1. Study finds virtual reality effective in reducing pain during certain medical procedures

    November 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles press release:

    Virtual reality has emerged into popular culture with an ever-widening array of applications including clinical use in a pediatric healthcare center. Children undergo necessary yet painful and distressing medical procedures every day, but very few non-pharmaceutical interventions have been found to successfully manage the pain and anxiety associated with these procedures. Investigators at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles have conducted a study to determine if virtual reality (VR) can be effectively used for pain management during blood draw. Their findings showed that VR significantly reduced patients’ and parents’ perception of acute pain, anxiety and general distress during the procedure. The results of the study are published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

    “Given the immersive and engaging nature of the VR experience, this technology has the capacity to act as a preventative intervention transforming the blood draw experience into a less distressing and potentially pain-free medical procedure, particularly for patients with more anxiety about having their blood drawn,” said Jeffrey I. Gold, PhD, the director of the Pediatric Pain Management Clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

    While previous research supported the effectiveness of distraction during painful procedures, specifically needle pain, the investigators hypothesized that the new VR technology, an arguably more powerful and immersive intervention could be even more effective at reducing pain and anxiety.

    Gold and study co-author Nicole E. Mahrer, PhD, of the Department of Anesthesiology Critical Care Medicine at CHLA, theorize that ‘VR analgesia’ or pain control originates from the neurobiological interplay of the parts of the brain that regulate the visual, auditory, and touch sensory experience to produce an analgesic effect.

    For the study, they recruited patients, ages 10 to 21 years, the patient’s caregiver and the phlebotomist in the outpatient blood draw clinic, and randomized them to receive either standard of care, which typically includes a topical anesthetic cream or spray and a movie playing in the room, or standard of care plus the virtual reality game when undergoing routine blood draw. Looking at pre-procedural and post-procedural standardized measures of pain, anxiety and satisfaction, researchers found that VR is feasible, tolerated, and well-liked by patients, their parents and the phlebotomists.

    VR, especially immersive VR, draws heavily on the limited cognitive resource of attention by drawing the user’s attention away from the hospital environment and the medical procedures and into the virtual world,” said Gold who is also a professor of Anesthesiology, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

    Given the significant concerns about problematic opioid use, evidence-based support for non-pharmaceutical inventions may lead to use of VR for pain management during certain medical procedures and a decreased need for narcotics.

    “Ultimately, the aim of future VR investigations should be to develop flexible VR environments to target specific acute and chronic pain conditions,” added Gold.


  2. Study suggests student self-reporting can help educators catch academic and mental health problems early

    by Ashley

    From the University of Missouri-Columbia press release:

    At the start of the school year, many students expect to go through the process of getting their ears and eyes checked by school nurses for hearing and vision issues. Increasingly, students might also expect to be screened for potential mental health problems. Stephen Kilgus, an associate professor in the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology in the College of Education at the University of Missouri, is analyzing how a new screening tool, which is completed by students, can help teachers identify potential academic, social and emotional problems. The data might help give teachers better tools to improve children’s lives in the classroom and beyond.

    Kilgus and his colleagues have developed a student version of the Social, Academic and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS), which students use to provide information about their own mental health. Research suggests that as students enter middle school, they tend to internalize issues. This is particularly true of conditions such as depression and anxiety. Furthermore, middle and high school students spend their school day with multiple teachers and adults, making it difficult to find a single adult who can easily track their behavior and report it accurately. Widespread use of the student version of the SAEBRS, in which students report their mental state directly, would remedy this by providing more accurate assessments for older children.

    “The goal is to place these screeners within a broader service delivery framework, where we identify kids that need help, provide them with interventions and then monitor their progress over time,” Kilgus said.

    Schools have quickly become the primary provider for screening students for potential challenges. Kilgus said not every family in a community has access to or the ability to access behavioral support, but schools often have the manpower and resources to provide accessible preventative services. The teacher version of SAEBRS is a screening survey completed by teachers at the start of the school year to identify which students might need more support. Kilgus’ objective is to pinpoint screening tools that can identify more kids who need help and bring teachers and parents in on the conversation.

    “Every time we work with educators, we try to help teachers understand the role they play in providing behavioral supports to students,” Kilgus said. “We also want parents to feel like they understand the process and give them a voice in how the scale and the data will be used.”

