1. New findings on brain functional connectivity may lend insights into mental disorders

    September 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins press release:

    Ongoing advances in understanding the functional connections within the brain are producing exciting insights into how the brain circuits function together to support human behavior — and may lead to new discoveries in the development and treatment of psychiatric disorders, according to a review and update in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. The journal is published by Wolters Kluwer.

    Advanced neuroimaging techniques provide a new basis for studying circuit-level abnormalities in psychiatric disorders, according to the special perspectives article by Deanna M. Barch, PhD, of Washington University in St. Louis. She writes, “These advances have provided the basis for recent efforts to develop a more complex understanding of the function of brain circuits in health and of their relationship to behavior — providing, in turn, a foundation for our understanding of how disruptions in such circuits contribute to the development of psychiatric disorders.”

    Functional Connectivity Data Point to New Understanding of Psychopathology

    In recent years, large-scale research projects including the Human Connectome Project (HCP) have focused on defining and mapping the functional connections of the brain. The result is an extensive body of new evidence on functional connectivity and its relationship to human behavior.

    In her article, Dr. Barch focuses on a technique called resting-state functional connectivity MRI (rsfcMRI), which measures how spontaneous fluctuations in blood oxygen level-dependent signals are coordinated across the brain. Analysis of rsfcMRI and other data in large numbers of subjects from the HCP will provide new insights into a wide range of psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety, substance use, and cognitive impairment.

    Recent studies have found that spontaneous activity from networks of regions across the brain are highly correlated even at rest (that is, when the person is not performing a specifically targeted task). This “resting state” activity may consume around 20 percent of the body’s total energy — even though the brain is only two percent of total body mass, according to Dr. Barch. “Ongoing resting-state activity may provide a critical and rich source of disease-relate variability.”

    One key question is what constitutes the “regions” that make up the neural circuits of the brain. Recent rsfcMRI mapping studies have identified between 180 and 356 different brain regions, including many common regions that can be mapped across individuals. Future studies will look at whether these regions differ in shape, size, or location in people with psychiatric disorders — and whether these differences contribute to changes in the formation and function of brain circuits.

    Some brain networks identified by rsfcMRI may play important roles in the functions and processes commonly impaired in psychiatric disorders. These include networks involved in cognitive (thinking) function, attention to internal emotional states, and the “salience” of events in the environment. Many questions remain as to how these brain networks are related to behavior in general, and to psychiatric disorders in particular.

    Some researchers are using HCP data to study behavioral factors relevant to psychiatric issues, including cognitive function, mood, emotions, and substance use/abuse. Other studies are looking for rsfcMRI patterns related to individual differences in depression or anxiety, and their connections to various brain networks.

    Dr. Barch’s research focuses on brain networks affecting the relationship between cognitive function and “psychotic-like” experiences. She notes that work on individual differences in functional connectivity in the HCP dataset is just getting started — the full HCP dataset was made publicly available in the spring of 2017.

    “The hope is that these analyses will shed new light on how behavior of many different forms is related to functional brain connectivity, ultimately providing a new window for understanding psychopathology,” Dr. Barch writes. Continued studies of the relationships between brain circuitry and behavior might eventually lead to new therapeutic targets and new approaches to treatment monitoring and selection for patients with psychiatric disorders.


  2. What makes alcoholics drink? Research shows it’s more complex than supposed

    by Ashley

    From the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology press release:

    What makes alcoholics drink? New research has found that in both men and women with alcohol dependence, the major factor predicting the amount of drinking seems to be a question of immediate mood. They found that suffering from long-term mental health problems did not affect alcohol consumption, with one important exception: men with a history of depression had a different drinking pattern than men without a history of depression; surprisingly those men were drinking less often than men who were not depressed.

    “This work once again shows that alcoholism is not a one-size-fits-all condition,” said lead researcher, Victor Karpyak (Mayo Clinic, MN, USA). “So the answer to the question of why alcoholics drink is probably that there is no single answer; this will probably have implications for how we diagnose and treat alcoholism.”

