1. Too much TV can impact primary school readiness for some kids

    March 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Concordia University press release:

    We interrupt this program for an important message: Watching television for more than a couple of hours a day has been linked to lower school readiness skills in kindergarteners.

    That’s according to a new study by researchers from Concordia’s PERFORM Centre and New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, which shows the particular impact on children from low-income families.

    The findings, published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, reinforce the need for limits on screen time, such as those laid out by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The organization recently changed its norms to recommend that children between two and five watch no more than one hour daily — down from its previous recommendation of two hours.

    Given the current prevalence of smartphones and tablets, screens play a bigger role in many families’ lives now than ever before.

    “Research has shown that watching TV is negatively associated with early academic skills, but little is known about how socio-economic status influences viewing,” says study co-author and PERFORM Centre researcher Caroline Fitzpatrick.

    “We wanted to examine whether the negative relationship between watching TV and school readiness varied by family income.”

    Lower math skills and executive functioning

    Fitzpatrick and NYU Steinhardt co-authors Andrew Ribner and Clancy Blair looked at data from 807 kindergarteners of diverse backgrounds. Parents of participants reported family income, as well as the hours of TV their children watch on a daily basis. Video game, tablet and smartphone use was not included in the measurement.

    To determine school readiness, the study measured the children’s math skills and knowledge of letters and words.

    The researchers also assessed executive functions, which are key cognitive and social-emotional competencies, including working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control. Executive functions are essential for everyday problem-solving and self-control of behaviours and emotional responses.

    “We found that the number of hours young children watch TV is related to decreases in their school readiness, particularly when it comes to math and executive function,” confirms Ribner, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.

    “This association was strongest when children watched more than two hours daily.”

    Poorer families take the hardest hit

    As family incomes decreased, the link between TV watching and school readiness grew.

    Those at or near the poverty line — an annual income of around $21,200 for a family of four — saw the largest drop in school readiness when children watched more than two hours of TV a day.

    The study noted a more modest drop among middle-income families, measured as $74,200 per year for a family of four. And researchers found no link between school readiness and TV viewing in high-income homes, which were measured as around $127,000 per year for a family of four.

    “Our results suggest that the circumstances that surround child screen time can influence its detrimental effects on learning outcomes,” says Fitzpatrick, who also teaches at Universit√© Sainte-Anne.

    “We recommend that pediatricians and child care centres help parents limit the amount of TV children watch to less than two hours a day, especially those from middle- to lower-income families.”


  2. To understand others’ minds, ‘being’ them beats reading them

    March 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    We tend to believe that people telegraph how they‘re feeling through facial expressions and body language and we only need to watch them to know what they’re experiencing — but new research shows we’d get a much better idea if we put ourselves in their shoes instead. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “People expected that they could infer another’s emotions by watching him or her, when in fact they were more accurate when
    they were actually in the same situation as the other person
    . And this bias persisted even after our participants gained firsthand experience with both strategies,” explain study authors Haotian Zhou (Shanghai Tech University) and Nicholas Epley (University of Chicago).

    To explore out how we go about understanding others’ minds, Zhou, Epley, and co-author Elizabeth Majka (Elmhurst College) decided to focus on two potential mechanisms: theorization and simulation. When we theorize about someone’s experience, we observe their actions and make inferences based on our observations. When we simulate someone’s experience, we use our own experience of the same situation as a guide.

    Based on previous research showing that people tend to assume that our feelings ‘leak out’ through our behavior, Zhou, Epley, and Majka hypothesized that people would overestimate the usefulness of theorizing about another person’s experience. And given that we tend to think that individual experiences are unique, the researchers also hypothesized that people would underestimate the usefulness of simulating another person’s experience.

    In one experiment, the researchers asked 12 participants to look at a series of 50 pictures that varied widely in emotional content, from very negative to positive. A webcam recorded their faces as these “experiencers” rated their emotional feelings for each picture. The researchers then brought in a separate group of 73 participants and asked them to predict the experiencers’ ratings for each picture. Some of these “predictors” simulated the experience, looking at each picture; others theorized about the experience, looking at the webcam recording of the experiencer; and a third group were able to simulate and theorize at the same time, looking at both the picture and accompanying recording.

    The results revealed that the predictors were much more accurate when they saw the pictures just as the experiencer had than they were when they saw the recording of the experiencer’s face. Interestingly, seeing both the picture and the recording simultaneously yielded no additional benefit — being able to simulate the experience seemed to underlie participants’ accuracy.

