1. Genetic study links tendency to undervalue future rewards with ADHD

    December 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – San Diego press release:

    Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine have found a genetic signature for delay discounting — the tendency to undervalue future rewards — that overlaps with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), smoking and weight.

    In a study published December 11 in Nature Neuroscience, the team used data of 23andme customers who consented to participate in research and answered survey questions to assess delay discounting. In all, the study included the data of more than 23,000 people to show that approximately 12 percent of a person’s variation in delay discounting can be attributed to genetics — not a single gene, but numerous genetic variants that also influence several other psychiatric and behavioral traits.

    “Studying the genetic basis of delay discounting is something I’ve wanted to do for the entirety of my 20 years of research, but it takes a huge number of people for a genetics study to be meaningful,” said senior author Abraham Palmer, PhD, professor of psychiatry and vice chair for basic research at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “By collaborating with a company that already has the genotypes for millions of people, all we needed was for them to answer a few questions. It would have been difficult to enroll and genotype this many research participants on our own in academia — it would’ve taken years and been cost prohibitive. This is a new model for science.”

    According to Palmer, every complicated nervous system needs a way of assessing the value of current versus delayed rewards. Most people think of the “marshmallow experiment,” he said, referring to the classic experiment where children were tested for their ability to delay gratification by giving them the choice between one marshmallow now or two marshmallows a few minutes later.

    “A person’s ability to delay gratification is not just a curiosity, it’s integrally important to physical and mental health,” Palmer said. “In addition, a person’s economic success is tied to delay discounting. Take seeking higher education and saving for retirement as examples — these future rewards are valuable in today’s economy, but we’re finding that not everyone has the same inclination to achieve them.”

    For the study, the team looked at data from 23andMe research participants who answered survey questions that could be used to assess delay discounting. For example, customers were asked to choose between two options: “Would you rather have $55 today or $75 in 61 Days?”

    “In less than four months, we had responses from more than 23,000 research participants,” said Pierre Fontanillas, PhD, a senior statistical geneticist at 23andMe. “This shows the power of our research model to quickly gather large amounts of phenotypic and genotypic data for scientific discovery.”

    By comparing participants’ survey responses to their corresponding genotypes and complementary data from other studies, Palmer’s team found a number of genetic correlations.

    “We discovered, for the first time, a genetic correlation between ADHD and delay discounting,” said first author Sandra Sanchez-Roige, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in Palmer’s lab. “People with ADHD place less value in delayed rewards. That doesn’t mean that everyone with ADHD will undervalue future rewards or vice versa, just that the two factors have a common underlying genetic cause.”

    The researchers also found that delay discounting is genetically correlated with smoking initiation. In other words, people who undervalue future rewards may be more likely to start smoking and less likely to quit if they did.

    Body weight, as determined by body mass index (BMI), was also strongly correlated with delay discounting, suggesting that people who don’t place a high value on future rewards tend to have a higher BMI.

    The team determined that delay discounting negatively correlated with three cognitive measures: college attainment, years of education and childhood IQ. In other words, the genetic factors that predict delay discounting also predict these outcomes.

    In many studies that rely on surveys, particularly for those in which the participants are paid to fill out the survey, there’s always a chance that some answered randomly or carelessly. Palmer’s survey included three questions to assess how carefully the research participants were answering the questions. For example, one asked “Would you rather have $60 today or $20 today?” There’s only one correct answer and the team saw only 2.1 percent of participants get even one of those three questions wrong, assuring them that the vast majority were answering the questions carefully.

    “We are very thankful to the 23andMe research participants who took the time to complete our survey — they weren’t paid to do it, they are citizen-scientists volunteering their help,” Palmer said. “It’s quite a feeling to think that so many people were willing to help out in this interest of ours.”

    Palmer hopes to expand the study to a larger and more diverse population to strengthen their findings.

    “An even larger study would help start identifying specific genes with a higher level of confidence,” he said. “Then we can do hypothesis-driven studies of this trait with animal or cellular models.”

    While most research studies begin in test tubes, cells grown in the laboratory and animal models before moving to humans, the opposite is true here. After starting with these human observations, Palmer’s team is now studying the same delay discounting-related genetic traits in rodent models. They want to determine if changing those genes experimentally changes rodent behavior as expected. If it does, they will be able to use the animals to study how those delay discounting-related genes lead to those behaviors, at a molecular level.