    The work, presented at the ECNP congress by researchers from the Mayo Clinic*, determined the alcohol consumption of 287 males and 156 females with alcohol dependence over the previous 90 days, using the accepted Time Line Follow Back method and standardized diagnostic assessment for life time presence of psychiatric disorders (PRISM); they were then able to associate this with whether the drinking coincided with a positive or negative emotional state (feeling “up” or “down”), and whether the individual had a history of anxiety, depression (MDD) or substance abuse.

    The results showed that alcohol dependent men tended to drink more alcohol per day than alcohol dependent women. As expected, alcohol consumption in both men and women was associated with feeling either up or down on a particular day, with no significant association with anxiety or substance use disorders. However, men with a history of major depressive disorder had fewer drinking days (p=0.0084), and fewer heavy drinking days (p=0.0214) than men who never a major depressive disorder.

    Victor Karpyak continued: “Research indicates that many people drink to enhance pleasant feelings, while other people drink to suppress negative moods, such as depression or anxiety. However, previous studies did not differentiate between state-dependent mood changes and the presence of clinically diagnosed anxiety or depressive disorders. The lack of such differentiation was likely among the reasons for controversial findings about the usefulness of antidepressants in treatment of alcoholics with comorbid depression.

    This work will need to be replicated and confirmed, but from what we see here, it means that the reasons why alcoholics drink depend on their background as well as the immediate circumstances. There is no single reason. And this means that there is probably no single treatment, so we will have to refine our diagnostic methods and tailor treatment to the individual. It also means that our treatment approach may differ depending on targeting different aspects of alcoholism (craving or consumption) and the alcoholic patient (i.e. man or a woman) with or without depression or anxiety history to allow really effective treatment.”

    Commenting, Professor Wim van den Brink (Professor of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam) said:

    “This is indeed a very important issue. Patients with an alcohol use disorder often show a history of other disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders, they also often present with alcohol induced anxiety and mood disorders and finally the may report mood symptoms that do not meet criteria for a mood or anxiety disorder (due to a failure to meet the minimal number of criteria or a duration of less than two weeks). All these different conditions may influence current levels or patterns of drinking.

    The current study seems to show that the current presence of mood/anxiety symptoms is associated with more drinking in both male and female alcoholics, whereas a clinical history of major depression in male alcoholics is associated with lower current dinking levels. Although, the study does not provide a clear reason for this difference, it may have consequences for treatment. For example, antidepressant treatment of males with a history major depression may have no effect on drinking levels. However, these findings may also result from residual confounding, e.g. patients with a history of major depression might also be patients with a late age of onset of their alcohol use disorder and this type of alcohol use disorder is associated with a different pattern of drinking with more daily drinking and less heavy drinking days and less binging. More prospective studies are needed to resolve this important but complex clinical issue.”


  3. Intermittent electrical brain stimulation may improve memory

    by Ashley

    From the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University press release:

    Intermittent electrical stimulation of an area deep inside the brain that degenerates in Alzheimer’s appears to improve working memory, scientists report.

    Conversely, continuous deep brain stimulation, like the type used for Parkinson’s and currently under study in humans with Alzheimer’s, impairs memory, according to study results in adult non-human primates reported in the journal Current Biology.

    With intermittent stimulation — currently not used in any application in the brain in patients — the monkeys were able to remember things up to five times longer in a standard test of working memory.

    “That takes a monkey from being sort of a middle-of-the-pack performer to the top of the class,” says Dr. David T. Blake, neuroscientist in the Department of Neurology at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. “A monkey who is a poor performer becomes a middle-of-the-pack performer after two to three months of this stimulation.”

    In the new studies, scientists used the technique of placing hair-thin electrodes into the brain to deliver electricity and increase the activity of the nucleus basalis of Meynert, a small area in the forebrain that is inexplicably degenerated in both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

    “The natural response of many brain systems to continuous input is to start to ignore the input,” says Blake. In fact, constant stimulation in other areas like the globus pallidus garners desired clinical benefit like tremor reduction in Parkinson’s disease.

    “In the case of Parkinson’s, deep brain stimulation is effectively downregulating that part of the brain,” says Blake, the study’s corresponding author. “What we wanted to do instead was to upregulate an area.”

