1. Study suggests cognitive training enhanced innovative thinking and brain networks in older adults

    November 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Center for BrainHealth press release:

    Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas have demonstrated in a pilot study that cognitive training improves innovative thinking, along with corresponding positive brain changes, in healthy adults over the age of 55.

    The study, published recently in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, reveals that a specific strategic cognitive training program enhanced innovation in healthy adults. Performance was measured by an individual’s ability to synthesize complex information and generate a multitude of high-level interpretations.

    “Middle-age to older adults should feel empowered that, in many circumstances, they can reverse decline and improve innovative thinking,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, Center for BrainHealth founder and chief director and lead author of the study. “Innovative cognition — the kind of thinking that reinforces and preserves complex decision-making, intellect and psychological well-being — does not need to decline with age. This study reveals that cognitive training may help enhance cognitive capacities and build resilience against decline in healthy older adults.”

    The SMART program — Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training — was developed at the Center for BrainHealth. It focuses on learning strategies that foster attention, reasoning and broad-based perspective-taking.

    Center for BrainHealth researchers conducted a randomized pilot trial and compared the effect of SMART to aerobic exercise training (known to be good for brain health) and control subjects on innovative cognition. The SMART program was conducted one hour per week for 12 weeks with 2 hours of homework each week. The 58 participants were assessed at baseline-, mid- and post-training using innovative cognition measures and functional MRI, a brain scanning technology that reveals brain activity.

    “In addition to evaluating the effects of the cognitive training, this study also provided an opportunity to test a reliable assessment tool to measure innovative cognition, which has been relatively neglected due to the complexity of quantifying innovative thinking,” Chapman said.

    The 19 participants in the cognitive reasoning training group (SMART) showed significant gains pre- to post-training in high-quality innovation performance, improving their performance by an average of 27 percent from baseline to mid- and post-training periods on innovative cognition measures. The physical exercise and control groups did not show improvement. These positive gains in the reasoning training group corresponded to increased connectivity among brain cells in the central executive network of the brain, an area responsible for innovative thinking.

    “Advances in the field of MRI are allowing us to measure different aspects of brain function,” said Dr. Sina Aslan, an imaging specialist at the Center for BrainHealth. “Through this research, we are able to see that higher activity in the central executive network corresponded to improved innovation. These findings suggest that staying mentally active not only mitigates cognitive decline, but also has the potential to restore creative thinking, which is typically lost with aging.”

    While further research is needed to establish how to ensure the benefit persists, Chapman is encouraged by the results.

    “Reasoning training offers a promising cost-effective intervention to enhance innovative cognition — one of the most valued capacities and fruitful outputs of the human mind at any age.”

    The work was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Health and by grants from the T. Boone Pickens Foundation, the Lyda Hill Foundation and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Endowment.


  2. Study looks at role of resilience in protecting bullied children

    October 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Florida Atlantic University press release:

    It’s inevitable. Most children will experience some form of bullying at some point in their lifetimes. What’s not inevitable is that they will be adversely affected by the experience. So why is it that some children are devastated by bullying while others are not? Is there is a major personal characteristic or trait that buffers and protects them against internalizing the harm intended through bullying and cyberbullying?

    The answer is a resounding “yes.” That trait is “resilience” or the ability to “bounce back” and successfully adapt to stressful situations. A new study from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, validates how resilience differentiates children who just survive bullying from those who thrive when faced with adversity. Children do in fact play a significant role in allowing or disallowing the harm that takes place when bullied. Astonishingly, the ability to be resilient comes naturally, but it needs to be nurtured through social and environmental factors.

    The researchers hypothesized that resilient youth are less likely to be targets for bullying both at school and online, and that those who are targeted are less impacted by it at school. To test this concept, they used a validated biopsychosocial 10-item resilience scale to explore the relationship between resilience and experience with bullying and cyberbullying. The scale included statements like “I can deal with whatever comes my way,” “I am not easily discouraged by failure,” and “Having to cope with stress makes me stronger,” with items assessing both the protective capacity of resilience as well as its reparative ability to restore equilibrium in the lives of youth when they face adversity.

