1. New study links opioid epidemic to childhood emotional abuse

    March 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Vermont press release:

    A study by researchers at the University of Vermont has revealed a link between adult opioid misuse and childhood emotional abuse, a new finding that suggests a rethinking of treatment approaches for opioid abusers.

    To uncover the link to emotional abuse, the study, published in the current issue of Addictive Behaviors, analysed and cross referenced the results of a series of psychological tests administered to a sample of 84 individuals with a history of problem opioid use who had also suffered childhood trauma.

    Earlier research has found that a high percentage of adults who abuse substances were maltreated in a variety of ways as children. But few previous studies have investigated the causes of opioid addiction specifically, and no earlier ones narrowed the link among opioid users to emotional abuse.

    Emotional abuse was much more strongly correlated with survey participants’ problem opioid use than childhood sexual and physical abuse or other kinds of maltreatment such as neglect.

    The study found that children who had been emotionally abused were more likely to engage in rash, risky behavior in adolescence and to suffer posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as adults. Opioid use offered a refuge from PTSD for this group — while causing a host of new problems. The severity of the PTSD was directly linked to the severity of their opioid-related problems.

    “If a person is being physically or sexually abused, it’s easier to put the blame on the person doing the abuse,” said Matthew Price, assistant professor in Department of Psychological Science at the University of Vermont, and the paper’s senior author.

    “With emotional abuse, the abuser is saying ‘You are the problem.’ Being called names, being told you’re not good enough, being told no one cares about you undermines your ability to cope with difficult emotions. To protect themselves from strong emotions and from trauma cues that can bring on PTSD symptoms, people with this kind of childhood experience frequently adopt a strategy of avoidance, which can include opioid use.”

    New treatment approaches

    The findings suggest why some opioid abusers don’t respond to substance abuse counseling or PTSD treatment and point the way toward potentially more productive therapies. Drug addiction and mental health issues are often treated separately by different kinds of specialists, Price said. “Mental health counselors will frequently say, ‘Deal with your drug issues first, then come to see me.'”

    The study suggests “we should really start to explore more integrated treatment,” Price said. “If a patient has had severe emotional abuse and they have a tendency to act out when they’re feeling upset, and then they turn to opioids to deal with the resulting PTSD, it makes sense to address the emotional component and the drug problems at the same time.”

    In the study, participants were interviewed about their childhood experiences and then given a battery of psychological tests that measured the type and extent of any maltreatment they had experienced as children, the extent to which their opioid use was causing life problems, the severity of their addiction, the extent of their impulsive behavior, and the extent and severity of their PTSD.

    The researchers used a sophisticated statistical method known as structural equation modeling, or SEM, to make connections between the data sets each of the individual tests brought to light, which illuminated the pathway from childhood emotional abuse to rash adolescent behavior to PTSD to opioid abuse.


  2. Study finds new link between childhood abuse and adolescent misbehavior

    March 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pittsburgh press release:

    An important learning process is impaired in adolescents who were abused as children, a University of Pittsburgh researcher has found, and this impairment contributes to misbehavior patterns later in life.

    Associative learning — the process by which an individual subconsciously links experiences and stimuli together — partially explains how people generally react to various real-world situations. In a newly released study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Pitt Assistant Professor Jamie L. Hanson detailed the connection between impaired associative learning capacities and instances of early childhood abuse.

    “We primarily found that a poorer sense of associative learning negatively influences a child’s behavior patterns during complex and fast-changing situations. Having this knowledge is important for child psychologists, social workers, public policy officials and other professionals who are actively working to develop interventions,” said Hanson, who teaches in Pitt’s Department of Psychology within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences with a secondary appointment in the University’s Learning Research and Development Center. “We have long known that there is a link between behavioral issues in adolescents and various forms of early life adversities. Yet, the connection isn’t always clear or straightforward. This study provides further insight into one of the many factors of how this complicated relationship comes to exist.”

