Older mothers are better mothers, study suggests

The average maternal age has increased steadily for the past many years — and that is actually not so bad. New research from Aarhus BSS shows that older mothers are less likely to punish and scold their children while raising them, and that the children have fewer behavioural, social and emotional difficulties.

The result should be seen in conjunction with the widespread recommendation not to have children too late. This recommendation is based on knowledge about, for instance, declining fertility and the health risks during pregnancy and while giving birth which are associated with advanced maternal age.

“However, when estimating the consequences of the rising maternal age it’s important to consider both the physical and psychosocial pros and cons,” says Professor Dion Sommer from Aarhus BSS, who is one of the researchers behind the result.

Previous research has indicated that a higher maternal age is associated with increased psychosocial well-being during the pregnancy and the early days after the child is born. The new results indicate that the advantages for the older mothers and their children extend all the way into the children’s school age, but decline before age 15.

Why do women postpone motherhood?

When today’s mothers have children later in life than before, it is due to several reasons: We live longer, women have more educational and career opportunities, and contraception has improved. Today (2015), the average pregnancy age is an entire 30.9 years. This also means that most Danish children today are born when their mother is over 30 years old, and that the proportion of children whose mother was over 40 years old when they were born has quadrupled compared to 1985.

How does having an older mother affect the child’s upbringing?

Older mothers are at greater risk of experiencing complications during pregnancy and while giving birth than younger mothers. They are at greater risk of having a miscarriage, giving birth prematurely and having children with deformities.

On the other hand, studies show that older women thrive better during the first part of motherhood. They worry less during the pregnancy, are more positive about becoming parents and generally have a more positive attitude towards their children.

Previous studies that have tracked children up until their school age indicate that children with older mothers — regardless of their parents’ background, education and finances — have a better language and have fewer behavioural, social and emotional problems. This study tracked children of school age and found that children with older mothers had fewer behavioural, social and emotional problems at age 7 and 11, but not at age 15.

Stable relationships

The reason is that older mothers have more stable relationships, are more educated and have obtained better access to material resources. But it is also interesting to look at the significance of age when these factors are removed from the equation. In such analyses, age can be interpreted as an indicator of psychological maturity.

“We know that people become more mentally flexible with age, are more tolerant of other people and thrive better emotionally themselves. That’s why psychological maturity may explain why older mothers do not scold and physically discipline their children as much,” says Professor Dion Sommer.

“This style of parenting can thereby contribute to a positive psychosocial environment which affects the children’s upbringing,” he concludes.

The study of the correlation between maternal age and children’s social and emotional development was carried out when the children were 7, 11 and 15 years old respectively. The results have been published in the scientific journal European Journal of Developmental Psychology.

So far, many studies have examined the correlation between education, job or marital status and older mothers, while very few have looked at the significance of age in and of itself.

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What does that sentence say?

Imagine coming across a sentence in English that reads like this: “Mary apple eats her delicious.” For most native-English speakers, the sentence would likely strike you as odd because it doesn’t seem to be structured in an order that immediately gets the message across.

It has always been thought that, when adults learn a second language, they face this problem because the grammar of other languages doesn’t necessarily match their native language. But, a new study reveals that adults are capable of learning and processing a new language in a way that resembles native speaker language use.

“Learning a second language as an adult is a difficult task,” said UCR affiliate psychology professor Elenora Rossi, who was on the research team. “For years, scientists have believed that only the brains of very young children were pliable enough to allow for successful learning of a second language, while that was thought to be impossible for adults.”

In the past two decades, the advance of testing methodologies and revolutionary neuroimaging methods have allowed language processing to be studied in real-time in a non-invasive way, opening the doors to a better understanding of how our brains process linguistic information in two languages.

In the study, the team looked at how native English speakers, who learned Spanish as a second language as adults, understood sentences in Spanish that contained subtle aspects of Spanish grammar that do not exist in English. Participants in the study were already advanced in Spanish, but not native speakers. The goal was to test them on aspects of Spanish that are typically difficult to learn because they don’t exist in the structure of English grammar. Errors were purposely introduced and participants were asked whether they could detect the errors.

“Counter to the long-standing assumption that learning a second language and becoming bilingual past early childhood is impossible, we found that English speakers who learned Spanish as adults were able to understand these special aspects of Spanish,” said Judith Kroll, a UCR psychology professor who was also on the research team. “The results suggest that adults are capable of learning and processing a new language in a way that resembles native speaker language use.”

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Materials provided by University of California – Riverside. Original written by Mojgan Sherkat. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

 

Link between Vitamin D treatment and autism prevention

Giving vitamin D supplements to mice during pregnancy prevents autism traits in their offspring, University of Queensland researchers have discovered.

