Adverse events during first years of life may have greatest effect on future mental health

May 1, 2019

Science Daily/Massachusetts General Hospital

A Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) study has found evidence that children under 3 years old are most the vulnerable to the effects of adversity -- experiences including poverty, family and financial instability, and abuse -- on their epigenetic profiles, chemical tags that alter gene expression and may have consequences for future mental health. Their report appearing in the May 15 issue of Biological Psychiatry, which has been published online, finds that the timing of adverse experiences has more powerful effects than the number of such experiences or whether they took place recently.

 

"One of the major unanswered questions in child psychiatry has been 'How do the stressors children experience in the world make them more vulnerable to mental health problems in the future?'," says Erin Dunn, ScD, MPH, of the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit in the MGH Center for Genomic Medicine, corresponding author of the report. "These findings suggest that the first three years of life may be an especially important period for shaping biological processes that ultimately give rise to mental health conditions. If these results are replicated, they imply that prioritizing policies and interventions to children who experienced adversity during those years may help reduce the long-term risk for problems like depression."

 

Studies conducted in both animals and humans have found that adverse experiences early in life can have lasting effects on epigenetics, the process by which chemical tags added to a DNA sequence control whether or not a gene is expressed. These studies reported differences in DNA methylation, which can either silence or enhance gene expression, between individuals who were and were not exposed to early-life stressors.

 

The current study was designed to test the hypothesis that there are sensitive periods during which adversity is associated with even greater changes in DNA methylation. The investigators also compared that model to an accumulation hypothesis, in which the effects of adversity increase with the number of events, and a recency hypothesis, that the effects of adversity are stronger when events happened more recently.

 

They gathered data from participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a U.K.-based study that has been following a group of families since the early 1990s. Participating parents report regularly on many aspects of the health and life experiences of their children, who were enrolled in the study before they were born. The current investigation analyzed data from a subgroup of more than 1,000 randomly selected mother/child pairs from which DNA methylation profiles had been run for the children at birth and at age 7.

 

The children's exposure to adversity before the age of 7 was based on whether parents reported their child's repeated experience of seven stressors:

·     abuse by a parent or other caregiver,

·     abuse by anyone,

·     a mother's mental illness,

·     living in a single-adult household,

·     family instability,

·     family financial stress,

·     neighborhood disadvantage or poverty.

 

The investigators recorded the number of exposures to each adversity, whether or not they were experienced at specific developmental stages and how close they occurred to the age at which blood samples were taken for the second methylation profile.

 

The analysis identified 38 DNA methylation sites at which adverse experiences were associated with changes in methylation, most of which were associated with when the stressful experience had taken place. Adversity before the age of 3 had a significantly greater impact on methylation than did adversity at ages 3 to 5 or 5 to 7. Exposure to adversity was typically associated with increased methylation, which would reduce the expression of specific genes; and neighborhood disadvantage appeared to have the greatest impact, followed by family financial stress, sexual or physical abuse, and single-adult households.

 

Although early-childhood experiences had the greatest effects, adversity at older ages was not without an impact. And while the results provide the strongest evidence for the sensitive or "vulnerable" period model, they do not totally rule out any effect related to the accumulation or recency hypotheses. In fact, two of the sites at which methylation appeared to be changed by adversity were associated with either the number of adverse experiences or how recent they had been.

 

"These additive effects may work together with the timing of exposure, so it would be interesting to examine more complex mechanisms in future studies with larger groups of participants," says Dunn, an assistant professor of Psychology in the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry. "Our results need to be replicated by other investigators, and we also need to determine whether these changes in DNA methylation patterns are associated with subsequent mental health problems. Only then will we be able to really understand the links between childhood adversity, DNA methylation and the risk of mental health problems; and that understanding could guide us to better ways of preventing those problems from developing."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190501131347.htm

Susceptibility to disease develops during childhood

April 29, 2019

Science Daily/University of Zurich

Traumatized children and children who develop multiple allergies tend to suffer in adulthood from chronic inflammatory diseases and psychiatric disorders. Researchers at the Universities of Zurich and Lausanne have demonstrated this in a study in which they identified five classes of early immune-system programming.

 

The human immune system forms during childhood: The "hygiene hypothesis" provides a widely regarded perspective on this. It postulates that improved hygiene, changes in agriculture and urbanization have caused our immune systems to come in contact with certain microbes less often or later in life than before. It is presumed that these developments have adversely resulted in an increased incidence of chronic inflammatory diseases, allergies and mental disorders such as depression.

 

Taking the hygiene hypothesis as a starting point, an interdisciplinary group of researchers at the Universities of Zurich and Lausanne analyzed epidemiological data from a cohort of almost 5,000 people who were born in the mid-20th century. They concentrated on the co-incidence of allergies, viral and bacterial diseases, and psychosocial stress in childhood. On the basis of early morbidity patterns, the scientists identified five different groups of people that they characterized by biomarkers (white blood cell counts, inflammatory markers) and, in a further step, by their association patterns with chronic inflammatory diseases and psychiatric disorders during adulthood.

 

One in five people have a very resistant immune system

 The main group, which comprised almost 60% of the total cohort analyzed, possessed an ordinary, "neutral" immune system. Their disease burden during childhood was comparatively low. Childhood disease burden was even lower for the second-largest group comprising more than 20% of the total cohort: that group exhibited an especially resistant, "resilient" immune system. Even symptoms of common childhood diseases like measles, mumps or rubella, which were not preventable in the mid-20th century, appeared far less frequently in this group than in the "neutral" group.

 

The "resilient" group is juxtaposed by three smaller groups. The "atopic" group (7% of total cohort) exhibited incidents of multiple allergic diseases. The roughly same-sized "mixed" group (approximately 9%) was characterized by single allergic disorders such as drug allergies, for example, and by bacterial and rash-inducing childhood diseases like scarlet fever, pertussis or rubella. The smallest of the five groups (approximately 5%) comprised people who were traumatized in childhood. They were more susceptible to allergic diseases, but responded comparatively resiliently to common childhood viral diseases.

 

Hygiene hypothesis taken a step further

Comparative analyses revealed that the "neutral" and "resilient" groups were larger among people with earlier birth years than they were among individuals with later birth years. The exact opposite was true for the "atopic" group, which increased the later the birth year. "Our study thus corroborates the hygiene hypothesis," lead author Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross from the University of Zurich says, "but at the same time goes beyond it."

