnholtz said.

Birnholtz is an assistant professor in the department of communication studies at Northwestern and director of the Social Media Lab at Northwestern. The paper will be presented in February 2014, the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in Baltimore.

Interestingly, people with a high level of general Internet skills — who may understand the importance of online reputations — also reported more severe reactions to face threats, Birnholtz noted.

These are the type of violations or threats people in this study reported experiencing most often:

  • Norm violations: This is the most common type of threat study participants reported experiencing (45 percent) and involves situations when social norms are violated and one’s behavior is exposed in a way that could lead to social and emotional consequences.
  • Ideal self-presentation violations: This is the second most common threat reported (29 percent) and involves ideal self-presentation violations, when content posted is inconsistent with the manner in which a person wants to appear to his or her Facebook audience.
  • Association effects: These threats are a little less common (21 percent) and involve people worrying about their self-presentation because of how someone they associate with on Facebook is presenting himself.
  • Aggregate effects: This is the least common threat (5 percent) and it occurs when an individual’s content gains higher visibility within his or her network as more people like it or comment on it. The unexpected attention can cause one to feel self-conscious about their self-presentation.

For the study, researchers recruited Facebook users through university websites and Craigslist. Only 15 of the 165 people surveyed had not experienced some kind of face threat in the past six months.

Participants were asked to describe a recent uncomfortable Facebook experience and rate the severity of the threat on a scale of one to five. Information about their personality type, Internet and Facebook skills, size and diversity of their Facebook network was also collected and assessed.

Examples of awkward Facebook encounters from the study follow:

  • Norm violation: “I went to a concert with a friend. I had to miss a mandatory meeting to be there … the friend didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be going so tagged me in a status saying I was at the venue. My meeting friends found out and were super angry.”
  • Ideal self-presentation violation: “I felt uncomfortable when my boyfriend posted an article about condoms on my Facebook wall … my mom reads my Facebook, and I didn’t want her to see that (even though she knows we are sexually active).”
  • Association effects: “A friend posted a link to an image that she thought was funny on my wall…I was slightly embarrassed because I did not find the image funny and I was worried about how my other Facebook friends would think of me for having the link on my wall. I did not want my other Facebook friends to think that I was the type of person to find the image funny.”
  • Aggregate effects: “A friend of mine commented on a picture I forgot I had posted of me with my ex-boyfriend and it showed in the newsfeed.”

Future research may focus on the specific actions people take to resolve face-threatening acts, Birnholtz said. In the meantime, people should think twice about a friend’s Facebook audience before commenting on their content or posting to their page, he said.

“People can make bad decisions when posting to your Facebook because they don’t have a good idea of your privacy settings and which friends of yours might see this content,” Birnholtz said. “Facebook doesn’t provide a lot of cues as to how friends want to present themselves to their audience.”

He said in the future Facebook could offer more pop-ups and nudges to help people think twice before posting a possible “threat” to a friend’s page.

This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation (IIS-0915081 and DGE-0824162).

Other authors of this paper are Eden Litt and Madeline E. Smith of Northwestern University and Erin Spottswood and Jeff Hancock of Cornell University.

 

December 11, 2013 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News article] State creating hoarding task force – as many as 45,000 affected

English: Compulsive hoarding Apartment Deutsch...

English: Compulsive hoarding Apartment Deutsch: Wohnküche eines Messies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I’ve been in houses where one can just barely walk through a room. Remember being invited over to lunch at a friend’s. She said it took a whole week to clear the kitchen table so we could sit down and eat. Also remember my bother-in-law’s apartment. I kept on insisting she at least have a path form the door to her living room chair clear at all times, for the sake of safety.
Well, after reading this article, I have summoned up some compassion for folks who hoard.

 

From the 9 December 2013 Delaware Online article

 

Hoarding isn’t just about accumulating piles of stuff most of us would throw away. It’s more than the ceiling-high mounds of newspapers, books and dolls as shown on reality television shows like A&E’s “Hoarders” and TLC’s “Buried Alive.”

It’s about people paralyzed by the thought of getting rid of personal belongings, no matter how much – or little – they are worth. It’s about the social, physical and emotional isolation their hoarding behaviors cause. It’s about safety, not just for the hoarder but for those who live near them as well.

Initially, hoarding was considered a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. More recently, researchers have found that only about 20 percent of people who hoard also have OCD. Depression is much more common, occurring in about 50 percent of those with hoarding disorder.

Earlier this year, the American Psychiatric Association included hoarding as a distinct disorder in its updated Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM.

Several factors influence the likelihood that a person may be affected by hoarding, Schwartz said. At least 50 percent of people diagnosed with hoarding disorder also have a first-degree relative – such as a parent or sibling – who also has the problem.

Trauma also can trigger hoarding behaviors, such as a death in the family or an adult child leaving for college. In some cases, people who had a tendency to accumulate items may have had someone who helped keep them from going overboard in their hoarding. When that person is no longer there – such as because of a death – the hoarding may increase. People over age 55 are three times more likely to have a hoarding disorder, Schwartz said.