The discovery provides further evidence of the crucial role vitamin D plays in brain development, said lead researcher Professor Darryl Eyles, from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute.

“Our study used the most widely accepted developmental model of autism in which affected mice behave abnormally and show deficits in social interaction, basic learning and stereotyped behaviours,” Professor Eyles said.

“We found that pregnant females treated with active vitamin D in the equivalent of the first trimester of pregnancy produced offspring that did not develop these deficits.”

In human studies, QBI researchers recently found a link between pregnant women with low Vitamin D levels and the increased likelihood of having a child with autistic traits.

Autism — or autism spectrum disorder — describes lifelong developmental disabilities including difficulty or inability to communicate with others and interact socially.

Sun exposure is the major source of vitamin D — which skin cells manufacture in response to UV rays — but it is also found in some foods.

Dr Wei Luan, a postdoctoral researcher involved in the study, said vitamin D was crucial for maintaining healthy bones, but the active hormonal form of vitamin D cannot be given to pregnant women because it may affect the skeleton of the developing fetus.

“Recent funding will now allow us to determine how much cholecalciferol — the supplement form that is safe for pregnant women — is needed to achieve the same levels of active hormonal vitamin D in the bloodstream,” said Dr Luan.

“This new information will allow us to further investigate the ideal dose and timing of vitamin D supplementation for pregnant women.

It was previously thought vitamin D had a protective anti-inflammatory effect during brain development, but the study didn’t find this to be the case.

New funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council will allow researchers to continue to study how vitamin D protects against autism.

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Study casts doubt on whether internet filters in the home protect teenagers online

Internet filters are widely used in homes, schools and libraries throughout the UK to protect young people from unpleasant online experiences. However, a new study by Oxford casts doubt on whether such technologies shield young teenagers after finding no link between homes with internet filters and the likelihood of the teenagers in those households being better protected. The research paper, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, says the effectiveness of internet filters is ‘dubious’ and suggests that resources would be better spent trying to develop the resilience of teenagers to such experiences.

Researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at Oxford University analysed Ofcom data from 1,030 interviews in the homes of 515 teenagers aged 12-15 years across the UK. There was broadly an equal number of boys and girls in the sample. Their parents were also interviewed about whether they had used technical tools to control or manage their child’s access to online content. Nearly one in six (or 14%) of the teenagers interviewed reported they had had at least one negative experience online in the past year that they would class as significant; 8% said they had been contacted by someone online who they did not know and wanted to be their friend. Around 4% said they had encountered another person pretending to be them online; 2% saw something of a sexual nature that made them uncomfortable; 3% reported seeing or receiving a scary video or comment that made them feel scared.

Meanwhile only one-third of the parents said they used content filters, with two-thirds (66%) saying they had not. One quarter (24%) of the parents did not know or were unaware of the filter technology at the time of the interview.

The findings show that the use of internet filtering in the home did not appear to mitigate the risk of young people having unpleasant online experiences and that technical ability to bypass these filters had no observed effect on the likelihood of such experiences. The paper says the findings are unexpected as they do not support the clear presumption that internet filters in the home effectively protect teenagers.

Major British internet providers now add filters to new household connections as a matter of course, notes the paper. It says such technology is costly to develop and maintain, and even sophisticated filters can accidentally block legitimate content. The researchers say their main concern is that such filters may ‘over-block’ searches for information about issues that are important for teenagers, such as alcohol, drugs, sexual relationships, health and identity, and may even have ‘disproportionate’ effect on vulnerable groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens. They also note that the use of filters could lead to ‘chilling effects’ whereby young people pre-empt filtered results by self-censoring what they view.

Instead of a policy emphasis that prioritises internet filters in the home, the paper suggests we need more focus on educating and supporting teenagers to view online material responsibly, especially given increasing use of mobile devices outside the home. The main emphasis should be on how teenagers manage online experiences that make them feel uncomfortable or scared, it concludes.

Lead author Dr Andrew Przybylski, from the Oxford Internet Institute, said: ‘Parents may feel reassured in knowing they have internet filters in their home, but our results suggests that such filters do not safeguard against young people seeing things that may frighten or upset them. We strongly believe that there is a need for more evidence to provide guidance on keeping young people safe online so policymakers, parents and those concerned with educating young people can support them in an appropriate way.

‘The data suggests that future research needs to look carefully at the long-term value of filters and see whether they protect young people at a wider range of ages.’

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How to get kids to use salad bars in public schools

Thanks to a national initiative, salad bars are showing up in public schools across the country. Now a Brigham Young University researcher is trying to nail down how to get kids to eat from them.