 

Differences between the groups also manifested themselves in later health. People belonging to the "resilient" group were better protected in adulthood not just against chronic inflammatory diseases, but also against mental disorders. Members of the "atopic" and "mixed" groups, on the other hand, were susceptible to elevated somatic and psychiatric health risks in later age. The "traumatized" group likewise exhibited a greater predisposition to psychiatric illness in adulthood as well as a higher risk of suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases, the latter only among women, however. "The findings of the study indicate that the human immune system acts like a switchboard between somatic and psychic processes," Ajdacic-Gross explains. "They help us understand why many people who do not have a history of psychosocial trauma get afflicted by mental disorders and, conversely, why traumatized people show a predisposition to chronic inflammatory diseases."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190429134130.htm

Debate on daylight saving time and school start time

April 22, 2019

Science Daily/University of Surrey

A switch to permanent daylight saving time will undo any positive effects on sleep of delaying school start times, according to researchers from the University of Surrey.

 

Writing in the journal Current Biology, Professor Anne Skeldon and Professor Derk-Jan Dijk discuss proposals by the California state legislature to introduce permanent daylight saving time (DST) and how this switch could undermine a 2018 vote in the state to delay school start time for teenagers. The vote last year in the California legislature, currently vetoed by the State Governor, prohibited the start of schools before 8:30am in a bid to improve student health and boost graduation rates.

 

Delaying school times has been a contentious issue in North America and Europe with proponents arguing that such a postponement would enable teenagers, who typically go to bed later, to get the recommended amount of sleep, whilst opponents point to the logistical problems that would arise from such a change. DST, the practice of setting the clocks forward one hour from standard time (ST) during the summer months in order to make better use of natural daylight, is also a divisive issue. In March, the European parliament voted to stop changing the clocks, with European Union member states required to decide whether to stay on permanent DST or permanent ST by 2021. California, Florida and Washington are all due to vote on whether to stay on permanent DST. Skeldon and Dijk point out that a switch to permanent DST is incompatible with the aims of delaying school times.

 

They note that a later biological wake time under permanent DST undermines the benefits of delaying school start times on the sleep of teenagers. For example, from a biological perspective, teenagers would find it as hard to get up at 7am under DST as getting up at 6am during. Skeldon and Dijk conclude that the introduction of permanent DST and delaying school start times are contradictory, as teenagers would, on average, lose any sleep benefit gained from a later school start time as a result of the shift to permanent DST, meaning they'd still be getting inadequate levels of sleep.

 

Professor Skeldon, from the Department of Mathematics, said: "Each spring, altering the clocks prompts debate. We enjoy the sudden change to lighter evenings, but we do not find the shift to our schedules easy. However, for our sleep, permanent DST is not the solution. Setting our clocks to DST during the winter month's means that the sun will appear to rise one hour later, leaving even more of us to get up in the hours of darkness. Of course, for those who live predominantly inside, rarely experiencing natural light, a switch to permanent DST will have less of an impact. But these people will also only see limited benefits from delaying school/work start times.

 

"It is complicated, but the impact of switching to permanent daylight saving time on adolescent sleep appears to have been neglected in these considerations."

 

Professor Dijk, Director of the Surrey Sleep Research Centre, commented: "Many of us are confused about clock and circadian time, but for the sake of our health and well-being it is about time we get our heads around it."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190422112809.htm

Major study finds one in five children have mental health problems

Results from the Ontario Child Health Study (OCHS)

April 17, 2019

Science Daily/McMaster University

One in five Ontario children and youth suffer from a mental disorder, but less than one-third have had contact with a mental health care provider, says the Ontario Child Health Study (OCHS).

 

Although those overall results echo a similar study from 1983, the new study found a much larger proportion of children and youth with a disorder had contact with other health providers and in other settings, most often through schools.

 

The new study, called the 2014 OCHS for when data collection started, found that the patterns of prevalence among different sexes and age groups have changed.

 

Hyperactivity disorder in boys four to 11 years old jumped dramatically from nine to 16 percent, but there has been a substantial drop in disruptive behaviour among males 12 to 16 years old from 10 to 3 per cent. There has been a steep increase in anxiety and depression among both male and female youth from 9 to 13 per cent.

 

At the same time, there was a significant rise in perceptions of need for professional help with mental health disorders, rising from seven per cent in the original OCHS in 1983 to 19 per cent in the 2014 OCHS. However, the study authors say it is difficult to estimate whether it is tied to the growing prominence of anti-stigma and mental health awareness campaigns over the past three decades.

 

In 30 years, the prevalence of any disorder increased in communities with a population of 1,000 to 100,000, rather than large urban areas, and there is strong evidence that poor children are more likely to have a disorder if their neighbourhood is one where violence is more common.

 

The study also found that in the past year more than eight per cent of youth thought about suicide, and 4 per cent reported a suicide attempt.

 

The 2014 OCHS study included 10,802 children and youth aged four to 17 in 6,537 families. It replicated and expanded on the landmark 1983 Ontario Child Health Study of 3,290 children in 1,869 families.

 

The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry has simultaneously published eight papers on different aspects of the 2014 OCHS results.

 

"This is a very robust study we feel represents the situation in Canada," said Michael Boyle, co-principal investigator of the study. "That means there are more than a million Canadian children and youth with a mental health problem. This needs to be addressed."

 

Co-principal investigator Kathy Georgiades added: "This study underscores the continued need for effective prevention and intervention programs."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190417153803.htm

School bullying increases chances of mental health issues and unemployment in later life

April 17, 2019

Science Daily/Lancaster University

Victims of bullying in secondary school have dramatically increased chances of mental health problems and unemployment in later life.

 

New research led by Lancaster University Management School researchers reveals stark consequences a decade on for pupils subjected to bullying. Those who are the victims of persistent or violent bullying suffer the worst consequences.

 

Dr Emma Gorman and Professor Ian Walker, of the Lancaster University Department of Economics, along with research partners Silvia Mendolia, of the University of Wollongong, and Colm Harmon and Anita Staneva, of the University of Sydney, found being bullied in school increases the extent of mental health problems at age 25 by 40%.

 

It also increases the probability of being unemployed at age 25 by about 35%; and for those in work, it reduces their income by around 2%.

 

Co-author Emma Gorman said: "Bullying is widespread in schools, and many studies document a negative relationship between bullying and educational outcomes. Bullying is also an important policy issue because of concern that in addition to educational outcomes, being bullied may lead to negative impacts on young people's lives in the long-term, such as low self-esteem, mental health conditions and poorer job prospects.

 

"Our research shows that being bullied has negative impact on important long-term outcomes, especially unemployment, income and ill-health. Being bullied causes detrimental effects on children's lives not just in the short-term, but for many years after. These are more pronounced among pupils who experience persistent bullying, or violent types of bullying.

 

"Our findings suggest that a more targeted approach to reduce the most extreme forms of bullying may be warranted."

 

The research, presented at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference at the University of Warwick, analysed confidential data on more than 7,000 school pupils aged 14-16 from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England.