  2. Study suggests that child abuse may affect brain wiring

    October 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the McGill University press release:

    For the first time, researchers have been able to see changes in the neural structures in specific areas of the brains of people who suffered severe abuse as children. Difficulties associated with severe childhood abuse include increased risks of psychiatric disorders such as depression, as well as high levels of impulsivity, aggressivity, anxiety, more frequent substance abuse, and suicide.

    Crucial insulation for nerve fibres builds up during first two decades of life

    For the optimal function and organization of the brain, electrical signals used by neurons may need to travel over long distances to communicate with cells in other regions. The longer axons of this kind are generally covered by a fatty coating called myelin. Myelin sheaths protect the axons and help them to conduct electrical signals more efficiently. Myelin builds up progressively (in a process known as myelination) mainly during childhood, and then continue to mature until early adulthood.

    Earlier studies had shown significant abnormalities in the white matter in the brains of people who had experienced child abuse. (White matter is mostly made up of billions of myelinated nerve fibres stacked together.) But, because these observations were made by looking at the brains of living people using MRI, it was impossible to gain a clear picture of the white matter cells and molecules that were affected.

    To gain a clearer picture of the microscopic changes which occur in the brains of adults who have experienced child abuse, and thanks to the availability of brain samples from the Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank (where, as well as the brain matter itself there is a lot of information about the lives of their donors) the researchers were able to compare post-mortem brain samples from three different groups of adults: people who had committed suicide who suffered from depression and had a history of severe childhood abuse (27 individuals); people with depression who had committed suicide but who had no history of being abused as children (25 individuals); and brain tissue from a third group of people who had neither psychiatric illnesses nor a history of child abuse (26 people).

    Impaired neural connectivity may affect the regulation of emotions

    The researchers discovered that the thickness of the myelin coating of a significant proportion of the nerve fibres was reduced ONLY in the brains of those who had suffered from child abuse. They also found underlying molecular alterations that selectively affect the cells that are responsible for myelin generation and maintenance. Finally, they found increases in the diameters of some of the largest axons among only this group and they speculate that together, these changes may alter functional coupling between the cingulate cortex and subcortical structures such as the amygdala and nucleus accumbens (areas of the brain linked respectively to emotional regulation and to reward and satisfaction) and contribute to altered emotional processing in people who have been abused during childhood.

    The researchers conclude that adversity in early life may lastingly disrupt a range of neural functions in the anterior cingulate cortex. And while they don’t yet know where in the brain and when during development, and how, at a molecular level these effects are sufficient to have an impact on the regulation of emotions and attachment, they are now planning to explore this in further research.


  3. Study suggests risktaking in teens is not because of brain development deficit

    August 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania press release:

    A popular theory in recent neuroscience proposes that slow development of the prefrontal cortex — and its weak connectivity with brain reward regions — explains teenagers’ seemingly impulsive and risky behavior. But an extensive literature review to be published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience challenges that interpretation.

    The researchers examined the evidence behind that argument and found that much of it misinterpreted adolescent exploratory behavior as impulsive and lacking in control. Instead, the review suggests that much of what looks like adolescent impulsivity is behavior that is often guided by the desire to learn about the world.

    “Not long ago, the explanation for teenage behavior was raging hormones,” said lead author Daniel Romer, Ph.D., research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. “Now, it’s that the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed. Neuroscientists were quick to interpret what appeared to be a characteristic of the developing brain as evidence of stereotypes about adolescent risk taking. But these behaviors are not symptoms of a brain deficit.”

    In their article, now posted online, the authors note that the brain development theory fails to take into account the implications of different kinds of risk taking. Teens have a heightened attraction to novel and exciting experiences, known as sensation seeking, which peaks during adolescence. But teens who exhibit that tendency alone are not necessarily more likely to suffer from health issues like substance use or gambling addiction. In fact, the authors noted that the rise in adolescent levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which may underlie the increased drive for sensation seeking, also supports the brain’s ability to exert greater control and to learn from experience.

    “What’s happening is that adolescents lack experience,” Romer said. “So they’re trying things out for the first time — like learning how to drive. They’re also trying drugs, deciding what to wear and who to hang out with. For some youth, this leads to problems. But when you’re trying things for the first time, you sometimes make mistakes. Researchers have interpreted this as a lack of control when for most youth, it’s just exploration.”

