1. Changes in brain regions may explain why some prefer order and certainty

    July 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – Los Angeles press release:

    Why do some people prefer stable, predictable lives while others prefer frequent changes? Why do some people make rational decisions and others, impulsive and reckless ones? UCLA behavioral neuroscientists have identified changes in two brain regions that may hold answers to these questions.

    The research — reported by Alicia Izquierdo, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, and her psychology graduate student, Alexandra Stolyarova — is published in the open-access online science journal eLife.

    The new experiments, which involved studying the orbitofrontal cortex and basolateral amygdala brain regions, assessed the ability of rats to work for rewards under both stable and variable conditions. Rats earned sugar pellets after choosing between two images displayed side by side. The animals made their selections by using their noses to touch a screen the size of an iPad. When a rat touched one image, it received a sugar pellet at a predictable time — generally 10 seconds later. When the rat touched the other image, it received a sugar pellet at a time that varied. This was the riskier option as the rats might have to wait as little as five seconds or as long as 15 seconds. The rats did this for a month at a time, as long as 45 minutes each day.

    The researchers discovered that the rats learned the task and were able to detect the fluctuations in wait times. When the rats experienced more variation in those wait times for their reward, the amount of the brain protein gephyrin in the basolateral amygdala region doubled, Izquierdo and Stolyarova reported.

    In some of the trials, the researchers made one option better than the other, with a shorter wait time. All rats were able to learn the pattern and make the better choice. They showed some evidence of learning on the first day and did better the second day and on subsequent days. In a group of rats without a functional basolateral amygdala, the rats learned more slowly about the changes, but caught up about two days later.

    Rats without a functional orbitofrontal cortex, however, did not learn at all, and instead treated each experience as a “reset” button, the researchers report. It is as if these rats did not have a record of the full range of possible outcomes. The important role for the orbitofrontal cortex surprised Izquierdo, who said there was more evidence that the basolateral amygdala would be important in conditions of uncertainty, and not as much for the orbitofrontal cortex.

    Stolyarova and Izquierdo are the first scientists to link gephyrin levels to the experience of reward. They report that when the rats experienced risk, the brain protein GluN1 also increased significantly in the basolateral amygdala.

    “I think the experience of uncertainty is making these changes occur in these brain regions,” Izquierdo said.

    All rats chose the risky option more often. The exception was the rats without a functional basolateral amygdala; those animals stayed risk-averse throughout the experiments.

    The orbitofrontal cortex and basolateral amygdala share anatomical connections, and both regions are involved in decision-making, earlier research has shown. The new research indicates this is especially so during changing or uncertain circumstances.

    Changes in these brain regions and brain proteins may help to explain a person’s preference for uncertain outcomes, Izquierdo said. Humans have individual differences in orbitofrontal cortex and basolateral amygdala function and in the expression of these proteins, she noted.

    For example, variations in the gephyrin gene have been linked to autism, and a feature of the disorder is a strong preference for order and certainty.

    In the future, Izquierdo said, precision medicine may be able to target any brain region to treat any disorder, including behavioral addictions such as gambling.

    People with obsessive-compulsive disorder also have a strong preference for order and certainty. Future research may answer whether the same brain changes occur in this disorder as well.


  2. Study examines erratic time perception in schizophrenia

    by Ashley

    From the Universität Mainz press release:

    Persons suffering from schizophrenia have a different perception of time than healthy individuals. There is far more variation in the way that a time interval is perceived by people with schizophrenic disorders than by those who do not have the condition. Patients with schizophrenia are also less precise when it comes to judging the temporal order of events. These are the conclusions drawn from the results of a meta-analysis undertaken by psychologists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), for which they evaluated 68 international publications from the past 65 years and compared the data of 957 schizophrenia patients with that of 1,060 healthy control persons.

    Although the clinical syndrome known as schizophrenia is already widely recognized, the connection between the cognitive and neurological impairments on the one hand and the patient’s symptoms on the other remains unclear. One theory that is current among schizophrenia researchers is that errors in temporal information processing could underlie the disorder and give rise to the known symptoms, such as the hallucinations experienced by patients who might, for instance hear voices, and the disconnection between actions and thoughts. In their meta-analysis, psychologists Sven Thönes, at present a researcher at the Leibniz Research Center for Working Environment and Human Factors in Dortmund, and Dr. Daniel Oberfeld-Twistel of the Department of Psychology at Mainz University investigated whether there was evidence in support of the hypothesis that there is disruption of time perception and temporal processing in schizophrenia patients.

