1. Study suggests school intervention programs may help with mental health awareness

    May 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queen Mary University of London press release:

    School-aged children can be taught to better their mental health through intervention programmes delivered at school, suggests a new study carried out in east London and led by an academic at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

    The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, investigated whether a new psychological programme, which was integrated into the school curriculum could promote resilience — the ability to recover after setbacks — and prevent depression in 11-12 year old girls.

    It found that children who received the new programme called SPARK increased significantly in their self-reported resilience, and their depression symptoms decreased right after the programme.

    “This research shows that it is possible to promote psychological well-being in middle childhood through an integrated school-based intervention programme informed by concepts of positive psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy,” said first author Dr Michael Pluess from QMUL’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, who led the research while previously based at University of East London.

    The study was conducted from 2010 to 2011 in a secondary girls-only state school in East London. Almost 400 girls participated in the research, reporting on their resilience and depression symptoms throughout the study.

    Developed specifically for deprived neighbourhoods, the SPARK Resilience Programme is based on established methods of cognitive behavioural therapy and concepts from the field of positive psychology. It provides students with tools to identify stressful situations, evaluate automatic responses and learn to control negative behavioural reactions.

    “Rather than focusing on preventing psychological problems in a few students, this programme aims at strengthening the psychological resilience of all children,” said Dr Pluess.

    Organised around the SPARK acronym, the programme teaches children to break down their responses to stressful situations into five components: Situation, Perception, Autopilot, Reaction and Knowledge.

    To help students understand these, the programme uses the metaphor of “parrots of perception,” which represent common negative thoughts or ways that our mind convinces us of things that are not really true. The students are taught to challenge their interpretation of adverse situations and consider other alternatives by putting their parrots “on trial.”

    The programme also introduces children to the skills of assertiveness and problem solving, and helps them build their “resilience muscles” through identifying their strengths, social support networks, sources of positive emotions and reflection on previous experiences of resilience and self-efficacy.

    The researchers found that 12 months after the programme, depression symptoms were back to the levels before the intervention, which suggests that children may need booster sessions after 12 months in addition to the initial programme.

    “Our results suggest that it is important to repeat the content of the programme throughout the school year given that some of the positive treatment effects appeared to fade out after six months,” he added.

    The team say that while more research is needed to investigate the positive effects of such interventions, their results show that short interventions such as the SPARK Resilience Programme can have positive effects for the well-being and mental health of children.


  2. Study suggests taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy may improve psychological development in children

    May 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society press release:

    Children’s emotional intelligence improved if mums take folic acid supplements throughout pregnancy.

    Taking folic acid supplements throughout pregnancy may improve psychological development in children.

    That is the finding of research by Professor Tony Cassidy and colleagues from Ulster University who will present their study to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Brighton.

    Professor Cassidy said: “There is evidence that folic acid supplements taken during the first three months of pregnancy can have beneficial effects on children’s brain development. We wanted to investigate whether continued supplementation throughout pregnancy had any additional effects.”

    The researchers asked the parents of 39 children, now aged seven, to answer questions about their child’s personality, including levels of resilience, relationships with others and how they express their emotions. Within this group 22 mothers had taken the supplement throughout their pregnancy while the other 19 took it during the first three months only.

    Analysis showed that children whose mothers took the supplement throughout pregnancy demonstrated higher levels of emotional intelligence and resilience. Additionally, the level of folic acid in mother’s blood towards the end of pregnancy was a good predictor of children’s resilience and emotional intelligence.

    Professor Cassidy said: “Most expectant mothers know that taking folic acid supplements in the first three months of pregnancy is important for the baby’s spinal development. Our study shows that there are potential psychological benefits for the child if supplements are taken throughout the pregnancy.”


  3. Friendships play vital role in helping people get through life challenges

    April 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society press release:

    Friendships play a vital role in helping people get through substantial challenges in life, according to a new study.

    Until now, little research has been carried out into the role friends and, in particular, best friends play in building resilience to adversity — surviving and thriving in the face of difficult times.

    The new preliminary study, by Dr Rebecca Graber, University of Brighton Senior Lecturer in Psychology, for the first time provides long-term statistical evidence of the enormous benefit these valued social relationships have on adults.

    Dr Graber, who carried out the research whilst at the University of Leeds, recruited 185 adults through online social networking sites, university events and community organisations supporting socially-isolated adults. Some 75 adults completed the questionnaire.

    Participants completed assessments on psychological resilience, best friendship quality, coping behaviours and self-esteem. Participants then completed the same assessments one year later, to see how best friendship quality had impacted resilience processes over this period.