    Kilgus said the student version, which was given to middle school students in the study, is available through Fastbridge Learning, a software company that works with schools to offer online academic and behavioral screening, as well as other assessment services. The teacher scale also is available via FastBridge Learning and already in use with 250,000 students nationally.

    “Development and validation of the social, academic and emotional behavior risk screener-student rating scale” was published in Assessment for Effective Intervention. Other contributors were Nathaniel von der Embse, assistant professor of school psychology at the University of South Florida; Stephanie Iaccarino, doctoral student in the educational psychology program at Temple University; Ariel Mankin, doctoral student in the school psychology program at Temple University; and Eran Magen, Director of the Center for Supportive Relationships.


  3. Study suggests optimists and happy people are healthier overall

    November 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Research shows that optimists and happy people are healthier overall, enjoying lower blood pressure and less depression and anxiety, among other measures.

    However, data on the effect of weight and Body Mass Index on physical and mental health are rare — especially among college students, who suffer high rates of anxiety and depression and often neglect physical self-care and exercise.

    To that end, researchers from the University of Michigan and Fudan University in China set out to learn the extent to which BMI and positive outlook affect the physical and mental health of college students in China’s Fudan University.

    They found that a positive outlook and BMI both contributed significantly to good health, said Weiyun Chen, associate professor of health and fitness at the U-M School of Kinesiology.

    Researchers asked 925 students to rate four indicators of psychological well-being: hope, gratitude, life satisfaction and subjective happiness. They also calculated students’ BMI based on self-reported body weight and height. To assess physical and mental health, researchers asked students various questions about their sleep quality and how often they felt healthy, energized, worthless, fidgety, anxious or depressed.

    Chen said that taken together, the four psychological variables and BMI accounted for 41 percent of the total variance in health. Individually, subjective happiness had the most significant impact, followed by hope, and then BMI.

    By themselves, gratitude and life satisfaction didn’t influence overall health. Also, interestingly, BMI was correlated with physical and overall health, but not with hope, gratitude, life satisfaction or mental health.

    In light of the intense academic pressure Chinese college students face, especially at elite institutions like Fudan, Chen said she was surprised by how many students rated themselves happy and healthy. This could point to China’s emphasis on well-being in schools.

    “They have structured, organized physical educations classes,” Chen said. “It’s not just fitness, it’s a variety of things so you can meet different people’s needs. They realized that emphasizing only academics isn’t good for overall health, and that they needed to emphasize the wellness part.”

    These numbers might look different for college students in the U.S., where two of three adults are overweight or obese, and 17 percent of youth ages 2-19 are considered obese, according to the CDC.

    By contrast, 714 Fudan students, or 77.2 percent, were classified as normal body weight, while only 83 students were overweight, and just 5 students were obese, with 123 students considered underweight.

    “Over the past 20 years, the United States has shrunk physical education in elementary school and in college,” Chen said. “In China, especially in the past decade, they have started to emphasize physical education, and they are taking a holistic, whole person approach.”

    Chen said the findings suggest that universities should creatively design wellness programs and centers that dynamically integrate body, mind and spirit into a seamless unit.

    The study has several limitations: all students were recruited from one university, and the results cannot be generalized; the research design prevented establishing causal effects; and the study did not account for gender differences.


  4. Higher estrogen levels linked to increased alcohol sensitivity in brain’s ‘reward center’

    by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Chicago press release:

    The reward center of the brain is much more attuned to the pleasurable effects of alcohol when estrogen levels are elevated, an effect that may underlie the development of addiction in women, according to a study on mice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    Led by Amy Lasek, assistant professor of psychiatry in the UIC College of Medicine, researchers found that neurons in a region of the brain called the ventral tegmental area, or VTA (also known as the “reward center”), fired most rapidly in response to alcohol when their estrogen levels were high. This response, according to their findings published online in the journal PLOS ONE, is mediated through receptors on dopamine-emitting neurons in the VTA.

    “When estrogen levels are higher, alcohol is much more rewarding,” said Lasek, who is the corresponding author on the paper and a researcher in the UIC Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics. “Women may be more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol or more likely to overindulge during certain stages of their cycle when estrogen levels are higher, or may be more likely to seek out alcohol during those stages.”

