Prior knowledge may influence how adults view van Goghs

Adults rely more on top-down processing than children when observing paintings by van Gogh, according to a study published June 21, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Francesco Walker from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and colleagues.

Analyzing eye movements can indicate how individuals direct their attention to build an overall impression of a painting. Previous studies have shown that children tend to be guided by visual stimuli — bottom-up processes — whereas adults are more influenced by their prior knowledge or beliefs — top-down factors — to guide perception.

Whilst previous research in this area has been conducted in artificial settings, the authors of the present study tracked the eye movements of 12 adults and 12 children when viewing five paintings in a museum setting at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. The paintings were chosen to be new to the participants, whose gaze patterns were recorded both before and after hearing descriptions of the paintings. The researchers found that adults made an average of 63 fixations on the surface of the paintings during the 30 second viewing period, while children made an average of 53 fixations.

When viewing the paintings freely, the children focused first on the stand-out, ‘salient’ features of the paintings, indicating bottom-up processing. However, after hearing the painting descriptions, they paid attention to less noticeable features first, indicating that their new knowledge was influencing their attention in top-down processing. Adults appeared to focus initially on non-salient features both before and after hearing a description, suggesting that top-down processing was dominating their viewing processes throughout.

This research suggests that it is possible to investigate eye movements in museums, and analyses using larger samples could continue to investigate how children and adults perceive art in this natural setting.

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Researchers uncover genetic gains and losses in Tourette syndrome

Researchers have identified structural changes in two genes that increase the risk of developing Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary motor and vocal tics. The study, published in the journal Neuron, was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health.

“Our study is the tip of the iceberg in understanding the complex biological mechanisms underlying this disorder. With recent advancements in genetic research, we are at the cusp of identifying many genes involved in Tourette syndrome,” said Jeremiah Scharf, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and co-corresponding author of the study.

The research was part of an international collaboration co-led by Dr. Scharf; Giovanni Coppola, M.D., professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles; Carol Mathews, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida in Gainesville; and Peristera Paschou, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of biological sciences at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.

The scientific team conducted genetic analyses on 2,434 individuals with Tourette syndrome and compared them to 4,093 controls, focusing on copy number variants, changes in the genetic code resulting in deletions or duplications in sections of genes. Their results determined that deletions in the NRXN1 gene or duplications in the CNTN6 gene were each associated with an increased risk of Tourette syndrome. In the study, approximately 1 in 100 people with Tourette syndrome carried one of those genetic variants.

NRXN1 and CNTN6 are important during brain development and produce molecules that help brain cells form connections with one another. In addition, the two genes are turned on in areas that are part of the cortico-striatal-thalamo-cortical circuit, a loop of brain cells connecting the cortex to specific regions involved in processing emotions and movement. Studies suggest that errors in the circuit may play a role in Tourette syndrome.

Copy number variants in NRXN1 have been implicated in other neurological disorders including epilepsy and autism, but this is the first time that scientists have linked copy number variants in CNTN6 to a specific disease.

“Tourette syndrome has a very strong genetic component but identifying the causal genes has been challenging,” said Jill Morris, Ph.D., program director at NINDS. “As we find genes involved in Tourette syndrome and understand more about its biology, we move closer to our ultimate goal of developing treatments to help children affected by the disease.”

Although involuntary tics are very common in children, they persist and worsen over time in people with Tourette syndrome. Tics associated with Tourette syndrome appear in children, peak during the early teenage years and often disappear in adulthood. Many people with Tourette syndrome experience other brain disorders including attention deficit disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Drs. Scharf, Coppola, Mathews and Paschou are planning to take a closer look at the mutations using animal and cellular models. More research is needed to learn about ways in which the genes contribute to development of Tourette syndrome and whether they may be potential therapeutic targets.

Is there an alternative to disposable diapers?

You know that disposable diapers are ecologically questionable, but cloth diapers seem too messy for you and your child — is there an alternative?

The answer is ‘yes’ according to Jeffrey M. Bender, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Rosemary C. She, MD, a pathologist and medical microbiologist at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. On June 21, they published a perspective paper in Pediatrics, about an age-old practice now known as elimination communication (EC). Bender and She, who are married, share their personal experience practicing EC, having made a conscious decision to not use disposable diapers when planning for the birth of their third child.

EC is not a new concept. In fact, humans have been using it for millennia and still do in resource-limited regions. Many will be surprised to learn that as little as three to four generations ago, most Americans did so as well.

Also known as natural infant hygiene, EC uses an infant’s own timing and cues to recognize when they need to urinate or defecate. This practice promotes early toilet training and protects child health in addition to saving money and the environment.

“Contrary to the notion that infants relieve themselves randomly and constantly throughout the day, babies naturally eliminate at predictable times such as upon waking or after feeding,” explained Bender.

