1. Assisted dying for psychiatric disorders: Serious public health impact

    June 22, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Canadian Medical Association Journal media release:

    hospital stayOffering medical assistance in dying to people in Canada on the basis of psychiatric illnesses could put vulnerable people at risk, argues a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

    There is a serious gap between the idealized basis upon which assisted dying for patients with psychiatric conditions is advocated and the reality of its practice, as reflected in evidence from Belgium and the Netherlands. A policy for access to assisted dying by nonterminally ill patients with psychiatric conditions will put many vulnerable and stigmatized people at risk,” writes Dr. Scott Kim, a physician and bioethicist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, Maryland, United States, with Dr. Trudo Lemmens, a professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law & the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

    Canada has been grappling recently with conflicting recommendations over legalizing assisted dying. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that competent adults suffering from a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” should be able to access assisted dying. It invited Parliament to develop a strict regulatory regime to enable this. A Special Joint Parliamentary Committee recommended that people with psychiatric illness should be eligible. Bill C14, now adopted by both the House of Commons and the Senate, restricts assisted dying to persons near the end of their natural lives (whether or not they have psychiatric disorders). This would generally rule out assisted dying for psychiatric conditions. But the government will be studying this issue further in the coming years.

    The authors argue that there are substantial challenges to deciding who would be eligible for assisted dying for psychiatric patients.

    Evidence from Belgium and the Netherlands indicates that doctors disagree when applying criteria for who is eligible for assisted dying for psychiatric disorders. As well, although most of the discussion has focused on persons with difficult-to-treat depression, legalizing assisted dying for psychiatric disorders would mean that persons with schizophrenia, autism, eating disorders, PTSD, personality disorders, and even prolonged grief would be eligible to receive assisted dying.

    “Perhaps those who advocate for extending access to people with psychiatric disorders may be willing to tolerate a number of potentially avoidable premature deaths as acceptable because access to assisted dying is felt to be so important in principle. However, that argument must be made explicit and debated publicly,” the authors conclude.

  2. No sweet surrender: Glucose actually enhances self-control, study shows

    June 7, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Taylor & Francis media release:

    blueberries blackberriesIn the age of the ‘sugar tax’, good news about glucose is hard to come by. But an Australian scientist has just proposed a new understanding of the established link between the sweet stuff and improved .

    As Neil Levy, from Macquarie University, explains in the journal Philosophical Psychology, the current ‘ego depletion’ model of the link between glucose and self-control holds that self-control is a depletable resource. Or put another way, glucose is the fuel for the engine of self-control.

    But Dr Levy isn’t convinced. After examining all the available evidence, he proposes a rival ‘opportunity costs’ model. Glucose isn’t a ‘fuel’ to support self-control, he suggests, but a signal of environmental quality. He explains that, “a resource-poor environment is one in which it is relatively urgent to pursue shorter-sooner rewards; a resource-rich environment is one in which there is little urgency.”

    [Glucose] is a signal that the environment is such that there is relatively less urgency to pursue [smaller sooner] rewards, and that strategies aimed at securing [larger later] rewards are likely to be relatively more successful.” As Levy explains, when people in a resource-rich environment are less sensitive to ‘competing rewards’, they tend to work longer at tasks for which the payoff or reward is delayed: the very definition of self-control.

    “The opportunity costs of allocating attentional and cognitive resources … to a particular task are relatively low; therefore, the subject persists longer or performs better at the task,” he writes. “The subject persists longer because the subject continues to deploy resources without shifting them; the subject performs better because the subject allocates proportionally more resources to the task, as a consequence of not needing to devote resources to scouring for competing opportunities.” Despite his commitment to his theory, Levy acknowledges that glucose might only be one signal of environmental richness. “Any cue that signals a lack of urgency to pursue immediate reward should be expected to have the same effect,” he observes.

    It’s also unlikely that sensing glucose alone would be enough for the body to change its strategy; it may be the case that the body picks up on glucose only when other signals of poverty, conflict or instability are absent. “It is not glucose per se that constitutes the signal: it is glucose correlated with the absence of cues indicating the need to pursue it immediately,” he concludes.

    Dr Levy acknowledges that his theory needs further exploration — but when the experiments involve glucose, he’s unlikely to have any shortage of volunteers.