    To uncover these relationships, researchers asked 81 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 to play computer games where the child had to figure out which set of visual cues were associated with a reward. Forty-one participants had endured physical abuse at a young age, while the remaining 40 served as a comparison group. The most important aspect of the test, said Hanson, was that the cues were probabilistic, meaning children did not always receive positive feedback.

    “The participants who had been exposed to early childhood abuse were less able than their peers to correctly learn which stimuli were likely to result in reward, even after repeated feedback,” said Hanson. “In life we are often given mixed or little to no feedback from our significant others, bosses, parents and other important people in our lives. We have to be able to figure out what might be the best thing to do next.”

    Hanson and his colleagues also observed that mistreated children were generally less adept at differentiating which behaviors would lead to the best results for them personally when interacting with others. Additionally, abused children displayed more pessimism about the likelihood of positive outcomes compared to the group who hadn’t been abused. Taken as a whole, these findings clarify the relationship between physical abuse and the aggressive and disruptive behaviors that often plague abused children well into the later stages of childhood.


  3. Toxic bosses are bad for your health and bad for your corporate reputation

    January 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) media release:

    manager/bossPeople who work for bosses who display psychopathic and narcissistic traits not only feel more depressed due to their bosses bullying behaviour they are also more likely to engage in undesirable behaviours at work.

    These are the key findings of a research team from the University of Manchester’s Business School. Lead researcher Abigail Phillips will present the findings at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference of the Division of Occupational Psychology in Liverpool.

    A total of 1,200 participants took part in three studies that required them to complete questionnaires relating to their own psychological wellbeing, prevalence of workplace bullying in their organisation and their manager’s personality. The samples consisted of workers from a variety of industries across a number of different countries.

    Analysis of the data showed that those who work for leaders who display these traits had lower job satisfaction and scored higher on a clinical measure of depression. Also not only did employees’ wellbeing suffer but incidents of counterproductive work behaviour and workplace bullying were higher.

    Ms. Phillips said: “Overall the picture is clear leaders high in dark traits can be bad news for organisations. Those high in psychopathy and narcissism have a strong desire for power and often lack empathy. This toxic combination can result in these individuals taking advantage of others, taking credit for their work, being overly critical, and generally behaving aggressively. In other words, leaders high in psychopathy and narcissism are more likely to be bullies.”

    “Workplace bullying is obviously unpleasant for the target but also creates a toxic working environment for all involved. In short, bad bosses, those high in psychopathy and narcissism, have unhappy and dissatisfied employees who seek to ‘get their own back’ on the company.”


  4. Corporal punishment viewed as more acceptable and effective when referred to as spanking

    January 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Southern Methodist University media release:

    tantrum childParents and nonparents alike feel better about corporal punishment when it’s called ‘spanking’ rather than ‘hitting’ or ‘beating,’ according to a new study by researchers at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

    Study participants judged identical acts of a child’s misbehavior and the corporal punishment that followed it, but rated the discipline as better or worse simply depending on the verb used to describe it.

    Discipline acts referred to as spank and swat were ranked as more effective and acceptable than those referred to as slap, hit or beat.

    The findings of the study indicate that people buffer negative views of corporal punishment by calling it by a more culturally acceptable label, said psychologist Alan Brown, psychology professor at SMU and lead author on the research.

    “Our findings suggest that the way child-discipline is described may alter the action’s implied intensity or physical harm, and its consequences such as emotional upset,” Brown said. “Calling a response to misbehavior a ‘swat’ may imply higher prevalence of that response as well as make it seem more justifiable and valid — even if the actual punishment is the same as an act described more harshly.”

    Participants in the study rated the acts after reading and responding to hypothetical scenarios in which a mom disciplined her misbehaving son. Spank rated highest for commonness, acceptability and effectiveness, while beat ranked the worst, he said.