“We began using EC when we first brought our daughter home from the hospital,” said She. “I went to change her cloth diaper and I noticed it was dry, so I took her over a potty as we’d read about in the books, and she urinated into the receptacle.” During the first few weeks, they regularly attempted toilet time at awakening and after each feeding accompanied by a short whistle. “We happily discovered that our daughter naturally responded by relieving herself.” By the end of one month, they were having only 1-2 “misses” per day and by 6 months of age she no longer required any cloth diapers as back-ups and they carried very little with them when going out. “By the time she was 18 months old and developmentally ready, she transitioned seamlessly into using the toilet independently,” added She.

When children typically begin toilet training, they face a daunting challenge because they have been trained to eliminate into diapers since birth. Caregivers then spend the next 1-2 years teaching them to unlearn this behavior. Bender and She found that putting the extra work in up front during the first 6 months was actually easier for caregivers and far less frustrating for the child.

The authors look at the introduction of disposable diapers in the late 1950s and consider the influence of the popular pediatric developmental specialist, T. Berry Brazelton, MD, who in the 1960s discouraged parents from pushing their child prematurely to toilet train, suggesting that most children are ready at the age of 2-3 years. While Brazelton recognized the benefits of EC techniques, he cautioned that it would be very difficult to do in American society where we don’t have 6 months of parental leave to bond and learn those communications skills.

“When we talk about EC with others, many are shocked that that early toilet training is even possible,” said She. “Interestingly, it is the grandparents and great-grandparents that are most familiar with EC and are the biggest supporters of using it.”

According to Bender, children will often stay in soiled diapers for hours, irritating the skin which can cause urinary tract infections or lead to skin breakdown allowing for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA) skin infections to occur and cause abscesses. MSRAs are contagious and are very resistant to most types of antibiotics.

As a pediatric infectious diseases specialist, Bender sees many children in the clinic who are suffering from these recurrent skin and soft tissue infections. “While there are medical guidelines for how to treat MSRA infections, the best way to prevent these abscesses is to get children out of diapers,” said Bender.

According to Bender and She, the U.S. creates more than 3.4 million tons of used diaper waste each year and disposable diapers may take more than 500 years to degrade. Disposable diapers are also expensive, costing families nearly $1,000 per year of use.

Although cloth diapers generate less environmental waste than disposable diapers, and allow toddlers to be more aware when they have soiled themselves, they are potentially more work and do not address the health concerns of diaper use. Bender and She wished they had been familiar with EC when their first two children were born and believe that this under recognized approach to toilet training could be beneficial to U.S. families in terms of child health, convenince and expense. “While it requires some hard work and dedication at the outset, EC is natural, generates no landfill or ocean waste, and it’s free,” they explained. “As working parents and physicians, we believe it is important that providers who care for children learn more about EC and incorporate this alternative into their discussions with young and growing families.”

Head impact exposure increases as youth football players get older, bigger

Youth football players are exposed to more and more forceful head impacts as they move up in age- and weight-based levels of play, according to researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Their study, published in the June issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma, employed in-helmet sensors to record the number and location of impacts and the linear and rotational acceleration they caused to the heads of 97 players ages 9 to 13 in one youth football organization during practices and games at three different levels of competition over four seasons

“By recording more than 40,000 head impacts, this study represents the largest collection of biomechanical head impact data for youth football to date,” said study author Jillian Urban, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest School of Medicine, a part of Wake Forest Baptist. “Our findings clearly show a trend of head impact exposure increasing with increasing level of play.”

The three competition levels studied were Level A (players 11 and under weighing up to 124 pounds), Level B (players 12 and under weighing up to 139 pounds) and Level C (players 13 and under weighing up to 159 pounds).

In their analysis of the data the investigators found that Level C had significantly greater linear head accelerations than Levels B and A and that both linear and rotational accelerations were significantly greater in competition as opposed to practice in Levels C and B.

The researchers also found that while approximately two-thirds of all head impacts in the three levels of competition occurred during practice, the percentage of high-magnitude impacts was higher in games and the number of such impacts in games increased with the level of play.

“Our results are consistent with prior studies of high school and college athletes showing that head impact exposure increases with increasing age and level of play,” Urban said. “But they also show significant differences from one level to the next in a single youth organization. This strongly suggests that all youth football players should not be grouped together when studying head impact exposure and injury risk, especially since youth football leagues accommodate players ranging in age from 5 to 15.

“Further studies that take into consideration the various levels of youth football could guide evidence-based intervention efforts, such as changes in practice structure and game rules, to reduce the number of high-magnitude impacts, impact frequency and the total number of impacts with the ultimate goal of improving safety in youth football.”

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Screen time or story time? E-books better for toddler learning

Pediatricians, educators, and parents have always agreed on at least one thing: reading to your toddler — early on in life and regularly — is vital to promote language acquisition and also an enthusiasm for learning.

But does it make a difference if parents read from traditional print books, or for parents and kids to engage with electronic books? This ongoing debate has seen several studies in recent years, but there are still many unanswered questions.