    Their goals included making more of the chemical messenger acetylcholine available in the region. The nucleus basalis has a large concentration of neurons that are connected to brain areas critical for memory and cognition, and under healthy conditions have a ready supply of acetylcholine that enables the important communication between them.

    As we age, acetylcholine levels in the brain naturally decrease, but Alzheimer’s causes a dramatic multiplier effect that takes us from being forgetful to a different level, says Dr. Alvin V. Terry, chair of the MCG Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and a study coauthor.

    They started with continuous stimulation, like the clinical approaches, and saw an unexpected decline in performance. Equally surprising, they found intermittent stimulation resulted in more available acetylcholine in the region and better performance.

    In fact, use of the cholinesterase inhibitor donepezil restored memory performance in animals that received constant stimulation but had no impact on those whose memory was already enhanced by intermittent stimulation.

    “Normally neurons don’t fire nonstop,” Terry notes. “They are pulsing if you will.”

    Sixty pulses per second for 20 seconds followed by a 40-second interval without stimulation provided optimal benefit in the study.

    The scientists suspect the benefit resulted from the impact of increased levels of acetylcholine directly on neurons and their supportive cells in that region. However it may also result from a slight increase in blood flow to the brain region, they write. Cholinesterase inhibitors, drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s, are known to increase blood flow to the brain about 10-15 percent in humans. Blood flow is typically reduced in Alzheimer’s.

    The MCG team has submitted a grant proposal to start a clinical trial in early Alzheimer’s using their new evidence of the benefits of intermittent pulsing. They note that a variety of brain regions and stimulation patterns are currently under study in clinical trials in the United States and Europe.

    The adult but not aged monkeys in the current study were already part of an investigation to determine whether stimulation could improve the sense of touch, which also decreases with age. The scientists realized that with stimulation the monkeys were able to detect finger taps essentially 100 percent of the time versus about 60 percent of the time without it.

    So they also used a classic working memory task in which a colored square cue shows up, then disappears, followed by a delay and then a choice between a cue-colored square and a distractor square. The monkeys get a food reward for making the cue match.

    “There was every reason to think that we would find what we found if we could actually boost acetylcholine, and switching from continuous to intermittent stimulation was the step that was necessary to do that,” Blake says.

    In fact, after months of intermittent stimulation, the monkeys got more adept at the memory test even without the stimulation.

    While that seems like more good news, the reason for the enduring effect is not 100 percent clear: it could be the brain cells make more connections, it could be more acetylcholine keeps getting released, it could be both, the scientists note.

    “There are two main classes of effects that acetylcholine has in the central nervous system,” Blake says. “It changes the way neurons talk to each other. It causes some neurons to become more active, some to become less active. The second class of effects is that it improves blood flow,” he says. More blood means more of the energy source glucose and vital oxygen get to the brain, so it’s not surprising that the brain becomes healthier over time with these increased assets, Blake says. “The idea is that it’s going to have a longer-term effect,” Terry adds.

    Deep brain stimulation, which is comparable to a pacemaker for the heart, also is more selective than drugs, appearing to only stimulate acetylcholine in the targeted brain site. We have acetylcholine receptors all over our body and cholinesterase inhibitors make more of the chemical available bodywide, increasing the risk of side effects like nausea, loss of appetite, joint pain and muscle cramping.

    In fact, responses to intermittent stimulation in the study were as strong as those experienced by patients taking high doses of cholinesterase inhibitors, the scientists report.

    “The primary drugs that are used to treat Alzheimer’s enhance this cholinergic function but they are nonspecific so they are causing all these peripheral side effects,” Terry says. “This is a much more selective way of enhancing that region.”

    Deep brain stimulation basically supplements the normal brain processes that enable the release of acetylcholine, Blake says. The brain operates on a combined biochemical and electrical system that has electrical spikes running the length of an axon — long arms that reach from one neuron to another neuron or other cell type. Where two cells connect is called a synapse and the electrical spike results in the release of acetylcholine at the synapse, which impacts the cell it touches possibly activating it electrically or changing how it functions some other way. Electrical activation of a single neuron actually also activates other neurons in close proximity.

    The success of implanted defibrillators/pacemakers and deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s has led to the exploration of its potential for problems like Alzheimer’s. The Food and Drug Administration approved deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s and essential tremor in 1997.

