1. Coffee bubble phobia may stem from deep-seated aversion to parasites

    July 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Kent press release:

    Some people experience intense aversion and anxiety when they see clusters of roughly circular shapes, such as the bubbles in a cup of coffee or the holes in a sponge.

    Now psychologists at the University of Kent have found that the condition — known as trypophobia — may be an exaggerated response linked to deep-seated anxiety about parasites and infectious disease.

    Previous explanations for the condition include the suggestion that people are evolutionarily predisposed to respond to clusters of round shapes because these shapes are also found on poisonous animals, like some snakes and the blue-ringed octopus.

    Now new research, led by Tom Kupfer of the University’s School of Psychology, suggests that the condition may instead be related to an evolutionary history of infectious disease and parasitism that leads to an exaggerated sensitivity to round shapes.

    The team noted that many infectious diseases result in clusters of round shapes on the skin: smallpox, measles, rubella, typhus, scarlet fever etc. Similarly, many ectoparasites, like scabies, tics and botfly also lead to clusters of round shapes on the skin.

    The study saw over 300 people recruited to take part from trypophobia support groups. A comparison group of around 300 university students without trypophobia also took part. Both groups were invited to view sixteen cluster images These all depicted real objects. Eight were pictures of clusters relating to diseased body parts (e.g. circular rash marks on a chest; smallpox scars on a hand; a cluster of ticks).

    The other eight cluster images had no disease-relevant properties (e.g. drilled holes in a brick wall; a lotus flower seed pod) Both groups of participants reported finding the disease-relevant cluster images unpleasant to look at but whereas the university students didn’t find the disease-irrelevant cluster images unpleasant, the trypophobic group found them extremely unpleasant.

    This finding supports the suggestion that individuals with trypophobia experience an overgeneralised response, to the extent that even an image of bubbles on a cup of coffee can trigger aversion in the same way as a cluster of tics or lesions.

    Much previous research has shown that the function of the emotion disgust is to motivate people to avoid sources of potential infection, so the researchers predicted that unlike most phobias (e.g., snakes, heights, dogs) which mainly involve intense fear, people with trypophobia would predominantly experience intense disgust.

    They asked the individuals with trypophobia to describe their feelings when looking at cluster images. Analysis of these responses revealed that the majority of individuals with trypophobia experienced disgust or disgust-related feelings like nausea or the urge to vomit, even towards the disease-irrelevant cluster images like a sponge or bubbles. Only a small proportion described feeling fear or fear-related feelings.

    In addition to disgust, trypophobic individuals frequently reported feelings like skin itching, skin crawling or even the sensation of ‘bugs infesting the skin’. This skin response suggests that people with trypophobia may perceive cluster stimuli as if they are cues to ectoparasites, even leading some to feel as if they are infested.

    Overall, the findings showed that although trypophobia has been described as the ‘fear of holes’, it would be more accurately characterised as a predominantly disgust-based aversion to clusters of roughly circular objects.


  2. Food allergies linked to childhood anxiety

    July 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health press release:

    Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and Albert Einstein College of Medicine studied the link between food allergy and childhood anxiety and depression among a sample of predominantly low socioeconomic status minority children. The results showed that children with a food allergy had a significantly higher prevalence of childhood anxiety. Food allergies were not associated with symptoms of childhood depression or with symptoms of anxiety or depression among their caregivers. The results are published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

    Food allergies are increasingly common among youth in the U.S. with recent estimates as high as 8 percent. Until now little was known about the prevalence of food allergy in low socioeconomic ethnic minority populations.

    The researchers studied 80 pediatric patients ages 4-12 years, 8 years old on average, with and without food allergy and their caregivers from urban pediatric outpatient clinics in the Bronx, New York. They controlled for an asthma diagnosis in the children, as anxiety and mood disorders are more prevalent among youth with asthma and especially more common in low socioeconomic minority children.

    Among the children with a food allergy, 57 percent reported having symptoms of anxiety compared to 48 percent of children without a food allergy. Approximately 48 percent of the children had symptoms of depression with or without a food allergy.