    Studies indicate that gender differences in psychiatric disorders, including addiction, are influenced by estrogen, one of the primary female sex hormones. Women are more likely to exhibit greater escalation of abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and are more prone to relapse in response to stress and anxiety.

    The VTA helps evaluate whether something is valuable or good. When neurons in this area of the brain are stimulated, they release dopamine — a powerful neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of wellness — and, in large doses, euphoria. When something good is encountered — for example, chocolate — the neurons in the VTA fire more rapidly, enforcing reward circuitry that encodes the idea that chocolate is enjoyable and something to be sought out. Over time, the VTA neurons fire more quickly at the sight, or even thought of, chocolate, explained Lasek. In addiction, VTA neurons are tuned into drugs of abuse, and fire more quickly in relation to consuming or even thinking about drugs, driving the person to seek them out — often at the expense of their own health, family, friends and jobs.

    Many animal studies have shown that alcohol increases the firing of dopamine-sensitive neurons in the VTA, but little is known about exactly why this occurs.

    Lasek and her colleagues examined the relationship between estrogen, alcohol and the VTA in female mice. They used naturally cycling mice that were allowed to go through their normal estrous cycles, akin to the menstrual cycle in women.

    Mice were evaluated to determine when they entered diestrus — the phase in the estrous cycle when estrogen levels are close to their peak.

    “In mice in diestrus, estrogen levels increase to about 10 times higher than they are in estrus, the phase in which ovulation occurs and estrogen levels drop,” Lasek said.

    VTAs were taken from mice in both estrus and diestrus and kept alive in special chambers. Electrodes recorded the activity of individual dopamine-sensitive neurons in the VTA. Next, the researchers added alcohol to the chamber. Activity increased twice as much in neurons from mice in diestrus compared to the response of neurons from mice in estrus.

    Lasek and her colleagues then blocked estrogen receptors on dopamine-sensitive neurons in VTA in mice in estrus and diestrus. With the blocker present, the response to alcohol in neurons from mice in diestrus was significantly lower compared with neurons where estrogen receptors remained functional. The estrogen receptor blocker reduced the alcohol response to levels seen in mice in estrus. The responses to alcohol in neurons from mice in estrus were unaffected by the estrogen receptor blocker.

    “The increased reward response to alcohol we see when estrogen levels are high is mediated through receptors for estrogen in the VTA,” said Mark Brodie, professor of physiology and biophysics in the UIC College of Medicine and a co-author on the paper.

    Lasek believes that the increased sensitivity to alcohol in the VTA when estrogen levels peak may play a significant role in the development of addiction in women.

    “We already know that binge drinking can lead to lasting changes in the brain, and in women, those changes may be faster and more significant due to the interaction we see between alcohol, the VTA and estrogen,” Lasek said. “Binge drinking can increase the risk of developing alcoholism, so women need to be careful about how much alcohol they drink. They should be aware that they may sometimes inadvertently over-consume alcohol because the area of the brain involved in alcohol reward is responding very strongly.”


  5. UK study suggests sports psychologists working with elite footballers may suffer fear and uncertainty

    by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release:

    Sports psychologists have to cope with “fear and uncertainty”, job insecurity and long working hours when working with elite footballers, research shows.

    The experts are being increasingly used to give teams a competitive edge, but they have to face the pressure of losing their job when the football managers they work with are sacked or move, as well as long working hours and the constant need to prove themselves and to please others.

    The study, carried out with a psychologist who worked with a Premier League team, also suggests clubs are using sports psychologists who are untrained and unqualified and this could be dangerous for players. It warns there are few job opportunities for sports psychology and no structured career path.

    The profession is relatively new, but sport and exercise psychologists are now regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council in the UK. The role of a sports psychologist is diverse, but it typically includes working with athletes, coaches, and teams to enhance performance or support athletes who are injured, stressed or having difficulties managing their emotions. They also help sportsmen and women to better communicate, develop leadership skills, build confidence and find motivation and make the transition to a different career. Psychologists can be based in universities or with directly with teams or players.

    The research gives a rare glimpse into the working life of a sports psychologist in the English Premier League. “John”, who co-authored with study with academics from the University of Exeter and University of Portsmouth, is in his mid-30s and had worked for over a decade as a sports psychologist within the English Premier League (EPL) and the higher echelons of English County Cricket.