    Aging baby boomers, who began turning 65 in 2011, are drivers behind dramatic increases in those at risk for Alzheimer’s and other age-related dementia. By 2050, the population age 65 and over is projected to reach 83.7 million, almost double the estimated population of 43.1 million in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.


  4. How do close relationships lead to longer life?

    September 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    While recent research has shown that loneliness can play a role in early death, psychologists are also concerned with the mechanisms by which social relationships and close personal ties affect health. A special issue of American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association, offers an overview of the science and makes the case for psychological scientists to work together to make close relationships a public health priority.

    “The articles in this special issue represent state-of-the-art work on the central issues in the study of close relationships and health. They draw from relationship science and health psychology, two areas of scientific inquiry with independent histories and distinct domains,” special issue editor Christine Dunkel Schetter, PhD, wrote in the introduction. “The goal of this special issue is to bridge the gap between these two specialties to improve the quality and usefulness of future research and practice.”

    Articles focus on topics including how healthy relationships early in life affect physical and mental health in childhood and beyond; the role of intimate relationships in coronary heart disease; the need to focus on partners when treating someone with chronic disease; and the increasingly complex biological pathways involved linking relationships to health.

    “The challenge remains to translate existing and future knowledge into interventions to improve social relationships for the benefit of physical and mental health,” wrote Dunkel Schetter, of the University of California, Los Angeles.


  5. Study suggests conversation is faster when words are accompanied by gestures

    by Ashley

    From the Springer press release:

    When someone asks a question during a conversation, their conversation partner answers more quickly if the questioner also moves their hands or head to accompany their words. These are the findings of a study led by Judith Holler of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. The study is published in Springer’s journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review and focusses on how gestures influence language processing.

    The transition between turns taken during a conversation is astonishingly fast, with a mere 200 milliseconds typically elapsing between the contribution of one speaker to the next. Such speed means that people must be able to comprehend, produce and coordinate their contributions to a conversation in good time.

    To study the role of gestures during conversation, Holler and her colleagues, Kobin Kendrick and Stephen Levinson, analyzed the interaction of seven groups of three participants. The groups were left alone in a recording suite for twenty minutes, during which their interaction was filmed with three high-definition video cameras. The researchers analyzed the question-response sequences in particular because these are so prevalent in conversations. Holler and her team found that there was a strong visual component to most questions being asked and answered during the conversations. These took the form of bodily signals such as communicative head or hand movements.

    Bodily signals appear to profoundly influence language processing in interaction,” says Holler. “Questions accompanied by gestures lead to shorter turn transition times — that is, to faster responses — than questions without gestures, and responses come even earlier when gestures end before compared to after the question turn has ended.”

    This means that gestures that end early may give us an early visual cue that the speaker is about to end, thus helping us to respond faster. But, at least for those cases in which gestures did not end early, it also means that the additional information conveyed by head and hand gestures may help us process or predict what is being said in conversation.

    “The empirical findings presented here provide a first glimpse of the possible role of the body in the psycholinguistic processes underpinning human communication,” explains Holler. “They also provide a stepping stone for investigating these processes and mechanisms in much more depth in the future.”


  6. Study suggests apologising for socially rejecting someone may make them feel worse

    by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Imagine you find out that your friend meets with mutual co-workers for lunch every Friday. You ask to join, but your friend declines your request. Could the way they phrased this rejection make you feel more or less hurt about being snubbed?

    A new study published in the open-access journal, Frontiers in Psychology, reveals that saying sorry when making a social rejection can have the opposite effect of its intention.

    “Contrary to popular belief, apologies don’t soften the blow of rejections,” says Dr. Gili Freedman, lead author of this study, currently based at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA.

    “Most people have had the experience of wanting to minimize the hurt of the person they are rejecting. But how exactly do you do that? Our research finds that despite their good intentions, people are going about it the wrong way. They often apologize, but that makes people feel worse and that they have to forgive the rejector before they are ready.”

    Previous research has focused on the target of the rejection, rather than those who carry it out and how they do it. There can be times when people cannot accept all invitations or wish to avoid a social encounter, but little is known about how they can protect the feelings of those being rejected.