    “Management of food allergy can be expensive both in terms of food shopping, meal preparation, and the cost of epinephrine auto-injectors, which expire annually,” said Renee Goodwin, PhD, in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and lead author. “These demands could result in higher levels of anxiety for those with fewer financial resources and further heighten anxiety symptoms in children and their caregivers.”

    The results suggest that food allergy is particularly linked to elevated social anxiety and fear of social rejection and humiliation. “There are a number of possible explanations for the relationship found between food allergy diagnosis and increased social anxiety issues in this sample of pediatric patients,” noted Dr. Goodwin. “Management of a potentially life-threatening condition may be anxiety provoking, and some children may experience increased social anxiety about being “different” from other children depending on their age and how food allergy is managed by adults in a particular setting.”

    The researchers also point out a possible explanation for not finding a link between food allergy and depression in children. The sample was young, and the mean age of onset for depression is significantly later than anxiety. “It would be worthwhile to examine these relationships among older adolescents and young adults with food allergy who are at the peak of risk for depression onset, especially because early anxiety is associated with increased risk for subsequent onset of depression,” said Jonathan Feldman, PhD, professor of Psychology at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Yeshiva University.

    “With the high prevalence of food allergies today, education in schools remains a priority,” said Dr. Goodwin. “Given the strong association between food allergy and social anxiety in children future investigations on the food allergy-mental health relationship are also warranted in clinical, school, and community-based settings which could aid in the development of interventions.”


  3. Study examines the secret connection between anxiety, sleep

    July 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Tsukuba press release:

    You may have experienced sleepless nights when you were anxious, stressed or too excited. Such emotions are well-known to affect wakefulness and can even cause insomnia, though the underlying mechanisms in our brain have still been unclear. Scientists in the Sleep Institute in Japan spotted neurons that play crucial roles in connecting emotions and sleep, shedding light on the future discovery of drug targets for anxiety disorder and/or sleep disorders.

    Encountering predators, adapting to a novel environment or expecting a reward ? these stressful or emotionally-salient situations require animals to shift their behavior to a vigilant state, altering their physiological conditions through modulation of autonomic and endocrine functions.

    The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) is a part of the extended amygdala, which is generally considered as a key player in stress response, fear and anxiety. Through projections to various brain regions including relay nuclei of the autonomic nervous system, hypothalamic regions and the central nucleus of the amygdala, the BNST controls endocrine and autonomic reactions in response to emotionally-salient stimuli, along with behavioral expression of anxiety and fear.

    A group of researchers led by Takeshi Sakurai, Vice Director of the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine (WPI-IIIS), University of Tsukuba, found that acute optogenetic excitation of GABAergic neurons in BNST during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep in mice resulted in immediate transition to a wakefulness state without the function of orexins, highly important neuropeptides for maintaining wakefulness. Notably, stimulation of the same neurons during REM sleep did not show any effects on sleep/wakefulness states.

    Prolonged excitation of GABAergic neurons in BNST by a chemogenetic method evoked a longer-lasting, sustained wakefulness state, and it was abolished by administering a dual orexin receptor blocker (antagonist) DORA 22 in advance, meaning that orexins are involved in this phenomenon.

    “Our study revealed a role of the BNST GABAergic system in sleep/wakefulness control, especially in shifting animals’ behavioral states from NREM sleep to wakefulness. It also provides an important insight into the pathophysiology of insomnia and the role of orexin in arousal regulation, which will hopefully lead to the first step to develop remedies for sleep disorders,” Sakurai says.


  4. Anxiety study shows genes are not fixed: Experience and exposure can change them

    July 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    Epigenetics refers to how certain life circumstances can cause genes to be silenced or expressed, become dormant or active, over time. New research shows that adolescent binge drinking can lead to epigenetic reprogramming that predisposes an individual to later psychiatric disorders such as anxiety. These data will be shared at the 40thannual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) in Denver June 24-28.

    “Adolescence is an important period of growth,” said Subhash C. Pandey, Ph.D., professor and director of the Alcohol Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “This is when the brain is maturing, and consistent epigenetic programing occurs. This is also a period when binge drinking is prevalent. Adolescent binge drinking can disrupt epigenetic programing in key brain regions by changing certain key molecular targets within the epigenome.”

