1. Study suggests exercising at own pace boosts a child’s ability to learn

    January 6, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of Stirling press release:

    A child’s attention and memory improves after exercise according to new research conducted with primary school pupils and supported by the Universities of Stirling and Edinburgh.

    Researchers found that pupils’ best responses to tests came after physical activity that was set at their own pace, as opposed to exhaustive exercise.

    The study is part of the BBC Learning’s Terrific Scientific campaign — designed to inspire schoolchildren to pursue a career in science — and part-funded by the University of Edinburgh and the Physiological Society.

    In the sixth investigation of the series, more than 11,000 school pupils across the UK conducted a scientific investigation to discover the impact of taking a short break from the classroom to complete a physical activity on their mood and cognitive abilities.

    The study was jointly led by Dr Colin Moran and Dr Naomi Brooks, of the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, and Dr Josie Booth of the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education.

    Dr Brooks explained: “Anecdotal evidence suggests that short breaks involving physical activity can boost concentration and happiness in pupils. While this is positive, the evidence is not conclusive and this is what we asked the children to help investigate.

    “Ultimately, we found that 15 minutes of self-paced exercise can significantly improve a child’s mood, attention and memory — enhancing their ability to learn.”

    A total of 11,613 children in the UK signed up to participate in the research — including 1,536 from Scotland — and they were asked to answer questions about how happy and awake they were feeling, before completing attention and memory tasks on a computer. Children completed the tasks both before and after they participated in each of three outdoor activities of varying intensities:

    · A bleep test: This was the most intense activity, where the children ran in time with bleeps, which got gradually quicker, until they felt close to exhaustion.

    · A run/walk activity: This was of intermediate intensity where the children ran or walked at a speed of their own choice for 15 minutes.

    · A control activity: This was the least intense activity where the children went outside to sit or stand for 15 minutes. This was used to compare whether physical activity had a greater impact than simply going outside.

    In total, more than 7,300 children provided information on at least one of the key measurements, related to mood and cognition, and participants completed 22,349 batches of computer tasks.

    Compared to the control, children reported feeling more awake after taking a break and doing exercise for a short time. Both the bleep test and the run/walk made participants feel more awake than the control activity, although they felt most awake after the run/walk.

    The children also said they felt better after doing the run/walk but reported no difference in the way they felt after completing the bleep test, compared to the control activity.

    Children responded quicker to the attention task after completing the run/walk, compared to the control and bleep test activities, and were better at controlling their responses after doing the run/walk and bleep test than they were after the control activity.


  2. Study finds heightened attention to surprise in veterans with PTSD

    January 5, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Virginia Tech press release:

    Fireworks on nights other than the fourth of July or New Year’s Eve might be nothing more than inconsiderate neighbors, but for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the shock of noise and light may trigger a deeply learned expectation of danger.

    Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI) have found that people with PTSD have an increased learning response to surprising events. While most everyone reacts to surprise, people with PTSD tend to pay even more attention to the unexpected.

    The study was published this week in eLife, an open-access journal published by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, and the Wellcome Trust.

    “Disproportionate reactions to unexpected stimuli in the environment are a core symptom of PTSD,” said Pearl Chiu, an associate professor at the VTCRI and the lead author on the study. “These results point to a specific disruption in learning that helps to explain why these reactions occur.”

    Chiu and her team used functional MRI to scan the brains of 74 veterans, all of whom had experienced trauma while serving at least one combat tour in Afghanistan or Iraq. Some of the study participants were diagnosed with PTSD, while others were not. In the functional MRI, participants played a gambling game, in which they learned to associate certain choices with monetary gains or losses.

    “Computer science and mathematics have given us new tools to understand how the brain learns. We used these tools to study whether and how learning might play a role in PTSD,” said Chiu, who is also an associate professor of psychology in Virginia Tech’s College of Science. “These results suggest that people with PTSD don’t necessarily have a disrupted response to unexpected outcomes, rather they pay more attention to these surprises,” Chiu said.

    The researchers found that people with PTSD had significantly more activity in the parts of their brains associated with how much attention they paid to surprising events when the learning task threw an unexpected curve ball their way.

