1. Study suggests similar neural responses predict friendships

    February 18, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Dartmouth College press release:

    You may perceive the world the way your friends do, according to a Dartmouth study finding that friends have similar neural responses to real-world stimuli and these similarities can be used to predict who your friends are.

    The researchers found that you can predict who people are friends with just by looking at how their brains respond to video clips. Friends had the most similar neural activity patterns, followed by friends-of-friends who, in turn, had more similar neural activity than people three degrees removed (friends-of-friends-of-friends).

    Published in Nature Communications, the study is the first of its kind to examine the connections between the neural activity of people within a real-world social network, as they responded to real-world stimuli, which in this case was watching the same set of videos.

    Neural responses to dynamic, naturalistic stimuli, like videos, can give us a window into people’s unconstrained, spontaneous thought processes as they unfold. Our results suggest that friends process the world around them in exceptionally similar ways,” says lead author Carolyn Parkinson, who was a postdoctoral fellow in psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth at the time of the study and is currently an assistant professor of psychology and director of the Computational Social Neuroscience Lab at the University of California, Los Angeles.

    The study analyzed the friendships or social ties within a cohort of nearly 280 graduate students. The researchers estimated the social distance between pairs of individuals based on mutually reported social ties. Forty-two of the students were asked to watch a range of videos while their neural activity was recorded in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. The videos spanned a range of topics and genres, including politics, science, comedy and music videos, for which a range of responses was expected. Each participant watched the same videos in the same order, with the same instructions. The researchers then compared the neural responses pairwise across the set of students to determine if pairs of students who were friends had more similar brain activity than pairs further removed from each other in their social network.

    The findings revealed that neural response similarity was strongest among friends, and this pattern appeared to manifest across brain regions involved in emotional responding, directing one’s attention and high-level reasoning. Even when the researchers controlled for variables, including left-handed- or right-handedness, age, gender, ethnicity, and nationality, the similarity in neural activity among friends was still evident. The team also found that fMRI response similarities could be used to predict not only if a pair were friends but also the social distance between the two.

    “We are a social species and live our lives connected to everybody else. If we want to understand how the human brain works, then we need to understand how brains work in combination — how minds shape each other,” explains senior author Thalia Wheatley, an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth, and principal investigator of the Dartmouth Social Systems Laboratory.

    For the study, the researchers were building on their earlier work, which found that as soon as you see someone you know, your brain immediately tells you how important or influential they are and the position they hold in your social network.

    The research team plans to explore if we naturally gravitate toward people who see the world the same way we do, if we become more similar once we share experiences or if both dynamics reinforce each other.


  2. Study suggests walking in groups can help keep exercise goals on track

    February 16, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Anglia Ruskin University press release:

    People may be more likely to stick to taking exercise if they walk in groups, according to a paper published in the International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care.

    The research, led by Anglia Ruskin University, also found that group walking plays a part in improved physical activity and better quality of life.

    The review analysed 18 studies of physically healthy adults walking in groups compared with walking alone or not at all and found that people who had undertaken group walking were more likely to have kept up the exercise by the end of the study, which was an average of six months later.

    The authors also found that in five of the seven studies that measured quality of life outcomes, those who walked in groups showed significantly improved scores compare with those who did not, while in the other two studies there was no significant difference.

    The World Health Organisation recommends that adults undertake 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity per week. However, only 67% of men and 55% of women in the UK meet these guidelines. Dropout rates for exercise initiatives are also known to be high.

    Lead author Professor Catherine Meads, of Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Walking in groups is a safe and inexpensive intervention that can be delivered easily and successfully in the community.

    “At a time when we are being encouraged to meet physical activity guidelines, a large proportion of the public fail to do so. Our review found that people may be more likely to exercise if they have social support.

    Walking in groups tended to increase life satisfaction and may also improve social connectedness.”


  3. Study looks at what makes children with autism less social than their peers

    February 12, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of California – Riverside press release:

    Pick a hand, any hand. That familiar refrain, repeated in schoolyards the world over, is the basis of a simple guessing game that was recently adapted to study how and why kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) interact with the people around them.

    The game is the brainchild of Katherine Stavropoulos, an assistant professor of special education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. As a licensed clinical psychologist with a background in neuroscience, Stavropoulos looks closely at electrical activity in the brains of children with ASD and typical development, or TD, to discern differences in the respective groups’ reward systems.

