1. Researcher discovers brain measurements that can help with search for genes that affect shyness

    February 1, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of Leiden press release:

    Previous research has shown that extreme shyness is hereditary, but because shyness is such a broad concept it is difficult to identify specific genes. Anita Harrewijn has discovered particular brain measurements that can help. PhD defence 18 January.

    Almost ten per cent of Dutch people will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. These people are afraid that others will think them strange or weird, or they are afraid of how they will react in particular social situations, such as when they have to face a group of people, which might make them tremble or blush.

    Similarities in brain activity

    Previous research has already shown that this kind of social anxiety disorder — or extreme shyness — is hereditary. Anyone who has extremely shy parents has a greater chance of developing the same symptoms. However, it is difficult to identify specific genes because social anxiety is such a broad term. In her PhD research, developmental psychologist Harrewijn shows that brain activity during an ‘attack’ of extreme shyness is also hereditary and is related to social anxiety. Clear similarities can be seen in the brain activity of family members who suffer from extreme shyness.

    Triggering shyness

    For her PhD research Harrewijn studied a total of 134 people from nine different families where some members have a social phobia. Before the EEG scans of the brains were made, the researcher triggered a feeling of extreme shyness in the people taking part in the experiment. For the first task she told them that a photo of themselves would be judged by someone from their age group, and for the second they had to make a film about their good and bad characteristics; the film would be judged by someone of their own age.

    Cortical and subcortical areas

    In fact, this judgement by peers never actually took place, but the threat alone was enough to raise the stress levels of the participants considerably. This could be seen in their brain activity shortly before making the film, which showed there was a raised level of activity between the cortical and subcortical areas in the participants with social anxiety. Harrewijn: ‘Whereas the cortical area mainly regulates control, the subcortical area deals with emotion. The two areas seem to be competing for attention.’

    Copycat behaviour

    ‘These findings will help future research on the genetic background to social anxiety,’ Harrewijn explains. ‘This brain activity is more specific than the disorder, and is therefore probably influenced by fewer genes. Although the brain activity may be a matter of copycat behaviour rather than genetic similarities, it is quite probable that a child of extremely shy parents can also learn that behaviour. Follow-up research will be needed to show whether this brain activity can be seen in children before they develop a social anxiety disorder, so that we can help them at as early a stage as possible.’


  2. Anxiety: An early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease?

    January 25, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Brigham and Women’s Hospital press release:

    A new study suggests an association between elevated amyloid beta levels and the worsening of anxiety symptoms. The findings support the hypothesis that neuropsychiatric symptoms could represent the early manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.

    Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that causes the decline of cognitive function and the inability to carry out daily life activities. Past studies have suggested depression and other neuropsychiatric symptoms may be predictors of AD’s progression during its “preclinical” phase, during which time brain deposits of fibrillar amyloid and pathological tau accumulate in a patient’s brain. This phase can occur more than a decade before a patient’s onset of mild cognitive impairment. Investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital examined the association of brain amyloid beta and longitudinal measures of depression and depressive symptoms in cognitively normal, older adults. Their findings, published today by The American Journal of Psychiatry, suggest that higher levels of amyloid beta may be associated with increasing symptoms of anxiety in these individuals. These results support the theory that neuropsychiatric symptoms could be an early indicator of AD.

    “Rather than just looking at depression as a total score, we looked at specific symptoms such as anxiety. When compared to other symptoms of depression such as sadness or loss of interest, anxiety symptoms increased over time in those with higher amyloid beta levels in the brain,” said first author Nancy Donovan, MD, a geriatric psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “This suggests that anxiety symptoms could be a manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease prior to the onset of cognitive impairment. If further research substantiates anxiety as an early indicator, it would be important for not only identifying people early on with the disease, but also, treating it and potentially slowing or preventing the disease process early on.” As anxiety is common in older people, rising anxiety symptoms may prove to be most useful as a risk marker in older adults with other genetic, biological or clinical indicators of high AD risk.

    Researchers derived data from the Harvard Aging Brain Study, an observational study of older adult volunteers aimed at defining neurobiological and clinical changes in early Alzheimer’s disease. The participants included 270 community dwelling, cognitively normal men and women, between 62 and 90 years old, with no active psychiatric disorders. Individuals also underwent baseline imaging scans commonly used in studies of Alzheimer’s disease, and annual assessments with the 30-item Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), an assessment used to detect depression in older adults.

    The team calculated total GDS scores as well as scores for three clusters symptoms of depression: apathy-anhedonia, dysphoria, and anxiety. These scores were looked at over a span of five years.