    Social norms dictate that we should forgive someone if they apologize, which puts the targets of social rejection in a difficult position if they aren’t ready to do this or think the apology is insincere. With that in mind, Dr. Freedman performed several different tests to assess how often apologies were included in a social rejection and how the recipients felt and responded to them.

    “We approached over a thousand people who were in town for various festivals so we could get a wide range of participants by capitalizing on the free time that people had while waiting in queues.”

    They found 39% of people included an apology when asked to write a ‘good way of saying no’ to a social request, such as being able to meet up or to be roommates again. When asked how they would feel when put in this position themselves, those people shown a rejection containing an apology reported higher feelings of hurt.

    Dr. Freedman then carried out specially designed face-to-face rejection experiments to account for the fact that people don’t like to admit negative feelings, such as the pain of rejection.

    “We know that people often don’t want to admit that they have hurt feelings, so in some of the studies, we looked at how much people wanted to seek revenge,” explains Dr. Freedman. “Specifically, we looked at the degree to which rejectees imposed an unpleasant taste test of hot sauce on their rejectors.”

    It showed that those offered an apology when rejected from a set of group tasks, which included a taste test of hot sauce, exacted revenge by allocating more sauce to the person who had rejected them. This was despite being told they had a strong aversion spicy food!

    Lastly, the researchers asked participants to view a video of a rejection in action, to assess if feelings of forgiveness can be affected. Those who saw the recipient receiving an apology thought they would feel more obliged to express forgiveness, despite not feeling it.

    Dr. Freedman hopes to further this research by examining if the rejector is actually protecting their own feelings when apologizing.

    “It is possible that rejectors may feel better about themselves if they apologize. We intend to examine when rejectors are motivated to feel better about themselves and when they would rather put the rejectee’s needs ahead of their own.”


  7. Link found between cognitive fatigue and effort and reward

    by Ashley

    From the Kessler Foundation press release:

    Kessler Foundation researchers have authored a new article that has implications for our understanding of the relationship between cognitive fatigue and effort and reward. The study, which was conducted in healthy participants, broadens our understanding of disease entities that are associated with a lower threshold for cognitive fatigue, such as multiple sclerosis, brain injury, stroke and Parkinson disease. The article, “The relationship between outcome prediction and cognitive fatigue: a convergence of paradigms,” was epublished ahead of print on May 25, 2017, in Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience. The authors are Glenn Wylie, DPhil, Helen Genova, PhD, John DeLuca, PhD, and Ekaterina Dobryakova, PhD, of Kessler Foundation.

    Injury and disease of the brain increase the likelihood of cognitive fatigue, which can be disabling. Researchers are studying the mechanisms of cognitive fatigue, toward the goal of developing effective interventions. “In this study, we focused on the activity of the anterior cingulate cortex, which has been shown by others to be related to error processing, and which we have shown to be associated with fatigue,” said Dr. Wylie, who is associate director of Neuroscience Research and the Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation. “We challenged participants with difficult tasks of working memory, and assessed which parts of the anterior cingulate cortex were associated with error processing,” he explained. “We then investigated whether exactly the same areas of the anterior cingulate cortex were also associated with fatigue. They were, suggesting that cognitive fatigue may be the brain’s way of signalling to itself that the effort required for the task no longer merits the rewards received.”


  8. Study looks at effect of testosterone fluctuations in fathers after baby arrives

    by Ashley

    From the University of Southern California press release:

    Postpartum depression is often associated with mothers, but a new study shows that fathers face a higher risk of experiencing it themselves if their testosterone levels drop nine months after their children are born.

    The same study revealed that a father’s low testosterone may also affect his partner — but in an unexpectedly positive way. Women whose partners had lower levels of testosterone postpartum reported fewer symptoms of depression themselves nine and 15 months after birth.

    High testosterone levels had the opposite effect. Fathers whose levels spiked faced a greater risk of experiencing stress due to parenting and a greater risk of acting hostile- such as showing emotional, verbal or physical aggression — toward their partners.