BYU health sciences professor Lori Spruance studies the impact of salad bars in public schools and has found one helpful tip: teens are more likely to use salad bars if they’re exposed to good, old-fashioned marketing. Students at schools with higher salad bar marketing are nearly three times as likely to use them.

“Children and adolescents in the United States do not consume the nationally recommended levels of fruits and vegetables,” Spruance said. “Evidence suggests that salad bars in schools can make a big difference. Our goal is to get kids to use them.”

Some 4,800 salad bars have popped up in public schools around the country according to the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative. About 50 percent of high school students have access to salad bars at schools, 39 percent of middle school kids and 31 percent of elementary school children.

Spruance’s study, published in Health Education and Behavior, followed the salad bar usage of students in 12 public schools in New Orleans. Spruance and coauthors from Tulane University administered surveys to the students and tracked the school environment through personal visits.

Not only did they find better marketing improved salad bar usage among secondary school students, but they also found female students use salad bars more often than male students, and children who prefer healthy foods use them more frequently.

“The value of a salad bar program depends on whether students actually use the salad bar,” Spruance said. “But few studies have examined how to make that happen more effectively.”

Some examples of successful salad bar marketing efforts included signage throughout the school promoting the salad bar, information in school publications and newsletters, and plugs for the salad bar on a school’s digital presence.

Spruance suggests that schools engage parents in their efforts to improve the school food environment — such as reaching out to parents through newsletters or parent teacher conferences. Of course, she says, offering healthy options at home makes the biggest difference.

“It takes a lot of effort and time, but most children and adolescents require repeated exposures to food before they will eat them on their own,” Spruance said. “If a child is being exposed to foods at home that are served at school, the child may be more likely to eat those fruits or vegetables at school.”

Spruance’s research builds off of previous studies that show students are more likely to use salad bars if they are included in the normal serving line.

There have now been 2,401,500 kids served from salad bars in public schools nationwide. However, only two Utah public schools currently have salad bars funded by the Let’s Move initiative.

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Yes, she’s smiling: Mona Lisa’s facial expression

It is perhaps the world’s most famous painting: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The ambiguous facial expression of Mona Lisa was long thought to be one of the main reasons for its great appeal: Is she happy or sad? Scientists at the Medical Center — University of Freiburg, the Institute of Psychology of the University of Freiburg and the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health (IGPP) in Freiburg have now published a study demonstrating that test subjects almost always perceive Mona Lisa as happy. They also determined that the emotional assessment of the image depends on which other versions of it are shown. The researchers presented the test participants with the original painting and eight image versions in which the corners of Mona Lisa’s mouth are slightly raised or lowered to create a sadder or happier facial expression. The study was published in the online journal Scientific Reports on 10 March 2017.

“We were very surprised to find out that the original Mona Lisa is almost always seen as being happy. That calls the common opinion among art historians into question,” says PD Dr. Jürgen Kornmeier, a scientist at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg and at the Eye Center of the Medical Center — University of Freiburg.

Happier Faces Are Identified More Quickly

The team of scientists led by Dr. Kornmeier and his colleague Prof. Dr. Ludger Tebartz van Elst, chief senior physician at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the Medical Center — University of Freiburg, began by creating eight versions of the Mona Lisa that differed only in gradual changes to the curvature of her mouth. The researchers then presented the original, four versions with a sadder face, and four with a happier face in random order. Their participants indicated for each version whether they perceived it as happy or sad by pressing a button and then rated how certain they were of their response. The responses were added up to form a percentage on a scale from sad to happy and a rating for the certainty of the responses.

The original and all of the more positive versions were perceived as happy in nearly 100 percent of the cases. The participants identified happy faces more quickly and with a higher degree of certainty than sad faces. “It appears as if our brain is biased to positive facial expressions,” says Emanuela Liaci, Dr. Kornmeiers PhD student and first author of the publication.

Sadness Is Relative

In a second experiment, the researchers kept the image with the least mouth curvature as the saddest version, took the original Mona Lisa as the happiest version, and chose seven intermediate versions, three of them from the first experiment. The researchers were astonished to find that the participants tended to perceive the various versions of the image as sadder when the range of images they had been shown had overall sadder facial expressions. “The data show that our perception, for instance of whether something is sad or happy, is not absolute but adapts to the environment with astonishing speed,” says Dr. Kornmeier.

The study is part of a larger project on perceptual processes Dr. Kornmeier and Prof. Tebartz van Elst are conducting at the Medical Center — University of Freiburg. “Our senses have only access to a limited part of the information from our environment, for instance because an object is partially hidden or poorly illuminated,” explains Dr. Kornmeier. “The brain then needs to use this restricted and often ambiguous sensory information to construct an image of the world that comes as close to reality as possible.” The Freiburg researchers are studying how healthy people perform this perceptual construction and whether this is different in people with autism and psychotic disorder.