    “The labels that we give to our experiences can have a moderate to profound influence on how we interpret and remember these events,” Brown said. “We found that altering the verb used to describe an act of corporal punishment can change perception of its effectiveness and acceptance of it.”

    One implication of the study is that public health interventions to eliminate corporal punishment should focus on changing the semantics of discipline to reduce or prevent violence, say the authors. They cite UNICEF’s 2014 recommendation that “There is a need to eliminate words which maintain ‘social norms that hide violence in plain sight.'”

    The psychologists endorse replacing the verb spank with the verb assault, as suggested by other researchers in the field, which they say could change the perception of spanking and reduce its use.

    Labels can buffer how actions are perceived

    Research consistently has found that corporal punishment does emotional and developmental harm to children and fails to improve a child’s behavior over the long run.

    Our belief is that it is never okay to discipline a child by striking them, and that various terms commonly used to describe such actions can buffer how these actions are perceived,” Brown said. “Our research demonstrated that ratings of how common, acceptable and effective an act of corporal punishment appears to be is significantly influenced by the word used to describe it.”

    Co-author on the study was psychologist George Holden, a noted expert on parenting, discipline and family violence and co-author on the research and a professor in the SMU Department of Psychology.

    The findings were reported in the article “Spank, Slap, or Hit? How Labels Alter Perceptions of Child Discipline” published in the journal Psychology of Violence.

    The other co-author on the research was Rose Ashraf, a graduate student in SMU’s Department of Psychology.

    Holden is a founding steering committee member and current president of the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children.

    Study examined how different terms influence perceptions and actions

    Participants were 191 nonparents and 481 parents.

    The discipline scenarios were between a mom and her 5-year-old son. The mom and son varied with each scenario, which described a boy in eight acts of misbehavior: aggression, stealing, ignoring requests, deception, teasing, property destruction, animal cruelty and lying.

    Study participants read each vignette of misbehavior, and the subsequent description of the mom’s response using a term commonly reflecting corporal punishment: spank, slap, swat, hit and beat.

    The authors selected the labels from the most commonly used terms in the research literature for corporal punishment in American culture.

    The hypothetical scenarios were brief and left context and details such as the seriousness of the transgression or the intentions of the misbehaving child to the respondents’ imaginations.

    For example: “John continues to hit his sibling after his mother has asked him to stop. John’s mother ______ him.” The participants then rated the mother’s response on how common it was, how acceptable it was and how effective it was.

    The purpose was to examine how differences in the terms influence perceptions of parental discipline, the authors said.

    Our study highlights the role of language in legitimizing violent parental behavior,” according to the authors in their article. “Altering the verb used to describe the same act of corporal punishment can have a substantial impact on how that parental response is evaluated, with some terms having a relative tempering effect (spank, swat) compared with others (hit, slap, beat).”


  5. Losing sleep over discrimination? ‘everyday discrimination’ may contribute to sleep problems

    by Ashley

    From the Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins media release:

    People who perceive more discrimination in daily life have higher rates of sleep problems, based on both subjective and objective measures, reports a study in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, the official journal of the American Psychosomatic Society. The journal is published by Wolters Kluwer.

    “Discrimination is an important factor associated with sleep measures in middle-aged adults,” according to the report by Sherry Owens, PhD, of West Virginia University, Morgantown, and colleagues. The results add to previous research suggesting that discrimination and chronic stress may lead to sleep difficulties and increased health risks.

    Discrimination Related to Both Objective and Subjective Sleep Problems

    The study included 441 adults from a nationwide study of health and well-being in middle age and beyond (the MIDUS Study). The participants’ average age was 47 years; about one-third were of non-white race/ethnicity. Complete data were available for 361 participants.

    Participants wore an activity monitor device for one week to gather data on objective sleep measures — for example, sleep efficiency, calculated as the percentage of time spent in bed that the person was asleep. They also completed subjective sleep ratings — for example, how often they had sleep problems.