A new study conducted by Gabrielle A. Strouse of the School of Education at the University of South Dakota in the U.S.A., and Patricia A. Ganea of the Language and Learning Lab of the University of Toronto in Canada, and published in Frontiers in Psychology has found some striking trends. Electronic media may pose less of a disruptive impact to learning for toddlers than is the case for preschoolers.

Parents of 102 toddlers aged 17 to 26 months were randomly assigned to read two commercially available electronic books or two print books with identical content with their toddler. After reading, the children were asked to identify an animal presented in the books.

Strouse and Ganea found that the toddlers who were read the electronic books paid more attention, made themselves more available for story time, participated more in the process, and commented more about the content than toddlers who were read the print versions of the books. The electronic books included background music, animation and sound effects for each page as well as an automatic voiceover that read the text aloud to the child. There were no actions or hotspots for parents and children to tap for extra features. The publisher for the electronic book had printed books that were similar in content, but not an exact replica, so the researchers printed screenshots of the electronic books and bound the single sheets together to create “print books.”

Both electronic and print materials included farm animals (duck, horse, sheep, cow — animals the parents confirmed the children already knew) and also wild animals (koala, crocodile, zebra, and lion — some of which parents identified as new). To test for word learning, toddlers were asked to identify one of the wild animals they did not know prior to the session.

Strouse and Ganea tested three broad hypotheses: 1) Parents will tend to point less to the pictures and pose fewer questions about the content with electronic books than print books; 2a) Children will point less to pictures and talk less about the electronic books; 2b) Children will exhibit higher levels of attention and engagement with electronic books; and 3) Children will learn less from electronic books.

Results showed that indeed parents tended to point at the book more often. There was no difference between the books in the amount they talked with their children about the story.

Secondly, children who were read the electronic books tended to more pointing than those who read print books, although this didn’t significantly alter results. Children’s overall attention was significantly higher to electronic format books than to print books and they were more ready for story time with electronic books.

Thirdly, while toddlers were more inclined to correctly identify an animal from electronic books, this difference was explained by differences in child attention and availability for reading. Thus, electronic books may not have been more supportive of learning on their own, but the increased amount of attention children paid to these particular electronic books may have resulted in increased learning. It’s important to note that this may not be true of all types of electronic books.

Strouse and Ganea say, “One important caveat to our findings is that increased engagement does not always translate into increased learning.” Books with different features may capture child attention more or less.

Other researchers have indicated that when electronic books have many highly interactive features such as hotspots that can significantly distract from learning. Indeed, say Strouse and Ganea, .” .. experiences activating built-in features that act as entertainment may heighten any tendencies children have to interpret electronic media as games rather than learning tools.”

The researchers say further that electronic books for toddlers primarily feature standalone content on individual pages — a sentence or two. Whereas for preschoolers narrative content stretches across pages and children must knit together, or make sense of the story across the medium. To that point, electronic media may pose less of a disruptive impact to learning for toddlers than is the case for preschoolers.

Strouse and Ganea conclude that the positive engagement offered by electronic media warrants further research.

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Most people 'aren't as happy as their friends' on social media

A study led by computer scientists at Indiana University has found that people with the most connections on social media are also happier. This may cause most social media users to not only regard themselves as less popular than their friends but also less happy.

The recently published study is essentially the first to provide scientific evidence for the feeling many people experience when they log into services like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: that everyone else looks like they’re having more fun.

For the purposes of this study, which used publicly available data from Twitter, reciprocal followers were defined as “friends” and users with the most connections were defined as “popular.”

“This analysis contributes to a growing body of evidence that social media may be harmful to users who ‘overindulge’ in these services since it’s nearly impossible to escape negative comparisons to their friends’ popularity and happiness,” said lead author Johan Bollen, associate professor in the IU School of Informatics and Computing, who advises people to carefully monitor and limit use of these services.

“Given the magnitude of social media adoption across the globe, understanding the connection between social media use and happiness may well shed light on issues that affect the well-being of billions of people,” he added.

The study builds upon a phenomenon known as the Friendship Paradox, which finds that most people on a social network have fewer connections on average than their friends, since the most popular users intersect with a higher-than-average number of social circles. The IU-led study is the first to reveal that these more popular users are also happier on average, inflating the overall happiness level of a user’s social circle — an effect the researchers dubbed the “Happiness Paradox.”

“As far as we’re aware, it’s never been previously shown that social media users are not only less popular than their friends on average but also less happy,” Bollen said. “This study suggests that happiness is correlated with popularity, and also that the majority of people on social networks aren’t as happy as their friends due to this correlation between friendship and popularity.”

To conduct the analysis, Bollen and colleagues randomly selected 4.8 million Twitter users, then analyzed the group for people who followed one another on the network, creating a social network of about 102,000 users with 2.3 million connections.