    “Fireworks unexpectedly going off after a person has exchanged fire in the field can trigger an over-estimation of danger,” said Brooks King-Casas, an associate professor at the VTCRI who co-led the study. “Particularly for individuals with PTSD, unexpected surprising events — noise or otherwise — could be a matter of life or death. The study shows that while everyone is affected by unexpected events, in PTSD extra attention is given to these surprises.”

    King-Casas is also an associate professor of psychology in Virginia Tech’s College of Science and an associate professor in the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

    Earlier studies have connected greater attention to perceived threats and unexpected events in PTSD, but the mechanistic underpinning of this hypersensitivity to unexpected outcomes have been unclear until now.

    “The work by Brown and colleagues is an important step forward to be able to differentiate the brain and behavioral processes that are affected as a consequence of post-traumatic stress,” said Martin Paulus, a medical doctor and the scientific director and president of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was not involved in this study. “The finding that individuals with PTSD have difficulty appropriately allocating attention to their environment when it changes has clear implications for the development of novel behavioral interventions.”

    Vanessa Brown, first author on the paper and a graduate student in the department of psychology in Virginia Tech’s College of Science, said that both the behavioral and neural findings show that people with PTSD pay more attention to surprise while learning.

    “This disrupted learning increases with more severe PTSD,” said Brown, who is conducting her dissertation research in Chiu’s laboratory at the VTCRI. “Now that we understand how attention to surprise plays a role in PTSD, we may be able to refine our assessment tools or develop new interventions that target specific learning disruptions in people with PTSD or other psychiatric disorders.”

     


  3. Study suggests intervention offered in school readiness program boosts children’s self-regulation skills

    December 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon State University press release:

    Adding a daily 20 to 30 minute self-regulation intervention to a kindergarten readiness program significantly boosted children’s self-regulation and early academic skills, an Oregon State University researcher has found.

    Self-regulation skills — the skills that help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task and persist through difficulty — are critical to a child’s success in kindergarten and beyond. The intervention, co-developed and tested by OSU’s Megan McClelland, a nationally-recognized expert in child development, uses music and games to help preschoolers learn and practice self-regulation skills.

    The intervention was added to a three-week summer school readiness program at a large school district on the East Coast for children entering kindergarten that had no prior preschool experience. The school district asked McClelland and her colleagues to evaluate their use of the intervention. It was the first opportunity for researchers to evaluate the program’s effectiveness in a “real-world” setting, where teachers, rather than researchers, led the students through self-regulation games.

    The researchers found that use of these games daily for three weeks improved the children’s self-regulation skills. They also found that the children’s broader school readiness skills, including early math and literacy skills, improved as a result of the intervention and the children saw greater-than-expected growth in the months following the program.

    “It was a test to see if the results of this intervention look similar in a less-controlled environment, and it appears that they do,” said McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith Healthy Children and Families Professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “It helps demonstrate the feasibility and scalability of this kind of program.”

    The findings add to McClelland’s growing body of research demonstrating the value of teaching self-regulation skills to children entering kindergarten, particularly those who are at higher risk of struggling academically in school and opens the door for the intervention to be used more widely by teachers and schools.

    The evaluation of the school district program was published recently in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Co-authors are Robert J. Duncan and Sara A. Schmitt of Purdue University and Maura Burke of Fairfax County Public Schools. Duncan and Schmitt both earned their doctorates at OSU.

    The school district added the self-regulation intervention at some schools participating in a summer “Bridge to Kindergarten” in 2013. It was also offered in 2014 and 2015. Researchers evaluated data from about 150 children from each year.

    “The school district wanted an explicit focus on self-regulation in this program designed to get children ready for kindergarten,” McClelland said.

    Teachers were trained to lead the children through the intervention, which uses movement and music-based games that increase in complexity over time and encourage the practice of self-regulation skills. The games require few materials and the children can help make the props as part of their lessons.

    One game is “Red Light, Purple Light,” which is similar to “Red Light, Green Light.” The instructor acts as a stoplight and holds up construction-paper circles to represent stop and go. Children follow color cues, such as purple is stop and orange is go, and then switch to the opposite, where purple is go and orange is stop.