    Based on a nationally-representative sample of 1,204 American youth ages 12 to 17 and living in the United States, results from the study found that uniformly, students with higher levels of resilience were bullied at school or online less often, and among those who were bullied, resilience served as a buffer, insulating them from being affected in a negative manner at school. Their experience with various forms of interpersonal peer harm also varied inversely with the students’ self-reported level of resilience.

    Resilience is a potent protective factor, both in preventing experience with bullying and mitigating its effect,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., study author, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry, and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. Hinduja co-authored the study with Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D., a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. “Resilient kids are those, who for a variety of reasons, are better able to withstand external pressures and setbacks and are less negatively impacted in their attitudes and actions than their less-equipped peers when facing this type of victimization.”

    Hinduja and Patchin hope that the latest data from their study will bring attention to an often-neglected and even forgotten component of the ways that schools, families, and communities address the role and responsibility of the child who is bullied.

    There is heavy interest to identify better solutions to bullying these days, and Hinduja recently shared their research on resilience in keynotes with the International Bullying Prevention Association, the World Anti Bullying Forum, and social media companies’ intent on helping targets help themselves.

    “We want children to learn and develop the skills they need to deal with problems, and yet we rarely help them engage with those problems so that they can grow in their ability to solve them,” said Hinduja. “Instead, we seek to constantly protect and insulate them — instead of bolstering their self-confidence, problem-solving ability, autonomy, and sense of purpose — which are all innate strengths.”

    Hinduja points out that in many forms of verbal and online bullying, targets do have some agency to allow or disallow much of the harm that others try to inflict. As such, youth-serving adults have a responsibility to teach and model for them the proper strategies to deflect, dismiss, or otherwise rise above the insults and hate.

    “Cultivating Youth Resilience to Prevent Bullying and Cyberbullying Victimization,” is published in the current issue of Child Abuse & Neglect.


  3. Study looks at psychological impacts of natural disasters on youth

    October 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Miami press release:

    Children’s mental state plays an important factor in their developmental growth. After recent storms devastated parts of the U.S. — Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida and the Caribbean and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico — all contributing to massive evacuations of children and families, which children need more attention or support services in the aftermath of these storms and the related stressors that come with surviving and witnessing the destructive power of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane?

    Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Pediatrics at the University of Miami, Annette M. La Greca, is fully aware of children’s reaction to trauma. Her research focuses on the impact of disasters on youth since Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992.

    La Greca, in collaboration with her UM graduate student, BreAnne Danzi, has been evaluating how best to define post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children. This line of research will help to quickly identify the children who need support services post-disaster. La Greca’s research has also identified key aspects of the post-disaster environment that facilitate children’s recovery.

    “The good news is that most children are resilient, even after a very devastating storm,” said La Greca. However, children have different ways of expressing distress than adults.

    In a paper entitled, “Optimizing clinical thresholds for PTSD: Extending the DSM-5 preschool criteria to school-age children,” recently published in the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, La Greca and Danzi examined how well the “preschool” definition of PTSD identifies school-aged children with significant distress after a major hurricane.

    According to the study, 327 children (ages 7-11) from six elementary schools in Galveston, Texas, which were directly in the path of Hurricane Ike, a Category 2 storm that made landfall in September 2008, participated. They found that the preschool definition of PTSD identifies more distressed children than the typical “adult-based” definition. Thus, the preschool definition may be useful when screening elementary school-age children (ages 7-11) for PTSD-risk.

    Additional research by La Greca and colleagues also found that two-thirds of children who are initially distressed after a disaster recover naturally over the course of the school year. Children who recover report having more social support from friends and family, fewer life stressors in the disaster’s aftermath and more positive coping skills than those who remain chronically distressed.