    Dr Graber said: “These findings reveal that best friendships are a protective mechanism supporting the development of psychological resilience in adults, although the mechanisms for this relationship remain unclear.

    “The study provides long-term statistical evidence, for the first time, of the vital role of these valued social relationships for developing resilience in a community-based adult sample, while posing open questions for just how best friendships facilitate resilience in this way.”

    These findings support previous research by Dr Graber, published last year, revealing that best friends facilitate resilience processes in socioeconomically vulnerable children.


  4. Natural chemical helps brain adapt to stress

    April 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Vanderbilt University Medical Center:

    A natural signaling molecule that activates cannabinoid receptors in the brain plays a critical role in stress-resilience — the ability to adapt to repeated and acute exposures to traumatic stress, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

    The findings in a mouse model could have broad implications for the potential treatment and prevention of mood and anxiety disorders, including major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they reported in the journal Nature Communications.

    “The study suggests that deficiencies in natural cannabinoids could result in a predisposition to developing PTSD and depression,” said Sachin Patel, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and the paper’s corresponding author.

    “Boosting this signaling system could represent a new treatment approach for these stress-linked disorders,” he said.

    Patel, the James G. Blakemore Professor of Psychiatry, received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers last year for his pioneering studies of the endocannabinoid family of signaling molecules that activate the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

    Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active compound in marijuana, binds the CB1 receptor, which may explain why relief of tension and anxiety is the most common reason cited by people who use marijuana chronically.

    Patel and his colleagues previously have found CB1 receptors in the amygdala, a key emotional hub in the brain involved in regulating anxiety and the fight-or-flight response. They also showed in animal models that anxiety increases when the CB1 receptor is blocked by a drug or its gene is deleted.

    More recently they reported anxiety-like and depressive behaviors in genetically modified mice that had an impaired ability to produce 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), the most abundant endocannabinoid. When the supply of 2-AG was increased by blocking an enzyme that normally breaks it down, the behaviors were reversed.

    In the current study, the researchers tested the effects of increasing or depleting the supply of 2-AG in the amygdala in two populations of mice: one previously determined to be susceptible to the adverse consequences of acute stress, and the other which exhibited stress-resilience.

    Augmenting the 2-AG supply increased the proportion of stress-resilient mice overall and promoted resilience in mice that were previously susceptible to stress, whereas depleting 2-AG rendered previously stress-resilient mice susceptible to developing anxiety-like behaviors after exposure to acute stress.

    Taken together, these results suggest that 2-AG signaling through the CB1 receptor in the amygdala promotes resilience to the adverse effects of acute traumatic stress exposure, and support previous findings in animal models and humans suggesting that 2-AG deficiency could contribute to development of stress-related psychiatric disorders.

    Marijuana use is highly cited by patients with PTSD as a way to control symptoms. Similarly, the Vanderbilt researchers found that THC promoted stress-resilience in previously susceptible mice.

    However, marijuana use in psychiatric disorders has obvious drawbacks including possible addiction and cognitive side effects, among others. The Vanderbilt study suggests that increasing production of natural cannabinoids may be an alternative strategy to harness the therapeutic potential of this signaling system.

    If further research finds that some people with stress-related mood and anxiety disorders have low levels of 2-AG, replenishing the supply of this endocannabinoid could represent a novel treatment approach and might enable some of them to stop using marijuana, the researchers concluded.


  5. Group identifications affect likelihood of teenagers smoking, drinking and taking cannabis

    March 8, 2016 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) media release:

    marijuanaTeenagers who interact positively with their family, school and friends are far less likely to smoke, binge drink and use cannabis than peers who fail to identify with these social groups, according to research from the University of Dundee.

    The research team, led by Psychology PhD student Kirsty Miller, surveyed more than 1000 high school pupils aged 13-17 from the Fife area. The results showed that group identification protects against adverse health behaviour, with levels of identification with family, school and friendship groups predicting the likelihood of teenagers having smoked cigarettes, drank to excess or smoked cannabis in the past month.

    The paper, published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, looks at adolescent substance use from the perspective of social identity. The researchers asked participants to rate the ties they felt to the three groups. The more groups they strongly identified with, the less likely they were to use tobacco, alcohol or cannabis.

    The survey found that 14 per cent of respondents had smoked cigarettes, 31 per cent had binged on alcohol and 7.5 per cent had smoked cannabis in the previous month. The figures decreased from 24.1 per cent (for those who had zero identifications) to 8.8 per cent (for those who had three identifications) for smoking, 41.6 per cent to 25.6 per cent for drinking and 13 per cent to 2.7 per cent for cannabis.