    Other games include “Freeze,” where the children are encouraged to do the opposite of the teacher’s instructions; and “Sleeping,” where the children pretend to sleep and then wake up as something different and must remain in that character.

    Additional rules are added later to increase the complexity of the game. The game requires children to listen and remember instructions, pay attention to the adult leading the game and resist natural inclinations to stop or go.

    “The findings from this evaluation support our previous randomized controlled studies of this program, which is a promising sign that the intervention will also be effective in practical applications,” McClelland said. “If we can make the program more accessible to schools and teachers, and still ensure quality, it becomes more feasible to share it more widely.”


  4. Study suggests ‘mind’s eye blink’ proves ‘paying attention’ is not just a figure of speech

    December 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Vanderbilt University press release:

    When your attention shifts from one place to another, your brain blinks. The blinks are momentary unconscious gaps in visual perception and came as a surprise to the team of Vanderbilt psychologists who discovered the phenomenon while studying the benefits of attention.

    “Attention is beneficial because it increases our ability to detect visual signals even when we are looking in a different direction,” said Assistant Professor of Psychology Alex Maier, who directed the study. “The ‘mind’s eye blinks’ that occur every time your attention shifts are the sensory processing costs that we pay for this capability.”

    Details of their study are described in a paper titled “Spiking suppression precedes cued attentional enhancement of neural responses in primary visual cortex” published online Nov. 23 by the journal Cerebral Cortex.

    “There have been several behavior studies in the past that have suggested there is a cost to paying attention. But our study is the first to demonstrate a sensory brain mechanism underlying this phenomenon,” said first author Michele Cox, who is a psychology doctoral student at Vanderbilt.

    The research was conducted with macaque monkeys that were trained to shift their attention among different objects on a display screen while the researchers monitored the pattern of neuron activity taking place in their brains. Primates are particularly suited for the study because they can shift their attention without moving their eyes. Most animals do not have this ability.

    “We trained macaques to play a video game that rewarded them with apple juice when they paid attention to certain visual objects. Once they became expert at the game, we measured the activity in their visual cortex when they played,” said Maier.

    By combining advanced recording techniques that simultaneously track large numbers of neurons with sophisticated computational analyses, the researchers discovered that the activity of the neurons in the visual cortex were momentarily disrupted when the game required the animals to shift their attention. They also traced the source of the disruptions to parts of the brain involved in guiding attention, not back to the eyes.

    Mind’s eye blink is closely related to “attentional blink” that has been studied by Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Psychology David Zald and Professor of Psychology René Marois. Attentional blink is a phenomenon that occurs when a person is presented with a rapid series of images. If the spacing between two images is too short, the observer doesn’t detect the second image. In 2005, Zald determined that the time of temporary blindness following violent or erotic images was significantly longer than it is for emotionally neutral images.


  5. Study suggests brain is strobing, not constant

    December 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Sydney press release:

    It’s not just our eyes that play tricks on us, but our ears. That’s the finding of a landmark Australian-Italian collaboration that provides new evidence that oscillations, or ‘strobes’, are a general feature of human perception.

    While our conscious experience appears to be continuous, the University of Sydney and Italian universities study suggests that perception and attention are intrinsically rhythmic in nature.

    This has profound implications for our understanding of human behaviour, how we interact with environment and make decisions.

    A paper published in Current Biology provides the important new evidence for the cyclical nature of perception.

    The key findings are:

    1. auditory perception oscillates over time and peak perception alternates between the ears — which is important for locating events in the environment; 2. auditory decision-making also oscillates; and 3. oscillations are a general feature of perception, not specific to vision.

    The work is the result of an Italian-Australian collaboration, involving Professor David Alais, Johahn Leung and Tam Ho of the schools of Psychology and Medical Science, University of Sydney; Professor David Burr from the Department of Neuroscience, University of Florence; and Professor Maria Concetta Morrone of the Department of Translational Medicine, University of Pisa.

    With a simple experiment, they showed that sensitivity for detecting weak sounds is not constant, but fluctuates rhythmically over time.

