Mindfulness in the workplace improves employee focus, attention, behavior

March 10, 2016

Science Daily/Case Western Reserve University

Mindfulness is often viewed as either a touchy-feely fad or valuable management tool that can lift an entire workplace. A new comprehensive analysis of mindfulness research suggests the latter—that injecting a corporate culture of mindfulness not only improves focus, but the ability to manage stress and how employees work together.

 

A new comprehensive analysis of mindfulness research, co-directed by a management scientist at Case Western Reserve University, suggests the latter -- that injecting a corporate culture of mindfulness not only improves focus, but the ability to manage stress and how employees work together.

 

"Historically, companies have been reticent to offer mindfulness training because it was seen as something fluffy, esoteric and spiritual," said Christopher Lyddy, an organizational behavior doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve's Weatherhead School of Management. "But that's changing."

 

Mindfulness, defined as present-centered attention and awareness, emerged from Buddhist philosophy and has been cultivated for millennia through meditation practices. Organizations such as Google, Aetna, Mayo Clinic and the United States Marine Corps use mindfulness training to improve workplace functioning. The results of this latest research indicate the approach can improve a range of workplace functions.

 

"When you are mindful, you can have a greater consciousness in the present," Lyddy said. "That's vital for any executive or manager, who, at any given moment, may be barraged with various problems that call for decisions under stress."

 

Lyddy is co-lead author of the research with Darren Good, who earned his doctorate at the Weatherhead School and is now an assistant professor at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management. They headed an unusually interdisciplinary team that included experts in both management and mindfulness, as well as psychologists and neuroscientists.

 

The researchers considered 4,000 scientific papers on various aspects of mindfulness, distilling the information into an accessible guide documenting the impact mindfulness has on how people think, feel, act, relate and perform at work.

 

Their findings, Contemplating Mindfulness at Work (An Integrative Review), are recently published in the Journal of Management.

 

"Remarkably, scientists have found the effects of mindfulness consistently benign," Lyddy said. "Of the thousands of empirical studies we read, only two reported any downside to mindfulness."

 

A small but growing body of work in the management area suggests mindfulness is linked to better workplace functioning.

 

Among the new study's conclusions:

 

• Mindfulness appears to positively impact human functioning overall. Research in such disciplines as psychology, neuroscience and medicine provide a wealth of evidence that mindfulness improves attention, cognition, emotions, behavior and physiology.

 

• Specifically, mindfulness has been shown to improve three qualities of attention -- stability, control and efficiency. The human mind is estimated to wander roughly half of our waking hours, but mindfulness can stabilize attention in the present. Individuals who completed mindfulness training were shown to remain vigilant longer on both visual and listening tasks.

 

• Although mindfulness is an individual quality, initial evidence suggests that it affects interpersonal behavior and workgroup relationships.

 

• Mindfulness may improve relationships through greater empathy and compassion -- suggesting mindfulness training could enhance workplace processes that rely on effective leadership and teamwork.

 

Lyddy said the research indicating significant and diverse benefits of mindfulness coincides with growing practical interest in mindfulness training nationally and worldwide. For example, British Parliament has recently launched a mindfulness initiative called "Mindful Nation UK" that leverages mindfulness to benefit diverse sectors and improve national health, productivity and flourishing.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160310141455.htm

Mindfulness could promote positive body image

Awareness of internal body signals can affect the way we see ourselves -- new study

February 28, 2019

Science Daily/Anglia Ruskin University

Making people more aware of their own internal body signals, such as heartbeat or breathing rate, could promote positive body image, according to new research.

 

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University recruited a sample of 646 adults and found that there were statistically significant relationships between people's interoceptive awareness -- the extent to which people are aware of internal signals given out by the body such as heartbeat or feelings of discomfort or hunger -- and body image.

 

While previous studies on the subject have tended to recruit small groups of young women, this study included both men and women, aged between 18 and 76.

 

The study found that people who can sustain attention towards their internal body signals tended to report higher levels of positive body image. It was also found that people who trust their internal body signals are more likely to hold a positive view of their own body, and be less preoccupied with being overweight.

 

Lead author Jenny Todd said: "Unfortunately, experiences of negative body image are extremely common, to the extent that some academics consider this a 'normal' experience for women in Western society.

 

"Our research finds associations between the awareness of internal body signals and measures of body image. This could have implications for promoting positive body image, for example modifying interoceptive awareness through mindfulness-based practices.

 

"However the research, which was conducted with exclusively British participants, also demonstrates that the relationship between interoceptive awareness and body image is complex and requires further investigation."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190228093638.htm

Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news

March 5, 2019

Science Daily/North Carolina State University

To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health. That's one takeaway from a study that found older adults are more willing to engage with negative health information when they have a positive attitude about their health.

 

"There's a lot of research showing that older adults prefer positive information, often avoiding or ignoring negative information," says Tom Hess, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and co-author of a paper on the new findings. "That can have consequences for older adults, particularly when it comes to information regarding their health. We wanted to see if there was a way to overcome this positivity bias when it comes to health news."

 

To that end, the researchers conducted a study of 196 adults between the ages of 65 and 80. A quarter of the study participants were shown images to put them in a negative mood. A quarter were shown images to put them in a positive mood. A quarter were asked to complete a health checklist designed to make them feel bad about the healthiness of their lifestyle choices. And a quarter were asked to complete a checklist designed to make them feel good about their lifestyle choices.

 

Study participants were then shown the headlines of six articles about health. Three of the headlines were negative, but offered information relevant to the health of the study participants. The other three headlines were positive, but were less likely to provide participants with useful information. Participants were asked to pick any three of the six articles to read.

 

Study participants who completed the "positive" health checklist read more than 50 percent more of the articles that had negative headlines, as compared to participants who completed the "negative" checklist.

 

"Specifically, study participants who completed the checklist giving them a positive attitude toward their health chose to read, on average, about 60 percent of the negative articles, whereas participants who completed the negative checklist chose only 37 percent of the negative articles," says Claire Growney, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of the paper. "There was no effect for participants who did not complete the health checklist and whose moods were only influenced by images. We also ran the same study with a group of 201 younger adults, and there was no effect with any of the groups there. This tells us that having a positive attitude toward health may primarily affect the willingness of older adults to engage with negative health news.

 

"We also asked the study participants what their motivations were before reviewing the health articles, and found that older adults with positive attitudes toward their health were more likely to seek out health-related news that was relevant to their own lives."

 

To confirm the finding, the researchers repeated the study with 199 adults between the ages of 65 and 85. This time they focused solely on the negative and positive health checklists. One difference with this second study was that the health article headlines were split into four categories: positive and informative; negative and informative; positive and not informative; and negative and not informative.

 

"In this second study, we found participants who completed the positive checklist were over 30 percent more likely to select articles with negative headlines to read -- but only if the headlines were also informative," Growney says. "Specifically, the group with positive attitudes toward their health again chose to read about 60 percent of the negative/informative articles, while the group with negative attitudes toward their health chose only about 40 percent of the negative/informative articles."