    Perceived experiences of discrimination were assessed using a validated “Everyday Discrimination Scale.” For example, subjects were asked how often they were treated with less courtesy or respect than others, or how often they were insulted or harassed.

    Discrimination scores were analyzed for association with the objective and subjective sleep measures. Objective measures indicated that about one-third of participants had poor sleep efficiency. Subjectively, one-half of subjects rated themselves as having poor sleep quality.

    Participants who perceived more discrimination had increased sleep problems, after adjustment for demographic, lifestyle, and health factors. Higher discrimination scores were associated with 12 percent higher odds of poor sleep efficiency and a nine percent increase in the odds of poor sleep quality. Discrimination was also related to (objective) time spent awake after falling asleep and (subjective) overall sleep difficulties.

    Non-white subjects had nearly four times the odds of poor sleep efficiency. Otherwise, all differences in sleep measures between white and non-white subjects were related to discrimination.

    Older participants and men were more likely to have some types of sleep problems. Age, sex, and mental/physical health factors explained only a small proportion of the effects of discrimination.

    Previous studies have suggested that racial/ethnic minorities have worse sleep quality. Inadequate sleep is associated with adverse health outcomes, including increased cardiovascular risks and increased mortality. These consequences of poor sleep may account for some of racial/ethnic variation in health outcomes — possibly reflecting inadequate recovery from chronic daily stressors.

    While poor sleep has previously been linked to higher perceived discrimination, the new study is the first to look at how discrimination affects both objective and subjective sleep measures. “The findings support the model that discrimination acts as a stressor than can disrupt subjective and objective sleep,” Dr. Owens and coauthors write.

    The researchers call for further study to confirm and clarify the implications of their findings. Meanwhile, they believe the study adds a “finer resolution” to previous knowledge the relationship between discrimination and sleep — and suggests a possible “causal pathway” connecting chronic discrimination to sleep problems, and thus to increased health risks.


  6. Get better customer service by choosing your words wisely

    January 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia media release:

    senior_phoneThe next time you make a complaint to your cellphone or cable company, don’t get personal.

    New research, published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology, from the University of British Columbia has found that what you say to customer service employees can determine the quality of service you receive. For example, personally targeting employees by saying, “Your product is garbage” instead of “This product is garbage,” can trigger negative responses from service employees.

    We know that customer service quality suffers when customers are rude or aggressive to employees,” said David Walker, the study’s lead author and assistant professor in the faculty of management at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus. “But our research is one of the first to pinpoint the specific words service employees hear from customers that can undermine the quality of customer service.”

    The researchers analyzed 36 hours of calls and over 100,000 words between a Canadian call centre’s customers and employees through transcript and computerized text analysis in a multi-level, multi-source, mixed-method field study. They found that more than 80 per cent of the calls contained aggressive customer language or interruptions. When customers were not aggressive towards employees, fewer than five per cent of calls had customer service problems, such as an employee making a blunt comment or using a raised voice.

    But, when customers targeted their aggression using second person pronouns (e.g. you, your) and interrupted the employee, customer service worsened in more than 35 per cent of calls. The researchers also found that these problematic effects were significantly reduced when customers used positive words like great and fine, suggesting that customers might be able to help employees provide better service by using more positive words.

    “In general, when customers use aggressive words or phrases to personally target customer service employees, or when they interrupt the person they are talking to, we found that the employee’s negative reaction is much stronger,” said study co-author Danielle van Jaarsveld, associate professor at the UBC Sauder School of Business.

    Based on these findings, researchers say customers can get better service from call centre employees through their choice of language and ability to follow conversation rules. Mixing positive language into the conversation can also lessen some stress that service employees experience on the job and result in better customer service.

    If customers change their language so that it’s less about the employee and more about the product or problem in question, they can improve the quality of the customer service they get,” said Walker. “Employees can handle a lot, but when aggressive language and interruptions happen together — combined with minimal positive language from the customer — employees get to a point where customer service quality suffers. Customers need to remember that they’re dealing with human beings.”