    It has been known for some years that our sight perception is cyclical but this is the first time it has been demonstrated that hearing is as well.

    “These findings that auditory perception also goes through peaks and troughs supports the theory that perception is not passive but in fact our understanding of the world goes through cycles,” said Professor Alais from the University of Sydney.

    “We have suspected for some time that the senses are not constant but are processed via cyclical, or rhythmic functions; these findings lend new weight to that theory.”

    These auditory cycles happen at the rate of about six per second. This may seem fast, but not in neuroscience, given that brain oscillations can occur at up to 100 times per second.

    “These findings are important as humans make decisions at the rate of about one-sixth of a second, which is in line with these auditory oscillations,” said Professor Alais.

    The study found a variation of oscillation between the two ears, first one ear is at peak sensitivity, then the other. The oscillation is so fast that we are normally unaware of it, but can be revealed in experiments using very fine-grained timing.

    Why should the brain sample information in this cyclic fashion? Theories abound, but one popular idea — favoured by the authors of this study — is that it reflects the action of attention which appears to sample neural activity in rapid bursts.

    The scientists are next focusing their attention on perceptions of touch and how this might make use of neural oscillations as part of a goal of characterising perception in general over all the senses.

    “The brain is such a complex ‘machine’ one could say — it is a testament to science that we are starting to make sense of it — but a takeaway could be that there is so much we don’t know,” Professor Alais concludes.

    “A decade ago, no one would have thought that perception is constantly strobing — flickering like an old silent movie

    For the moment, this research shows one thing very clearly: our sensory perception of the world is fundamentally oscillatory, like a strobing light or a wave waxing and waning.

    The strobing brain — how it works:

    When we peruse a scene, not all parts are equally important: some receive more attention than others and are prioritised in processing. This is an effective strategy, concentrating limited cognitive resources on specific items of interest, rather than diluting resources over the entire space.

    Similarly, oscillating attention would produce an analogous result over time, with resources concentrated into small temporal epochs instead of being sustained in a uniform but thin allocation.

    This strobing approach to attention would bind together relevant information at regular time points and allow new groupings of information to reassemble at other moments.


  6. Study looks at difference in effect between a walk in the mall or in the park

    November 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences press release:

    Spending time together with family may help strengthen the family bond, but new research from the University of Illinois shows that specifically spending time outside in nature — even just a 20-minute walk — together can help family members get along even better.

    The research is based on the attention restoration theory which describes how interaction with natural environments can reduce mental fatigue and restore attentional functioning. Many studies have supported the theory, but most, if not all, previous studies have only looked at the benefits of spending time in nature on an individual’s attention.

    U of I family studies researchers Dina Izenstark and Aaron Ebata believed that if this theory worked for individuals it might also work for families and help to facilitate more positive family interactions and family cohesion. So last year they developed a new theoretical approach to studying the benefits of family-based nature activities.

    “Past research shows that in nature individuals’ attention is restored but we wanted to know, what does that mean for family relationships? In our theoretical model we made the case that when an individual’s attention is restored, they are less irritable, have more self-control, and are able to pick up on social cues more easily. Because of all of those dynamics, we believe they should get along better with other family members,” Izenstark explains.

    In a new study, Izenstark, now an assistant professor at San José State University, and Ebata, an associate professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I, test their theory by looking at sets of moms and daughters (ages 10-12 years) who were asked to take a walk together in nature and a walk in a mall. The researchers then tested both the mothers’ and daughters’ attention and observed their family interactions after each walk.

    The results were clear; a walk in nature increased positive interactions, helping the mothers and daughters get along better. It also restored attention, a significant effect for mothers in the study.

    “We know that both moms and daughters experience mental or attentional fatigue. It’s common especially after a full day of concentrating at work or at school,” Izenstark says. “If you think about our everyday environments, not only are you at work, but maybe your cell phone is constantly buzzing, and you’re getting emails. With all the stimuli in our everyday environments, our attention is taxed more than we realize.”

