1. Study suggests pregnant women with PTSD have higher levels of stress hormone cortisol

    December 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Research has shown that a woman’s emotional and physical health during pregnancy impacts a developing fetus. However, less is known about the effect of past stressors and posttraumatic stress disorder on an expectant woman.

    To that end, researchers at the University of Michigan measured the stress hormone cortisol in pregnant women from early pregnancy to when their baby was 6 weeks old. They found that those with a dissociative type of PTSD that’s often related to childhood abuse or trauma had levels up to 10 times higher than their peers.

    These toxic levels of cortisol may contribute to health problems in the next generation, said Julia Seng, professor of nursing and lead author on the study.

    “We know from research on the developmental origins of health and disease that the baby’s first environment in its mother’s body has implications for health across the lifespan,” Seng said. “Higher exposure to cortisol may signal the fetus to adapt in ways that help survival, but don’t help health and longevity. This finding is very useful because it helps us know which women are most likely to exhibit the highest level of stress and stress hormones during pregnancy and postpartum.”

    Cortisol is sometimes called the stress hormone because it’s released in stressful situations as part of the flight-or-fight response. Cortisol levels that stay high are linked to serious health problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure, and can fuel weight gain, depression and anxiety plus a host of other problems. The effect of elevated cortisol on a developing fetus isn’t well understood, but high cortisol and stress also contribute to preterm birth.

    In the study, 395 women expecting their first child were divided into four groups: those without trauma, those with a trauma but no PTSD, those with classic PTSD and those with dissociative PTSD.

    Researchers measured salivary cortisol at different times during the day. Then 111 of those women gave saliva specimens until postpartum. The difference in cortisol was greatest in early pregnancy, when levels were eight times higher in the afternoon and 10 times higher at bedtime for the dissociative group than for other women.

    About 8 percent of pregnant women in the study had PTSD, a disorder that results when symptoms of anxiety and fear persist well after exposure to stressful events. About 14 percent of that group had the more complex dissociative PTSD, which was associated with higher cortisol.

    “It’s been a mystery in our field why cortisol is sometimes high with PTSD and sometimes not,” Seng said. “This finding that in pregnancy it’s only the dissociative subgroup that has high cortisol gives us more to go on for future research.”

    Seng was surprised at how high the cortisol was in the dissociative group. She also said researchers expected women with classic PTSD to experience elevated cortisol as well, and the fact that they didn’t is good news.

    “We can do something for the 1-to-2 out of 100 pregnant women who have this dissociative PTSD,” Seng said. “We can work with them to make pregnancy, maternity care, labor, breastfeeding and early parenting less likely to trigger stress reactions. And we can connect them to mental health services when they are ready to treat their PTSD.”

    Seng and collaborator Mickey Sperlich have developed a PTSD-specific education program for pregnant woman with a childhood trauma called the Survivor Moms’ Companion, which has been piloted in Michigan and is currently being piloted in England.


  2. Researchers ‘dismantle’ mindfulness intervention to see how each component works

    December 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brown University press release:

    As health interventions based on mindfulness have grown in popularity, some of the field’s leading researchers have become concerned that the evidence base for such practices is not yet robust enough. A new study shows how a rigorous approach to studying mindfulness-based interventions can help ensure that claims are backed by science.

    One problem is that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) sometimes blend practices, which makes it difficult to measure how each of those practices affects participants. To address that issue, the researchers took a common intervention for mood disorders — mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) — and created a controlled study that isolated, or dismantled, its two main ingredients. Those include open monitoring (OM) –– noticing and acknowledging negative feelings without judgment or an emotional secondary reaction to them; and focused attention (FA) — maintaining focus on or shifting it toward a neutral sensation, such as breathing, to disengage from negative emotions or distractions.