    For the purposes of the meta-analysis undertaken in Mainz, the factor of ‘time perception’ was assessed on the basis on how subjects judged the duration of a particular time interval. For instance, subjects were asked to estimate the number of seconds a square was visible on a computer screen. ‘Temporal processing’ on the other hand, was evaluated in terms of a perceived sequence of events; so, for example, subjects were asked to report whether a blue square was displayed prior to a red square or vice versa.

    Internal clock ticks irregularly

    According to the results of this psychological study, the precision with which people with schizophrenia can perceive time and process temporal sequences is seriously impaired. In other words, their evaluations of time-related aspects were much more variable in comparison with those of the control group of healthy subjects. When, for example, subjects were asked 20 times in succession to estimate the duration for which a square — displayed for exactly one second in each case — appeared on the screen, the estimates given by patients with schizophrenia exhibited a much higher level of variability than those of the control group. However, the mean value, i.e., the average duration estimate in seconds, was the same in both groups.

    These results show that the internal clock in patients suffering from schizophrenia does not necessarily run faster or slower than that in healthy individuals, but rather that it does not run at a constant speed. Thönes and Oberfeld-Twistel conclude that the clock ticks irregularly. Concerning the problems when it comes to perceiving chronological sequences, these could also be caused by fundamental cognitive deficits in patients with schizophrenia and may not be related to the general way they perceive time. “The assumption nowadays is that schizophrenia disrupts processing operations so that the transfer of information in the brain is slightly out of rhythm,” explained Oberfeld-Twistel. This might be the reason why there is a failure to correctly recognize simple chronological sequences.

    The meta-analysis has also shown that certain factors, among them the potential influence of medications and neurotransmitters, have not as yet been adequately researched and need to be addressed in future research projects.


  3. Study suggests faces can reveal economic status

    by Ashley

    From the University of Toronto press release:

    Put on a happy face, your success may depend on it, suggests a study by psychology researchers at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science.

    In a new twist on first impressions, the study found people can reliably tell if someone is richer or poorer than average just by looking at a “neutral” face, without any expression.

    People also use those impressions in biased ways, such as judging the rich faces more likely than the poor ones to be hired for a job, says the paper by Associate Professor Nicholas Rule and PhD candidate Thora Bjornsdottir in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    “It indicates that something as subtle as the signals in your face about your social class can actually then perpetuate it,” says Bjornsdottir. “Those first impressions can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s going to influence your interactions, and the opportunities you have.”

    Just as interestingly, the researchers found the ability to read a person’s social class only applies to their neutral face and not when people are smiling or expressing emotions.

    Their conclusion is that emotions mask life-long habits of expression that become etched on a person’s face even by their late teens or early adulthood, such as frequent happiness, which is stereotypically associated with being wealthy and satisfied.

    “Over time, your face comes to permanently reflect and reveal your experiences,” says Rule. “Even when we think we’re not expressing something, relics of those emotions are still there.”

    Using an annual median family income of about $75,000 as a benchmark, the researchers grouped student volunteers into those with total family incomes under $60,000 or above $100,000 and then had them pose for photos with neutral faces devoid of expression.

    They then asked a separate group of participants to look at the photos and, using nothing but their gut instinct, decide which ones were “rich or poor” just by looking at the faces. They were able to determine which student belonged to the rich or poor group with about 53 per cent accuracy, a level that exceeds random chance.

    “What we’re seeing is students who are just 18-22 years old have already accumulated enough life experience that it has visibly changed and shaped their face to the point you can tell what their socio-economic standing or social class is,” says Rule.

    The results were not affected by the race or gender of the face, or how much time people were given to study them. All of which is consistent with what is known about nonverbal behaviour.

    “There are neurons in the brain that specialize in facial recognition. The face is the first thing you notice when you look at somebody,” says Rule.

    “We see faces in clouds, we see faces in toast. We are sort of hardwired to look for face-like stimuli. And this is something people pick up very quickly. And they are consistent, which is what makes it statistically significant.”