 

"These findings have practical value in terms of how we share negative information with older adults regarding their health," Hess says. "For example, it may be useful for a health care provider to say 'here's what looks good' before talking to a patient about recommendations regarding diet or exercise."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190305112826.htm

Poll shows many older adults, especially those with health issues, feel isolated

Physical and mental health issues, hearing problems, and poor diet, exercise and sleep all linked to feeling isolated

March 4, 2019

Science Daily/Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

One in four older adults say they feel isolated from other people at least some of the time, and one in three say they lack regular companionship, according to a new national poll. Those feelings of loneliness showed up most in people aged 50 to 80 who also reported they had health issues and unhealthy habits. The findings amplify research showing links between chronic loneliness and health issues ranging from memory loss to shorter lives.

 

Those feelings of loneliness showed up most in people aged 50 to 80 who also reported they had health issues and unhealthy habits, the poll shows. The new findings amplify research that has shown links between chronic loneliness and health issues ranging from memory loss to shorter lives.

 

In the new poll, people who said they had fair or poor physical health, mental health, or hearing loss were more likely to report that they felt isolated or lacked companions.

 

Meanwhile, people who said they ate healthy diets, exercised, got enough sleep or didn't use tobacco were less likely to report feelings of loneliness.

 

The new findings come from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M's academic medical center.

 

"More than a quarter of poll respondents said they only had social contact once a week, or less, with family members they don't live with, or with friends and neighbors," says Erica Solway, Ph.D., the co-director of the poll and a social science researcher. "These results indicate the importance of proactively reaching out to those in your community who may be at risk of feeling isolated and disconnected, especially those with or at risk of health issues."

 

Poll director Preeti Malani, M.D., who has training in caring for older adults, notes that a growing body of research points to strong connections between health and loneliness -- and to positive effects on health from increased social contact through volunteering, taking part in religious or community groups, and other activities.

 

"As we grow older, and mobility or hearing becomes more of a barrier, these poll data show the importance of maintaining and strengthening our ties to other people," says Malani. "It also suggests that caregivers, spouses and partners, adult children and others involved in older adults' lives have a role to play in encouraging and facilitating these connections."

 

"We know that social isolation and loneliness are as bad for our health as obesity and smoking," says Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. "AARP's own research shows that older adults who are unpaid caregivers, are low-income, or that identify as LGBT are at an increased risk for chronic loneliness. This is such an important public health issue that AARP Foundation launched Connect2Affect to help combat isolation and loneliness among older adults."

 

Other key findings

 

The poll explored many aspects of social connection and health and asked about feelings of companionship, feelings of social isolation, and social contact among people age 50 to 80. It found:

 

·     Those who were unemployed, lived in lower-income households, lived alone and/or had one or more children living with them were more likely to say they lacked companionship

·     Living alone was highly associated with feeling lonely; 60 percent of those who lived alone reported feeling a lack of companionship, and 41 percent felt isolated

·     36 percent of women said they lacked companionship often or some of the time, compared with 31 percent of men

·     26 percent of adults who said they lacked companionship also said they were in fair or poor physical health, while 13 percent of people who said they hardly ever lacked companionship reported fair or poor physical health

·     Of those who reported feeling isolated, 17 percent had fair/poor mental health, compared to only 2 percent of those who hardly ever felt isolated.

·     One in five respondents who reported feeling socially isolated said they had fair or poor hearing compared to about one in 10 of those who said they hardly ever feel isolated.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190304095901.htm

Interacting with more people is shown to keep older adults more active

February 20, 2019

Science Daily/University of Texas at Austin

Researchers have found that older adults who spend more time interacting with a wide range of people were more likely to be physically active and had greater emotional well-being.

 

It's been said that variety is the spice of life, and now scientists say variety in your social circle may help you live longer. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have found that older adults who spend more time interacting with a wide range of people were more likely to be physically active and had greater emotional well-being.

 

In a paper out Feb. 20 in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, researchers found that study participants who interacted more with family members and close friends, as well as acquaintances, casual friends, service providers and strangers were more likely to have higher levels of physical activity, less time spent sitting or lying around, greater positive moods and fewer negative feelings. It is the first study to link social engagement with physical activity throughout the day.

 

"Adults often grow less physically active and more sedentary as they age, and these behaviors pose a risk factor for disease and death," said Karen Fingerman, a professor of human development and family sciences at UT Austin and the director of the university's new Texas Aging & Longevity Center. "It is difficult to convince people to go to the gym or commit to work out on a regular basis. But they may be willing to reach out to acquaintances, attend an organized group event, or talk to the barrista who serves them at their favorite coffee shop. Socializing in these contexts also can increase physical activity and diverse behaviors in ways that benefit health without necessarily working up a sweat."

 

The researchers asked study participants about their activities and social encounters every three hours for about a week. Participants also wore electronic devices to monitor their physical activity. Fingerman and the team observed that during the three-hour periods when participants were engaging with a greater variety of social partners, they reported engaging in a greater variety of activities such as leaving the house, walking, talking with others, or shopping. They also engaged in more objectively measured physical activity, and less time being sedentary.

 

Previous studies have shown that close social ties, like family and close friends, can be beneficial to older adults by providing a buffer against stress and improving emotional well-being. Researchers had not examined physical activity or the benefits of more peripheral social ties.

 

This study showed those acquaintances or peripheral ties may encourage older adults to be more physically active, a key factor that has been shown to contribute to physical and emotional health, as well as cognitive ability.

 

"Older adults may be able to be more sedentary with their close friends and family -- sitting and watching TV or otherwise lounging at home," Fingerman said. "But to engage with acquaintances, older adults must leave the house, or at least get up out of their chair to answer the door."

 

The study included more than 300 adults over 65 years old who lived in the Austin metro area and controlled for factors such as age, race, gender, marital status, education and ethnicity.

 

"Prior research on aging has focused almost entirely on the benefits of social connection with close social ties such as a spouse or an adult child," said co-author Debra Umberson, sociology professor and director of UT Austin's Population Research Center. "This new research relies on truly novel data that capture both the amount and quality of contact with all types of people that the elderly encounter throughout the day -- and the results show us that these routine encounters have important benefits for activity levels and psychological well-being. This new information suggests the importance of policies and programs that support and promote routine and informal social participation."

 

The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Graduate student Meng Huo of The University of Texas at Austin and Susan T. Charles professor of psychology of the University of California at Irvine contributed to the study.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190220074610.htm

The power of gratitude in the workplace

March 13, 2019

Science Daily/Portland State University

The study shows that being thanked more often at work predicted better sleep, fewer headaches and healthier eating, because it improved nurses' work satisfaction

 

If you knew that expressing gratitude to a colleague would improve their life and yours, would you do it more often?

 

A new study by Portland State University researchers -- business professor David Cadiz, psychology professor Cynthia Mohr, and Alicia Starkey, a recent Ph.D. graduate in psychology -- together with Clemson State University professor Robert Sinclair, exhibits a positive relationship between expressed workplace gratitude, physical health and mental health.

 

The study, "Gratitude reception and physical health: Examining the mediating role of satisfaction with patient care in a sample of acute care nurses," shows that being thanked more often at work predicted better sleep, fewer headaches and healthier eating, because it improved nurses' work satisfaction.