 

About half of pupils involved, who were interviewed at regular intervals until they were 21, and once again at age 25, reported experiencing some type of bullying between the ages of 14 and 16. The information -- reported by both the child and parents -- recorded how frequently the children were bullied, and what type of bullying they experienced.

 

Examples of bullying within the study include being called names; being excluded from social groups; being threatened with violence; and experiencing violence. As well as the consequences later in life, the research shows bullying affects the academic achievement of the victims while they are in school, and beyond into further and higher education.

 

Bullying reduces the probability of gaining five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C by 10%, and decreases the probability of staying on to take A-levels by 10%.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190417130013.htm

Later school start times significantly reduce teen driving accidents

April 9, 2019

Science Daily/American College of Chest Physicians

A new study to be presented at CHEST Congress 2019 Thailand in Bangkok shows a significant decrease in teen driving accidents when school start is delayed. Researchers from Farwaniya Hospital in Kuwait and Boston Children's Hospital studied the impact of a 50-minute delay in high school start times in one of the largest school districts in the U.S.

 

The study compared data from two different academic years: 2014-15, which served as a baseline, and 2015-16, after the delayed start was implemented. Students, who were between the ages of 16-18, self-reported school-night sleep duration. The Fairfax (Virginia) County Youth Survey was used to determine the average sleep duration and driving under the influence of alcohol. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles provided de-identified data on driving accidents in both academic years.

 

There was a 5.25% decrease in the crash rate among teen drivers between the two academic years. This significant reduction was also seen in distraction-related accidents (8.7%) and alcohol-related accidents (20%). During this same time period, there was an increase in teen accident rates by 3.5% in the rest of the state of Virginia.

 

"Interventions in reducing sleep loss in young drivers such as delaying school start times may significantly reduce needless injuries and deaths due to drowsy driving," says Dr. Saadoun Bin-Hasan, lead researcher.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190409135836.htm

Kids living near major roads at higher risk of developmental delays

April 9, 2019

Science Daily/NIH/Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Young children who live close to a major roadway are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communications skills, compared to those who live farther away from a major roadway, according to an analysis by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the University of California, Merced. Moreover, children born to women exposed during pregnancy to higher-than-normal levels of traffic-related pollutants -- ultra-fine airborne particles and ozone -- had a small but significantly higher likelihood of developmental delays during infancy and early childhood. The study appears in Environmental Research.

 

"Our results suggest that it may be prudent to minimize exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood -- all key periods for brain development," said Pauline Mendola, Ph.D., an investigator in the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the study's senior author.

 

Previous studies have linked exposure to common air pollutants in pregnancy to low birthweight, preterm birth and stillbirth. A few studies have found a higher risk of autism and of lower cognitive functioning in children living near freeways, but results of studies about how prenatal and early childhood exposure to air pollution might affect development have been inconsistent.

 

Given that a large proportion of the U.S. population lives close to major roadways, which are major sources of air pollution, the researchers sought to determine if living near heavily traveled roads was linked to lower scores on developmental screens -- questionnaires or checklists that indicate whether a child is developing normally or needs to be referred to a specialist for further testing.

 

The researchers analyzed data from the Upstate KIDS Study. They matched the addresses of 5,825 study participants to a roadway data set, calculating the distance of each address to the nearest major roadway. For each participant, they matched home address, mother's work address during pregnancy, and address of the child's day care location to an Environmental Protection Agency data set for estimating air pollution levels. From 8 months to 36 months of age, the children were screened every 4 to 6 months with the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, a validated screening measure evaluating five domains of child development: fine motor skills, large motor skills, communication, personal social functioning and problem-solving ability.

 

Compared to children living more than half a mile from a major roadway, children living from roughly 164 feet to .3 miles from a major roadway were twice as likely to have failed at least one screen of the communications domain.

 

The researchers also estimated exposures to ozone and fine inhalable particles (PM2.5), two pollutants produced by car traffic. Fine inhalable particles are 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair, can pass through the lungs' defenses, and are absorbed directly into the bloodstream.

 

Prenatal exposure to elevated PM2.5 led to a 1.6 to 2.7 percent higher risk of failing any developmental domain, while higher ozone exposure led to a .7 to 1.7 percent higher risk of failing a developmental domain. In contrast, higher postnatal exposure to ozone was linked to a 3.3 percent higher risk of failing most domains of the developmental screen at 8 months, a 17.7 percent higher risk of overall screening failure at 24 months, and a 7.6 percent higher risk of overall screening failure at 30 months.

 

These results led the researchers to conclude that early childhood exposure to air pollutants may convey a higher risk for developmental delays, compared to similar exposures in the womb. The study is associational and so cannot prove cause and effect. The authors noted that larger studies are necessary to confirm these links.

 

"It is not clear why exposure to pollutants after birth is linked to a higher risk of developmental delay," said Sandie Ha, Ph.D., of the Department of Public Health at the University of California, Merced, and lead author of the study. "However, unlike exposure during pregnancy, exposure during childhood is more direct and does not go through a pregnant woman's defenses."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190409164002.htm

Childhood trauma has lasting effect on brain connectivity in patients with depression

April 8, 2019

Science Daily/University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

A study lead by Penn Medicine researchers found that childhood trauma is linked to abnormal connectivity in the brain in adults with major depressive disorder (MDD). The paper, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is the first data-driven study to show symptom-specific, system-level changes in brain network connectivity in MDD.

 

"With estimates of approximately 10 percent of all children in the United States having been subjected to child abuse, the significance of child maltreatment on brain development and function is an important consideration," said Yvette I. Sheline, MD, McLure professor of Psychiatry, Radiology, and Neurology, and director of the Center for Neuromodulation in Depression and Stress (CNDS) in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "This study not only confirms the important relationship between childhood trauma and major depression, but also links patients' experiences of childhood trauma with specific functional brain network abnormalities. This suggests a possible environmental contributor to neurobiological symptoms."

 

MDD is a common mental disorder characterized by a variety of symptoms -- including persistently depressed mood, loss of interest, low energy, insomnia or hypersomnia, and more. These symptoms impair daily life and increase the risk of suicide. In addition, experiences of childhood trauma, including physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, as well as physical or emotional neglect, have been associated with the emergence and persistence of depressive and anxiety disorders. However, the neurobiological mechanisms underlying MDD are still largely unknown.

 

To address this challenge, a team led by Sheline utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the brain networks and patterns that underlie the disorder. Researchers compared brain activity in 189 participants with MDD to activity of 39 healthy controls. First author Meichen Yu, a post-doctoral fellow in the CNDS, conducted statistical analyses to determine the associations between temporal correlations in connectivity within and between 10 well-established, large-scale resting state networks (RSNs) and clinical measures, including both past history of trauma and current clinical symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, suicidality. These symptoms were measured by 213 item-level survey questions.