    Pandey explained that early life exposure to alcohol can have not only long-lasting effects on brain chemistry but also induce a predisposition to psychiatric problems such as alcohol abuse and anxiety disorders. “Anxiety disorder is highly comorbid with alcoholism,” he said, “and adolescent alcohol exposure can lead to the development of high anxiety and alcohol intake in adulthood.” Pandey will elaborate on these findings at the RSA meeting on June 25.

    “More specifically, our data indicate that the enzymes histone deacetylases and demethylases — which are responsible for the regulation of histone acetylation and methylation — are altered in adulthood due to previous adolescent alcohol exposure. This alteration causes specific genes involved in regulating synaptic events to become suppressed, leading to high anxiety and high alcohol drinking behavior.” In other words, adolescent alcohol exposure can change the architecture where certain genes reside, and thus modify how the genes perform.

    “In short,” said Pandey, “epigenetic reprogramming in the brain due to early life experiences or exposure to alcohol can lead to the changes in gene functions and predispose an individual to adult psychopathology.”


  5. Snail study suggests select memories can be erased

    July 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Columbia University Medical Center press release:

    Different types of memories stored in the same neuron of the marine snail Aplysia can be selectively erased, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and McGill University and published today in Current Biology.

    The findings suggest that it may be possible to develop drugs to delete memories that trigger anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) without affecting other important memories of past events.

    During emotional or traumatic events, multiple memories can become encoded, including memories of any incidental information that is present when the event occurs. In the case of a traumatic experience, the incidental, or neutral, information can trigger anxiety attacks long after the event has occurred, say the researchers.

    “The example I like to give is, if you are walking in a high-crime area and you take a shortcut through a dark alley and get mugged, and then you happen to see a mailbox nearby, you might get really nervous when you want to mail something later on,” says Samuel Schacher, PhD, a professor of neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry at CUMC and co-author of the paper. In the example, fear of dark alleys is an associative memory that provides important information — e.g., fear of dark alleys — based on a previous experience. Fear of mailboxes, however, is an incidental, non-associative memory that is not directly related to the traumatic event.

    “One focus of our current research is to develop strategies to eliminate problematic non-associative memories that may become stamped on the brain during a traumatic experience without harming associative memories, which can help people make informed decisions in the future — like not taking shortcuts through dark alleys in high-crime areas,” Dr. Schacher adds.

    Brains create long-term memories, in part, by increasing the strength of connections between neurons and maintaining those connections over time. Previous research suggested that increases in synaptic strength in creating associative and non-associative memories share common properties. This suggests that selectively eliminating non-associative synaptic memories would be impossible, because for any one neuron, a single mechanism would be responsible for maintaining all forms of synaptic memories.

    The new study tested that hypothesis by stimulating two sensory neurons connected to a single motor neuron of the marine snail Aplysia; one sensory neuron was stimulated to induce an associative memory and the other to induce a non-associative memory.

    By measuring the strength of each connection, the researchers found that the increase in the strength of each connection produced by the different stimuli was maintained by a different form of a Protein Kinase M (PKM) molecule (PKM Apl III for associative synaptic memory and PKM Apl I for non-associative). They found that each memory could be erased — without affecting the other — by blocking one of the PKM molecules.

    In addition, they found that specific synaptic memories may also be erased by blocking the function of distinct variants of other molecules that either help produce PKMs or protect them from breaking down.

    The researchers say that their results could be useful in understanding human memory because vertebrates have similar versions of the Aplysia PKM proteins that participate in the formation of long-term memories. In addition, the PKM-protecting protein KIBRA is expressed in humans, and mutations of this gene produce intellectual disability.

    “Memory erasure has the potential to alleviate PTSD and anxiety disorders by removing the non-associative memory that causes the maladaptive physiological response,” says Jiangyuan Hu, PhD, an associate research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry at CUMC and co-author of the paper. “By isolating the exact molecules that maintain non-associative memory, we may be able to develop drugs that can treat anxiety without affecting the patient’s normal memory of past events.”