 

Improving Self-Care in a Stressful Work Environment

 

The study involved a group of Oregon nurses, a profession that has a particularly high rate of burnout. Cadiz discusses the findings and how applying the research can have a significant impact on quality of life and job retention by preventing stress-related illnesses and disease.

 

"Nurses tend to have a thankless job. It's very physical, and they're often being screamed at by patients who are at their lowest. When nurses receive gratitude, it boosts them," Cadiz explains.

 

"This type of study helps us understand how to keep nurses in the workforce in a healthy way. Nurses strongly align their profession with their identity and often look out for patients more than themselves. The gratitude matches up with their identity, gives them satisfaction in a job well done and ultimately increases self-care."

 

Many people inherently connect their identity to their job and feelings of appreciation within their roles. Employers who understand and react to this can create positive social and economic change.

 

Gratitude is Good Business

 

From an organizational, policy and leadership perspective, Cadiz says that employers should create formal or informal opportunities for people to express gratitude. Including gratitude in a business plan is an essential step that many business leaders miss, and that omission can have financial consequences.

 

"Employees that receive positive feedback are healthier, and that can impact the bottom line," adds Cadiz. "Preventing headaches and other stress-related symptoms means fewer sick days, and, in this case, cuts down the cost of replacement nurses and overtime pay."

 

These small changes can have a dramatic fiscal impact over time, which can result in more staff, better pay rates and increased benefits.

 

The big takeaway -- express gratitude when you see someone doing a good job. A positive feedback loop impacts you and those around you, and can ultimately shape a healthier and happier community.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190313091929.htm

Good grief: Victimized employees don't get a break

March 8, 2019

Science Daily/University of Central Florida

As if being picked on wasn't bad enough, victims of workplace mistreatment may also be seen as bullies themselves, even if they've never engaged in such behavior. Adding insult to injury, victims may even be seen by supervisors as worse employees, despite exemplary performance. Bullies, on the other hand, may be given a pass if they are liked by their supervisor.

 

Adding insult to injury, victims may even be seen by supervisors as worse employees, despite exemplary performance. Bullies, on the other hand, may be given a pass if they are liked by their supervisor.

 

A study about this bias toward victim blaming was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The peer-reviewed article was co-authored by Shannon Taylor, an associate professor of management in the University of Central Florida's College of Business.

 

"The results are eye-opening," Taylor says. "I think they are useful because, given all of these accounts in the media of bad behavior happening, people are often left wondering how can we blame victims, and why do we let these perpetrators off the hook, why do they go unpunished?"

 

Taylor attributes the flawed decision making to cognitive biases, such as the halo effect, in which positive attributes mask negative traits, or the horns effect, in which one negative attribute casts a person in a completely negative light.

 

He recommends that supervisors receive bias training.

 

"The first step is really awareness of these biases," Taylor says. "We hope this study will at least bring awareness to people's potential for bias."

 

The researchers performed their work over the course of four studies. The first two studies showed through surveys of employees and supervisors that supervisors tend to view victims of bullying as being bullies themselves.

 

Studies three and four were experiments where participants evaluated employees based on descriptions of their work performance, as well as how they treated others and how they were treated.

 

They found that even when evaluators were clearly informed that a victim did not mistreat others, victims were still seen as bullies. In the fourth study, they found that not only are victims seen as bullies despite evidence to the contrary, but also that they receive lower job performance evaluations as a result of being victimized.

 

The researchers found support in all four studies that bullies were less likely to be seen as deviant when their supervisor considered them to be good performers.

 

"What I think is really interesting about this is, when you hear stories of high-profile people engaging in bad behavior at work, a lot of these people have gone unpunished for long periods of time," Taylor says. "And we have examples of victims of this bad behavior being called out and attacked on social media and by the media. Our studies show this is actually pretty common. We're all susceptible to these biases."

 

An example -- the victim blaming that occurred during Christine Blasey Ford's testimony during and after Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Taylor says.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190308154831.htm

Bullying bosses negatively impact employee performance and behavior

March 7, 2019

Science Daily/Portland State University

Employees bullied by their bosses are more likely to report unfairness and work stress, and consequently become less committed to their jobs or even retaliate, according to a new study.

 

The findings, published recently in the Journal of Management, highlight the consequences of abusive supervision, which is becoming increasingly common in workplaces, said Liu-Qin Yang, the study's co-author and an associate professor of industrial-organizational psychology in PSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

 

Yang and her co-authors reviewed 427 studies and quantitatively aggregated the results to better understand why and how bullying bosses can decrease "organizational citizenship behavior" -- or the voluntary extras you do that aren't part of your job responsibilities -- and increase "counterproductive work behavior." Examples of such behaviors include sabotage at work, coming into work late, taking longer-than-allowed breaks, doing tasks incorrectly or withholding effort, all of which can affect your team and coworkers.

 

The researchers attribute the negative work behaviors to either perceptions of injustice or work stress.

 

With perceptions of injustice, employees bullied by their boss see the treatment as unfair relative to the effort they've put into their jobs. In response, they're more likely to purposely withhold from the unpaid extras that help the organization, like helping coworkers with problems or attending meetings that are not mandatory. They're also more likely to engage in counterproductive work behavior such as taking longer breaks or coming in late without notice, Yang said.

 

Having an abusive boss can also lead to work stress, which reduces an employee's ability to control negative behaviors or contribute to the organization in a positive way.

 

The researchers found that fairness (or the lack thereof) accounted more for the link between abusive supervision and organizational citizenship behavior, while work stress led to more counterproductive work behavior.

 

"Stress is sometimes uncontrollable. You don't sleep well, so you come in late or take a longer break, lash out at your coworkers or disobey instructions," Yang said. "But justice is more rational. Something isn't fair, so you're purposely not going to help other people or when the boss asks if anyone can come in on a Saturday to work, you don't volunteer."

 

Yang and her co-authors recommend that organizations take measures to reduce or curb abusive supervision. Among their suggestions:

 

·     Launch regular training programs to help supervisors learn and adopt more effective interpersonal and management skills when interacting with their employees

·     Implement fair policies and procedures to reduce employees' perceptions of injustice in the organization

·     Ensure employees have sufficient resources to perform their job, such as by offering stress management training

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190307073452.htm

A new approach to an old question: How do we actually cooperate?

Researchers investigate how cooperation among people is affected by population structure

March 4, 2019

Science Daily/American Physical Society

Researchers are exploring how cooperation arises in human societies, where people tend to cluster into various group types -- political, religious, familial, professional, etc. Within such groups, people can cooperate or 'defect' and receive payoffs based on those exchanges. Cooperation, they observed, is most favored when allowing for the existence of 'loners' -- people who are temporarily not members of any group.

 

In the animal kingdom, birds band together to ward off predators, and honeybees work collectively to benefit the entire hive. Animals of the human persuasion can act cooperatively too, at times, though this behavior is not completely understood.

 

Princeton doctoral student Olivia Chu and her advisor Corina Tarnita, a theoretical biologist, investigate how cooperation among people is affected by population structure.