 

The authors found that in patients with MDD, while the strongest correlations were with childhood trauma, abnormal network connectivity was also associated with current symptoms of depression. Even though participants in this study were not selected as participants based on a history of trauma, and the brain imaging took place decades after trauma occurred, prior trauma was evident in abnormal functional connectivity.

 

"These results suggest that resting-state network connectivity may point to some of the brain mechanisms underlying the symptoms of major depressive disorder," Sheline explains. "It may have the potential to serve as an effective biomarker, aiding in the development of depression biotypes and opening up the possibility of targeted diagnosis."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190408161610.htm

More sleep may help teens with ADHD focus and organize

Study is first to find executive functioning skills deteriorate with lack of sleep

April 8, 2019

Science Daily/American Physiological Society

Teenagers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may benefit from more sleep to help them focus, plan and control their emotions. The findings -- the first of their kind in young people with ADHD -- will be presented today at the American Physiological Society's (APS) annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2019 in Orlando, Fla.

 

ADHD is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders among children and adolescents. People with ADHD often have trouble with executive function, which are skills that contribute to being able to focus, pay attention and manage time. Executive function challenges in young people may interfere with academic performance, social skills and emotional development. Previous research has found that a lack of sleep contributes to poorer executive functioning in typically developing adolescents, but teens with ADHD have not been studied.

 

Researchers from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center measured executive function in adolescent volunteers with ADHD after two separate sleep trials. The volunteers spent a week in which their sleep was restricted to six and a half hours per night, followed by a week in which they were allowed to sleep up to nine and a half hours each night. After each trial, the research team administered the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function, Second Edition (BRIEF2), a widely used measure of executive function in children up to age 18. The BRIEF2 assesses executive function areas such as working memory, planning and organization, emotional control, initiation and inhibition.

 

The tests showed significant deficits in all of the assessed areas following the sleep-restriction week as compared to the sleep-extension week. "Increased sleep may significantly [and positively] impact academic, social and emotional functioning in adolescents with ADHD, and sleep may be an important future target for future intervention," the researchers wrote.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190408081816.htm

Screen time -- even before bed -- has little impact on teen well-being

April 5, 2019

Science Daily/Association for Psychological Science

Data from more than 17,000 teenagers show little evidence of a relationship between screen time and well-being in adolescents. The study, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, casts doubt on the widely accepted notion that spending time online, gaming, or watching TV, especially before bedtime, can damage young people's mental health.

 

"Implementing best practice statistical and methodological techniques we found little evidence for substantial negative associations between digital-screen engagement and adolescent well-being," said Amy Orben, a Researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and College Lecturer at the Queen's College, University of Oxford.

 

"While psychological science can be a powerful tool for understanding the link between screen use and adolescent well-being, it still routinely fails to supply stakeholders and the public with high-quality, transparent, and objective investigations into growing concerns about digital technologies. Analyzing three different datasets, which include improved measurements of screen time, we found little clear-cut evidence that screen time decreases adolescent well-being, even if the use of digital technology occurs directly before bedtime," said Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the OII and coauthor on the study.

 

The research found that adolescents' total screen time per day had little impact on their mental health, both on weekends and weekdays. It also found that the use of digital screens 2 hours, 1 hour, or 30 minutes before bedtime didn't have clear associations with decreases in adolescent well-being, even though this is often taken as a fact by media reports and public debates.

 

Unlike other studies, the Oxford research analyzed data from Ireland, the US, and the UK to support its conclusions. The researchers used a rigorous methodology to gather how much time an adolescent spends on screens per day, including both self-reported measures and time-use diaries. This is important as many studies are based solely on self-reported digital technology use, even though recent work found only one third of participants give accurate accounts of how much time they spend online when asked after the fact.

 

The researchers were also able to create a comprehensive picture of teens' well-being, examining measures of psychosocial functioning, depression symptoms, self-esteem, and mood, with data provided by both young people and their caregivers.

 

Additionally, the final of the three studies conducted was preregistered, meaning that the researchers publicly documented the analyses they would run before they analyzed the data. This prevents hypothesizing after the results are known, a challenge for controversial research topics.

 

"Because technologies are embedded in our social and professional lives, research concerning digital-screen use and its effects on adolescent well-being is under increasing scrutiny," said Orben. "To retain influence and trust, robust and transparent research practices will need to become the norm -- not the exception. We hope our approach will set a new baseline for new research on the psychological study of technology," added Przybylski.

 

The insights come days ahead of the anticipated release of the UK government's new White Paper on Online Harms, which is expected to set out plans for legislation governing social media companies. This new study builds on previous work by Orben and Przybylski that used novel and transparent statistical approaches to show that technology use has a minuscule influence on adolescent well-being.

 

The study used data from Ireland, the US, and the UK. In Ireland, it covered 5,363 young people tracked under the Growing Up in Ireland project. In the US, the data covered 709 subjects of a variety of ages compiled by the United States Panel Study of Income Dynamics. And in the UK, the dataset included responses from 11,884 adolescents and their caregivers surveyed as part of the Millennium Cohort Study.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190405080922.htm

Stress in childhood and adulthood have combined impact on hormones and health

April 3, 2019

Science Daily/Association for Psychological Science

Adults who report high levels of stress and who also had stressful childhoods are most likely to show hormone patterns associated with negative health outcomes, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

 

One of the ways that our brain responds to daily stressors is by releasing a hormone called cortisol -- typically, our cortisol levels peak in the morning and gradually decline throughout the day. But sometimes this system can become dysregulated, resulting in a flatter cortisol pattern that is associated with negative health outcomes.

 

"What we find is that the amount of a person's exposure to early life stress plays an important role in the development of unhealthy patterns of cortisol release. However, this is only true if individuals also are experiencing higher levels of current stress, indicating that the combination of higher early life stress and higher current life stress leads to the most unhealthy cortisol profiles," says psychological scientist Ethan Young, a researcher at the University of Minnesota.

 

For the study, Young and colleagues examined data from 90 individuals who were part of a high-risk birth cohort participating in the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation.

 

The researchers specifically wanted to understand how stressful events affect the brain's stress-response system later in life. Is it the total amount of stress experienced across the lifespan that matters? Or does exposure to stress during sensitive periods of development, specifically in early childhood, have the biggest impact?

 

Young and colleagues wanted to investigate a third possibility: Early childhood stress makes our stress-response system more sensitive to stressors that emerge later in life.

 

The researchers assessed data from the Life Events Schedule (LES), which surveys individuals' stressful life events, including financial trouble, relationship problems, and physical danger and mortality. Trained coders rate the level of disruption of each event on a scale from 0 to 3 to create an overall score for that measurement period. The participants' mothers completed the interview when the participants were 12, 18, 30, 42, 48, 54, and 64 months old; when they were in Grades 1, 2, 3, and 6; and when they were 16 and 17 years old. The participants completed the LES themselves when they were 23, 26, 28, 32, 34, and 37 years old.