    Despite this, people didn’t seem to appreciate the benefit of simulation. In a second experiment, only about half of the predictors who were allowed to choose a strategy opted to use simulation. As before, predictors who simulated the rating experience were much more accurate in predicting the experiencer’s feelings, regardless of whether they chose that strategy or were assigned to it.

    In a third experiment, the researchers allowed for dynamic choice, assuming that predictors may increase in accuracy over time if they were able to choose their strategy before each trial. The results showed, once again, that simulation was the better strategy across the board — still, participants who had the ability to choose opted to simulate only about 48% of the time.

    A fourth experiment revealed that simulation was the better strategy even when experiencers had been told to make their reactions as expressive and “readable’ as possible.

    “Our most surprising finding was that people committed the same mistakes when trying to understand themselves,” Zhou and Epley note.

    Participants in a fifth experiment expected they would be more accurate if they got to watch the expressions they had made while looking at emotional pictures one month earlier — but the findings showed they were actually better at estimating how they had felt if they simply viewed the pictures again.

    “They dramatically overestimated how much their own face would reveal, and underestimated the accuracy they would glean from being in their own past shoes again,” the researchers explain.

    Although reading other people’s mental states is an essential part of everyday life, these experiments show that we don’t always pick the best strategy for the task.

    According to Zhou and Epley, these findings help to shed light on the tactics that people use to understand each other.

    “Only by understanding why our inferences about each other sometimes go astray can we learn how to understand each other better,” the researchers conclude.


  3. Brain cells show teamwork in short-term memory

    by Ashley

    From the University of Western Ontario press release:

    Nerve cells in our brains work together in harmony to store and retrieve short-term memory, and are not solo artists as previously thought, Western-led brain research has determined.

    The research turns on its head decades of studies assuming that single neurons independently encode information in our working memories.

    “These findings suggest that even neurons we previously thought were ‘useless’ because they didn’t individually encode information have a purpose when working in concert with other neurons,” said researcher Julio Martinez-Trujillo, based at the Robarts Research Institute and the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University.

    “Knowing they work together helps us better understand the circuits in the brain that can either improve or hamper executive function. And that in turn may have implications for how we work though brain-health issues where short-term memory is a problem, including Alzheimer disease, schizophrenia, autism, depression and attention deficit disorder.”

    Working memory is the ability to learn, retain and retrieve bits of information we all need in the short term: items on a grocery list or driving directions, for example. Working memory deteriorates faster in people with dementia or other disorders of the brain and mind.

    In the past, researchers have believed this executive function was the job of single neurons acting independently from one another — the brain’s version of a crowd of people in a large room all singing different songs in different rhythms and different keys. An outsider trying to decipher any tune in all that white noise would have an extraordinarily difficult task.

    This research, however, suggests many in the neuron throng are singing from the same songbook, in essence creating chords to strengthen the collective voice of memory. With neural prosthetic technology — microchips that can “listen” to many neurons at the same time — researchers are able to find correlations between the activity of many nerve cells. “Using that same choir analogy, you can start perceiving some sounds that have a rhythm, a tune and chords that are related to each other: in sum, short-term memories,” said Martinez-Trujillo, who is also an associate professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

    And while the ramifications of this discovery are still being explored, “this gives us good material to work with as we move forward in brain research. It provides us with the necessary knowledge to find ways to manipulate brain circuits and improve short term memory in affected individuals,” Martinez-Trujillo said.

    “The microchip technology also allows us to extract signals from the brain in order to reverse-engineer brain circuitry and decode the information that is in the subject’s mind. In the near future, we could use this information to allow cognitive control of neural prosthetics in patients with ALS or severe cervical spinal cord injury,” said Adam Sachs, neurosurgeon and associate scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute.


  4. APA study suggests patients more likely to refuse drug therapy than psychotherapy for mental health

    by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    People seeking help for mental disorders are more likely to refuse or not complete the recommended treatment if it involves only psychotropic drugs, according to a review of research published by the American Psychological Association.

    Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 186 studies of patients seeking help for mental health issues that examined whether they accepted the treatment that was recommended and if they did, whether they completed it. Fifty-seven of the studies, comprising 6,693 patients, had a component that reported refusal of treatment recommendations, and 182 of the studies, comprising 17,891 patients, had a component reporting premature termination of treatment.