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Poor sleep in early childhood may lead to cognitive, behavioral problems in later years

A study led by a Massachusetts General Hospital pediatrician finds that children ages 3 to 7 who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have problems with attention, emotional control and peer relationships in mid-childhood. Reported online in the journal Academic Pediatrics, the study found significant differences in the responses of parents and teachers to surveys regarding executive function — which includes attention, working memory, reasoning and problem solving — and behavioral problems in 7-year-old children depending on how much sleep they regularly received at younger ages.

“We found that children who get an insufficient amount of sleep in their preschool and early school-age years have a higher risk of poor neurobehavioral function at around age 7,” says Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, chief of General Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children , who led the study. “The associations between insufficient sleep and poorer functioning persisted even after adjusting for several factors that could influence the relationship.”

As in previous studies from this group examining the role of sleep in several areas of child health, the current study analyzed data from Project Viva, a long-term investigation of the health impacts of several factors during pregnancy and after birth. Information used in this study was gathered from mothers at in-person interviews when their children were around 6 months, 3 years and 7 years old, and from questionnaires completed when the children were ages 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6. In addition, mothers and teachers were sent survey instruments evaluating each child’s executive function and behavioral issues — including emotional symptoms and problems with conduct or peer relationships, when children were around 7.

Among 1,046 children enrolled in Project Viva, the study team determined which children were not receiving the recommended amount of sleep at specific age categories — 12 hours or longer at ages 6 months to 2 years, 11 hours or longer at ages 3 to 4 years, and 10 hours or longer at 5 to 7 years. Children living in homes with lower household incomes and whose mothers had lower education levels were more likely to sleep less than nine hours at ages 5 to 7. Other factors associated with insufficient sleep include more television viewing, a higher body mass index, and being African American.

The reports from both mothers and teachers regarding the neurobehavioral function of enrolled children found similar associations between poor functioning and not receiving sufficient sleep, with teachers reporting even greater problems. Although no association was observed between insufficient sleep during infancy — ages 6 months to 2 years — and reduced neurobehavioral functioning in mid-childhood, Taveras notes that sleep levels during infancy often predict levels at later ages, supporting the importance of promoting a good quantity and quality of sleep from the youngest ages.

“Our previous studies have examined the role of insufficient sleep on chronic health problems — including obesity — in both mothers and children,” explains Taveras, who is a professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School (HMS). “The results of this new study indicate that one way in which poor sleep may lead to these chronic disease outcomes is by its effects on inhibition, impulsivity and other behaviors that may lead to excess consumption of high-calorie foods. It will be important to study the longer-term effects of poor sleep on health and development as children enter adolescence, which is already underway through Project Viva.”

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Children’s daily life highly regulated: US and Swedish differences

Children in Sweden and the US experience their daily life as highly structured and regulated. But while US children state that homework and long schooldays are what makes everyday life difficult, Swedish children point to the continuous nagging and stress that occur in relation to daily routines. These are some key findings of a new study from the University of Gothenburg.

‘The children in both countries talked about progressively less time available for own activities, but the things they focus on in their stories differ,’ says education researcher Ylva Odenbring.

Her interview-based study involved Swedish and US middle-class children 6-7 years old, all of whom had the economic means to participate in leisure activities.

‘Schoolification’ of childhood

Previous research indicates that in the Western world, children’s daily life is largely focused around the time they spend in educational institutions and the time they spend participating in various leisure activities. Researchers talk about a ‘schoolification’ of childhood as children spend a large portion of their time in various educational institutions from early childhood through adolescence.

Besides the time spent in educational institutions, children spend time engaging in leisure activities, and school-age children also have homework. Yet few previous studies have studied these issues from the children’s perspective.

Over-organised lives

‘The US children mention homework, long schooldays and leisure activities as the main reasons for why their daily life is so regulated. In contrast, the Swedish children point to the daily routines in connection with being taken to and picked up from school and the nagging and stress they associate with them,’ says Odenbring.

The study brings attention to some of the trends observed in many Western societies: that people’s daily lives, and this is also true for children, are becoming increasingly regulated and structured. The children’s descriptions of their everyday lives give an impression of overly organised lifestyles.

‘From a wider societal perspective, the study brings attention to the question of how children’s voices are included in the discussion on how to make everyday life less stressful and increase children’s wellbeing,’ says Odenbring.

