Posts Tagged Advocacy and Policy

Brain Scans Show Teen Drinking Impairs Brain Efficiency


Brain Scans Show Teen Drinking Impairs Brain EfficiencyNew research suggests brains scans can identify patterns of brain activity that may predict if a teen will develop into a problem drinker.

The study also confirms that heavy drinking affects a teenagers’ developing brain.

Using special MRI scans, researchers looked at forty 12- to 16-year-olds who had not started drinking yet, then followed them for about three years and scanned them again.

Researchers discovered that half of the teens started to drink alcohol fairly heavily during this interval.

Investigators also found that kids who had initially showed less activation in certain brain areas were at greater risk for becoming heavy drinkers in the next three years.

However, once the teens started drinking, their brain activity looked like the heavy drinkers’ in the other studies — that is, their brains showed more activity as they tried to perform memory tests.

“That’s the opposite of what you’d expect, because their brains should be getting more efficient as they get older,” said lead researcher Lindsay M. Squeglia, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego.

Researchers say an operational definition of heavy drinking typically included episodes of having four or more drinks on an occasion for females and five or more drinks for males.

The findings add to evidence that heavy drinking has consequences for teenagers’ developing brains. But they also add a new layer: There may be brain activity patterns that predict which kids are at increased risk for heavy drinking.

“It’s interesting because it suggests there might be some pre-existing vulnerability,” Squeglia said.

Researchers say they are not advocating for teens to receive MRIs to determine their risk of excessive alcohol consumption. But the findings do give clues into the biological origins of kids’ problem drinking.

Experts say the findings suggest that heavy drinking may affect young people’s brains right at the time when they need to be working efficiently.

“You’re learning to drive, you’re getting ready for college. This is a really important time of your life for cognitive development,” Squeglia said.

She noted that all of the study participants were healthy, well-functioning kids. It’s possible that teens with certain disorders — like depression or ADHD — might show greater effects from heavy drinking.

Source: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

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Are Men Looking for Love from an Escort Service?


Are Men Looking for Love from an Escort Service?A new study suggests men who frequent the world’s oldest profession are not attempting to avoid an emotional commitment.

Researchers discovered that in men who become regular clients of sex workers, feelings of romance and love often develop.

The desire for an emotional attachment contradicts the historical or traditional premise that an encounter with a prostitute is a means to avoid attachment.

This study is published in a recent edition of the journal Men and Masculinities.

“In recent years, we have come to see a gradual normalization of independent escort prostitution, where sexual encounters have come to resemble quasi-dating relationships,” stated study author Christine Milrod, Ph.D. “Our study shows that regular clients of a particular sex provider often come to experience feelings of deep affection, which can progress into an authentic love story.”

Technology enables research on the topic as Milrod and co-author Ronald Weitzer, Ph.D., analyzed 2,442 postings on an online discussion board from a sex provider review site. More than a million clients of sex workers read and post about their experiences on the site.

A review of the postings discovered that approximately one-third included a discussion about emotional intimacy between sex workers and their clients.

Researchers discovered many clients expressed a desire to grow their relationships beyond the physical level in the form of sharing private feelings and mutual love.

“These relationships follow a conventionally romantic script that normalizes the liaison and destigmatizes both provider and client,” stated Milrod.

“The study shows that this kind of normalization may manifest itself in a merger of finances, families and finally monogamous partnerships – the provider is no longer just a supplier of the girlfriend experience, but a real-life romantic partner.”

Source: Sage

Couple photo by shutterstock.

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Older Adults Beat Younger at Staying Positive


Older Adults Stay PositiveDespite aches and pains and senior moments, older adults display more positive emotions than younger adults, say researchers. And they can pull out of a negative emotional state quicker than much younger adults.

Such emotional control may seem paradoxical, as many would expect that age would be associated with poor moods and emotional distress.

In a new study, Derek Isaacowitz, Ph.D., of Northeastern University attempts to explain the paradox.

He believes positive looking is a possible explanation: older adults may be better at regulating emotion because they tend to direct their eyes away from negative material or toward positive material. In the study, Isaacowitz presents evidence indicating that compared to younger adults, older adults prefer positive looking patterns.

Older adults also show the most positive looking when they are in bad moods — a time when younger adults show the most negative looking.

Researchers believe there is a causal relationship between looking for the good in life and mood. In the study they discovered for adults with good attentional abilities, positive looking patterns can help to regulate their mood.

So focusing on the positive seems to pay off for senior adults. Researchers also discovered that although elders prefer to focus on the positive, this perspective does not prevent them from missing other important information.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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Upfront Bonus to Teachers Improves Student Performance


Upfront Bonus to Teachers Improves Student PerformanceEducational reform is receiving considerable attention these days, and a new study suggests prepaying teachers appears to improve student academic performance.

Paying an upfront bonus does come with a caveat as part of the money must be returned if student performance fails to improve, say University of Chicago researchers.