A study last year of people who struggle with hoarding tendencies found that hoarders tend to have unique brain activity when faced with making decisions about their possessions, compared with people who don’t have the disorder. In general, hoarders tend to struggle with organizational, attention and information processing, which makes it hard for them to toss out what most people would consider to be unnecessary.

“This isn’t just someone who is dirty and lazy. It’s a mental disorder,” said Chalmers, who has been featured as an expert on A&E’s “Hoarders.” “To a person who doesn’t suffer, you may think why is that such a struggle to get rid of what you don’t need. But to them, just to make a decision, their brain is complete chaos. They’re not thinking clearly like us.”

Hoarders don’t just fill their homes with books, papers and knickknack collections. In some cases, well-meaning people wind up collecting animals as well.

..

Treatment may involve helping hoarders to understand their own behavior and connect with the emotions they’re feeling. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the cleanup is actually one of the last steps people should take when dealing with a severe hoarding problem, said Chalmers, who runs a hoarding task force in San Bernadino that was developed in 2010.

“Without appropriate intervention, it will be a never-ending cycle of response,” Brown said. “If that person is allowed to go back to their typical life and receives no ongoing support, the likelihood they will start hoarding again is very, very high. That’s another reason we need this task force.”

 

 

 

Read the entire article here

 

 

December 11, 2013 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , | Leave a comment

Non-Specialist Health Workers Play Important Role in Improving Mental Health in Developing Countries

From the 19 November 2013 ScienceDaily article

Non-specialist health workers are beneficial in providing treatment for people with mental, neurological and substance-abuse (MNS) problems in developing countries — where there is often a lack of mental health professionals — according to a new Cochrane review.

Researchers, led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, say non-specialist health workers (such as doctors, nurses or lay health workers) not formally trained in mental health or neurology, and other professionals with health roles, such as teachers, may have an important role to play in delivering MNS health care. The study is the first systematic review of non-specialist health workers providing MNS care in low- and middle-income countries.

After examining 38 relevant studies from 22 developing countries, researchers found that non-specialist health workers were able to alleviate some depression or anxiety. For patients with dementia, non-specialists seemed to help in reducing symptoms and in improving their carers’ coping skills. Non-specialists may also have benefits in treating maternal depression, post traumatic stress disorder as well as alcohol abuse, though the improvements may be smaller.

Lead author Dr Nadja van Ginneken, who completed the research at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s Centre for Global Mental Health with funding from the Wellcome Trust Clinical PhD programme, said: “Many low- and middle-income countries have started to train primary care staff, and in particular lay and other community-based health workers, to deliver mental health care. This review shows that, for some mental health problems, the use of non-specialist health workers has some benefits compared to usual care.”

 

Read the entire article here

Cochrane Abstract is here
C
heck with a local academic, health/medical, or public library for free or low cost access to full text.

 

November 20, 2013 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

[Press Release] More Than 3,200 Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses, Finds ACLU

American Civil Liberties Union

American Civil Liberties Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Seems I’m reading and re-posting criminal justice items today…
Selected this one because I am an ardent opponent of the death penalty.  And when the death penalty is abolished, there still are plenty of criminal justice issues that need addressing/resolving.
This statistic is new to me. Justice needs to be served, but life without parole for nonviolent offenders?  The punishment in these cases does not fit the crime.

 

Excessive Sentences for Drug and Property Crimes; Extreme Racial Disparities Shown

 

From the 13 November 2013 ACLU press release

 

NEW YORK – In the first-ever study of people serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses in the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union found that at least 3,278 prisoners fit this category in federal and state prisons combined.

“A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses” features key statistics about these prisoners, an analysis of the laws that produced their sentences, and case studies of 110 men and women serving these sentences. Of the 3,278 prisoners, 79 percent were convicted of nonviolent, drug-related crimes such as possession or distribution, and 20 percent of nonviolent property crimes like theft.

“The punishments these people received are grotesquely out of proportion to the crimes they committed,” said Jennifer Turner, ACLU human rights researcher and author of the report. “In a humane society, we can hold people accountable for drug and property crimes without throwing away the key.”

The ACLU estimates that, of the 3,278 serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, 65 percent are Black, 18 percent are white, and 16 percent are Latino, evidence of extreme racial disparities. Of the 3,278, most were sentenced under mandatory sentencing policies, including mandatory minimums and habitual offender laws that required them to be incarcerated until they die.

“The people profiled in our report are an extreme example of the millions of lives ruined by the persistent ratcheting up of our sentencing laws over the last forty years,” said Vanita Gupta, deputy legal director of the ACLU. “We must change our sentencing practices to make our justice system smart, fair, and humane. It’s time to undo the damage wrought by four decades of the War on Drugs and ‘tough-on-crime’ attitudes.”

Douglas Ray Dunkins Jr., who has served 22 years so far, told the ACLU, “It’s devastating, horrible, not being around to see [my children] graduate and go to school.” Dicky Joe Jackson, who has served 17 years, said, “I would rather have had a death sentence than a life sentence.”