    This follows a previous study published in Psychiatry Research by the same researchers that showed how teenagers who failed to identify with the same social groups were more than four times likely to suffer mental health problems.

    Kirsty Miller said, “This, combined with our previous study, illustrates the importance of teenagers strongly identifying with as many social groups as possible in order to protect against mental health problems and negative health behaviours.

    “The greater the number of social groups the participant strongly identified with, the lower the odds of them participating in negative health behaviours. We found that those who identified with the friend group only had increased odds but identification with the family and school groups as well as friends predicted reduced odds of substance use.

    In contrast, merely having contact with these groups rather than identifying strongly with them increased the odds of participation in these behaviours. This highlights the importance of the subjective aspect of identifying with a group, rather than merely having contact with it.”

    Kirsty and her colleagues’ findings follow on from those of the recently released national report from the Health Behaviour in School-Age Children (HBSC) survey, which also considers social factors in relation to substance use and wellbeing.

    The new report used the same sample group as the previous study on the links between group identifications and mental health. Of those who recorded 0 strong ties, 71 per cent said they had encountered mental ill-health while the figure fell to just 17 per cent for those who strongly identified with their family, school and friendship group. In particular, the team found that identification with their school was the strongest predictor of psychological wellbeing.


  6. Frequent contact between parents, adult children is beneficial to both

    by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) media release:

    family_mealThough parents may worry that they are more involved with grown children than in the past, frequent contact between parents and their grown children can be beneficial to both parties.

    That is the conclusion of an article by Professor Karen Fingerman of the University of Texas, USA, in the February issue of The Psychologist the monthly magazine of the British Psychological Society.

    In the article Professor Fingerman discusses how changes in modern culture, economic circumstances, communication tools, marital expectations and education opportunities have affected the bond between parents and grown-children. These changes have led to an increase in the number of adult children living with their parents (a third of adults aged 18 — 25 live with their parents according to the Office of National Statistics, 2012) and more frequent involvement even when the parts don’t live together.

    Professor Fingerman said: “Increased contact between generations reflects changes in the nature of young adulthood. In the 21st century, young adults spend more time in education, experience greater challenges finding jobs and delay marriage longer (if they marry at all) than was the case 30 or 40 years ago.”

    Research consistently demonstrates psychological benefits for family members who receive support. When grown children have problems studies have shown parents share their distress but have not noted any difficulties for the grown children stemming from their parents involvement. However, the negative terms used in popular media reflect the sentiment that too much parental support can smother young adults, and that dependency among grown children reflects weakness and failure.

    Professor Fingerman added: “However, bonds between young adults and parents appear to be thriving. Recent trends and declines in marriage suggest intergenerational ties will continue to intensify. More research to determine when parent-child ties are beneficial and when they are toxic is needed.”

    See https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-29/february/ascension-parent-offspring-ties for more information

     


  7. Study suggests thoughts of death tend to increase humorous creativity

    July 2, 2013 by Ashley

    From the De Gruyter press release via AlphaGalileo:

    LaughingHumor is an intrinsic part of human experience. It plays a role in every aspect of human existence, from day-to-day conversation to television shows. Yet little research has been conducted to date on the psychological function of humor.

    In human psychology, awareness of the impermanence of life is just as prevalent as humor. According to the Terror Management Theory, knowledge of one’s own impermanence creates potentially disruptive existential anxiety, which the individual brings under control with two coping mechanisms, or anxiety buffers: rigid adherence to dominant cultural values, and self-esteem bolstering.

    A new article by Christopher R. Long of Ouachita Baptist University and Dara Greenwood of Vassar College is titled Joking in the Face of Death: A Terror Management Approach to Humor Production. Appearing in the journal HUMOR, it documents research on whether the activation of thoughts concerning death influences one’s ability to creatively generate humor. As humor is useful on a fundamental level for a variety of purposes, including psychological defense against anxiety, the authors hypothesized that the activation of thoughts concerning death could facilitate the production of humor.

    For their study, Long and Greenwood subdivided 117 students into four experimental groups. These groups were confronted with the topics of pain and death while completing various tasks. Two of the test groups were exposed unconsciously to words flashed for 33 milliseconds on a computer while they completed tasks – the first to the word “pain,” the second to the word “death.” The remaining two groups were prompted in a writing task to express emotions concerning either their own death or a painful visit to the dentist. Afterward, all four groups were instructed to supply a caption to a cartoon from The New Yorker.