The team then narrowed their focus to individuals with 15 or more “friends” on the network, after which they analyzed the sentiment of these users’ tweets, a common method in computer science and marketing to assess whether digital postings are generally positive or negative in tone. This created a group of 39,110 Twitter users. Users with higher positive sentiment were defined as “happy.”

A statistical analysis of that final group found with high confidence that 94.3 percent of these users had fewer friends on average than their friends. Significantly, it also found that 58.5 percent of these users weren’t as happy as their friends on average.

“In other words, a majority of users may feel that they’re less popular than their friends on average,” Bollen said. “They may also have the impression that they’re less happy than their friends on average.”

The study also found that social media users tend to fall into two groups: happier users with happier friends and unhappier users with unhappier friends. Surprisingly, the unhappier users were still likely to be less happy than their unhappy friends, suggesting they’re more strongly affected by their friends’ unhappiness.

“Overall, this study finds social media users may experience higher levels of social dissatisfaction and unhappiness due to negative comparison between their and their friends’ happiness and popularity,” Bollen said. “Happy social media users may think their friends are more popular and slightly happier than they are — and unhappy social media users will likely have unhappy friends who still seem happier and more popular than they are on average.”

The paper, titled “The happiness paradox: your friends are happier than you,” appears in the European Physical Journal Data Science. Additional authors are Guangchen Ruan, doctoral researcher at IU; Bruno Gonçalves of New York University; and Ingrid van de Leemput of Wageningen University, The Netherlands.

This study was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency.

Familiar faces look happier than unfamiliar ones

People tend to perceive faces they are familiar with as looking happier than unfamiliar faces, even when the faces objectively express the same emotion to the same degree, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“We show that familiarity with someone else’s face affects the happiness you perceive in subsequent facial expressions from that person,” says researcher Evan Carr of Columbia Business School. “Our findings suggest that familiarity — just having ‘expertise’ with someone else’s face through repeated exposure — not only influences traditional ratings of liking, attractiveness, etc. but also impacts ‘deeper’ perceptions of the actual emotion you can extract from that person.”

The fact that people tend to prefer things they’re familiar with — whether people, objects, or other stimuli — has been demonstrated many times in research studies, in many different ways. But a fundamental question remains: Why do we prefer familiar things? Is it knowing that something is familiar that engenders positive feelings? Or could it be that familiarity actually leads us to perceive stimuli more positively?

Carr conducted this research at the University of California, San Diego in the Department of Psychology with colleagues Timothy F. Brady and Piotr Winkielman. They hypothesized that familiarity might guide our fundamental perceptual processes in a bottom-up fashion, selectively enhancing the positive features of a stimulus. To test this hypothesis, they designed two experiments that examined how people responded to familiar and unfamiliar faces.

In the first experiment, the researchers morphed images of male and female faces to create faces that varied in the type and degree of emotion expressed. This process resulted in a continuum of morphed faces that ranged from 50% angry to neutral to 50% happy. The researchers then divided the images into two sets.

A total of 50 undergraduate student participants came to the lab for a “memory task.” Each participant saw a series of images — the neutral expressions from one of the two image sets — and was tasked with tracking the color and number of squares that appeared randomly on some images. This task allowed the researchers to expose the participants to some of the faces in the full set of morphs without explicitly calling their attention to the faces.

Participants then viewed a series of face pairs in a perceptual task, where they had to indicate whether the happier face was above or below the line shown on screen. Importantly, each pair included a familiar and an unfamiliar face and the faces showed the same objective level of emotion.

The results were revealing: Participants were more likely to identify the familiar face as the happier one in the pair, despite the fact that the faces showed the same emotion to the same degree.

And they were increasingly more likely to choose the familiar face as the positive features in the faces increased. That is, participants were more likely to identify the familiar face as happier when the faces were 50% happy than when they were 25% happy. Their selections did not show a bias toward familiarity, however, when the faces were angry.

In a second experiment, Carr and colleagues asked 40 undergraduate participants to look at a series of faces and decide whether each face was either “happy or angry.” The participants also estimated on a scale of 0% to 100% how happy the face looked.

The results replicated those of the first experiment: Participants were more likely to identify familiar faces as happy compared with unfamiliar ones, but only when the faces were emotionally neutral or positive. And their estimates of how happy the faces were increased as the positive features increased.

The data indicated that familiarity actually shifted how participants perceived the emotional content of the faces — that is, a familiar face needed to have fewer objectively happy features for it to be classified as happy compared with an unfamiliar face.

The two experiments show that familiarity specifically shapes how we perceive the positive aspects of a stimulus — that is, familiarity makes faces on the happy side of neutral appear more “smiley” but it doesn’t make faces on the angry side of neutral appear any less “frowny.”

Ultimately, the findings underscore how flexible emotion-perception processes are.

“Emotion perception isn’t only the ‘formulaic’ combination of facial features, it also dynamically incorporates cues specific to the individual you’re trying to decode,” says Carr. “Even the judgment of ‘how happy someone looks’ is inherently subjective to some extent, depending on your previous experience with the person along with the type of expression you’re judging.”