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Materials provided by University of Gothenburg. Original written by Torsten Arpi. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Promising new strategy to attack the most lethal brain tumor in children

Researchers from Northwestern Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago have revealed new insight into how the most deadly pediatric brain tumor, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), may develop. They also have identified a compound that targets the “on” switch for cancer-promoting genes, which resulted in shrinking tumor size and increased survival in an animal model of DIPG. Preparations for a clinical trial at Lurie Children’s are now under way.

Their findings, published in Nature Medicine, bring new hope to children with this devastating brain tumor. Unlike some other brain tumors, only 5 percent of children with DIPG are surviving two years after diagnosis. Currently the standard treatment is radiation therapy, which temporarily decreases symptoms but does not cure the disease. To investigate the earliest signals within a cell nucleus that lead to DIPG, researchers focused on the effects of a mutation in histone H3, a protein that acts like a spool on which the thread of DNA is wrapped, regulating gene expression. This mutation (called H3K27M) is unique to malignant tumors like DIPG, occurring in over 80 percent of tumors. The team was the first to show that the H3K27M mutation triggers histone acetylation, a biochemical mark that controls gene expression, to turn on cancer promoting genes. In DIPG, this “on” switch for gene expression replaces methylation, or a protective “off” switch for cancer-causing genes. The net result is increased expression of the wrong genes, leading to the development of DIPG. This discovery presented an ideal target for an investigational drug known to stop acetylation.

“In this study we successfully targeted histone acetylation with a bromodomain inhibitor, a compound that is currently in studies for different types of advanced cancers in adults, but has never been studied in DIPG,” said senior author Ali Shilatifard, PhD, Chair of Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and Robert Francis Furchgott Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We were able to show that it kills tumor cells in culture and shrinks the tumor in a mouse model of DIPG. These are very exciting results that we hope will be valuable for children with DIPG. A clinical trial is our next step.”

The team hopes to open a Phase I clinical trial at Lurie Children’s by the end of 2017. “Our research moved from the bedside to the lab and back to the bedside,” said co-author Amanda Saratsis, MD, pediatric neurosurgeon at Lurie Children’s and Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We used biopsied tumor samples from DIPG patients to create models in the lab, which we studied and then used to test a novel, targeted approach to treating the tumor. Because of the unique multidisciplinary expertise of our team, in less than two years we were able to make an incredible basic science discovery that can be directly translated back to the clinic through an upcoming clinical trial of this new treatment approach for children with DIPG.”

The team from Northwestern Medicine and Lurie Children’s represents a unique collaboration of experts in molecular genetics, biochemistry, neurology, pediatric neurosurgery and pediatric neuro-oncology.

“At Lurie Children’s we see many children with DIPG and they are a powerful inspiration to develop an effective treatment as quickly as possible,” said co-author Rishi R. Lulla, MD, pediatric neuro-oncologist at Lurie Children’s and Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We are thrilled that we can offer our patients a novel clinical trial in the near future.”

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More social connection online tied to increasing feelings of isolation

The more time a young adult uses social media, the more likely they are to feel socially isolated, according to a national analysis led by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine scientists. In addition to the time spent online, the scientists found that frequency of use was associated with increased social isolation.

The finding, published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggests that use of social media does not present a panacea to help reduce perceived social isolation — when a person lacks a sense of social belonging, true engagement with others and fulfilling relationships. In the past, social isolation has been independently associated with an increased risk for mortality.

“This is an important issue to study because mental health problems and social isolation are at epidemic levels among young adults,” said lead author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences. “We are inherently social creatures, but modern life tends to compartmentalize us instead of bringing us together. While it may seem that social media presents opportunities to fill that social void, I think this study suggests that it may not be the solution people were hoping for.”

In 2014, Primack and his colleagues sampled 1,787 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine time and frequency of social media use by asking about the 11 most popular social media platforms at the time: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.

The scientists measured participants’ perceived social isolation using a validated assessment tool called the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System.

Even when the researchers controlled for a variety of social and demographic factors, participants who used social media more than two hours a day had twice the odds for perceived social isolation than their peers who spent less than half an hour on social media each day. And participants who visited various social media platforms 58 or more times per week had about triple the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than nine times per week.

“We do not yet know which came first — the social media use or the perceived social isolation,” said senior author Elizabeth Miller, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at Pitt and chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. “It’s possible that young adults who initially felt socially isolated turned to social media. Or it could be that their increased use of social media somehow led to feeling isolated from the real world. It also could be a combination of both. But even if the social isolation came first, it did not seem to be alleviated by spending time online, even in purportedly social situations.”