  3. Emotions in the age of Botox

    May 31, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Sissa Medialab media release:

    mirror, agingBotulin injections in the facial muscles, which relax expression lines and make one’s skin appear younger as a result of a mild paralysis, have another, not easily predictable effect: they undermine the ability to understand the facial expressions of other people.

    This consequence, as SISSA scientists explain in a new research study, depends on a temporary block of proprioceptive feedback, a process that helps us understand other people’s emotions by reproducing them on our own bodies.

    By now we are all used to seeing its more or less successful results on Italian and international celebrities, but in fact the market of Botox-based procedures (cosmetic treatments that exploit the effects of type A botulin toxin) involves a large number of individuals. Just to give an idea, about 250,000 procedures were done in Italy in 2014. It is therefore natural to wonder about the possible side effects of this practice. One fairly unpredictable consequence concerns the emotional domain, and in particular the perception of emotional information and facial expressions. “The thankfully temporary paralysis of facial muscles that this toxin causes impairs our ability to capture the meaning of other people’s facial expressions,” explains Jenny Baumeister, research scientist at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste and first author of a study just published in the journal Toxicon (and carried out with the collaboration of Cattinara Hospital in Trieste).

    Baumeister’s intuition stems from a very well-known scientific theory, called embodiment. The idea is that the processing of emotional information, such as facial expressions, in part involves reproducing the same emotions on our own bodies. In other words, when we observe a smile, our face too tends to smile (often in an imperceptible and automatic fashion) as we try to make sense of that expression. However, if our facial muscles are paralyzed by Botox, then the process of understanding someone else’s emotion expression may turn out to be more difficult.

    Jenny Baumeister had a sample of subjects carrying out a series of different tests assessing their understanding of emotions, immediately before and two weeks after they had had a Botox-based aesthetic procedure, and compared the measurement with a similar sample of subjects that had no treatment. Regardless of the types of measurement (judgement or reaction times) the effect of the paralysis was obvious.

    The negative effect is very clear when the expressions observed are subtle. Instead when the smile is wide and overt, the subjects were still able to recognize it, even if they’ve had the treatment,” explains Francesco Foroni, SISSA researcher who coordinated the study. “For very intense stimuli, although there was a definite tendency to perform worse, the difference was not significant. On the other hand, for “equivocal” stimuli that are more difficult to pick up, the effect of the paralysis was very strong.”

    The finding confirms the assumption that, to some extent at least, “embodied” processes help us understand emotions. It also suggests that the negative influence of Botox may be manifest precisely in those situations in which this help could prove most useful. For instance, think of a normal conversation between two individuals, where mutual understanding is vital to ensure proper social interaction: failure to pick up on emotional nuances or sudden changes in the other person’s mood can make the difference between successful communication and communication breakdown.

    “Our study was devised to investigate embodied cognition. At the same time, we think that awareness of this consequence will be of use to those involved in aesthetic medicine, not least to adequately inform people seeking to undergo these treatments,” commented Foroni.

  4. Benefit of organizational misconduct: Others in group may work harder, study says

    May 30, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School media release:

    meeting circle canstockphoto1828283Misconduct within an organization is generally seen as a predicament at best, a catastrophe at worst.

    But a new study by a Johns Hopkins University business professor shows that such misconduct, or “deviance,” can prove beneficial by causing “non-deviant” members of the group to work harder in order to alleviate their own discomfort with the organization’s tarnished image.

    “The silver lining of organizational deviance may be the efforts of the uninvolved,” says lead researcher Brian Gunia, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in Baltimore, Maryland.

    The urge to increase effort in the wake of group deviance is particularly strong among non-deviants who identify closely with their organizations and thus may perceive “an internal identity threat” because of the misconduct, he adds. The paper by Gunia and co-author Sun Young Kim of the IÉSEG School of Management in France, “The behavioral benefits of other people’s deviance,” was recently published in the online edition of Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. As the authors note, previous research primarily examined organizational misbehavior’s impact on only the deviant members; this new paper is among the first to consider the effect on the non-deviants, particularly looking at their exertion of effort during such a crisis. “The effects of misconduct extend far beyond the deviants,” Gunia says.

