1. New Milgram experiment suggests people still obey

    March 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Personality and Social Psychology press release:

    The title is direct, “Would you deliver an electric shock in 2015?” and the answer, according to the results of this replication study, is yes. Social psychologists from SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland replicated a modern version of the Milgram experiment and found results similar to studies conducted 50 years earlier.

    The research appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

    “Our objective was to examine how high a level of obedience we would encounter among residents of Poland,” write the authors. “It should be emphasized that tests in the Milgram paradigm have never been conducted in Central Europe. The unique history of the countries in the region made the issue of obedience towards authority seem exceptionally interesting to us.”

    For those unfamiliar with the Milgram experiment, it tested people’s willingness to deliverer electric shocks to another person when encouraged by an experimenter. While no shocks were actually delivered in any of the experiments, the participants believed them to be real. The Milgram experiments demonstrated that under certain conditions of pressure from authority, people are willing to carry out commands even when it may harm someone else.

    “Upon learning about Milgram’s experiments, a vast majority of people claim that ‘I would never behave in such a manner,’ says Tomasz Grzyb, a social psychologist involved in the research. “Our study has, yet again, illustrated the tremendous power of the situation the subjects are confronted with and how easily they can agree to things which they find unpleasant.”

    While ethical considerations prevented a full replication of the experiments, researchers created a similar set-up with lower “shock” levels to test the level of obedience of participants.

    The researchers recruited 80 participants (40 men and 40 women), with an age range from 18 to 69, for the study. Participants had up to 10 buttons to press, each a higher “shock” level. The results show that the level of participants’ obedience towards instructions is similarly high to that of the original Milgram studies.

    They found that 90% of the people were willing to go to the highest level in the experiment. In terms of differences between peoples willingness to deliver shock to a man versus a woman, “It is worth remarking,” write the authors, “that although the number of people refusing to carry out the commands of the experimenter was three times greater when the student [the person receiving the “shock”] was a woman, the small sample size does not allow us to draw strong conclusions.”

    In terms of how society has changed, Grzyb notes, “half a century after Milgram’s original research into obedience to authority, a striking majority of subjects are still willing to electrocute a helpless individual.”


  2. Anxiety is a stronger harbinger of alcohol problems than stress

    March 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    Stress and anxiety are widely believed to contribute to drinking. Alcohol is thought to reduce tension caused by stress (the “flight or fight” response) as well as alleviate the unpleasant symptoms of anxiety (anticipation of the unpredictable, impending threats). Prior research, however, has yielded inconsistent findings as to the unique relations between stress and anxiety, on the one hand, and alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorders, on the other hand. This study was designed to examine how differences in self-reported levels of anxiety, anxiety sensitivity, and perceived stress impact the frequency and intensity of drinking, alcohol craving during early withdrawal, and alcohol craving and stress reactivity.

    Recent drinking was assessed in 87 individuals (70 men, 17 women) with alcohol use disorders (AUDs). Three distinct measures were used to evaluate anxiety, anxiety sensitivity, and perceived stress. A subset of 30 subjects was admitted to a medical center to ensure alcohol abstinence for one week: measures of alcohol craving were collected twice daily. On day 4, subjects participated in a public speaking/math challenge, before and after which measures of cortisol and alcohol craving were collected.

    In these heavy drinkers, measures of anxiety as compared with perceived stress were more strongly associated with a variety of alcohol-related measures. While alcohol studies often use the terms anxiety, anxiety sensitivity, and stress interchangeably, this study showed the importance of differentiating among the three terms given their unique relationships with drinking, craving, and stress reactivity among individuals with AUDs.


  3. Childhood bullying may lead to increased chronic disease risk in adulthood

    March 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Wolters Kluwer Health media release:

    Being bullied during childhood might have lifelong health effects related to chronic stress exposure — including an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes in adulthood, according to a research review in the March/April issue of the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. The journal is published by Wolters Kluwer.

    Recent advances in understanding of the negative health effects of chronic stress highlight a pressing need to clarify the longer-term health implications of childhood bullying, according to the review by Susannah J. Tye, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic and colleagues. “Bullying, as a form of chronic social stress, may have significant health consequences if not addressed early,” Dr. Tye comments. “We encourage child health professionals to assess both the mental and physical health effects of bullying.”

    Health Impact of Bullying — What’s the Evidence?

    “Once dismissed as an innocuous experience of childhood, bullying is now recognized as having significant psychological effects, particularly with chronic exposure,” Dr. Tye and co-authors write. Bullying has been linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders, although there are still questions about the direction of that association.