    “People are not really aware of what cues they are using when they make these judgments,” says Bjornsdottir. “If you ask them why, they don’t know. They are not aware of how they are doing this.”

    The study of social classes as an undercurrent in psychology and behaviour is getting more recognition, says Rule. And with 43 muscles concentrated in a relatively small area, facial cues are one of the most intriguing areas in this field.

    “People talk about the cycle of poverty, and this is potentially one contributor to that,” says Rule.

    He says the next step might be to study older age groups to see if the patterns of facial cues become even more apparent to people over time.


  4. Study looks at psychological effect of pushing and shoving

    July 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ruhr-University Bochum press release:

    The results of the interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers at Forschungszentrum Jülich and Ruhr-Universität Bochum have been published in the journal PLoS One.

    Physicists and engineers typically use purely physical models in order to conduct computer simulations of crowd dynamics. This approach resembles scientific methods used for calculating the diffusion of particles in a gas or a liquid. However, they are insufficient for understanding the reason why barriers have such a strong impact on the behaviour of pushing and shoving crowds at large events.

    “The starting point were experiments with participants where we observed considerable differences in crowd density,” explains Prof Dr Armin Seyfried from the Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC). One of the aspects analysed in the course of the project “Bausteine für die Sicherheit von Großveranstaltungen” (Safety and Security Modules for Large Public Events, Basigo) in June 2013 was the impact of the physical set-up of entrances on the behaviour of the participants. Events where dangerous situations may easily arise at the entrance to a venue include festivals, concerts and sport events, when eager fans push forward in an uncontrolled manner.

    “We asked 270 participants to imagine they were standing at the entrance to a rock concert venue, attempting to get their hands on one of the last remaining tickets,” remembers Armin Seyfried. In the first run of the experiment, the participants were free to flock to the entrance unhindered, and a semi-circular throng soon formed in front of the entrance. Whereas in the second run of the experiment, the participants moved in a corridor surrounded by barriers, where the maximum number of people per square metre amounted to six rather than eleven.

    Psychological approach needed

    Surprisingly, the density was significantly smaller not only directly at the entrance, but also in the outlying area. “This result cannot be explained with purely physical models,” says Seyfried. “One has to assume that psychological aspects lead to smaller density in the corridor, in the sense that certain rules are obeyed. However, these rules exist only in our heads,” elaborates the physicist.

    Social norms apply here in the same way as at a supermarket check-out or at the airport check-in counter; following those rules, people queue in an orderly fashion, rather than attempting to shoulder their way through the crowd to reach their goal as quickly as possible. “It is very interesting that people between the barriers did not push and shove, especially since they had been explicitly asked to hurry,” points out social psychologist Dr Anna Sieben from Ruhr-Universität Bochum.

    In order to learn more about predominant norms and strategies, she subsequently showed images and videos of the experiment to other participants. “One possible explanation of this behaviour might have something to do with how differently fairness is rated,” explains Anna Sieben. “Most people seem to consider admission through a corridor to be the fairer approach. They believe that people who are first in the queue will get in first. This means the question of pushing and shoving may be linked to people’s faith in the fairness of the admission method,” says Anna Sieben. However, the perceived fairness does not necessary correspond with objective measurements. The analysed experiment shows it is the other way round. “In the corridor more people presumably push to the front, because there is more space,” assumes Armin Seyfried. In the crowded semicircle in front of the entrance, on the other hand, there isn’t enough space for queue jumping.


  5. Study suggests eyewitness recollection easily distorted by the views of others

    by Ashley

    From the University of Huddersfield press release:

    It is human nature to give added credence to the views of family and friends. But this could lead to inaccurate eyewitness statements in court cases and therefore potential miscarriages of justice, argues a University of Huddersfield lecturer, who is calling on police and the courts to take this factor into account.

    Dara Mojtahedi — who lectures in forensic psychology — has been carrying out innovative research into the reliability of eyewitness statements and has been disseminating his findings at conferences and during talks with police.

    During an earlier phase of research he screened footage of an actual violent incident to groups of “witnesses” — specially recruited volunteers. Some of them were allowed to confer, and it was found that many people’s recollection of what they saw was readily distorted by comments from others, including dummy eyewitnesses who purposely suggested that the wrong man had started the fight.