    From their research, the team found that higher brain amyloid beta burden was associated with increasing anxiety symptoms over time in cognitively normal older adults. The results suggest that worsening anxious-depressive symptoms may be an early predictor of elevated amyloid beta levels — and, in turn AD — and provide support for the hypothesis that emerging neuropsychiatric symptoms represent an early manifestation of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.

    Donovan notes further longitudinal follow-up is needed to determine whether these escalating depressive symptoms give rise to clinical depression and dementia stages of Alzheimer’s disease over time.


  3. Study suggests too much business travel may increase risk of depression and sleep issues

    January 19, 2018 by Ashley

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

    People who travel for business two weeks or more a month report more symptoms of anxiety and depression and are more likely to smoke, be sedentary and report trouble sleeping than those who travel one to six nights a month, according to a latest study conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and City University of New York. Among those who consume alcohol, extensive business travel is associated with symptoms of alcohol dependence. Poor behavioral and mental health outcomes significantly increased as the number of nights away from home for business travel rose. This is one of the first studies to report the effects of business travel on non-infectious disease health risks. The results are published online in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

    The Global Business Travel Association Foundation estimates there were nearly 503 million person-business trips in 2016 in the U.S. compared to 488 million in the prior year. “Although business travel can be seen as a job benefit and can lead to occupational advancement, there is a growing literature showing that extensive business travel is associated with risk of chronic diseases associated with lifestyle factors,” said Andrew Rundle, DrPH, associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. “The field of occupational travel medicine needs to expand beyond its current focus on infectious disease, cardiovascular disease risks, violence and injury to bring more focus to the behavioral and mental health consequences of business travel.”

    The study was based on the de-identified health records of 18,328 employees who underwent a health assessment in 2015 through their corporate wellness work benefits program provided by EHE International, Inc. The EHE International health exam measured depressive symptoms with the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), anxiety symptoms with the Generalized Anxiety Scale (GAD-7) and alcohol dependence with the CAGE scale.

    A score above 4 on the Generalized Anxiety Scale (GAD-7) was reported by 24 percent of employees, and 15 percent scored above a 4 on the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), indicating that mild or worse anxiety or depressive symptoms were common in this employee population. Among those who consume alcohol, a CAGE score of 2 or higher indicates the presence of alcohol dependence and was found in 6 percent of employees who drank. GAD-7 and PHQ-9 scores and CAGE scores of 2 or higher increased with increasing nights away from home for business travel. These data are consistent with analyses of medical claims data from World Bank employees which found that the largest increase in claims among their business travelers was for psychological disorders related to stress.

    Employers and employees should consider new approaches to improve employee health during business trips that go beyond the typical travel health practice of providing immunizations and medical evacuation services, according to Rundle, whose earlier research found that extensive business travel was associated with higher body mass index, obesity, and higher blood pressure.

    “At the individual-level, employees who travel extensively need to take responsibility for the decisions they make around diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, and sleep. However, to do this, employees will likely need support in the form of education, training, and a corporate culture that emphasizes healthy business travel. Employers should provide employees who travel for business with accommodations that have access to physical activity facilities and healthy food options.”


  4. Study suggests paternal rejection may increase child’s social anxiety, loneliness

    December 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Healthy relationships with their parents are vital for adolescents’ development and well-being, according to Penn State researchers who say rejection from fathers may lead to increases in social anxiety and loneliness.

    The study — conducted by Hio Wa “Grace” Mak, doctoral student of human development and family studies — examined how parental rejection, as well as the overall well-being of the family unit, were related to changes in adolescents’ social anxiety, friendships and feelings of loneliness over time. Mak worked with Gregory Fosco, associate professor of human development and family studies, and Mark Feinberg, research professor of health and human development, at Penn State’s Prevention Research Center.

    The researchers found that adolescents whose fathers were more rejecting tended to have more social anxiety later on, and in turn experienced more loneliness.

    “We found that father rejection predicted increases in adolescents’ social anxiety, even when we controlled for social anxiety at an earlier time. In turn, this predicted increases in loneliness later on,” said Mak. “This suggests that fathers’ rejecting attitudes toward their adolescent children may make them more nervous about approaching social situations, which in turn is related to more social isolation and feelings of loneliness.”

    Forming and maintaining good relationships is essential to an adolescent’s well-being, according to the researchers. Previous studies have shown that adolescents with thriving social lives tend to be more psychologically healthy, while those that struggle with forming good friendships tend to perform worse academically and suffer from more depressive symptoms.