The federal courts account for 63 percent of the 3,278 life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent offenses. The remaining prisoners are in Louisiana (429 prisoners), Florida (270), Alabama (244), Mississippi (93), South Carolina (88), Oklahoma (49), Georgia (20), Illinois (10), and Missouri (1). The ACLU estimates that federal and state taxpayers spend $1.8 billion keeping these people in prison for life instead of more appropriate terms.

In addition to interviews, correspondence, and a survey of hundreds of prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, the ACLU based “A Living Death” on court records, a prisoner survey, and data from the United States Sentencing Commission, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and state Departments of Corrections obtained through Freedom of Information Act and open records requests.

“A Living Death” features comments from the prisoners’ family members, and in multiple instances, prisoners’ sentencing judges express frustration and outrage at the severity of the punishment the law required. Judge Milton I. Shadur told Rudy Martinez as he sentenced Martinez to life without parole: “[F]airness has departed from the system.”

The report includes recommendations to federal and state governments for changes in sentencing and clemency. The proposed policy reforms would help bring balance back to sentencing—crucial steps to reduce our nation’s dependence on incarceration.

“We must change the laws that have led to such unconscionable sentences,” said Turner. “For those now serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, President Obama and state governors must step in and reduce their sentences. To do nothing is a failure of justice.”

The ACLU has placed ads online and in print to raise public awareness of the prisoners serving life-without-parole for nonviolent offenses and the larger problem of mass incarceration. Featuring photographs of six prisoners profiled in “A Living Death,” the ads will appear multiple times in print and online in such national outlets as Jet, The Nation, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

The report is available here:
aclu.org/fairandsmart

 

 

November 18, 2013 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

[News article] When Your Body Needs Calories, You Are More Inclined to Help the Poor

From the 12 November 2013 ScienceDaily article

 Imagine that you have not eaten anything for the past few hours. It is almost lunch time, and you are getting hungry. You receive an email. It is a survey asking about your political position regarding the welfare state. You answer the questions quickly and head off to lunch. Now imagine a different scenario. You have just come back from lunch. You are feeling full, as you sit down in front of your computer. You receive the same email. You answer the survey quickly and then get back to work. Do you think your answers in these two scenarios would be the same — or different?

Read the entire article here

Americans donate over $300 billion annually to nonprofits, averaging about $1,000 per person. We feel good when we give to our favorite charities. At the same time, philanthropy is broken, and almost everyone knows it.

The causes that receive the most donations are not typically the ones that make the greatest impact. Instead, the personal whims and preferences of donors determine where dollars flow. People pick charities based more on reputation and trust than proven effectiveness. Many donors do not know how to define a “high performing” nonprofit, let alone how to identify one or assess whether there are more worthy charities. Donors respond to inspirational anecdotes in professionally-written fundraising material rather than asking for meaningful evidence of performance; simultaneously, they express concerns about high overhead costs and program effectiveness. Philanthropy is broken, and it needs to be reinvented.

But how? There are three key areas that can create a domino effect of improving charitable giving.

1. There must be greater honesty about charitable giving.

Read the entire article here

 

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , | Leave a comment

[Ohio State University Press Release] Gun use in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985

From the press release via the 10 November 2013 EurekAlert

Contact: Brad Bushman
Bushman.20@osu.edu
614-688-8779
Ohio State University

Gun use in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985

Researchers worry about effects on teen viewers

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The amount of gun violence shown in PG-13 films has more than tripled since 1985, the year the rating was introduced.

In fact, the most popular PG-13 movies of 2011 and 2012 showed significantly more gun violence than R-rated movies of the same time period, a new study reveals.

“It’s shocking how gun use has skyrocketed in movies that are often marketed directly at the teen audience,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

“You have to wonder why we are seeing this surge in gun violence in PG-13 movies, when it isn’t appearing in G, PG and R-rated films.”

Bushman conducted the research with Patrick Jamieson, Ilana Weitz and Daniel Romer of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The study was published online Nov. 11, 2013, in the journal Pediatrics.

Bushman said the results are concerning because other research has revealed the presence of a “weapons effect”: People who simply see a gun, or even a picture of a gun, are more aggressive toward others.

“Based on what researchers have found, it is not good for teens to be viewing this much gun violence in films,” he said.

PG movies suggest that “some material may not be suitable for children,” according to the Motion Picture Association of America, which creates the ratings. PG-13 movies carry a sterner warning: “Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.” The MPAA says a PG-13 movie “may go beyond the PG rating” in violence “but does not reach the restricted R cateogry.”

PG-13 movies are also the most popular among viewers – 13 of the top 25 films in release during 2012 carried that rating, including seven of the top 10, according to the MPAA.

“By the standards of the MPAA, PG-13 movies shouldn’t have as much violence as R-rated movies, but they clearly do. It appears sex scenes are more likely to result in an R rating than scenes of violence,” Bushman said.

The researchers studied a database of 915 films that were drawn from the 30 top-grossing films for each year from 1950 to 2012. Researchers identified violent sequences performed by each character for each five-minute segment of the films.

They also noted whether each violent sequence since 1985 (the first full year after the PG-13 rating was introduced) included the use of a gun.

Overall, findings showed that the rate of violent sequences nearly quadrupled from 1950 to 2010. Since 1985, 94 percent of the movies studied (367 in total) had one or more five-minute segments that included violence. Overall, the films contained 700 segments with gun violence.