 

The researchers grouped participants' LES scores into specific periods: early childhood (1-5 years), middle childhood (Grades 1-6), adolescence (16 and 17 years), early adulthood (23-34 years), and current (37 years).

 

At age 37, the participants also provided daily cortisol data over a 2-day period. They collected a saliva sample immediately when they woke up and again 30 minutes and 1 hour later; they also took samples in the afternoon and before going to bed. They sent the saliva samples to a lab for cortisol-level testing.

 

The researchers found that neither total life stress nor early childhood stress predicted cortisol level patterns at age 37. Rather, cortisol patterns depended on both early childhood stress and stress at age 37. Participants who experienced relatively low levels of stress in early childhood showed relatively similar cortisol patterns regardless of their stress level in adulthood. On the other hand, participants who had been exposed to relatively high levels of early childhood stress showed flatter daily cortisol patterns, but only if they also reported high levels of stress as adults.

 

The researchers also investigated whether life stress in middle childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood were associated with adult cortisol patterns, and found no meaningful relationships.

 

These findings suggest that early childhood may be a particularly sensitive time in which stressful life events -- such as those related to trauma or poverty -- can calibrate the brain's stress-response system, with health consequences that last into adulthood.

 

Young and colleagues note that cortisol is one part of the human stress-response system, and they hope to investigate how other components, such as the microbiome in our gut, also play a role in long-term health outcomes.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190403080454.htm

 

Defining obesity in children should be based on health issues, not just BMI

Mental health issues are consistent across BMI groups

April 2, 2019

Science Daily/McMaster University

A new study aims to identify what influences the success participants achieve in weight management programs and help improve these programs. The study follows participants for three years.

 

Physicians are told to gauge the severity of a child's problem with obesity using the body mass index (BMI) that measures weight against height. But that doesn't work well to identify health issues, especially those of mental health, in children with obesity seeking care, says a study led by McMaster University.

 

Other medical issues, including high blood pressure, prediabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are also common, and are only slightly more frequent in those with the most severe obesity compared to those with less severe obesity, according to the study.

 

The details of the study called the Canadian Pediatric Weight Management Registry (CANPWR) were published today in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. This study found two thirds of children entering weight management programs across Canada have severe obesity based on their BMI.

 

"We found that social and mechanical health issues were more common in those with the highest body mass index. However, mental health issues, for example, are consistent across the BMI groups," said Katherine Morrison, principal investigator of the CANPWR study, and professor of the Department of Pediatrics at McMaster.

 

"If you are only using BMI to identify the youth who need the most care, you would be presuming the kids with the lowest BMI class would be the least likely to have mental health issues or metabolic issues, but our findings suggest this is not true. This study suggests that using a clinical staging system, one that evaluates the health of the child and not just the BMI, is likely the best approach."

 

Morrison is also co-director of the Centre for Metabolism, Obesity and Diabetes Research at McMaster, an investigator of the Population Health Research Institute, and a pediatric endocrinologist at McMaster Children's Hospital. She said the end goal is to improve care of these children.

 

"There is a lot said about preventing obesity, we also really need to focus on how best to treat children with obesity. This is especially true when we see the burden of health illness that is associated with obesity in children entering weight management programs."

 

The CANPWR study aims to identify what influences the success participants achieve in weight management programs and help improve these programs. The study follows participants for three years.

 

The 10 clinics taking part in the study are in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal.

 

The paper used information from 847 children with obesity and the health issues were determined at their initial visit to one of the multidisciplinary weight management clinics across Canada. Participants were aged five to 17 at the time of enrolment.

 

In this study, researchers showed that using a clinical staging system called the Edmonton Obesity Staging System for Pediatrics, or EOSS-P, was more useful for understanding the health issues of the children in these clinics than the BMI class system. They suggest that using a clinical staging system will better assist the design of health care interventions for children with obesity.

 

Obesity-related health issues were common. Mental health concerns were the most common (90 per cent), followed by metabolic (85 per cent), social (65 per cent) and mechanical (62 per cent) health issues. The most common mental health issue identified was anxiety.

 

The most commonly identified metabolic health complication was dyslipidemia, followed by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

 

Bullying was the most commonly identified social health factor, followed very closely by low household income. More than one-third of children in the highest obesity group came from low income homes, which was significantly higher than those with lower levels of obesity.

 

Those with the most severe obesity by BMI were more likely to have experienced bullying, and more likely to report difficulties with peer relationships, compared to the less severe obesity groups. 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190402215621.htm

Impact of poverty on children's brain activity

April 2, 2019

Science Daily/University of East Anglia

New research reveals the impact of poverty on children's brain activity. Researchers studied the brain function of children aged between four months and four years in rural India, and compared their results with children from families in Midwest America. They found that children in India from lower-income backgrounds, where mothers also had a low level of education, had weaker brain activity and were more likely to be distracted.

 

Children born into poverty show key differences in early brain function -- according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

 

Researchers studied the brain function of children aged between four months and four years in rural India.

 

They found that children from lower-income backgrounds, where mothers also had a low level of education, had weaker brain activity and were more likely to be distracted.

 

Lead researcher Prof John Spencer, from UEA's School of Psychology, said: "Each year, 250 million children in low and middle income countries fail to reach their developmental potential.

 

"There is therefore a growing need to understand the global impact of poverty on early brain and behavioural development.

 

"Previous work has shown that poverty and early adversities significantly impact brain development, contributing to a vicious cycle of poverty. But few studies have looked at brain function early in development.

 

"We wanted to find out more about the functional brain development of children born into poorer backgrounds -- to see why many do not reach their full potential. This work is the first step in intervention efforts designed to boost early brain health before adversity can take hold."

 

The team, which included researchers from the University of Stirling, carried out their study in Uttar Pradesh, which is the most highly populated region in India.

 

Using a portable 'functional near infrared spectroscopy' (fNIRS) device, they measured the brain activity of 42 children aged between four months and four years in rural settings.

 

fNIRS systems shine near-infrared light into cortical tissue via sources placed on the head via a special cap, linked to a computer.

 

They investigated the children's 'visual working memory' -- or how well they are able to store visual information and detect changes in the visual environment when they occur.

 

"We use our visual working memory around 10,000 times a day. Children begin to develop this skill in early infancy and it gradually improves through childhood and adolescence. We know that it is an excellent marker of early cognitive development," said Prof Spencer.

 

The study was conducted in partnership with the Community Empowerment Lab based in Lucknow, India. Participants were recruited from villages around Shivgarh in Uttar Pradesh.