    John described how the role of a sports medic or psychologist can be incredibly rewarding when the team wins. But it is also precarious, and they often don’t benefit from job security or statutory entitlements because of their links with managers and coaches, who themselves often dismissed with no notice. Managers and coaches usually bring their own, trusted, staff with them when they move from role to role, as well as their own practices and regime. This means there can be a high turnover of medics and psychologists in clubs, and the job is highly competitive.

    John described how the changeover in managers could be “very volatile and unpleasant”. He had seen five managers come and go in five years.

    “This brings fear and uncertainty because any time there’s change you don’t know whether your face is going to fit. A lot of people will not believe that psychology has a place and that’s not a reflection on you or your capabilities, it’s just that they don’t want it in their team, or say they do and just sideline you. Or they have their own people, or a friend or a psych who they’ve used before, so you’re always at the mercy of one person’s attitude or perception, their team and their networks. All of this adds to the precarious nature of the work. You do the best you can to survive and hopefully thrive as well.”

    John described sometimes having to “hide” what he did. He worked with two coaches who didn’t believe in sports psychology. They wouldn’t let him speak to any of their players but he was able to work with players as part of a programme designed to support them off-field. Once the coaches saw this was successful they allowed him to carry out more sports psychology work.

    John helped professional sportspeople to improve their performance, develop and secure a place in the first team and helping them with issues or crises. He used different techniques, including one-to-one sessions with players to help them regulate their emotions and concentrate and set goals. He has now left club football for a more secure career in performance research and consultancy.

    John said: “It’s a life decision that you make to be fully involved in a team. You live and breathe what happens to them. You do whatever it takes. Everything must be done now, it’s a very instant culture and if you can do something to help the team win the next game then you need to do it. Ultimately it consumes your whole life and makes you vulnerable to change because you’re invested in it.”


  6. Study suggests willingness to support corporate social responsibility initiatives contingent on perception of boss’ ethics

    by Ashley

    From the University of Vermont press release:

    A new study shows that people who perceive their employer as committed to environmental and community-based causes will, in turn, engage in green behavior and local volunteerism, with one caveat: their boss must display similarly ethical behavior.

    The forthcoming study in the Journal of Business Ethics by Kenneth De Roeck, assistant professor at the University of Vermont, and Omer Farooq of UAE University, shows that people who work for socially and environmentally responsible companies tend to identify more strongly with their employer, and as a result, increase their engagement in green and socially responsible behaviors like community volunteerism.

    “When you identify with a group, you tend to adopt its values and goals as your own,” says De Roeck. “For example, if you are a fan who identifies with the New England Patriots, their objective to win the Super Bowl becomes your objective too. If they win it, you will say ‘we,’ rather than ‘they,’ won the Super Bowl, because being a fan of the New England Patriots became part of your own identity.”

    That loyalty goes out the window, however, if employees don’t perceive their immediate supervisor as ethical, defined as conduct that shows concern for how their decisions affect others’ well-being. Results show that the propensity for the company’s environmental initiatives to foster employees’ green behaviors disappears if they think their boss has poor ethics. Employees’ engagement in volunteer efforts in support of their company’s community-based initiatives also declines if they believe their boss is not ethical, though not as dramatically.

    “When morally loaded cues stemming from the organization and its leaders are inconsistent, employees become skeptical about the organization’s ethical stance, integrity, and overall character,” says De Roeck. “Consequently, employees refrain from identifying with their employers, and as a result, significantly diminish their engagement in creating social and environmental good.”

    Companies as engines for positive social change

    Findings of the study, based on surveys of 359 employees at 35 companies in the manufacturing industry (consumer goods, automobile, and textile), could provide insight for companies failing to reap the substantial societal benefits of CSR.

    “This isn’t another story about how I can get my employees to work better to increase the bottom line, it’s more about how I can get employees to create social good,” says De Roeck, whose research focuses on the psychological mechanisms explaining employees’ reactions to, and engagement in, CSR. “Moreover, our measure of employees’ volunteer efforts consists of actions that extend well beyond the work environment, showing that organizations can be a strong engine for positive social change by fostering, through the mechanism of identification, a new and more sustainable way of life to their employees.”