    Izenstark adds that in order to relieve some of that mental fatigue, people need to restore their directed attention. “In nature, you can relax and restore your attention which is needed to help you concentrate better. It helps your working memory.”

    To test the mothers’ and daughters’ cohesiveness and whether attention was restored, 27 mom/daughter dyads met at a homelike research lab on campus before each walk. For 10 minutes they engaged in attention-fatiguing activities (i.e. solving math problems, word searches) while a recording of loud construction music played in the background. The researchers gave them a “pre-attention” test, and then set them out on a walk — one day to a nature arboretum, and then on another day to a local indoor mall. Each walk was 20 minutes long.

    After returning from each walk, the moms and daughters were interviewed separately. They were given a “post-attention” test, and were surveyed about which location they found the most fun, boring, or interesting. They were then videotaped playing a game that required them to work together.

    For moms, attention was restored significantly after the nature walk. Interestingly, for daughters, attention was restored after both walks, which Izenstark says may be a result of spending family leisure time with their mother.

    “It was unique that for the daughters walking with moms improved their attention. But for the moms, they benefitted from being in a nature setting. It was interesting to find that difference between the family members. But when we looked at their subjective reports of what they felt about the two settings, there was no question, moms and daughters both said the nature setting was more fun, relaxing, and interesting.”

    The last aspect of the findings was in regards to improved cohesion or togetherness in the mom/daughter pairs. After analyzing the videotaped interactions during the game, the researchers only found an effect for nature; after the nature walk, moms and daughters displayed greater dyadic cohesion, a sense of unity, closeness, and the ability to get along, compared to the indoor walk.

    Although the study only focused on mothers and daughters, Izenstark says that the overall aim of the research is to examine different ways in which nature affects family relationships in general.

    “First and foremost I hope it encourages families to find ways to get outside together, and to not feel intimidated, thinking, ‘oh, I have to go outside for an hour or make it a big trip.’ Just a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood before or after eating dinner or finding pockets of time to set aside, to reconnect, not only can benefit families in the moment but a little bit after the activity as well.”


  7. Study suggests people will desire something even more if you increase their focus on it

    November 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Case Western Reserve University press release:

    The relationship between desire and attention was long thought to only work in one direction: When a person desires something, they focus their attention on it.

    Now, new research reveals this relationship works the other way, too: increasing a person’s focus on a desirable object makes them want the object even more — a finding with important implications for marketers and clinicians seeking to influence behavior.

    The study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, is the first to demonstrate a two-way relationship.

    “People will block out distraction and narrow their attention on something they want,” said Anne Kotynski, author of the study and a PhD student in psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve University. “Now we know this works in the opposite direction, too.”

    In marketing, advertisements with a hyper focus on a product’s desirable aspect — say zooming in on the texture of icing and frosting — might help sell a certain brand of cake.

    Findings suggest the ad could be targeted to people who have shown an interest in a similar product, such as running the cake commercial during a baking show.

    Clinicians could potentially help their patients develop a stronger focus on — and pursuit of — healthy activities that they may desire but otherwise resist, such as exercising or eating a balanced diet, Kotynski said.

    The study’s findings also add a wrinkle to knowledge of focus and emotion.

    According to a spate of previous research, positive emotions — such as happiness and joy — widen a person’s attention span, while negative emotions — such as disgust and fear — do the opposite: narrowing a person’s focus.

    “We conceptualize fear as drastically different from desire,” Kotynski said. “But our findings contribute to growing evidence that these different emotions have something key in common: They both narrow our focus in similar ways.”

    The findings also fit the notion that both of these emotions — fear (negative) and desire (positive) — are associated with evolutionarily pursuits that narrowed our ancestors’ attentions.

    For example, fear of predators motivated attention focused on an escape route, while an urge to mate motivated focus on a sexual partner.

    “If a person has a strong desire, research says this positive emotion would make them have a wide attention span,” Kotynski said. “Our research shows we developed a more beneficial behavior around desire: focusing our mental energy on the important object, much like fear would.”

    The study

    Study participants were shown images of desserts mixed in with mundane items. They were instructed to pull a joystick toward them if the image was tilted one direction and push the stick away if it was tilted the opposite direction. Researchers recorded the reaction time of each.