    In three separate studies with about 200 participants from around the United States, the researchers confirmed their main theory that non-deviant members work harder after witnessing deviance. The extra effort that follows a failure, however, is confined to those who identify highly with the organization; non-deviants whose identities are not so closely tied to the organization tend not to sense a threat to their identities, and so they are less inclined to exert increased effort, according to the study.

    The fictionalized examples of deviance posed to the study participants were of moderate severity ? that is, not serious enough to jeopardize a group’s existence. Yet the results across the board revealed the value of group identification, highlighting a previously unrecognized advantage for both a group and its members: The non-deviants’ enhanced effort accrues to the organization’s benefit while providing a coping mechanism and a potential boost in reputation for the members themselves, Gunia says.

    “The whole group benefits from increased effort, but individual members and their standing within the organization may improve as well,” he adds.

    In pointing out the ironic benefits of organizational deviance, the authors are quick to note that encouraging misconduct would be “patently unwise.” Yet they add that “deviance does happen with unfortunate frequency, and organizational leaders need to know how to respond.”

    The study suggests that leaders could respond by highlighting the similarities between the deviants and the non-deviants, which, “while uncomfortable,” could trigger in the latter group a feeling of association with the crisis and cause them to work harder. For example, leaders might say something like “Any of us could have fallen into this trap.”

    The researchers advise against blaming a few “bad apples,” as this appears to isolate and dismiss the problem, sidestepping any assignment of responsibility to the organization’s overall structure and leadership.

    Gunia and Kim indicate that their study suggests various future research topics. For example, would an instance of severe deviance also prompt increased effort, or would it cause the non-deviants to just leave? Additionally, would anyone work harder when a majority of the organization is involved in misconduct?

  5. ‘Virtual partner’ elicits emotional responses from a human partner in real-time

    May 27, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Florida Atlantic University media release:

    tablet computerCan machines think? That’s what renowned mathematician Alan Turing sought to understand back in the 1950s when he created an imitation game to find out if a human interrogator could tell a human from a machine based solely on conversation deprived of physical cues.

    The Turing test was introduced to determine a machine’s ability to show intelligent behavior that is equivalent to or even indistinguishable from that of a human. Turing mainly cared about whether machines could match up to humans’ intellectual capacities.

    But there is more to being human than intellectual prowess, so researchers from the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences (CCSBS) in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University set out to answer the question: “How does it ‘feel’ to interact behaviorally with a machine?

    They created the equivalent of an “emotional” Turing test, and developed a virtual partner that is able to elicit emotional responses from its human partner while the pair engages in behavioral coordination in real-time.

    Results of the study, titled “Enhanced Emotional Responses during Social Coordination with a Virtual Partner,” are recently published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology. The researchers designed the virtual partner so that its behavior is governed by mathematical models of human-to-human interactions in a way that enables humans to interact with the mathematical description of their social selves.

    Our study shows that humans exhibited greater emotional arousal when they thought the virtual partner was a human and not a machine, even though in all cases, it was a machine that they were interacting with,” said Mengsen Zhang, lead author and a Ph.D. student in FAU’s CCSBS. “Maybe we can think of intelligence in terms of coordinated motion within and between brains.”

    The virtual partner is a key part of a paradigm developed at FAU called the Human Dynamic Clamp — a state-of-the-art human machine interface technology that allows humans to interact with a computational model that behaves very much like humans themselves. In simple experiments, the model — on receiving input from human movement — drives an image of a moving hand which is displayed on a video screen. To complete the reciprocal coupling, the subject sees and coordinates with the moving image as if it were a real person observed through a video circuit. This social “surrogate” can be precisely tuned and controlled — both by the experimenter and by the input from the human subject.

    “The behaviors that gave rise to that distinctive emotional arousal were simple finger movements, not events like facial expressions for example, known to convey emotion,” said Emmanuelle Tognoli, Ph.D., co-author and associate research professor in FAU’s CCSBS. “So the findings are rather startling at first.”

    Tognoli is quick to point out that that it is not so much about how fanciful the partner appears or how emotionally prone it is, since usually, fingers have little in the way of tears or laughter. Instead, it is a matter of how well the virtual partner relates its behavior to the human — its competence for social coordination written in its mathematical equations.