    The study was published in the journal Hormones and Behavior on Sept. 1. The findings support prior studies that show men have biological responses to fatherhood, said Darby Saxbe, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

    “We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies through breastfeeding and pregnancy.” Saxbe said. “We don’t usually think of fatherhood in the same biological terms. We are still figuring out the biology of what makes dads tick.

    “We know that fathers contribute a lot to child-rearing and that on the whole, kids do better if they are raised in households with a father present,” she added. “So, it is important to figure out how to support fathers and what factors explain why some fathers are very involved in raising their children while some are absent.”

    Saxbe worked with a team of researchers from USC, University of California at Los Angeles and Northwestern University.

    A snapshot of paternal postpartum depression

    For the study, the researchers examined data from 149 couples in the Community Child Health Research Network. The study by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development involves sites across the country, but the data for this study came from Lake County, Illinois, north of Chicago.

    Mothers in the study were 18 to 40 years old; African-American, white or Latina; and low-income. They were recruited when they gave birth to their first, second or third child. Mothers could invite the baby’s father to participate in the study as well. Of the fathers who participated and provided testosterone data, 95 percent were living with the mothers.

    Interviewers visited couples three times in the first two years after birth: around two months after the child was born, about nine months after birth and about 15 months after birth.

    At the nine-month visit, researchers gave the fathers saliva sample kits. Dads took samples three times a day — morning, midday and evening — to monitor their testosterone levels.

    Participants responded to questions about depressive symptoms based on a widely-used measure, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression. They also reported on their relationship satisfaction, parenting stress and whether they were experiencing any intimate partner aggression. Higher scores on those measures signaled greater depression, more stress, more dissatisfaction and greater aggression.

    Relatively few participants — fathers and mothers — were identified as clinically depressed, which is typical of a community sample that reflects the general population. Instead of using clinical diagnoses, the researchers looked at the number of depressive symptoms endorsed by each participant.

    Men’s testosterone levels were linked with both their own and their partners’ depressive symptoms — but in opposing directions for men and for women.

    For example, lower testosterone was associated with more symptoms in dads, but fewer symptoms in moms. The link between their partners’ testosterone levels and their own depression was mediated by relationship satisfaction. If they were paired with lower-testosterone partners, women reported greater satisfaction with their relationship, which in turn helped reduce their depressive symptoms.

    “It may be that the fathers with lower testosterone were spending more time caring for the baby or that they had hormone profiles that were more synced up with mothers,” she said. “For mothers, we know that social support buffers the risk of postpartum depression.”

    Fathers with higher testosterone levels reported more parenting stress, and their partners reported more relationship aggression.

    To measure parenting stress, parents were asked how strongly they related to a set of 36 items from the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form. They responded to statements such as “I feel trapped by my responsibilities as a parent” and “My child makes more demands on me than most children.” A high number of “yes” responses signaled stress.

    Relationship satisfaction questions were based on another widely-used tool, the Dyadic Adjustment Scale. Parents responded to 32 items inquiring about their relationship satisfaction, including areas of disagreement or their degree of closeness and affection. Higher scores signaled greater dissatisfaction.

    Mothers also answered questions from another scientific questionnaire, the HITS (Hurts, Insults, and Threats Scale), reporting whether they had experienced any physical hurt, insult, threats and screaming over the past year. They also were asked if their partners restricted activities such as spending money, visiting family or friends or going places that they needed to go.

    “Those are risk factors that can contribute to depression over the long term,” Saxbe said.

    Treating fathers with postpartum depression

    Although doctors may try to address postpartum depression in fathers by providing testosterone supplements, Saxbe said that the study’s findings indicate a boost could worsen the family’s stress.

    “One take-away from this study is that supplementing is not a good idea for treating fathers with postpartum depression,” she said. “Low testosterone during the postpartum period may be a normal and natural adaptation to parenthood.”

    She said studies have shown that physical fitness and adequate sleep can improve both mood and help balance hormone levels.

    In addition, both mothers and fathers should be aware of the signs of postpartum depression and be willing to seek support and care, Saxbe said. Talk therapy can help dads — or moms — gain insight into their emotions and find better strategies for managing their moods.

    “We tend to think of postpartum depression as a mom thing,” Saxbe said. “It’s not. It’s a real condition that might be linked to hormones and biology.”