    This resulted in many inaccurate and misleading statements from people susceptible to being influenced by others.

    Now Dara has developed the project, in order to discover the extent of what he describes as “co-witness familiarity on statement similarity.”

    He recruited 420 participants. They were placed in groups that included relations or people who had known each other for at least three months. They then watched the fight footage and held a discussion before giving individual statements privately. It was found that the post-event discussions significantly increased the level of statement similarity when the co-witnesses had a pre-existing relationship.

    One reason the findings are important is that studies have shown that 86 per cent of eyewitnesses are known to each other, meaning there is enormous scope for misleading statements to be made.

    As a psychologist, Dara Mojtahedi — who is completing his PhD on eyewitness reliability — was unsurprised by the findings of his latest experiment.

    “When we encounter information from a stranger, we have no background knowledge of them to help us decide on whether they are more likely to be correct than we are. But with friends and family members, we have known them for a long time and it is a natural process that when we like someone we spend less time questioning and criticising their reliability and accuracy.”

    Dara has presented his research at academic events, such as the recent Forensic Psychology in Canada Conference, held in Ottawa, and at the British Psychological Society in Bristol. Also, he is supervising Master’s students who are writing dissertations in the subject area.

    But he is particularly determined that his findings about eyewitness reliability and especially co-witness familiarity should make an impact on police investigation and court procedures.

    “A big question that police officers, lawyers and indeed jurors should be asking is, did you witness this incident with friends or did you witness it with strangers?” said Dara.

    He has recently presented his work to West Yorkshire Police and his ideas were well-received. “This research is really aimed at officers and at jurors rather than an academic audience,” he said.


  6. Your hands may reveal the struggle to maintain self-control

    July 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release:

    It takes just a few seconds to choose a cookie over an apple and wreck your diet for the day.

    But what is happening during those few seconds while you make the decision?

    In a new study, researchers watched in real time as people’s hands revealed the struggle they were under to choose the long-term goal over short-term temptation. The work represents a new approach to studying self-control.

    In one key experiment, participants viewed pictures of a healthy and an unhealthy food choice on opposite sides of the top of a computer screen and moved a cursor from the center bottom to select one of the foods.

    People who moved the cursor closer to the unhealthy treat (even when they ultimately made the healthy choice) later showed less self-control than did those who made a more direct path to the healthy snack.

    Our hand movements reveal the process of exercising self-control,” said Paul Stillman, co-author of the study and postdoctoral researcher in psychology at The Ohio State University.

    “You can see the struggle as it happens. For those with low self-control, the temptation is actually drawing their hand closer to the less-healthy choice.”

    The results may shed light on a scholarly debate about what’s happening in the brain when humans harness willpower.

    Stillman conducted the study with Melissa Ferguson, professor of psychology, and Danila Medvedev, a former undergraduate student, both from Cornell University. Their research will appear in the journal Psychological Science.

    The study involved several experiments. In one, 81 college students made 100 decisions involving healthy versus unhealthy food choices.

    In each trial, they clicked a “Start” button at the bottom of the screen. As soon as they did, two images appeared in the upper-left and upper-right corners of the screen, one a healthy food (such as Brussels sprouts) and the other an unhealthy one (such as a brownie).

    They were told to choose as quickly as possible which of the two foods would most help them meet their health and fitness goals. So there was a “correct” answer, even if they were tempted by a less healthy treat.

    Before the experiment began, the participants were told that after they finished they would be given one of the foods they chose in the experiment. At the end, however, they could freely choose whether they wanted an apple or a candy bar.

    The results showed that those who chose the candy bar at the end of the experiment — those with lower self-control — had tended to veer closer to the unhealthy foods on the screen.

    “The more they were pulled toward the temptation on the computer screen, the more they actually chose the temptations and failed at self-control,” Stillman said.

    But for those with higher levels of self-control, the path to the healthy food was more direct, indicating that they experienced less conflict.

    In two other studies, similar results occurred in a completely different scenario, in which college students could decide whether they would rather accept $25 today or $45 in 180 days. Those with lower levels of self-control had mouse trajectories that were clearly different from those with higher self-control, suggesting differences in how they were dealing with the decisions.