    The mathematical models that govern the virtual partner’s behavior are grounded in four decades of empirical and theoretical research at FAU led by co-author J.A. Scott Kelso, Ph.D., the Glenwood and Martha Creech Eminent Chair in Science, and founder of FAU’s CCSBS.

    Kelso stresses that the key idea behind the Human Dynamic Clamp is the symmetry between the human and the machine, the fact that they are governed by the same laws of coordination dynamics.

    In reality, humans’ interactions with their milieu, including other human beings, are continuous and reciprocal,” said Kelso. “By putting time and reciprocity back in the investigation of emotion and social interaction, the Human Dynamic Clamp affords the opportunity to explore parameter ranges and perturbations that are out of reach of traditional experimental designs. It is a step forward for investigations aimed at understanding complex social behavior.”

    The study shows that behavioral interaction and emotion are continuously feeding from each other, so that coordination of movement could make useful contribution to the rehabilitation of diseases. Movement coordination disorders are often found in patients with schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders, who also suffer from social and emotional dysfunctions.

    “Artificial Intelligence has been grounded in an algorithmic approach of human cognition. We are now bringing the social and emotional dimensions to the table as well,” said Guillaume Dumas, Ph.D., co-author, and a former post-doctoral member of FAU’s CCSBS who is currently with the Institut Pasteur in Paris.

    The researchers anticipate that the virtual partner will soon be developed into the prototype of a cooperative machine that can be used for therapeutic purposes. This type of application might benefit many patients afflicted with social and emotional disorders.

    “FAU has nurtured the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences for 30 years, and this work is led by one of our outstanding doctoral students who is advancing our understanding of the orders and disorders that take place in our society and in our brains,” said Daniel C. Flynn, Ph.D., FAU’s vice president for research.

    The study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) “Affect, Social Behavior and Social Cognition Program.”

  6. Evaluating animal threats and human intentions uses common brain network

    May 16, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Society for Neuroscience media release:

    fear, phobiasAssessing whether a fluffy bunny or a giant spider poses a threat to our safety happens automatically. New research suggests the same brain areas may be involved in both detecting threats posed by animals and evaluating other humans’ intentions. The study, published in the May 11 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, offers insight into a basic feature of human cognition: how we understand and evaluate other creatures.

    The idea that animals may be processed in a similar way [to humans] and may piggyback on regions of the brain that have been implicated in social cognition suggests that those regions … are multipurpose,” said study author Andrew Connolly of Dartmouth College.

    Previously Connolly’s research group found that hierarchical classes of animals (say, bugs vs. mammals) are represented in an area of the brain called the lateral occipital complex, a region involved in object perception and recognition. What was not known, however, was which brain regions process information about an animal’s “dangerousness.”

    To investigate this, the researchers scanned volunteers’ brains while they viewed pictures of bugs, reptiles, and mammals. Half of the animals depicted were classified as “low threat,” such as butterflies and rabbits, and half were “high threat,” such as snakes and cougars. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers determined which areas of the brain were active when participants viewed bugs, reptiles, and mammals, and when they viewed low- and high-threat animals. Researchers used these activity patterns to map how two kinds of information — taxonomic class and threat — are encoded in the brain.

    As before, they found taxonomic class was represented in the lateral occipital complex. Surprisingly, a different area of the brain represented threat. This area, called the superior temporal sulcus, is a fold in brain tissue running just above the ear, and previous research has implicated the region in understanding facial expressions and deciphering others’ intentions. The researchers speculate that evaluating other humans and evaluating threats posed by animals may be related functions.

    Nikolaus Kriegeskorte, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge who studies visual object recognition and was not involved in the study, said this is interesting basic science. “Knowing what parts of the brain are involved in social cognition and how information processing works is relevant to our understanding of human brains, minds, and cultures.”

    The researchers are planning future studies to examine how activity in these brain networks changes over time. The present study used fMRI, which measures changes in blood flow as a proxy of neural activity, a measure that is slow and inadequate for understanding temporal relationships. To address this, the researchers plan to incorporate electrical recordings of brain activity in their studies.