    “It has long been hypothesized that focused attention practice improves attentional control while open-monitoring promotes emotional non-reactivity — two aspects of mindfulness thought to contribute its therapeutic effects,” said study lead and corresponding author Willoughby Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. “However, because these two practices are almost always delivered in combination, it is difficult to assess their purported differential effects. By creating separate, validated, single-ingredient training programs for each practice, the current project provides researchers with a tool to test the individual contributions of each component and mechanism to clinical endpoints.”

    In the study, the researchers randomized more than 100 individuals with mild-to-severe depression, anxiety and stress to take one of three eight-week courses: one set of classes provided a standardized MBCT that incorporated the typical blend of OM and FA. The two other classes each provided an intervention that employed only OM or only FA. In every other respect — time spent in class, time practicing at home, instructor training and skill, participant characteristics, number of handouts — each class was comparable by design.

    At the beginning and end of the classes, the researchers asked the volunteers to answer a variety of standardized questionnaires, including scales that measure their self-reported ability to achieve some of the key skills each practice is assumed to improve. If the researchers saw significant differences between the FA group and the OM group on the skills each was supposed to affect, then there would be evidence that the practices uniquely improve those skills as intervention providers often claim.

    Sure enough, the different practices engaged different skills and mechanisms as predicted. The FA-only group, for example, reported much greater improvement in the ability to willfully shift or focus attention than the OM-only group (but not the MBCT group, which also received FA training). Meanwhile, the OM-only group was significantly more improved than the FA-only group (but not the MBCT group) in the skill of being non-reactive to negative thoughts.

    “If FA practice promotes attentional control, and OM practice promotes emotional non-reactivity, then end users can alter the amount of each practice to fit their individual needs for each skill,” Britton said. “The study created validated single-practice programs that can be used by other researchers or providers for specific populations or conditions. This is the first step to an evidence-based personalized medicine approach to mindfulness.”

    The Science of Behavior Change

    Along with co-author and epidemiology associate professor Eric Loucks, director of Brown University’s Mindfulness Center, Britton is part of the five-university Mindfulness Research Collaborative. The collaborative is one of eight teams in the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s Science of Behavior Change (SOBC) Research Network.

    The new research will appear in print inae February 2018 special issue of the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy titled “An experimental medicine approach to behavior change: The NIH Science Of Behavior Change (SOBC),” which takes a mechanism-focused approach to studying behavioral interventions.

    The Mindfulness Research Collaborative (MRC) consists of 11 mindfulness researchers across five universities, and is one of the eight teams in the SOBC Research Network who are working to advance a mechanism-focused approach to behavioral interventions. The collaborative’s SOBC project “Mindfulness Influences on Self-Regulation: Mental and Physical Health Implications” seeks to identify self-regulation intervention targets that are engaged by MBIs, as well as factors that influence target engagement. The current paper describes the “Dismantling Mindfulness” concurrent clinical trial.

    Britton said the SOBC approach can make mindfulness more effective for people who practice it.

    “Mindfulness research in general could benefit from employing the SOBC experimental medicine approach,” she said. “Little is known about how MBIs work or how they should be modified to maximize effectiveness. The SOBC experimental medicine approach will not only help MBIs become maximally effective, but also provide essential mechanistic information that will help tailor the intervention and instructor training to specific populations and conditions.”


  3. Study suggests surrogate decision makers experience psychological distress

    by Ashley

    From the Regenstrief Institute press release:

    Nearly half of the 13 million older adults hospitalized annually in the United States are unable to make their own medical decisions and rely on surrogates, usually close family members, to make decisions for them. However little is known about how these surrogates respond to the demands put upon them. A new study from the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and the Regenstrief Institute explores predictors and frequency of surrogate decision-maker distress and has found high levels of both anxiety and depression.

    The researchers report that provision of high levels of emotional support to surrogates during their family member’s hospitalization was associated with more effective decisions and lower surrogate anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.

    While emotional support (such as, “hospital staff really listened to me when we talked”) was associated with decision quality, surprisingly provision of information (“I [surrogate] received as much detail about my loved one’s care as I needed”) was less important.