  7. Shooting, gang violence exposure leads to PTSD

    December 13, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University media release:

    memory vanishingThe violence that women in disadvantaged neighborhoods experience and witness can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and full diagnoses, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study that examined a disadvantaged Chicago neighborhood.

    Also noteworthy, women with PTSD diagnosis or sub-threshold PTSD had significantly more severe depression symptoms than women in the study who didn’t report experiencing trauma. Every woman who was recruited had symptoms of depression.

    “There are many women who are affected by shooting and gang violence in these neighborhoods,” said first author Sunghyun Hong, a research assistant at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “These women are often overlooked. With this study, we were able to shine a light on this high prevalence of trauma exposure and PTSD diagnosis among the underserved population.”

    This is one of very few studies to explicitly examine the impact that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood has on PTSD symptoms. The study was published Dec. 7 in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (pdf of study available for free download at this link).

    The traumatic experiences reported in the study were often violent or sexual in nature. One woman disclosed having witnessed the fatal shooting of her son, and another woman reported watching her father be murdered in her home.

    The neighborhood from which women in the study were recruited ranked 7th for property crime, 26th for quality of life crime and 35th for violent crime among 77 Chicago neighborhoods.

    Thirty-six percent of women in the study had PTSD or sub-threshold PTSD (substantial trauma symptoms that might not have met the full PTSD diagnostic criteria). Those with PTSD had more severe depression symptoms than other women in the study who did not exhibit signs of PTSD, said principal investigator and senior author Inger Burnett-Zeigler, clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Feinberg.

    “Even if you don’t meet the full criteria for PTSD, you can have enough symptoms to impact your well-being,” Burnett-Zeigler said. “There is a substantial proportion of people who fall below the PTSD diagnosis line who might be getting lost in the cracks. It’s important for mental health providers to develop a greater awareness around this because untreated PTSD symptoms affect mental health, quality of life and functioning.”

    A significant percentage of women in a general population who experienced trauma (20 percent) develop PTSD she said.

    “But the prevalence of PTSD symptoms is particularly acute in impoverished neighborhoods,” Burnett-Zeigler said. “In the study’s sample, 71 percent of the women who experienced trauma had PTSD symptoms.”

    “This wasn’t a sample we recruited based on having traumatic experiences, and yet so many women we recruited had experienced something traumatic,” Burnett-Zeigler said. “That is really significant in terms of how prevalent of an issue this is in that vulnerable population.


  8. Adverse events affect children’s development, physical health and biology

    October 31, 2016 by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Pediatrics media release:

    divorce family childrenIt’s known that adverse childhood experiences carry over into adult life, but a new study is focusing on the effect of these experiences in the childhood years.

    For an abstract to be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2016 National Conference & Exhibition in San Francisco, researchers conducted a systematic literature review to identify some of the clinical signs that can be used to recognize children at risk after experiencing trauma. They examined 39 cohort studies to determine the effect adverse childhood experiences has on health and biological outcomes in children.

    The authors found that household dysfunction affects children’s weight early in childhood, and abuse and neglect affect children’s weight later in childhood. Children exposed to early adversity also have increased risk for asthma, infection, somatic complaints, and sleep disruption. Maternal mental health issues are associated with elevated cortisol levels, and maltreatment is associated with a lower cortisol profile.

    “The majority of research on early adversity has looked at long-term adult outcomes,” said Debby Oh, PhD, research associate at the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco, California. “While this research has helped identify the problem, we must also deepen our understanding of what is happening in the brains and bodies of our children as they experience adversity.”

    Dr. Oh said that with appropriate intervention, children are able to recover from some of these negative health effects, making early detection a powerful tool to protect the health and well-being of children before long-term adult outcomes occur.


  9. Impulsivity, sensation seeking increase risk of alcohol and drug use among youths

    October 17, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism media release:

    party with friendsAdolescence can be a challenging time for both young people and their parents.