    Bullied children also have increased rates of various physical symptomsrecurrent and unexplained symptoms may be a warning sign of bullying. Dr. Tye comments, “It is important that we appreciate the biological processes linking these psychological and physiological phenomena, including their potential to impact long-term health.”

    Studies of other types of chronic stress exposure raise concerns that bullying — “a classic form of chronic social stress” — could have lasting effects on physical health. Any form of continued physical or mental stress can put a strain on the body, leading to increasing “wear and tear.” This process, called allostatic load, reflects the cumulative impact of biological responses to ongoing or repeated stress — for example, the “fight or flight” response.

    “When an individual is exposed to brief periods of stress, the body can often effectively cope with the challenge and recover back to baseline,” Dr. Tye explains. “Yet, with chronic stress, this recovery process may not have ample opportunity to occur, and allostatic load can build to a point of overload. In such states of allostatic overload, physiological processes critical to health and well-being can be negatively impacted.”

    With increasing allostatic load, chronic stress can lead to changes in inflammatory, hormonal, and metabolic responses. Over time, these physiological alterations can contribute to the development of diseases — including depression, diabetes, and heart disease — as well as progression of psychiatric disorders.

    Early-life stress exposure can also affect the way in which these physiological systems respond to future stressors. This may occur in part through epigenetic changes — alterations in gene function related to environmental exposures — that alter the stress response itself. Chronic stress may also impair the child’s ability to develop psychological skills that foster resilience, reducing their capacity to cope with future stress.

    The authors emphasize that although no cause-and-effect relationship can be shown so far. Future research — in particular, collaborations between clinical and basic science researchers — could have important implications for understanding, and potentially intervening in, the relationship between childhood bullying and long-term health.

    Dr. Tye and colleagues believe that current research shows the importance of addressing bullying victimization as a “standard component” of clinical care for children — at the primary care doctor’s office as well as in mental health care. They conclude, “Asking about bullying…represents a practical first step towards intervening to prevent traumatic exposure and reduce risk for further psychiatric and related morbidities.”


  4. Children’s daily life highly regulated: US and Swedish differences

    March 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Gothenburg press release:

    Children in Sweden and the US experience their daily life as highly structured and regulated. But while US children state that homework and long schooldays are what makes everyday life difficult, Swedish children point to the continuous nagging and stress that occur in relation to daily routines. These are some key findings of a new study from the University of Gothenburg.

    ‘The children in both countries talked about progressively less time available for own activities, but the things they focus on in their stories differ,’ says education researcher Ylva Odenbring.

    Her interview-based study involved Swedish and US middle-class children 6-7 years old, all of whom had the economic means to participate in leisure activities.

    ‘Schoolification’ of childhood

    Previous research indicates that in the Western world, children’s daily life is largely focused around the time they spend in educational institutions and the time they spend participating in various leisure activities. Researchers talk about a ‘schoolification’ of childhood as children spend a large portion of their time in various educational institutions from early childhood through adolescence.

    Besides the time spent in educational institutions, children spend time engaging in leisure activities, and school-age children also have homework. Yet few previous studies have studied these issues from the children’s perspective.

    Over-organised lives

    ‘The US children mention homework, long schooldays and leisure activities as the main reasons for why their daily life is so regulated. In contrast, the Swedish children point to the daily routines in connection with being taken to and picked up from school and the nagging and stress they associate with them,’ says Odenbring.

    The study brings attention to some of the trends observed in many Western societies: that people’s daily lives, and this is also true for children, are becoming increasingly regulated and structured. The children’s descriptions of their everyday lives give an impression of overly organised lifestyles.

    ‘From a wider societal perspective, the study brings attention to the question of how children’s voices are included in the discussion on how to make everyday life less stressful and increase children’s wellbeing,’ says Odenbring.


  5. Married people have lower levels of stress hormone

    February 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Carnegie Mellon University media release:

    couple on dateStudies have suggested that married people are healthier than those who are single, divorced, or widowed. A new Carnegie Mellon University study provides the first biological evidence to explain how marriage impacts health.

    Published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, the researchers found that married individuals had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who never married or were previously married. These findings support the belief that unmarried people face more psychological stress than married individuals. Prolonged stress is associated with increased levels of cortisol which can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate inflammation, which in turn promotes the development and progression of many diseases.

    “It’s is exciting to discover a physiological pathway that may explain how relationships influence health and disease,” said Brian Chin, a Ph.D. student in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Department of Psychology.

    Over three non-consecutive days, the researchers collected saliva samples from 572 healthy adults aged 21-55. Multiple samples were taken during each 24-hour period and tested for cortisol.