The researchers have several theories for how increased use of social media could fuel feelings of social isolation, including:

  • Social media use displaces more authentic social experiences because the more time a person spends online, the less time there is for real-world interactions.
  • Certain characteristics of social media facilitate feelings of being excluded, such as when one sees photos of friends having fun at an event to which they were not invited.
  • Exposure to highly idealized representations of peers’ lives on social media sites may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives.

Primack, a family medicine physician, and Miller, a pediatrician, both encourage doctors to ask patients about their social media use and counsel them in reducing that use if it seems linked to symptoms of social isolation. However, they noted, much more study is needed to understand nuances around social media use.

“People interact with each other over social media in many different ways,” said Primack, also a professor of medicine, pediatrics, and clinical and translational science at Pitt. “In a large population-based study such as this, we report overall tendencies that may or may not apply to each individual. I don’t doubt that some people using certain platforms in specific ways may find comfort and social connectedness via social media relationships. However, the results of this study simply remind us that, on the whole, use of social media tends to be associated with increased social isolation and not decreased social isolation.”

Unequal distribution of power in young adult relationships more harmful to women

Power imbalances in heterosexual relationships are common, but having less power takes a greater toll on young women than young men, according to a recently published University at Buffalo study.

The results, appearing in The Journal of Sex Research, suggest “a healthy skepticism when it comes to what looks like gender equality,” says Laina Bay-Cheng, an associate professor in the UB School of Social Work and an expert in young women’s sexuality. “This research refutes the claim that gender equality has been reached and we don’t have to worry about misogyny anymore.”

Bay-Cheng says the dynamics underneath relationships require scrutiny and the often-heard claim that girls and women have reached and in some ways surpassed equality with men unravels quickly when examined in detail.

“We have to look closely at relationships and experiences and stop taking surface indicators as proof of gender equality,” says Bay-Cheng. “When men are subordinate in a relationship, it doesn’t bother them very much. They don’t see those relationships as less intimate or stable than relationships in which they are dominant. But for young women, having less power in a relationship is associated with diminished intimacy and stability and comes with greater risk of abuse.

“Inequality within a relationship doesn’t cost men as much because they are still cushioned by a broader system of male privilege.”

Relationships that develop during emerging adulthood are foundational events. It’s from these early experiences that people learn how to be in a relationship and depending on the nature and quality of the experiences, the effects — both positive and negative — can echo throughout life.

“It’s so important that we understand that it’s not that sex and relationships are at the root of risk or vulnerability. Instead, some young women, because of intersecting forms of oppression — especially misogyny, racism and economic injustice — enter relationships and are already at a disadvantage,” says Bay-Cheng. “For young women, relationships are where all different forms of vulnerability and injustice converge.”

Bay-Cheng developed a novel research method for this study that considered both the objectives of researchers and participants’ experience, which, she says, is as important as the findings.

For this study, Bay-Cheng used a digital, online calendar that participants fill out using all of their sexual experiences from their adolescence and early adulthood. The open-ended digital calendar can be filled out over a month and participants can enter anything they want, not just text, but audio files, images or even emoji.

The result is a more meaningful measure for researchers and participants.

“On the research side we get varied and diverse data,” says Bay-Cheng. “For participants, rather than circling a number on a scale on some survey, they get to express themselves how they want, at their own pace, and then look at their calendars and get different perspective on their sexual histories and how these relate to other parts of their lives. Participants have told us how meaningful that chance to reflect can be. It’s important for researchers to care as much about the quality of participants’ experiences in our studies as the quality of our data.”

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Teens drive more safely in the months after a crash

Teens’ risky driving drops considerably in the two months following a serious collision, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The research, involving data on actual driving behavior from over 250 teens, suggests that involvement in a severe crash may prompt adolescents to engage in safer driving behavior.

“Crashes are not a good thing and every driver should try their best to avoid having one. But our research did uncover a positive aspect to an otherwise negative occurrence,” says lead researcher Fearghal O’Brien of the National College of Ireland, who conducted the analysis as a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. “Our data showed that elevated acceleration events — including rapid turns, stops, and other aggressive maneuvering — were higher among those who later crashed compared to those who did not. But these rates declined for at least two months following a crash, indicating safer driving behavior.”

These data are particularly notable, says O’Brien, because of the way they were collected:

“The technologies used meant we did not have to rely on self-report measures of driving behavior. Additionally, this study measured the same participants before and after a crash, unlike most research studies which only have access to participants after the negative event occurs.”

Previous research had indicated the drivers’ risk of crashing is high when they start driving but drops noticeably over the first few years. While age and experience are likely to play a role in this change, O’Brien and colleagues wondered whether involvement with a crash might also influence driving behavior over time.