  7. Designing dementia friendly care homes

    by Ashley

    From the Bournemouth University media release:

    senior alzheimerAs the population ages and demography changes, the UK is facing an unprecedented challenge of how to care for and support its older people.

    While the fact that people are living longer should be celebrated, the flip side is that age-related illness such as dementia are on the rise and it’s important for us, as a country to find solutions and alleviate the difficulties people may face as a result.

    Under the supervision of Associate Professor Jan Wiener, one of BU’s PhD students, Mary O’Malley, has been exploring how people with dementia learn to navigate unfamiliar environments and what consequences this could have for dementia care home building guidelines.

    “My research is looking at ways to reduce potential spatial disorientation for older adults, both those with memory difficulties and those without,” explained Mary, “By exploring this issue, I hope it will lead to design changes in the living environment that supports successful orientation.”

    I’m looking at people’s wayfinding systems and how navigational tools are used in care homes, and how these might help or hinder people’s abilities to find their way around,” continues Mary, “I’m looking at the strategies people use to learn new environments and I’m also going into retirement developments and asking people how they find their way around and what helps them to navigate unfamiliar places — for me, it’s important to hear the users’ voice when it comes to designing the environment.”

    Mary is undertaking a mixed methods PhD, which is gathering both qualitative and quantitative data. By carrying out a number of studies and drawing on expertise from BU’s Psychology Department, BU’s Dementia Institute (BUDI) and external architecture expertise, Mary is taking a rounded, interdisciplinary approach to her work. For her, bridging the gap between disciplines has been very beneficial.

    “If you were just approaching this from one angle, one discipline, you’d miss so much valuable information,” said Mary, “To be able to improve the design environment, it’s really important to get input from different subject areas. There’s no singular way of doing this, so it’s great to draw on expertise from a spectrum of disciplines.”

    As she explained, “In psychology, we have a lot of knowledge about way-finding and how people navigate around environments, but not a lot of that has been translated into applied settings. There’s lots of potential to apply and test out this knowledge for older people in retirement settings and care homes, both of which are places where this research could make a real impact.”

    While design guidelines are often applied to care homes, there are lots of other spaces used by older people and people with memory problems which could benefit from better wayfinding guidelines — hospitals, retirement homes and shopping centres are just a few examples. Given the prominence of the idea of dementia friendly communities, Mary’s research is very timely.

    In order to carry out her research, Mary has been going out to retirement homes and care homes, and learning from their residents about their experiences of navigating their environments. She has also been using some of the state-of-the-art technology available in the Psychology Department to create virtual environments which older people navigate their way around.

    One of her studies looked at how people learn a new route and which navigational strategies people use when learning it. “The results showed that older adults who performed lower on a neuropsychological assessment, suggesting possible atypical aging, had difficulties with some specific measures of route memory– they found it hard to translate and to identify a recently learned route from a map perspective, and interestingly, there were significant differences between two separate forms of landmark memory which we would like to further investigate,” explained Mary.

    “We want to follow-up these findings with a second study which will explore how useful ‘you are here’ maps are for certain demographics and in certain environments,” said Mary, “Additionally, we want to see whether a certain placement of landmarks would make a difference in how well a route is learned. For this we are going to be using a virtual care home environment, which will allow us to change the variables, such as corridor layout and where landmarks are placed.”

    Mary’s research is already having an impact, as one of the retirement homes where she has been carrying out her qualitative research is intending to have a full re-design based on the findings and reports made by the residents living there. Ultimately, Mary’s aim is to use her research to influence designers and architects to create built environments which are easier for older people and people with memory loss to navigate. The main tool for achieving this will be through informing building guidelines and regulations — something Mary is keen to develop.

  8. Interventional policies and practices needed to prevent bullying and its harm

    May 13, 2016 by Ashley

    From the National Academy of Sciences media release:

    school_bullyBullying is a serious public health problem, with significant short- and long-term psychological consequences for both the targets and perpetrators of such behavior, and requires a commitment to developing preventive and interventional policies and practices that could make a tangible difference in the lives of many children, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

    The programs that appear most effective are those that promote a positive school environment and combine social and emotional skill-building for all students, with targeted interventions for those at greatest risk for being involved in bullying. There is emerging research that widely used zero-tolerance policies — those that impose automatic suspension or expulsion of students from school after one bullying incident — are not effective at curbing bullying or making schools safer and should be discontinued. Instead, resources should be directed to evidence-based policies and programs for bullying prevention in the United States.