Findings showed that R-rated films averaged about 1.54 segments per hour featuring gun violence, and that number didn’t fluctuate much from 1985 to 2010. Movies rated G and PG averaged 0.41 segments of gun violence per hour, which also hasn’t changed since 1985.

The story is much different for films rated PG-13, Bushman said. In 1985, PG-13 movies essentially didn’t have any scenes of gun violence, but the number rose steadily until about 2005, when it began escalating even faster.

By 2010, PG-13 films averaged as many sequences featuring gun violence per hour as R-rated films. In 2011 and 2012, PG-13 movies actually had more gun violence than R-rated movies.

“The trend of increasing gun violence in PG-13 movies is disturbing because of what we know about the weapons effect and because those are the films kids are most attracted to,” Bushman said.

The weapons effect was first shown in 1967, in a study by psychologists that showed participants who were provoked until angry acted more aggressively toward others when there was a gun on a table in front of them.

Since then, more than 50 other studies have replicated the weapons effect, even among people who weren’t angry.

“Seeing these violent gun scenes in movies may be strengthening the weapons effect among young people,” Bushman said.

“In addition, these movies essentially provide young people scripts for how to use guns in real life, as we have seen in copycat killings. It is a bad situation.”

 

###

Data from the study were collected as part of The Coding of Media and Health Project at the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Funding for this study came from the APPC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Contact: Brad Bushman, (614) 688-8779; Bushman.20@osu.edu

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

 

 

November 11, 2013 Posted by | Consumer Health, Consumer Safety, Psychology, Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[New Scientist Article] Data trackers monitor your life so they can nudge you

From the 7 November 2013 New Scientist article by Hal Hodson

Once you know everything about a person, you can influence their behaviour. A thousand students with tattletale phones are going to find out how easy that is

THERE’S something strange about this year’s undergraduate class at the Technical University of Denmark – they all have exactly the same kind of phone.

The phones are tracking everywhere the students go, who they meet and when, and every text they send. Around 1000 students are volunteers in the largest-ever experiment of its kind, one that could change our understanding of how we interact in groups.

Sune Lehmann and Arek Stopczynski of DTU are using the data to build a model of the social network the students live in – who talks to who, where groups gather. They plan to test whether the results can be used for purposes like boosting student achievement, or even improving mental health. “We hope to be able to figure out how to make this work in terms of academic performance,” says Lehmann.

This is sociology on a different scale, gathering detailed data about an entire group and then using that information to “nudge” them into changing their behaviour. Used ethically, the results could improve the way society works, transforming everything from healthcare and public transport to education and governance. Used for the wrong reasons, it could be extremely dangerous.

Used ethically, the results could improve the way society works, transforming everything from healthcare and public transport to education and governance. Used for the wrong reasons, it could be extremely dangerous.

Used ethically, the results could improve the way society works, transforming everything from healthcare and public transport to education and governance. Used for the wrong reasons, it could be extremely dangerous. a 2010 study, participants were encouraged to boost their activity levels either through personal rewards, or rewards given to a buddy who was supposed to keep tabs on them. Being motivated by an incentivised buddy resulted in twice the activity increase of the direct reward.

..nudges related to public health could be as simple as allowing doctors to ring up their patients when their activity levels start to follow patterns that correlate with, say, diabetes or depression, and asking them if they are feeling OK.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the potential dark side, says Evan Selinger, a technology ethicist at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. “There is extraordinary power in the access to data at a personal level – even predicting future behaviour,” he says. “There’s a lot to be gained, but there’s a lot of problems that scare the living ******** out of me.”

 

 

 

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Psychology, Public Health | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Addicts May Be Seeking Relief from Emotional Lows More Than Euphoric Highs

From the 6 November 2013 ScienceDaily Report

Cocaine addicts may become trapped in drug binges — not because of the euphoric highs they are chasing but rather the unbearable emotional lows they desperately want to avoid.

In a study published today online inPsychopharmacology, Rutgers University Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience Professor Mark West, and doctoral student David Barker in the Department of Psychology, in the School of Arts and Sciences, challenge the commonly held view that drug addiction occurs because users are always going after the high. Based on new animal studies, they discovered that the initial positive feelings of intoxication are short lived — quickly replaced by negative emotional responses whenever drug levels begin to fall.

If these animal models are a mirror into human addiction, Rutgers researchers say that addicts who learned to use drugs to either achieve a positive emotional state or to relieve a negative one are vulnerable to situations that trigger either behavior.

“Our results suggest that once the animals started a binge, they may have felt trapped and didn’t like it,” said West. “This showed us that negative emotions play an equal, if not more important role in regulating cocaine abuse.”

Read the entire article here

 

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bad boys: Research predicts whether boys will grow out of it — or not

From the University of Michigan press release at EurkAlert 

Contact: Diane Swanbrow
swanbrow@umich.edu
734-647-9069
University of Michigan

Bad boys: Research predicts whether boys will grow out of it — or not

ANN ARBOR — Using the hi-tech tools of a new field called neurogenetics and a few simple questions for parents, a University of Michigan researcher is beginning to understand which boys are simply being boys and which may be headed for trouble.