    “We now know from research that some children who endured a stressful evacuation or experienced scary or life-threatening events during the storm are at risk for a poor recovery over time,” she said. “Children who need extra support include those who report feeling anxious or depressed, as well as stressed, and who lack social support from friends and family. They also have multiple stressors to deal with after the storm. All of those factors contribute to poor recovery and less resilience.”

    Based on these findings, La Greca and colleagues developed a workbook, After the Storm, for parents to help their children cope after a hurricane (available for a free download at http://www.7-dippity.com/other/op_storm.html

    ). The guide has been widely used after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.The workbook addresses ways to help most children recover, such as having a normal routine, staying connected to friends and family, eating healthy, exercising, resuming leisure activities, proper sleep and avoiding media or online coverage of aftermath damage and distress. La Greca added that helping others in need and identifying things to be grateful for can also help to maintain a positive perspective.

    “There is no doubt that hurricanes and other extreme weather events can be stressful for children and for adults,” said La Greca. “But as with many stressful experiences, a little extra support can go a long way.”


  4. Building mental toughness off the field: It’s all about practice

    June 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Miami press release:

    By the end of each academic semester, most college students struggle with a drop in attention spans and increased stress, especially student-athletes. Athletes know dedicated practice and physical training lead to excellence. Much less is known about mental training to deal with the psychological pressures of competitive athletics. One form of mental training, involving mindfulness, trains participants to focus attention on the present moment and observe one’s thoughts and feelings without emotional reactivity.

    A recent University of Miami study conducted in the laboratory of neuroscientist Amishi Jha, associate professor in the UM College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychology, asks if college football players can be trained to be mentally tough and resilient. The research paper titled, “‘We Are Talking About Practice’: the Influence of Mindfulness vs. Relaxation Training on Athletes’ Attention and Well-Being over High-Demand Intervals,” was recently published online in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement. Jha’s lab collaborated with mindfulness expert Scott Rogers, Miami Law professor and director of the Mindfulness in Law Program.

    “Our research suggests that the mind, like the body, needs regular mental exercise to keep it cognitively and emotionally fit. What struck us about these results is that both relaxation and mindfulness helped well-being, but only mindfulness training benefitted players’ attention — something student athletes need both on and off the field,” said Jha.

    Jha’s research team found that greater practice and program adherence in a mindfulness training program, but not a matched relaxation training program, leads to more stable attention and fewer attentional lapses in football players.

    The study’s first author, UM psychology Ph.D. candidate Joshua Rooks, knows first-hand how demanding the life of a football player can be. Rooks, a former college football player who practiced mindfulness during his time as a tight end for the Northwestern University Wildcats, joined Jha’s lab in 2012.

    In the current study, Rooks monitored the attention and emotional well-being of student-athletes on the UM football team over four weeks, during which Rogers delivered two matched training programs to player subgroups. One group of 56 players received mindfulness training (MT), while the other group made up of 44 players received relaxation training (RT). The players in the MT group participated in breathing exercises, body scans and mindful awareness sessions, while the RT group did relaxation exercises, place-guided imagery and listened to relaxing music. Players’ attention was measured using the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART), a test designed to promote mind wandering and measure attentional performance lapses. Their emotional well-being was measured by questionnaires about their mood, anxiety and depression levels.

    The four weeks of this project occurred during their pre-season training when players faced intensive demands, both academically and physically. Prior research found that during times of high demand, such as the academic semester and military pre-deployment training, students and soldiers experience degraded attention and emotional well-being. In this study, football players’ attention and emotional well-being degraded from the beginning to the end of the four weeks. Yet high adherence to the MT program, but not the RT program, protected athletes’ sustained attention. The study also found that greater engagement in both MT and RT protected against a decline in well-being and pointed to practice as the key to benefitting from MT program.

    Professional sports teams have long used relaxation training with players. Recently, some teams have also introduced mindfulness training. High performance psychology coach, Michael Gervais, who serves as an advisor to Jha’s lab for their work, has achieved success by offering mindfulness to pro-athletes, such as the Seattle Seahawks.