 

They took part in a visual test involving blinking displays of coloured squares. The goal of the test was to see if children could remember the colours well enough to detect that there was always a colour change on one side of the display, while the colours on the other side always stayed the same.

 

Factors such as parental education, income, caste, religion, the number children in the family, and economic status were taken into account.

 

The results were compared with children from families in Midwest America.

 

The research team found that the children in India from families with low maternal education and income showed weaker brain activity and poorer distractor suppression in the left frontal cortex area of the brain that is involved in working memory.

 

The study also demonstrates that portable neuroimaging technologies can be used in rural parts of the developing world, bringing innovative technologies to places most in need of early assessment tools.

 

"Although the impact of adversity on brain development can trap children in an intergenerational cycle of poverty, the massive potential for brain plasticity is also a source of hope.

 

"By partnering with families in the local community and bringing innovative technologies to the field, we are hoping that together we can break this cycle of poverty in future work."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190402113032.htm

Parental support linked to how well millennials transition to college life

March 26, 2019

Science Daily/Taylor & Francis Group

Researchers show that how well parents or guardians support millennials' psychological needs prior to their transition to college is an important predictor of their psychological well-being as they adapt to college life.

 

A new study published in The Journal of Social Psychology has assessed the role of parental relationships in mitigating millennials' worry prior to college transition by meeting their basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness. The research discovered that millennials who perceive their parental relationships as supportive of their psychological needs are less likely to worry and adjust better to the transition to college, whereas parenting that feels over involved and controlling predicts less need satisfaction, higher levels of worry and poor psychological well-being.

 

"Millennial college students are experiencing poorer psychological health than any other previous generation," explained Mr Nathaniel Greene from the University of Missouri, who led the study.

 

"An early indication of student's well-being is their initial worry about college," he continued, "but understanding what factors might mitigate worry prior to millennials' transition into college is limited in current research."

 

Specifically, the researchers focused on whether worry, including guilt over academically succeeding family members, could be moderated through the student's parental relationship.

 

"Millennials have a uniquely close and communicative relationship with their parents," explained Dr Carrie Veronica Smith, who contributed to the study, "so we used the well-established 'Self-Determination Theory' to test if worry would be lower for students who perceive their parental relationships meet their three basic psychological needs: the need to be in control of one's actions (autonomy), the need to feel capable and effective (competence) and the need to feel close and connected to others (relatedness)," she continued.

 

355 students were surveyed during their two-day orientation visits to a public university in the southeast United States in the summer before their freshman year. Measurements of the participants' demographics, family achievement guilt, basic need satisfaction in the parental relationship, parental bonding and student worry were collected, and the data was subjected to statistical analyses to determine if higher levels of need satisfaction in the parental relationship were related to lower levels of worry and achievement guilt and if these outcomes would differ for first- and continuing-generation students.

 

Millennials who felt that their parents support their psychological needs reported less worry about their transition to college and lower family achievement guilt. But of the three basic psychological needs, autonomy was the most significant predictor of worry, suggesting that millennials' need to feel in control of their actions may be the most important need in combatting concerns about college. Meanwhile, millennials who felt their parents were over involved and controlling reported less need satisfaction and higher levels of worry and achievement guilt.

 

"We were surprised to see these results were true for both first- and continuing-generation students because past research has shown first-generation students likely suffer more from family achievement guilt and feelings of disconnection," explained Mr Greene. "But our results nicely highlight the universal importance of these basic needs," he continued.

 

Overall, the study identifies the importance of psychological need satisfaction in the parental relationship in offsetting millennials' worries about college and relating to their psychological well-being.

 

"Parents, peers and educators should support millennial students' basic needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness both before and after the transition to college, as they are essential to their overall psychological health" advised Mr Greene.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190326202216.htm

Families and schools may play key roles in promoting adolescent self-confidence

March 13, 2019

Science Daily/Penn State

Self-confidence is critical for teens as they prepare for the challenges of adulthood, and both families and schools may together play a vital role in boosting adolescents' confidence even in the face of difficulties with family, according to researchers.

 

The researchers examined how a variety of factors affected adolescents' self-efficacy -- a person's belief that they have the ability to overcome challenges and be successful, similar to self-confidence.

 

They found that adolescents who frequently witnessed their parents arguing or engaging in other forms of conflict experienced lower self-efficacy later on. But, success in school and support from peers were able to help compensate for family problems, and even boost self-efficacy higher than those losses.

 

Devin McCauley, a graduate student in Human Development and Family Studies, said the findings suggest that many factors can contribute to the development of a teen's confidence, and that schools may be an untapped resource for helping adolescents develop self-efficacy.

 

"Oftentimes, adolescents are in school all day where they're focusing on academics," McCauley said. "But this study suggests that we should continue thinking about schools in a developmental context, where we look beyond academics and at new ways to help improve other aspects of adolescent wellbeing."

 

Greg Fosco, associate professor of human development and family studies, added that the study -- recently published in the Journal of Adolescence -- is also a good reminder for parents about the importance of healthy co-parenting relationships.

 

"The healthier you can make the relationship with your partner, the better that is for your child," Fosco said. "Parents can get really focused on how they parent, and that's important, but their relationship with one another is an important source of strength for the family and for their children's development. Investing in a healthy couple relationship is going to promote a positive outcome for the child."

 

McCauley was inspired by his time as a school teacher to explore whether schools could help compensate for family-related losses in self-efficacy. He added that while self-efficacy is important at any age, it may be particularly important during adolescence.

 

"One of the goals of adolescence is to start to gain independence, form new social groups and eventually, down the line, start a family of their own," McCauley said. "If, as you encounter challenges in your life, your constant thought is 'I can't do this,' that can be stifling. But, if you have high self-efficacy, you're going to continue to pursue your goals, find more success, and that's going to reinforce and build on itself."

 

For the study, McCauley and the other researchers used data from 768 families, which included two-parent households with at least one adolescent in the home. Data was collected twice when the adolescents were in sixth grade and once when they were in seventh grade.

 

At each time point, adolescents reported data on conflict they witnessed between their parents, how threatened they felt by that conflict, feelings of self-efficacy, their school success and how much they felt supported by their peers.

 

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that higher levels of conflict between parents was linked to adolescents' feeling that their sense of security in the family was threatened. And this lower sense of security in turn was linked to diminished self-efficacy. But, greater success in school as well as feeling supported by peers contributed to higher levels of self-efficacy, enough to compensate for the losses stemming from teens' exposure to conflict between parents.

 

"If these adolescents are experiencing a lot of conflict at home, that can be offset to an extent by feeling successful in school or in their peer relationships," Fosco said. "Even though interparental conflict at home is a risk factor for undermining their self-efficacy, these positive experiences out of the home will help offset damages to their belief in themselves, in their ability to overcome challenges.