    Brain development and risk taking

    In their article, Romer and his co-authors say that the stereotype of the risky adolescent is based more on the rise of such behavior in adolescence than on its prevalence. “For the vast majority of adolescents,” the researchers write, “this period of development passes without substance dependence, sexually transmitted infection, pregnancy, homicide, depression, suicide, or death due to car crashes.”

    It’s a smaller subset of teens — those who exhibit impulsive behavior and have weak cognitive control — who are most at risk of unhealthy outcomes. Teens with impulse control problems can often be identified at ages four or five, and they are disproportionately likely to experience the hazards of adolescence and beyond, including higher rates of injuries and illnesses from car crashes, violence, and sexually transmitted infections, the authors say.

    “Further research is clearly needed to understand the brain development of youth who are at risk for adverse outcomes, as abnormalities of brain development are certainly linked to diverse neuropsychiatric conditions,” said co-author Theodore Satterthwaite, M.D., a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “This research will help us to understand not only what makes adolescence a period of growth but also of risk.”

    An alternative model

    The authors propose an alternative model that emphasizes the role that risk taking and the experience gained by it play in adolescent development. This model explains much of the apparent increase in risk taking by adolescents as “an adaptive need to gain the experience required to assume adult roles and behaviors.” That experience eventually changes the way people think about risk, making it more “gist-like” or thematic and making them more risk averse.

    “Recent meta-analyses suggest that the way individuals think about risks and rewards changes as they mature, and current accounts of brain development must take these newer ideas into account to explain adolescent risk taking,” said co-author Valerie Reyna, Ph.D., director of the Human Neuroscience Institute at Cornell University.

    Romer added, “The reason teens are doing all of this exploring and novelty seeking is to build experience so that they can do a better job in making the difficult and risky decisions in later life — decisions like ‘Should I take this job?’ or ‘Should I marry this person?’ There’s no doubt that this period of development is a challenge for parents, but that’s doesn’t mean that the adolescent brain is somehow deficient or lacking in control.”


  4. Brain images reveal roots of kids’ increasing cognitive control

    June 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Cell Press press release:

    As children age into adolescence and on into young adulthood, they show dramatic improvements in their ability to control impulses, stay organized, and make decisions. Those “executive functions” of the brain are key factors in determining outcomes, including educational success, drug use, and psychiatric illness. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on May 25 have mapped the changes in the network organization of the brain that underlie those improvements in executive function.

    The study reveals that the maturing brain becomes increasingly segregated into distinct network modules for greater efficiency. Indeed, the new evidence shows that the degree to which executive function improves in a person with age depends on the degree to which that well-defined modular network structure emerges.

    “We were surprised to find that the developmental refinement of structural brain networks involved increased modular segregation and global integration, since highly modular systems have the potential to become fragmented,” says Ted Satterthwaite, an assistant professor of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.. “This increasingly modular yet globally integrated network topology may maximize communication efficiency while minimizing wiring costs in the brain.”

    The findings suggest that modular brain architecture is critical for the development of complex cognition and behavior. They could also lead to the identification of biomarkers of abnormal brain development that could predict a person’s risk for psychosis and major mood disorders, the researchers say.

    Satterthwaite and his colleagues set out to define the normal development of structural network modules and its relationship to executive functioning. They capitalized upon a large sample of 882 youths between the ages of 8 and 22 who completed diffusion imaging as part of the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, a community-based study of brain development that includes rich neuroimaging and cognitive data.

    As expected, executive function improved markedly in study participants with age. An analysis of the brain images revealed an increasingly specialized and modular structure that was nonetheless fully integrated.

    “The development of modular network architecture did not result in the brain becoming fragmented,” explains the study’s first author Graham Baum (@graham_baum), a PhD candidate in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “In fact, the overall network communication capacity actually increased, due to strengthening of specific ‘hub’ connections between modules. These results show that as kids grow up, their brain becomes more segregated into specialized units, but also more integrated as a whole.”

    The researchers suggest that a globally integrated network architecture may be critical for supporting specialized processing and reducing interference between brain systems. At the same time, the increase in global integration may allow those specialized parts to work together in a coordinated fashion. The researchers also found a relationship between the emergence of that modular structure and a person’s performance on tests of executive function.