 

Chu will present their work this week at the American Physical Society March Meeting in Boston, and she will also participate in a press conference describing the work. Information for logging on to watch and ask questions remotely is included at the end of this news release.

 

Humans tend to cluster into groups -- political, religious, familial, professional and so forth -- rather than being homogenously mixed. Group memberships affect our decisions to cooperate -- or not -- with others. So, how does cooperation emerge under such circumstances?

 

"Group memberships affect the structure of social interactions, determining to a large extent who meets with whom. They also set the context and frequency under which those interactions take place," Chu said. Chu and Tarnita built upon the "evolutionary set theory" modeling framework that Tarnita and colleagues introduced in 2009, which assumes that people belong to groups and interact only with others who are in the same groups.

 

Interactions in their study take place within the setting of the "donation game" (a modified version of the "prisoner's dilemma") in which a cooperator offers a benefit to another player at a personal cost, whereas a "defector" selfishly offers nothing. Chu and Tarnita consider this framework to be more realistic for studying human dynamics than previous network-based approaches because it allows for people to simultaneously have multiple group affiliations. "From these local, group-level pair-wise interactions, can we see the emergence of cooperation on a large scale across the population?" Chu asked.

 

The answer given by Tarnita and colleagues in 2009 was "yes." However, that model had an unrealistic premise -- group entry was free to anyone who wanted to join. In real life, this is clearly not the case as there are often barriers to group entry. In the current model, Chu and Tarnita incorporate one type of barrier to group entry that is determined by group size: The larger the group, they reasoned, the less likely it is to accept new members. To refine their model, the team investigated whether this barrier changes the outcome with respect to cooperation.

 

Chu and Tarnita found that cooperation still emerges, but that it is most favored when they allow for the existence of "loners" in the population -- people who, due to barriers, are temporarily not members of any group. Loners are essential, Chu explained, "because they keep group sizes lower than they would have been without barriers to group entry."

 

Smaller groups allow cooperation to thrive, while making the system as a whole more resilient, by limiting the destructive influence of a defector exploiting a group of cooperators. Chu cautions against drawing too much from one model amid a sea of evolutionary game theory models. Nevertheless, their recent work shows, reassuringly, that there may be hope for maintaining cooperation in our world.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190304134213.htm

Be yourself at work -- It's healthier and more productive

Disclosing non-visible stigmas to co-workers leads to a happier life

February 25, 2019

Science Daily/Rice University

At work, it's healthier and more productive just to be yourself, according to a new study from Rice University, Texas A&M University, the University of Memphis, Xavier University, Portland State University and the University of California, Berkeley.

 

The study, "Stigma Expression Outcomes and Boundary Conditions: A Meta-Analysis" will appear in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Business and Psychology. It examines 65 studies focusing on what happens after people in a workplace disclose a stigmatized identity, such as sexual orientation, mental illness, physical disability or pregnancy.

 

Eden King, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at Rice, said the decision to express a stigmatized identity is highly complicated.

 

"It has the potential for both positive and negative consequences," she said.

 

However, the research overwhelmingly indicates that people with non-visible stigmas (such as sexual orientation or health problems) who live openly at work are happier with their overall lives and more productive in the workplace. King said self-disclosure is typically a positive experience because it allows people to improve connections, form relationships with others and free their minds of unwanted thoughts.

 

Workers who expressed their non-visible stigmas experienced decreased job anxiety, decreased role ambiguity, improved job satisfaction and increased commitment to their position. Outside of work, these workers reported decreased psychological stress and increased satisfaction with their lives.

 

But the study found that the same results did not apply to people with visible traits, such as race, gender and physical disability.

 

"Identities that are immediately observable operate differently than those that are concealable," King said. "The same kinds of difficult decisions about whether or not to disclose the identity -- not to mention the questions of to whom, how, when and where to disclose those identities -- are probably less central to their psychological experiences."

 

King said that because most people appreciate gaining new information about others, the expression of visible stigmas is likely to be less impactful.

 

"Also, people react negatively to those who express or call attention to stigmas that are clearly visible to others, such as race or gender, as this may be seen as a form of advocacy or heightened pride in one's identity," she said.

 

The researchers said more work needs to be done to understand the motivations for expressing different stigmas. They hope this meta-analysis will be used to help workplaces and policymakers protect individuals with stigmas from discrimination.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190225105109.htm

Integrated therapy treating obesity and depression is effective

March 5, 2019

Science Daily/University of Illinois at Chicago

An intervention combining behavioral weight loss treatment and problem-solving therapy with as-needed antidepressant medication for participants with co-occurring obesity and depression improved weight loss and depressive symptoms compared with routine physician care.

 

Obesity and depression commonly occur together. Approximately 43 percent of adults with depression are obese, and adults with obesity are at increased risk of experiencing depression. To treat both conditions, patients must visit multiple practitioners usually including dietitians, wellness coaches and mental health counselors or psychiatrists. The burden associated with visiting multiple health care providers consistently over the long periods of time required to treat obesity and depression can be significant and lead to dropping out of therapy altogether. Additionally, these health services may not be available due to a lack of trained providers or reimbursement, and the cost of seeing numerous specialists can be prohibitive.

 

"Treatments exist that are effective at treating obesity and depression separately, but none that address both conditions in concert, which is a critical unmet need because of the high prevalence of obesity and depression together," said Dr. Jun Ma, professor of medicine in the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine and principal investigator on the study. "We have shown that delivering obesity and depression therapy in one integrated program using dually trained health coaches who work within a care team that includes a primary care physician and a psychiatrist, is effective at reducing weight and improving depressive symptoms."

 

Ma and colleagues analyzed results of the Research Aimed at Improving Both Mood and Weight (RAINBOW) randomized clinical trial, which compared an integrated collaborative care program to treat co-occurring obesity and depression -- delivered by trained health coaches -- with usual care provided by a personal physician in primary care settings.

 

The RAINBOW weight loss intervention promotes healthy eating and physical activity, while the psychotherapy portion focuses on problem-solving skills. A psychiatrist is able to recommend adding antidepressant medication if needed, which the participant's personal physician would prescribe and manage.

 

Health coaches trained to deliver this integrated program worked in consultation with a primary care physician and a psychiatrist who jointly reviewed the clinical status of patients and advised on treatment adjustments for patients who were not progressing. The primary care physician and psychiatrist did not have direct contact with patients, nor did they prescribe medications or furnish other treatment to patients in the program directly. Their role was supportive and consultative to the health coaches with whom they worked as a team. This care team communicated and collaborated with patients' personal physicians who oversaw the patients' care, including prescribing medications, providing treatments for medical conditions and making referrals to specialty care when needed.

 

Participants in the RAINBOW trial included 409 patients with obesity and depression. All participants received usual medical care from their personal physicians and were provided with information on health care services for obesity and depression at their clinic as well as wireless physical activity trackers.

 

Two hundred and four participants were randomly assigned to receive the integrated collaborative care program and were seen by a health coach for one year. In the first six months, they participated in nine individual counseling sessions and watched 11 videos on healthy lifestyles. In the following six months, participants had monthly telephone calls with their health coach. Two hundred and five participants randomly assigned to the usual care control group did not receive any additional intervention.