Medications underutilized when treating young people with opioid use disorder

Only one in four young adults and teens with opioid use disorder (OUD) are receiving potentially life-saving medications for addiction treatment, according to a new Boston Medical Center (BMC) study published online in JAMA Pediatrics.

Buprenorphine and naltrexone are medications used to treat OUD that help prevent relapse and overdose when used appropriately. In late 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended, for the first time, that providers offer medication treatment to adolescents with OUD.

Prior studies have shown that among all adults in treatment for opioids, one-third started using opioids before age 18, and two-thirds started before age 25. Unlike methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone can be offered in the primary care setting. However, few teens receive medication due, in part, to a widespread shortage of physicians who have received a waiver certification required to prescribe buprenorphine. And, as researchers note, of all of the physicians who are certified in the United States, only one-percent are pediatricians.

“We know that experimentation with opioids often begins in adolescence, and early signs of addiction most commonly emerge in the teenage years or early 20s,” said Scott Hadland, MD, MPH, MS, pediatrician and addiction specialist at BMC who led the study. “It is critical that providers caring for young people intervene early in the evolution of addiction and provide effective treatment with medication which can potentially prevent a lifetime of harm.”

Researchers looked at nearly 21,000 teens and young adults aged 13-25 across the United States who were diagnosed with OUD between 2001 and 2014 and tracked whether or not they received buprenorphine or naltrexone within six months of their diagnosis. They found that 27 percent were given a medication within six months, and buprenorphine was dispensed eight times more often than naltrexone. Additionally, the diagnoses rate for OUD increased nearly six-fold from 2001 to 2014.

The study also identified sociodemographic differences in receipt of medications. Teens were least likely than young adults to receive medications, with less than 1 in 50 teens aged 13-15 and 1 in 10 teens aged 16-17 provided buprenorphine or naltrexone. Females were less likely than males to receive medications, as were African American and Hispanic teens compared to Caucasian adolescents. The underlying reasons for these gender and race differences are unknown, though researchers suggest that it may relate to access issues, denial of care or provider bias.

“Our study highlights a critical gap in addiction treatment for teens and young adults. We need tangible strategies to expand access to medications that do not worsen the gender and racial disparities we observed,” said Hadland who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. “It’s imperative that access to addiction treatment is widespread and equitable.”

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Potential for more targeted treatments of neuroblastoma tumors

Genetic variations appear to pre-dispose children to developing certain severe forms of neuroblastoma, according to new research by the University of Chicago Medicine. The findings lay the groundwork for developing more targeted treatments for particularly deadly variations of the cancer.

Neuroblastoma affects about 1,000 children in the United States per year. Patients are placed into different risk categories for their disease. Each risk category determines the intensity of the treatment regimen and likelihood of a patient’s survival. Children in lower-risk categories experience a roughly 95 percent survival rate with minimal treatment. But, if a child is classified as high-risk, the survival rate falls to approximately 50 percent even with an aggressive treatment plan that includes high-dose chemotherapy, surgery, stem cell transplant, radiation and immunotherapy. One common indicator of high-risk cancer is if a child has extra copies (amplification) of a gene called MYCN (pronounced mick-N).

The findings, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, are the first to look at genetic predispositions of why some children develop MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma tumors and others develop non-MYCN-amplified tumors.

“If we can understand the genetic events causing the development of these different types of tumors, we can point away from certain types of treatments and refine the therapies we recommend,” said Mark Applebaum, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medicine.

Applebaum and his team analyzed baseline genetic characteristics of about 3,200 neuroblastoma patients around the country. The team studied the patients’ inheritable genetics and associated them to the type of neuroblastoma they developed. The results showed that common genetic variations in patients predisposed them to developing different neuroblastoma genotypes, including the likelihood of developing MYCN-amplification.

“Associating patient genetics with tumor genotype is a relatively new idea,” said Applebaum. “We tried to link germline characteristics with MYCN-amplified versus non-MYCN-amplified tumors.”

Further studies are needed to build on the research and eventually develop targeted treatment regimens for children with varying high-risk neuroblastoma tumors.

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How far does the apple fall from the tree?

Research published in the British Journal of Psychology has found that parents who want their children to have prosocial values are the most successful in instilling all their values in their children compared to those who promote selfishness.

The collaborative study from Royal Holloway, University of London and the universities of Westminster, Vienna, and Bern assessed 418 German and Swiss families to see which parents most strongly transmitted their values to their children. They found that children whose parents wanted them to value helping, supporting and caring for others, were more similar to their parents in their overall value profile than those whose parents promoted striving for power and achievement.

Like father, like son?

Professor Anat Bardi from Royal Holloway’s Department of Psychology and co-author of the study explained, “Ours is a test of how far the apple falls from the tree, or in other words, how similar are children to their parents in the values they hold?”

