1. Study looks at why childhood trauma can lead to increased risk for psychosis

    June 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Childhood trauma is the experience of a highly distressing event or situation during one’s youth, which is beyond a minor’s capacity for coping or control. Trauma encompasses many possible events, from enduring sexual or physical violence to facing the death of a parent. While such events would be painful for anyone, some children who experience trauma become particularly susceptible to psychosis. That is, they may become more prone to experiencing unusual thoughts, beliefs, and experiences that might make it hard to distinguish things as either real or imagined. Before most people experience full-blown psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, they are often diagnosed as being at clinical high risk (CHR) for psychosis.

    A small but growing number of studies on the CHR population have begun to focus on identifying possible factors that predict the conversion to psychotic disorders, such as the role of childhood trauma.

    Although the majority of children who experience trauma do not exhibit signs of psychosis later, a sizeable share (by some estimates as much as 35%) of children go on to experience psychotic episodes. These can occur in later childhood or young adulthood. At worst, these events require psychiatric hospitalization, which can become yet another form of trauma. Ideally, health care professionals would be able to spot the warning signs of psychosis early. Based on what we know so far, we can draw provisional conclusions about particular types of childhood trauma that are linked to increased risk for psychosis: bullying, sexual abuse, and emotional neglect.

    While various models have been proposed to explain why certain children who experienced trauma become susceptible to psychosis, physicians still do not have a clear understanding of this process. A recent comprehensive literature review, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, by Dr. Danessa Mayo and colleagues offers a model of the trauma-psychosis risk cycle that results from experiencing childhood trauma. According to the model, early childhood trauma interacts with a child’s genetic vulnerability and propels them towards greater likelihood of an altered developmental trajectory. Factors such as poor emotional control, limited coping skills, poor social functioning, and increased stress sensitivity increase a child’s risk of experiencing psychotic-like symptoms (e.g., unusual thoughts, suspiciousness, perceptual disturbances). The experience of having psychotic-like symptoms and a trauma history creates increased vulnerability for future trauma, creating a vicious circle.

    Early psychosis programs serve the vital function of preventing and reducing the severity of psychosis. In their review Dr. Mayo and colleagues unearth a benefit to such CHR screenings for trauma history. By closely analyzing the findings in a large sample of CHR screenings, physicians can effectively deduce early childhood predictors of conversion to psychosis. This work is ongoing, and a more consistent and specific definition of what is considered “trauma” should be determined. It will also be necessary to pay particular attention to the experience of members of different ethnic groups and races, as well as gender. It is possible that these variables impact the types of childhood traumas that later cause psychosis.

    Dr. Mayo and colleagues recommend that physicians on the front lines of dealing with CHR youth avail themselves of targeted training for assessing and treating individuals with both trauma and psychosis. In addition, physicians should develop and adhere to standard protocols for assessing a history of childhood trauma. Finally, physicians should document any connections they uncover between childhood trauma and other health concerns. As Dr. Mayo notes, undertaking this work is vital: “We can promote resilience and mitigate the vulnerability of CHR individuals to developing a psychotic disorder and improve their chances of recovery.”


  2. Friendship group influences dating violence risk for early-maturing girls

    May 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pennsylvania press release:

    Girls who go through puberty and develop physically earlier than their peers are at risk of low self-esteem as well as emotional and behavioral problems. Research has also indicated that they are at a heightened risk of experiencing physical or sexual violence.

    Probing more deeply into this increased risk of abuse, a new study led by the University of Pennsylvania’s Sara R. Jaffee has found that early-maturing girls are more likely to be the victim of abuse from a dating partner if their friend group contains more boys.

    “We knew that these girls are more likely to be victimized generally and became interested in whether there were particular characteristics of girls’ friendship groups that might exacerbate that risk,” Jaffee said. “We didn’t expect the number of boys in a group to have a big impact, but that emerged as a primary moderator of this risk of being abused in a dating relationship.”

    The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics. Jaffee collaborated on the study with former Penn graduate student Frances R. Chen, now of Georgia State University, and Emily F. Rothman of Boston University.

    The research relied on publicly available data collected from 3,870 girls, ages 13 to 17, from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. All had reported being in one or more dating relationships. The survey asked girls to report their age at their first menstrual period, an objective measure of pubertal development, and whether they were more or less physically developed than their peers, a subjective measure. The girls were also asked whether their dating partner had engaged in any of a number of forms of abuse, such as swearing at them, insulting them in public, pushing or shoving them or threatening violence.