    Historically, clinicians and scientists have proposed a variety of theories to explain why kids with ASD tend to be less socially communicative than their TD peers. One popular theory, the social motivation hypothesis, suggests that kids with ASD aren’t intrinsically motivated to interact with other people because they aren’t neurologically “rewarded” by social interactions the same way TD kids are.

    “Most of us get a hit of dopamine when we interact with other people, whether it’s through making eye contact or sharing something good that’s happened to us — it feels good to be social,” Stavropoulos said. “The social motivation hypothesis says kids with autism don’t get that same reward from social interaction, so they don’t go out of their way to engage with people because it’s not rewarding for them.”

    A second theory, sensory over-responsivity — also known as the overly intense world hypothesis — posits that because kids with ASD interpret sensory cues more intensely than their TD peers, those with ASD tend to shy away from interactions they perceive as overwhelming or aversive.

    “Kids with autism often find noises too loud or lights too bright, or they find them not intense enough,” Stavropoulos said. “Most of us wouldn’t want to talk to someone whom we perceive as screaming, especially in a room that was already too bright, with ambient noise that was already too loud.” Instead, sensory over-responsivity argues, such interactions compel many individuals with ASD to withdraw from socialization as a self-soothing behavior.

    But according to Stavropoulos, who also serves as assistant director of UCR’s SEARCH Family Autism Resource Center, it may be possible for these seemingly competing theories to exist in tandem.

    Stavropoulos and UC San Diego’s Leslie Carver, her research colleague and former graduate advisor, used electrophysiology to study the neural activity of 43 children between the ages of 7 and 10 — 23 of whom were TD and 20 of whom had ASD — during a guessing game-style simulation that provided participants with both social and nonsocial rewards. Their results, published this week in the journal Molecular Autism, provide a glimpse at the brain mechanisms behind autism.

    Wearing a cap outfitted with 33 electrodes, each child sat before a computer screen showing pairs of boxes containing question marks. Much like the format of the “pick a hand” guessing game, the child then chose the box he or she thought was the “right” one (in reality, the answers were randomized).

    Stavropoulos said it was crucial to design a simulation that would allow the researchers to study participants’ neural reactions to social and nonsocial rewards during two stages: reward anticipation, or the period before the child knew whether he or she had chosen the correct answer, and reward processing, or the period immediately after.

    “We structured the game so that the kids would pick an answer, and then there would be a brief pause,” Stavropoulos said. “It was during that pause that the kids would begin to wonder, ‘Did I get it?’ and we could observe them getting excited; the more rewarding something is to a person, the more that anticipation builds.”

    Each participant played the game in two blocks. During the social block, kids who chose the right box saw a smiling face and kids who chose the wrong box saw a sad, frowning face. During the nonsocial block, meanwhile, the faces were scrambled and reformed in the shapes of arrows pointing up to denote correct answers and down to denote incorrect ones.

    “After the kids saw whether they were right or wrong, we were then able to observe the post-stimulus reward-related activity,” Stavropoulos said of the process, which involved comparing participants’ neural oscillation patterns. The researchers gleaned several key findings from the simulation:

    • TD kids anticipated social awards — in this case, the pictures of faces — more strongly than kids with ASD.
    • Not only did children with ASD anticipate social rewards less than their TD peers, but within the ASD group, the researchers found that kids with more severe ASD were anticipating the nonsocial rewards, or the arrows, the most.
    • During reward processing, or the period after participants learned whether they had chosen the right or wrong box, the researchers observed more reward-related brain activity in TD children but more attention-related brain activity among children with ASD, which Stavropoulos said may be related to feelings of sensory overload in kids with ASD.
    • Among the autism group, meanwhile, kids with more severe ASD also showed heightened responsiveness to positive social feedback, which Stavropoulos said may indicate hyperactivity, or the state of being overwhelmed by “correct” social feedback that is commonly associated with sensory over-responsivity.

    Stavropoulos said the duo’s results provide support for both the social motivation hypothesis and the overly intense world hypothesis.

    Kids with autism might not be as rewarded by social interactions as typically developing kids are, but that doesn’t mean their reward systems are entirely broken,” she added. “This research makes the case for developing clinical interventions that help children with autism better understand the reward value of other people — to slowly teach these kids that interacting with others can be rewarding.

    “But, it is critical to do this while being sensitive to these kids’ sensory experiences,” she continued. “We don’t want to overwhelm them, or make them feel sensory overload. It’s a delicate balance between making social interactions rewarding while being aware of how loudly we speak, how excited our voices sound, and how bright the lights are.”