“We often take for granted ‘like father, like son’ and this is especially interesting when it comes to the inheritance of destructive values such as power-seeking and selfishness. We’ve now demonstrated that parents who foster more altruistic values, such as helping and caring more strongly pass on all their values down the family line,” she added.

A first look at parent-child value similarity in middle childhood

“This is the first time a study that examined similarity between the values of children and their parents has actually assessed children’s values when they are at the formative time of childhood, whereas previous research only asked teens and young adults to reflect back on their experiences. Therefore we are able to understand this key building block in the development of individual values, which are then taken forward through schooling and other important stages of value development,” added author, Dr Anna Doering from the University of Westminster.

Kindness breeds kindness

In explaining the results, the researchers suggest that parents who focus on prosocial values may be more sensitive to their children’s needs, thereby establishing a stronger bond with their children. The result of this stronger bond is that the children tend more to adopt the parents’ values (including values that are not related to kindness, like values of curiosity or tradition).

By being more empathetic and supportive, these parents also demonstrate the importance of these values directly in their relationships with their children. As such, offspring are more likely to wish to replicate these positive experiences through their own values.

In conclusion, Professor Bardi commented, “This research really shows that where parents nurture positive, supportive and altruistic values their children will also take these characteristics to heart. Where being ‘the best’ is among the dominant interests of the parents, children tend not to express such connection to their parent’s values. This research brings a positive message to the world: prosocial parents breed a prosocial next generation, but parents who endorse selfishness do not breed a selfish next generation.”

“While there are always other influences on how we develop the values that make us who we are, there is no doubt that our parents have a huge role to play. How we then decide to take their values through our lives is, of course up to us as individuals.”

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Poll: Nearly two-thirds of mothers 'shamed' by others about their parenting skills

Some mommy-shaming “wars” become national news headlines.

Actress Reese Witherspoon was recently food-shamed for feeding her toddler cinnamon buns for breakfast. Critics were quick to judge model Coco Rocho for giving her baby formula. And former pop star Jessica Simpson recently started a frenzy after posting a photo of her 5-year-old daughter in a mermaid costume some felt was too revealing.

But the problem doesn’t only affect the famous. Such “shaming” is a familiar burden for many moms out of the limelight, too.

Six in 10 mothers of children ages 0-5 say they have been criticized about parenting, on everything from discipline to breast feeding, according to a new report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan. The report is based on responses from a national sample of 475 mothers with at least one child between ages 0-5.

“Our findings tap into the tensions moms face when parenting advice leads to more stress than reassurance and makes them feel more criticized than supported,” says poll co-director Sarah Clark, M.P.H.

“Mothers can get overwhelmed by so many conflicting views on the ‘best’ way to raise a child,” she adds. “Unsolicited advice — especially from the people closest to her child — can be perceived as meaning she’s not doing a good job as a mother. That can be hurtful.”

Unlike some celebrity parents who receive anonymous blasts on social media, most moms seem to feel that their greatest critics lie within their own families.

The most frequent offenders? A mother’s own parents. Thirty-seven percent of poll respondents have felt second guessed by their mother or father.

That tally was followed by a spouse or their child’s other parent (36 percent) and in-laws (31 percent.) Mothers report far less criticism from friends, other mothers they encounter in public, social media commenters, their child’s doctor and child care provider.

Discipline is the most frequent topic of criticism, reported by 70 percent of mothers who felt shamed. Other areas of concern are diet and nutrition (52 percent), sleep (46 percent), breast- vs. bottle-feeding (39 percent), safety (20 percent), and child care (16 percent).

Clark notes that the subject of discipline is especially rife with opposing views and cultural differences — spanking versus time-outs, for instance — or strict adherence to rules instead of allowing space for a child to explore.

New information about child health and safety also often challenge long-held parenting practices that other family members used themselves or have grown up with.

“Family members should respect that mothers of young children may have more updated information about child health and safety,” Clark says, “and ‘what we used to do’ may no longer be the best advice.”

Although 42 percent of mothers say the criticism has made them feel unsure about their parenting choices, it has also pushed them to be proactive.

Many of the mothers in the Mott poll said that they have responded to “shamers” by consulting a health care provider for advice. In some cases, new information prompted mothers to make a change in their parenting but other times, research validated a parenting choice.

Mothers in the Mott Poll were much less likely to report being criticized by their child’s health care provider than by family members.

“This indicates that most mothers view their child’s health care provider as a trusted source of accurate information and advice, not as a critic,” says Clark. “Child health providers can help by encouraging mothers to ask questions about any parenting uncertainties, and offer reassurance and practical advice that helps boost mothers’ confidence and reduce anxiety around choices.”

Sixty-two percent of moms in the Mott poll say they get a lot of unhelpful advice from other people, while 56 percent believe moms get too much blame and not enough credit for their children’s behavior.

And half of those surveyed said they simply avoid people who are too critical.