    The dataset had information about the survey participants’ friendships, as the surveys were administered to many students in the same schools.

    “What’s unique about this longitudinal study is that they ask every kid in the school, Tell me five of your closest friends,” said Jaffee. “So you can figure out things like what proportion of kids in a friendship group are older or younger, boys or girls.”

    When Jaffee and colleagues analyzed the data, their results confirmed that girls who developed earlier were at a greater risk of dating abuse. They found that a girl who is a standard deviation more advanced than her same-age, same-race peers in pubertal development has a 14 percent increased risk of dating abuse.

    And while the researchers had originally expected that perhaps having a lot of older friends might make a difference, or perhaps a relatively large number of older male friends, their findings suggested that simply having more male friends was the biggest aspect of the girls’ friendship groups that contributed to an increased risk of dating abuse.

    Jaffee said that she suspects girls who mature early receive more attention from boys. If they also have more male friends, then that increases the number of people expressing interest.

    If they’re having more boys asking them out on dates or expressing interest, then the odds of one of those boys being abusive are higher,” she said.

    This risk may be exacerbated by the greater likelihood of early-maturing girls having problems with self-esteem and mental health.

    “I think these girls sometimes have fewer tools to cope with relationships that are becoming abusive or have already become abusive,” Jaffee said.

    The findings, she said, point to a need for parents and pediatricians to have conversations with children about healthy relationships, “particularly if your daughter is maturing more quickly than their peers.

    “These are conversations that parents find really uncomfortable, but this underscores that they need to be happening, for parents of girls and boys,” said Jaffee. “And pediatricians may want to be on the look-out for early development in girls as a marker of risk. It’s not determinative, not every girl is going to have problems, but it’s a factor to consider.”


  3. Exposure to psychological domestic abuse most damaging to children’s wellbeing

    May 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Limerick press release:

    Exposure to psychological abuse between parents is more damaging to children’s wellbeing as they grow older than physical domestic violence, according to new research carried out at University of Limerick (UL), Ireland.

    A scientific paper by UL’s Catherine Naughton, Aisling O’Donnell and Orla Muldoon was recently published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. It illustrates that growing up in a home with psychological abuse has longer-term effects on the wellbeing of young people than domestic violence.

    Ms Naughton’s research investigated how children’s exposure to domestic violence and abuse between their parents affects them as young people.

    Psychological abuse can include, name-calling, intimidation, isolation, manipulation and control.

    According to Ms Naughton, “What this research highlights is that growing up in a home with domestic abuse, in particular the psychological dimension of it, has long-term consequences for the wellbeing of young people.”

    “Our research found that young people (aged 17 to 25 years) reported experiencing two distinct yet interrelated types of domestic abuse in their families of origin: physical which includes hitting, punching, kicking and use of a weapon; and, psychological abuse including arguing, name-calling or behaviour that is intimidating, isolating, manipulating or controlling. Importantly, our findings show that it was young people’s exposure to the psychological dimension of domestic abuse, which had a detrimental impact on their psychological wellbeing. Exposure to the physical dimension did not have any additional negative effect on wellbeing,” Ms Naughton stated.

    “We know that social support is important for recovery from traumatic childhood events. However, our findings evidence that exposure to high levels of psychological domestic abuse was associated with a decrease in young people’s satisfaction with their social support. On the other hand, we also found that exposure to high levels of physical domestic violence has a protective effect in terms of satisfaction with social support for those also exposed to high levels of intra-parental psychological abuse. When children were exposed to physical violence in the home as well as psychological domestic abuse, they were more likely to be happier with the social support they were able to access. Psychological domestic abuse when it occurred alone seems to be the most damaging, perhaps because people are unable to recognise and speak out about it,” she continued.

    “This research examines the impact of psychological abuse in the home on Irish children as they grow older, but it also shows there is a need for more research in the area to assess the impacts of exposure to all types of domestic violence and abuse on younger children,” Ms Naughton concluded.


  4. How focusing on parent-child relationships can prevent child maltreatment

    May 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Notre Dame press release:

    Child abuse and neglect is a widespread and costly problem in the United States. Approximately 3.9 million children were subjects of maltreatment reports to child welfare agencies in 2013. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child abuse and neglect cost the U.S. $124 billion in 2012.