    Adolescents often face temptations to experiment with various substances and, unfortunately, this is the time when problem substance use typically begins. Vulnerability likely stems from at least two changes that occur during adolescence: although there are rapid increases in sensation seeking during early- to mid-adolescence, gradual improvements in impulse control become evident only during later adolescence. This study examines how these processes develop in high-risk youths.

    Researchers looked at 305 youths (153 girls, 152 boys) who were considered high-risk for behavioral problems due to having fathers with a history of alcohol- or other drug-use disorders. Their trajectories of self-reported impulsivity and sensation seeking were compared with 81 youths (46 girls, 35 boys) with no family histories of substance-use disorders. Assessments started at ages 10-12, and continued for up to 42 months. Also, a subset of 58 youths considered high risk who began using substances before age 15 were compared with 58 youths considered high risk who did not initiate substance use before age 15.

    High-risk youths had greater impulsivity, which may make them less able to regulate sensation-seeking drives that lead to problem alcohol and other drug use. Additionally, high-risk youths who initiated early drug use also had greater increases in sensation seeking across adolescence than high-risk youths who were not drug users, which may contribute to more problem substance use.

    In short, in youths with a family history of substance use disorders, the combination of greater impulsivity with adolescent sensation seeking may be an important underlying component of the risk associated with a family history of a substance use disorder. In these individuals, early substance use, which further increases impulsivity, is an additional contributor to the risk of developing a substance-use disorder.


  10. Victimized adolescents more at risk of thinking about suicide or attempting suicide at 15

    by Ashley

    From the Elsevier media release:

    school_bully

    A study to be published in the February 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) reports that adolescents chronically victimized during at least two school years, are about five times more at risk of thinking about suicide and 6 times more at risk of attempting suicide at 15 years compared to those who were never victimized.

    This is the first study to show a predictive association between victimization, suicidal ideation and suicide attempt in mid-adolescence. It also takes into account a variety of factors, including previous suicidality, mental health problems (by the age of 12 years) such as depression, opposition/defiance and inattention/hyperactivity problems, as well as family adversity.

    Using data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, which followed a general population sample of 1168 children born in 1997-98 in Quebec (Canada) until they were 15 years old, a group of researchers led by Dr. Marie-Claude Geoffroy of the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal (Douglas Mental Health University Institute, McGill Group for Suicide Studies) and the Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Centre examined the relationship between victimization by peers, suicidal ideation and suicide attempt. The authors hypothesized that children victimized by their peers would be at higher risks of suicidal ideation and suicide attempt compared to non-victims.

    Overall, approximately 20% of the study participants report being exposed to victimization by their peers. Peer victimization includes actions such as being called names, spreading rumours, excluding someone from a group on purpose, attacking someone physically or cyberbullying. According to the authors, victims reported higher rates of suicidal ideation at age 13 and 15 (respectively 11.6% and 14.7%) compared to those who had not been victimized (2.7% at 13 and 4.1% at 15). The authors also observed higher rates of suicide attempt for the victimized adolescents at age 13 and 15 (5.4 % and 6.8%) compared to non-victims (1.6% at 13 and 1.9% at 15). In particular, the data showed that 13 years old adolescents who had been victimized by their peers have two times more risk of having suicidal ideation two years later and three times more at risks of suicide attempt.

    The authors point out that although victimization predicts suicidality it does not necessarily cause it, and this prediction does not apply to all individuals. Only a minority of victims will later develop suicidal ideation or make a suicide attempt. Why these adverse experiences affect individuals remains to be investigated.

    Adolescence is a crucial period for suicide prevention. As a result, the authors suggest that effective interventions may require a multidisciplinary effort involving parents, schoolteachers, principals, and mental health professionals. All adolescents, victimized or not, who think often and/or seriously about suicide should see a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or an accredited psychotherapist.