    “This mouse-tracking metric could be a powerful new tool to investigate real-time conflict when people have to make decisions related to self-control,” he said.

    The findings also offer new evidence in a debate about how decision-making in self-control situations unfolds, Stillman said.

    When the researchers mapped the trajectories people took with the cursor in the first experiment, they observed that most participants did not automatically start directly toward the unhealthy treat before abruptly switching course back to the healthy food. Rather, the trajectories appear curved, as if both the temptation and goal were competing from the beginning.

    Why is that important?

    Some researchers have argued that there are two systems in our brain that are involved in a self-control decision: one that’s impulsive and a second that overcomes the impulses to exert willpower. But if that were the case, the trajectories seen in this study should look different than they do, Stillman said.

    If dual systems underlie these choices, there should be a relatively straight line toward the unhealthy food while people are under the influence of the impulsive first system and then an abrupt change in direction toward the healthy food as the system in charge of self-control kicks in.

    “That’s not what we found,” Stillman said. “Our results suggest a more dynamical process in which the healthy and unhealthy choices are competing from the very beginning in our brains and there isn’t an abrupt change in thinking. That’s why we get these curved trajectories.”

    Stillman said these results should help lead to a more accurate view of how our cognitive processes unfold to allow us to resist temptation.


  7. Finding what’s right with children who grow up in high-stress environments

    by Ashley

    From the University of Utah press release:

    A new research article proposes that more attention be given to what’s right with children who grow up in high-stress environments so their unique strengths and abilities can be used to more effectively tailor education, jobs and interventions to fit them.

    Stress-adapted children and youth possess traits — such as heightened vigilance, attention shifting and empathic accuracy — that aren’t tapped in traditional learning and testing situations. In addition, these skills may actually allow at-risk children to perform better than their peers from low-risk backgrounds when faced with uncertainty and stress.

    Most research to date has focused on detrimental effects of growing up under stressful conditions and the deficits in cognitive development that can result, said Bruce J. Ellis, lead author.

    “We’re not arguing that’s wrong, but that it is only part of the picture,” said Ellis, a University of Utah psychology professor. “The other part is that children fine-tune their abilities to match the world that they grow up in, which can result in enhanced stress-adapted skills. We’re trying to challenge a world view and give consideration to an alternative adaptation-based approach to resilience.”

    The study “Beyond Risk and Protective Factors: An Adaptation-based Approach to Resilience” is forthcoming in the July issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science.

    Co-authors include JeanMarie Bianchi, University of Arizona; Vladas Griskevicius, University of Minnesota; and Willem E. Frankenhuis, Radboud University Nijmegen.

    The prevailing view is that children who experience high-stress environments are at risk for impairments in learning and behavior and that interventions are needed to prevent, reduce or repair the damage that has been done to them.

    These high-stress environments include neighborhood danger; exposure to environmental chemicals; bad housing conditions; neglectful and abusive parenting; low-quality childcare; and peer and school violence. Research has shown that the more stressors children are exposed to, the more their performances in traditional learning and testing situations is compromised.

    Most interventions are aimed at countering these deficits and getting “children and youth from high-risk backgrounds to act, think, and feel more like children and youth from low-risk backgrounds,” the authors say.

    In other words, the dominant approach assumes at-risk youth are somehow broken and need to be fixed.

    Virtually no research attention has been paid to what strengths and abilities youth possess as a result of growing up in high-risk environments, Ellis said.

    Although there is a rich body of literature examining adaptive responses in birds and rodents to stressful environments, the first theoretical work related to humans was published in 2013 by co-author Frankenhuis, followed by the first experiments in 2015 by co-author Griskevicius, Ellis said.

    That research showed repeated or chronic stress does not exclusively impair cognition and can improve forms of attention, perception, learning, memory and problem-solving.

    “Our argument is that stress does not so much impair development as direct or regulate it toward these strategies that are adaptive under stressful conditions,” Ellis said. “Stress-adapted children and youth may perform better on tasks that involve situations and relationships that are relevant to them, such as social dominance. They also may perform better in settings that do not attempt to minimize the reality of daily stressors and uncertainties.”