    “This is the type of research that moves the needle from theory to application. The hallmarks of elite performance within the most hostile environments are the ability to be tough minded, adjust to unpredictable demands, and to properly attend to the task at hand,” said Gervais.

    In addition to its potential to help athletes’ attention and well-being, mindfulness training has been examined in soldiers during their high-demand pre-deployment training intervals. Prior studies have found that these intervals deplete attention and degrade emotional well-being.

    “Research like this is very important as the Army explores mindfulness training as a possible enabler to Soldier readiness,” said Major General Walter E. Piatt, Commanding General for the 10th Mountain Division, and an advisory committee member of the Mindfulness Based Attention and Training (MBAT) Project in Jha’s lab.


  5. How self-regulation can help young people overcome setbacks

    June 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Failing an exam at school, getting rejected for a job or being screamed at by your teacher or superior are only a few examples of situations that may cause despair, disappointment or a sense of failure. Unfortunately, such set-backs are part of anyone’s life and can start early-on. However, dealing with adversity throughout a lifetime is a reality that some seem to be managing better than others.

    Where some give-up or crumble at the sight of a difficulty, others have levels of resilience that allow them to preserver and to stay calm under pressure. This often gives them the cutting edge to draw onto their resources and to readjust as needed while a less resilient person may become emotional, panic and lose control. What makes the difference?

    First of all, resilience is an acquired skill rather than a fixed character trait. This means that it can be learned and involves working on behaviours, thoughts and actions. This may be easier said than done, especially when it comes to young people that are at high-risk of social exclusion. How can resilience be acquired effectively?

    In a recent study entitled “Relationship between Resilience and Self-regulation: A Study of Spanish Youth at Risk of Social Exclusion” published in Frontiers in Psychology, Professor Raquel Artuch-Garde from the Universidad Internacional de La Rioja (UNIR) in Spain et.al. analysed whether self-regulation would be a good predictor of resilience. They looked at 365 Spanish students aged 15-21 years, who are marked by academic failure, and who, without the necessary qualifications, find access to the job market later on very much restricted.

    “We wondered whether these students would survive better in the system if they were prepared to overcome adversity. The research shows the relationship between two essential non-cognitive skills: resilience and self-regulation that are equally or even more important than cognitive aspects in the educational process of students at risk of social exclusion.” says Professor Artuch-Garde.

    In fact, the relationship was significant as learning from mistakes was a major predictor of resilience, in particular coping and confidence, tenacity and adaptation as well as tolerance to negative situations. The study shows that helping these young people to bounce-back from adversities by acquiring self-regulation skills such as setting goals and adjusting their path after a misstep, equips them better to do well in school and in life.

    The results according to Professor Artuch-Garde illustrate “the importance of working on students’ strengths that go beyond the academic or technical areas and which help them to cope positively with the adverse situations that they encounter in their lives.”

    She further concludes “By working on self-regulation skill of students at risk, we encourage their resilient capacity to build an optimistic life plan and to preserver, which in turn reduces drop-out rates that lead to social exclusion.”


  6. Change at work linked to employee stress, distrust and intent to quit

    May 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    depressionAt a time of change and uncertainty across the country, American adults who have been affected by change at work are more likely to report chronic work stress, less likely to trust their employer and more likely to say they plan to leave the organization within the next year compared with those who haven’t been affected by organizational change, according to a survey released by the American Psychological Association.

    Half of American workers (50 percent) say they have been affected by organizational changes in the last year, are currently being affected by organizational changes or expect to be affected by organizational changes in the next year, according to APA’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey. The survey was conducted online in March by Harris Poll among more than 1,500 U.S. adults who were employed full time, part time or self-employed. Workers experiencing recent or current change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress compared with employees who reported no recent, current or anticipated change (55 percent vs. 22 percent), and more than four times as likely to report experiencing physical health symptoms at work (34 percent vs. 8 percent).