 

McCauley said the study suggests there are multiple ways to help promote self-efficacy in adolescents, and that one set of solutions may not fit all teens.

 

"This gives us different avenues to work within when it comes to intervention or prevention strategies," McCauley said. "If it's difficult to work with the family, if it's hard to get them to come to programs or sessions, we can help teens be successful in other areas of their life. Adolescents are often in school day in and day out for nine months out of the year, and we can build this into how the school functions."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190313114739.htm

Taking arts classes leads to better academic performance

March 12, 2019

Science Daily/George Mason University

A new study found a link between arts elective courses in music, dance, visual art and drama, and better grades in middle school. The study followed a large and diverse sample of preschool children up until they completed sixth, seventh and eighth grade.

 

The study, led by Adam Winsler, professor of applied developmental psychology, followed a large and diverse sample of preschool children up until they completed sixth, seventh and eighth grade.

 

The sample included a group of 31,331 students, of whom 61 percent were Latino, 31 percent were black, 55 percent were English Language Learners and 81 percent received free or reduced lunch.

 

Researchers assessed school readiness during pre-K and used archival public-school data during middle school.

 

"There were two questions this study was designed to answer," said Winsler. "One is, how are kids who take middle school arts different from those who don't, and we found that they were very different, they were more advantaged even seven years earlier."

 

Winsler said that students who are exposed to the arts in middle school tend to come from higher income families with both parents in the household. The students also tended to do better earlier in elementary school and had stronger cognitive language and social skills at age 4.

 

"The second question we were trying to answer is, once you statistically control for all of those ways that the arts takers are different from the non-arts takers, is the taking of those arts in middle school associated with later academic outcomes" Winsler said.

 

The answer, said Winsler, is yes.

 

Winsler said his research found that, when all variables are accounted for, enrolling in the arts seems to be linked to better academic performance, in the same year and later years.

 

The benefits of the arts is not a new subject of discussion, but Winsler said that as arts programs are getting cut in schools, it's important to back these claims with strong data and, until now, studies have been mostly simple correlational studies that can't provide evidence that the arts actually cause the better academic outcomes.

 

"Although it is widely thought that the arts have all kinds of positive benefits for kids, the research on which that is based has been fairly weak in the past," Winsler said.

 

Winsler's study, he added, while still correlational, is large, longitudinal and controls well for pre-existing differences between arts and non-arts students.

 

The research center will also soon publish research that will take a closer look at specific art forms such as music, dance and visual arts. With additional funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, Winsler said they will also follow up with the students through high school.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190312123720.htm

Mindfulness found to improve mental health of students

March 11, 2019

Science Daily/University of Bristol

Mental health among university students could be improved by introducing mindfulness training. These are the findings from the first UK study to measure the efficacy of mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) on students.

 

Recent evidence suggests that university students are more likely to develop mental health problems when compared with the general population. The University of Bristol-led study aimed to establish whether mindfulness could be effective at improving mental health and wellbeing in medical students who are considered more at risk of developing a stress-related illness.

 

Researchers recruited 57 medical students, who had been referred to a mindfulness group either by their GP or student advisor, to take part in an eight-week mindfulness programme.

 

Students were required to attend the training for two hours each week and commit to 30-minute daily home practice in between sessions. The training, which took place between Autumn 2011 and Spring 2015, taught participants how the mind works, how stress impacts one's life, an awareness of stress triggers and signs of stress symptoms, coping techniques, meditation practice, and the importance of self-care.

 

At the end of each programme students completed a survey that included a free text response. The researchers also conducted six qualitative interviews lasting between 60 and 90 minutes.

 

The students reported mindfulness training went further than learning a set of tools for coping with emotional difficulty. Students described improved empathy and communication skills when with patients through their newly learnt ability to notice their own thoughts and feelings. Students reported an improved ability to manage their workload better as well as a new ability to notice automatic judgmental thinking (such as not being good enough) without identifying with these thoughts. Students described how mindfulness had helped enhance their relationship to learning by using the mindfulness practices to refresh and regain concentration during long days of study as well as using the mindfulness practices to steady themselves during stressful situations in clinic or during exams.

 

The researchers concluded that more research is needed but these initial findings suggest that mindfulness training had helped students at Bristol reduce anxiety, excessive worry, negative thought patterns and improve resiliency to stress as well as improve emotional wellbeing and professional development.

 

Dr Alice Malpass, Research Fellow in the Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS) and co-author, said: "At Bristol, we are continuing to increase efforts to find solutions to improve mental health among the student population. Out aim is to find effective new ways of supporting students who may be suffering from stress and anxiety.

 

"This study has shown how mindfulness can help students who might be struggling, in particular medical students, find new ways of relating to the difficulties that arise in their clinical work, studying and wellbeing.

 

"We have developed a theoretical model of the medical student 'stress signature', mapping how mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can break the cycle of specific vulnerability through the development of new coping strategies."

 

In Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, mindfulness training is part of the medical curriculum but has yet to be implemented in the UK. Policy recommendations from the General Medical Council (GMC), the body responsible for improving medical education in the UK, recommend the use of mindfulness training to increase wellbeing and resilience to stress.

 

The researchers suggest a UK wide survey should be carried out to find out how other medical schools in the UK are implementing GMC mindfulness training guidelines and how this compares to what medical schools are delivering in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190311125213.htm

Binge drinking in adolescence may increase risk for anxiety later in life

March 11, 2019

Science Daily/University of Illinois at Chicago

Researchers have found that adolescent binge drinking, even if discontinued, increases the risk for anxiety later in life due to abnormal epigenetic programming.

 

A growing body of evidence supports the idea that alcohol exposure early in life has lasting effects on the brain and increases the risk of psychological problems in adulthood. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have found that adolescent binge drinking, even if discontinued, increases the risk for anxiety later in life due to abnormal epigenetic programming. The findings of the study, which was conducted in animals, was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

 

"Binge drinking early in life modifies the brain and changes connectivity in the brain, especially in the amygdala, which is involved in emotional regulation and anxiety, in ways we don't totally understand yet," said Subhash Pandey, professor of psychiatry in the UIC College of Medicine, director of the UIC Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics and lead author of the study. "But what we do know is that epigenetic changes are lasting, and increase susceptibility to psychological issues later in life, even if drinking that took place early in life is stopped."

 

"Epigenetics" refers to chemical changes to DNA, RNA, or specific proteins associated with chromosomes that change the activity of genes without changing the genes themselves. Epigenetic alterations are required for the normal development of the brain, but they can be modified in response to environmental or even social factors, such as alcohol and stress. These kinds of epigenetic alterations have been linked to changes in behavior and disease.