    After diagnosis, patients in the studies were recommended to drug-only therapy (pharmacotherapy), talk therapy (psychotherapy) or a combination of the two.

    “We found that rates of treatment refusal were about two times greater for pharmacotherapy alone compared with psychotherapy alone, particularly for the treatment of social anxiety disorder, depressive disorders and panic disorder,” said lead researcher Joshua Swift, PhD, of Idaho State University. “Rates of premature termination of therapy were also higher for pharmacotherapy alone, compared with psychotherapy alone, particularly for anorexia/bulimia and depressive disorders.”

    The research was published in the APA journal Psychotherapy.

    Across all the studies, the average treatment refusal rate was 8.2 percent. Patients who were offered pharmacotherapy alone were 1.76 times more likely to refuse treatment than patients who were offered psychotherapy alone. Once in treatment, the average premature termination rate was 21.9 percent, with patients on drug-only regimens 1.2 times more likely to drop out early. There was no significant difference for refusal or dropout rates between pharmacotherapy alone and combination treatments, or between psychotherapy alone and combination treatments.

    While Swift said the findings overall were expected, the researchers were most surprised by how large the differences were for some disorders. For example, patients diagnosed with depressive disorders were 2.16 times more likely to refuse pharmacotherapy alone and patients with panic disorders were almost three times more likely to refuse pharmacotherapy alone.

    The findings are especially interesting because, as a result of easier access, recent trends show that a greater percentage of mental health patients in the U.S. are engaging in pharmacotherapy than psychotherapy, according to co-author Roger Greenberg, PhD, SUNY Upstate Medical University.

    Some experts have argued that psychotherapy should be the first treatment option for many mental health disorders. Those arguments have been largely based on good treatment outcomes for talk therapy with fewer side effects and lower relapse rates, said Greenberg. “Our findings support that argument, showing that clients are more likely to be willing to start and continue psychotherapy than pharmacotherapy.”

    Swift and Greenberg theorized that patients may be more willing to engage in psychotherapy because many individuals who experience mental health problems recognize that the source of their problems may not be entirely biological.

    “Patients often desire an opportunity to talk with and work through their problems with a caring individual who might be able to help them better face their emotional experiences,” said Greenberg. “Psychotropic medications may help a lot of people, and I think some do see them as a relatively easy and potentially quick fix, but I think others view their problems as more complex and worry that medications will only provide a temporary or surface level solution for the difficulties they are facing in their lives.”

    While the meta-analysis provides information on refusal and dropout rates, the studies did not report the patients’ reasons for their actions, Swift noted. Going forward, research designed to identify these reasons could lead to additional strategies to improve initiation and completion rates for both therapies, he said. It is also important to note that participants in the research studies initially indicated they were willing to be assigned to any therapy, and therefore may not be representative of all consumers of treatment.


  5. Sound waves boost older adults’ memory, deep sleep

    by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University press release:

    IF

    Gentle sound stimulation — such as the rush of a waterfall — synchronized to the rhythm of brain waves significantly enhanced deep sleep in older adults and improved their ability to recall words, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

    Deep sleep is critical for memory consolidation. But beginning in middle age, deep sleep decreases substantially, which scientists believe contributes to memory loss in aging.

    The sound stimulation significantly enhanced deep sleep in participants and their scores on a memory test.

    “This is an innovative, simple and safe non-medication approach that may help improve brain health,” said senior author Dr. Phyllis Zee, professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine sleep specialist. “This is a potential tool for enhancing memory in older populations and attenuating normal age-related memory decline.”

    The study will be published March 8 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

    In the study, 13 participants 60 and older received one night of acoustic stimulation and one night of sham stimulation. The sham stimulation procedure was identical to the acoustic one, but participants did not hear any noise during sleep. For both the sham and acoustic stimulation sessions, the individuals took a memory test at night and again the next morning. Recall ability after the sham stimulation generally improved on the morning test by a few percent. However, the average improvement was three times larger after pink-noise stimulation.

    The older adults were recruited from the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern.

    The degree of slow wave sleep enhancement was related to the degree of memory improvement, suggesting slow wave sleep remains important for memory, even in old age.

    Although the Northwestern scientists have not yet studied the effect of repeated nights of stimulation, this method could be a viable intervention for longer-term use in the home, Zee said.