    These stress-adapted skills should be understood, appreciated and seen as building blocks for success, Ellis said. A first, essential step is that researchers catalog the strengths and abilities of people who grow up in high-stress environments and focus on how to leverage those abilities to enhance learning, intervention and developmental outcomes.


  8. Study identifies four categories of Facebook users

    July 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brigham Young University press release:

    On an average day, 1.28 billion people check it. Monthly? Nearly 2 billion. And according to one recent estimate, the average Facebook user spends 35 minutes a day on the platform — which makes for a whole lot of daily and monthly minutes.

    In a recently published study, a trio of Brigham Young University communications professors explores why.

    “What is it about this social-media platform that has taken over the world?” asked lead author Tom Robinson. “Why are people so willing to put their lives on display? Nobody has ever really asked the question, ‘Why do you like this?'”

    Based on subject responses, the research team identified four categories of Facebook users: relationship builders, town criers, selfies and window shoppers.

    Relationship builders post, respond to others’ posts and use additional Facebook features primarily in an attempt to fortify relationships that exist beyond their virtual world. “They use it as an extension of their real life, with their family and real-life friends,” Robinson said. People in this group identified strongly with such statements as “Facebook helps me to express love to my family and lets my family express love to me.”

    Town criers, on the other hand, experience a much larger gap between their real and virtual worlds. Unconcerned with sharing photos, stories or other information about themselves, they instead “want to inform everybody about what’s going on,” Robinson said. Like town criers from days of yore, “they’re pushing out information.” They repost news stories, announce events — but may otherwise neglect their profile pages, preferring to update family and friends through alternative means.

    Selfies use Facebook to self promote. Like relationship builders, they post pictures, videos and text updates — but unlike relationship builders, they’re focused on getting attention, likes and comments. Study participants in this category identified highly with the statement “The more ‘like’ notification alarms I receive, the more I feel approved by my peers.” Selfies, said study co-author Kris Boyle, use the platform “to present an image of themselves, whether it’s accurate or not.”

    Window shoppers, like town criers, feel a sense of social obligation to be on Facebook but rarely post personal information. Unlike town criers, these users, said study co-author Clark Callahan, “want to see what other people are doing. It’s the social-media equivalent of people watching.” Window shoppers identified with such statements as “I can freely look at the Facebook profile of someone I have a crush on and know their interests and relationship status.”

    For this study, the researchers compiled a list of 48 statements identifying potential reasons people use Facebook. Subjects sorted the statements in a way that reflected their personal connection to the ideas, then rated each statement on a scale from “most like me” to “least like me.” Finally, the researchers interviewed each subject to get a deeper understanding of their rankings and ratings.

    Though previous Facebook-related research has explored users with relationship-builder and selfie characteristics, Robinson said, the town criers and window shoppers were an unexpected find. “Nobody had really talked about these users before, but when we thought about it, they both made a lot of sense.”

    Facebook users may identify to some degree with more than one category — Boyle noted that most people have at least some selfie tendencies, for example. But users typically identify more with one than others. “Everybody we’ve talked to will say, ‘I’m part of this and part of this, but I’m mostly this,'” said Robinson, who calls himself a relationship builder.

    So what’s the value in the label?

    “Social media is so ingrained in everything we do right now,” Boyle said. “And most people don’t think about why they do it, but if people can recognize their habits, that at least creates awareness.”


  9. Moms, kids and TV: A complicated relationship that’s not all bad

    by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Watching television sometimes gets a bad rap — especially where children and screen time are concerned — but not all of it’s deserved.

    A recent University of Michigan study of low-income mothers found that when they watch parent-approved, educational programming with their child, television is viewed as a positive tool. Moms also report largely positive experiences when managing their child’s media use, which challenges negative assumptions about low-income mothers and screen time management.

    In the study, 296 low-income moms were asked about beliefs and rules regarding their 4-to-8-year-old child’s television watching behavior, how they manage screen time and if they allow television during meals.

    The amount of screen time children should be allowed, in particular TV — which is still the most popular electronic medium — is a huge issue in all demographics, but perhaps even more so for low-income children, said first author Sarah Domoff, a researcher at the U-M Center for Human Growth and Development and assistant professor at Central Michigan University.