 

Participants in the integrated care program experienced more weight loss and decline in the severity of depressive symptoms over one year compared with control participants receiving usual care. On average, patients in the integrated program experienced a decline in body mass index from 36.7 to 35.9 while participants in the usual care group had no change in BMI. Participants receiving integrated therapy reported a decline in depression severity scores based on responses to a questionnaire from 1.5 to 1.1, compared with a change from 1.5 to 1.4 among those in the control group.

 

"While the demonstrated improvements in obesity and depression among participants receiving the integrated therapy were modest, the study represents a step forward because it points to an effective, practical way to integrate fragmented obesity and depression care into one combined therapy, with good potential for implementation in primary care settings, in part because the integrated mental health treatment in primary care settings is now also reimbursable by Medicare. For patients, this approach is an attractive alternative to seeing multiple practitioners each charging for their services as is done traditionally," Ma said.

 

Ma and colleagues are currently investigating ways to tailor the integrated therapy for individual patients by targeting underlying neurobehavioral mechanisms to further improve outcomes.

 

"We have some preliminary data that suggests if we can tailor therapy based on the patient's engagement and response early in the treatment -- for example by offering motivational interviewing to augment integrated therapy for patients who show early signs of poor engagement or progress -- we may further improve the effectiveness of the therapy," Ma said. "In addition, a better understanding of the mechanisms of brain function and behavior change can guide targeted therapy."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190305124714.htm

Forgotten fathers: New dads also at risk for postpartum depression

Study provides an in-depth look at new fathers' experiences with PPD

March 7, 2019

Science Daily/University of Nevada, Las Vegas

A new study offers an in-depth view of new fathers' experiences with postpartum depression (PPD). The study explores issues they encounter and how they can move beyond barriers they face in receiving diagnoses and treatment of the little-known phenomenon.

 

It's increasingly common to hear about new moms suffering from the baby blues. But what about new dads?

 

A new UNLV study, published last week in the Journal of Family Issues, offers an in-depth view of new fathers' experiences with postpartum depression (PPD). The study explores issues they encounter and how they can move beyond barriers they face in receiving diagnoses and treatment of the little-known phenomenon.

 

Between 5 and 10 percent of new fathers in the United States suffer from PPD, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. One study shows that the risk goes up to 24 to 50 percent for men whose partners suffer from PPD.

 

A team of researchers, led by UNLV Couple and Family Therapy professor Brandon Eddy, scoured blogs, websites, forums, and chat rooms for first-hand accounts from new dads. Six themes emerged:

 

·     Needing education.Fathers didn't know men could suffer from PPD and were surprised to learn others experienced it. Women who saw PPD in men were unsure of what to call it. Men complained about pushback or not receiving information from doctors or therapists, or frustration that the PPD resources they did manage to find focused solely on how to help their wives.

·     Adhering to gender expectations. Many dads felt pressured to espouse traditional "tough guy" stereotypes. In fact, one man who told another father to "suck it up" said he knew it was bad advice but explained that it's what's expected of men.

·     Repressing feelings.Men were reluctant to share their feelings for fear of sounding ridiculous or looking weak to their wives, who were the primary caregivers.

·     Overwhelmed.Many of the new dads found it difficult to express their emotions of confusion, exhaustion, helplessness, loneliness, and feeling trapped. Parents often suffer from lack of sleep after birth, which can exacerbate stress and depressive symptoms -- making them more irritable to their children's crying.

·     Resentment of baby.While many fathers expressed joy and excitement for the arrival of their children, others resented their baby's constant needs and attention. A few talked about suppressing urges to hurt the baby or themselves.

·     Experience of neglect.The dads felt lost, forgotten, and neglected -- by their wives, the health care system, and society. One father described "uncomfortably laughing" while reading PPD screening questions typically asked of women during routine checkups: "I began to feel like someone should be asking me the same questions." Another said men, who must simply wait while women do the hard work of pregnancy and labor and lack an umbilical cord connection to their children, had often shared with him similar stories of struggling with PPD: "There's no truly acceptable place or context for men to publicly reveal being challenged -- much less rocked to the core -- by what I call 'sudden parenthood'."

 

Overall, the findings complement previous studies on barriers for fathers suffering from PPD. UNLV researchers said encountering a lack of information and stigma often causes dads to distance themselves from their child and has been associated with marital difficulties.

 

Previous research elsewhere has found that paternal involvement has many positive outcomes for children, such as boys displaying less hostile behavior then children with absent dads, reduced delinquency for both sexes, considerably higher IQ scores for children in their early development years, and lower levels of emotional distress. That's on top of studies showing fathers who suffer from PPD report lower levels of communication with their partners, as well as increased rates of substance abuse and domestic violence.

 

"The expectations society gives to men of what they are supposed to be, what they are supposed to do, and how they do it was a significant factor on how many of these men chose to cope with life stressors," the UNLV researchers wrote.

 

"Because men are already less likely than women to seek professional help for depression, it is vital that the stigma of PPD decreases," they added. "Because paternal involvement is a significant factor in the healthy development of children, it would seem wise to make information about paternal PPD more available in order to combat its negative impact on families."

 

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force -- an independent coalition of national experts -- recently recommended that all women be screened for depression before and after giving birth. There is no current assessment designed to specifically screen men for PPD.

 

"With the vast amount of research conducted on the importance of paternal involvement and the rising rates of PPD in fathers," researchers wrote, "it seems logical that fathers should also be included in this recommendation."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190307091448.htm

Child's elevated mental ill-health risk if mother treated for infection during pregnancy

March 7, 2019

Science Daily/University of Gothenburg

Risks for autism and depression are higher if one's mother was in hospital with an infection during pregnancy. This is shown by a major Swedish observational study of nearly 1.8 million children.

 

"The results indicate that safeguarding against and preventing infection during pregnancy as far as possible by, for instance, following flu vaccination recommendations, may be called for," says Verena Sengpiel, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, and last author of the study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

 

Maternal infection with certain infectious agents, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) or the herpes virus, are already known to be capable of harming fetal brain development and boosting the risk of certain psychiatric disorders.

 

The findings of the current study, however, also show that infection in general during pregnancy, too -- including when the actual infectious agent does not reach the fetal brain -- is related to elevated risk of the child developing autism or depression later in life.

 

More autism and depression

 

The study is based on data on all children, totaling almost 1.8 million, born in Sweden during the years 1973-2014. The particulars from the Swedish Medical Birth Register were linked to the national inpatient register, which records whether the mother was treated in hospital with an infection diagnosis during the pregnancy concerned.

 

Using the inpatient register, the researchers also monitored these children's mental health until 2014, when the oldest were aged 41.

 

It was found that if, during pregnancy, a mother with an infection diagnosis received hospital treatment, there was a marked rise in the risk of her child needing hospital care later in life, with a diagnosis of either autism or depression. The increase in risk was 79 percent for autism and 24 percent for depression.