    Previous research showed acoustic simulation played during deep sleep could improve memory consolidation in young people. But it has not been tested in older adults.

    The new study targeted older individuals — who have much more to gain memory-wise from enhanced deep sleep — and used a novel sound system that increased the effectiveness of the sound stimulation in older populations.

    The study used a new approach, which reads an individual’s brain waves in real time and locks in the gentle sound stimulation during a precise moment of neuron communication during deep sleep, which varies for each person.

    During deep sleep, each brain wave or oscillation slows to about one per second compared to 10 oscillations per second during wakefulness.

    Giovanni Santostasi, a study coauthor, developed an algorithm that delivers the sound during the rising portion of slow wave oscillations. This stimulation enhances synchronization of the neurons’ activity.

    After the sound stimulation, the older participants’ slow waves increased during sleep.

    Larger studies are needed to confirm the efficacy of this method and then “the idea is to be able to offer this for people to use at home,” said first author Nelly Papalambros, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience working in Zee’s lab. “We want to move this to long-term, at-home studies.”

    Northwestern scientists, under the direction of Dr. Roneil Malkani, assistant professor of neurology at Feinberg and a Northwestern Medicine sleep specialist, are currently testing the acoustic stimulation in overnight sleep studies in patients with memory complaints. The goal is to determine whether acoustic stimulation can enhance memory in adults with mild cognitive impairment.

    Previous studies conducted in individuals with mild cognitive impairment in collaboration with Ken Paller, professor of psychology at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, have demonstrated a possible link between their sleep and their memory impairments.


  6. Head injuries can alter hundreds of genes and lead to serious brain diseases

    by Ashley

    From the UCLA press release:

    Head injuries can harm hundreds of genes in the brain in a way that increases people’s risk for a wide range of neurological and psychiatric disorders, UCLA life scientists report.

    The researchers identified for the first time master genes that they believe control hundreds of other genes which are linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, depression, schizophrenia and other disorders.

    Knowing what the master genes are could give scientists targets for new pharmaceuticals to treat brain diseases. Eventually, scientists might even be able to learn how to re-modify damaged genes to reduce the risk for diseases, and the finding could help researchers identify chemical compounds and foods that fight disease by repairing those genes.

    “We believe these master genes are responsible for traumatic brain injury adversely triggering changes in many other genes,” said Xia Yang, a senior author of the study and a UCLA associate professor of integrative biology and physiology.

    Genes have the potential to become any of several types of proteins, and traumatic brain injury can damage the master genes, which can then lead to damage of other genes.

    That process can happen in a couple of ways, said Yang, who is a member of UCLA’s Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences. One is that the injury can ultimately lead the genes to produce proteins of irregular forms. Another is to change the number of expressed copies of a gene in each cell. Either change can prevent a gene from working properly. If a gene turns into the wrong form of protein, it could lead to Alzheimer’s disease, for example.

    “Very little is known about how people with brain trauma — like football players and soldiers — develop neurological disorders later in life,” said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and of integrative biology and physiology, and co-senior author of the new study. “We hope to learn much more about how this occurs.”

    The research appears in EBioMedicine, a journal published by Cell and The Lancet.

    The researchers trained 20 rats to escape from a maze. They then used a fluid to produce a concussion-like brain injury in 10 of the rats; the 10 others did not receive brain injuries. When the rats were placed in the maze again, those that had been injured took approximately 25 percent longer than the non-injured rats to solve it.

    To learn how the rats’ genes had changed in response to the brain injury, the researchers analyzed genes from five animals in each group. Specifically, they drew RNA from the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that helps regulate learning and memory, and from leukocytes, white blood cells that play a key role in the immune system.

    In the rats that had sustained brain injuries, there was a core group of 268 genes in the hippocampus that the researchers found had been altered, and a core group of 1,215 genes in the leukocytes that they found to have been changed.

    “A surprise was how many major changes occurred to genes in the blood cells,” Yang said. “The changes in the brain were less surprising. It’s such a critical region, so it makes sense that when it’s damaged, it signals to the body that it’s under attack.”

    Nearly two dozen of the altered genes are present in both the hippocampus and the blood, which presents the possibility that scientists could develop a gene-based blood test to determine whether a brain injury has occurred, and that measuring some of those genes could help doctors predict whether a person is likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other disorders. The research could also lead to a better way to diagnose mild traumatic brain injury.