    In order to help children facing maltreatment, researchers and clinicians first needed to address the heart of the problem. The relationship between the parent and child is key, argues Kristin Valentino, William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, in an article published recently in a special section of the journal Child Development.

    More than 90 percent of maltreated children are victimized by one or both parents, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “My position is that child maltreatment, in most cases, can best be understood as a problem in the parent-child relationship,” Valentino says. “Thus, we should focus on enhancing the parent-child relationship in our intervention efforts.”

    Two broad kinds of relational interventions between parents and children are available to researchers and clinicians. In her article, Valentino examines brief models and long-term models, both designed to improve not only how well parents understand their children and how to react to them, but also the child’s attachment security. The latter plays a critical role in supporting positive development, including coping skills, emotional and behavioral functioning, peer relationships and even physical health.

    Children who are neglected, abused or otherwise mistreated often develop emotional problems, Valentino says: “Up to 80 to 90 percent of maltreated children develop what is known as disorganized attachment. This classification is one type of insecure attachment and is associated with the worst outcomes including severe problems in emotion regulation, school achievement and the development of psychopathology.”

    Valentino reviews the pros and cons of brief and long-term intervention methods, and conclusively recommends a tiered approach wherein families are provided with brief interventions first, and subsequent long-term approaches if needed.

    “Given limitations on resources and funds to support treatment in the child welfare system, this approach would allow us to provide services to more families, and to identify families who should be referred to more intensive programs in a targeted manner,” Valentino says.

    Valentino is a clinical and developmental psychologist who conducts research with families through Notre Dame’s Shaw Center for Children and Families. Her current research focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of a brief relational intervention for maltreated preschool-aged children and their mothers in a randomized clinical trial design.


  5. Abusing power hurts leaders too

    May 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Florida press release:

    We know that power can corrupt, making people act in ways that harm others. But new research from the University of Florida shows that when the powerful misbehave, they hurt themselves, too.

    “We always think those who have power are better off, but having power is not universally or exclusively good for the power holder,” said Trevor Foulk, who led the research as a doctoral student at UF’s Warrington College of Business and will start as an assistant professor in the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business in June.

    Foulk and fellow Warrington researchers Klodiana Lanaj, Min-Hsuan Tu, Amir Erez and Lindy Archambeau found that leaders who acted abusively to colleagues had trouble relaxing after work and were less likely to feel competent, respected and autonomous in the workplace. The findings, published in the Academy of Management Journal, stemmed from surveys of 116 leaders in fields including engineering, medicine, education and banking over a three-week span.

    Rather than structural power – a leader’s position in the hierarchy – the study looked at psychological power, or how powerful a leader feels, which changes as they move through the workday. When leaders felt powerful, they were more likely to act abusively and perceive more incivility from their coworkers, which in turn harmed their own well-being.

    “This flips the script on abusive leadership,” Foulk said. “We tend to assume that powerful people just go around and abuse and they’re totally fine with it, but the effect of power on the power holder is more complex than that.”

    Side-stepping the negative effects of power might require us to rethink the qualities we look for in a leader. Foulk’s study suggests that agreeable leaders – those who value social closeness, positive relationships and workplace harmony – may be less susceptible to the misbehavior brought on by psychological power.

    It’s also possible that, over time, the consequences of psychological power are self-correcting. If a leader acts abusively, then goes home and feels bad about it, he or she might come back to work the next day feeling less powerful and behave better – a phenomenon Foulk is studying for a future paper.

    Although a boss who yells, curses or belittles might not seem to deserve our sympathy, “they’re suffering, too,” Foulk says. “Even though your boss may seem like a jerk, they’re reacting to a situation in a way many of us would if we were in power. It’s not necessarily that they’re monsters.”


  6. Study links childhood abuse to higher incidence of self-injury in teens

    May 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Toronto press release:

    Adolescents who were physically abused or sexually abused were more likely to engage in non-suicidal self-injury than their non-abused counterparts, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Toronto and Western University. The study appears online in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.

    “We found that about one in three adolescents with mental health problems in Ontario engaged in non-suicidal self-injury. We were surprised to find that only the experience of adversities directed towards the child (physical and sexual abuse) predicted non-suicidal self-injury and not adversities indicative of parental risk such as parental mental health issues or exposure to domestic violence” says lead author Philip Baiden, a PhD Candidate at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto. Controlling for other factors, the authors also found that adolescents who are females, had symptoms of depression, diagnosis of ADHD, and mood disorders were more likely to engage in non-suicidal self-injury. However, adolescents who have someone that they could turn to for emotional support when in crises were less likely to engage in non-suicidal self-injury.