For the study, the researchers examined data from 254 16- and 17-year-olds who were participating in the Naturalistic Driving Study as part of the Strategic Highway Initiative Program 2. The teenagers’ cars were outfitted with a device that measured acceleration and cameras that recorded their driving from various angles.

O’Brien and colleagues decided to focus specifically on the teens’ involvement in police-reportable and severe collisions, which included any accident resulting in significant damage, airbag deployment, injury, or a rollover.

The data revealed that the rate of high-acceleration events — a sign of risky driving — dropped by about 34% immediately after a teen was involved in a severe collision. After about two months, the rate of such risky events tended to increase again, but continued to stay below pre-collision levels.

“An encouraging finding is that this change in driving behavior can happen over a very short time — in just a few days, drivers became much safer,” O’Brien explains. “The finding suggests that young drivers learn from the feedback from a crash.”

The study advances our understanding of the relationship between real driving experiences and actual driving behavior, but this field of research is still in its early stages.

“We need to replicate and expand these findings with other datasets,” O’Brien says. “With more participants, and improved measures, we can examine how long these changes last, and, we hope, develop safer ways to get them to correct their risky driving behaviors.”

The researchers plan to extend this line of research to explore whether the same decrease in risky driving occurs after less severe crashes and whether changes in driving are proportionate to the severity of a crash.

Shared reading can help with chronic pain

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, The Reader and the Royal Liverpool University Hospitals Trust, and funded by the British Academy, has found that shared reading (SR) can be a useful therapy for chronic pain sufferers.

The study, led by Dr Josie Billington from the University’s Centre for Research into Reading into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) and recently published in the BMJ Journal for Medical Humanities, compared Shared Reading (SR) — a literature-based intervention developed by national charity The Reader — to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as an intervention for chronic pain sufferers.

Chronic pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage. It is pain which persists for more than six months.

Usually pain is picked up by specialised cells in your body, and impulses are sent through the nervous system to the brain. What happens in people with chronic pain, however, is that other nerves are recruited into this ‘pain’ pathway which start to fire off messages to the brain when there is no physical stimulus or damage. But the body can ‘unjoin’ again. Nerve blockers (drugs) are one way; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is another — by getting the brain to send new messages back to the body

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

CBT is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It’s most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems.

The current evidence base in respect of chronic pain supports the use of standard psychological interventions, CBT in particular. CBT’s benefits, while useful are shown by recent research to be both limited and short-term.

Shared Reading is used in a range of environments that have similarities with chronic pain, in that the conditions involved can often be chronic and unsolvable, as in the case of dementia, prisons (people locked in, life halted and future inevitably affected by baggage of past), and severe mental illness (with recurring episodes).

The model is based on small groups (2-12 people) coming together weekly to read literature — short stories, novels and poetry — together aloud. The reading material ranges across genres and period, and is chosen for its intrinsic interest, not pre-selected with a particular ‘condition’ in mind.

Validating experiences

Regular pauses are taken to encourage participants to reflect on what is being read, on the thoughts or memories the book or poem has stirred, or on how the reading matter relates to their own lives.

Group members participate voluntarily, usually in relation to what is happening in the text itself, and what may be happening within themselves as individuals (personal feelings and thoughts, memories and experiences), responding to the shared presence of the text within social group discussion.

CBT allowed participants to exchange personal histories of living with chronic pain in ways which validated their experience. However, in CBT, participants focused exclusively on their pain with ‘no thematic deviation’.

In SR, by contrast, the literature was a trigger to recall and expression of diverse life experiences — of work, childhood, family members, relationships — related to the entire life-span, not merely the time-period affected by pain, or the time-period pre-pain as contrasted with life in the present. This in itself has a potentially therapeutic effect in helping to recover a whole person, not just an ill one.

Valuable

As part of the study participants with severe chronic pain symptoms were recruited by the pain clinic at Broadgreen NHS Hospital Trust having given informed consent. A 5-week CBT group and a 22-week SR group for chronic pain patients ran in parallel, with CBT group-members joining the SR group after the completion of CBT.

The study found that CBT showed evidence of participants ‘managing’ emotions by means of systematic techniques, where Shared Reading (SR) turned passive experience of suffering emotion into articulate contemplation of painful concerns.

Dr Josie Billington, Deputy Researcher, Centre for Research into Reading, said: “Our study indicated that shared reading could potentially be an alternative to CBT in bringing into conscious awareness areas of emotional pain otherwise passively suffered by chronic pain patients.

“The encouragement of greater confrontation and tolerance of emotional difficulty that Sharing Reading provides makes it valuable as a longer-term follow-up or adjunct to CBT’s concentration on short-term management of emotion.”