    Working Americans who reported recent or current change were more likely to say they experienced work-life conflict (39 percent vs. 12 percent for job interfering with non-work responsibilities and 32 percent vs. 7 percent for home and family responsibilities interfering with work), felt cynical and negative toward others during the workday (35 percent vs. 11 percent) and ate or smoked more during the workday than they did outside of work (29 percent vs. 8 percent).

    The survey findings also show how workplace changes may affect employees’ attitudes and experiences on the job. Workers who reported being affected by organizational change currently or within the past year reported lower levels of job satisfaction compared with employees who reported no recent, current or anticipated changes (71 percent vs. 81 percent). Working Americans who reported recent or current change were almost three times more likely to say they don’t trust their employer (34 percent vs. 12 percent) and more than three times as likely to say they intend to seek employment outside the organization within the next year (46 percent vs. 15 percent) compared with those with no recent, current or anticipated change.

    Underlying employee reactions to organizational change may be their perceptions of the motivation behind those changes and the likelihood of success, according to the survey. Almost a third of U.S. workers said they were cynical when it comes to changes, reporting that they believed management had a hidden agenda (29 percent), that their motives and intentions were different from what they said (31 percent) and that they tried to cover up the real reasons for the changes (28 percent). Working Americans also appeared skeptical when it comes to the outcomes of organizational changes. Only 4 in 10 employees (43 percent) had confidence that changes would have the desired effects and almost 3 in 10 doubted that changes would work as intended and achieve their goals (28 percent each).

    “Change is inevitable in organizations, and when it happens, leadership often underestimates the impact those changes have on employees,” said David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. “If they damage their relationship with employees, ratchet up stress levels and create a climate of negativity and cynicism in the process, managers can wind up undermining the very change efforts they’re trying to promote.”

    APA’s annual Work and Well-Being Survey provides a snapshot of the U.S. workforce, including employee well-being and attitudes and opinions related to workplace policies and practices. Other key findings of the 2017 survey include:

    Contrary to popular belief, more than three-quarters of U.S. workers (78 percent) reported average or better levels of work engagement, as characterized by high levels of energy, being strongly involved in their work and feeling happily engrossed in what they do, with the largest group (47 percent) having an average level of work engagement.
    One in 5 employees (22 percent) reported low or very low levels of engagement at work, yet workers who felt they were treated fairly by their employers were more than five times as likely to report high or very high levels of work engagement, compared with employees who didn’t feel treated fairly (39 percent vs. 7 percent).
    Although most employed adults (71 percent) felt that their organization treats them fairly, 1 in 5 (21 percent) said they did not trust their employer.
    Employees who said they don’t trust their employer were more than three times as likely to say they’re typically tense and stressed out at work compared with those who trust their employer (70 percent vs. 23 percent), and more than four times as likely to indicate that they plan to look for a new job within the next year (65 percent vs. 16 percent).
    Trust and engagement play important roles in the workplace, accounting for more than half of the variance in employee well-being. In predicting well-being, engagement and trust accounted for 53 percent of the variance.
    Workers reported having more trust in their companies when the organization recognizes employees for their contributions, provides opportunities for involvement and communicates effectively. In predicting trust, employee involvement, recognition and communication predicted 43 percent of the variance.
    Employees experienced higher engagement when they had more positive perceptions of their employer’s involvement, growth and development and health and safety practices. In predicting work engagement, employee involvement, growth and development opportunities, and health and safety efforts accounted for 28 percent of the variance.
    “For organizations to successfully navigate turbulent times, they need resilient employees who can adapt to change,” Ballard said. “Disillusioned workers who are frustrated with change efforts, however, may begin to question leaders’ motives and resist further changes. To build trust and engagement, employers need to focus on building a psychologically healthy workplace where employees are actively involved in shaping the future and confident in their ability to succeed.”

    Find the complete survey results at: http://www.apaexcellence.org/assets/general/2017-work-and-wellbeing-survey-results.pdf?_ga=2.89002712.271478363.1495759219-539429328.1480867580


  7. 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.


  8. 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.”


  9. 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.


  10. 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.