The study showed that students gained as much as a 10 percentile increase in their scores compared to students with similar backgrounds — if their teacher received a bonus at the beginning of the year, with conditions attached.

There was no gain for students when teachers were offered the bonus at the end of the school year, the research found.

“This is the first experimental study to demonstrate that teacher merit pay can have a significant impact on student performance in the U.S.,” said economist John List, Ph.D., an author of the study.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economics Research, reflects the findings of other studies in psychology and behavioral economics.

“The results of our experiment are consistent with over 30 years of psychological and economic research on the power of loss aversion to motivate behavior: Students whose teachers in the ‘loss’ treatment of the experiment showed large and significant gains in their math test scores,” said List, a professor in economics at UChicago.

Timing of the incentive made a significant difference.

“In line with previous studies in the United States, we did not find an impact of teacher incentives that are framed as gains (the reward coming at the end of the year),” he added.

The study comes amid a growing wave of interest of finding ways to provide teacher incentives to increase student performance — as usually assessed by student achievement on standardized tests. Unfortunately, most of the current incentive programs have not shown value, the scholars said.

The new study depends on a formula developed by Dr. Derek Neal, professor of economics at UChicago, and Gadi Barlevy, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

They devised the “pay for percentile” method of measuring teacher performance by comparing individual students with similar backgrounds and achievement to see what impact a teacher had on their learning.

The scholars used the formula in an experiment in Chicago Heights, Ill., a community 30 miles south of Chicago. The community has nine kindergarten to eighth-grade schools with a total enrollment of 3,200 students. Its achievement rates are below state average, and 98 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

At the beginning of the school year, the teachers were introduced to the experiment and offered an opportunity to participate. A total of 150 of the 160 teachers agreed to join in the study, which was supported by the local teachers union.

The teachers were randomly assigned to a control group as well as a group given a bonus at the beginning of the year, a group that could receive the bonus at the end of the year, and a group made up of teachers who worked in teams. Money for the bonuses was provided from private sources.

One group of teachers in the study was given a $4,000 bonus at the beginning of the year and told it would be reduced by an amount reflecting their students’ performance — the more the students’ standardized scores increased, the more of the bonus their teacher could keep. Another group of teachers was told they would receive a $4,000 bonus if their students improved during the year.

The incentives were based on rewarding teachers with $80 for each percentile of increase in their students’ mathematics performance over the district average. They could, depending on exceptional student performance, receive up to $8,000 under the plan — the equivalent of 16 percent of the average teacher salary in the district.

The students were tested with the ThinkLink Predictive Assessment, a standardized, non-high-stakes diagnostic tool that is aligned with state achievement tests.

Thomas Amadio, superintendent of Chicago Heights Elementary School District 170, where the experiment was conducted, said the study shows the value of merit pay as an encouragement for better teacher performance.

“Teachers do have challenges, and classes can vary from year to year in how well they perform. Testing students individually to see their growth is a valuable measure, however,” he said.

Teachers responsible for that growth should be rewarded, he said.

Source: University of Chicago

Teacher and students in a classroom photo by shutterstock.

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Physical Forms of Child Discipline More Common than Acknowledged


Physical Forms of Child Discipline More Common than AcknowledgedIn one of the first real-world studies of caregiver discipline, a new study reveals that parents actually use physical forms of punishment much more than they show in laboratory experiments and acknowledge in surveys.

Michigan State University researchers found that 23 percent of youngsters received some type of “negative touch” when they failed to comply with a parental request in public places such as restaurants and parks. Negative touch included arm pulling, pinching, slapping and spanking.

“I was very surprised to see what many people consider a socially undesirable behavior done by nearly a quarter of the caregivers,” said researcher Kathy Stansbury, Ph.D. “I have also seen hundreds of kids and their parents in a lab setting and never once witnessed any of this behavior.”

Stansbury is a psychologist and associate professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. She performed the study to obtain a realistic view of how often parents use what she calls positive and negative touch in noncompliance episodes with their children.

In the study, a group of university student researchers anonymously observed 106 discipline interactions between caregivers and children ages 3-5 in public places and recorded the results.

The data were vetted, analyzed and published in the current issue of the research journal Behavior and Social Issues.

Male caregivers were found to touch children more during discipline settings than female caregivers. However, the touching was not in a negative manner, rather males used forms of positive touch included hugging, tickling and patting.

Stansbury says this positive approach contradicts the age-old stereotype of the father as the parent who lays down the law.

“When we think of Dad, we think of him being the disciplinarian, and Mom as nurturer, but that’s just not what we saw,” Stansbury said. “I do think that we are shifting as a society and fathers are becoming more involved in the daily mechanics of raising kids, and that’s a good thing for the kids and also a good thing for the dads.”

Ultimately, positive touch caused the children to comply more often, more quickly and with less fussing than negative touch, or physical punishment, Stansbury said. When negative touch was used, even when children complied, they often pouted or sulked afterward, she said.