    The researchers note that their study provides a detailed look at the relationship between clinician communication and psychological well-being of the family member. While this observational study does not prove causation, it raises the question of whether improved emotional support of surrogates could lead to both better decisions for the patient and better psychological outcomes for the surrogate.

    “Family decision makers face emotional, ethical and communication challenges that differ from personal decision making. It is not enough to provide good information; family members also need emotional support when making difficult decisions,” said corresponding author Alexia Torke, MD, the IU Center for Aging Research associate director, Regenstrief Institute investigator and IU School of Medicine associate professor of medicine, who led the study.

    “As the population ages and more and more family members are thrust into the role of surrogate decision makers, appropriately supporting these family members will become a public health imperative,” she said. Dr. Torke is the associate division chief of general internal medicine and geriatrics at IU School of Medicine and is also affiliated with the IU Health Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics and Daniel F. Evans Center for Spiritual and Religious Values in Healthcare.

    A total of 364 patient-surrogate pairs from three hospitals were enrolled in the study. The average patient age was 82. Six out of ten patients were female and nearly three out of ten were African-American. Surrogates’ average age was 58 and 71 percent were female. Two thirds of surrogates were the patient’s adult children; 17 percent were the patient’s spouse.

    As many as 15 percent of the surrogate decision makers were found to suffer from clinically high levels of anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress even six to eight weeks after the family member’s hospitalization. Some of the surrogate distress experienced during the acute illness resolved, but remained high for over 10 percent of surrogates. Surprisingly, anxiety and depression was not significantly higher for those making decisions for ICU patients than for other inpatients.

    “Even though high quality information is associated with overall satisfaction with the hospital stay, information without emotional support may be harmful to surrogates,” said Dr. Torke. “Improved emotional support could lead to both better decisions for the patient and better psychological outcomes for the surrogate. Physicians, nurses, chaplains and social workers can provide emotional support to family members. This study points to the fact that this support is very important.”


  4. Study suggests recurring nightmares could reflect daily frustrations

    December 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release:

    People who are frustrated because their basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness and feeling competent are not met are more likely to have a recurring bad dream and to analyze their dreams negatively. This is according to Netta Weinstein of the University of Cardiff in the UK, who is lead author of an article on dreams published in Springer’s journal Motivation and Emotion.

    Dreams and their interpretation have been investigated since the days of Jung and Freud. However, the research done by Weinstein’s team is the first to explore whether people’s daily frustration or fulfilment of psychological needs plays out in their dreams.

    The researchers conducted two studies. In the first, 200 people were asked to reflect on their most common recurring dream. The second study analyzed the entries that 110 people made over a period of three days in “dream diaries.” This was done to explore whether experiences related to psychological needs in waking life are related to the deeper level of processing that dreams provide, and that so-called “bad” dreams might be “left-overs” of poorly or even unprocessed daily experiences.

    Waking-life psychological need experiences are indeed reflected in our dreams,” says Weinstein.

    The results from both studies show that frustrations and emotions associated with specific psychological needs influence the themes that will occur in people’s dreams. Participants whose so-called psychological needs were not met, either more enduringly or on a day-to-day basis, felt more frustrated. They reported having more negative dream themes such as frightening dreams, or ones in which sad or angry emotions surfaced. When asked to interpret their own dreams, they tended to do so using more negative words. Participants whose psychological needs were met were more likely to describe their dreams positively.

    “Negative dream emotions may directly result from distressing dream events, and might represent the psyche’s attempt to process and make sense of particularly psychologically challenging waking experiences,” explains Weinstein.

    People who were frustrated with their daily situation tended to have recurring dreams in which they were falling, failing or being attacked. According to Weinstein, recurring dreams may be more sensitive to distressing psychological experiences that a person still needs to process.

    “Researchers and theorists have argued that recurring dreams challenge people to process the most pressing problems in their lives, and these may be thought to result from their failure to adapt to challenging experiences. As such, dream content may be more affected by enduring need-based experiences,” says Weinstein.