“It’s unfortunate when a mother feels criticized to the point where she limits the amount of time she and her child will spend with a family member or friend,” she says. “To guard against that situation, advice to mothers of young children should be given with empathy and encouragement.”

Investigating emotional spillover in the brain

Life is full of emotional highs and lows, ranging from enjoying an activity with a loved one and savoring a delicious meal to feeling hurt by a negative interaction with a co-worker or that recent scuffle with a family member. But when we let emotions from one event carry on to the next, such spillover can color our impressions and behavior in those new situations — sometimes for the worse.

Researchers at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are discovering what happens in the brain when such emotional spillover occurs and, for the first time, are able to pinpoint areas directly responsible. Their findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a technique that produces a magnetic field that can temporarily “knock out” or inhibit activity in specific parts of the brain, the team discovered that when the lateral prefrontal area of the brain (a region known for executive function) was inhibited by the stimulation, participants showed more emotional spillover. In the experiment, they measured this by collecting people’s ratings and first impressions of neutral faces they saw immediately after faces that were smiling (prompting positive emotions) or fearful (prompting negative emotions).

The findings, supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, are part of larger efforts to understand the complexity of the brain and what types of mental training or activities can best improve emotional reactions known to promote higher levels of well-being. TMS therapy is approved for depression by the FDA, and this work may shed light on why stimulating parts of the prefrontal cortex is successful in improving the ability to regulate negative emotions.

“It was interesting because participants saw the emotional faces very briefly,” says Regina Lapate, Center for Healthy Minds collaborator and current postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the work. “And when asked afterward, they didn’t think that they had been influenced by it in their ratings. Having their prefrontal cortex disrupted generated spillover onto their unrelated events that followed. Emotional spillover can happen without us being aware of it.”

The team discovered that when the lateral prefrontal cortex was intact (when the brain was not inhibited by TMS), the person did not show spillover when viewing subsequent neutral faces. And when the opposite occurred — when the lateral prefrontal cortex was inhibited by TMS, emotional spillover occurred more frequently and with greater intensity. Three days later outside of the laboratory, participants still showed that emotional bias when asked to rate the same neutral faces, suggesting that the negative emotional spillover they first showed in the laboratory produced long-lasting, biased first impressions.

“If your first impression of someone is formed when you’re experiencing emotional spillover from a previous context, that negative impression may stick,” Lapate adds.

In addition, research on mindfulness meditation has been suggested to improve emotion regulation and connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and more emotion-centered areas of the brain such as the amygdala. If scientists know that there’s a causal relationship between these areas of the brain, they can more accurately tailor interventions to target these areas and improve well-being.

“We are excited about this experiment because it demonstrates the causal role of the prefrontal cortex in regulating emotional behavior,” says Richard Davidson, William and James Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry who worked on the study and directs the Center for Healthy Minds. “It invites the possibility that strategies that promote prefrontal engagement may have beneficial consequences for emotion regulation.”

Next on Lapate’s agenda is to test whether the reverse works — can TMS stimulation that increases neural firing in the prefrontal cortex lead to a decrease in negative emotional spillover? At the University of California, Berkeley, she’ll continue exploring that question as well as how the lateral prefrontal cortex as a whole changes the neural coding for positive and negative information.

Meanwhile, the team at UW-Madison will further examine how contemplative practices may change emotional spillover and target these areas as measured by neural activity recorded in a brain scanner.

Is it OK for parents to be supportive to children's negative emotions?

New research suggests that whereas mothers who are more supportive of their children’s negative emotions rate their children as being more socially skilled, these same children appear less socially adjusted when rated by teachers. Specifically, mothers’ supportive reactions predicted fewer socioemotional skills and more problem behaviors, according to children’s third-grade teachers.

These contrasting patterns suggest a potential downside to mothers’ supportiveness of children’s negative emotions for third-grade children’s social adjustment in school.

“It’s not clear if the parents are causing these problems by hovering or providing too much support when less support is needed, if the parents are rightfully providing more support because their children are experiencing these social and emotional problems, or if the children are exhibiting very different emotional and social behaviors at home than they are at school,” said Dr. Vanessa Castro, co-author of the Social Development study.

The findings suggest that is may be helpful for parents to consider other strategies to guide their children to develop their own skills in emotion regulation and social interaction.


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Journal Reference:

  1. Vanessa L. Castro, Amy G. Halberstadt, Patricia T. Garrett-Peters. Changing tides: Mothers’ supportive emotion socialization relates negatively to third-grade children’s social adjustment in school. Social Development, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/sode.12251

Cite This Page:

Wiley. “Is it OK for parents to be supportive to children’s negative emotions?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 June 2017. .

Wiley. (2017, June 16). Is it OK for parents to be supportive to children’s negative emotions?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 16, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170616102152.htm

Wiley. “Is it OK for parents to be supportive to children’s negative emotions?.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170616102152.htm (accessed June 16, 2017).