“When young children lie or cheat or steal, parents naturally wonder if they’ll grow out of it,” says Luke Hyde, a U-M psychologist who is studying the development and treatment of antisocial behavior.

Hyde, a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) and assistant professor of psychology, is speaking at ISR on November 11 on how genes, experience and the brain work together to heighten or reduce the risks that normal childhood transgressions will develop into full-blown conduct disorders in adolescence and early adulthood. His talk is part of the ISR Research Center for Group Dynamics seminar series on violence and aggression, and is free and open to the public.

“The lifetime prevalence of conduct disorder is around 10 percent, and even higher in males and low-income populations,” says Hyde. “The total cost to society is enormous, since these behaviors are often chronic, lasting through adulthood.”

With colleagues at U-M, Duke University, the University of Pittsburgh, and other institutions, Hyde has been exploring the role of the environment and biology as they interact over time to shape behavior. In particular, he is using the techniques of a new field called neurogenetics, which combines genetics, neuroscience and psychology, to learn how genes and neural processes interact with harsh environments, including dangerous neighborhoods and harsh parents, and with a child’s own levels of empathy and personality traits, to increase the risk of antisocial behavior.

In one recent study, for example, Hyde and colleagues studied subjects with over-reactive amygdala responses . The amygdala is an almond-shaped part of the brain’s primitive limbic system involved in processing fear and other visceral emotions. It has been associated with impulsive, aggressive behavior, as well as anxiety disorders and depression.

“Previous research suggests that the amygdala becomes over-reactive probably as a result of both genetics and experience,” says Hyde. “And once the amygdala is over-reactive, people tend to behave in an anxious, over-reactive way to things they see as a potential threat.

“Our study found that this tendency is moderated by a person’s environment, including the social support they get. If they’re not getting support from family, friends, neighbors, or professionals, then the link between the amygdala and anxious behavior is much stronger.”

In another study, Hyde and colleagues showed that kids who are impulsive are only at higher risk of engaging in antisocial behavior if they live in dangerous neighborhoods.

He also identified specific items within childhood behavior checklists that can be used as early as the age of three to identify kids who will likely have worse trajectories for anti-social behavior compared to other children who have similar behavior problems, such as throwing tantrums.

These items assess observable behaviors that include whether the child is cruel to animals, doesn’t seem to feel guilty after misbehaving, is sneaky, lies, is selfish or won’t share, and won’t change his or her behavior as a result of punishment.

“The results of this test aren’t really meaningful until age three or three-and-a-half,” says Hyde. “Before that, many of these behaviors are fairly common, and don’t predict anything. But after age three, if children are still behaving in these ways, their behavior is more likely to escalate in the following years rather than improve.”

There is good news, though. Kids who scored high on this test benefitted just as much as other kids from interventions, according to Hyde. These interventions, often called parent management training, focus on giving parents better skills to manage child behavior problems, including training parents to spend more positive time with their kids, use time-outs instead of physical punishments, and reward good behavior by giving out stickers.

“Parents need to know that intervention works, especially if it’s done early,” says Hyde. “They need to go for help if they see signs of trouble. Clinical psychologists, among other professionals, have empirically supported treatments that are quite effective for children, especially in this age period.”

 

###

Funding for this research was provided by The National Institute of Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Established in 1949, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) is the world’s largest academic social science survey and research organization, and a world leader in developing and applying social science methodology, and educating researchers and students from around the world. For more information, visit the ISR Web site at http://home.isr.umich.edu

 

 

November 5, 2013 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Behavioral Health United States 2012

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 5.40.36 AMFrom the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration press release

Behavioral Health United States 2012

SAMHSA’s newly-released publication, Behavioral Health, United States, 2012, the latest in a series of publications issued by SAMHSA biannually since 1980, provides in-depth information regarding the current status of the mental health and substance abuse field. It includes behavioral health statistics at the national and State levels from 40 different data sources. The report includes three analytic chapters:

  • Behavioral Health Disorders across the Life Span
  • Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders: Impairment in Functioning
  • Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders: Treatment Landscape

 

The volume also includes 172 tables, which are organized into four sections:

  • Behavioral Health of the Population: the mental health status of the U.S. population and prevalence of mental illness;
  • Behavioral Health Service Utilization: providers and settings for behavioral health services; types of behavioral health services provided; and rates of utilization;
  • Behavioral Health Treatment Capacity: number of facilities providing mental health and substance abuse services; numbers of qualified specialty mental health and substance abuse providers; and
  • Payer and Payment Mechanisms: expenditures and sources of funding for behavioral health services.

 

No other HHS publication provides this type of comprehensive information regarding behavioral health services delivery in the U.S. This publication is the only available comprehensive source of national-level statistical information on trends in both private and public sector behavioral health services, costs, and clients. Drawing on 40 different data sources, this publication also includes State-level data, and information on behavioral health treatment for special populations such as children, military personnel, nursing home residents, and incarcerated individuals.