“If your child is upset and not minding you and you want to discipline them, I would use a positive, gentle touch,” Stansbury said. “Our data found that negative touch didn’t work.”

Source: Michigan State University

Happy father and daughter photo by shutterstock.

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Virtual Simulations Help Train Psychologists, Psychiatrists


Virtual Simulations Train Psychologists, PsychiatristsFollowing on the heels of flight simulation training, medical simulation and now virtual mental health simulations train health professionals by realistically mimicking patient symptoms.

New simulators mimic the symptoms of a patient with clinical psychological disorders, according to new research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 120th Annual Convention.

“As this technology continues to improve, it will have a significant impact on how clinical training is conducted in psychology and medicine,” said psychologist and virtual reality technology expert Albert “Skip” Rizzo, Ph.D.

Technological advances including artificial intelligence and expert systems allow a highly interactive interaction with simulators even allowing the simulators to carry on a conversation with real humans.

“This has set the stage for the ‘birth’ of intelligent virtual humans to be used in clinical training settings,” Rizzo said. He showed videos of clinical psychiatry trainees engaging with virtual patients called “Justin” and “Justina.”

Justin is a 16-year-old with a conduct disorder who is being forced by his family to participate in therapy. Justina, the second and more advanced iteration of this technology, is a sexual assault victim who was designed to have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In an initial test, 15 psychiatry residents, of whom six were women, were asked to perform a 15-minute interaction with Justina.

Video of one such interaction shows a resident taking an initial history by asking a variety of questions. Programmed with speech recognition software, Justina responds to the questions and the resident is able to make a preliminary diagnosis.

Rizzo’s virtual reality laboratory is working on the next generation of virtual patients using information from this and related user tests, and will further modify the characters for military clinical training, which the U.S. Department of Defense is funding, he said.

Researchers are working to develop simulated or virtual veterans with depression and suicidal thoughts, for use in training clinicians and other military personnel how to recognize the risk for suicide or violence.

Over time, Rizzo hopes to create a comprehensive computer training module that has a diverse library of virtual patients with numerous “diagnoses” for use by psychiatric and psychology educators and trainees.

Currently, psychology and psychiatry students are trained by role-playing with other students or their supervisors to gain experience to treat patients. They then engage in supervised on-the-job training with real patients to complete their degrees.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of live standardized ‘actor’ patients who are commonly used in medical programs, so we see this technology as offering a credible option for clinical psychology training,” he said.

“What’s so useful about this technology is novice clinicians can gain exposure to the presentation of a variety of clinical conditions in a safe and effective environment before interacting with actual patients. In addition, virtual patients are more versatile and can be available anytime, anywhere. All you need is a computer.”

Source: American Psychological Association

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Appreciative Teens Are Happier, Healthier


Appreciative Teens Are Happier, HealthierTeenagers possessing traits of cooperation, purpose, creativity and persistence are more likely to be happy, and less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol or have behavioral problems at school.

In a new study, psychologists say the cluster of positive traits, or gratitude, is critical for adolescent mental health.

“Gratitude played an important role in many areas of positive mental health of the teens in our study,” said lead author Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., psychology professor at California State University.

“Increases in gratitude over a four-year period were significantly related to improvements in life satisfaction, happiness, positive attitudes and hope.”

Researchers studied the development of gratefulness by asking 700 students, ages 10 to 14, to complete questionnaires in their classroom at the beginning of the study and four years later.

After four years, researchers compared the results of the least grateful 20 percent of the students with the most grateful 20 percent.

This analysis showed that teens with the most gratitude by the end of the four-year period had:

  • Gained 15 percent more of a sense of meaning in their life;
  • Become 15 percent more satisfied with their life overall (at home, at school, with their neighborhood, with their friends and with themselves);
  • Become 17 percent more happy and more hopeful about their lives;
  • Experienced a 13 percent drop in negative emotions and a 15 percent drop in depressive symptoms.

Researchers found that teens with low gratitude at the start of the study could still benefit if they developed more gratitude over the four-year period.

“They experienced many of the same improvements in well-being. Moreover, they showed slight reductions overall in delinquency, such as alcohol and drug use, cheating on exams, skipping school, detention and administrative discipline,” Bono said.

“For instance, the top 10 percent of those who developed the most gratitude showed 9 percent less delinquency than the bottom 10 percent in gratitude growth.”

For the purposes of the study, the authors defined grateful teens as having a disposition and moods that enabled them to respond positively to the good people and things in their lives, Bono said.

The four-year study took place in New York with a sample that was 54 percent girls, 67 percent white, 11 percent Asian-American, 10 percent African-American, 1.4 percent Hispanic, 9 percent other and 1.6 percent no response.

“These findings suggest that gratitude may be strongly linked with life skills such as cooperation, purpose, creativity and persistence and, as such, gratitude is vital resource that parents, teachers and others who work with young people should help youth build up as they grow up,” Bono said.

“More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world.”

Source: American Psychological Association

Happy teenager photo by shutterstock.

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