  5. Study looks at what gives poetry its aesthetic appeal

    December 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    New psychology research points to the factors that explain why we find particular poems aesthetically pleasing — results that enhance our understanding of “why we like what we like.”

    “People disagree on what they like, of course,” explains Amy Belfi, a postdoctoral fellow in New York University’s Department of Psychology at the time of the study and the study’s lead author. “While it may seem obvious that individual taste matters in judgments of poetry, we found that despite individual disagreement, it seems that certain factors consistently influence how much a poem will be enjoyed.”

    The study, which appears in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, also included G. Gabrielle Starr, president of Pomona College and dean of NYU’s College of Arts and Science at the time of the research, and Edward Vessel, a research scientist in the Department of Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany. Belfi is now an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Science at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

    Aesthetics, the underpinnings of what we find appealing or not, play an important role in our everyday lives — from deciding what to wear in the morning to choosing what to listen to during your commute. However, little is known about how we make these judgments.

    The researchers sought to answer an age-old question — “Why do we like what we like?” — by gauging what we find aesthetically pleasing in poetry.

    To do this, the team had more than 400 participants read and rate poems of two genres — haiku and sonnet — with the aim of understanding the factors that best predicted the aesthetic appeal of the poems. After reading each poem, participants answered questions about the poem’s vividness (“How vivid is the imagery evoked from this poem?”), emotional arousal (“How relaxing or stimulating is this poem?”), emotional valence (“How positive or negative is the content of this poem?” — e.g, a poem about death might be negative, while a poem about beautiful flowers might be positive), and aesthetic appeal (“How enjoyable or aesthetically appealing did you find this poem?”).

    Their results showed that vividness of mental imagery was the best predictor of aesthetic appeal — poems that evoked greater imagery were more pleasing. Emotional valence also predicted aesthetic appeal, though to a lesser extent; specifically, poems that were found to be more positive were generally found to be more appealing. By contrast, emotional arousal did not have a clear relationship to aesthetic appeal.

    Notably, readers did not at all agree on what poems they found appealing, an outcome that supports the notion that people have different tastes; nonetheless, there is common ground — vividness of imagery and emotional valence — in what explains these tastes, even if they vary.

    “The vividness of a poem consistently predicted its aesthetic appeal,” notes Starr, author of Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience (MIT Press). “Therefore, it seems that vividness of mental imagery may be a key component influencing what we like more broadly.”

    “While limited to poetry,” she adds, “our work sheds light into which components most influence our aesthetic judgments and paves the way for future research investigating how we make such judgments in other domains.”

    The verses (111 haiku and 16 sonnets) were drawn from The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa, translated by Robert Haas (Ecco Press), and Haiku: The Last Poems of an American Icon, by Richard Wright (Arcade). The sonnets are American and English works by a diverse range of poets, from John Davies (“The hardness of her heart and truth of mine”) to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (“The Tides”), Claude McKay (“Dawn in New York”), Catherine Chandler (“Henslow’s Sparrow”), and others; they range from the 16th century to the current decade.


  6. Study examines screen time addiction in youth

    by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    It’s a familiar sight in the majority of young families: young children bent over a screen for hours, texting or gaming, lost in a digital world.

    Many parents worry, how much screen time is too much?

    But a recent study found that may be the wrong question. The findings suggest that how children use the devices, not how much time they spend on them, is the strongest predictor of emotional or social problems connected with screen addiction. This held true after researchers controlled for screen time.

    “Typically, researchers and clinicians quantify or consider the amount of screen time as of paramount importance in determining what is normal or not normal or healthy or unhealthy,” said lead author Sarah Domoff, who did the research while a postdoctoral research fellow at University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development.

    “Our study has demonstrated that there is more to it than number of hours. What matters most is whether screen use causes problems in other areas of life or has become an all-consuming activity.”

    Much research exists on adolescents and screen use, but Domoff said that to her knowledge this is the first tool in the United States that measures screen media addiction in children ages 4-11. She believes it will be a valuable tool for parents, clinicians and researchers.