Study finds participants feel moral outrage toward those who decide to not have children

Data representing individuals from across the United States indicates that U.S. adults are increasingly delaying the decision to have children or forgoing parenthood entirely. Yet evidence suggests that voluntarily child-free people are stigmatized for this decision, according to a study published in the March 2017 edition of Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.

Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, recently investigated this bias against those who choose to not have children.

“What’s remarkable about our findings is the moral outrage participants reported feeling toward a stranger who decided to not have children,” Ashburn-Nardo said. “Our data suggests that not having children is seen not only as atypical, or surprising, but also as morally wrong.”

The findings are consistent with other studies of backlash against people who violate social roles and other stereotypic expectations. When people violate their expected roles, they suffer social sanctions. Given that more and more people in the U.S. are choosing to not have children, this work has far-reaching implications.

Ashburn-Nardo believes these findings offer the first known empirical evidence that parenthood is seen as a moral imperative.

“Having children is obviously a more typical decision, so perhaps people are rightfully surprised when they meet a married adult who, with their partner, has chosen to not have children. That they are also outraged by child-free people is what’s novel about this work.”

Participants read a vignette about a married adult person and then rated their perceptions of the person’s degree of psychological fulfillment and their feelings toward the person. The vignette varied only in terms of the portrayed person’s gender and whether they had chosen to have children.

“Consistent with many personal anecdotes, participants rated voluntarily child-free men and women as significantly less fulfilled than men and women with children,” Ashburn-Nardo said. “This effect was driven by feelings of moral outrage — anger, disapproval and disgust — toward the voluntarily child-free people.”

“Other research has linked moral outrage to discrimination and interpersonal mistreatment,” Ashburn-Nardo said. “It’s possible that, to the extent they evoke moral outrage, voluntarily child-free people suffer similar consequences, such as in the workplace or in health care. Exploring such outcomes for this demographic is the next step in my research.”

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Materials provided by Indiana University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Kids want parental help with online risk, but fear parental freak outs

Although it may come as no surprise to the Fresh Prince, kids think that parents just don’t understand what it is like to be a teen in an internet-connected world and this lack of understanding may hinder the development of skills necessary to safely navigate online, according to a team of researchers.

In a study, teens rarely talked to their parents about potentially risky online experiences, according to Pamela Wisniewski, formerly a post-doctoral scholar in information sciences and technology, Penn State, and currently an assistant professor in computer science at the University of Central Florida. She added that parents and children often have much different perceptions of and reactions to the same online situations. Some of these situations may include cyberbullying, sexual exchanges and viewing inappropriate content online.

“There seems to be a disconnect between what types of situations teens experience every day and what types of experiences parents have online,” said Wisniewski. “Teens tended to be more nonchalant and say that the incident made them embarrassed, while parents, even though they were reporting more low-risk events, emoted much stronger feelings, becoming angry and scared. For teens, some felt these types of experiences were just par for the course.”

The researchers suggest that this disconnect may lead teens to refrain from talking about situations that may upset their parents.

“When you asked why teens didn’t talk to their parents, a lot of times they mention risky situations, which they didn’t think were a big deal, but they add that if they told their parents, they would just freak out and make things worse,” Wisniewski said.

She added that while overreacting may curb communication, parents should avoid acting dismissive when a teen does come to them with an issue.

“When teens actually talked to their parents about what had happened, they often wanted help understanding or navigating the situation, but parents tended to misinterpret their intent, not realizing that their teens were trying to open lines of communication,” said Wisniewski. “It seemed like a missed opportunity. One of the takeaways for parents, then, is that if their teen goes to them with something that they are experiencing online, parents might realize that there are likely other events that their teen doesn’t come to them about. If it’s important enough for the teen to bring up to the parent, it may be important enough to use as a teachable, yet nonjudgmental, moment.”

The researchers, who present their findings at the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing today (Feb. 27), suggest that parental reactions — both over reactions or under reactions — may not just thwart teens from seeking their parents’ help with a current problem, but also diminish the teens’ ability to successfully navigate future online encounters that may be even more risky.

“Parental engagement can serve as teachable moments and increase the teens’ resilience in safely interacting online and in social media,” Wisniewski added.

A total of 136 participants — 68 parents and their teens — completed diaries about their online experiences during the study. The participants filled out a pre-survey, post-survey and eight weekly diary entries. Each week, parents and teens were expected to report on four potential types of online risks — information breaches, online harassment and bullying, sexual solicitations and exposure to explicit content — that they may have encountered during the week.

“The important point here is that the parent and the teen could both report on the same event, the teen could report on an event that the parent didn’t report on and the parent could report on an event that the teen didn’t report on,” said Wisniewski.

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Materials provided by Penn State. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.