Giving children a voice in clinical trials

Children as young as 8 years old with incurable cancer can reliably characterize the impact an experimental therapy has on their symptoms and quality of life — even at the earliest stages of drug development — making self-reported patient outcomes a potential new clinical trial endpoint, according to a longitudinal validity study led by Children’s National Health System researchers.

Cancer is the No. 1 disease-related cause of death in U.S. children aged 1 to 19, and roughly 25 percent of the 12,400 children newly diagnosed with cancer will die of their disease, the study authors write.

“When experimental cancer drugs are studied, researchers collect details about how these promising therapies affect children’s organs, but rarely do they ask the children themselves about symptoms they feel or the side effects they experience,” says Pamela S. Hinds, Ph.D., R.N., director of Nursing Research and Quality Outcomes at Children’s National and lead author of study published June 5, 2017 in the journal Cancer. “Without this crucial information, the full impact of the experimental treatment on the pediatric patient is likely underreported and clinicians are hobbled in their ability to effectively manage side effects.”

To demonstrate the feasibility of children self-reporting outcomes, Hinds and colleagues recruited children and adolescents aged 8 to 18 with incurable or refractory cancers who were enrolled in Phase 1 safety trials or Phase 2 efficacy trials at four cancer settings: Children’s National, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Boston Children’s Hospital. Using a validated instrument to measure symptoms, function and other aspects of quality of life reported by patients, as well as four open-ended interview questions, researchers were able to better understand what aspects of symptoms and quality of life were most important to patients at this point in their lives and cancer treatment.

Of the 20 study participants, most were male (60 percent), adolescents (65 percent) and white (70 percent). Thirteen (65 percent) had solid tumors. Patients could describe “a good day” as having fewer side effects from the experimental therapy and fewer interruptions to their lives. “Bad days” were marked by interruptions to their usual activities and missing out on spending time with family and friends due to being at the hospital. A few study participants suggested that researchers add questions related to being away from home, family and friends and the ripple effect of treatment on other family members.

“Only by measuring and understanding self-reported symptoms and function in children and adolescents with incurable cancer can we adequately address threats to their quality of life and improve symptom control and supportive care,” Hinds and co-authors conclude. “By giving children a voice in the process, clinicians will be able to better anticipate and manage symptoms and thereby improve life for patients and their families.”

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New face-aging technique could boost search for missing people

The method maps out the key features, such as the shape of the cheek, mouth and forehead, of a face at a certain age. This information is fed to a computer algorithm which then synthesises new features for the face to produce photographic quality images of the face at different ages.

A key feature of the method is that it teaches the machine how humans age by feeding the algorithm facial feature data from a large database of individuals at various ages. Consequently, the method improves on existing techniques, achieving greater level of accuracy.

The findings will be presented at the International Conference on Missing Children and Adults at Abertay University, Dundee in June, and have been published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Professor Hassan Ugail, of Bradford’s Centre for Visual Computing, is leading the research. He said: “Each year around 300,000 missing person cases are recorded in the UK alone. This has been part of our motivation in endeavouring to improve current techniques of searching for missing people, particularly those who have been missing for some considerable time.”

The technique developed by the team uses a method of predictive modelling and applies it to age progression. The model is further strengthened by incorporating facial data from a large database of individuals at different ages thus teaching the machine how humans actually age. In order to test their results the researchers use a method called de-aging whereby they take an individual’s picture and run their algorithm backwards to de-age that person to a younger age. The result is then compared with an actual photograph of the individual taken at the young age.

As a test case, the researchers chose to work on the case of Ben Needham. Ben disappeared on the Greek island of Kos on 24th July 1991, when he was only 21 months old. He has never been found, but several images have been produced by investigators showing how Ben might look at ages 11-14 years, 17-20 years, and 20-22 years. The team used their method to progress the image of Ben Needham to the ages of 6, 14 and 22 years. The resulting images show very different results, which the researchers believe more closely resemble what Ben might look like today.

An effective method needs to do two things: the synthesized images need to fit the intended age; and they need to retain the identity of the subject in age-progressed images. The results were evaluated using both machine and human methods, and in both, the images of Ben produced using this method were found to be more like the original picture of Ben than the images created as part of previous investigations.

Professor Ugail added: “No criticism is implied of existing age progression work. Instead we are presenting our work as a development and improvement that could make a contribution to this important area of police work. We are currently working with the relevant parties to further test our method. We are also developing further research plans in order to develop this method so it can be incorporated as a biometric feature, in face recognition systems, for example.”

“Our method generates more individualised results and hence is more accurate for a given face. This is because we have used large datasets of faces from different ethnicities as well as gender in order to train our algorithm. Furthermore, our model can take data from an individual’s relatives, if available, such as parents, grandparents and siblings. This enables us to generate more accurate and individualised ageing results. Current methods that exist use linear or one-dimensional methods whereas ours is non-linear, which means it is better suited for the individual in question.”

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