    Some of the warning signs include: if screen time interferes with daily activities, causes conflict for the child or in the family, or is the only activity that brings the child joy.

    Kids who use media in unhealthy ways have problems with relationships, conduct and other emotional symptoms, Domoff said. The study didn’t examine whether the emotional and behavior problems or the media addiction came first.

    Domoff, a research faculty affiliate at U-M’s Center for Human Growth and Development, is now an assistant professor of psychology at Central Michigan University. Other study authors include: U-M’s Kristen Harrison, Ashley Gearhardt, Julie Lumeng and Alison Miller; and Douglas Gentile of Iowa State State University.


  7. Mothers of teens with autism report higher levels of stress, but optimism can be a buffer

    December 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – Riverside press release:

    Anyone who has ever survived being a teenager should be well aware that parenting a teenager can be no easy feat. But factor in a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or intellectual disability (ID), and you’ll likely have the recipe for a unique set of challenges to the entire family unit.

    According to autism expert Jan Blacher, a distinguished professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, the effects of those challenges went largely understudied for years while medical professionals blamed mothers of children diagnosed with ASD for their kids’ disorders.

    Beginning in the 1950s, doctors turned to psychiatrist Leo Kanner’s “refrigerator mother” theory as evidence that a lack of maternal warmth could essentially cause autism. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s when psychologist Bernard Rimland, among others, began to discredit Kanner’s theory, instead popularizing the idea that autism could be rooted in neurological development, or even genetics.

    Decades later, the race to find autism-linked genes continues. But it doesn’t yet benefit families of kids with ASD, said Blacher and her research colleague, UCLA’s Bruce L. Baker.

    Within those families, the impacts of raising children with autism hit mothers especially hard, resulting in what Blacher and Baker refer to as “collateral effects.”

    In a study recently published online in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the researchers found that mothers of teenagers with ASD or ID reported higher levels of stress and other negative psychological symptoms — think depression or anxiety — than mothers of teenagers with typical development, or TD.

    Those levels climbed even higher when teenagers with ASD or ID also showed signs of clinical-level disruptive behavior disorders.

    To find out how such disorders affected mothers, Blacher and Baker surveyed 160 13-year-olds and their families. Eighty-four of the study’s teenage participants were classified as having typical development, or TD; 48 as having ASD; and 28 as having ID.

    As the director of UCR’s SEARCH (Support, Education, Advocacy, Resources, Community, and Hope) Family Autism Resource Center, Blacher works with kids of all ages with ASD. She said this study, however, is special because it focuses on a pool of adolescents who are the same age.

    “Usually when studies have looked at the impacts of autism on families, the children involved have reflected wide ranges of ages,” she said. “Here, we’ve eliminated the variance related to developmental stage.”

    Blacher and Baker first assessed mothers and their 13-year-olds during in-person visits at their research site, and later asked mothers to complete separate questionnaires privately to measure youth behavior problems and parental well-being.

    “ASD group mothers scored highest on each of the two distress indicators,” the researchers wrote, adding that ASD group mothers’ levels of stress and psychological symptoms did not differ significantly from those of ID group mothers.

    The findings harken back to research demonstrating that parents of children with ASD have reported levels of stress consistent with those of individuals who experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

    What’s more, mothers’ levels of parenting-related stress and other psychological symptoms were amplified by the presence of one or more clinical-level behavior disorders, Blacher and Baker said.

    “The most common disruptive behavior disorder is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, but children with autism can also show signs of oppositional defiant disorder, depression, and anxiety,” Blacher said. “The disorders that are most disruptive to parents are those we describe as ‘acting out’ disorders and involve behaviors like not following rules, hitting, screaming, arguing, lashing out, and breaking things.”

    Still, the researchers emphasized that parents who face childrearing challenges need not resign themselves to lifetimes of mounting stress. The mothers they studied who demonstrated more resilience had one thing in common: an optimistic outlook on life.