 

 

November 5, 2013 Posted by | Educational Resources (Health Professionals), Educational Resources (High School/Early College(, Health Education (General Public), Psychiatry, Psychology, Public Health | , , | Leave a comment

Pregnant women who abuse drugs, alcohol need compassion, not stigma from doctors and society: experts

Smoking and drinking during pregnancy

Smoking and drinking during pregnancy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

My sentiments exactly, real humans do not shame!

 

From the 4 November 2011 Toronto National Post

 

Seeing a pregnant women smoking a cigarette, imbibing a glass of wine or using drugs is sure to raise a societal eyebrow.

But a new report says women with substance abuse problems should be treated with compassion by health providers and society at large, especially during pregnancy, because addiction is a brain disorder and not a personal failing.

“It’s harmful for us to look upon pregnant women with addiction issues and assume it’s as simple as saying: ’For the sake of the baby, stop using,”’ said Colleen Dell, research chair in substance abuse at the University of Saskatchewan.

The report says pregnancy offers an opportunity for doctors to help women seek treatment for addiction, while providing comprehensive care aimed at maximizing the health of both mother and baby.

That treatment should involve a wide range of care providers and programs, including addiction counselling, medication-assisted therapy and community resources for parents, the report says.

“When this continuum of care is provided, we see healthier babies and fewer premature births, and overall maternal and infant mortality rates go down,” said Finnegan.

But many women are hesitant to seek treatment because of the stigma around using a substance that’s known to be harmful to their developing fetus, she said.

It’s important to look at the antecedents to drug addiction, said Finnegan, noting that about 98% of the women in her clinic had been sexually or physically abused as children or as adults.

Often women also won’t seek medical help because they’re afraid of losing their children

“This is very much like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). They have had trauma and taking a drug permits them to forget these terrible feelings that they have had. When they take the psychoactive drugs … they become addicted.

“So the first step is that we get them into treatment and help them feel welcome.”

Often women also won’t seek medical help because they’re afraid of losing their children to protective services if they admit to an addiction, she said, suggesting the judicial system has to change.

Dealing with stigma is the greatest challenge in trying to help pregnant women with an addiction, said Franco Vaccarino, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Toronto and chairman of the CCSA’s scientific advisory council.

“Addiction is a disorder of the brain,” he stressed.

‘Simply put, your brain is different after prolonged substance abuse than it was before’

“Simply put, your brain is different after prolonged substance abuse than it was before. Addiction fundamentally changes neurological functioning and it makes it next to impossible to just quit for the sake of the baby without significant supports.

“The challenge is anchoring the narrative of this discussion in health terms,” Vaccarino said. “If you anchor it in health terms and move it away from justice and moral and will-related issues, you focus the narrative around addiction, which is where it should be.”

 

 

 

November 5, 2013 Posted by | Consumer Health, Psychology | , , , | 1 Comment

[NY Times article] When Best Friends Can Visit

Excerpts from the 10 April 2013 NY Times article

Policies vary at the [few]  institutions that allow visits by patients’ pets, but many share some of the same requirements. A doctor’s order allowing the family pet to visit is typically necessary, as is an attestation from a veterinarian that the animal is healthy and up to date on all its shots. Most institutions require that dogs — the most common visitors, by far — be groomed within a day or so of a visit and on a leash when they walk through hospital corridors. Cats must be taken in and out of the institution in a carrier.

If a dog or cat wants to get up on a patient’s bed, a covering is laid down first. If an animal seems agitated or distressed when it comes into the hospital, staff members who meet the family and escort them to the patient’s room have the right to turn it away. If the patient shares a room with someone, that person must agree before a pet may visit.

“We have not had any problems,” said the Rev. Susan Roy, director of pastoral care services at the University of Maryland Medical Center, whose “your pet can visit” policy has been in place since 2008. If anything, she said, the visits can be hard on dogs, who often respond viscerally to an owner’s illness and may take a day or two to recover from a visit.

Rush University Medical Center spent three years studying the issue before its new pet visitation policy went into effect in February. Diane Gallagher, the hospital’s associate vice president of nursing operations, described some of the questions: Would animals transmit infections to patients, or vice versa? What were the liability issues? Could allowing pets to visit interfere with patient care — if, for instance, a family dog became alarmed and protective of the sick person when a doctor, a nurse or a technician came into the room?

In the end, officials decided that the benefits — comfort and reduced stress for patients — were more substantial than the risks.

Although research has shown that hospital therapy dogs can pick up germs and potentially transmit bacteria that can cause dangerous infections, those animals typically wander from room to room, while people’s own pets are expected to stay with the patient they are visiting. If someone has an open wound or an active infection, a visit from a family pet is discouraged, according to most hospital policies.

Research on the value of personal pets visiting patients in the hospital hasn’t been done. One small 2010 study of 10 healthy dog owners by researchers atVirginia Commonwealth’s Center for Human-Animal Interaction found that both unfamiliar and familiar dogs provoked similar reactions: a relaxation response and reduction in blood pressure and levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, according to Dr. Sandra Barker, director of the center and a professor of psychiatry.