    “Our study is a ‘proof of principle’ that presents an opportunity for developing strategies and perhaps therapies to address anxiety,” said Dr. Schacher. “For example, because memories are still likely to change immediately after recollection, a therapist may help to ‘rewrite’ a non-associative memory by administering a drug that inhibits the maintenance of non-associative memory.”

    Future studies in preclinical models are needed to better understand how PKMs are produced and localized at the synapse before researchers can determine which drugs may weaken non-associative memories.


  6. Study suggests anxious adults drawn to advertising messages that feature home concepts

    July 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Vanderbilt University press release:

    New research by Steve Posavac, E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Marketing at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, uncovers another consequence of anxiety symptoms: susceptibility to certain marketing themes.

    According to a paper recently published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, individuals with relatively elevated symptoms of Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder (ASAD) are more favorable to advertisements with home concepts.

    “Importantly, our research suggests a vulnerability to persuasion among those with adult separation anxiety disorder symptoms that goes beyond simply the appeal of a product itself,” Posavac and co-author, psychologist Heidi Posavac, write. “Featuring the concept of home as an advertising theme leads to more favorability towards the persuasive attempt.”

    The paper says consumer advertising regularly invokes the idea of home, citing recent Super Bowl ads by Jeep and Budweiser as examples.

    Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder is a psychological condition in which an individual has excessive anxiety regarding separation from places or people to whom he or she has a strong emotional attachment. The lifetime incidence of adult separation anxiety disorder in the United States is estimated to be 6.6 percent, but a much higher percentage may experience symptoms.

    In a study conducted at Vanderbilt Business’ Behavioral Research Lab, participants completed a questionnaire to measure ASAD published by the American Psychiatric Institute. Later, they read an internet advertisement for a fictitious airline: one version incorporated a theme of “coming home to family,” the other promoted a message of “seeing new things.” Participants with high ASAD symptoms had more favorable attitudes toward the home-themed ad, while those with little to no symptoms offered no preference.

    While the Posavacs’ findings may suggest an opportunity for marketers, they caution that it may also reflect a threat for sufferers of adult separation anxiety disorder. Should marketers be able to identify and target a subgroup of consumers with ASAD or ASAD symptoms, home-themed advertising might increase sales, but the impact on the consumers themselves might not be so positive.

    “Whether in individual treatment sessions, or with a psychoeducational approach, individuals experiencing chronic adult separation anxiety may be well served by clinicians who help to inoculate them against the possibility of coming under undue influence by savvy marketers,” the authors write.


  7. Riding a romantic roller coaster? Relationship anxiety may be to blame

    July 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Florida State University press release:

    Loves me, loves me not. Turns out that anxiety over that very question may be detrimental to the long-term success of a relationship.

    In a recent study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Florida State University graduate student Ashley Cooper explores how high levels of fluctuation in how secure an individual feels in his or her relationship may actually doom its success.

    “For people anxious in their attachments, they have anxiety as to whether the person is going to be there for them and whether they are worthy of others,” said Cooper, a second-year doctoral student in the College of Human Sciences. “I was interested in how attachment security impacted partners’ experiences in their relationship on a daily basis. Some couples experience instability from one day to the next in their relationship, so we sought out to explore what could increase or decrease this volatility.”

    Cooper and her colleagues found that individuals who experience high levels of anxiety about their partner’s commitment were likely to experience more volatility in their feelings about the relationship from one day to the next. Furthermore, when women experienced this anxiety, their male partners experienced similar volatility in their feelings about the relationship.

    Researchers interviewed 157 couples and asked them a series of questions about how the couples communicated their attachment to each other, how comfortable they were in emotionally connecting with their partners, their relationship satisfaction and the type of conflict that existed in the relationship.

    Of the sample, 74 percent of the participants were dating and nearly 50 percent of participants were in relationships of two years or less.

    Researchers specifically looked at the couples in which one or both partners experienced high attachment avoidance — that is, behaviors associated with the distrust of relying on other people — and attachment anxiety — behaviors associated with fears regarding consistent care and affection.

    When an individual reported high attachment avoidance, both the individual and partner reported generally low levels of relationship satisfaction or quality. When individuals reported high attachment anxiety, there tended to be increased volatility in relationship quality.