 

In contrast, there was no association between the mothers being in hospital with an infection diagnosis during pregnancy and two other psychiatric diagnoses studied in their children: bipolar disorder and psychosis, including schizophrenia.

 

Increased risk even after mild infection

 

The pregnant women in the study may have been hospitalized with diagnoses other than infections, but then had infections diagnosed during their stay as well. The elevated risk of mental ill-health in the child was also evident after infections in the pregnant women that are usually considered mild, such as a common urinary tract infection.

 

The study, which was observational, provides no answer on how maternal infection during pregnancy affects fetal brain development. However, other studies have shown that an infection in the mother leads to an inflammatory reaction, and that some inflammatory proteins can affect gene expression in fetal brain cells.

 

Other research shows that inflammation in the mother boosts production of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the placenta, which may conceivably affect the unborn child's brain development.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190307103212.htm

Sensory stimuli improves brain damage in mouse models of preterm birth

March 4, 2019

Science Daily/Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

A research conducted by the INc-UAB shows that the same perinatal brain injury caused by hypoxia and ischemia have differentiated effects on each gender, but can be improved through tactile and proprioceptive stimuli. Petting and massaging the mice in the first stages of their life provided neurological protection in their adult life, especially in male mice in which the injury was reduced by half.

 

Perinatal brain injuries hinder neurological capabilities throughout life, causing anything from fine motor problems to severe cognitive limitations. At the same time, therapy treatments currently available are very limited. That is why other types of interventions to help counter these effects are being explored.

 

Now, a new study by researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (INc-UAB), led by Dr Lydia Giménez-Llort, demonstrates that tactile and proprioceptive stimulation -related to the tactile perception and that of the body's own position, muscle bone, balance and coordination of movements- improves the effects of perinatal hypoxic and ischemic brain injuries throughout the life of the mice. This improvement mainly benefits male mice, in which the neurological damage is reduced by half.

 

The study, published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, was conducted with mouse models of preterm birth. "We currently know that the immature brain of preterm infants, equivalent to that of mice when born, is at a larger risk for hypoxic-ischemic damage, and male newborns are more susceptible and respond worse to protective and therapeutic interventions," co-author of the study Mireia Recasens points out. "Our work provides important information on this serious health problem with a damage of 1-3.5 and 6 of every thousand births in developed and developing countries, respectively."

 

Sensory stimulation was applied from before the injury occurred until the final stages of infancy, a period in preterm infants equivalent to being born at seven months until two years. The manipulation consisted in tactile and propioceptive stroking and massaging of the mice three times within an eight-minute period, twice a day.

 

The results revealed that this intervention had a notable neurological protection on both genders throughout their lives, but researchers highlight that the effects were especially positive among males. The histopathological analysis in males demonstrated 50% less brain damage compared to the non-stimulated mice. There was a 30% decrease among female mice. The neurological protection in both genders was correlated to the improvement of functional capacities, reflexes, and an improvement in memory results.

 

In relation to brain areas, the region involved with motor control and learning and memory (caudate/putamen) was the one to register the largest difference in males, with 80% less damage. In females, the main improvement was a 66% reduction in atrophy to the corpus callosum, a nerve tract connecting the left and right brain hemispheres.

 

"The study illustrates the preventive and therapeutic potential of these types of stimulations in newborns with brain injuries, in a short yet very intense period at levels of brain development and plasticity. It also gives support to the different scientific approaches advocating for the transcendence of perinatal conditions -- from sensory stimulation to maternal contact and a warm and protective environment -- and its role as an adjuvant to current therapies," highlights Dr Giménez-Llort, who is also a member of the International Gender Medicine (IGM) and the ISNA, an international association of sensory stimulation and snoezelen, which studies its effects.

 

One same injury with different effects according to gender

 

The research also analysed for the first time the impact of perinatal hypoxic and ischemic brain injuries, demonstrating that although the same degree of neuropathological severity exists, the damage affects each gender's functional, neurological, cognitive and emotional capacities differently depending on the stage of life and task undertaken.

 

"During the infant stage, the damage affects balance, particularly among females, and prehension in males, but both aspects improve as they grow and only reflexes remain damaged. Male mice showed to have infantile hyperactivity, which normalises as they became adults. In contrast, the anxiety and emotional traits of these injuries lasted throughout their lives. Both genders showed poorer learning processes at short and long terms, but there was more damage to memory among the males," explains Aida Muntsant, PhD student at the INc-UAB and first author of the paper. The functional evaluations were correlated with the degree of severity of the affected brain areas: hippocampus, caudate/putamen, thalamus, neocortex and corpus callosum.

 

Rehabilitation targets

 

"As a whole, the study shows the different neuronal substrates needed to satisfy functional demands and points to the most resilient neuroanatomical targets to repair these functions through postnatal stimulation," points out Dr Kalpana Shrisvastava, specialist in neuroimmunology and co-first author of the paper.

 

"Despite the obvious differences between rodents and humans, the study shows the complex relationship between different regions of the brain, risk factors, vulnerability and resilience, and all dependant on gender and age. It also provides new data on behavioural neuroscience within the field of neonatology and the area of paediatric functional rehabilitation, defining a translational scenario in which to study the underlying mechanisms of the functional and neuropathological correlates found," concludes Dr Lydia Giménez-Llort.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190304100034.htm

Mother's behavioral corrections tune infant's brain to angry tone

Maternal interactions may help shape the same brain region adults use for vocal emotion processing

February 27, 2019

Science Daily/PLOS

The same brain network that adults use when they hear angry vocalizations is at work in infants as young as six months old, an effect that is strongest in infants whose mothers spend the most time controlling their behavior, according to a new study in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Chen Zhao of the University of Manchester, UK, and colleagues. The study indicates that the network recruited in adult vocal emotion processing is up and running quite early in life, and that its sensitivity to anger is partly a result of maternal interactions.

 

It has been recognized for generations that infants can distinguish the emotional content of their mothers' voices long before they understand words, based on intonation, tone, rhythm, and other elements. In adults, that emotional content is processed in the frontal and temporal lobes. Brain imaging studies in infants have been performed, but the noise of an MRI machine has made analysis of response to sounds challenging.

 

In the current study, the authors overcame that limitation by using functional near infrared spectroscopy, a silent, noninvasive method that measures blood flow to cortical areas, while infants sat in their mothers' laps and listened to recorded non-speech vocalizations that were angry, happy, or neutral in emotionality. Separately, the team also observed the same mother-infant pairs during floor play, quantifying the mother's interactions in terms of both sensitivity to infant behavior as it changed, and directiveness, or the degree to which the mother sought to control the infant's behavior.

 

They found that both angry and happy vocalizations activated the fronto-cortical network, and the level of activation in response to anger was greater for those infants whose mothers were more directive in their interactions. The results suggest that greater experience with directive caregiving, or the stress it produces, heightens the infant brain's ability to detect and respond to angry vocalizations.