  4. Study suggests teenagers are sophisticated users of social media

    February 8, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Taylor & Francis Group press release:

    Teenagers are far more critical users of social media than we give them credit for, and need to be better supported in reaping the benefits social media can have.

    A new study published today in Sport, Education and Society sheds light upon teens’ online habits, finding that young people are not simply passive recipients of all the content available online, as commonly thought.

    Analyzing 1,300 responses from teenagers aged 13 to 18 from ten UK schools, researchers set out to discover how young people engaged with health-related social media, and understand the influence this had on their behaviors and knowledge about health.

    They discovered that most teenagers would ‘swipe past’ health-related content that was not relevant to them, such as ‘suggested’ or ‘recommended’ content, deeming it inappropriate for their age group.

    Many were also highly critical of celebrity-endorsed content, with one participant referring to the celebrity lifestyle as ‘a certain lifestyle that we are not living’, because they were more likely to be ‘having surgery’ than working out in the gym.

    However, many participants still found it difficult to distinguish between celebrity-endorsed content and that posted by sportsmen and women, leaving them vulnerable to celebrity influence.

    The pressure of peers’ ‘selfies’, which often strived for perfection, and the complex social implications of ‘liking’ each other’s posts, were recurring themes in the young people’s responses. Both of these activities had the potential to alter teenagers’ health-related behaviors.

    Lead author Dr Victoria Goodyear, of the University of Birmingham, emphasized the need to be more aware of both the positive and negative impacts social media can have upon young people. She said: “We know that many schools, teachers and parents/guardians are concerned about the health-related risks of social media on young people.

    “But, contrary to popular opinion, the data from our study show that not all young people are at risk from harmful health-related impacts. Many young people are critical of the potentially damaging information that is available.”

    Despite teenagers’ ability to assess content, the study emphasizes that adults still have a crucial role to play in supporting young people, and helping them to understand how harmful health-related information might reach them.

    Professor Kathleen Armour, the University of Birmingham’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, adds: “It is important to be aware that teenagers can tip quickly from being able to deal competently with the pressures of social media to being overwhelmed.

    “If they are vulnerable for any reason, the sheer scale and intensity of social media can exacerbate the ‘normal’ challenges of adolescence. Adult vigilance and understanding are, therefore, vital.”

    Dr Goodyear suggests that adults should not ban or prevent young people’s uses of social media, given that it provides significant learning opportunities. Instead, schools and parents/guardians should focus on young people’s experiences with social media, helping them to think critically about the relevance of what they encounter, and understand both the positive and harmful effects this information could have.

    Crucially, these discussions must be introduced into the classroom to help address the current gap which exists between the ways in which young people and adults understand social media.


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

    February 1, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of Leiden press release:

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

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

    Similarities in brain activity

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

    Triggering shyness

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

    Cortical and subcortical areas

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

    Copycat behaviour

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


  6. Study suggests how babies’ brains process touch builds foundations for learning

    January 30, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release:

    Touch is the first of the five senses to develop, yet scientists know far less about the baby’s brain response to touch than to, say, the sight of mom’s face, or the sound of her voice.

    Now, through the use of safe, new brain imaging techniques, University of Washington researchers provide one of the first looks inside the infant’s brain to show where the sense of touch is processed — not just when a baby feels a touch to the hand or foot, but when the baby sees an adult’s hand or foot being touched, as well.

    The evidence of activity in the somatosensory cortex for both “felt touch” and “observed touch” shows that 7-month-old infants have already made a basic connection between “self” and “other,” which researchers say lays the groundwork for imitating and learning from the behavior of other people, and for empathizing with them.

    The findings by the UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) are published this week in Developmental Science.

    “Long before babies acquire spoken language, touch is a crucial channel of communication between caregivers and babies,” said the study’s primary author, Andrew Meltzoff, UW psychology professor and co-director of I-LABS. “Now we have the tools to see how the baby’s body is represented in the baby’s brain. This allows us to catch the first glimpse of a primitive sense of self that provides a building block for social learning.”

    Past studies investigated how infants’ brains respond to touch, generally. The authors believe this is the first experiment to measure the specific networks of the brain where this processing occurs, and to illuminate how babies’ brains respond to seeing another person being touched, in the absence of being touched themselves.

    For the study, researchers used the I-LABS Magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine to capture images of brain activity in 7-month-old infants as they were touched on the hand and foot, and as they watched videos of an adult hand and foot being touched.