    That’s because television watching is a risk factor for obesity, and low-income children watch more TV and have higher obesity rates than higher-income peers.

    Understanding how mothers manage television for kids can foster positive, nonshaming conversations between clinicians and low-income parents about TV, which could ultimately help reduce screen time, Domoff said.

    Five themes emerged during questioning. Mothers said that what their children watch on television is more important than how much. To that end, they focus on restricting programming and set time limits only in extreme cases.

    The mothers in the study were confident in the programming choices they make for their children and put much thought into appropriate television. This challenges the assumption that low-income mothers experience problems managing their child’s media use, Domoff said.

    Positive experiences outweigh negative ones and challenges seem to reflect specific child factors or situational stressors, such as meal or bedtime. Moms also expressed concern about the effect of violent programming, but don’t worry as much about commercials.

    “That’s important because we know that exposure to advertisements for fast food or sugar-sweetened beverages has been implicated as a risk factor for child obesity,” Domoff said.

    Mothers said their children vary in how much television they want to watch, with some demanding more than others — say, to fall asleep or eat. In cases where mothers worry about a child watching too much, they limit viewing time as well as restricted programming.

    Researchers also found that moms enjoy the time they spend sharing quality programming with their children — especially watching their children learn.

    “That’s important because for families with fewer resources, watching television was something they valued, and it appeared to be an important activity that they enjoyed,” Domoff said.

    Finally, whether a mother allows television during meals depends on her goals. If she views meals as time for talking and family bonding, she doesn’t allow television. However, if meals are viewed strictly as time for children to eat, mothers are more likely to allow television if it helps achieve that goal.

    “Meals can be a very stressful time in some households,” Domoff said. “The mother might need to get to a second job on time and need the child to eat quickly. Allowing television during the meal might encourage certain children to eat and help the mother accomplish her goals.”

    However, Domoff said that TV use during meals is also a risk factor for obesity, and other strategies to help children eat should be encouraged.


  10. Study suggests programs that teach emotional intelligence in schools have lasting impact

    July 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia press release:

    Social and emotional learning programs for youth not only immediately improve mental health, social skills, and learning outcomes but also continue to benefit children years later, according to new research from UBC, University of Illinois at Chicago and Loyola University.

    “Social-emotional learning programs teach the skills that children need to succeed and thrive in life,” said Eva Oberle, an assistant professor at UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership in the school of population and public health. “We know these programs have an immediate positive effect so this study wanted to assess whether the skills stuck with students over time, making social-emotional learning programs a worthwhile investment of time and financial resources in schools.”

    Social-emotional learning teaches children to recognize and understand their emotions, feel empathy, make decisions and build and maintain relationships. Previous research has shown that incorporating these programs into the classroom improves learning outcomes and reduces anxiety and behavioural problems among students. Some schools have incorporated social-emotional learning programs – like MindUP and Roots of Empathy – into classrooms while other school systems, including the new B.C. curriculum, embrace it more systemically.

    The new study analyzed results from 82 different programs involving more than 97,000 students from kindergarten to middle school in the U.S., Europe and the U.K. where the effects were assessed at least six months after the programs completed. The researchers found that social-emotional learning continued to have positive effects in the classroom but was also connected to longer-term positive outcomes.

    Students who participated in programs graduated from college at a rate 11 per cent higher than peers who did not. Their high school graduation rate was six per cent higher. Drug use and behaviour problems were six per cent lower for program participants, arrest rates 19 per cent lower, and diagnoses of mental health disorders 13.5 per cent lower.

    Oberle and her colleagues also found that all children benefitted from the programs regardless of race, socioeconomic background or school location.

    Teaching social-emotional learning in schools is a way to support individual children in their pathways to success, and it’s also a way to promote better public health outcomes later in life,” said Oberle. “However, these skills need to be reinforced over time and we would like to see schools embed social-emotional learning systematically into the curriculum, rather than doing programs as a ‘one-off.’ ”

    Oberle and her colleagues say schools are an ideal place to implement these interventions because they will reach almost all children, including those who are disadvantaged.

    “Especially during middle-school years and early adolescence, young people shift away from their families and toward influences in peer groups and teachers,” Oberle said. “Children spend 923 hours in the classroom every year; what happens in schools is very influential on child development.”