    The researchers utilized data from a representative sample of 2,038 children and adolescents aged 8-18 years referred to community and inpatient mental health settings in Ontario. The data was collected using the interRAI Child and Youth Mental Health assessment instrument.

    “Depression is one indication that an individual is having difficulty coping with his/her life situation and being depressed can severely impact one’s ability to regulate emotions and focus almost exclusively on the negative aspect of life. Among survivors of sexual abuse, depression can also manifest itself as emotional pain, for which non-suicidal self-injury becomes an outlet” says co-author Shannon Stewart, an interRAI Fellow and Director of Clinical Training, School and Applied Child Psychology at Western University.

    Co-author Barbara Fallon, an associate professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Child Welfare, also notes that “understanding the mechanism through which non-suicidal self-injury may occur can inform clinicians and social workers working with formerly abused children in preventing future non-suicidal self-injurious behaviours.”


  7. Interpersonal abuse in early life may lead to concentration issues later in life

    April 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Boston University Medical Center press release:

    Does a history of abuse before the age of 18 affect later capacity to concentrate and stay focused?

    According to a new study Veterans with a history of physical or sexual abuse or witnessing family violence before the age of 18 have a reduced ability to concentrate compared to Veterans who were not abused.

    The study, which appears in the journal Brain and Behavior, revealed that this failure to concentrate was associated with abnormal connectivity in the brain, between the amygdala, a core region for emotion, and frontal areas that help maintain focus. Collectively, these findings offer a new perspective on the long-term impact of psychological trauma years, if not decades, after childhood.

    Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the Translational Research Center for TBI and Stress Disorders at the VA Boston Healthcare System compared two groups of young Veterans. One group had a history of early life abuse, while the other did not. Both groups performed a concentration test while their brain activity was measured. The group that experienced trauma prior to 18 had worse concentration and abnormal communication between “emotional” regions (amygdala) and “attentional” regions of the brain (prefrontal cortex).

    “Trauma during one’s youth may not just cause difficulties with emotions later in life but may also impact day-to-day functioning like driving, working, education and relationships due to brain changes that stem from the trauma,” explained senior author Michael Esterman, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM and associate director of the VA Boston Neuroimaging Center. “Our results suggest that early psychological interventions could result in better cognitive abilities as an adult.”

    According to the researchers this study suggests that inter-personal abuse before 18 can have dramatic and long lasting effects on the development of the brain that is only now beginning to be understood. Methodologically, this study is part of an exciting new era for brain imaging, where complex, but reliable patterns of brain connections can give insight into individual differences in clinical characteristics and cognitive abilities.


  8. Threat of firearm use affects PTSD symptoms among female victims of partner violence

    April 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Genetic Engineering News press release:

    A new study shows that the threat of firearm use by a male partner in an intimate relationship is a significant predictor of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity in women, independent of other forms of interpersonal partner violence. The study is published in Violence and Gender, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The article is available free on the Violence and Gender website until May 12, 2017.

    Tami Sullivan, PhD and Nicole Weiss, PhD, Yale University School of Medicine (New Haven, CT), coauthored the article entitled “Is Firearm Threat in Intimate Relationships Associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms among Women?” The researchers reported that more than 24% of the nearly 300 women in the study who had been victims of domestic violence by a male intimate partner had experienced threat with a firearm during the relationship.

    These findings have important implications for providers who care for women involved in criminal cases associated with intimate partner violence. The development of validated measures to assess firearm-related threat and fear could be valuable predictive tools to help identify women who are at risk for PTSD and candidates for prevention and intervention efforts.

    “This article underscores the continued damage caused by the reckless use of firearms and, as important, it provides much needed and critical insight into the breadth and depth of trauma brought about by domestic violence,” says Editor-in-Chief Mary Ellen O’Toole, PhD, Forensic Behavioral Consultant and Senior FBI Profiler/Criminal Investigative Analyst (ret.) Director of the Forensic Sciences Program, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.


  9. Does advice for managing workplace bullying work?

    April 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the National Communication Association press release:

    If you’ve ever been chewed out by your boss, or suffered through endless criticism and condescension from a colleague, you’re one of many people who have been a victim of workplace bullying. While certain harassment situations call upon employees to follow specific human resources protocol as determined by federal law, many emplo
    yees have experiences that require them to make do with casual advice such as “Just stand up to them,” “Be more assertive,” “File a written record,” “Ignore it,” or “Quit.”