    Using the Life Orientation Test, which assesses individuals’ optimism or pessimism, Blacher and Baker found that mothers who were more optimistic — believing that good rather than bad things would happen to them — experienced fewer negative impacts associated with parenting a child with ASD or ID and comorbid behavior disorders.

    In those cases, a more positive outlook on life became a buffer against parenting-related stressors.

    “It’s in the face of stress when optimism really becomes important,” Blacher said. “A mom that has a high level of optimism is going to be able to better weather stress and be better prepared mentally for the challenges ahead.”


  8. Study suggests preschool program helps boost skills necessary for academic achievement

    December 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Children growing up in poverty face many challenges, but a preschool program that aims to improve social and emotional skills may help increase their focus and improve learning in the classroom, according to researchers.

    Researchers observed two groups of children from preschool through third grade. One group participated in the Head Start REDI (Research-based, Developmentally Informed) program and the other did not. Each year, the researchers measured the students’ executive function (EF) — skills that help children focus, control their impulses, remember details, and other skills essential in the classroom.

    Karen Bierman, Penn State Evan Pugh Professor of Psychology, said that while most children seemed to benefit from the REDI program, it was the children that started out with the lowest executive function that benefited the most.

    “We saw a bit of an improvement in EF skills after REDI ended at the end of preschool, but the bigger effects emerged over time in the children that started out with lower EF,” Bierman said. “We think that the social and emotional skills they built in the program boosted the EF in this group of kids, which in turn helped them engage in the classroom and benefit cognitively.”

    The researchers — who published their findings in the journal Psychological Science — said executive function skills are critical for all students, but they tend to be lower in children that grow up in poverty. Bierman said that if students are low in executive function and can’t regulate their behavior in the classroom and focus on their schoolwork, it’s hard for them to learn.

    “Some people describe executive functions as the neural architecture for learning,” Bierman said. “They help you organize and focus your attention, support your working memory, and promote your self-control. They help you stop and think through something. EF is governed by the prefrontal cortex, which grows very rapidly during the preschool years. So preschool is a great opportunity to work on these skills.”

    The REDI program was developed at Penn State as a way to build upon the existing Head Start program, which provides preschool education to low-income children. The REDI program aims to improve social and emotional skills, as well as early literacy and listening skills, by incorporating stories, puppets and other activities that introduce concepts like understanding feelings, cooperation, friendship skills and self-control skills.

    The researchers suggested that REDI’s focus on these skills would also help strengthen executive function. They recruited 356 children for the study, with 192 participating in the REDI program and 164 participating in a traditional Head Start curriculum.

    As the children moved from preschool through third grade, the researchers checked in each year and measured executive function and academic performance. In addition to comparing the REDI students to the control group, they also noted the differences in children that started with high, medium and low executive function within the REDI program.

    After analyzing the data from all five years and across all groups, the researchers found that the children in the low executive function group showed more growth in EF than the control group. The researchers also saw better reading fluency and language arts and math performance in the third grade in the lower executive function group compared to the control group.

    “We saw that this enriched preschool intervention can really have long-term academic benefits, especially, in this case, for kids who were at highest risk for having school difficulties because of their low executive function,” Bierman said. “The greatest benefits for the larger group of children were in the area of social and behavioral adjustment when they moved into elementary school. And for the kids with lower executive function, we also saw improved academic skills.”

    Bierman said she believes that boosting executive function in the kids that needed it most, gave them the skills to participate and focus in the classroom.

    In the future, the researchers said they want to continue following the children in the study as they move into middle and high school to continue measuring the lasting effects of the REDI program.

     


  9. Study suggests microblogging may help reduce negative emotions for people with social anxiety

    December 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Consumer Psychology press release:

    Have you ever wanted to tell someone about a tough day at work or scary medical news, but felt nervous about calling a friend to share what’s going on?