    More than 100 of the genes that changed after the brain injury have counterparts in humans that have been linked to neurological and psychiatric disorders, the researchers report. For example, 16 of the genes affected in the rats have analogs in humans, and those genes are linked to a predisposition for Alzheimer’s, the study reports. The researchers also found that four of the affected genes in the hippocampus and one in leukocytes are similar to genes in humans that are linked to PTSD.

    Yang said the study not only indicated which genes are affected by traumatic brain injury and linked to serious disease, but also might point to the genes that govern metabolism, cell communication and inflammation — which might make them the best targets for new treatments for brain disorders.

    The researchers now are studying some of the master genes to determine whether modifying them also causes changes in large numbers of other genes. If so, the master genes would be even more promising as targets for new treatments. They also plan to study the phenomenon in people who have suffered traumatic brain injury.

    In a 2016 study, Yang, Gomez-Pinilla and colleagues reported that hundreds of genes can be damaged by fructose and that an omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, seems to reverse the harmful changes produced by fructose. One of the genes they identified in that study, Fmod, also was among the master regulator genes identified in the new research.

    Not everyone with traumatic brain injuries develops the same diseases, but more severe injuries can damage more genes, said Gomez-Pinilla, who also is a member of UCLA’s Brain Injury Research Center.

     


  7. Shared reading can help with chronic pain

    by Ashley

    From the University of Liverpool press release:

    A study conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, The Reader and the Royal Liverpool University Hospitals Trust, and funded by the British Academy,
    has found that shared reading (SR) can be a useful therapy for chronic pain sufferers.

    The study, led by Dr Josie Billington from the University’s Centre for Research into Reading into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) and recently published in the BMJ Journal for Medical Humanities, compared Shared Reading (SR) — a literature-based intervention developed by national charity The Reader — to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as an intervention for chronic pain sufferers.

    Chronic pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage. It is pain which persists for more than six months.

    Usually pain is picked up by specialised cells in your body, and impulses are sent through the nervous system to the brain. What happens in people with chronic pain, however, is that other nerves are recruited into this ‘pain’ pathway which start to fire off messages to the brain when there is no physical stimulus or damage. But the body can ‘unjoin’ again. Nerve blockers (drugs) are one way; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is another — by getting the brain to send new messages back to the body

    Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

    CBT is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It’s most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems.

    The current evidence base in respect of chronic pain supports the use of standard psychological interventions, CBT in particular. CBT’s benefits, while useful are shown by recent research to be both limited and short-term.

    Shared Reading is used in a range of environments that have similarities with chronic pain, in that the conditions involved can often be chronic and unsolvable, as in the case of dementia, prisons (people locked in, life halted and future inevitably affected by baggage of past), and severe mental illness (with recurring episodes).

    The model is based on small groups (2-12 people) coming together weekly to read literature — short stories, novels and poetry — together aloud. The reading material ranges across genres and period, and is chosen for its intrinsic interest, not pre-selected with a particular ‘condition’ in mind.

    Validating experiences

    Regular pauses are taken to encourage participants to reflect on what is being read, on the thoughts or memories the book or poem has stirred, or on how the reading matter relates to their own lives.

    Group members participate voluntarily, usually in relation to what is happening in the text itself, and what may be happening within themselves as individuals (personal feelings and thoughts, memories and experiences), responding to the shared presence of the text within social group discussion.

    CBT allowed participants to exchange personal histories of living with chronic pain in ways which validated their experience. However, in CBT, participants focused exclusively on their pain with ‘no thematic deviation’.

    In SR, by contrast, the literature was a trigger to recall and expression of diverse life experiences — of work, childhood, family members, relationships — related to the entire life-span, not merely the time-period affected by pain, or the time-period pre-pain as contrasted with life in the present. This in itself has a potentially therapeutic effect in helping to recover a whole person, not just an ill one.

    Valuable

    As part of the study participants with severe chronic pain symptoms were recruited by the pain clinic at Broadgreen NHS Hospital Trust having given informed consent. A 5-week CBT group and a 22-week SR group for chronic pain patients ran in parallel, with CBT group-members joining the SR group after the completion of CBT.

    The study found that CBT showed evidence of participants ‘managing’ emotions by means of systematic techniques, where Shared Reading (SR) turned passive experience of suffering emotion into articulate contemplation of painful concerns.