Read the entire article here

 

 

November 5, 2013 Posted by | health care, Psychology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Research article] Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions

From the Open Access article at the Public Library of Science (PloS)

Abstract

Objective

Racism is related to policies preferences and behaviors that adversely affect blacks and appear related to a fear of blacks (e.g., increased policing, death penalty). This study examined whether racism is also related to gun ownership and opposition to gun controls in US whites.

Method

The most recent data from the American National Election Study, a large representative US sample, was used to test relationships between racism, gun ownership, and opposition to gun control in US whites. Explanatory variables known to be related to gun ownership and gun control opposition (i.e., age, gender, education, income, conservatism, anti-government sentiment, southern vs. other states, political identification) were entered in logistic regression models, along with measures of racism, and the stereotype of blacks as violent. Outcome variables included; having a gun in the home, opposition to bans on handguns in the home, support for permits to carry concealed handguns.

Results

After accounting for all explanatory variables, logistic regressions found that for each 1 point increase in symbolic racism there was a 50% increase in the odds of having a gun at home. After also accounting for having a gun in the home, there was still a 28% increase in support for permits to carry concealed handguns, for each one point increase in symbolic racism. The relationship between symbolic racism and opposition to banning handguns in the home (OR1.27 CI 1.03,1.58) was reduced to non-significant after accounting for having a gun in the home (OR1.17 CI.94,1.46), which likely represents self-interest in retaining property (guns).

Conclusions

Symbolic racism was related to having a gun in the home and opposition to gun control policies in US whites. The findings help explain US whites’ paradoxical attitudes towards gun ownership and gun control. Such attitudes may adversely influence US gun control policy debates and decisions.

 

Editor: Brock Bastian, University of Queensland, Australia

 

Received: May 3, 2013; Accepted: September 7, 2013; Published: October 31, 2013

Copyright: © 2013 O’Brien et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: These authors have no support or funding to report.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist

 

 

November 1, 2013 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychology | , , , , | 1 Comment

[Journal Article] The “Nasty Effect:” Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions of Emerging Technologies

From the 13 February 2013 article at The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication

Abstract- Uncivil discourse is a growing concern in American rhetoric, and this trend has expanded beyond traditional media to online sources, such as audience comments. Using an experiment given to a sample representative of the U.S. population, we examine the effects online incivility on perceptions toward a particular issue—namely, an emerging technology, nanotechnology. We found that exposure to uncivil blog comments can polarize risk perceptions of nanotechnology along the lines of religiosity and issue support.

Full text of the article available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcc4.12009/full

 

October 31, 2013 Posted by | Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

[Repost] Surviving — Then Thriving

Lukas uses several television sets to absorb a...

Lukas uses several television sets to absorb as many Holocaust survivor testimonies as possible. The people seen are actual Holocaust survivors. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Am thinking that perhaps one needs to have at least some tools for thriving before a traumatic event in order to thrive after a traumatic event….

 

From the 29 November 2013 ScienceDaily article

Oct. 29, 2013 — Modern medicine usually considers trauma — both the physical and the psychological kinds — as unequivocally damaging. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University are lending support to a more philosophical view of suffering, finding that trauma, however terrible, may have distinct psychological benefits.

Last year, junior investigator Dr. Sharon Dekel and Prof. Zahava Solomon of TAU’s Bob Shapell School of Social Work found that individuals with Holocaust-survivor parents may be less likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in the wake of their own traumas. In a study published in theJournal of Traumatic Stress, the researchers set out to see if so-called second-generation Holocaust survivors also undergo more post-traumatic “growth.”

“Post-traumatic growth can be defined as a workable coping mechanism, a way of making and finding meaning involved in the building of a more positive self-image and the perception of personal strength,” said Dekel. “We were interested in studying the effect of the Holocaust on the second generation’s propensity for this kind of growth. If we can identify verifiably positive implications of trauma, we will be able to incorporate them into treatment and teach people how to grow after terrible experiences,” she said.

Trauma’s silver lining

Researchers have traditionally focused on the negative implications of trauma, and survivors have been shown to pass this burden onto their children. But a growing body of evidence suggests that trauma can have positive outcomes as well. Some survivors of traumatic events develop new priorities, closer relationships, an increased appreciation of life, a greater sense of personal strength, and experience heightened spirituality.

Read the entire article here

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] The benefits of crying wolf

From the 28 October 2013 Indiana State University press release

Crying wolf: Who benefits and when?

A crisis at work can bring out the best in colleagues, often inspiring more cooperation and self-sacrifice. A new study from Indiana University and the University of Guelph has found the benefits are not shared equally, with higher-ranking group members having the most to gain by perceived threats to the group.

“Sociologists have known for a long time that groups tend to come together when they face adversity,” said social psychologist Stephen Benard, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at IU Bloomington. “What our research highlights is that there is a downside to our tendency to stick together when things are tough — powerful group members can exploit that tendency to distract us from competing with them.”

The study, “Who cries wolf, and when? Manipulation of perceived threats to preserve rank in cooperative groups,” was published in the online journal Proceedings of the Library of Science One in September. Pat Barclay, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at University of Guelph in Canada is the co-author.

Benard and Barclay tested their theories by creating three-person groups and having them play a cooperative group game in which people could pay money to increase the perception of threat to their group. They found that people with higher-ranking positions paid more to manipulate the threat and the action helped maintain their privileged positions.