    De Roeck says organizations wanting to boost their social performance by encouraging employee engagement in socially responsible behaviors need to ensure that employees perceive their ethical stance and societal engagement as authentic. To do so, and avoid any perception of greenwashing – the promotion of green-based initiatives despite not practicing them fully – organizations should strive to ensure consistency between CSR engagement and leaders’ ethical stance by training supervisors about social and ethical responsibility. Organizations should also be cautious in hiring and promoting individuals to leadership positions who fit with the company CSR strategy and ethical culture.

    “Organizations should not treat CSR as an add-on activity to their traditional business models, but rather as something that should be carefully planned and integrated into the company strategy, culture, and DNA,” says De Roeck. “Only then will employees positively perceive CSR as a strong identity cue that will trigger their identification with the organization and, as a result, foster their engagement in such activities through socially responsible behaviors.”


  7. First large-scale doxing study reveals motivations and targets for cyber bullying

    by Ashley

    From the New York University Tandon School of Engineering press release:

    Researchers at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have published the first large-scale study of a low-tech, high-harm form of online harassment known as doxing.

    Coined as an abbreviation of the word “documents,” doxing involves collecting and publishing sensitive personal information online to exact revenge, seek justice, or intimidate victims.

    The researchers created a custom text classifier that allowed them to identify and analyze dox files, which often include highly identifying personal information, including links to social media accounts. The study revealed that doxing exacts a significant toll on victims, who are far likelier than others to close or increase the privacy settings of social media accounts following an attack. However, new abuse filters deployed on Facebook and Instagram appear to be effective in making victims feel safer. The primary motivations for doxing are revenge and justice, with competition and politics far behind, at just over 1 percent each of the reasons discerned by the study.

    “This study adds significantly to our understanding of this deeply damaging form of online abuse,” said Damon McCoy, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at NYU Tandon. “The ability to detect doxing and identify the primary motivations for these attacks is key to helping Internet service providers, law enforcement, and social media networks better protect users from harassment.”

    The research team also includes Peter Snyder, a doctoral student in computer science and an Electronic Security and Privacy IGERT fellow, and Chris Kanich, an assistant professor of computer science, both from UIC,;and Periwinkle Doerfler, a doctoral candidate at NYU Tandon. The paper, “Fifteen Minutes of Unwanted Fame: Detecting and Characterizing Doxing,” was presented at the Internet Measurement Conference in London last week.

    The team focused on several websites well known for hosting doxed files and captured more than 1.7 million text files shared on those sites over two 6- to 7-week periods. Using their custom text classifier, the researchers identified and analyzed more than 5,500 files associated with doxing.

    According to the study, 32 percent of doxing victims closed or changed the privacy settings on their Instagram account, and 25 percent adjusted the settings on a Facebook account after an attack. But Facebook and Instagram serendipitously debuted new abuse filters to curb online harassment during the study’s data collection period, and they were apparently effective. Just 10 percent of doxing victims altered their Instagram account once anti-abuse measures were in place, and 3 percent changed their settings on Facebook.

    “This is an indicator that these filters can help mitigate some of the harmful impacts of doxing,” Snyder said. However, he noted that much of the doxing occurs on field-specific sites that cater to the hacker or gaming communities, where reputations can be damaged among valued peers.

    More than 90 percent of the doxed files included the victim’s address, 61 percent included a phone number, and 53 percent included an email address. Forty percent of victims’ online user names were made public, and the same percentage revealed a victim’s IP address. While less common, sensitive information such as credit card numbers (4.3 percent), Social Security numbers (2.6 percent), or other financial information (8.8 percent) was also revealed.

    “Most of what we know about doxing thus far has been anecdotal and based on a small number of high-profile cases,” said Snyder. “It’s our hope that by bringing a quantitative approach to this phenomenon, we can provide a fuller understanding of doxing and inform efforts to reduce the damage.”


  8. Study suggests bonobos help strangers without being asked

    by Ashley

    From the Duke University press release:

    A passer-by drops something and you spring to pick it up. Or maybe you hold the door for someone behind you. Such acts of kindness to strangers were long thought to be unique to humans, but recent research on bonobos suggests our species is not as exceptional in this regard as we like to think.

    Famously friendly apes from Africa’s Congo Basin, bonobos will go out of their way to help strangers too, said Jingzhi Tan, a postdoctoral associate in evolutionary anthropology at Duke University.