    Dr Josie Billington, Deputy Researcher, Centre for Research into Reading, said: “Our study indicated that shared reading could potentially be an alternative to CBT in bringing into conscious awareness areas of emotional pain otherwise passively suffered by chronic pain patients.

    “The encouragement of greater confrontation and tolerance of emotional difficulty that Sharing Reading provides makes it valuable as a longer-term follow-up or adjunct to CBT’s concentration on short-term management of emotion.”


  8. More social connection online tied to increasing feelings of isolation

    March 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences press release:

    The more time a young adult uses social media, the more likely they are to feel socially isolated, according to a national analysis led by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine scientists. In addition to the time spent online, the scientists found that frequency of use was associated with increased social isolation.

    The finding, published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggests that use of social media does not present a panacea to help reduce perceived social isolation — when a person lacks a sense of social belonging, true engagement with others and fulfilling relationships. In the past, social isolation has been independently associated with an increased risk for mortality.

    “This is an important issue to study because mental health problems and social isolation are at epidemic levels among young adults,” said lead author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences. “We are inherently social creatures, but modern life tends to compartmentalize us instead of bringing us together. While it may seem that social media presents opportunities to fill that social void, I think this study suggests that it may not be the solution people were hoping for.”

    In 2014, Primack and his colleagues sampled 1,787 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine time and frequency of social media use by asking about the 11 most popular social media platforms at the time: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.

    The scientists measured participants’ perceived social isolation using a validated assessment tool called the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System.

    Even when the researchers controlled for a variety of social and demographic factors, participants who used social media more than two hours a day had twice the odds for perceived social isolation than their peers who spent less than half an hour on social media each day. And participants who visited various social media platforms 58 or more times per week had about triple the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than nine times per week.

    We do not yet know which came first — the social media use or the perceived social isolation,” said senior author Elizabeth Miller, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at Pitt and chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. “It’s possible that young adults who initially felt socially isolated turned to social media. Or it could be that their increased use of social media somehow led to feeling isolated from the real world. It also could be a combination of both. But even if the social isolation came first, it did not seem to be alleviated by spending time online, even in purportedly social situations.”

    The researchers have several theories for how increased use of social media could fuel feelings of social isolation, including:

    • Social media use displaces more authentic social experiences because the more time a person spends online, the less time there is for real-world interactions.
    • Certain characteristics of social media facilitate feelings of being excluded, such as when one sees photos of friends having fun at an event to which they were not invited.
    • Exposure to highly idealized representations of peers’ lives on social media sites may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives.

    Primack, a family medicine physician, and Miller, a pediatrician, both encourage doctors to ask patients about their social media use and counsel them in reducing that use if it seems linked to symptoms of social isolation. However, they noted, much more study is needed to understand nuances around social media use.

    “People interact with each other over social media in many different ways,” said Primack, also a professor of medicine, pediatrics, and clinical and translational science at Pitt. “In a large population-based study such as this, we report overall tendencies that may or may not apply to each individual. I don’t doubt that some people using certain platforms in specific ways may find comfort and social connectedness via social media relationships. However, the results of this study simply remind us that, on the whole, use of social media tends to be associated with increased social isolation and not decreased social isolation.”


  9. Group tolerance linked to perceptions of fairness and harm

    by Ashley

    From the Carnegie Mellon University press release:

    Look for the fault line in any modern conflict and it likely follows a familiar division between the opposing groups. Whether that divide is sectarian, ethnic or ideological, people’s devotion to the values that define their communities can make it seem as if violence along their boundaries is inevitable.

    But a new study of groups in tension or conflict found evidence that people are willing to share a society with those of differing beliefs as long as they believe that those groups share a commitment to universal moral values such as fairness and harm.

    Published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Carnegie Mellon University’s Nichole Argo and The New School for Social Research’s Nadine Obeid and Jeremy Ginges interviewed hundreds of members of sectarian groups in Lebanon, ethnic groups in Morocco and ideological factions in the United States. Their findings undermine political claims that conflicts arise because of differences in what they call “binding” values, such as beliefs about God, purity or deference to authority. Members of groups may believe in these things, but they don’t necessarily expect others to share those beliefs.

    “In essence, I can eat dinner with, date, marry or live close to you even if you don’t believe in the same God or eat the same foods. But I will distance myself from you and your group in these ways if I perceive that you don’t play fair or that you don’t care about others,” said Argo, a research scientist in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at CMU with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences.