    Cooper said the findings will be helpful to clinicians involved in premarital or couples counseling and for individuals who experience drastic differences in their feelings about their relationships from day to day.

    “For the average person, stay attuned to what your partner is saying and avoid making assumptions that can escalate conflict,” she said. “Trusting in your partner and your relationship is important to daily interactions and stability for your relationship.”


  8. Study examines effect of CBT on chronic pain patients

    June 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the European League against Rheumatism press release:

    The results of a study presented today at the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR) 2017 has shown that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that focuses on psychological flexibility and behaviour change, provided a significant reduction in self-reported depression and anxiety among patients participating in a pain rehabilitation programme.

    This treatment also resulted in significant increases in self-efficacy, activity engagement and pain acceptance.

    To assess the potential benefits of an 8-week programme of group Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in people with persistent pain, measures of pain acceptance and activity engagement were taken using the Chronic Pain Acceptance Questionnaire. Measures of psychological distress using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and self-efficacy were also taken at assessment, on the final day of the programme, and at the follow up six-month review.

    For those chronic pain patients with scores at all three time points, there were statistically significant improvements in all parameters between baseline and at six-months follow-up, including the change in mean score of depression, anxiety, self-efficacy, activity engagement and pain willingness (p<0.001).

    “To further validate the role of ACT in the treatment of chronic pain, specifically in a rheumatology context, a randomised controlled clinical trial that includes measures of physical and social functioning within a Rheumatology service would be desirable,” said lead author Dr. Noirin Nealon Lennox from Ulster University in Northern Ireland.

    ACT is a form of CBT that includes a specific therapeutic process referred to as “psychological flexibility”. ACT focuses on behaviour change consistent with patients’ core values rather than targeting symptom reduction alone. Evidence for this approach to the treatment of chronic pain has been mounting since the mid 2000’s. A previous systematic review had concluded that ACT is efficacious for enhancing physical function and decreasing distress among adults with chronic pain attending a pain rehabilitation programme.

    In this study, patients were referred into the ACT programme by three consultant rheumatologists over a five-year period. Over one hundred patients’ outcome measures were available for a retrospective analysis.


  9. Study suggests anxious people worry about risk, not loss

    June 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Elsevier press release:

    Life is a series of choices. Every time you make a decision, there is a possibility that things won’t go as expected (risk) or that something bad will happen (loss). Aversion to risk and loss have powerful influences on how we make decisions. In a new paper in Biological Psychiatry, co-senior authors Dr. Jonathan Roiser and Dr. Oliver Robinson, both of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, and colleagues studied the influence of risk and loss aversion in people with anxiety, a disorder characterized by debilitating avoidance behavior and difficulties making daily-life decisions.

    Anxious people might, for example, avoid driving over bridges because they are concerned that the bridge might collapse, explained first author Dr. Caroline Charpentier also of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. “But is this because they overestimate the risk of this happening (i.e., a difference in risk aversion), or because the devastating consequences loom larger (i.e., a difference in loss aversion)?” The findings of the new study indicate that it may be more about risk than loss.

    “This paper uses a sophisticated computational approach to shed light on why anxiety can be so disabling,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “Nearly all life decisions involve risk. It appears that anxious people are hypersensitive to these risks, influencing their emotions, thoughts and behavior.”

    In the study, 25 unmedicated patients diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and 23 healthy participants performed a gambling task to assess decision making. The design of the task addressed a significant omission of previous risky decision-making studies, the independent contributions of risk aversion (from uncertainty about the outcome) and loss aversion (from a disproportionate focus on potential losses). In the task, participants had to make decisions between a safe and risky option. Changing up the gamble — such as a sure gain versus a riskier higher gain or a potential gain versus a potential loss — allowed the researchers to separately assess risk and loss aversion.

    Anxious people had similar levels of loss aversion to healthy people, but showed enhanced risk aversion. “In other words, everyone is loss averse, but anxious people are more reluctant to take risks than non-anxious people,” said Dr. Charpentier.