 

Zhao adds: "Brain science shows that babies' brains are sensitive to different emotional tones they hear in voices. Such tones can cause different activation patterns in the infant's brain areas which are also known to be involved in processing voices in adults and older children. These patterns also reveal that the early care experienced by babies can influence brain responses so that the more intrusive and demanding their mother, the stronger the brain response of these 6-month-olds is to hearing angry voices."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190227142726.htm

Infant sleep duration associated with mother's level of education and prenatal depression

Findings show greater support for mothers who experience prenatal depression or cesarean delivery may be warranted

February 27, 2019

Science Daily/University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

A new study analyzing data from Canadian parents has found that babies sleep less at three months of age if their mothers do not have a university degree, experienced depression during pregnancy or had an emergency cesarean-section delivery.

 

The study, which examined associations between a mother's level of education, prenatal depression, method of delivery and her infant's sleep duration, was published this month in Sleep Medicine. It found that infants born to mothers without a university degree slept an average of 13.94 hours per day -- 23 minutes less than infants born to mothers with a university degree, and just short of the National Sleep Foundation guidelines of an average of 14-17 hours of sleep per day at three months of age.

 

The researchers analyzed data from 619 infants and their mothers participating in AllerGen's CHILD Cohort Study -- a national birth cohort study collecting a wide range of health, lifestyle, genetic and environmental exposure information from nearly 3,500 children and their families from pregnancy to adolescence.

 

"Sleep affects a baby's growth, learning and emotional development, and is one of the most common concerns of new parents," said Piush Mandhane, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta and one of the study's lead authors.

 

"While earlier research has linked a mother's socioeconomic status, including level of education, to shorter infant sleep duration, we have not really understood the factors at play. Our study revealed that 30 per cent of the effect of maternal education on infant sleep duration is actually mediated by a mother's prenatal depression, as well as the type of delivery."

 

Specifically, the researchers found mothers without a university degree to be at significantly higher risk of having symptoms of depression during both the prenatal and postnatal periods, or the prenatal period alone, compared to women with a university degree.

 

There are several possible explanations for the association between maternal depression and infant sleep, according to co-lead author Anita Kozyrskyj, also a professor of pediatrics at the U of A. "Mothers in distress tend to have sleep problems during pregnancy, which can be 'transmitted' to the fetus via the mother's circadian clock and melatonin levels," she said. "Maternal depression and emergency cesarean section also both lead to elevated free cortisol levels, which, in turn, may cause an exaggerated stress response in infants that negatively impacts their sleep."

 

Further, the researchers found that the method of delivery independently predicted infant sleep duration, with infants delivered by emergency cesarean section sleeping approximately one hour less per day than infants born by vaginal delivery.

 

"This was an interesting finding, as we did not observe an association between shorter infant sleep and scheduled cesarean sections or vaginal deliveries," commented first author Brittany Matenchuk, an AllerGen trainee and a former Master's student at the U of A.

 

"While we are still at an early stage of unravelling the underlying biologic mechanisms, our study suggests that prenatal depression and birth mode are potential targets for health-care professionals and policy makers to improve infant sleep duration. Mothers who experience prenatal depression or an emergency cesarean delivery may benefit from support so that infant sleep problems do not persist into childhood."

 

According to the team, previous studies have shown that sleep has a large impact on infant emotional and behavioural development. It may also affect how they perform cognitively later in life.

 

"We need to support moms before the child is born," added Mandhane. "And if we can start to promote healthy sleep early on, three months of age onward, I think that just is better for families in general."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190227140010.htm

Working long hours linked to depression in women

February 25, 2019

Science Daily/University College London

Women who work more than 55 hours a week are at a higher risk of depression but this is not the case for men, according to a new study.

 

The study of over 20,000 adults, published today in the BMJ's Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that after taking age, income, health and job characteristics into account, women who worked extra-long hours had 7.3% more depressive symptoms than women working a standard 35-40 week. Weekend working was linked to a higher risk of depression among both sexes.

 

Women who worked for all or most weekends had 4.6% more depressive symptoms on average compared to women working only weekdays. Men who worked all or most weekends had 3.4% more depressive symptoms than men working only weekdays.

 

"This is an observational study, so although we cannot establish the exact causes, we do know many women face the additional burden of doing a larger share of domestic labour than men, leading to extensive total work hours, added time pressures and overwhelming responsibilities," explained Gill Weston (UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care), PhD candidate and lead author of the study.

 

"Additionally women who work most weekends tend to be concentrated in low-paid service sector jobs, which have been linked to higher levels of depression."

 

The study showed that men tended to work longer hours in paid work than women, and having children affected men's and women's work patterns in different ways: while mothers tended to work fewer hours than women without children, fathers tended to work more hours than men without children.

 

Two thirds of men worked weekends, compared with half of women. Those who worked all or most weekends were more likely to be in low skilled work and to be less satisfied with their job and their earnings than those who only worked Monday to Friday or some weekends.

 

Researchers analysed data from the Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS). This has been tracking the health and wellbeing of a representative sample of 40,000 households across the UK since 2009.

 

Information about working hours, weekend working, working conditions and psychological distress was collected from 11,215 working men and 12,188 working women between 2010 and 2012. Depressive symptoms such as feeling worthless or incapable were measured using a self-completed general health questionnaire.

 

"Women in general are more likely to be depressed than men, and this was no different in the study," Weston said.

 

"Independent of their working patterns, we also found that workers with the most depressive symptoms were older, on lower incomes, smokers, in physically demanding jobs, and who were dissatisfied at work."

 

She added: "We hope our findings will encourage employers and policy-makers to think about how to reduce the burdens and increase support for women who work long or irregular hours -- without restricting their ability to work when they wish to.

 

"More sympathetic working practices could bring benefits both for workers and for employers -- of both sexes."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190225192140.htm

Inflammation links heart disease and depression

March 18, 2019

Science Daily/University of Cambridge

People with heart disease are more likely to suffer from depression, and the opposite is also true. Now, scientists believe they have identified a link between these two conditions: inflammation -- the body's response to negative environmental factors, such as stress.

 

While inflammation is a natural response necessary to fight off infection, chronic inflammation -- which may result from psychological stress as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, physical inactivity and obesity -- is harmful.

 

The link between heart disease and depression is well documented. People who have a heart attack are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing depression. Yet scientists have been unable to determine whether this is due to the two conditions sharing common genetic factors or whether shared environmental factors provide the link.

 

"It is possible that heart disease and depression share common underlying biological mechanisms, which manifest as two different conditions in two different organs -- the cardiovascular system and the brain," says Dr Golam Khandaker, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at the University of Cambridge. "Our work suggests that inflammation could be a shared mechanism for these conditions."

 

In a study published today in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, Dr Khandaker and colleague Dr Stephen Burgess led a team of researchers from Cambridge who examined this link by studying data relating to almost 370,000 middle-aged participants of UK Biobank.

 

First, the team looked at whether family history of coronary heart disease was associated with risk of major depression. They found that people who reported at least one parent having died of heart disease were 20% more likely to develop depression at some point in their life.