    The researchers say they are now combining structural and functional imaging techniques to examine how structural brain networks constrain and shape functional brain networks and activation patterns. They will also investigate whether information about brain networks can predict the emergence of psychiatric disorders in children years later.


  5. Brain injury causes impulse control problems in rats

    May 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia press release:

    New research from the University of British Columbia confirms for the first time that even mild brain injury can result in impulse control problems in rats.

    The study, published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, also found that the impulsivity problems may be linked to levels of an inflammatory molecule in the brain, and suggest that targeting the molecule could be helpful for treatment.

    “Few studies have looked at whether traumatic brain injuries cause impulse control problems,” said the study’s lead author, Cole Vonder Haar, a former postdoctoral research fellow in the UBC department of psychology who is now an assistant professor at West Virginia University. “This is partly because people who experience a brain injury are sometimes risk-takers, making it difficult to know if impulsivity preceded the brain injury or was caused by it. But our study confirms for the first time that even a mild brain injury can cause impulse control problems.”

    For the study, researchers gave rats with brain injuries a reward test to measure impulsivity.

    Rats that were unable to wait for the delivery of a large reward, and instead preferred an immediate, but small reward, were considered more impulsive.

    The researchers found that impulsivity in the rats increased regardless of the severity of the brain injury. The impulsivity also persisted eight weeks after injury in animals with a mild injury, even after memory and motor function returned.

    “These findings have implications for how brain injury patients are treated and their progress is measured,” said Vonder Haar. “If physicians are only looking at memory or motor function, they wouldn’t notice that the patient is still being affected by the injury in terms of impulsivity.”

    After analyzing samples of frontal cortex brain tissue, the researchers also found a substantial increase in levels of an inflammatory molecule, known as interleukin-12, that correlated with levels of impulsivity. Interleukins are groups of proteins and molecules responsible for regulating the body’s immune system.

    The study builds on the researchers’ previous findings about the link between interleukin-12 and impulsivity.

    Catharine Winstanley, the study’s senior author and associate professor in the UBC department of psychology, said the findings are important because impulsivity is linked to addiction vulnerability.

    “Addiction can be a big problem for patients with traumatic brain injuries,” she said. “If we can target levels of interleukin-12, however, that could potentially provide a new treatment target to address impulsivity in these patients.”


  6. Study links low heart rate to higher incidence of stalking behaviours in men

    May 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Sam Houston State University press release:

    A low resting heart rate, which has been linked to aggression and violent offending, has been implicated in stalking behavior in males, according to a recent study.

    “Low Resting Heart Rate and Stalking Perpetration,” by Danielle Boisvert, Jessica Wells, Todd Armstrong, Richard H. Lewis, Matthias Woeckener and Matt Nobles, is the first study to incorporate the biological factor of resting heart rate in assessing stalking behaviors and is among a growing body of literature linking autonomic nervous system functions to antisocial behavior.

    The study found that males with a low resting heart rate were at significantly greater risk of engaging in stalking behavior. Based on arousal theory, those with low levels of arousal are less fearful, more likely to seek opportunities to pursue victims to feel stimulated, and are more likely to exhibit impulsive behaviors.

    “Participants whose heart rate was one standard deviation below the mean or lower had nearly three times the odds of having engaged in stalking as compared with all other participants, suggesting that low resting heart rate is associated with increased prevalence of stalking behavior,” said Boisvert. “Overall, our findings suggest that while heart rate is generally found to be associated with aggression and antisocial behavior across the sexes, these associations may be sex specific when discussing stalking perpetration.”

    Recent estimates suggest that 16.2 percent of women and 5.2 percent of men in the U.S. have been stalked at some point in their lifetime, which represents 20 million women and six million men. Stalking can lead to significant psychological, social and economic effects for victims, costing an estimated $342 million in the U.S. annually.

    The study is based 384 college students from a Southern university who answered a survey on stalking measures and had their heart rate monitored through a finger pulse oximeter. Participants were asked if they followed, watched or spied on someone; or tried to communicate through a variety of written and physical methods with someone against their will over the last year. Of the sample, 32 had engaged in these stalking behaviors, including 15 females and 17 males.


  7. Visualizing future doesn’t increase delayed gratification

    April 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pennsylvania press release:

    Some people are more impulsive than others.