    The findings refine the understanding of altered cognitive processing in anxiety disorder by disentangling the contributions of risk and loss aversion. Similar levels of loss aversion contrast previous assumptions that people with anxiety dwell excessively on potential negative outcomes, and instead suggest that aversion to taking risks drives avoidance behavior observed in anxious people.

    The study takes an important step toward determining the best approach for cognitive behavioral therapy to reduce avoidance behavior in anxiety disorders. “It suggests that we should focus on encouraging anxious individuals to increase their tolerance of risk rather than dampening down their sensitivity to negative outcomes,” said Dr. Charpentier.


  10. Study finds internet withdrawal increases heart rate and blood pressure

    June 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Swansea University press release:

    Scientists and clinicians from Swansea and Milan have found that some people who use the internet a lot experience significant physiological changes such as increased heart rate and blood pressure when they finish using the internet.

    The study involved 144 participants, aged 18 to 33 years, having their heart rate and blood pressure measured before and after a brief internet session. Their anxiety and self-reported internet-addiction were also assessed. The results showed increases in physiological arousal on terminating the internet session for those with problematically-high internet usage. These increases in heart rate and blood pressure were mirrored by increased feelings of anxiety. However, there were no such changes for participants who reported no internet-usage problems.

    The study, published in the international peer-reviewed journal, PLOS ONE, is the first controlled-experimental demonstration of physiological changes as a result of internet exposure.

    The study lead, Professor Phil Reed, of Swansea University, said: “We have known for some time that people who are over-dependent on digital devices report feelings of anxiety when they are stopped from using them, but now we can see that these psychological effects are accompanied by actual physiological changes.”

    There was an average 3-4% increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and in some cases double that figure, immediately on termination of internet use, compared to before using it, for those with digital-behaviour problems. Although this increase is not enough to be life-threatening, such changes can be associated with feelings of anxiety, and with alterations to the hormonal system that can reduce immune responses. The study also suggested that these physiological changes and accompanying increases in anxiety indicate a state like withdrawal seen for many ‘sedative’ drugs, such as alcohol, cannabis, and heroin, and this state may be responsible for some people’s need to re-engage with their digital devices to reduce these unpleasant feelings.

    Dr. Lisa Osborne, a clinical researcher and co-author of the study, said: “A problem with experiencing physiological changes like increased heart rate is that they can be misinterpreted as something more physically threatening, especially by those with high levels of anxiety, which can lead to more anxiety, and more need to reduce it.”

    The authors go on to speculate that internet use is driven by more than just the short-term excitement or joy of the technology, but that over-use can produce negative physiological and psychological changes that may drive people back onto the internet, even when they do not want to engage.

    Professor Reed said: “The individuals in our study used the internet in a fairly typical way, so we are confident that many people who over-use the internet could be affected in the same way. However, there are groups who use the internet in other ways, like gamers, perhaps to generate arousal, and the effects of stopping use on their physiology could be different — this is yet to be established.”

    Professor Roberto Truzoli of Milan University, a co-author of the study, added: “Whether problematic internet use turns out to be an addiction — involving physiological and psychological withdrawal effects — or whether compulsions are involved that do not necessitate such withdrawal effects — is yet to be seen, but these results seem to show that, for some people, it is likely to be an addiction.”

    The study also found that the participants spent an average of 5 hours a day on the internet, with 20% spending over 6 hours a day using the internet. Additionally, over 40% of the sample reported some level of internet-related problem — acknowledging that they spend too much time online. There was no difference between men and women in the tendency to show internet addiction. By far the most common reasons for engaging with digital devices were digital communication media (‘social media’) and shopping.

    Previous studies by this group, and many others, have shown short-term increases in self-reported anxiety when digitally-dependent people have their digital devices removed, and longer-term increases in their depression and loneliness, as well as changes to actual brain structures and capability to fight infections in some.

    Professor Phil Reed said: “The growth of digital communication media is fuelling the rise of ‘internet’ use, especially for women. There is now a large amount of evidence documenting the negative effects of overuse on people’s psychology, neurology, and now, in this study, on their physiology. Given this, we have to see a more responsible attitude to the marketing of these products by firms — like we have seen for alcohol and gambling.”