“With this approach, we find people in high-ranking positions are more likely to manipulate apparent threats when their position is precarious, compared to when it is secure,” Benard said.
But this doesn’t mean the next crisis at work is a ploy by the boss to boost her job security. Social science predictions involve the average person, in general, not specific people or situations.

“When groups face potential threats, it’s important to judge those threats carefully,” Benard said. “On one hand, you want to be alert to the fact that other group members might have an incentive to exaggerate the threat. On the other hand, it’s also important not to underestimate threats that could be real.”

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation in conjunction with the Minerva Initiative of the U.S. department of Defense and the Cornell University Institute for Social Sciences.

 

 

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Psychology, Workplace Health | , | Leave a comment

A Bid to Keep Youths Out of Adult Prisons – NYTimes.com

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 7.42.53 AM

 

A Bid to Keep Youths Out of Adult Prisons – NYTimes.com.

Excerpts

DENVER — James Stewart died alone.

The 17-year-old from Denver had committed a terrible act: while driving drunk, he slammed into another vehicle head on and killed its driver. Initially placed with other juvenile offenders, he was moved to the county lockup after the district attorney charged him as an adult. Left alone in his cell despite his frantic pleas to be with others, he tightened his bedsheets around his neck and killed himself.

His death, in 2008, was one of two suicides by young people in Colorado jails that helped spur a significant change in state law last year by narrowing the authority of prosecutors to charge juveniles as adults and to place them in adult jails, part of a wave of such laws nationwide.

In a reversal of the tough-on-crime legislation that swept the nation in the late 1980s and ’90s, nearly half of the states have now enacted one or more laws that nudge more young offenders into the juvenile justice system, divert them from being automatically tried as adults and keep them from being placed in adult jails and prisons.

Sarah Brown, a director of the criminal justice program at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the shift stems from a decline in juvenile crime, concerns about the costs of adult prisons and a growing understanding of adolescent brain development showing that the young have a greater potential for rehabilitation.

The Supreme Court has increasingly taken neurological research into account on juvenile justice issues — most recently in a 2012 case,Miller v. Alabama, which barred mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for those who committed their crimes before they turned 18. Justice Elena Kagan’s majority opinion in the case cited adolescents’ “diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change.”

….

Read the entire article here

 

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] GVSU study on gender: Who counts as a man and who counts as a woman

 

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From the 28 October 2013 Grand Valley State press release

Gender is no longer determined solely by biological factors, according to a new study by a Grand Valley State University researcher whose article, “Doing Gender, Determining Gender: Transgender People, Gender Panics, and the Maintenance of the Sex/Gender/Sexuality System,” was recently published in Gender & Society.

Laurel Westbrook, assistant professor of sociology at Grand Valley State, and Kristen Schilt, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, examined various case studies and found that biological factors, such as genitals and chromosomes, used to be the ultimate determiner of gender, but that is slowly changing.

“We explore the criteria for determining who is a ‘man’ and who is a ‘woman’ in sex-segregated spaces,” said Westbrook. “We are at an interesting point in the history of gender, where people are torn between valuing self-identity and believing that biology determines gender. Our study explores that change in the gender system.”

Westbrook examined case studies involving public debates over the expansion of transgender employment rights, policies determining eligibility of transgender people for competitive sports, and proposals to remove the genital surgery requirement for a change of sex marker on birth certificates.

“Transgender equality has never been more visible as a key issue than it is today, and with the development of every new trans-supportive law or policy, there typically follows an outbreak of criticism,” said Westbrook. “In our analysis, we find that these moments, which we term ‘gender panics,’ are the result of a clash between two competing cultural ideas about gender identity: a belief that gender is determined by biology versus a belief that a person’s self-identity in terms of gender should be validated. These gender panics frequently result in a reshaping of the language of such policies so that they require extensive bodily changes before transgender individuals have access to particular rights.”

These gender panics reveal the criteria for who counts as a woman and a man in our society, said Westbrook. The study shows that the criteria for determining gender — the practice of placing others in gender categories — are not the same across all social spaces. While self-identity is sufficient in many circumstances, such as the workplace, people are more likely to believe that biology determines gender in sex-segregated spaces.

“In the controversies we examined, it is access to bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams at the center of gender panics,” said Westbrook. “Moreover, not all sex-segregated spaces are policed equally. Because of beliefs that women are inherently vulnerable, particularly to unwanted heterosexual advances, it is women’s spaces at the center of these debates. Thus, with these controversies, much of the discussion is about a fear of ‘male’ bodies in ‘women’s’ spaces.”

Westbrook said as a result of these fears, transgender rights policies are often discarded or altered in ways that force transgender people to conform to normative ideas of gendered bodies in order to access public facilities and activities that fit their identities.

For more information, contact Laurel Westbrook at (510) 541-7378 or westbrol@gvsu.edu.

- See more at: http://www.gvsu.edu/gvnow/index.htm?articleId=FA97C788-0DFB-DB29-40E6CF0EF0EF9F22#sthash.qtNKGBfv.dpuf

 

October 28, 2013 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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