    Findings from a new study suggest that people who feel apprehensive about one-on-one interactions are taking advantage of a new form of communication that may help regulate emotions during times of need: online social networks. The study is available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

    “When people feel badly, they have a need to reach out to others because this can help reduce negative emotions and restore a sense of well-being,” says Eva Buechel, a professor in the business school at the University of South Carolina. “But talking to someone face-to-face or on the phone might feel daunting because people may worry that they are bothering them. Sharing a status update on Facebook or tweet on Twitter allows people to reach out to a large audience in a more undirected manner.”

    Sharing short messages to an audience on a social network, called microblogging, allows people to reach out without imposing unwanted communication on someone who might feel obligated to respond. Responses on online social networks are more voluntary. To test whether people are more likely to microblog when they feel socially apprehensive, Buechel asked participants in one group to write about a time when they had no one to talk to at a party, while the control group wrote about office products.

    Then she asked the participants who had an online social network account to log in and spend two minutes on their preferred social network. When the time ended, she asked people if they had microblogged. The results showed that those who had been led to feel socially apprehensive were more likely to microblog.

    To explore who is more likely to microblog, Buechel conducted another experiment in which one group of participants watched a clip from the movie “Silence of the Lambs,” while the control group watched clips of pictures from space. Then they answered questions about how likely they were to express themselves in three different forms of communication: microblogging, in person or direct message (a private online message to an individual). Finally, she asked people to answer a series of questions that measured their level of social anxiety in a variety of situations.

    Buechel discovered that people who were higher on the social apprehension scale were more likely to microblog after they had experienced negative emotions (as a result of watching the “Silence of The Lambs” clip). People who were low on the social apprehension scale, however, were more interested in sharing face-to-face or via direct message after watching the scary clip.

    “There is a lot of research showing that sharing online is less ideal than having communication in person, but these social networks could be an important communication channel for certain individuals who would otherwise stay isolated,” she says.

    She acknowledges that there is a danger for those who start to rely on social media as their only form of communication, but when used wisely, microblogging can be a valuable means of buffering negative emotions though social interaction.


  10. Study suggests Twitter can reveal our shared mood

    by Ashley

    From the University of Bristol press release:

    In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of Bristol have analysed mood indicators in text from 800 million anonymous messages posted on Twitter. These tweets were found to reflect strong patterns of positive and negative moods over the 24-hour day.

    Circadian rhythms, widely referred to as the ‘body clock’, allows people’s bodies to predict their needs over the dark and light periods of the day. Most of this circadian activity is regulated by a small region in the hypothalamus of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is particularly sensitive to light changes at dawn and dusk, and sends signals through nerves and hormones to every tissue in the body.

    The research team looked at the use of words relating to positive and negative emotions, sadness, anger, and fatigue in Twitter over the course of four years. The public expressions of affect and fatigue were linked to the time they appeared on the social platform to reveal changes within the 24-hours. Whilst previous studies have shown a circadian variation for positive and negative emotions the current study was able to differentiate specific aspects of anger, sadness, and fatigue.

    Lead author and machine learning researcher Dr Fabon Dzogang, in collaboration with neuroscientist and current British Neuroscience Association President, Professor Stafford Lightman from Bristol Medical School: THS, and Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence from the Department of Engineering Mathematics, have found distinct patterns of positive emotions and sadness between the weekends and the weekdays, and evidence of variation of these patterns across the seasons.

    Dr Fabon Dzogang, research associate in the Department of Computer Science, said: “Our research revealed strong circadian patterns for both positive and negative moods. The profiles of anger and fatigue were found remarkably stable across the seasons or between the weekdays/weekend. The patterns that our research revealed for the positive emotions and sadness showed more variability in response to these changing conditions, and higher levels of interaction with the onset of sunlight exposure. These techniques that we demonstrated on the social media provide valuable tools for the study of our emotions, and for the understanding of their interaction within the circadian rhythm.”

    Stafford Lightman, Professor of Medicine and co-author, added: “Since many mental health disorders are affected by circadian rhythms, we hope that this study will encourage others to use social media to help in our understanding of the brain and mental health disorders.”