    A previous study by Tan and associate professor of evolutionary anthropology Brian Hare found that bonobos share food with strangers. Now, in a new series of experiments, the team is trying to find out just how far this kindness goes.

    The researchers studied wild-born bonobos at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    In one experiment, they found that bonobos will help a stranger get food even when there is no immediate payback.

    Sixteen bonobos were led one at a time into one of two adjacent rooms separated by a fence. The researchers hung a piece of apple from a rope just above the empty room, visible but out of reach.

    The apes couldn’t access the fruit or the rope. But if they climbed the fence they could reach a wooden pin holding the rope to the ceiling and release the dangling fruit, causing it to drop within reach of any bonobo that entered the next room.

    The bonobos released the fruit roughly four times more often when an unfamiliar bonobo was in the adjacent room than when the room was empty.

    What’s more, the bonobos didn’t wait to be asked for help, they just offered it. The researchers changed the size of the mesh surrounding the stranger’s room so that in some trials they were able to stick their arms through the openings in the screen to beg for the treat, and in other trials they were not. The bonobos helped just as often whether the stranger gestured for help or not.

    Bonobos’ impulse to feel for strangers isn’t entirely under conscious control, the researchers also found. In another experiment, they had 21 bonobos watch a series of short videos. In some videos, the apes saw a familiar group member either yawning or making a neutral expression. In other videos they watched complete strangers from the Columbus Zoo in the U.S. behaving the same way.

    Just as watching another person yawn can make you yawn, yawning is contagious in bonobos too. Previous studies suggest the phenomenon is linked to a basic form of empathy called “emotional contagion,” when one person’s mood triggers similar emotions in others around them.

    The researchers found that stranger yawns were just as contagious as those of groupmates.

    The impulse to be nice to strangers is likely to evolve in species where the benefits of bonding with outsiders outweigh the costs, said Tan, now a postdoctoral scholar at the University California, San Diego.

    Female bonobos leave the group where they were born to join a new group when they reach adulthood, where they form bonds with other unrelated adults they’ve never met. Bonobos, like humans, may simply be eager to make a good first impression.

    “All relationships start between two strangers,” Tan said. “You meet a stranger, but you may meet them again, and this individual could become your future friend or ally. You want to be nice to someone who’s going to be important for you.”


  9. Significant financial stress associated with 13-fold higher odds of having a heart attack

    November 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the European Society of Cardiology press release:

    Significant financial stress is associated with a 13-fold higher odds of having a heart attack, according to research presented at the 18th Annual Congress of the South African Heart Association.

    The SA Heart Congress 2017 is being held from 9 to 12 November in Johannesburg.

    “The role of psychosocial factors in causing disease is a neglected area of study in South Africa, perhaps because there are so many other pressing health challenges such as tuberculosis and HIV,” said lead author Dr Denishan Govender, associate lecturer, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

    “The INTERHEART study showed that psychosocial factors are independently associated with acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) in Africa but as far as we are aware there are no other published local data,” said last author Professor Pravin Manga, professor of cardiology, University of the Witwatersrand.

    This study included 106 patients with acute myocardial infarction who presented to a large public hospital in Johannesburg. A control group of 106 patients without cardiac disease was matched for age, sex and race. All participants completed a questionnaire about depression, anxiety, stress, work stress, and financial stress in the previous month. The Likert scale was used to grade the experience of each condition.

    Regarding financial stress, patients were graded with no financial stress if they were coping financially; mild financial stress if they were coping financially but needed added support; moderate financial stress if they had an income but were in financial distress; and significant financial stress if they had no income and at times struggled to meet basic needs.

    Levels of psychosocial conditions were compared between groups and used to calculate associations with having a heart attack.

    Self-reported stress levels were common, with 96% of heart attack patients reporting any level of stress, and 40% reporting severe stress levels. There was a three-fold increased risk of myocardial infarction if a patient had experienced any level of depression (from mild to extremely severe) in the previous month compared to those with no depression.

    Both work stress and financial stress were associated with a higher risk of acute myocardial infarction. The odds of myocardial infarction was 5.6 times higher in patients with moderate or severe work stress compared to those with minimal or no stress. Patients with significant financial stress had a 13-fold higher odds of having a myocardial infarction.