    University of Pennsylvania researchers Joseph Kable and Trishala Parthasarathi wanted to understand why and whether that quality could change within an individual.

    They hypothesized, based on the field’s most recent research, that strong visualization of the future — vividly imagining how $40 earned in a month could be spent on an upcoming vacation, for example — might motivate someone to wait to receive a larger reward rather than take a smaller amount right away. It’s the concept known as delayed gratification.

    Kable and Parthasarathi actually discovered that the opposite was true, that great visualizers were more impulsive, findings they published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

    “When people have to make tradeoffs between something that’s in front of them right now and something that they can only get in the future, they differ in the extent to which they go for each outcome,” said Kable, the Baird Term Associate Professor of Psychology in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences. As it turns out, “people who have imaginations with more vivid details are more likely to not delay gratification.”

    Or as Parthasarathi, a fifth-year Ph.D. student, explained, “Better visualizers tend to be more impulsive when they’re making choices about a smaller reward, accepting it immediately rather than waiting for a larger reward in the future.”

    To reach this conclusion, the research team devised an experiment that brought 38 adults with a median age of approximately 25 into the lab for a four-week intervention. At the start, each participant completed several decision-making tests and self-reporting surveys, including the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire, which asked participants to imagine in great detail a friend’s face or a setting sun, then rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how clearly they could see each.

    “A lower score on the scale indicated people were better able to imagine things than a higher score, which indicated people imagined things less clearly,” Parthasarathi said.

    The participants were then randomly split into two groups, one in which they got trained on improving their visualization skills, the other in which they practiced meditation. Twice weekly for the month, they worked with a health-and-wellness counselor on their respective areas.

    “People in the visualization group would think about two future goals, one at a time, and the process used to achieve each, how they felt after they achieved each and so on,” Parthasarathi said. “Those in the relaxation group were trained to think in the present, so breath awareness and attention to your body. Nothing related to thinking about the future.”

    Once the study period ended, participants completed the same battery of tests they’d taken at the beginning. Analyzing comparison data from the experiment’s start and finished provided the researchers with their counterintuitive results.

    “It certainly wasn’t what we expected. It’s surprising in light of the most recent work,” Kable said. But, he added, it’s less so if you think about findings from one of the original delayed-gratification experiments.

    Kable is referring to what’s today commonly called The Marshmallow Test. In the 1960s, Stanford University psychologist Walter Mischel offered children the opportunity to eat a single treat immediately or get double the amount if they could wait alone in the room until the researcher returned. Two plates — one with a single reward, the other with multiple — sat in plain view.

    “The thought was, ‘Your goal is right in front of you. You’ll be able to work toward it more,'” Kable explained. In fact, Mischel “found the direction of the association that we see: When the kids could see what they would get if they waited, they were more impulsive.”

    Interestingly, Parthasarathi and Kable also learned that improving someone’s visualization abilities can actually make that person more impatient.

    Despite results counter to what they expected, the researchers feel their work has real-world implications regarding impulsive behaviors. They now know that those keen on taking an immediate reward are more likely to use drugs or do poorly in school. They’re more likely to smoke and have a harder time quitting. So the psychologists can adjust behavior-changing treatments that accompany smoking cessation toward meditation and away from visualization, for instance.

    “The reason why we studied this task is we think it’s a microcosm that can tell us what people are doing outside the lab,” Kable said. “We’re still interested in what we can do to help people become more patient.”

    Funding for the work came from Penn’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Nicotine Addiction.


  8. Study finds links between patience and imagination in brain

    April 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business press release:

    How often do you act impulsively without considering the consequences? What if you could learn how to be more patient?

    By using functional MRI (fMRI) to look inside the brain, neuroscientists Adrianna Jenkins, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher, and Ming Hsu, an associate professor of marketing and neuroscience at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, found that imagination is a pathway toward patience. Imagining an outcome before acting upon an impulse may help increase patience without relying on increased willpower.

    Scientists call this technique, “framing effects,” or making small changes to how options are presented or framed. And the method may increase a person’s ability to exercise patience.

    The findings can be found in Jenkins and Hsu’s study, “Dissociable contributions of imagination and willpower to the malleability of human patience,” forthcoming in Psychological Science.