  5. Study suggests Pokémon Go could help people who struggle socially

    December 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia press release:

    Video games may have a reputation for attracting introverts, but when it comes to augmented reality games like Pokémon Go, extroverts tend to be better players.

    That’s the key finding of a new University of British Columbia psychology study, the first to look at the impact of players’ personalities, social competence and social anxiety when playing the hit mobile game.

    “Since Pokémon Go requires players to leave their homes and interact with others, we found that people with strong social skills tend to be more successful at the game,” said Adri Khalis, the study’s lead author and graduate student in the UBC department of psychology. “This counters the prevailing stereotype that gamers are socially awkward. Rather, we think that modern video games, such as those involving augmented reality, have a lot of social aspects and therefore require players to have good social competence to do well playing them.”

    Researchers recruited 101 Pokémon Go players between the ages of 18 and 28 to take part in the study. After completing questionnaires about their personality, social anxiety and social competence, participants played the game for 20 minutes.

    Through observing players’ performance in the game, the researchers found that extroverted participants caught more Pokémon, visited more PokéStops and travelled greater distances than players who described themselves as socially introverted.

    “We found that players who are socially anxious might be self-conscious and less likely to engage in the game because they may fear others are judging them,” said Khalis. “They may hesitate to play when others are watching and are less likely to collaborate with fellow players, like pointing out nearby Pokémon or sharing tips.”

    The researchers are now looking at ways for modern video games to be designed in a way that helps people who struggle socially. For example, video games could be designed in a way in which social features become increasingly more involved as the game progresses, said Khalis.

    “In the beginning, players might only need to communicate with a person through text, but as the game reaches a higher level, they may have to actually be physically close to other players to collaborate and win,” he said. “The game provides a context in which interacting with others might be easier than walking up to a stranger and striking up a conversation from the get-go.”

    As modern video games become more popular, it’s important to understand how individual personality traits influence behaviour, said Amori Mikami, the study’s senior author and associate professor in the UBC department of psychology.

    “Being socially confident not only helps us succeed in face-to-face, ‘real world’ activities but it also seems to apply to video games,” said Mikami. “As these games become more popular, we have a unique opportunity to examine the individual personality traits and characteristics that influence behaviour in a digital context.”

    The study was published online in Personality and Individual Differences.


  6. Study suggests Industrial Revolution may have left a damaging psychological ‘imprint’ on today’s populations

    December 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Cambridge press release:

    People living in the former industrial heartlands of England and Wales are more disposed to negative emotions such as anxiety and depressive moods, more impulsive and more likely to struggle with planning and self-motivation, according to a new study of almost 400,000 personality tests.

    The findings show that, generations after the white heat of Industrial Revolution and decades on from the decline of deep coal mining, the populations of areas where coal-based industries dominated in the 19th century retain a “psychological adversity.”

    Researchers suggest this is the inherited product of selective migrations during mass industrialisation compounded by the social effects of severe work and living conditions.

    They argue that the damaging cognitive legacy of coal is “reinforced and amplified” by the more obvious economic consequences of high unemployment we see today. The study also found significantly lower life satisfaction in these areas.

    The UK findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, are supported by a North American “robustness check,” with less detailed data from US demographics suggesting the same patterns of post-industrial personality traits.

    Regional patterns of personality and well-being may have their roots in major societal changes underway decades or centuries earlier, and the Industrial Revolution is arguably one of the most influential and formative epochs in modern history,” says co-author Dr Jason Rentfrow, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology.

    “Those who live in a post-industrial landscape still do so in the shadow of coal, internally as well as externally. This study is one of the first to show that the Industrial Revolution has a hidden psychological heritage, one that is imprinted on today’s psychological make-up of the regions of England and Wales.”

    An international team of psychologists, including researchers from the Queensland University of Technology, University of Texas, University of Cambridge and the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University, used data collected from 381,916 people across England and Wales during 2009-2011 as part of the BBC Lab’s online Big Personality Test.

    The team analysed test scores by looking at the “big five” personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness. The results were further dissected by characteristics such as altruism, self-discipline and anxiety.

    The data was also broken down by region and county, and compared with several other large-scale datasets including coalfield maps and a male occupation census of the early 19th century (collated through parish baptism records, where the father listed his job).

    The team controlled for an extensive range of other possible influences — from competing economic factors in the 19th century and earlier, through to modern considerations of education, wealth and even climate.

    However, they still found significant personality differences for those currently occupying areas where large numbers of men had been employed in coal-based industries from 1813 to 1820 — as the Industrial Revolution was peaking.