    Until recently, most bullying typically occurred at school or other places where children play or congregate, but an abundance of new technologies has led to cyberbullying, through chat rooms, social media, and other forms of digital communication.

    Although it is difficult to determine the extent of bullying due to definitional and measurement inconsistencies, bullying likely affects between 18 percent and 31 percent of children and youth, and the prevalence of cyberbullying ranges from 7 percent to 15 percent. Estimates are even higher for subgroups who are particularly vulnerable, such as individuals who have disabilities, are obese, or are LGBT. In addition, children with fewer same-ethnicity peers at school appear to be at greater risk for being targets of bullying.

    Adolescents who are bullied experience a range of physical problems, including sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal concerns, and headaches. Although the full consequences of bullying on the brain are not yet understood entirely, there are changes in the stress response systems associated with being bullied that increase the risk of mental health problems, including cognitive function and self-regulation of emotions. Being bullied during childhood and adolescence has been linked to psychological effects such as depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse into adulthood.

    Youth who bully others are more likely to be depressed, engage in high-risk activities such as theft and vandalism, and have adverse outcomes later in life compared with those who do not bully, the report says. In addition, individuals who bully others and are themselves bullied appear to be at greatest risk for poor psychological and social outcomes. Children involved in bullying as perpetrators, targets, or both are also significantly more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide. However, there is not enough evidence to conclude that bullying is a causal factor in youth suicides. The committee that conducted the study and wrote the report also examined the relationship between bullying and school shootings, concluding that the data are unclear on the role of bullying as a precipitating cause of these shootings.

    Zero-tolerance policies may lead to underreporting of bullying incidents because the consequence is perceived as too harsh, the committee found. The effects of school-based programs that involve all students regardless of their risk for bullying or being bullied — such as counselors or teachers presenting strategies for responding to bullying — appear to be relatively modest. Multi-component programs that combine elements of these programs along with more targeted interventions for youth at risk of bullying or being bullied — for example, teaching more intensive social-emotional skills or de-escalation approaches — appear to be most effective at reducing bullying.

    Families play a critical role in bullying prevention by providing emotional support to encourage disclosure of bullying incidents and by fostering coping skills in their children, the report says. However, the role of peers in bullying prevention as bystanders and as intervention program leaders needs further research to determine the extent to which peer-led programs are effective.

    Laws and policies have the potential to strengthen state and local efforts to prevent, identify, and respond to bullying, the report says. Over the past 15 years, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted or revised laws to address bullying, and all except Alaska include cyberbullying in their statutes. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the state attorneys general, and local education agencies should partner with researchers to collect data on an ongoing basis on the efficacy and implementation of anti-bullying laws and policies, in order to guide legislators who may amend existing laws or create new ones.

    Given the varying use of the terms “bullying” and “peer victimization” in research and practice, for this report, the committee used the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition: Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated, and bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm. The departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Justice, Agriculture, and Defense, and the Federal Trade Commission, which are engaged in the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention (FPBP) interagency group, should foster use of a consistent definition of bullying, the report says.

    The committee also recommended federal agencies work with relevant stakeholders to sponsor the development, implementation, and evaluation of evidence-based programs to address bullying behavior and bullying prevention training for professionals and volunteers who work directly with children and adolescents on a regular basis. In addition, social media companies should partner with the FPBP Steering Committee to adopt, implement, and evaluate on an ongoing basis policies and programs for preventing, identifying, and responding to bullying on their platforms and should publish their anti-bullying policies on their websites.

    The agencies engaged in the FPBP interagency group should gather longitudinal surveillance data on the prevalence of all forms of bullying, including physical, verbal, relational, property, cyber, and bias-based bullying, and the numbers of individuals involved in bullying, including targets, perpetrators, and bystanders, in order to have more uniform and accurate estimates of prevalence.

    Bullying has long been tolerated as a rite of passage among children and adolescents, but it has lasting negative consequences and cannot simply be ignored,” said committee chair Frederick Rivara, Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Endowed Chair in Pediatric Research and professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Washington. “This is a pivotal time for bullying prevention, and while there is not a quick fix or one-size-fits-all solution, the evidence clearly supports preventive and interventional policy and practice.”