    Participants who responded fastest to pull the images of desserts were those whose attention had been narrowed. Responses were much slower to the mundane, and for participants whose attention was broad — suggesting narrowed attention increases desire for desserts but not for everyday objects.

    The study used dessert pictures to measure reaction time because such images have been shown to increase desire across individuals, most likely due to a motivation to seek high fat, high calorie foods that is rooted in evolution.


  8. Study looks at language often used by people with ADHD on Twitter

    by Ashley

    From the University of Pennsylvania press release:

    What can Twitter reveal about people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD? Quite a bit about what life is like for someone with the condition, according to findings published by University of Pennsylvania researchers Sharath Chandra Guntuku and Lyle Ungar in the Journal of Attention Disorders. Twitter data might also provide clues to help facilitate more effective treatments.

    “On social media, where you can post your mental state freely, you get a lot of insight into what these people are going through, which might be rare in a clinical setting,” said Guntuku, a postdoctoral researcher working with the World Well-Being Project in the School of Arts and Sciences and the Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health. “In brief 30- or 60-minute sessions with patients, clinicians might not get all manifestations of the condition, but on social media you have the full spectrum.”

    Guntuku and Ungar, a professor of computer and information science with appointments in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Arts and Sciences, the Wharton School and Penn Medicine, turned to Twitter to try to understand what people with ADHD spend their time talking about. The researchers collected 1.3 million publicly available tweets posted by almost 1,400 users who had self-reported diagnoses of ADHD, plus an equivalent control set that matched the original group in age, gender and duration of overall social-media activity. They then ran models looking at factors like personality and posting frequency.

    “Some of the findings are in line with what’s already known in the ADHD literature,” Guntuku said. For example, social-media posters in the experimental group often talked about using marijuana for medicinal purposes. “Our coauthor, Russell Ramsay, who treats people with ADHD, said this is something he’s observed in conversations with patients,” Guntuku added.

    The researchers also found that people with ADHD tended to post messages related to lack of focus, self-regulation, intention and failure, as well as expressions of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. They often used words like “hate,” “disappointed,” “cry” and “sad” more frequently than the control group and often posted during hours of the day when the majority of people sleep, from midnight to 6 a.m.

    “People with ADHD are experiencing more mood swings and more negativity,” Ungar said. “They tend to have problems self-regulating.”

    This could partially explain why they enjoy social media’s quick feedback loop, he said. A well-timed or intriguing tweet could yield a positive response within minutes, propelling continued use of the online outlet.

    Using information gleaned from this study and others, Ungar and Guntuku said they plan to build condition-specific apps that offer insight into several conditions, including ADHD, stress, anxiety, depression and opioid addiction. They aim to factor in facets of individuals, their personality or how severe their ADHD is, for instance, as well as what triggers particular symptoms.

    The applications will also include mini-interventions. A recommendation for someone who can’t sleep might be to turn off the phone an hour before going to bed. If anxiety or stress is the major factor, the app might suggest an easy exercise like taking a deep breath, then counting to 10 and back to zero.

    “If you’re prone to certain problems, certain things set you off; the idea is to help set you back on track,” Ungar said.

    Better understanding ADHD has the potential to help clinicians treat such patients more successfully, but having this information also has a downside: It can reveal aspects of a person’s personality unintentionally, simply by analyzing words posted on Twitter. The researchers also acknowledge that the 50-50 split of ADHD to non-ADHD study participants isn’t true to life; only about 8 percent of adults in the U.S. have the disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In addition, people in this study self-reported an ADHD diagnosis rather than having such a determination come from a physician interaction or medical record.

    Despite these limitations, the researchers say the work has strong potential to help clinicians understand the varying manifestations of ADHD, and it could be used as a complementary feedback tool to give ADHD sufferers personal insights.

    “The facets of better-studied conditions like depression are pretty well understood,” Ungar said. “ADHD is less well studied. Understanding the components that some people have or don’t have, the range of coping mechanisms that people use — that all leads to a better understanding of the condition.”


  9. 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.


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

    November 13, 2017 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.”