    The authors’ approach stands in contrast to previous research, which has mostly focused on the exertion of willpower to positively affect a person’s patience.

    “Whereas willpower might enable people to override impulses, imagining the consequences of their choices might change the impulses,” Jenkins says. “People tend to pay attention to what is in their immediate vicinity, but there are benefits to imagining the possible consequences of their choices.”

    Hsu and Jenkins conducted two experiments to explore the role of imagination and willpower on patience. In the studies, participants made choices about when to receive different amounts of money depending on how the offer is framed. The actual reward outcomes were identical, but the way they were framed differed.

    For example, under an “independent” frame, a participant could receive $100 tomorrow or $120 in 30 days. Under a “sequence” frame, a participant had to decide whether to receive $100 tomorrow and no money in 30 days or no money tomorrow and $120 in 30 days.

    The first experiment replicated past research, which found that framing outcomes as sequences promotes patience. 122 participants saw both independent and sequence framed options and expressed stronger preferences for the larger, delayed reward when choices were framed as sequences.

    The second experiment involved 203 participants who had to make a choice based on one frame: 104 people had to choose under an independent frame; the other 99 had to choose under a sequence frame.

    The result: participants in the sequence frame reported imagining the consequences of their choices more than those in the independent frame. One participant wrote, “It would be nice to have the $100 now, but $20 more at the end of the month is probably worth it because this is like one week’s gas money.”

    In contrast, participants exposed to the independent frame demonstrated less imagination. One participant commented, “I’d rather have the money tomorrow even if it’s a lesser amount. I can get the things I need instead of waiting. Why wait a month for just $20 more?”

    By framing the options in the second experiment, the researchers found that the participants escalated their use of imagination. The more participants imagined the consequences of their choices, the more they were able to be patient in order to receive the greater reward.

    In the fMRI portion of the experiments, Jenkins and Hsu measured participants’ brain activation while the participants made a series of choices in both frames. They found the areas of the brain that process imagination became more active when participants were more patient during sequence framing. In contrast, in the independent framing, the researchers found patience more strongly linked to brain regions associated with willpower.

    “There is a long tendency of behavioral interventions, ranging from promoting healthy eating to reducing drug dependence, to appeal to willpower. For example, ‘commit to be fit’ or ‘don’t do drugs’,” Hsu says. “Our findings highlight the potential benefits of interventions that change the nature of the impulses themselves by encouraging people to imagine the consequences of their choices.”

    The researchers acknowledge that using brain scans to study human cognition has its limitations because it relies on certain assumptions about the links between brain regions and their functions. This is why the experiments combined several methods, which all converge on a similar conclusion.

    “We know people often have difficulty being patient,” Jenkins says. “Our findings suggest that imagination is a possible route for attaining patience that may be more sustainable and practical than exerting willpower.”


  9. Study supports do not sell voluntary waiting period for gun sales to reduce suicide

    October 11, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Alabama at Birmingham media release:

    Depressed seniorA new study suggests many patients at risk for suicide would voluntarily place their name on a Do Not Sell list, prohibiting gun shops from immediately selling them a firearm.

    The study, published in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, says nearly half of the 200 people surveyed would willingly place their name on such a list.

    “There is evidence that suicide, in particular suicide-by-gun, is often impulsive — that once an individual decides to take their own life they are, in many cases, able to quickly obtain a firearm and use it,” said lead author Fredrick Vars, J.D., a professor in the School of Law at the University of Alabama. “The concept of a Do Not Sell list, similar to the national Do Not Call list, would be to eliminate such impulsive transactions. Restricting access to firearms, even temporarily, could save many lives.”

    The authors report that previous studies of survivors of firearm suicide attempts found a majority had suicidal thoughts for less than a day, while another found that, of nearly lethal suicide attempts among people 13-34 years of age, about one-fourth of attempters spent less than five minutes between the decision to attempt suicide and the actual attempt.

    Vars conducted the survey with investigators in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine.

    “People with mental illness are more likely to commit suicide,” said Richard Shelton, M.D., vice chair of Research for the UAB Department of Psychiatry and a study co-author. “Studies indicate the vast majority of suicide attempt survivors end up eventually dying of something other than suicide, so a means of preventing someone from making future gun purchases during a suicidal crisis might reduce suicide rates.”