    These cartoon captions were presented to an independent jury who knew nothing about the experiment. The captions written by individuals who were subconsciously primed with the word death were clearly voted as funnier by the jury. By contrast, the exact opposite result was obtained for the students who consciously wrote about death: their captions were seen as less humorous.

    Based on this experiment, the researchers conclude that humor helps the individual to tolerate latent anxiety that may otherwise be destabilizing. In this connection, they point to previous studies indicating that humor is an integral component of resilience.

    In light of the finding that the activation of conscious thoughts concerning death impaired the creative generation of humor, Long and Greenwood highlight the need for additional research, not only to explore the effectiveness of humor as a coping mechanism under various circumstances, but also to identify its emotional, cognitive, and/or social benefits under conditions of adversity.


  8. Study points to benefits of “doing the right thing”

    June 28, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release via ScienceDaily:

    support_friends_resiliencyCommunities that stick together and do good for others cope better with crises and are happier for it, according to a new study by John Helliwell, from the University of British Columbia in Canada, and colleagues.

    Their work suggests that part of the reason for this greater resilience is the fact that humans are more than simply social beings, they are so-called ‘pro-social’ beings. In other words, they get happiness not just from doing things with others, but from doing things both with and for others. The paper is published online in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.

    How does the social fabric of a community or nation affect its capacity to deal with crises and to develop resources that maintain and improve people’s happiness during those difficult times? “Communities and nations with better social capital, in other words, quality social networks and social norms as well as high levels of trust, respond to crises and economic transitions more happily and effectively,” Helliwell and his team conclude.

    Their paper begins with an assessment of social capital and happiness during the recent years of economic crisis in 255 US metropolitan areas. Overall, social capital has improved the nation’s happiness during the period of economic crisis, both directly and indirectly by mitigating the impact of rising unemployment.

    Helliwell and colleagues then take a broader perspective by examining national average happiness in OECD countries after the 2008 financial crisis. They group countries according to their levels of happiness:

    · The group with rising happiness includes countries less directly affected by the crisis, with policies well chosen to enhance the well-being of their residents — as in South Korea, for example.

    · The group with falling happiness includes those countries worst hit by the original crisis, and by its subsequent spillovers in the Euro zone. In this group, social capital and other key supports for happiness were damaged during the crisis and its aftermath.

    The study also digs deeper into the relative roles of social capital and income as determinants of happiness. Evidence from countries in economic transition demonstrates the power of social trust, i.e., the belief that generally speaking, most people can be trusted. Social trust is an indicator of the quality of a country’s social capital, which increases happiness directly but also permits a softer landing in the face of external economic shocks..

    The authors wrap up with a look at the power of human nature and the suggestion that the core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans — a view articulated by Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist and the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics.


  9. Study links resilience to higher energy levels

    February 21, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Florida State University press release via Newswise:

    coworker, managerPeople with a more resilient personality profile are more likely to have greater energy levels.

    That’s one of the conclusions from a four-year research project led by Antonio Terracciano, associate professor of geriatrics at the Florida State University College of Medicine. His findings are outlined in “Personality, Metabolic Rate and Aerobic Capacity,” published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed, open access journal.

    With funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), Terracciano, College of Medicine Assistant Professor Angelina Sutin and NIA colleagues studied the relationship between personality, metabolic rate and aerobic capacity.

    Past studies have demonstrated that personality traits and cardiorespiratory fitness in older adults are reliable predictors of health and longevity. But Terracciano wanted to know more about the link between psychological traits and cardiorespiratory fitness. Could it be that certain personality traits predict the extent of a person’s cardiorespiratory fitness?

    Or, to take it a step further, are certain personality traits more desirable when it comes to leading a longer, healthier life?

    “We tested implicit assumptions that individuals with certain personality dispositions have different metabolic and energetic profiles,” Terracciano said. “For example, do those who are assertive and bold expend more energy? Do those who are depressed or emotionally vulnerable have a lower aerobic capacity and less energy? And do conscientious individuals with an active and healthy lifestyle have more energy?”

    The answer, on all counts, appears to be yes.

    The results indicate that a person’s basic rate of metabolism is mostly unrelated to their personality traits. However, a resilient personality profile makes a difference when it comes to aerobic capacity or maximal sustained energy expenditure.

    The study involved 642 participants, ages 31 to 96, all part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, an ongoing multidisciplinary study at the NIA.

    Terracciano and his team assessed personality traits to include measures of neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Lower scores on neuroticism and higher scores on the other four dimensions are thought to be a more resilient personality profile.