    In Lebanon, the authors asked 376 undergraduates from the Lebanese American University — a mix of Christian, Sunni and Shiite students from middle-class backgrounds — how comfortable they’d be living near and socializing with members of the other sectarian groups. The answer, they found, depended on how much the individual thought the other group prioritized universal “autonomy” values such as harm and fairness. The same was true in Morocco, where they hired local researchers to survey 100 Arabs and Berbers in six districts around Greater Casablanca.

    The authors then asked if a desire to change intergroup relations would motivate increased perceptions of moral difference between groups. If so, would this occur primarily on the basis of universal values of fairness and harm?

    To find out, they interviewed 362 New Yorkers about abortion and same-sex marriage. They found that for participants who espoused either the liberal or the conservative view, thinking about an issue around which they desired a change in the status quo led to a perception of greater distance between self and other in autonomy values, but not binding ones.

    In other words, on issues where participants wanted a status change in an issue that currently favored the other group, they perceived greater differences in autonomy values.

    “This study provides insights about others, but also ourselves,” Argo said. “Do we really distance ourselves from others because of the religious garb they wear, or what they eat? No. We distance ourselves when we don’t trust them to treat us well. Given this, it becomes essential to care about how others perceive our own group’s behavior.”

    She added, “Since people do not usually hate because of differences in ways of life, they may be thinking that our actions disregard them, or worse, constitute attacks against them. Sometimes those perceptions can be prevented or corrected. It’s the golden rule: how we treat others matters.”


  10. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s – a key discovery about human memory

    by Ashley

    From the Johns Hopkins University press release:

    As Superman flies over the city, people on the ground famously suppose they see a bird, then a plane, and then finally realize it’s a superhero. But they haven’t just spotted the Man of Steel — they’ve experienced the ideal conditions to create a very strong memory of him.

    Johns Hopkins University cognitive psychologists are the first to link human’s long-term visual memory with how things move. The key, they found, lies in whether we can visually track an object. When people see Superman, they don’t think they’re seeing a bird, a plane and a superhero. They know it’s just one thing — even though the distance, lighting and angle change how he looks.

    People’s memory improves significantly with rich details about how an object’s appearance changes as it moves through space and time, the researchers concluded. The findings, which shed light on long-term memory and could advance machine learning technology, appear in this month’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

    “The way I look is only a small part of how you know who I am,” said co-author Jonathan Flombaum, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “If you see me move across a room, you’re getting data about how I look from different distances and in different lighting and from different angles. Will this help you recognize me later? No one has ever asked that question. We find that the answer is yes.”

    Humans have a remarkable memory for objects, says co-author Mark Schurgin, a graduate student in Flombaum’s Visual Thinking Lab. We recognize things we haven’t seen in decades — like eight-track tapes and subway tokens. We know the faces of neighbors we’ve never even met. And very small children will often point to a toy in a store after seeing it just once on TV.

    Though people almost never encounter a single object the exact same way twice, we recognize them anyway.

    Schurgin and Flombaum wondered if people’s vast ability for recall, a skill machines and computers cannot come close to matching, had something to do with our “core knowledge” of the world, the innate understanding of basic physics that all humans, and many animals, are born with. Specifically, everyone knows something can’t be in two places at once. So if we see one thing moving from place to place, our brain has a chance to see it in varying circumstances — and a chance to form a stronger memory of it.

    Likewise, if something is behaving erratically and we can’t be sure we’re seeing just one thing, those memories won’t form.

    “With visual memory, what matters to our brain is that an object is the same,” Flombaum said. “People are more likely to recognize an object if they see it at least twice, moving in the same path.”

    The researchers tested the theory in a series of experiments where people were shown very short video clips of moving objects, then given memory tests. Sometimes the objects appeared to move across the screen as a single object would. Other times they moved in ways we wouldn’t expect a single object to move, such as popping out from one side of the screen and then the other.

    In every experiment, subjects had significantly better memories — as much as nearly 20 percent better — of trackable objects that moved according to our expectations, the researchers found.

    “Your brain has certain automatic rules for how it expects things in the world to behave,” Schurgin said. “It turns out, these rules affect your memory for what you see.”

    The researchers expect the findings to help computer scientists build smarter machines that can recognize objects. Learning more about how humans do it, Flombaum said, will help us build systems that can do it.