    Researchers were particularly interested in the brain’s somatosensory cortex, a region generally described as a strip of tissue in the brain that runs between the ears, over the top of the head. It is in this region, in separate places and at different levels of strength, that the brain processes touch to different parts of the body. A touch to the hand, for example, is a stronger sensation – and is processed in a different location along the somatosensory cortex – than a touch to the foot.

    In the first experiment, each infant was seated in the MEG to measure brain activity as they received light touches. A small, inflatable balloon-like device was placed on the top of the baby’s hand, and when it expanded and contracted according to a computer-controlled timetable, it produced light taps on the baby’s skin. The same procedure was followed for the top of the baby’s foot.

    The data showed that, when the hand was touched, the hand area of the somatosensory cortex was activated in all 14 infants tested; when the foot was touched, activation occurred in the foot area of the brains of all of the infants but one.

    A different group of infants provided data for the “observed touch” experiment, in which they also were seated in the MEG but watched separate videos of an adult hand and an adult foot being touched by a small rod. Researchers discovered that the infants’ own somatosensory cortex (the “touch center” in the baby brain) also became activated when the babies simply observed someone else being touched.

    There was a weaker response to “observed touch” than to “felt touch,” which was expected, Meltzoff said. The same is true of adults: A touch to your own hand is going to generate greater brain activity in the somatosensory cortex than merely seeing the touch to someone else’s hand.

    The key, Meltzoff pointed out, is that the same part of the infant’s brain registered both kinds of touch, indicating a baby’s capacity for recognizing the similarity between their own body parts and those they see in other people.

    This new evidence for shared neural regions processing touch to self and touch to others makes sense, Meltzoff said. As parents know, babies watch and imitate what adults do. Imitation is a powerful learning mechanism for infants, but in order to imitate, infants have to perceive how body parts correspond. In other words, they need to reproduce the same movement with the same part when they imitate what their parent is doing. Scientists have wondered how infants make this connection. “Before they have words for the body parts, babies recognize that their hand is like your hand, and their foot is like your foot. The neural body map helps connect babies to other people: The recognition that another person is ‘like me’ may be one of the baby’s first social insights,” Meltzoff explained.

    With development, this “like-me” recognition eventually flowers into feeling empathy for someone else. If you see someone accidentally hit their thumb with a hammer, you rapidly, if perhaps imperceptibly, recoil by moving your hand. This is where a shared neural body map that connects self to other comes into play.

    Further research could use the MEG to investigate how infants develop more sophisticated body awareness as they grow older, the paper notes.

    “The idea of using brain science to study how and when humans first feel a sense of connectedness with others is important and fascinating,” Meltzoff said. “We can now look under the hood and see what’s happening when a baby watches and connects to others. It’s a touching sight.”


  7. Study suggests punishment might not always be as effective as we think

    January 12, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Hokkaido University press release:

    Punishment might not be an effective means to get members of society to cooperate for the common good, according to a social dilemma experiment.

    A game to study human behavior has shown punishment is an ineffective means for promoting cooperation among players. The result has implications for understanding how cooperation has evolved to have a formative role in human societies.

    Human societies maintain their stability by forming cooperative partnerships. But, cooperation often comes at a cost. For example, a person taking time to raise the alarm in order to alert other members of a group to impending danger could be losing valuable time to save oneself. It is unclear why natural selection favors cooperativeness among individuals who are inherently selfish.

    In theoretical studies, punishment is often seen as a means to coerce people into being more cooperative. To examine such theory, a team of international researchers led by Marko Jusup of Hokkaido University in Japan and Zhen Wang of Northwestern Polytechnical University in China has conducted a “social dilemma experiment.” The team investigated if providing punishment as an option helps improve the overall level of cooperation in an unchanging network of individuals.

    They used a version of the commonly employed “prisoner’s dilemma” game. Two hundred and twenty-five students in China were organized into three trial groups and played 50 rounds each of the game.

    In group one, every student played with two opponents which changed every round. The students could choose between “cooperate” or “defect,” and points were given based on the combined choices made. If a student and the two opponents chose “defect,” the student gained zero points. If they all chose “cooperate,” the student gained four points. If only a student chose to defect while the other two chose to cooperate, the gain for the student was eight points.

    The second group was similar to the first one in every aspect except that the people playing the game with each other remained the same for the duration of the 50 rounds, enabling them to learn each other’s characteristics.

    In the third group, players also remained the same. However, a new option, “punish,” was introduced. Choosing punishment led to a small reduction in points for the punisher and a larger reduction of points for the punishees.

    At the end of the game, overall points were counted and the students were given monetary compensation based on the number of points won.