    The results showed that the married participants had lower cortisol levels than the never married or previously married people across the three day period. The researchers also compared each person’s daily cortisol rhythm — typically, cortisol levels peak when a person wakes up and decline during the day. Those who were married showed a faster decline, a pattern that has been associated with less heart disease, and longer survival among cancer patients.

    These data provide important insight into the way in which our intimate social relationships can get under the skin to influence our health,” said laboratory director and co-author Sheldon Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty University Professor of Psychology.


  6. You’ve got mail: Personality differences in email use

    January 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society media release:

    tablet computer seniorA new study shows that while many of us cannot do our job without email, it can stress us out — and that personality differences affect how we use email and what we find stressful.

    The results of the study are being presented on January 6, 2017, at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference in Liverpool by John Hackston from OPP Ltd.

    Data was collected via an online survey of 368 people, all of whom had already completed a personality type questionnaire.

    The results showed that those of us with a big picture focus are more likely to check our emails on holiday, at the weekend and before and after work than our more matter of fact counterparts. Unfortunately, sending emails outside of work hours leads to stress, as does the amount of emails we send and receive. Managers, regardless of personality type, are more likely to feel that they waste time on email and to find it overwhelming and stressful.

    People with different personality preferences found different aspects of using email stressful, allowing the researchers to compile guidance to help individuals cope with email more effectively.

    Hackston commented: “Our research shows that while there are some general guidelines for using email, everyone is different. Knowing your personality type can help you to avoid stress and communicate better with others.


  7. Increased reaction to stress linked to gastrointestinal issues in children with autism

    January 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Missouri-Columbia media release:

    One in 45 American children lives with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Many of these children also have significant gastrointestinal issues, but the cause of these symptoms is unknown. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine suggest that the gastrointestinal issues in these individuals with autism may be related to an increased reaction to stress. It’s a finding the researchers hope could lead to better treatment options for these patients.

    “We know that it is common for individuals with autism to have a more intense reaction to stress, and some of these patients seem to experience frequent constipation, abdominal pain or other gastrointestinal issues,” said David Beversdorf, M.D., associate professor in the departments of radiology, neurology and psychological sciences at MU and the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. “To better understand why, we looked for a relationship between gastrointestinal symptoms and the immune markers responsible for stress response. We found a relationship between increased cortisol response to stress and these symptoms.”

    Cortisol is a hormone released by the body in times of stress, and one of its functions is to prevent the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. These inflammatory substances — known as cytokines — have been associated with autism, gastrointestinal issues and stress. The researchers studied 120 individuals with autism who were treated at MU and Vanderbilt University. The individuals’ parents completed a questionnaire to assess their children’s gastrointestinal symptoms, resulting in 51 patients with symptoms and 69 without gastrointestinal symptoms.

    To elicit a stress response, individuals took a 30-second stress test. Cortisol samples were gathered through participants’ saliva before and after the test. The researchers found that the individuals with gastrointestinal symptoms had greater cortisol in response to the stress than the participants without gastrointestinal symptoms.

    When treating a patient with autism who has constipation and other lower gastrointestinal issues, physicians may give them a laxative to address these issues,” Beversdorf said. “Our findings suggest there may be a subset of patients for which there may be other contributing factors. More research is needed, but anxiety and stress reactivity may be an important factor when treating these patients.”

     


  8. 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.


  9. As neighborhood status falls, cardiovascular disease risk among black residents spikes

    January 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Drexel University media release:

    The lower a neighborhood’s socioeconomic status is, the more likely its black residents are to develop heart disease and stroke, according to a new Drexel University-led public health study.

    While many neighborhood-level public health studies focus on physical aspects of a neighborhood — such as the availability of affordable, healthy foods or the walkability of the location — this study examined how a neighborhood’s social and economic makeup was linked to the development of cardiovascular disease.

    “This is an important contribution because it is the largest study among blacks to look at the link between neighborhood socioeconomic status and adverse neighborhood conditions such as violence and disorder in relation to cardiovascular disease,” said Sharrelle Barber, ScD, a research fellow at Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health, who led the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

    Barber and her team — which included Dornsife School of Public Health Dean Ana Diez-Roux, MD, PhD — looked at heart disease and stroke incidence from 2000 to 2011 among black men and women who participated in a National Institutes of Health project called the Jackson (Mississippi) Heart Study. This information was linked to data on neighborhood poverty, unemployment and other socioeconomic indicators from the 2000 U.S. Census, along with other data on violence and disorder.

    Barber and her team found that every step down on an established disadvantage scale resulted in a 25 percent increase in risk of cardiovascular disease.

    When they measured violence and disorder levels in neighborhoods, there was a similar increase in risk of cardiovascular disease for each negative step on the scale.