  9. Paranormal beliefs can increase number of dé jà vu experiences

    May 2, 2016 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) media release:

    thinkingA belief in the paranormal can mean an individual experiences more déjà vu moments in their life.

    This is one of the findings of a study by 3rd year undergraduate student Chloe Pickles and Dr Mark Moss, of Northumbria University, who will present their poster today, Thursday 28 April 2016, at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Nottingham. Over 100 participants completed surveys relating to perceived stress, belief in paranormal experiences and beliefs about déjà vu. Analysis of the results showed a strong link between belief in paranormal experiences and the frequency, pleasantness and intensity of déjà vu experiences. Stress was linked significantly to intensity and duration only.

    Chloe Pickles said: “Our study calls in to question whether stress increases the number of déjà vu moments for an individual. Previous research had not considered the impact of belief when experiencing the feeling that this moment has happened before. Déjà vu might be a normal experience for those more open to it as well as (or instead of) a consequence of a negative life events.”

  10. Gates of serotonin: Cracking the workings of a notorious receptor

    April 25, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne media release:

    brain scanEPFL scientists have elucidated for the first time how a notoriously elusive serotonin receptor functions with atom-level detail. The receptor transmits electrical signals in neurons and is involved in various disorders, meaning that the discovery opens the way for new treatments.

    Serotonin is a major neurotransmitter, regulating mood, appetite, sleep, memory, learning, and other functions by binding to dedicated receptor proteins. Serotonin receptors have been researched for decades, but details about their structure and function are hard to come by. EPFL scientists have now made the first ever computer simulation of a notoriously elusive serotonin receptor that is involved in fast signal transmission in neurons and plays a central role in disorders such as schizophrenia, chemotherapy nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and seizures. The work is published in the journal Structure.

    The 5-HT3 receptor (5-HT stands for 5-hydroxytryptamine, the technical name of serotonin) is the third member of a family of serotonin receptors. It is made up of five proteins that form a tube-like channel through the cell membrane. When serotonin binds to the receptor, a gate opens up and allows positively charged ions of sodium, potassium or calcium to flow through the channel. This changes the electrical balance between the inside and outside of the neuron, and an electrical signal is transmitted across the cell membrane.

    In our central and peripheral nervous system such “neurotransmitter-gated” receptors with ion channels like 5-HT3 are critical for signaling between neurons. However they have been notoriously difficult to study with traditional tools of structural biology. But in a 2014 Nature paper, the lab of Horst Vogel at EPFL published the first ever, high-resolution and complete 3D structure of the 5-HT3 receptor.

    Now, Vogel’s lab has followed up with a complete computer simulation of 5-HT3 that reveals the motions of each atom across microseconds and at atomic, sub-nanometer resolution. This so-called “molecular dynamics simulation” uses the structure of 5-HT3 receptor that Vogel’s lab uncovered in 2014 to accurately depict the structural changes that 5-HT3 undergoes inside a cell membrane after serotonin binds and activates it to open its ion channel. To make sure that they were not looking at random structural changes of the receptor itself, the researchers also ran simulations of the receptor without the ligand.

    “Our 2014 paper delivered the architecture of the 5-HT3 neuroreceptor with atomic detail,” says Horst Vogel. “But that was a static structure that did not explain how the receptor functions as a gated transmembrane ion channel to transmit electrical signals across the cell membrane.”

    Specifically, Vogel’s team wanted to know how a ligand, e.g. serotonin, that binds to the part of 5-HT3 outside of the cell, can open the ion channel’s gate, which is buried inside the cell’s membrane six nanometers away — a considerable distance in the world of molecules.

    With this degree of accuracy, the researchers feel confident that the simulation delivers a realistic description of how the 5-HT3 receptor works. Beyond that, it also acts as a blueprint for the function of neurotransmitter-gated, ion-channel receptors in general.

    The data can help us understand how neuronal signals are transmitted at an atomic scale,” says Vogel. “This would hold enormous potential for future drug development and treatment of disorders linked to these receptors, including schizophrenia, anxiety, nausea, and others.”