    The expectation is that, as individuals play more with the same opponents over several rounds, they see the benefit of cooperating in order to gain more points. Introducing punishment as an option is basically saying: if you don’t cooperate with me, I’ll punish you. In theory, it is expected that applying this option would lead to more cooperation.

    The researchers found that players in the constantly changing groups cooperated much less (4%) than those in the static groups (38%), where they were able to establish which players were willing to cooperate and thus gain a larger average financial payoff for all involved.

    Surprisingly, however, adding punishment as an option did not improve the level of cooperation (37%). The final financial payoffs in this trial group were also, on average, significantly less than those gained by players in the static group. Interestingly, less defection was seen in the punishment group when compared to the static group; some players replaced defection with punishment.

    While the implied message when punishing someone is ‘I want you to be cooperative,’ the immediate effect is more consistent with the message ‘I want to hurt you,'” write the researchers in their study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Punishment seems to have an overall demoralizing effect, as individuals who get punished on multiple occasions may see a good chunk of their total payoff vanish in a short period of time, explain the researchers. This could lead players to lose interest in the game and play the remaining rounds with less of a rational strategy. The availability of punishment as an option also seems to reduce the incentive to choose cooperation over competition.

    Why, then, is punishment so pervasive in human societies? “It could be that human brains are hardwired to derive pleasure from punishing competitors,” says Jusup. “However, it is more likely that, in real life, a dominant side has the ability to punish without provoking retaliation,” adds Wang.

    Although the study provides valuable insights into how cooperation arises in human society, the team advises it would be unwise to extrapolate the implications of their study far beyond the experimental setting.


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

    December 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

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

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

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

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

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


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

    December 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia press release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The study was published online in Personality and Individual Differences.


  10. Study suggests teens who help strangers have more confidence

    December 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brigham Young University press release:

    Tis the season for helping at a soup kitchen, caroling at a care facility or shoveling a neighbor’s driveway.

    While those gifts of self surely help others, new research suggests that such selfless and serving behaviors have a specific benefit to teens.

    BYU School of Family Life professor Laura Padilla-Walker, in a longitudinal study she coauthored with a former student (Xinyuan Fu, Central University of Finance and Economics, China) in the Journal of Adolescence, found that adolescents who exhibited prosocial behavior — such as helping, sharing and comforting — toward strangers had higher self-esteem a year later. The same was not true for those in the study who exhibited prosocial behavior solely to friends and family.

    “This study helps us to understand that young people who help those with whom they do not have a relationship report feeling better about themselves over time,” Padilla-Walker said. “Given the importance of self-esteem during the teen years, this is an important finding. It suggests there might be something about helping strangers that impacts one’s moral identity or perceptions of self in a more significant way than helping friends or family members, although these are beneficial behaviors as well.”

    Padilla-Walker has authored multiple studies looking at prosocial behavior. While she’s found that teens who exhibit these positive behaviors stay out of trouble and have better familial relationships, this was her first time tying it to self-esteem.

    In the study, researchers looked at 681 adolescents, 11-14 years old, in two U.S. cities. They tracked them for four different time points, starting in 2008 through 2011. The participants responded to 10 statements such as “I feel useless at times” or “I am satisfied with myself” to assess self-esteem. Prosocial behavior was measured by self-reports, looking at various aspects of kindness and generosity, such as “I help people I don’t know, even if it’s not easy for me” or “I go out of my way to cheer up my friends” or “I really enjoy doing small favors for my family.”

    “A unique feature of this study is that it explores helping behaviors toward multiple different targets,” Padilla-Walker said. “Not all helping is created equal, and we’re finding that prosocial behavior toward strangers is protective in a variety of ways that is unique from other types of helping. Another important finding is that the link between prosocial behavior and self-esteem is over a one-year time period and present across all three age lags in our study. Though not an overly large effect, this suggests a stable link between helping and feeling better about oneself across the early adolescent years.”

    For many adolescents, this time of life can be confusing for them. In a state of such self-exploration and self-identification, Padilla-Walker suggests that helping your kids find confidence, self-respect and self-worth can be of monumental importance.

    “For teens who sometimes have a tendency to focus on themselves, parents can help by providing opportunities for their children to help and serve others who are less fortunate,” Padilla-Walker said. “It is best if teens can directly see the benefit of their help on others. This can increase gratitude in young people and help them to focus less on their own problems. It is also a way to help them meet new friends or spend time with family. A family tradition of helping those who are less fortunate throughout the year or during the holidays is a great way to instill in children a desire to serve and a greater sense of self-worth.”