    Neuroticism was, on average, 33% higher in these areas compared with the rest of the country. In the ‘big five’ model of personality, this translates as increased emotional instability, prone to feelings of worry or anger, as well as higher risk of common mental disorders such as depression and substance abuse.

    In fact, in the further “sub-facet” analyses, these post-industrial areas scored 31% higher for tendencies toward both anxiety and depression.

    Areas that ranked highest for neuroticism include Blaenau Gwent and Ceredigion in South Wales, and Hartlepool in England.

    Conscientiousness was, on average, 26% lower in former industrial areas. In the ‘big five’ model, this manifests as more disorderly and less goal-oriented behaviours — difficulty with planning and saving money. The underlying sub-facet of ‘order’ itself was 35% lower in these areas.

    The lowest three areas for conscientiousness were all in Wales (Merthyr Tydfil, Ceredigion and Gwynedd), with English areas including Nottingham and Leicester.

    An assessment of life satisfaction was included in the BBC Lab questionnaire, which was an average of 29% lower in former industrial centres.

    While researchers say there will be many factors behind the correlation between personality traits and historic industrialisation, they offer two likely ones: migration and socialisation (learned behaviour).

    The people migrating into industrial areas were often doing so to find employment in the hope of escaping poverty and distressing situations of rural depression — those experiencing high levels of ‘psychological adversity’.

    However, people that left these areas, often later on, were likely those with higher degrees of optimism and psychological resilience, say researchers.

    This “selective influx and outflow” may have concentrated so-called ‘negative’ personality traits in industrial areas — traits that can be passed down generations through combinations of experience and genetics.

    Migratory effects would have been exacerbated by the ‘socialisation’ of repetitive, dangerous and exhausting labour from childhood — reducing well-being and elevating stress — combined with harsh conditions of overcrowding and atrocious sanitation during the age of steam.

    The study’s authors argue their findings have important implications for today’s policymakers looking at public health interventions.

    “The decline of coal in areas dependent on such industries has caused persistent economic hardship — most prominently high unemployment. This is only likely to have contributed to the baseline of psychological adversity the Industrial Revolution imprinted on some populations,” says co-author Michael Stuetzer from Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University, Germany.

    “These regional personality levels may have a long history, reaching back to the foundations of our industrial world, so it seems safe to assume they will continue to shape the well-being, health, and economic trajectories of these regions.”

    The team note that, while they focused on the negative psychological imprint of coal, future research could examine possible long-term positive effects in these regions born of the same adversity — such as the solidarity and civic engagement witnessed in the labour movement.

    The top 10 UK regions near historical coalfields (0-25km distance) that rank highest in Neuroticism among coal regions (ranking in order with Blaenau Gwent having the highest scores in N among the coal regions).

    (UA = Unitary authority)

    Blaenau Gwent

    Hartlepool UA

    Merthyr Tydfil

    Stoke-on-Trent UA

    Newport

    Blackpool UA

    Rhondda Cynon Taf

    Powys

    Halton UA

    Derby UA

    The top 10 UK regions near historical coalfields (0-25 km distance) that rank lowest in Conscientiousness among coal regions (ranking in order with Merthyr Tydfil having the lowest scores in C among the coal regions).

    Merthyr Tydfil

    Ceredigion

    Gwynedd

    Bristol City UA

    Leicester UA

    Nottingham UA

    Blackpool UA

    Cardiff

    Blaenau Gwent

    Middlesbrough UA


  7. Study examines brain activity and anxiety symptoms in youth with autism spectrum disorder

    December 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Wiley press release:

    The error-related negativity (ERN) is a brain signal response to errors that is thought to reflect threat sensitivity and has been implicated in anxiety disorders in individuals without autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A new Autism Research study has revealed that the ERN is related to social anxiety symptoms — specifically performance fears — in youth with ASD.

    The findings suggest that heightened threat sensitivity may be characteristic of people with ASD who exhibit social fearfulness. Those with more severe ASD symptoms and/or lower verbal abilities may have difficulty identifying or communicating their performance anxieties. Therefore, the ERN may provide important and perhaps otherwise inaccessible information on how these individuals experience internal sources of threat.

    “This study, led by my graduate student, Tamara Rosen, clarifies and focuses inconsistencies in previous research on the unique way error processing manifests and can impact anxiety symptoms in individuals with ASD,” said senior author Dr. Matthew Lerner, of Stony Brook University. “These findings can help guide and pinpoint efforts to diagnose and treat the substantial co-occurring anxiety experienced by many people with ASD.”


  8. 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.”


  9. 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.”


  10. 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.