    Subjects were tested to measure their energy expenditure at rest and at normal and maximal sustained walking speeds. Those identified as more neurotic required a longer time to complete the walking task and had lower aerobic capacity.

    Conversely, those who scored lower for neuroticism and higher for conscientiousness, extraversion or openness had better aerobic capacity and required less energy to complete the same distance.

    “Those with a more resilient personality profile were not just faster and with greater aerobic capacity, but they were also more efficient in their energy expenditure while walking,” Terracciano said. “That is, they could go faster while using relatively less energy.

    Of the five domains of personality, we found no association with agreeableness,” Terracciano said. “This is somewhat surprising given that antagonistic individuals are likely to engage in health risk behaviors, such as smoking, and they tend to have thicker arteries and are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.”

    The results may indicate that aerobic capacity is one mechanism through which our personality traits contribute to better health and longevity. Also, greater aerobic capacity in an individual may be a factor in shaping his or her personality, especially when it comes to behaviors that require a higher level of energy, such as extraversion.

    Furthermore, the findings suggest potential pathways through which our personality is linked to health outcomes, such as obesity and longevity.

    Terracciano said the results highlight the links between personality traits and cardiorespiratory fitness in older adults.

    Both are powerful predictors of disability and mortality,” he said. “I believe this study is informative on the role of psychological traits in lifestyles that are associated with successful aging.”


  10. Study examines how repeated aggression triggers social aversion in mice

    January 25, 2013 by Sue

    From the CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange) press release via ScienceDaily:

    lab_mouseOne of the mechanisms involved in the onset of stress-induced depression has been highlighted in mice by researchers from CNRS, Inserm and UPMC (1). They have determined the role of the corticosterone (stress hormone) receptor, in the long-term behavioral change triggered by chronic stress. In mice subject to repeated aggressions, this receptor participates in the development of social aversion by controlling the release of dopamine (2), a key chemical messenger. If this receptor is blocked, the animals become “resilient”: although anxious, they overcome the trauma and no longer avoid contact with their fellow creatures.

    This work is published in Science on 18 January 2013.

    In vertebrates, stress triggers a rapid release of glucocorticoid hormones, corticosterone in rodents and cortisol in humans. This hormone modifies the expression of numerous genes in such a way that the individual can best respond to the cause of stress. However, chronic or excessive stress can lead to depression, anxiety and social behavioral difficulties. Understanding the mechanisms involved is an important challenge in the treatment of stress-related psychiatric illnesses.

    The researchers already suspected that the emergence of depressive symptoms caused by stress brought into play not only the stress hormone but also the dopamine neurons releasing this neurotransmitter, which is vital in controlling mood. To better understand this interdependence, the researchers subjected a group of mice to repeated attacks by stronger, aggressive congeners. After about ten days, the mice showed signs of anxiety and strong social aversion. In fact, when faced with a new congener, the aggressed mice preferred to avoid any contact. This social aversion is considered as a marker of depression.

    The researchers repeated the experiment, but this time with various mouse strains in which the corticosterone receptor was absent in certain populations of neurons. In this way, they discovered that mice without this receptor in dopamine-sensitive neurons did not develop social aversion. Although anxious following repeated attacks, they did not however avoid contact with their fellow creatures. These rodents were thus more “resilient,” in other words more resistant to stress, than “wild” mice.

    In response to an aggression, a release of dopamine is always observed. However, scientists have noticed that, in mice without the corticosterone receptor in dopamine-sensitive neurons, this release is considerably reduced. In normal mice, dopamine-sensitive neurons thus control the release of this neurotransmitter through a feedback mechanism. In order to show that this release of dopamine triggers the development of social aversion, the researchers blocked the activity of dopamine-producing neurons. As a result, interest in congeners was restored in mice subject to aggression. Dopaminergic activity is therefore crucial for the appearance of social aversion.

    This study shows the important role of the stress hormone in the onset of social aversion induced by repeated traumas. More generally, it partially reveals the neurobiological mechanisms and the cascade of reactions that underlie the onset of depression. These results could lead to new therapeutic prospects for treating depression by revealing alternative targets for medicines, particularly with regard to the dopaminergic system.

    (1) More precisely, this work was conducted by a team from the laboratory “Physiopathologie des Maladies du Système Nerveux Central” (CNRS/Inserm/UPMC), in collaboration with the laboratory “Neurobiologie des Processus Adaptatifs” (CNRS/UPMC)

    (2) Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, in other words a substance that modulates the activity of neurons in the brain.