  9. Study suggests drivers find it harder to ignore a ringing phone than to ignore the risk

    by Ashley

    From the Queensland University of Technology press release:

    Drivers find it difficult to ignore a ringing phone but they do ignore the dangers, with a new QUT study revealing almost 50 per cent believe locating and answering a ringing phone is not as risky as talking and texting.

    The research undertaken by QUT’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety — Queensland (CARRS-Q) and published in the PLOS ONE journal has found locating a ringing phone, checking who is calling, and rejecting or answering the call, is the most frequent mobile phone task undertaken by drivers.

    Lead researcher Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios said drivers did not believe that locating and answering a ringing phone was as risky as talking, texting or browsing.

    “The study of 484 Queensland drivers found 45 per cent admit to locating and answering a ringing phone, compared to 28 per cent who reported speaking on a handheld device.

    “Also concerning is that more drivers reported looking at a screen for more than 2 seconds or locating and answering a ringing phone, than they did talking on a handheld phone, texting or browsing.”

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said when considering the risk of these different mobile phone tasks, most drivers underestimated the distracting dangers of passive phone use.

    Finding and reaching for a ringing phone is perceived by drivers as having a mid-range crash risk, however research has showed that this task is one of the most risky activities a driver can engage in,” he said.

    “This is because drivers are likely to adapt their driving behaviour when talking, texting and browsing, by reducing their speed, increasing their distance from the vehicle in front and scanning their environment more frequently.

    “On the other hand, a ringing mobile phone can occur at any time without giving time for the driver to adapt their behaviour and therefore increases the likelihood of a crash. “This mismatch in perception of risk is a major concern revealed by the study.”

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said using a mobile phone while driving had been shown to increase crash risk four-fold.

    “Novice drivers are particularly at risk as they are more likely to drive while using a mobile phone.”

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said other findings in the study included:

    • Despite the research, 12 per cent drivers still don’t believe talking on a handheld phone is dangerous
    • Drivers actively avoid police detection, with about 70 per cent admitting to being on the lookout for police when using their phone
    • Drivers keep their phones low and cover them to evade police detection
    • On a typical day, drivers are more likely to look at their mobile phone for more than 2 seconds, than they are to text or browse

  10. Study suggests yoga, meditation improve brain function and energy levels

    September 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Waterloo press release:

    Practicing brief sessions of Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation can significantly improve brain function and energy levels, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo.

    The study found that practicing just 25 minutes of Hatha yoga or mindfulness meditation per day can boost the brain’s executive functions, cognitive abilities linked to goal-directed behavior and the ability to control knee-jerk emotional responses, habitual thinking patterns and actions.

    “Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation both focus the brain’s conscious processing power on a limited number of targets like breathing and posing, and also reduce processing of nonessential information,” said Peter Hall, associate professor in the School of Public Health & Health Systems. “These two functions might have some positive carryover effect in the near- term following the session, such that people are able to focus more easily on what they choose to attend to in everyday life.”

    Thirty-one study participants completed 25 minutes of Hatha yoga, 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation, and 25 minutes of quiet reading (a control task) in randomized order. Following both the yoga and meditation activities, participants performed significantly better on executive function tasks compared to the reading task.

    “This finding suggests that there may be something special about meditation — as opposed to the physical posing — that carries a lot of the cognitive benefits of yoga,” said Kimberley Luu, lead author on the paper.

    The study also found that mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga were both effective for improving energy levels, but Hatha yoga had significantly more powerful effects than meditation alone.

    “There are a number of theories about why physical exercises like yoga improve energy levels and cognitive test performance,” said Luu. “These include the release of endorphins, increased blood flow to the brain, and reduced focus on ruminative thoughts. Though ultimately, it is still an open question.”

    Hatha yoga is one of the most common styles of yoga practiced in Western countries.

    It involves physical postures and breathing exercises combined with meditation. Mindfulness mediation involves observing thoughts, emotions and body sensations with openness and acceptance.

    Although the meditative aspect might be even more important than the physical posing for improving executive functions, there are additional benefits to Hatha yoga including improvements in flexibility and strength,” said Hall. “These benefits may make Hatha yoga superior to meditation alone, in terms of overall health benefits.”