 

Next, the researchers calculated a genetic risk score for coronary heart disease -- a measure of the contribution made by the various genes known to increase the risk of heart disease. Heart disease is a so-called 'polygenic' disease -- in other words, it is caused not by a single genetic variant, but rather by a large number of genes, each increasing an individual's chances of developing heart disease by a small amount. Unlike for family history, however, the researchers found no strong association between the genetic predisposition for heart disease and the likelihood of experiencing depression.

 

Together, these results suggest that the link between heart disease and depression cannot be explained by a common genetic predisposition to the two diseases. Instead, it implies that something about an individual's environment -- such as the risk factors they are exposed to -- not only increases their risk of heart disease, but at the same time increases their risk of depression.

 

This finding was given further support by the next stage of the team's research. They used a technique known as Mendelian randomisation to investigate 15 biomarkers -- biological 'red flags' -- associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease. Mendelian randomisation is a statistical technique that allows researchers to rule out the influence of factors that otherwise confuse, or confound, a study, such as social status.

 

Of these common biomarkers, they found that triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) and the inflammation-related proteins IL-6 and CRP were also risk factors for depression.

 

Both IL-6 and CRP are inflammatory markers that are produced in response to damaging stimuli, such as infection, stress or smoking. Studies by Dr Khandaker and others have previously shown that people with elevated levels of IL-6 and CRP in the blood are more prone to develop depression, and that levels of these biomarkers are high in some patients during acute depressive episode. Elevated markers of inflammation are also seen in people with treatment resistant depression. This has raised the prospect that anti-inflammatory drugs might be used to treat some patients with depression. Dr Khandaker is currently involved in a clinical trial to test tocilizumab, an anti-inflammatory drug used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis that inhibits IL-6, to see if reducing inflammation leads to improvement in mood and cognitive function in patients with depression.

 

While the link between triglycerides and coronary heart disease is well documented, it is not clear why they, too, should contribute to depression. The link is unlikely to be related by obesity, for example, as this study has found no evidence for a causal link between body mass index (BMI) and depression.

 

"Although we don't know what the shared mechanisms between these diseases are, we now have clues to work with that point towards the involvement of the immune system," says Dr Burgess. "Identifying genetic variants that regulate modifiable risk factors helps to find what is actually driving disease risk."

 

The research was funded by Wellcome and MQ: Transforming Mental Health.

 

Dr Sophie Dix, Director of Research at MQ, says: "This study adds important new insight into the emergence and risk of depression, a significantly under researched area.

 

"Taking a holistic view of a person's health -- such as looking at heart disease and depression together -- enables us to understand how factors like traumatic experiences and the environment impact on both our physical and mental health.

 

"This research shows clearly the shared biological changes that are involved. This not only opens opportunities for earlier diagnosis, but also create a solid foundation for exploring new treatments or using existing treatments differently. We need to stop thinking about mental and physical health in isolation and continue this example of bringing sciences together to create real change."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190318222147.htm

 

Training beyond exhaustion can prevent learning

March 5, 2019

Science Daily/eLife

Researchers have found that muscle fatigue caused by overexertion when practicing a skill can affect the task in hand and impair learning afterwards.

 

The findings, published in the open-access journal eLife, suggest that the common practice of training beyond fatigue should be reconsidered as it could do more harm than good.

 

The saying goes that 'practice makes perfect'. And although intense repetition of motor skills is a routine part of learning in many disciplines -- from playing a musical instrument to becoming a better artist, a faster runner or perfecting intricate surgical techniques -- it is well known that fatigue eventually starts to degrade our ability to practice a task.

 

"Surprisingly little is known about the effects of muscle fatigue on our ability to keep learning and getting better at a skill," says first author Meret Branscheidt, former Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, US. "With this study, we set out to disentangle the effects of fatigue on performance of a task from its effects on the ability to learn and get better at it."

 

The researchers asked 120 people to learn a pinch-force task over two days. They were given a device that transmits force into a signal received by a computer and asked to hold it between the thumb and index fingers of their dominant hand. During each trial, participants were asked to press the device at different force levels to control the motion of a cursor displayed on a computer screen.

 

On the first day, a subgroup was asked to continue pinching until they experienced muscle fatigue, which was measured by the extent of contraction they could achieve. On the second day both groups of participants performed the task without reaching the point of fatigue. The researchers found that the ability to get better at the pinch task on the second day was impaired in the group that reached fatigue on day one. In fact, it took them two additional days of training without fatigue to catch up to the same level as the normal (or 'control') group.

 

The most striking results, however, came from the researchers' next experiment. When they tested performance of the untrained, unfatigued hand in the pinch task, they found that those people who had reached the point of exhaustion performed less well using both their fatigued and unfatigued hands. This suggested that fatigue impairs motor skill learning mechanisms in the brain. To confirm this, the team used magnetic stimulation to disrupt the brain processes thought to be involved in remembering a new skill. This partly alleviated the effect of fatigue on skill learning, which suggests that fatigue may affect the formation of memories that help people to retain new skills they have learned.

 

Finally, they tested whether muscle fatigue only affects tasks that require high levels of motor control. They asked fatigued and non-fatigued participants to press 10 keys on a computer keyboard in the correct sequence and found no difference in performance on day one or two. This suggests that the detrimental effects of muscle fatigue on learning are specific to tasks that require finely tuned motor skills, but not for more mentally demanding tasks.

 

"We have shown that learning in a fatigued state results in detrimental effects on a person's ability to acquire a new skill," concludes senior author Pablo Celnik, Director of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Our observations should be considered carefully when designing training protocols such as in sports and musical performance, as well as for rehabilitation programs."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190305112828.htm

Exercise gives older men a better brain boost

Men have stronger positive correlation between fitness and brain function

February 13, 2019

Science Daily/American Physiological Society

New research suggests that the relationship between physical and brain fitness varies in older adults by virtue of their sex.

 

Cardiorespiratory fitness is the measure of how much -- and how well -- oxygen is delivered to the muscles during exercise. Fitness level has also been associated with changes in the brain's nerve-rich tissue, called gray matter, and better cognitive function in later life. Previous studies have also found cardiorespiratory fitness to be related to how the brain functions during periods of rest. Nerve connectivity in the brain during rest changes with age. These changes can negatively affect cognitive function. However, "the neural basis of sex differences in the relationship between fitness and brain function in older adults has not been directly explored," wrote researchers from York University and McGill University in Canada.

 

The research team studied one group of men and one of women, both with an average age of 67. The volunteers self-reported their typical daily physical activity level. The research team recorded the participants' height, weight, age, sex and resting heart rate to determine their cardiorespiratory fitness. They also administered imaging tests of the brain to record nerve function both within specific brain networks (local efficiency) and among all networks (global efficiency).

 

The men were found to have higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels than the women. However, the women had higher local network efficiency and lower global network efficiency than the men. This pattern of connectivity was more robust in the women and has been positively associated with executive function, which are skills that contribute to being able to focus, pay attention and manage time. Fitness levels, however, were more strongly associated with improving this brain efficiency pattern for men than women.

 

"Our findings that [cardiorespiratory fitness] is associated with brain function in a sex-dependent manner underscore the importance of considering sex as a factor when studying associations between exercise and brain health in older adulthood," the researchers wrote.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190213124408.htm

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