    Dr Govender said: “Our study suggests that psychosocial aspects are important risk factors for acute myocardial infarction. Often patients are counselled about stress after a heart attack but there needs to be more emphasis prior to an event. Few doctors ask about stress, depression or anxiety during a general physical and this should become routine practice, like asking about smoking. Just as we provide advice on how to quit smoking, patients need information on how to fight stress.”

    Professor Manga said: “There is growing recognition that many developing countries are experiencing an increasing prevalence of chronic diseases of lifestyle such as myocardial infarction, and South Africa is no exception. Our study shows that psychosocial aspects are an area of cardiovascular prevention that deserves more attention.”

    Dr David Jankelow, Chairman of the SA Heart 2017 Congress, commented: “We know that the depressed cardiac patient is at greater risk. We as clinicians need to identify them much earlier, so that they can be referred for appropriate intervention. Cardiac rehabilitation together with counselling and reassurance will play an important role as well.”

    Professor Fausto Pinto, ESC immediate past president and course director of the ESC programme in South Africa, said: “Psychosocial factors including stress at work, depression and anxiety contribute to the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and having a worse prognosis. European prevention guidelines say that psychosocial risk factor assessment should be considered in people with, or at high risk of, cardiovascular disease to identify possible barriers to lifestyle change or adherence to medication.”


  10. Study finds that keeping harsh punishment in check helps kids with ADHD

    by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release:

    Cutting back on yelling, criticism and other harsh parenting approaches, including physical punishment, has the power to calm children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a new study.

    Researchers from The Ohio State University evaluated physiological markers of emotional regulation in preschool children with ADHD before and after a parent and child intervention aimed at improving family relations. Changes in parenting — including less yelling and physical discipline — led to improvements in children’s biological regulation.

    “This is the first study to show that improved parenting changes kids biologically,” said Theodore Beauchaine, the study’s senior author and a professor of psychology at Ohio State.

    “The idea is to change family dynamics so these highly vulnerable kids don’t run into big problems down the road, including delinquency and criminal behavior.”

    The study appears in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

    Parents of 99 preschoolers with ADHD received parenting coaching — half during 20 weekly two-hour sessions and half during 10 similar sessions. The parents learned skills including problem-solving, positive parenting techniques and effective responses to their children’s behaviors. Meanwhile, their children met with therapists who reinforced topics such as emotional regulation and anger management.

    Before the training began, parents (usually moms) and their children engaged in play sessions that included an intentionally frustrating block-building exercise. Parents dumped a large container of blocks on the floor and were told not to touch the blocks and to coach their children on how to build progressively complex structures.

    During the exercise, the children were tethered to equipment that recorded their heart activity. Abnormal patterns of heart activity are common among children who have trouble controlling their emotions, including some children with ADHD, Beauchaine said.

    After parent coaching was complete, the researchers had families return to the lab for retesting to determine if the training sessions led to changes in parenting and heart activity among children.

    Reductions in negative parenting were found to drive improved biological function in children. Increases in positive parenting had no effect.

    The researchers also observed each parent and child during a 30-minute play session in the family home and video-recorded positive and negative parenting approaches. Positive parenting included praise, encouragement and problem-solving. Negative parenting included critical statements, physical discipline and commands that gave children no opportunity to comply.

    Less-harsh parenting also was linked to improved behavior in children, a finding that bolsters previous research in this area.

    “Negative interactions between parents and children have a big effect on kids,” Beauchaine said.

    Greater improvements in parenting were seen in those who had 20 weeks of classes, versus 10. Regardless, the intervention was relatively short, Beauchaine said.

    “Just 20 weeks to observe this much change is somewhat surprising,” he said.

    Children in the study all struggled primarily with hyperactivity and impulsivity, as opposed to inattention. Most of them — 76 percent — were boys, which is similar to ADHD rates in the general population. Families were participants in Beauchaine’s work with collaborators at the University of Washington. One limitation of the study is that it did not include a control group of parents and children who did not receive lessons.

    Beauchaine said it is important to recognize the tremendous parenting challenges that moms and dads of children with ADHD face.

    “A lot of times, these young kids and their parents don’t like each other much. We strive to change that. It’s challenging for parents, because these kids can be hard to raise,” he said.

    “The idea is not to blame parents or kids, but to look for ways to help them both.”