    “For decades, centuries, even, researchers have linked adverse neighborhood economic and social conditions to health,” Barber said. “For example, in ‘The Philadelphia Negro,’ a groundbreaking study conducted by W.E.B. DuBois, mortality rates among Blacks in Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century were higher in the poorest wards of the city.”

    When it comes to examining chronic disease risk, Barber feels it is “critical” to delve deeper and identify true root causes so that policies and strategies can be as effective as possible.

    Among the issues that clearly need addressing are violence and disorder.

    “These are symptoms of the broader issues of racial and economic inequality that is rampant in urban areas across the United States,” Barber said. “These issues arise from decades of persistent, concentrated poverty and disinvestment in communities of color, including limited opportunities for good jobs, proper education and other resources necessary for the full wellbeing of individuals and communities.”

    “One way of addressing this issue is to invest in economic and social policies at the neighborhood level — such as creating jobs and educational opportunities — in tandem with evidence-based efforts to reduce violence,” Barber concluded.


  10. Childhood poverty can rob adults of psychological health

    by Ashley

    From the Cornell University media release:

    childhood depressionA large and growing body of research shows that poor kids grow up to have a host of physical problems as adults.

    Now add poor psychological health to the list, a Cornell University researcher says.

    A sweeping new study, conducted by following participants over a 15-year period, is the first to show that childhood poverty can cause significant psychological damage in adulthood.

    Impoverished children in the study had more antisocial conduct such as aggression and bullying, and increased feeling of helplessness, than kids from middle-income backgrounds, the study said. Poor kids also have more chronic physiological stress and more deficits in short-term spatial memory.

    “What this means is, if you’re born poor, you’re on a trajectory to have more of these kinds of psychological problems,” said Gary Evans, the author of the study and professor of environmental and developmental psychology at Cornell.

    Why?

    In a word, stress.

    “With poverty, you’re exposed to lots of stress. Everybody has stress, but low-income families, low-income children, have a lot more of it,” Evans said. “And the parents are also under a lot of stress. So for kids, there is a cumulative risk exposure.”

    Evans, a child psychologist who specializes in the effects of stress on children, is the author of “Childhood poverty and adult psychological well-being,” published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The findings are important because kids who grow up in poverty are likely to stay impoverished as adults. For example, there’s a 40 percent chance that a son’s income will be the same as his father’s income.

    People walk around with this idea in their head that if you work hard, play by the rules, you can get ahead,” Evans said. “And that’s just a myth. It’s just not true.

    In his study, Evans tracked 341 participants over a 15-year period, and tested them at ages 9, 13, 17 and 24.

    Short-term spatial memory was tested by asking adult study participants to repeat increasingly complex sequences of lights and sounds by pressing four colored pads in the correct order — similar to the “Simon” game. The adults who grew up in poverty had a diminished ability to recall the sequences, compared to those who did not. “This is an important result because the ability to retain information in short-term memory is fundamental to a host of basic cognitive skills, including language and achievement,” the study said.

    Although the participants were assessed on this measure only when they were adults, this test had the strongest association with childhood poverty of the four measures.

    Helplessness was assessed by asking the participants to solve an impossible puzzle. Adults growing up in poverty gave up 8 percent more quickly than those who weren’t poor as kids. Previous research has shown chronic exposure to uncontrollable stressors — such as family turmoil and substandard housing — tends to induce helplessness.

    Mental health was measured with a well validated, standardized index of mental health with statements including “I argue a lot” and “I am too impatient.” Adults who grew up in poverty were more likely to agree with those questions than adults from a middle-income background.

    Chronic physiological stress was tested by measuring the participants’ blood pressure, stress hormones and body mass index. Adults who grew up in poverty had a higher level of chronic physical stress throughout childhood and into adulthood.

    The study has two implications, Evans said.

    First, early intervention to prevent these problems is more efficient and more likely to work. “If you don’t intervene early, it’s going to be really difficult and is going to cost a lot to intervene later,” he said.

    Second, increasing poor families’ incomes is the most efficient way to reduce a child’s exposure to poverty and, in turn, their risk of developing psychological problems. Evans supports the creation of a safety net, similar to Social Security’s supplemental income for the elderly and disabled. If a family is poor and has children, the federal government should provide them with supplementary income sufficient to participate in society, he said.

    It’s not true you can’t do anything about poverty. It’s just whether there’s the political will, and are people willing to reframe the problem, instead of blaming the person who is poor and — even more preposterous — blaming their children,” he said.

    “This is a societal issue, and if we decide to reallocate resources like we did with the elderly and Social Security, we could change the kind of data this study is showing,” he said.

    “Could we get rid of poverty? Probably not,” Evans said. “But I think we could change it dramatically.”