    The researchers surveyed 200 patients at an inpatient psychiatric unit and two outpatient psychiatry clinics at UAB. The most commonly reported conditions of those surveyed were mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders or substance abuse.

    The survey presented two options to study participants. In the first, respondents would voluntarily place their name on the Do Not Sell list, which would feature a seven-day waiting period following a request for removal from the list to avoid an impulse buy. The second option would require a judicial hearing to remove a name from the list and allow a gun sale. A total of 46 percent of respondents indicated willingness to participate in one of the two methods, with a slight preference for the seven-day waiting period.

    “Nearly one-half of participants indicated they would like to be able to restrict their own future gun purchases,” Vars said. “This approach wouldn’t stop all suicides, but any dent we could make in the estimated 20,000 people who use a gun to commit suicide every year in the United States would be significant.

    “Waiting periods to purchase firearms have been shown to reduce gun suicide, most likely due to the impulsive nature of suicide attempts,” said Karen L. Cropsey, Psy.D., associate professor of psychiatry at UAB and a study co-author. “The Do Not Sell list is a new type of means restriction, and means restriction generally has been shown to be one of the most effective suicide prevention strategies.”

    Cropsey says a Do Not Sell list would be a natural extension of current counseling practice.

    “We regularly have conversations with patients who are having or have had suicidal thoughts about removing access to firearms in the home,” she said. “Taking a gun out of the home or, as in this case, creating a delay period that removes the ability to impulsively purchase a firearm are good strategies for suicide prevention.”

    Vars, who has studied mental health and gun ownership for years, believes the concept of the Do Not Sell list is unique but could be implemented fairly easily.

    A waiting period — say seven, 10 or perhaps 15 days — would be fairly easy to establish and would involve primarily one-time set up costs rather than an ongoing expense,” Vars said. “The judicial review option would be more expensive. The largest hurdle would be in educating health care providers and the public that an option such as a Do Not Sell list exists.”

    Vars would like to see the survey administered in other regions of the country to see if the results are similar.

    “Alabama has a high rate of gun ownership and a strong consensus against gun regulation,” Vars said. “Sign-up rates could be different and possibly higher in regions with lower gun ownership rates.”


  10. Study suggests impulsivity may correlate with altruism in close relationships

    July 9, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release via ScienceDaily:

    support_friends_resiliencyWhen faced with the choice of sacrificing time and energy for a loved one or taking the self-centered route, people’s first impulse is to think of others, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    For decades psychologists have assumed that the first impulse is selfish and that it takes self-control to behave in a pro-social manner,” says lead researcher Francesca Righetti of VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “We did not believe that this was true in every context, and especially not in close relationships.”

    Righetti and colleagues sought to examine whether impulsivity, in close relationships, might actually benefit others.

    They found that participants whose self-control was taxed (and were thus more impulsive) were more willing to sacrifice time and energy for their romantic partner or best friend than participants whose self-control wasn’t taxed.

    In one study, to find out whether they would sacrifice in actual practice, the researchers told couples they would have to talk to 12 strangers and ask them embarrassing questions. The participants didn’t know that they wouldn’t actually have to follow through with the task.

    Participants with high self-control opted to split the burden right down the middle — assigning six strangers to themselves and six strangers to their partner. But participants with low self-control opted to take on more of the burden, sacrificing their own comfort to spare their partners.

    A final experiment revealed that married individuals low in trait self-control sacrificed more for their partners, yet were also less forgiving of their transgressions — presumably because self-control is required to override the focus on the wrongdoing and think instead about the relationship as a whole.

    While sacrificing for a partner may help to build the relationship on a day-to-day basis, Righetti and colleagues note that it could backfire over the long-term, compromising individuals’ ability to maintain a balance between personal and relationship-related concerns.

    This balance is a perennial issue for anyone in a close relationship:

    “Whether it’s about which activities to engage in during free time, whose friends to go out with, or which city to live in, relationship partners often face a divergence of interests — what is most preferred by one partner is not preferred by the other,” notes Righetti.

    The field of research is relatively new, so the jury is still out on what effects sacrifice has on relationship well-being, but Righetti is hopeful that research over the next few years will shed more light on the link.

    Co-authors on this research include Catrin Finkenauer, also of VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Eli Finkel of Northwestern University.

    This research was supported by grants from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.