 

Adolescent rats were exposed to ethanol (a type of alcohol) for two days on and two days off or to the same protocol using saline for 14 days. All rats underwent an assessment for anxiety.

 

Pandey and his colleagues exposed adolescent rats to a regimen designed to mimic binge drinking. Those rats exhibited anxious behavior later in life, even if the binge drinking regimen stopped in late adolescence and the rats were allowed to mature to adulthood without any further exposure to alcohol.

 

These rats also had lower levels of a protein called Arc in the amygdala. Arc is important for the normal development of synaptic connections in the brain. Rats with less Arc also had about 40 percent fewer neuronal connections in the amygdala compared with rats that weren't exposed to alcohol.

 

"We believe that the decrease in Arc levels is caused by epigenetic changes that alter the expression of Arc, and an enhancer RNA, which modifies the expression of Arc. These changes are caused by adolescent alcohol exposure," said Pandey.

 

"Exposure to alcohol causes epigenetic reprogramming to occur, leading to molecular changes in the amygdala, which are long-lasting, even in the absence of more alcohol," said Pandey, who is also a senior research career scientist at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. "If the amygdala has deficits in its wiring or connectivity, and these modifications are long-lasting, the individual is at risk for psychological issues based on difficulties in regulating emotions, such as anxiety or depression and the development of alcohol use disorder later in life."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190311125156.htm

Young people at risk of addiction have differences in key brain region

March 4, 2019

Science Daily/University of Cambridge

Young adults at risk of developing problems with addiction show key differences in an important region of the brain, according to an international team led by researchers at the University of Cambridge.

 

The study adds further evidence to support the idea that an individual's biological makeup plays a significant role in whether or not they develop an addictive disorder.

 

Adolescence and young adulthood is an important time in a person's development. It is during this time that individuals begin to demonstrate behaviours that are associated with addiction and which suggest that they may be at risk.

 

One of these behaviours is impulsivity. Sometimes, we need to make quick decisions, for example in response to a danger or a threat. At other times, it is better to hesitate and decide only after careful deliberation. Impulsivity refers to where we respond and act prematurely, without considering the consequences of our actions. While most people occasionally act impulsively, people affected by disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), substance and behavioural addictions, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, show much greater levels of impulsivity.

 

In a study published today in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, a team of researchers at Cambridge's Department of Psychiatry, in collaboration with a group at Aarhus University in Denmark, has shown a strong association between increased behavioural impulsivity in young adults and abnormalities in nerve cells in the putamen, a key brain region involved in addictive disorders.

 

As part of the study, 99 young adults aged 16 to 26 carried out a computer-based measure of impulsivity. The researchers also scanned the volunteers' brains using a sequence that is sensitive to myelin content. Myelin is a protein-rich sheath that coats the axis of a nerve cell, analogous to the plastic coating that surrounds electrical wiring, and is essential to fast nerve conduction in the brain and body.

 

The team found that those young adults who displayed higher measures of behavioural impulsivity also had lower levels of myelin in the putamen. This work builds on similar findings in rodent models of impulsivity from scientists at Cambridge and elsewhere.

 

"People who show heightened impulsivity are more likely to experience a number of mental health issues, including substance and behavioural addictions, eating disorders, and ADHD," says Dr Camilla Nord of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, lead author on the study.

 

This suggests that impulsivity is an 'endophenotype', say the researchers; in other words, a set of behavioural and brain changes that increases people's general risk for developing a group of psychiatric and neurological disorders.

 

"We know that most mental health symptoms are not specific to particular disorders," says Dr Nord. "This work provides an important piece of the puzzle in establishing brain signatures that are general across a number of mental health disorders, rather than specific to any single one."

 

The putamen is a key brain hub in addiction, sending dopamine signals elsewhere in the brain, and helping mediate how impulsively we behave. "The significance of decreased myelination implies there are tiny microstructural changes in this part of the brain affecting its function, and thereby affecting impulsivity," says senior author Dr Valerie Voon, also from Cambridge.

 

"The degree of myelination alters the speed and efficiency of neuronal communication, meaning that if a population has decreased myelination only in one particular region, as we show, there is something highly local about any changes in neural speed and efficiency," add co-author Dr Seung-Goo Kim.

 

Although it is not possible to say definitely whether the decreased myelination causes individuals to behave impulsively, the fact that all participants were healthy and had not been diagnosed with addiction or any other psychiatric diagnosis suggests a more causal link than has been demonstrated in previous studies.

 

In future, the finding may help in predicting an individual's risk of developing a problem with addiction, say the researchers, but they caution that this would require further research and testing.

 

The research was funded by the Aarhus University Research Foundation, the Danish Ministry for Social Affairs and the Interior and the UK Medical Research Council. The work was also supported by NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190304105436.htm

When it comes to hearing words, it's a division of labor between our brain's two hemispheres

March 4, 2019

Science Daily/New York University

Scientists have uncovered a new 'division of labor' between our brain's two hemispheres in how we comprehend the words and other sounds we hear -- a finding that offers new insights into the processing of speech and points to ways to address auditory disorders.

 

"Our findings point to a new way to think about the division of labor between the right and left hemispheres," says Adeen Flinker, the study's lead author and an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at NYU School of Medicine. "While both hemispheres perform overlapping roles when we listen, the left hemisphere gauges how sounds change in time -- for example when speaking at slower or faster rates -- while the right is more attuned to changes in frequency, resulting in alterations in pitch."

 

Clinical observations dating back to the 19th century have shown that damage to the left, but not right, hemisphere impairs language processing. While researchers have offered an array of hypotheses on the roles of the left and right hemispheres in speech, language, and other aspects of cognition, the neural mechanisms underlying cerebral asymmetries remain debated.

 

In the study, which appears in the journal Nature Human Behavior, the researchers sought to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the processing of speech, with the larger aim of furthering our understanding of basic mechanisms of speech analysis as well as enriching the diagnostic and treatment tools for language disorders.

 

To do so, they created new tools to manipulate recorded speech, then used these recordings in a set of five experiments spanning behavioral experiments and two types of brain recording. They used magnetoencephalography (MEG), which allows measurements of the tiny magnetic fields generated by brain activity, as well as electrocorticography (ECoG), recordings directly from within the brain in volunteer surgical patients.

 

"We hope this approach will provide a framework to highlight the similarities and differences between human and non-human processing of communication signals," adds Flinker. "Furthermore, the techniques we provide to the scientific community may help develop new training procedures for individuals suffering from damage to one hemisphere."

 

The study's other authors were Werner Doyle, an associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at NYU School of Medicine, Ashesh Mehta, an associate professor of neurosurgery at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, Orrin Devinsky, a professor in the Department of Neurology at NYU School of Medicine, and David Poeppel, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at NYU and director of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt and the study's senior author.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190304182116.htm

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