    In a new study featured in the National Communication Association’s Journal of Applied Communication Research, authors Stacy Tye-Williams and Kathleen J. Krone identify and re-imagine the paradox of workplace bullying advice. They interviewed 48 individuals from a variety of occupations and found that targets of workplace bullying frequently offered advice they had received to other targets, despite believing that the advice either made no difference or had made their own situations worse.

    Tye-Williams and Krone explored targets’ “tendency to adopt an exclusively rational response to what may be a highly irrational experience,” and bystanders’ and advice-givers’ inclination to lead individuals to believe they are single-handedly responsible for stopping a bully. While the authors acknowledge that the dilemmas and paradoxes associated with following advice related to workplace bullying are increasingly well-known, they note that the advice organizations receive to address bullying creates even more challenges as it “illustrated the constraints placed on attempts to operate more imaginatively and expressively within formal organizational boundaries.”

    Study participants generally reported favorable views toward the advice they received from supervisors, co-workers, friends or family, or other resources, but also intense frustration when the advice was unrealistic, unhelpful, or downplayed their emotions and experience — which the authors say is problematic.

    Ultimately, Tye-Williams and Krone argue that conventional advice is rarely sufficient to stop workplace bullying, especially as it fails to recognize the emotional nature of the experience and the need for a collective rather than individual response. They recommend validating the strong emotions associated with being bullied and creating “alternative spaces where targets and their allies can begin to imagine more potent options for disrupting cycles of workplace abuse.”


  10. Stress of abuse accelerates puberty in children

    April 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    While it has long been known that maltreatment can affect a child’s psychological development, new Penn State research indicates that the stress of abuse can impact the physical growth and maturation of adolescents as well.

    Jennie Noll, director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network and professor of human development and family studies, and Idan Shalev, assistant professor of biobehavioral health, found that young girls who are exposed to childhood sexual abuse are likely to physically mature and hit puberty at rates 8 to twelve months earlier than their non-abused peers. Their results were published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

    “Though a year’s difference may seem trivial in the grand scheme of a life, this accelerated maturation has been linked to concerning consequences, including behavioral and mental health problems and reproductive cancers,” said Noll.

    The body is timed so that physical and developmental changes occur in tandem, assuring that as a child physically changes, they have adequate psychological growth to cope with mature contexts. “High-stress situations, such as childhood sexual abuse, can lead to increased stress hormones that jump-start puberty ahead of its standard biological timeline,” Noll explained. “When physical maturation surpasses psychosocial growth in this way, the mismatch in timing is known as maladaptation.”

    In the past, there have been studies loosely linking sexual abuse to maladaptation and accelerated maturation, but the longitudinal work completed by Noll and her team has been the most conclusive and in-depth to date, beginning in 1987 and following subjects throughout each stage of puberty.

    Controlling for race, ethnicity, family makeup, obesity, socioeconomic status and nonsexual traumatic experiences, the researchers compared the pubescent trajectories of 84 females with a sexual abuse history and 89 of their non-abused counterparts. Working closely with nurses and Child Protective Services, the subjects were tracked from pre-puberty to full maturity based on a system known as Tanner staging.

    Tanner staging is a numeric index of ratings that corresponds with the physical progression of puberty. The study’s researchers focused on breast and pubic hair development as two separate mile markers for pubescent change. Subjects were placed somewhere from one (prepubescent) to five (full maturity) on the Tanner index and their Tanner number and age were mapped out and recorded over time.

    “We found that young women with sexual abuse histories were far more likely to transition into higher puberty stages an entire year before their non-abused counterparts when it came to pubic hair growth, and a full 8 months earlier in regards to breast development,” Noll stated. “Due to increased exposure to estrogens over a longer period of time, premature physical development such as this has been linked to breast and ovarian cancers. Additionally, early puberty is seen as a potential contributor to increased rates of depression, substance abuse, sexual risk taking and teenage pregnancy.”

    The researchers believe they were able to accurately rule out other variables that may have aided in accelerated puberty, pinpointing child sexual abuse and the stress hormones associated with it as a cause for early maturation in young girls. Their findings add to the body of work highlighting the role of stress in puberty, and it is the hope that the research will lead to increased preventative care and psychosocial aid to young women facing the effects of early maturation.